This blog, by Richard Fellows, discusses historical questions concerning Paul's letters, his co-workers, Acts, and chronology.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Paul wrote to South Galatia: some new arguments

The post brings together my reasons for believing that Galatians was addressed to the churches in south Galatia that Paul and Barnabas founded (Acts 13:14-14:28). Arguments 1, 4, and 6 are new, I believe.

1. Acts precludes a visit by Paul to north Galatia. Some believe that Acts 16:6 refers to a trip to north Galatia, but this is not possible. We read
16:6 They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia [or Phrygian Galatia], having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 16:7 When they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them; 16:8 so, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. 16:9 During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying "Come over to Macedonia and help us." 16:10 When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.
 In this passage Paul and his companions receive three pieces of divine guidance, the common purpose of which was to get the group to Macedonia as quickly as possible. I suggest that they became "convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news" to Macedonia after reflecting on all three pieces of divine guidance.

This precludes a trip to north Galatia. If they went to north Galatia in 16:6 we would have to suppose that the divine guidance was fickle, sending them first to the north east, then to the west. Why would Luke record such ineffective guidance?

The map shows the route that they may have taken and illustrates that a diversion to north Galatia would not have been consistent with the divine plan that Luke records. The road system here is taken from Stephen Mitchell, Anatolia Land, Men, and gods in Asia Minor Vol i. He firmly supports the south Galatia hypothesis and suggests that τὴν Φρυγίαν καὶ Γαλατικὴν χώραν refers to the country of Phrygia Paroreius, on either side of Sultan Dag (Vol ii, p3).

2. Chronology does not allow enough time for a preaching tour of north Galatia. Paul visited Jerusalem (Gal 2:1-10 = Acts 15) no earlier than A.D. 48 and arrived in Corinth no later than A.D. 50. In the interval of two year (or less) Paul returned to Antioch; stayed there 'some days' (Acts 15:36);  revisited the churches in Syria, Cilicia, and south Galatia; travelled to Macedonia; founded churches there; and preached in Athens. This itinerary is already slightly more rushed than Paul's usual pace. Adding a preaching tour of north Galatia would put additional strain on the chronology here. Others have made this point.

3. Barnabas was known to the recipients of the letter, as Ramsay and others have pointed out. Barnabas is mentioned without introduction in Gal 2:1, suggesting that he was known to the recipients.  Also, Gal 2:13 presupposes that the recipients knew Barnabas's previous position on the issue of Jews eating with Gentiles.

4. The circumcision of Timothy (Acts 16:1-3) looms large in the background of Paul's letter. The Galatians seem to have gained the impression that Paul actually supported circumcision (see Gal 5:11). Indeed, I have argued here, here, and here that Paul wrote in response to the rumor that he was ideologically in favor of circumcision but had preached against it to please the Jerusalem church leaders. The Galatians' misunderstanding of Paul's position is explicable if they were south Galatians. Paul's circumcision of Timothy could have led them to believe that he actually believed in circumcision, and the delivery of the decisions of the Jerusalem leaders (Acts 16:4) could have suggested to them that Paul had acted all along as a messenger of the Jerusalem church.
Furthermore, if Titus was Timothy, as I believe, then Gal 2:4-5 looks suspiciously like a reference to the discovery of Timothy's uncircumcised state and his subsequent circumcision.

5. Paul's illness would not have taken him to north Galatia. Gal 4:13 tells us that Paul preached to the Galatians because of a physical infirmity. Presumably the infirmity prevented him from supporting himself by working, or limited his ability to travel. It is possible that Paul had intended to travel to Asia and/or Europe, and that his infirmity forced him to scale back his ambitions and travel to south Galatia instead. A detour to north Galatia, on the other hand, would have constituted an extension to Paul's travels, not a cut-back, and it is hard to imagine how a sickness could have led him to decide to go there.

