Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
THE EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE GALATIANS.
The Epistle to the Galatians
THE REV. W. SANDAY, M.A. D.D.
INTRODUCTION TO THE EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE GALATIANS. I. Galatia.
THE EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE GALATIANS.
I. Galatia.—The name Galatia is used in two senses. In ordinary speech it was used to designate that portion of Asia Minor lying chiefly between the rivers Sangarius and Halys, which was inhabited by the tribe of Galatæ, or Galli. This warlike people had been invited over from Europe by Nicomedes king of Bithynia, who repaid their services by a grant of land. Issuing forth from thence, they had been for a time the terror and the scourge of Asia Minor, but they had been at last driven back and confined within the territory originally assigned to them. These events took place in the latter half of the third century B.C. Their power was broken by the Romans in B.C. 189, and though for another century and a half they retained a nominal independence, in B.C. 25 they were formally annexed to the empire of Rome.
Just before this final annexation, during the reign of the last king, Amyntas, the kingdom of Galatia had been considerably enlarged. Amyntas had ranged himself on the winning side in the great civil wars, and he had received as his reward Pisidia, Isauria, parts of Lycaonia and Phrygia, and Cilicia Trachæa. On his death the greater part of these dominions, with the exception of Cilicia Trachæa, became a single Roman province, which, for administrative purposes, was also known by the name Galatia.
To which of these two Galatias did St. Paul address his Epistle? Was it to the narrower Galatia—Galatia proper—or to the wider Galatia—the Roman province? There are some temptations to adopt the second of these views. In that case we should have a graphic account of the founding of the Galatian churches—for such they would be—in Acts 13, 14. At Antioch in Pisidia, which we are expressly told formed part of the kingdom of Amyntas, the Apostle had preached with a success which had called down violent opposition. Iconium, to which he retreated, appears not to have been given to Amyntas, and whether it formed part of the Roman province at this time is uncertain. There is, however, no doubt as to Lystra—where the two Apostles were received so enthusiastically—and Derbe. On the hypothesis that the Galatia of the Epistle is the Roman province, the scenes of this first missionary journey would be directly associated with it. On the contrary assumption, no details whatever as to the founding of the Galatian churches have come down to us.
In spite of this, and in spite of some other points in which the history may seem to be simplified by assigning to Galatia the wider signification, a balance of considerations seems to prevent us from doing so. There can be no question that St. Luke, in the Acts, wherever he speaks of Galatia, uses the word in its narrower and proper sense, and though this would not be in itself decisive as to the usage of St. Paul, still it is impossible to think that in impassioned passages like Galatians 3:1, “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you,” &c., the Apostle is using only an official title. We shall be safe in assuming that he was really writing to the descendants of the Gallic invaders, and that he addresses them by the name by which they were familiarly known.
II. The Galatians.—It does not, however, follow from what has just been said that the Christian converts were taken solely or even chiefly from the native Galatians. They did but give a name to the country; three other nationalities went to make up its population. First came the Greeks, who were so numerous as to give to their adopted home the second name of Gallogræcia. Then, beneath the upper layer of conquering Galatians, there lay a large substratum of the older inhabitants, the conquered Phrygians; and by the side of both—brought partly by colonisation and partly by purposes of trade—were considerable numbers of Jews. Of the disturbing presence of this latter element the Epistle itself gives us ample evidence.
Still, the predominant body, and that which gave its most distinctive characteristics to the Church, were the genuine Galatians themselves. A question similar to that as to the boundaries of Galatia has been raised in regard to these. To what race did they belong? A large section of the ablest German commentators until quite recently were disposed to claim them as Teutons, the main ground for this being that Jerome, in the fourth century, observed a resemblance between the language spoken in Galatia and that of the Treveri, who bequeathed their name to the modern district of Treves, and who are said to have been German. This point, however, is itself perhaps more than doubtful, and as to the Galatæ there is abundant evidence, besides their name, to show that they were Celts, and not Teutons. This was the universal opinion of antiquity, to which even Jerome, notwithstanding his statement about the language, was no exception; and it is confirmed by a philological analysis of the names both of persons and of places in Galatia that have come down to us. The theory of the Teutonic origin of the Galatians is now given up, not only in England, but in Germany.
The Galatians, then, were Celts, and we are not surprised to find in them the Celtic qualities. They came of the race which “shook all empires, but founded none.” Their great failing was in stability. Quick to receive impressions, they were quick to lose them; at one moment ardently attached, at the next violently opposed. This is precisely what St. Paul complains of. He gives a striking picture of the enthusiasm with which he had been received on his first visit. He himself was stricken down with sickness, but that did not damp the ardour of his converts. They would even have “plucked out their eyes,” and given them to him. But in a short space of time all this was gone. They had now made common cause with his adversaries. They had forsaken his teaching and repudiated his authority.
The cause of the evil lay in the intrigues of certain Judaisers. And the consideration of the question in debate between them and St. Paul opens out a new subject for discussion.
III. Contents and Doctrinal Character of the Epistle.—The controversy that divided, and could not but divide, the infant Church, came to a head most conspicuously in Galatia. Was the Jewish Law to be binding upon Christians? It was only natural that many should be found to say that it was. Christianity had sprung out of Judaism. The first and most obvious article in the Christian creed—the Messiahship of Jesus—was one that might easily be accepted, and yet all the prejudices in favour of the Jewish Law be retained. It was only a deeper and prolonged reflection that could show the fundamental antagonism between the Jewish view of things and the Christian. St. Paul saw this, but there were many who were not so clear-sighted. The main body of the Church at Jerusalem held tenaciously to the Jewish practices. The old Pharisaic passion for making proselytes still clung to them. And emissaries from this Church had found their way—as they easily might, through the chain of Jewish posts scattered over Asia Minor—as far north as Galatia.
These emissaries pursued the same tactics as they had pursued elsewhere. They called in question the Apostle’s authority. They claimed to act from a superior commission themselves. They disparaged his teaching of personal faith in Jesus. They knew nothing of such faith. They acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah, and with that they were content. They still looked for salvation, as they had done hitherto, from the literal performance of the Mosaic Law, and they forced this view upon the Galatians. They insisted specially on the rite of circumcision. They would not allow the Gentile converts to escape it. They proclaimed it as the only avenue to the covenant relation with God. And no sooner had the convert submitted to circumcision than they proceeded to lay upon him an oppressive burden of ritualistic ceremonies. He was to keep a multitude of seasons, “days, and months, and times, and years.’ If he was to enjoy the Messianic privileges he must be righteous. But to be righteous was to perform scrupulously the precepts of the Mosaic Law, and in the attempt to do this the convert’s whole powers and energies were consumed. The Messiahship of Jesus was something secondary and subordinate. The Judaisers accepted it so far as it seemed to hold out to them a prospect of advantage, but otherwise it remained a mere passive belief. The key to life and conduct was still sought in the fulfilment of the Mosaic Law.
With such a position as this the Apostle could not but be directly at issue. To him the Messiahship of Jesus (including, as it did, His eternal Sonship) formed the very root and centre of his whole religious being. Faith—or the ardent conviction of this Messiahship in its completest sense—was the one great motive power which he recognised. And the state in which the Christian was placed by faith was itself—apart from any laborious system of legal observances—an attainment of righteousness. The Messianic system was everything. The Law henceforth was nothing. By his relation to the Messiah the Christian obtained all of which he had need. Sin stood between him and the favour of God, but the Messiah had died to remove the curse entailed by sin; and by his adhesion to the Messiah the Christian at once stepped into the enjoyment of all the blessings and immunities which the Messianic reign conferred. It was not that he was released from the obligations of morality (as represented by the Law), but morality was absorbed in religion. One who stood in the relation that the Christian did to Christ could not but lead a holy life; but the holy life was a consequence—a natural, easy, necessary consequence—of this relation, not something to be worked out by the man’s unaided efforts, independently of any such relation. The command, “Be ye holy as I am holy,” remained, but there intervened the motive and stimulus afforded by the death and exaltation of Christ. “Be ye holy, because ye are bought with a price; because ye are Christ’s, and your life is hid with Christ in God.”
The Law then no longer held that primary position which it had occupied under the old covenant. It had fulfilled its functions, which were preparatory and not final. Its object had been to deepen the sense of sin, to define unmistakably the line which separated it from righteousness, and so to prepare the way for that new Messianic system in which the power of sin was not ignored but overcome, and overcome by lifting the believer as it were bodily into a higher sphere. He was taken out of a sphere of human effort and ritual observance, and raised into a sphere in which he was surrounded by divine influences, and in which all that he had to do was to realise practically what had already been accomplished for him ideally. In that sphere the centre and life-giving agency was Christ, and the means by which Christ was to be apprehended was Faith. So that Christ and Faith were the watchwords of the Apostle, just as the Law and Circumcision were the watchwords of the Jews.
