This month we’re going to do another three part look at a single Biblical book: Paul’s letter to the Galatians. As in May with the three blogs on Jonah, we’ll look first at background, then circumstances and concerns of the individuals involved, and finally how to bring Galatians’ lessons forward. Today we start with Why Converting the Galatians was Tough!
Understanding where the Galatians came from doesn’t seem like something that would have anything to do with the theological issues Paul addresses in this short six-chapter letter, but in fact, it has everything to do with it.
The Galatians were originally from ancient Gaul–today’s France, Belgium and Switzerland–which gave them their name. Probably 10,000 strong and part of the great Celtic migration of the 3rd century BCE, they were fierce fighters who were hired as mercenaries by a king of Thrace (today’s Northern Greece).
They turned on the King who hired them, exhibiting the loyalt01y of most mercenaries (!), intermingled with the local Greeks, then kept moving until they landed in the central section of today’s Turkey, ancient Anatolia. (Ankara, Turkey’s present capital, is built on the ruins of Ancyra, the capital of ancient Galatia.)
There were two provinces of ancient Galatia, both described by Luke in Acts of the Apostles, as places Paul visited. The Northern section included the towns of Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe. Southern Galatia contained Perga which, when combined with the North, covered about 200 miles across.
The Galatians supported themselves by plundering neighboring countries until the Romans eventually defeated them in 25 BCE when they were officially incorporated into the Roman Empire. As the last tribal group to fall to the Romans who greatly admired their fierce demeanor, the statue of “The Dying Gaul”, shown here, held a prominent place in many wealthy Romans’ homes as a tribute to their fighting spirit.
Although Paul encountered the Gauls around 50 CE (who were by now called Galatians) two centuries after they had settled into Asia Minor, an ancient historian wrote of them: “They are the most formidable and warlike nation in Asia, known for their lawlessness.” They worshipped a series of tribal and household gods; so this was the mentality Paul encountered on his first missionary journey.
Did Paul intend to visit the Galatians? It doesn’t appear so after studying his letter. Instead we get the sense he got sick while traveling, and had to go into this wild and wooly area most tourists avoided. Paul’s health challenge centered around his eyes, indicative of a touching comment to them about how faithfully and tenderly they cared for him — offering a very different insight into these proud people. Paul wrote:
Surely you remember that I was sick when I first brought you the Good News. But even though my condition tempted you to reject me, you did not despise me or turn me away. No, you took me in and cared for me as though I were an angel from God or even Christ Jesus himself … I am sure you would have taken out your own eyes and given them to me if it had been possible.” (Gal. 4:13-15, New Living Translation)
Perhaps this background explains how the crowds Paul preached to had a mercurial turn and began to wobble in their faith. This is the subject of the upcoming blog #2 on Galatians.