“The destination of Galatians is one of the best known and most intractable problems in NT introduction. ,,, Why is there so much disagreement over this issue? Very simply, it is because the location of the Christians that Paul addresses in the letter is unclear, and no other NT text settles the matter.” Douglas Moo, Galatians (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), p 2.
That’s how Douglas Moo starts his discussion of the destination and the date of the letter. And then he spends seventeen pages describing the two main arguments for the location of the audience, and the main arguments for the date of the letter. After all of the analysis, Moo favors one position, but with humilty, not combativeness.
I read these introductions because I like to consider the audience of a text. Because I look at the Bible as communication more than as literature, I reflect on why the writer chose one image rather than another, unpacked an argument one way rather than another, used one kind of language rather than another. And when I don’t have that information, I have to think differently.
But I start with the text in its setting. I think about what it says as a way to understand what it means. And I consider what it means before I start working on what it means to me and for me.
Moo ends up suggesting that the letter is Paul’s earliest (of those we have in the New Testament) and that it’s written to churches in south-central modern Turkey, churches in the area he and Barnabas visited on their first missions trip. These are cities that welcomed him and then attacked him. The area Timothy came from. People who were early to accept the Gospel. People who now are starting to turn from it.
It makes sense that Paul would be intense. We most deeply love, and are upset by, our first students.