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

By W. M. Ramsay

Part 2

Historical Commentary

Chapter 23

Galatia the Province

The one decisive argument that Paul’s “Galatia” must be the province, and not simply the region inhabited by the Gauls, is stated by Zahn. Paul never uses wide geographical names except those of Roman provinces. This has been stated above, § XIV, where additional arguments are given to strengthen Zahn’s observation:1 not merely did Paul use the Roman provincial names, but he even used them in the Latin form, transliterating them into Greek, and in one case employing a Latin form which was avoided by Greek writers. Paul writes as a Roman and a citizen of the Empire.

Here we note that Paul is much more Roman in his tone than the Greek Luke. The latter never uses the term “Galatia,” he mentions only the “Galatic territory”. Now, if Paul and Luke had been speaking of North Galatia, the country of the three Gallic tribes, it is impossible to understand why they should differ as to the name. Among the immense number of references to North Galatia made by Greek and Latin writers,2 there seems to be not a single case where any other name than Galatia is used for the country. Why should Luke alone employ everywhere a different name for the country, diverging from the universal usage of Greek and Latin writers, and also from his master Paul? No possible reason can be given. It would simply be an unintelligible freak of Luke’s; he chose to differ from everybody, because — he chose to do so.

But, on the South Galatian view, it was almost unavoidable that he should differ from Paul as to the name of the country. The custom of naming the province varied according as one wrote from the Roman or the Greek point of view. Now it has been shown in page after page of St. Paul the Traveller that Luke follows the Greek popular and colloquial usage, as it was current among the more educated half of society in the cities of the Ægean land. So far as evidence goes, that class of persons never used “Galatia” to denominate the Roman Province; only persons who consciously and intentionally adopted the Roman imperial point of view did so. The Greeks generally repeated the list of regions comprised in the Province (or, at least, as many of the regions as served their immediate purpose), thus: “Galatia (i.e., North Galatia), Phrygia, Lycaonia, Pisidia, Isauria, Pontus Paphlagonia: “but occasionally they employed an expression like “the Galatic Eparchy”.3 This is exactly what Luke does. Sometimes he speaks of the region or regions with which he is concerned, Pisidia, Phrygia, Lycaonia;4 sometimes he employs the expression, “the Galatic territory”5

Further, take into consideration that the adjective “Galatic” is frequently applied, in inscriptions and the geographical writer Ptolemy, to countries like Pontus and Phrygia, which were included in the Province, but that this adjective is never used in a geographical way to designate by a circumlocution North Galatia;.6 and you can only marvel that scholars could ever conceal the facts from themselves so far as to think that Luke meant “Galatic territory” to indicate North Galatia.

A modern illustration will make this clearer. An Englishman who caught the words, “At this point they entered British territory,” would at once understand that a journey was described, not in Great Britain, but in Africa or Asia or America. A German, however, unless English was very well and accurately known to him, might hesitate as to the meaning. So a Greek of Paul’s time would unhesitatingly understand “Galatic territory” in the sense in which the inscriptions and Ptolemy use it. A modern critic, however, who has not made himself familiar with the ancient usage in such matters, often mistakes the meaning.

It is a false translation on the part of the North Galatian theorists to take Ἀγκύρας τῆς Γαλατικῆς in Arrian, Anab., II 4, I, as “Ancyra of Galatia”: it is “Galatic Ancyra distinguished from Phrygiac Ancyra (Strabo, p. 567)”.

In truth, nothing except the obscurity in which Asia Minor was enveloped, combined with the general lack of interest taken by scholars in mere geographical matters — which are commonly regarded as beneath the dignity of true scholarship — made the North Galatian view ever seem tenable. And now it stands only because its supporters among “the great scholars” of Germany will not look into the facts. Their minds have long ago been made up, and there is so much to do in other directions that they cannot reconsider choses jugées. The appearance of Professor Zahn’s Einleitung, with its frank acceptance of the main points in the South Galatian view,7 will, as we may hope, produce a change in Germany, and show that the subject cannot be pushed aside.

The great difficulty for the moment is that the North Galatian theorists have committed themselves to such sweeping statements in geography and history, in order to prove the South Galatian view impossible, that they have, as it were, burned their boats and must fight to the last, no longer for truth, but merely for victory: es wäre wenig rühmlich, wenn die Theologen, welche mit ihren Mitteln in der Geschichte des Urchristenthums und der alien Kirche jahrzeknteiang gearbeitet haben, ehe Ramsay seine Mittel auf dieselbe Gegenstdäde anwandte, zu allem . . . Ja sagen würden. Take one example, which is typical of the present situation. Learning that many inscriptions designate the Province by the list of regions composing it, a distinguished German professor wrote an elaborate article, boldly asserting that the name Galatia was never rightly applied to the whole Province, and therefore drawing the inference, as final and conclusive, that Paul could not have called Antioch, Iconium, etc., “Churches of Galatia”. Now this was a real danger to scholarship. Many English theologians are accustomed to regard that distinguished professor as one whom “no one would accuse of error in a field which he has made peculiarly his own”.8 He was understood by many to have investigated the subject with the true German thoroughness so characteristic of him, and the paper was considered by many as closing the question; if he was right, there was no more to say, and no one would even think of attributing error to him. Yet he had written that bold and sweeping negative without looking into the familiar Roman treatises on geography, which must be the foundation of all reasoning on the subject; and, as soon as his attention was called to Pliny and Ptolemy, he retracted the assertion. In truth, his assertion could not be entertained for a moment; it was flatly contradicted by the fundamental authorities. Had any English scholar made it, what scorn would have been poured on English superficiality! how the moral would have been drawn that he should study German!

Even after the German professor has withdrawn his statement and confessed his error, and other prominent German adherents of the North Galatian theory have frankly acknowledged that Iconium, etc., were in “Galatia,” some English theologians continue to quote the original article as authoritative.9 If that is the case after the article has been retracted, what would be the case if no one had ventured to charge its author with error?


[1] See also § XXV.

[2] Most are collected in Holder’s Altceltischer Sprachschatz, s.v. Galatia.

[3] C. I. G., 3991, A.D. 54. The custom of enumerating parts began before 80, and spread to other Provinces in the second century.

[4] Act 13:49; Act 14:6; Act 14:24.

[5] Act 16:6; Act 18:23.

[6] It is naturally used in such ways as ἔργα Γαλατικὰ, deeds like those of the Galatae; πόλις Γαλατική, a Galatian city like Ancyra.

[7] In origin German: held by Weizsacker, Holtzmann, Clemen, etc.

[8] I quote the words of a distinguished English professor writing on this topic. The inerrancy once attributed to the text has been transferred by him to the German commentators.

[9] See, for example, the paper of a distinguished Cambridge scholar in Classical Review, 1894, p. 396, a paper never retracted, and therefore presumably maintained by the learned author.)

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