The Epistle to the Galatians
The Epistle to the Galatians may be divided into three parts:
I. Pauls Defense of his Apostleship, 1:1—2: 21. After the usual introduction the apostle states the occasion of his writing, 1:1-10. In defense of his apostleship he points out that he has been called by God himself and received his Gospel by direct revelation, and had no occasion to learn it from the other apostles, 1: 11-24; that the apostles showed their agreement with him by not demanding the circumcision of Titus and by admitting his mission to the gentiles. 2:1-10; and that he had even rebuked Peter, when this “pillar of the church” was not true to the doctrine of free grace, 2:11-21.
II. His Defense of the Doctrine of Justification, 3:1—4: 31. Here the apostle clearly brings out that the Galatians received the gift of the Spirit by faith, 3:1-5; that Abraham was justified by faith, 3: 6-9; that delivery from the curse of the law is possible only through faith, 3:10-14; and that the law has merely a parenthetic character, coming, as it does, between the promise and its fulfillment, 3:15-29. He compares Judaeism to a son who is minor, and Christianity to a son that has attained his majority, 4:1-7; admonishes the Galatians that, realizing their privilege, they should not return to the beggarly elements of knowledge, 4: 8-20; and says that the Jew is like the child of Hagar, while the Christian resembles the child of Sara, 4: 21-3 1.
III. Practical Exhortations, 5:1—6:18. The Galatians are exhorted to stand in their Christian liberty, 5:1-12, a liberty that is not license but obedience, 5:13-18. The works of the flesh and the fruits of the Spirit are described that the Galatians may avoid the former and yield the latter, 5:19-26. The right way of treating the erring and weak is pointed out, and also the relation of what one sows to what one reaps, 5:1-10. With a brief summary and benediction Paul ends his letter, 6: 11-18.
1. The Epistle to the Galatians has a great deal
in common with that written to the Romans. They both treat the
same general theme, viz, that by the works of the law no man
will be justified before God. The same Old Testament passage is
2. But however similar these Epistles may be, there are also striking differences. In the Epistle to the Romans Paul does not directly encounter such as are hostile to the truth or personal adversaries; hence it is written in a calm spirit and is at most indirectly polemical. This is quite different in the Epistle to the Galatians. There were those in the churches of Galatia who perverted the doctrine of the cross and called the apostolic authority of Paul in question. As a result this is one of the most controversial writings of the apostle; it is an outburst of indignant feeling, written in a fiery tone.
3. This Epistle abounds in striking contrasts. Grace is contrasted with the Law in its Jewish application, and especially on its ritual side; faith is placed in antithetic relation to the works of man; the fruits of the Spirit are set over against the works of the flesh; circumcision is opposed to the new creation; and the enmity of the world to the cross of Christ is brought out in strong relief.
4. The style of this letter is rather unique in that it unites the two extreme affections of Paul’s admirable character: severity and tenderness. At times he speaks in a cold severe tone, as if he would scarcely recognize the Galatians as brethren; then again his whole heart seems to yearn for them. It is hard to imagine anything more solemnly severe than the opening verses of the epistle and 3:1-5; but it is equally difficult to conceive of something more tenderly affectionate than appeals such as we find in 4:12-16,18-20. We find in this letter a beautiful blending of sharp invective and tender pleading.
The authorship of the Epistle need not be subject
to doubt, since both the external and the internal evidence are
very strong. The letter is found in Marcions canon, is named in
the Muratorian Fragment, and from the time of Irenaeus is
regularly quoted by name. But even if the external testimony
were not so strong, internal evidence would be quite sufficient
to establish the Pauline authorship. The letter is
self-attested, 1: 1, and clearly reveals the character of the
great apostle; it does this all the better, since it is so
intensely personal. And though there are some harmonistic
difficulties, when we compare 1: 18 and
12: 25; 15: 2,—yet these are not insuperable, and, on the whole, the historical allusions found in the epistle fit in well with the narrative in Acts.
For a long time Bruno Bauer was the only one to question the authenticity of this letter, but since 1882 the Dutch school of Loman and Van Manen joined him, followed by Friedrich in Germany. The principal reason for doubting it is the supposed impossibility of so rapid a development of the contrast between Jewish and Pauline Christianity as this letter presupposes. But the facts do not permit us to doubt that the conflict did occur then, while in the second century it had died out.
