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

By W. M. Ramsay

Part 2

Historical Commentary

Chapter 6

“Ye Are So Quickly Removing”

The position of these words in the opening of the letter shows that we must lay the utmost stress on them. Paul had evidently heard nothing of the steps by which the Galatians had passed over to the Judaising side. We may assume, of course, that there were steps: however rapidly, from one point of view, it came about, time is required to change so completely the religion of several cities so widely separated. But Paul had heard nothing of the intermediate steps. He heard suddenly that the Galatian Churches are crossing over to the Judaistic side. This point requires notice.

In the case of the Corinthian Church, we can trace in the two Epistles the development of the Judaising tendency. In the first Epistle it hardly appears. The difficulties and errors which are there mentioned are rather the effect of the tone and surroundings of Hellenic paganism: lax morality, and a low conception of purity and duty, are more obvious than the tendency to follow Judaising teachers. There is a marked tendency in Paul’s tone to make allowance for the Judaic point of view: the writer is quite hopeful of maintaining union and friendly relations with the Jewish community. We observe here much the same stage as that on which the Galatian Churches stood at Paul’s second visit (Act 16:1-5): then, also, Paul was full of consideration for the Jews, hopeful of unity, ready to go to the furthest possible point in conciliating them by showing respect to their prejudices, delivering the Apostolic Decree, and charging them to observe its prohibition of meats offered to idols and of those indulgences which were permitted by universal consent in pagan society. In 1 Corinthians his instruction is to the same general effect, though delivered with much greater insight into the practical bearing and the philosophic basis of the rules of life which he lays down. He had learned in the case of the Galatian Churches what mistaken conceptions the Apostolic Decree was liable to rouse, if it were delivered to his converts as a law for them to keep: he knew that, if there were any opening left, the ordinary man would understand that the Decree would be taken as a sort of preparation for, and imperfect stage leading up to, the whole Law. His instructions to the Corinthians are carefully framed so as to guard against the evils which had been experienced in Galatia; and yet the principles and rules which he lays down represent exactly his conception of the truth embodied in the Apostolic Decree.1 The theme in I Corinthians is the statement of the moral and philosophical basis on which rested the external and rather crude rules embodied in that Decree.

On the other hand, in 2 Corinthians the old evils are sensibly diminished, to Paul’s great joy and thankfulness, but a new evil is coming in, viz., the tendency to Judaism. This, however, is not yet so far advanced in Corinth as it was in Galatia when Galatians was written. It is only beginning. It is a suggestive fact that Romans, written six or nine months later than 2 Corinthians, speaks of the Judaising tendency as a danger in a stage similiar to Galatians; and Dr. Drescher, in a most admirable article in Theologische Studien und Kritiken, 1897, p. 1 ff, remarks that Paul, in writing to the Roman Church, with which he had never come into personal relations, and about whose position and difficulties he had only second-hand information,2 was guided greatly by the circumstances of the Corinthian congregation, in the midst of which he was writing.3 Dr. Sanday and Mr. Headlam are, on the whole, of this opinion. Corinth, then, early in 57, was where Galatia stood in 53.4

How, then, had Paul been ignorant of the steps in the Galatian defection? That was natural, on the South Galatian view. The rapid and unforeseeable changes of his life after his second Galatian visit made it impossible for exchange of letters and messages to take place.5 Even after he went to Corinth he was still looking for the expected opening in Macedonia (which he understood to be his appointed field), until the new message was given him (Act 18:9).

But on the North Galatian view, Paul was resident in Ephesus for over two years after leaving Galatia, and this residence was in accordance with his previous intention (Act 18:21). Those who place the composition of Galatians after Romans cannot explain Paul’s ignorance, for it is as certain as anything in that far away time can be that there was almost daily communication between Ephesus and Pisidian Antioch.6 The commoner view, which places Galatians as early as possible in the Ephesian residence, reduces the difficulty; but still leaves it unexplained why Paul’s news was so sudden and so completely disastrous, why he had no preparation. Yet the tone of these opening words is inexplicable, unless the news had come like a thunderclap from a clear sky.


[1] See Professor W. Lock’s convincing paper in Expositor, July, 1897, p. 65.

[2] Reports from Aquila and Priscilla would not be sufficient, though they may perhaps have elicited the letter. Acts 28 shows that the Judaistic difficulty had not yet become serious in Rome.

[3] Similarly his Ephesian experiences influence, to some extent, the tone of I Corinthians and the early part of 2 Corinthians.

[4] The dates given in St. Paul the Trav. are assumed, in order to show the interval.

[5] See above, p. 242.

[6] Not so frequent between Ancyra and Ephesus; but even in that case there was easy communication, see Lightfoot, p. 25.

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