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Bible Commentaries

John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible
Galatians

Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4
Chapter 5 Chapter 6

Book Overview - Galatians

by John Dummelow

Introduction

1. Authenticity. The Epistle to the Galatians is almost universally recognised as a genuine letter of St. Paul. The few recent attempts to discredit it have met with little favour, and still leave it practically unchallenged. It belongs in spirit, and probably in time, to the great doctrinal or argumentative group of Pauline letters, which includes 1 and 2 Corinthians and Romans. Internally it bears the stamp of the Apostle's personality, and fits in with the course of his life and thought. External evidence of its authenticity is to be found in Polycarp, Irenæus, Clemens Alexandrinus, and Justin Martyr. The first-named quotes Galatians 4:26 and Galatians 6:7, though without mentioning the source; the others definitely cite the Epistle as the work of St. Paul.

2. The persons addressed. This question has given rise to considerable controversy, and is even yet being discussed to some extent. (1) Some scholars, taking Galatia to be the pre-Roman kingdom of that name, in the NE. of Asia Minor, maintain that the Epistle was written to Churches founded by St. Paul during his Second Missionary Journey (Acts 16:6) in its chief cities, Ancyra, Tavium, and Pessinus. Something may be said for this theory, but it is open to many objections: for instance, there is no mention of any of these places in the account of St. Paul's travels in the Acts of the Apostles, and no record of the existence of Churches there until about a century and a half later. (2) It may be safer, therefore, to take the view of others, that Galatia is the Roman province of that name. In St. Paul's time it included, besides the former kingdom properly so called, Paphlagonia, Phrygia, Isauria, and parts of Lycaonia and Pontus. In the southern portion of that large province lay the cities of Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Derbe, and Lystra. These cities had been visited by St. Paul, and Christian communities founded in them, during his First Missionary Journey (Acts 13:13 to Acts 14:25); at the beginning of his Second Journey he had revisited them, and confirmed his converts in their faith. It is assumed, therefore, that the Epistle to the Galatians was addressed to them. Confirmation of this view is given in Galatians 2:5, where the Apostle says that he had contended against the false brethren 'that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.' The only part of Galatia in which we know him to have been before this time is that which contained the cities mentioned in Acts 13, 14 consequently the reference is believed to be to them.

The population of these cities was almost entirely heathen (Galatians 4:8), and consisted partly of natives of the country, and partly of Greek and Roman colonists. The proportion of Jews was small (Acts 13:44-48; Acts 14:1). At Lystra, on the Apostle's first visit, Barnabas was taken for Jupiter, and Paul for Mercury (Acts 14:11-12). The heathen priests dominated the people, and bound them to the practices of a ceremonial law, as hard as that of the Jews. St. Paul refers to this in his Epistle (Galatians 4:8), and bids them take care not to be entangled again with the yoke of bondage (Galatians 5:1).

The history of the Galatian Churches is as follows. On his First Missionary Journey St. Paul, accompanied by Barnabas and John Mark (Acts 13:2, Acts 13:5), after visiting Cyprus, sailed to Perga in Pamphylia. At this point John left them, and during the rest of the tour they were alone. They did not preach in Pamphylia, as seems to have been their original intention (Acts 13:12), but, owing to an illness which befell St. Paul (Galatians 4:13), left the coast and went up to the higher ground in the interior, visiting in succession and founding Churches in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:14), Iconium (Acts 13:51), Lystra (Acts 14:6), and Derbe (Acts 14:20). On their return journey they visited these cities in the reverse order, giving some organisation to the infant Churches, appointing elders over them to watch over their interests and guide them (Acts 14:23), and exhorting the disciples to faithfulness and constancy, especially in presence of suffering and danger (Acts 14:22). On his Second Journey St. Paul, accompanied this time by Silas, again visited these Churches. He had just come from the apostolic council at Jerusalem (Acts 15:6-29), which declared the Gentiles free from the obligations of the Jewish ceremonial Law. He conveyed the message of the council to the Galatian Churches, and infused new life and strength into their members (Acts 16:1-5). During this visit the Apostle saw reasons for anxiety about the future of these ardent but unstable Christians, and warned them carefully against their besetting dangers and the temptations which he foresaw would assail them (Galatians 1:9; Galatians 5:2). A third visit to Galatia is mentioned in a word in Acts 18:23, at the beginning of his third great journey. The First Epistle of St. Peter is addressed to the elect in Galatia, as well as in other parts of Asia Minor.

