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

By W. M. Ramsay

Part 2

Historical Commentary

Chapter 2

The Epistle Authorised by the Church In Antioch

With regard to the persons who are mentioned in a letter of Paul’s as sending messages or salutations to the persons addressed, a clear distinction must be drawn between those who are mentioned at the beginning and those who are mentioned at the end. Salutations at the end of a letter are expressive of love, good-will, sympathy and interest. Thus, hosts of well-wishers send greetings to the Romans, to the Corinthians, to the Philippians, to Timothy (along with whom must be included the Churches which he represented), etc.

But persons who join in the address prefixed to a letter are persons whose authorisation is required and conveyed in it. They are indicated as joint-authors. The letter (though composed by Paul) is the letter of Paul and those named with him. These all stamp with their authority what is said in the letter. Accordingly, where Paul associates any one with himself in the prefatory superscription of his letters, it is always some person who stands in a position of authority towards those addressed.

In Romans, Ephesians, Timothy, Titus, Paul speaks alone. No person shares with him in the authoritative address.

It is obvious that in those cases it would be hard to find any person whose name could authoritatively have been conjoined with his own by Paul. To the Romans Aquila, perhaps, but we cannot be sure. Moreover, Aquila probably was not with Paul in Corinth when he wrote.

It belongs to that fine courtesy which was part of the fabric of St. Paul’s mind, that he never omitted to recognise in the fullest degree the authority that belonged to another. When he writes to a community in the conversion and organisation of which any of his coadjutors and subordinates had played an important part, he desired to acknowledge in his address the position which that person occupied towards the young congregation. If the coadjutor was in his company and could stamp with his authority the message that has to be sent, Paul wrote in their joint name.

Thus Silas and Timothy had gone with him to Philippi and to Thessalonica in the beginning. Both the letters that were sent to the Church in Thessalonica begin “Paul and Silvanus and Timothy”. Even the polite and more dignified name Silvanus is used, not the familiar Silas.

The letter to the Philippians was sent in the name of Paul and Timothy. From the omission of Silas we might confidently infer that he was not with Paul when the letter was written — an inference that accords with all other evidence.

Timothy, who rejoined Paul in Corinth shortly after he went there (Act 18:5), is associated with him in the second Epistle. Silas, who was in company with Paul and Timothy at Corinth on the second journey, is never mentioned on the third journey.1

Timothy was probably the leading messenger to Colossae in the beginning.2  He joins in the letters to the Colossians and to Philemon who resided at Colossae.

But in the circular letter, written probably at the same time as Colossians to the other Asian Churches, Timothy is not mentioned.3 He had not the same right to speak to them, and his name could not carry the same weight to them. Probably various coadjutors had been sent to the great Asian cities; and just as courtesy to Timothy seemed to Paul to require his name in the address to the Colossians, so courtesy towards the Smyrnaeans and the Sardians prevented Paul from putting Timothy in a position of authority towards them.

Sosthenes was evidently a leading member of the Corinthian Church; possibly he had formerly been a chief of the synagogue. He was in Ephesus when Paul wrote first to the Corinthians; and the letter is from “Paul and Sosthenes the brother”. Timothy is not mentioned, because he was absent on a mission at the time.

The instances are not numerous enough to establish by themselves a rule; but the rule is obvious and necessary from the nature of the situation, and the instances show how the rule is worked out in practice.

If other persons were this way associated by Paul with himself, no one probably will imagine that their assent was merely assumed by Paul. He, doubtless, communicated to them what he was writing; and their name guarantees their full approval of the letter with all that it contains.

Hence we may infer: —

(1) In some or in many cases the introductory address, like the preface to a book, was the last thing composed.

(2) When a person who stood in a position of authority to a Church is not named in the opening of a letter to the Church, he was not in company with Paul at the time.

In the Epistle to the Galatians the authors are “Paul and all the brethren which are with me”.

The phrase, “all the brethren which are with me,” arrests our attention. Paul wrote in some place where there was a considerable body of Christians; and we may confidently say that that implies one or other of the cities where there were churches. The words used by Dr. Zöckler to describe the situation in which Paul wrote are so good, that we may leave it to him to express what is implied in this phrase. As he has been so prominent an adversary of the South Galatian theory, no one will be able to charge me with straining Paul’s words to suit my own view. He says: “The whole body of fellow Christians who were with him at the time in------4 (not merely his more prominent helpers) are mentioned by St. Paul as those who join with him in greeting the Galatians. He does this in order to give the more emphasis to what he has to say to them. He writes indeed with his own hand (Gal 6:13), but in the name of a whole great Christian community. The warnings and exhortations which are to be addressed to the Galatians go forth from a body whose authority cannot be lightly regarded.” But on Gal 6:13 see § LX.

