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Bible Commentaries

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary

- Galatians

by Joseph Benson



The epistle was written, not as most of St. Paul’s epistles are, to the Christians of a particular city, but to those of a whole country, called Galatians, as being the descendants of those Gauls who, finding their own country too strait for them, left it, after the death of Alexander the Great, in quest of new settlements. A body of these, proceeding eastward along the Danube, entered Thrace, and passed over the Bosphorus into the Lesser Asia; in the middle of which they settled, namely, in a country given them by Nicomedes, king of Bithynia, in reward of their assisting him to subdue his brother Zipetes, with whom he was at war. This country, afterward called from them, “Gallo-Græcia,” or “Galatia,” was bounded on the west by Phrygia, on the north by Paphlagonia, on the east by the river Halys, and on the south by Lycaonia. It anciently contained twenty-two noted cities, the principal of which was Ancyra. About A.M. 3824 the Romans ravaged Galatia, and about A.D. 25 it was reduced, with some places adjacent, into a Roman province. The inland situation of this country preventing its inhabitants from having much intercourse with more civilized nations, the Gauls, who settled in it, continued long a rude and illiterate people, speaking the language of the country from whence they came. So Jerome, who lived six hundred years after that people settled themselves in Asia, informs us; observing, that in his time the language of the Galatians was the same with that which he had heard spoken when he was at Treves, or Triers.

It is probable the gospel was first introduced into Galatia by Paul, and that about A.D. 53; (see Acts 16:6;) when passing through that country, he was received with great affection by the inhabitants thereof, and made the instrument of converting many of them from heathenism to Christianity, and of planting several churches among them, called, in the inscription of this letter, the “churches of Galatia.” These churches, when he visited those parts again in his next progress, about A.D. 56, he had an opportunity of confirming in the doctrine he had before taught them, Acts 18:23; Galatians 4:13-15. But, from the contents of this epistle, it appears that not long after he had preached the gospel with such success to them, and had left them, certain Judaizing zealots came among them, and, like those mentioned Acts 15:0., taught that it was necessary they should be circumcised, and should observe the whole ritual law of Moses, in order to their salvation. What these false teachers seem to have chiefly aimed at was to draw the Galatian believers from the truth as it is in Jesus, with respect to the great doctrine of justification, which they grossly perverted. And the better to accomplish their design, they did all they could to lessen the character and reputation of St. Paul as an apostle, and to raise theirs on the ruins of his; representing him as one who, if he was to be acknowledged as an apostle, yet was much inferior to the others, and particularly to Peter, James, and John, whose followers, it is likely, they pretended to be; and who, they affirmed, inculcated the necessity of circumcision, and the observance of the Mosaic ceremonies as they did; nay, and that St. Paul himself sometimes both practised and recommended these rites, though at other times he opposed them.

The first part, therefore, of this epistle is employed by the apostle in vindicating himself and his doctrine; proving, 1. That he had it immediately from Christ himself, and that he was not inferior to the other apostles; 2. That it. was the very same which the other apostles preached; and, 3. That his practice was consistent with his doctrine. In the second part he produces proofs from the Old Testament, that the law and all its ceremonies were abolished by Christ. The third part contains practical inferences, closed with his usual benediction. To be a little more particular: the epistle contains, I. The inscription, Galatians 1:1-5. II. The calling of the Galatians back to the true gospel; wherein He, 1. Reproves them for leaving it, Galatians 1:6-10. Galatians 1:2. Asserts the authority of the gospel he had preached, who of a persecutor was made an apostle by an immediate call from Heaven; (Galatians 1:11-17;) and was no way inferior to Peter himself, Galatians 1:18 Galatians 2:21. Galatians 2:3. He defends justification by faith, and again reproves the Galatians, Galatians 4:11; Galatians 4:11. Galatians 4:4. Explains the same things by an allegory, taken out of the law itself, Galatians 4:12-31. Galatians 4:5. Exhorts them to maintain their liberty; (Galatians 5:1-12;) warns them not to abuse it, and admonishes them to walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit, Galatians 5:13 Galatians 6:10. III. The conclusion, Galatians 6:11-18.

As to the time when this epistle was written, we may infer from chap. Galatians 1:6, where the apostle expresses to the Galatians his concern and wonder that they were so soon perverted from the doctrine he had preached, that it must have been written not long after he had been among them; and as no hint is given, through the whole of it, that when he wrote it he had been with them more than once, it is most reasonable to conclude that it was written before his second journey to Galatia, mentioned Acts 18:23, and consequently not later than A.D. 56. to them, not only by giving them his apostolical benediction, but by calling them brethren; and, as Dr. Macknight observes, by making that appellation (for so it is in the original) the last word of his letter, except the word Amen.

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