An Introduction to the New Testament

By Adolf Jülicher


Chapter 1 - Section 6


§ 6. The Epistle to the Galatians

[Cf. H. A. W. Meyer, vol. vii., by F. Sieffert (1899); Hand-Commentar ii.2; Gal. Rom. Phil. by R. A. Lipsius (1892); C. Holstenʼs ʽDas Evangelium des Paulusʼ (1880), a complete analysis of the connection of thought between Galatians and 1. Corinthians, carried outwith as much single-minded devotion to the subject as strict critical insight, but a work in which Paul is judged too one-sidedly by the rules of logic. It is interesting to compare this with a book which may be similarly described and yet is quite different in result, the ʽBrief des Paulus an die Galaterʼ of M. Kahler (1884). Also A. Schlatterʼs ʽDer Galaterbrief ausgelegt für Bibelleserʼ (1890), an independent work not entirely without scientific merit in spite of its edifying tendency; J. B. Lightfootʼs ʽSt. Paulʼs Epistle to the Galatiansʼ (1892), the most complete collection we have of technical material for the interpretation of the text; B. Schürerʼsʼ ʽWas ist unter Γαλατία in der Überschrift des Galaterbriefs zu verstehen?ʼ (ʽJahrbücher für protestantische Theologie,ʼ 1892, p. 460), and W. M. Ramsayʼs ʽA Historical Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatiansʼ in the Expositor for 1899, p. 57. (See above, p. 33.)]

1. Apart from the address and greeting of the first verses and a brief final summary in vi. 11-18, Galatians consists of three clearly marked divisions, beginning respectively at i. 6, iii. 1 and v. 18. At the point where the Apostle usually expresses his gratitude, he gives vent in this Epistle1 to painful surprise that his readers should have fallen away from his true Gospel to follow a different and accursed one, as against which he declares that his Gospel was ʽnot after man.ʼ2 This thesis, to establish which is the main object of the Epistle, is first placed on an historical basis3 by the assertion that neither his Gospel nor his Apostolate was ʽreceived of man.ʼ In support of this he first points to his call and to his seventeen yearsʼ activity,4 in which there was no question of any dependence on man, and then5 relates how, without sacrificing a particle of his own Gospel, he was recognised in Jerusalem by the pillars of the Church as the Apostle of the Gentiles, with rights equal to their own.

Then follows the strongest proof of his independence6— the account of how he publicly rebuked the great Cephas at Antioch, and upheld the equal rights of the Gentile Christians against him. The recapitulation of the speech he made on that occasion forms the transition to the second division, the actual demonstration of the truth and divinity of the Gospel of freedom from the Law. In iii. 1-5 he reminds the Galatians of their own experiences, of how they received the Holy Ghost, not through observance of the Law, but through faith in Jesus Christ; and then in the following verses7 he appeals to the witness of Scripture itself, which in Abrahamʼs time, long before the Law appeared, made its promises dependent upon faith alone. The Law was not thereby set aside—it did not pretend to be more than a ʽschoolmaster,ʼ an expedient of secondary importance8—but now the appearance of Christ, the seed of promise, had put an end to the period of bondage and raised us from the position of slaves to that of free sons and heirs,9 who by falling back into the service of the Law would do no better than return to paganism.10 And then, with a sudden change from the didactic tone to one of moving tenderness, he appeals to the feelings of the Galatians and the childlike love that they formerly bore him, in order to tear them away from these new false friends of theirs.11 Next, from iv. 21 to v. 12, he again takes up the argument against the Law from the Law itself, with an allegorical turning of the story of Ishmael and Isaac, repudiating all half-measures and urging upon his readers the necessity of choosing between bondage and freedom, damnation and grace—for in his passionate excitement he cannot but picture to himself all that they had at stake, or refrain from bitter imprecations against their deluders (οἱ ἀναστατοῦντες ὑμᾶς). But in order to prevent any misunderstanding by which ʽfreedom from the Law ” might be interpreted as a danger to morality and mutual love, he adds the explanation12: they are to ʽwalk in the Spirit,ʼ for the Spirit of God which is brought by faith cannot endure the presence of any of the ʽworks of the flesh.ʼ A few special words of advice are added13 against self-conceit and egotism, but the main idea is not lost sight of—that salvation and eternal life can only be reaped where the good seed has been scattered on the soul. So that in practice also his Gospel proves itself to be divine by the moral results which it produces. Greetings and personal requests would here be out of place; all those to whom the letter is directed were in danger of going astray, and with a hand that trembles with emotion he now addresses to all a last earnest cry of warning.14

