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Galatians 6

Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary for Schools and CollegesCambridge Greek Testament Commentary

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Verses 1-99

Ch. 6:1 10. Exhortations to bear with an erring brother, to cultivate humility, to exercise liberality

11 18. Autograph conclusion. Summary of the Epistle and Benediction

1. Brethren ] The force of this word of appeal (as well as the general connexion) is weakened by the division of the Epistle into chapters. The previous chapter concludes with a warning against provocation and envy sins utterly inconsistent with Christian brotherhood . We are reminded of the remonstrance of Moses, ‘Sirs, ye are brethren; why do ye wrong one to another?’ Acts 7:26 . The train of thought seems to be: “I have condemned the unchristian spirit and conduct which you exhibit in cases where it is possible that you may be mistaken as to the gravity or the reality of the fault which you attack. I go further. Suppose a man to be detected in an overt violation of the law of God, a ‘manifest’ sin (5:19): you are not even then justified in trying to crush the offender. He is your brother. You share his fallen nature; you are exposed to the same temptations as he. Let this thought lead to the exercise of a spirit of gentleness, and seek to restore such an one, to repair his fault, to recover him to the position he had forfeited”.

if a man … fault ] In the Gk. ‘ even though a man be .’

overtaken ] ‘ surprised, detected ’. It has been suggested that the reference is to some previous offence, the repetition of which would of course aggravate the guilt of the individual and might seem to justify harsh treatment of him. That such is the literal sense of the word rendered ‘be overtaken’, and that it is so used in Classical Greek, is true. But there is authority for the other rendering which better suits the context. The reference is not to the habitual or repeated offender, but to the case of one who by reason of the frailty of human nature had fallen into the commission of open sin. Such an one was the incestuous person at Corinth. The incident had recently occurred, when this Epistle was written, and could not fail to be in the thoughts of the Apostle. The language used by him in reference to it (2 Corinthians 2:6-8 ) should be compared with that of this verse. Paley ( Horœ Paulinœ ) sees here an undesigned coincidence, confirming the genuineness of both Epistles. He does not, however, notice the application of the expression ‘in a spirit of meekness’ both here and in 1 Corinthians 4:21 , to the treatment of an offender.

ye which are spiritual ] Surely there is no irony here, as some suggest. St Paul is full of the great distinction not always discernible by human eyes between those who are carnal and those who are spiritual a distinction based on the contrariety (ch. 5:17) between the spirit and the flesh . There is a very solemn question suggested by it Were they what they professed to be? If they possessed the spirit of Christ, they could not but produce the fruit of the Spirit of which gentleness, or meekness, is one.

restore ] The original of this word is used in a physical sense of repairing broken nets, Matthew 4:21 , of the gradual completion or furnishing of the material creation, Hebrews 11:3 . But it is more commonly employed in N. T. in a figurative sense, see Luke 6:14 , where it is rendered “when he is perfected” R.V., and Hebrews 13:21 ; 1 Peter 5:10 . In this last passage, as elsewhere, God is the author of this work of spiritual restoration and perfecting: but He employs human agency for its accomplishment the agency of His Church, ministers and laymen.

such a one ] not the habitual offender, but the fallen brother. Evangelical ethics lend no countenance to sin: they teach us to prevent further evil by the restoration of the offender. This cannot be effected by harshness of speech or bitterness of tone.

in the spirit of meekness ] Contrasted by St Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:21 , with the ‘rod’; the spirit which should animate every Christian as distinguished from the judicial authority vested by Christ in the Apostles and rulers of the Church. This spirit is produced by the Holy Ghost, but the word is not used here in a personal sense.

considering thyself ] The transition from the plural, ‘ ye which are spiritual’, to the singular, ‘thyself’, ‘thou’, gives point to the admonition. The possibility of a similar temptation and a similar fall, may well temper their judgment with self-distrust, and so, with charity. There is, however, a distinct injunction to ‘consider themselves’, to observe carefully their own spirit and conduct, lest if their eyes be fixed not on their own goings, but exclusively on those of their brother, the Tempter seize the occasion to attack and overthrow them. Some expositors make these words, ‘considering thyself, &c.’ the commencement of v . 2. The received arrangement is preferable.

