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by Editor - Joseph Exell
The Galatian People
An Alien Race. When St. Paul carried the gospel into Galatia, he was thrown for the first time among an alien people differing widely in character and habits from the surrounding nations. A race, whose home was in the far west, they had been torn from their parent rock by some great social convulsion, and after drifting over wide tracts of country, had settled down at length on a strange soil in the very heart of Asia Minor. (Bishop Lightfoot.)
The Galatians, in the strict sense, were the remains of a body of Gauls, who, after being repulsed in an attack on Delphi, B.C. 279, invaded Asia Minor. At first they carried all before them, but suffered a severe defeat from Attalus I. king of Pergamus, about B.C. 230, and were thus confined to the district which afterwards went by their name. Here they were conquered by the Romans under the Consul Manlius in 189, but allowed to retain their native princes until the death of Amyntas in B.C. 25, when Galatia was formally annexed to Rome. Shortly before the death of Amyntas, Galatia had been enlarged by extensive grants of territory in the south, and the greater part of this enlarged territory went to form the Roman province. (Professor Sanday.)
It is commonly assumed that the Galatians were Celts. Some, however, have held them to be Germans. The arguments are--
(1) Historical. All ancient writers speak of the Galatians as Celts; but Jerome, who knew both Gaul and Galatia well, says that their language was similar to that of the Treveri (modern Treves). It is maintained that the Treveri were Germans. They seem, however, to have been originally Celts, but Germanized by a Frankish invasion,
(2) Philological. The preponderance of evidence here, too, is in favour of the Celtic origin of the Galatians. Of the three principal tribes into which the nation was divided, the Tectosages and Tolistobogii had counterparts in Gaul. The Trocmi are uncertain. The terminations of Galatian names are Celtic …. We may perhaps suppose that, though the main body of the people was Celtic, there were some few Germans mixed up with them. (Professor Sanday.)
Other Elements in their Population
Attention has hitherto been directed solely to the barbarian settlers. These, however, did not form by any means the whole population of the district. The Galatians whom Manlius subdued by the arms of Rome, and St. Paul by the sword of the Spirit, were a very mixed race. The substratum of society consisted of the original inhabitants of the invaded country, chiefly Phrygians, of whose language not much is known, but whose strongly-marked religious system has a prominent place in ancient history. The upper layer was composed of the Gaulish conquerors: while scattered irregularly through the social mass were Greek settlers, many of whom doubtless had followed the successors of Alexander thither and were already in the country when the Gauls took possession of it. To the country thus peopled the Romans, ignoring the old Phrygian population, gave the name of Gallograecia. At the time when Manlius invaded it, the victorious Gauls had not amalgamated with their Phrygian subjects, and the Roman consul on opening his campaign was met by a troop of the Phrygian priests of Cybele, who, clad in the robes of their order, and chanting a wild strain of prophecy, declared to him that the goddess approved of the war, and would make him master of the country. The great work of the Roman conquest was the fusion of the dominant with the conquered race--the result chiefly, it would appear, of that natural process by which all minor distinctions are levelled in the presence of a superior power. From this time forward the amalgamation began, and it was not long before the Gauls adopted even the religion of their Phrygian subjects. But before St. Paul visited the country, two new elements had been added to this already heterogeneous population. The establishment of the province must have drawn thither a considerable number of Romans, not very widely spread in all probability, but gathered about the centres of government, either holding official positions themselves, or connected more or less with those who did …. A large influx of Jews must also have invaded Galatia. Antiochus the Great had settled two thousand Jewish families in Lydia and Phrygia, and even if we suppose that these settlements did not extend to Galatia properly so called, the Jewish colonists must in course of time have overflowed into a neighbouring country which possessed so many attractions for them. Those commercial instincts, which achieved a wide renown in the closely-allied Phoenician race, and which in the Jews themselves made rapid progress during the palmy days of their national life under Solomon, had begun to develop afresh. The innate energy of the race sought this new outlet, now that their national hopes were crushed, and their political existence was well nigh extinct. The country of Galatia afforded great facilities for commercial enterprise. With fertile plains rich in agricultural produce, with extensive pasture for flecks, with a temperate clime and copious rivers, it abounded in all those resources out of which a commerce is created. It was moreover conveniently situated for mercantile transactions, being traversed by a great highroad between the East and the shores of the Aegean, along which caravans were constantly passing, and among its towns it numbered not a few which are mentioned as great centres of commerce. We read especially of a considerable traffic in cloth goods, but whether these were of home or foreign manufacture we are not expressly told …. Still, with all this foreign admixture, it was the Celtic blood which gave its distinct colour to the Galatian character, and separated them by so broad a line even from their near neighbours. The tough vitality of the Celtic character maintained itself in Asia comparatively unimpaired among Phrygians and Greeks, as it has done in our own islands among Saxons, and Danes, and Normans, retaining its individuality of type after the lapse of ages and under conditions the most adverse. (Bishop Lightfoot.)
A very striking instance of the permanence of Celtic institutions is the retention of their language by these Gauls of Asia Minor. More than six centuries after their original settlement in this distant land, a language might be heard on the banks of the Sangarius and the Halys, which though slightly corrupted, was the same in all essential respects with that spoken in the district watered by the Moselle and the Rhine. St. Jerome, who had himself visited both the Gaul of the West, and the Gaul of Asia Minor, illustrates the relation of the two forms of speech by the connection existing between the language of the Phoenicians and their African colonies, or between the different dialects of Latin. (Bishop Lightfoot.)