9. The strong excitement under which the Epistle is written excludes all idea of forgery, and explains the occasional obscurities of expression, as well as the audacities or flaws in the argument, better than any theory of interpolation. Every sentence shows why Paul had taken up his pen: the Christians of Galatia were in danger of falling a prey to a false Gospel. Agitators hostile to Paul15 had penetrated into the community, among them at least one person, probably, of conspicuous authority16—although that this was either Peter or Barnabas is equally unlikely. They had made a deep impression, inexplicable to Paul, upon the Galatians, who were evidently not as yet sufficiently clear and steadfast in their faith.17 Paul, standing in the very thick of the fight, was unable to impute any but selfish motives to these men18; he calls down a curse upon them,19  and declares that the acceptance of their Gospel was equivalent to a forfeiture of grace.20 Any compact with them he felt to be out of the question. Accordingly he bids his readers choose uncompromisingly between himself and them,21 even though they abstained from direct attack upon him, offered to explain his silence as to certain claims of the new religion on the ground of a teacherʼs consideration for his flock,22 and even attempted to base themselves to some extent upon his authority.23 Indirectly, however, they must doubtless have striven to detach the Galatians from him, to represent him as an authority of secondary rank, who had only heard of Christ and his Gospel through the medium of the Primitive Apostles, and therefore had no right to proclaim a free Gospel in opposition to those who had given him his commission. Paul deals with this point from i. 15 to ii. 21, and in ii. 7 actually represents himself as undoubtedly the highest human authority for the Gentile world.

But the question at issue was not one of form; these agitators wished to impose upon the Galatians24 the Law under which they themselves had been born and bred, or at least to exact from them a strict observance of its chief provisions, such as circumcision25 and the celebration of the Jewish feasts. Above all they naturally demanded the keeping of the Sabbath,26 as an essential condition of the salvation promised to the children of Abraham.27 They themselves had not, like Paul,28 opposed these ʽworks of the Lawʼ to ʽFaith,ʼ but had persuaded themselves, and then with very intelligible success the Galatians, that perfect righteousness, the very object for which the believer struggled, could only be attained by the strict fulfilment of the will of God made manifest in the Law.29 In reply to this Paul defines his point of view in the clearest way: the Law and Faith, in his eyes, were mutually exclusive, damnation being as indissolubly connected with the one as grace with the other.30 The Law as the outward standard of morality had been superseded by the inward and transforming power of the heavenly Spirit, the νόμοςτοῦΧριστοῦ.31 Therefore any attempt to rehabilitate it after its destruction by the death of Christ on the Cross, must be branded as a denial of God, of Christ and of the Holy Ghost?; nay, Paul goes so far as to declare that the relapse of the community towards the ideals of Judaism was equivalent to a return to their former idolatry.32 Thus he unconsciously proclaims Christianity as a new religion, equally opposed to Judaism and to Greek Polytheism.

The object of the whole Epistle lies in this declaration; even the warnings of v. 13-vi. 10, although they do contain references to particular faults among the Galatian community, such as strife, arrogance and moral laxity, help to confirm the main thesis—that only the Gospel preached by Paul was from heaven.

3. The Epistle is addressed to the ʽChurches of Galatia.ʼ33 These communities, unlike those of Achaia, Macedonia and Asia, where larger towns were gradually singled out as capitals and naturally assumed a leading position, seem to have been distributed evenly over a strip of country, and to have grown up under like conditions, and remained so, till the time when the Epistle was written. The province of Galatia, a country for the most part of fruitful plough-land and pasture, lying in the centre of Asia Minor and shut off from the sea on all sides, had received its name from the hordes of Celts which, sweeping over from Europe in the third century B.C., had here found a permanent resting-place. Since then they had of course become civilised—that is to say, Hellenised— in every way; but though their old dislike to crowding together into cities may have lingered on, allusions to the relics of a Celtic religion in the passage beginning at iv. 9 could only be traced by the same morbid ingenuity that so eagerly advocates the Teutonic origin of the Galatians. Whether the few hundred Christians to whom this Epistle is addressed were descended from the conquerors of 280-240 B.c. or from later Greek and Oriental immigrants, it is impossible to say, nor, in the face of verse iii. 28, ought it to interest anyone. As for the part of Galatia in which to look for the oldest Christian communities, which certainly lay near together and were not very numerous, conjecture is equally futile; the western part seems to be indicated in the Acts.34

