Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

General Editor:—J. J. S. PEROWNE, D.D.

Bishop of Worcester.













[All Rights reserved.]



The General Editor of The Cambridge Bible for Schools thinks it right to say that he does not hold himself responsible either for the interpretation of particular passages which the Editors of the several Books have adopted, or for any opinion on points of doctrine that they may have expressed. In the New Testament more especially questions arise of the deepest theological import, on which the ablest and most conscientious interpreters have differed and always will differ. His aim has been in all such cases to leave each Contributor to the unfettered exercise of his own judgment, only taking care that mere controversy should as far as possible be avoided. He has contented himself chiefly with a careful revision of the notes, with pointing out omissions, with suggesting occasionally a reconsideration of some question, or a fuller treatment of difficult passages, and the like.

Beyond this he has not attempted to interfere, feeling it better that each Commentary should have its own individual character, and being convinced that freshness and variety of treatment are more than a compensation for any lack of uniformity in the Series.


I.  Introduction

I.  Galatia and the Galatian Churches

II.  St Paul’s visit to Galatia

III.  The Date, Occasion, and Subject of the Epistle

IV.  The Authorship and Canonicity of the Epistle

II.  Notes

III.  Appendices

IV.  Additional Note on c. Galatians 2:20*** The Text adopted in this Edition is that of Dr Scrivener’s Cambridge Paragraph Bible. A few variations from the ordinary Text, chiefly in the spelling of certain words, and in the use of italics, will be noticed. For the principles adopted by Dr Scrivener as regards the printing of the Text see his Introduction to the Paragraph Bible, published by the Cambridge University Press.

The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

St Paul.

Blessed for ever and ever be that mother’s child whose faith hath made him the child of God.



I. Galatia and the Galatian Churches

The term Galatia is used sometimes to designate the Roman Province which was constituted by Augustus (b.c. 25), sometimes a more limited tract of country, which was occupied by, and took its name from the Celtic invaders, who early in the third century before Christ over-ran Asia Minor and finally settled in a central district of the Peninsula. In the New Testament the term is probably employed in the latter sense; and we may understand by ‘the Churches of Galatia’ the bodies of Christian converts established in the three principal cities of Ancyra, Pessinus and Tavium; ‘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[1]’. It is essential to a right understanding of the Epistle that we should ascertain all that can be known of the history, condition, and character of the persons addressed. Such an investigation will not only enable us to explain allusions otherwise obscure, but, by throwing light on the circumstances and mutual relations of writer and readers, will confirm our belief of the authenticity of the Epistle.

[1] Lightfoot, p. 18. Livy, xxxviii. 18.

Of the original inhabitants of the district afterwards known as Galatia, history tells us nothing. But in very early times it was occupied by Phrygian settlers. Their first abode was probably the high lands of Armenia, from which they descended and gradually overspread the whole of Asia Minor. They were governed by chiefs, who are called kings by Roman historians. They were an unwarlike race, addicted to agriculture and especially to the cultivation of the vine. This last particular is not improbably closely connected with the cultus of Sabazius or Bacchus. This deity, together with Cybele (or Rhea), was held in high veneration among them, and worshipped with orgiastic rites, accompanied by wild music and dancing.

From the fact that St Paul wrote his Epistle in the Greek language, we might infer not only the existence, but the prominence of a Greek element in the population of Galatia at the commencement of the Christian era. The inference is confirmed by the name Gallogræcia given to the country by the Romans, and by the testimony of monumental inscriptions. It is probable that after the death of Alexander the Great and the disruption of his Empire, many European Greeks had settled in various parts of the country under Antigonus and his successors. They would seem to have retained their distinct nationality for several centuries, and not to have become fused by intermarriage with the other races who occupied the territory conjointly with them.

Early in the fourth century b.c., the Gauls invaded Italy and sacked the city of Rome. These Gauls were a Celtic people, inhabiting the northern and middle parts of what is now called France. A century later another horde of the same race poured into Northern Greece, and a division of the main body crossed the Hellespont and overran Asia Minor. Here however, after a time, they met with determined and successful resistance. The tide of invasion was rolled back, and the invaders gradually confined within the narrow limits of the district to which they gave their name—Galatia, the settlement of the Galatæ, Keltæ, or Galli. This district was about two hundred miles in length, and “was parcelled out among the three tribes of which the invading Gauls were composed”—the Trocmi, Tolistobogii, and Tectosages. Each tribe had its chief town—Tavium, Pessinus, and Ancyra respectively. The restless spirit, characteristic of the Celtic race, which had impelled them to leave their distant home in Western Europe, manifested itself in their new abode. Unable to conduct fresh invasions, they hired themselves out as mercenaries to the Satraps of Asia Minor, and were thus brought into collision with the Roman legions under Manlius in the war with Antiochus the Great. The result was the subjugation of Galatia to the Roman power (b.c. 189). For more than a century and a half they continued nominally governed by native princes, but really subject to the sway of Rome. At length the throne becoming vacant by the death of Amyntas (b.c. 25), Augustus constituted Galatia a Roman province.

It will be seen from this outline of the history of Galatia that the population of the country, at the time when St Paul wrote, consisted of four distinct nationalities, Phrygian, Greek, Gallic and Roman. To these must be added a fifth—Jewish. From the tenour of the Epistle itself we have a confirmation of what might have seemed in the highest degree probable à priori,—that a large number of Jews had established themselves in the cities and towns of Galatia. The fertility of the soil, the salubrity of the climate, the position of the district, intersected as it was by the great caravan-road which connected Syria with the Ægæan—all rendered it a tempting spot for commercial enterprise. Ancyra may have been, like its modern representative, Angora, the seat of an important industry—the manufacture of cloth from the silky hair of the goat. We know that a considerable trade in textile fabrics was carried on there. Such a region would offer great attractions to the Jewish settler who is always found in the marts of the world, wherever money is made or is in demand. A monument erected by the Emperor in the temple of Augustus at Ancyra still exists, on which was recorded the grant of special privileges to the Jews, who must have formed in number and influence a considerable element in the population of that city.

Such being the principal constituents of the Galatian people, we have to consider the aspect which it presented to the Christian Apostle as a field of missionary labour. In other words, we have to find an answer to this question, Of what materials were the Churches of Galatia composed?

It is remarkable that there is nothing in the Epistle which suggests the presence of a Roman element in these churches. In Galatia, as in Jerusalem, there were doubtless to be found not only “strangers of Rome[2]” (Acts 2:10) but Roman residents. But their individuality seems to be merged in their relation to the metropolis of the world. They were less the members of a nation than the citizens of an Empire, and if some Romans were to be found in the Churches of Galatia, their cosmopolitan character seems to have prevented any national impress being stamped by them on the Christian community.

[2] “Sojourners from Rome.” R. V.

