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Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, [1831], at

Galatians Introduction


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Preface to the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians

Galatia was anciently a part of Phrygia and the neighboring countries. It had its name from the Gauls, who, having in several bodies invaded Asia Minor, as Pausanius (Attic., cap. iv.) relates, conquered this country and settled in it. As these were mixed with various Grecian families, the country was also called Gallograecia, see Justin, lib. xxiv. 4; xxv. 2; xxvii. 3; xxviii. 3; and Strabo, xiv. Under the reign of Augustus Caesar, about the year of Rome 727, and 26 years before our Lord, it was reduced into the form of a Roman colony, and was governed by a propraetor, appointed by the emperor.

This country is bounded on the east by Cappadocia; on the west by Bithynia; on the south by Pamphylia; and on the north by the Euxine Sea. These are its limits according to Strabo, which some think too extensive; but the different provinces of Asia Minor being the subjects of continual contentions and inroads, very frequently changed their boundaries as well as their masters, and were seldom at one stay.

The Galatae were divided into three tribes, the Tectosages, the Trocmi, and the Tolistobogi. According to Pliny their country was divided into 195 tetrarchies, and, according to Strabo, each of the three divisions above mentioned was subdivided into four cantons, each of which had a tetrarch; and besides these twelve tetrarchs, there was a general council of the nation, consisting of 300 senators. These tetrarchs were at last reduced in number to three, then to two, and lastly to one; the last tetrarch and king of Galatia was Amyntas, who, from being secretary to Dejotarus, the first person that possessed the whole tetrarchy, was made king of Pisidia in the year of Rome 714. And in the year 718, Mark Antony made him tetrarch of Galatia. After the death of Amyntas, Galatia was ranked by Augustus among the Roman provinces, and governed as aforesaid. The administration of the propraetors continued till the reign of Theodosius the Great, or Valens; and, under the Christian emperors, it was divided into two provinces, Galatia prima being subject to a consul; Galatia secunda, or salutaris, governed by a president.

The religion of the ancient Galatae was extremely corrupt and superstitious; and they are said to have worshipped the mother of the gods under the name of Agdistis, and to have offered human sacrifices of the prisoners they took in war.

They are mentioned by historians as a tall and valiant people, who went nearly naked; and used for arms only a sword and buckler. The impetuosity of their attack is stated to have been irresistible; and this generally made them victorious.

It appears, from the Acts of the Apostles, that St. Paul visited this country more than once. Two visits to this region are particularly marked in the Acts, viz. the first about a.d. 53, Act 16:6 : "Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia," etc.; the second about a.d. 56, Act 18:23 : "He went over all the country of Galatia and Phrygia in order, strengthening all the disciples."

St. Paul was probably the first who had preached the Gospel in this region, as appears pretty evident from Gal 1:6 : "I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that Called You into the Grace of Christ;? and from Gal 4:13 : "Ye know how, through infirmity of the flesh, I preached the Gospel unto you at the first." Others suppose that it is not unlikely that St. Peter had preached the Gospel there to the Jews or Helenists only, as his first epistle is directed "to the strangers who were scattered abroad throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia;" and it is supposed, also, that the persons converted by St. Peter probably occasioned those differences among the Galatian converts, which induced St. Paul to write this epistle, in which he takes pains to establish his own character as an apostle, which had been disputed by some, with a view of placing him below Peter, who preached generally to the Jews only, and observed the law. See Calmet and the New Encyclopedia, article Galatia. That St. Peter thought at first that the Gospel should be confined to the Jews is sufficiently evident from the Acts of the Apostles; but after his Divine vision, which happened about a.d. 41, related Acts 10, he saw that God had also called the Gentiles into the Church; and his first epistle, which was written in a.d. 64, was probably twelve years posterior to that written by St. Paul to the Galatians.

As to the precise time in which this epistle was written, there have been various opinions among learned men. Some of the ancients believed it to be the very first written of all St. Paul's epistles. See Epiphanius, tom. i., Haeres. 42. Others have supposed that it was written after his second journey to Galatia, Act 18:23, which in the chronology I have placed in a.d. 54; and others, with more probability, after his first journey, see Act 16:6, which in the chronology I have placed in a.d. 53. That it was written soon after one of the apostle's visits to that region seems evident from the following complaint: "I marvel that ye are so Soon removed from him that hath called you," Gal 1:6; it has been therefore conjectured that only one or two years had elapsed from that time, and that the epistle must have been written about a.d. 52 or 53. Beausobre and L'Enfant speak very judiciously on this subject: "We do not find in the Epistle to the Galatians any mark that can enable us to determine with certainty at what time or in what place it was written. It is dated at Rome in some printed copies and MSS., but there is nothing in the epistle itself to confirm this date. Paul does not here make any mention of his bonds, as he does in all his epistles written from Rome. He says, indeed, Gal 6:17 : 'I bear about in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus;' but he had often suffered before he came to Rome. Some learned chronologers think that it was written between the third and fourth journey of St. Paul to Jerusalem, and between his first and second into Galatia; which opinion appears very probable; for, since the apostle says, he wonders that they were so soon turned to another gospel, this epistle must have been written a short time after he had preached in Galatia.