For the last seventy years, however, an hypothesis has been very much in favour according to which the ʽGalatiaʼ of our Epistle should be taken in a wider sense to mean all the provinces placed, since the death of King Amyntas in p.c. 25, under the rule of a single Propraetor, especially Lycaonia and Pisidia. In that case the ʽchurches of Galatiaʼ might consist of those named in the Acts35 as having been founded on the so-called First Missionary Journey—the communities of Antiochia Pisidiae, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe. The wording of the Acts, however, is in the first place unfavourable to this theory; something apart from Pisidia and Lycaonia is to be understood in the term Galatia. But even if in official phraseology the name Galatia had included the districts of Pisidia and Lycaonia, and if Iconium or Derbe had been officially designated as Galatian towns, it would still be far from probable that in the course of seventy-five years the inhabitants of these towns should have grown accustomed to calling themselves Galatians. It is one thing to be incorporated into a powerful and haughty State like Bavaria; it is a very different matter to be attached to an administrative district like the New Galatia of the Romans. In addressing Pisidians and Lycaonians as ʽO foolish Galatians, (iii. 1), Paul—whom, it is true, modern admirers credit with the rule of never employing an old local name unless it had become the name of a Roman province——would have been guilty of using as utterly inappropriate a phrase as would a speaker of to-day in apostrophising the citizens of Frankfort-on-the-Main as ʽO wealthy men of Hesse Nassau.ʼ Belief in the new hypothesis becomes most difficult when it appears, as with Zahn, combined with the old suppositions: namely, that the first visit of the Apostle only concerned the Southern Galatians, though the second also included Galatia proper. Does it follow that communities which, like those of Derbe and Pessinus, lay more than 120 miles apart, had become blent within a few months in the same life and the same errors? However, the whole controversy is but of slender importance. Not even chronology has anything to gain by it; and if instead of ʽGalatiansʼ we say ʽChristian communities in the interior of Asia Minor,ʼ the dispute is at an end.

Paul was the founder of these Galatian communities; it was he who had first proclaimed the Gospel among them.36 He had never intended at the time to preach to them, but illness had forced him to make a long sojourn in their country, and he remembers with emotion how lovingly and eagerly they had surrendered themselves to him. This alone is enough to differentiate the Galatian mission from that to Pisidia and Lycaonia; the flight of Barnabas and Paul to Lystra and Derbe is not precisely represented in the Acts as a convalescent trip after an attack of malaria. It is true that Barnabas, who took part in the Pisidian mission, seems from chap. ii. to have been well known to the Galatians, while Titus had yet to be introduced to them. But Cephas is also known to them, and of course the false apostles played off the authority of those two men— Barnabas and Cephas—against Paul; and this is the reason why Paul is so much concerned to establish his particular relation to them beyond all doubt. But he always declares that it was he alone who first preached the Gospel among them. The plural of i. 8 fol. (which, by the way, passes into the singular in i. 9) would probably not have been analysed by the Galatians into a series of individual components, which in verse 9 must needs be different from what they were in 8.

The great majority of the Christians of Galatia had formerly been heathens.37 Elements of Jewish nationality were probably altogether lacking among them, for the passages brought forward to prove their existence38 must either establish the Jewish extraction of all or of none of the Galatians. The ʽye allʼ of iii, 26 and 28, might certainly stand in implied antithesis to the thought ʽnot merely the minority among you of Jewish birth.ʼ But in both cases the emphasis lies, not on the πάντες, but on the predicate, that assures to every believer the present possession of salvation, or rather of the highest guarantees of salvation. The agitation of the Judaists had originated from outside, probably not without the support of the ʽfalse brethrenʼ of Jerusalem, in deseribing whom Paul had the heresy-mongers of Galatia in his mind. With the Holy Scriptures to support them—which Paul himself had taught his converts to revere as the Word of God—it was easy to convince the theologically untrained Galatians of the necessity of circumcision, especially when Paul and his friends had safely turned their backs upon the place. The date of the foundation of these communities cannot be established with any certainty from the Epistle itself, but according to Acts xvi. 6 it was during the great journey which eventually took the Apostle on to European soil—that is to say, about 52-3 A.D.

