Galatians is probably Paul’s earliest letter, written around AD 48 to churches in southern and not northern Galatia (the first conclusion among several debated issues, as you will see).
Assuming some dates (these dates can be debated) and matching Paul’s biographical details their parallels in Acts, Paul persecuted the church (Gal 1:13–14; Acts 9:1–2; AD 34), was converted (Gal 1:15–16a; Acts 9:3–19a; AD 34), preached in Arabia and Damascus for three years (Gal 1:17; Acts 9:19–22; AD 34–37), visited Peter and James in Jerusalem after these three years (Gal 1:18–20; Acts 9:26–29; AD 37), and preached in Judea for about ten years (Gal 1:21–24; Acts 9:30–31; AD 37–47).
Fourteen years after his conversion (so it seems; cf. Gal 2:1), Paul took Barnabas and Titus to visit Jerusalem again for a private meeting with Peter, James, and John (Gal 2:1–10), which may or may not be recorded in Acts (if so, Acts 11:27–30; AD 47; this conclusion is debated and hinges on another―see comments on Gal 2:1–10 and Acts 15:1–29 below).
Paul then went on his first missionary journey, which included planting churches in southern Galatia (Acts 13–14; AD 47–48). It is not clear when Peter came to Antioch and was confronted by Paul (Gal 2:11–14), but (making yet another conclusion) perhaps it was after Paul had planted the Galatian churches (thus, AD 48). Maybe Peter wanted to follow up on the gospel’s spread to the Gentiles as he had done earlier in Samaria (Acts 8:14) or visited while traveling to minister to the churches in general (cf. Acts 9:32).
Paul then went to the Jerusalem council in Acts 15:1–29 a year or so later (AD 49), an event probably not the same as what Paul records in Gal 2:1–10 (another debated issue). This conclusion is supported in that (1) Paul does not mention the Acts 15 conclusions in Galatians and (2) Luke describes the Acts 15 council as public (cf. Acts 15:6, 12, 22) while Paul describes Gal 2:10 as a private meeting (cf. Gal 2:2).
Paul then visited the Galatian churches two more times at the beginnings of his second (Acts 16:6; cf. cf. 15:40–18:22; AD 49) and third (Acts 18:23; cf. 18:23–21:17; AD 52) missionary journeys (AD 49–51 and 52–57).
On a pastoral level, for as strong as Paul was in his letter to the Galatians, we can be encouraged that the churches corrected themselves and persevered, implied by the fact that Paul visited them in his second and third missionary journeys. While these churches were swayed for a time, Paul’s strong and swift denunciation of a false gospel grounded them in the true gospel again, leaving them strengthened in the end.
Pastor David Huffstutler
Pastor Huffstutler regularly writes articles for our Sunday bulletin. See his bio on our pastoral bio page.