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When Paul originally proclaimed the Gospel to the Galatians, were they at that time pagan, Jewish, or something else. Did they ever hear of Christ Jesus before Paul?

For reference:

You know that because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at the first. And my trial which was in my flesh you did not despise or reject, but you received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.

Galatians 4:13-14

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    By 'pagan' do you mean 'not a believer in Jesus', in which case they were obviously not believers before they were evangelized? Or are you asking if they were believers in Roman or some other deities, rather than perhaps Jews? – DJClayworth Jun 14 '15 at 17:37
  • @DJClayworth I think it's safe to assume he means the latter. – fredsbend Jun 15 '15 at 4:57
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    "Pagan" has multiple meanings. Traditionally, it means certain forms of polytheistic spirit worship. Now days it often means "anyone who's not part of a major religion." Which sense are you asking about? – Flimzy Jun 15 '15 at 19:57
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    @Flimzy It seems to me that the original question asks what the Galatians believed before they were evangelized, so whether he guessed Pagan or something else doesn't really matter. I've edited the question to reflect this. – fredsbend Jun 15 '15 at 20:24
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The Wikipedia article on Galatia states that the Galatians were Celts who invaded the area about 275 BCE, and who were reported to be in the area until about 475 CE, or so. It is likely that the Celts would have been considered "pagans" by the local population as they seem to have taken some time to adopt local ways. However, the Galatians do not seem to have comprised the entire population of the area, but rather only a ruling class. And the reports of Paul's activity refer to "in Galatia", which seems to be the region, and in the absence of other evidence, does not seem to be any to prove that the Galatians were the primary group among which Paul was evangelizing.

Acts 18:23 relates that after spending time in Caesarea and Antioch, Paul traveled through Galatia "strengthening the disciples there" (RSV). The fact that Paul "strengthened", rather than "made" these disciples suggests that some had already been evangelized, but there is not enough information to determine whether the earlier evangelization was by Paul himself, or by someone else. We also don't know whether among those with whom Paul interacted, that there might not have been some who had heard of Jesus Christ, but were not yet believers. However, it is likely that Paul also interacted with non-Christians, and non-Jews in Galatia, so some of the people he evangelized may have not already have heard of Jesus, or if they had heard of him, may not have believed he was the Christ.

Galatians 4:13-14, seems to suggest that when Paul originally traveled through Galatia, he suffered some sort of unspecified infirmity; and seems to be an exhortation to some of the Galatians to maintain steadfast in faith. We're not given enough information to determine what that infirmity might have been.

  • Your answer is about Paul's activity in Galatia, and it does a good job addressing that, but I interpreted the core question as being more about the Galatians, such that Paul was incidental to the question. I could be wrong, since this answer is marked as accepted, but I expected a good answer to address the state of the Galatians before they were evangelized. – Mr. Bultitude Jun 15 '15 at 15:36
  • @Mr.Bultitude That's what I've taking the question to be about. That's why I edited it. – fredsbend Jun 15 '15 at 20:23
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In Commentarii de Bello Gallico, Julius Caesar wrote,1

[The Druids]2 likewise discuss and impart to the youth many things respecting the stars and their motion, respecting the extent of the world and of our earth, respecting the nature of things, respecting the power and the majesty of the immortal gods.

Multa praeterea de sideribus atque eorum motu, de mundi ac terrarum magnitudine, de rerum natura, de deorum immortalium vi ac potestate disputant et iuventuti tradunt.

Furthermore,3

The nation of all the Gauls is extremely devoted to superstitious rites,

Natio est omnis Gallorum admodum dedita religionibus,

Again,4

They worship as their divinity, Mercury in particular, and have many images of him, and regard him as the inventor of all arts, they consider him the guide of their journeys and marches, and believe him to have great influence over the acquisition of gain and mercantile transactions. Next to him they worship Apollo, and Mars, and Jupiter, and Minerva; respecting these deities they have for the most part the same belief as other nations: that Apollo averts diseases, that Minerva imparts the invention of manufactures, that Jupiter possesses the sovereignty of the heavenly powers; that Mars presides over wars. To him, when they have determined to engage in battle, they commonly vow those things which they shall take in war. When they have conquered, they sacrifice whatever captured animals may have survived the conflict, and collect the other things into one place.

Deum maxime Mercurium colunt. Huius sunt plurima simulacra: hunc omnium inventorem artium ferunt, hunc viarum atque itinerum ducem, hunc ad quaestus pecuniae mercaturasque habere vim maximam arbitrantur. Post hunc Apollinem et Martem et Iovem et Minervam. De his eandem fere, quam reliquae gentes, habent opinionem: Apollinem morbos depellere, Minervam operum atque artificiorum initia tradere, Iovem imperium caelestium tenere, Martem bella regere. Huic, cum proelio dimicare constituerunt, ea quae bello ceperint plerumque devovent: cum superaverunt, animalia capta immolant reliquasque res in unum locum conferunt.

Finally,5

All the Gauls assert that they are descended from the god Dis, and say that this tradition has been handed down by the Druids. For that reason they compute the divisions of every season, not by the number of days, but of nights; they keep birthdays and the beginnings of months and years in such an order that the day follows the night.

Galli se omnes ab Dite patre prognatos praedicant idque ab druidibus proditum dicunt. Ob eam causam spatia omnis temporis non numero dierum sed noctium finiunt; dies natales et mensum et annorum initia sic observant ut noctem dies subsequatur.


Footnotes

1 Book 6, Ch. 14, §6
2 Book 6, Ch. 13, §1: “Throughout all Gaul there are two orders of those men who are of any rank and dignity... But of these two orders, one is that of the Druids, the other that of the knights.”
3 Book 6, Ch. 16, §1
4 Book 6, Ch. 17, §1–3
5 Book 6, Ch. 18, §1–2

References

Caesar, Julius. Commentaries on the Gallic and Civil Wars. Trans. Bohn, W. S.; McDevitte, W. A. 1st ed. New York: Harper, 1869.

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Galatians 4:8-11

8 But then indeed, when you did not know God, you served those that were not gods by nature: 9 but since you now know God, or rather are known by God, how do you return again to be subjected to the weak and impoverished principles, or heavenly bodies which you want to serve over again? 10 You scrupulously observe days and months and seasons and years. 11 I fear for you lest I was toiling among you in vain.

This is a reference to the astrological foundation of their former religion. (verse 9)

  • Do you have any reference to any specific common religion in 1st century Palestine/whatever country Galatia is in, especially Greek religion? So that more details could be known? Also, welcome to our site and I hope you will stick around. Check out the tour and help center. – Alex Strasser Dec 18 '18 at 22:26

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