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

By W. M. Ramsay

Part 2

Historical Commentary

Chapter 21

Spirit of Chapters 3, 4

Paul’s aim now is to revivify among the Galatians the memory of their first condition, before any contradictory and confusing messages had affected them. He must touch their hearts, and make them feel for themselves the Divine word in their own souls. He reminds them, by many subtle touches, of their original experience, how the Divine message worked in them, raised them to a higher nature, made them instinct with Divine life, implanted marvellous powers in them. If he can work them up again into that frame of mind in which he had left them fresh from his first message, his immediate purpose will be gained. Thereafter, other steps would be required. But, for the moment, he must work on their nature and conscience: he must appeal to their true selves: they had known in themselves how they had begun by simple faith, and whither it had led them. Paul knew what Goethe knew when he said: —

          O! never yet hath mortal drunk

          A draught restorative.

That welled not from the depths of his own soul!

How utterly out of place in effecting this purpose would laborious proofs of his own rectitude and consistency be! “Timeserver” is he? Think of the marks of Christ, his owner, branded on his body!1 “Preacher of the Law” is he? Then he is false to his own message, and the cross which he “placarded” before their eyes is set aside by him as no more needed! But they know from their own experience what has made them Christians! If he has been untrue to his message, he is accursed; but let them hold to what they have felt and known!

The letter is not logically argumentative. It is merely futile in the critic to look in it for reasoning addressed to the intellect, and to discuss the question whether it is or is not intellectually convincing. Each new paragraph, each fresh train of thought, is intended to quicken and reinvigorate the early Christian experiences of his readers. Naturally, we cannot fully appreciate the effect of every paragraph. In many places we can see that Paul refers to facts in the past relations between them and himself — facts otherwise unknown to us, and guessed only from the brief, pregnant words which he here uses, words full of reminiscence to the Galatians, but sadly obscure to us. In other paragraphs we can be sure he is referring to something which we can hardly even guess at.

The effect of the letter depended to a great degree on circumstances which are to us almost or quite unknown. Here, if ever in this world, heart speaks to heart: the man as he was appeals direct to the men as they were.

If feeling does not prompt, in vain you strive;

If from the soul the language does not come

By its own impulse, to impel the hearts

Of hearers, with communicated power,

In vain you strive. . . .

     Never hope to stir the hearts of men.

And mould the souls of many into one,

By words which come not native from the heart.

Thus Paul reiterates his blows, and heaps appeal on appeal and illustration on illustration, all for the one sole end. He must rekindle the flame of faith, languishing for the moment, under misapprehension, doubt as to Paul’s purpose, doubt as to his character, suspicion as to the witness and work of the other Apostles. If the flame leaps up fresh and strong in their souls, it will melt all suspicions and solve all doubts. They will once more know the truth.

Such is the spirit in which we must try to interpret Galatians 3, 4. I cannot do it. Probably no one will ever do it completely. In some cases, I fancy, I can in a small degree catch the tone in which the words ought to be recited, if the meaning is to be brought out of them; and by the hope to contribute something to the understanding of this, the most wonderful and enigmatical self-revelation in literature, I have been driven to publish these pages (many of which have been written long ago, and kept back from consciousness of their inadequacy).


[1] See below, LXIII.

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