1902 Encyclopedia > Epistle to the Galatians

Epistle to the Galatians

EPISTLE TO THE GALATIANS. Origin.—Although " Galatia," as a united kingdom under Amyntas, included Pisidia, as well as portions of Lycaonia and Pamphylia, and when constituted a Roman province was further enlarged so that it extended from Taurus to the Euxine (Ptol., v. 1), it may with safety be taken for granted that the name is never used in the New Testament except in its older colloquial sense as equivalent to " GaJlograecia " or " Eastern Gaul" (_____) _____, Appian, Be Bell. Civ., ii. 49), the country of those Galli (_____, _____, _____) whose migrations and final territorial limits have already been indicated in the preceding article. On this assumption, the history of the formation of the Christian " churches of Galatia" is very obscure. It is obvious enough, from the epistle itself, that they had been planted by Paul; but when, or under what circumstances, we are nowhere explicitly informed. In the Acts of the Apostles we read that, accompanied by Silas, he set out on what is generally known as his second missionary journey soon after the council of Jerusalem, which may be dated approximately as having occurred about the year 52 A.D. After having traversed "Syria" and "Cilicia," strengthen-ing the churches, they " passed through Phrygia and the region of Galatia (_____), being forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia; and after they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus suffered them not."8 The language here employed, even if, as Wieseler argues, it implies that preaching was engaged in, can hardly be said to suggest of itself that churches had been formed on the route, but rather appears to hint at a forced and rapid march. Acts xviii. 23, however, indicates that " disciples" at least had been made, and it is well known that in the narrative of the Acts many important passages in the eventful public life of the apostle have been passed with even less explicit allusion. Combining then the meagre facts which that narrative in this instance affords with inferences derived from incidental expressions made use of in the epistle itself, we conjecture the apostle to have been detained by ill-health (see Gal. iv. 13, "because of bodily weakness"), probably in the western district of Galatia (that of the Tolistobogii), though not at the capital Pessinus itself, but nearer the borders of Asia and Mysia; and there, in pagan population as could be induced to hear. The Galatians, although in their intercourse with one another they still continued to make use of their ancient dialect, were quite able to understand the then almost universally diffused Greek; and some of them, both Jews and Gentiles, almost immediately began to receive Paul's doctrine with favour and even with enthusiasm (Gal. iv. 14). How long this visit continued we are not told ; but most of the chronological evidence goes to show that it cannot have lasted more than six months, and that it pro-bably came to an end within a much shorter interval. Resuming the journey by Mysia and the Troad, Paul and his companion proceeded to " Macedonia " and " Achaia," spending in the latter province at least eighteen months, and finding no opportunity of revisiting Galatia for a space of at least three years. During this interval several causes must have been quietly but constantly working with a tendency to alienate the Galatian converts from the new "gospel of the uncircumcision" (euayyeAiovTT)Sa/cpo/Svcrrtas, 11. 7), and induce them to that conformity with certain parts of Jewish ceremonial which was even at that time described by the word " Judaizing" (lov&cct&w, Gal. ii. 14). Even among those whose leanings were towards the spiritual religion of the Old Testament, Jewish habits of thinking and feeling could never fail to assert themselves with considerable strength; and there were also elements peculiar to the old pagan religion of the district which were fitted to predispose even the heathen mind towards that ceremonialism and "making a fair show in the flesh" (_____) which the apostle deprecated. How or when these tendencies had first begun to manifest themselves in the way of deliberate rebellion against the teachings which Paul had left behind him, can only be a matter of pure conjecture ; but it would appear that,;even if the revolt had been originated by Palestinian Jews, it had at least been fomented by other agitators who were Gentiles by birth (v. 12; vi. 13); nor does it seem improbable that they had begun their work very soon after the time of the apostle's first visit. The second visit, mentioned in Acts xviii. 23, which must have taken place about 55 A.D., and have occupied very little time, appears to have been on the whole a pleasant one; the apostle was still received with due respect (iv. 12, 18), and may well have left Galatia with the impression that the disciples had been "strengthened" by him, and that they " were running well" (v. 7). But shortly after his departure tidings reached him that, though the influence of the Judaizers had for the time been neutralized by his presence, it had begun to reassert itself with greater force than ever almost immediately after he had gone, and that his disciples had been so "bewitched" that, after "having begun in the spirit," they were now endeavouring to be "made perfect by the flesh." He also learned that the reactionary doctrines had been supported by a suggestion that he himself was no teacher of independent authority, but merely a subordinate, and that a treacherous one, of the original apostles and pillars of the church, whose " gospel" was emphatically " of the circumcision." Immediately on receipt of this intelligence, he wrote the present epistle.

Contents.—It consists of three parts, in which the personal, the doctrinal, and the practical elements respectively predominate. (1.) After an expression of surprise at the instability displayed by his Galatian converts, the author proceeds to establish the divineness of his message by an historical proof of the wholly divine character of his commission to be its messenger. He urges that he had received his apostleship directly from God; and that, far from proceeding from men, it had been tardily, and so far reluctantly, acknowledged by them only after it had become an altogether patent and undeniable fact. His first visit to Jerusalem had been three years after his conversion. If it had not resulted in his recognition as on a footing of equality with the apostles, it at least had not led to his taking any position of subordination; while on his second visit to Jerusalem he had met the apostles and deliberated with them on terms of undisputed parity. On the third oc-casion of his coming into contact with an apostolic person so distinguished as Peter, he had openly withstood him and vanquished him in argument, thereby even establishing a superiority. (2.) He proceeds to state and defend the doctrine of justification by faith in the crucified Christ. After alluding to it as a truth already established in their Christian consciousness (iii. 1-5), he proceeds to show that the same truth had been embedded in the whole Old Testament revelation, and was capable of being deduced from the entire course of the past history of the church. The religion of Abraham had been a religion of faith, and his justification had not been a justification by works (iii. 6-18). The law which came later is misunderstood if it be regarded as superseding the promise which had been the foundation of the religion of the patriarch. Its relation to the promise was manifestly of a subordinate and tem-porary kind. To regard it as having been otherwise would be as absurd as to suppose that a Hagar and an Ishmael could ever have taken that place in the family which belonged of inalienable right to Sarah and to Isaac (iii. 19—iv. 31). (3.) He exhorts to a continuance in the life of faith which is also the life of freedom, and warns against any relapse under the yoke of Judaism (v. 1-12). He explains that Christian freedom is a freedom conditioned by morality (v. 13—vi. 10), and concludes with a recapitula-tion and the benediction.Genuineness, Date, and Place.— The genuineness of this epistle has never been disputed. The external evidence is remarkably clear and continuous, while the internal has been such as to satisfy even the most negative school of modern criticism. Its autographic character, also, is inferred by many, including Hilgenfeld, Holzmann, and other moderns, from the expression used in vi. 11; but it is at least possible that the word eypatya. may refer only to vi. 11-18. The question as to its date has given occasion for considerable diversity of opinion. It has been seen that the apostle wrote immediately after he had heard of the change that had come over the Galatian churches, and that this change occurred "soon" (raye'cos)after his second visit. These facts favour a date not much later than 55 A.D. Further, a comparison of the epistle to the Galatians with those to the Romans and Corinthians results, on the whole, in favour of the opinion that it was the earliest of the four, or at all events not much later than the latest, in other words, not later than 59 A.D. It is probably idle to attempt to fix the date much more precisely. The reference in 1 Cor. xvi. 1, which may mean either that friendly rela-tions with the Galatians had been until then uninterrupted, or that they had been already restored, have determined the critics, according to the interpretation adopted, in placing it either early in the Ephesian sojourn or late in the Corinthian. The majority of the moderns is in favour of the former date (55-57 A.D.), but the latter still continues to find supporters. Reference has already been made to the theory of Renan and Hausrath, which leads them to assign this epistle to the period of the second missionary journey. Apart from the considerations which have been indicated in a preceding note, this view is open to the objection that it raises new and gratuitous difficulties in connexion with the history and chronology of the Acts; it has accordingly met with comparatively little acceptance. According to some older writers, such as Michaelis, Koppe, Borger, the supposed absence of any reference to the council of Jerusalem implies a very early date; English readers, on the other hand, are familiar with the statement derived from some of the later Greek MSS., and supported by the Syriac and Arabic versions, as well as by the weighty authority of Eusebius, Jerome, and Theodoret, that the epistle was " written from Rome." This view has been advocated in modern times also by C. Schräder; but the general verdict will probably continue to be, as it has for some time been, adverse to a theory which would group this among the letters of the captivity rather than among those of an earlier period.

On the relation of Galatians to the book of the Acts of the Apostles, see vol. i. pp. 124, 125.

Literature.—For an interesting and detailed account of the patristic commentaries on this epistle reference may be made to an excursus by Bishop Lightfoot (Saint Paul's Epistle to the Galatians, 1865, 2d ed. 1874). Those belonging to the Reformation period are sufficiently well known, particularly Luther's, Calvin's, and Beza's. Of modem English commentaries the most exhaustive is that of Dr Lightfoot, already referred to; but those of Ellicott (1854), Jowett (1855), and Afford (1857) are also of great value. In Germany one of the latest is that of Wieseler (Commentar über den Galaterbrief, 1859); and among those who preceded him in this field, Winer (Pauli ad Galatas Epistola lot. versa et perpetua annotatione illustrata, 1829, 4th ed. 1859), Usteri (Comm. ü. d. Galaterbrief, 1833), Riiekert (1833), Olshausen (1840), De Wette (1845, 3d ed. 1864), Meyer (1851, 5th ed. 1870), Hilgenfeld (1852), and Ewald (Die Sendschreiben des Apostels Paulus übersetzt und erklärt, 1857) are all worthy of particular mention. Windischmann's Commentar (1843) is an able and learned exposition from the Roman Catholic point of view. See also Holsten (Inhalt u. Gedankengang des Br. a. d. Galater, 1859), Hofmann (Die heilige Schrift Neuen Testaments zusammenhängend ausgelegt, 1863), Brandes (D. Ap. P. Sendschreiben a. d. Galater, 1869), Sanday (vol. ii. of Commentary ed. by Bp. Ellicott), and Venn (On the Epistle to the Galatians, 1878). Much help in the interpretation of the epistle is to be derived from the various works on the apostle Paul and the apostolic period of church history; also from those on New Testament Introduction, such as Hilgenfeld's (Einl., 1875) and Bleek's (Einl., 1875). (J. S. BL.)


See Strabo, xii. p. 566 (where the words are _____); and compare Pliny (R. N., v. 25), who continues to distinguish Lycaonia from Galatia. The later historian Memnon also incidentally mentions that the Galatse had taken possession of _____. Renan (Saint Paul, p. 48) and, latterly, Hausrath (NTliche Zeitgeschichte, ii. 258), however, uphold the theory that Paul when he uses the word Galatia intends the Roman province, and that by the Galatians we are to understand chiefly the Christians of Antioch, Iconiuni, Derbe, and Lystra. Their arguments are drawn from the ordinary usus loquencli of Paul (by Asia, Macedonia, Achaia he invariably means the provinces bearing these names); from the analogy of 1 Pet. i. 1, where all the districts mentioned happen to be " provinces" ; from such con-siderations as the inaccessibility of Galatia proper; from inferences based on Acts xviii. 23, Gal. ii. 5, and other texts; and from the admittedly perplexing fact that unless the churches of Derbe, Lystra, &c., be regarded as Galatian, we are left in ignorance of the names, localities, and histories of the churches addressed. But, as has been seen, the ancient urns loquendi appears on the whole to have dis-regarded the Roman division of provinces in this case at least; more-over, Iconium was never a part of the Roman Galatia; and in any case there would have been an inappropriateness in addressing Lycaonians and Pisidians by a title so rich in ethnological and historical suggestion as that of " Galatians " is.

The full consideration of the chronology of this period of sacred history must be postponed to the article PAUL.

4 The only dissenting voice has been that of Bauer (1851).

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-19 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries