« Prev Chapter VIII. History of the Churches of Galatia. Next »





In v. 1 it is implied that Derbe and Lystra are a pair, constituting a district (p. 110). The work of this journey is divided according to districts: (1) Syria and Cilicia, a single Roman province; (2) Derbe and Lystra, a region of the province Galatia, which is here indicated by its two cities as the most convenient way, because in one. of them a considerable halt had to be described; (3) the Phrygian region of the province Galatia; (4) Asia, where preaching was forbidden, was traversed transversely to its northwestern point after an unsuccessful effort to enter the province Bithynia for missionary purposes. Between Cilicia and Derbe the great realm of Antiochus is omitted from the narrative, as being a non-Roman territory and out of Paul’s plans.

Derbe and Lystra are grouped together as a Region, but the author dwells only on Lystra. The only reason why they are grouped together and separated from the districts that precede and follow, lies in the Roman classification, which made them a group. But in order to mark that Lystra alone is referred to in the sequel, the historian repeats the preposition before it: “he came to Derbe and to Lystra”.

In v. 2 Lystra and Iconium are grouped together as the district where Timothy was well known. It is implied that he was not known at Derbe. This again is true to the facts of commerce and intercourse. Lystra is much nearer Iconium than it is to Derbe; and geographically, Lystra goes along with Iconium, while Derbe goes with Laranda and that part of Lycaonia. Neither blood nor Roman classification could prevent commerce from running in its natural channels (XIV 19). The nearest city to Iconium was Lystra, and the nearest to Lystra was Iconium; and the relations between them must always be close.

The historian is careful to add in this case, as he does about the Seven Deacons (VI 3), about Cornelius (X 22, cp. 2), and as Paul does about Ananias (XXII 12), and as is implied in I 21, that Timothy had so lived as to bear a good character in the district where he was known. It is not meant that Paul went about taking the opinion of Lystra and Iconium about Timothy, any more than it is meant in X 22 that Cornelius’s messengers went collecting evidence about him all over Palestine: we may be sure that in such a selection Paul depended on his own insight, guided perhaps by Divine approval. The author adds this information about the good repute of Timothy, because he considered good repute one of the conditions of appointment to any office however humble in the Church. He is interested in all questions of organisation, and we may compare what he says about the qualification of preachers (pp. 45, 174). As a point of literary style we note that the event of a new and important character is marked by an unusually detailed account of him.

We infer from the expression that in vv. 1-3 Paul and Silas have not gone beyond Lystra; and that it is a misconception to think that in v. 2 Paul is in Iconium. At Lystra Paul felt that, along the route which he intended to take, the Jews knew Timothy’s father to be a Greek: he was going along a frequented route of trade, on which were colonies of Jews in communication with each other, for there can be no doubt that his plan was to go by Iconium and Antioch into Asia. The opinion has sometimes been held that at this point Paul abandoned the visitation of his Churches as contemplated in XV 36; and that “the fact that God put this companion in his way served as a warning to him to go direct from Lykaonia to a new mission-field” (see Weiss’s note on XVI 2). But, on the contrary, our view is that, when Luke records any deliberately formed intention on Paul’s part, he leaves us to understand that it was carried out, if no intimation to the contrary is given (p. 342); and that Timothy here was taken as companion for the route as first planned, to fill the place of John Mark on the previous journey. There seems no reason to think (as Blass does) that one or more subordinates accompanied Paul from Syrian Antioch. It is not improbable that Paul, owing to previous experience, thought of Timothy as a companion even before he left Antioch.

