The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians
[Sidenote: The Author.]

This Epistle, being one of the four Epistles which are almost universally unquestioned, requires little or no defence. The Pauline authorship "has never been called in question by a critic of first-rate importance, and until recently has never been called in question at all." The writings of those Fathers of the Church who lived nearest to the apostolic age contain several possible allusions to it, and it is expressly named by Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian. The internal evidence shows that it must belong to the time of the apostles, for the errors which are criticized in it are different from the Ebionite ideas which existed at the beginning of the 2nd century, and from the Gnosticism which existed even before the apostles were all dead. They are evidently earlier than these heresies. Still more convincing is the vehement and pathetic energy which marks this Epistle. There is a ring of reality in its broken sentences and earnest appeals. It displays none of the careful patchwork which we should expect from a forger; it consists only of the quick hot words of a man who is very deeply moved.

[Sidenote: To whom written.]

"Unto the Churches of Galatia." What is the meaning of the name "Galatia"? Students are still divided on the question. If the word "Galatia" is used in a popular sense to describe the country inhabited by the Galatai, then it means North Galatia, a district in {151} the extreme north of Asia Minor. It was mainly inhabited by Celts, who came thither from Europe in the 3rd century B.C., and spoke a Celtic language as late as the 2nd and even 4th century after Christ. This language is mentioned by Pausanias, and St. Jerome says that it was a dialect only slightly varying from that used in Gaul by the Treveri. But if the word "Galatia" is used in a political sense, signifying a particular province of the Roman empire, then it means a large area much further south, including Pisidia, Lycaonia, and part of Phrygia. In this province were Pisidian Antioch, Derbe, Iconium, and Lystra, where St. Paul founded Churches in A.D.47, on his first missionary journey. The latter explanation is almost certainly correct.

No good argument can be brought forward in favour of North Galatia which cannot be balanced by a better argument in favour of South Galatia. For instance, though St. Luke in Acts uses the popular and not the political names for districts, this cannot be urged in favour of St. Paul's adopting the same usage. On the contrary, he uses Asia, Macedonia, and Achaia in their political sense, and so we may suppose that he would do the same in the case of Galatia. Again, though there were in North Galatia Jews who would tempt the converts to Jewish observances, there were Jews in plenty in South Galatia also. And while many writers have said that the Celtic blood of these recalcitrant Christians is proved by the enthusiasm, fickleness, superstition, love of strife, and vanity which St. Paul rebukes, we may reasonably urge that these defects are not confined to the Celts. The Phrygians doted on a sombre and mysterious religion. In heathen times they loved the worship of Cybele, with its exciting ceremonial and cruel mutilations. And when they adopted Christianity, though their morality was generally austere, their credulity was intense. In the 2nd century many of them embraced the new revelations of Montanus, and in the 4th they largely affected the hard Puritanism of Novatian. In religious matters the Celts are very little {152} inclined to fickleness, and their superstitions are more closely connected with dreaminess than with vehemence.

The following facts also deserve attention; (1) It would be strange if Acts gave us no account of Churches in which St. Paul took so much interest. If Galatia be North Galatia, there is no such account in Acts. If it be South Galatia there is, and the polite and natural manner of addressing the inhabitants of the cities of Antioch, Derbe, etc., would be "Galatians." Their bond of union was association in one Roman province. (2) It is improbable that St. Paul would take the very difficult journey necessary for visiting the Celtic Galatians. His usual plan was to travel on Roman high-roads to the big centres of population. North Galatia was both isolated and half-civilized. Also, he says that he visited the Galatians on account of an illness (iv.13). It is incredible that he would have chosen the long unhealthy journey to North Galatia when he was ill. But it is extremely probable that he left the damp lowlands of Pamphylia for the bracing air of Pisidian Antioch. The malady was probably the malarial neuralgia and fever which are contracted in those lowlands. (3) The Epistle contains technical legal terms for adoption, covenant, and tutor, which seem to be used not in the Roman but in the Greek sense.[1] They would hardly be intelligible except in cities like those of South Galatia where the institutions were mainly Greek.

