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Bible Commentaries

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes

- Galatians

by Albert Barnes

Introduction to Galatians

Section 1. The Situation of Galatia, and the Character of the People

Galatia was a province of Asia Minor, having Pontus on the east. Bithynia and Paphlagonia north, Cappadocia and Phrygia south, and Phrygia west. See the map prefixed to the Acts of the Apostles. In Tanner’s Classical Atlas, however, it extends on the north to the Euxine or Black sea. It was probably about 200 miles in its greatest extent from east to west, and varied in width from 12 to 150 miles. It was one of the largest provinces of Asia Minor, and covered an extent of country almost as large as the State of New Jersey. It is probable, however, that the boundaries of Galatia varied at different times as circumstances dictated. It had no natural boundary, except on the north; and of course the limits may have been varied by conquests, or by the will of the Roman emperor, when it was erected into a province.

The name “Galatia” is derived from the word Gaul, and was given to it because it had been conquered by the Gauls, who, having subdued the country, settled in it. - Pausanias, Attic. cap. iv. These were mixed with various Grecian families, and the country was also called Gallogroecia. - Justin, lib. xxiv. 4; xxv. 2; xvii. 3. This invasion of Asia Minor was made, according to Justin (lib. xxv. cap. 2), about the 479th year after the founding of Rome, and, of course, about 272 years before Christ. They invaded Macedonia and Greece; and subsequently invaded Asia Minor, and became an object of terror to all that region. This expedition issued from Gaul, passed over the Rhine, along the Danube, through Noricum, Pannonia, and Moesia, and at its entrance into Germany, carried along with it many of the Tectosages. On their arrival in Thrace, Lutarius took them with him, crossed the Bosphorus, and effected the conquest of Asia Minor. - Liv. lib. xxxviii. c. 16. Such was their number, that Justin says, “they filled all Asia (i. e., all Asia Minor) like swarms of bees. Finally, they became so numerous that no kings of the east could engage in war without an army of Gauls; neither when driven from their kingdom could they flee to any other than to the Gauls. Such was the terror of the name of Gauls, and such the invincible felicity of their arms - et armorum invicta felicitas erat - that they supposed that in no other way could their own majesty be protected, or being lost, could be recovered, without the aid of Gallic courage. Their being called in by the king of Bithynia for aid, when they had gained the victory, they divided the kingdom with him, and called that region Gallogroecia.” - Justin, xxv. 2. Under the reign of Augustus Cesar, about 26 years before the birth of Christ, this region was reduced into the form of a Roman colony, and was governed by a proproetor, appointed by the emperor.

They retained their original Gaulish language as late as the 5th century, as appears from the testimony of Jerome, who says that their dialect was nearly the same as that of the Treviri. - Tom. iv. p. 256. ed. Benedict. At the same time, they also spoke the Greek language in common with all the inhabitants of Lesser Asia, and therefore the Epistle to them was written in Greek, and was intelligible to them as well as to others.

The Galatians, like the inhabitants of the surrounding country, were pagans, and their religion was of a gross and debasing kind. They are said to have worshipped “the mother of the gods,” under the name of Agdistis. Callimachus, in his hymns, calls them “a foolish people.” And Hillary, himself a Gaul, calls them Gallos indociles - expressions which, says Calmer, may well excuse Paul’s addressing them as “foolish,” Galatians 3:1. There were few cities to be found among them, with the exception of Ancyra, Tavium, and Pessinus, which carried on some trade.

The possessors of Galatia were of three different nations or tribes of Gauls; the Tolistobogi, the Troemi, and the Tectosagi. There are imperial medals extant, on which these names are found. It is of some importance to bear in mind these distinctions. It is possible that while Peter was making converts in one part of Galatia, the apostle Paul was in another; and that some, claiming authority as from Peter, propagated opinions not conformable to the views of Paul, to correct and expose which was one design of this Epistle - Calmet.

The Gauls are mentioned by ancient historians as a tall and valiant people. They went nearly naked. Their arms were only a sword and buckler. The impetuosity of their attack, it is said, was irresistible, and hence, they became so formidable, and were usually so victorious.

