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

By W. M. Ramsay

Part 2

Historical Commentary

Chapter 58

Voluntary Liberality to Teachers (Gal 6:6-10)

This paragraph continues the subject of the last: Paul is still engaged with the dangers to which the Galatian Churches are exposed through their proneness to certain faults. He now urges them to treat with wise liberality their religious teachers, to persevere and not to lose heart in beneficence generally, to take advantage of every opportunity of doing good to all with whom they are brought into contact, but more especially to their Christian brethren, “the members of the household of the faith”.

This is only a further exposition of what is involved in the “Whole Law for the Christian, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”. That “Whole Law” was quoted in Gal 5:14; and the remaining verses have been devoted to explaining its consequences and its meaning to the Galatians in their special situation and with their special temperament.

The duty of every congregation to support liberally the ministers of the Word is mentioned, not merely to the Galatians here, but also to the Corinthians (1Co 9:11; 2Co 11:7 Cor. 11:7 f.), to the Philippians (Php 4:10 f.), to the Thessalonians (1Th 2:6, 1Th 2:9), to the Asian Churches (1Ti 5:17-18). Paul kept it before the attention of the Churches of all the four Provinces — Achaia, Macedonia, Asia and Galatia.

The duty was one that was quite novel in ancient society. It was something that no convert from Paganism had been accustomed to. Paul, who was never content simply to convert, but was equally watchful to organise and to build up, by subsequent care and watching, his young Churches,1 could not safely neglect to provide for their permanent guidance when he was absent, and the frequency of his references to the subject attests the importance that he attached to it.

There was no system of instruction in the Pagan religions. The favour of the gods was gained by acts of ritual, not by moral conduct. Every prayer for help was a deliberate bargain; the worshipper promised certain gifts to the god, on condition that the god gave the help implored. The priests had the right to certain dues, a sort of percentage, on all sacrifices and offerings, and these dues were paid in various ways. A fee had to be paid for entrance into the temples;2 or a part of the victim offered went to the priest; or other methods were practised. In one way or another, the priesthoods of the Pagan gods were so lucrative in Asia Minor that they were put regularly up to the auction by the State, and knocked down for a term to the highest bidder; and various inscriptions record the exact prices paid for them in some cities.3 But all these methods take the form of a tariff of dues upon rites which the worshipper performs for his own advantage. There were no instructors, and no voluntary contributions for their support.

Hence the duty of supporting teachers or preachers had to be continually impressed upon the attention of all Paul’s converts from Paganism. The tendency to fail in it was practically universal; it was connected with a universal fact in contemporary society; perhaps it was not unconnected with a universal characteristic of human nature.

It is therefore quite unjustifiable in the North Galatian theorists to find in this precept which Paul delivered to the Galatians an indication of their Celtic nature and Celtic blood; and it is quite unfair to quote as an illustration the Gaulish tendency to raid and plunder, or the Gaulish greed for money. It would be more to the point if those theorists were to quote in illustration of this passage the parsimony of King Deiotaros, whose presents were considered by his friend and advocate, Cicero, to be rather mean.4 Here we have a distinct analogy between Paul’s Galatians and a great North Galatian king. But parsimony is not by any means confined to a single nation, and is at least as common and characteristic a fault in Asia generally as in the Celtic lands; Armenians and Phoenicians and Jews are as penurious and economical as Deiotaros or any other Celt.

One of the objects that Paul had most at heart was to train his converts in voluntary liberality, as distinguished from payments levied on ritual. He saw what a powerful, educative influence such liberality exerts on the individual, and what a strong unifying influence it might exert between the scattered parts of the Church. The contribution in Antioch for the relief of the sufferers from famine in Judaea (Act 11:29, Act 12:25), — the joint contribution of the “Churches of the Four Provinces” for the benefit of the poor congregation in Jerusalem, poor in comparison with the duties and opportunities open to it5 — were devices at once of a teacher training his pupils, and of a statesman welding countries and peoples into an organic unity.6

There is no bond so strong to hold men together as the common performance of the same duties and acts. The skilful organisers of the Roman Empire, Augustus and his early ministers, devoted themselves to fabricating such bonds by uniting the parts of every Province with each other, and the separate Provinces with their common head — the Emperor — in the performance of the ritual of the universal imperial religion of “Rome and Augustus”.

A common ritual is an immense power among men.7 Even the ritual of such a sham as the imperial religion was a great bond of unity in the empire. But Paul, while he was fashioning and elaborating the external forms of organisation that should hold together the world in its brotherhood, never made the mistake of trusting to a mere unity of ritual. He saw clearly that, strong as is the common performance of ritual among men, a stronger and more educative power was needed, the voluntary common performance of duties taken up and carried into effect by the conscious deliberate purpose of individual men and women — not of men alone (so he says to the Galatians more emphatically8 than to any other people), for in the perfected Divine unity of the Church, as it shall be, not as it is, there can be neither bond nor free, there can be no male and female.

It is an important point that Paul requires the beneficence of the Galatians to be extended to all men, and not confined “to them that are of the household of faith,” though the latter have a special claim. Every opportunity is to be seized of benefiting their Pagan neighbours. It would be an interesting thing for all who study the state of society in the Roman Empire to know how far this precept was carried into effect in the Pauline Churches. But evidence is at present miserably defective in regard to such practical matters. The establishment of institutions for the general benefit of orphans and exposed children was certainly common in the Early Church.9


[1] Compare Act 14:22 f, 15:41, 16:5, 18:23, 20:2.

[2] Mercedem pro aditu sacri, Tertullian Apologet. 13, and commentators. In the Roman world generally, fees were imposed for entering the temple, for approaching the place of sacrifice, for the presentation of gifts or the offering of sacrifice; and the collecting of the fees was farmed out by the State. Sometimes the right to engage in worship and sacrifice without payment of fees was granted to individuals (immunitas sacrum faciendorum, Corp. Inscr. Lat. 6:712). A tariff of charges is published, Corp. Inscr. Lat. 6:820, Henzen 6113. This custom is hardly known in republican times, except that Cicero, Leg. II 10, 25, says sumptu ad sacra addito deorum aditu arceamus.

[3] See especially the great inscription of Erythrae of the second century B.C.; it has been often published, see Michel Recudl d’Inscr. Gr. 839.

[4] Cicero ad Fam. IX 12, 2. I do not remember any reference to this passage in the North Galatian commentators, but should be glad to accept correction on the point.

[5] On these opportunities, especially of showing hospitality to Jewish or Jewish-Christian pilgrims, and thus promoting the sense of brotherhood among the scattered Jewish communities, see Expositor, June, 1899, p. 408 f.

[6] This has never been so well stated as by Rev. F. Rendal in Expositor, Nov. 1893, p. 321 ff. See also St. Paul the Trav., pp. 287 f., 60 f.

[7] Compare, e.g., the power of the Greek Church in holding together within the Turkish Empire, races divided by distance, by want of communication, by diversity of blood and of language (Church in the Rom. Emp., p. 467).

[8] See XL.

[9] See Lightfoot, Colossians and Phil., p. 324; Cities and Bish. of Phrygia, II, p, 546.

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