Top Menu

Why Converting the Galatians was Tough!

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!

Dying Gaul

The Dying Gaul, statue in Capitoline Museum, Rome.

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.

 


Checkout some of our related Products

CD – Galatians: Paul’s Defense of the Gospels

CD – 1 Corinthians: Paul’s Challenge to Corruption

6 Responses to Why Converting the Galatians was Tough!

  1. Tawny Cleveland July 3, 2015 at 10:21 am #

    Aw, I love this background on the Galations. I am eager to read the next blog looking through the lens of these people being spirited and strong, yet able to meet Paul’s need tenderly.

    You mention Pisidian Antioch. It seems like there were more than one city named Antioch. Any idea why?

  2. Joanne Otto July 3, 2015 at 1:37 pm #

    Actually there were 16 of them! The founder of the Seleucid dynasty (ca 300 B. C.) named all these cities, including the two that we Bible readers are familiar with, after his father, Antiochos.

  3. Colleen Moore July 4, 2015 at 10:39 am #

    There are also many African-American churches in the South named Antioch. I didn’t know the reason for this until I took a plantation tour that focused on slavery and learned that the name was first Anti-Yoke — former slaves who did not want to be bound to anyone. Here is an example of a church that I visited:

    http://www.firstcommunityantioch.net/church_historypurpose

    I just thought you might like to see how the name has been adapted overtime.

    • Madelon July 6, 2015 at 11:05 am #

      Colleen, Tawny anad Joanne,
      Thank you for your question Tawny and these marvelous responses. The irony of the Antiochus source as the name of these New Testament cities, is the cruelty with which the Seleucids ruled, especially Antiochus Ephiphanes IV. The book of Daniel is in response to his excessive cruelty to the Jews while he was in power. Paul’s launching point for the Missionary journeys is the Antioch in Syria, not far from Tarsus in today’s Turkey. Matthew (not the disciple) wrote his Gospel from there. Isn’t it amazing how a single question about a city can lead to so much overlapping history?!

  4. Andy October 26, 2015 at 12:01 pm #

    “BCE?” “CE?”

    We are counting from Christ’s traditionally held birth year, are we not? And we are Christians, are we not?

    • Madelon October 28, 2015 at 5:11 pm #

      Hi Andy and thanks for writing. You’re commenting on the newer way people tend to mark the Christian era. I certainly agree that we are Christians and love recognizing that. Scholars and academics for some years now have preferred to have a more inclusive conversation in religion — such as with Muslims and Jews — in which the calendar is oriented toward “Before the Common Era” (BCE) and the “Common Era”. I use the newer abbreviations out of respect toward those who are not Christians. But of course each one should use what they are most comfortable with. Thanks so much for participating in Bible Roads.
      Warm regards,

      Madelon

Leave a Reply