THE CHURCHES OF GALATIA
Among the Epistles of Paul this is the only one that is expressly addressed, not to an individual nor to a single church, but a group of churches, ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις τῆς Γαλατίας, 1 :2. When did the apostle found these Galatian churches? The answer to that question will necessarily depend on our interpretation of the term Galatia, as it is used by the apostle. There is a twofold use of this appellative, viz, the geographical and the political. Geographically the term Galatia denotes one of the Northern districts of Asia Minor, a district that was bounded on the North by Bithynia and Paplagonia, on the East by the last named province and Pontus, on the West by Phrygia, and on the South by Lycaonia and Capadocia. The same name is employed in an official, political sense, however, to designate the Roman province which included Galatia proper, a part of Phrygia, Pisidia and Lycaonia. This twofold significance of the name Galatia has led to two theories respecting the location of the Galatian churches, viz, the North and the South Galatian theory. The former still represents the prevailing view; but the latter is accepted by an ever increasing number of scholars.
According to the North Galatian theory the churches of Galatia were situated in the geographical district indicated by that name. Since about 280 B. C. this territory was inhabited by a Celtic people, consisting of three separate tribes, that had migrated thither from Western Europe, and who constituted shortly before Christ the kingdom of Galatia. They were given to the worship of Cybele “with its wild ceremonial and hideous mutilations;” and were characterized by fickleness and great instability of character. “Inconstant and quarrelsome,” says Lightfoot, Corn. p. 14, “treacherous in their dealings, incapable of sustained effort, easily disheartened by failures, such they appear, when viewed on their darker side.” The adherents of this theory are generally agreed that Paul, in all probability, founded the Galatian churches in the most important cities of this district, i. e. in the capital Ancyra, in Pessinus, the principal seat of the hideous service of Cybele, and at Tavium. at once a strong fortress and a great commercial center. The South Galatian theory, on the other hand, identifies the Galatian churches with those founded by Paul on his first missionary journey at Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe, not excluding any other churches that may have been founded in the province.
The North Galatian theory is supported by the following considerations: (1) It is unlikely that Paul would address the inhabitants of Phrygia, Pisidia and Lycaonia as Galatians. That name could properly be given only to the Celts, the Gauls that lived in Galatia proper. (2) It is improbable that Paul would have referred to the churches founded by him and Barnabas jointly, as if they had been established by him alone. (3) The character of the Galatians, as it is reflected in this letter, is in remarkable agreement with that of the Celts whose changeableness was a subject of common comment. (4) Since in the Acts of the Apostles Mysia, Phrygia and Pisidia are all geographical terms, without any political significance, the inference seems perfectly warranted that the name Galatia, when it is found alongside of these, is employed in a similar sense. (5) “The expression used in the Acts of Pauls visit to these parts, ‘the Phrygian and Galatian country, shows that the district intended was not Lycaonia and Pisidia, but some region which might be said to belong either to Phrygia or Galatia, or the parts of each contiguous to the other.” (Lightfoot).
Now we are not inclined to underrate the value of
these arguments, but yet it seems to us that they are not
altogether conclusive. The first one impresses us as a rather
gratuitous assumption. Taking in consideration that the Roman
province of Galatia was organized as early as 25 B. C. (Cf.
