What are the arguments for and against the North and South Galatian destination of Galatians. How does this relate to the decree of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15?
Much debate has occurred over the years on to whom the book of Galatians was written. Although we can gather from the name, it was written to people of the region of Galatia, it is much harder to conclude who those people particularly were, or where they were geographically from. Two theories have been introduced to further specify to whom the book of Galatians was written. Those theories are, the North Galatia theory, and the more modern South Galatia theory.
Under the North Galatia theory, the book of Galatians would have been written by Paul to believers in geographically Northern Galatia. Paul did not visit this area until his second missionary journey on his way from Pisidian Antioch to Troas. Since, according to this theory, Paul would not have written Galatians until the middle of the second missionary journey, we can therefore conclude that Galatians would have been written after the Jerusalem Counsel in Acts chapter 15 (since the Jerusalem Counsel precedes the entire second missionary journey). This means that the reference in Galatians 2 to a visit in Jerusalem by Paul probably is referencing the Jerusalem Counsel.
Several arguments can be made against the North Galatia theory. One is that Luke nowhere suggests that Paul evangelized in the Northern region of Galatia. Secondly, Acts 16:6 says “The region of Phrygia and Galatia”, and that quote naturally makes reference to the Southern territory. Additionally, the idea that Paul would have traveled into North Galatia would have required him to take an unlikely wide detour that was off course from a strategically planned mission.
The South Galatia theory theorizes that Paul addressed his letter to the churches in South Galatia. According to this theory, Galatians would have been written right after his first missionary journey, but before the Jerusalem Counsel. Maintaining this theory forced the presupposition that Galatians 2 refers not to the Jerusalem Counsel, but rather to a famine relief trip mentioned in Acts Chapter 11.
The South Galatia theory is more widely accepted and more easily explained. First, if Paul had written Galatians after the landmark meeting of the Jerusalem Counsel, it stands to reason that he would have made mention of the events and outcome of the meeting in the book of Galatians, especially since freedom from the Mosaic Law was the main topic and purpose of his letter to the Galatians. From the perspective of a mission, we can conclude that the Jerusalem Counsel probably had not occurred when the Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle Paul to write the epistle to the Galatians.
A resolution to the disagreements between the theories of North Galatia and South Galatia may never be found. Being that the Jerusalem Counsel probably held the highest historical and theological stakes imaginable to the church, it is hard to fathom that Paul would have not capitalized on the Christian liberty established through the Jerusalem Counsel had it not occurred. Where was Galatia? Who were the Galatians? These questions need not be paralleled with the importance of Paul’s message in Galatians; Christians are free from the Mosaic Law, and Jesus Christ died to give them that freedom.