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by William Robertson Nicol
THE EPISTLE OF PAUL
TEXT. The text of this Epistle has been constructed with due regard to the traditional text ( Textus Receptus ) on which our Authorised Version was based. But the discovery of MSS. not then known, and the critical study of ancient authorities since that time, necessitate careful revision and extensive alteration of that text. For this purpose the editor has relied mainly on Tischendorf’s collation of MSS. The Apparatus Criticus is based on his authority and follows his notation. It contains all the MS. evidence which appears really important for determination of the text. The following letters are used to designate uncial MSS.:
א Sinaiticus  . F Augiensis. A Alexandrinus. G Boernerianus. B Vaticanus. H Coislinianus. C Ephraemi. K Mosquensis. D Claromontanus. L Angelicus. E Sangermanensis. P Porfirianus.  א Codex Sinaiticus (sæc. iv.), now at St. Petersburg, published in facsimile type by its discoverer, Tischendorf, in 1862.
Corrections of ancient date, inserted in the uncial MSS., are indicated by small letters or numerals (a, c, 1, 3) attached to the capital letters. Cursive MSS. are denoted by the numerals generally accepted for their designation.
The readings, punctuation, and division of paragraphs differ here and there from those adopted by Westcott and Hort. The reasons for these variations may be gathered from the notes.
PAULINE AUTHORSHIP. Widely different opinions are entertained by critics with regard to the date of the Epistle and the locality of the Galatian Churches. But its authorship has never been seriously questioned. This unanimity of tradition is probably due to the nature of its contents. For it is stamped throughout with characteristic features of the Pauline mind and spirit. Matter and style alike attest the personality of the Apostle to the Gentiles. It unites dialectic skill in criticising the language and history of the Old Testament, and a comprehensive philosophy which assigns to law, to the spirit, and to the flesh their several functions in God’s government of the world, with intense spirituality and absolute devotion to the Lord Jesus. The Apostle Paul alone of the Apostles and their contemporaries exhibited this rare combination of mental and spiritual qualities. None of his Epistles is more certainly genuine, none gives so vivid a picture of his mind and character during the most active stage of his apostolic career.
ANCIENT TESTIMONY. The adoption of its language by Fathers of the Church in the second century proves its antiquity and high reputation in their time. Polycarp borrows ἥτις ἐστὶ μήτηρ πάντων ἡμῶν from Galatians 4:26 , and θεὸς οὐ μυκτηρίζεται from Galatians 6:7 ; Irenæus gives a Latin version of Galatians 3:19 , referring to the Epistle by name; Justin Martyr reproduces Γίνεσθε ὡς ἐγώ , ὅτι κἀγὼ ( ἤμην ) ὡς ὑμεῖς from Galatians 4:12 , and ἔχθραι ἔρεις ζῆλος ἐριθεῖαι θῦμοι … καὶ τὰ ὅμοια τούτοις from Galatians 5:20 . Its canonicity is established by its insertion in every Canon of Scripture. Marcion also placed it at the head of his catalogue of Pauline Epistles.
ANTECEDENTS OF THE GALATIAN CONVERTS. Throughout the Epistle the author assumes the position of Founder, he addresses the Galatians as his own converts and claims special authority over them in the name of Christ who had made him Apostle and committed to him the ministry of the Gospel among them. One passage in the Epistle brings into prominence the diverse elements which entered into their composition, reminding us that, like other Pauline Churches, they were mixed bodies comprehending a minority of Jewish Christians (Galatians 3:28 ). But the circumcised minority are in general ignored (Galatians 4:8 ), for the Epistle is specially addressed to the Greek converts, who had not yet accepted circumcision, but had of late been urged by agitators to submit to it for the sake of the covenanted blessings attached to it at its institution. These uncircumcised Greeks formed apparently the mass of the Galatian Churches: there is at the same time no doubt that they had been for some time regular attendants on the teaching of the synagogue, for the Epistle assumes throughout their familiarity with the patriarchal history, the Law, the Psalms and Prophets, as well as expositions of Scriptural topics by Jewish teachers. They had belonged, in fact, to the body of devout Gentiles who frequented Jewish synagogues, studied Jewish Scriptures, and found many points of sympathy with their theology and morality, but repudiated their ceremonial law, and so formed a distinct class apart from the Jewish congregation.
LOCALITY OF THE GALATIAN CHURCHES. The locality of these Churches demands attentive consideration, for on the determination of this depends not only the date of the Epistle, but the whole of its historical connection with the life of Paul. The theory that these Churches were situated amidst the Keltic population in the north-east of Asia Minor, though it wraps much of their early history in darkness, requires us to assume that they were founded during the missionary journey of Paul and Silas across Asia Minor and revisited by Paul three years later: otherwise it could not be reconciled with the narrative of the Acts. The reaction therefore towards Judaism, which evoked the Epistle, cannot be dated before the commencement of his Ephesian ministry. Now before that time Paul had openly broken with the synagogue at Corinth and established Churches in Achaia practically independent of Judaism. Is it reasonable to conclude that a Pharisaic reaction in some of the Pauline Churches was then for the first time started with success and excited in his mind the lively apprehension which is here expressed? In my judgment the history of Greek Christianity precludes it, for a very real and formidable agitation on this very subject had once already run its course, and been so decisively checked in Syria and Palestine after the success of Paul and Barnabas in Southern Galatia as to render its renewal quite hopeless. A demand was made at Antioch by a Pharisaic party for the circumcision of all Christians, the authority of Paul and Barnabas was openly challenged, and the peace of the Church was endangered by conflicting views. But the decisive condemnation of this agitation at Jerusalem led to its speedy collapse; there is no trace, outside this Epistle, of its subsequent revival in any Greek Church. On the contrary the career of Paul within the next two or three years irrevocably established the independence of Greek Christianity; hence I conclude that the two intrigues of the Pharisaic party, first at Antioch, next in the Galatian Churches, recorded in this Epistle were but a later stage of the movement recorded in the Acts last expiring efforts of Judaism to arrest the growing freedom of Greek converts.
But putting aside for the present the question of date, is there ground for supposing that these Churches were planted in the cities of Northern Galatia, Ancyra Pessinus and Tavium, as the late Bishop Lightfoot persistently contended, rather than in those of Southern Galatia, the Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe, as Professor Ramsay maintains? Great weight is deservedly attached to the opinion of Bishop Lightfoot; but it must be remembered that it was formed more than a generation ago, when comparatively little was known of the internal geography of Asia Minor, or of its condition under the Cæsars: whereas Professor Ramsay’s advocacy of the opposite view is founded on intimate acquaintance with the geography and history of the country during the first century. Again, Paul’s foundation of the four southern Churches and subsequent visits to them are well-attested facts, while he is not known to have visited the northern division at all. It had indeed little attraction for an educated Greek as a sphere of missionary enterprise, and held out little promise of success, for it was then inhabited mainly by an imperfectly civilised population of Keltic herdsmen and shepherds. If the authenticity of the Acts be admitted, the earliest occasion on which Paul was within reach of Northern Galatia, and can have founded Churches there, was on his way to Troas and Macedonia. It has accordingly been suggested that he may then have turned aside to preach amidst that people. But every stage of that journey was accomplished under the immediate guidance of the Spirit, and the silence of the narrative, written as it was by a fellow-Christian who accompanied the apostolic party from Troas onwards, is conclusive against that theory. That history leaves the reader virtually no choice but to identify the Galatian Churches with the four whose foundation it records. It is futile to object that the instability which the Epistle reproves in the Galatians was characteristic of a Keltic people, for it belonged as certainly to the populace of the southern cities, or that there may have been Jews and Greeks in the northern cities when history establishes the special preponderance of these elements in the southern. The further contention that the name Galatia was not extended to the southern division of the province save in official language ignores the fact that the province had been seventy-five years in existence and really furnished the only collective name for the heterogeneous races incorporated in it under the previous rule of Galatian kings. If it be urged again that Paul would not have designated his Churches by the name of the province, the answer is that throughout his Epistles he invariably groups his Churches according to provinces, whether Syria or Asia, Macedonia or Achaia. His reference in this Epistle to the Churches of Judæa and to his ministry in Cilicia can hardly be reckoned an exception, for these were quasi-provinces governed independently by imperial procurators. Nor was this practice a mere accident of language: it faithfully reflected his deliberate policy of Church extension, suggested perhaps by the example of the Jewish Dispersion, who had before planted their synagogues in the principal centres of commerce and civilisation. It was certainly his practice to establish groups of Churches round the several capitals of provinces, and link those centres together by chains of Churches along the main roads, and so to create an ecclesiastical organisation closely corresponding to the existing divisions of the Empire. We find for instance that he made the provincial capitals Antioch, Corinth and Ephesus successive centres of Church life as they were of imperial administration, and surrounded each with its group of dependent Churches. But for Jewish malice he might have done the same for Thessalonica; and his eager aspiration to visit Rome reveals still wider projects for multiplying these federations of Churches until they became coextensive with the Empire.
