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

By W. M. Ramsay

Part 2

Historical Commentary

Chapter 14

The Province of Syria and Cilicia (Gal 1:21)

The expression rendered in the Revised Version, “the Regions of Syria and Cilicia,” has been treated by some scholars as describing two countries; and they seek to find a discrepancy between Gal 1:21 and Act 9:30, as if in the former it were asserted that Paul visited Syria first and afterwards Cilicia, whereas in the Acts it is stated that he went direct to Tarsus. Then other commentators seek to avoid this inference, some by pointing out that on the way to Cilicia he would remain at Syrian ports long enough to justify him in saying that he came to Syria and then to Cilicia, while others argue that his residence at Antioch during the latter part of the period justifies him in speaking of both Syria and Cilicia, without implying that the Syrian visit was before the Cilician.

All these views start from a misconception of Paul’s language and thought. He always thinks and speaks with his eye on the Roman divisions of the Empire, i.e., the Provinces, in accordance both with his station as a Roman citizen and with his invariable and oft-announced principle of accepting and obeying the existing government. Thus he speaks of Achaia, Asia, Macedonia, Galatia, Illyricum, using in each case the Roman names of Provinces, not the Greek names of countries. Achaia, to the Greeks, denoted a much smaller territory than to the Romans, and it was only in rare cases that the Greeks used either Achaia or Galatia in the wide Roman sense.

But the most striking example of Paul’s habit of using Roman names is τοῦ Ἰλλυρικοῦ in Rom 15:19. The Greeks used the name Ἰλλυρίς to correspond to the Roman Illyricum1 and employed Ἰλλυρικός only as an adjective. None but a person who was absolutely Roman in his point of view could have employed the term Ἰλλυρικόν, and he could mean by it nothing but “Provincia Illyricum”.2

The only writers in Greek that use this Graeco-Latin term τὸ Ἰλλυρικόν in place of the Greek Ἰλλυρίς are the Roman historian Dion Cassius (in two passages) and the Roman citizen and conqueror Paul, who was looking forward to the Christianisation of the Roman Empire, who counted his progress by Provinces, and planted his steps in their capitals.3

In accordance with his usual practice, Paul here thinks and speaks of the Roman Province, which consisted of two great divisions, Syria and Cilicia; and he designates it by the double name, like Provincia Bithynia et Pontus. We must accordingly read τῆς Συρίας καὶ Κιλικίας, with the common article embracing the two parts of one province, according to the original text of א. Although I do not recollect any example of the expression “Prov. Syria et Cicilia” yet the analogy of Bithynia-Pontus is a sufficient defence. It was not possible here to use the simple name of the Province Syria, for if he said that he had gone into the districts of Syria, his meaning would have been mistaken. In those composite Roman Provinces it was sometimes necessary for the sake of clearness to designate them by enumerating the parts. For example, the official name for the great provincial festival at Syrian Antioch described it as “common to Syria Cilicia Phoenice,” where Phœnice, which is generally reckoned part of Syria, is distinguished from it.4 Similarly, the governors of the united Provinces Galatia and Cappadocia, desiring on their milestones to express clearly the vast extent of their operations, recorded5 that they had made the roads of Galatia, Cappadocia, Pontus, Pisidia, Paphlagonia, Lycaonia, and Armenia Minor.

The meaning of Gal 1:21, then, is simply that Paul spent the following period of his life in various parts of the Province Syria-Cilicia; and it confirms the principle of interpretation laid down by Zahn that “Paul never designates any part of the Roman Empire by any other name than that of the Province to which it belonged; and he never uses any of the old names of countries, except in so far as these had become names of Provinces” (Einleitung in das N. T., p. 124).


[1] So, e.g., Ptolemy, IV 12, and Strabo, often.

[2] It is noteworthy that in 2Ti 4:10, Paul speaks of this same Province as Dalmatia. The difference of name cannot be appealed to as pointing to different authorship of the Pastoral Epistles and of the Romans; it is merely a sign of the change which was happening during Paul’s lifetime. The name Illyricum (universal in early Latin writers) gradually gave place to Dalmatia (which previously was only the southern part of the Province as constituted by Augustus in A.D. 10, the northern division being Liburnia); and the common name from 70 onwards was Dalmatia (as Mommsen says, “wie sie seit der Zeit der Flavier gewuhölich heisst,” Rum. Gesch., V, c. VI, p. 184). Suetonius, guided doubtless by his authorities, calls the Province Illyricum under the earlier Emperors, but varies between Dalmatia and Illyricum under Claudius and Otho. Similarly, in the time of Nero, Paul varies, following the common usage, which was evidently swinging definitely over from the old to the new name between 57 and 67.

[3] See also § XXV.

[4] The provincial cultus with its ἀγὼν was κοινὸς Συρίας Κιλικίας (Henzen, Bull. Dell’ Inst., 1877, p. 109; Mommsen, Res Gestae D. Aug., p. 173).

[5] C.I.L., III 312, 318: even this long list is shortened, see Hastings’ Dict. Bib., II, p. 87, also next note.

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