Thus the line that the Apostle takes in this Epistle was clearly marked out for him. Against the attacks upon his apostolic authority he defended himself by claiming that, although he was a late comer in point of time, this did not imply any real inferiority. His was not an authority derived at second-hand. On the contrary, he owed his calling and commission directly to God Himself. The proof was to be seen both in the circumstances of his conversion and also in the fact that, though he had once or twice been brought into apparent contact with the elder Apostles, his teaching was entirely independent of them, and was already fully formed when he had at last an opportunity of consulting them about it. And in practice, not only was he recognised by them as an equal, but even Peter submitted to a rebuke from him. On the other hand, upon the great dogmatic question, St. Paul meets his opponents by an emphatic statement of his own position. Christianity is not something accessory to the Law, but supersedes it. Righteousness is to be sought not by legal observances, but by faith. The old system was carnal, material, an affair of externals. The new system is a spiritual renewal by spiritual forces. Not that there is any real contradiction between the new and the old. For the very type and pattern of the old dispensation—Abraham himself—obtained the righteousness that was imputed to him not by works, but by faith. Thus, the true descendant of Abraham is he who puts faith in Christ. It was to Christ that the promise related, in Christ that the whole divine scheme of redemption and regeneration centred. The Law could not interfere with it, for the Law came after the Promise, by which it was guaranteed. The function of the Law was something temporary and transient. It was, as it were, a state of tutelage for mankind. The full admission to the privileges of the divine patrimony was reserved for those who became personal followers of the Messiah. He was the Son of God, and those who cast in their lot wholly with Him were admitted to a share in His sonship. To go back to the old stage of ritual observance was pure retrogression. It was an unnatural exchange—a state of drudgery for a state of freedom. It was a reversal of the old patriarchal story—a preferring of Hagar and Ishmael for Isaac, the child of promise. The Apostle cannot think that the Galatians will do this. He exhorts them earnestly to hold fast to their liberty, to hold fast to Christ, not to give up their high privilege of seeking righteousness by faith, and accepting it through grace, for any useless ordinance like circumcision. Yet the liberty of the Christian is far from meaning license. License proceeds from giving way to the impulses of the flesh, but these impulses the Christian has got rid of. His relation to Christ has brought him under the dominion of the Spirit of Christ. He is spiritual, not carnal; and to be spiritual implies, or should imply, every grace and every virtue. The Galatians should be gentle and charitable to offenders. They should be liberal in their alms. The Epistle concludes with a repeated warning against the Judaising intruders. Their motives are low and interested. They wish to pass off themselves and their converts as Jews, and to escape persecution as Christians. But to do so they must give up the very essentials of Christianity.
The Epistle is not constructed upon any artificial system of divisions, but the subject-matter falls naturally into three main sections, each consisting of two of our present chapters, with a short preface and conclusion, the last in the Apostle’s own handwriting. The first section contains the defence of his apostolic authority and independence in a review of his own career for the first seventeen years from his conversion. This leads him to speak of the dispute with St. Peter at Antioch, and the doctrinal questions involved in that dispute lead up to the second or doctrinal section, in which his own main tenet of righteousness by faith is contrasted with the teaching of the Judaisers and established out of the Old Testament. This occupies Galatians 3, 4. The last section, is, as usual with St. Paul, hortatory, and consists of an application of the principles just laid down to practice, with such cautions as they may seem to need, and one or two special points which his experience in the Church at Corinth and the news brought to him from Galatia appear to have suggested.
The following may be taken as a tabular outline of the Epistle:—
 Figures are used where the subdivisions are continuous steps in the same argument, letters where they are distinct arguments.
I.—Introductory Address (Galatians 1:1-10).
a.The apostolic salutation (Galatians 1:1-5).
b.The Galatians’ defection (Galatians 1:6-10).
The Apostle’s teaching derived from God and not man (Galatians 1:11-12), as proved by the circumstances of—
(1)His education (Galatians 1:13-14).
(2)His conversion (Galatians 1:15-17).
(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).
(a)The Galatians bewitched into retrogression from a spiritual system to a carnal system (Galatians 3:1-5).
(b)Abraham himself a witness to the efficacy of faith (Galatians 3:6-9).
(c)Faith in Christ alone removes the curse which the Law entailed (Galatians 3:10-14).
(d)The validity of the Promise unaffected by the Law (Galatians 3:15-18).
(e)Special pædagogic function of the Law, which must needs give way to the larger scope of Christianity (Galatians 3:19-29).
(f)The Law a state of tutelage (Galatians 4:1-7).
(g)Meanness and barrenness of mere ritualism (Galatians 4:8-11).
(h)The past zeal of the Galatians contrasted with their present coldness (Galatians 4:12-20).
(i)The allegory of Isaac and Ishmael (Galatians 4:21-31).
(a)Christian liberty excludes Judaism (Galatians 5:1-6).
(b)The Judaising intruders (Galatians 5:7-12).
(c)Liberty not license, but love (Galatians 5:13-15).
(d)The works of the flesh and of the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-26).
(e)The duty of sympathy (Galatians 6:1-5).
(f)The duty of liberality (Galatians 6:6-10).
V.—Autograph Conclusion (Galatians 6:11-18).
(a)The Judaisers’ motive (Galatians 6:12-13).
(b)The Apostle’s motive (Galatians 6:14-15).
(c)His parting benediction, and claim to be freed from further annoyance (Galatians 6:16-18).
The subject of the Epistle to the Galatians might be summarily described as the same as that to the Romans—the doctrine of justification by faith—i.e., the state of righteousness entered by means of faith. For a further discussion of the group of ideas involved in this the reader may be referred to the Excursus on Romans.
IV. Date of the Epistle.—Mention has just been made of the Epistle to the Romans, and the resemblance between these two Epistles forms an important element in the consideration of the next question with which we have to deal—the question as to the date of the Epistle, and the place from which it was written.
On this point two views are current. It is agreed that the Epistle was written on St. Paul’s third great missionary journey. It is agreed that it belongs to the group which includes 1 and 2 Corinthians and Romans. The difference is as to the place which it occupies in this group. A large majority of commentators suppose it to have been the first of the four Epistles, and date it from Ephesus at some time during the Apostle’s lengthened stay there, i.e., at some time during the three years A.D. 54-57. The other view is that the Epistle was written after the two Epistles to the Corinthians, but before the Epistle to the Romans, i.e., at the end of the year 57 or beginning of 58, from Macedonia or Greece. This view has until recently not had many supporters, but it has lately found a strong advocate in Dr. Lightfoot.
Practically there is a single main argument on each side. In favour of the earlier date, the one point that can be pressed is the expression used in Galatians 1:6 : “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from Him that called you, into another gospel.” The conversion of the Galatians appears to have taken place in A.D. 51. St. Paul paid them a second visit in A.D. 54. In the autumn of that year his three years’ stay at Ephesus began. And it is argued that the expression “soon” will not allow us to go beyond these three years. “Soon,” however, is a relative term. It may mean any interval from a few minutes to one or more centuries. The context must decide. A change, which in the natural course of things would take a protracted length of time to accomplish, might be described as taking place “soon” if it was brought about in a space of time conspicuously shorter than might have been expected. But for the conversion of a whole community to Christianity, and for their second conversion to another form of Christianity wholly distinct from the first, we should surely expect a long and protracted period. Under such circumstances a period of six or seven years might very well be called “soon.” To this argument, then, it does not seem that very much, or indeed any, weight can be attached.
The one chief argument upon the other side is the very close and remarkable similarity, both in ideas and language, between the Epistles to Galatians and the Romans, and, in somewhat lower degree, 2 Corinthians. Any one may observe in himself a tendency to use similar words, and to fall into similar trains of thought at particular periods. This is especially the case with strong thinkers who take a firm grip of ideas, but are possessed of less facility and command of words in which to express them. Such was St. Paul. And accordingly we find that the evidence of style as a help to determine the chronological relations of the different Epistles is peculiarly clear and distinct. But in the doctrinal portions of Romans and Galatians we have a resemblance so marked—the same main thesis, supported by the same arguments, the same Scripture proofs (Leviticus 18:5; Psalm 143:2; Habakkuk 2:4), the same example, Abraham, thrown into relief by the same contrast, that of the Law, developed to the same consequences and couched throughout in language of striking similarity—that we seem to be precluded from supposing any interval between them sufficient to allow of a break in the Apostle’s mind. And considering the throng of events and emotions through which the Apostle was now passing; observing further that the three Epistles, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans, in this order, form a climax as to the distinctness with which the ideas expressed in them are elaborated, it would seem that the Epistle with which we are dealing should be placed between the other two; that is to say, we should assign it to the end of the year 57, or beginning of 58, and the place of its composition would probably be Macedonia or Greece.
