Lectionary Calendar
Friday, June 14th, 2024
the Week of Proper 5 / Ordinary 10
For 10¢ a day you can enjoy StudyLight.org ads
free while helping to build churches and support pastors in Uganda.
Click here to learn more!

Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

- Galatians

by Johann Peter Lange

to the







This volume of the American edition of Lange’s Biblework, being the seventh of the New Testament Division, embraces the following Epistles of St. Paul:

Galatians. By Otto Schmoller, Ph. D., of Urach, Würtemberg. Translated by C. C. Starbuck, A. M., with additions by M. B. Riddle, D. D.
Ephesians and Colossians. By Karl Braune, D. D., General Superintendent of Altenburg, Saxony. Translated, enlarged and edited by M. B. Riddle, D. D.
Philippians. By Dr. Braune. Edited, with additions, by Prof. Hackett, D. D., formerly of Newton Centre, now of the Theological Seminary at Rochester, N. Y.
The Epistle to the Ephesians had been originally assigned to Prof. Dr. Hitchcock, of Union Theological Seminary, New York, but, much to the regret of the general editor, Dr. H. was obliged to abandon the task on account of illness. This interruption and the absence of Dr. Riddle in Germany have caused some delay in the publication of the volume.
The translation was prepared from the last editions of the original. The additions were made with constant reference to the best German as well as English and American commentators, especially to Alford, Ellicott, Lightfoot, Eadie and Hodge. Dr. Eadie’s work on the Galatians appeared after this part of the volume was in type. Dr. Schenkel’s commentaries on the Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians (1862,2d ed., 1867),—originally a part of the Bible work, but replaced since, for reasons connected with the theological change of the author, by those of Dr. Braune—were also consulted throughout. Braune is an able, careful, concise, sound and judicious exegete. Special attention was paid to the enlargement of the Textual and Exegetical departments. Where the translators differ from the German authors, the reasons are generally given.

Upon the whole, the additions amount to about one third of the volume, and will commend themselves to the judgment of competent readers as a valuable improvement.
The New Testament part of this laborious work is now drawing to a close. The Commentaries on the Gospel of John, and on Revelation will complete it. The former is far advanced and, if the Lord spare the health and strength of the general editor, will be finished during the coming winter.1 The commentary on Revelation has not yet appeared in German, but may be expected in a few months, and will be immediately taken in hand. The last part will also contain a complete and careful Index of all the volumes on the New Testament. The Old Testament is progressing more slowly, yet as fast as the nature of the work will admit.

New York, 10 Bible House, Aug. 24th, 1870.      Philip Schaff.





The recipients of the Epistle are αἱ ἐκκλησίαι τῆς Γαλατίας, the churches of Galatia.

The district of Galatia in Asia Minor owes its name and origin to the immigration of the tribes of the Trocmi, Tolistobogii and Tectosages, included by ancient writers under the generic name of Galatians, Gauls or Celts. These left their abode on the Rhine in the third century B. C., and after having made desolating incursions into Macedonia and Greece, they founded in Thrace the kingdom of Thyle, whence they forced their way into Asia Minor under the leaders Leonorius and Lutarius. Here they received from the Bithynian king Nicomedes, a part of Phrygia as a reward for services rendered in war. [Lightfoot intimates that this movement across the Hellespont was connected with the final repulse, given at Delphi (B. C. 279) to the Celtic invasion of Greece. A considerable force that had refused to take part in this expedition was joined by a remnant of the repulsed army, and under the leaders above named forced their way through Thrace to the Hellespont, across which they were soon attracted by the fertility of Asia Minor. They overran a large extent of territory, but their power was finally curbed by the Pergamene prince Attalus the First (about B. C. 230). See the authorities quoted in his Introd. Galatians, pp. 5, 6.—R.] As they mixed with the Greeks and spoke the Greek language too, they were also called Gallograeci, and their territory, Gallograecia, Γαλλογρικία. They are described as a valiant and liberty-loving people, who, from their fondness for fighting, could readily be hired as mercenaries, and were dreaded as soldiers, far and wide. But in the year B. C. 189, they were subjected to the Roman power by Consul Cneius Manlius Vulso; retaining, however, their ancient federative constitution under their own Tetrarchs, who finally bore the title of Kings. From this time forth they devoted themselves more and more to the arts of peace, and made their country one of the most flourishing in existence. Through the favor of Antony and Augustus towards their last king, Amyntas, Pisidia and parts of Lycaonia and Pamphylia were added to his dominions. After the death of Amyntas, Galatia thus enlarged became a Roman province.

Jerome, who spent some time in Gaul and also in Galatia, remarks (Proleg. in libr. II., ep. ad. Gal.) that the language of the Galatians was identical with that of the Treviri; this is the chief ground for the opinion that the Galatians were not Celts, but Germans. The name, Galatians, Gauls, is not against this; for this designation is to be explained from the usage of the third century B. C., when the Romans as yet included the Germans under the name of Gauls. Since, however, the nationality of the Treviri themselves is a matter of dispute, that of the Galatians cannot be certainly thus determined. The supposition that one tribe of the Galatians, the Tectosages (Meyer), were Germans, while the other two were Gauls, is inconsistent with Strabo’s remark, that the three tribes had the same manners and the same language; and as a native of the neighboring Cappadocia, he must have been accurately informed on this point. We can at all events adduce in favor of their German origin the names of the leaders, Leonorius (comp. Leonhardt, Leonore) and Lutharius, that is, Lothar, and also their polity as described by Strabo, according to which their princes, and not their priests, dispensed justice, this being, according to Cæsar (Bell. Gall. VI. 13), a chief distinction between the Gauls and Germans (Wieseler). Tradition relates also, that an army of crusaders was struck with astonishment at hearing all at once, in this region, the Bavarian dialect.

[Wieseler and Olshausen advocate the Teutonic origin, at which Luther hints in his warning to the Germans against like inconstancy (Com. Galatians 1:6). Meyer suggests the mixed origin mentioned above, while Thierry, and other French writers (including the Emperor Napoleon III. Cesar. II. p. 2), claim this settlement of Celts as an evidence of Gallic enterprise. English writers generally advocate the Celtic origin. The matter is ably discussed by Lightfoot, Galatians, Dissert. I. p. 235 sq.: “Were the Galatians Celts or Teutons?” He maintains that they were Celts, arguing both from the authority of classical writers, and from the philological data furnished by the proper names which remain. But the most convincing argument is drawn from the character of the people. “They are described by the ancient writers as a frank, warlike, impetuous, intelligent and impressible, but unsteady, ostentatious and vain people, strongly resembling the cognate French” (Schaff). That their peculiarities were more akin to those of the ancient Gauls and modern Celtic races, than to those of the Teutonic race, ancient or modern, is very evident. Luther might have spared his rebuke about “inconstancy,” could he have foretold modern history. Lightfoot (Introd. pp. 1–17) speaks of the tough vitality of national character, so strongly marked in the Celts, which is shown also by the Galatians in Asia Minor; the similar fickle temperament (Galatians 1:6; Galatians 3:1), and even hints that the vices rebuked in this epistle are not foreign to the distinctive character of the Celts, e.g.: Galatians 5:21, “drunkenness and revellings;” Galatians 6:6-7, niggardliness in alms giving; Galatians 5:26, “vain glory;” Galatians 5:15, “bite and devour one another.” Certainly the tendency of the Galatians in religion was toward superstitious ritualism (Galatians 3:3), not to mysticism as among their neighbors, the Phrygians, and to-day the Celtic people have the same tendency. It is worthy of note, if the Celtic extraction be admitted, that those Epistles (Galatians and Romans) which assail most plainly the errors of legalism and ritualism, should have been addressed to Celtic and Latin readers. The progress of ethnographic science seems to favor the view that the Galatians were Celts. Comp. Conybeare and Howson: Life and Epistle of St. Paul, I. p. 243 sq.—R.]

The opinion, that we are to regard, not the Galatians proper, but inhabitants of the district added under King Amyntas, Lycaonians (especially the christians of Derbe and Lystra), and Pisidians, as the recipients of our Epistle, is altogether untenable, owing its rise to hypotheses about the time of its composition.
The recipients of the Epistle are more particularly, the Christian congregations, αἱ ἐκκλησίαι of Galatia. There were therefore several Christian churches in this district—perhaps in the chief places, Ancyra, Tavium and Pessinus, according to a missionary principle observed by the Apostle (Wieseler). In the book of Acts also no places are mentioned. In one other passage these churches are spoken of in the same way (1 Corinthians 16:1). The passages, 2 Timothy 4:10; 1 Peter 1:1, also presuppose Christians in Galatia. These churches were founded by Paul himself. This appears indisputably from our Epistle, Galatians 1:6-8; Galatians 4:13 sq., and is confirmed by the narrative in the Acts. According to this he came hither for the first time soon after the apostolic council, Acts 16:6. He must then have preached the gospel there, and founded churches; for although this is not expressly stated, it is to be assumed, since, at the visit mentioned in Acts 18:23, he was already employed in “strengthening” the churches there. A second visit of the Apostle to Galatia is also indicated in our Epistle, especially Galatians 4:13 (comp. ad. loc.). The first one is more particularly described as having been occasioned by bodily weakness, which had constrained him to delay in Galatia, and given him opportunity to preach the gospel there. This visit, therefore, cannot well coincide with that mentioned in Acts 18:23.

These churches were undoubtedly chiefly composed of Gentile Christians, as is clear from our Epistle, partly from the passages of general reference, Galatians 1:16; Galatians 2:9, in which Paul takes pains to prove to the Galatians his vocation as Apostle to the Gentiles, partly and especially from Galatians 4:8, where the readers, as a whole, are designated as having been idolaters, and from Galatians 5:2-3; Galatians 6:12-13, according to which they were as yet uncircumcised. Unquestionably there was also in Galatia a Jewish population, perhaps a numerous one (comp. Josephus, Ant. 12, 3, 4; 16, 6, 2), and so there may have been Jewish Christians also in the churches. But we cannot draw a certain conclusion from the ἡμεῖς in passages which refer especially to Jewish Christians, as Galatians 3:23-25; Galatians 4:3; for we cannot decidedly affirm that here Paul includes the readers also in the first person. The abrupt transition from the first to the second person in Galatians 3:25-26; Galatians 4:5-6, might rather favor the opposite conclusion, namely, that he has reference to the readers only in the second part of these passages where he treats of the Christian state, and not in what precedes, respecting the condition of a Jew. [It is by no means certain that the use of the first person in the passages cited involves an exclusive reference to “the condition of a Jew.” See exeg. notes, Galatians 4:3.—R.] Nor is the fact that acquaintance with the Old Testament is presupposed in the arguments of the epistle, a convincing proof. For all evangelical preaching rested on the Old Testament Scripture. Besides this, thorough discussion of the Old Testament was here demanded by the subject of the epistle. For the churches were wrought upon by Judaizing false teachers, who endeavored to lead them back to an Old Testament position; as they had doubtless been already sufficiently instructed by these teachers in the Old Testament, on this account alone Paul was obliged to enter on the discussion of the Old Testament, and out of it to refute them; to open up to them a still deeper and juster understanding of the Old Testament economy. Only so could they be delivered from an authority pretending a support from the Old Testament. The supposition that the Galatian Christians had formerly been in great part proselytes, is therefore unnecessary. [Schaff: The congregations of Galatia were, like all the churches founded by Paul, of a mixed, yet predominantly Gentile Christian character.—R.]


The spiritual state of these Galatian churches, at first a matter of joy, had been sadly disturbed by certain unnamed persons, who, to be sure, were Christians, but of Judaizing or pharisaistic tendencies. These, it is plain, had come from abroad, and perhaps were emissaries from Palestine. They were hardly proselytes. Such a conclusion does not follow from Galatians 5:12; Galatians 6:13. They set themselves in direct opposition to the Christian view, which had, till then, prevailed in the church; and, moreover, directed their polemics expressly against Paul, as the first promulgator of this view. To the persuasion which had taken root through him, that justification and salvation are to be attained alone through faith in Christ, by grace, they opposed the assertion that certain works of the law, especially the observance of the Jewish festivals, and the receiving of circumcision, were necessary to salvation. From prudential motives, they did not require the observance of the whole law. In order to gain entrance for this view, diametrically opposed as it was to the doctrine of Paul, they sought to undermine the consideration in which the Galatians held him, by denying to him the apostolic dignity, and by appealing, in opposition, to the authority of the senior Apostles, especially James, Peter and John, as the true pillars of the church, to whom Paul, as they represented, stood in opposition, while they proceeded in concurrence with them. Nay, they appear to have even imputed to Paul the inconsistency of sometimes himself preaching circumcision among the Jews, Galatians 5:11; and would have it, therefore, that his doctrine of the freedom of believers from the law proceeded only from unworthy complaisance towards the Gentiles. (Comp. Galatians 1:10.)

How long these false teachers had been working in the church cannot be precisely determined; yet we see from Galatians 1:9; Galatians 5:3; Galatians 4:16, that Paul, on his second visit, had already spoken against this Judaizing error; chiefly, we may suppose, by way of warning and precautionary instruction, as the danger was yet only imminent, although the inclination to yield was already present. Matters came to an actual leading astray only after the departure of the Apostle. For from the impression which the Epistle makes, we must conclude that he has now, for the first time, to deal with the church after its actual fall into error. This falling away, however, must have made surprisingly rapid progress, as unmistakably appears from the tone of the Epistle; comp. also Galatians 1:6 : οὔτω ταχέως.

As just remarked, the false teachers actually succeeded in finding entrance and seducing the churches. How far can only be partially determined. At all events, we must not underrate their success. From the whole tenor of the Epistle from the earnestness with which Paul speaks (e.g. Galatians 1:6; Galatians 3:13; Galatians 4:12; Galatians 4:19-20; Galatians 5:1 sq. 7), from his thorough handling of the question of his own doctrinal position, and of the question respecting his apostolic authority, as also from the allusion to the division that had arisen in the church (Galatians 5:6), it is sufficiently clear that the Judaizing view, at least, had already completely got the upper hand, and especially that the consideration enjoyed by the Apostle was already a good deal shaken. (Comp. the peculiarly full exposition of this question in the Epistle.) On the other hand, the apostasy from the principle of justifying faith was as yet by no means complete, but only incipient. (Comp. e.g. Galatians 1:6; Galatians 4:9; Galatians 4:17; Galatians 4:21.) Especially the practical observance of Judaism was only in its beginnings. The observance of the Jewish days and times had commenced, but “to the chief requirement of the false teachers, obedience to which would first render the apostasy from evangelical Christianity complete, namely the receiving of circumcision, they had as yet yielded no compliance, in any numbers worth speaking of, since the circumcision of the readers is mentioned as something still impending” On the other hand, we cannot, from the “little leaven,” (Galatians 5:2), draw the inference of a falling away as yet insignificant, since this expression rather refers to the small number of their corrupters, or rather to the fact that a deviation from evangelical truth in one point or a few points may easily work great mischief.

This condition of the Galatian churches has evidently been speedily reported to the Apostle, for, as yet, all is in the bud; he has still good hope of the Galatians, that all will come right again; he deals with them throughout as having but just set foot on the downward path, and feels himself to be still standing in close connection with them, notwithstanding that, on their side, some estrangement may have already taken place, inasmuch as the personal consideration of the apostle itself had been so directly impugned. Yet he does not appear to have received his intelligence so very soon, but that he speaks of their already having begun to observe days, and months, and times, and years. Though we cannot, of course, from this last expression, draw the inference of their having been already a year in this condition, yet the Judaizing usage in this respect must have already, in some measure, obtained prevalence. Such intelligence is it which gives the Apostle occasion for the writing of our Epistle to the Galatians.
[Lightfoot: “The fragmentary notices of its subsequent career reflect some light on the temper and disposition of the Galatian church in St. Paul’s day. Asia Minor was the nursery of heresy, and, of all the Asiatic churches, it was no where so rife as in Galatia. The Galatian capital was the stronghold of the Montanist revival, which lingered on for more than two centuries, splitting into diverse sects, each distinguished by some fantastic gesture or minute ritual observance. Here too were to be found Ophites, Manichæans, sectarians of all kinds. Hence during the great controversies of the fourth century issued two successive bishops (Marcellus and Basilius), who disturbed the peace of the Church, the one on the side of Sabellian, the other of Arian error. A Christian father of this period (Gregory Naz.), denounces ‘the folly of the Galatians, who abound in many impious denominations.’ ” Still both in the Diocletian persecution and against Julian, who personally attempted the restoration of heathenism in Galatia, the Christians bore themselves with fortitude and constancy.—R.]


It is evident that Paul composed the Epistle immediately after he had received the unpleasing intelligence, for it is written under the fresh, immediate impression of it, as appears by the troubled style, full of astonishment and strong feeling. If the opinion given above is correct, that Paul himself, in his letter, intimates having made a second visit to Galatia (comp. especially Galatians 4:13), the Epistle was, of course, written after this; and, therefore, if the second visit is the one mentioned, Acts 18:23, about A. D. 55 or 56. As Paul, after laboring the second time in Galatia, went to Ephesus, and remained there three years, it is most natural to suppose that he wrote the Epistle in Ephesus. The common subscription says, ἐγράφη�, and several fathers favor this view, but it has arisen only out of a misunderstanding of Galatians 4:20; Galatians 6:2, and especially of Galatians 6:17.

[Time and place are linked together; the two most probable opinions are: 1. That it was written from Ephesus, A. D. 54–57 (Acts 19:1-10). 2. From Corinth, A. D. 57–58 (Acts 20:3). If 1. be adopted, then it was written before the Epistles to the Corinthians; if 2, then subsequently. 1. is held by as more probable among others by Meyer, Lange, Schaff (History of the apostolic church, p. 282), Reuss (Gesch. der heil. Schriften des N. T. 4th ed. p. 73), Alford, Ellicott, Davidson, Turner; 2. by De Wette, Conybeare, Bleek, and by Lightfoot most decidedly. Stanley and Jowett, leave the question undetermined, while Wordsworth dates it as early as A. D. 53, before Paul’s second visit from Corinth, during his first visit there. (See his Introd. to Gal.) As the first named is the view generally received, it will be proper to state more fully the arguments of Lightfoot. 1.The resemblance to the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, and that to the Romans, between which he would place it, its affinity in tone of feeling to the former, and in thought to the latter. 2.This order best accords with the history of Paul’s personal sufferings and the progress of his controversy with the Judaizers, as shown in the fulness of doctrinal statement against their views. 3. This date explains one or two allusions more satisfactorily, as Galatians 6:1‚ against severe treatment, the evil effects of which he may have witnessed at Corinth; Galatians 6:7 : “Be not deceived,” etc., referring to their illiberality in response to the “orders to the churches of Galatia‚” mentioned 1 Corinthians 16:1. See Lightfoot, pp. 36–56. The question is one of probabilities, yet, as respects internal evidence, it may be remarked that the strong emotion of the Galatian Epistle renders it more probable that it was written speedily after the news of their error had come to the Apostle‚ while the calmer‚ more didactic setting of the same truth in the Epistle to the Romans indicates the lapse of a considerable interval between the two. Hence, the earlier date, from Ephesus, is to be preferred, and until lately was generally allowed by the best commentators. The view of Wordsworth, assigning a yet earlier date, involves a somewhat forced intepretation of Galatians 4:13-14, and, while ingeniously supported, rests too entirely upon hypotheses respecting Paul’s course in dealing with an erring church.—R.]

Although the apostolic fathers contain no trace even measurably certain, and Justin’s writings only a probable trace of the Epistle, its genuineness is nevertheless so firmly established, that it has never yet been doubted. It is supported partly by external, and partly by internal testimony. As to the former, the Epistle is already in use by the Gnostic Valentine (Iren. Adv. hær. Galatians 3:3) and by his disciple Theodotus (Exc. ap. Clem. Alex. c. 53[2]); and by Marcion about the middle of the second century, who has it in his canon as the first of the Pauline epistles, and draws his chief arguments from it to prove the other apostle Judaizers (Epiph. hær, 42:9); it is known to Tatian (Jerome, Comm. in Galatians 6:0); it is found on the testimony of the elder Peshito in the Syrian church; and according to the Canon of Muratori, composed in 170, it is found in the church of the Occident; towards the end of the second century, it is used by the fathers Irenæus [Adv. hær. III. 7, 2—R.], Clem. Alex. [Strom. III. p. 468—R.] and Tertullian [De Præscript. hær. c. 6—R ]; and, finally, it is reckoned by Eusebius among the Homologoumena. Yet stronger is the thoroughly Pauline character and style of the Epistle. The Tübingen school, far from denying its genuineness, uses it rather as the great lever of its criticism upon the writings whose genuineness this school impugns. The sole exception to this universal consent is Bruno Baur (Kritik der Paulin. Br., 1ste Abtheilung, 1850), who has discovered in the author a compiler, that fabricated the Epistle out of that to the Romans and the two to the Corinthians. His imaginary proof, however, is so utterly without foundation, or scientific worth, that it bears its refutation on its face (Wieseler, Meyer).


As implied in the occasion of writing indicated above, the Apostle intended by this, his Epistle, to destroy the influence which the Judaizing teachers, with their legal doctrine, had gained in the Galatian churches, and to bring anew to general acknowledgment, in the first place his apostolic authority, and next, on this basis, the gospel preached by him of the sinner’s justification through faith, and of the freedom of the believer from the law. His essential aim is, to bring back the misled Galatians into the right path, as he also cherishes the strong hope, that he shall succeed in this. To this end he exhorts them most earnestly to a return, and supports this admonition by a careful demonstration of the perversity of that which the false teachers have brought in the way.
Inasmuch, therefore, as the Epistle has as its object, on the one hand, the combatting of an intriguing attempt, that had succeeded but too well, to destroy a work which had had a fair beginning, and at the same time, the combatting of a general doctrine of error, which overturned the evangelical foundation; and on the other hand the bringing back of a beloved church, which had erred from the truth, and the firm establishment of a momentous fundamental truth of the gospel, it is easy to explain the style of strong feeling which the Apostle on the whole maintains. Especially may we thus explain the sharp earnestness with which ever and anon he breaks forth against the false teachers; the zeal of love pervaded by sadness, with which he seeks to persuade the readers of their error, and to make clear the matter to them in the most varied aspects; while, with all this personal reference he does not shrink from going into the most thorough exposition of that which had been brought into doubt.
In treating a writing of such a kind, nothing is more mistaken than the desire to dispose it according to scholastic rules. It is true, the thought moves in thoroughly close connection, and a steady and clear progress is found, but the whole is a living growth, where one thing grows out of the other in the most immediate connection. With all the steadiness of the progress of thought, there prevails also a freedom of movement, and all pedantic analysis does violence to this mighty gush of thought.
As usual, Paul begins his Epistle with an Address and Salutation (Galatians 1:1-5), except that even here, agreeably to the purpose of the Epistle he emphasizes his apostolate in a very peculiar manner, Galatians 1:1, and brings into prominence the significance of the atoning death of Christ (Galatians 1:4). Then entering at once upon the matter, he sets forth the occasion of the Epistle, by expressing his astonishment at the speedy entrance which false teachers had found into the Galatian churches; and against every one, who preaches another gospel than that which he had brought them, denounces the Anathema—a severity which he justifies by reference to his duty as a servant of Christ (Galatians 1:6-10). There follows now:

I. The clearly marked First Chief Division of the Epistle (Galatians 1:4 to Galatians 2:21)—a detailed demonstration of his full apostolic dignity, and thereby of the full authority of his evangelical preaching. Although the polemical reference is not distinctly announced, this is of course in definite opposition to the attacks of his opposers. Because this was the point of departure, the base of operations for the legal doctrine, he accordingly refutes these attacks first and before all, in order to have a foundation for what follows. For only by re-establishing his apostolic consideration, could he hope to destroy the influence which the false teachers and their legal doctrine had won and to convince his readers of the truth of his own preaching. The proof Paul conducts in the following manner. He shows,

(1), How he had received his commission to preach the gospel from God and Christ Himself, through special revelation, and not otherwise, as from the senior Apostles; how he could not possibly have received it from these, since for a long time he had only come once into hasty communication with them (vers. 11–24).

(2), That during a later interview in Jerusalem with the senior Apostles, having reference to doctrine, the latter by no means assumed any authority over him, or uttered any censure of his course; that on the contrary, while he, in opposition to the false brethren, most decidedly upheld the evangelical truth, it was precisely by the “pillars” of the church, the Apostles James, Peter and John that he was acknowledged as an Apostle of equal authority, and the preaching among the Gentiles left to him by a free and friendly agreement (Galatians 2:1-10).

(3), That when Peter, although himself fully committed to the freer view respecting the Mosaic law, yet from fear of man had once deviated from it, he had not hesitated publicly to rebuke him, and to lay before him in the most definite manner the principles of his preaching among the Gentile Christians, in order to guard against these being led astray (2:11, 26). With Galatians 3:0. Paul passes over:

II. to a new section, the heart of the whole Epistle. In this, he sets himself in complete opposition to the legal tendency itself, or to the opinion of a necessity of the observance of the law to the attainment of salvation, which, in opposition to the evangelical view inculcated by him, had found entrance, by means of the false teachers, among the Galatians. In this part, doctrine, complaint, and admonition alternate with one another (Galatians 3:1 to Galatians 4:10).

A. He begins (Galatians 3:1-5) by expressing astonishment at the opposition into which they thus come with their own experience in the receiving of the Spirit, and then:

B. For the first time passes into a doctrinal exposition, namely,

1. To the proof of the principle, that through works of the law, Salvation (Justification, Blessedness, Inheritance) is not to be obtained, but through Faith alone. (Galatians 3:6-18). The proof of this he finds in the Scripture, partly in the testimony of the Scripture concerning the justification of Abraham through faith, partly in the promise given to Abraham, that in him all the Gentiles shall be blessed; which promise finds its fulfilment only through faith in Christ, since the law intead of a blessing, brings a curse, while Christ has become a curse, in order to redeem us from that curse (Galatians 3:6-14). The principle to be proved is, moreover, indicated even by the relation of time between the law and the covenant of promise. According to a fundamental principle of law, universally valid, the law, as given much later, could not annul the promise, that is, works of law could not be subsequently made a condition of attaining the inheritance, after it had been first promised as a gift (Galatians 3:15-18). Paul, however, does not content himself with this demonstration, which, in relation to the law, afforded a merely negative result, nor indeed could the readers content themselves with it, since the fact of the law was not thereby explained. He therefore passes now:

2. To the Law itself, and its relation to the covenant of promise, and shows, (positively), what significance attaches to the law, in order therefrom to demonstrate, definitely and positively the freedom of Christians from the same (Galatians 3:19; Galatians 4:7).

a) The law had its sufficient end, one having an important reference even to the attainment of salvation. This end, however, was only preparatory, namely, to prepare the way, as a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ.

b) But from this itself appears the merely transitory significance of the law: with the coming in of faith, the way forwhich it was to prepare, this ceases; believers are now all, without distinction, God’s children, and so heirs (Galatians 3:25-29). That is, remarks Paul more definitely still:

c) God’s children and heirs (as were the children of Israel), might, it is true (after the analogy of human relations), be placed in servitude under the law, during their state of minority, but with the sending of the Son of God the stated majority, and with it the full position of children and heirs, has come in, which finds its realization in fact through the Spirit’s inward witness of adoption (Galatians 4:1-7). With this, the didactic exposition is, in its main part completed, and the Apostle’s painful sense of the contrast in which the present behavior of the Galatians stands to the freedom from the law, which has fallen to the portion of Christians and therefore to them also, forces him again:

C. To a lamentation over this behavior of theirs. He presents before them the inconceivable retrogression which they make, and also, in painfully agitated language, the equally groundless personal estrangement, which had sprung up between themselves and him, through the selfish intrigues of the false teachers (Galatians 4:8-18).

D. His complaint, pervaded by the motherly wish for a restoration of misguided children to the right way,3 unconsciously passes over once more into instruction, into a confirmation of what had been taught concerning the freedom of Christians, from the Scripture narrative of the two sons of Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac, by means of an interpretation referring these to the Jewish and the Christian churches (Galatians 4:19-31).

E. This gives so much the better right to utter the admonition to stand fast in this freedom from the law; an admonition which is at once strengthened by a threatening reference to the dangerous consequences of a return to the law, even in the one point of circumcision: that thus they lost Christ in whom alone that faith which works by love is efficacious (Galatians 5:1-6).

F. This admonition and warning now suggesting the thought how much lies at stake, pass over again into complaint, through which, however, hopefulness is visible, the complaint taking rather the form of accusation against their false guides (Galatians 5:7-12).

G. But so much the more urgently is the admonition again pressed, in the form of an exhortation (supplementing that under E.), instead of returning to the law, as if faith were insufficient, to accredit their faith, in a right understanding of the freedom bestowed on believers, by a serving love, through a walk in the Spirit, which is the best fulfilling of the law. This admonition is given a) more in general, and with reference to the principle on which it rests, namely, the opposition between Flesh and Spirit; b) with a special inculcation of the duty of love in several particular relations, for which the churches may have given occasion (Galatians 5:25 to Galatians 6:10).

Galatians 4:11-18. Paul adds a conclusion written with his own hand.4 In this with a few strokes he portrays himself in opposition to the false teachers, and opposes to their shrinking from persecution his own joy in the cross of Christ, through which he has become a new man. Wishing then a blessing on all who walk according to the principles laid down by him, he alludes to the marks of the Lord Jesus in his body, and begs that henceforth no man may trouble him, closing with the accustomed benediction.

[Subjoined is the satisfactory summary of Dr. Schaff, published as a part of a projected commentary:

The object of the Epistle was both apologetic and polemic. It is a personal and a doctrinal self-defence, and a refutation of the Judaizing heresy. To this are added appropriate exhortations.

The first part, Galatians 1:1 to Galatians 2:14, is historical and personal, giving a resume of the Apostle’s career, partly confirmatory, partly supplementary to the narrative of the Acts, and justifying his office and authority from the direct call of Christ, the revelation of the gospel doctrine made to him, and the testimony of the other Apostles during the Council of Jerusalem.

In the second or doctrinal part, Galatians 2:15 to Galatians 4:31, he defends his teaching, the free gospel of Christianity, in opposition to the slavish and carnal legalism of his opponents.

In the third or practical part, Galatians 5:6, he exhorts the Galatians to hold fast to the evangelical liberty without abusing it, to study love, unity and other Christian virtues, and concludes with a benediction.

Comp. the able analysis of Lightfoot, which may be roughly sketched as a division into three sections of two chapters each: the first couplet Personal, the second Doctrinal, the third Hortatory.—R.]


The high doctrinal importance of our Epistle needs no proof. It is the Magna Charta of the freedom of a Christian man. A spirit of holy zeal for the freedom which the Christian has through his faith, and for the Christian’s right thereto, breathes through the whole. Hereby is the freedom which we have in Christ, established for all time; and against all attempts to induce it to make a law, or any outward performances, the condition of salvation, the Christian commonwealth can always oppose our Epistle as its charter of manumission. Our Reformers, therefore, in contending against the yoke, which the papacy, in the course of time, had again laid on the Christian conscience, supported themselves chiefly on our Epistle, and the nearly related Epistle to the Romans: and “through the famous exposition of its doctrinal contents rendered by Luther, has it become for ever part and parcel of the church of the Reformation.” Wieseler.

A more particular comparison presents the doctrine of justification by faith, and not by works of the law, as, it is true, developed in the Epistle to the Romans with greater fulness, “according to its essence and its effects, in contrast with the corruption of sin;” in our Epistle it is brought forward rather as a means of proving the freedom of Christians from the obligation of observing the law. In this direction, then, are we to look for the peculiar significance of our Epistle: in the firm establishment of the high and holy right which Christians have to this freedom through their faith, in the demonstration of the dignity which faith in Christ bestows, so that our Epistle might be called not only the Christian’s deed of manumission, but also his patent of nobility. At the same time the relation of law and promise, of religious childhood and maturity, from which this freedom results, are so clearly exhibited, in a profound and noble interpretation of the history of salvation, as to give a sure and immovable basis for all more special exposition. But decidedly as the Apostle enters the lists to combat for the freedom of a Christian man, he is just as far from overlooking its ethical character, so that in our Epistle, both the dogmatical and the ethical features, essential to the idea of evangelical freedom, are contained.
While our Epistle is thus, first and chiefly, of high, abiding worth for Christian doctrine, it is moreover, important for the history of the church, through the valuable communications which it gives in Galatians 1:2, respecting the history of the Apostle, and of the beginnings of Christianity generally. Considering the indisputable genuineness of the Epistle, these accounts, as being statements of the Apostle himself, are peculiarly valuable; and, although it is true that they have been abused by negative criticism of a destructive tendency, for the construction of its own system, yet the unprejudiced Church historian will, on the other hand, use them only the more effectively, as a sure starting point, with which what is elsewhere related respecting the state of things in early Christianity connects itself, and with which it unites itself to form a harmonious whole.

[Schaff: “The Epistle is polemical, impetuous and overpowering; and yet tender, affectionate and warning in tone. It strikes like lightning every projecting point that approaches its path, and yet undelayed by these zigzag deflexions, instantaneously attains the goal. Every verse breathes the spirit of the great and free Apostle of the Gentiles. His earnestness and mildness, his severity and love, his vehemence and tenderness, his depth and simplicity, his commanding authority and sincere humility, are here vividly brought before us in fresh and bold outlines.” 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 over-awed by his apostolic rebukes and denunciations (Alford).

Luther said of it, “The Epistle to the Galatians is my Epistle; I have betrothed myself to it; it is my wife.” And he might well thus speak of “his most efficient engine in overthrowing the mass of error which time had piled on the simple foundations of the gospel.” “In this epistle we have to this day the divine right and divine seal of genuine Protestantism against Romanism as far as this is a revival of Judaism, and denies to the Christian man that liberty ‘wherewith Christ hath made us free.’ But it is also, at the same time, an earnest protest against all pseudo-protestantism, which would abuse the evangelical freedom and pervert it into carnal license” (Schaff).

Besides furnishing the keenest weapons for the Reformers in their struggle for liberty within the camp, it is now of like value in the war of defence against assailants from without. This Epistle affords the refutation of that rationalistic view, which claims that the earliest form of Christianity was a modified Judaism, but that the distinctive features of our Christianity were added by Paul, which distinctive features prevailed after a long struggle between the Apostles and their antagonistic doctrines. True we here see the mutual jealousy of the Jew and Gentile converts, and are told of personal but temporary disagreement between Paul and Peter, yet are also shown the true relation between Paul and the Twelve; in fact, both the narrative and argument of the Epistle lose their point, if any such continued antagonism be admitted. See Lightfoot, Inlrod. p. 58.—R.]


Of Antiquity—The well-known works of Chrysostom, Theodoret, Œcumenius, Theophylact, Jerome, Ambrosiaster (Hilary), Augustine, Pelagius, Claudius of Turin. Of the time of the Reformation—The classical exposition of Luther: 1. In epistolam Pauli ad Galatas commentarius (minor) primum anno 1519 excusus, anno 1523 ab auctore recognitus. 2. In epist. Pauli ad Gal. Commentarius (major) ex prælectionibus Dr. M. Lutheri collectus a M. Georg. Rorario, a Luthero recognitus et castigatus, primum anno 1535 Viteb. excusus. Translated into German by Justus Menius; published separately, among others, by J. G. Walch, 1737; a new impression in 1856, by G. Schlawitz. (This detailed exposition is used in the present commentary).5 Also, Calvin: In Novi Testamenti epist. commentarii.

Among modern commentators, besides Winer, Pückert, Usteri, Schott, De Wette, Baumgarten-Crusius, the most noteworthy are, Meyer, Kritisch-exeg. Handbuch über den Brief an die Galater [4th ed., 1862.—R.]; Ewald: Die Sendschreiben des Apostels Paulus, 1857; Wieseler: Commentar über den Brief Pauli an die Galater. Mit besonderer Rücksicht auf die Lehre und Geschichte des Apostels, 1859.—Jatho: Pauli Brief an die Galater, nach seinem inneren Gedankengang, 1856.—Holsten: Inhalit und Gedankengang des Briefs an die Galater, Rostock, 1859.—Von Hofmann: Die heilige Schrift Neuen Testamentes, 2 Thessalonians 1:0 Abth. Brief an die Galater, 1863.—De Wette: Kurzgefasstes exegetisches Handbuch, II. 3, Briefe an die Galater und Thessalonicher, 3. Aufl. ed. Dr. Möller, 1864.

[G. W. Matthias: Der Galaterbrief griechish und deutsch, nebst einer Erklärung seiner schwierigeren Stellen, etc., Cassel, 1865.—R.]

For the practical exposition of the epistle, besides Starke’s Bibelwerk; Bengel, Gnomon; Rieger, Betrachtungen über das Neue Testament; M. F. Roos, a contemporary of these, Kurze Auslegung des Briefs St. Pauli an die Galater, 1786 (a small, but admirable tractate); in this century: F. Müller, formerly pastor at Wandsbeck, Brief Pauli an die Galater, in Bibelstunden erklärt, 1853; Anacker, the same, 1856; Twele, Galaterbrief in Predigten ausgelegt, 1858; A. Franz Die Rechtfertigung durch den Glauben, Homiletische Auslegung der Ep. St. Pauli an die Galater, 1860; and Heubner, Praktische Erklarung des Neuen Testaments. B.3. 1858.

[For a full list and notices of patristic commentaries, see Lightfoot, p. 223 sq.

Luther’s commentary was translated into English, and published under the approval of the Bishop of London, 1575. So highly esteemed was this work that there are but few early English commentaries. We may notice, however, Thomas Lushington: Commentary on the Galatians, London, 1650. James Ferguson, Edinburgh, 1659.

Of later works, the following are prominent:

J. A. Haldane: Commentary. 1848.

John Brown; An exposition of the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians. Edinburgh, 1853.

C. J. Ellicott: A Commentary, critical and grammatical, of the Epistle to the Gal., with a revised translation. London, 1853. 3d edition, 1863. The first commentary of this lucid, exact, and scholarly author, whose translation has been largely used in the emendations of the English text in the present work.

B. Jowett: The Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians and Romans, with critical notes and illustrations. London, 1856.

Samuel H. Turner: The Epistle to the Galatians in Greek and English, with an analysis and exegetical commentary. New York, 1856.

H. T. J. Bagge: The Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians, with a revised text and commentary. London, 1857.

J. B. Lightfoot: St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians. A revised text with introduction, notes and dissertations. London, 1865. Exceedingly valuable, on account of its full discussion of difficult questions. The frequent citations from this work are made from the Second Edition. 1866.

The American Editor of Lange’s Commentary, Philip Schaff, D. D., has published an Introduction and comments on Galatians 1:2, as a specimen of a projected popular commentary on the New Testament. Mercersburg Review, Jan., 1861. Most of the material there presented is incorporated here.

The History of the Apostolic Church of the same author treats of many questions belonging to the exposition of this Epistle. So Conybeare and Howson, Life and Epistles of St. Paul. The works of Alford, Wordsworth, Burkitt, Henry, and others (for full list, see General Introduction to New Testament, Lange’s Comm. Matthew), include comments on this Epistle. The reader is also referred to the Introduction to the Pauline Epistles in the volume on the Epistle to the Romans.—R.]


[1]In reply to the many inquiries concerning the issue of the volume on John, I beg leave to say that the delay has been occasioned in great part by the death of my dear friend, Dr. Yeomans, to whom it had been originally assigned, and who left his unfinished translation to me as a sacred legacy. I am progressing with the revision and the numerous additions as fast as the multiplicity of my engagements and constant interruptions will at all permit, and I am desirous to make the commentary as full and satisfactory to English readers as I can.

[2][“Where Galatians 3:19-20 is quoted: but the date and authorship of these excerpts are uncertain” (Lightfoot).—R.]

[3][Galatians 4:19-20, containing this motherly wish, seem to belong more properly to the preceding section, and are thus joined by most commentators. The illustration or allegory (Galatians 4:21-30) then forms a section by itself.—R.]

[4][On the disputed point whether the whole letter or only this conclusion was written by Paul’s own hand, see notes on Galatians 6:11.—R.]

[5][Schmoller uses Luther’s Commentary so largely in the Homiletical department of this work, that it almost requires an apology. Which apology may he made in the words of John Bunyan: “This methinks I must let fall before all men, I do prefer this book of Martin Luther upon the Galatians, excepting the Holy Bible, before all books that ever I have seen, as most fit for a wounded conscience.”—R.]

Ads FreeProfile