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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges


- Galatians

The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

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

Bishop of Worcester.

the epistle to the



with introduction and notes


the rev. e. h. perowne, D.D.

master of corpus christi college, cambridge;

prebendary of st asaph.



at the university press.


[ All Rights reserved. ]


by the general editor

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

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


I. Introduction

I. Galatia and the Galatian Churches

II. St Paul’s visit to Galatia

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

IV. The Authorship and Canonicity of the Epistle

II. Notes

III. Appendices

IV. Additional Note on c. 2:20

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

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

St Paul.

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



I. Galatia and the Galatian Churches

The term Galatia is used sometimes to designate the Roman Province which was constituted by Augustus (b.c. 25), sometimes a more limited tract of country, which was occupied by, and took its name from the Celtic invaders, who early in the third century before Christ over-ran Asia Minor and finally settled in a central district of the Peninsula. In the New Testament the term is probably employed in the latter sense; and we may understand by ‘the Churches of Galatia’ the bodies of Christian converts established in the three principal cities of Ancyra, Pessinus and Tavium; ‘perhaps also at Juliopolis, the ancient Gordium, formerly the capital of Phrygia, almost equidistant from the three seas, and from its central position a busy mart 1 1 Lightfoot, p. 18. Livy, xxxviii. 18. ’. It is essential to a right understanding of the Epistle that we should ascertain all that can be known of the history, condition, and character of the persons addressed. Such an investigation will not only enable us to explain allusions otherwise obscure, but, by throwing light on the circumstances and mutual relations of writer and readers, will confirm our belief of the authenticity of the Epistle.

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

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

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

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

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

It is remarkable that there is nothing in the Epistle which suggests the presence of a Roman element in these churches. In Galatia, as in Jerusalem, there were doubtless to be found not only “strangers of Rome 1 1 “Sojourners from Rome.” R. V. ” (Acts 2:10 ) but Roman residents. But their individuality seems to be merged in their relation to the metropolis of the world. They were less the members of a nation than the citizens of an Empire, and if some Romans were to be found in the Churches of Galatia, their cosmopolitan character seems to have prevented any national impress being stamped by them on the Christian community.

With the other four nationalities which made up the population of Galatia the case is very different. Though we may not be able always clearly to distinguish between the Phrygian and Gallic elements in the Galatian Churches and the allusions to them in the Epistle, yet both existed and both are occasionally brought into marked prominence. The worship of Cybele and Dionysus, with its orgiastic rites and ‘hideous mutilations’ must have been the expression of the popular temperament, whether it had its origin in the country or was adopted and perpetuated there. And the danger of converts regarding such abominations with tolerance, and even of relapsing under the influence of habit and early association, must have been as great as that to which the converts from heathenism in our own day are exposed. Hence we find St Paul including in a list of the works of the flesh, “idolatry, witchcraft, drunkennesses, revellings 2 2 ch. 5:19. ”. The two latter sins are indeed contained in a similar enumeration in the Epistle to the Romans 3 3 Rom. 13:13. . But we must remember that every form of foreign religion found a welcome and a home in Rome. The allusion in ch. 5:12 is doubtful; but if the view taken by most commentators is correct, the reference must be to the practice of the priests of Cybele, and will justify the inference that the worship of the goddess with its foul concomitants was still maintained in Galatia.

The presence of the Gaulish element in the population and Churches of Galatia is more distinctly recognised in the Epistle. The abrupt remonstrance with which the Apostle follows up his brief exordium points to that restless, impulsive fickleness 1 1 ch. 1:6, see note. which has been noticed by Cæsar and Tacitus as a common feature in the character of the Gallic tribes. The eagerness with which they embraced Christianity 2 2 ch. 4:13 15. ; the enthusiastic welcome given to St Paul on his first visit; the jealous partisanship, to which perhaps the only parallel in the Apostolic Church manifested itself at Corinth; the susceptibility to personal influence; the readiness to run after any new teacher, to adopt any new doctrine on the score not of its truth but its novelty these are characteristics of the Gallic race, depicted by ancient heathen writers, and illustrated by many passages in the Epistle before us. Comparing this letter with that to the Romans, while the doctrine taught is the same, and the subject treated of remarkably similar, we feel that the persons addressed are quite dissimilar, and if the absence of national features (noticed above) is conspicuous in the Roman Epistle, no less striking is the recognition of such features in the Galatian Church a recognition wholly inartificial and undesigned, and which stamps the Epistle with the clearest mark of authenticity.

