This Epistle differs from most of those written by Paul, in that it is not addressed specially to the church in some great city, but to the churches throughout a district of the Roman Empire. Galatia will be seen on any map of the empire in the apostolic period in the interior of the great peninsula called Asia Minor, which was the theatre of so large a part of the labors of Paul. The people were of the Gallic stock, had marched from the Rhine to Greece, and thence into Asia about B. C. 280, and had conquered a home in the interior of Asia Minor, which henceforth took a new name from the people (Galli, or Gauls) who made it their seat. They learned the Greek language, but retained in part their old tongue and the traits of their race. Cæsar describes the Gauls as restless and changeable, characteristics still of the French, and this epistle shows that the Galatians were not unlike their European kinsmen.
It was on Paul's second great missionary tour, about A. D. 51, that he in company with Silas and Timothy passed through from Lycaonia in Phrygia and Galatia, and planted the seeds of the Christian faith ( Acts 16:6 ). On his third missionary journey, about A. D. 54 or 55, he "went over all the country of Galatia and Phrygia in order, strengthening all the disciples" ( Acts 18:23 ). The gospel was received with great readiness; and the apostle himself welcomed as "an angel of God" ( Gal. 4:14 ). A part of the converts were no doubt Jews of whom, according to Josephus, there were many in Galatia, but the greater part were Gentiles.
The Epistles of Paul were mostly called out by evils in the churches which he had planted which called for correction. That to the Galatians is not an exception. At a period not long after his second visit tidings came to him that excited his alarm and indignation. That restless wing of the church which clung to Judaism as well as Christianity, which had troubled the church at Antioch ( Acts 15:1 ), which had made necessary the council at Jerusalem ( Acts 15:5-30 ), whose evil work at Corinth we note in both Epistles, but especially in the second, whose continual warfare made one of Paul's sorest afflictions "perils among false brethren," had sent its emissaries into Galatia and had taught that it was needful that the Gentile Christians be circumcised and submit to the law of Moses in order to be saved. In order to carry their end they also insisted that Paul was not a true apostle, or was at least inferior to the original Twelve who had seen Christ and been instructed by him in person. It is true that in the Council at Jerusalem they had been defeated, but they kept up their work, and it required a life long struggle on the part of Paul to emancipate the church from Judaism. These men seemed to follow him everywhere, and a considerable part of his epistles is devoted to correcting the errors due to their influence.
The Galatian letter is an indignant protest against and refutation of the Judaizing teachers. In the first two chapters he shows that his apostleship was not derived from the other apostles, but from Christ; that the gospel that he taught was not revealed to him by them, but by his Lord; that he had never met them as an inferior, but on an equal footing; that it was agreed between them that Peter, James and John would devote their labors to the Circumcision, while he and Barnabas should go to the Uncircumcision, and that on one occasion it was needful for him to rebuke and correct Peter on the very question of the proper attitude towards Gentile Christians.
In the Second Part of the Letter, chapters 3 and 4 , he contrasts the free gospel salvation by a living faith in Christ with the slavish legalism of the false teachers who would virtually place Moses in the stead of Christ. The Third Part, the 5th and 6th chapters , is devoted mainly to practical duties which grow out of the gospel.
The Place where written and the Date of the Epistle can be determined only approximately. It must have been written after Paul's two visits to Galatia, the last of which was in A. D. 54 or 55. See note on Gal. 4:13. It must have been written not very long after the second visit. See note on Gal. 1:6. There are many points of resemblance between Epistle and that to the Romans which indicate that they were written nearly at the same time; since this epistle is the less elaborate, it was probably written first. There are also points of resemblance to Second Corinthians which indicate that they belong to the same period. All these facts point to the last year of the Third Missionary Journey, or about A. D. 57. As we learn from Acts that this period was spent in Ephesus, Macedonia and Corinth, it must have been written at one of these places.
It only remains to say concerning its Genuineness, "that the internal evidences of the authorship of Paul is so strong that no sane divine has ever denied or even doubted it" (Schaff). There is no other writer of the early church who could have written it. It bears the Pauline stamp in every line.