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

By W. M. Ramsay

Part 2

Historical Commentary

Chapter 62

The Concluding Blessing and Denunciation (Gal 6:16-17)

As the letter began in a style unique with Paul, and unlike the ordinary epistolary forms, so it ends. Other letters, as a rule, end with a blessing or benediction. Here the blessing is restricted, and in the restriction a negative is implied: “and as many as shall walk by this rule, peace be on them and mercy”; then are added the more gracious words, “and on the Israel of God” (though even here there lurks a contrast to the Israel after the flesh).

But there follows a note of denunciation: “From henceforth let no man trouble me; for I bear branded on my body the marks of Jesus”. In 1Co 16:21-24, where there is mingled with the blessing a curse, “if any man loveth not the Lord, let him be accursed,” the more emphatic final blessing and expression of love to all comes after the curse, and swallows it up. But here after a restricted benediction, comes a denunciation, combined with a strong assertion of his authority as the servant of Christ — too emphatic to be merged and forgotten in the short blessing conveyed in the final verse.

What is the reason of this most marked characteristic? Is it merely due to indignation (which the commentators make out to be one of the strongest features in the letter)? Was the writer so angry that even his concluding blessing is marred by a note of denunciation and self-assertion? From Gal 5:13 onwards he has, apparently, forgotten his indignation, and has impressed on the Galatians in successive paragraphs, from various points of view, the supreme duty of love, the evil of wrath, enmity, strife. Can we suppose that immediately after this he gives the lie to his own teaching by letting his indignation again get the upper hand, and make itself felt in what are almost the last words of the letter?

It cannot be so. This paragraph is the crowning proof that it is a mistake to read indignation as the chief feature of this letter, and that the interpretation advocated above in XXII is ‘true: though “the authoritative tone, of course, is there,” yet the emotion that drives him on throughout the letter “is intense and overpowering love and pity for specially beloved children”.

But to deal with those children one must always use the note of authority. Here, as everywhere throughout the letter, one recognises, not the proud and sensitive Celtic aristocracy, but the simple, slow, easy-going, obedient, contented, good-tempered and rather stupid people of the Phrygian country, the ground-stock of the Anatolian plateau.

 

 

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