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

By W. M. Ramsay

Part 2

Historical Commentary

Chapter 45

Paul’s Visits to Galatia in Acts

To study the Epistle properly, we must here briefly note the account given in Acts of the visits to the Galatic Province.

It is unnecessary to repeat the elaborate study of the first visit given in the Church in the Roman Empire and St. Paul the Traveller. We note merely that the visit must have occupied a considerable time. No statements of time are given in Acts, but the obvious necessities in the evangelisation of four cities and a considerable region (Act 13:49; Act 14:6), as well as the example of the time spent on later journeys, show that the estimate of twenty months, given as a minimum in those works, if it is not correct, should be increased rather than diminished.

The evangelisation of South Galatia was remarkably successful. The whole of Antioch gathered to listen, and the Word was spread throughout the whole region; a great multitude at Iconium believed; at Derbe there were many disciples, and at Lystra Paul was treated as the messenger-god Hermes. This was the beginning of Paul’s work among the Gentiles on his own lines, and its brilliant success encouraged him much (Act 14:27; Act 15:3-4, Act 4:12).

On the whole it was Gentile Churches that were founded on that occasion. Many Iconian Jews believed; but those of Antioch were offended when they saw the Gentiles trooping to hear Paul, and their opposition and pursuit of him were relentless.

It has been used as an argument against the South Galatian Theory that on this journey Luke makes no reference to the Province Galatia. But he mentions its parts — 1, Pisidia, 2, the region of which Antioch was centre, 3, the region of which Derbe and Lystra were the leading (practically the only) cities — just as in many inscriptions from about A.D. 80 onwards the Province is mentioned by enumerating the regions that composed it. Such was the “custom of the country,” and Luke always follows that.

The second visit to the South Galatian Churches was deliberately planned in order to “see how they fared”. We must understand that Paul was not free from apprehension lest the great conflict in Antioch and Jerusalem might have roused some similar movement in the Churches on the great highway from Syria to the Aegean Sea.

It is admitted on all hands that he visited Derbe, Lystra and Iconium on that journey. The North Galatian theorists say that Paul did not complete his intended visitation, and turned away from Iconium north-eastwards. We, on the contrary, hold that when Luke mentions the “Region which is Phrygian and Galatic,” he means the part of Phrygia that belonged to the Province Galatia — that being the most pragmatically accurate designation of the region of which Antioch was the centre (already mentioned on the first journey) — Paul carried out his intention of seeing how all his Churches fared.

All “the Churches were strengthened in their1 Faith”. When Luke, after telling the purpose of the visit, described so much more fully than usual its result,2 must we not understand that Paul found need for strengthening them? Luke never wastes a word in that brief History. Already some slight tendency towards error was developing, and was corrected by Paul.

On that second visit Paul loyally carried out the arrangement made in the Apostolic Decree. Though it was nominally addressed only to the Province of Syria-Cilicia, yet he treated it as of universal application. He was eager to conciliate the Jews by conceding as much as possible to their prejudices. He could not permit Gentiles to practise circumcision; but Timothy, who was of Jewish blood, he treated as a Jew in this respect, and he took with him as companions only Jews. He spared no pains to attain unity and concord; and the Gentile Galatians might well begin to think after his departure that the rite performed on Timothy was the symbol of admission to the honourable position of helping an Apostle.

The third visit (Act 18:23) was devoted to a thorough and systematic survey of the Churches in Central Asia Minor, in order from first to last “stablishing all the disciples”. Here again our principles of interpretation (reached in previous studies of Acts) compel us to infer that the stablishing of the Galatian Christians is mentioned because it was an important fact. How well it suits the Epistle! Paul wrote this letter to the Churches, and then at the earliest opportunity visited them and stablished all the disciples. The fight was ended, and Paul was victorious

But according to the North Galatian theory Paul did not at this time visit South Galatia; they leave it unexplained why Luke should say so emphatically that Paul “stablished all the disciples,” if he left out the four cities and the regions in which they were situated. In fact there is no explanation; they treat this as one of the many “gaps” in Acts, whose existence they assume at the outset.

The inevitable meaning of the words used by Luke to describe this third journey has been recognised by Dr. Hort: see above, p. 10. Asterius, bishop of Amasia, about A.D. 400, gives the same explanation of the route “through Lycaonia and the cities of Phrygia”. Those who study Asia Minor geography for its own sake must recognise the overwhelming evidence that the term “Galatic Region” (Γαλατικὴ χώρα) could not be used to designate North Galatia, but only the territory of the enlarged Galatia: see p. 478.

Thus we see that Paul visited the South Galatian cities three times, and finally after long efforts stablished the Churches permanently on the Paulinistic side.


[1] This seems probably the real meaning.

[2] Contrast the second visit to Macedonia and Achaia, hit off in such brief terms, though we know that Corinth at least had been deeply moved.

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