Like all the letters of Paul (and indeed other New Testament letters), Galatians only gives us one side of an argument; and, also, like other such letters, it is not a piece of systematic theology but a response to highly specific circumstances; nonetheless, its argument is coherent and compelling and in the act of self defence Paul's theology, and particularly his Christology, began to mature.

Galatians bears a strong resemblance to Romans of which it is a miniature. During the two decades after the death of Jesus there was a running dispute between the Jerusalem Church who believed that gentile converts should be subject to the whole Jewish law, including, emblematically, circumcision and the Antiochene Church which was increasingly Gentile dominated and which took, led by Paul, a much more liberal view. Wherever Paul preached he was confronted by 'Judaizers'; we do not know whether these were authorised by the Jerusalem Church but it is doubtful because of the meeting between Paul, and Barnabas and elders of the Jerusalem Church including Peter, James and John (Acts 9:26-27; 11:27-30).

Paul's over-riding themes in Galatians are, systematically connected; Paul says that:

  1. Paul has authority directly from God through Jesus Christ to preach the Gospel (Galatians 1:1; 1:11-12)
  2. This authority does not depend upon the Jerusalem Church (Galatians 1:15-17) but he has its blessing to preach to Gentiles anyway (Galatians 2:3-10)
  3. The gospel is for Jew and Gentile alike, foreshadowed in the life of Abraham  (Galatians 3:6-9)
  4. Justification comes from faith in the efficacy of Christ's death and not from the Jewish law (Galatians 2:16)
  5. The law has been superseded (perfected) through the crucifixion (Galatians 3:23-25)
  6. Circumcision is unnecessary for gentiles (or even Jews) as it has been replaced by Baptism (Galatians 3:25-29)
  7. Slavery to the Law is replaced by Christian freedom (Galatians 5:1-16)

Apart from the intensity of the  polemic (Galatians 1:6; 3:1), perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Letter is Paul's account of his own life, particularly the dispute with St. Peter (Galatians 2:11-14) which shows Paul to be pugnacious and Peter vacillating.

Some commentators think that Galatians was written after the critical 'Council' of Jerusalem c51 AD but the majority view is that it was written, about the time of Romans, just before the Council' c49 AD. Whatever the conclusion, what matters is that Paul's line prevailed at the 'Council', guaranteeing the survival of Christianity in its gentile milieu whereas Judaic Christianity was withering even before the Roman sack of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

KC viii/06

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