6. Timothy would have been named as a co-sender of a letter to north Galatia. Paul names as co-senders those who helped him found the church to whom he writes. Thus Timothy is a co-sender of 1 Thess, 2 Cor, and Phil; Crispus-Sosthenes is the co-sender of 1 Corinthians; and Silvanus is a co-sender of 1 Thess; while Romans has no co-senders. If Galatians was addressed to north Galatia it is somewhat surprising that Timothy, in particular, is not named as a co-sender.

I am surprised that the north Galatia hypothesis has lasted so long. Does it survive only as a reaction against certain conservative scholars who support the south Galatia hypothesis for all the wrong reasons? Or am I missing something here?


  1. Greetings Richard,
    Concerning your ‘invite’ for me to respond to the blog posts you mentioned, and to be up front with you, I am not a scholar; I am merely a Sunday school teacher, so I will inevitably miss certain peculiarities in the text that you and others who read your blog may find. You have referred to other blogs in defense of your position here, if you still desire my response, I will respond there. I understand if my arguments here are elementary and not suitable for your purposes. If you replied to these same objections with others before, it may be tiresome to continue to do so with me. In any case, I will not be offended if you would rather be about other things. Nevertheless, I really do like your blog, and I appreciate your replies to me. You really get me thinking.
    In any case and perhaps I am missing something, but I am unaware of a ‘northern’ Galatian ministry. I had, up to now, always assumed the epistle to the Galatians had been written to southern Galatia. Obviously, I have no problem with your conclusions on point #1 above.
    Concerning #2, I have to ask what you think Paul is referring to when he mentions 14 years in Galatians 2:1. Obviously, 14 years terminates at the Jerusalem council, but what is Paul’s beginning point of reference—his conversion or his first discussion with Peter? I believe it is his conversion, which I place about spring of 36 CE. I would like to date it earlier, but his 3 years in Arabia and Damascus seems to put his flight out of Jerusalem at 39 CE just before Caligula’s desire to desecrate the Temple—which I take to be the reason for Acts 9:31’s peace for the believers.
    Of course, if Paul is referring to something else as the beginning of those 14 years, then a date earlier than 50 CE for the Jerusalem council is possible. I know this places a real crunch on the time Paul spent in the churches before his meeting before Gallio in Corinth, but it may help to date his trial near the end of Gallio’s governorship of Achaia instead of its beginning. What do you think?

    Part 1 (due to character count)

  2. Part 2

    Concerning point #4, we agree on the southern Galatia issue, but we have two different vantage points from which we interpret the data. Your interpretation works well, if the epistle to the Galatians was written after the events of Acts 16:1-4. However, if Titus is Timothy and Timothy was already in Galatia when Paul arrived, why wouldn’t he be the bearer of the letter to the Galatians? Acts 16:4 seems to imply that the ‘decrees ordained of the apostles’ was the letter James wrote to the gentile churches affected by those who claimed they represented him, which James denies in Acts 15. If Acts 16:4 does represent James’ decision in Acts 15, this presupposes trouble in Galatia prompted by the enemies that crept in unawares that Paul refers to in Galatians 2:4-5, and this would account for a need for Paul’s letter, since he had matters to attend to in Antioch and Syria-Cilicia before he could think of revisiting Galatia; hence the possibility of Timothy bearing Paul’s letter and the good report Paul received concerning him from the then satisfied Galatian gentile believers. Timothy really showed he was a good representative of Paul. As for Paul circumcising Timothy at that time, if Timothy needed to be circumcised for the sake of the Gospel, could you think of a better time in which to do it than when Paul was there to explain exactly why it had to be done? If he did it elsewhere and the Galatians discovered it without Paul’s explanation, then I could see how this would confuse them. However, Paul seems to do it with their full knowledge, and Paul doesn’t mention this event as a cause of their ‘misinterpreting’ his stand on circumcision in his epistle to them. I, therefore, conclude this event was not a factor in the need for the epistle.
    Concerning #5, I had always assumed that Paul’s ‘infirmity’ was a result of his stoning in Acts 14:19-20. This may have prevented him from going much further in Galatia, but the reference in Galatians 4:13, if recalling Acts 14:19-29, puts the event earlier than the Jerusalem council. As for #6, your argument might hold true if Galatians was written after the events of Acts 16:1-4 but not if Galatians was written immediately after the Jerusalem council and was carried by Timothy to Galatia in lieu of Paul’s visit, which could not be made until later.

