The letter to the Galatians

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Reading Time: 10 minutes

Who is the Author?

Scholarly consensus

Nowadays, Biblical scholars agree that Galatians is a true example of Paul’s writing. The main arguments in favor of the authenticity of Galatians include its style and themes, which are common to the core letters of the Pauline corpus. George S. Duncan described the authenticity of Paul as its author as “unquestioned… In every line it betrays its origin as a genuine letter of Paul.” Moreover, Paul’s possible description of the Council of Jerusalem (Gal.2:1–10) gives a different point of view from the description in Acts 15:2–29, if it is, in fact, describing the Jerusalem Council. Even popular sceptical critics like Bart Ehrman defends the authenticity of Paul.

https://ehrmanblog.org/the-accuracy-of-pauls-letter-to-the-galatians/
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistle_to_the_Galatians
Longenecker, Richard (2015). Galatians, p lviii
Duncan, George S. (1934). The Epistle of Paul to the Galatians, p. xviii
Holladay, Carl R. (2005). A Critical Introduction to the New Testament. p. 463–66

Name

Galatians starts with a clarity many of Paul’s other letters provide in Galatians 1:1 -2

“Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— 2 and all the brothers and sisters with me, To the churches in Galatia:”

Galatians 1:1 -2

The author internally is clearly suggested to be Paul the one claiming to be the apostle. We know it to be Paul of Tarsus after he attributes the testimony developed in Acts 9 (Galatians 1:11-24).

Manuscript evidence for Paul’s authorship P46

Galatians 6.10-Philippians 1.1; Philippians 1.5-15
https://viewer.cbl.ie/viewer/browse/-/1/SORT_TITLE/DC:biblicalpapyricollection/

The above manuscript known as P46 is a page of an early collection of fragments containing the book of Galatians 1:1–6:10 (Other’s are mentioned but these are the ones relevant for us) one part being stored at the Chester Beatty library and the other housed at the University of Michigan (The larger fuller manuscript).

https://www.lib.umich.edu/reading/Paul/reading.html

Dating to the late 2nd century/ start of the third, the manuscript evidence gives witness to the name of Paul, his attribution of him as the author from early on which is found in Egypt and is known to be a copy pushing the original further to the event. Considering how papyrus can deteriorate within a few hundred years, this is truly remarkable fortune.

Muratorian fragment (170 AD)

This document dating to the late second century gives us Paul’s stamp of the letters he has written according to early church tradition. We see here as it refers to both letters to the Corinthians: “…As for the Epistles of (40-1) Paul, they themselves make clear to those desiring to understand, which ones [they are], from what place, or for what reason they were sent …next, to the Galatians, against circumcision…”

http://www.bible-researcher.com/muratorian.html

Paul was a writer/composer

Here church fathers make reference to Paul passing on commands or writing letters (with or without a scribe, likely with a scribe for all of them?). It is an additional factor for all Paul’s epistles that he was known as someone who wrote, taught truth and passed on commands, given an authority the first disciples did not possess. See two references below to this.

Ignatius wrote to the Romans ca. 105-107 AD: “I may be found a sacrifice to God. I do not, as Peter and Paul, issue commandments unto you. They were apostles of Jesus Christ, but I am the very least [of believers]: they were free,”

Polycarp in his letter to the Philippians ca. 115 AD: “For neither I, nor any other such one, can come up to the wisdom of the blessed and glorified Paul. He, when among you, accurately and steadfastly taught the word of truth in the presence of those who were then alive. And when absent from you, he wrote you a letter,”

Peter endorses Paul’s writings

If 2 Peter is written in the first century (though sceptical scholars have been known to attribute it to someone in the second century) this passage would bear the mark that Peter endorses Paul writing letters also:

“Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.”

2 Peter 3:15-17:

Audience, Location & purpose

Paul is principally concerned with the controversy surrounding gentile Christians and the Mosaic Law during the Apostolic Age. Paul argues that the gentile Galatians do not need to adhere to the tenets of the Mosaic Law, particularly religious male circumcision, by contextualizing the role of the law in light of the revelation of Christ. 