With the other four nationalities which made up the population of Galatia the case is very different. Though we may not be able always clearly to distinguish between the Phrygian and Gallic elements in the Galatian Churches and the allusions to them in the Epistle, yet both existed and both are occasionally brought into marked prominence. The worship of Cybele and Dionysus, with its orgiastic rites and ‘hideous mutilations’ must have been the expression of the popular temperament, whether it had its origin in the country or was adopted and perpetuated there. And the danger of converts regarding such abominations with tolerance, and even of relapsing under the influence of habit and early association, must have been as great as that to which the converts from heathenism in our own day are exposed. Hence we find St Paul including in a list of the works of the flesh, “idolatry, witchcraft, drunkennesses, revellings[3]”. The two latter sins are indeed contained in a similar enumeration in the Epistle to the Romans[4]. But we must remember that every form of foreign religion found a welcome and a home in Rome. The allusion in ch. Galatians 5:12 is doubtful; but if the view taken by most commentators is correct, the reference must be to the practice of the priests of Cybele, and will justify the inference that the worship of the goddess with its foul concomitants was still maintained in Galatia.

[3] ch. Galatians 5:19.

[4] Romans 13:13.

The presence of the Gaulish element in the population and Churches of Galatia is more distinctly recognised in the Epistle. The abrupt remonstrance with which the Apostle follows up his brief exordium points to that restless, impulsive fickleness[5] which has been noticed by Cæsar and Tacitus as a common feature in the character of the Gallic tribes. The eagerness with which they embraced Christianity[6]; the enthusiastic welcome given to St Paul on his first visit; the jealous partisanship, to which perhaps the only parallel in the Apostolic Church manifested itself at Corinth; the susceptibility to personal influence; the readiness to run after any new teacher, to adopt any new doctrine on the score not of its truth but its novelty—these are characteristics of the Gallic race, depicted by ancient heathen writers, and illustrated by many passages in the Epistle before us. Comparing this letter with that to the Romans, while the doctrine taught is the same, and the subject treated of remarkably similar, we feel that the persons addressed are quite dissimilar, and if the absence of national features (noticed above) is conspicuous in the Roman Epistle, no less striking is the recognition of such features in the Galatian Church—a recognition wholly inartificial and undesigned, and which stamps the Epistle with the clearest mark of authenticity.

[5] ch. Galatians 1:6, see note.

[6] ch. Galatians 4:13-15.

If the presence of a Greek element in the Galatian Churches is less sharply defined, yet from the fact that the vehicle employed by St Paul for communicating his thoughts was the Greek language, it is reasonable to conclude that it was a language ‘understanded’ of the people, even if not generally spoken by them. There is nothing however in the Epistle itself to indicate the presence in Galatia of a large number of Greeks of pure blood—indeed they were probably less numerous here than on the western shores of Asia Minor.

But the most prominent among the nationalities which St Paul encountered when he first visited Galatia was the Jewish. Doubtless here, as elsewhere, he commenced his work as a Christian Missionary in the local synagogue, to which, as a Jew, he found ready admission. That which had been the centre of his Divine Master’s labours was the centre of his own and of the labours of his fellow Apostles. But the circle was enlarged with an ever increasing radius. Our Lord declared that He in His own ministry was ‘not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel;’ and when the Apostles went forth to preach the Gospel to every creature, not only did they begin at Jerusalem, but they everywhere followed the same law, offering the good tidings ‘to the Jew first’. In Galatia, as at Philippi and Thessalonica, St Paul’s first converts would probably be Jews, and Jews must have formed a large and important element in the Churches of Galatia. If in his controversy with them he constantly appealed to the authority of their own Scriptures[7], the Gentile enquirers could not fail to be impressed with the high value which the Apostle set upon the Old Testament, as God’s revelation, and to become familiarised with those portions of it by which he confirmed his message. In this way we can understand how we not only meet with numerous references to and quotations from the Old Testament in this Epistle, but how the Mosaic Scriptures are interwoven with the whole texture of the Apostle’s argument. Were it possible to unravel and draw out those Jewish threads, the fabric would be destroyed.

[7] Acts 17:2-4.

These considerations, while serving to elucidate the Epistle, may confirm our belief of its genuineness as a letter addressed by a man such as we know from independent sources St Paul to have been, to Churches constituted as we know that those of Galatia were constituted.

II. St Paul’s Visits to Galatia

The earliest mention of Galatia in the New Testament occurs in Acts 16:6. After the conference at Antioch, recorded in the xvth chapter, Paul, accompanied by Silas, started on his second missionary journey. He ‘went through Syria and Cilicia,’ ‘and came also to Derbe and to Lystra.’ Here they were joined by Timotheus, ‘and they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in (proconsular) Asia.’ From a comparison of this passage with the account of St Paul’s second visit (Acts 18:23), we might infer that he went to Phrygia first on this occasion and then to Galatia, whereas the direction of his route was reversed on the second occasion. But it is possible that St Luke uses the expression, ‘the region of Phrygia and Galatia,’ to denote a tract of country, not very accurately defined, which embraced portions of both the districts of Galatia and of Phrygia. The notice of this visit is cursory and meagre. The inspired historian is silent as to the circumstances under which St Paul became personally known to the Galatians, the nature of his missionary work, and the duration of his stay among them. From the Epistle we obtain little additional information on these points, but that little is important. It would seem that the Apostle had no intention of stopping on his journey through Galatia to the Western provinces of the peninsula. But while the Holy Ghost forbade him and his companions to speak the word in Asia, God by His providence rendered it necessary for him to linger awhile in Galatia. An attack of bodily illness, of which we have no particulars, arrested his further progress. But though too ill to pursue his journey, his heart was enlarged and his mouth was open. He could not travel, but he could preach. We know not whether Christianity had already found its way to Galatia. Intersected by the great high road from the East to Europe, it may have been visited by some of those who were converted on the Day of Pentecost, and the good seed of the Kingdom may have been dropped and sprung up and borne fruit. But even were this the case, the Galatian Christians were a small band in need of instruction and confirmation in the faith. When St Paul proclaimed the Gospel in all its fulness and purity as a Gospel of grace, mercy and peace, bringing pardon to the guilty and salvation to the lost, he was enthusiastically welcomed. So far from being repelled by the condition of weakness and disease in which the herald of the Gospel appeared among them, the Galatian converts in the fervour of their new faith received him ‘as an Angel of God, even as Jesus Christ.’ As he set forth among them Christ crucified, they realised the blessedness which comes to the sinner by faith, and with hearts full of gratitude to the instrument of their conversion would have plucked out their eyes and have given them to him. When the Apostle left them they were running well the Christian race. Three short years had not passed when a change had come over the Galatian Christians. Eagerly as they embraced the Gospel, so quickly were they prepared to abandon it for that which, if it could be called a Gospel, was a different one from that which they had received. The Jewish leaven acting on the fickle temperament of the Gallic race had corrupted the simplicity of their faith.

It seems from some expressions in this Epistle that this defection had commenced at the time of St Paul’s second visit to Galatia[8], which took place on his third great missionary journey. St Luke’s mention of this visit is limited to a notice of the fact that after spending some time at Antioch ‘he departed, and went through the region of Galatia and Phrygia in order, confirming all the disciples.’ From this statement we are warranted in concluding that the seed sown by St Paul on his first visit had sprung up with unexampled rapidity, and had not only produced the full corn in the ear, but sheaves of grain. Individual converts had multiplied, and had been gathered into Christian congregations—‘the churches of Galatia’.