The Celtic characteristics are not unknown to us. It may be sufficient here to quote one early and one recent writer on this subject, and then to note how far their remarks find any illustration in the Epistle to the Galatians. Caesar, in his “Bellum Gallicum” (4:5), speaks of the “infirmitas” of the Gauls, or their unsteadiness of purpose, adding that “they are very changeable in their counsels and fond of novelties,” and hence “he thought that nothing should be entrusted to them.” Thierry, in his “Histoire des Gaulois,” sums up as follows those characteristics of the Gaulish family, which in his opinion differentiate it from other sections of the human race:--“A personal courage which has no equal in ancient nations; a frank, impetuous spirit, open to every impression, eminently intelligent; but, along with this, an extreme fickleness, no constancy, a marked repugnance to the ideas of discipline and order so strong in the Germanic races, much ostentation, in short a perpetual disunion, the fruit of excessive vanity." We find all the features of this picture very definitely reflected in this Epistle; in the eager welcome which they gave to St. Paul’s doctrine at the first; in their enthusiastic affection towards him personally; in their readiness “so soon” to take new impressions, to throw off the apostolic yoke and to adopt “another gospel” in their readiness to “bite and devour”one another; in the warnings given by St. Paul against vanity and self-conceit. It is possible also that in the strong mention of “drunkenness and revellings” (Galatians 5:21), there is an implied reference to the fault of intemperance, which is said by Greek and Latin writers to have been prevalent among the ancient Gauls. (Speaker’s Commentary.)
It would be hard to abstain wholly from connecting the character of the Galatians with the style and subject of the Epistle. Several circumstances suggest such a connection:--First, the tone of the apostle seemingly adapted to a half-barbarous people, who were to be intimidated and overpowered rather than conciliated, and were more likely to listen if he asserted than if, “becoming all things to all men,” he withdrew his claim. Secondly, the fickleness of their conduct towards him, who first “received him as an angel of God,” and then affected others who were his enemies, instead of him. Thirdly, the definite manner in which the question between Jew and Gentile is reduced to the single point of circumcision; and the positiveness with which it is insisted upon, that they should not be circumcised. There were two views which might have been maintained, and two practices certainly seem to have been adopted by the apostle himself. “The Jewish law is indifferent, therefore let it be observed; the Jewish law is not indifferent, therefore let it not be observed.” But to a rude and ignorant people it was impossible that the outward sign of Judaism could be indifferent; the badge which they bore, sealed them for the law, and not for Christ. To suppose that circumcision could have been made to them the mere symbol of circumcision of the heart, or could be understood as a mere counsel of expediency to avoid giving offence to the Jews, would be as unreasonable as to suppose that South Sea Islanders, if permitted by a missionary to retain the use of idols, would attain by means of them the knowledge of the true God. (B. Jowett, M.A.)
Their Religious Tendencies
The Phrygian religion, adopted by the Gauls, was a demonstrative nature-worship, both sensuous and startling. The cultus was orgiastic, with wild music and dances led by the Corybantes--not without the usual accompaniments of impurities and other abominations, though it might have mystic initiations and secret teachings. Rhea, or Cybele, the mother of the gods, was the chief object of adoration, and derived a surname from the places where her service was established. The great Mother appears on the coins of all the cities, and many coins found in the ruins of the Wall of Hadrian have her effigy. At Pessinus her image was supposed to have fallen from heaven, and there she was called Agdistes. Though the statue was taken to Rome during the war with Hannibal, the city retained a sacred pre-eminence. Strabo says that her priests were a sort of sovereigns endowed with large revenues, and that the Attalian kings built for her a magnificent temple. The Gauls are supposed to have been accustomed to somewhat similar religious ordinances in their national so-called Druidism. But the Druidical system, long supposed to be so especially characteristic of the Celtic races, has been greatly exaggerated in its character and results. The well-known description in Caesar was based on reports which he harmonized and compacted; and the value of those reports may be tested by others which follow in the same book as to the existence of a unicorn in the Hercynian Forest, and as to another animal found there like a goat, which had no knee-joints, and which was caught by sawing through the tree on which it leaned when asleep, for it could not rise when it had been thrown down (Bell. Gall. vi. 12-18,25.) The statement of Caesar, based on mere unsifted rumour, was amplified by succeeding writers, some of whom only altered and recast it, while others added some new touches. If the Druids held the high and mysterious rank assigned to them in popular imagination,--if they dispensed laws, taught youth, offered sacrifices, possessed esoteric science, and held great conventions,--how comes it that they never appear in actual history, but are only seen dimly in the picturesque descriptions of these Greek and Roman authors, not one of whom ever saw a Druid? If the Druids had possessed the authority claimed for them, how is it that we never find them in flesh and blood confronting the first Christian missionaries? The early Church makes no mention of them, though there was a continuous battle with heathenism from the second century to the age of Charlemagne. It is remarkable that in no classic author occurs the term Druid as a masculine noun and in the singular number; and the only living members of the Druidical caste that we meet with are women ….These Druidesses appear in a character quite on a level with that of a Scottish spaewife …. The Druids were probably a sacerdotal caste of both sexes, that dealt chiefly in divination. Suetonius says that Druidism, condemned by Augustus, was put down by Claudius. An extirpation so easily accomplished argues great feebleness of power and numbers on the part of the Druids …. So little is really known of the teaching of the Druids, that all attempts to form a system rest on a very precarious foundation. They served in some idolatrous worship, and they taught immortality in the shape of transmigration, though they seem to have had also a Flaith-innis or Isle of the Blessed. Their system might find some parallel in the Phrygian worship, and be absorbed into it. But there is no foundation whatever for what is sometimes surmised, that the so-called Druidical teaching might have disposed the Galatians to that immediate reception of the truth which is described in this Epistle …. The Phrygian system of religion was one of terror,--Paul’s was one of confidence and love; dark, dismal, and bloody had been the rites of their fathers,--the new economy was light, joy, hope. Perhaps the friendless, solitary stranger, unhelped by any outer insignia, nervous and shattered, yet unearthly in his zeal, and transported beyond himself in floods of tenderness and bursts of yearning eloquence on topics which had never greeted their ears or entered their imagination, might suggest one of the olden sages who spoke by authority of the gods, and before whose prophesying their fathers trembled and bowed. But apart from all these auxiliary influences, there was the grace of God giving power to the word in numerous instances; for though with so many--perhaps with the majority--the early impressions were so soon effaced, because profound and lasting convictions had not been wrought within them, yet in the hearts of not a few the gospel triumphed, and the fruit of the Spirit was manifest in their lives. The Christianity planted in Galatia held its place, in spite of numerous out-croppings of the national character, and in spite of the cruelties of Diocletian, and the bribes and tortures of Julian. (John Eadie, D.D.)
