By Horatio B. Hackett, D. D., Professor at Newton.
The Epistle to the Galatians is one of the most argumentative of all the New Testament epistles; both in this respect and in point of doctrinal importance, it stands confessedly next to the epistles addressed to the Romans and the Hebrews. The following is an attempt to exhibit with conciseness, a logical outline of the contents of this epistle . In two or three instances the abstract may be thought to be founded on pas sages which are susceptible of a different shade of meaning; but, for the most part, the nerve of the argument is contained in expressions which, by general consent, admit of only one explanation:
The general object of the epistle was to arrest the progress of the false sentiments respecting the mode of acceptance with God, which the Judaizing errorists were spreading in the Galatian Churches, and to bring back the Galatians to their original dependence on Christ as the only foundation of their hope of salvation. For the accomplishment of this object, the writer, adapting himself to the course pursued by his opponents, aims, first, to establish his claim to a full equality as an apostle with the other acknowledged apostles of our Lord; second, to ex plain and confirm the true doctrine of justification by grace alone, in opposition to that of works; and, finally, to administer such counsels and reproofs as the moral condition of the Galatians required. Of these three parts into which the epistle divides itself, the first may be termed apologetic, including the first two chapters; the second doctrinal or dogmatic, including the third and fourth chapters; and the third practical, embracing the two remaining chapters. These three divisions follow each other in strict logical order. The first is necessary to the second, since, without an admission of the writer's apostolic authority, his subsequent exposition of the way of salvation would have possessed the weight only of an ordinary human opinion, instead of being, as it now is, authoritative and final; and since, on the other hand, the great peculiarity of the plan of salvation on which he insists is its opposition to the system of law or works, the third part be comes obviously a necessary complement to the second. Those who profess to rely on this method of justification, are to avoid the error of supposing that because they are separated from the law as a source of merit, they are released from it also as a rule for the government of their lives.
A more particular analysis of the course of thought is as follows. In the introduction, Paul asserts in the strongest manner the divine origin of his apostleship, and his appointment to it without any human intervention; and invokes on the Galatians the usual benediction from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. In this connection he brings incidentally into view the sacrifice and death of Christ as the means of human salvation, and thus announces the great theme of the epistle at the outset (1:1-5).
He expresses next, his astonishment at the sudden defection of the Galatians from the truth, characterizes the error which they had embraced, or were in danger of embracing, as an utter and fatal perversion of the Gospel, and pronounces the conduct of those who had perplexed and misled them, to be deserving of the severest reprobation and punishment. He takes the ground, that the plan of salvation as preached by himself was the true and the unalterable way of salvation, and that any different system, though taught by an angel from heaven, must be rejected at once as false, merely on the ground of such difference (1:6-10).
In vindication of the right thus asserted, to declare as an infallible teacher what the truth is, Paul enters then upon an argument to show, first, that he had received his doctrine as to the mode of salvation, not from any human teaching, but by direct revelation; and, second, that this doctrine thus communicated to him was demonstrated to be true by a consideration of its own nature, its effects, its harmony with Scripture, its attestation by miracles and other similar evidences.
First, he claims that his knowledge of the Gospel is proved to be not of human but divine origin, negatively, by the fact that immediately on his conversion he entered on the full exercise of his office as an apostle, without any consultation with human advisers (1:11-17); that he preached the Gospel for years, without any intercourse or even personal acquaintance with the apostles; and that when at length he went to Jerusalem and saw some of their number, it was a visit of friend ship merely, and had no relation whatever to his attainment of a more perfect knowledge of the Christian doctrines (1:18-24).