2. one another’s burdens ] Brotherhood is a mutual relationship, and entails mutual good offices.

burdens ] This is not the same word in the Greek which is rendered ‘burden’ in v . 5. It denotes any weight which presses heavily on the body or the mind, as toil, suffering, responsibility, anxiety. In v . 5 the reference is to the burden assigned to man or beast, to a ship or other vehicle, to carry, corresponding to the English ‘load’.

and so fulfil ] The other reading, ‘ and so ye will fulfil ’ has about equal authority.

the law of Christ ] ‘He calls love the law of Christ’, Thdt., with reference to the new Commandment of John 13:34 . The law of Christ is the law given by Christ and exemplified in His most holy life. The nature and the measure of its fulfilment are stated in the Divine Commentary: ‘ as I have loved you, that ye also love one another’. It involves sympathy always, active sympathy (i.e. help) when possible. Of our Lord it was foretold (Isaiah 53:4 ), ‘Surely He hath borne our griefs (Heb. sicknesses) and carried our sorrows’. This is quoted by St Matthew (ch. 8:17), ‘Himself took our infirmities and bare our diseases’; while the Septuagint version gives, ‘Himself bears our sins and for us He is in anguish’. With the injunction compare Romans 15:1 , ‘We that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak’. Here , however, mutual sympathy is enjoined.

3. The connexion seems to be: Christ by precept and by example bade you bear one another’s burdens. To neglect this duty is to set up yourselves above Christ. He ‘humbled Himself’ for us. You will not stoop to comfort and help your brethren. This must arise from pride from a fancy that you are something exceptionally exalted, whereas such notions arise from self-deception a phantom which represents nothingness.

4. This is an individual matter ‘Let every man’, lit. ‘let each one’ .

prove his own work ] ‘test his own conduct’. Self-examination will lead to a true estimate of self, ascertained by comparison, not with the attainments of others, but with the requirements of the law of Christ. The result may be humiliation, self-abasement, shame; but the ground of boasting will not be that of the Pharisee, ‘God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are’, but of that other Pharisee, ‘By the grace of God I am what I am’.

5. For every man … burden ] For no man can escape from his own moral responsibility. The verse reads like a proverb. The ‘burden’ is the ‘load’ of accoutrements and provisions assigned to each soldier to carry on a march. Others regard the metaphor as taken from shipping affairs, and render the word ‘freight’. This is quite admissible as a verbal translation; but the phrase, ‘each man shall carry his own cargo’ may appear less satisfactory. There is no paradox or contradiction to the precept of v . 2 except in the English version which renders two distinct words in the original by the same English word ‘burden’.

6 10. These verses, which are an exhortation to the exercise of liberality towards the Teachers of the Church, do not seem to have any obvious connexion with what has gone before. They may have been suggested as a particular application of the general principle, ‘bear ye one another’s burdens’. But we so often meet with a number of disconnected injunctions at the end of St Paul’s Epistles, that this abrupt introduction of this paragraph need cause no difficulty. The connecting particle, ‘but’ or ‘moreover’, omitted in A.V. is restored in R.V. The duty here enjoined is frequently insisted upon by St Paul, 1 Corinthians 9:11-14 ; Philippians 4:10 , Philippians 4:17 ; 1 Timothy 5:17 , 1 Timothy 5:18 . He had already urged it upon the Galatian converts, as we learn from 1 Corinthians 16:1 . That he insists upon it again in such forcible terms would seem to shew that they were not prone to the exercise of liberality.

6. him that is taught ] Lit. ‘the catechumen’; one who is undergoing instruction. When we consider that most of the instruction in the Word (i.e. the Gospel revelation) was oral , and that it was not limited to preaching in the assemblies of the Church, but extended to households and individuals, the work of the teacher must have been very arduous, demanding all his time and energies. Hence the necessity of proper provision being made for his maintenance. Exhortations to this effect are found in the ‘Teaching of the Twelve Apostles,’ a document of the sub-Apostolic age.

in all good things ] Those earthly things which men generally covet are designated ‘goods’ or ‘good things’, Luke 12:18 , Luke 12:19 ; Luke 16:25 . In all of these, whether money, or food, or clothing or the like, the taught is to ‘communicate’ with the teacher, share them with him.

