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An Introduction to the New Testament



Occasion. Paul had hardly reached the shores of Syria, on his return from his long residence in Corinth, when he was met by bad news. Someone had been spreading a narrower type of Christianity among the churches he had organized in Galatia a few years earlier, and the Galatians were swinging away from Paul's simple doctrine of faith.

The Galatian mission had been the most fruitful part of the work Paul had done in company with Barnabas four or five years before, on what is usually described as his first missionary journey. They had first preached in Cyprus and then crossed to the south coast of Asia Minor, where Paul seems to have been prostrated by illness, perhaps one of those fevers still so severe along that coast. From the lowlands his companion had taken him up into the high-lying interior to Galatia, so that Paul could afterward remind the Galatians that it was because of an illness that he had preached the good news to them the first time.[1] So the gospel came to Antioch in Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. Again, on his second journey, these Galatian churches were among the first ones visited by Paul and Silas after setting out

[1] Gal. 4:13.


from Syrian Antioch; indeed, it was at Lystra that a young man named Timothy became a member of their missionary party. So Paul knew these churches well; in fact, he was peculiarly bound to them through Timothy, who had developed into a trusty lieutenant. It was Timothy whom he had sent back to Thessalonica to steady the Thessalonians, and who had brought back the good news that called forth I Thessalonians.

Paul's party had called at Ephesus on their way east from Corinth, but there was as yet no Christian body there, and it is difficult to see how he could have learned of the disturbed state of things in the little Christian groups in Galatia before he reached Antioch in Syria, which was his headquarters in so far as he had any. In Antioch, Paul had many friends, and the work he had done in Galatia was well known. There at any rate he might learn what had been going on in the Galatian churches while he had been so far away.

Into these little bodies had come Christian teachers of a more rigorous and Jewish type. They considered Jesus the fulfiller and completer of the old agreement between God and Abraham. The blessing promised in that agreement was to be for Abraham and his descendants, and for nobody else. In order, then, to profit by the spiritual blessings Jesus had brought, one must be a descendant of Abraham, or become one, by being incorporated into the Jewish people. In short, one must become a Jewish proselyte. The synagogue was the only door to the church.

The first step was, of course, the acceptance of the


rite of circumcision, to be followed by the observance of at least a minimum of the Jewish Law. Christianity so understood would be a kind of modified Judaism, with none of the spiritual freedom which Paul so greatly enjoyed and so ardently taught.

As for Paul, he was not really an apostle at all—that is, one of the Twelve Apostles—nor was he authorized by them to offer the Christian salvation to Greeks on such easy terms. These Jewish-minded teachers felt that he was cheapening their old prerogative and throwing open the blessings of their cherished faith to all the heathen. They thought of religion in terms of privilege, of which they were the custodians, and it is a fair question whether they were more concerned to win the Gentiles to the Jewish salvation or to keep it from them.

The Jews had, it is true, translated their scriptures into Greek (the Septuagint Version) and sent Jewish missionaries about the Greek world before the time of Christ.[1] But, on the other hand, by the formal demands they made upon converts and by their superior and exclusive spirit they repelled more than they attracted. To this day, as in the time of Ezra, in orthodox Jewish circles a man or woman who marries a Gentile is cast out of his or her family as a renegade, and something of this condescending spirit marked the work of the Judaizers in Galatia. The blessings of true religion seemed to them their exclusive property, all that was left to them of their old national glory, and

[1] F. M. Derwacter, Preparing The Way For Paul (New York, 1930).


the terms on which the Greeks might share them were still the same as they had always been.

The logic of this teaching was really unassailable, once its premises were granted. But Paul had found in the Christian life something that entirely transcended the old scribal dialectic—a great, vital, inward experience which he described as faith, before which such mere legalistic logic shriveled away. That the Galatians who had once had this sublime experience should now lapse into the dull, lifeless, formal kind of religion their new teachers offered them was more than he could bear.

