Monday, January 19, 2015

Introduction: Epistle to the Galatians

During the lifetime of the Apostle Paul, there was a region known as Galatia in the center of Asia Minor, where modern day Turkey exists. The entire Province of Galatia during the reign of the Roman Empire was comparable in size to all of the land of Palestine. At the time of Paul, many of the people of Galatia were descended from Celtic invaders who had conquered the region around 300 B.C. The name “Galatia” comes from the Latin, Galli, which is more commonly transliterated as “Gauls.” As a people group the Northern European cousins of these Asia Minor Gauls have received a bit more historical recognition because of their constant attacks against the powerful Roman Empire, including most famously a series of wars against Julius Caesar.
In Scripture, the first time that we meet the people of Galatia is in Luke’s account of “The Acts of the Apostles,” or simply, the Book of Acts. In Acts 13 and 14, Paul traveled and preached the gospel through Antioch in Pisidia (a different Antioch than the one where Paul and Barnabas were commissioned for missionary work), Iconium, Derbe, and Lystra. These cities all fell within the boundaries of what the Roman Empire designated as the Province of Galatia, although whether or not Paul actually preached to any ethnic descendants of the Gauls is still debated.
While there may still be a matter of debate about the audience to whom Paul was speaking, there is no debate that he and Barnabas travelled through Galatia declaring the good news of the gospel to those who lived there. The message that Paul and Barnabas preached in Antioch in Pisidia was at first rejected by the Jewish inhabitants of the city, but when the Gentiles of the city heard it they gathered the whole city together to hear the gospel. Luke writes in Acts 13:48-49, “And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was published through all the region.
Paul and Barnabas would eventually be chased out by the Jewish leaders in that city, but their work had begun. They had been able to share the good news of the gospel to all those who lived in the region. Although Paul would travel away, he never would forget the churches that he had helped to start, and the believers that he had seen converted in the region of Galatia. Eventually others would come along behind Paul and seek to undo what Paul had taught. They were not satisfied with the gospel that they heard, and they desired to teach a new message.
When news of this subterfuge reached Paul, he made it a priority to pen an epistle of warning to the Galatians. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul wrote a letter admonishing the Galatian believers to hold firmly to the message he had taught them. He warned them of the false teachers who would ruin them, and encouraged them to love one another and continue in the faith. Many of the warnings that Paul wrote nearly 2,000 years ago are incredibly applicable today. With the rise of cults and the prevalence of false teaching, it is important that we hold firmly to the truth of the gospel.

Food for Thought: Where did the Province of Galatia get its name?