The course, then, of the history will be this: St. Paul first visited Galatia on the occasion of his second missionary journey soon after the memorable conference at Jerusalem, and probably about the year A.D. 51. His intention had been to pass from Lycaonia due west into the Roman province of Asia. From this, however, he was prevented, as St. Luke informs us, by some supernatural intimation. Accordingly he turned northwards through Phrygia, and so entered Galatia. Here he seems to have been detained by illness (Galatians 4:13-14). He took the opportunity to preach, and his preaching was so successful that the Church in Galatia was definitely founded. This work accomplished, he left for Mysia, and thence passed on to Troas and Macedonia, where the better known portion of the second missionary journey begins. After the conclusion of this journey St. Paul, in starting upon his third missionary journey, again directed his course to Galatia. This time the historian mentions “the country of Galatia and Phrygia” in a different order from that in which they had occurred before. We should conclude, therefore, that St. Paul made his way straight from Antioch; and as no mention is made this time of the churches of Lycaonia, it would seem probable that he took the direct Roman road skirting Cappadocia. On his arrival in Galatia we read that he went through it “in order, strengthening the disciples” (Acts 18:23). We should gather from some indications in the Epistle (Galatians 4:16; Galatians 5:21) that he had found it necessary to administer rather severe reproof to his converts. Already there were signs of false teaching in the Church. The Apostle’s Judaising opponents had obtained an entrance, and he was obliged to speak of them in language of strong condemnation (Galatians 1:9). But the warning was in vain. This second visit had taken place in the autumn of A.D. 54, and from the end of that year till the autumn of A.D. 57, during which he was settled at Ephesus, disquieting rumours continued to be brought to him of the increasing defection of his converts, and the increasing influence of the Judaising party. Matters went on from bad to worse; and at last, apparently upon his way through Macedonia to Greece, the Apostle received such news as determined him to write at once. The Epistle bears marks of having been written under the influence of a strong and fresh impression; and Dr. Lightfoot, with his usual delicate acumen, infers from the greeting, “from all the brethren that are with me” (Galatians 1:2), that it was probably written en voyage, and not from any of the larger churches of Macedonia, or, as might have been otherwise thought natural, Corinth. At all events, it would seem that we should be keeping most closely to the canons of probability if we assign the Epistle to the winter months of the years 57-58.
V. Genuineness of the Epistle.—No doubt of any real importance has been or can be cast upon the genuineness of the Epistle. It is one of those fervid outbursts of impassioned thought and feeling which are too rare and too strongly individual to be imitated. The internal evidence, therefore, alone would be sufficient, but the external evidence is also considerable. It is true that nothing conclusive is found in the apostolic fathers. The clearest allusion would seem to be in the Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians, cap. 5: “Knowing, then, that God is not mocked” (a peculiar and striking word) “we ought to walk in His commandment and His glory” (comp. Galatians 6:7); and again, in Galatians 3, with perhaps a somewhat more direct reference, “who (St. Paul) also in his absence wrote unto you Epistles that you might be able to be built up unto the faith given you, which is the mother of us all.” (Comp. Galatians 4:26.) It is noticeable that though Justin Martyr does not name the Epistle, and, indeed, nowhere directly quotes from St. Paul, yet in two consecutive chapters he makes use of two passages of the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 21:23; Deuteronomy 27:26), which are also quoted in close connection by St. Paul, and that these passages are given with precisely the same variations both from the Septuagint and the Hebrew. There is also a clear quotation in Athenagoras (circ. 177 A.D.). But, until we get towards the end of the second century, the best evidence is not so much that of orthodox writers as of heretics. Marcion, who flourished A.D. 140, laid great stress upon this Epistle, which he placed first of the ten which he recognised as St. Paul’s. The Ophites and Valentinians, in writings belonging to this century, quoted largely from it. Celsus (circ. 178) speaks of the saying, Galatians 6:14, “The world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world,” as commonly heard amongst Christians. The author of the Clementine Homilies (which may be probably, though not certainly, placed about 160 A.D.) grounds upon St. Paul’s account of the dispute at Antioch an attack upon the Apostle himself; and the Epistle furnishes other material for accusation. As we draw near the last quarter of the century the evidence for this, as for most other books of the New Testament, becomes ample. The Muratorian Canon (circ. 170 A.D.) places the Epistle in the second place, next to 1 and 2 Corinthians. The Syriac and the Old Latin translations (the second of which was certainly, and the first probably, made before this time), both contain it. Irenæus, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian, quote the Epistle frequently, and as a work of St. Paul’s. And, what is of still more importance, the text, as it appears in quotations by these writers, as well as in the versions, and even so far back as Marcion, already bears marks of corruption, showing that it had been for some time in existence, and that it had passed through a lengthened process of corruption. But to prove the genuineness of the Epistle to the Galatians is superfluous. It is rather interesting to collect the evidence as a specimen of the kind of evidence that, in the case of a work of acknowledged genuineness, is forthcoming.
[The English commentator upon the Epistle to the Galatians has no excuse beyond the calibre of his own powers, if his treatment of the subject is inadequate. He has before him two commentaries in his own language, Dr. Lightfoot’s and Bishop Ellicott’s, which, in their Kind, cannot easily be surpassed. It is needless to say that these, along with Meyer, have been taken as the basis of the present edition, Wieseler, Alford, and Wordsworth being occasionally consulted]
EXCURSUS ON NOTES TO GALATIANS. EXCURSUS A: ON THE VISITS OF ST. PAUL TO JERUSALEM.
EXCURSUS A: ON THE VISITS OF ST. PAUL TO JERUSALEM.
THE parallel accounts of the intercourse of St. Paul with the Church at Jerusalem, given in this Epistle and in the Acts of the Apostles, have been a double source of difficulty. To writers who have accepted the general truthfulness of both narratives, they have seemed hard to harmonise and arrange in due chronological sequence; and, on the other hand, to those who were already prepared to cast a doubt upon the veracity of the historical work, the autobiographical notices in the Epistle have furnished a means of attack of which they have very unsparingly availed themselves.
The critic who wishes to look at things as they really are, without prejudice and without captiousness, will certainly confess that all is not perfectly smooth or plain, and that the two narratives do not fit into each other at once with exact precision; but he will none the less vehemently repudiate the exaggerated conclusions which have been drawn from the differences which exist—conclusions which, while professing to be based upon the application to the Bible of the same principles that would be made use of in judging any other book, are such as in fact are totally inapplicable both to books and to real life. It is not too much to say that, if the principles carried out, e.g., by F. C. Baur in his famous criticism of these narratives were applied with equal thoroughness elsewhere, history would not exist, or would simply become a field for the exercise of the imagination, and common affairs would be reduced to a dead-lock of universal scepticism. The standard by which these writers have judged of what is historical and what is not, is a standard which exists only in the pedantry of the study or the lecture-room, and which is least of all applicable here, where our ignorance of all the surrounding circumstances is so large, and the whole body of direct evidence so very small.
We shall proceed to place the two narratives side by side, pointing out as well as we can what are the real and what are only apparent differences between them. At the same time it must be fully acknowledged that, however sincere the motives with which any particular statement of the case is made, there will still be a certain room for honest diversity of opinion. One mind will lean to a greater and another to a less amount of stringency, though it is hard to believe that any properly-trained and soundly-balanced judgment will fall into the extravagances to which the criticism of this unfortunate chapter of history has been subject.
In estimating the apparent divergences of the two writers, the position and object of each should be borne in mind. St. Paul is writing with the most intimate acquaintance with the inner course of events, but at the same time with a definite and limited object in view—to vindicate his own independence. He is writing under the pressure of controversy which served sharply to accentuate the points of difference between himself and all who were in any way mixed up with the Judaising party. On the other hand, St. Luke was writing at a greater distance of time, from information which in this part of his narrative he was obliged to take at second-hand, and that from persons who were themselves only acquainted with so much of the events as had passed in public. He may have had a wish not to give too much relief to the oppositions which still threatened the peace of the Church, but there is nothing to show that this went so far as to distort his representation of the facts.
We shall assume the view which is current amongst a large majority of the best and most trustworthy critics as to the order of the visits, and we shall confine ourselves to considering the relation between the two narratives.
When Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him, and brought hint to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. And he was with them coming in and going out at Jerusalem. And he spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians [Hellenists, or Greek speaking Jews]: but they went about to slay him. Which when the brethren knew, they brought him down to Caesarea, and sent him forth to Tarsus.
Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter [Cephas], and abode with him fifteen days. But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother. Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not. Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia; and was unknown by face unto the churches of Judæa which were in Christ: but they had heard only, That he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed. And they glorified God in me.
