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Bible Dictionaries
Galatians, Epistle to the

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

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1. Occasion of the Epistle . From internal evidence we gather that St. Paul had, when he wrote, paid two visits to the Galatians. On the first visit, which was due to an illness ( Galatians 4:13 ), he was welcomed in the most friendly way; on the second he warned them against Judaizers ( Galatians 1:9 , Galatians 5:3 ‘again,’ cf. Galatians 4:13 ‘the former time,’ though this may be translated ‘formerly’). After the second visit Judaizers came among the Galatians, and, under the influence of a single individual (the ‘who’ of Galatians 3:1 , Galatians 5:7 is singular, cf. Galatians 5:10 ) persuaded them that they must be circumcised, that St. Paul had changed his mind and was inconsistent, that he had refrained from preaching circumcision to them only from a desire to be ‘all things to all men,’ but that he had preached it (at any rate as the better way) to others. It is doubtful if the Judaizers upheld circumcision as necessary to salvation, or only as necessary to a complete Christianity. It depends on whether we fix the date before or after the Council of Acts 15:1-41 , which of these views we adopt (see § 4 ). Further, the Judaizers disparaged St. Paul’s authority as compared with that of the Twelve. On hearing this the Apostle hastily wrote the Epistle to check the evil, and (probably) soon followed up the Epistle with a personal visit.

2. To whom written. The North Galatian and South Galatian theories . It is disputed whether the inhabitants of N. Galatia are addressed (Lightfoot, Salmon, the older commentators, Schmiedel in Encyc. Bibl. ), or the inhabitants of Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe, which lay in the S. part of the Roman province Galatia (Ramsay, Sanday, Zahn, Renan, Pfleiderer, etc.). Those who hold the N. Galatian theory take Acts 16:6; Acts 18:23 as indicating that St. Paul visited Galatia proper, making a long detour. They press the argument that he would not have called men of the four cities by the name ‘Galatians,’ as these lay outside Galatia proper, and that ‘Galatians’ must mean men who are Gauls by blood and descent; also that ‘by writers speaking familiarly of the scenes in which they had themselves taken part’ popular usage rather than official is probable, and therefore to call the Christian communities in the four cities ‘the churches of Galatia’ would be as unnatural as to speak of Pesth or (before the Italo-Austrian war) Venice as ‘the Austrian cities’ (Lightfoot, Gal. p. 19). Pesth is not a case in point, for no educated person would call it ‘Austrian’; but the Venice illustration is apt. These are the only weighty arguments. On the other hand, the N. Galatian theory creates Churches unheard of elsewhere in 1st cent. records; it is difficult on this hypothesis to understand the silence of Acts, which narrates all the critical points of St. Paul’s work. But Acts does tell us very fully of the foundation of the Church in S. Galatia. Then, again, on the N. Galatian theory, St. Paul nowhere in his Epistles mentions the four cities where such eventful things happened, except once for blame in 2 Timothy 3:11 a silence made more remarkable by the fact that in the collection of the alms he does mention ‘the churches of Galatia’ ( 1 Corinthians 16:1 ). If the four cities are not here referred to, why were they omitted? The main argument of the N. Galatian theory, given above, is sufficiently answered by taking into account St. Paul’s relation to the Roman Empire (see art. Acts of the Apostles, § 7 .)

With regard to the nomenclature, we notice that St. Luke sometimes uses popular non-political names like ‘Phrygia’ or ‘Mysia’ (Acts 2:10; Acts 16:3 ); but St. Paul, as a Roman citizen, uses place-names in their Roman sense throughout, e.g. ‘Achaia’ (which in Greek popular usage had a much narrower meaning than the Roman province, and did not include Athens, while St. Paul contrasts it with Macedonia, the only other Roman province in Greece, and therefore clearly uses it in its Roman sense, Romans 15:25 , 2 Corinthians 9:2; 2Co 11:10 , 1 Thessalonians 1:7 f.; cf. 1 Corinthians 16:5 ), ‘Macedonia,’ ‘Illyricum’ ( Romans 15:19 only; the Greeks did not use this name popularly as a substantive, and none but a Roman could so denote the province; in 2 Timothy 4:10 St. Paul himself calls it ‘Dalmatia,’ as the name-usage was changing from the one to the other),‘Syria and Cilicia’ (one Roman province), and ‘Asia’ (the Roman province of that name, the W. part of Asia Minor, including Mysia). We may compare St. Peter’s nomenclature in 1 Peter 1:1 , where he is so much influenced by Pauline ideas as to designate all Asia Minor north of the Taurus by enumerating the Roman provinces. St. Paul, then, calls all citizens of the province of Galatia by the honourable name ‘Galatians.’ To call the inhabitants of the four cities ‘Phrygians’ or ‘Lycaonians’ would be as discourteous as to call them ‘slaves’ or ‘barbarians.’ The Roman colonies like Pisidian Antioch were most jealous of their Roman connexion.

The South Galatian theory reconciles the Epistle and Acts without the somewhat violent hypotheses of the rival theory. The crucial passages are Acts 16:6; Acts 18:23 , which are appealed to on both sides. In Acts 16:6 St. Paul comes from Syro-Cilicia to Derbe and Lystra, no doubt by land, through the Cilician Gates [Derbe being mentioned first as being reached first, while in Acts 14:6 Lystra was reached first and mentioned first], and then ‘they went through ( v.l. going through) the region of Phrygia and Galatia,’ lit. ‘the Phrygian and Galatic region’ [so all the best MSS read these last words]. This ‘region,’ then (probably a technical term for the subdivision of a province), was a single district to which the epithets ‘Phrygian’ and ‘Galatic’ could both be applied; that is, it was that district which was part of the old country of Phrygia, and also part of the Roman province of Galatia. But no part of the old Galatia overlapped Phrygia, and the only district satisfying the requirements is the region around Pisidian Antioch and Iconium; therefore in Acts 16:6 a detour to N. Galatia is excluded. Moreover, no route from N. Galatia to Bithynia could bring the travellers ‘over against Mysia’ ( Acts 16:7 ). They would have had to return almost to the spot from which they started on their hypothetic journey to N. Galatia. Attempts to translate this passage, even as read by the best MSS, as if it were ‘Phrygia and the Galatic region,’ as the AV [Note: Authorized Version.] text (following inferior MSS) has it, have been made by a citation of Luke 3:1 , but this appears to be a mistake; the word translated there ‘Ituræa’ is really an adjective ‘Ituræan,’ and the meaning probably is ‘the Ituræan region which is also called Trachonitis.’

In the other passage, Acts 18:23 , the grammar and therefore the meaning are different. St. Paul comes, probably, by the same land route as before, and to the same district; yet now Derbe and Lystra are not mentioned by name. St. Paul went in succession through ‘the Galatic region’ and through ‘Phrygia’ (or ‘[the] Phrygian [region]’). The grammar requires two different districts here. The first is the’ Galatic region’ [of Lycaonia] that part of old Lycaonia which was in the province Galatia, i.e. the region round Derbe and Lystra. The second is the ‘Phrygian region’ [of Galatia], i.e. what was in Acts 16:6 called the Phrygo-Galatic region, that around Antioch and Iconium. In using a different phrase St. Luke considers the travellers’ point of view; for in the latter case they leave Syrian Antioch, and enter, by way of non-Roman Lycaonia, into Galatic Lycaonia (‘the Galatic region’), while in the former case they start from Lystra and enter the Phrygo-Galatic region near Iconium.

All this is clear on the S. Galatian theory. But on the other theory it is very hard to reconcile the Epistle with Acts. The S. Galatian theory also fits in very well with incidental notices in the Epistle, such as the fact that the Galatians evidently knew Barnabas well, and were aware that he was the champion of the Gentiles (Galatians 2:13 even Barnabas’); but Barnabas did not accompany Paul on the Second Missionary Journey, when, on the N. Galatian theory, the Galatians were first evangelized. Again, Galatians 4:13 fits in very well with Acts 13:14 on the S. Galatian theory; for the very thing that one attacked with an illness in the low-lying lands of Pamphylia would do would be to go to the high uplands of Pisidian Antioch. This seems to have been an unexpected change of plan (one which perhaps caused Mark’s defection). On the other hand, if a visit to Galatia proper were part of the plan in Acts 16:1-40 to visit Bithynia, Galatians 4:13 is unintelligible.

3. St. Paul’s autobiography . In chs. 1, 2 the Apostle vindicates his authority by saying that he received it direct from God, and not through the older Apostles, with whom the Judaizers compared him unfavourably. For this purpose he tells of his conversion, of his relations with the Twelve, and of his visits to Jerusalem; and shows that he did not receive his commission from men. Prof. Ramsay urges with much force that it was essential to Paul’s argument that he should mention all visits paid by him to Jerusalem between his conversion and the time of his evangelizing the Galatians. In the Epistle we read of two visits ( Galatians 1:18 , Galatians 2:1 ), the former 3 years after his conversion (or after his return to Damascus), to visit Cephas, when of the Apostles he saw only James the Lord’s brother besides, and the latter 14 years after his conversion (or after his first visit), when he went ‘by revelation’ with Barnabas and Titus and privately laid before the Twelve (this probably is the meaning of ‘them’ in Galatians 2:2 : James, Cephas, and John are mentioned) the gospel which he preached among the Gentiles. We have, then, to ask, To which, if any, of the visits recorded in Acts do these correspond? Most scholars agree that Galatians 1:18 = Acts 9:26 ff., and that the word ‘Apostles’ In the latter place means Peter and James only. But there is much diversity of opinion concerning Acts 2:1 . Lightfoot and Sanday identify this visit with that of Acts 15:2 (the Jerusalem Council), saying that at the intermediate visit of Acts 11:30 there were no Apostles in Jerusalem, the storm of persecution having broken over the Church (only the ‘elders’ are mentioned), and the Apostles having retired; as, therefore, St. Paul’s object was to give his relation to the Twelve, he does not mention this visit, during which he did not see them. Ramsay identifies the visit with that of Acts 11:30 , since otherwise St. Paul would be suppressing a point which would tell in favour of his opponents, it being essential to his argument to mention all his visits (see above); moreover, the hypothesis of the flight of the Apostles and of ‘every Christian of rank’ is scarcely creditable to them. They would hardly have left the Church to take care of itself, or have allowed the elders to bear the brunt of the storm; while the mention of elders only in Acts 11:30 would be due to the fact that they, not the Apostles, would administer the aims (cf. Acts 6:2 ).

Other arguments on either side may perhaps balance each other, and are not crucial. Thus Prof. Ramsay adduces the discrepancies between Galatians 2:2 and Acts 15:2; in the former case the visit was ‘by revelation,’ in the latter by appointment of the brethren (these are not altogether incompatible facts); in the former case the discussion was private, in the latter public (this is accounted for by the supposition of a preliminary private conference, but that greatly damages St. Paul’s argument). On the other band, Dr. Sanday thinks that the stage of controversy in Galatians 2:1-21 suits Acts 15:1-41 rather than Acts 11:1-30 . This argument does not appear to the present writer to be of much value, for the question of the Gentiles and the Mosaic Law had really arisen with the case of Cornelius ( Acts 11:2 ff.), and from the nature of things must have been present whenever a Gentile became a Christian. The Council in Acts 15:1-41 represents the climax when the matter came to public discussion and formal decision; we cannot suppose that the controversy sprang up suddenly with a mushroom growth. On the whole, in spite of the great weight of the names of Bp. Lightfoot and Dr. Sanday, the balance of the argument appears to lie on the side of Prof. Ramsay.

St. Peter at Antioch . This incident in the autobiography ( Galatians 2:11 ff.) is placed by Lightfoot immediately after Acts 15:36 . Ramsay thinks that it was not necessarily later in time than that which precedes, though on his view of the second visit it is in its proper chronological order. He puts it about the time of Acts 15:1 . The situation would then be as follows. At first many Jewish Christians began to associate with Gentile Christians. But when the logical position was put to them that God had opened another door to salvation outside the Law of Moses, and so had practically annulled the Law, they shrank from the consequences, Peter began to draw back (this is the force of the tenses in Galatians 2:12 ), and even Barnabas was somewhat carried away. But Paul’s arguments were convincing, and both Peter and Barnabas became champions of the Gentiles at the Council. It is difficult to understand Peter’s action if it happened after the Council.

4. Date and place of writing . Upholders of the N. Galatian theory, understanding Acts 16:6; Acts 18:23 to represent the two visits to the Galatians implied in Galatians 4:13 , usually fix on Ephesus as the place of writing, and suppose that the Epistle dates from the long stay there recorded in Acts 19:8 ff., probably early in the stay (cf. Galatians 1:6 ‘ye are so quickly removing’); but Lightfoot postpones the date for some two years, and thinks that the Epistle was written from Macedonia ( Acts 20:1 ), rather earlier than Romans and after 2 Corinthians. He gives a comparison of these Epistles, showing the very close connexion between Romans and Galatians: the same use of OT, the same ideas and same arguments, founded on the same texts; in the doctrinal part of Galatians we can find a parallel for almost every thought and argument in Romans. It is generally agreed that the latter, a systematic treatise, is later than the former, a personal and fragmentary Epistle. The likeness is much less marked between Galatians and I and 2 Corinthians; but in 2 Corinthians the Apostle vindicates his authority much as in Galatians. The opposition to him evidently died away with the controversy about circumcision. Thus it is clear that these four Epistles hang together and are to be separated chronologically from the rest.

On the S. Galatian theory, the Epistle was written from Antioch. Ramsay puts it at the end of the Second Missionary Journey (Acts 18:22 ). Timothy, he thinks, had been sent to his home at Lystra from Corinth, and rejoined Paul at Syrian Antioch, bringing news of the Galatian defection. Paul wrote off hastily, despatched Timothy back with the letter, and as soon as possible followed himself ( Acts 18:23 ). On this supposition the two visits to the Galatians implied by the Epistle would be those of Acts 13:1-52 f. and 16. The intended visit of Paul would be announced by Timothy, though it was not mentioned in the letter, which in any case was clearly written in great haste. It is certainly strange, on the Ephesus or Macedonia hypothesis, that Paul neither took any steps to visit the erring Galatians, nor, if he could not go to them, explained the reason of his inability. Ramsay’s view, however, has the disadvantage that it separates Galatians and Romans by some years. Yet if St. Paul kept a copy of his letters, he might well have elaborated his hastily sketched argument in Galatians into the treatise in Romans, at some little interval of time. Ramsay gives a.d. 53 for Galatians, the other three Epistles following in 56 and 57.

Another view is that of Weber, who also holds that Syrian Antioch was the place of writing, but dates the Epistle before the Council (see Acts 14:28 ). He agrees with Ramsay as to the two visits to Jerusalem; but he thinks that the manner of the Judaizers’ attack points to a time before the Apostolic decreee. Galatians 6:12 (‘compel’) suggests that they insisted on circumcision as necessary for salvation (§ 1 ). If so, their action could hardly have taken place after the Council. A strong argument on this side is that St. Paul makes no allusion to the decision of the Council. The chronological difficulty of the 14 years ( Galatians 2:1 ) is met by placing the conversion of St. Paul in a.d. 32. Weber thinks that Galatians 5:2 could not have been written after the circumcision of Timothy; but this is doubtful. The two visits to the Galatians, on this view, would be those of Acts 13:1-52 , on the outward and the homeward journey respectively. The strongest argument against Weber’s date is that it necessitates such a long interval between Galatians and Romans.

5. Abstract of the Epistle . Chs. 1, 2. Answer to the Judaizers’ disparagement of Paul’s office and message. Narrative of his life from his conversion onwards, showing that he did not receive his Apostleship and his gospel through the medium of other Apostles, but direct from God.

Galatians 3:1 to Galatians 5:12 . Doctrinal exposition of the freedom of the gospel, as against the legalism of the Judaizers. Abraham was justified by faith, not by the Law, and so are the children of Abraham. The Law was an inferior dispensation, though good for the time, and useful as educating the world for freedom; the Galatians were bent on returning to a state of tutelage, and their present attitude was retrogressive.

Galatians 5:13 to Galatians 6:10 . Hortatory . ‘Hold fast by freedom, but do not mistake it for licence. Be forbearing and liberal.’

Galatians 6:11-18 . Conclusion . Summing up of the whole in Paul’s own hand, written in large characters ( Galatians 6:11 RV [Note: Revised Version.] ) to show the importance of the subject of the autograph.

6. Genuineness of the Epistle . Until lately Galatians, Romans 1:1-32 and 2 Corinthians were universally acknowledged to be by St. Paul, and the Tübingen school made their genuineness the basis of their attack on the other Epistles. Lately Prof. van Manen ( Encyc. Bibl. s.v. ‘Paul’) and others have denied the genuineness of these four also, chiefly on the ground that they are said to quote late Jewish apocalypses, to assume the existence of written Gospels, and to quote Philo and Seneca, and because the external attestation is said to begin as late as a.d. 150. These arguments are very unconvincing, the facts being improbable. And why should there not have been written Gospels in St. Paul’s time? (cf. Luke 1:1 ). As for the testimony, Clement of Rome explicitly mentions and quotes 1 Corinthians, and his date cannot be brought down later than a.d. 100. Our Epistle is probably alluded to or cited by Barnabas, Hermas, and Ignatius (5 times); certainly by Polycarp (4 times), the Epistle to Diognetus , Justin Martyr, Melito, Athenagoras, and the Acts of Paul and Thecla . It is found in the Old Latin and Syrian versions and in the Muratorian Fragment ( c [Note: circa, about.] . a.d. 180 200), used by 2nd cent. heretics, alluded to by adversaries like Celsus and the writer of the Clementine Homilies , and quoted by name and distinctly (as their fashion was) by Irenæus, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian, at the end of the 2nd century. But, apart from this external testimony, the spontaneous nature of the Epistle is decisive in favour of its genuineness. There is no possible motive for forgery. An anti-Jewish Gnostic would not have used expressions of deference to the Apostles of the Circumcision; an Ebionite would not have used the arguments of the Epistle against the Mosaic Law (thus the Clementine Homilies , an Ebionite work, clearly hits at the Epistle in several passages); an orthodox forger would avoid all appearance of conflict between Peter and Paul. After a.d. 70 there never was the least danger of the Gentile Christians being made to submit to the Law. There is therefore no reason for surprise that the recent attack on the authenticity of the Epistle has been decisively rejected in this country by all the best critics.

A. J. Maclean.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Galatians, Epistle to the'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdb/​g/galatians-epistle-to-the.html. 1909.
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