Again, he claims that the same thing is proved affirmatively, by the fact, that on his coming at a later period into fuller connection with the apostles, his views of truth were sanctioned by them, as perfectly coincident with their own, though they had been taught personally by our Lord (2:1-6); that he was recognized by them as standing in all respects, officially, on a level with themselves (1:7-10); and that so far from having acted at any time in subordination to them, or having acknowledged any dependence on them, he had in one in stance opposed his own authority to that of one of the most eminent among them (2:11-13). In the controversy at Antioch, he had not shrunk from reproving Peter himself publicly and to his face, for having practically abandoned the great principle of justification by faith alone, inasmuch as he had timidly concealed for a time his real convictions, and acted as if Jewish rites must be superadded to faith in Christ as essential to salvation (2:14-21). In confirmation of these statements, Paul presents a brief outline of his well known history, adapted to show that he could have become such as he was, and that he was in fact such as he claimed to be, in consequence only of having been appointed to his work by God himself, and qualified for it by endowments received immediately from Him.
Having thus in the first two chapters, vindicated his authority as an apostle; or, in other words, shown that the Gospel which he preached must be true because he was taught it by direct revelation; Paul proceeds in the next place to argue the truth of this Gospel, from a consideration of the system, both as viewed in itself, and as attested by the appropriate external marks of its divine character.
A summary of the argument as developed in this connection, is the following. The gratuitous system of justification as contained in the Gospel, must be the true one in opposition to that of merit or works; first, because the Holy Spirit ac companies its reception as a witness, that those who embrace it are adopted as the children of God (3:2-4); second, because it has been sanctioned by miracles (3:5); third, because it accords with the manner in which Abraham was justified (3:6, 7); fourth, because it fulfils the predictions of the Old Testament, which declare that Christ was to be the medium through which spiritual blessing should be conferred on mankind 3:8, 9); fifth, because it agrees with the entire teaching of the Old Testament in regard to the justifying power of faith (3:11);2 and, finally, because it is the only system r adapted to men as sinners.
In confirmation of the last point, it is shown that on the ground of obedience justification is impossible, because the obedience which the law demands must be perfect; and as no individual renders this, it is evident that as many as are of the law are under a curse. Under these circumstances, therefore, Christ gave himself as a ransom to redeem us from the curse of the law, being made himself a curse for us, and thus providing a way of salvation which is applicable to all, Gentiles as well as Jews, on condition of faith (3:10, 12-14).
But it may be urged against a part of the above reasoning, that the legal economy, as established by Moses, was subsequent to the time of Abraham, and hence has placed those who live under this economy on a different footing in regard to the attainment of spiritual blessings. It is replied to this objection, that the supposition is one which the character of God forbids. Even human contracts, when once ratified, re main binding on the parties, and nothing at variance with the original stipulations may afterwards be added to them. In justifying Abraham by faith, and proposing him to the human family as “the father” or pattern "of all them that believe” (see Rom. 4:11), God entered into a virtual engagement to bestow the heavenly inheritance always and only on the same condition; and the giving of the law, therefore, which was a subsequent transaction, could not have annulled the promise in this respect (3:15-18).
But if the law have no value as a means of enabling us to establish a claim to the Divine favor, what end, the objector may ask, was it designed to answer (3:19)? In reply to this question, the Apostle explains the great object of the law to be, to prepare men for the reception of the Gospel by awakening them to a consciousness of their sins, and convincing them of their need of the deliverance from guilt and condemnation, which the redemption of Christ affords (3:20-22). We may suppose that while Paul would describe this as the office of law in general, and one, therefore, which it is adapted still to perform as a means of bringing men to Christ, he means to affirm it here more especially of the Mosaic economy, that great embodiment of the legal principle which was established to prepare the way for another and better system; and then, as to its outward forms, its rites and symbols, was destined to come to an end (3:23- 25). Under this more perfect system which is realized in Christ, those who were only the natural descendants of Abraham become by faith his spiritual seed; those who were servants, groaning under the bondage of sin and the law, become free (3:26-29). Those who were children in a state of minority and pupilage, are advanced to the dignity of sons and heirs of God, and receive the seal of their adoption as such in the presence of the Spirit of God in their hearts (4:1-7).