3. Occasion of the Letter. Throughout the Church, the question was being keenly canvassed as to whether or not the observance of the Jewish Law was binding upon the Gentiles who became disciples of Christ. For the most part, of course, discussion was confined to the necessity of circumcision; for this rite was the outward sign of the adoption of Judaism, and the acceptance of it accordingly imposed the obligation of keeping the whole Law. The Churches of Galatia had early felt the stress of this controversy. There was trouble in them from the very beginning (Acts 13, 14). It became greatly accentuated, however, after either the second or third visit of St. Paul. Certain Jewish Christians, or Judaisers, as they are called, appeared amongst them, insisting upon the keeping of the Law, and especially upon circumcision, as necessary to salvation. These seem to have been men of importance, at least in the eyes of the Galatians (Galatians 5:10), over whom they soon acquired considerable influence (Galatians 3:1; Galatians 5:7). They disparaged the teaching and work of St. Paul (Galatians 1:12), and asserted his dependence upon other Apostles for his knowledge and authority (Galatians 2:6, Galatians 2:8-9). The Galatians yielded to their representations, and began to think of adopting circumcision (Galatians 5:2-3), and observing Jewish fasts and feasts (Galatians 4:9-10). To St. Paul this was a practical denial of the efficacy of faith in Christ, and the substitution of a doctrine of justification by the works of the Law for the great truth of justification by faith alone (Galatians 2:16, Galatians 2:21; Galatians 3:5; Galatians 5:4, Galatians 5:6). Immediately upon the receipt of the news of the apostasy of the Galatians, the Apostle wrote his letter to them.

4. Characteristics. In the writing of his letters St. Paul usually employed an amanuensis (Romans 16:22), and wrote only the concluding salutation himself (1 Corinthians 16:21; Colossians 4:18; 2 Thessalonians 3:17). The Epistle to the Galatians he penned with his own hand (Galatians 6:11 RV). It is written with feeling and vehemence. The Apostle's anger at the seducers, and his anxiety for the seduced, stand out in every sentence. It is the most biographical of his letters, for the charges brought against his apostleship lead him to justify his authority by an account of his career as a Christian, and of his relations with the other Apostles (Galatians 1:15 to Galatians 2:14). Doctrinally, the Epistle is related most closely to Romans. In both, the great ideas of St. Paul's theology are prominent. The doctrine of justification by faith is the common corner-stone of their argument: cp. Galatians 2:16, Galatians 2:21; Galatians 3:2, Galatians 3:5, Galatians 3:11 with Romans 1:17; Romans 5:1, Romans 5:9; Romans 8:1-2; Romans 10:11, Romans 10:12. There is the same doctrine of adoption: cp. Romans 4:6 with Romans 8:15. The strife of the flesh with the Spirit is referred to alike in Galatians 5:17 and Romans 7:14-25. The illustration of Abraham's faith is used both in Romans 3 and Romans 4.

5. Time of Writing. Various dates are given by different scholars. If it was after St. Paul's second visit that the trouble arose in the Galatian Churches, he may have heard of it on his arrival at Antioch at the close of that journey (Acts 18:22), in which case the letter would be written from there, probably in 53 a.d. On the other hand, if it was not until after the third visit (Acts 18:23) that the defection took place, the Apostle probably heard of it during his residence in Ephesus(Acts 19:1, Acts 19:22), and wrote the letter from there, while Timothy was on the visit to Corinth which ended so disastrously, in 55 or 56. Either of these dates may be accepted. Some, however, place it as early as the close of St. Paul's first journey in 49, 50, and others after 2 Corinthians, or even after Romans, in 57, 58 but neither of these dates is so probable.

6. Teaching. The great subject of the Epistle is the superiority of the Gospel to the Law. The Jewish teachers, who sought to pervert the Galatians, had themselves embraced Christianity without slackening their grasp of their old religion. To their mind, Jesus was the Messiah and Saviour of the Jewish race, not of the world in general; hence the Gentiles must become Jewish proselytes before they could receive the blessings of Christ. St. Paul's teaching was developed in opposition to this doctrine. He shows that the Law (i.e. the Old Testament revelation with its rules and sanctions) failed to make men righteous (Galatians 2:16; Galatians 3:11), because it did not supply a principle of life (Galatians 3:21), but rather paralysed men's hearts by its rigorous demands (Galatians 3:10). At the same time it had its uses, and fulfilled a purpose. It educated and disciplined men for a better revelation (Galatians 3:24); it made them realise their sin (Galatians 3:10); it caused them to feel their bondage (Galatians 4:3); and so prepared them to become sons of God (Galatians 4:5-6). The Gospel of Christ, on the other hand, brought men a new principle of life. That principle is faith. Through it, the righteousness is obtained which the Law could not give (Galatians 2:16). It unites a man to Christ, whose righteousness is thereby imparted to him, for Christ lives in him, and he in Christ (Galatians 2:20). He is justified by faith in Christ, as he could not be by the works of the Law; indeed, the effort to live by the Law only weakens his spiritual life by slackening his hold upon Christ (Galatians 5:2-4). The Gospel supplies the spiritual principle, even the moral motive power, lacking in the Law. The impulse derived from the indwelling Christ leads men to love their fellows (Galatians 5:6); to renounce the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:16, Galatians 5:20, Galatians 5:24); to bring forth the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 4:22, Galatians 4:25).

Besides justification by faith, other great truths of Christianity are mentioned incidentally: the Incarnation in Galatians 4:4 the Crucifixion in Galatians 6:12, Galatians 6:14 the gift of the Holy Spirit, as the experience of the Galatians, in Galatians 3:2-3, Galatians 3:5; Galatians 5:25.

7· Summary. The Epistle falls naturally into three divisions. (1) An apologetic section (Galatians 1:1 to Galatians 2:21), in which the Apostle defends the validity of his apostleship, by showing that his call was directly from Christ, and that he was absolutely independent of the other Apostles, both as to his teaching and commission. (2) A polemical section (Galatians 3:1 to Galatians 5:12), in which he contrasts faith and works as means of salvation, and proves even from the Old Testament that faith is all-sufficient. (3) A hortatory section (Galatians 5:13 to Galatians 6:18), in which he applies the truth he has been establishing to the different relations and duties of life.

The detailed sequence of thought is as follows:

I.

Galatians 1:1-5.

Salutation.

Galatians 1:6-16.

St. Paul's independence of other Apostles shown by the nature of his conversion,

Galatians 1:17-24.

And by his movements thereafter,

Galatians 2:1-10.

As well as by the action of the Judæan Apostles at Jerusalem on his second visit,

Galatians 2:11-21.

And by his reproof of the inconsistent attitude of St. Peter at Antioch.

II.

Galatians 3:1-5.

That the new principle of life in the Spirit comes through faith is proved by their own experience,

Galatians 3:6-10.

And by the case of Abraham.

Galatians 3:11-14.

The Law brings a curse, from which Christ redeems us.

Galatians 3:15 to Galatians 4:7.

The temporary purpose of the Law shown and illustrated.

Galatians 4:8-20.

An appeal to the Galatians not to turn from liberty to bondage.

Galatians 4:21-31.

The witness borne by the Law itself to the liberty of the Gospel: an allegory.

Galatians 5:1-12.

A further appeal to them to keep their liberty.

III.

Galatians 5:13 to Galatians 6:10.

The application of the principle of liberty to common duties.

Galatians 6:11-18.

A final appeal for the liberty of faith.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, February 19th, 2020
the Sixth Week after Epiphany
There are 53 days til Easter!
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