[8] See note on ch. Galatians 4:16.

III. The date, occasion, and subject of the Epistle

(a) Though we cannot prove with precision the time at which the Epistle was written, yet certain limits can be assigned within which the date of its composition must be placed. The allusion to the Apostolic Council (ch. Galatians 2:1) shews that it must have been written after that event, which occurred a.d. 50; and the reference to St Paul’s first or former visit (c. Galatians 4:13 see note) points to a yet later date, a.d. 54 or 55; for the expression implies that a second visit had been paid when St Paul wrote.

It is argued with great probability that this Epistle was written about the same time as those to the Corinthians and Romans. From two allusions ‘which otherwise it is difficult to account for[9],’ it may be inferred (in the absence of direct proof) that the Epistle to the Galatians followed the 2nd Epistle to the Corinthians at a very short interval; while the striking resemblance not only in words, phrases, and quotations, but in trains of thought and argument, between Galatians and Romans points to the conclusion that the two Epistles were written consecutively, while the Apostle’s circumstances were the same and his thoughts flowing in the same channel.

[9] Bp. Lightfoot, p. 53.

It may be convenient to notice these coincidences separately: (a) The Second Epistle to the Corinthians contains directions for the treatment of the incestuous person—a plea for his forgiveness and restoration. In our Epistle (ch. Galatians 6:1) we read, ‘Brethren, even if a man be overtaken in any transgression, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness.’ This exhortation, introduced without preface or connexion with the context, is just what might have been expected if St Paul wrote while the case of the Corinthian offender was fresh in his mind. And the tenderness of his tone here is in deepest harmony with the reason he assigns there for leniency, ‘lest such an one be swallowed up by over-much sorrow[10].’

[10] 2 Corinthians 2:7.

(b) Again, in ch. Galatians 6:7 foll. we have an exhortation to liberality abruptly introduced with the words, ‘Be not deceived; God is not mocked.’ Now we learn from 1 Corinthians 16:1, that St Paul had sent directions to the Churches of Galatia respecting contributions for the relief of the poor saints in Jerusalem. He had kept up communication by messengers with the Galatian converts during the time which had elapsed since his last visit, and it would seem that he had heard of their want of liberality, as well as of their departure from the simplicity and purity of the faith. How natural is the rebuke, when the circumstances which provoked it are thus explained! Such circumstances, coincidental rather than accidental, corroborate the view which has been adopted of the close connexion of the Epistles in order of time[11].

[11] For further instances see ‘Epistle to the Romans’ in this Series, by the Rev. H. C. G. Moule, Appendix K., p. 267.

(c) Many commentators have collected the parallel passages[12] which occur in the Epistles to the Galatians and Romans, and to these the student is referred, as well-nigh forcing on the mind the conclusion that the latter Epistle was composed very shortly after that to the Galatians of which it is the outgrowth and expansion. The brief, though pregnant, statement of doctrine which arises in the one case out of the condition of epistolary correspondence is developed in the later letter into a treatise so full as to be well-nigh exhaustive. But it is not so much by a comparison of detached passages—striking as is the resemblance (in many cases the identity) of expression—as by a careful study of the subject-matter of the two Epistles, that we are led (in the absence of direct historical evidence), to place the date of the Epistle to the Romans as the latest limit, subsequently to which the letter to the Galatians could not have been written. Now the time at which the Epistle to the Romans was written can be fixed with certainty, viz. early in a.d. 58, during the fourth year of the emperor Nero. And we may therefore assign the year a.d. 57 as the date of the Epistle to the Galatians[13].

[12] See Bp. Lightfoot, pp. 44–47; ‘Romans’ by Rev. H. C. G. Moule, pp. 29, 30, where the passages are ‘arranged under doctrinal heads.’

[13] In determining the date of the Epistle no allusion has been made to the expression “so soon” in ch. Galatians 1:6. Great stress has been laid on this by some editors. But its importance disappears if the view taken in the note on the passage is correct—that the adverb which is rendered ‘soon’ here, as in 2 Thessalonians 2:2, is not a particle of time, but is equivalent to ‘readily, hastily, or rashly.’

(d) The place at which it was written cannot be assigned with certainty. The subscription in the A. V., acording to which it was ‘written from Rome,’ rests on no early MS. authority, and is certainly wrong. We know that after his second visit to Galatia St Paul went to Ephesus, and there abode for the space of two years (Acts 19:1; Acts 19:10), i.e. from a.d. 54 to 56 or 57. Here he would readily receive tidings of the Churches of Galatia, and from Ephesus most probably he addressed his Epistle to them. This is the view of Dean Alford, Dr Schaff and others. From Ephesus, however, he went by Macedonia to Corinth, and it is quite possible that the letter may have been sent from Corinth, where he spent part of the winter of a.d. 57–58. This finds favour with Conybeare and Howson (ii. p. 136), and was held by Grotius. Or we may adopt the conclusion arrived at by Bp. Lightfoot after a careful consideration of all the probabilities—they amount to no more than probabilities—of the case, and suppose it to have been written ‘on the journey between Macedonia and Achaia.’ The question is one on which it is impossible to pronounce with certainty, and, whatever interest may attach to it, is one of minor importance.

(2) Our Lord declared that He came not to destroy the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfil them[14]; and the Gospel preached by Himself and His Apostles was in perfect agreement with the older Revelation, of which it was the spiritual explication. Every Jew who was ‘instructed unto[15] the kingdom of heaven’ recognised this truth, and accepted the Apostolic teaching, not as an addition to, much less as opposed to, the teaching of Moses and the prophets, but as its development and accomplishment. Hence, as regards those Jews who embraced Christianity, we find no trace in the New Testament of any call to leave the Church of their fathers or to abandon the ritual imposed on them by God Himself[16]. But the case of the Gentile converts was different. The Mosaic law had not been given to them, and they were under no obligation to comply with its precepts. Such compliance in itself might be harmless, but it formed no part of that new Covenant into which they entered at their Baptism—a new covenant as contrasted with the Mosaic, but really the same covenant which God made with Abraham, a covenant in which all nations were to be blessed, and which the Law ‘which came four hundred and thirty years after’ could not disannul. And if conformity to the ceremonial law was made binding on them as a condition of salvation, it could only mean that faith in the Lord Jesus Christ was not sufficient, and so virtually that human merit must be added to the efficacy of Christ’s death to make it complete as a satisfaction for human sin.

[14] Matthew 5:17.

[15] Matthew 13:52. ‘Made a disciple to.’ R. V.

[16] In Acts 6:7 we read, that ‘a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith,’ but neither here nor elsewhere is any hint given that they were required to discontinue their priestly functions or to cease from executing their office before God in the order of their course. It was not until this became no longer possible, when the Temple was destroyed and God by His Providence dispensed with obedience to the Law by making obedience impossible—then and not till then was the obligation relaxed by the same authority (though not by the same means) by which it had been imposed.