7. Men who, like Ananias and Sapphira, seek to obtain credit for liberality, while keeping back that which is due to the Church and cause of God, may impose on their fellow-men, and may fancy that they can impose upon God. But they are themselves the victims of self-deception. They are moreover treating God with contempt. Yet He is not deceived, nor will He relax in their favour the universal law of His moral government, that as is the sowing, so also will be the reaping.

mocked ] There is a terrible rebuke implied in the choice of this word. It is far stronger than ‘deceived’. The word means ‘to sneer at’, and here denotes not merely the attempt to impose a cheat upon another, but the open gesture of contempt for one who is an easy dupe.

for whatsoever … reap ] A proverb found in Classical writers, and used by St Paul with verbal variations, 2 Corinthians 9:6 . See some striking observations in F. W. Robertson’s Sermon on this text.

8. A particular application of the general truth just stated. True in the material world, it is equally so in the moral and spiritual. Embracing the whole sphere of human action, it includes the special case under consideration. Such as is the seed sown, such will be the harvest garnered. To hoard earthly ‘good things’, is one form of sowing to the flesh, and silver and gold are ‘corruptible things’. To give liberally is to lay up treasure in heaven, “where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt”.

soweth to his flesh ] Some expositors regard the flesh as the ground into which, metaphorically, the seed is cast. It is perhaps better to take it as that for the purpose of which its indulgence and the gratification of its desires, men live and act. The word is used here, as elsewhere in this Epistle, of the unrenewed nature of man, in strong contrast to the spirit the ‘new man’, the ‘new creation’.

to his flesh ] Gr. ‘ to his own flesh ’.

corruption ] That which he has saved and that which he has gained will turn to decay. But from the corresponding expression in the second clause, ‘life everlasting’, we must regard the ‘corruption’ as affecting the man himself, as well as his possessions and enjoyments. A course of self-indulgence corrupts the moral nature and ends in destruction. The sowing here spoken of represents the thoughts, desires, words, and deeds which go to make up the active side of a human life.

life everlasting ] This life, like the corruption to which it is antithetical, is begun now (John 3:36 ), although its full development is future; for ‘the harvest is the end of the world.’

9. The metaphor which runs through these verses suggests a caution. The husbandman after committing the seed to the ground, ‘waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it … Be ye also patient,’ James 5:7 , James 5:8 . The mention of ‘life everlasting’ might seem to make the time of reaping so distant as to grow dim to the eye of hope. It is difficult to go on sowing in faith and hope, but we must not lose heart, in doing that which is right in the sight of God (comp. 2 Thessalonians 3:13 ).

It is not easy to express in English the verbal antithesis of the original: ‘in fair doing let us not shew faint heart.’

for in due season ] This promise is an encouragement to persevere. The phrase itself occurs 1 Timothy 2:6 ; 1 Timothy 6:15 ; Titus 1:3 . Though here its chief reference is to the final award, yet God may see fit to grant to His servants in this life a kind of firstfruits or earnest of the great harvest in store for them hereafter. Even now they see in the good which they effect in the mitigation of evil, moral and physical, the reclamation and conversion of souls to Christ a proof that their labour is not in vain in the Lord. ‘In due season’ is ‘in God’s own appointed season,’ whether sooner or later.

if we faint not ] The same word is used, Matthew 15:32 , of the physical exhaustion produced by long abstinence from food. It differs from being ‘weary,’ which here denotes loss of spirit, relaxation of the will, and so discouragement.

10. A noble practical conclusion from what precedes.

The time of reaping is ‘God’s own’ the season of sowing, ours. But that season is presented to us as ‘opportunity.’ If we ask how we are to recognise and so improve it, the answer is given by St Paul (2 Timothy 4:2 ) ‘In season, out of season’ not waiting for occasions, but making them.

As we have ] This may be rendered with equal correctness, ‘while, so long as, we have.’ It is so rendered in the Offertory sentence in the Book of Common Prayer, ‘while we have time.’ But the A.V. gives a good sense ‘according as we have opportunity.’

unto all men ] Though in the immediately preceding context St Paul has been enjoining liberality towards teachers, he feels that his premisses are wide enough to bear this conclusion. He here passes from inculcating charity towards all men to a special regard for members of the family of God. St Peter adopts the reverse order, when he exhorts Christians to add to ‘brotherly kindness, love.’ 2 Peter 1:7 .

of the household of faith ] As the Church is frequently designated the house or family of God (1 Timothy 3:15 ; 1 Peter 2:5 ; Hebrews 3:6 ), so in Ephesians 2:19 believers are spoken of as the members of the household of God. Here the form of the expression is varied. ‘The faith’ is rightly explained by Bp Lightfoot to be here nearly equivalent to ‘the Gospel.’ The bond of a common faith constitutes a new family tie. It united, and still unites men to one another, as children of the same Father, with a common home .

11 18. Autograph postscript and Benediction

11. Ye see ] Better, imperative, ‘ see ’.

how large a letter ] Lit. ‘ in how large letters ’. Many ancient and most modern expositors take this to refer not to the length of the Epistle which is certainly not ‘large’ as compared with those to the Romans and Corinthians but to the nature of the characters employed. It is curious that the exact meaning of this word rendered ‘how large’ should have been so far overlooked as to suggest the explanation, ‘in how rude characters,’ as though the Apostle called attention to his want of skill in writing Greek. This view might have been left unnoticed, but for the distinguished name of Chrysostom, who among others maintains it. A second explanation supposes that St Paul, in calling attention to the large characters which he used, intended to hint at the cause, either general bodily ill-health, or local infirmity, such as weak eyesight. If this latter suggestion be adopted, it will confirm the hypothesis mentioned in the note on ch. 4:13. But it is on the whole more probable that the largeness of the letters was intended to express the importance of the message to be conveyed. To those who have studied carefully the character of the great Apostle this view, suggested by the ablest of his early commentators and adopted by the greatest of modern expositors of his Epistles, will commend itself as in keeping with what we know of the man, and as congruous with any just estimate of the scope of the Epistle itself. In the verses which follow St Paul sums up the whole argument of the Epistle, a weighty argument on a cardinal doctrine, gathered up in a summary, weighty and powerful, and emphasised by the very characters in which it was written, ‘Golden words, proportionately transcribed.’

But do the words, ‘See in what large letters I write unto you with mine own hand,’ apply to the whole Epistle, or only to this concluding paragraph? It may be admitted that so far as the words employed in this verse are concerned, either alternative may be adopted. Alford is of opinion that ‘on account of the peculiar character of this Epistle, St Paul wrote it all with his own hand, as he did the Pastoral Epistles,’ and he finds ‘confirmation of this, in the partial resemblance of its style to those Epistles.’ Others with more probability regard the Apostle as having employed an amanuensis thus far, and at this verse to have taken the pen into his own hand. The reasons assigned for this conclusion are drawn from what we know of his practice in other Epistles. It seems from an expression in 2 Thessalonians 2:2 , where he cautions his converts against being unsettled ‘by epistle as from us,’ that letters had been forged purporting to have been written by him such forgeries were not uncommon in the subsequent history of the early Church and as a mark of genuineness he adopted the practice of adding at the end of his Epistles a few lines in his own hand, the rest having been written by Tertius, or some other amanuensis. Thus, 2 Thessalonians 3:17 , ‘The salutation of me Paul with mine own hand, which is the token in every Epistle: so I write. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.’ Comp. Romans 16:22 foll.; 1 Corinthians 16:21-24 ; Colossians 4:18 .

12. Reverting to the error which had perhaps suggested, and which certainly occupies so prominent a place in the Epistle, St Paul unmasks those who were its authors and propagators; contrasting their conduct and motives with his own.

All who desire to make a fair shew in externals, these it is who constrain you to submit to the external rite of circumcision and this, not because they are zealous for the law, but only that they may escape persecution for the Cross of Christ.

to make a fair shew ] ‘to present a fair outside to the world’, like the scribes and Pharisees, who were compared by our Lord to ‘whited sepulchres, which outwardly are fair to look upon, but within are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness,’ Matthew 23:27 .

in the flesh ] in that which is simply external, with close reference to the rite of circumcision, and in sharp contrast to that principle of faith of which a Crucified Saviour is the object and ‘a new creature’ the result. A careful consideration of Philippians 3:3-5 , will help to the understanding of St Paul’s use of this phrase. “We are the circumcision , who worship God in Spirit, and glory in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh : though I myself might even have confidence in the flesh … circumcised the eighth day, &c.” Comp. Romans 2:28 , Romans 2:29 where ‘circumcision in the flesh’, the material rite, is contrasted with ‘circumcision of the heart, in spirit &c.’

constrain you ] Make it morally obligatory on you. Comp. ch. 2:14.

only lest ] Not because they care for the Law, but solely because they lack courage to face the persecution which attends the doctrine of the Cross.

for the cross of Christ ] Lit. ‘ by ’ i.e. because of the Cross of Christ . If the false teachers constrain you to be, ‘make it necessary’ that you be circumcised, it implies that Christ’s death on the Cross is not sufficient for your salvation. To believe in, and to proclaim that sufficiency, has in all ages constituted ‘the offence of the Cross,’ and has brought obloguy and ill-usage on those who so believe and confess it. This is to suffer persecution for the Cross of Christ.