"Nor can we discern in the epistle any notice of the second journey which St. Paul made into this country. For this reason it is thought that the Epistle to the Galatians was written at Corinth, where the apostle made a long stay, or else in some city of Asia, particularly Ephesus, where he stayed some days on his way to Jerusalem, Act 18:19-21; therefore, in all probability the epistle was written from Corinth, or from Ephesus, in the year 52 or 53."

Dr. Lardner confirms this opinion by the following considerations: -

1. St. Paul says to the Corinthians, Co1 16:1 : "Now, concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the Churches of Galatia, so do ye;" which shows that at the writing of that epistle to the Corinthians, in 56, he had a good opinion of his converts in Galatia; and that he had no doubt of their respect to his directions, which probably had been sent to them from Ephesus during his long abode there.

2. And now we shall be better able to account for what appears very remarkable: when Paul left Corinth, after his long stay there, he went to Jerusalem, having a vow; in his way he came to Ephesus, Act 18:10-21 : "And when they desired him to tarry longer with them, he consented not, but bade them farewell saying, I must by all means keep this feast that cometh at Jerusalem; but I will return unto you again, if God will." When we read this, we might be apt to think that Paul should hasten back to Ephesus and return thither presently, after he had been at Jerusalem; but instead of doing so, after he had been at Jerusalem, he went down to Antioch; "And after he had spent some time there he departed, and went over all the country of Galatia and Phrygia in order, strengthening the disciples," Act 18:22, Act 18:23. We now seem to see the reason of this course. At Corinth he heard of the defection of many in Galatia, whereupon he sent a sharp letter to them; but, considering the nature of the case, he judged it best to take the first opportunity to go to Galatia, and support the instructions of his letter; and both together had a good effect. Gal 4:19, Gal 4:20 : "My little children, of whom I travail in birth again - I desire to be present with you, and to change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you;" or, I am perplexed for you. Now, then, we see the reason of the apostle's not coming directly from Jerusalem to Ephesus. However, he was not unmindful of his promise, and came thither after he had been in Galatia.

3. Upon the whole, the Epistle to the Galatians is an early epistle, and, as seems to me most probable, was written at Corinth near the end of a.d. 52, or the very beginning of 53, before St. Paul set out to go to Jerusalem by the way of Ephesus.

But if any should rather think that it was written at Ephesus, during the apostle's short stay there, on his way from Corinth to Jerusalem, that will make but very little difference; for still, according to our computation, the epistle was written at the beginning of the year 53. See Lardner's Works, vol. vi., page 309.

Every thing considered, I feel no hesitation to place this epistle in the 52nd or 53rd year of our Lord; either the end of the former or the beginning of the latter.

From the complexion of this epistle it appears to have been written to the Jews who were dispersed in Galatia; see Act 2:9. And although in Gal 4:8, it is said that the persons to whom the apostle writes did not know God, and did service to them which by nature were no gods; this must be understood of those who had been proselytes to the Jewish religion, as Gal 4:9 sufficiently shows; for, after they had been converted to Christianity, they turned Again to the weak and beggarly elements.

These Galatians were doubtless converted by St. Paul; see Act 16:6; Act 18:23; but, after his departure from them, some teachers had got in among them who endeavored to persuade them, and successfully too, that they should be circumcised and keep the Mosaic law. See Gal 1:6; Gal 4:9, Gal 4:10, Gal 4:21; Gal 5:1, Gal 5:2; Gal 6:12. And the apostle labors to bring them back from the errors of these false teachers.

The arguments which the apostle uses to prove the truth of the Christian religion, as well as the nullity of the Mosaic institutions, are the following: -

1. That himself, immediately after his conversion, without having any conference with any of the apostles, preached the pure doctrines of Christianity doctrines strictly conformable to those preached by the genuine disciples of the Lord; and this was a proof that he had received them by immediate inspiration, as he could have known them no other way.

2. That he was led to oppose Peter because he had withdrawn himself from communion with the converted Gentiles, and thereby gave occasion to some to suppose that he considered the law as still binding on those who believed; and that the Gentiles were not to be admitted to an equality of religious privileges with the Jews.

3. That no rites or ceremonies of the Jewish law could avail any thing in the justification of a sinner; and that faith in Christ was the only means of justification.

4. That their own works could avail nothing towards their justification: -

(1.) For the Spirit of God was given them in consequence of receiving the Christian doctrine, Gal 3:2-5.

(2.) That the works of the law cannot justify, because Abraham was justified by faith long before the law of Moses was given, Gal 3:6, Gal 3:7.

(3.) That the curse of the law, under which every sinner lives, is not removed but by the sacrifice of Christ, Gal 3:8, Gal 3:9.

5. That it is absurd for the sons of God to become slaves to Mosaic rites and ceremonies.

The rest of the epistle is of a practical nature. Although subjects of this kind may be gathered out of the epistle, yet it is very evident that the apostle himself has observed no technical division or arrangement of his matter; his chief design being,

1. To vindicate his own apostleship, and to show that he was not inferior to Peter himself, whom their false teachers appear to have set up in opposition to St. Paul.

2. To assert and maintain justification by faith in opposition to all Judaizing teachers.

3. To call them back to the liberty of the Gospel, from which, and its privileges, they had shamelessly apostatized. And,

4. To admonish and exhort them to walk worthy of their vocation, by devoting themselves to the glory of God and the benefit of their brethren. Lastly, he asserts his own determination to be faithful, and concludes with his apostolical benediction.

Next: Galatians Chapter 1