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

By W. M. Ramsay

Part 2

Historical Commentary

Chapter 22

The Address “Galatians,” in Gal 3:1

The opening three words of the chapter, “O foolish Galatians,” have in Paul’s mouth, if I estimate him and them correctly, a strongly pathetic effect. It is, I think, customary to say that here his anger speaks, and he sharply censures the senseless conduct of the Galatians.1 The most curious development of this idea is seen in Deissman, Bibelstudien, p. 263 ff. After the harsh and angry tone of the earlier pages of the letter, according to Deissmann, Paul concludes, in Gal 6:11, with a little joke, so that the Galatians, “his dear silly children” (liebe unverstandige Kinder), may understand that his anger has not been lasting, and that it is no longer the severe schoolmaster who is addressing them: he therefore makes the jocular remark about “big letters,” which are more impressive to children than the smaller letters of the secretary who wrote most of the Epistle: “When Paul spoke thus, the Galatians knew that the last traces of the seriousness of the punishing schoolmaster had vanished from his features!”

Not anger, but pathos, on the contrary, seems to be the prominent note in this apostrophe. The authoritative tone, of course, is there; but the feeling is that of love, sorrow, and pathos, not anger.

It is only on rare occasions that Paul addresses his hearers, as in this case, directly by the general appellation that embraces them all and sums them all up in one class.2 But in certain states of emotion the necessity comes upon him to use this direct appeal, so that every individual shall feel that he is personally addressed. The only other cases in the Epistles of Paul are 2Co 6:11, and Php 4:15. Let us compare the three.

To show the tone of 2Co 6:11, it is only necessary to recall the intensely emotional words (2Co 6:1-10) describing Paul’s life as an evangelist, and his prayer “that ye receive not the grace of God in vain,” and then to read 2Co 6:11, “Our mouth is open unto you, O Corinthians, our heart is enlarged”. He goes on to address them as his children. But though he is censuring them, it is not anger that prompts the apostrophe; deep, yearning affection dictates the direct personal appeal.

So again in Php 4:15. Paul’s feelings are deeply moved as he recalls that Philippi was the one Church which sent and forced on him money for his pressing wants. Here again the apostrophe, “Philippians,” follows upon an autobiographical passage, describing how “I can do all things in Him that strengtheneth me”.

Thus in all three cases we notice the same conditions leading Paul up to the direct address. He has been for a time putting forward prominently his own work and the spirit in which he does it. Compare the words of Philippians just quoted with Gal 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live: and yet no longer I, but Christ liveth in me,” etc., and with 2Co 6:9-10, “as dying, and behold we live; as chastened, not killed; as poor, yet making many rich,” etc. Wrought up to a high pitch of emotion in this retrospect of his life in death as a servant and minister, he turns direct on his hearers, and places them face to face with himself, “Galatians,” or “Philippians,” or “Corinthians”. The man who reads anger into this address as its prominent characteristic is for the moment losing his comprehension of Paul’s mind. Pathos is the characteristic, not indignation.

It is not exactly the same situation, but is at least analogous, when Paul directly appeals by name to a single correspondent. This he only does in 1Ti 1:18, 1Ti 6:20. In the former case there is exactly the same movement of thought and emotion as in the three cases just quoted. He casts a glance over his own career as the “chief of sinners,” who “obtained mercy, that in me might Jesus Christ show forth all His long-suffering, for an ensample of them which should hereafter believe on Him unto eternal life”, Here we find the same idea, life gained through the Divine patience (though the idea of Paul’s personal suffering and affliction is not made so prominent here). Then he continues, as in the other cases, “This charge I commit unto thee, my child Timothy”.

Incidentally, we remark here that no one who trusts to his literary sense, could attribute this passage in 1 Timothy, with its deep feeling, to a forger, who put on the mask of Paul in order to gain currency for his theological ideas. If you permit your feeling for literature to guide you, you know that the friend and spiritual father of Timothy is speaking to him in these words.

The other passage in which Paul addresses Timothy by name, 1Ti 6:20, is different in type. Towards the end of a long series of instructions to Timothy about his work, Paul sums up earnestly, “O Timothy, guard that which is committed unto thee”. Here it is the concluding sentence; and the letter ends, as it began, with the direct address to Timothy.

But, it will be asked. Was Paul not expecting too much, when he thought that the Galatians would understand these delicate shades of feeling, which escape many modern readers? Are we not trying to read our own fancies into the Epistle? I think not. Paul was a great orator, not in the sense of elaborate artistic composition — as to which he felt with Goethe, who makes his Faust sneer at mere “expression, graceful utterance” (which the silly pupil considered” the first and best acquirement of the orator”), because they

Are unrefreshing as the wind that whistles

In autumn ‘mong the dry and wrinkled leaves —

but in the sense that he knew exactly what he could count upon in his audience. He swept over their hearts as the musician sweeps over the strings of his instrument, knowing exactly what music he can bring from them, and what he must not attempt with them. Let us read the letter to the Galatians without the misconceptions and preconceived theories which lead most commentators astray; and let us acquire beforehand some idea of the political and religious situation, and the character of the Galatians. Then the meaning will strike us plainly between the eyes, and we shall no longer talk of anger as influencing the expression of the writer (except for the moment, and on a special point, in Gal 1:8 f, Gal 5:12). You never understand Paul’s motives or purposes, unless you take them on the highest level possible: when you read in them any mixture of poorer or smaller feeling, you are merely misunderstanding Paul and losing your grasp of him. But they who talk so much about his indignation in Galatians are missing the real emotion that drives him on: it is intense and overpowering love and pity for specially beloved children.

In Gal 3:1, then, the movement of feeling in the writer’s mind forces him to apostrophise his readers in one general address. But by what appellation could he sum up the whole body whom he addressed in Antioch, Iconium, Derbe and Lystra? There was only one name common to them all. They all belonged to the Roman province. The Churches addressed had already been summed up as “the Churches of Galatia”. The one title common to the hearers was “men of (the province) Galatia,” i.e., Galatae.

Here we find ourselves on ground that has been disputed. Those who hold the North Galatian view have advanced three separate arguments on this point, and each demands a short consideration. They ask, in the first place, what reason there was why Paul should have sought for some common appellation for the people of the four cities: they say that, if he were addressing Antioch, Iconium, Derbe and Lystra, he might have contented himself with the superscription (in Gal 1:2), as he does in many other letters. In the second place, they say (or, at least, used to say) that the name Galatia was not applied to the country in which these four cities were situated. In the third place, even if it be admitted that the four cities were in Galatia, they maintain that their inhabitants could not be called Galatae, for none who were not Gauls by race could be called Galatae.

The first argument has already been answered, when we showed how the march of emotion brought Paul to the point where he must apostrophise his audience; and a further answer is given in § LVI. The whole Epistle, with its intense personality and directness, demands such a direct apostrophe.

The second and third arguments demand separate consideration.


[1] Scharfrügender Assdruck is Dr. Zöckler‘s expression. Lightfoot, in his edition, p. 64, evidently reckons this apostrophe among those “outbursts of indignant remonstrance,” by which “the argument is interrupted every now and then. Rebuke may prevail where reason will be powerless.” That the tone is “severe” (in Lightfoot’s previous phrase) is quite true; but to take “indignation” as its prominent note seems to be a misreading of the purpose and drift. This misconception is one of the many wrong consequences of the North Galatian view.

[2] The need for a comprehensive address, embracing all his readers, and placing them all on a level, is illustrated from another point of view in § LVI.)

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