The narratives here do not really clash, though they are presented from different sides. St. Paul says nothing about his introduction to the Church at Jerusalem by Barnabas, because that had no bearing upon his argument; neither does he speak of his public preaching at Jerusalem, for that, too, was not to the point. There would be ample time for this preaching during the fifteen days that he was residing in the house of St. Peter; and as he would be seen coming in and going out of this house—sometimes, no doubt, in company with St. Peter, and once or twice, perhaps, also in company with St. James—it would be very natural that St. Luke’s informants and St. Luke, wishing to show how entirely the former persecutor was now reconciled to the Church, should speak of him as “coming in and going out” with the Apostles. St. Paul himself hints at the impression which this great change made upon the churches of Judæa collectively, though he was brought directly in contact only with the Church at Jerusalem. There is nothing to surprise us in the fact that St. Paul saw only two of the Apostles: the rest may have been absent upon some mission, or there may have been other causes, about which it would be vain to speculate. It would, perhaps, be possible to derive from St. Luke’s narrative an exaggerated idea of the extent to which the Apostle preached in public; but there, too, it is to be noticed that the preaching is described as confined to a particular, not very large, section of the Jewish community; and St. Luke relates nothing that would carry him beyond the walls of Jerusalem. The question whether St. Paul went direct from Cæsarea to Tarsus, or landed upon the coast of Syria on the way, will be found discussed in the Notes to Galatians 1:21.
The second visit to Jerusalem is mentioned only in the Acts. After recounting the success of the Apostle’s preaching at Antioch, and the great famine of the reign of Claudius, the historian proceeds to give an account of the collection that was made for the suffering churches of Judæa.
Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judæa: which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.
[Here follows an account of the imprisonment and deliverance of St. Peter, and of the death of Herod.]
And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had fulfilled their ministry, and took with them John, whose surname was Mark.
The only question that occurs to us here is, Why is this visit omitted by St. Paul? Nor is the answer far to seek. If St. Paul had been giving a professed list of his visits to Jerusalem, it might have seemed strange. But he is not giving such a list. His object is to explain the extent of his communications with the elder Apostles. But on this occasion there is every reason to think that he had no such communication. From the order of the narrative in the Acts we should infer that St. Paul arrived at Jerusalem during the confusion which was caused by Herod’s persecution. St. Peter was in prison; the Elder James had just been slain; James, the Lord’s brother was in hiding (Acts 12:17). No sooner was St. Peter delivered than he too went into hiding again (Acts 12:17-19). In the Church assembled at the house of Mary, none of the prominent members seem to have been present. And that Paul and Barnabas came to this house, we have an incidental proof in the fact that they took back with them John Mark, the son of the lady to whom it belonged. We should gather from the Acts that all they did was simply to fulfil their commission, by depositing the sums of which they were the bearers, in trustworthy hands, and return. But if so, there was no reason why St. Paul should allude to this visit in his argument with the Galatians. It had taken place nearly fourteen years before the date at which he was writing; and though it is not necessary to suppose that he had exactly forgotten it, still there was nothing to recall it to him, and it was not present to his mind. This is quite sufficient to explain the expression with which he introduces his account of his next, really his third, visit. He does not use a precise expression, “I went up a second time,” but simply, “I went up again.”
This third visit is the most important. That both accounts relate to the same visit cannot be doubted, though there is, at the first blush, a considerable difference between them.
And certain men which came down from Judæa taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question . . . And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them. But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses. And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter. And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe . . . Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they. Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them. And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me: Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And to this agree the words of the prophets; . . . Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: but that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. [To the same effect the letter is written, and sent by the hands of Judas Barsabas, and Silas, who returned to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, as a delegation from the Church of Jerusalem.]
Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also. And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain. But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised: and that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage: to whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you. But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man’s person:) for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me: but contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter; (for he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:) and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision. Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do. But when Peter [Cephas] was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed, &c
In one respect the narrative of St. Paul is strikingly supplemented by that of St. Luke. It tells us who were the “false brethren unawares brought in.” They were “certain of the sect of Pharisees which believed,” i.e., Pharisees who called themselves Christians, though without forsaking their peculiar tenets, and wishing to impose them upon the Church. The true opposition to St. Paul came from these. Both in the Epistle and in the work of the historian it is they who are put forward prominently. And it is a gross exaggeration, nay, a distortion of the facts, to represent the opposition as proceeding from the Judæan Apostles. These appear rather as mediators, standing by birth and antecedents upon the one side, but yielding to the reasonableness of the case so far as to make large concessions upon the other.
It is noticeable, too, as another minute coincidence between the two accounts, that in both stress is laid upon the success of the Gentile Apostle’s preaching as a proof that he enjoyed the divine favour. In the Acts Paul and Barnabas defend themselves by “declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them;” and in the Galatians the Judæan Apostles are described as giving to St. Paul and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship because they “perceived the grace given to him,” and because they saw that the same Power who enabled Peter to preach to the Jews “was mighty in him toward the Gentiles.”
These two quite “undesigned” coincidences are a strong confirmation of the narratives in which they are found. But the differences must also be noticed. (1) In the Epistle St. Paul speaks of himself as going up “by revelation”—i.e., in accordance with some private intimation of the divine will. In the Acts it is determined for him that he should go as the deputy of the Church at Antioch. But the two things do not exclude each other: they rather represent the different aspects of the same event as it would appear when looked at from without and when looked at from within. A precisely similar difference may be observed in Acts 9:29-30, compared with Acts 22:17 et seq. In the one passage the disciples are said to have “brought down” St. Paul to Cæsarea, for fear the Jews should slay him. In the other passage St. Paul himself, relating the same incident, says that, while praying in the Temple, he “fell into a trance,” and heard a voice bidding him “make haste and get quickly out of Jerusalem,” because his testimony would not be received. In like manner a double cause—the prompting of the Holy Spirit and the act of the Church at Antioch—is assigned to the same event in Acts 13:2-4. Discrepancies like these in two independent narratives are common and natural enough. (2) Nothing is said about the incident of Titus in the Acts. But Titus is included amongst the “others” of Acts 15:2 (“Paul and Barnabas and certain other of them”); and the incident is sufficiently pointed to in 2Corinthians 13:5, where the Pharisaic converts insist on the circumcision of the Gentile converts. Nor if it had been entirely omitted need this cause any surprise. St. Luke knew only so much of what happened at the Council as his informants themselves knew or were able to tell him. (3) In the Acts we have described to us a great public meeting: the Epistle seems to speak rather of private conferences. But a public meeting on a matter of this kind, so far from excluding would naturally pre-suppose private conferences. We have recently had a conspicuous instance of this in the conduct so discreetly pursued at the Congress which resulted in the Treaty of Berlin. And a public meeting is both indicated by the Greek of the phrase “communicated unto them” (Galatians 2:2; see the Commentary ad loc.), and falls in naturally with the account of the dismissal of the two Apostles in 2Corinthians 13:9. So far the differences are of no importance, and are perfectly compatible with the complete truth of both accounts; but the one that remains is rather more substantial. (4) St. Paul makes no mention of the so-called “apostolic decree.” The exhortation to “remember the poor” is all that he retains of the letter enjoining the Gentile Christians to “abstain from meats offered to idols, and from things strangled, and from fornication.” Nor is the decree appealed to—as it might have been here to the Galatians—as a proof that circumcision was not held to be obligatory even by the mother Church; while some of these provisions—e.g., the abstinence from meat offered to idols—are left entirely unnoticed in the discussion of the subject in the Epistles to the Corinthians and Romans. A partial answer to the questions raised by this remarkable silence may be found in the fact that the letter was addressed, in the first instance, to the churches of a particular district—Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia—which was in comparatively close communion with Judæa. It would not follow that the decree would be binding on other Gentile churches. A partial answer, again, is supplied by the Apostle’s natural independence of character. The argument from authority is the last that he would use; and if he had been more inclined to use it, the authority of the Church of Jerusalem was too often set in opposition to his own for it to be safe for him to have recourse to it as if to a higher court of appeal. These considerations may go some way, and yet we feel that the answer is still incomplete. If we knew the whole circumstances, there would probably be something more to be said. We do not know them, and therefore we must be content to remain in ignorance. But to take this ignorance as a ground for discrediting the history of the Acts is wanton in the extreme, and wholly unwarranted by anything that we see in the events that pass under our eyes or in the general relation of testimony to fact. Discrepancies greater than any that appear here may be observed in the accounts of events separated from their record by but a small interval of time, and attested by numerous witnesses: how much more, then, are they to be expected where two writers are looking back, one at a distance of seven or eight, the other, perhaps, of thirty years; where the one is writing a continuous history, and the other an apology for himself against a special and definite charge; and where they, and they two alone, supply all the information we possess as to the event itself, while all around it is little more than darkness visible!
