Paul's letter to the Galatians was written in the early 50's to a number of churches in the Roman province of Galatia in central Asia Minor. Most of the converts had a Gentile background. Paul had founded these churches on an earlier visit to the region. However, after he left, other teachers arrived and began "correcting" the doctrines Paul had taught. These unnamed leaders probably had ties to the Jerusalem church, as their teaching reflects the influence of the Jewish Law. There is much scholarly debate as to whether Paul's mention of his visit to Jerusalem in Gal 2 is the same visit recorded in Acts 15. There are a lot of similarities in these events, and the subject matter is identical. This shows how critical to the early church was the issue of continued obedience to the Law.
We do not possess any documents that put forth the teachings of the "Judaizers," so we can only reconstruct their beliefs from Paul's negative reaction to them. They were just trying to be helpful, to correct the "imbalances" in Paul's overly simplistic message. We find traces of their teaching in Acts 15 and James 2. We might paraphrase their words to the Galatians in the following terms:
"It is true, as you have been told, that salvation is only through faith in Jesus as the Messiah sent from God. But there is a second step that is just as important. Conjoined to faith are deeds -- acts of obedience that prove the validity of one's confession. What kinds of actions are acceptable to God? He has shown us in His covenant with Moses: circumcision, keeping the Sabbath, abstaining from eating food offered to idols or meat with blood, avoiding sexual immorality, and remembering the poor. If you do these things, you will prove yourselves to be true brethren of your brothers in Jerusalem. If you claim to be justified with God by merely invoking the Name of Jesus, apart from demonstrations of appropriate behavior, you are deceived, because even the demons of hell believe in God. Little good that does them....or you!"
Paul's response to this tidying up of his instruction was to "go ballistic." He dispensed with all moderation and Christian charity, using such terms as "a different gospel," "trying to pervert the gospel of Christ," "let him be eternally condemned," "false brothers," "hypocrisy," "under a curse," let them "emasculate themselves." Clearly, he believed that basic principles were at stake, indeed even the core of the Gospel itself. And so he went to war.
But what does any of this have to do with race? Surely these issues, though critical, are theological in nature: faith vs works, Gospel vs Law. Yet as we look deeper into Galatians and come to understand Paul's view of justification before God, we will see that his condemnation of reliance on the Law applies equally to reliance on racial superiority. As we will see, many of the key points of his attack against the Law also disqualify racial attitudes and behavior. This leads us to assert the existence of a link between racism and legalism.