Now it was not unnatural that this recognised difference between the position of the Jewish and Gentile converts should have caused a feeling of jealousy in the minds of such of the former as did not understand the spiritual unity which existed under the apparent diversity. Zeal for the letter of the Old Testament Scriptures, national prejudice and religious exclusiveness, the fact that the Apostles were Jews—one ‘a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee’—that they always appealed to the Old Testament as the inspired and final authority in matters of religion, nay that these Apostles themselves did in certain instances sanction the compliance of Gentiles with the requirements of the ceremonial law—all these things would combine to produce the demand on the part of Jewish converts that their Gentile brethren must conform to the Mosaic ceremonial law, and in fact become proselytes as a condition of becoming Christians.

This ‘zeal[17]’ which had manifested itself in Judæa[18] and afterwards at Antioch was quite independent of local influences. It made its appearance wherever there was a considerable Jewish element in an infant Church, and soon began to show itself in the Churches of Galatia. Here its error found a congenial soil in which to strike root and spread. The impulsiveness of the Gaul led him to accept without consideration the latest dogma, if only it was propounded loudly and in a tone of authority; and while many were drifting without compunction from the truth on which their souls had anchored under the pilotage of the Apostles, the faith of the Church itself was in danger of being fatally corrupted.

[17] Compare St Paul’s language in reference to this feeling, ch. Galatians 4:17.

[18] Acts 15:1 foll.

The Judaizing party in Galatia felt that one obstacle stood in the way of the success at which they aimed—the personal authority and influence of St Paul. The founder of the Christian communities of Galatia had at his second visit repeated the clear and explicit proclamation of salvation by faith in Christ apart from the works of the law, and he had probably continued by messages to shew his interest in their spiritual welfare and to be a helper of their faith. Hence the Judaizers sought to weaken his influence by disparaging his authority. They denied his Apostolic call. He was not one of the Twelve, and might be supposed to have learned the doctrines which he taught, and even to have derived his commission from those who were the personal companions of the Lord Jesus. If therefore the truth of the Gospel were in question, the appeal would lie to Peter and James and John, who were of reputation as pillars of the Church. But not content with thus directly impugning St Paul’s authority, the Judaizing party insinuated that his own conduct was inconsistent with his teaching. Had he not circumcised Timothy at Lystra ‘because of the Jews that were in those parts[19]?’ Had he not in compliance with the advice, if not in obedience to the direction of James paid the expenses of four men which had a vow on them[20]? And was not this a recognition of the ceremonial law? Such insinuations were easily made; and while not denying the facts alleged, St Paul was prepared with an answer to the conclusions which his opponents drew from them. He devotes the first division of his Epistle to the vindication of his Apostolic authority against those who denied his Divine Commission and those who disparaged his teaching on the score of personal inconsistency[21]. But this vindication of himself was only preliminary to the re-assertion and complete vindication of the doctrine which he taught. He knew that the real point at issue between him and his opponents was not whether the rite of circumcision was or was not imperative on Gentile converts. He did not mistake the symptom for the disease, or lose sight of the great fundamental principle of the Gospel, while considering its application to a particular case.

[19] Acts 16:3.

[20] Acts 21:20-26. The vow was that of the Nazarite (Numbers 6), and the ‘charges’ incurred were for the sacrifices (v. 14) which had to be offered. These charges were often defrayed by rich Jews on behalf of their poorer brethren.

[21] It is interesting to contrast St Paul’s elaborate assertion and proof of his authority with the tone of conscious Deity which pervades the Great Master’s discourses. ‘He spake as one having authority.’

Nothing less was at stake than the ‘truth of the Gospel’ (Galatians 2:5). The question of questions, rising up from the heart of man from the Fall onwards—the question which implies that God is a righteous lawgiver and judge, and that man is a conscious sinner—finding expression in the Old Testament in the words, ‘How can man be just with God?’ and in the New Tesment, ‘What must I do to be saved?’ has its answer complete, certain, universal, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.’ This answer, though more definite as regards the object was in principle the same in every age. In Patriarchal days, ‘Abraham believed the Lord, and He counted it to him for righteousness.’ Under the Law it was declared that ‘The just shall live by faith.’ The Law did not disannul the earlier covenant. It was added because of transgressions to pave the way for the revelation of Jesus Christ—the seed to whom the promise had been made. In Christ all external distinctions, whether of race or sex or social condition, disappear, and they who are Christ’s are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

This assertion of the great doctrine (which Luther declared to be the test of a standing or a falling Church), that man is justified by faith apart from the works of the Law, has always been liable to abuse. Indeed, while some have inferred from it that the profession of a correct creed exempts a man from the obligation of the moral law, some men of saintly spirit, longing for deliverance from sin and earnestly striving after holiness, have hesitated to accept a Gospel which makes faith alone the condition of acceptance with God. Hence the Apostle concludes his letter with practical exhortations which shew the absolute necessity of good works, not as antecedent to, but as the fruit of faith. That which he commanded Titus to affirm confidently, he confidently affirmed himself, ‘that they which have believed God may be careful to maintain good works[22].’

[22] Titus 3:8; comp. Galatians 2:11-14.

A brief analysis of the contents of the Epistle will serve to illustrate the foregoing general remarks. The train of thought and argument cannot always be traced with certainty. The style is rugged and abrupt, reflecting the strong emotion under which St Paul wrote. An attempt has been made in the notes to elucidate the connexion when it is obscure. Such obscurity does not affect the scope of the reasoning or the force of the appeals.

The Epistle lends itself to a threefold division, each section consisting of two chapters. The first of these sections is personal and in part narrative, and contains a vindication of St Paul’s apostolic commission and authority. These established, the writer proceeds in the second section, which is doctrinal and argumentative, to deal with the main subject of the Epistle—the doctrine of justification by faith. Having thus laid a broad and strong foundation of Christian ethics, he devotes the third section, which is mainly hortatory, to the inculcation of those duties in which the Galatian converts were lacking and cautions against dangers to which they were especially exposed. The concluding verses of this section catch their tone from all that is gone before. The writer re-asserts his authority, re-states his doctrine, and reinforces his practical admonitions.

analysis of the contents of the epistle.

Chapters 1, 2. (First Section.) The assertion of St Paul’s Apostolical authority.

Galatians 1:1-5.  Introduction. Salutation and ascription of praise.

  Galatians 1:6-10.  The subject and occasion of the Epistle.

  Galatians 1:11-24.  The Divine Commission and Apostolical authority of St Paul. A statement of his claims, followed by a sketch of his life.

Galatians 2:1-10.  St Paul’s visit to Jerusalem.

  Galatians 2:11-21.  Visit to Antioch and Contention with St Peter.

Chapters 3, 4. (Second Section.) The doctrine of Justification by Faith discussed and illustrated.

Galatians 3:1-9.  Justification by faith, the Dispensation of the Spirit.

  Galatians 3:6-9.  Exemplified by the case of Abraham.

  Galatians 3:10-14.  The Curse of the Law. No deliverance except by Faith.

  Galatians 3:15-18.  The Gospel a Covenant of Promise; to which

  Galatians 3:19-29.  The Law was at once subordinate and preparatory. The purpose and use of the Law in relation to the Justification of the sinner.