In view of this superiority of the Christian dispensation to the Jewish, Paul then remonstrates with the Galatians on their folly and ingratitude in turning back to the beggarly elements of the past (4:8-11). He adds his most earnest entreaty that they would return and trust again with him in Christ;3 he strengthens this appeal by a touching allusion to their former affection for him, and distinctly apprises them that in becoming alienated from him they had been made the dupes of artful men, whose pretended zeal for the law originated in a selfish regard for their own ease and reputation (4:12-20).
This second part of the discussion he closes, by employing the history of Abraham and his family as an allegory or illustration of the two systems which he has been considering. The subjoined are the main points of the comparison which he institutes here. Judaism, or the legal system, of which Hagar, who was a bondwoman, may be considered as a type, imposes a spiritual bondage on those who adhere to it; whereas Christianity, which is a free dispensation, and hence fitly represented by Sarah, who was a freewoman, liberates men from this bondage, and makes them the children of God. Again, as Ishmael was born in a mere natural way, so the Jews are a mere natural seed; but Christians, who obtain justification in conformity with the promise made to Abraham, are the true promised seed, even as Isaac was. Further, as in the typical history Ishmael persecuted Isaac, the child of promise, so it is not to be accounted strange that under the Gospel, the natural seed, that is the Jews, should persecute the spiritual seed, that is Christians. And, finally, as Isaac was acknowledged as the true heir, but Ishmael was set aside, so must it be as to the difference which exists between Jews and believers. The former, or in other words, those who depend on their own merit for obtaining the favor of God, will be rejected; while those who seek it by faith, shall realize the blessing (4:21-31). By means of this illustration, the Apostle skilfully recapitulates the prominent doctrinal ideas of the epistle, and at the same time leaves them so associated in the minds of the Galatians, with a familiar and striking portion of sacred history, that the teachings of the letter could never have been easily forgotten.
The practical part of the epistle then follows. The Apostle here exhorts the Galatians to maintain their liberty in Christ, because the surrender of it would deprive them of all benefit from the Gospel, and render them debtors to keep the whole law in order to be saved (5:1-6). He reminds them of the sad contrast between their present state and the commencement of their Christian career; cautions them against the danger even of incipient error, and reminds them how absurd it was to appeal to his own example in excuse for their perversion of the rite of circumcision (5:7-12). He expresses the wish that those who were misleading then might be cut off from all connection with them, and be accounted as outcasts and heretics (5:12).4 He then turns to warn them against an abuse of their Christian liberty, enjoins upon them an observance of the law as a rule of duty, the essence of which is love, and the requirement of which in that respect they would be enabled to fulfil by following the dictates of the Spirit (5:13-18). To enable them to judge whether they are actuated by the Spirit, or an opposite principle, he enumerates, first, some of the works of the flesh, and then the characteristic fruits of the Spirit (5:19-26).
He adds in the last chapter, several general directions, such as relate, for example, to the spirit with which Christians should admonish those who fall into sin, the patience which they should exhibit towards each other' s faults, the duty of providing for the wants of Christian teachers; and, in short, performing unweariedly every good work, with the assurance that in due time they should have their reward (6:1-10). He warns them once more against the sinister designs of those who were so earnest for circumcision, holds up to their view again the cross of Christ as that alone in which men should glory, and closes with a prayer for them as those whom he would still regard as brethren (6:11-18).
1) Though this article may be found in another form, it will be new to most of our readers, and has been specially revised for insertion in these pages.-Ed .
2) This principle, as the pervasive one of the ancient economy as well as of the new, is very forcibly brought out again in 3:16: “Now to Abraham were the promises spoken, and to his seed. He saith not, And to seeds, as concerning many; but as concerning one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. " The apostle does not refer here to any particular passage in the Old Testament, which contains these words (καὶ τοῖς σπέρμασιν . . . καὶ τῷ σπέρματἰ σοε); but avails himself of this compendious mode of speaking as a convenient formula for summing up the entire teaching of the Scriptures on this subject. It will be noticed that the singular and the plural differ in this, that σπέρμα denotes a unity of genus or class with a plurality of parts (as, for example, the wheat is one, though the kernels are many), and σπέρματα a plurality of classes (as wheat, barley, rye; compare זְרָעִים in Sam., 8:15). It is, therefore, as if Paul had said:“Search the Scriptures from Genesis to Malachi: the promises all run in one strain; they make no mention of a plurality of seeds, such as a natural and spiritual seed, at the same time; they speak of a single seed only, the believing race, those who are like Abraham in his faith (see Rom., 4:12), whether Jews or Gentiles; and as this restriction of the language to the one seed limits and exhausts the promises as to any share in the blessings of Abraham's justification, there are no promises of this nature for other seeds, such as Abraham's natural descendants, merely as such, or Jews by adoption, in virtue of their submission to Jewish rites.
3) This remark is founded on 4:12, where a more correct translation than the common one would be, “Become as I am, for I also have become as ye are, brethren, I beseech you.” That passage has been treated as needlessly obscure. We have the key which unlocks the meaning in I Cor., 9:20, 21; “Unto the Jews,” Paul says there, “ I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews;... to them that are without law (I became) as without law, that I might gain them that are without law (ἄνομοι). " Meyer' s translation fulfils every linguistic and logical condition of the sentence, and represents the view of the best scholars: “Werdet wie ich; denn auch ich bin wie ihr geworden." We merely repeat ἐγενόμην in the second clause from γίνεσδε in the first, and supply the substantive verb. For κἀγώ = I on my part, compare I Cor., 11:1. The sense, then, is:" Become in your relinquishinent of Jewish rites as I am in that respect; for I also, who am a Jew, and consequently attached to such rites by every tie of natural sympathy, have forsaken them, and become as you are, i. e., have placed myself upon the Gentile ground, which is that of the non observance of Jewish law. It is but reasonable, therefore, that I should ask you (δέομαι ὑμῶν) to concur with me, and thus be simply true to your own national position, when I, against every bias of birth and education, have cast aside the forms of Judaism, and assimilated to the Gentiles. "
4) This is expressed in conformity with the rendering of the common Version. The middle ἀποκόψονται, (5:12) as signifying get themselves cut off from the Christian body as the due reward of their conduct (if that be the meaning), would be represented very properly by our passive. For this passive receptive sense, as arising out of the reflexive receptive middle, see Jelf, Greek Gram., § 364, 2. The occasional use of the middle for the passive is admitted to occur in all Greek writers. See Winer, Gram., § 38, 4; Bernhardy, Syntax, p. 342. Wieseler (p. 437 sq.) defends at length this view of the expression. So Beza, Bengel, B. Crusius, Windischmann, and many of the ancient Versions. See Wolf's Curĉ Philologica, vol. iii., p. 771. Yet the stricter rendering in that passage would be, cut themselves off. The English, then, like the Greek, could be understood to mean either, cut themselves off from the Church, renounce at once and utterly, all connection with it (see Ellicott's note, Com, on Galatians, p. 109;) or mutilate themselves, make their περιτομή a καταομή (see Philip. 3:2), since, as the Apostle would indignantly say, they were so grossly exaggerating and perverting the true import of that rite. Chrysostom's remark represents the patristic interpretation, which was singularly concurrent in this respect: εἰ βούλονται, . . . μὴ περιτεμνέσδωσαν μόνον ἁλλὰ περικοπτέσδωσανy. So also many modern scholars, as Rückert, Usteri, Matthies, Schott, Hilgenfeld, De Wette, Meyer, Alford, Wordsworth, in their respective Commentaries. Winer (Com., p. 117) inclines to the same view, but admits the possibility of the other sense.