Paul then proceeded on his intended route through the Phrygian Region of the province, whose two cities visited on the previous journey were Iconium and Pisidian Antioch. The cities are not specially named, as nothing striking or important occurred in either. It is implied that no Church had been rounded on the former journey in Pisidia or Pamphylia; and hence Paul had no Churches to review and confirm there. The reference to Pisidia (a Region of the province Galatia) in XIV 24 does not suggest that any success was attained there; and we may find in the list of I Peter I 1 a clear proof that there was no Church in Pamphylia at a date considerably later. That list is clearly intended to exhaust the Church in Asia Minor; and it mentions every province except Lycia and Pamphylia (which, therefore, did not yet contain any Churches, and seem to have long resisted Christianity), and Cilicia, which was part of Syria. The list, incidentally, shows that already in the first century a certain coherence was perceptible between the various Churches of Asia Minor, as distinguished from Syria and Cilicia. That springs naturally from the political conditions, and it grew stronger as time passed, until the two divisions became the patriarchates of Constantinople and of Antioch.

At this point Luke inserts an account of Paul’s action in the cities through which he was making his way. It is in his style to put this account near the beginning and expect the reader to apply it in all subsequent cases (p. 72). It does not apply to Cilicia (p. 173), and could not therefore be given sooner. In each city Paul and Silas delivered the Decree, and urged the Gentile converts to observe the necessary points of Jewish ritual; and everywhere the congregations were vigorous and growing. We cannot mistake the emphasis laid by the historian on Paul’s loyal determination to carry out the Apostolic Decree. and his anxiety to go as far as was honestly possible in the way of conciliating the Jews: that is in keeping with his view that the entire blame for the rupture between Paul and the Jews lay with the latter. But, if Paul was so anxious at this time to recommend the Decree to his converts, why does he never refer to it in any of his subsequent letters, even where he touches on points that were formally dealt with in the Decree, and why does he give advice to the Corinthians about meat offered to idols, which certainly strains the Decree to the utmost, if it be not actually inconsistent with it? The explanation lies in the immediate consequences of his action in the Galatian Churches.


Soon after Paul left the province Galatia, there came to it missionaries of the Judaising party, who taught the Galatian Churches to take that view of the Apostolic Decree which we have described on p. 172 f. They pointed out that Paul himself recognised the principle that circumcision was needed for the higher grade of Christian service; for when he selected Timothy for a position of responsibility in the Church, he, as a preliminary, performed the rite on him; and they declared that thereby he was, in effect, “preaching circumcision” (Gal. V 11). Further, they threw doubt on his sincerity in this act; and insinuated that he was reluctantly complying with necessity, in order to “conciliate and ingratiate himself with” the mass of the Church (see Lightfoot on Gal. I 10). Above all they insisted on the existence of the two grades of Christians; they pointed out that Paul had himself delivered and recommended the Apostolic Decree which recognised the distinction of weaker and stronger Brethren; and they urged the Galatians to strive to attain to the higher, and not rest content with the lower grade, which was a mere concession to weakness.

Such teaching found a ready response in the minds of the Galatian Christians. Many of them had first heard Paul preaching in the synagogue, many had come under the influence of Judaism to some extent even before Paul entered Galatia; all were ready to accept the belief that, as the Jews were always the first in Paul’s own plans, and as Christianity came from the Jews, therefore it was right to imitate the Jews (p. 144). It was precisely the most enthusiastic and devoted, who would be eager to rise to the highest and most difficult stage of Christian life.

Further, the Judaistic emissaries urged that Paul was merely the messenger and subordinate of the Twelve, that these original Apostles and leaders of the Church must be accepted as the ultimate guides. and that where Paul swerved from their teaching he was in error; and they claimed likewise to be the messengers come direct from the Twelve to communicate their latest views. Paul had recently delivered the Decree of the older Apostles; and now later messengers supplemented and elucidated the Decree.