13. He justifies the imputation of a bad motive, by a fact which cannot be denied. The Judaizers could not pretend that they so complied with the terms of the Law as perfectly to fulfil its requirements. They could not be justified by the Law. They acknowledged in some sense their need of Christ. And if so, why impose one of the legal ceremonies as necessary to salvation? Their real object is to gain a party triumph, that they may make Christian converts into Jewish proselytes.

neither they themselves ] Better, ‘ not even they themselves ’.

who are circumcised ] Lit. ‘ the circumcised ’, those on whom the rite is imposed as a condition of salvation, and therefore of course those also who imposed it. Another rendering, for which there is considerable authority, is, ‘who have been circumcised’. It does not, however, suit the argument so well as the present participle.

keep the law ] This does not refer, as some suppose, to the impossibility of keeping strictly the ceremonial law, owing to the distance of many from Jerusalem and similar causes, nor to the insincerity of the men themselves, who were not enough in earnest to observe it rigorously; but, as explained above, to the moral impossibility of fulfilling the Law, on which St Paul so frequently insists, owing to the fallen nature of man.

glory in your flesh ] boast in your submission to an outward ordinance. See note on v . 12. In the later history of the Church there have been instances of the same tendency on the part of those who have gloried in the number of converts admitted to Baptism, without regard to the spiritual change of which it is the token and pledge.

14. We might have expected that St Paul would have named ‘the Spirit’ or ‘the new creature’ as the object of his boasting, in immediate contrast with ‘the flesh’, the seat of the outward rite, in which the false teachers gloried. He does mention it at the end of v . 15. But he here names that which is the root and source of ‘peace and mercy’ in this present life and of eternal salvation in the life to come. There is nearly the same contrast in Philippians 3:3 with the verbal substitution of ‘Christ Jesus’ for the ‘Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ’.

but God forbid that I ] The personal pronoun stands first in the Greek and is emphatic. ‘Others would find cause for boasting in a fleshly rite: but for my part, God forbid that I should glory &c.’ See ch. 2:17, note.

in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ ] ‘in the atoning death, as my means of reconcilement with God’ Alford. ‘Not in my suffering for Christ, but in His sufferings for me’. Lightfoot. Compare the well-known hymn, ‘When I survey the wondrous Cross &c.’. It is a death of shame and ignominy, pronounced to be accursed of God, in which St Paul will glory nay, he rejects every other ground of boasting but this alone. Such a declaration would be the raving of a maniac, unless Jesus were the Son of God, the Saviour of the world.

by whom ] R.V., ‘ through which ’. Commentators are not agreed as to the antecedent to the relative pronoun. Is it the Cross, or Christ Himself? The Greek admits of either. We have few data by which to decide. But practically it matters little. The Cross does not, it cannot mean the material Cross on which our Saviour died. That has long ago ceased to exist in its original form, even if the tradition of its discovery could be historically established. (See an interesting Article by the Rev. R. Sinker in Smith’s Dictionary of Christian Antiquities , on the Finding of the Cross.) If we read ‘by which’, the reference is not to a cross, but to the Cross, i.e. the atoning death of Christ; if ‘by whom’, it is not Christ as the glorified Son of Man, but Christ crucified that is referred to.

the world is crucified ] Lit., ‘ has been crucified ’. It is not easy to define exactly the meaning of the term ‘world’. Alford explains it as ‘the whole system of unspiritual and unchristian men and things’. Its force may be inferred from St Paul’s use of it elsewhere, e.g. 1 Corinthians 2:12 ; Ephesians 2:2 . Comp. James 1:27 , James 1:4 :4; 1 John 2:15 , 1 John 2:16 , 1 John 2:5 :19.

The world with its passing interests, its narrowly limited aims, its sordid gains, its perishable treasure, its hollow show, its mockery of satisfaction is to me like yon felon slave, nailed to the cross dying by a certain and shameful, if a lingering death. And I too am so regarded by the world. It is an object of contempt and relinquishment to me, and I to it. We seem to hear the echo of our Saviour’s own words, words so hard to understand, so much harder to act upon, Luke 14:26 .