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

But the most prominent among the nationalities which St Paul encountered when he first visited Galatia was the Jewish. Doubtless here, as elsewhere, he commenced his work as a Christian Missionary in the local synagogue, to which, as a Jew, he found ready admission. That which had been the centre of his Divine Master’s labours was the centre of his own and of the labours of his fellow Apostles. But the circle was enlarged with an ever increasing radius. Our Lord declared that He in His own ministry was ‘not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel;’ and when the Apostles went forth to preach the Gospel to every creature, not only did they begin at Jerusalem, but they everywhere followed the same law, offering the good tidings ‘to the Jew first’. In Galatia, as at Philippi and Thessalonica, St Paul’s first converts would probably be Jews, and Jews must have formed a large and important element in the Churches of Galatia. If in his controversy with them he constantly appealed to the authority of their own Scriptures 1 1 Acts 17:2 4. , the Gentile enquirers could not fail to be impressed with the high value which the Apostle set upon the Old Testament, as God’s revelation, and to become familiarised with those portions of it by which he confirmed his message. In this way we can understand how we not only meet with numerous references to and quotations from the Old Testament in this Epistle, but how the Mosaic Scriptures are interwoven with the whole texture of the Apostle’s argument. Were it possible to unravel and draw out those Jewish threads, the fabric would be destroyed.

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

II. St Paul’s Visits to Galatia

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

It seems from some expressions in this Epistle that this defection had commenced at the time of St Paul’s second visit to Galatia 1 1 See note on ch. 4:16. , which took place on his third great missionary journey. St Luke’s mention of this visit is limited to a notice of the fact that after spending some time at Antioch ‘he departed, and went through the region of Galatia and Phrygia in order, confirming all the disciples.’ From this statement we are warranted in concluding that the seed sown by St Paul on his first visit had sprung up with unexampled rapidity, and had not only produced the full corn in the ear, but sheaves of grain. Individual converts had multiplied, and had been gathered into Christian congregations ‘the churches of Galatia’.

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

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

It is argued with great probability that this Epistle was written about the same time as those to the Corinthians and Romans. From two allusions ‘which otherwise it is difficult to account for 1 1 Bp. Lightfoot, p. 53. ,’ it may be inferred (in the absence of direct proof) that the Epistle to the Galatians followed the 2nd Epistle to the Corinthians at a very short interval; while the striking resemblance not only in words, phrases, and quotations, but in trains of thought and argument, between Galatians and Romans points to the conclusion that the two Epistles were written consecutively, while the Apostle’s circumstances were the same and his thoughts flowing in the same channel.

It may be convenient to notice these coincidences separately: ( a ) The Second Epistle to the Corinthians contains directions for the treatment of the incestuous person a plea for his forgiveness and restoration. In our Epistle (ch. 6:1) we read, ‘Brethren, even if a man be overtaken in any transgression, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness.’ This exhortation, introduced without preface or connexion with the context, is just what might have been expected if St Paul wrote while the case of the Corinthian offender was fresh in his mind. And the tenderness of his tone here is in deepest harmony with the reason he assigns there for leniency, ‘lest such an one be swallowed up by over-much sorrow 2 2 2 Cor. 2:7. .’

( b ) Again, in ch. 6:7 foll. we have an exhortation to liberality abruptly introduced with the words, ‘Be not deceived; God is not mocked.’ Now we learn from 1 Corinthians 16:1 , that St Paul had sent directions to the Churches of Galatia respecting contributions for the relief of the poor saints in Jerusalem. He had kept up communication by messengers with the Galatian converts during the time which had elapsed since his last visit, and it would seem that he had heard of their want of liberality, as well as of their departure from the simplicity and purity of the faith. How natural is the rebuke, when the circumstances which provoked it are thus explained! Such circumstances, coincidental rather than accidental, corroborate the view which has been adopted of the close connexion of the Epistles in order of time 1 1 For further instances see ‘Epistle to the Romans’ in this Series, by the Rev. H. C. G. Moule, Appendix K., p. 267. .