Comm. on the Galatians, p. 103 ff. and J. Weiss,
Kleinasien), and had therefore existed at least 75 years,
when Paul wrote this letter, it is hard to see, why he could not
address its inhabitants as Galatians. This is true especially in
view of the fact that the apostle shows a decided preference for
the imperial nomenclature, probably since it was the most
honorable. Moreover in writing to the congregations in South
Galatia he could not very well use any other name, if he did not
wish to address them in a very cumbrous way.—In connection with
the second argument we must bear in mind that this Epistle was
written after the rupture between Barnabas and Paul, when, so it
seems; the labor was divided so that Paul received charge of the
South Galatian churches. It was but natural therefore that he
should feel the sole responsibility for them.—On the third
argument Salmon, who also advocates the North Galatian theory,
would wisely place little reliance, because “it may be doubted
whether Celts formed the predominating element in the churches
of Galatia,” and since “men of different nationalities show a
Introd. p. 412.—We do not feel the cogency of the fourth
argument for, granted that Luke does use the term Galatia in its
geographical sense, this does not prove anything as to Paul’s
usage. In fact the presumption is that the apostle did not so
use it.—And the last argument is of rather dubious value, since
it rests on an uncertain interpretation of the expressions
τὴν Φρυγίαν καὶ Γαλατικὴν,
The North Galatian theory is defended by Weiss,
Davidson, Julicher, Godet and especially by Lightfoot. But the
South Galatian theory also has able defenders, such as Renan,
Hausrath, Zahn, Baljon and above all Ramsay, whose extended
travels and research in Asia Minor, combined with great
learning, enable him to speak with authority on questions
pertaining to that district. This theory assumes that Paul used
the name Galatia in its official political sense, and that the
Galatian churches were those of Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and
Derbe, e. a. Although we do not feel inclined to speak
dogmatically on the subject, it seems to us that this theory
deserves preference for the following reasons: (1) It was
evidently Paul’s uniform custom to denote the location of the
churches which he founded, not by the popular but by the
official nomenclature. Thus he speaks of the churches of Asia,
The Galatian churches were mainly composed of
Gentile-Christians, but also contained an important Jewish
element. This can be inferred from the narrative in
1. Occasion and Purpose. After Paul had preached the gospel to the Galatians and had seen them well started on the royal road to salvation, Judaeizing teachers entered the field, jealous of their Jewish prerogatives. Probably they were emissaries from Jerusalem that abused a commission entrusted to them, or assumed an authority which they in no way possessed. They did not combat Christianity as such, but desired that it should be led in Judaeistic channels. Every convert to Christianity should submit to circumcision, if not to the whole ceremonial law. Their teaching was quite the opposite of Pauls doctrine, and could only be maintained by discrediting the apostle. Hence they sought to undermine his personal influence and to depreciate his apostolic authority by claiming that he had not been called of God and had received the truth at second-hand from the Twelve. It seems that Paul, when he last visited the Galatian churches, had already encountered some such enemies, 1: 9, but he now heard that their influence was increasing, and that they were successful in persuading the Galatians to forsake their Christian privileges, and thus virtually though perhaps unwittingly, to deny Christ who had bought them, 3:1; 4:9-11, 17; 5:7,8, 10. Hence he deems it imperative to write them a letter.
The purpose of the author in writing this Epistle was, of course, twofold. In order that his words might be effective, it was necessary, first of all, that he should defend his apostolic authority by proving that God had called him and had imparted the truth of the gospel to him by means of a direct revelation. And in the second place it was incumbent on him that he should expose the Judaeistic error by which they were led astray, and should defend the doctrine of justification by faith.
Time and Place. There is great diversity of opinion as to
the time, when the Epistle was written. Zahn, Hausrath, Baljon
and Rendall (in The
Exp. Gk. Test.) regard it as the earliest of Paul’s
Epistles, and assume that it was written during the early part
of his stay in Corinth in the year 53. Ramsay thinks it was
written from Antioch at the end of the second missionary
journey, i. e. according to his dating, also in A. D. 53. Weiss,
Holtzmann and Godet refer it to the early part of Paul’s
Ephesian residence, about the year 54 or 55, while Warfield
prefers to place it towards the end of this period in A. D. 57.
And finally Lightfoot and Salmon agree in dating it after Paul’s
departure from Ephesus. This great variety of opinion proves
that the data for determining the time are few and uncertain.
Those accepting the North Galatian theory are virtually confined
to a date after the beginning of Paul’s Ephesian residence in
the year 54, because the
There has never been any serious doubt respecting the canonicity of this Epistle. It was received as authoritative in all sections of the Church from the very earliest times. There are allusions to its language in the apostolic fathers, Clement of Rome, Polycarp and Ignatius. Justin Martyr, Melito and Athanagoras seem to have known it; and some of the heretics, especially the Ophites, used it extensively. It is found in Marcions canon, is named in the Muratorian Fragment, and the Syriac and old Latin versions contain it. From the end of the second century the quotations multiply and increase in directness and definiteness.
This Epistle too has abiding significance for the Church of God. It is essentially a defense of the doctrine of free grace, of the Christian liberty of New Testament believers over against those that would bring them under the law in its Old Testament application, and would place them under the obligation to submit to circumcision and to participate in the shadowy ceremonies of a by-gone day. The great central exhortation of this letter is: “Stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, and be not tangled again with the yoke of bondage.” The way of the ritualist is not the way of life, is the lesson that should be remembered by all those who are inclined to over-emphasize the outward form of religion to the neglect of its spirit and essence.