15. See note on ch. 5:6. There the all-important thing is ‘faith working by love’; here ‘a new creature’; in 1 Corinthians 7:19 , ‘the keeping of God’s commandments’. All these are essential the being circumcised or not is in itself a matter of indifference. Why? Because the latter is an outward rite. It may be nothing more. But faith, regeneration, obedience these are spiritual and they are everything.

The words ‘in Christ Jesus’ are omitted in R.V., and for ‘availeth’ we have ‘is’. The change, for which there is ample authority, does not affect the sense.

a new creature ] The word so rendered here and in 2 Corinthians 5:17 originally had the abstract sense of ‘creation’, ‘the act of creating’ and from that, the concrete, ‘that which is created’, including the individual, and so = ‘creature’. It is to be observed that the same word is used of the calling into being of the material universe which is here (and elsewhere) used of the change which is produced in the individual soul by the operation of the Holy Ghost, when a man is brought out of a state of nature into a state of grace. Compare Mark 10:6 ; Mark 13:19 ; Romans 1:20 : and especially Revelation 4:11 with Ephesians 2:10 ; Ephesians 4:24 .

16. as many as walk ] See note on ch. 5:25. Some commentators attach to this verb a different sense, ‘as many as conform to this rule’. But the A.V. gives what is probably a correct rendering. The reading ‘ shall walk ’, adopted by R.V. is on the whole preferable on MSS. authority. At the time when the Epistle was written believers were comparatively few in number, but the blessing was a prophecy extending to all who in the long series of centuries, even to the end of the dispensation, should walk, that is, live by the same rule.

this rule ] This word originally meant a carpenter’s rod or rule for guiding and testing his work, or the tongue of a balance. Then, any standard by which to regulate procedure or conduct. The transition to the sense of a model or pattern was not difficult. It is of frequent occurrence in different applications in ecclesiastical literature. See Article ‘Canon’ in Dict. of Christian Antiquities , and Westcott On the Canon , App. A.

Here ‘this rule’ is the principle of justification through faith in the Atoning Blood, and the renewal of man’s nature by the Holy Ghost. ‘As many as walk by it’ whether circumcised or not in every age, in every clime male or female slave or free, without distinction of visible Church or sect. Surely this must be that ‘great multitude which no man can number’, of whom it is written ‘they washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb’, Revelation 7:13 .

peace be on them, and mercy ] This is probably a prayer, ‘May peace be on them’; though the original allows us to render, ‘Peace rests on them’. Peace in the soul, because of reconciliation with God. Peace with man through Him Who is ‘our peace’. But mercy also, as needed by sinners.

and upon the Israel of God ] Are ‘the Israel of God’ distinct from those who walk according to the Apostle’s rule, or are we to regard the particle ‘and’ as epexegetical , and equivalent to ‘ yea , upon &c.’? The answer will depend on the exact meaning which is attached to the expression, ‘the Israel of God’. If it means those ‘who are not of the circumcision only, but who walk in the steps’ of Abraham’s faith, i.e. Jews who have been really converted to Christianity, we must suppose St Paul to have had Gentile converted in his mind in the preceding verses. It seems better, however, to regard the expression as intended to sum up the ‘as many as’ in a phrase which is closely identified with the whole argument of the Epistle, ‘If ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise’. These are ‘the Israel of God’, whether Jews or Gentiles, for ‘the Jew is he who is one inwardly in the spirit, not in the letter’. Romans 2:29 . So that the blessing is invoked on all who walk according to the rule enunciated, and so in fact on the true Israel, not Israel after the flesh, but the Israel of the promise and of God.

