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was Galatians written to north or south Galatia?

Updated on February 5, 2013

When studying the scriptures, it is vitally important to find the context of the writing. Important questions to ask include: who wrote it, to whom is it written, when was it written, why was it written, etc. The epistle to the Galatians has one question that seems to have an unclear answer. That question is, “To whom was it written?” There is no doubt as to who wrote it. Paul clearly wrote to the Galatians. The problem is there were two possibilities of destination when termed Galatia. This paper will include the examination of the arguments for North and South Galatia, and a summary of these views.

The Gauls settled in Asia Minor in the third century B.C. After being defeated by Attalus I, the king of Pergamum around 230 B.C., their kingdom was reduced to a small area in northern Asia. The kingdom was subjected to Roman control in 189 B.C. In 25 B.C., at the death of Amyntas, the leader of Galatia, as well as larger territory, Galatia was reorganized by Rome as a province (3, 148). The province of Galatia now encompassed a much larger territory than just their small region in the north. Such cities as Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and Pisidian Antioch were a part of this Roman province (4, 149). These are cities that Paul visited on his first missionary journey, recorded in Acts 13-14 (1, 1).

The North Galatia theory argues that the epistle was written to a geographic and ethnic Galatia. That is, not to a specific church, but to a group of people as a whole. This would be North Galatia. Supporters of this theory offer three major arguments that point to the North: Church tradition, the ethnicity of the Galatians, and the possibility of Acts 16 and 18 suggest Paul evangelized North Galatia.

Church tradition has been to believe the North Galatia view. Throughout history students of the Word have believed the North Galatia view (1,1). However, in the eighteenth century that began to change. Today the argument is not as definitively defined as it may have been a thousand years ago. Many who believe the North Galatia view suggest that the tradition was right for many years, and how can people today think they are smarter than men who believed it for thousands of years? This is their major argument.

The ethnicity of the Galatians leads some to believe that the region referred to is the North. They suggest that when Paul uses the term “Galatia” he is referring to an ethnic region, not the province. They say Paul and Luke’s use of Mysia, Phrygia, Pisidia, are all 'geographical expressions' destitute of any political significance (5, 1). Thus the use of Galatia is the same.

The last main argument for the Northern view is the possibility that Paul saw much of North Galatia evangelized in Acts 16 and 18. This theory suggests that Acts 16.6 and 18.23 refer to visits by Paul to the north Galatian region (2, 521). Some argue that the references to Phrygia and Galatia refer to one region, but that this region was north Galatia, first settled by Phrygians and later occupied by the Gauls (2, 521).Thus it can be said that Acts records the evangelization of north Galatia, and this helps to confirm that Paul is writing his letter to them.

The South Galatia theory suggests that Paul was writing to churches in the southern part of the province of Galatia, particularly to the churches he had established on his first missionary journey (Acts 13-14), in such cities as Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and Pisidian Antioch. Three of the major arguments are: there is no clear record of Paul ever visiting and evangelizing the area of north Galatia, the mention of Barnabas in the letter, andPaul's use of provincial titles.

It is true that there is no clear record of Paul evangelizing the North (1, 1). If it were not so, the likelihood that Paul was addressing churches he founded in north Galatia would be decreased (though the possibility still would exist). Further, some believe Paul never even visited north Galatia, as Acts 16:6 and 18:23 might seem to imply, and as many north Galatia believers argue (5, 1). Instead, the mentioning of Phrygia and Galatia are references to the same area, namely that of south Galatia, where Paul established the disciples of those churches which had already been founded.While Paul usually went to major cities that had Jewish synagogues, this does not mean that there were no major cities nor Jewish congregations in the north, or even that Paul would not have gone there without these (5, 1).

Barnabas is mentioned three times in the epistle to the Galatians (2:1, 9, 13). It is suggested that the Galatians knew who Barnabas was. While these references do not prove that the Galatians knew Barnabas, they do at least suggest a possibility that they did know him (1, 1). Barnabas accompanied Paul only on his first missionary journey, so he would have never been to north Galatia with Paul; if Paul even went there on his second journey. Any significance to the mention of Barnabas' name in the epistle is lost if it was written to North Galatia (4, 150). If the Galatians did know Barnabas, it would have most likely been because of this first journey (Acts 14.12), and it would suggest that these Galatians are of Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and Pisisdian Antioch, congregations of provincial, not ethnic, Galatia (4, 150).

The third main argument for the Southern Galatia theory is Paul’s use of provincial titles. Some attempt to defend that Galatia was used in an ethnic sense by Luke and not a provincial sense. However, there is at least one weakness in this conclusion. Even if Luke uses geographical names it does not necessarily mean that Paul used them (5, 1). One needs to develop the idea that Paul used ethnic or political designations. But as others point out, this may be difficult to do with the evidence from Paul's writings, for he seems to prefer provincial titles when referring to churches. Paul also speaks of Judea, Syria and Cilicia, but never of Lycaonia, Pisidia, Mysia and Lydia. It seems logical then to say that the term 'Galatia' in Galatians 1:2 and 3:1 is probably a provincial designation in which case the epistle could have been sent to the churches of the south (1, 1).

In conclusion, one Most of the arguments are not in and of themselves determinative. The direct evidence is simply too scanty. For the north Galatia theory, the strongest argument is that of church history. For the South Galatia theory the strongest argument seems to be that of Paul’s use of provincial titles. However, the South Galatia theory seems to be the best theory and most widely accepted. . Finally, one major benefit of assuming the destination as south Galatia is that we have a somewhat extensive record of Paul's work of evangelization in that area (Acts 13-14). It enhances our knowledge of the epistle if we have some understanding of the background of the churches to which the epistle was written. Using this information one can more easily understand the epistle to the Galatians, and better understand the context in which it was written.


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    • JMcFarland profile image


      5 years ago from The US of A, but I'm Open to Suggestions

      so you think that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John actually wrote all of them. That's all I need to know about in order to determine the validity of your points. Thanks.

    • Knowledge>Power profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from USA

      Not really any debate there, as far as historically. This hub addresses a debate that (though, minute in detail) goes back centuries

    • JMcFarland profile image


      5 years ago from The US of A, but I'm Open to Suggestions

      I'm curious. Who do you think wrote the four gospels?


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