Date

Internal evidence

Galatians 1-2 is mostly biographical, and to date the book of Galatians it is necessary to fit the events described there into the overall New Testament timeline. In Gal 1:17, Paul describes his stay in Arabia and Damascus after his conversion. He says that after three years he went to Jerusalem (Gal 1:19), an event corresponding to Acts 9:26-29, which we have dated to 36 A.D. He then returned to Tarsus in Cilicia (Acts 9:30, Gal 1:21). His next return to Jerusalem was 14 years later, with Barnabas (Acts 11:30, Gal 2:1), in 49 A.D. (Remember to add inclusively, without a zero). Paul’s first missionary journey followed, and it was during this journey that he founded the Galatian churches. This was followed by the controversy over requirements for gentile believers that led to the Jerusalem Council of 50 A.D.

The letter to the Galatians does not mention the Jerusalem Council, and the omission is telling. Paul is extremely emotional in Galatians in his opposition to the “Judaizers”, Jewish Christians who followed him to Galatia and had been teaching the gentile believers there that they needed to be circumcised and follow the law of Moses. Paul was adamently opposed to that idea, and it was this controversy that led to the Jerusalem Council of 50 A.D., described in Acts 15. The council’s verdict went essentially in Paul’s favor, indicating that gentiles did not need to be circumcised or follow the law of Moses, but requiring them to abstain from food offered to idols, from eating meat with blood, and from sexual immorality (Acts 15:29), restrictions necessary to allow fellowship between Jewish and gentile Christians.

It seems likely that Galatians was written just prior to the Jerusalem Council, when the controversy over gentile believers was white hot. It could hardly have been written afterward, for then Paul would have appealed to the tremendous authority of the council, with a decision backed by James and all the Apostles. Galatians is then dated to 50 A.D., and it becomes the earliest surviving letter of Paul.

http://www.datingthenewtestament.com/Galatians.htm

Scholarly views

There is a scholarly consensus that Galatians was written by Paul, however, there is not a consensus as to the date of writing, with estimates running from the late 40s to the late 50s.

Canonical status

What was the acceptance rate of Galatians as canonical? Polycarp uses Galatians very early on and heretics like Marcion used chunks from it but edited it to make it fit his view, Valentinus too. Generally there is a strong church acknowledgement of the letter to the Galatians as canonical and this view is unquestionable from the church fathers and is of no doubt in modern scholars minds. 

See this table for a list on who recognised each book as canonical (key(s) below)

It does not mention every Church Father who used the New Testament books, this is just a survey of some of the most known
  • Ig = Ignatius
  • Po = Polycarp
  • M = Marcion
  • Va = Valentinus
  • JM = Justin Martyr
  • IR = Irenaeus 
  • C = Clement of Alexandria 
  • T = Tertullian
  • MC = Muratorian Canon
  • O = Origen
  • E = Eusebius
  • CS = Codex Sinaiticus
  • A = Athanasius
  • D = Didymus the Blind
  • P = Peshitta (Bible of the Syrian church)
  • V =  Latin vulgate 
taken from ntcanon.org/table.shtml 

Jesus, nor the apostles, nor Polycarp, Clement or Irenaeus left much for us to work with in terms of a formal “ok so here’s the rules of determination”. But what they did do is inform us that they had an informative way of knowing what was truth and what was not. And the truth had to have a connection to eyewitnesses.

For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

2 Peter 1:16 

2“So now we must choose a replacement for Judas from among the men who were with us the entire time we were traveling with the Lord Jesus— from the time he was baptized by John until the day he was taken from us. Whoever is chosen will join us as a witness of Jesus’ resurrection

Acts 1:21-22

One of the soldiers, however, pierced his side with a spear, and immediately blood and water flowed out. (This report is from an eyewitness giving an accurate account. He speaks the truth so that you also may continue to believe.)

John 19:34-35

“God raised Jesus from the dead, and we are all witnesses of this.

Acts 2:32

You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. And we are witnesses of this fact!

Acts 3:15

We are witnesses of these things and so is the Holy Spirit, who is given by God to those who obey him.”

Acts 5:32

“And we apostles are witnesses of all he did throughout Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a cross,but God raised him to life on the third day. Then God allowed him to appear, not to the general public, but to us whom God had chosen in advance to be his witnesses. We were those who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he ordered us to preach everywhere and to testify that Jesus is the one appointed by God to be the judge of all—the living and the dead. He is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in him will have their sins forgiven through his name.”

