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

By W. M. Ramsay

Part 2

Historical Commentary

Chapter 19

Limits and Purpose of the Autobiography

This autobiographical sketch — from Gal 1:12 to near the end of Gal 2:21 — entirely depends on Gal 2:11 : “I make known1 to you,” i.e., I proceed to show you, “as touching the Gospel which was preached by me, that it is not after man”. Then follows the statement of the facts showing that the Gospel which Paul preached came to him from God originally, and, so far from having ever been suggested to him by the Apostles, had on the contrary been stated by him to them in Jerusalem, and approved by them without any reservation or addition or suggestion, except that he should remember the poor (which, as a matter of fact, it was his object then to do).

This autobiographical statement of facts falls into three parts. First, the character of his life before his conversion is briefly described, in order to bring out what an epoch it was, what a complete reversal of his previous career.

Secondly, he gives an outline of his movements, intended to bring out how rare and short had been his opportunities of learning from the older Apostles. When his visit to Jerusalem was very short he counts even the days. Then he contrasts these days with the years that elapsed between the first and the second visit.

The effect of the contrast between fifteen days in Jerusalem and fourteen years in Syria-Cilicia is great; and it must have been greater to the Galatians, because they had been listening to descriptions of Paul’s indebtedness to the older Apostles, his frequent consultation of them, and so on. But the North Galatians insist that this telling fact — fourteen days spent in Jerusalem during the first seventeen years of his Christian life — is got by leaving out one visit to Jerusalem: in fact, that it is obtained by suppression of truth.

The outline of his movements stops, naturally and necessarily, at the point where he delivered his Gospel to the Galatians: his purpose is only to show that up to that time he had not got any message from the Apostles. He must, of course, assume that the Galatians will believe his statements of fact: he assures them with the most solemn oath that he speaks the truth. Surely, in such a case, he would not expose himself to the charge, which the Judaistic emissaries would at once bring against him, of omitting a vital fact, viz., concealing a visit and thus incorrectly making a long interval between the two which he mentions.

Now, on the North Galatian theory that limiting point is on the second journey: Paul must show that he had never received any message from the Apostles to the Gentiles up to that time. According to Luke he had visited Jerusalem three times before that time. Therefore, if Luke is trustworthy, Paul has omitted a visit. It is not wonderful that the inference should be drawn by many scholars that Paul must be trusted and Luke must have made some blunder. The discrepancy is explained away by the orthodox theologians through a very elaborate process of delicate reconciliation; but the very elaborateness of the process is a proof that they have not reached the ultimate truth. Truth is simple. A scholar and a historian should recognise that universal principle: until he has attained perfect simplicity, he has not attained truth, and should struggle on towards it. As the conclusion of that elaborate reconciliation, many theological scholars deny that there is any discrepancy; but the plain fact that very many other theologians — admittedly reasonable, learned, and bent on seeking truth — see the discrepancy, is a proof that there is one. The last proof of reason or unreason is that competent human beings agree in their estimate. If a large number of competent witnesses agree that there is a discrepancy, it is vain to assert that there is none.

With his usual fairness and caution. Dr. Sanday admits that in this question the difficulties “are no doubt great,” but in the same breath refuses to “include them among the serious difficulties”.2 If we define the word “serious” as meaning “insuperable,” I am quite ready to accept the distinction.

The result is that on the North Galatian theory there are great difficulties in reconciling Acts with Paul; but on the South Galatian theory these difficulties have no existence. As in the Epistle, so in Acts, when Paul delivered his Gospel to the Galatians he had only visited Jerusalem twice since his conversion.3

Thirdly, in this autobiographical sketch Paul relates a notable incident, in which the leading older Apostle, when in the Gentile sphere, accepted the correction and rebuke of Paul on the question of the relations between Jews and Gentiles. Not merely did the older Apostles fully recognise that the Gentile mission belonged to Paul and Barnabas, but also they submitted to learn from Paul in that sphere.

This part of the autobiography constitutes a new section, and is pointedly distinguished from the outline of Paul’s movements, and we shall therefore treat it under a special heading.


[1] This formula (confined to the group Rom., Cor., Gal.) “introduces some statement on which the Apostle lays special emphasis” (Lightfoot).

[2] Bampton Lectures, p. 329.

[3] (n the theory mentioned on p. 286 there had been three visits before Paul’s first missionary journey, but Paul mentions here the first and second visits, and his numbers are therefore on that theory right, though he interrupts his recital before reaching the visit described in Acts 11, 12.

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