By W. M. Ramsay
The Unforgiving Phrygians (Gal 6:1-5)
The opening paragraph of Galatians 6 is occupied still with the same subject as the last two. Paul is looking quite away from the Judaic controversy. He is absorbed in the development of his own Churches and the special faults that they have to face. He saw one serious danger in that Anatolian people, easy-tempered and orderly in most things, but capable of going to any extreme in religious madness. Just as in later time, “that unpitying Phrygian sect” was apt to cry: —
so already Paul saw their tendency to unforgiving condemnation of him who had sinned, and warned them, “Brethren, even if a man be overtaken in any trespass, restore such a one in a spirit of meekness”. To continue the quotation: —
And so Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians is an outline of Phrygian Christian history: he saw what was the one safeguard for his young Churches, and he urges it on them, in paragraph after paragraph — Love.
And what have the North Galatian theorists to say in illustration of this most characteristically Phrygian passage? Why, they are struck with the fact that a man in Corinth had committed a grave offence; Paul’s appeal to the Corinthian brethren to punish the offender “had been promptly and zealously responded to”; and “he had even to interpose for the pardon of the guilty one”. And therefore “the remembrance of this incident still fresh on his mind, may be supposed to have dictated the injunction” to the Galatians here. Because the Corinthians had been severe, therefore the Gauls must be warned not to be severe!
But that is not Paul’s method. When he warns the Galatians against a fault, it is not because the Corinthians had committed it, but because the Galatians were prone to it. If in any of his Epistles Paul is wholly absorbed in the needs of his first audience, it is in this to the Galatians. But so it was in all, more or less, with the exception of Romans; he speaks to the Church in Rome, not from personal knowledge, nor from report of their special circumstances (as to the Colossians), but in preparation for his own visit and from his experience in the Eastern Churches.
In the first four and a half chapters Paul is occupied specially in revivifying in the Galatians the impressions and the teaching of the first journey; from Gal 5:13 onwards he is repeating the warnings that we can imagine formed the burden of his preaching on the second journey. But everywhere he feels himself on Anatolian soil, and is speaking to a typically Anatolian, and in particular a Phrygian, people; and the best preparation for studying the adaptation of his words to his readers is to study the typical peasant of the present day, as he presents himself to the travellers that have observed him with sympathy and affection. He is called an Osmanli now — he does not call himself a Turk, and rather resents the name — but he has much of the old Phrygian character: pp. 33, 234.