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Epistle to the Galatians

1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

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One of the books of the New Testament. This early Christian scripture is one of the books militant in the world's literature. Its usefulness to Luther in his propaganda was no accident in its history; it originated in a controversy, and the varying views of the momentous struggle depicted in Gal. ii. and Acts xv. have naturally determined, from time to time, the conception of the epistle's aim and date. Details of the long critical discussion of this problem cannot be given here. (See Paul.) It must suffice to say that to the present writer the identification of Gal. ii. i-io with Acts xi. 28 f. and not with Acts xv. appears quite untenable, while a fair exegesis of Acts xvi. 1-6 implies a distinction between such towns as Lystra, Derbe and Iconiuh on the one hand and the Galatian X('pa with Phrygia upon the other. 2 A further visit to the latter country is mentioned, upon this view, in Acts xviii. 23. The Christians to whom the epistle was addressed were thus inhabitants, for the most part (iv. 8) of pagan birth, belonging to the northern section of the province, perhaps mainly in its south-western district adjoining Bithynia and the province of Asia. The scanty allusions to this mission in Acts cannot be taken as any objection to the theory. Nor is there any valid geographical difficulty. The country was quite accessible from Antioch. Least of all does the historical evidence at our disposal justify the inference that the civilization of north Galatia, during the 1st century A.D., was Romano-Gallic rather than Hellenic; for, as the coins and inscriptions indicate, the Anatolian culture which predominated throughout the province did not exclude the infusion either of Greek religious conceptions or of the Greek language. The degree of elementary Greek culture needful for the understanding of Galatians cannot be shown to have been foreign to the inhabitants of north Galatia. So far as any trustworthy evidence is available, such Hellenic notions as are presupposed in this epistle might well have been intelligible to the Galatians of the northern provinces. Still less does the acquaintance with Roman jurisprudence in iii. 15 - iv. 2 imply, as Halmel contends (Ober rOm. Recht im Galaterbrief, 1 89P, not merely that Paul must have acquired such knowledge in Italy but that he wrote the epistle there. A popular acquaintance with the outstanding features of Roman law was widely diffused by this time in Asia Minor.

The epistle can hardly have been written therefore until after the period described in Acts xviii. 22, but the terminus ad quern is more difficult to fix. 3 The composition may be placed (cf. the present writer's Historical New Testament, pp. 124 f. for details) either during the earlier part of Paul's residence at Ephesus (Acts xix. t, to, so most editors and scholars), or on his way from Ephesus to Corinth, or at Corinth itself (so Lightfoot, Bleek, Salmon).

The epistle was not written until Paul had visited Thessalonica, 2 The historical and geographical facts concerning Galatia, which lead other writers to support the south Galatian theory, are stated in the preceding article on Galatia; and the question is still a matter of controversy, the division of opinion being to some extent dependent on whether it is approached from the point of view of the archaeologist or the Biblical critic. The ablest re-statements of the north Galatian theory, in the light of recent pleas for south Galatia as the destination of this epistle, may be found by the English reader in P. W. Schmiedel's exhaustive article in Encycl. Biblica (1592-1616) and Prof. G. H. Gilbert's Student's Life of Paul (1902), pp. 260-272. Schmiedel's arguments are mainly directed against Sir W. M. Ramsay, but a recent Roman Catholic scholar, Dr A. Steinmann, takes a wider survey in a pamphlet on the north Galatian side of the controversy ( Die A bfassungszeit des Galaterbrief es, Munster, i. W., 1906), carrying forward the points already urged by Sieffert and Zockler amongst others, and especially refuting his fellowchurchman, Prof. Valentine Weber.