It is not possible to ascertain the number of the inhabitants of Galatia, at the time when the gospel was preached there, or when this Epistle was written. In 2 Macc. 8:20, it is said that Judas Maccabeus, exhorting his followers to fight manfully against the Syrians, referred to several instances of divine interposition to encourage them; and among others, “he told them of the battle which they had in Babylon with the Galatians; how they came but 8,000 in all to the business, with 4,000 Macedonians; and that the Macedonians being perplexed, the 8,000 destroyed 120,000, because of the help which they had from heaven, and so received a great booty.” But it is not certain that this refers to those who dwelt in Galatia. It may refer to Gauls who at that time had overrun Asia Minor; the Greek word used here (Γαλάτας Galatas), being taken equally for either. It is evident, however, that there was a large population that went under this general name; and it is probable that Galatia was thickly settled at the time when the gospel was preached there. It was in the central part of Asia Minor, then one of the most densely-populated parts of the world, and was a region singularly fertile - Strabo, lib. xii. p. 567, 568, ed. Casaub. Many persons, also, were attracted there for the sake of commerce. That there were many Jews also, in all the provinces of Asia Minor, is apparent not only from the Acts of the Apostles, but is expressly declared by Josephus, Ant. xvi. 6.

Section 2. The Time when the Gospel Was Preached in Galatia

There is no certain information as to the time when the gospel was first preached in Galatia, or the persons by whom it was done. There is mention, however, of Paul’s having preached there several times, and several circumstances lead us to suppose that those churches were established by him, or that he was the first to carry the gospel to them, or that he and Barnabas together preached the gospel there on the mission on which they were sent from Antioch, Acts 13:2, following In Acts 16:5-6, it is expressly said that they went “throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia.” This journey was for tire purpose of confirming the churches, and was undertaken at the suggestion of Paul Acts 15:36, with the design of visiting their brethren in every city where they had preached the word of the Lord. It is true, that in the account of the mission of Paul and Barnabas Acts 14:0, it is not expressly said that they went into Galatia; but it is said Acts 14:5-6, that when they were in Iconium, an assault was made on them, or a purpose formed to stone them, and that, being apprized of it, they fled unto Lystra and Derbe. cities of Lycaonia, “and unto the region that lieth round about.” Pliny. lib. v. c. 27, says, that a part of Lycaonia bordered on Galatia, and contained 14 cities, of which Iconium was the most celebrated. Phrygia also was contiguous to Galatia, and to Lycaonia, and these circumstances render it probable that when Paul proposed to Barnabas to visit again the churches where they had preached, Galatia was included and that they had been there before this visit referred to in Acts 16:6.

It may be, also, that Paul refers to himself in the Epistle Galatians 1:6, where he says, “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel;” and if so, then it is plain that he preached to them first, and founded the churches there. The same thing may be evinced also from the expression in Galatians 4:15, where he says, “I bear you record, that if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me;” an expression which leads us to suppose that they had formed for him a peculiar attachment, because he had first preached the gospel to them, and that there had existed all the ardour of attachment implied in their first love. It is quite evident, therefore, I think, that the gospel was preached among the Galatians first by Paul, either alone or in company with some other one of the apostles. It is possible, however, as has been intimated above, that Peter also may have preached in one part of Galatia at the time that Paul was preaching in other parts. It is a circumstance also of some importance on this point, that Paul speaks in this Epistle in a tone of authority, and with a severity of reproof which he would hardly have used unless he had at first preached there, and had a right to be regarded as the founder of the church, and to address it as its father. In this respect the tone here is quite different, as Mr. Locke has remarked, from what is observable in the Epistle to the Romans. Paul had not been at Rome when he addressed the church there by letter, and his language differs materially froth that which occurs in the Epistles to the Corinthians and Galatians. It was to them the very respectful and mild language of a stranger; here it is respectful, but it is the authoritative language of a father having a right to reprove.

Section 3. The Date of this Epistle

Many have supposed that this was the first Epistle which Paul wrote. Tertullian maintained this (see Lardner, vol. vi. p. 7. ed. Lond. 1829), and Epiphanius also. Theodoret and others suppose it was written at Rome, and was consequently written near the close of the life of Paul, and was one of his last epistles. Lightfoot supposes also that it was written from Rome, and that it was among the first which Paul wrote there. Chrysostom says that this Epistle was written before that to the Romans. Lewis Capellus, Witsius, and Wall suppose that it was written from Ephesus after the apostle had been a second time in Galatia. This also was the opinion of Pearson, who places it in the year 57 a.d., after the first Epistle to the Corinthians, and before Paul left Ephesus. Grotius thought it difficult to assign the date of the Epistle, but conjectures that it was written about the same time as that to the Romans. Mill supposes that it was not written until after that to the Romans, probably at Troas, or some other place in Asia, as Paul was going to Jerusalem. He dates the Epistle in the year 58 ad. Dr. Benson supposes that it was written at Corinth, when the apostle was first there, and made a long stay of one year and six months.