The Galatian Churches
The Area Embraced. The name Galatia is used in two senses:
1. Ethnographical, for the district lying chiefly between the rivers Sangarius and Halys, and occupied by the tribe of Galatae or Galli;
2. Political, for the Roman Province, which included not only Galatia proper, but also Pisidia, Isauria, and parts of Lycaonia and Phrygia. If the term covers the wider area, then we possess (in Acts 13:14-52; Acts 14:1-24) a full and detailed account of the founding of the Galatian Churches; moreover, the favourite disciple and most constant companion of the apostle, Timothy, was on this showing a Galatian (Acts 16:1), and through him St. Paul’s communications with these Churches would be more or less close to the end of his life. But the objections to this view are too serious to admit of its adoption. We must search for the Churches of Galatia within narrower limits. In the absence of all direct testimony, we may conjecture that it was at Ancyra, now the capital of the Roman Province as formerly of the Gaulish settlement; at Pessinus, one of the principal commercial towns of the district; at Tavium, at once a strong fortress and a great emporium, situated at the point of convergence of several important roads; perhaps also at Juliopolis, the ancient Gordium, formerly the capital of Phrygia, almost equidistant from the three seas, and from its central position a busy mart; at these, or some of these places, that St. Paul founded the earliest “Churches of Galatia.” (Various.)
St. Paul’s Visits
Putting aside the supposed--but, as it appears--untenable identification of the Galatian Churches with those visited upon the first missionary journey, we shall then have two visits prior to the date of the Epistle, both of which are dismissed by St. Luke in few words.
1. First visit, A.D. 51 or 52. Starting from Antioch, with Silas, after the Council of Jerusalem, St. Paul first visited the Churches already founded in Syria, Cilicia, and Lycaonia. At Lystra he picked up Timothy. Then he passed through the “region of Phrygia and Galatia,” i.e., the ambiguous territory on the borders of each of these divisions. Here he was detained by illness (Galatians 4:14), and took the opportunity to preach to the Galatians. He was eagerly welcomed by them, and his preaching met with much success (Galatians 4:14-15; Galatians 5:7). This visit cannot have lasted very long, and on fully recovering his health the apostle pursued his journey, first to Mysia, then to Troas, whence a Divine intimation determined him to cross over into Europe. After an eventful passage through the cities of Macedonia, he found his way to Athens and finally to Corinth, where he stayed eighteen months. With his voyage from Cenchreae to Caesarea, his visit to Jerusalem and return to Antioch, the second missionary journey came to an end.
2. Second visit, A.D. 54. Again starting from Antioch on the third missionary journey, he seems to have made straight for Galatia, not this time passing through Lycaonia. He now “went over into the country of Galatia and Phrygia in order (καθεξῆς), confirming the disciples” (Acts 18:23). It would seem that already he found some cause for uneasiness, and had occasion to administer a warning (Galatians 1:9; Galatians 5:21). This plain speaking apparently gave some offence (Galatians 4:16), and on his departure for his long sojourn of three years at Ephesus the Judaising party in Galatia made great progress. To this progress, and to the bad accounts which reached the apostle, it was due that either in Ephesus, or perhaps more probably after leaving Ephesus and on his way to Greece, he thought it necessary to write to them this Epistle. (Professor Sanday.)