( c ) Many commentators have collected the parallel passages 2 2 See Bp. Lightfoot, pp. 44 47; ‘Romans’ by Rev. H. C. G. Moule, pp. 29, 30, where the passages are ‘arranged under doctrinal heads.’ which occur in the Epistles to the Galatians and Romans, and to these the student is referred, as well-nigh forcing on the mind the conclusion that the latter Epistle was composed very shortly after that to the Galatians of which it is the outgrowth and expansion. The brief, though pregnant, statement of doctrine which arises in the one case out of the condition of epistolary correspondence is developed in the later letter into a treatise so full as to be well-nigh exhaustive. But it is not so much by a comparison of detached passages striking as is the resemblance (in many cases the identity) of expression as by a careful study of the subject-matter of the two Epistles, that we are led (in the absence of direct historical evidence), to place the date of the Epistle to the Romans as the latest limit, subsequently to which the letter to the Galatians could not have been written. Now the time at which the Epistle to the Romans was written can be fixed with certainty, viz. early in a.d. 58, during the fourth year of the emperor Nero. And we may therefore assign the year a.d. 57 as the date of the Epistle to the Galatians 3 3 In determining the date of the Epistle no allusion has been made to the expression “so soon” in ch. 1:6. Great stress has been laid on this by some editors. But its importance disappears if the view taken in the note on the passage is correct that the adverb which is rendered ‘soon’ here, as in 2 Thess. 2:2, is not a particle of time, but is equivalent to ‘readily, hastily, or rashly.’ .

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

(2) Our Lord declared that He came not to destroy the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfil them 1 1 Matt. 5:17. ; and the Gospel preached by Himself and His Apostles was in perfect agreement with the older Revelation, of which it was the spiritual explication. Every Jew who was ‘instructed unto 2 2 Matt. 13:52. ‘Made a disciple to.’ R. V. the kingdom of heaven’ recognised this truth, and accepted the Apostolic teaching, not as an addition to, much less as opposed to, the teaching of Moses and the prophets, but as its development and accomplishment. Hence, as regards those Jews who embraced Christianity, we find no trace in the New Testament of any call to leave the Church of their fathers or to abandon the ritual imposed on them by God Himself 1 1 In Acts 6:7 we read, that ‘a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith,’ but neither here nor elsewhere is any hint given that they were required to discontinue their priestly functions or to cease from executing their office before God in the order of their course. It was not until this became no longer possible, when the Temple was destroyed and God by His Providence dispensed with obedience to the Law by making obedience impossible then and not till then was the obligation relaxed by the same authority (though not by the same means) by which it had been imposed. . But the case of the Gentile converts was different. The Mosaic law had not been given to them, and they were under no obligation to comply with its precepts. Such compliance in itself might be harmless, but it formed no part of that new Covenant into which they entered at their Baptism a new covenant as contrasted with the Mosaic, but really the same covenant which God made with Abraham, a covenant in which all nations were to be blessed, and which the Law ‘which came four hundred and thirty years after’ could not disannul. And if conformity to the ceremonial law was made binding on them as a condition of salvation, it could only mean that faith in the Lord Jesus Christ was not sufficient, and so virtually that human merit must be added to the efficacy of Christ’s death to make it complete as a satisfaction for human sin.

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

This ‘zeal 1 1 Compare St Paul’s language in reference to this feeling, ch. 4:17. ’ which had manifested itself in Judæa 2 2 Acts 15:1 foll. and afterwards at Antioch was quite independent of local influences. It made its appearance wherever there was a considerable Jewish element in an infant Church, and soon began to show itself in the Churches of Galatia. Here its error found a congenial soil in which to strike root and spread. The impulsiveness of the Gaul led him to accept without consideration the latest dogma, if only it was propounded loudly and in a tone of authority; and while many were drifting without compunction from the truth on which their souls had anchored under the pilotage of the Apostles, the faith of the Church itself was in danger of being fatally corrupted.

