Written by Saint Paul the Apostle to warn the churches of Galatia not to heed those who were urging them to submit to circumcision. These false teachers, known as Judaizers, announced that all Christians must be circumcised in order to be saved; according to some scholars their doctrine took the milder form of teaching merely that circumcision was necessary, if not for salvation, at least for Christian perfection. In either case they found Paul opposed to them and consequently tried to lessen his authority with the Galatians by representing him as a mere disciple of the other Apostles and as one who had failed to learn the Gospel correctly, since on this important point of circumcision he was at variance with the real Apostles. In this epistle Paul first vindicates the supernatural origin of his doctrine showing that he had received it directly from Christ and not from men (1), and then he recalls the historic occasion when he had laid his doctrine concerning circumcision of the Gentiles before the Apostles at Jerusalem and they had fully approved it (2). Appealing to the spiritual experiences of the Galatians and to the testimony of Scripture, he proves that salvation is through Christ alone (3; 4). The Galatians then are not under the bondage of the Old Law; still they must not abuse their Christian freedom to commit sin. The Judaizers are seeking their own glory, not the good of the Galatians; true glory is found only in the cross of Christ (5; 6). Paul writes at least the last few lines with his own hand.
The epistle was probably addressed to the churches in Galatia Proper, situated in the north-central part of Asia Minor. Galatia, however, was also the name of the Roman province embracing Galatia Proper and the region to the south of it in which were Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe, the cities evangelized by Paul on his first missionary journey; many hold that the epistle was addressed to these southern churches. Hence there are two theories regarding the churches addressed, the North Galatian and the South Galatian theories. The South Galatian theory was formulated by Mynster in 1825 and became popular toward the end of the last century. The North Galatian theory never lacked able defenders and in recent years has been coming into favor again; its chief recommendation is that it better satisfies the strict demands of the text of the epistle especially in the phrase “through infirmity of the flesh” (4:13) in which Paul says that he had first preached among the Galatians because of some illness. No such sudden illness seems possible as an explanation for the beginning of the strenuous and deliberately planned work of the Apostle in the Church of southern Galatia as described in the Acts of the Apostles. Besides, the Galatians seem to have been bewildered by the novelty of the attack made on their faith by the Judaizers, but this could hardly have been the case in southern Galatia where Paul had published the decisions of the Council of Jerusalem and where in consequence the tactics of the Judaizers must have been well known. The epistle was probably written, either from Ephesus or Corinth, between A.D. 55 and 58. It was only on his second missionary journey that Paul preached in Galatia Proper, and from the epistle it seems that at the time of writing he had revisited it on his third journey. The South Galatian theory admits a much earlier date, some of its advocates even considering this the first of all Paul’s epistles. Controversy has long raged concerning the identification of the visit to Jerusalem (2); some seek to make it the same as the alms-visit of Acts, 11, 30, but there seems to be no doubt that it is to be identified with the visit described in Acts, 15, where the question of circumcision was decided.