    God bless,


  3. Eddie, thanks for these thought provoking points.

    During the second and third centuries the boarders of Galatia moved. South Galatia was no longer in Galatia. For this reason people (falsely) assumed that the letter had been written to what we now call north Galatia and this was the universal opinion until the nineteenth century. Unfortunately, many still hold to the north Galatia hypothesis.

    On the chronology, I have a slight preference for having the 14 years start with Paul's conversion/calling. I prefer: conversion 34, visit to Peter 37, Acts 15=Gal 2 48, arrival in Corinth spring of 50.

    Paul, presumably, circumcised Timothy so that Timothy would be acceptable to the Jews whom he sought to convert. Paul could not explain this to those Jews without undermining his purpose. One of the church fathers makes the same point, I think. This may help to explain the confusion that resulted.

    I'm not sure that Acts 16:4 requires that there was already controversy about circumcision among Christians in Galatia. The wording of Acts 16:4 may be significant. It says that they delivered "the decisions for observance", not "the decisions releasing them from obligations". Paul may have simply wanted the Galatian churches, as daughter churches of Antioch, to observe the abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols etc.

    One further point, it is a little odd that Luke does not mention that Timothy had come from Antioch. This silence is explicable if he had been arranging a collection (since Luke chooses not to mention the Galatian collection on any hypothesis).

    Your point on #6 is correct. In any case, the north Galatia theorist require that the letter was written after the events of Gal 16:1-3 since they hypothesize that Paul first visit to north Galatia was in Acts 16:6.

  4. Richard, thank you for your remarks. I have to think about your conclusions a little more because the chronology doesn't fit what I have believed until now. I'll have to pause a bit to study it out once more to see if and where I am wrong. I'll probably begin reading your blog again in a few days. Thanks again for making your thoughts available. Lord bless.


  5. Richard, thanks for this. Mark Goodacre comments 'If Acts is reliable (in which case, the meeting in Acts 11:27-30) is to be identified with Galatians 2:1-10)…I don't think i am clear why identifying Gal 2 with Acts 15 makes Acts unreliable…though I might be being a bit thick.

  6. Goodacre believes that Paul would have mentioned the famine visit if it had occurred. He takes it for granted that Gal 2:1-10 was Paul's second visit to Jerusalem. This is predicated on the assumption that Paul mentions the 14 years to demonstrate how infrequently he visited Jerusalem. It is true that in Gal 1:19-22 Paul emphasizes how little contact he had had with the Judean churches, 1:23-24 sounds very much like the conclusion of Paul's point. In Gal 2:1-10 he makes no attempt to limit the number of people whom he met or the duration of his stay. Paul mentions the 14 years, I suggest, to show that he had been preaching for a long time without knowing whether his preaching was in line with the thinking of the Jerusalem church leaders. In my view he is trying to convince the Galatians that he had preached (and continues to preach) Gentile liberty to them out of conviction and not out of a desire to ingratiate himself with the authors of the decree. Paul's circumcision of Timothy had convinced the agitators that Paul actually believed in circumcision but preached against circumcision in Galatia out of respect for Jerusalem's jurisdiction there. The agitators were trying to persuade the Galatians to be circumcised and were appealing to Paul's authority. See my post here. So, the issue in Gal 1-2 is not the degree of contact between Paul and Jerusalem. No, the issue is whether Paul's preaching of Gentile liberty was sincere or motivated by a desire to please the Jerusalem apostles (1:10). Does that help?

  7. Yes, that's very helpful, thanks. I am preaching on Gal 2 this morning and evening, and re-reading the text I agree with you that Paul's rhetorical point in the 14 years statement is that he did not consult, not that he was no there.