Galatians is a red-hot letter, written with great passion and force. Having travelled in the previous chapter with Paul through Galatia and having tried to reconstruct the historical sequence of events from Acts and from Paul's letters, we now turn specifically to Galatians, to see what we can learn from the letter about Paul and his ministry. In the following chapter we will consider what we can deduce about his relationship with Jesus.
One of the intriguing questions when reading any of Paul's letters is: what led to the writing of this letter? Most of the letters are responses to particular situations, but it is not always easy to work out what those situations were. Scholars speak of a process of 'mirror-reading': we look into the letters, and try to see what situations are reflected – whom Paul is speaking to or about. Others have said that it is like hearing one end of a phone conversation and trying to work out what the person at the other end is saying. It is not always an easy task, especially if the person on 'this end' is agitated.
However, we have already had plenty of clues about what was happening in Galatia, and some things are very clear from Paul's letter to the Galatians. Thus Paul usually begins his letters by giving thanks for people; he does this even with the wayward Corinthians (1 Corinthians 1.4). But with the Galatians there is no opening thanksgiving; instead Paul jumps straight in with a pained comment: 'I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all. Evidently, some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ' (1.6). Here is clear evidence that the Galatians are being led away from what Paul taught them – and soon after his visit – by people wanting to correct Paul's teaching. Paul goes on to say that he wishes those who distort the good news to be accursed (1.8, 9).