Hence I conclude that in this Epistle also the name Galatia denotes the province, as it clearly does in 1 Peter 1:1 , and that the Galatian Churches were those in its southern portion whose foundation is recorded in the Acts. This conclusion is confirmed by the leading part assigned to the Galatian Churches in the collection for the Saints (1 Corinthians 16:1 ). It is further supported by the previous course of Galatian history.
GALATIAN HISTORY. The Greek name Galatia denoted originally, like the Roman Gallia, the country of the Gauls or Kelts ( Γαλάται ). About B.C. 278 a considerable detachment of warriors, roughly estimated at 20,000, broke off from three of the Keltic tribes that poured down on Greece, and made their way across into Asia Minor with wives and children. As war was their trade and only means of subsistence, they scoured the country far and wide, sometimes plundering on their own account, sometimes allying themselves with various kings and cities, or taking service under them as mercenary soldiers. Eventually they formed permanent encampments under native chieftains in the north-east of Phrygia, south of Bithynia and Pontus, speaking their own language and dwelling apart from the older Phrygian inhabitants. This district became consequently known as Galatia: its broad stretches of upland afforded pasture for their flocks and herds, and their families found safe homes in their cantonments. But the limits of their territory were still unsettled, depending continually on the fortune of war: for the tribesmen retained their predatory habits and were hardly ever at peace with all their neighbours. At last, however, in B.C. 189 they were forced by a crushing defeat which they encountered at the hands of the Romans to respect the peace of their neighbours, and began to cultivate home industries within their own borders. Gradually they mingled more freely than at first with the Phrygian population, adopted their religion, though they retained their own language, and dwelt among them as a dominant race, so that Northern Galatia became the home of a settled people.
But a century later the Mithridatic wars swept to and fro across their country, obliterating the old landmarks and opening a new chapter in Galatian history. Many of their chieftains distinguished themselves on the Roman side, and were rewarded with large grants of territory outside the old borders: one in particular, Deiotarus, became by the favour of Pompey the most powerful monarch in Asia Minor. He and his successors were enabled by the active part which they took in the ensuing civil wars of Rome, or by judicious desertion of the losing cause, to enlarge and consolidate their kingdom until it embraced Southern Phrygia with parts of Lycaonia and Pisidia, and extended to the range of Taurus. This was the kingdom which the last native ruler Amyntas bequeathed to the Romans at his death in B.C. 25. A Roman province was formed out of it, and retained the name Galatia which had belonged to it under its Galatian king. There is nothing in this history of gradual expansion to justify the arbitrary restriction of the name to the northern division alone.
Still less reasonable does this appear in the light of its subsequent history. For seventy-five years before this Epistle was written Galatia had formed a single province of the Empire. Now the unity of an imperial province was not merely official, but affected all the relations of life. A system of centralised despotism prevailed under the Cæsars which concentrated all authority military, civil, judicial alike in the hands of the governor; commercial and financial matters were regulated by him; his court was the centre of social life. The name Galatia therefore in the N.T. can only mean the great central province of Asia Minor which bore that name.
But in the middle of the first century there was a wide difference in language, occupation, nationality, social organisation, between the northern and southern portions of the province. The northern was still mainly Keltic and pastoral with comparatively little commerce and few roads. Southern Galatia, on the contrary, was full of flourishing cities, and enriched by the constant flow of commerce across it. This was the natural result of its geographical position and political history. In ancient times it formed the highway along which the Asiatic monarchs of the interior maintained their communication with the western coast. When Greek monarchs ruled in Syria and Asia Minor, the high-road between their two capitals Antioch and Ephesus passed through it and it became a principal channel for the flow of Greek commerce and civilisation eastwards. They were careful accordingly to plant and foster colonies of Greeks and Jews along the line of route. Hence came the mingled population of Greeks and Jews amidst whom Paul found so congenial a soil for planting Christian Churches. Augustus Cæsar in due time inherited the policy of the Syrian monarchs together with their dominions in Asia, planting fresh colonies in that region in order to secure the important high-road to the east for his legions and for the interchange of commerce. The citizens of these various colonies and municipalities had but one collective name the name of the imperial province to which they belonged. So also the Galatian Christians, though for the most part of Greek or Jewish origin (as the tenor of previous history suggests), could hardly be addressed by any other name than that of Galatians.
JOINT MISSION OF PAUL AND BARNABAS. Throughout the early history of Greek Christianity no more important event is recorded than the conversion of Southern Galatia. The area of Christendom had not till then been extended beyond Syria, Roman Cilicia, and the island of Cyprus. The successful ministry of Paul and Barnabas in Galatia added a new province to the kingdom of Christ, drove a wedge deep into the heart of an idolatrous region, and established a valuable outpost for further advance into Asiatic and European Greece. And the special character impressed by the circumstances of that ministry upon the new Churches gave additional importance to their foundation beyond the material extension which it effected in the area of Christendom. There for the first time Paul made a direct appeal to his Gentile hearers against Jewish opposition, and met with an enthusiastic response. These Churches started in consequence with an overwhelming majority of Gentile converts. In them for the first time the Jewish Christians, who had hitherto held an undisputed initiative in the Church, found themselves in a decisive minority. This altered relation of Greeks and Jews produced a crisis in the history of Greek Christianity, and in the apostolic career of Paul himself. For the Greeks had previously occupied a subordinate position in the Church, and the Apostle to the Gentiles had played a secondary part in the ministry of the Gospel. When, however, he boldly denounced the Jewish people and their rulers in the Galatian synagogue for the murder of Christ, proclaimed him the light of the Gentiles, and overruled the claims of the Law in favour of purely spiritual doctrines of divine forgiveness and grace, of human faith and repentance, the Greeks recognised in Jesus the Saviour of the whole world rather than the promised Messiah of the Hebrews, and rallied round the Apostle as the foremost champion of Greek freedom in Christ. It was the commencement of a veritable revolution. Hitherto Christianity had been regarded for the most part as a national religion, it was now perceived to be a world-wide revelation, and an irreconcilable antagonist to the narrow formal creed of the Jewish synagogue. Gentiles had indeed been admitted to the Church many years before, when Peter baptised Cornelius and his friends; and the assembled Church had then solemnly ratified his act. The right of believing Gentiles to Christian baptism had thenceforth become a fundamental law of the Church, sealed to them in perpetuity by a divine charter which none could gainsay. But the acceptance of this principle had wrought little visible effect upon the structure or government of the Church. No sudden influx of Gentile converts flooded the existing Churches; they only grew insensibly by continual adhesion of individual Gentiles or groups of Gentiles to older congregations of Jewish Christians. The process of conversion was too silent and gradual to exercise material influence over the prevailing spirit of the community or to remodel its ministry and organisation. Christian teachers retained in those early years the stamp of their Jewish training, partly because the Hebrew Scriptures continued to be the only written Canon of faith and practice (though they had learned to interpret them in a new spirit), but still more because the Apostles and older disciples had grown up to manhood before they had known Jesus, had accepted the Law for their rule of life, and drawn their inspiration from the writings of Hebrew prophets; they prided themselves on their descent from Abraham and the patriarchs, rested on God’s ancient covenants with Israel, and fixed their hopes on the future kingdom of the national Messiah, which had a deeper significance for them than for other Jews because their faith was concentrated on the person of a living Lord who had risen from the dead and ascended into heaven. Again, the outward environment of the Church was no less Jewish than the spirit of its teaching, for the synagogue was still the only centre of public ministry open to Christian teachers. Thither the brethren resorted regularly for reading of the Scriptures, for united prayer and praise, and for religious instruction; there they delivered addresses to mixed congregations of Jews and Christians, basing their doctrine on the Jewish Canon. They claimed, in fact, to be a reformed branch of the ancient national Church, and were long regarded by the Greek world as a purely Jewish sect.
Accordingly, the conversion of the Gentiles made at first but slow progress; few came within touch of the Christian ministry but those who had already become regular attendants on the worship of the synagogue, the devout Gentiles who clustered round Jewish congregations in Greek cities. These were not proselytes, for they shrank from circumcision with all the ceremonial bondage and social exclusiveness which it entailed; but they had become familiar with the language, the history and the spirit of the Old Testament, and had accepted much of its theology and morality. They were predisposed by these antecedents to listen gladly to a Gospel which placed the love of God and man above ritual observance and taught the brotherhood of all mankind: and so embraced the faith in considerable numbers. But these Greeks had no rights whatever in the Jewish congregation; though their attendance was tolerated, if not encouraged, they were only admitted on sufferance. They were therefore at first content, after having occupied so subordinate a position in the synagogue, to fill a secondary place in the Church, and to acquiesce willingly in the leadership of Jewish Christians.
