Galatians: Audience

On his first missionary journey Paul visited and converted people in many cities of southern Galatia, such as Antioch, Lystra, Iconium, and Derbe which are referred to specifically in the book of Acts. The traditional view is that "Galatians" would have been the only term Paul could have used to refer to this collective region. There are some who believe that he was writing specifically to the northern region in Galatia. Their claim is that the vernacular of the day would have suggested that when people talked of Galatia they were speaking of this northern region. While the location of these believers is important to the date and other surrounding facts concerning this letter, it is minimally important for our understanding of Paul's views of the situation and of his message to the people.

We find out in Acts that while Paul and Barnabas were evangelizing this region, they were preaching the gospel by first going to the synagogues. When they met continued resistance from the Jewish leaders, they turned to the Gentiles who probably represented the majority of their converts. After their departure it seems as though some Jewish Christians followed them and were instructing these new believers on the necessity of obeying the Jewish law. In addition, these Jewish zealots were attempting to convince the Galatians of Paul's inferiority to the earlier apostles. It is most likely that these Jewish "Christians" were undermining Paul in order to give weight to their own purpose.

Knowing that these new Galatian converts were mere babes in Christ, Paul wrote passionately about his own dismay over what he considered their abandonment of the gospel. Paul came to them preaching a gospel of freedom in Christ, but they had allowed themselves to be enslaved to the law, denying the marvelous grace of God. They needed to reclaim their freedom in Christ as heirs of his promise, to be corrected in their misunderstanding of the importance and use of the law, and to be equipped for living as the body of Christ.