While there, he supposes that Paul received tidings of the instability of the converts in Galatia, and wrote this Epistle and sent it by one of his assistants. See these opinions examined in Lardner as quoted above. Lardner himself supposes that it was written from Corinth about the year 52 a.d., or the beginning of the year 53 a.d. Macknight supposes it was written from Antioch, after the council at Jerusalem, and before Paul and Silas undertook the journey in which they delivered to the churches the decrees which were ordained at Jerusalem; Acts 16:4. Hug, in his Introduction, supposes that it was written at Ephesus in the year 57 a.d. and after 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, and the Epistle to Titus had been written. Mr. Locke supposes that Paul established churches in Galatia, in the year 51 a.d.; and that this Epistle was written between that time and the year 57 a.d. These opinions are mostly mere conjecture; and amidst such a variety of sentiment, it is evidently impossible to determine exactly at what time it was written. The only mark of time in the Epistle itself occurs in Galatians 1:6, where the apostle says, “I marvel that ye are so soon (οὕτω ταχέως houtō tacheōs) removed from him that called you,” etc.; where the words “so soon” would lead us to suppose that it was at no distant period after he had been among them. Still it might have been several years. The date assigned to it in the Polyglot Bible (Bagster’s) is the year 58 ad.

The exact date of the Epistle is of very little importance. In regard to the time when it was written the only arguments which seem to me to be of much weight, are those advanced by Paley in his Horae Paulinae. “It will hardly be doubted,” says he, “but that it was written whilst the dispute concerning the circumcision of Gentile converts was fresh in men’s minds; for even supposing it to have been a forgery, the only credible motive that can be assigned for the forgery, was to bring the name and authority of the apostle into this controversy. No design can be so insipid, or so unlikely to enter into the thoughts of any man, as to produce an Epistle written earnestly and pointedly on one side of a controversy, when the controversy itself was dead, and the question no longer interesting to any class of readers whatever. Now the controversy concerning the circumcision of Gentiles was of such a nature, that, if it arose at all, it must have arisen in the beginning of Christianity.” Paley then goes on to show that it was natural that the Jews, and converts from the Jews, should start this question, and agitate it; and that this was much more likely to be insisted on while the temple was standing, and they continued as a nation, and sacrifices were offered, than after their city and temple were destroyed.

It is therefore clear that the controversy must have been started, and the Epistle written before the invasion of Judea, by Titus, and the destruction of Jerusalem. The internal evidence leads to this conclusion. On the whole, it is probable that the Epistle was written somewhere about the year 53 a.d., or between that and 57 a.d.; and was evidently designed to settle an important controversy in the churches of Galatia. The place where it was written, must be, I think, wholly a matter of conjecture. The subscription at the end that it was written from Rome is of no authority whatever; and there are no internal circumstances, which, so far as I can see, throw any light on the subject.

Section 4. The Design of the Epistle

It is easy to discern from the Epistle itself that the following circumstances existed in the churches of Galatia, and that it was written with reference to them.

(1) That they had been at first devotedly attached to the apostle Paul, and had received his commands and instructions with implicit confidence when he was among them; Galatians 4:14-15; compare Galatians 1:6.

(2) That they had been perverted from the doctrine which he taught them soon after he had left them; Galatians 1:6.

(3) That this had been done by persons who were of Jewish origin, and who insisted on the observance of the rites of the Jewish religion.

(4) That they claimed to have come directly from Jerusalem, and to have derived their views of religion and their authority from the apostles there.

(5) That they taught that the apostle Paul was inferior to the apostles there; that he had been called more recently into the apostolic office; that the apostles at Jerusalem must be regarded as the source of authority in the Christian church; and that, therefore, the teaching of Paul should yield to that which was derived directly from Jerusalem.

(6) That the laws of Moses were binding, and were necessary in order to justification. That the rite of circumcision especially was of binding obligation; and it is probable Galatians 6:12, that they had prevailed on many of the Galatians to be circumcised, and certain that they had induced them to observe the Jewish festivals; Galatians 4:10.