These considerations account for the tardy growth of Gentile Christianity, which lingered for several years on the eastern coast of the Levant without an attempt to raise its voice in the Greek cities to the west.  Even in Antioch, afterwards the mother-city of Greek Christianity, the Greeks were slow to vindicate their independence of Judaism. The prompt response however of that Church to the call of the Spirit for special labourers in the Lord’s vineyard attested at last the growing strength of their spiritual life and their hopeful confidence in the future of the Kingdom. The diffusion of the faith had up to that time been due more to providential circumstances than to spontaneous effort; refugees had been driven by persecution to seek safety in distant cities, and had carried their faith with them in their flight. But the mission of Barnabas and Saul was a purely missionary enterprise despatched for the express purpose of extending the Gospel to the islands and coasts of the Mediterranean. The two Apostles were necessarily invested with wide discretion in regard to the conduct of their mission; neither their route nor their methods could be fully determined in advance, for they depended on future openings that might present themselves, and were therefore in large measure left to their own judgment. But the direction in which it was launched gives a clear intimation of the desires and hopes that animated its authors; it turned its back on Palestine and the East, and set its face toward Asiatic Greece and the famous centres of Greek civilisation; it was, in short, a message from a Greek Church to their Greek brethren in other lands.
 Thirteen years elapsed between the conversion of Saul and the Apostolic Council. The baptism of Cornelius took place before Christian refugees from Jerusalem had settled in Cæsarea or Philip had taken up his abode there; so that it coincided more or less closely with the beginning of this period, whereas the mission of Paul and Barnabas belongs to its latter years; for the special object of the Apostolic Council was to allay the heart-burnings aroused among Jewish Christians by its success, and to restore the peace of the Church.
The condition of Western Asia at that time held out an exceptional promise of success to Christian Apostles. Thanks to the universal peace and settled order which the Cæsars had established throughout the Empire, that region had attained a high pitch of industrial activity and commercial prosperity. In spite of the social corruption and luxurious vices which riches brought in their train, the consequent exuberance of life, social, intellectual and spiritual, afforded a favourable opening for religious reform. The region had been in former centuries a frequent battlefield between Greek and Asiatic races, and still formed a border-land between eastern and western thought. But the religion which the people had inherited from ancient times was more Oriental than Greek, and its degraded type of sensuous worship could hardly satisfy the conscience even of a heathen community to which the influences of western civilisation had penetrated. Greek philosophy and Roman morality combined to create a nobler ideal of human duty and divine government than could be reconciled with the popular religion, so that all the better feelings of educated men and women were stirred into revolt against the debased superstition of the masses.
The religious ferment produced by this collision was specially aggravated by the multiplication of Jewish colonies in the principal cities of Asia Minor, systematically planted and fostered long ago through the wise policy of Syrian kings for the encouragement of trade and promotion of intercourse between these two races of their subjects. These settlements were particularly thriving in Southern Galatia, along the direct line of communication between the two capitals Antioch and Ephesus. Nowhere else are recorded such conspicuous traces of their religious influence over the surrounding population. They formed, of course, distinct communities of their own, divided from the Greeks by unsociable habits as well as ritual obligations and religious scruples. Yet their Scriptural teaching proved so attractive to seekers after God that a considerable number of Greeks frequented their weekly services in the Pisidian Antioch and in Iconium, and these, like the devout Gentiles everywhere, were disposed to give a cordial welcome to the preaching of Christ. Accordingly, it was in those cities that His Apostles gained their first conspicuous success; there Asia Minor first awoke to the call of the Gospel, and the first fruits were reaped of an abundant harvest. It was, perhaps, inevitable that this hearty reception of the new doctrine by Greeks should provoke intense jealousy on the part of the Jews, and arouse bitter opposition from them. The vehement appeal of Paul to his Gentile hearers at Antioch brought that opposition to a head, and stirred the passions of both parties to fever heat. The Jews heard the impotence of their law for salvation denounced in their own synagogue, the Gentiles heard the offer of a new way of salvation by repentance and faith in Christ alone.
From that hour both alike recognised in that Apostle the foremost champion of Gentile rights and the most formidable adversary of Judaism.
Let us now, therefore, turn to his personal history and review the chain of circumstances which landed him with his colleague in the interior of Asia Minor. The record of the joint mission during its first few months was uneventful; they traversed Cyprus from end to end, preaching in all the synagogues by the way without achieving any success that the historian counted worthy of record. Barnabas, himself a native of the island, naturally took the lead in virtue of his older standing in the Church and of his superior position at Antioch as the chosen representative of the Twelve, but failed apparently to elicit any enthusiastic response. It was not till they reached Paphos, the western port and the seat of the Roman government, that the spirit of Paul was stirred within him to carry his appeal to Gentile hearers. He procured by some means an audience of the proconsul, and after a signal manifestation of his spiritual power in smiting Elymas with blindness, succeeded in converting Sergius Paulus himself. This success was fruitful in results: it established Paul’s virtual leadership; for Barnabas, though he retained the nominal dignity of head, was content to submit the further guidance of their policy to the more determined counsels of his energetic colleague.  A new spirit of enterprise speedily manifested itself in their proceedings. Paul and his Company (as they are designated in Acts 13:13 ), crossing to the mainland, struck at once across Pamphylia and the Pisidian highlands into the interior. The desertion of John Mark at this critical moment is significant. He was warmly attached to his cousin Barnabas, and had undertaken the office of minister to the Apostles; yet so reluctant was he to embark with them on their new enterprise that he did not hesitate to incur a well-grounded charge of disloyalty by withdrawing from the mission immediately on touching the coast of Pamphylia, and leaving them to pursue their way without him to the Pisidian Antioch. This faint-hearted desertion serves by way of contrast to bring out in stronger relief the resolution with which the Apostles pressed forward from the coast. But on their arrival in Galatia their journey was arrested and came to an apparently premature termination. For many months they settled down permanently first in Antioch, then in Iconium with an absolute determination not to depart until they were either expelled by authority or driven to flight by imminent peril of life. Even then they did but take refuge in neighbouring cities for a while until the storm had passed, and eventually revisited the scenes of their former ministry, and so retraced their steps to the coast from which they had started, after firmly planting the faith of Christ in the region of Southern Galatia. The narrative does not explain this sudden arrest of the onward movement which had carried them with such determined energy into the interior, it simply records the fact that they stopped short in Antioch, without any intimation that a change had occurred in the apostolic policy. The reader might well gather from it the impression that Galatia had been all along their destined sphere of labour. This, however, could hardly be: it can scarcely be conceived that they contemplated the cities of Galatia as their final objective when they started with such resolute purpose from Paphos; for those cities had neither ancient fame nor present importance to attract special attention. Nor, again, would Mark have found that brief expedition into the interior so alarming as to desert his post if he had known how short a distance they were about to travel. What then, were the subsequent circumstances that prompted Paul and Barnabas to abandon their more ambitious designs and take up their residence at Antioch? The history and character of Paul quite forbid any suspicion that the change was owing to caprice or to irresolution on his part. Nor was it due to the immediate and unexpected success of their ministry in that city; on the contrary, his recorded address in their synagogue furnishes ample evidence of his previous failure to touch the consciences or win the hearts of his Jewish hearers. He, doubtless, had begun his ministry there, as elsewhere, by offering the Gospel to the Jews, and his bitter denunciation of their prejudice against Christ shows how stubborn had been their resistance to his Gospel before he turned to his Gentile hearers with this despairing appeal.
 The historian chooses this occasion for dropping the Hebrew name Saul and adopting the Greek name Paul, indicating that he then entered on his special ministry to the Greeks. In relating the voyage from Paphos he ignores Barnabas altogether, and in the subsequent narrative assigns him throughout a secondary part. The language of the Lycaonian populace furnishes an apt illustration of their mutual relations to each other: they recognised the superior dignity of Barnabas by identifying him with Jupiter, but called Paul Mercury because he was the chief speaker.
On the whole therefore I conclude from a survey of the historical narrative that Paul and Barnabas embarked at Paphos on an ambitious project of missionary enterprise, which for some unknown reason they failed to realise, though they pursued it steadily without a pause as far as Antioch. It further appears that their first efforts after their arrival in that city were foiled by the persistent opposition of the Jews, but that their perseverance was at last rewarded by signal success amongst the Greeks.