Reception of the Gospel
Though the whole spirit of Christianity was so alien to their habits of thought, we may well imagine how the fervour of the apostle’s manner may have fired their religious enthusiasm. The very image under which he describes his preaching, brings vividly before us the energy and force with which he delivered his message. He placarded Christ crucified before their eyes, arresting the gaze of the spiritual loiterer, and riveting it on this proclamation of his Sovereign. If we picture to ourselves the apostle as he appeared before the Galatians, a friendless outcast, writhing under the tortures of a painful malady, yet instant in season and out of season, by turns denouncing and entreating, appealing to the agonies of a crucified Saviour, perhaps also, as at Lystra, enforcing this appeal by some striking miracle, we shall be at no loss to conceive how the fervid temperament of the Gaul might have been aroused, while yet only the surface of his spiritual consciousness was ruffled. For the time, indeed, all seemed to be going on well. But the very eagerness with which they had embraced the gospel was in itself a dangerous symptom. A material so easily moulded soon loses the impression it has taken …. Error soon found in Galatia a congenial soil. The corruption took the direction which might have been expected from the religious education of the people. A passionate and striking ritualism expressing itself in bodily mortifications of the most terrible kind had been supplanted by the simple spiritual teaching of the gospel. For a time the pure morality and lofty sanctions of the new faith appealed not in vain to their higher instincts, but they soon began to yearn after a creed which suited their material cravings better, and was more allied to the system they had abandoned. This end they attained by overlaying the simplicity of the gospel with Judaic observances. This new phase of their religious life is ascribed by St. Paul himself to the temper which their old heathen education had fostered. It was a return to “the weak and beggarly elements” which they had outgrown, a renewed subjection to the yoke of bondage which they had thrown off in Christ. They had escaped from one ritualistic system, only to bow before another. The innate failing of a race excessive in its devotion to external observances, was here reasserting itself. To check these errors, which were already spreading fast, the apostle wrote his Epistle to the Galatians. (Bishop Lightfoot.)
Effect of the Epistle
What effect the remonstrance had can only be conjectured, for from this time forward the Galatian Church may be said to disappear from the apostolic history. If we could be sure that the mission of Crescens, mentioned in the latest of St. Paul’s Epistles refers to the Asiatic settlement, there would be some ground for assuming that the apostle maintained a friendly intercourse with his Galatian converts to the close of his life; but it is at least as likely that the mother country of the Gauls is there meant (2 Timothy 4:10). In the absence of all information, we would gladly believe that here, as at Corinth, the apostle’s rebuke was successful, that his authority was restored, the offenders were denounced, and the whole Church, overwhelmed with shame, returned to its allegiance. The cases, however, are not parallel. The severity of tone is more sustained in this instance, the personal appeals are fewer, the remonstrances more indignant and less affectionate. One ray of hope, indeed, seems to break through the dark cloud, but we must not build too much on a single expression of confidence (Galatians 5:10), dictated it may be by a generous and politic charity which “believeth all things.” (Bishop Lightfoot.)
Later Heresies of the Galatian Church
It is not idle, as it might seem at first sight, to follow the stream of history beyond the horizon of the apostolic age. The fragmentary notices of its subsequent career reflect some light on the temper and disposition of the Galatian Church in St. Paul’s day. To catholic writers of a later date, indeed, the failings of its infancy seemed to be so faithfully reproduced in its mature age, that they invested the apostle’s rebuke with a prophetic import. Asia Minor was the nursery of heresy, and of all the Asiatic Churches it was nowhere so rife as in Galatia. The Galatian capital was the stronghold of the Montanist revival, which lingered on for more than two centuries, splitting into diverse sects, each distinguished by some fantastic gesture or minute ritual observance. Here, too, were to he found Ophites, Manichaeans, sectarians of all kinds. Hence, during the great controversies of the fourth century, issued two successive bishops who disturbed the peace of the Church--Marcellus and Basilius,--swerving or seeming to swerve from the catholic truth in opposite directions, the one on the side of Sabellian, the other of Arian error. A Christian father of this period denounces “the folly of the Galatians, who abound in many impious denominations.” A harsher critic, likewise a contemporary, affirms that whole villages in Galatia were depopulated by the Christians in their intestine quarrels. (Bishop Lightfoot.)
Faithfulness under Persecution
The Galatian Churches furnished their quota to the army of martyrs in the Diocletian persecution, and the oldest existing Church in the capital still bears the name of its bishop, Clement, who perished during this reign of terror. The struggle over and peace restored, a famous council was held at Ancyra, a court-martial of the Church, for the purpose of restoring discipline and pronouncing upon those who had faltered or deserted in the combat. When the contest was renewed under Julian, the forces of paganism were concentrated upon Galatia, as a key to the heathen position, in one of their last desperate struggles to retrieve the day. The once popular worship of the mother of the gods, which, issuing from Pessinus, had spread throughout the Greek and Roman world, was a fit rallying point for the broken ranks of heathendom. In this part of the field, as at Antioch, Julian appeared in person. He stimulated the zeal of the heathen worshippers by his own example, visiting the ancient shrine of Cybele, and offering costly gifts and sacrifices there. He distributed special largesses among the poor who attended at the temples. He wrote a scolding letter to the pontiff of Galatia, rebuking the priests for their careless living, and promising aid to Pessinus on condition that they took more pains to propitiate the goddess. The Christians met these measures for the most part in an attitude of fierce defiance. At Ancyra one Basil, a presbyter of the Church, fearlessly braving the imperial anger, won for himself a martyr’s crown. Going about from place to place, he denounced all participation in the polluting rites of heathen sacrifice, and warned his Christian brethren against bartering their hopes of heaven for such transitory honours as an earthly monarch could confer. At length brought before the provincial governor, he was tortured, condemned, and put to death. At Pessinus another zealous Christian, entering the temple, openly insulted the mother of the gods, and tore down the altar. Summoned before Julian, he appeared in the imperial presence with an air of triumph, and even derided the remonstrances which the emperor addressed to him. This attempt to galvanize the expiring form of heathen devotion in Galatia seems to have borne little fruit. With the emperor s departure paganism relapsed into its former torpor. And not long after in the presence of Jovian, the Christian successor of the apostate, who halted at Ancyra on his way to assume the imperial purple, the Galatian Churches had an assurance of the final triumph of the truth. (Bishop Lightfoot.)