17. As at the opening, so at the close of the Epistle, St Paul asserts his authority. Then it was as a duly commissioned Apostle, here it is as a tried and tested servant of his Heavenly Master. He has fully discussed the question at issue. He has said his last word upon it. From henceforth he claims exemption from the worry and distraction of controversy. As he said elsewhere, ‘If any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant’ (1 Corinthians 14:38 ).

for I bear … the Lord Jesus ] All commentators agree in regarding this as having reference to St Paul’s suffering for Christ. ‘I, unlike these false teachers, can appeal to the marks of persecution which I have undergone as proofs of the depth of my convictions, the sincerity of my faith’. But the particular expression, ‘the marks of the Lord Jesus’, may either mean the ‘wounds of Christ’ or the marks of ownership branded on the Apostle’s body, which proved him to be the ‘slave of Christ’. Certain marks (stigmata) were affixed by means of a hot iron on two classes of slaves, (1) those who had run away from their masters or had otherwise misconducted themselves, in which case they were a badge of disgrace; and (2) on slaves attached to particular temples, as the property of the deity worshipped there. Of course St Paul cannot allude to the former of these cases. He may speak figuratively of the scars which he bore on his body, from wounds received at Lystra and elsewhere, as the proofs of his devotion to the service of Christ. Bp. Lightfoot adopts this view as most appropriate. “Such a practice at all events cannot have been unknown in a country which was the home of the worship of Cybele. A ‘ sacred slave ’ is mentioned in a Galatian inscription”. There is however, something to be said for the other explanation which makes the marks of the Lord Jesus to be the wheal of the stripes inflicted on His sacred body the print of the nails and of the spear. In confirmation of this view passages are adduced in which St Paul speaks of himself as a partaker of the sufferings of Christ, of bearing about in his body the dying of the Lord Jesus, of filling up in his flesh the sufferings of Christ, 2 Corinthians 1:5 , 2 Corinthians 1:4 :10; Colossians 1:24 ; nay more, of being crucified with Christ, Romans 6:6 ; Galatians 2:20 . On the whole, however, the former account of the phrase seems preferable. Most modern expositors notice the alleged ‘ stigmata ’ of St Francis of Assisi. The connexion is limited to the identity of the term, which has been adopted by Romish hagiologists from the Latin Vulgate. The stigmata of the Saint were not marks of persecution.

18. The Epistle commenced with expostulation and rebuke. It closes with benediction. Grace is the key-note of the Apostle’s argument. Grace the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ the blessing he invokes on their behalf. It is the farewell prayer of a brother for his ‘brethren’, and it breathes the spirit of His Divine Master, of Whom we read, ‘And it came to pass, while He blessed them, He was parted from them’.

Unto the Galatians … Rome ] The Subscription in the earliest MSS. is simply, ‘To Galatians’. The additional words ‘written from Rome’ appear first in a correction of the Vatican MS. of uncertain date, and in two of the later Uncials. It has been shewn in the Introduction that the statement, which rests on no sufficient authority, is clearly incorrect.



St Paul’s Visit to Arabia

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

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

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

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

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


The following is the summary referred to on ch. 2:11 21

“We take the record in its natural, historical sense, and derive from it the following instructive lessons:

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

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

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

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

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

6. It should be remembered, however, on the other hand, first, that the question concerning the significance of the Mosaic law, and especially of the propriety of eating meat offered to idols, was a very difficult one, and continued to be agitated in the Apostolic Church (cf. 1 Cor. 8 10; Romans 14:0 ). The decree of the Council at Jerusalem (Acts 15:20 , Acts 15:29 ), after all, stated simply the duties of the Gentile converts, strictly prohibiting them the use of meat offered to idols, but it said nothing on the duties of the Jewish Christians to the former, thus leaving some room for a milder and stricter view on the subject. We should also remember that the temptation on the occasion referred to was very great, since even Barnabas, the Gentile missionary, was overcome by it.

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

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

We may add that the account of the Council in Jerusalem in Acts 15:0 likewise contradicts the Vatican system, which would have required a reference of the great controversy on circumcision to the Apostle Peter rather than to a council under the presidency of James.

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

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


Note on Ch. 2:16

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

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


On the Faith of Abraham

No one can read the Epistle to the Galatians attentively and dispassionately without being struck by the manner in which St Paul refers to the Old Testament Scriptures. It is not merely that he recognises and defers to their authority. He assumes that the Gospel of Jesus Christ was not a new Revelation, but the crowning stage in a progressive development of the Divine purposes of mercy to man, of which the germ was the promise made to Eve that her Seed should bruise the serpent’s head 1 1 See Archdeacon Perowne’s Essential Coherence of the Old and New Testaments , P. 15. . On the part of God this development, though continuous, was not uniform 2 2 God had spoken to the fathers by the prophets from Moses onwards ‘in sundry portions and in divers manners,’ Heb. 1:1. . But as regards man, the terms and conditions of acceptance were the same. Death had entered into the world by sin. The promise (nay, the command) repeated all through the ages, now in words expressly, now by type and ceremonial, was one and the same, ‘Believe and live.’ There is no exception in the command, Divine as it was, ‘Do this and thou shalt live.’ Repeated by our Lord Himself 3 3 Luke 10:28. , it was not propounded as a Gospel: but, like the Law, designed to convince of sin, and so to drive men back on the Gospel, to ‘shut them up 4 4 Gal. 3:23. ’ to accept God’s mercy on God’s own terms.

