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Bible Commentaries

Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary


- Galatians

by Henry Alford





1. OF all the Epistles which bear the characteristic marks of St. Paul’s style, this one stands the foremost. See below, on its style, § 4. So that, as Windischmann observes, whoever is prepared to deny the genuineness of this Epistle, would pronounce on himself the sentence of incapacity to distinguish true from false. Accordingly, its authorship has never been doubted.

2. But that authorship is also upheld by external testimony:

( α ) Irenæus, adv. Hær. iii. 7. 2, p. 182, quotes the Epistle by name: “Sed in ea quæ est ad Galatas, sic ait: Quid ergo lex factorum? posita est usque quo veniat semen, cui promissum est &c.” (Galatians 3:19 .)

Many allusions to it are found.

( β ) Polycarp, ad Phil. cap. iii.: p. 1008.

Παύλουὃς καὶ ἀπὼν ὑμῖν ἔγραψεν ἐπιστολάς , εἰς ἃς ἐὰν ἐγκύπτητε , δυνηθήσεσθε οἰκοδομεῖσθαι εἰς τὴν δοθεῖσαν ὑμῖν πίστιν , ἥτις ἐστὶ μήτηρ πάντων ἡμῶν ( Gal 4:26 ). And again, cap. v., p. 1009: εἰδότες οὖν , ὅτι θεὸς οὐ μυκτηρίζεται .… ( Gal 6:7 ).

( γ ) Justin Martyr, or whoever was the author of the Oratio ad Græcos, printed among his works, seems to allude to Galatians 4:12 , in the words γίνεσθε ὡς ἐγώ , ὅτι κἀγὼ ἤμην ὡς ὑμεῖς : and to Galatians 5:20 , in these, ἔχθραι , ἔρεις , ζῆλος , ἐριθεῖαι , θυμοί , κ . τὰ ὅμοια τούτοις , c. v., p. 5.

( δ ) Besides these, there are many more distant allusions in the works of Ignatius, Polycarp, and Justin, which may be seen cited in Lardner and Windischmann, and Davidson, Introd. to N. T. vol. ii. pp. 318 19.



1. This Epistle was written ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις τῆς Γαλατίας (ch. Gal 1:2 ). GALATIA ( Γαλλογραικία Strabo xii. 566, Gallogræcia Liv. xxxvii. 8, xxxviii. 12) was a district of Asia Minor (once part of Phrygia, Strabo xii. 571, ii. 130), bounded N. by Paphlagonia and Bithynia, E. by Pontus and Cappadocia (divided from both by the Halys), S. by Cappadocia and Phrygia, W. by Phrygia and Bithynia. Notwithstanding its mountainous character, it was fruitful, especially near the river Halys (Strabo xii. 567). The principal cities were Ancyra, Pessinus, and Tavium. Ancyra was declared the capital by Augustus. The inhabitants ( Γαλάται , only a later form of Κέλται , Pausan. i. 3. 5, also Gallogræci) were Gauls in origin. The Gallic tribes of the Trochmi and Tolistoboii, with the German tribe of Tectosagi (or Toctosages), crossed over from Thrace into Asia Minor, having formed part of the Gallic expedition which pillaged Delphi, in the third century B.C. (cir. 280.) In Asia they at first became mercenary troops under Nicomedes, king of Bithynia, but soon overran nearly the whole of Asia Minor, till Antiochus Soter and Eumenes drove them into its central portion, afterwards called Galatia. There they were at first ruled by tetrarchs, and afterwards (when their real independence had been taken from them by the Consul Manlius Vulso, B.C. 189, see Livy xxxviii. 16 27) by kings; of whom the two Deiotari, father and son, are known to us, the former as having been defended by Cicero in a speech still extant, the latter as also a friend of the great orator’s (Epp. ad Attic. Gal 1:17 ). Amyntas, the successor of this latter, was their last king: at his death (B.C. 26) Galatia was reduced to a Roman province. See for full accounts, Strabo, book xiii. ch. 5: Livy, as above: the Introductions to this Epistle in Meyer, De Wette, and Windischmann: Winer’s Realwörterbuch, art. Galatia: Conybeare and Howson, vol. i. p. 284 ff., edn. 2: and the learned dissertation on the question whether the Galatians were Teutons or Celts, appended to Prof. Lightfoot’s edition of this Epistle.

2. The character of the people, as shewn in this Epistle, agrees remarkably with that ascribed to the Gallic race by all writers [1] . They received the Apostle at his first visit with extreme joy, and shewed him every kindness: but were soon shaken in their fidelity to him and the Gospel, and were transferring their allegiance to false teachers.

[1] So Cæsar, B. G. iv. 5: “infirmitatem Gallorum veritus, quod sunt in consiliis capiundis mobiles, et novis plerumque rebus student, nihil his committendum existimavit.” And Thierry, Hist. des Gaulois, Introd.: “un esprit franc, impétueux, ouvert à toutes les impressions, éminemment intelligent: mais à côté de cela, une mobilité extrême, point de constance, … beaucoup d’ostentation, enfin une désunion perpétuelle, fruit d’excessive vanité.” C. & H. i. 285, note.

3. The Galatian churches were founded by St. Paul at his first visit, when he was detained among them by sickness (ch. Galatians 4:13 . see note and compare Act 16:6 ), during his second missionary journey, about A.D. 51 (see Chronol. table in Prolegg. to Acts, Vol. II.). Though doubtless he began his preaching as usual among the Jews (cf. Jos. Antt. xvi. 6. 2, for the fact of many Jews being resident in Ancyra), yet this Epistle testifies to the majority of his readers being Gentiles, not yet circumcised, though nearly persuaded to it by Judaizing teachers. At the same time we see by the frequent references to the O. T. and the adoption of the rabbinical method of interpretation by allegory (ch. Gal 4:21-31 ), that he had to do with churches which had been accustomed to Judaizing teaching, and familiarized with the O. T. See Meyer, Einl. p. 3. In the manifold preparations for the Gospel which must have taken place wherever Jews were numerous, through the agency of those who had at Jerusalem heard and believed on Jesus, we need not wonder at any amount of judaistic influence apparent even in churches founded by St. Paul himself: nor need any hypotheses respecting his preaching be invented to account for such a phænomenon.



1. Judaizing teachers had followed, as well as preceded, the Apostle in Galatia, and had treated slightingly his apostolic office and authority (ch. Galatians 1:1 ; Gal 1:11 ), giving out that circumcision was necessary (ch. Galatians 5:2 ; Gal 6:12 ). Their influence was increasing, and the churches were being drawn away by it (Galatians 1:6 ; Galatians 3:1 ; Galatians 3:3 ; Galatians 4:9-11 ; Gal 5:7-12 ). Against these teachers he had already testified in person (Galatians 1:9 ; Galatians 4:16 , where see notes, and cf. Act 18:23 ), and now that the evil was so rapidly and seriously gaining ground, he writes this Epistle expressly to counteract it.

2. The object then of the Epistle was (1) to defend his own apostolic authority; and (2) to expose the judaistic error by which they were being deceived. Accordingly, it contains two parts, the apologetic (ch. Galatians 1:2 .) and the polemic (ch. 3 5:12). These are naturally followed by a hortatory conclusion (ch. Gal 5:13 end). See these parts subdivided into their minor sections in the notes.



1. The matter of the Epistle has been partly spoken of in the last section. In the first, or apologetic portion, it contains a most valuable historical résumé of St. Paul’s apostolic career, proving his independence of human authority, and confirming as well as illustrating the narrative in the Acts, by mentioning the principal occasions when he held intercourse with the other Apostles: relating also that remarkable interview with St. Peter, so important for its own sake, and giving rise to his own precious testimony to Christian truth in ch. Galatians 2:14-21 .

2. The polemical portion has much in common with the Epistle to the Romans. But this difference is observable; that whereas in that Epistle, the whole subject is treated, as belonging to the great argument there handled, logically, and without reference to any special circumstances, here all is strictly controversial, with immediate reference to the judaizing teachers.

3. In style, this Epistle takes a place of its own among those of St. Paul. It unites the two extreme affections of his remarkable character: severity, and tenderness: both, the attributes of a man of strong and deep emotions. Nothing can be more solemnly severe than its opening, and ch. Galatians 3:1-5 ; nothing more touchingly affectionate than some of its appeals, e.g. ch. Galatians 4:18-20 . It is therefore quite a mistake to characterize its tone as altogether overpowering and intimidating [2] . A half-barbarous people like the Galatians, known for their simplicity and impressibility, would be likely to listen to both of these methods of address: to be won by his fatherly pleading, as well as overawed by his apostolic rebukes and denunciations.

[2] See Jowett, Epistles to the Romans, Thessalonians, and Galatians, vol. i. p. 191.

4. There are several points of similarity in this Epistle to the peculiar diction of the Pastoral Epistles. The student will find them pointed out in the reff., and for the most part remarked on in the notes. They seem to indicate, in accordance with our interpretation of ch. Galatians 6:11 , that he wrote this Epistle, as those, with his own hand, without the intervention of an amanuensis. This matter will be found more fully treated below, ch. vii. on the Pastoral Epistles, § i. 32.



1. We have no date in the Epistle itself, which may enable us to determine the time when it was written. This can only be gathered from indirect sources. And consequently, the most various dates have been assigned to it: some, as Marcion in old times, and Michaelis, al., in modern, placing it first among St. Paul’s Epistles: and others, as Schrader and Köhler, last . The following considerations will narrow our field of uncertainty on the point:

2. If the reasoning in the note on the chronological table, Vol. II. Prolegg. pp. 26, 27, be correct, the visit to Jerusalem mentioned Galatians 2:1 ff. is identical with that in Acts 15:1 ff. It will thence follow that the Epistle cannot have been written before that visit: i.e. (see Chron. Table as above) not before A.D. 50.

3. I have maintained, in the note on Galatians 4:16 , that the words there used most naturally refer to the Apostle’s second visit to the churches of Galatia, when Acts 18:23 , he went through τὴν Γαλατικὴν χώρανστηρίζων πάντας τοὺς μαθητάς . If so, this Epistle cannot date before that visit : i.e. (Chron. Table as above) not before the autumn of the year 54.

4. The first period then which seems probable, is the Apostle’s stay at Ephesus in Acts 19:0 , from autumn 54, till Pentecost 57. And this period is so considerable, that, having regard to the οὕτως ταχέως of ch. Galatians 1:6 , it must be regarded as quite possible that our Epistle may have been written during it. The above is the view of Hug, De Wette, Olsh., Usteri, Winer, Neander, Greswell, Anger, Meyer, Wieseler, and many others.

5. The next period during which it might have been written is, his stay at Corinth, Acts 20:2-3 , where he spent the winter of the year 57 8, and whence he wrote the Epistle to the Romans. This is the opinion of Conybeare and Howson (vol. ii. p. 162, edn. 2). They support their view entirely by the similarity of this Epistle and that to the Romans. “It is,” they say (p. 165, note), “exactly that resemblance which would exist between two Epistles written nearly at the same time, while the same line of argument was occupying the writer’s mind, and the same phrases and illustrations were on his tongue.” It has also been maintained with much skill and learning, since the first edition of this volume appeared, by Prof. Lightfoot, in an article in the Journal of Sacred and Classical Philology for Jan. 1857: which article is reproduced in the Introduction to his edition of the Epistle, 1865. He traces the sequence of the lines of thought in the greater Epistles, and finds internal evidence enough to make him decide strongly that it is very improbable, that the two Epistles to the Corinthians intervened between those to the Galatians and Romans, or that to the Galatians between the second to the Thessalonians and the first to the Corinthians.

6. I own that these considerations seem to me weighty ones, and have caused me to modify the decided preference which I gave in my first edition to the earlier date. Still, I do not feel Prof. Lightfoot’s argument to have settled the question. It might be that the elementary truths brought out amidst deep emotion, sketched, so to speak, in great rough lines in the fervent Epistle to the Galatians, dwelt long on St. Paul’s mind (even though other subjects of interest regarding other churches intervened), and at length worked themselves out, under the teaching and leading of the Spirit, into that grand theological argument which he afterwards addressed, without any special moving occasion, but as his master exposition of Christian doctrine, to the church of the metropolis of the world.

7. I think then that it must always remain a question between these two periods. In favour of the former of them it may be said that, considering the οὕτως ταχέως [3] , we can hardly let so long a time elapse as the second would pass over, and that probability is in favour of strong emotion having, in the prompting of God’s Spirit, first brought out that statement of Christian truth and freedom, which after-deliberation expanded, and polished, and systematized, in the Epistle to the Romans: and in favour of the latter may be alleged the interesting considerations respecting the grouping of St. Paul’s Epistles, and the parallels between 2 Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans, which Prof. Lightfoot has adduced.

[3] For I cannot accept the suggestion of Prof. Lightfoot, which would make ταχέως subjective to μετατίθεσθε , ‘ye are so rapidly changing.’ I have treated on this view in my note on Revelation 1:1 , where much depends on it.

8. Of course my objection to the date implied in the common subscription, ἐγράφη ἀπὸ Ῥώμης , adopted by Theodoret, Calov., Hammond, al., is even stronger than that stated above. Those who wish to see the matter discussed at more length, may refer to Davidson, Introd. ii. p. 292 ff., and to Prof. Lightfoot’s edition of the Epistle, pp. 35 55.