(7) It would seem, also, that they urged that Paul himself had changed his views since he had been among the Galatians, and now maintained the necessity of circumcision; Galatians 5:11. Perhaps they alleged this, from the undoubted fact that Paul, when at Jerusalem Acts 21:26, had complied with some of the customs of the Jewish ritual.

(8) That they urged that all the promises of God were made to Abraham, and that whoever would partake of those promises, must be circumcised as Abraham was. This Paul answers, Galatians 3:7; Galatians 4:7.

(9) That in consequence of the promulgation of these views, great dissensions had arisen in the church, and strifes of an unhappy nature existed, greatly contrary to the spirit which should be manifested by those who bore the Christian name.

From this description of the state of things in the churches of Galatia, the design of the Epistle is apparent, and the scope of the argument will be easily seen. Of this state of things the apostle had been undoubtedly apprised, but whether by letters, or by messengers from the churches there, is not declared. It is not improbable, that some of his friends in the churches there had informed him of it, and he immediately set about a remedy to the evils existing there.

I. The first object, therefore, was to show that he had received his commission as an apostle, directly from God. He had not received it at all from man; he had not even been instructed by the other apostles; he had not acknowledged their superiority; he had not even consulted them. He did not acknowledge, therefore, that the apostles at Jerusalem possessed any superior rank or authority. His commission, though he had not seen the Lord Jesus before he was crucified, he had, nevertheless, derived immediately from him. The doctrine, therefore, which he had taught them, that the Mosaic laws were not binding, and that there was no necessity of being circumcised, was a doctrine which had been derived directly from God. In proof of this, he goes into an extended statement Galatians 1:0, of the manner in which he had been called, and of the fact; that he had not consulted with the apostles at Jerusalem, or confessed his inferiority to them; of the fact that when they had become acquainted with the manner in which he preached, they approved his course Galatians 1:24; Galatians 2:1-10; and of the fact that on one occasion, he had actually been constrained to differ from Peter, the oldest of the apostles, on a point in which he was manifestly wrong, and on one of the very points then under consideration.

II. The second great object, therefore, was to show the real nature and design of the Law of Moses, and to prove that the peculiar rites of the Mosaic ritual, and especially the rite of circumcision, were not necessary to justification and salvation; and that they who observed that rite, did in fact renounce the Scripture method of justification; make the sacrifice of Christ of no value, and make slaves of themselves. This leads him into a consideration of the true nature of the doctrine of justification, and of the way of salvation by a Redeemer.

This point he shows in the following way:

(1) By showing that those who lived before Christ, and especially Abraham, were in fact justified, not by obedience to the ritual law of Moses, but by faith in the promises of God; Galatians 3:1-18.

(2) By showing that the design of the Mosaic ritual was only temporary, and that it was intended to lead to Christ; Galatians 3:19-29; Galatians 4:1-8.

(3) In view of this, he reproves the Galatians for having so readily fallen into the observance of these customs; Galatians 4:9-21.

(4) This view of the design of the Mosaic Law, and of its tendency, he illustrates by an allegory drawn from the case of Hagar; Galatians 4:21-31.

This whole discourse is succeeded by an affectionate exhortation to the Galatians, to avoid the evils which had been engendered; reproving them for the strifes existing in consequence of the attempt to introduce the Mosaic rites, and earnestly entreating them to stand firm in the liberty which Christ had vouchsafed to them from the servitude of the Mosaic institutions, Galatians 5:0; Galatians 6:0.

The design of the whole Epistle, therefore, is to state and defend the true doctrine of justification, and to show that it did not depend on the observance of the laws of Moses. In the general purpose, therefore, it accords with the design of the Epistle to the Romans. In one respect, however, it differs from the design of that Epistle. That was written, to show that man could not be justified by any works of the Law, or by conformity to any law, moral or ceremonial; the object of this is, to show that justification cannot be obtained by conformity to the ritual or ceremonial law; or that the observance of the ceremonial law is not necessary to salvation. In this respect, therefore, this Epistle is of less general interest than that to the Romans. It is also, in some respects, more difficult. The argument, if I may so express myself, is more Jewish. It is more in the Jewish manner; is designed to meet a Jew in his own way, and is, therefore, somewhat more difficult for all to follow. Still it contains great and vital statements on the doctrines of salvation, and, as such, demands the profound and careful attention of all who desire to be saved, and who would know the way of acceptance with God.

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