The setting into which Paul wrote, and in which his letter would be read aloud to the assembled congregation, would most likely be that of a meal. Paul makes clear the primacy of the meal table in his dealings with the Galatian church, utilizing the example of his negative and somewhat definitive experience in Antioch because it would most likely resound with them. Hearing Paul’s letter read to them while they were at their standard gathering around the meal table would heighten the sensitivity to the issues that he is addressing in this church---with their giving practices being ancillary to the larger issues at hand. Surely, one cannot imagine Paul employing an example that had no bearing on the issue with which he deals in this letter to the church of Galatia.
In the second chapter, Paul writes “when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he had clearly done wrong. Until certain people came from James, he had been eating with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he stopped doing this and separated himself because he was afraid of those who were pro-circumcision” (2:11-12). As was the case at Antioch, this church must have been failing to come together at an undivided meal table, as they continued to recognize the distinctions between Jew and Gentile, and therefore allowed for the upholding of the covenantal markers of Judaism (dietary laws denoting clean and unclean, circumcision, and Sabbath-keeping). Paul saw this as highly problematic and will use the dichotomy to make his points concerning what is meant by justification. More on this anon.
It is necessary to spend a bit more time recognizing the structure of the church’s gathering. In their adherence to the Jesus tradition, and very much in tune with prevailing custom and culture, the earliest Christian assemblies were centered on the meal table. In this respect, they would have looked very much like the familiar associations of the day. The major difference for the Christians would have been (or ideally should have been) the fact that the meal table of Jesus believers would not have been stratified according to the social order of honor and shame.
There was to be no distinction between Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, rich or poor, but all were to share equally in status at the table and in the food and wine that was available for consumption. Paul called the Corinthian church to account for their failure to live out the model of the meal demonstrated by Jesus, pointing out their failure to have all at the table share in the same food and drink, in both quantity and quality. It is not unreasonable to insist that such was on his mind in this setting as well.
This shared meal would consist of two parts, the first of which was the deipnon, the second part of which was the symposium. The deipnon is where the meal would be shared and where bread would be broken. At the close of the deipnon, a libation would be presented in honor of the god of the association. For the Christians, who were those who looked to Jesus as King rather than Caesar (the Caesareans), the libation would be presented, poured out, or consumed in honor of Jesus (think of Jesus and His taking of the cup “after supper”). With this portion of the meal complete, they would move on to the symposium. The symposium was the part of the event of the meal in which discussions were to be had, songs would be sung, people would speak in tongues (an ancient religious custom the records of which predates Pentecost by hundreds of year), messages could be delivered, etc… Noting that this would have been customary and traditional, Paul also spoke to this situation in the first letter to Corinth.