It is time now to turn to the Epistle and compare these conclusions with the incidental reference there made to the circumstances of the conversion. In Galatians 4:13 the Apostle reminds his converts that he had not originally preached the Gospel to them by his own deliberate choice, but on account of an illness which deprived him of all option in the matter. They knew (he writes) that his preaching had been due to infirmity of the flesh, i.e. , to bodily illness. This language plainly intimates that he altered his plans in consequence of the illness, and undertook their conversion instead of carrying out his previous intention. Neither the time nor the place of the attack are specified, but the context supplies materials for determining both. It shows that the Galatians were quite aware of his previous design, that they had been eyewitnesses of the illness, had watched its progress and seen enough of its repulsive symptoms to provoke natural contempt and disgust, but had on the contrary exhibited heartfelt sympathy and intense desire to alleviate his sufferings. It is quite certain therefore that it ran its course after his arrival in their country. It may have been contracted on the way; if it was (as his language in Galatians 4:15 and Galatians 6:11 suggests) an attack of virulent ophthalmia which permanently impaired his sight, it is probable that he caught the infection in the lowlands of Pamphylia, where that malady was notoriously prevalent. But whatever its specific character, it was in Galatia that it prostrated him, and by incapacitating him for continuing his journey left him no choice but to prolong his stay in the country, and so occasioned the conversion of the Galatians as its eventual result. Evidently the illness beset him so soon after his arrival that he had no time before the attack either to resume his journey or to entertain any plan for preaching where he was. It was, however, so tedious and protracted in its operation that it altered his whole scheme of travel. And whereas he was but a passing stranger when he broke down, and had not attempted to make a single convert, he found himself before its close surrounded by a devoted band of friends who were zealous to make any sacrifice for his relief. The pathetic language of the Epistle shows how intimate an affection had grown up between the Apostle and his Galatian hosts, and makes it clear that the nucleus of a future Church was formed by the ministrations of his sick chamber. No mention is made of this illness in the Acts, for it belonged to the personal history of the Apostle rather than to the history of the Church; but the record dovetails with subtle harmony into the narrative of the Acts, explaining at once why he stopped short at the first stage of his intended journey, and how it came to pass that so many of his hearers afterwards rallied round him with enthusiasm on his appearance in the synagogue of Antioch.
A consideration of the geographical condition of Asia Minor in the middle of the first century brings out still more clearly the thorough agreement of the two narratives. The Epistle implies, as we have seen, that the foundation of the Galatian Churches was due to an interrupted transit through their country. Now this conception is fatal to the idea of a northern site for those Churches. What possible object could the Apostle have for visiting Northern Galatia at all unless it was for the conversion of its people? It lay quite away from his recorded track, and it is inconceivable that he intended to traverse it on his way to some still more distant field of labour. Southern Galatia, on the contrary, was traversed from end to end by a great highway along which he is known to have travelled four times, visiting the cities through which it passed. According to the Acts the first of these cities visited by the Apostle was the Pisidian Antioch in the extreme south of the Galatian province. There his journey was for some reason arrested, and there he succeeded after a prolonged sojourn in founding the first Galatian Church. These facts identify Antioch as the scene of his involuntary detention, and its position gives at once a definite clue to the original purpose of the apostolic expedition from Paphos. It was a Roman colony planted by Augustus Cæsar on the main road which ran from Syria to the western coast of Asia and so linked the eastern provinces of the Empire with Greece and Rome by way of Ephesus. It was besides in direct communication with the southern coast of Pamphylia, and so with Cyprus; for a system of military roads, studded with colonies, converged upon it from the south. For full half the year this was the only regular means of communication between Paphos and the province of Asia; for even in autumn the persistency and violence of the Etesian winds out of the Ægean Sea made it difficult and dangerous for the best found vessels to round the Cnidian promontory, as was proved by Paul’s subsequent experience. There is also good reason to calculate that Paul and Barnabas, starting from Syria after the reopening of navigation in the spring, spent the summer in traversing Cyprus from end to end and did not arrive at Paphos before the autumn. Their only means of proceeding westward at that season was to cross to the mainland in such coasting craft as they could find at Paphos and strike across Pamphylia to the main road at Antioch, as they did. This raises a presumption that their original object in making so eagerly for the Pisidian Antioch was to reach Ephesus and the province of Asia. On arriving at that city they had the option of three routes only: (1) to proceed northward by local roads into the heart of Phrygia, which was obviously not their intention when they started from Paphos; (2) to move eastward to Iconium and other Galatian cities, but these are expressly excluded from his original purpose by the language of the Epistle in Galatians 4:13 ; (3) to pursue their journey westward by the high-road to Ephesus. This was Paul’s project on his next visit to the Galatian Churches, and was doubtless his design on this occasion, had it not been hindered by illness, as it was afterwards by the voice of the Spirit. It was, in fact, ordained that the conversion of the Galatians should form the first step to that of Asia Minor, and that Ephesus and the famous cities of the western seaboard should be reserved for the final consummation of his apostolic labours amid the Asiatic Greeks. The outcome of his public ministry with Barnabas in Southern Galatia is recorded in Acts 13:14 . His successful appeal to the conscience of his Greek hearers provoked intense jealousy on the part of the unconverted Jews, who proceeded to hunt the Apostles with determined malice from every city in succession. They were enabled with the support of influential partisans at Antioch, by secret plots at Iconium, and by mob-violence at Lystra, to put the Apostles everywhere to flight, but not before they had planted in each place the seed of a future Church, which had become so firmly established before the final departure of Paul and Barnabas from the country that they were able to organise a permanent framework for the government of the several Churches. According to their own report of their mission, its most conspicuous feature had been the door of faith which God had opened to the Gentiles. The widespread alarm raised in the Churches of the Circumcision by the number and ritual independence of these Greek converts produced a crisis in the Church and threatened a dangerous schism between its Jewish and Greek sections. Christians from Judæa raised a standard of open revolt against Paul and Barnabas at Antioch, disputing their right to concede this freedom to the Gentiles. Thanks, however, to the intervention of the older Apostles these agitators were decisively condemned at Jerusalem, the apostolic authority of Paul and Barnabas was triumphantly vindicated, and the liberty of Gentile converts in the matter of circumcision was finally established, while the religious prejudices of Jewish Christians against communion with the unclean were mitigated by prudent concession to Jewish sentiment.
SECOND MINISTRY OF PAUL IN GALATIA. The apostolic conference at Jerusalem was followed by a gathering at the Syrian Antioch of Christians from Jerusalem. Besides Judas and Silas, who were deputed by the Church of Jerusalem to proceed to Antioch as their representatives, Peter himself repaired thither with Mark and others, whose influence so seriously undermined that of Paul in the mind of Barnabas that they agreed to separate. Paul accordingly enlisted Silas as his companion for a fresh mission to the cities of the Greeks. His first object was to revisit his Galatian converts and communicate to them the terms of union between Jewish and Gentile converts which had been ratified by the Churches at Jerusalem and Antioch. He hastened apparently to carry tidings of that decision in person, probably crossing the mountain-passes from Cilicia as early as they were open in the ensuing spring,  and to recommend its observance to his disciples. During this visit he also made choice of Timothy for his minister, and decided in consequence to circumcise him, lest the Jews should take offence in the cities he was about to visit. His visit was otherwise uneventful. He traversed the whole country, confirming the Churches everywhere, but only on his way to the new sphere which lay before him; and did not revisit Galatia till three years later on his way from Syria to Ephesus.
 It appears from Cicero’s letters that at the time of his government of Cilicia these passes were absolutely closed during the winter months ( Cic. ad Att. , v., 21), even for important despatches.
MOTIVE AND GENERAL SCHEME OF THE EPISTLE. The opening verses of the Epistle throw a clear light on the motive which prompted it. In Galatians 1:1 he vindicates his own apostolic commission, in Galatians 1:6-9 the truth of his Gospel, against an attack which was troubling the peace of the Galatian Churches in his absence. The movement was not spontaneous, but due to an intrigue set on foot by foreign emissaries. Alarming tidings had, however, reached the Apostle as to the progress of the agitation. Its nature becomes apparent from the whole tenor of the Epistle; it was an attempt of the Pharisaic party to revive Judaism within the Church. For this purpose it was necessary for its authors to impugn the truth of the Apostle’s doctrine, and they sought accordingly to undermine his personal influence and depreciate his apostolic authority. Some had even ventured to impeach the sincerity and the consistency of his teaching by accusing him of an inordinate desire to please (Galatians 1:10 ). He had perhaps given specious occasion for this charge by his avowed principle of becoming all things to all men, but he dismisses it lightly with scorn, for the friends and converts to whom he was writing knew well that his real motive had always been to win men to Christ. He does not apparently feel it needful to defend his motives, but concentrates attention on two points, the truth of his Gospel, and the reality of his commission from God. He begins with an indignant denunciation of the new heresy, which he declares to be a spurious perversion of the one true Gospel. But he perceives the necessity for vindicating his own right to speak in the name of Christ before grappling with the main issue and developing the fundamental divergence of the Gospel in its essential basis and spirit from the Law. For the result of the conflict depended practically more on the personal than the doctrinal factor. He had been himself the foremost champion of Gentile freedom in Christ; the doctrine of free grace in Him had won its way mainly through the advocacy of Paul and owed its triumph in Galatia, at Antioch, and in Jerusalem, to his eloquent support. This was why his antagonists had endeavoured to depreciate his position in the Church, and to set up the Twelve as the real interpreters of Christ on earth, that they might thereby discredit his authority as a teacher. The circumstances of his life furnished opponents with plausible ground for questioning the soundness of his doctrine. He had neither listened to the voice, nor seen the face, of Christ on earth; he had not attended on His ministry like the Twelve, nor been sent forth like them by His express command. He was, in short, to use his own words, an Apostle born out of due time. This made it easy for them to contend that he had not received the Gospel by direct revelation from Christ, but gathered it at second-hand from the Twelve. To meet this insidious policy, he was forced to place on record the true history of his conversion and subsequent ministry in Christ. He relates accordingly God’s revelation to him of His Son from heaven, his secret communion with God apart from all human intercourse, his entire independence of the Twelve, the full recognition of his Apostleship to the Gentiles by the three pillars of the Church at Jerusalem, and his public rebuke to Peter at Antioch. Incidentally this autobiography is of the utmost historical value: while it is in perfect harmony with the outlines of the historical narrative, it adds to it a rich store of personal details, and reveals the inward motives and policy of the chief actors in successive scenes. It relates, however, only certain events which bore on the immediate object of the author, viz. , the vindication of his own position in the Church.
The remainder of the Epistle (with the exception of a few personal appeals and practical exhortations) is devoted to a scrutiny of the divergent principles of the Law and the Gospel. The intruders, belonging manifestly to the Pharisaic party, had been urging the Greek converts in Galatia to embrace circumcision, not as an absolute necessity for salvation, but as a counsel of perfection which would invest them with superior holiness to their uncircumcised brethren, would entitle them to a higher place in the Kingdom of God, and secure to them the covenanted blessings promised to the children of Abraham. By this arrogant pretension to superiority in the sight of God these Jewish Christians were in fact pouring dishonour on baptismal grace, reopening the quarrel between Jews and Gentiles and destroying the unity of Christ. The Apostle combats this delusive persuasion by setting forth the true function of the Law in the divine economy. It had proved in practice impotent to bless, for it stipulated for a perfect obedience to which flesh could not attain as a condition precedent to acceptance before God, so that Israelites had in fact fled to Christ for refuge from the curse of a broken law: it was primâ facie inconsistent with the unconditional promise of God to Abraham, and the Mosaic dispensation was really an exceptional provision against the lusts of the flesh, designed like the preparatory discipline of childhood to last only during years of immaturity before the advent of the true Seed of Abraham. He argues that the Law was a bondage imposed on the children of Abraham after the flesh, whereas Christians are the true seed of Abraham and heirs like Isaac of God’s ancient promises. By union with Christ in His death they have died to the condemnation of the Law, by union with His life they have become partakers of His Spirit. They are therefore freed in Christ from the dominion of the Law unless they wilfully submit themselves to its yoke afresh by embracing circumcision. For the spirit within them stedfastly resists every sinful lust of the flesh, and brings forth of itself good fruit abundantly.
SUMMARY OF CONTENTS. The principal heads of the argument are as follows:
Galatians 1:1-5 . Address, blessing, ascription of glory to God.
Galatians 1:6-9 . Rapid defection of the Galatians from their faith; denunciation of spurious Gospels.
Galatians 1:10 to Galatians 2:14 . Repudiation of corrupt motives; attestation of the author’s apostolic commission and of his independence of the Twelve and of human teaching; his championship of Gentile rights; and the recognition of his ministry to the Gentiles by the acknowledged pillars of the Church.
Galatians 2:15-21 . Israelites had themselves confessed by seeking salvation in Christ through faith that no flesh can attain to the righteousness of the Law. Paul himself had died to Law with Christ that he might be quickened with Him to the new life of Christ within him.
Galatians 3:1-14 . Spiritual blindness of the Galatians. Was it faith or obedience to Law that had procured for them the gifts of the Spirit? By faith men become children of Abraham and inherit his blessing. The Law entails a curse and not a blessing, but Christ has redeemed us all from the curse of the Law by bearing it Himself.
Galatians 3:15 to Galatians 4:7 . The publication of the Law from Sinai could not annul or modify God’s earlier covenant with Abraham. It was merely a preparatory discipline like that of childhood and a temporary provision against the lusts of the flesh, ordained for children of the flesh till the world was ripe for the Advent of Christ the true seed. All that are His are one with Him, and so are the seed of promise: they have outgrown the restraints of spiritual childhood and regained their birthright of freedom in the House of God.
Galatians 4:8-10 . Protest against the revival of ignorant superstitions.
Galatians 4:11-20 . Appeal to the remembrance of former affection.
Galatians 4:21-30 . Illustration out of patriarchal history of the mutual relations between Jews and Christians.
Galatians 4:31 to Galatians 5:12 . Assertion of Christian freedom; protest against renewed bondage by circumcision; threats of punishment against these devotees to the flesh.
Galatians 5:13 to Galatians 6:10 . Warning against the abuse of freedom; antagonism of the spirit to the flesh; its perfect harmony with Christ’s law of love and excellence of its fruits; practical exhortation.
Galatians 6:11-18 . Peroration, and farewell blessing.
COMPARISON OF Galatians 2:1-10 WITH Acts 15:1-29 . In Galatians 2:1-10 is recorded a conference of Paul and Barnabas with the Church of Jerusalem and its members. It appears from the narrative that they went up to Jerusalem for the express purpose of vindicating their right in virtue of their office as ministers of Christ to exempt Gentile converts from circumcision a right which had been seriously disputed, but strenuously maintained by them. It further appears that James, Peter and John welcomed them as brethren in Christ, and fully recognised their special commission from God to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. In Acts 15:1-29 is likewise recorded an open revolt at Antioch against the authority assumed by Paul and Barnabas to exempt Gentile converts from circumcision. They were forced in consequence to undertake a mission to Jerusalem for the vindication of Gentile freedom in Christ as well as their own apostolic authority, and to enter upon prolonged debates with the Apostles and elders there gathered. In the sequel the Church resolved, on the advice of Peter and James, to repudiate unreservedly the claim for universal circumcision in the Greek Churches, to condemn the agitators, and heartily to commend the services of Barnabas and Paul to the cause of the Gospel. The two records differ in details it could not well be otherwise if they are really independent but agree completely about the substantial facts. The same issue is raised in both, viz. , the right of Paul and Barnabas to dispense with the obligation of circumcision, the same Apostles take part in the conference. It is true that the presence of John is not noted in the Acts, but the speakers only are there named, and John probably did not speak, but stood silently beside Peter as in earlier days, while Peter spoke for both; the result of the proceedings is the same according to both records. Now, this result was of such vital importance that it decided for all time the relation of Christianity to Judaism, declaring it to be world-wide in its scope, and distinguishing it from the national creed of the Jewish people. As the sanction given by the Circumcision to Peter’s baptism of Cornelius had before stamped their approval on the admission of the uncircumcised to baptism beyond recall, so the Apostolic Council decided finally the union of all the members of Christ in a single Church: the concession once made at Jerusalem in the name of the assembled brethren was final.
There were, in fact, but two occasions on which Paul and Barnabas went up together from Antioch to Jerusalem, and the object of both visits is specified. The earlier occurred in the lifetime of Herod Agrippa, and, therefore, not later than 44, before their successful mission to Cyprus and Asia Minor, whereas the Epistle records the recognition of their special ministry to the uncircumcision in the fourteenth year after the conversion of Saul. Again, it was undertaken merely to carry alms with a view to an impending famine, and they found the Church of Jerusalem on their arrival in the utmost peril. Herod was hunting down its leaders for death, and they were seeking safety in concealment or flight. Neither they nor Saul could show their faces without imminent danger, much less assemble to discuss the claims of the uncircumcised. The envoys could only depart in haste after depositing their alms in the hands of the elders. On the contrary, the account given in the Acts of their later visit to Jerusalem corresponds entirely (as we have seen) with the apostolic narrative. The historian, of course, reviews the event from the standpoint of Church history, while the Apostle presents the incidents in their personal aspect, and the details vary accordingly in the two narratives. For instance, the Epistle does not state that Paul and Barnabas were deputed by the Church of Antioch to represent them at Jerusalem, though we might well gather this from the circumstances and the history of their reception; it does, on the other hand, record a revelation of the spirit, either to him or to the Church, which prompted the action of both, though for some reason unrecorded in the pages of the history. The statement of Paul, that he took with him a Greek disciple of his own, incidentally confirms the statement of the Acts that other Christians were deputed to accompany the Apostles. The account given in the Acts of a personal collision between the Apostles and certain agitators at Antioch, on the subject of circumcision, explains the reference made in the Epistle to a demand for the circumcision of Titus, which Paul had steadfastly resisted. Whatever semblance has been found of divergence in the two accounts is really due to misconception of the language. Many critics have argued, for instance, as if the struggle over Titus took place at Jerusalem, but a careful student of the Greek text may perceive that it really occurred at Antioch before the mission, and is in perfect harmony with Acts 15:1-2 . Again, James, Peter and John have been represented as at first lukewarm and hesitating in their support of Paul and Barnabas; but the Greek text places their brotherly cordiality in strong contrast with the prejudices and coldness of other Christians who had once been of high repute in the Church.