So shallow and so slight is the foundation on which has been built that house of cards which forms one of the most imposing structures of modern negative criticism! To say that it has collapsed already would not be true, as men of learning and ability are still found to support it; but to say that it is doomed to collapse would be a prophecy based upon all the laws which distinguish between what is solid and permanent and what is fictitious and unreal.
Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;)I.
(1-5) It is no self-constituted teacher by whom the Galatians are addressed, but an Apostle who, like the chosen Twelve, had received his commission, not from any human source or through any human agency, but directly from God and Christ. As such, he and his companions that are with him give Christian greeting to the Galatian churches, invoking upon them the highest of spiritual blessings from God, the common Father of all believers, and that Redeemer whose saving work they denied and, by their relapse into the ways of the world around them, practically frustrated.
St. Paul had a two-fold object in writing to the Galatians. They had disparaged his authority, and they had fallen back from the true spiritual view of Christianity—in which all was due to the divine grace and love manifested in the death of Christ—to a system of Jewish ceremonialism. And at the very outset of his Epistle, in the salutation itself, the Apostle meets them on both these points. On the one hand, he asserts the divine basis of the authority which he himself claimed; and on the other, he takes occasion to state emphatically the redeeming work of Christ, and its object to free mankind from those evil surroundings into the grasp of which the Galatians seemed again to be falling.
(1) An apostle.—This title is evidently to be taken here in its strictest sense, as St. Paul is insisting upon his equality in every respect with the Twelve. The word was also capable of a less exclusive use, in which the Apostle would seem to be distinguished from the Twelve (1Corinthians 15:5; 1Corinthians 15:7). In this sense Barnabas and James the Lord’s brother, possibly also Andronicus and Junias in Romans 16:7, were called “Apostles.”
Not of men, neither by man.—Two distinct prepositions are used:—“not of” (i.e., from) “men,” in the sense of the ultimate source from which authority is derived; “neither by” (or, through) “man,” with reference to the channel or agency by which it is conveyed. Thus we speak of the Queen as the “fount” of honour, though honour may be conferred by the ministry acting in her name. The kind of honour which St. Paul held (his Apostleship) was such as could be derived only from God; nor was any human instrumentality made use of in conferring it upon him. His appointment to the Apostolate is connected by St. Paul directly with the supernatural appearance which met him upon the way to Damascus. The part played by Ananias was too subordinate to introduce a human element into it; and the subsequent “separation” of Paul and Barnabas for the mission to the Gentiles, though the act of the Church at Antioch, was dictated by the Holy Ghost, and was rather the assignment of a special sphere than the conferring of a new office and new powers.
By Jesus Christ.—The preposition here, as in the last clause, is that which is usually taken to express the idea of mediate agency. It represents the channel down which the stream flows, not the fountain-head from which it springs. Hence it is applied appropriately to Christ as the Logos, or Word, through whom God the Father communicates with men as the divine agent in the work of creation, redemption, revelation. (See John 1:3; 1Corinthians 8:6; Hebrews 1:2, et al.) It is also applied to men as the instruments for carrying out the divine purposes. The intervention of Jesus Christ took place in the vision through which, from a persecutor, St. Paul became a “chosen vessel” for the propagation of the gospel.
And God the Father—i.e., and by (or, through) God the Father; the same preposition governing the whole clause. We should naturally have expected the other preposition (“of,” or “from”), which signifies source, and not this, which signifies instrumentality; and it would have been more usual with the Apostle to say, “from God,” and “by, or through, Christ.” But God is at once the remote and the mediate, or efficient, cause of all that is done in carrying out His own designs. “Of him, and through him, and to him are all things” (Romans 11:36).
The Father.—This is to be taken in the sense in which our Lord Himself spoke of God as “My Father,” with reference to the peculiar and unique character of His own sonship—the Father, i.e., of Christ, not of all Christians, and still less, as the phrase is sometimes used, of all men. This appears from the context. The title is evidently given for the sake of contradistinction; and it is noticeable that at this very early date the same phrase is chosen as that which bore so prominent a place in the later creeds and the theology of which they were the expression.
Who raised him from the dead.—Comp. Romans 1:4 : “Declared to be the Son of God with power . . . by the resurrection from the dead.” The resurrection is the act which the Apostle regards as completing the divine exaltation of Christ. It is this exaltation, therefore, which seems to be in his mind. He had derived his own authority directly from God and Christ as sharers of the same divine majesty. It was not the man Jesus by whom it had been conferred upon him, but the risen and ascended Saviour, who, by the fact of his resurrection, was “declared to be the Son of God with power.” So that the commission of the Apostle was, in all respects, divine and not human.
And all the brethren which are with me, unto the churches of Galatia:(2) All the brethren which are with me—i.e., all his travelling companions. We are unable to say exactly who these were, the more so as we do not know with any certainty the place from which St. Paul was writing. He may have had in his company most of those who are mentioned in Acts 20:4 as accompanying him back into Asia: Sopater, son of Pyrrhus (according to an amended reading); Aristarchus and Secundus, of Thessalonica; Gaius, of Derbe; Tychicus and Trophimus, of Asia; in any case, probably Timothy, and perhaps Titus.
It was usual with St. Paul to join with his own name that of one or other of his companions in the address of his Epistles. Thus, in the First Epistle to the Corinthians he associates with himself Sosthenes; in the Second Epistle to Corinth, and in those to the Philippians and Colossians, Timothy and Silvanus. In writing to the Galatians, St. Paul includes all his companions in his greeting, hardly with the view of fortifying himself with their authority, for he is ready enough to take the whole defence of his own cause upon himself, but, perhaps, not altogether without the idea that he is possessed of their sympathy.
The churches of Galatia.—See the Introduction to this Epistle.
This opening salutation is intentionally abrupt and bare. Usually it was the Apostle’s custom to begin with words of commendation. He praises all that he can find to praise even in a Church that had offended so seriously as the Corinthians. (See 1Corinthians 1:2; 1Corinthians 1:4-7.) But the errors of the Galatians, he feels, go more to the root of things. The Corinthians had failed in the practical application of Christian principles; the Galatians (so far as they listened to their Judaising teachers) could hardly be said to have Christian principles at all. The Apostle is angry with them with a righteous indignation, and his anger is seen in the naked severity of this address.
Grace be to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ,(3) Grace . . . and peace.—See Note on Romans 1:7.
God the Father.—We may see by this verse how the title “Father,” originally used in the present formula to distinguish between the Divine Persons, came gradually to contract a wider signification. God is, through Christ, the Father of all who by their relation to Christ are admitted into the position of “sons” (Romans 8:14-17; Galatians 4:5-7). Hence, where no special limitation is imposed by the context, this secondary sense may be taken as included.
And from our Lord Jesus Christ.—Strictly, it would be more in accordance with the theology of St. Paul to say that grace and peace were given from the Father, by, or through, the Son. Here the one preposition from is used to cover both cases, just as by had been used in Galatians 1:1. It is equally correct to use the word “from” with reference to a mediate and to the ultimate stage in the act of procession. Water may be drawn not only from the fountain-head, but also from the running stream.
Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father:(4) Who gave himself.—Surrendered Himself, of His own free act and will, to those who sought His death. The phrase has a parallel in Titus 2:14, and appears in its full and complete form in the Gospel saying (Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45): “The Son of Man came to give His life a ransom for many “; and in 1Timothy 2:6 : “Who gave Himself a ransom” (the word is here a compound, which brings out more strongly the sense of vicariousness) “for all.”
For our sins.—In the Greek there are three prepositions, which can only be translated by the single word “for” in English. The first has for its primary sense “concerning,” or “relating to”; it merely marks a connection or relation between two facts. The second has rather the sense “in behalf of,” “in the interests of.” The third means strictly “in place of.” The first, as might be expected, is naturally used in respect of things; the second and third of persons. The death of Christ was a sacrifice for sins, i.e., the sins of mankind stood in a distinct relation to it, which was really that of cause. The sins of mankind it was which set the whole scheme of redemption in motion, and to take away those sins was its main object. The death of Christ was a sacrifice for sinners. It was a sacrifice wrought in their behalf, for their benefit. It was also a sacrifice wrought in their stead. Christ suffered in order that they might not suffer. He gave His life “a ransom for (i.e., in place of) many.” The first of these meanings is represented in Greek by the preposition peri, the second by huper, the third by anti. The distinction, however, is not quite strictly kept up. We not unfrequently find the death of Christ described as a sacrifice for (on behalf of) sins. This would correspond rather to our phrase “for the sake of.” The object was to do away with sins. They were, as it were, the final cause of the atonement.