4, The question as to the date at which the Epistle was written is a more difficult one. Apparently Paul had already paid his readers two visits,39 the second as well as the first in his capacity of preacher, i.e. in successful efforts to increase the number of believers, perhaps also of churches, in Galatia. The words of i. 640 give us the impression that these visits were not separated by any great interval of time, and that the latter especially had taken place quite recently. The aforementioned agitations probably only arose after the second, for the πάλιν, ʽagain,ʼ of v. 8, would be more likely to refer to the thoughts expressed in chap. iii. (especially verse 10) than to any verbal declarations; and if by the προειρήκαμεν of i. 9 we do not, with Luther, understand verse 8, but other imprecations previously uttered, we may be led to suppose that Paul was forced to make use of such protestations—to which he is here merely lending additional force —at his first as well as every succeeding visit to any town. The excitement that runs through the whole Epistle, and the arguments Paul uses in it, are hardly compatible with the assumption that he had observed traces of Judaistic influences among the Galatians in his recent visit, but had easily overcome them and cheerfully continued on his journey. Itis more probable that the news of the defection of the Galatians took him completely by surprise, for it assuredly did not reach him through an official deputation from the churches, nor by a letter from them, to which he would certainly have referred, however briefly. He did immediately all that he could do from a distance to prevent the worst. If, then, the second visit is that mentioned in Acts xviii. 23, it must have occurred during the so-called third journey: that is to say, before Paulʼs stay of several yearsʼ duration in the province of Asia; and the Epistle must have been written during that stay itself, probably on one of the expeditions made from Ephesus for missionary purposes, since Paul makes no mention in it of any Christian community surrounding him. Only those of the brethren who were known to the Galatians are with him, probably the fellow-preachers who had accompanied him on his last visit thither. Hence it follows that any but the years 55-57 are excluded.

And indeed this assignment seems to me to be almost certain. The objection that Paul could have hurried in person to Galatia from Ephesus or its neighbourhood, if he found a voyage from Ephesus to Corinth so easy, does not hold; for Paul nowhere says that he was prevented from coming or suggests any reason against coming. Perhaps he had reason to think he would effect more by a letter than by a personal visit. It must be remembered that he could look back to unpleasant experiences with the Corinthian community (§ 7, 7). The gentle tone in which in 1. Cor. xvi. he mentions the orders he gave to the Galatians for a collection can only be explained on the assumption, either that he had set matters straight in Galatia by his Epistle, and had recently sent them paternal advice once more, or that 1. Cor. xvi. dates from before the Galatian catastrophe, and the orders in question were given somewhere during his second stay in Galatia. The latter possibility seems preferable, because we find no Galatian delegates mentioned either in Rom. xv. 26 or Acts xx. 4 (unless ʽGaius of Derbeʼ is to be considered a Galatian), among the deputation which brings the Collection, and this cannot but reawaken our suspicion that the relations between Paul and the Galatians were at that time broken off—a thing which was indeed bound to occur unless the Galatians had immediately renounced their Judaistic perverters.