Assuming that the "Galatians" are those of South Galatia, we note that in Gal. iv.13 St. Paul speaks of preaching to them "the first time." This first time must be the occasion mentioned in Acts xiii., xiv. The second time is that in Acts xvi.1-6. The Christians were mainly converts from heathenism (iv.8; v.2; vi.12), but some were no doubt Jews or proselytes. {153} After the second visit of St. Paul, his converts were tampered with. Some Judaizers had put a perverse construction upon his action in promulgating the decrees of the Council of Jerusalem of A.D.49, and in circumcising Timothy. They urged that St. Paul had thereby acknowledged his inferiority to the other apostles, and practically advocated a return to Jewish ceremonial. Instigated by other Judaizers from Jerusalem, the Galatians had changed their Christianity into a semi-Judaism, and this all the more readily because of their previous familiarity with the Jewish religion.

[Sidenote: Where and when written.]

The place and date are both uncertain. The words, "I marvel that ye are so quickly removing from Him that called you" (i.6), suggest that it was written not long after the conversion of the Galatians. But we cannot place it, as some writers have done, before 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Its style is allied with that of 1 and 2 Corinthians and Romans. It must be earlier than Romans, as it is like a rough model of that Epistle. If written soon before Romans, it was probably composed at Corinth early in A.D.56. It may, however, have been written as early as A.D.52, before St. Paul's third missionary journey.

[Sidenote: Character and Contents.]

The Epistle is intended to recall the Galatians to St. Paul's true gospel. In order to do this, he vindicates his own apostolic authority to preach it, and expounds its great principle -- justification by faith, and not by observance of the Jewish law.

After a salutation, without the congratulations which the apostle ordinarily offers, St. Paul expresses his astonishment at their perversion, and vehemently asserts that if any one dares to preach a gospel other than that which the Galatians first received, let him be anathema (i.1-10). The history of St. Paul's reception of the gospel is then set out. It came to him by revelation of Jesus Christ: this is at once the demonstration of its unique authority, and the decisive fact which settles the relation of St. Paul to the other apostles. He did {154} not receive from them the gospel he preached, and, to emphasize this, St. Paul counts up the various opportunities he had of intercourse with them, and says what use he made of each (i.11-ii.10). The best illustration of the independence of his position is the attitude which he adopted towards St. Peter, the prince of the apostles, when at Antioch he deceitfully took the same sort of line with respect to Jewish ceremonial that the Galatians are taking now (ii.11-13).[2] St. Paul describes the speech he made in opposition to St. Peter, but while he is dictating it, he is carried away by an orator's enthusiasm: he forgets that he is telling the story only of an old debate, and at some points we cannot confidently distinguish the rebuke to St. Peter from the exhortation to the Galatians (ii.14-21).

Then, still as if he were making a speech, the apostle proceeds to argue as he does later in the Epistle to the Romans. He recalls to the "bewitched" Galatians the happy memories of the days when they first heard of Christ -- the out-pouring of the Spirit, the first sharp persecution endured so well. Did not all this happen when they were under the gospel of Faith (iii.2-5)? The true sons of Abraham are those who accept the gospel (iii.6-9). On the other hand, the people who still desire to be under the Law can only avoid being under a curse by keeping the whole Law -- and this is impossible (iii.10). God's will is plain: He has said, "The righteous shall live by faith" (iii.11, 12). Moreover, whatever claim the Law had on us is now discharged by the satisfaction made by Christ (iii.13, 14). Now St. Paul goes on to show that the promise made by God to Abraham binds Him still. Just as no subsequent transaction can nullify a Greek "covenant," i.e. will, so the Law cannot nullify the earlier promise of God (iii.15-18).[3] Then he compares the promise made to {155} Abraham with the Law. The latter was a contract, a mutual agreement between two parties involving mutual obligations; if the Jews did not keep the Law, God was not bound to bless them. But in the case of the promise, there is no suggestion of contract. Then, lest his readers should suppose that there was an inconsistency in the fact that God was the Author of both the Law and the promise, St. Paul adds an explanation (iii.19-22). The Law would have been contrary to the promise if it had been intended to produce the same result as the promise by another method. But, on the contrary, the Law was added as a parenthesis in order to make known transgressions, and with the result that it increased them (iii.19). Scripture shut up all mankind in the fold of sin, that they might look forward to the reign of faith as the only means of escape. To emphasize further the contrast between the Law and the promise, St. Paul asserts that the Law did not come direct from God to man. It came, as Jewish traditions said, from God and the angels to Moses, the mediator, and from him to the Hebrews. The Law had a mediator, therefore it involved two parties -- God and the Hebrew people. But there was no such mediator in the case of the promise. God spoke directly to Abraham. And God in the Person of Christ spoke directly to mankind. Thus the promises are greater and more gracious than the Law. It is important to observe that the argument implies the Divinity of Christ.