Paul saw that his vision of the Church that should unite the civilised world was a vain dream, if it were to be bound by the fetters of Judaism; and he felt, as soon as he heard of this defection, that it must be met at once. If these Churches, his first foundations towards the west, were to pass under the party of slavery, his work was ruined at its inception: the blow to his policy and his influence was ruinous. One of the arguments by which the change had been produced was especially galling to him: his efforts at conciliation were taken advantage of to distort his motives, and to represent him as inconsistent and temporising, and his attempts to soothe the prejudices of the Judaistic party were treated as attempts at compromise. Hence he bursts forth at the outset in a strain of terrific vehemence (which I purposely give as far as possible in Lightfoot’s language): “Though we (i.e., Silas and I), or an angel from heaven, should preach unto you any gospel other than that which we preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we have told you before, so now once more I say, if any man preacheth unto you any gospel other than that which ye received, let him be anathema. What! does my boldness startle you? Is this, I ask, the language of a time-server? Will any one say now that, careless of winning the favour of God, I seek to conciliate men, to ingratiate myself with men? I speak thus strongly, for my language shall not be misconstrued, shall wear no semblance of compromise” (Gal. I 8-10). And towards the end of his letter he returns to the same point: “What! do I who have incurred the deadly hatred of the Judaisers, who am exposed to continual persecution from them, do I preach circumcision? If so, why do they persecute me? Surety what scandalises them in my teaching, the crucifixion with its atonement for sin, has been done away with, if I have, as they say, taken to their method, and begun to preach circumcision” (V 11).

Satisfied with the vehemence of the first outburst, and the sarcasm of the second, Paul wastes no argument to prove that he has been consistent throughout. He knows that the Galatic Churches cannot really believe that part of his adversaries’ arguments: they feel in their hearts that he has always been true to the first Gospel; and he proceeds to remind them of its origin and its hold on them, in order to enforce the conclusion that they must cling to the first Gospel, whoever it be that preaches any other. His argument, therefore, is directed to show that he came among them in the beginning with a message direct from God: “the Gospel which was preached by me is not after man” (I 11): “it came to me through revelation of Jesus”. Then he proceeds to show, by appealing to the facts, that he had not had the opportunity of learning anything from the recognised pillars of the Church. When it pleased God to reveal Jesus in him, bitter enemy of the Church as he was, he “conferred not with flesh and blood,” but went away for solitary meditation into Arabia. He was made by God His Apostle to the Nations years before he conferred with any of the Apostles. Twice at a later date did he go up to Jerusalem, in one case remaining fifteen days and seeing only Peter and James, in the second going up at the Divine command to help the poor at Jerusalem (II 10)—on which occasion, as a matter of fact, no injunction was laid on his Greek assistant Titus to accept the Judaic rite—and receiving the recognition of his Apostleship, but no instruction, from the heads of the Church (p. 56 f.).

Here in passing let us ask the question, Did Paul in this autobiographical sketch, given in such solemn yet vehement style, with the oath by God that he is not deceiving them—did Paul, I say, omit to mention that he had paid another visit to Jerusalem between the two that he describes? The question seems almost an insult; yet many scholars of the highest order consider that he here leaves out of sight the visit described by Luke, XI 28-30, and XII 25. I confess that, after studying all that the orthodox scholars say on this point I find a higher conception of Paul’s character and truthfulness in the position of the critics who conclude that Luke utterly misconceived the sequence of events in early Christian history and interpolated an intermediate visit where no visit occurred, than in Bishop Lightfoot’s position that “of this visit Paul makes no mention here”. Paul ’s argument is rounded on the rarity of his visits, and his aim is to show that on these visits he received no charge from the Twelve. Reason and truth rebel against the idea that he left out the middle visit. If he passed over part of the facts here, what situation can be imagined in which he would feel obliged to tell all the facts? And on that supposition, that Paul omitted a fact so essential to his purpose and to honest autobiography, the entire body of orthodox scholars have built up their theory of early Church history! It cannot be! Luke’s second visit must be Paul’s second visit; and when we build boldly on that plain foundation, the history rises before us in order and symmetry.

But further, it is obvious that Paul appeals with absolute confidence to this second visit as proving his ease: he evidently conceives that he has merely to recall the facts to the Galatians in order to make all clear. Now, there is one situation in which a man is obviously not receiving from others, and that is when he is actually giving to them: that was the situation on the second visit according to Luke, and that explains Paul’s confidence in appealing to his second visit.

Again, Paul knew that he had clever and skillful arguers to contend against. How could he expose himself to the retort that he was missing out the intermediate visit to Jerusalem? How could he feel confident that the Galatians, who had already shown themselves so liable to be deceived by specious arguments, would be able at once to reply to that obvious retort?