The silence of the Epistle about the injunctions of the Council to abstain from ceremonial uncleanness is easily understood. They were indispensable for harmonious intercourse between Greeks and Jews in one communion; they were of real value until the Church was able to promulgate a new law of uncleanness based on true principles and distinguishing real from ceremonial pollution. Paul had therefore recommended their observance, and had, partly in consequence of this deference to the Mosaic law, been charged with preaching circumcision (Galatians 5:11 ). But the two questions were really distinct, and he is careful in this Epistle to confine himself to the subject of circumcision.
HISTORICAL CONNECTION OF THE EPISTLE WITH THE LIFE OF PAUL. The Galatian Epistle belongs obviously to the same group as the Thessalonian, Corinthian and Roman, but critics are by no means agreed as to its position amidst them in point of time, some placing it before, some between, some after, the others. All were written during the seven years in which Paul was engaged in founding and organising successive Churches on both sides of the Ægean Sea, there was considerable uniformity in the circumstances of his life throughout this period of apostolic activity, and this uniformity is reflected in a certain family likeness which runs through all the Epistles of that date. All except the Roman sprang out of the needs of infant Churches beneath his care. These depended largely on his personal example and authority for guidance in faith and morals; accordingly the personal element looms large in all, in none more so than in this. He was throughout in continual contact with Jewish influences, utilising the synagogue everywhere while it was possible for the conversion of devout Gentiles as well as Jews, and everywhere encountering opposition and persecution from the Jews. There was, however, little occasion to combat Judaism in the Thessalonian Epistles, for that Church was at the time suffering grievously from Jewish persecution; in the Corinthian Church again the Greek element predominated, and the most pressing dangers arose from the contamination of heathen license and idolatry. Therefore the antagonism between Pharisaic Judaism and Christianity comes into prominence in the Galatian and Roman Epistles alone. Both employ almost identical language in contrasting the Law and the Gospel, the former based entirely on the holiness of God and man’s duty of absolute obedience, the latter adding the revelation of God’s love even for sinners, and His offers of forgiveness and grace to all that believe in Christ. But the coincidence is not due to any similarity in the circumstances of the two communities. In the Galatian Church the Apostle was combating a survival of Judaism amidst his own converts, in the Roman Church he was laying down principles for a community who had hitherto had no Apostolic guidance. Still less can the identity of language be fairly urged to prove an approximation in the date of the two Epistles. For these fundamental truths formed without doubt the staple of the Apostle’s teaching throughout the years of continuous transition from Jewish to Christian doctrine, and his language in regard to them could not fail to become in some measure stereotyped.
We tread on far safer ground when we rely on historical considerations for determining the occasion of the Epistle. During the seven years of continuous transition from Jewish to Christian doctrine a radical alteration was effected in the position of Greek Christianity and of Paul himself. At the beginning no Greek Churches existed outside Syria except those which he and Barnabas had founded: the two stood on the same level, and rival teachers had fair show of reason for ranking him below the Twelve; at its close a multitude of Churches in Europe and Asia recognised him as the great Apostle to the Gentiles, and he might have replied to his detractors with scorn by pointing to the visible tokens of divine blessing stamped on his apostolic labours in Macedonia, Achaia, and Asia. That he did not do so in his Galatian Epistle furnishes conclusive proof of its early date. When Paul, after his second visit to Galatia, departed for an indefinite time to an unknown destination in the west, there was still a reasonable chance of inducing many Galatian converts to submit to circumcision in his absence, but with every fresh Greek Church added to the communion the hope must have steadily faded. The growing strength, number, and independence of these Churches soon after made a revival of Judaism in one of them hopeless. But the attempt made at Antioch after the Council (as the Epistle records) to affix a stigma of uncleanness on the uncircumcised shows that the Pharisaic party, though defeated in their efforts to enforce circumcision on all members of Christ, had not then abandoned the hope of persuading their Greek brethren to adopt it, and had little scruple about putting unfair pressure upon them for this object by withdrawing from their communion. Their partial success at Antioch in obtaining the adhesion of Peter and Barnabas to their practice encouraged them to hope much from fresh efforts in the absence of Paul. The moment was otherwise favourable for a renewed attempt to advocate circumcision in the Galatian Churches. Jewish influence was strong in the country; the people were impulsive and excitable, easily swept to and fro by capricious currents of religious emotion; the vacillation of Peter and Barnabas had made it easy to claim their sanction and set up the authority of the Twelve against that of Paul. He had himself during his recent visit furnished his adversaries with a fresh handle for misrepresentation, for he had circumcised Timothy and had recommended his converts to abstain from the forms of ceremonial uncleanness most offensive to the Jews, so that he was even said to be now preaching circumcision (Galatians 5:11 ). The imputation seems absurd in view of his later life, and would have been so after he had openly broken with the synagogue, but was plausible enough when he was bent above all things on promoting harmony between the two sections of the Church by some voluntary sacrifices of Greek freedom in Christ. I contend therefore that the recent warnings to which Galatians 1:9 refers (see notes on that verse) were delivered on the occasion of his second visit to Galatia after the Apostolic Council, that the agitation in the Galatian Churches was a sequel of the intrigue at Antioch, some of the Pharisaic emissaries having probably followed the receding steps of the Apostle that they might renew their insidious schemes behind his back, and that the Epistle followed speedily on this agitation. Its language certainly implies a close connection between the two movements; for the remonstrance spoken at Antioch passes insensibly into the written argument without any clear line of division. If a later date be assigned to the Epistle, the abrupt termination of the autobiography on the eve of the second visit becomes unintelligible. The earlier date explains also the motive which prompted him to record his personal collision with Peter. It is inconceivable that he raked up this story out of a distant past. But if the example and authority of Peter and Barnabas had been employed by his rivals in Galatia to undermine his position, it became necessary for him in his own defence to give a true version of the events that had occurred at Antioch.
Assuming therefore that the reactionary movement in Galatia followed closely on his departure, where and when was the Epistle written? It may be presumed that he lost no time after he was informed of it before writing to counteract it; but the tidings could not reach him without considerable delay, for his destination was unknown until he himself opened communications from Philippi. Probably therefore he could receive no news from Galatia till after his arrival at Thessalonica; there was not however very frequent intercourse then between that city and Galatia, and his stay there was cut very short by persecution. The absence of Silas and Timothy at the time of writing points distinctly to the early days of his ministry at Corinth, for they were with him in Macedonia, but did not rejoin him afterwards till some weeks after his arrival in Corinth. That they were absent is morally certain. Their names, which appear conspicuously in the Epistles to the Thessalonians written about the same time, are here absent in spite of Timothy’s Galatian home, and in Galatians 1:9 the writer expressly refers to the united warnings delivered by him and his colleagues Silas and Timothy, to fortify the appeal which he now makes in his own name ( as we have forewarned you of late , I say again ). This date explains also the absence of any greeting from a Christian Church by name, for at the time the Apostle had only begun to gather round him the nucleus of the future Church of Corinth in the house of Aquila and Priscilla. I conclude therefore that the Epistle was written from Corinth before the arrival of Silas and Timothy, in which case it is the earliest Epistle of Paul now extant, being written before the Epistles to the Thessalonians. The previous outrage at Philippi and the subsequent persecutions which he encountered in Macedonia make the references to persecution and to the marks of Jesus branded on his body peculiarly appropriate.
RESULT OF THE EPISTLE AND SUBSEQUENT HISTORY OF THE CHURCHES. The Pharisaic reaction came upon Paul as an unwelcome surprise after the enthusiastic reception they had originally given to the doctrine of free grace in Christ, and the recent confirmation of their faith by personal intercourse. He gives vent, accordingly, in forcible language to his indignation at the disloyal intrusion of false teachers into his own fold. Their readiness to listen with itching ears to strange doctrines, and to be fascinated by the charms of religious novelty, even though the doctrine was incompatible with the spirit and the cross of Christ, and in spite of attacks aimed at the position of their own well-proved Apostle, distressed him sorely; for they argued unsoundness in their faith, and shook his confidence in the permanence of their loyalty to Christ. But ought we, therefore, to conclude that they were permanently estranged from their great Apostle? Are we to infer the depth and strength of the reaction from its suddenness? It seems to me that the balance of evidence in the Epistle inclines the other way and tends to suggest their substantial loyalty in spite of some temporary estrangement. For the agitation is declared to be but a little leaven , dangerous in principle and fraught with possibilities of evil, but only just beginning to work; no mention is made of Greek converts having actually adopted circumcision. Paul expresses his confidence that they will all be of one mind with him; he does not hesitate to threaten the intruders with the judgment of the Churches if they persist (Galatians 5:10 ); he longs indeed to come amongst them and assure himself by a fresh visit of their fidelity to Christ and His Apostles, but he lays down his pen with an assurance that henceforth no man will trouble him. And the evidence of history confirms this favourable impression; it would seem that the Epistle did really succeed in re-establishing the faith of the Galatians. For we hear no more of any anxiety about their state; the Apostle was in no hurry to make his voice heard among them he let three years pass before he revisited them, and then only on his way to Ephesus. Yet an incidental reference in 1 Corinthians 16:1 attests his confidence in their unshaken loyalty. It appears from that passage that when he appealed to all his Greek Churches for a joint contribution for the poor brethren in Jerusalem, the Galatians were the very first to receive his instructions, even before the Corinthians. It is a slight but sufficient testimony to the unbroken strength of the tie that bound them to their own Apostle.
THE Apostolic Council forms a central landmark in the Christian life of Paul between his conversion and his Roman imprisonment, dividing the interval into two unequal portions. The length of the earlier is computed in Galatians 2:1 at fourteen years; but this may not imply a total of more than thirteen; for the broken years at the beginning and end are both included separately in that total. The three first of these were spent in Damascus, except a brief sojourn in Arabia, according to Galatians 1:18 : the remainder in or around Tarsus and Antioch, with the exception of one brief visit to Jerusalem for the conveyance of alms, and a subsequent mission with Barnabas to Cyprus and Asia Minor. The visit to Jerusalem was too uneventful to call for notice in the Epistle. Its incidental connection with the history of Herod Agrippa determines its date: Herod reigned from 41 to 44; his persecution of the Church occurred not long before his death, and had already begun when the envoys arrived at Jerusalem. The joint mission occupied at least two years, probably much more; its success established the position of Barnabas and Paul throughout the Church as Apostles to the Gentiles, and led to the controversy in regard to circumcision which was settled by the Apostolic Council at Jerusalem; evidently no long time intervened between its termination and the Council. From that time forward the continuous narrative of events in the Acts furnishes material for dating approximately the successive stages of Paul’s apostolic career. He and Barnabas returned at once from Jerusalem to Antioch, and many Christians gathered there from Jerusalem, including Peter and others whose names are mentioned. The length of their sojourn in Antioch and the neighbouring Churches cannot be determined with precision, as it is not known at what season the Council took place; if at the beginning of winter, they must have remained there the whole winter; if near the end, perhaps only a few weeks. In either case it is certain that neither Barnabas nor Paul started before spring, for the navigation of the Levant and the passes of Mount Taurus between Cilicia and Galatia were alike closed in winter to ordinary travellers. The amount of time spent in the second visit to the Galatian Churches, in Macedonia, at Athens, and on the way to Corinth, is uncertain, but exceeded half a year at the lowest computation, and the Corinthian ministry cannot have fallen far short of two years, as it embraced several Sabbaths in the synagogue, eighteen months in the house of Justus, and a further indefinite sojourn ( yet many days ) in the city. It may be presumed, as he hastened from Cenchreæ to Jerusalem to complete his vow and keep the feast there, that he arrived before Pentecost, about the same season that he departed from Antioch on his travels; so that the interval was about three years in all. Another period of three years carries on the history to the end of the Ephesian ministry; it includes first a journey from Jerusalem to Ephesus, in the course of which he spent some time in Antioch and went over all the Galatian country in order, then three months’ ministry in the synagogue, and two years in the school of Tyrannus, and ends about Pentecost (1 Corinthians 16:8 ). Another year brought the Apostle to Jerusalem, after visiting the Macedonian and Corinthian Churches. His imprisonment first at Jerusalem, then at Cæsarea during the last two years of the government of Felix and the first part of the rule of Festus, and lastly on the way to Rome accounts for nearly three years more, making a period of ten years in all between his departure from Antioch on his second mission-journey and his arrival in Rome.
A valuable clue for determining the date of that event is supplied by the history of Felix. His recall took place a short time before the departure of Paul from Cæsarea. He was followed by a hostile deputation from Cæsarea complaining of his misgovernment; but apparently there had not been time to organise and despatch it before navigation closed for the winter, otherwise the Roman Jews would have heard of Paul’s appeal to Cæsar ( cf. Acts 28:21 ); so that Felix was still awaiting his trial at Rome. Now it is pretty certain that Felix retained the government of Judæa for the first five years after the accession of Nero, in spite of the disgrace of his brother Pallas at the imperial court as long, in short, as Burrhus and Seneca dictated the policy of the empire, and was not recalled before 59. In spite of his cruelty and extortion he retained the confidence of Burrhus to the last, perhaps by the vigour of his government, perhaps from personal motives; and it was probably the support of Burrhus even more than the wealth of Pallas which secured his acquittal at Rome; for Burrhus procured from the emperor, as the result of the enquiry, the disfranchisement of the Jewish citizens of Cæsarea who had impugned the conduct of Felix, and the systematic adoption of a rigorous policy for the repression of Jewish sedition. As the death of Burrhus took place in February, 62, the trial of Felix cannot have been later than 61. I conclude, therefore, that his recall took place either in 59 or 60, and that Paul reached Rome early in 60 or 61. If Prof. Ramsay is right in his contention ( Expositor , vol. iii., 1896, p. 336), that the voyage of Paul to Palestine took place in 57, this is a decisive confirmation of the earlier date. Reckoning back ten years we arrive at the spring of 50 or 51 for the date of Paul’s departure with Silas from Antioch. If the earlier date be assumed, I take it that the Apostolic Council was held some weeks earlier in 50; if the latter be preferred, I am disposed to date the Apostolic Council late in 50, and to conclude that the winter of 50 51 was spent in Antioch or its neighbourhood. Either reckoning leads to the choice of 37 for the year of the conversion, according to the computation made in Galatians 2:1 .
It is true that most critics favour the adoption of an earlier date than 37 for the conversion, but chiefly (as I think) because so little is known of the years immediately following the first Pentecost. It seems to me, on the contrary, probable that several years of silent growth intervened before the disciples were strong enough in their faith to establish themselves in Jerusalem and face the persecution of the rulers; and I find in the Acts many indications of a considerable interval. But it is enough here to compare the history of the first great persecution of the Church, which gave occasion for the conversion of Saul, with the particular circumstances of the year 37 recorded in Josephus which impress on me the conviction that the conversion occurred in that year. The narrative of Acts 6-9 exhibits a remarkable series of events:
1. Stephen was indicted for blasphemy, and after a regular trial before the Jewish authorities was condemned by acclamation, carried without the walls, and stoned to death in strict accordance with the procedure of the Mosaic Law.
2. This was followed by domiciliary visits to the houses of Christians, who were arrested, imprisoned, and condemned to death by the Jewish authorities, Saul himself giving his vote against them (Acts 26:10 ). A sudden reign of terror prevailed for a short time in Jerusalem; and then ceased as suddenly, leaving the Apostles once more free to come and go preaching the faith.
3. The Sanhedrim were able to give Saul authority to bring Christians from the province of Syria outside Judæa bound to Jerusalem for trial.
Historians have with some reason questioned the possibility of such proceedings as these in a Roman province: for the imperial government maintained with the utmost jealousy its exclusive prerogative of life and death over its subjects throughout the empire; the extreme violence of religious factions made the enforcement of this principle more essential in Judæa than elsewhere, and the repeated but futile efforts of the Sanhedrim to procure the death of Paul, first by assassination, then by judicial sentence of the Roman governor, exemplify at once their impotence for the infliction of capital punishment, and the vital importance of Roman protection to the Apostolic Church. It is true that one other noted Christian, James the brother of the Lord, was stoned to death, like Stephen: but that was an isolated act of mob violence during an interregnum, instigated by a fanatical high-priest, and promptly punished as an outrage on Roman authority.
The most striking parallel to the trial of Stephen is presented by that of his Divine Master. Both alike were found guilty of blasphemy, partly on the evidence of witnesses, partly on their own confession of faith. But when the Sanhedrim appealed to Pilate for confirmation of the sentence, he met the appeal with bitter scorn, challenging them in derision of their impotence to carry out themselves the sentence of death which they had presumed to pronounce upon the prisoner. This was indeed no solitary instance of the haughty and arrogant spirit which Pilate displayed throughout his administration. For many years he continued to earn the hatred of the Jews by his imperious temper and excessive severity. It is utterly incredible that intolerable outrages on Roman authority, like the public stoning of Stephen and judicial murders of other Christians at Jerusalem, can have occurred under the government of Pilate. Now that government lasted ten years, and only came to an end by his deposition in the year 37. His removal made way for new rulers and new measures in Judæa, for the Emperor Tiberius, having then become involved in war with Aretas owing to the quarrel between that king and Herod Antipas, had commissioned Vitellius proconsul of Syria to lead an expedition into Arabia and attack him in his capital Petra. As this force had to march across Judæa and make it the base of operations, Vitellius was invested with supreme authority in that country. The support of the Jewish nation became indispensable for his success, and Vitellius, a supple and unscrupulous courtier, afterwards notorious as the basest sycophant at the imperial court, left no stone unturned to win their favour. He at once dismissed Pilate in disgrace,  remitted obnoxious taxes, rescinded unpopular regulations, and repaired in person to Jerusalem to curry favour by feasts and sacrifices while his army was on the march. We know from Josephus that his most ostentatious and successful display of sympathy with the Jews was the restoration of the sacred vestments to the custody of the priesthood, which his predecessors had hitherto retained in their own hands with jealous care as a hostage for Jewish loyalty, and that he bestowed the office of high priest on a son of Annas the powerful head of the priestly oligarchy. That oligarchy had by that time conceived the same jealous hatred against the disciples of Christ as against their master; and an unscrupulous governor like Vitellius could find no cheaper means of gratifying them than the surrender of an unpopular sect to their will. The martyrdom of Christians by Jewish zealots for the Law became in short as natural under the circumstances as it was contrary to the imperial principle of religious toleration, and had been inconceivable under Pilate. The presence again of Vitellius in Jerusalem suggests a reasonable explanation of the mission to Damascus, which could hardly have been undertaken without express sanction from the proconsul.
 The date of Pilate’s deposition and of the subsequent events is fixed with some precision by the time of his arrival in Rome: though he hastened thither according to his instructions, he did not arrive before the death of Tiberius on 16th March, 37 ( Jos. Ant. , 8:4., 2)
Finally, the circumstances of the year 37 completely explain the rapid termination of the reign of terror in the Church. For about Pentecost Vitellius received tidings of the emperor’s death, and being personally disposed to side with Aretas against Herod Antipas, he at once abandoned the expedition, and gladly returned to Antioch. From the day of Tiberius’ decease no motive remained for courting Jewish favour: the new reign brought with it in fact an entire reversal of Roman policy in these regions; the Church enjoyed once more comparative peace under the shelter of Roman indifference; and before long the threats of Caius Cæsar to erect his own statue in the temple of God turned the thoughts of the Jews from attacks on the Christian religion to the defence of their own. There is in short one period, and one only, in the Roman government of Judæa during which the martyrdom of Stephen and many other Christians in Jerusalem was either probable or feasible, and that is the first half of the year 37.
COMPARISON OF THE ROMAN WITH THE GALATIAN EPISTLE
THE position of Paul toward the Roman Church differed widely from that which he held in regard to the Galatian, and his attitude in the two Epistles differs accordingly. He had the strongest possible claim on the loyalty of the Galatians, for he had spent months in founding and establishing each of the Churches, had recently visited them afresh, and wrote for the express purpose of checking a threatened revolt against his Gospel and his authority. He was, on the contrary, still a stranger to Rome, had no personal experience of their actual condition or special temptations, and no more claim on their allegiance than on any other converted Gentiles. He was, indeed, deeply interested in the welfare of the Church, and had perhaps commissioned Aquila and Priscilla with others of his own disciples to proceed thither and prepare the way for his own intended visit; but the original foundation of the Roman Church was probably due to others. Under these circumstances the coincidence between certain chapters of the two Epistles is remarkable. If it were limited to the expression of certain eternal truths like the antagonism of flesh and spirit, and that love is the fulfilment of the Law, the correspondence might reasonably be expected. But it extends to the quotation and application of the same texts, and to the conclusions founded on them. Both adduce the same Scriptural arguments to uphold justification by faith alone against legal righteousness. Both associate the adoption and inheritance of the sons of God in Christ with His ancient promises to Abraham and his seed. Both alike restrict the function of Law to the condemnation and punishment of sin, and contrast its bondage with the freedom of the Gospel in corresponding language. Lightfoot argues from this coincidence that the two Epistles approximated in date, in spite of the wide divergence in their general tenor. But the coincidence is distinctly limited in its scope: it is very striking wherever the author is dealing with the doctrinal questions at issue between Judaism and Christianity and is scarcely perceptible elsewhere. The limitation is instructive, for it suggests that the author had made these subjects and the passages of the Old Testament which bear upon them an habitual topic of controversy with Jewish teachers in the synagogue. This view is borne out by comparison of the language used by other authors. Even the Epistle of James, widely different as are his lessons on the subject of faith and works, bases them on the same text as these Epistles, “Abraham believed God and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness”. Why was this? Because the blessing of Abraham, his faith and his righteousness were prevailing topics in the religious teaching of his day. Philo likewise refers constantly to the same passages of Scripture and bases his arguments upon them. Now, what had been the antecedents of Paul before and after his conversion? Educated in Jerusalem at the feet of Gamaliel, he had been a zealot for the Law, and a sincere believer in the teaching of the Pharisees. After growing up to manhood in this faith, he had for fourteen years before he wrote the Galatian Epistle been engaged in perpetual controversy with his former teachers, encountering in every synagogue the same objections, and combating them with similar arguments. Inevitably his thoughts and language on such subjects as the blessing of Abraham, faith and works, the Law and the Gospel, had become in a measure stereotyped; and in addressing former disciples of the synagogue, whether in Galatia or in Rome, he fell almost unconsciously into identical language and trains of thought.
The close analogy, however, of the two Epistles in certain parts serves to bring out in stronger relief their wide divergence in spirit and substance. The Galatian Epistle was evoked by an insidious attack on the Christian freedom of Greek Churches, and its tone is thoroughly controversial. It insists on the futility of seeking justification by obedience to the Law, it urges that Jewish Christians have all confessed themselves guilty sinners, and owe to Christ their redemption from the curses of the Law; it establishes the provisional character of the Sinaitic dispensation, and reduces it to a mere preparatory discipline designed for an age of spiritual childhood and wholly unfit for Christians, seeing they have attained to spiritual manhood; it dwells on the bondage of Israel after the flesh, and identifies unbelieving Jews with Ishmael in their present temper and future destiny. In the Roman Epistle we breathe a different atmosphere. It is a comprehensive exposition of Christian faith and duty addressed to the central Church of the Empire from the standpoint of an Apostle who claims the right to promulgate a new law in the name of Christ for the whole Roman world; it insists on the universal sinfulness of Jew and Gentile alike; like the Galatian it accepts Abraham as father of the faithful, but is careful to add that he is so not of the circumcision only but also of the uncircumcision; it is not content to pass over God’s earlier dealings with mankind before Abraham and to identify Christ with the seed of Abraham, but goes back to the Fall, and describes him as the second Adam redeeming the whole race from the dominion of sin and death; it does not borrow its idea of law, like the Galatian Epistle, from the Mosaic, but develops the conception of an universal law of conscience even in the heathen world which maintains perpetual conflict with the law of sin and death in our members.
The reader can hardly fail to recognise in the changed attitude of the Apostle his altered position, and the transformation that he had been instrumental in effecting in Greece and Asia between the dates of the two Epistles. The earlier is animated throughout with the spirit of conflict, and vividly recalls the period when Paul was earnestly battling for the spiritual life of his Gospel against the surviving spirit of Judaism within the Church. But when he wrote from Corinth to the Roman Church, on the eve of his departure, having no more place in those parts, the issue of the conflict had been virtually settled by the wonderful expansion of the Greek Churches, Judaism had lost its hold, and the independence of the Christian Church no longer admitted of a doubt. Hence the Apostle does not hesitate to write of the national rejection of Israel as an accomplished fact, deeply as he deplored it, and earnestly as he craved for their restoration to a due share in their inheritance and a place in the body of Christ. The Roman Epistle belongs, in short, to a distinctly later stage in the history of the Church than the Galatian. Its decisive inclusion of Jew and Gentile in one category, its identification of Law with the conscience of mankind, its comprehensive scheme of Christian legislation, based on the eternal principles of righteousness, truth and love, its maturity of Christian thought, proved that the Apostle had passed beyond the earlier stage of controversy with Judaism into a region of spiritual conflict with evils of faith and practice, and grasping the conception of a universal religion had braced himself to meet its demand for a new Law and a new life of the Spirit in Christ.
the Week of Proper 13 / Ordinary 18