Before Faith came, the Law played the part of a Greek "tutor," i.e. a trusted servant who attended a child. He took the child to the house where he was taught, and kept him from harm and mischief. And we, if we wish to be still under the Law, shall be as foolish as a grown-up son who wishes to be under a steward and a guardian. We must leave the mere rudiments of religion now that we have reached a stage at which we have been taught that God is indeed our Father (iii.23-iv.11).

St. Paul supports this conclusion from his arguments by a {156} touching appeal, in which he gratefully recalls the kindness he received from the Galatians when he came to them in all the weakness and distress of fever (iv.12-20). Then he interprets for them the story of Hagar, probably in answer to a reference in a letter which they had sent him (iv.21-v.1). The Jew is in bondage like Hagar's child, the Christian is free like Sarah's child.

After this we have another appeal, a medley of exhortation, warning, denunciation, and pathetic entreaty: the apostle, himself so appreciative of great ideas, tries to make the unaspiring Galatians understand that they are called to the perfect freedom which is the service of God (v.2-26). The Epistle closes with some plain words which the apostle wrote with his own hand in large characters so as to emphasize them for his readers. The motive of the Judaizers is boldly labelled. Then, as if there had been a question of his own humility, he associates himself with the crucified Christ, for whose sake he bears in his flesh the eloquent marks of the Roman rods and the stones of the Jews. It was the cruel custom in Asia Minor, a custom not yet extinct, for masters to wound their slaves with marks which made it impossible for them to escape recognition. And so St. Paul glories in the pitiful scars on his body, because they prove Whose he is and Whom he serves.



Salutation, rebuke (i.1-10).

(1) St. Paul defends his apostleship: i.11-ii.21. -- He was called by God in spite of his fanatical Judaism, God's Son was revealed in him, he conferred with no man, but retired to Arabia, then three years after his conversion he stayed fifteen days with Cephas, and afterwards preached in Syria and Cilicia (i.).

Fourteen years after his conversion[4] he again went to Jerusalem "by revelation." False brethren attempted to get Titus circumcised, but in vain. James, Cephas, and John were most friendly to Paul and Barnabas, agreeing that they should go to the Gentiles while remembering the poor in Jerusalem. Cephas rebuked at Antioch by St. Paul (ii.).

(2) St. Paul defends justification by faith: iii.1-v.1. -- Galatian fickleness, even Abraham was justified by faith, and in the Old Testament the righteous live by faith, the Jewish Law merely a parenthesis between God's promise and its fulfilment, the Law a tutor to bring us to Christ (iii.).

Judaism is the state of a son who is a minor, Christianity is the state of a son who has attained his majority. Why return to the beggarly rudiments of knowledge? The Jew is like the child of Hagar, the Christian is like the child of Sarah (iv.-v.1).

(3) Practical exhortation: v.2-vi.18. -- Circumcision useless, freedom and love are the allies of the true Law, the works of the flesh and the fruits of the Spirit (v.). Bearing one another's burdens, supporting our teachers. A conclusion in St. Paul's handwriting (vi.).

[1] The law implied in Gal. iv.2 is in accordance with Syrian law. If a father died, he left his son under the authority of a steward until he was fourteen, and left his property in the hands of a guardian until he was twenty-five. It is probable that in South Galatia as in Syria this law was made under the reign of the Seleucids.

[2] For the explanation of this quarrel, see p.121.

[3] The argument about "seeds" and "seed," in iii.16, looks like a mere verbal quibble in English. But it becomes quite intelligible when we remember that in rabbinical Hebrew the word "seeds" was used in the sense of descendants.

[4] See Gal. ii.1, "at an interval of fourteen years." This third visit to Jerusalem (the second mentioned here) was in A.D.49. The verse probably means fourteen years after his conversion, and eleven years after his first visit. If we reckon the fourteen years from his first visit to Jerusalem, the first visit would be in A.D.33. This will not agree with Acts ix.25, 26; 2 Cor. xi.32, which show us that the first visit was made while Aretas ruled at Damascus. Aretas became master of Damascus in A.D.37.


chapter xi the second epistle
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