The tendency among adherents of the south Galatian theory is to put the epistle as early as possible, making it contemporaneous with, if not prior to, 1 Thessalonians. So Douglass Round in The Date of St Paul's Epistle to the Galatians (1906).

but the Galatian churches owed their origin to a mission of Paul undertaken some time before he crossed from Asia to Europe. When he composed this letter, he had visited the churches twice. On the former of these visits (iv. 13 re) 7rp6mpov ), though broken down by illness (2 Cor. xii. 7-9 ?) he had been enthusiastically welcomed, and the immediate result of his mission was an outburst of religious fervour (iii. 1-5, iv. 14 f.). The local Christians made a most promising start (v. 7). But they failed to maintain their ardour. On his second visit (iv. 13, i. 7, v. 21) the apostle found in many of them a disheartening slackness, due to discord and incipient legalism. His plain-speaking gave offence in some quarters (iv. 16), though it was not wholly ineffective. Otherwise, this second visit is left in the shadow.' So far as it was accompanied by warnings, these were evidently general rather than elicited by any definite and imminent peril to the churches. Not long afterwards, however, some judaizing opponents of the apostle (note the contemptuous anonymity of the TcvES in i. 7, as in Col. ii. 4 f.), headed by one prominent and influential individual (v. 10), made their appearance among the Galatians, promulgating a "gospel" which meant fidelity to, not freedom from, the Law (i. 6-10). Arguing from the Old Testament, they represented Paul's gospel as an imperfect creed which required to be supplemented by legal exactitude, 2 including ritual observance (iv. 10) and even circumcision, 3 while at the same time they sought to undermine his authority 4 by pointing out that it was derived from the apostles at. Jerusalem and therefore that his teaching must be open to the checks and tests of that orthodox primitive standard which they themselves claimed to embody. The sole valid charter to Messianic privileges was observance of the Mosaic law, which remained obligatory upon pagan converts (iii. 6-9, 16) .

When the news of this relapse reached Paul, matters had evidently not yet gone too far. Only a few had been circumcised. It was not too late to arrest the Galatians on their downward plane, and the apostle, unable or unwilling to re-visit them, despatched this epistle. How or when the information came to him, we do not know. But the gravity of the situation renders it unlikely that he would delay for any length of time in writing to counteract the intrigues of his opponents; to judge from allusions like those in i. 6 (TaXEC.os and µerarie€a0e - the lapse still in progress), we may conclude that the interval between the reception of the news and the composition of the letter must have been comparatively brief.

After a short introduction s (i. 1-5), instead of giving his usual word of commendation, he plunges into a personal and historical vindication s of his apostolic independence, which, developed negatively and positively, forms the first of the three main 1 It is not quite clear whether traces of the Judaistic agitation were already found by Paul on this visit (so especially Holsten, Lipsius, Sieffert, Pfleiderer, Weiss and Weizsacker) or whether they are to be dated subsequent to his departure (so Philippi, Renan and Hofmann, among others). The tone of surprise which marks the opening of the epistle tells in favour of the latter theory. Paul seems to have been taken aback by the news of the Galatians' defection.

2 Apparently they were clever enough to keep the Galatians in ignorance that the entire law would require to be obeyed (v. 3).

3 The critical dubiety about ouSE in ii. 5 (cf. Zahn's excursus and Prof. Lake in Expositor, March 1906, p. 236 f.) throws a slight doubt on the interpretation of ii. 3, but it is clear that the agitators had quoted Paul's practice as an authoritative sanction of the rite.

`4 This depreciation is voiced in their catch-word of SoKOUVTEs (" those of repute," ii. 6), while other echoes of their talk can be overheard in such phrases as "we are Abraham's seed" (iii. 16), "sinners of Gentiles" (ii. 15) and "Jerusalem which is our mother" (iv. 26), as well as in their charges against Paul of "seeking to please men" (i. io) and "preaching circumcision" (v. II).

s Not only is the address "to the churches of Galatia" unusually bare, but Paul associates no one with himself, either because he was on a journey or because, as the attacked party, he desired to concentrate attention upon his personal commission. Yet the i ceis of i. 8 indicates colleagues like Silas and Timothy.

6 Cf. Hausrath's History of the N.T. Times (iii. pp. 181-199), with the fine remarks, on vi. 17, that. "Paul stands before us like an ancient general who bares his breast before his mutinous legions, and shows them the scars of the wounds that proclaim him not unworthy to be called Imperator." sections in the epistle (i. 6 - ii. 21). In the closing passage he drifts over from an account of this interview with Peter into a sort of monologue upon the incompatibility of the Mosaic law with the Christian gospel (ii. 15-21), 7 and this starts him afresh upon a trenchant expostulation and appeal (iii. I - v. 12) regarding the alternatives of law and spirit. Faith dominates this section; faith in its historical career and as the vantage-ground of Christianity. The much-vaunted law is shown to be merely a provisional episode s culminating in the gospel (iii. 7-28) as a message of filial confidence and freedom (iii. 29 - iv. 11). The genuine "sons of Abraham" are not legalistic Jewish Christians but those who simply possess faith in Jesus Christ. A passionate outburst then follows (iv. 12 f.), and, harping still on Abraham, the apostle essays, with fresh rabbinic dialectic, to establish Christianity over legalism as the free and final religion for men, applying this to the moral situation of the Galatians themselves (v. 1-12). This conception of freedom then leads him to define the moral responsibilities of the faith (v. 13 - vi. 10), in order to prevent misconception and to enforce the claims of the gospel upon the individual and social life of the Galatians. The epilogue (vi. 11-21) reiterates, in a handful of abrupt, emphatic sentences, the main points of the epistle.

The allusion in vi. 11 (ibEre 7r77Xisocs uµ 7 cv ypaµµao'cv pct / a T7l Eµrl xapi ) is to the large bold size 9 of the letters in Paul's handwriting, but the object and scope of the reference are matters of dispute. It is "a sensational heading" (Findlay), but it may either refer 1° to the whole epistle (so Augustine, Chrysostom, &c., followed by Zahn) or, as most hold (with Jerome) to the postscript (vi. 11-18). Paul commonly dictated his letters. His use of the autograph here may have been to prevent any suspicion of a forgery or to mark the personal emphasis of his message. In any case it is assumed that the Galatians knew his handwriting. It is unlikely that he inserted this postscript from a feeling of ironical playfulness, to make the Galatians realize that, after the sternness of the early chapters, he was now treating them like children, "playfully hinting that surely the large letters will touch their hearts" (so Deissmann, Bible-Studies (1901), 346 f.).

The earliest allusion to the epistle 11 is the notice of its inclusion in Marcion's canon, but almost verbal echoes of iii. 10-13 are to be heard in Justin Martyr's Dial. xciv.-xcv.; it was certainly known to Polycarp, and as the 2nd century advances the evidence of its popularity multiplies on all sides, from Ptolemaeus and the Ophites to Irenaeus and the Muratorian canon (cf. Gregory's Canon and Text of N.T., 1907, pp. 201-203). It is no longer necessary for serious criticism to refute the objections to its authenticity raised during the 19th century in certain quarters;12 as Macaulay said of the authenticity of Caesar's commentaries, "to doubt on that subject is the mere rage of scepticism." 7 Cf. T. H. Green's Works, iii. 186 f. Verses 15-17 are the indirect abstract of the speech's argument, but in verses 18-21 the apostle, carried away by the thought and barrier of the moment as he dictates to his amanuensis, forgets the original situation.

8 Thus Paul reverses the ordinary rabbinic doctrine which taught (cf. Kiddushim, 30, b) that the law was given as the divine remedy for the evil yezer of man. So far from being a remedy, he argues, it is an aggravation.

9 According to Plutarch, Cato the elder wrote histories for the use of his son, 151a ecpi ce'yaXocs (cf. Field's Notes on Translation of the New Testament, p. 191). If the point of Gal. vi. I I lies in the size of the letters, Paul cannot have contemplated copies of the epistle being made. He must have assumed that the autograph would reach all the local churches (cf. 2 Thess. iii. 37, with E. A. Abbott, Johannine Grammar, pp. 530-532).

to For g ypaa, the epistolary aorist, at the close of a letter, cf. Xen. Anab. i. 9.25, Thuc. i. 129.3, Ezra iv. 14 (LXX) and Lucian, Dial. Meretr. x.