The Church which here addresses the Galatians, therefore, is one which was closely connected with them, whose opinion would be authoritative among them, one which could add impressiveness even to a letter of Paul’s. What congregation stood in this relation to the Galatians? Not the Ephesians, nor the Corinthians, later converts, who are not mentioned in the addresses of the letters that are known to have been written among them (Rom., 1 Cor.). Only two congregations could add weight to this particular letter — Jerusalem and Antioch. The former is, for many reasons, out of the question; but Antioch is, from every point of view, specially suitable and impressive. It was the brethren at Antioch who chose out Barnabas and Saul for the work, in the course of which the Galatians were converted. To the Galatians Antioch was their Mother-Church, and it would be specially effective among the Galatians that all the brethren who were at Antioch joined in the letter.

That Antioch was the place where the letter to the Galatians was written is confirmed by another consideration. It was probably there that Paul first received the news about the Galatian defection. As is shown in St. Paul the Traveller, p. 189 f, Paul’s movements after his second visit to Galatia were so strange, so perplexing, so entirely unforeseen and unintentional, that he is not likely to have been able to communicate with the Galatians. Not until he was, after a long period of uncertainty, ordered to remain in Corinth, had he any fixity. Among those who were with him Timothy was the most natural messenger; and Timothy, who came to him some weeks after his first entrance into Corinth, remained there long enough to take the position implied by his being named as joint-author5 of the Second Epistle. It is therefore impossible that Timothy could have gone to Galatia and returned to Corinth with the news. Probably he sailed with Paul to Ephesus, Act 18:18, went thence up to Galatia, and met Paul in Syrian Antioch with news.

The place of origin throws light on the Epistle as a whole. In the first place, if the Church of Antioch shared in it, the letter must have been publicly read and approved — either before the whole Church, or more probably before its representatives — before it was despatched. Few, I imagine, will suppose that Paul merely assumed that all who were with him agreed in his sentiments6 without consulting them: those who thus conceive the character of Paul differ so radically from me that discussion of the point between us would be unprofitable. Accordingly, we must understand that the history as well as the sentiment contained in this Epistle were guaranteed by the whole Church of Antioch.

In the second place, this origin explains why it is that Antioch, which was so closely associated with the evangelisation of Galatia, is not formally alluded to in the body of the letter. The Epistle is apt to produce on the modern reader a certain painful impression, as not recognising the right of Antioch to some share in the championship of freedom. Antioch had taken a very prominent and honourable part in the struggle for freedom; yet, on the ordinary theory of origin, it is not alluded to in this letter, except to point out that every Jew in Antioch betrayed on one occasion the cause of freedom. Considering what Antioch had done for Christianity and for Paul, every one who follows the ordinary theory must, I think, feel a pang of regret in Paul’s interest that he did not by some word or expression give more generous recognition to her services. In a letter, in which he speaks so much about the actual details of the struggle, he seems, on that view, to speak only of his own services, and hardly at all to allude to the services of others. But when all Antiochian Christians are associated with the Apostle as issuing this authoritative letter, we feel that the Church of Antioch is placed in the honourable position which she had earned.

It is true that Paul does not mention Antioch in writing to the Romans. But, in that Epistle, though the subject and treatment are in some respects so similar, there is not the same need or opening for mentioning Antioch, because the subject is handled in a general and philosophical way, not in the personal and individual style which rules in Galatians.

What a flood of light does this origin throw on the history of Antioch and early Christianity! It shows us the congregation of Antioch standing side by side with Paul, sharing in his views, his difficulties, and his struggles for freedom. The Jewish Christians in Antioch had all apparently become united by this time with the Gentiles in sympathy with Paul, just as Barnabas and Peter had been. This in itself is an answer to those who7 blame Paul entirely for the separation between Jews and Christians. The mingled conciliation (as in Act 15:30-31, and Act 16:3-4) and firmness of Paul gradually produced a unity of Jewish and Gentile Christians throughout Asia Minor8 and the Antiochian district.