Finally, Paul, as an honest and rational man, could not appeal to the events of the third visit according to Luke, as proving beyond question that he received on that occasion no charge from the Apostles. He did receive a charge then, and he delivered that charge to the Churches.

Why, then, it may be objected, does Paul not mention his third visit? The answer is obvious. He is engaged in proving that, when he gave his first message to the Churches of Galatia, he had never received any charge from the older Apostles. His whole point is: “Cleave to my first message, which came direct from God: if Silas and I afterwards said anything inconsistent with that message, we are accursed”. The third visit to Jerusalem did not take place until after the Galatian Churches were rounded, and therefore it could find no place in the autobiographical retrospect of I 12-II 10; but it is clearly implied in the scornful and impetuous sentence, I 8: “Even if Silas and I (as these emissaries have been telling you), if an angel from heaven, should preach to you a Gospel contrary to that which we originally preached to you, a curse be upon us”.

After this autobiographical sketch, Paul refers to an instance which showed very strongly his independence in face of the leading Apostle Peter, and then passes on to the third and main argument of his adversaries, rounded on the supposed grades in Christian life. His line of reply is to bring out in various ways the truth that the Judaistic form is the lower stage, and the Gospel of freedom which had been delivered to the Galatians the higher stage. The Law alone was not sufficient for salvation, inasmuch as Christ had died to supplement its deficiency; therefore life according to the Law could not be the highest stage of Christian life. How could the Galatians be so foolish as to think that, having begun in the Spirit, their higher stage of development would be in the flesh (III 3)? The Christians who have entered through the Spirit are the children of the free woman, but the Judaistic Christians are the children of the bond woman and lower in rank (IV 31). The latter may rise to be free, but, if the former sink under bondage to the Law, they sacrifice their Christianity. The Judaistic Christians are children under care of a pedagogue, who have to be raised by Christ to the full growth and freedom (III 23-4). In a variety of other striking and impressive figures the superiority of the free to the Judaistic Christians is illustrated. It cannot be said that there is any reasoning or argument: illustrations are used to bring the Galatians to a clear consciousness of what they have in their own minds. Argument is too external a process; Paul merely points out to the Galatians that “they already know”.

As a whole, the letter is an eloquent and powerful claim for freedom of life, freedom of thought, freedom of the individual from external restrictions and regulations, freedom for all to work out their own salvation and develop their own nature: “Ye were called for freedom” (V 13). And towards the conclusion this turns to a glorification of love. Their freedom is freedom to do right, not freedom to do everything; “the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (V 14). Selfishness, i.e., “the flesh,” is the absolute antithesis of love, i.e., “the Spirit “; and the receiving of Christ is “crucifying the flesh with the passions thereof” (V 24). The essence of the true life lies neither in observing the Law nor in being above the Law, but in building anew one’s nature (VI 15).


The date of the Galatian Epistle, though out of chronological order, may be considered here. The defection of the Galatians occurred shortly after Paul’s second visit (not shortly after his first visit, as Lightfoot strangely takes it, I 6, p. 42). He spent the summer of 50 among them; and the Judaie emissaries may have come in the summer of 51 or 52. But, amid the sudden changes of plan on his journey, Paul could not receive many letters from Galatia. Moreover, his epistle seems to imply the possession of full knowledge, such as could not be gained from a mere letter: if the Galatians wrote to him, it is most improbable that they explained their changed attitude and all the reasons for it. No! Paul’s information comes from the personal report of a trusty messenger; and the obvious suitability of Timothy for the duty occurs at once to one’s mind. Further, it is clear that Timothy was with Paul during a considerable part of the stay in Corinth, for he joined in the greeting at the opening of both letters to Thessalonica. It is therefore hardly possible that he could have gone home, visited his friends, satisfied himself as to the condition of the Churches, and returned to Corinth before Paul left that city. Moreover, if Paul heard at that time, it is not probable that he would have spent so much time on a voyage to Jerusalem and a visit to Syrian Antioch before visiting personally the wavering Churches.