4.  Continuation of the Argument.

  Galatians 4:1-7.  The Law a necessary preparation for the Gospel. Sonship through Redemption, attested by the Spirit.

  Galatians 4:8-11.  Danger of going back to the observance of the Legal Ceremonial.

  Galatians 4:12-20.  Personal appeal.

  Galatians 4:21-31.  The Allegory of the two Covenants, pointing to Liberty only in Christ.

Chapters 5, 6. (Third Section.) Practical Exhortations based on the preceding Doctrinal Teaching.

Galatians 5:1-12.  Exhortation to stand fast in the liberty of the Gospel.

  Galatians 5:13-15.  Liberty must not be abused.

  Galatians 5:16-26.  The spiritual life of Liberty inconsistent with the indulgence of the works of the Flesh.

Galatians 6:1-10.  Exhortations to bear with an erring brother; to cultivate humility; to exercise liberality.

  Galatians 6:11-18.  Autograph conclusion. Summary of the Epistle and Benediction.

It is evident from the circumstances of the case that St Paul, while addressing all the professing Christians of Galatia, had specially in his thoughts the Gentile converts. They were called upon by the Judaizers to submit to circumcision and to keep the law of Moses. To them therefore, in the present instance rather than to the Jewish believers, must an appeal be made to stand fast in the truth of the Gospel. This will serve to explain the expression in ch. Galatians 4:8, ‘When ye knew not God, ye did service to them which by nature are no gods.’ But the frequent quotations from the Old Testament and the conclusive reference to its authority clearly recognise the presence of a numerous and influential Jewish element in the Churches of Galatia.

IV. The Authorship and Canonicity of the Epistle

The title of the Epistle in the earliest MSS. is ‘To the Galatians,’ without any mention of the name of the writer. That St Paul was the author of it has been held by the general consent of the Church, and admitted even by the most destructive of modern critics. This conclusion has been based on internal rather than on historic evidence. Even if no other writing of the great Apostle had survived, and such notices of his personal history as are preserved in St Luke’s narrative had perished, any intelligent and unprejudiced reader would have recognised the Epistle as the original and genuine production of a man named Paul. Every line bears the impress of truthfulness. The whole style and tone of the letter, no less than particular passages and turns of expression, rebut the suggestion of forgery. And when the Epistle is compared with the other writings attributed to St Paul, and with the independent account contained in the Acts of the Apostles, the conviction is well-nigh irresistible, that we have here an authentic letter written by St Paul to his Galatian converts. This conviction is strengthened, as we trace the suitability of the Epistle to what we know from independent sources of the character and circumstances of the persons addressed.

It is, however, noteworthy that while the internal evidence is thus exceptionally strong, the notices of the Epistle in early Christian writers are neither numerous nor direct—indeed, out of some half-dozen supposed references in the Apostolical Fathers, not more than two can be cited as altogether free from uncertainty. In the Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians, c. 3, we meet with this expression, ‘Builded up unto the faith given you, which is the mother of us all.’ Comp. Galatians 4:26; and in c. v., ‘Knowing then that God is not mocked,’ &c. Comp. Galatians 6:7.

Justin Martyr (a.d. 150) in his Dialogue with Trypho, ch. xcv., xcvi., after declaring that ‘every race of man will be found under a curse’ (comp. Galatians 3:10), quotes the two passages from Deuteronomy[23] which are quoted by St Paul, in such a way as to shew that he had a knowledge of this Epistle. In his first Apology, ch. liii, he makes the same use of Isaiah 54:1, ‘Rejoice, thou barren, that bearest not,’ &c., which St Paul makes of it (comp. Galatians 4:27).

[23] Deuteronomy 27:26; Deuteronomy 21:23.

Athenagoras (a.d. 176) employs this remarkable expression, ‘The weak and beggarly elements’ (Embassy, ch. xvi.), which he has evidently borrowed from Galatians 4:9.

Several references to this Epistle are met with in the extracts from the writings of Gnostics and other heretics of the second century which have come down to us in various Apologies.

‘The Epistle to the Galatians’ is found in all the known Canons of Scripture proceeding from the Catholic Church in the second century. It is contained in the Syriac and Old Latin versions, completed, it would appear, early in the century. It is distinctly recognised also in the Canon of the Muratorian Fragment (probably not later than 170 a.d.)[24].’ From the end of the second century onwards the Epistle is referred to by name and commented on as the undoubted work of St Paul, and of canonical authority.

[24] Bp Lightfoot, p. 58.

Among the numerous commentaries on the Galatians three may be named, representing three eras of the Church’s history, and while differing widely from one another, yet each marked by a high degree of excellence and usefulness. Theodore, bishop of Mopsuestia, early in the fifth century, Luther in the sixteenth, Lightfoot in the nineteenth, have each in different ways contributed important aid to the right understanding of the Apostle’s argument, and the elucidation of his train of thought. Of the merits and the defects of Theodore as a commentator a careful and judicious analysis is given in Dr Swete’s edition (pp. lxv.–lxxi.), ‘He is unwearied in his efforts to grasp the precise meaning of words and phrases.’ But at the same time ‘his interest in the language is professedly subordinate to his interest in the thought which it enshrines. He is never weary of pointing out to the reader the undercurrent of close reasoning which pervades St Paul’s letters.’ ‘He is practical as well as critical.’ ‘Theology in his eyes is paramount; and if he pays close attention to grammar and sequence, this is for the sake of the theological truths which he believes himself thus better able to elicit.’ In marked contrast to this description stands the work of the great German reformer. The cardinal truth of justification by faith was, in Luther’s estimation, the keystone of the whole Gospel edifice. He had found the doctrine ‘very full of comfort.’ It had saved him from despair. And he devoted his life henceforth to the task of asserting it in opposition to the current teaching of the day, ‘He chose this Epistle as his most efficient engine in overthrowing the mass of errors which time had piled on the simple foundations of the Gospel.’ Such was his love for it that he termed it, ‘my own Epistle.’ Hence, his Commentary, though polemical in tone, is really rather a diffused and exhaustive paraphrase, or a series of short expositions, than what is understood by a commentary. He takes occasion from St Paul’s words to assert and re-assert, to place in varied light and under many aspects, and so to enforce the central truth alike of Pauline theology and of the Gospel revelation,—that man is justified by faith in Jesus Christ apart from the works of the Law, and therefore in no degree by his own works or deservings. Profoundly convinced of the vital importance of this doctrine, he catches the fire which flashes forth from the impassioned sentences of the Apostle—and while ruthlessly exposing and condemning error, he proclaims liberty and salvation to troubled consciences and sin-wearied souls.

Of the work of the late lamented Bishop of Durham it is enough to say that it stands unrivalled in every quality that goes to constitute a commentary for the use of scholars and the more advanced students of Holy Scripture. Learning, candour, judgment, lucidity of expression, deep piety and sympathy with the inspired writer—these are its characteristics. They are a measure of the loss which the Church of Christ has sustained, as of the debt she owes to the deceased prelate.