Acts 10:39-43

[Paul] With Christ as my witness, I speak with utter truthfulness. My conscience and the Holy Spirit confirm it.

Romans 9:1

I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died.Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. For I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church.

1 Corinthians 15:3-9

And now, a word to you who are elders in the churches. I, too, am an elder and a witness to the sufferings of Christ. And I, too, will share in his glory when he is revealed to the whole world. As a fellow elder, I appeal to you:

1 Peter 5:1

Caius the church father in 200AD writes how they knew of two fake letters circulating in Paul’s name. 

“There are also in circulation one to the Laodiceans, and another to the Alexandrians, forged under the name of Paul, and addressed against the heresy of Marcion; and there are also several others which cannot be received into the Catholic Church, for it is not suitable for gall to be mingled with honey”.

Caius, Church leader

How did they work this out? How did they know what was the divinely inspired word of God? We can thank Eusebius for beginning to help us clear up this territory. In his Ecclesiastical History, he mentions his four categories of books with descriptions as to why some were accepted, disputed, rejected and seen as heretical from his survey of the church fathers history going back and into the apostolic age. This is the structure we will take when we assess the books of the New Testament and this includes investigating the books the church rejected. 

So these summarised standards are these:

  1. Apostolicity. Was it written by an Apostle or one of their colleagues?
  2. Orthodoxy. Was the teaching orthodox? Consistent with Old Testament and the Christian worldview?
  3. Catholicity. Not the Catholic Church (that doesn’t exist for a few hundred years yet!)… This meaning widely agreed upon
  4. Relevance. Was it relevant to the church? Or does it seem completely detached from what we already have in the canon? (I.e. everything Gnostic)
  5. Inspiration. Did it have the ring of truth, the life changing power within?

Apostolicity

We see in 2 Peter 3:15-17 accredit the works of Paul as scriptures, and Peter, being the lead apostle, can testify to apostolicity. Elsewhere in Paul’s letters, Paul has called himself inline with the apostles (Romans 1:1 for example) and several times in 1 Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 we see Paul associate himself with the Apostles as those to whom the risen Jesus appeared to. So Paul is an apostle and in Galatians 2:6 the Apostles Peter and James reviewed what Paul was preaching and added nothing to his message, meaning what he was preaching was inline with them.Galatians, through it’s author, has all the signs of being apostolic.

Orthodoxy

Like stated on the exchange in the beginning of Galatians 2, Paul got his message verified by the apostles. Paul also has a consistent message doctrinally with what Jesus teaches. There is nothing in the writings of Corinthians that is said to contradict the Gospels or the Christian message. There are times when Paul is addressing specific cultural questions and then he responds which feels more specific than the Gospels, all Paul is doing here is applying to more specific scenarios and giving depth to which we may not be inspired to uncover.

Catholicity

There has been no challenge by the early church fathers to Galatians, even heretics like Marcion and Valentinus tried to use the documents. Ignatius doesn’t quote from it but that doesn’t mean he disagreed with it, he may just not of required it in what he was responding to and he does this with a few early Christian documents. Polycarp however, featuring around the same time does use many of the letters Ignatius doesn’t quote from. There is a strong church agreement there on from these disciples of the disciples all the way to today.

Relevance

This is not only relevant, but for the church in Galatia, and the modern church, Paul is addressing questions of huge importance when it comes to Jewish and Christian practice. Although this consequence doesn’t come up as much today, we as Christians need to know we are under the law of Christ and not the law of the Israelites (sacrificial & cultural systems).

Inspiration

Paul is called by God (Acts 9), claims in many of his letters to be sent as an Apostle for Christ Jesus (Romans 1 for example).  He has the mandate also of the Apostles (Galatians 1:17 – 2:6; 2 Peter 3:15-17) and is considered by the church Canonical, with it being in all the Christian lists of New Testament books. They could additionally as with all New Testament books recognise the ring of truth within that shows the readers of the text that it is inspired. Galatians falls into this bracket. Paul claims clearly at the beginning of his letter that the truth he receives is not from man but from Jesus Christ and God the Father (Galatians 1:1)


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