The churches of Galatia, to whom Paul is writing in his letter to the Galatians, were the churches that Paul planted on his first missionary journey in the cities of Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe. You can read about it in Acts 13-14, and you can see it below. Thanks to David Barrett for the great map!
The question of how the timeline of Galatians 1:11-2:14 fits into the narrative of the book of Acts is a very difficult question. Since Paul considers it so crucial to his defense, and spends much of the first 2 chapters dealing with it, it is worth considering in order to understand Paul’s purpose. I am convinced of the majority view (see below), which depends upon 2 assumptions: 1) that the council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) had not yet occurred at the time Paul wrote Galatians (since if it had, Paul would certainly mention it in his letter); and 2) that in this section of Galatians Paul does not omit any visit to Jerusalem (since any omission would seem to defeat Paul’s point in recounting his Jerusalem visits). I’ve included that timeline below. There are still some difficulties but not unresolvable in my opinion.
Paul’s purpose in recalling the timeline is to defend himself against the accusations of the false teachers, which most likely sounded something like this: “Paul was a disciple of the Apostles, such that his gospel is dependent upon theirs – yet, he has changed it without their authorization! Therefore, Galatians, don’t listen to him… Listen to us instead – we are preserving the true gospel.” Against their charges of him preaching a gospel with a dependent origin on the Apostle’s, and divergent content from the apostles, Paul is establishing the independent origin of his gospel from the Jerusalem apostles (it came directly from Jesus), along with the consistent content of his gospel with theirs (when they finally examined his gospel they did not correct him or add anything to it). His gospel isn’t his gospel at all, nor a gospel from any human but directly and immediately from Jesus Christ. So, it must be held to as such.
Paul plants the churches of Galatia during his first missionary journey (Acts 13-14). False Teachers enter Galatian churches sometime after Paul’s departure. Paul writes the letter to the Galatians around 48 AD, prompted by this news of false teaching.
Flashback of Paul’s Story in the letter to the Galatians:
- Paul’s conversion (Galatians 1:12-17; Acts 9)
- Paul’s first visit to Jerusalem (Galatians 1:18-24; Acts 9:26-30)
- Paul’s second visit to Jerusalem (Galatians 2:1-10; Acts 11:27-30)
- Paul’s confrontation with Peter in Antioch (Galatians 2:11-14; not recorded in Acts)
- Conversion (Acts 9; recounted in Galatians 1:12-17).
- Paul’s first visit to Jerusalem (Acts 9:26-30; recounted in Galatians 1:18-24)
- Paul’s second visit to Jerusalem (Acts 11:27-30; recounted in Galatians 2:1-10)
Paul Plants the Churches of Galatia on his first missionary journey: Recorded in Acts 13-14 (Antioch in Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe).
Paul’s confrontation with Peter in Antioch: (Not recorded in Acts; recounted in Galatians 2:11-14). Occurring sometime between Acts 14:26 (Paul’s return to Antioch) and 15:2 (the Jerusalem council).
Paul writes his letter to the Galatians around 48 AD, after Paul’s confrontation with Peter and before the Jerusalem council.
The Jerusalem Council: Recorded in Acts 15:1-35, occurring after Paul wrote Galatians. This council officially resolved the question at issue in Galatians.