The mischief caused by the North Galatian theory is not merely that it produces erroneous ideas on many points, but that it shuts the eyes to many other points. Here, for example, it deprives us of all evidence in the New Testament for the feeling that existed between Paul and the Antiochian Church after the events narrated in Acts 15 and Galatians 2 ff.

It will hardly be advanced as an argument against Antioch as the place of origin that Syria and Antioch are mentioned in the letter by name, and that Paul does not say “hither” in place of “to Antioch,” Act 11:11. In 1 Corinthians, which was written at Ephesus, he used the expression, “at Ephesus,” and mentions “Asia”.

Dr. Clemen has rightly recognised the force that lies in the phrase, “all the brethren with me,” and he explains it by dating the composition of Galatians immediately after Romans, when all the delegates of the Churches were with Paul.9 It may be fully granted that this would explain quite satisfactorily the use of the phrase; but other considerations prevent us from accepting so late a date for the letter.


[1] Not that he had left Paul’s association, but more probably that he was detached on special service.

[2] St. Paul the Trav., p. 274. There is no direct evidence to that effect.

[3] Eph 1:1.

[4] Dr. Zöckler names “Ephesus” here, without hesitation, conformably to his theory, which is the commonly received view among North Galatian critics.

[5] Not implying that he helped to compose the letter.

[6] Thus, for example, the salutation of “all the Churches” in Rom 16:16, means the salutation of the representatives enumerated, Act 20:4, who were in company with Paul as he wrote. Incidentally, it may be noted that this proves that the long list of greetings in Romans 16 was really addressed to the Roman. Church, and not, according to a well-known theory, to the Church of Ephesus. It is surely by a slip that Dr. Sanday and Mr. Headlam fail to notice the meaning of this salutation, and say, “it is a habit of St. Paul to speak on behalf of the Churches as a whole,” quoting, in support of this statement, Rom 16:4; 1Co 7:17; 1Co 14:33; 2Co 8:18; 2Co 11:28. In none of these places does Paul speak in the name of the Churches, except Rom 16:4, where he has the same justification, that representatives of the Churches were with him: in the other cases he merely mentions facts about “all the Churches”. Further, this shows that all the delegates assembled at Corinth, disproving the view suggested in my St. Paul, p. 287 (abandoned in German translation).

[7] For example, Mr. Baring Gould’s interesting Study of St. Paul.

[8] Reasons for this view are stated in chaps. XII, XV, 17 of my Cities and Bishoprics of Phrygia, on the history of the Christians and the Jews in Phrygia.

[9] See footnote on p. 243.

Book Navigation Title Page Preface Table of Contents Religion in Asia Minor      ► Chapter 1      ► Chapter 2      ► Chapter 3      ► Chapter 4      ► Chapter 5      ► Chapter 6      ► Chapter 7      ► Chapter 8      ► Chapter 9      ► Chapter 10      ► Chapter 11      ► Chapter 12      ► Chapter 13      ► Chapter 14      ► Chapter 15      ► Chapter 16      ► Chapter 17      ► Chapter 18      ► Chapter 19      ► Chapter 20      ► Chapter 21      ► Chapter 22      ► Chapter 23 Historical Commentary      ► Section 1      ► Section 2      ► Section 3      ► Section 4      ► Section 5      ► Section 6      ► Section 7      ► Section 8      ► Section 9      ► Section 10      ► Section 11      ► Section 12      ► Section 13      ► Section 14      ► Section 15      ► Section 16      ► Section 17      ► Section 18      ► Section 19      ► Section 20      ► Section 21      ► Section 22      ► Section 23      ► Section 24      ► Section 25      ► Section 26      ► Section 27      ► Section 28      ► Section 29      ► Section 30      ► Section 31      ► Section 32      ► Section 33      ► Section 34      ► Section 35      ► Section 36      ► Section 37      ► Section 38      ► Section 39      ► Section 40      ► Section 41      ► Section 42      ► Section 43      ► Section 44      ► Section 45      ► Section 46      ► Section 47      ► Section 48      ► Section 49      ► Section 50      ► Section 51      ► Section 52      ► Section 53      ► Section 54      ► Section 55      ► Section 56      ► Section 57      ► Section 58      ► Section 59      ► Section 60      ► Section 61      ► Section 62      ► Section 63      ► Section 64