Paul’s Letters

There is treasure hidden in Paul’s thirteen letters, but the path to find it is not obvious. Here is a tip: in the Bible, Paul’s letters are not sequenced in chronological order.

The Bible rarely gives us specific dates about events it addresses, which can be frustrating for modern readers. As an example, this is a very brief timeline of the first four decades of Christianity that is probably correct to within a few years:

27 AD to 30 AD           Ministry of Jesus

30 AD to 39 AD           Death, resurrection of Jesus; Christianity spreads among the Jews

40 AD to 48 AD           Christianity spreads increasingly to non-Jews

48 AD to 57 AD           Paul’s three missionary journeys

58 AD to 70 AD           Paul’s imprisonment; Paul’s death; Temple destroyed

Paul wrote his letters within the two decades of 48 AD to 68 AD. His thirteen generally accepted letters are arranged in the New Testament in two blocks: the nine written to churches, then the four written to individuals. The nine written to churches are generally placed in order by length. (This also assumes Hebrews was not written by Paul.)

Galatians 1-2

This episode assumes Galatians was written in about 50 AD, though many scholars believe it was written a few years later. The difference in the date might have some impact on how certain things in the letter are interpreted.

For most of its first decade of existence, Christianity was essentially a sect of Judaism. Virtually all Christians were Jewish and continued to follow the laws of Moses as best they could. As non-Jews became Christians, many of the Jewish Christians insisted that they follow the laws of Moses, too, including circumcision for the men; the Council of Jerusalem in about 49-50 AD concluded that non-Jewish Christians did not have to follow the laws of Moses. On his Second Missionary Journey, Paul took a letter from the council showing their conclusion.

These Jewish Christians, also called “Judaizers,” chose not to go quietly. Some of them continued to push the subject in totality, while others chose to teach other precepts in addition to the Gospel that Paul taught. False teachers, including the Judaizers, would plague Paul for his entire ministry. They not only taught things in opposition to the Gospel, but they also continually challenged Paul’s authority to determine what messages should be taught. Non-Jewish Christians were new believers, the New Testament had not yet been written, and the non-Jews had little knowledge of the Old Testament, so many of Paul’s letters contain much on Paul’s defense of his authority as an apostle, condemnation for those who are in opposition to him, and statements concerning the nature of the Gospel.

Galatians is written to the churches in Galatia, most of which Paul and Barnabas started on their First Missionary Journey. It must have been terribly disappointing to Paul that these churches questioned his authority and teachings. Most of the first two chapters of Galatians are spent defending and establishing his authority and teachings. The famous verses in Galatians 2:19-21 work as a transition to other chapters which contain some of Paul’s most insightful teachings.

Primary Scriptures:
Galations 1-2
Story Summary:
Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia
Roman Empire; Galatia
AD 30 Jesus crucified and resurrected; Pentecost; Holy Spirit arrives AD 48 Paul’s “famine visit” to Jerusalem; First Missionary Journey starts AD 50 Council at Jerusalem; Start of Second Missionary Journey; approximate time of the writing of Galatians.