St Paul’s Visit to Arabia

It may be well to consider this incident under the three heads indicated in the note to ch. Galatians 1:17. The notices are slight, and though insufficient to enable us to construct a narrative of the events with definiteness or with certainty, supply material for a probable and consistent account of them.

(1) The locality. The term Arabia has been taken by some commentators in its widest signification, as extending from the Sinaitic peninsula on the south to the neighbourhood of Damascus on the north; and expressions in Justin Martyr (Dial. c. Tryph. p. 305, A.) and Tertullian (Adv. Jud. c. 9; Adv. Marc. iii. 13) are adduced in support of this view. It is argued from the silence of St Luke (Acts 9:19-25) that St Paul did not withdraw to any great distance from the city, so that though he actually went into Arabia for a time—how long, is not stated—he is regarded by the narrator as still at Damascus. The objections to this view are concisely stated by Bp Lightfoot. “It gives to ‘Arabia’ an extension, which at all events seems not to have been common, and which even the passage of Justin shews to have required some sort of justification. It separates the Arabia of the first chapters from the Arabia of the fourth. And lastly, it deprives this visit of a significance which, on a more probable hypothesis, it possesses in relation to this crisis of St Paul’s life.” By ‘Arabia’ then we understand (as in ch. Galatians 4:25) the Sinaitic peninsula.

(2) The object. Of this two accounts are given. Patristic commentators suppose that St Paul went into Arabia, as the Apostle of the Gentiles, to commence his great missionary work. No doubt ‘Arabians’ were among those who were present at the great Pentecostal miracle (Acts 2:11), and it may have been for the purpose of expounding unto them the way of God more perfectly that this journey was undertaken. But it is not likely that so marked a commencement of his labours as a missionary to the Gentiles would have been unrecorded by St Luke, especially as he is careful to tell us that St Paul “preached Christ in the synagogues”, and “how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus” (Acts 9:20; Acts 9:27).

If however we adopt the other explanation, and regard the object of St Paul’s visit as of a private and personal nature—that he might in solitude commune with his own heart and listen to the “still small voice” of God—then we can understand why, like Elijah of old, he should have journeyed ‘unto Horeb, the mount of God’. There, on the very spot where the Law was given, he was taught the use of the Law—that “by the deeds of the Law no flesh shall be justified”; that while “the Law made nothing perfect”, there was brought in “a better hope”; that “though the Law worketh wrath”, “Christ hath redeemed us from the Curse of the Law, being made a Curse for us.”

(3) The time. We do not know at what period of the ‘three years’ the journey was made, nor how long St Paul’s sojourn in Arabia continued. St Luke’s language is somewhat vague, but not at all inconsistent with the view here adopted. It is possible that after essaying to preach to the Jews in Damascus ‘the faith which once he destroyed’, St Paul found it needful to seek fresh supplies of grace and strength for a work so difficult and so discouraging. He may have heard his Master’s call, bidding him ‘come apart into a desert place, and rest awhile’. His stay in Horeb may have lasted, like that of Moses, for forty days and forty nights—the period of time spent by Elijah in his journey from Beer-sheba to Horeb, and by the great Antitype in the wilderness. These are, it is true, only conjectures. But while they are not inconsistent with the narrative of the Acts, they are in full accord with what we know of the nature and the needs of man, and with the dealings of God with the objects of His love and the instruments of His purposes. We may long for certainty. But where Scripture is silent, we are sure that more accurate knowledge is not needed, because it is not vouchsafed.


The following is the summary referred to on ch. Galatians 2:11-21“We take the record in its natural, historical sense, and derive from it the following instructive lessons:—

1. The right and duty of protest against ecclesiastical authority, even the highest, when Christian truth and principle are endangered. The protest should be manly, yet respectful. Paul was no doubt severe, but yet he recognised Peter expressly as a ‘pillar’ of the Church and a brother in Christ (Galatians 1:18; Galatians 2:9). There was no personal bitterness and rudeness, as we find, alas, in the controversial writings of St Jerome (against Rufinus), St Bernard (against Abelard), Luther (against Erasmus and Zwingli), Bossuet (against Fénélon), and other great divines.

2. The duty to subordinate expediency to principle, the favour of man to the truth of God. Paul himself recommended and practised charity to the weak; but here a fundamental right, the freedom in Christ, was at stake, which Peter compromised by his conduct, after he himself had manfully stood up for the true principle at the Council of Jerusalem, and for the liberal practice at Antioch before the arrival of the Judaizers.

3. The moral imperfection of the Apostles. They remained even after the Pentecostal illumination frail human beings, carrying the heavenly treasure in earthen vessels, and stood in daily need of forgiveness (2 Corinthians 4:7; Php 3:12; James 3:2; 1 John 1:8; 1 John 2:2). The weakness of Peter is here recorded, as his greater sin of denying his Lord is recorded in the Gospels, both for the warning and for the comfort of believers. If the chief of the Apostles was led astray, how much more should ordinary Christians be on their guard against temptation! But if Peter found remission, we may confidently expect the same on the same condition of hearty repentance. ‘The dissension—if dissension it could be called—between the two great Apostles will shock those only who, in defiance of all Scripture, persist in regarding the Apostles as specimens of supernatural perfection.’ (Farrar, Life and Work of St Paul, i. 444.)

4. The collision does not justify any unfavourable conclusion against the inspiration of the Apostles and the infallibility of their teaching. For Paul charges his colleague with hypocrisy or dissimulation, that is, with acting against his own better conviction. We have here a fault of conduct, a temporary inconsistency, not a permanent error of doctrine. A man may know and teach the truth, and yet go astray occasionally in practice. Peter had the right view of the relation of the gospel to the Gentiles ever since the conversion of Cornelius; he openly defended it at the Apostolic Council (Acts 15:7; comp. Galatians 2:1-9), and never renounced it in theory; on the contrary, his own Epistles agree fully with those of Paul, and are in part addressed to the same Galatians with a view to confirm them in their Pauline faith; but he suffered himself to be influenced by some scrupulous and contracted Jewish Christians from Jerusalem. By trying to please one party he offended the other, and endangered for a moment the sound doctrine itself.

5. The inconsistency here rebuked quite agrees with Peter’s character as it appears in the Gospels. The same impulsiveness and inconsistency of temper, the same mixture of boldness and timidity, made him the first to confess, and the first to deny Christ, the strongest and the weakest among the Twelve. He refused that Christ should wash his feet, and then by a sudden change he wished not his feet only, but his hands and head to be washed; he cut off the ear of Malchus, and in a few minutes afterwards he forsook his Master and fled; he solemnly promised to be faithful to Him, though all should forsake Him, and yet in the same night he denied Him thrice.

6. It should be remembered, however, on the other hand, first, that the question concerning the significance of the Mosaic law, and especially of the propriety of eating meat offered to idols, was a very difficult one, and continued to be agitated in the Apostolic Church (cf. 1 Corinthians 8-10; Romans 14). The decree of the Council at Jerusalem (Acts 15:20; Acts 15:29), after all, stated simply the duties of the Gentile converts, strictly prohibiting them the use of meat offered to idols, but it said nothing on the duties of the Jewish Christians to the former, thus leaving some room for a milder and stricter view on the subject. We should also remember that the temptation on the occasion referred to was very great, since even Barnabas, the Gentile missionary, was overcome by it.

7. Much as we may deplore and censure the weakness of Peter and admire the boldness and consistency of Paul, the humility and meekness with which Peter, the oldest and most eminent of the twelve Apostles, seems to have borne the public rebuke of a younger colleague, are deserving of high praise. How touching is his subsequent allusion in 2 Peter 3:15-16, which is addressed to the Galatians among others, to the very Epistles of his ‘beloved brother Paul,’ in one of which his own conduct is so sharply condemned. This required a rare degree of Divine grace, which did its full work in him through much suffering and humiliation, as the humble, meek, gentle, and graceful spirit of his Epistles abundantly prove.

8. The conduct of Paul supplies a conclusive argument in favour of the equality of the Apostles and against the papal view of the supremacy of Peter. No pope would or could allow any Catholic bishop or archbishop to call him to an account and to talk to him in that style of manly independence. The conduct of Peter is also fatal to the claim of papal infallibility, as far as morals or discipline is concerned; for Peter acted here officially with all the power of his Apostolic example, and however correct in doctrine, he erred very seriously in practice, and endangered the great principle of Christian freedom, as the popes have done ever since. No wonder that the story was offensive to some of the Fathers and Roman commentators and gave rise to most unnatural explanations.

We may add that the account of the Council in Jerusalem in Acts 15 likewise contradicts the Vatican system, which would have required a reference of the great controversy on circumcision to the Apostle Peter rather than to a council under the presidency of James.

9. The Apostolic Church is typical, and foreshadows the whole course of the history of Christendom. Peter, Paul and John represent as many ages and phases of the Church. Peter is the rock of Catholicism, Paul the rock of evangelical Protestantism. Their temporary collision at Antioch anticipates the world-historical antagonism of Romanism and Protestantism, which continues to this day. It is an antagonism between legal bondage and evangelical freedom, between Judaizing conservatism and Christian progress. Let us hope also for a future reconciliation in the ideal Church of harmony and peace which is symbolized by John, the bosom friend of Christ, the seer of the heavenly Jerusalem.

Paul and Peter, as far as we know from the New Testament, never met again after this scene in Antioch. But ecclesiastical tradition reports that they were tried and condemned together in Rome, and executed on the some day (the 29th of June), Peter, the Galilæan disciple, on the hill of the Janiculum, where he was crucified; Paul, the Roman citizen, on the Ostian road at the Tre Fontane, where he was beheaded. Their martyr blood thus mingled is still a fountain of life to the Church of God.”—Abridged from Dr Schaff’s Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians.


Note on Ch. Galatians 2:16The Revised Version renders, ‘knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, save through faith in Jesus Christ’, giving in the margin ‘but only’, as an alternative of ‘save’. Alford translates ‘except’. Though a full discussion of the use of the Greek particles here employed is beyond the scope of this work, yet the question involved is of such momentous issues, that the correct rendering of the passage must be not only stated, but maintained. Two particles, of which the literal English equivalent is ‘if not’, occur in combination about 150 times in the New Testament. In the large majority of passages in which they are found, there can be on difference of opinion as to their force or proper translation, viz. ‘if not’, ‘unless’, ‘except’, In a few passages, however, it is impossible to adopt one of these renderings without sacrificing either sense or truth, and reducing the statement to an absurdity. To the instance quoted in the note on ch. Galatians 1:19 (Luke 4:26-27, where the A.V. is of course wrong), may be added Matthew 12:4, and Revelation 21:27, where it is right in rendering ‘but only’ and ‘but’. It may be observed that the question is not whether these particles ever lose their exceptive force (see Bp Lightfoot, note on ch. Galatians 1:19, and Prof. Scholefield, Preface to 3rd edition of Sermons on Justification by Faith, pp. 35–37). Nor again is it here necessary to explain the refinements of Greek idiom by reference to the subtleties of Greek thought. The transition from the exceptive, ‘save’, to the exclusive, ‘but only’, is in certain passages undoubted and may be logically deduced. It is clear that for the purposes of correct translation (i.e. if we would convey to an English reader the true sense of the original), we must employ ‘but’, or ‘but only’ in certain passages as the equivalent of particles which are elsewhere rendered by ‘save’ or ‘except’. It remains to determine which is the just rendering in the passage under consideration. Now, if words have any meaning, the R.V. (which is ex hypothesi a correction of the A.V.) teaches what has been termed “a mixed justification by faith and works”, the efficacy of works for justification being conditional on the addition or admixture of faith. This, however, is in direct contradiction of what immediately follows—“we believed Christ that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law”. Had the Apostle allowed works any place as a ground of the justification of a sinner, he would either have omitted the last clause or have written, “and (or, together with) the works of the law”. But this would have been to contradict his plainest assertions in another Epistle. In Romans 3:21 we read, “But now apart from law the righteousness of God has been manifested, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ, unto all and upon all them that believe”; and, v. 28, “We reckon then that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law (perhaps, works of law, i.e. acts of obedience to any law, ceremonial or moral)”. Compare Romans 4:4-6. In all these passages St Paul uses an adverb which means ‘apart from’, ‘independently of’, rather than ‘without’. The sinner is justified through faith only, apart from any works of his own. Christ’s fulfilment of the law—His perfect obedience and His atoning death—needs not and admits not any supplement on the part of the sinner to satisfy the righteousness of God. We who believe “are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by faith, and not for our own works or deservings”, Art. xi. But though “the works of the law” have absolutely no part in our justification, because the faith through which we are justified is ‘apart from’ them, yet St Paul nowhere asserts that we are justified without works. That would be sheer antinomianism. Good works are “the fruits of faith”, and “by them a lively faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by the fruit”, Art. xii. For a further illustration of St Paul’s teaching on the relation of faith and works, compare Ephesians 2:8-10, and for his doctrine of justification by faith ‘apart from’ works, Php 3:9.

It is certain then, that the true rendering is, ‘not justified by the works of the law, but (or, but only) through faith in Jesus Christ.’


On the Faith of Abraham

No one can read the Epistle to the Galatians attentively and dispassionately without being struck by the manner in which St Paul refers to the Old Testament Scriptures. It is not merely that he recognises and defers to their authority. He assumes that the Gospel of Jesus Christ was not a new Revelation, but the crowning stage in a progressive development of the Divine purposes of mercy to man, of which the germ was the promise made to Eve that her Seed should bruise the serpent’s head[31]. On the part of God this development, though continuous, was not uniform[32]. But as regards man, the terms and conditions of acceptance were the same. Death had entered into the world by sin. The promise (nay, the command) repeated all through the ages, now in words expressly, now by type and ceremonial, was one and the same, ‘Believe and live.’ There is no exception in the command, Divine as it was, ‘Do this and thou shalt live.’ Repeated by our Lord Himself[33], it was not propounded as a Gospel: but, like the Law, designed to convince of sin, and so to drive men back on the Gospel, to ‘shut them up[34]’ to accept God’s mercy on God’s own terms.

[31] See Archdeacon Perowne’s Essential Coherence of the Old and New Testaments, P. 15.

[32] God had spoken to the fathers by the prophets from Moses onwards ‘in sundry portions and in divers manners,’ Hebrews 1:1.

[33] Luke 10:28.

[34] Galatians 3:23.

But while the universality of this principle of faith is admitted, it may seem that the object, and so the quality of faith is different in the case of Abraham and others who lived under the old dispensation from that which is exercised by Christians. To the latter the command is, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.’ It might seem that to the former the object of faith was not the same. In the case of many of the heroes of faith, of whom we have a list in the eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, there is no reference to any belief in a Saviour from sin, much less to faith in Jesus Christ of Nazareth. To this objection it may be sufficient to reply that the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews is not speaking of justifying faith, but of faith generally, trust in the unseen, of which it is the text, and so to the individual the proof or conviction of things not seen. This faith was the mainspring of the religious life and action of ‘the elders[35].’ But as regards Abraham, at any rate, although the promise (Genesis 15:5) might seem to be only temporal—the promise of a posterity countless as the stars of heaven—yet ‘it contained in it the promise of Christ.’ It must be borne in mind that Abraham had already exercised faith in the word and promise of God (Genesis 12:1-4; Genesis 12:7-8; Genesis 13:14-18; Genesis 15:1). But at length a special demand is made upon his faith: God sees fit on a particular occasion and in a special form to renew to him the promise, preceded by the assurance, ‘Fear not Abraham, I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.’ And when the promise was given, the patriarch ‘believed the Lord, and He counted it to him for righteousness.’ With what degree of clearness Abraham was permitted to foresee the future Reconciler, by whom and in whom alone God is reconciled to man and man to God, we know not. But we have our Lord’s own declaration, ‘Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day; and he saw it and was glad.’ Bp. O’Brien, On the Nature, and Effects of Faith, Sermon 1. pp. 15–19.

[35] See Bp. Westcott on Hebrews 11:1 : “The writer first marks the characteristics of Faith generally (Hebrews 11:1) and its application to the elementary conceptions of religion (Hebrews 11:3, comp. Hebrews 11:6)). He then shews that the spiritual history of the world is a history of the victories of Faith. This is indicated by the fragmentary records of the old world (Hebrews 11:4-7), and more particularly by the records of the growth of the Divine Society (the Church). This was founded in the Faith of obedience and patience of the patriarchs (Hebrews 11:8-16); and built up in the Faith of sacrifice, sustained against natural judgment (Hebrews 11:17-22); and carried to victory by the Faith of conquest (Hebrews 11:23-31).… All these preliminary victories of Faith await their consummation from the Faith of Christians (Hebrews 11:39-40).”


On Chapter Galatians 3:20Of the many explanations which have been given of this passage a few of the most important may be noticed. They may be classified in three divisions, according to the supposed reference in the term Mediator:—

1. The earlier expositors understood the term Mediator in the passage before us to refer to Christ. In favour of this view it may of course be urged that in all other passages of the N. T. (see note on Galatians 3:19) where the word occurs it refers to our Lord Jesus Christ. But it no more follows that the word thus applied to our Lord so loses its primary meaning as to be appropriated exclusively to Him, than that the words ‘shepherd’ and ‘bishop’ must necessarily refer to Him in every passage where they occur, because He is ‘the Shepherd and Bishop’ of our souls. Even if the reference to Christ could be established as a simple and natural explanation of the passage, taken by itself, the connexion with the context is obscured or lost, and the force of the Apostle’s argument impaired thereby.

2. More probable is the opinion that in Galatians 3:20, as in Galatians 3:19, the Mediator is Moses. (The definite article in the Greek may lend equal support to this and to the next explanation.) This opinion, entertained by eminent commentators, both ancient and modern, is in full accord with the scope of the passage. But the reference, though suggested by, is not therefore limited to the giving of the Law. ‘The mediator,’ just spoken of (Galatians 3:19), is undoubtedly Moses, but what was true of him in that capacity is also true of every other human mediator.

3. Lastly, we may regard the first portion of the verse as laying down a general proposition. Those who hold this view adopt the rendering of the English Bible, both A.V. and R.V. alike, as correct, and understand it to express ‘the idea, the specific type,’ and to state a characteristic of the Mediator, as such. The very idea of mediation implies a transaction involving the existence of at least two parties, and mutual conditions. But the Gospel is a promise, the gift of grace. God alone is its author, and its fulfilment depends on His faithfulness—on Himself alone.

Under each of these general divisions (especially the last) a great many explanations, differing in some particulars, are found. Many of these, so far from being destructive of one another, are not inconsistent or irreconcilable with one another. The slighter differences help to illustrate and confirm the great truth which St Paul is enforcing, rather than to obscure his meaning or render it uncertain. A more detailed account of these, with the names of their principal authors, may be found in Dr Schaffe’s Commentary, Excursus, p. 38, who gives the following extract from Reuss’s French Commentary, which clearly expresses one, and perhaps the best-supported, view of the passage under consideration: “A mediator implies two contracting parties, consequently two wills, which may be united, but may also disagree; a law therefore given by mediation is conditional and imperfect: but the promise, emanating from God alone, and having His will for its sole source and guarantee, is infinitely more sure and more elevated. The law, then, cannot set aside the promise, its aim can only be secondary.”

ADDITIONAL NOTE ON CH. Galatians 2:20This verse strikes the key-note of the Epistle, and is a summary of the whole Christian revelation subjectively considered. St Paul here discloses to our view the secret of his life as a Christian and as an Apostle, the mainspring of his wonderful activity, the source and the object of the enthusiasm by which he was inspired. We know something of his life and his labours. Here he tells us how that life was lived, and why those labours were undergone. A full record of his teaching has been preserved to us. Here is a summary of it all.

A comparison of two other passages of the N. T. will serve to throw light on this verse. In Ephesians 2:4 St Paul speaks of that ‘great love wherewith God loved us, and even when we were dead in sins quickened us together with Christ’. In Revelation 1:5 St John ascribes praise ‘to Him that loveth us and released us from our sins in His own blood’. In the former of these passages, the love displayed is that of God the Father[36]. Here it is the Lord Jesus Christ who loved the Apostle. In the latter passage, the love of Christ is regarded as still exercised, unchanged, towards those who are its objects[37]. (Comp. John 13:1.) But in both passages it is the love of the Church collectively, not of the individual Christian, which is affirmed. In the verse before us St Paul appropriates this love. His language is intensely personal. ‘Who loved me’. He claims as his own the assurance made long before to the prophet Jeremiah (ch. Jeremiah 31:3), ‘I have loved thee with an everlasting love’. Of this love the proof and pledge was the great Sacrifice of the Cross. He ‘gave Himself for me’. There is no boasting here, save that which the Apostle avows when he says (Galatians 6:14) ‘God forbid that I should glory save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ’. Such boasting is the confidence of true humility, the faith which constitutes personal Christianity.

[36] This love of God is ‘in Christ Jesus our Lord’. Romans 8:39. Comp. Romans 8:35.

[37] The present tense, ‘loveth us’, has the support of the best MSS., and is adopted in the R. V.

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