This is the situation that confronts Paul immediately upon his arrival at Antioch, for bad news travels fast and his friends would not be slow in letting him know the fate of what must have seemed his most successful mission east of the Aegean. It would have been quite unlike Paul to accept such a defeat. Yet he cannot immediately leave Antioch, where he had only just arrived after a long absence. It may seem to us at this distance of time that the main thing Paul had to do was to write his letters, but of course as a matter of fact they were a very minor part of what he did. This is a point often lost sight of by students of his work.

Much as he would like to face the Galatians and show them the truth, 4:20, he cannot do so, and so he writes a letter. Paul's letters are probably the most extraordinary letters in the world, but none of them is more remarkable than Galatians. Its vigor, variety, audacity, and self-revealing frankness, together with


its deep and direct insight into religious truth, put it in a class by itself among the books of the New Testament. Conventional proprieties and courtesies are forgotten, for tremendous issues are at stake and Paul is writing under very great excitement. He cares deeply for the Galatians, and their religious welfare is a matter of the utmost personal concern to him. They are the children of his Christian ministry, and he will not let them fall into blindness and folly without a struggle.

Contents. With his first words he attacks. He is an apostle, whatever the Judaizers may say of him; not commissioned by the Twelve, indeed, but with higher credentials than they could give, for Christ himself has commissioned him. Paul had realized the great truth that the indispensable authorization in religion is that of inward experience and conviction, and that without that no formal election or laying-on of hands amounts to anything.

With himself he associates, in all he has to say, all the brothers that are there with him. This must mean the whole church at Antioch—the one great missionary church of the New Testament. It was from that church, so rich in prophets and teachers—Barnabas, Symeon, Lucius, Manaen, and Saul—that Barnabas and Saul had first been sent forth into the Greek world of the West, Acts 13:1-4. Paul puts the authority not of Jerusalem but of Antioch back of his message to the Galatians.

He addresses not a single church, as he usually did, but all the churches of the Galatian series—Derbe,


Lystra, Iconium, Pisidian Antioch, as his messenger from Syria would come to them. There is not time for individual letters, and so Paul for once writes a circular letter to all four, 1:1-5.

He is amazed that they are turning to a different gospel from the one he preached to them. For it is no true gospel they have now been given but an upside-down one, the very reverse of the one he had given them. No matter who preaches it to them, even if he be an angel from heaven, it is false! In his indignation Paul calls down curses upon its preachers, 1:6-9.

They have charged him with flattery and cajolery; he calls the Galatians to witness that this does not sound much like it. Paul's gospel, he would have them know, was not something he had received from other men but came to him out of a great inward experience—a revelation of Jesus Christ, 1:10-12.

He now turns to deal with the charge that he was not recognized or commissioned by the Twelve Apostles. He does not deny this; rather he reviews his whole Christian life to show how little he had seen of Jerusalem or the Twelve. Three years after his conversion he had indeed spent a fortnight with Cephas, as he calls Peter, but saw no other apostle. Fourteen years later he went to Jerusalem again, with Barnabas and Titus, and explained to the leaders of the church the work he was doing among the Greeks. The Jerusalem leaders did not even require his Greek companion Titus to accept circumcision. On the contrary, they pledged Paul and Barnabas their co-operation


and definitely assigned to them the mission to the Greeks, 1:13-2:10.

On a later occasion Paul had met the same problem in Antioch, when Peter came there. At first Peter had eaten with the heathen—the Greek Christians—without scruple, but the arrival of some overscrupulous Christian Jews from Jerusalem led him to give up this liberal practice for fear of the "party of circumcision," as Paul calls the Judaizers. Paul then brought up Peter's former course with devastating effect: "If you live like a heathen and not like a Jew, though you are a Jew yourself, why should you try to make the heathen live like Jews?" The fact that Peter had eaten freely with Greeks, regardless of the ceremonial regulation against it, showed that he really held the same position that Paul did about that and similar regulations and could not consistently demand that Greek Christians observe them, 2:11-14.

