A Historical Commentary on St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians

By W. M. Ramsay

Part 2

Historical Commentary

Chapter 27

The Two Stages (Gal 3:3)

Are you so devoid of rational perception of the real value of things, so wanting in insight and Noesis? Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now perfected in the flesh?

It is implied that the Galatian Christians had been led astray by a theory of lower and higher stages in Christianity. In the Mysteries they were familiar from their pagan days with this idea of progress through an intermediate to a higher stage of religious life, reaching the perfect knowledge through an imperfect knowledge. They had, in perfect honesty but in utter want of true insight, been led to the idea that their former stage of Paulinism and spiritual religion was a preliminary, and that those who were strong enough should proceed to the hard but ennobling stage of works, of troublesome and difficult service with their body and their flesh.

This idea had evidently been communicated to the Galatian Churches by the Judaising emissaries. That shows that these emissaries accepted the Apostolic Decree, Acts 15, quite as much as Paul himself did, but read it in a different sense. They did not contend, as many Jews previous to the Council and the Decree had contended, that in order to become a Christian the pagan convert must accept the Mosaic Law: they did not say “except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved” (Acts 15). It had been decided, formally and finally, that that contention was wrong and wicked, “subverting the souls” of the pagan converts (Act 15:24), and that such converts could be received into the Church without doing more than accept the four necessary conditions (Act 15:29).

But the Decree readily lends itself to a quite plausible interpretation that the four conditions are a minimum, a mere concession to the weakness of those who were unfit to bear a “greater burden”; and that those who had strength to bear more should voluntarily go on to the perfect stage of bearing the whole burden.

The Galatian Churches were honestly convinced that such was the meaning of the Decree that Paul himself had brought them. They had, in the next place, easily been brought to regard him as the mere subordinate and messenger of the Apostles, and especially of the leaders among them. After these misconceptions had taken root, it was easy to lead on the Galatians to the last error — that Paul from jealousy was keeping most of them on the lower stage, that he was their “Enemy” when he told them to neglect ceremonial and stand fast in the spiritual stage,1 while he carried on only some special favourites like Timothy to the perfect stage (Gal 5:11).

 

[1] It is clear that the word “enemy” in Gal 4:16 ought to be printed in inverted commas (if one follows modern methods of punctuation), as being the very word which was being used in Galatia about him. See the remarks in X, XLIX, carrying out Professor Locke’s idea.

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