It is somewhat doubtful which of the first two prepositions is to be read here. By far the majority of MSS. have peri, but the famous Codex Vaticanus, and one of the corrections of the Sinaitic MS., have huper. The two prepositions are not unfrequently confused in the MSS., and the probability in this case is that the numerical majority is right. It will then be simply stated in the text that the sins of men and the sacrifice of Christ have a relation to each other. If there had been no sin there would have been no redemption.
Deliver us.—The deliverance present to the mind of the Apostle appears to be rather (in technical language) that of sanctification than that of justification. The object of redemption is regarded for the moment as being to deliver men from sin, and not so much to deliver them from guilt, the consequence of sin. The Atonement has really both objects, but it is the first that the Apostle has in view in this passage.
This present evil world.—The reading of the three oldest and best MSS. tends rather to emphasise the word “evil”—“this present world, with all its evils.” A question is raised as to the word translated “present,” which might probably mean “impending;” but the Authorised version is probably right. “This present world” is strictly this present age. The Jews divided the history of the world into two great periods—the times antecedent to the coming of the Messiah, and the period of the Messianic reign. The end of the first and the beginning of the second were to be especially attended with troubles; and it was just in this transition period—the close of the older dispensation of things—in which the Apostles regarded themselves as living. The iniquities of the Pagan society around them would naturally give them an intense longing for release; but the release which they seek is moral and spiritual. They do not so much pray that they may be “taken out of the world” as that they may be “kept from the evil.” This the Christian scheme, duly accepted and followed, would do. The Atonement free men from guilt, but its efficacy does not cease there; it sets going a train of motives which hold back the Christian from sin, and constrain him to use his best endeavours after a holy life. The Galatians had lost sight of the power of the Atonement to do this, and had fallen back upon the notion of a legal righteousness, through the vain attempt to keep the commandments of the Law.
According to the will.—The scheme of redemption was willed by God, and therefore all that was done, either on the part of man or of his Redeemer, was a carrying out of His will.
Of God and our Father.—Or, as it might be, of our God and Father. It was the fatherly love of God for His creature, man, that set the work of redemption in motion; hence, in reference to the work of redemption, He is spoken of as “our Father”—i.e., the Father of mankind.
To whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.(5) Glory.—Perhaps, properly, the glory—i.e., the divine glory: that pre-eminent glory with which no other can compare.
If this is the case, then it would be better to supply “is” than “be.” His own peculiar glory does belong to God, and therefore the Christian ascribes it to Him as that which is already His; he does not pray for it as something unfulfilled, as, e.g., he prays for the coming of God’s kingdom.
In the insertion of this brief doxology the mind of the Apostle obeys an involuntary impulse of reverential awe. For a similar ascription in the same parenthetic form, comp. Romans 9:5.
For ever and ever.—Literally, for ages of ages, a Hebraising expression for infinite time. Commonly, time was divided only into two great world-periods; but the second is, as it were, multiplied indefinitely—“for all possible ages.”
I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel:(6-10) The Apostle is surprised at their rapid defection. The doctrine to which they had at first given in their adhesion was a doctrine of salvation by grace: they now imagined that they were only hearing a different version of the same truths. A different version? How was that possible? There could not be any second gospel, nor was there really anything of the kind. It was not a new gospel, but only a factious perversion of the old. Those who do this—no matter who they be—are accursed. That, at least, is plain speaking, and no one can accuse it of time-serving.
The Apostle had ended his address to the Galatians abruptly, and now he plunges abruptly, and without more preface, into the midst of his charges against them. He cannot understand their sudden apostasy.
(6) Removed.—The Greek word is one regularly used for a “deserter,” “turn-coat,” or “apostate,” either in war, politics, or religion. The tense is strictly present: “You are now, at this moment, in the act of falling away.”
Him that called you.—The call of the Christian is attributed by St. Paul to God the Father; so even in Romans 1:6. The Christian, having been called by God, belongs to Christ. The part taken by Christ in the calling of the Christian is rather a mediate agency, such as is expressed in the next phrase.
Into the grace of Christ.—Rather, by the grace of Christ. The grace (i.e., the free love) of Christ becomes the instrument of the divine calling, inasmuch as it is through the preaching of that free love and free gift that the unbeliever is at first attracted and won over to the faith. The “grace of Christ” is His voluntary self-surrender to humiliation and death, from no other prompting than His own love for sinful men.
(6, 7) Unto another gospel: which is not another.—It is to be regretted that the English language hardly admits the fine shade of distinction which exists here in the Greek. The Greek has two words for “another:” one (the first of those which is here used) implying a difference in kind, the other implying mere numerical addition.
Another gospel do I call it? That would seem to concede its right to be called a gospel at all. It might be supposed to be some alternative theory, existing side by side with that which you originally heard; but this cannot be. This “other gospel” is not a second gospel; for there cannot be two gospels. The inference, therefore, to be drawn is that it is not a gospel in any sense of the word. This, then, may be dismissed. It is no true gospel, but only mischievous and factious meddling on the part of certain false teachers.
Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.(7) But there be some.—The force of the Greek, conjunction is, rather, except that, as the word “only” is used idiomatically in English. So far from being a second gospel, it is really no gospel, “only there are some . . . ,” i.e., the only sense in which there can be any mention of a second gospel is that there are some who pervert the old gospel. The existence of this party is the only excuse for the name. And it is a mere excuse. They do not deserve any such dignity. They really lay themselves under the curse of God.
That trouble you.—The Judaising party, with its restless factiousness and bigotry, causing schisms and divisions in the Church.
Pervert.—The Greek is even still stronger—reverse, or change to its very opposite. This they did by substituting a doctrine of righteousness by works—self-justification before God by performing the precepts of the Mosaic law—for the doctrine of reconciliation with God through the free forgiveness which He has promised to faith in Christ.
The gospel of Christ.—Where combinations of this kind occur, the question naturally suggests itself: What is the relation of the two words to each other? For instance, in the present case, is it “the gospel taught by Christ,” or the “gospel concerning Christ?” The following rule has been proposed:—In such phrases as the “gospel of salvation,” the “gospel of the kingdom,” the genitive is that of the object—“of” is equivalent to “concerning.” In the phrase “the gospel of God” it represents rather the cause or authorship: “the gospel of which God is the Author.” In the present phrase, “the gospel of Christ,” it may be either one or the other, according to the context. We must not, however, narrow too much the Apostle’s use of language. A somewhat vague and ambiguous term sometimes best expresses the fulness of his meaning. In English we might use the phrase “Christ’s gospel” to include at once “the gospel which proceeds from Christ,” and “the gospel which relates to Christ,” all, in fact, which makes it in any sense belong to Him and bear His name.
But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.(8) Though.—The Greek is, strictly, even though, marking an extreme and improbable supposition.
We.—It seems, perhaps, too much to say, in the face of 2Thessalonians 2:2 (“by letter as from us”), that St. Paul never used the plural in speaking of himself alone. Still there may, both there and here, be some thought of associating his more immediate companions (“the brethren which are with me,” Galatians 1:2) with himself, the more so as he knew them to be entirely at one with him in doctrine.
Than that.—The Greek has here, not a conjunction, but a preposition, the precise sense of which is ambiguous. It may mean “besides,” “in addition,” or it may mean “contrary to.” The first of these senses has met with the most favour from Protestant, the second from Roman Catholic commentators, as, on the one hand, it seemed to exclude, and on the other to admit, the appeal to tradition. Looking at it strictly in connection with the context, the sense “contrary” seems best, because the gospel taught by the Judaising teachers was “another,” in the sense of being different from that of St. Paul. It was a fundamental opposition of principles, not merely the addition of certain new doctrines to the old.
Accursed.—See 1Corinthians 16:22. The original Greek word is retained in the translation, Let him be Anathema. The word exists in two forms, with a long e and a short e respectively; and whereas its original meaning was simply that of being “devoted to God,” the form with the long vowel came by gradual usage to be reserved for the good side of this: “devoted, in the sense of consecration; “while the form with the short vowel was in like manner reserved for the bad sense: “devoted to the curse of God.” Attempts have been made to weaken its significance in this passage by restricting it to “ex-communication by the Church;” but this, though a later ecclesiastical use of the word, was not current at such an early date.
In considering the dogmatic application, it is right to bear in mind the nature of the heretical doctrines which it was the Apostle’s object to denounce. They made no profession to be deduced from his own, but were in radical and avowed opposition to them. Still, there is room to believe that if the Apostle could have reviewed his own words at a calmer moment he might have said of himself: “I spake as a man.”
As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.(9) As we said before.—Probably, upon his last (i.e., his second) visit, at the beginning of this, his third, great missionary journey (Acts 18:23). The germs of the apostasy in the Galatian Church would be already visible.