Paul goes on to show that men born Jews had found their way to the Christian salvation only by the exercise of faith; they had not found it through the observance of law. So for Jew and Greek alike the way to the Christian salvation is the way of faith. The Law has no part in it. Yet it was to the Law that the Judaizers were trying to recall the Galatians, 2:15-21.

In a passage of the utmost boldness, 3:1-6, Paul points out the illogical folly of their conduct. The early Christians experienced a great release of religious intuitions when they came into the attitude of faith. Had a set of legal observances given it to them? Was it not the simple exercise of faith that had done so?


If, then, their new religious life began on the high levels of inward spiritual experience, do they expect it to conclude and culminate on the low levels of external precept and statute? The Judaizers had made much of the agreement with Abraham. But what was Abraham's experience? He had faith, and it was credited to him as uprightness.

With these words Paul really snatches the sword from the Judaizers and turns it against them. Abraham on whom they had built so much now turns out to be Paul's ally. The men of faith are the real descendants of Abraham. The Scripture said all the heathen should be blessed through him, and here they are, experiencing that blessing, 3:7-9.

In a kaleidoscopic series of arguments Paul now rakes the Judaizers' position from every side. He pours them forth in a torrent that must have swept it all away. What had the law achieved? It only left all its devotees under the curse, for none of them had fully observed it. From that curse Christ's death had ransomed us all, in order that the blessing promised to Abraham might indeed through Christ reach the heathen as the Scripture had promised it would, 3:10-14.

The mere fact that the Law was not given until centuries after Abraham's time shows that it cannot possibly be read into the promise made to him. "An agreement already ratified by God cannot be annulled and its promise cancelled by the Law, which arose four hundred and thirty years later," 3:17. The Judaizers cannot claim the promise and then try to combine


the Law with it, as though the Law were a kind of belated codicil to the promise. Paul holds the Judaizers strictly to Abraham and the promise. If they wish to drag in the Law, then they must let go the promise, 3:15-18.

This leaves Paul with the difficult question of the Law. It was subsequent, subordinate, and temporary. It was like the attendant who, in the ancient world, took the boy through the streets to school and there turned him over to his teacher. (To render paidagogos "schoolmaster" spoils the figure entirely. Jesus was the "schoolmaster," not the Law.) Now that we are, through faith, in the presence of the teacher himself, we have no further need of the Law, 3:19-25.

This figure of the noble child being conducted to school reminds Paul of the noble condition of the Christian believers. They are all sons of God through their faith. The old distinctions of race, sex, condition are no more; they are no more Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; one with Christ, they are all one. If they belong to Christ, they are true descendants of Abraham and heirs of the promise made to him, 3:26-29. The noble boy suggests to Paul another telling figure. The Christian is like the heir to some great inheritance. Through the years of his minority, under tutors and guardians, he is little better than a slave himself. But a day arrives when he comes of age and is free and master of it all. So we are sons and heirs, with a spirit in our hearts that makes us call God "Father," 4:1-7.


From such a prospect how can the Galatians turn back to the old dull, mechanical views of religion that are now being offered them? Paul begins to fear that the labor he had spent on them was wasted, 4:8-11. He turns from argument to impassioned emotional appeal. What friends they had been once! With what understanding sympathy the Galatians had once received him when he came among them, miserable in his illness! They would have done anything for him then. What has changed them so? It is these Judaizers who have done it, and for their own ends, 4:12-20.

Paul's final argument has in it more than a touch of allegory. But the wonder is that his letters contain so little of that favorite ancient type of thinking. Let the Judaizers remember that Abraham had two sons: one, of the flesh, by a slave; the other, of the promise, by a free woman. Let those who make so much of physical descent from Abraham remember that Ishmael was just as much his physical descendant as Isaac was. For we who share Abraham's spiritual experience and so inherit his promise are in Isaac's line and children of no slave but a free woman, 4:21-31.

"This is the freedom with which Christ has freed us. So stand firm in it, and do not get under a yoke of slavery again." This is the trumpet call to religious freedom in which Paul's argument reaches its climax. Men cannot progress in religion half slave and half free, winged with faith on one side and limping on a crutch of law on the other. In union with Christ neither circumcision nor the want of it counts for anything but only faith acting through love, 5:1-12.