Time and Place of Composition
As to this there are two theories:
1. That the Epistle was written from Ephesus during the apostle’s three years stay there. This is grounded chiefly upon the phrase, “I wonder that ye are so soon removed into another gospel” (Galatians 1:6.). As, however, “soon” is a relative term, and three or four years might still be called “soon” for a complete change of sentiment in a community, this argument does not seem to be a very strong one.
2. That the Epistle was written en voyage from Macedonia or Greece in the end of A.D. 57 or beginning of 58. The main ground for this view is the close resemblance between the Epistle and that to the Romans, which we know to have been written in the early spring of A.D. 58. This argument seems more weighty. (Professor Sanday.)
As the first of these is the view generally received, it will be proper to state more fully the arguments of Bishop Lightfoot in favour of the second.
1. The resemblance to 2 Corinthians and Romans, between which he would place it; its affinity in tone of feeling to the former, and in thought to the latter.
2. This order best accords with the history of St. Paul’s personal sufferings and the progress of his controversy with the Judaisers, as shown in the fulness of doctrinal statement against their views.
3. This date explains one or two allusions more satisfactorily: e.g., ch. 6:1, against severe treatment, the evil effects of which he may have witnessed at Corinth; and, in same chapter, verse 7, “Be not deceived,” etc., referring to their illiberality in response to the “orders to the Churches of Galatia” (1 Corinthians 16:1).
Occasion of the Epistle
False teachers in Galatia:--On his second visit to Galatia St. Paul found that false teachers were at work amongst the Churches, and had succeeded in greatly troubling and perplexing them. We learn from Galatians 1:6-9, that this teaching was directly subversive of the gospel--opposed to the fundamental truths of Christianity. We learn from other passages in the Epistle, that these men denied the doctrine of justification through the atoning death of Christ and faith in Him; and taught that the only way by which any one, whether Jew or Gentile, could obtain life, was by keeping the Law of Moses, and establishing his own righteousness. Two questions at once present themselves.
1. How could the false teachers attempt to persuade the Jewish believers that they could obtain life by keeping the Law of Moses, when that Law set before them a perfect standard of holiness, and required a perfect obedience to all its precepts, and provided no real atonement for sin? It may be replied, that the false teachers might first of all endeavour to explain the commandments of God, so as to make it appear possible for men to keep them: and, in the next place, that they might quote passages of Scripture which appear to attach a really atoning efficacy to the sacrifices of the Law--especially those which were offered up on the great Day of Atonement. And then they might urge the fact that the great body of Jews--including men of the highest repute for sanctity and learning--did thus explain these commandments and sacrifices. In this way the false teachers might bring some plausible argument in favour of their teaching, and endeavour to persuade the Jewish converts that, whilst admiring the Lord Jesus as an example of all that was good and holy, and regarding Him as the future Saviour of the nation, they were to seek eternal life by keeping the Law of Moses.
2. How could the false teachers hope to persuade the Gentile converts that they could obtain life by keeping the Law of Moses, when that Law was given exclusively to the Jews? To this it may be replied that Gentiles might become Jews (so as to share in certain religious privileges peculiar to the Jews) by undergoing circumcision (Exodus 12:48-49; Numbers 9:14) …. Thus the false teachers, by wholly misrepresenting the Law of Moses, might turn it into a sort of gospel, by which Gentiles as well as Jews could obtain eternal life. (John Venn, M.A.)
St. Paul’s self-vindication
Who these Judaists were, whether Jews by birth or proselytes, is not known; they may have been either. Probably what had happened in Galatia was only a repetition of what had taken place in Antioch, as St. Paul describes it in chap.2. There were myriads of Jews who believed, and who were all zealous of the Law (Acts 21:20); and an extreme faction holding such opinions were the inveterate enemies of the Apostle of the Gentiles. It was so far innocent in Judea to uphold the Mosaic Law and its obligation on Jewish believers, but it was a dangerous innovation to enforce its observance on Gentile converts as essential to salvation. For the Mosaic Law was not meant for them; the rite of circumcision was adapted only to born Jews as a token of Abrahamic descent and of inclusion in the Abrahamic covenant. The Gentile had nothing to do with this or with any element of the ceremonial law, for he was not born under it; to force it on him was to subject him to foreign servitude--to an intolerable yoke. Apart from the relation of circumcision to a Jew, the persistent attempt to enforce it as in any way essential to salvation was derogatory to the perfection of Christ’s work, and the complete deliverance provided by it. Legal Pharisaism was, however, brought into Galatia, circumcision was insisted on, and special seasons were observed. To upset the teaching of the apostle, the errorists undermined his authority, plainly maintaining that as he was not one of the primary Twelve, he could on that account be invested only with a secondary and subordinate rank and authority; so that his teaching of a free gospel, unconditioned by any Mosaic conformity, might be set aside. The false teachers seem to have tried also to damage the apostle by representing him as inconsistent in his career, as if he had in some way or at some time preached circumcision; and they insinuated that he accommodated his message to the prejudices of his converts. Since to the Jews he became as a Jew, there might be found in his history not a few compliances which could be easily magnified into elements of inconsistency with his present preaching. In some way, perhaps darker and more malignant, they laboured to turn the affections of the Galatian people from him, and to a great extent they succeeded. We learn from the apostle’s self-vindication what were the chief errors propagated by the Judaists, and what were the principal calumnies directed against himself. (John Eadie, D.D.)