But while the universality of this principle of faith is admitted, it may seem that the object , and so the quality of faith is different in the case of Abraham and others who lived under the old dispensation from that which is exercised by Christians. To the latter the command is, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.’ It might seem that to the former the object of faith was not the same. In the case of many of the heroes of faith, of whom we have a list in the eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, there is no reference to any belief in a Saviour from sin, much less to faith in Jesus Christ of Nazareth. To this objection it may be sufficient to reply that the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews is not speaking of justifying faith , but of faith generally, trust in the unseen, of which it is the text, and so to the individual the proof or conviction of things not seen. This faith was the mainspring of the religious life and action of ‘the elders 1 1 See Bp. Westcott on Heb. 11:1: “The writer first marks the characteristics of Faith generally ( v . 1) and its application to the elementary conceptions of religion ( v . 3, comp. v . 6)). He then shews that the spiritual history of the world is a history of the victories of Faith. This is indicated by the fragmentary records of the old world (4 7), and more particularly by the records of the growth of the Divine Society (the Church). This was founded in the Faith of obedience and patience of the patriarchs (8 16); and built up in the Faith of sacrifice, sustained against natural judgment (17 22); and carried to victory by the Faith of conquest (23 31).… All these preliminary victories of Faith await their consummation from the Faith of Christians (39, 40).” .’ But as regards Abraham, at any rate, although the promise (Genesis 15:5 ) might seem to be only temporal the promise of a posterity countless as the stars of heaven yet ‘it contained in it the promise of Christ.’ It must be borne in mind that Abraham had already exercised faith in the word and promise of God (Genesis 12:1-4 , Genesis 12:7 , Genesis 12:8 , 13:Genesis 12:14-18 , Genesis 12:15 :1). But at length a special demand is made upon his faith: God sees fit on a particular occasion and in a special form to renew to him the promise, preceded by the assurance, ‘Fear not Abraham, I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.’ And when the promise was given, the patriarch ‘believed the Lord, and He counted it to him for righteousness.’ With what degree of clearness Abraham was permitted to foresee the future Reconciler, by whom and in whom alone God is reconciled to man and man to God, we know not. But we have our Lord’s own declaration, ‘Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day; and he saw it and was glad.’ Bp. O’Brien, On the Nature, and Effects of Faith , Sermon 1. pp. 15 19.


On Chapter 3:20

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

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

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

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

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

Additional note on ch. 2:20

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

A comparison of two other passages of the N. T. will serve to throw light on this verse. In Ephesians 2:4 St Paul speaks of that ‘great love wherewith God loved us, and even when we were dead in sins quickened us together with Christ’. In Revelation 1:5 St John ascribes praise ‘to Him that loveth us and released us from our sins in His own blood’. In the former of these passages, the love displayed is that of God the Father 1 1 This love of God is ‘in Christ Jesus our Lord’. Rom. 8:39. Comp. v. 35. . Here it is the Lord Jesus Christ who loved the Apostle. In the latter passage, the love of Christ is regarded as still exercised, unchanged, towards those who are its objects 2 2 The present tense, ‘loveth us’, has the support of the best MSS., and is adopted in the R. V. . (Comp. John 13:1 .) But in both passages it is the love of the Church collectively, not of the individual Christian, which is affirmed. In the verse before us St Paul appropriates this love. His language is intensely personal. ‘Who loved me’. He claims as his own the assurance made long before to the prophet Jeremiah (ch. 31:3), ‘I have loved thee with an everlasting love’. Of this love the proof and pledge was the great Sacrifice of the Cross. He ‘gave Himself for me’. There is no boasting here, save that which the Apostle avows when he says (Galatians 6:14 ) ‘God forbid that I should glory save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ’. Such boasting is the confidence of true humility, the faith which constitutes personal Christianity.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Galatians 6". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cgt/galatians-6.html. 1896.
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