Paul knew well enough the dangers of freedom—how easily it becomes an excuse for laxity and license, for just following impulse. The Galatians will not do that, however, if they really admit the Spirit to their hearts and listen to what it directs. For what the Spirit produces is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. If Paul's argument culminates in his call to freedom, his exhortation reaches its climax here, 5:13-24.

"If we live by the spirit, let us be guided by the spirit." We must not be censorious but bear one another's burdens. The old law of retribution still holds: a man will reap just what he sows, 5:25-6:10.

Paul's closing paragraph in his own hand stands out curiously from the swift, even writing of the letter writer who had penned the letter. "See what large letters I make, when I write to you with my own hand." He repeats in his own hand the main theme of the letter, the scars of his beatings in Philippi he describes as the brand he wears as a slave of Christ, for the ancients would sometimes brand their slaves. No one can say now that Paul is not a slave of Christ. We are left to wonder whether the Judaizers had any such honorable scars to show, 6:11-18.

So ends Galatians, a perfect torrent from the first word to the last, a blaze of fiery eloquence, strongly charged with emotion from beginning to end. Paul was never greater than in this letter. Its great doctrine of freedom of religion, set forth here almost at the beginning of the New Testament, has again and again awakened the church from formalism and conventionality


to religious life and vigor. It is not an antiquated ideal but one which we have never overtaken, which still beckons us onward toward the higher possibilities of religion. One thing is certain; we shall never go beyond it.

Problems. One serious problem about Galatians is the location of Galatia as Paul understood it and as he used the word. Gal. 1:2. It was Paul's usual practice (as distinguished from Luke's) to use, and to use accurately, the regular Roman provincial designations-Asia, Macedonia, Greece (Achaea), Judea , Syria, Cilicia, etc. We may expect that he uses Galatia in this way. But the region into which the Pergamenes under Attains I had herded the invading Kelts, or Galatae, in 239 B.C. was that about Tavium, Ancyra, and Pessinus in north-central Asia Minor. If that is the region intended by Paul by the word Galatia, the Galatian churches were founded not on the first missionary journey but on the second, in the hurried tour described in Acts in 16:6. "They crossed Phrygia and Galatia." They would probably be located in Tavium, Ancyra, and Pessinus. But there is no record of any very ancient Christianity in these places, and it would have meant a far swing to the northward in Paul's itinerary, as a glance at the map will show, though of course there is nothing impossible in that.

Recent studies in Roman provincial organization have shown that Lycaonia was included with Galatia in Roman administration. Tacitus says that Galba made Asprenas governor of Galatia and Pamphylia, [1]

[1] Tacitus Histories ii. 9.


which strongly implies that those provinces were contiguous. This shows that, soon after Paul's day at least, it was customary to speak of the district of Derbe, Lystra, and Iconium as part of Galatia; Galba was emperor in A.D. 68, and Tacitus wrote his Histories about A.D. 115.

It has been urged by some that Paul would hardly have addressed people of Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and Pisidian Antioch as "Galatians," even though their country had for years been combined with Galatia proper as one administrative district. Still, he does speak of his friends in Thessalonica and Philippi as "Macedonians," II Cor. 9:2, 4, certainly with no suggestion that they were of Macedonian stock or descent. Luke's usage is less strict than Paul's, but he speaks of Paul as a "Roman," Acts 22:25, 26, 29 (cf. 23:27), of course in no ethnographic but in a very technical political sense. Trophimus of Ephesus is classed with Tychicus as an "Asian" in Acts 20:4, and no one imagines that they must have come from the Lydian town of Asia from which the province and then the continent of Asia had already taken their names. If Paul could refer to the brothers in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea as "Macedonians," he could quite reasonably speak of those of Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and Pisidian Antioch as "Galatians." For at least seventy-five years-that is, since the death of Amyntas in 25 B.C.—these towns had been a part of Galatia, and it is fantastic to suppose, as Jülicher does, that they would not in that length of time have come to be referred to as Galatians; when, as we have seen,


Thessalonians could be called Macedonians; Ephesians, Asians; and a Tarsian like Paul, a Roman. It is a mistake to think that it would have taken a hundred years to accustom a Lystran to the fact that he was also, provincially speaking, a Galatian.