Under these circumstances, then, we are brought down to the second half of the stay at Ephesus. Moreover, we have not the slightest interest in referring this Epistle, which formulates more sharply than any other the anti-Jewish and anti-legal ideas of the Apostle, to the earliest practicable period in his life. The Epistle, though surpassed by others in wealth of thought, would on account of its clearness and decision deserve to be regarded as the last testament of the Apostle to his Gentile churches on his departure from them. But, in dating the Epistle as late as the period of captivity in Rome, the Fathers were only resting on the words of vi. 17, whereas Paul need not have waited till the time of his imprisonment to speak of ʽthe marks of the Lord Jesusʼ which he ʽbears in his bodyʼ (cf. 2. Cor. xi. 28 fol.); still less, however, need we suppose that such words could only have been uttered in the first months after the sufferings he endured at Philippi in 52-3. Nor, finally, can any earlier date be accepted, such as the journey begun immediately after the meeting of the Apostles at Jerusalem in 52, for in the seventeen years of Paulʼs missionary work described in i. 15-24 there was no room for the foundation of the Galatian churches, and, however briefly he expresses himself in i. 21, he could not have omitted to mention his appearance in Galatia, if that had indeed taken place before the events of ii. 1. To gather from the words of ii. 5—ʽthat the truth of the gospel might continue with youʼ—that this journey of Paulʼs to Jerusalem was necessitated precisely by the Judaistic agitation in Galatia, or that as soon as the Judaistic reaction arose Paul was alarmed for his Galatian children, is to overlook the fact that the Apostleʼs historical narrative 41 received all its colour from the immediate interest of the narrator in it;—instead of his adversaries in Jerusalem he now has before his eyes the false brethren who had crept in privily beside him in Galatia: instead of those whom he had there protected, the threatened Galatians—a subtle piece of tactics, and how intelligible from the psychological side! He says ʽye,ʼ where properly ʽweʼ should stand, from the same tenderness of feeling as in ili. 26— 29. It is true that he informs his-readers of the proceedings of the Council of Jerusalem as of something quite ʽnew,ʼ but this does not prove that they had only just occurred, or that Paul had had no intercourse with his readers in the interval, for he wisely spoke of such things only in case of need, seeing how easily they might shake menʼs confidence in the truth of his Gospel. Nor is there any meaning in ii. 10 unless Paul had had some opportunity of proving his zeal since the time of the Council. In short, even if the Galatians are the Christians of Lycaonia, the Epistle cannot have been written as early as twelve months after the Council of the Apostles. True that Zahn places it before 1. Thessalonians; but thanks to the immense apparatus of messages, corresponding plans, and missions to and fro which he constructs for us, he compels every calculating reader to postulate a longer interval than four to six months between the commencement of the European mission and the composition of our Epistle. Chronologically, Galatians is the third, perhaps the fourth, of the Epistles of Paul which have come down to us.



1) i. 6-10.

2) i. 11.

3) i, 6-ii. 21.

4) i. 13-24.

5) ii, 1-10.

6) ii, 11-21.

7) iii, 6-18.

8) iii, 19-24,

9) iii, 25-iv. 7.

10) iv, 8-11.

11) iv, 12-20.

12) v. 13-25.

13) v. 26-vi. 10.

14) vi. 11-18.

15) οἱ ταάσσοντες ὑμᾶς, i. 7, v. 10, vi. 12 fol.

16) v. 10

17) i. 6, iii. 1 v. 7

18) i, 7, iv.17, vi. 12 fol.

19) i. 8, v. 12.

20) v. 4.

21) v. 7, 9.

22) i. 10.

23) i.8, καὶ ἐὰν ἡμεῖς . . . ; v.11, εἰ περιτομὴν ἔτι κηρύσσω, to be understood in the same sense as ii. 14, εἴ σὺ . . . ἐθνικῶς ζῇς.

24) v. 1, iv. 21.

25) vi. 12 fol., v. 3.

26) 7 iv. 10.

27) iii. 7 fol., vi. 16.

28) iii. 2,5.

29) v, 4, iii, 3 (ἐπιτελεῖσθε), iii. 8, 11; ii. 16, 21.

30) iii. 10 fol., v. 3, 4.

31) v, 5, 18, 25, vi. 2.

32) ii, 18-21, iii. 14, iv. 29. 2, and see 1. Cor. xvi. 1.

33) iv, 8-11;

34) xvi. 6.

35) xiii. fol.

36) iv. 19, iii. 2 fol., i. 8, 9.

37)  iv. 8, v. 2 fol., vi. 12 fol.

38) iii. 2, 13 fol., 23 fol., iv. 3, 5, v. 1.

39) iv. 13.

40) See also iv. 16, 18, 20.

41) Vv. 4 and 5 especially, and cf. ver. 10.