Galatians – Paul’s Defense of His Ministry

August 1, 2008

Within the first eleven verses of Galatians, Paul essentially damns twice over the Judaizers who have spread a contrary gospel. In our excessively polite culture, Paul’s unwavering attitude toward critical theological issues may seem hostile or exaggerated; in reality, his reaction is both fitting and necessary.

The most important argument in the dating of Galatians is the absence of any appeal to the Council of Jerusalem’s decision (cf. Acts 15). Because of this, it is extremely likely that Paul wrote this epistle sometime between A.D. 46 and A.D. 48. A significant chronological problem remains, however, in two separate portions of the text. First, Galatians 1:18 speaks to Paul’s first visit to Jerusalem three years after his conversion. Later, it states that he travels to Jerusalem after another fourteen years (cf. 2:1). Mathematically, seventeen years before the A.D. 48 would bring one to the improbable conclusion that Paul composed this letter in A.D. 31, too early by any theological or chronological assessment. However, one must realize that it is a Jewish chronological practices to consider even a part of a year as an additional year; it is also entirely possible that Paul may not have meant to add these fourteen years (cf. 2:1) to the three years he specifies earlier (cf. 1:18).

Paul’s point in referencing these years is to establish that God has given him His gospel, that the Jerusalem authorities confirmed his possession of the essential gospel and that villains of God’s gospel are accursed.

To provide some chronological background, one could date Paul’s conversion in either A.D. 34 or 35 (cf. Acts 9), which would place many of the events within the Book of Acts in that decade. By A.D. 44, the gospel spreads into Antioch and beyond and in Chapter 13 of Acts, the Holy Spirit sets Saul (Paul) and Barnabas apart for missionary activity. Towards the end of this first missionary journey, Paul travels through southern Galatia and participates in a famine-relief effort in Antioch. He then travels to Jerusalem after fourteen years, which again, may refer to a date fourteen years after his conversion (cf. Gal 2:1). It is during this trip that Paul notices a rise of intense anti-Gentile attitudes among the Christians in Jerusalem and his confrontation with the Judaizers becomes inevitable.

Music: Mussorgsky’s "Night on Bald Mountain" performed by the Skidmore College Orchestra. www.musopen.com

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