The mention of Barnabas as though well known to the Galatians, 2:13, accords better with the view that they were first evangelized by Barnabas and Paul, hence on the first missionary journey and in south Galatia, rather than on the second, by Paul and Silas, so summarily sketched in Acts 16:6. Moreover, when the money collected by Paul for the Christian poor in Jerusalem was carried there, representatives of the various contributing groups were to take it, I Cor. 16:3; as the party was finally made up, there were two from south Galatia, Gaius and Timothy, but nobody from north Galatia.

It is difficult to see under what other name Paul could have grouped the Christian residents of Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and Pisidian Antioch. On the whole it is reasonable to conclude that his Galatians were the inhabitants of those south Galatian cities, especially as there is no record of any Christian churches in the northern part of the province until long after Paul's day.

To Paul's argument in 3:10 it is sometimes objected that the Jewish Law nowhere demands full obedience to itself in all its details. But that is just what it seems to do in Deut. 28:58: "If you are not careful to observe all the provisions of this code [Torah], written in this book, .... then the Lord shall bring extraordinary


plagues on you and your descendants." At the end of the last code, that of Deuteronomy, the observance of the whole legislation seems to be enjoined: "At the end of every seven years, .... you must read this code [Torah] in the hearing of all Israel, .... that they may hear it .... and be careful to observe all the provisions of this code [Torah]," 31:10-13. The word "all" is indeed absent from the Hebrew text of Deut. 27:26 (the passage Paul quotes in 3:10), as we have it, but it is present in the Septuagint Greek version. That this is the clear intention of the passage is shown by the frightful curses pronounced immediately after, in 28:15-68, upon all who are not "careful to observe all his commands and statutes which I am commanding you today," 28:15. These passages amply support the contention of Paul that the Law demanded full obedience to all its particulars. For in Jewish use these predicates were of course extended to the whole Law, all of which it was understood Moses had written.

A somewhat different situation has been proposed by Lütgert [1] and developed by Ropes [2] to explain Galatians. On the basis of a number of passages in the letter, especially 3:6-4:7; 5:11-6:10, it is claimed that there were in the Galatian churches not only persons of the extreme Judaizing type but, over against them, a group of spiritualistic radicals, pneumatikoi, who thought Paul too much inclined to find the roots

[1] Wilhelm Lütgert, Gesetz und Geist (Gütersloh, 1919).

[2] J. H. Ropes, The Singular Problem of the Epistle to the Galatians (Cambridge, 1929).


of Christianity in Judaism, from which they wished to detach it altogether, being for their part entirely satisfied with faith and the religious endowments which it brought. It was these radicals who were out of sympathy with those who taught the word, 6:6, and were inclined to disdain the flesh and its temptations and fall into the libertinism and perfectionism of which Paul speaks in 5:13-17. There were, therefore, on this view two kinds of errorists in Galatia, each of whom had seized upon a part of Paul's teaching and exaggerated it. It is against the contentions of these perfectionist radicals that Paul in 1:11-2:14 shows that his gospel has not been influenced by the Jerusalem authorities. In fact, throughout the letter, he seems to be facing now one party and now the other.

Such is the theory. But it seems that, if there had been two groups so diametrically opposed to each other in Galatia, Paul could hardly have failed to make the fact clear instead of generally addressing the Galatians as though they were all of one stripe.


Burton, E. D. The Epistle to the Galatians (New York, 1920).

Lightfoot, J. B. St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians (10th ed.; London, 1890).

Ropes, J. H. The Singular Problem of the Epistle to the Galatians (Cambridge, 1929).

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