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

By W. M. Ramsay

Part 2

Historical Commentary

Chapter 64

Result of the Epistle

So ends this unique and marvellous letter, which embraces in its six short chapters such a variety of vehement and intense emotions as could probably not be paralleled in any other work. It lays bare and open in the most extraordinary degree the nature both of the writer and of the readers.

And this letter is pronounced by some of our friends in Europe to be an accretion of scraps round and between bits of genuine original Pauline writing. How blind and dead to all sense of literature and to all knowledge of life and human nature must the man be who so judges — a mere pedant confined within the narrow walls and the close atmosphere of a schoolroom and a study!

To argue with such critics — happily, for the credit of modern scholarship, a hardly perceptible remnant — would be as absurd as it would have been for Paul to employ to the Galatians a series of arguments addressed to the intellect. In such cases one must see and feel. Those who cannot see and feel for themselves cannot be reached by argument. You must kindle in them life and power. Paul could do that for the Galatians. Who will do it in the present day?

What was the result of the letter to the Galatians? Was it a success or a failure?

It has been suggested by some North Galatian theorists, in explanation of the silence of the historian Luke about their supposed Churches of North Galatia, that the Epistle was a failure, that the Churches of Galatia were lost to Paulinistic Christianity, and that the painful episode was passed over lightly by a historian whose sympathies were so strongly on Paul’s side.

That is the only serious and reasonable attempt to explain the silence of Luke-as to the North Galatian Churches. The customary explanation, that the silence is merely one more of the strange gaps that seem to North Galatian theorists to be the most remarkable feature in the Acts, is really an appeal to unreason. Almost all the supposed gaps are the result of the North Galatian theory, directly or indirectly, and have no existence when that theory is discarded; and the rest have been shown to be due to some other misapprehension.1 The “Gap-theory” first creates the gaps, and then infers that the historian cannot be judged according to the ordinary rules because his work is full of “gaps”. In regard to any other historian of good rank and class, the principle is admitted that an interpretation which rests on the supposition of an unintelligible gap must yield to an explanation which shows order and method and purpose ruling in the work.

But the explanation quoted above is reasonable, and calls for serious consideration. It does not, however, stand the test of careful dispassionate examination.

The confidence that Paul expresses as to the issue, Gal 5:10, is not a hasty and rash trust in his own power. It comes out at the close of a careful weighing of the situation, in which Paul looks into the hearts of his old converts, and reaches the full certainty and knowledge that he has them with him. His knowledge of human nature gives him the confidence that he expresses.

Moreover, the history of Christianity in Asia Minor during the immediately following period shows that the victory was won once and for ever. The question never again emerges. A few years later, we see what was the state of another Phrygian Church, that of Colossae, in which Judaic influence was very strong. But it is clear that the Galatian difficulty never affected them. The Epistle to the Colossians is “specially anti-Judaistic,”2  but there is nothing in it to suggest that they had ever thought of the Mosaic Law as binding on them, That point had been definitely settled; and the Judaistic tendency had taken another and more subtle direction. The Judaic rules and prohibitions did not appear to the Colossians as imperative commands of God which must be obeyed, but as philosophic principles which appealed to their intellect and reason.

But if the first Pauline Churches that were attacked had accepted and endorsed the principle that the Mosaic Law was binding on them, their example would have been a serious danger to the neighbouring Phrygian Churches of the Lycus valley, and could hardly have failed to secure at least careful attention for the view which they had accepted.

Finally, to regard this letter as unsuccessful is to despair of Paul. The letter, with its commanding and almost autocratic tone — though I feel and confess that these adjectives are too strong, and ignore the emotion, and sympathy, and love which breathe through the words and take much of the sting from them — is one that could be justified only by success. If it failed, then it deserved to fail. No man has any right to use such a tone to other men, unless it is the suitable and best tone for their good; and the issue is the only test whether it was suitable and best. Paul’s knowledge of human nature in his converts is staked on the success of the letter. See XL.

Is it not clear, then, that Paul’s appeal succeeded? The letter fulfilled its purpose of rekindling the old feelings in the Galatic Churches. Paul’s confident expectation was justified. Acts completes the natural result of the Epistle. Soon after, the effect was confirmed by Paul’s personal presence3 among these Galatians: he went through Galatic Lycaonia and Galatic Phrygia in order from first to last, “stablishing all the disciples” (Act 18:23), see p. 404.

The great struggle was won; the religion of the first Roman province on the road to the West was determined as free and non-Judaistic; and that meant that the religion of the Roman Empire was determined. Can we doubt that this struggle was critical and decisive? If Paul had been vanquished in the first Province that he entered, and in the first Churches that he founded, he would have been vanquished definitely; but the first great victory made the remaining stages easier. It is obvious that the Church in Corinth passed through a Judaic struggle, but that it surmounted it far more easily. So with the Churches of Asia. They were distinctively free and Pauline in character; and it is evident that the Galatic struggle was practically conclusive for them.

Taken in conjunction with later evidence, we can thus make some steps towards a picture of Christian and Jewish-Christian history in Asia Minor. But on the North Galatian theory the issue of the Epistle remains as obscure as the Churches to which it was addressed. The Churches are created to receive the Epistle. After it is received they vanish, and leave not a trace behind.

Note. — It was intended to add a discussion of some technical points, especially the geographical sense of Galaticus; but the effects of an accident in September, 1899, made it impossible to complete the notes. Some references forward to the intended notes remain in the text. It is said that Mr. Askwith treats the phrase τὴν Φρυγίαν καὶ Γαλατικὴν χώραν skilfully; but I have not seen his recent book.


[1] St. Paul the Trav., passim.

[2] Hort, Romans and Ephesians, p. 192.

[3] Accompanied, as I believe, by Titus: St. Paul the Trav., p. 285.

Book Navigation Title Page Preface Table of Contents Religion in Asia Minor      ► Chapter 1      ► Chapter 2      ► Chapter 3      ► Chapter 4      ► Chapter 5      ► Chapter 6      ► Chapter 7      ► Chapter 8      ► Chapter 9      ► Chapter 10      ► Chapter 11      ► Chapter 12      ► Chapter 13      ► Chapter 14      ► Chapter 15      ► Chapter 16      ► Chapter 17      ► Chapter 18      ► Chapter 19      ► Chapter 20      ► Chapter 21      ► Chapter 22      ► Chapter 23 Historical Commentary      ► Section 1      ► Section 2      ► Section 3      ► Section 4      ► Section 5      ► Section 6      ► Section 7      ► Section 8      ► Section 9      ► Section 10      ► Section 11      ► Section 12      ► Section 13      ► Section 14      ► Section 15      ► Section 16      ► Section 17      ► Section 18      ► Section 19      ► Section 20      ► Section 21      ► Section 22      ► Section 23      ► Section 24      ► Section 25      ► Section 26      ► Section 27      ► Section 28      ► Section 29      ► Section 30      ► Section 31      ► Section 32      ► Section 33      ► Section 34      ► Section 35      ► Section 36      ► Section 37      ► Section 38      ► Section 39      ► Section 40      ► Section 41      ► Section 42      ► Section 43      ► Section 44      ► Section 45      ► Section 46      ► Section 47      ► Section 48      ► Section 49      ► Section 50      ► Section 51      ► Section 52      ► Section 53      ► Section 54      ► Section 55      ► Section 56      ► Section 57      ► Section 58      ► Section 59      ► Section 60      ► Section 61      ► Section 62      ► Section 63      ► Section 64