The Judaizing party in Galatia felt that one obstacle stood in the way of the success at which they aimed the personal authority and influence of St Paul. The founder of the Christian communities of Galatia had at his second visit repeated the clear and explicit proclamation of salvation by faith in Christ apart from the works of the law, and he had probably continued by messages to shew his interest in their spiritual welfare and to be a helper of their faith. Hence the Judaizers sought to weaken his influence by disparaging his authority. They denied his Apostolic call. He was not one of the Twelve, and might be supposed to have learned the doctrines which he taught, and even to have derived his commission from those who were the personal companions of the Lord Jesus. If therefore the truth of the Gospel were in question, the appeal would lie to Peter and James and John, who were of reputation as pillars of the Church. But not content with thus directly impugning St Paul’s authority, the Judaizing party insinuated that his own conduct was inconsistent with his teaching. Had he not circumcised Timothy at Lystra ‘because of the Jews that were in those parts 3 3 Acts 16:3. ?’ Had he not in compliance with the advice, if not in obedience to the direction of James paid the expenses of four men which had a vow on them 1 1 Acts 21:20 26. The vow was that of the Nazarite (Numbers 6), and the ‘charges’ incurred were for the sacrifices (v. 14) which had to be offered. These charges were often defrayed by rich Jews on behalf of their poorer brethren. ? And was not this a recognition of the ceremonial law? Such insinuations were easily made; and while not denying the facts alleged, St Paul was prepared with an answer to the conclusions which his opponents drew from them. He devotes the first division of his Epistle to the vindication of his Apostolic authority against those who denied his Divine Commission and those who disparaged his teaching on the score of personal inconsistency 2 2 It is interesting to contrast St Paul’s elaborate assertion and proof of his authority with the tone of conscious Deity which pervades the Great Master’s discourses. ‘He spake as one having authority.’ . But this vindication of himself was only preliminary to the re-assertion and complete vindication of the doctrine which he taught. He knew that the real point at issue between him and his opponents was not whether the rite of circumcision was or was not imperative on Gentile converts. He did not mistake the symptom for the disease, or lose sight of the great fundamental principle of the Gospel, while considering its application to a particular case.

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

This assertion of the great doctrine (which Luther declared to be the test of a standing or a falling Church), that man is justified by faith apart from the works of the Law, has always been liable to abuse. Indeed, while some have inferred from it that the profession of a correct creed exempts a man from the obligation of the moral law, some men of saintly spirit, longing for deliverance from sin and earnestly striving after holiness, have hesitated to accept a Gospel which makes faith alone the condition of acceptance with God. Hence the Apostle concludes his letter with practical exhortations which shew the absolute necessity of good works, not as antecedent to, but as the fruit of faith. That which he commanded Titus to affirm confidently, he confidently affirmed himself, ‘that they which have believed God may be careful to maintain good works 1 1 Titus 3:8; comp. 2:11 14. .’

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

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

analysis of the contents of the epistle.

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

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

6 10. The subject and occasion of the Epistle.

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

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

11 21. Visit to Antioch and Contention with St Peter.

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

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

6 9. Exemplified by the case of Abraham.

10 14. The Curse of the Law. No deliverance except by Faith.

15 18. The Gospel a Covenant of Promise; to which

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

4. Continuation of the Argument.

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

8 11. Danger of going back to the observance of the Legal Ceremonial.

12 20. Personal appeal.

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

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

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

13 15. Liberty must not be abused.

16 26. The spiritual life of Liberty inconsistent with the indulgence of the works of the Flesh.

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.

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

IV. The Authorship and Canonicity of the Epistle

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

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

Justin Martyr (a.d. 150) in his Dialogue with Trypho , ch. xcv., xcvi., after declaring that ‘every race of man will be found under a curse ’ (comp. Galatians 3:10 ), quotes the two passages from Deuteronomy 1 1 Deut. 27:26, and 21:23. which are quoted by St Paul, in such a way as to shew that he had a knowledge of this Epistle. In his first Apology , ch. liii, he makes the same use of Isaiah 54:1 , ‘Rejoice, thou barren, that bearest not,’ &c., which St Paul makes of it (comp. Galatians 4:27 ).

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

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

‘The Epistle to the Galatians’ is found in all the known Canons of Scripture proceeding from the Catholic Church in the second century. It is contained in the Syriac and Old Latin versions, completed, it would appear, early in the century. It is distinctly recognised also in the Canon of the Muratorian Fragment (probably not later than 170 a.d.) 1 1 Bp Lightfoot, p. 58. .’ From the end of the second century onwards the Epistle is referred to by name and commented on as the undoubted work of St Paul, and of canonical authority.

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

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