11 Hermann Schulze's attempt to bring out the filiation of the later N.T. literature to Galatians (Die Urspriinglichkeit des Galaterbriefes, Leipzig, 1903) involves repeated exaggerations of the literary evidence.

12 Cf. especially J. Gloe's Die jiingste Kritik des Galaterbriefes (Leipzig, 1890) and Baljon's reply to Steck and Loman ( Exeg.- kritische verhandeling over den Brief van P. aan de Gal., 1889). The English reader may consult Schmiedel's article (already referred to) and Dr R. J. Knowling's The Testimony of St Paul to Christ (8905), 28 f.

Even the problems of its integrity are quite secondary. Marcion (cf. Tert. Adv. Marc. 2-4) removed what he judged to be some interpolations, but van Manen's attempt to prove that Marcion's text is more original than the canonical ( Theolog. Tijdschrift, 1887, 400 f. 451 f.) has won no support (cf. C. Clemen's refutation in Die Einheitlichkeit der paulin. Briefe, 1894, pp. Ioo f. and Zahn's Geschichte d. N.T. lichen Kanons, ii. 409 f.), and little or no weight attaches to the attempts made (e.g. by J. A. Cramer) to disentangle a Pauline nucleus from later accretions. Even D. Volter, who applies this method to the other Pauline epistles, admits that Galatians,whether authentic or not, is substantially a literary unity ( Paulus and seine Briefe, 1905, pp. 2 29-285). The frequent roughnesses of the traditional text suggest, however,that here and there marginal glosses may have crept in. Thus iv. 25a (TO ' yap luva dpos EaTiv Ev Tj'ApasLa ) probably represents the explanatory and prosaic gloss of a later editor, as many scholars have seen from Bentley (Opuscula philologica, 1781, pp. 533 f.) to H. A. Schott, J, A. Cramer, J. M. S. Baljon and C. Holsten. The general style of the epistle is vigorous and unpremeditated, "one continuous rush, a veritable torrent of genuine and inimitable Paulinism, like a mountain stream in full flood, such as may often have been seen by his Galatians" (J. Macgregor). But there is a certain rhythmical balance, especially in the first chapter (cf. J. Weiss, Beitrage zur paulin. Rhetorik, 1897, 8 f.); here as elsewhere the rush and flow of feeling carry with them some care for rhetorical form, in the shape of antitheses, such as a pupil of the schools might more or less unconsciously retain.' All through, the letter shows the breaks and pauses of a mind in direct contact with some personal crisis. Hurried, unconnected sentences, rather than sustained argument, are its most characteristic features. 2 The trenchant remonstrances and fiery outbursts make it indeed "read like a dithyramb from beginning to end." Bibliography.-Of more modern editions in English, the most competent are those of C. J. Ellicott (4th ed., 1867, strong in linguistic and grammatical material), Prof. Eadie (Edinburgh, 1869), J. B. Lightfoot (I ith ed., 1892), Dean Alford (3rd ed., 1862) and F. Rendall ( Expositor's Greek Testament, 1903) on the Greek text; Dr Sanday (in Ellicott's Commentary, 1879), Dr Jas. Macgregor (Edinburgh, 1879), B. Jowett (3rd ed., 1894), Huxtable ( Pulpit Comment., 1885), Dr Agar Beet (London, 1885, &c.), Dr W. F. Adeney ( Century Bible ), Dr E. H. Perowne (Cambridge Bible, 1890) and Dr James Drummond ( Internat. Handbooks to N.T., 1899) also comment on the English text. The editions of Lightfoot and Jowett are especially valuable for their subsidiary essays, and Sir W. M. Ramsay's Historical Commentary on Galatians (1899) contains archaeological and historical material which is often illuminating. The French editions are few and minor, those by A. Sardinoux (Valence, 1837) and E. Reuss (1878) being adequate, however. In Germany the two most up-to-date editions are by F. Sieffert (in Meyer's Comment., 1899) and Th. Zahn (2nd ed., 1907); these supersede most of the earlier works, but H. A. Schott (1834), A. Wieseler (Göttingen, 1859), G. B. Winer (4th ed., 1859), J. C. K. von Hofmann (2nd ed., 1872), Philippi (1884), R. A. Lipsius (2nd ed., Hand.-Commentar, 1892), and Zockler (2nd ed., 1894) may still be consulted with advantage, while Hilgenfeld's commentary (1852) discusses acutely the historical problems of the epistle from the standpoint of Baur's criticism. The works of A. Schlatter (2nd ed., 1894) and W. Bousset (in Die Schriften des N.T., 2nd ed., 1907) are more popular in character. F. Windischmann (Mayence, 1843), F. X. Reithmayr (1865), A. Schafer (Munster, 1890) and F. Comely (1892, also in Cursus scripturae sacrae, 1907) are the most satisfactory modern editors, from the Roman Catholic church, but it should not be forgotten that the 16th century produced the Literalis expositio of Cajetan (Rome, 1529) and the similar work of Pierre Barahona (Salamanca, 1590), no less than the epoch-making edition of Luther (Latin, 1519, &c.; German, 1525 f.; English, 1575 f.). After Calvin and Grotius, H. E. G. Paulus ( Des Apostel P. Lehrbriefe an die Gal. u. Romer Christen, 1831) was perhaps the most independent interpreter. For the patristic editions, see the introductory sections in Zahn and Lightfoot. The religious thought of the epistle I Compare the minute analysis of the whole epistle in F. Blass, Die Rhythmen der asianischen and rOmischen Kunstprosa (1905), PP. 43-53, 204-216, where, however, this feature is exaggerated into unreality. The comic trimeter in Philipp. iii. i (Eµoi v ovK orcvripov, vviv S' a r aXs ) may well be, like that in i Cor. xv. 33, a reminiscence of Menander.

This affects even the vocabulary which has also "einen gewissen vulgaren Zug" (Nageli, Der Wortschatz des Apostels Paulus, 1905, PP. 78-79).

is admirably expounded from different standpoints by C. Holsten (Das Evangelium Paulus, Teil I., i., 1880), A. B. Bruce ( St Paul's Conception of Christianity, 1894, pp. 49-7 0) and Prof. G. G. Findlay ( Expositor's Bible). On the historical aspects, Zimmer ( Galat. and Apostelgeschichte, 1882) and M. Thomas ( Mélanges d'histoire et de lift. religieuse, Paris, 1899, pp. 1-195) are excellent; E. H. Askwith's essay ( Epistle to the Galatians, its Destination and Date, 1899) advocates ingeniously the south Galatian theory, and W. S. Wood ( Studies in St Paul's Epistle to the Galatians, 1887) criticizes Lightfoot. General studies of the epistle will be found in all biographies of Paul and histories of the apostolic age, as well as in works like Sabatier's The Apostle Paul (pp. 187 f.), B. W. Bacon's Story of St Paul (pp. 116 f.), Dr R. D. Shaw's The Pauline Epistles (2nd ed., pp. 60 f.), R. Mariano, Il Cristianesimo nei primi secoli (1902), i. pp. i i I f., and Volkmar's Paulus vom Damaskus bis zum Galaterbrief (1887), to which may be added a series of papers by Haupt in Deutsche Evang.-Blcitter (1904), 1-16, 89-108, 161-183, 238-259, and an earlier set by Hilgenfeld in the Zeitschrift fiir wiss. Theologie (" Zur Vorgeschichte des Gal." 1860, pp. 206 f., 1866, pp. 301 f., 1884, pp. 303 f.). Other monographs and essays have been noted in the course of this article. See further under PAUL. (J. MT.)

Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Epistle to the Galatians'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​bri/​e/epistle-to-the-galatians.html. 1910.
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