The object of the Epistle is accordingly to defend the apostle’s own authority, to prove the validity and independence of his commission, and at the same time to set forth again the doctrine of justification by faith and of spiritual religion, as against the imposition of the Mosaic Law and a religion of externals. (Professor Sanday.)
Character and Contents.--
1. This Epistle is especially distinguished among St. Paul’s letters by its unity of purpose. The Galatian apostasy in its double aspect, as a denial of his own authority, and a repudiation of the doctrine of grace, is never lost sight of.
2. Its sustained severity. No congratulations, no word of praise here. The argument is interrupted every now and then by an outburst of indignant remonstrance. He is dealing with a thoughtless, half-barbarous people. They have erred like children, and must he chastised like children. Rebuke may prevail where reason will be powerless. (Bishop Lightfoot.)
Analysis of the Epistle
I. Introductory address.
1. The apostolic salutation (Galatians 1:1-5).
2. The Galatians’ defection (Galatians 1:6-10).
II. Personal apologia: an autobiographical retrospect. The apostle’s teaching derived from God and not man, as proved by the circumstances of--
1. His education (Galatians 1:13-14).
2. His conversion (Galatians 1:15-17).
3. His intercourse with the other apostles, whether at
(1) his first visit to Jerusalem (Galatians 1:18-24), or
(2) his later visit (Galatians 2:1-10).
4. His conduct in the controversy with Peter at Antioch (Galatians 2:11-14). The subject of which controversy was the supersession of the Law by Christ (Galatians 2:15-21).
III. Dogmatic apologia: inferiority of Judaism, or legal Christianity, to the doctrine of faith.
1. The Galatians bewitched into retrogression from a spiritual system into a carnal system (Galatians 3:1-5).
2. Abraham himself a witness to the efficacy of faith (Galatians 3:6-9).
3. Faith in Christ alone removes the curse which the Law entails (Galatians 3:10-14).
4. The validity of the Promise unaffected by the Law (Galatians 3:15-18).
5. Special paedagogic function of the Law, which must needs give way to the larger scope of Christianity (Galatians 3:19-29).
6. The Law a state of tutelage (Galatians 4:1-7).
7. Meanness and barrenness of mere ritualism (Galatians 4:8-11).
8. The past zeal of the Galatians contrasted with their present coldness (Galatians 4:12-20).
9. The allegory of Isaac and Ishmael (Galatians 4:21-31).
IV. Hortatory application of the foregoing.
1. Christian liberty excludes Judaism (Galatians 5:1-6).
2. The Judaising in-traders (Galatians 5:7-12).
3. Liberty not licence, but love (Galatians 5:13-15).
4. The works of the flesh and of the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-26).
5. The duty of sympathy (Galatians 6:1-5).
6. The duty of liberality (Galatians 6:6-10).
V. Autograph conclusion.
1. The Judaisers’ motive (Galatians 6:12-13).
2. The apostle’s motive (Galatians 6:14-15). His parting benediction, and claim to be freed from further annoyance (Galatians 6:16-18). (Professor Sanday.)
Place of this Epistle in modern controversy
The armoury of this Epistle has furnished their keenest weapons to the combatants in the two greatest controversies which in modern times have agitated the Christian Church; the one a struggle for liberty within the camp, the other a war of defence against assailants from without; the one vitally affecting the doctrine, the other the evidences of the gospel.
1. The reformation. When Luther commenced his attack on the corruptions of the mediaeval Church, he chose this Epistle as his most efficient engine in overthrowing the mass of error which time had piled on the simple foundations of the gospel. His commentary on the Galatians was written and rewritten. It cost him more labour, and was more highly esteemed by him, than any of his works. If age has diminished its value as an aid to the study of St. Paul, it still remains, and ever will remain, a speaking monument of the mind of the reformer, and the principles of the reformation.
2. Rationalism. Once again, in the present day, this Epistle has been thrust into prominence by those who deny the Divine origin of the gospel. In this later controversy, however, it is no longer to its doctrinal features, but to its historical notices, that attention is chiefly directed. “The earliest form of Christianity,” it is argued, “was a modified Judaism. The distinctive features of the system current under this name were added by St. Paul. There was an irreconcileable opposition between the Apostle of the Gentiles and the Apostles of the Jews, a personal feud between the teachers themselves, and a direct antagonism between their doctrines. After a long struggle St. Paul prevailed, and Christianity--our Christianity--was the result.” The Epistle to the Galatians affords at once the ground for, and the refutation of, this view. It affords the ground, for it discovers the mutual jealousy and suspicions of the Jew and Gentile converts. It affords the refutation, for it shows the true relations existing between St. Paul and the Twelve. It presents, not indeed a colourless uniformity of feeling and opinion, but a far higher and more instructive harmony, the general agreement, amidst some lesser differences and some human failings, of men animated by the same Divine Spirit, and working together for the same hallowed purpose, fit inmates of that Father’s house in which are many mansions. (Bishop Lightfoot.)