We conclude, then, that Timothy went to pay a visit to his friends, not before the latter part of Paul’s stay in Corinth; and, when he found out the real state of affairs in South Galatia, he went to meet Paul with the news. Owing to Paul’s movements, there are only two places where Timothy could have met him,—Ephesus and Syrian Antioch. The former is most unlikely, for, if Timothy left Corinth some months before Paul, he could have no assurance of meeting him there, where he merely called in passing. It is probable, then, that he brought his report to Paul at Syrian Antioch after the fourth visit to Jerusalem (p. 265). With the entire want of definite evidence, we cannot get beyond this estimate of probabilities; and it is most likely that Timothy stayed with Paul during the whole of his residence at Corinth, sailed with him as far as Ephesus, and landed there in order to go home on a visit to his friends, while Paul went on to Jerusalem. We shall at a later stage find that Paul often sent deputies to inspect his Churches; and their reports often drew forth an Epistle to correct an erring Church (pp. 275, 284).

In this way, when Paul reached Syrian Antioch, or immediately after he reached it, at the end of his visit to Cæsareia and Jerusalem, he found Timothy waiting with the disheartening news, in the summer of 53: and at once he sat down and wrote the letter which has been preserved to us.

One question remains. Why was Paul content with writing? Why did he not start at once himself? Personal intervention is always more effective in such cases. But, in the first place, a letter would certainly travel faster than Paul could get over the ground; and he would not lose a moment in letting the Galatians hear what he thought. In the second place, he could hardly sacrifice the opportunity of reviewing the Churches in Syria and Cilicia that lay on his way: everywhere he would be besieged with entreaties to stay for a little, and he could not well hurry past them without at least a brief stay of one or two days in each. Finally there are frequently reasons which make it impossible to hurry away on a serious journey like that from Syria to South Galatia. Paul was only human.

When Paul wrote the letter he must, on our view, have been intending to arrive very soon after his letter. It may be asked why he makes no reference to this intention. But we should rather ask, if, according to the ordinary view, he were not coming immediately, why he did not make some explanatory statement of the reasons that compelled him at such a crisis to be content with a letter and to do without a visit (p. 275 f.). The messenger who carried the letter carried also the news that Paul was following close after, as fast as his necessary detentions at Antioch and other cities on the way permitted; and part of the effect of the letter lay in the fact that the writer was going to be present in person very soon.

The Epistle to the Galatians, therefore, belongs to A.D. 53, and was written just when he was starting on his third journey, but before he had begun that scheme of a general contribution among all his new Churches which is so prominent in the three following letters, I, II Cor. and Rom.

To this date one objection may perhaps be urged: in IV 10, Paul asks, “Are ye observing days and months and seasons and years?” It has been urged that this implies that the Sabbatical year 54–55 was observed by the Galatians when the letter was written. But Lightfoot has rightly rejected this argument: Paul asks in sarcasm: “Are ye observing the whole series of institutions? are ye taking up anew a ritual like that of paganism from which you were set free?”


The later history of the churches of Galatia is obscure. They took part in the contribution raised by the Pauline Churches for the poor brethren at Jerusalem (p. 286 f.), and were represented in the delegation that carried it to Jerusalem. Thereafter history ends, and tradition alone preserves some scraps of information about Antioch, Iconium and Lystra. Derbe alone is not mentioned either in the tradition (so far as my knowledge extends) or in the history of the Church until we come down to A.D. 381, when its bishop Daphnus was present at the Council of Constantinople. The only hope of further information about the four Churches lies in archæology; but unless the spade can be brought to supplement the too scanty records that remain above ground, little can be hoped for.3030The Christian antiquities of Antioch and Iconium will be discussed at some length in my Cities and Bishoprics of Phrygia. If my dream of excavating the deserted sites of Derbe and Lystra be ever realised, they would form the subject of a special treatise.

« Prev Chapter VIII. History of the Churches of Galatia. Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection