The Expositor's Bible

Epistle to the Galatians

Rev. Prof. G. G. Findlay, B.A.

The Prologue
Chapter 1:1-10

Chapter 1


"Paul, an apostle (not from men, neither through man, but through Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead), and all the brethren which are with me, unto the Churches of Galatia."1Ga 1:1, 2

ANTIQUITY has nothing to show more notable in its kind, or more precious, than this letter of Paul to the Churches of Galatia. It takes us back, in some respects nearer than any other document we possess, to the beginnings of Christian theology and the Christian Church. In it the spiritual consciousness of Christianity first reveals itself in its distinctive character and its full strength, free from the trammels of the past, realising the advent of the new kingdom of God that was founded in the death of Christ. It is the voice of the Church testifying "God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts." Buried for a thousand years under the weight of the Catholic legalism, the teaching of this Epistle came to life again in the rise of Protestantism. Martin Luther put it to his lips as a trumpet to blow the reveille of the Reformation. His famous Commentary summoned enslaved Christendom to recover "the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free." Of all the great Reformer’s writings this was the widest in its influence and the dearest to himself. For the spirit of Paul lived again in Luther, as in no other since the Apostle’s day. The Epistle to the Galatians is the charter of Evangelical faith.

The historical criticism of the present century has brought this writing once more to the front of the conflict of faith. Born in controversy, it seems inevitably to be born for controversy. Its interpretation forms the pivot of the most thoroughgoing recent discussions touching the beginnings of Christian history and the authenticity of the New Testament record. The Galatian Epistle is, in fact, the key of New Testament Apologetics. Round it the Roman and Corinthian Letters group themselves, forming together a solid, impregnable quaternion, and supplying a fixed starting-point and an indubitable test for the examination of the critical questions belonging to the Apostolic age. Whatever else may be disputed, it is agreed that there was an apostle Paul, who wrote these four Epistles to certain Christian societies gathered out of heathenism, communities numerous, widely scattered, and containing men of advanced intelligence; and this within thirty years of the death of Jesus Christ. Every critic must reckon with this fact. The most sceptical criticism makes a respectful pause before our Epistle. Hopeless of destroying its testimony, Rationalism treats it with an even exaggerated deference; and seeks to extract evidence from it against its companion witnesses amongst the New Testament writings. This attempt, however misdirected, is a signal tribute to the importance of the document, and to the force with which the personality of the writer and the conditions of the time have stamped themselves upon it. The deductions of the Baurian criticism appear to us to rest on a narrow and arbitrary examination of isolated passages; they spring from a mistaken a priori view of the historical situation. Granting, however, to these inferences, which will meet us as we proceed, their utmost weight, they still leave the testimony of Paul to the supernatural character of Christianity substantially intact.

Of the four major Epistles, this one is superlatively characteristic of its author. It is Paulinissima Paulinarum— most Pauline of Pauline things. It is largely autobiographical; hence its peculiar value. Reading it, we watch history in the making. We trace the rise of the new religion in the typical man of the epoch. The master-builder of the Apostolic Church stands before us, at the crisis of his work. He lets us look into his heart, and learn the secret of his power. We come to know the Apostle Paul as we know scarcely any other of the world’s great minds. We find in him a man of the highest intellectual and spiritual powers, equally great in passion and in. action, as a thinker and a leader of men. But at every step of our acquaintance the Apostle points us beyond himself; he says, "It is not I: it is Christ that lives in me." If this Epistle teaches us the greatness of Paul, it teaches us all the more the Divine greatness of Jesus Christ, before whom that kingly intellect and passionate heart bowed in absolute devotion.

The situation which the Epistle reveals and the personal references in which it abounds are full of interest at every point. They furnish quite essential data to the historian of the Early Church. We could wish that the Apostle, telling us so much, had told us more. His allusions, clear enough, we must suppose, to the first readers, have lent themselves subsequently to very conflicting interpretations. But as they stand, they are invaluable. The fragmentary narrative of the Acts requires, especially in its earlier sections, all the illustration that can be obtained from other sources. The conversion of Paul, and the Council at Jerusalem, events of capital importance for the history of Apostolic times, are thereby set in a light certainly more complete and satisfactory than is furnished in Luke’s narrative, taken by itself. And Paul’s references to the Judean Church and its three "pillars," touch the crucial question of Now Testament criticism, namely that concerning the relation of the Gentile Apostle to Jewish Christianity and the connection between his theology and the teaching of Jesus. Our judgment respecting the conflict between Peter and Paul at Antioch in particular will determine our whole conception of the legalist controversy, and consequently of the course of Church history during the first two centuries. Around these cursory allusions has gathered a contest only less momentous than that from which they sprung.

The personal and the doctrinal element are equally prominent in this Epistle; and appear in a combination characteristic of the writer. Paul’s theology is the theology of experience. It pleased God, he says, to reveal His Son in me. (Ga 1:16) His teaching is cast in a psychological mould. It is largely a record of the Apostle’s spiritual history; it is the expression of a living, inward process—a personal appropriation of Christ, and a growing realisation of the fulness of the Godhead in Him. The doctrine of Paul was as far as possible removed from being the result of abstract deduction, or any mere combination of data externally given. In his individual consciousness, illuminated by the vision of Christ and penetrated by the Spirit of God, he found his message for the world. "We believe, and therefore speak. We have received the Spirit of God, that we may know the things freely given us of God": sentences like these show us very clearly how the Apostle’s doctrine formed itself in his mind. His apprehension of Christ, above all of the cross, was the focus, the creative and governing centre, of all his thoughts concerning God and man, time and eternity. In the light of this knowledge he read the Old Testament, he interpreted the earthly life and teaching of Jesus. On the ground of this personal sense of salvation he confronted Peter at Antioch; on the same ground he appeals to the vacillating Galatians, sharers with himself in the new life of the Spirit. Here lies the nerve of his argument in this Epistle. The theory of the relation of the Law to the Abrahamic promise developed in the third chapter, is the historical counterpart of the relation of the legal to the evangelical consciousness, as he had experienced the two states in turn within his own breast. The spirit of Paul was a microcosm, in which the course of the world’s religious evolution was summed up, and brought to the knowledge of itself.

The Apostle’s influence over the minds of others was due in great part to the extraordinary force with which he apprehended the facts of his own spiritual nature. Through the depth and intensity of his personal experience he touched the experience of his fellows, he seized on those universal truths that are latent in the consciousness of mankind, "by manifestation of the truth commending himself to every man’s conscience in the sight of God." But this knowledge of the things of God was not the mere fruit of reflection and self-searching; it was "the ministration of the Spirit." Paul did not simply know Christ; he was one with Christ, "joined to the Lord, one spirit" with Him. He did not therefore speak out of the findings of his own spirit; the absolute Spirit, the Spirit of truth and of Christ, spoke in him. Truth, as he knew it, was the self-assertion of a Divine life. And so this handful of old letters, broken and casual in form, with their "rudeness of speech," their many obscurities, their-rabbinical logic, have stirred the thoughts of men and swayed their lives with a power greater perhaps than belongs to any human utterances, saving only those of the Divine Master.

The features of Paul’s style show themselves here in their most pronounced form. "The style is the man." And the whole man is in this letter. Other Epistles bring into relief this or that quality of the Apostle’s disposition and of his manner as a writer; here all are present. The subtlety and trenchant vigour of Pauline dialectic are nowhere more conspicuous than in the discussion with Peter in chap. 2. The discourse on Promise and Law in chap. 3. is a master-piece of exposition, unsurpassed in its keenness of insight, breadth of view, and skill of application. Such passages as Ga 1:15,16 2:19,20 6:14, take us into the heart of the Apostle’s teaching, and reveal its mystical depth of intuition. Behind the masterful dialectician we find the spiritual seer, the man of contemplation, whose fellowship is with the eternal and unseen. And the emotional temperament of the writer has left its impress on this Epistle not less distinctly than his mental and spiritual gifts. The denunciations of Ga 1:6-10 2:4,5 4:9 5:7-12 6:12-14, burn with a concentrated intensity of passion, a sublime and holy scorn against the enemies of the cross, such as a nature like Paul’s alone is capable of feeling. Nor has the Apostle penned anything on the other hand more amiable and touching, more winningly frank and tender in appeal, than the entreaty of Ga 4:11-20. His last sentence, in Ga 6:17, is an irresistible stroke of pathos. The ardour of his soul, his vivacity of mind and quick sensibility, are apparent throughout. Those sudden turns of thought and bursts of emotion that occur in all his Epistles and so much perplex their interpreters, are especially numerous in this. And yet we find that these interruptions are never allowed to divert the writer from his purpose, nor to destroy the sequence of his thought. They rather carry it forward with greater vehemence along the chosen course, as storms will a strong and well-manned ship. The Epistle is strictly a unity. It is written, as one might say, at a single breath, as if under pressure and in stress of mind.

There is little of the amplitude of-expression and the delight in lingering over some favourite idea that characterise the later Epistles. Nor is there any passage of sustained eloquence to compare with those that are found in the Roman and Corinthian letters. The business on which the Apostle writes is too urgent, his anxiety too great, to allow of freedom and discursiveness of thought. Hence this Epistle is to an unusual degree closely packed in matter, rapid in movement, and severe in tone.

In its construction the Epistle exhibits an almost dramatic character. It is full of action and animation. There is a gradual unfolding of the subject, and a skilful combination of scene and incident brought to bear on the solution of the crucial question. The Apostle himself, the insidious Judaisers, and the wavering Galatians, -these are the protagonists of the action; with Peter anti the Church at Jerusalem playing a secondary part, and Abraham and Moses, Isaac and Ishmael, appearing in the distance. The first Act conducts us rapidly from scene to scene till we behold Paul labouring amongst the Gentiles, and the Churches of Judea listening with approval to the reports of his success. The Council of Jerusalem opens a new stage in the history. Now Gentile liberties are at stake; but Titus’ circumcision is successfully resisted, and Paul as the Apostle of the Uncircumcised is acknowledged by "the pillars" as their equal; and finally Peter, when he betrays the truth of the Gospel at Antioch, is corrected by the Gentile Apostle. The third chapter carries us away from the present conflict into the region of first principles, -to the Abrahamic Covenant with its spiritual blessing and world-wide promise, opposed by the condemning Mosaic Law, an opposition finally resolved by the coming of Christ and the gift of His Spirit of adoption. At this point the Apostle turns the gathered force of his argument upon his readers, and grapples with them front to front in the expostulation carried on from Ga 4:8-12, in which the story of Hagar forms a telling episode. The fifth and closing Act, extending to the middle of chap. 6., turns on the antithesis of Flesh and Spirit, bringing home the contention to the region of ethics, and exhibiting to the Galatians the practical effect of their following the Pauline or the Judaistic leadership. Patti and the Primitive Church; Judaism and Gentile-Christian liberties; the Covenants of Promise and of Law; the circumcision or non-circumcision of the Galatians; the dominion of Flesh or Spirit: these are the contrasts through which the Epistle advances. Its centre, lies in the decisive question given in the fourth of these antitheses. If we were to fix it in a single point, Ga 5:2. is the sentence we should choose:—

"Behold, I Paul say unto you,

If ye be circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing."

The above analysis may be reduced to the common threefold division, followed in this exposition:—viz.(1) "Personal History," Ga 1:11-2:21; (2) "Doctrinal Polemic," Ga 3:1-5 12; (3) "Ethical Application," Ga 5:13-6:10.

The epistolary Introduction forms the Prologue, Ga 1:1-10; and an Epilogue is appended, by way of renewed warning and protestation, followed by the concluding signature and benediction, - Ga 6:11-18.

The Address occupies the first two verses of the Epistle.

1. On the one side is the writer: "Paul, an Apostle." In his earliest Letters (to Thessalonica) the title is wanting; so also in Philippians and Philemon. The last instance explains the other two. To the Macedonian Churches Paul writes more in the style of friendship than authority: "for love’s sake he rather entreats." With the Galatians it is different. He proceeds to define his apostleship in terms that should leave no possible doubt respecting its character and rights: "not from men," he adds, "nor through man; but through Jesus Christ, and God the Father, that raised Him from the dead."

This reads like a contradiction of some statement made by Paul’s opposers. Had they insinuated that he was "an apostle from men," that his office was derived, like their own, only from the mother Church in Jerusalem? Such insinuations would very well serve their purpose; and if they were made, Paul would be sure not to lose a moment in meeting them.

The word apostle had a certain latitude of meaning.2 It was already, there is reason to believe, a term of Jewish official usage when our Lord applied it to His chosen Twelve. It signified a delegate or envoy, accredited by some public authority, and charged with a special message. We can understand, therefore, its application to the emissaries of particular Churches—of Jerusalem or Antioch, for example—despatched as their messengers to other Churches, or with a general commission to proclaim the Gospel. The recently discovered "Teaching of the Apostles" shows that this use of the title continued in Jewish-Christian circles to the end of the first century, alongside of the restricted and higher use. The lower apostleship belonged to Paul in common with Barnabas and Silas and many others.

In the earlier period of his ministry, the Apostle was seemingly content to rank in public estimation with his companions in the Gentile mission. But a time came when he was compelled to arrogate to himself the higher dignity. His right thereto was acknowledged at the memorable conference in Jerusalem by the leaders of the Jewish Church. So we gather from the language of Ga 2:7-9. But the full exercise of his authority was reserved for the present emergency, when all his energy and influence were required to stem the tide of the Judaistic reaction. We can well imagine that Paul, "gentle in the midst" of his flock and "not seeking to be of weight," (1Th 2:6,7) had hitherto said as little as need be on the subject of his official rights. His modesty had exposed him to misrepresentations both in Corinth and in Galatia. He will "have" these people "to know" that his gospel is in the strictest sense Divine, and that he received his commission, as certainly as any of the Twelve, from the lips of Jesus Christ Himself (ver. 11).

"Not from men" excludes human derivation; "not through man," human intervention in the conferment of Paul’s office. The singular number (man) replaces the plural in the latter phrase, because it stands immediately opposed to "Jesus Christ" (a striking witness this to His Divinity). The second clause carries the negation farther than the first; for a call from God may be, and commonly is, imposed by human hands. There are, says Jerome, four kinds of Christian ministers: first, those sent neither from men nor through man, like the prophets of old time and the Apostles; secondly, those who are from God, but through man, as it is with their legitimate successors; thirdly, those who are from men, but not from God, as when one is ordained through mere human favour and flattery; the fourth class consists of such as have their call neither from God nor man, but wholly from themselves, as with false prophets and the false apostles of whom Paul speaks. His vocation, the Apostle declares, was superhuman, alike in its origin and in the channel by which it was conveyed. It was no voice of man that summoned Saul of Tarsus from the ranks of the enemies to those of the servants of Christ, and gave him the message he proclaimed. Damascus and Jerusalem in turn acknowledged the grace given unto him; Antioch has sent him forth on her behalf to the regions beyond: but he was conscious of a call anterior to all this, and that admitted of no earthly validation. "Am I not an apostle?" he exclaims, "have I not seen Jesus our Lord?". (1Co 9:1) "Truly the signs of the Apostle were wrought in him," both in the miraculous powers attending his office, and in those moral and spiritual qualities of a minister of God in which he was inferior to none.3 For the exercise of his ministry he was responsible neitherto "those of repute" at Jerusalem, nor to his censurers at Corinth; but to Christ who had bestowed it. (1Co 4:3,4)

The call of the Apostle proceeded also from "God the Father, who raised Jesus Christ from the dead." Christ was in this act the mediator, declaring the Supreme will. In other places, more briefly, he styles himself "Apostle by the will of God." His appointment took place by a Divine intervention, in which the ordinary sequence of events was broken through. Long after the Saviour in His bodily presence had ascended to heaven, when in the order of nature it was impossible that another Apostle should be elected, and when the administration of His Church had been for several years carried on by human hands, He appeared once more on earth for the purpose of making this man His "minister and witness"; He appeared in the name of "the Father, who had raised Him from the dead." This interposition gave to Paul’s ministry an exceptional character. While the mode of his election was in one aspect humbling, and put him in the position of "the untimely one," the "least of the Apostles," whose appearance in that capacity was unlooked for and necessarily open to suspicion; on the other hand, it was glorious and exalting, since it so richly displayed the Divine mercy and the transforming power of grace.

But why does he say, who raised Him from the dead? Because it was the risen Jesus that he saw, and that he was conscious of seeing in the moment of the vision. The revelation that arrested him before Damascus, in the same moment convinced him that Jesus was risen, and that he himself was called to be His servant. These two convictions were inseparably linked in Paul’s recollections. As surely as God the Father had raised His Son Jesus from the dead and given Him glory, so surely had the glorified Jesus revealed Himself to Saul his persecutor to make him His Apostle. He was, not less truly than Peter or John, a witness of His resurrection. The message of the Resurrection was the burden of the Apostleship.

He adds, "and all the brethren which are with me." For it was Paul’s custom to associate with himself in these official letters his fellow-labourers, present at the time. From this expression we gather that he was attended just now by a considerable band of companions, such as we find enumerated in Ac 20:2-6, attending him on his journey from Ephesus to Corinth during the third missionary tour. This circumstance has some bearing on the date of the letter. Bishop Lightfoot (in his Commentary) shows reason for believing that it was written, not from Ephesus as commonly supposed, but at a somewhat later time, from Macedonia. It is connected by numerous and close links of internal association with the Epistle to the Romans, which on this supposition speedily followed, and with 2 Corinthians, immediately preceding it. And the allusion of the text, though of no decisive weight taken by itself, goes to support this reasoning. Upon this hypothesis, our Epistle was composed in Macedonia, during the autumn of 57 (or possibly, 58) A.D. The emotion which surcharges 2 Corinthians runs over into Galatians; while the theology which labours for expression in Galatians finds ampler and calmer development in Romans.

2. Of the readers, "the churches of Galatia," it is not necessary to say much at present. The character of the Galatians, and the condition of their Churches, will speak for themselves as we proceed. Galatian is equivalent to Gaul, or Kelt. This people was a detached fragment of the great Western-European race, which forms the basis of our own Irish and West-British populations, as well as of the French nationality. They had conquered for themselves a home in the north of Asia Minor during the Gaulish invasion that poured over Southeastern Europe and into the Asiatic peninsula some three and a half centuries before. Here the Gallic intruders stubbornly held their ground; and only succumbed to the irresistible power of Rome. Defeated by the Consul Manlius in 189 B.C., the Galatians retained their autonomy, under the rule of native princes, until in the year 25 B.C., on the death of Amyntas, the country was made a province of the Empire. The people maintained their distinctive character and speech despite these changes. At the same time they readily acquired Greek culture, and were by no means barbarians; indeed they were noted for their intelligence. In religion they seem to have largely imbibed the Phrygian idolatry of the earlier inhabitants.

The Roman Government had annexed to Galatia certain districts lying to the south, in which were situated most of the cities visited by Paul and Barnabas in their first missionary tour. This has led some scholars to surmise that Paul’s "Galatians" were really Pisidians and Lycaonians, the people of Derbe, Lystra, and Pisidian Antioch. But this is improbable. The inhabitants of these regions were never called Galatians in common speech; and Luke distinguishes "the Galatic country" quite clearly from its southern borderlands. Besides, the Epistle contains no allusions, such as we should expect in the case supposed, to the Apostle’s earlier and memorable associations with these cities of the South. Elsewhere he mentions them by 2Ti 3:2; and why not here, if he were addressing this circle of Churches?

The Acts of the Apostles relates nothing of Paul’s sojourn in Galatia, beyond the fact that he twice "passed through the Galatic country," (Ac 16:6 18:23) on the first occasion during the second missionary journey, in travelling north and then westwards from Pisidia; the second time, on his way from Antioch to Ephesus, in the course of the third tour. Galatia lay outside the main line of Paul’s evangelistic career, as the historian of the Acts describes it, outside the Apostle’s own design, as it would appear from 4:13. In the first instance Galatia follows (in the order of the Acts), in the second precedes Phrygia, a change which seems to indicate some new Importance accruing…to this region: the further clause Ac 18:23, "strengthening all the disciples," shows that the writer was aware that by this time a number of Christian societies were in existence in this neighbourhood.

No city is mentioned in the address, but the country of Galatia only—the single example of the kind in Paul’s Epistles. The Galatians were countryfolk rather than townsfolk. And the Church seems to have spread over the district at large, without gathering itself into any one centre, such as the Apostle had occupied in other parts of his Gentile field.

Still more significant is the curtness of this designation. Paul does not say, "To the Churches of God in Galatia," or "to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ," as in other Epistles. He is in no mood for compliments. These Galatians are, he fears, "removing from God who had called them" (ver. 6). He stands in doubt of them. It is a question whether they are now, or will long continue, "Churches of God" at all. He would gladly commend them if he could; but he must instead begin with reproaches. And yet we shall find that, as the Apostle proceeds, his sternness gradually relaxes. He remembers that these "foolish Galatians" are his "children," once ardently attached to him. (Ga 4:12-20) His heart yearns towards them; he travails over them in birth again. Surely they will not forsake him, and renounce the gospel of whose blessings they had enjoyed so rich an experience. (Ga 3:3 5:10) He calls them "brethren" once and again; and with this kindly word, holding out the hand of forgiveness, he concludes the letter.   


[1] The text used in this exposition is, with very few exceptions, that of the Revised English Version, or its margin.

[2] Compare Acts xiv. 4, 14 (Barnabas and Paul); 1 Thess. ii. 6 (Paul and his comrades); Rom. xvi. 7 (Andronicus and Junias); 2 Cor. viii. 23 (Titus and others, "apostles of the churches"); 2 Cor. xi. 13 ("false apostles": Judean emissaries); also Rev. ii. 2; Heb. iii. 1; John xiii. 16. On the N.T. use of apostle, see Lightfoot's Galatians, pp. 92-101; but especially Huxtable's Dissertation in the Pulpit Commentary (Galatians), pp. xxiii.-l., the most satisfactory elucidation of the subject we have met with. Prebendary Huxtable however presses his argument too far, when he insists that St. Paul held his higher commission entirely in abeyance until the crisis of the Judaic controversy.

[3] 1 Cor. xv. 10; 2 Cor. iv. 2; vi. 3-10; xi. 5, 16-xii. 13.