Its bearing upon modern Christianity
We live in a drifting age. Very few vessels remain firm at their moorings, very few anchors hold the ground. Opinions, doctrines, institutions, which were once thought to rest upon an immovable foundation, are now put upon their defence, if not discarded and overthrown. The tendency of modern thought is to treat all questions as open ones, and to regard even Christianity itself as destitute of any fixed and certain principles. But the reign of dogma has not passed as long as the Word of God remains unrefuted; and, in the dogmatic teaching of Scripture, this Epistle occupies a leading position. It deals with fundamental truths; it expounds those truths with convincing clearness; it confirms them by the most rigid proofs. It describes in no ambiguous terms man’s state by nature, as a sinner doomed to perish, condemned by that Divine Law under which he is born, subject to its curse. It describes with equal clearness the redemption which has been wrought out by Christ, the means, even faith, by which the sinner participates in that redemption, and the blessed results which follow such participation. It dwells at length upon the work of the Spirit of God, renewing the corrupt nature, producing heavenly fruit, and leading the regenerate soul onward through conflict to victory. Men may regard these doctrines as the doctrines of a sect, or treat them as the relics of a bigoted and narrow-minded age; but the question is whether they are or are not plainly and authoritatively taught in Scripture? And if, as we affirm, they are so taught, men reject them at their peril; and, in refusing to accept them, the so-called liberality of the age reveals itself as more ready to believe the lie of man than the truth of God. The Epistle to the Galatians therefore cuts sharply into much of the popular Christianity of the day, exposing and condemning it. It is dogmatic, in an age which abhors dogma; exclusive, in an age which would include all beliefs within the ample boundaries of truth; it condemns human nature at a time when men are seeking to extenuate their guilt and deny their responsibility; it proclaims that salvation is wholly of grace, when men are doubting whether they need grace at all; it insists upon the necessity of the Spirit’s work within the soul, when men regard the bare idea of such an influence as the dream of the enthusiast. Nor does the Galatian Epistle encounter only the broad stream of popular scepticism; it searches out various byepaths of error in which men are prone to wander. It teaches the danger of ceremonialism; it points out that public opinion is not the test of truth; it condemns alike the legalism which trenches upon liberty, and the liberty which degenerates into license. It deals with man as he is, and points out how man may become what he ought to be; it shows that there is one way, and one way only, by which this end may be reached; and, brushing aside all false methods as dangerous impertinences, it raises the standard of the cross as the one remedy for the disease under which men labour. The inference I draw is this: that this Epistle deserves to be studied reverentially, honestly, exhaustively, by all professing Christians. The truth is in it; but the truth only yields itself to those who “seek her as silver, and search for her as forbid treasures.” Ignorance of Scripture lies at the foundation of religious error. Amid the clash of contending opinions there is one infallible source of truth; amid the claims of rival teachers there is one infallible guide; the Word of God and the Spirit of God will never lead us astray; and the fault is ours, if, with these blessed agencies within our reach, we fail to build our house upon the Rock, and remain strangers to the well-grounded hope of a Scriptural faith. (Emilius Bayley, B.D.)
The Epistle is polemical, impetuous, and overpowering; and yet tender, affectionate, and warning in tone. It strikes like lightning every projecting point that approaches its path, and yet, undelayed by these zig-zag deflections, instantaneously attains the goal. Every verse breathes the spirit of the great and free Apostle of the Gentiles. His earnestness and mildness, his severity and love, his vehemence and tenderness, his depth and simplicity, his commanding authority and sincere humility, are here vividly brought before us in fresh and bold outline. (Philip Shaff, D.D.)
The Argument of the Epistle
St. Paul goes about to establish the doctrine of faith, grace, forgiveness of sins, or Christian righteousness, to the end that we may have a perfect knowledge of the difference between Christian righteousness and all other kinds. For there are many kinds of righteousness.
1. There is a political or civil righteousness, which emperors, princes of the world, philosophers, and lawyers deal with.
2. Ceremonial righteousness, which the traditions of men teach. This righteousness parents and schoolmasters may teach without danger, because they do not attribute to it any power to satisfy for sin, to please God, or to deserve grace; but they teach such ceremonies as are only necessary for the correction of manners, and certain observations concerning this life.
3. The righteousness of the Law, or of the Ten Commandments, which Moses teaches. This do we also teach, after the doctrine of faith.
4. The righteousness of faith, or Christian righteousness. This we must carefully distinguish from the above-mentioned; for they are quite contrary to this righteousness, both because they flow out of the laws of emperors, the traditions of the pope, and the commandments of God, and also because they consist in our works, and may be wrought of us either by our pure natural strength, or else by the gift of God. For these kinds of righteousness are also of the gift of God, like as other good things are which we enjoy. But this most excellent righteousness of faith is neither political nor ceremonial, nor the righteousness of God’s law, nor does it consist in works, but is clean contrary that is to say, a mere passive righteousness, as the others above are active. For in this we work nothing, we render nothing unto God, but only we receive and suffer another to work in us--that is to say, God …. This is our divinity, whereby we teach how to rut a difference between these two kinds of righteousness, active and passive, to the end that manners and faith, works and grace, policy and religion, should not be confounded, or taken the one for the other. Both are necessary; but both must be kept within their bounds; Christian righteousness appertaineth to the new man, and the righteousness of the law appertaineth to the old man, which is born of flesh and blood. Upon this old man, as upon an ass, there must be laid a burden that may press him down, and he must not enjoy the freedom of the spirit of grace, except he first put upon him the new man by faith in Christ; then may he enjoy the kingdom and inestimable gift of grace. This I say, to the end that no man should think we reject or forbid good works. We imagine, as it were, two worlds, the one heavenly and the other earthly. In these we place these two kinds of righteousness, being far separate the one from the other. The righteousness of the law is earthly, and hath to do with earthly things, and by it we do good works. But as the earth bringeth not forth fruit except first it be watered and made fruitful from above; even so by the righteousness of the law, in doing many things we do nothing, and in fulfilling of the lave we fulfil it not, except first, without any merit or work of ours, we be made righteous by the Christian righteousness, which nothing appertaineth to the righteousness of the law, or to the earthly and active righteousness. But this righteousness is heavenly, which (as is said) we have not of ourselves, but receive it from heaven; which we work not, but which by grace is wrought in us, and apprehended by faith; whereby we mount up above all laws and works ….Why, do we then nothing? do we work nothing for the obtaining of this righteousness? Nothing at all. This is perfect righteousness, “to do nothing, to hear nothing, to know nothing of the law, or of works”; but to know and believe this only, that Christ is gone to the Father, and is not now seen; that He sitteth in heaven at the right hand of His Father, not as judge, but made unto us, of God, wisdom, righteousness, holiness, and redemption; briefly, that He is our High Priest intreating for us, and reigning over us and in us by grace. In this heavenly righteousness sin can have no place, for there is no law; and where no law is, there can be no transgression. Seeing, then, that sin hath here no place, there can be no anguish of conscience, no fear, no heaviness. But if there be any fear or grief of conscience, it is a token that this righteousness is withdrawn, that grace is hidden, and that Christ is darkened and out of sight. But where Christ is truly seen indeed, there must needs be full and perfect joy in the Lord, with peace of conscience, which most certainly thus thinketh: “Although I am a sinner by the law, and under condemnation of the law, yet I despair not, yet I die not, because Christ liveth, who is both my righteousness and my everlasting life. In that righteousness and life I have no sin, no fear, no sting of conscience, no care of death. I am indeed a sinner, as touching this present life and the righteousness thereof, as the child of Adam; where the law accuseth me, death reigneth over me, and at length would devour me. But I have another righteousness and life above this life, which is Christ the son of God, who knoweth no sin nor death, but is righteousness and life eternal: by whom this my body, being dead and brought into dust, shall be raised up again, and delivered from the bondage of the law and sin, and shall be sanctified together with the spirit.”… Let us then diligently learn to judge between these two kinds of righteousness, that we may know how far we ought to obey the law. The law in a Christian ought to have dominion only over the flesh. If it shall presume to creep into thy conscience, and there seek to reign, see thou play the cunning logician, and make the true division. (Martin Luther.)
Genuineness of the Epistle
No one has doubted the genuineness of this Epistle. The evidence in its favour is--
1. External. This, though not very extensive, is perhaps as great as in the circumstances we could expect it to be.
(a) Allusions and indirect citations are found in the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp.
(b) It is included in all the known canons of Scripture proceeding from the Catholic Church in the second century, and is contained in the Syriac and old Latin versions completed, apparently, early in that century.
(c) Its influence can be detected in the writings of various second century Apologists, Heretical writers, and Adversaries.
(d) Owing to the nature of the earliest Christian writings, the above testimony has been for the most part indirect. As soon as a strictly theological literature sprang up in the Church--i.e., towards the close of the second century--we find the Epistle at once quoted distinctly and by name.
(a) The allusions to the history. No forger, either with or without the Acts before him, would have given such an account of the relation of St. Paul to the other apostles as we here find. There was no period in the later history of the Church in which such a state of things could naturally have been conceived. Least of all could the dispute at Antioch, so agreeable to the character of the two apostles, yet so unlike the first thoughts of a later age respecting the earliest Christian Church, have been the invention of the second century. It is a real evidence of the genuineness of the Epistle, that Origen as well as Jerome and Chrysostom, can only account for so remarkable a passage of history, by resolving it into a collusion between the apostles.
(b) The character of St. Paul. No forger ever made an imitation in which were so many secret threads of similarity, which bore such a stamp of originality, or in which the character, the passion, the mode of thought and reasoning, were so naturally represented. The apostle’s mental characteristics are indelibly impressed on the letter. In a doctrinal discussion or a practical dissertation, in a familiar correspondence on common things, or in any composition which does not stir up feeling or invoke personal vindication, one may write without betraying much individualism; but when the soul is perturbed, and emotions of surprise, anger, and sorrow are felt singly or in complex unity, the writer portrays himself in his letter, for he writes as for the moment he feels, what comes into his mind is committed to paper freshly and at once, without being toned down or weakened by his hovering over a choice of words. The Epistle to the Galatians is of this nature. It is the apostle self-portrayed; and who can mistake the resemblance? The workings of his soul are quite visible in their strength and succession; each idea is seen as it is originated by what goes before it, and as it suggests what comes after it in the throbbings of his wounded soul; the argument and the expostulation are linked together in abrupt rapidity, anger is tempered by love, and sorrow by hope; and the whole is lighted up by an earnestness which the crisis had deepened into a holy jealousy, and the interests at stake had intensified into the agony of a second spiritual birth. The error which involved such peril, and carried with it such fascination, was one natural in the circumstances; and glimpses of its origin, spread, and power are given us in the Acts of the Apostles. Who that knows how Paul, with his profound convictions, must have stood toward such false doctrine, will for a moment hesitate to recognize him as he writes in alarmed sympathy to his Galatian converts, who had for a season promised so well, but had been seduced by plausible reactionists--the enemies of his apostolic prerogative, and the subverters of that free and full gospel, in proclaiming and defending which he spent his life? (Various.)
the Fifth Week after Epiphany