For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.(10) You may take this vehemence of language as my answer to another charge that has been brought against me. I am accused of seeking popularity with men. Well, here at least is plainness of speech. If I seek to win favour with any one it is not with men, but God. The two things are really incompatible. If I were a. favourite with men I should be no true servant of Christ.
St. Paul naturally laid himself open to the charge of men-pleasing by the flexibility and largeness of his character. The trifles about which others quarrelled he could look upon with indifference, and his ready power of sympathy led him to enter as much as possible into the point of view of others: “To the Jews he became as a Jew,” &c. But where a question of principle was at stake he knew how to take his stand, and he let the Galatians see it in the very unequivocal language he is now using.
(10) Now.—In speaking thus.
Persuade.—Conciliate, seek to win favour with, or to make friends of.
For.—This word is omitted by all the best MSS. and editors. It is characteristic of the Apostle, especially in animated passages like the present, to omit the connecting particles which are so common in Greek. He has a simple answer to give to the accusation of time-serving, and he states it roundly: “If my present conduct was really that of a man-pleaser I should be something very different from what I am.”
Yet.—Still; at this late period of my career. The Apostle has cut himself adrift from the current of his age too thoroughly and too long for him to be still floating with the tide.
But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man.(11, et seq.) The Apostle now enters at length upon his personal defence against his opponents. He does this by means of an historical retrospect of his career, proving by an exhaustive process the thesis with which he starts that the doctrine taught by him comes from a divine source, and possesses the divine sanction. My doctrine is not human, but divine; it could not be otherwise. For (a) I did not learn it in my youth—very much the contrary (Galatians 1:13-14); (b) I did not learn it at my conversion, for I went straight into the desert to wrestle with God in solitude (Galatians 1:15-17); (c) I did not learn it at my first visit to Jerusalem, for then I saw only Peter and James, and them but for a short time (Galatians 1:18-24); (d) I did not learn it at my later visit, for then I dealt with the other Apostles on equal terms, and was fully and freely acknowledged by them as the Apostle of the Gentiles (Galatians 2:1-10); (e) Nay, I openly rebuked Peter for seeming to withdraw the support he had accorded to me (Galatians 2:11-14); (f) the law is dead, and the life which the Christian has he draws solely from Christ (Galatians 2:15-21).
(11) But.—There is a nearly even balance of MSS. authority between this word and For. In any case we should in English naturally omit the conjunction, though a translation must represent it.
Certify.—The word which is thus translated is the same as that which is translated “declare” in 1Corinthians 15:1; “give you to understand,” in 1Corinthians 12:3; and “do you to wit,” in 2Corinthians 8:1. It is used to introduce a statement made with emphasis and solemnity.
After man.—Perhaps the best way to express the force of this phrase would be by the adjective, “Is not human.” Literally it is, is not according to the standard of man—to be judged by human measure, and therefore human in all respects, in its nature and origin.
For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.(12) For I neither received it.—The first “neither” in this verse does not answer to the second, but qualifies the pronoun “I.” The connection in the thought is perhaps something of this kind: “The gospel is not human as it comes to you; neither was it human as it first came to me.”
Taught.—There is an antithesis between this word and “revelation” in the next clause. “I did not receive my doctrine from man by a process of teaching and learning, but from Christ Himself by direct revelation.”
By the revelation.—It is better to omit the article: “by,” or “through the medium of,” revelation. What was this revelation, and when was it given? The context shows that it must have been at some time either at or near the Apostle’s conversion. This would be sufficient to exclude the later revelation of 2Corinthians 12:1. But can it be the vision on the way to Damascus itself alone? At first sight it would seem as if this was too brief, and its object too special, to include the kind of “sum of Christian doctrine” of which the Apostle is speaking. But this at least contained the two main points—the Messiahship of Jesus, and faith in Jesus, from which all the rest of the Apostle’s teaching flowed naturally and logically. When once it was felt that the death of Christ upon the cross was not that of a criminal, but of the Son of God, the rest all seemed to follow. Putting this together with the sense, which we may well believe had been growing upon him, of the inefficacy of the Law, we can easily see how the idea would arise of a sacrifice superseding the Law, and in the relegation of the Law to this very secondary position the main barrier between Jew and Gentile would be removed. St. Paul himself, by laying stress upon his retreat to the deserts of Arabia, evidently implies that the gospel, as taught by him in its complete form, was the result of gradual development and prolonged reflection; but whether this is to be regarded as implicitly contained in the first revelation, or whether we are to suppose that there were successive revelations, of which there is no record in the Acts, cannot be positively determined.
Of Jesus Christ—i.e., given by Jesus Christ; of which Jesus Christ is the Author.
For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews' religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it:(13, 14) Proof that the doctrine of the Apostle is derived from God and not from man, in that it could not be accounted for by his antecedents and education, all of which told against, rather than for, a Christian belief of any kind.
(13) Ye have heard.—Rather, ye heard. It was indeed notorious; but the Apostle may be referring to the fact that he himself usually (see Acts 22:3-21; Acts 26:4-20; 1Corinthians 15:8-10) brought his own career and experiences into his preaching, so that they may have heard it from his own lips.
My conversation . . . in the Jews’ religion.—How I behaved in the days of my Judaism. The phrase “Jews’ religion” (literally, Judaism) is not used with any sense of disparagement.
Wasted it.—The same word is translated “destroyed” in Acts 9:21 : “Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name?”
And profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.(14) Profited.—Made progress. The kind of progress would correspond to the width of the term “Judaism,” with which it is connected, and would imply, not merely proficiency in theological knowledge, but also increase in zeal and strictness of ritualistic observance.
My equals.—Strictly, my equals in age. St. Paul is thinking of his contemporaries among the young men who came up, ardent like himself, to study the Law at the feet of Gamaliel or some other eminent Rabbi. He looks back upon them much as some English political or religious leader might look back upon his contemporaries at the university, and might point to his zealous advocacy of a cause that he has long since given over.
Traditions.—The “traditions of the elders” mentioned in Matthew 15:2, Mark 7:3, by which the commandment of God “was made of none effect” (Matthew 15:6); the oral or unwritten law, which had gradually grown up by the side of the Pentateuch, and was afterwards embodied in the Mishnah.
But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace,(15) In pursuance of his main argument, the Apostle lays stress upon the fact that his very conversion and mission to the Gentiles had been first predestinated in the divine counsels, and afterwards carried out through divine interposition: it was throughout the work of God, and not of man.
Pleased.—The word specially used of the free will and pleasure of God, determined absolutely by itself, and by no external cause.
God.—The word should be printed in italics. It is wanting in the true text, but is left to be supplied by the reader.
Separated me.—Set me apart, marked me off from the rest of mankind, for this special object (i.e., the Apostleship of the Gentiles). (Comp. Romans 1:1, and Note there.)
From my mother’s womb.—A comparison of other passages where this phrase is used seems to make it clear that the sense is rather “from the moment of my birth” than “from before my birth.” (See Psalm 22:10; Isaiah 49:1; Isaiah 49:5; Matthew 19:12; Acts 3:2; Acts 14:8.) From the moment that he became a living and conscious human being he was marked out in the purpose of God for his future mission.
Called me.—The call is identical with the conversion of the Apostle through the vision which appeared to him on the way to Damascus. As the Apostle was conscious of having done nothing to deserve so great a mark of the divine favour, it is set down entirely to an act of grace.
To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood:(16) To reveal his Son in me.—That is, probably, in my mind, or consciousness. Before the Apostle could preach Christ to the Gentiles he needed to have first that intense inward conviction which was wrought in him during that sustained mental struggle which followed upon his conversion. It is possible that “in me” might be equivalent to “through me, as an organ or instrument”; but the sense above given, “in my heart and soul,” seems more likely.
That I might preach him.—The one process was preparatory to the other. Having once obtained a firm inward apprehension of Christ as the Messiah and Saviour, the Apostle then comes forward to preach Him among the heathen. But that firm inward apprehension was not to be attained all at once, and it was in seeking this that “the Spirit drove him” into the wilderness of Arabia. First comes the instantaneous flash of the idea upon his soul (“to reveal his Son in me”); then the prolonged conflict and meditation, in which it gets thoroughly consolidated, and adjusted, and worked into his being (during the retirement into Arabia); lastly, the public appearance as a preacher to the heathen upon the return to Damascus.
Immediately.—This brings out the promptness and decision of the Apostle’s action. The moment that the idea of Jesus as the Saviour was presented to his mind he sought no human aid to help him to work out the conception, but went at once into the desert.
Conferred not.—A substantially correct translation, though not quite exact. The Greek word contains the idea of taking counsel in personal interview, much as we now use the word “apply” in the phrase to “apply to a person.”
With flesh and blood—i.e., with man, with especial reference to human frailty and fallibility. Compare, for a like contrast between human and divine revelation, the commendation of St. Peter in Matthew 16:17 : “Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.”
Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus.(17) Went I up.—The usual phrase is to go up to “Jerusalem,” from the fact that Jerusalem stood upon high ground, and was approached from all sides by an ascent. Here, however, the reading is doubtful between “went up” and “went away,” each of which is supported by nearly equally good authority. In so close a balance of the authorities the less common phrase is, perhaps, more likely to have been the original reading, though there is an almost equal probability that it may have slipped in from the second “went” (really the same word, “went away”), a little further on in the verse.
Unto Arabia.—The question, what part of Arabia St. Paul retired into can only be one of speculation. There is nothing in the context to show at all decisively. The boundary of Arabia at this period was not exactly defined. By some writers it was made to include Damascus itself. It is therefore possible that by “Arabia” may have been meant the desert in the neighbourhood of the city. This would be the most obvious supposition. But, on the other hand, there would be a certain appropriateness if we could imagine, as we are certainly permitted to do, that the scene of his sojourn may have been the region of Mount Sinai itself. The place where the Law was first given may have seen its renewal in his mind—not destroyed, but fulfilled in the new law of love. Like Moses, and like Elijah, the great minister of the new dispensation may have here received strength for his work. And if this was the case, we can the more readily understand the typical allusion to Mount Sinai later in the Epistle. Such arguments may have some slight weight, but the real locality must remain uncertain.
As to the time of the Apostle’s withdrawal, and its duration, little can be said beyond the fact that it must have come within the three years that intervened between his conversion and the first visit to Jerusalem. When we compare this account with the narrative of the Acts, it is not clear how they are to be reconciled. St. Paul says, that after his conversion, “immediately (eutheōs) he conferred not with flesh and blood . . . but went unto Arabia.” St. Luke says, after recording the same event, “Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus. And straightway (eutheos) he preached Christ (or, according to a more correct reading, Jesus) in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God” (Acts 9:19-20). There does not seem room here to insert the retreat into Arabia. It would indeed come in more naturally among the “many days,” mentioned in a later verse, which were terminated by the plot of the Jews against the life of the Apostle and his final escape from Damascus. There would still, however, be some apparent collision between “conferring not with flesh and blood” and “spending certain days with the disciples” at Damascus. The discrepancy is only such as we might expect to find between two perfectly independent narratives, one of which was compiled from secondary sources, and is, besides, very brief and summary in its form. We are obliged, by the Apostle’s own words, to believe that his withdrawal into Arabia took place “immediately” after his conversion; and as it would not take a very long time to attract the attention or excite the animosity of the Jews at Damascus, it seems natural to suppose that this period of silent seclusion occupied the larger half of the whole period of three years.
The patristic commentators seem to have held, for the most part, to the belief that the object of his visit to Arabia was to preach to the heathen there; but the whole context of the Epistle shows that it was rather for solitary meditation and communion with God.
Damascus.—We gather from 2Corinthians 11:32 that Damascus was at this time in the possession, or in some manner, at least, under the rule, of Aretas, the Arabian king. How this can have been is an obscure and difficult question. (See Note on that passage.) It may have been seized by him, and held for a time, during his war with Herod Antipas and the Romans at the end of the reign of Tiberius, in A.D. 36-37; or it may possibly have been placed in his hands by Caligula on the disgrace of his rival, Antipas; or “the ethnarch under Aretas the king” may have been an officer subordinate to the Romans, and charged with a sort of consulship over the Arabians in Damascus. The first theory does not seem quite probable in the face of a power so strong as that of Rome; the second is a pure hypothesis, with no support from any contemporary writer; and the third hardly seems to satisfy the conditions of the problem. In any case, the most probable date of these events would be soon after the death of Tiberius in A.D. 37.
Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days.(18-24) Nor did that consultation with the elder Apostles, which had hitherto been impossible, take place when, at last, after the lapse of three years, the Apostle did go up to Jerusalem. He saw indeed Peter and James, but for so short a time that he could have learnt nothing essential from them. To the rest of the churches of Judæa he was known only by report; and they were too rejoiced at his conversion to show any jealousy of him.
(18) After three years.—This date is probably to be reckoned from the great turning-point in the Apostle’s career—his conversion. It need not necessarily mean three full years, just as the three days during which our Lord lay in the grave were not three full days. It may have been only one whole year and parts of two others; but the phrase may equally well cover three whole years. This ambiguity shows the difficulty of constructing any precise system of chronology.
To see.—The word used is a somewhat peculiar one, and is applied specially to sight-seeing—in the first instance of things and places, but secondarily also of persons. It would be used only of something notable. St. Paul’s object was to make the personal acquaintance of St. Peter as the head of the Christian community, not to seek instruction from him.
Peter.—The true reading here is undoubtedly Cephas. There is a natural tendency in the MSS. to substitute the more common name for the less common. St. Paul seems to have used the two names indifferently.
Roman Catholic commentators argue from this passage, not without reason, that St. Peter must at this time have taken the lead in the Church.
Fifteen days.—Only a small portion of this time can have been actually spent in the company of St. Peter, as we gather from the Acts that much of it must have been occupied by public disputations with the Greek-speaking Jews. (See Acts 9:28-29.)
But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord's brother.(19) Other of the apostles.—From the form of this phrase it would appear that James, the Lord’s brother, was considered to be an Apostle. In what sense he was an Apostle will depend very much upon who he was (see the next Note). If he was a cousin of our Lord, and identical with James the son of Alphæus, then he was one of the original Twelve. If he was not the son of Alphæus, but either the son of Joseph alone or of Joseph and Mary, then the title must be given to him in the wider sense in which it is applied to Paul and Barnabas.
The Lord’s brother.—What relationship is indicated by this? The question has been already dealt with in the Notes on the Gospels. (See Notes on Matthew 12:46; Matthew 13:55; John 7:3; John 7:5.) The present writer has nothing to add, except to express his entire agreement with what has been there said, and his firm conviction that the theory which identifies the “brethren of the Lord” with His cousins, the sons of Clopas, is untenable. A full account of the James who is here mentioned will be found in the Introduction to the Epistle which goes by his name.
Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not.(20) A solemn asseveration of the truth of these statements as to the extent of the Apostle’s relation with the elder disciples.
Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia;(21) Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.—We gather from the parallel narrative in Acts 9:30; Acts 11:25-26, that the course which the Apostle followed was this:—He was first conveyed secretly by the disciples to the sea-port Cæsarea Stratonis; there he took ship and sailed for Tarsus. Here he was found, somewhat later, by Barnabas, and taken to Antioch, where he remained a year. It would thus appear that the order in which the two names, Syria and Cilicia, occur does not represent the order in which the two provinces were visited. The Apostle, reviewing his past career at a distance of time, and with a certain special object in view, which is not affected by the geographical direction of his movements, speaks in this general way. It hardly seems necessary to suppose an unrecorded visit to Syria on the way to Tarsus, though that, of course, is possible. Still more gratuitous is the supposition that there is any contradiction between the historical narrative and our Epistle, for such generalities of expression are what most persons may constantly detect themselves in using. The accuracy of the pedant neither belongs to St. Paul’s Epistles nor to real life.
Regions.—The Greek word here is the same as that which is translated “parts” in Romans 15:23, where see the Note.
And was unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea which were in Christ:(22) Was unknown by face.—The Greek is a shade stronger: I continued unknown. If in Jerusalem itself the Apostle had not had time to receive instruction from any one, still less was this the case with the other Christian communities of Judæa. To these he was not known even by sight. At the same time, so far were they from manifesting any opposition to his teaching, that their one thought was joy to hear of his conversion.
The churches of Judæa.—Judæa is here distinguished from Jerusalem. The phrase is noticeable as pointing to the spread and early organisation of the Church at a date removed by not more than ten years from our Lord’s ascension.
Which were in Christ.—This is added in order to distinguish the Christian from the Jewish communities. It means, however, something more than merely “Christian.” The various sections of the Christian Church not only professed a common creed, and were called by a common name, but they stood in the same direct and personal relation to Christ as their Head. It was His presence diffused among them which gave them unity.
But they had heard only, That he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed.(23) Had heard.—Rather, were hearing.
The faith.—Not quite, as yet, “the body of Christian doctrine,” which was in process of forming rather than already formed, but the one cardinal doctrine of faith in Christ. (Comp. Romans 1:5, and Note there.)
And they glorified God in me.(24) They glorified God in me.—This verse represents the proper attitude of Christian hero-worship. An eminent Christian is like a “city set on a hill.” But the admiration which he attracts does not rest in him; it is made the occasion for giving praise to God.