The Books of the New Testament
by Leighton Pullan
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Chapter xi. deals with public worship. St. Paul gives directions for women to cover the head in church, and then comes a reference to the Holy Eucharist which is of extreme interest and importance. It was the custom for Christians to meet together before the Eucharist for a common meal called the Agape, which was intended to commemorate the Lord's Last Supper. St. Paul complains that this meal has been made an occasion of sin among the Corinthians: the richer people had overeaten themselves, while the poor were left hungry and ashamed. The apostle sets off the unfitness of {140} this conduct by a brief exposition of the Eucharist; the preliminary meal, so much misused by these ungracious and ungenerous Christians, was intended to be a preparation for the ineffable Feast, at which the Fare was the very Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, and at which His death was solemnly represented (xi. 2-34).

St. Paul deals next with spiritual gifts, saying that they come from God, and so give no ground for boasting, and that the exercise of them is only pleasing to God if it be joined with charity. After a sublime chapter on charity, he lays down some regulations for those who possessed these abnormal gifts, which, it is evident, were already the cause of disorders in the Church. The Corinthians, with their craving for the miraculous, tended to set a high value on speaking with tongues, but St. Paul upholds the superiority of the more intelligible and useful gift of prophecy (xii.-xiv.).

The Epistle concludes with a splendid argument for the reality of the Resurrection. It is directed against some false philosophy. St. Paul claims for the fact of the resurrection of Christ the witness of Scripture, of many honest and intelligent Christians, and of himself. Then he goes on to show to the Corinthian objectors what a denial of the resurrection of the dead involves. It means that Christ did not rise, that I am preaching deceit, that you are believing a lie, that the dead in Christ have no existence except as memories, that we who have foregone the pleasures of this life have done so in pursuit of a delusive phantom. But it cannot be so. Christ is really risen. And St. Paul passes on to demonstrate the happy consequences which follow from this. The Resurrection is the earnest of all that Christ will do for man; and in the light of it Christian baptism for the sake of the dead[1] and Christian heroism have their meaning (xv. 1-34).


In order to remove difficulties from the mind of an objector, St. Paul discusses the kind of body which we shall have at the Resurrection. He shows by analogies from nature (a) that God is able to effect the transformation of a seed-grain into a new product, and can therefore transform us while retaining a connection between our present and future body; (b) that God is able to create a variety of embodiments, and can therefore give us a higher embodiment than we now possess. There will be a spiritual body adapted to the spiritual world, as truly as our natural body is adapted to life in this world. Thus the gospel is truly a gospel for the body as well as for the spirit. Our whole personality will be saved, and nothing will be discarded (xv. 35-58).

St. Paul concludes with an order for the collection of alms on behalf of the faithful in Jerusalem, and says that he hopes to come soon to Corinth. After some personal matters, he characteristically appends with his own hand a curse on those who do not love the Lord, and a prayer and loving message for the faithful.


Salutation, thanksgiving (i. 1-9).

(1) Evils in the Church: i. 10-vi. 20.—Sectarianism. This is rebuked on the ground that all the apostles, etc., are working for one end, and all their power is God's. Christ is supreme over all (i. 10-iv. 21).

Incest. The Church is to deliver the sinner to Satan (the severest form of excommunication). St. Paul mentions a previous warning not to associate with immoral Christians (v.).


Going to law with a Christian in the pagan courts is rebuked. Warning against profligacy (vi.).

(2) Answers to a letter from the Corinthians: vii. 1-xi. 1.—Marriage and celibacy. It is well to avoid marriage. But the married must not separate. Under present circumstances, the apostle would prefer others to be unencumbered as he is (vii.).

Food offered to idols. Christian liberty (viii.). St. Paul's example in not claiming one's own rights (ix.). Danger of thinking that we stand. We are "one bread," and must seek each other's good (x.-xi. 1).

(3) Other evils in the Church: xi. 2-34.—Women to be covered. Conduct at the Eucharist and the Agape. An account of the institution of the Eucharist.

(4) Answer to a question concerning spiritual gifts: xii.-xiv.—Unity in diversity (xii.). Charity the greatest gift (xiii.). Prophesying and tongues compared (xiv.).

(5) Vindication of the Resurrection: xv.—The evidence for Christ's resurrection.[2] The nature of our resurrection.

(6) Some directions and personal details: xvi.

[1] 1 Cor. xv. 29. This verse is very obscure. It has been interpreted as meaning that when a convert died before it was possible for him to be baptized, it was a custom of the Corinthians to allow a friend to undergo baptism in his stead. But perhaps it simply means being baptized for the sake of some dear one who was a sincere Christian, and begged that his or her surviving relatives would be baptized and meet him or her hereafter.

[2] It is important to notice that St. Paul, in writing of the death and resurrection of our Lord, gives powerful evidence in support of St. John's assertion that our Lord died on Nisan 14 (see above, p. 29). In 1 Cor. v. 7, 8 he says, "Our Passover also hath been sacrificed, even Christ: wherefore let us keep the feast"; and in 1 Cor. xv. 20 he calls Christ "the first-fruits of them that are asleep." Now, if Christ died on Nisan 14, when the Passover lamb was sacrificed for a feast, and if He rose on Nisan 16, when the Passover firstfruits were offered in the temple, this double comparison is exquisitely appropriate. But if the statement in John is false, St. Paul's comparison is forced and unnatural.




[Sidenote: The Author.]

The genuineness of this Epistle is almost universally admitted, although it is not quoted quite as early as the First Epistle. The two Epistles are interwoven with each other by several threads of thought, such as St. Paul's intention to visit Macedonia, his decision with regard to the incestuous man, and his direction to collect alms for the Christians of Jerusalem. Moreover, this Epistle agrees with the Book of Acts, and at the same time is plainly independent of it. Acts does not mention Titus, whose name is prominent in 2 Corinthians, and at the same time Acts xx. 5, 6 corroborates the account of the visit to Troas in 2 Cor. ii. 12, 13. The whole style of the Epistle is so natural and impassioned, so wonderful in its light and gloom, that there is only one author to whom we can possibly attribute it.

There is, however, a difficulty with regard to the last four chapters. It is thought by some critics that they are a separate Epistle written by St. Paul to the Corinthians, and afterwards joined to chs. i.-ix. These writers are usually of the opinion that the last four chapters were written before i.-ix., and that their theory will account for the fact that they are more severe and depressed in tone. Now, it is true that i.-ix. seem more hopeful than x.-xiii., and also that i.-ix. contain two references to a previous letter (ii. 4; vii. 8, 9). We find, too, in 2 {144} Cor. i. 23; ii. 1, 4, that the apostle shows a shrinking from the thought of another visit to Corinth, while in 1 Corinthians no such feeling is manifested. If, however, 2 Cor. x.-xiii. had been written in the interval, the feeling is not unreasonable. But the facts of the case seem to be most easily explained by the belief that there was a letter written between 1 and 2 Corinthians, but that this letter has been lost. In spite of the difference in tone between the two parts of 2 Corinthians, there is sufficient continuity of theme to make us hesitate to detach them.

[Sidenote: To whom written.]

"Unto the Church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints which are in the whole of Achaia." The latter part of the address shows us that St. Paul felt it necessary to vindicate himself to all the Christians in Greece (Hellas). His opponents had evidently been extremely active.

[Sidenote: Where and when written.]

The Epistle was written in A.D. 55, a few months after 1 Corinthians, from some town in Macedonia, probably Philippi. It was sent by the hands of Titus and perhaps St. Luke (2 Cor. viii. 18-23).

The First Epistle was received submissively by the Corinthians, the strife of parties subsided, and the case of incest was dealt with as the apostle required. In consequence of this happy result, it seems that St. Paul decided to visit the Corinthians on his way to Macedonia, sailing straight to Corinth from Ephesus (2 Cor. i. 15), as well as to pay them the visit which he had promised before (1 Cor. xvi. 5).

Timothy, who had arrived at Corinth in accordance with St. Paul's previous wish (1 Cor. iv. 17; xvi. 10), soon returned to Ephesus with news of a second and more serious crisis. We do not know what caused it, or what was precisely its character, but it is certain that St. Paul's motives and authority were harshly and openly challenged. Perhaps Timothy himself was insulted, and therefore, indirectly, the apostle who gave him his commission and authority. St. Paul wrote at once a {145} very sharp letter, which is the second lost letter to the Corinthians, and he resolved to return to his earlier plan of visiting them only as he came south from Macedonia. He made this resolution to spare them for the present the pain of meeting him. This lost letter was probably sent by Titus (2 Cor. xii. 18), who also carried instructions with regard to the collection for the poor at Jerusalem. Apparently St. Paul thought that it would be wiser not to entrust Timothy with the delicate task of again calming the Corinthian wranglers. As soon as Titus left, St. Paul was full of nervous apprehension as to the effect which this letter would produce. He set out from Ephesus (2 Cor. i. 8-10) in great anxiety, his departure being perhaps precipitated by the riot so graphically described in Acts. He tells us himself that when he came to Troas he had still no relief for his spirit—no news from Corinth. Though he found an opening for the gospel at Troas, he hurried on into Macedonia, and at last Titus came with joyful news of the penitence and submission of the Corinthians. St. Paul then wrote this Epistle. Towards the end of December, A.D. 55, he reached Corinth, where he stayed for three months.

The Book of Acts fits perfectly with the Epistles. From Acts xx. 1-3 we see that St. Paul did visit Macedonia and Greece at the close of his stay at Ephesus, and from Acts xix. 22 we see that he sent Timothy before him.

[Sidenote: Character and Contents.]

The Epistle has the nature of a letter sent by a spiritual father to his children rather than of a doctrinal treatise with an argument carefully built up. Its value for us lies chiefly in the vivid reality with which it reflects the personality of the writer, his love for his converts, his intense conviction that his apostolic commission and power are entirely genuine—a conviction which is set off by his wish always to associate himself with the weakness and fragility of ordinary human nature. Throughout the Epistle there are scattered allusions to Christian doctrine which are of the very highest importance. Before giving an outline of the {146} Epistle, we may notice one or two doctrinal passages of special importance.

First, with regard to the Resurrection. The teaching of 1 Corinthians is further explained. St. Paul shows how entirely he has thrown off the feeling of terror which environed the ordinary Jewish idea of death. The sense of union with God by which a few Jews in some rare flashes of inspiration knew that they would live after death, is here triumphant. St. Paul regards death as a portal to that happy existence which can only be described as being "at home with the Lord" (2 Cor. v. 1-8; cf. Phil. i. 23). Union with Christ now absolutely guarantees union with Him hereafter. The resurrection-body which in 1 Corinthians he described as "a spiritual body," he poetically calls the "house from heaven" which God will provide for the redeemed spirit. Then he thinks of this new body as a robe. And as he hopes that Christ will come again before we have put off our present body in death, he says that he desires to be clothed with the new body over his present body, "if so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked." The last phrase is obscure, but it probably is a fresh rebuke of those Corinthians who denied the resurrection of the body. If so, it means "assuming, as is indeed the case, that we shall really be found clothed with a body at Christ's coming, and not naked (i.e. bodiless spirits)."

Secondly, with regard to the work of Christ. In 2 Cor. iv. 4 He is called the "image of God." Now, St. Paul teaches that we men may reflect the likeness of Christ to God:

"The truth in God's breast Lies trace for trace upon ours impressed: Though He is so bright and we so dim, We are made in His image to witness Him."

But St. Paul also teaches that the relation between the Son and the Father is unique. He means that Christ reveals the Father completely in virtue of this eternal relation between them. We are made to become like God, but the Son is not {147} made; He does not belong to the class of created things (1 Cor. viii. 6). And St. Paul never speaks of Christ becoming the Son of God. He regards Christ as having always been the Son, exercising divine functions, and therefore as "God blessed for ever" (Rom. ix. 5). In 2 Cor. iii. 17, 18 he asserts that the Lord is the divine Spirit who animates the new dispensation. The old Jewish dispensation is described as "letter," because it was a system of outward commandments; the Gospel dispensation is described as "spirit," because it is a system of spiritual principles which are summed up in Christ. We by reflecting His glory are transformed into the same image by successive stages of glory. This glory comes from the Lord Jesus, who is the Spirit of Christianity (2 Cor. iii. 18). It is important to notice that St. Paul does not confuse the Second Person of the Trinity with the Third Person, and that for many years the Christians used occasionally to describe the divine nature of the Son by the word "Spirit." They gradually gave up this manner of speaking, as it was ambiguous.

In 2 Cor. v. 18-21 there is an important statement on the Atonement. The close connection between the Atonement and the Incarnation is shown in the assertion that "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself," and the love of both the Father and the Son is shown in the words that "He made Him to be sin on our behalf." The first statement saves us from the idea that God selected a holy man to reveal His will, and then gave up this best of men to unimaginable suffering. No! it was God Himself who came in the Person of the Sufferer. The second statement implies that Christ, though sinless, was treated as a sinner. He thus by dying accomplished the end which our punishment would accomplish, namely, the expression of God's hatred of sin and love of righteousness.

The Epistle opens with an introduction and thanksgiving, in which there seems to be a note of sadness, marking the effect which the crisis in Corinth has left on the mind of St. Paul. He proceeds to give a personal explanation. The visit to the {148} Corinthians on the way to Macedonia was abandoned only because of the pain which it would have given them; the sharp letter was not written in wrath, but in sorrowful love (i. 23-ii. 1-4). St. Paul goes on to ask pardon for the man who caused the recent disturbance (ii. 5-11).

Then, whilst he is describing his journey to Macedonia (ii. 12-17), he breaks off suddenly into a digression, in which he describes the dignity of the apostolic ministry, its superiority over the Mosaic ministry, the nature of its commission, and the seal of it in a life which is always martyrdom (iii. 1-vi. 13). St. Paul concludes this section with a short appeal to the Corinthians to avoid contamination from heathenism (vi. 14-vii. 1).

He then returns to the situation of ii. 13. He tells us with how much joy he received the news that Titus brought him—joy for the Corinthians, for Titus, and for himself. The next two chapters (viii., ix.) contain instructions and exhortations respecting the fund mentioned in 1 Cor. xvi. 1. The last four chapters follow quite naturally. The apostle speaks with plain severity to rebuke those who created the recent disturbance, and to warn any there may be whose submission perhaps has not been quite entire. The prevailing tone is that of pathetic and sorrowful expostulation. St. Paul repeats the unkind things that have been said of him—how unimposing his presence, that he depends on alms, that he is only eloquent with his pen. But he defends his apostleship with absolute though very humble confidence, counting up the things that he can say for himself—his share in Jewish privileges, his sufferings for Christ, the revelations that God has sent him, the signs of his success, the continual weakness that Christ gives and blesses. Truly, the apostle is even greater than his grief.

The Epistle concludes with a benediction, in which St. Paul co-ordinates the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity. From primitive times these words have been used as the introduction to the most solemn part of the Greek liturgy, from which they were taken into the services of the Church of England.



(1) St. Paul's thankfulness and exhortation: i. 1-ii. 17.—Salutation, thanksgiving, the promised visit postponed, the previous letter, the penitent offender. St. Paul's journey to Macedonia, triumph in Christ.

(2) The Apostle's ministry: iii. 1-vii. 1.—His converts are his letters of commendation, the superiority of this ministry of the gospel above that of the Mosaic dispensation (iii.).

Christ the subject of his preaching, present light affliction resulting in eternal glory (iv.).

Inspiring hopes of the resurrection, constraining love of Christ, the ministry of reconciliation based on the atonement (v.).

He persuades and suffers (vi. 1-13).

Warning against being yoked with unbelievers (vi. 14-vii. 1).

(3) The Corinthian Church and Titus: vii. 2-ix. 15.—The visit of Titus to Corinth, the godly sorrow that followed (vii. 2-16).

The collection for the poor at Jerusalem, Macedonian generosity, praise of Titus (viii.).

Exhortation to a generosity like that of the Macedonians (ix.).

(4) A sorrowful expostulation: x.-xiii.—A warning to those who despise his authority (x.).

His rights and his sufferings for Christ (xi.).

Revelations given, but also a thorn in the flesh, the signs of an apostle, how he and Titus had dealt with the Corinthians (xii.).

He repeats that he will come to Corinth a third time, exhortation, benediction (xiii.).




[Sidenote: The Author.]

This Epistle, being one of the four Epistles which are almost universally unquestioned, requires little or no defence. The Pauline authorship "has never been called in question by a critic of first-rate importance, and until recently has never been called in question at all." The writings of those Fathers of the Church who lived nearest to the apostolic age contain several possible allusions to it, and it is expressly named by Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian. The internal evidence shows that it must belong to the time of the apostles, for the errors which are criticized in it are different from the Ebionite ideas which existed at the beginning of the 2nd century, and from the Gnosticism which existed even before the apostles were all dead. They are evidently earlier than these heresies. Still more convincing is the vehement and pathetic energy which marks this Epistle. There is a ring of reality in its broken sentences and earnest appeals. It displays none of the careful patchwork which we should expect from a forger; it consists only of the quick hot words of a man who is very deeply moved.

[Sidenote: To whom written.]

"Unto the Churches of Galatia." What is the meaning of the name "Galatia"? Students are still divided on the question. If the word "Galatia" is used in a popular sense to describe the country inhabited by the Galatai, then it means North Galatia, a district in {151} the extreme north of Asia Minor. It was mainly inhabited by Celts, who came thither from Europe in the 3rd century B.C., and spoke a Celtic language as late as the 2nd and even 4th century after Christ. This language is mentioned by Pausanias, and St. Jerome says that it was a dialect only slightly varying from that used in Gaul by the Treveri. But if the word "Galatia" is used in a political sense, signifying a particular province of the Roman empire, then it means a large area much further south, including Pisidia, Lycaonia, and part of Phrygia. In this province were Pisidian Antioch, Derbe, Iconium, and Lystra, where St. Paul founded Churches in A.D. 47, on his first missionary journey. The latter explanation is almost certainly correct.

No good argument can be brought forward in favour of North Galatia which cannot be balanced by a better argument in favour of South Galatia. For instance, though St. Luke in Acts uses the popular and not the political names for districts, this cannot be urged in favour of St. Paul's adopting the same usage. On the contrary, he uses Asia, Macedonia, and Achaia in their political sense, and so we may suppose that he would do the same in the case of Galatia. Again, though there were in North Galatia Jews who would tempt the converts to Jewish observances, there were Jews in plenty in South Galatia also. And while many writers have said that the Celtic blood of these recalcitrant Christians is proved by the enthusiasm, fickleness, superstition, love of strife, and vanity which St. Paul rebukes, we may reasonably urge that these defects are not confined to the Celts. The Phrygians doted on a sombre and mysterious religion. In heathen times they loved the worship of Cybele, with its exciting ceremonial and cruel mutilations. And when they adopted Christianity, though their morality was generally austere, their credulity was intense. In the 2nd century many of them embraced the new revelations of Montanus, and in the 4th they largely affected the hard Puritanism of Novatian. In religious matters the Celts are very little {152} inclined to fickleness, and their superstitions are more closely connected with dreaminess than with vehemence.

The following facts also deserve attention; (1) It would be strange if Acts gave us no account of Churches in which St. Paul took so much interest. If Galatia be North Galatia, there is no such account in Acts. If it be South Galatia there is, and the polite and natural manner of addressing the inhabitants of the cities of Antioch, Derbe, etc., would be "Galatians." Their bond of union was association in one Roman province. (2) It is improbable that St. Paul would take the very difficult journey necessary for visiting the Celtic Galatians. His usual plan was to travel on Roman high-roads to the big centres of population. North Galatia was both isolated and half-civilized. Also, he says that he visited the Galatians on account of an illness (iv. 13). It is incredible that he would have chosen the long unhealthy journey to North Galatia when he was ill. But it is extremely probable that he left the damp lowlands of Pamphylia for the bracing air of Pisidian Antioch. The malady was probably the malarial neuralgia and fever which are contracted in those lowlands. (3) The Epistle contains technical legal terms for adoption, covenant, and tutor, which seem to be used not in the Roman but in the Greek sense.[1] They would hardly be intelligible except in cities like those of South Galatia where the institutions were mainly Greek.

Assuming that the "Galatians" are those of South Galatia, we note that in Gal. iv. 13 St. Paul speaks of preaching to them "the first time." This first time must be the occasion mentioned in Acts xiii., xiv. The second time is that in Acts xvi. 1-6. The Christians were mainly converts from heathenism (iv. 8; v. 2; vi. 12), but some were no doubt Jews or proselytes. {153} After the second visit of St. Paul, his converts were tampered with. Some Judaizers had put a perverse construction upon his action in promulgating the decrees of the Council of Jerusalem of A.D. 49, and in circumcising Timothy. They urged that St. Paul had thereby acknowledged his inferiority to the other apostles, and practically advocated a return to Jewish ceremonial. Instigated by other Judaizers from Jerusalem, the Galatians had changed their Christianity into a semi-Judaism, and this all the more readily because of their previous familiarity with the Jewish religion.

[Sidenote: Where and when written.]

The place and date are both uncertain. The words, "I marvel that ye are so quickly removing from Him that called you" (i. 6), suggest that it was written not long after the conversion of the Galatians. But we cannot place it, as some writers have done, before 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Its style is allied with that of 1 and 2 Corinthians and Romans. It must be earlier than Romans, as it is like a rough model of that Epistle. If written soon before Romans, it was probably composed at Corinth early in A.D. 56. It may, however, have been written as early as A.D. 52, before St. Paul's third missionary journey.

[Sidenote: Character and Contents.]

The Epistle is intended to recall the Galatians to St. Paul's true gospel. In order to do this, he vindicates his own apostolic authority to preach it, and expounds its great principle—justification by faith, and not by observance of the Jewish law.

After a salutation, without the congratulations which the apostle ordinarily offers, St. Paul expresses his astonishment at their perversion, and vehemently asserts that if any one dares to preach a gospel other than that which the Galatians first received, let him be anathema (i. 1-10). The history of St. Paul's reception of the gospel is then set out. It came to him by revelation of Jesus Christ: this is at once the demonstration of its unique authority, and the decisive fact which settles the relation of St. Paul to the other apostles. He did {154} not receive from them the gospel he preached, and, to emphasize this, St. Paul counts up the various opportunities he had of intercourse with them, and says what use he made of each (i. 11-ii. 10). The best illustration of the independence of his position is the attitude which he adopted towards St. Peter, the prince of the apostles, when at Antioch he deceitfully took the same sort of line with respect to Jewish ceremonial that the Galatians are taking now (ii. 11-13).[2] St. Paul describes the speech he made in opposition to St. Peter, but while he is dictating it, he is carried away by an orator's enthusiasm: he forgets that he is telling the story only of an old debate, and at some points we cannot confidently distinguish the rebuke to St. Peter from the exhortation to the Galatians (ii. 14-21).

Then, still as if he were making a speech, the apostle proceeds to argue as he does later in the Epistle to the Romans. He recalls to the "bewitched" Galatians the happy memories of the days when they first heard of Christ—the out-pouring of the Spirit, the first sharp persecution endured so well. Did not all this happen when they were under the gospel of Faith (iii. 2-5)? The true sons of Abraham are those who accept the gospel (iii. 6-9). On the other hand, the people who still desire to be under the Law can only avoid being under a curse by keeping the whole Law—and this is impossible (iii. 10). God's will is plain: He has said, "The righteous shall live by faith" (iii. 11, 12). Moreover, whatever claim the Law had on us is now discharged by the satisfaction made by Christ (iii. 13, 14). Now St. Paul goes on to show that the promise made by God to Abraham binds Him still. Just as no subsequent transaction can nullify a Greek "covenant," i.e. will, so the Law cannot nullify the earlier promise of God (iii. 15-18).[3] Then he compares the promise made to {155} Abraham with the Law. The latter was a contract, a mutual agreement between two parties involving mutual obligations; if the Jews did not keep the Law, God was not bound to bless them. But in the case of the promise, there is no suggestion of contract. Then, lest his readers should suppose that there was an inconsistency in the fact that God was the Author of both the Law and the promise, St. Paul adds an explanation (iii. 19-22). The Law would have been contrary to the promise if it had been intended to produce the same result as the promise by another method. But, on the contrary, the Law was added as a parenthesis in order to make known transgressions, and with the result that it increased them (iii. 19). Scripture shut up all mankind in the fold of sin, that they might look forward to the reign of faith as the only means of escape. To emphasize further the contrast between the Law and the promise, St. Paul asserts that the Law did not come direct from God to man. It came, as Jewish traditions said, from God and the angels to Moses, the mediator, and from him to the Hebrews. The Law had a mediator, therefore it involved two parties—God and the Hebrew people. But there was no such mediator in the case of the promise. God spoke directly to Abraham. And God in the Person of Christ spoke directly to mankind. Thus the promises are greater and more gracious than the Law. It is important to observe that the argument implies the Divinity of Christ.

Before Faith came, the Law played the part of a Greek "tutor," i.e. a trusted servant who attended a child. He took the child to the house where he was taught, and kept him from harm and mischief. And we, if we wish to be still under the Law, shall be as foolish as a grown-up son who wishes to be under a steward and a guardian. We must leave the mere rudiments of religion now that we have reached a stage at which we have been taught that God is indeed our Father (iii. 23-iv. 11).

St. Paul supports this conclusion from his arguments by a {156} touching appeal, in which he gratefully recalls the kindness he received from the Galatians when he came to them in all the weakness and distress of fever (iv. 12-20). Then he interprets for them the story of Hagar, probably in answer to a reference in a letter which they had sent him (iv. 21-v. 1). The Jew is in bondage like Hagar's child, the Christian is free like Sarah's child.

After this we have another appeal, a medley of exhortation, warning, denunciation, and pathetic entreaty: the apostle, himself so appreciative of great ideas, tries to make the unaspiring Galatians understand that they are called to the perfect freedom which is the service of God (v. 2-26). The Epistle closes with some plain words which the apostle wrote with his own hand in large characters so as to emphasize them for his readers. The motive of the Judaizers is boldly labelled. Then, as if there had been a question of his own humility, he associates himself with the crucified Christ, for whose sake he bears in his flesh the eloquent marks of the Roman rods and the stones of the Jews. It was the cruel custom in Asia Minor, a custom not yet extinct, for masters to wound their slaves with marks which made it impossible for them to escape recognition. And so St. Paul glories in the pitiful scars on his body, because they prove Whose he is and Whom he serves.



Salutation, rebuke (i. 1-10).

(1) St. Paul defends his apostleship: i. 11-ii. 21.—He was called by God in spite of his fanatical Judaism, God's Son was revealed in him, he conferred with no man, but retired to Arabia, then three years after his conversion he stayed fifteen days with Cephas, and afterwards preached in Syria and Cilicia (i.).

Fourteen years after his conversion[4] he again went to Jerusalem "by revelation." False brethren attempted to get Titus circumcised, but in vain. James, Cephas, and John were most friendly to Paul and Barnabas, agreeing that they should go to the Gentiles while remembering the poor in Jerusalem. Cephas rebuked at Antioch by St. Paul (ii.).

(2) St. Paul defends justification by faith: iii. 1-v. 1.—Galatian fickleness, even Abraham was justified by faith, and in the Old Testament the righteous live by faith, the Jewish Law merely a parenthesis between God's promise and its fulfilment, the Law a tutor to bring us to Christ (iii.).

Judaism is the state of a son who is a minor, Christianity is the state of a son who has attained his majority. Why return to the beggarly rudiments of knowledge? The Jew is like the child of Hagar, the Christian is like the child of Sarah (iv.-v. 1).

(3) Practical exhortation: v. 2-vi. 18.—Circumcision useless, freedom and love are the allies of the true Law, the works of the flesh and the fruits of the Spirit (v.). Bearing one another's burdens, supporting our teachers. A conclusion in St. Paul's handwriting (vi.).

[1] The law implied in Gal. iv. 2 is in accordance with Syrian law. If a father died, he left his son under the authority of a steward until he was fourteen, and left his property in the hands of a guardian until he was twenty-five. It is probable that in South Galatia as in Syria this law was made under the reign of the Seleucids.

[2] For the explanation of this quarrel, see p. 121.

[3] The argument about "seeds" and "seed," in iii. 16, looks like a mere verbal quibble in English. But it becomes quite intelligible when we remember that in rabbinical Hebrew the word "seeds" was used in the sense of descendants.

[4] See Gal. ii. 1, "at an interval of fourteen years." This third visit to Jerusalem (the second mentioned here) was in A.D. 49. The verse probably means fourteen years after his conversion, and eleven years after his first visit. If we reckon the fourteen years from his first visit to Jerusalem, the first visit would be in A.D. 33. This will not agree with Acts ix. 25, 26; 2 Cor. xi. 32, which show us that the first visit was made while Aretas ruled at Damascus. Aretas became master of Damascus in A.D. 37.




[Sidenote: The Author.]

The genuineness of this Epistle, like that of Galatians and 1 and 2 Corinthians, is practically undisputed. No one ever seems to have questioned it between the time that Marcion drew up his Apostolicon, about A.D. 140, and A.D. 1792. Before the time of Marcion it is quoted by St. Clement of Rome, St. Ignatius, and St. Polycarp. And there seem to be some reminiscences of it in 1 Peter. It is first definitely mentioned by name in the writings of St. Irenaeus, who quotes it several times. This early and frequent use postulates for the Epistle a very authoritative source. There is no one that we know of among the first Christians who could have written it except St. Paul. What he tells the Romans about his personal wishes and intentions is exactly consonant with what he says elsewhere. The notices that he gives them of his movements perfectly accord with the notices in Acts. The primary conceptions of the Epistle are more or less common to all St. Paul's works. They are concerned with the guilt and the power of sin, the eternal purpose which God has for man, the meaning of Christ's death and the effect of His resurrection, the nature of our acquittal by God and our new spiritual life.

The only serious question with regard to the criticism of the outward letter of the Epistle, is connected with the last two chapters (xv., xvi.). Baur rejected both as spurious compilations, {159} intended to reconcile "Paulinism" with the more Jewish school of early Christian thought. But Baur's habit of pronouncing spurious every book or part of a book which did not agree with his peculiar estimate of St. Paul, is now discredited. In spite of this, many critics think that xv. and xvi. do not belong to this Epistle. They are generally admitted to be by St. Paul, but it is thought that they are simply pages which have become detached from some other writings of the apostle. Chapter xvi. in particular is supposed to be a fragment of an Epistle to Ephesus. It abounds in personal greetings to intimate friends; and yet it is difficult to believe that St. Paul had many friends in Rome before he visited it. And among these friends are Prisca and Aquila (xvi. 3), who certainly stayed at Ephesus, where St. Paul had laboured for two years and must have had many friends. The tone of xvi. 17-20 is thought to imply sectarian divisions which the rest of the Epistle ignores. And the final doxology appears in different places in different MSS., a fact which suggests that the early Church doubted where the Epistle ended. No real importance need be attached to another argument used by some critics, viz. that Marcion omitted xv. and xvi. He would have rejected them, whether genuine or not, on account of the sanction given to the Old Testament in xv. 4.

On the other hand, the integrity of the Epistle is maintained by some of the best recent critics, including Sanday, Zahn, and Godet. The best MSS. place the final doxology in its present position. The fact that the majority of cursive MSS. and some valuable versions, such as the later Syriac and the Armenian, place it at the end of xiv. seems to be accounted for by the fact that the last two chapters were often omitted in the lessons read in church, being considered unimportant for the purposes of general edification. The fact that the Epistle seems to come to an end at xv. 33, and also at xvi. 20, before the final doxology in xvi. 27, suggests the best solution. It is that the apostle, after concluding the argument of the Epistle, made various {160} additions of a personal nature with reference to himself and his friends as they occurred to his mind. He then summed up the whole argument in xvi. 25-27, where the obedience of faith is stated to be the purpose of God's final revelation. The number of friends mentioned in xvi. is not incredibly large when we remember the easy and frequent intercourse which existed between Rome and the east.

[Sidenote: To whom written.]

"To all that are in Rome, beloved by God, called to be saints." It has been well said that the universality of the gospel made St. Paul desire to preach it in the universal city. He longed to "see Rome;" he was conscious that Christ had called him to "bear witness at Rome." He himself had the freedom of the city of Rome, and he was inspired with the hope, which was fulfilled three hundred years afterwards, that the religion of Christ would be the religion of the Roman empire. The territory then ruled by Rome more nearly embraced the whole of the civilized world than any empire that has since been seen. It included London and Toledo, Constantinople and Jerusalem. Roman soldiers kept their watch on the blue Danube, and were planting outposts on the far-off grey Euphrates. The city of Rome itself contained about a million and a half of inhabitants. It was well governed and sumptuously adorned. A real belief in the homely vulgar gods of their forefathers had declined among educated people, and the humane principles of Stoic philosophy were instilling a new regard for the less fortunate classes of mankind. Strange foreign devotions were satisfying some of the yearnings which found no nourishment in the hard old Roman paganism. Men who took no interest in Jupiter were attracted by Mithras, the Eastern god of the light. Women who could obtain no entrance into the exclusive sisterhood of the Vestal Virgins, could find occupation in the worship of the Egyptian Isis. Some vague belief in a Divine One was rising in minds who thought that Jupiter Mithras and Isis were only symbols of a power behind the mists of human wisdom. Jews {161} of all classes were numerous, though the majority were as poor as those of East London. They made some converts, and Poppaea, the mistress of Nero in A.D. 58, dallied with Judaism as with a new sensation. Men and women of every race were included among the slaves of Rome, and the arts and elegance of Greek and Syrian slaves often proved a staircase by which new religions found a way into the chambers of the great and wealthy. In spite of some signs of moral vigour, society was cankered with pride of class and with self-indulgence. It possessed no regenerating force capable of checking the repulsive vice which was encouraged by the obscenity of actors and the frivolity of sceptics.

We are told that "sojourners from Rome," both Jews and proselytes, were in the crowd which listened to St. Peter's address on the Day of Pentecost (Acts ii. 10). It is possible that these men brought news of the gospel to the large body in Rome of Jews, and of Gentiles influenced by Jewish ideas. In any case, communication between the chief cities of the empire was at this time so frequent that we may be sure that the principles and attractions of Christianity were soon heard of at Rome. Gradually a small band formed there of people who were interested and pleased by what they had learnt of Christ; it is probable that St. Paul sent Aquila and Prisca from Ephesus to give them definite instruction. It does not seem that they had been visited by an apostle (xv. 20). The Epistle is addressed to a community consisting of Jews and Gentiles, but the Gentiles are by far the more numerous.

The apostle's claim in ch. i. to address this Church as within the jurisdiction of "the apostle of the Gentiles," his direct appeal to the Gentiles in xi. 13, and the statement of his priestly office exercised over the Gentiles in xv. 16, show that the Church of Rome was Gentile in character. The proper names in the Epistle afford us little indication of the proportion of Jews and Gentiles. The majority of the names are Greek, and four names are Latin; but the Jews of that time, like the {162} Jews of the present day, often passed under Gentile names. We know how the English Jews now disguise Moses as "Moss" Judah as "Leo," and Levi as "Lewis."

The majority of the converts were probably in a humble social position. When St. Paul wrote to the Philippians, there were Christians in the imperial household itself, and it is possible that the Narcissus mentioned in Romans may be the freedman of the Emperor Claudius, put to death in A.D. 54. Ordinary slaves and freedmen seem to have been the principal element among those who were first "called to be saints" at Rome, but before long there were people of good birth and cultured intelligence who turned gladly from the lifeless old Roman religion and the fantastic new-fashioned Eastern cults to this original faith in the incarnate God.

[Sidenote: Where and when written.]

St. Paul wrote this letter towards the end of his stay at Corinth, at the close of A.D. 55 or the beginning of A.D. 56 (see xvi. 1; xv. 23-26, and Acts xix. 21).

[Sidenote: Character and Contents.]

St. Paul writes as the apostle of the Gentiles to the Christians of the greatest of all Gentile cities. He does so with a solemn sense of special responsibility. Profoundly impressed with the grandeur of the Roman name, the position of this promiscuous little body of converts is to him enormously significant. They are the representatives of the faith of Jesus in the capital of the world; they are the first members of a Church to which God seems to give the most magnificent of all opportunities. And the thought is scarcely absent from his mind that this may be the last Epistle he will ever send. He is going to Jerusalem, and has a sad foreboding of what may await him there (xv. 31).

The manner and style which give the Epistle a unique place among the works of St. Paul are caused by these considerations. He wishes to tell the Roman Christians his very best ideas in the very best way: this may be his last chance of doing so. He puts aside, then, all clamour of personal debate, and sets {163} himself to produce an ordered theological treatise. Never elsewhere does the apostle write with so careful method, so powerful concentration, so effective marshalling of arguments, so stirring yet measured eloquence.

The Epistle opens with a brief introduction. Paul, the apostle of Christ, wishes to preach the gospel to those in Rome whom Christ has called. Then he begins at once to describe the set of circumstances which the gospel is intended to meet. The Gentiles have not been true to such knowledge as they had of God, and by an inevitable process they have passed on to unnatural and vicious excess (i. 18-32). And when St. Paul turns to the Jews, he finds they are in no better case. With fuller knowledge they have sinned scarcely less. Strict justice will be meted out by God to all, the Jew coming first and then the Gentile. The Gentile will not escape, for the Gentiles, whom we conceive of as having no law, have a law in that moral sense which makes them instinctively put in practice the precepts of the Law, and their inward thoughts accuse or defend them (ii. 1-16). The Jew may boast of his Law and his knowledge of revelation, but he is no better in practice than a Gentile. And as for his circumcision, it is worthless unless he is also spiritually circumcised in the heart (ii. 17-29).

After a parenthetical discussion of difficulties suggested by a possible Jewish opponent (iii. 1-8), St. Paul shows that the Jews are not in a worse case than the Gentiles. Both are under the dominion of sin, and Scripture says so. The whole system of Law is a failure. Law does nothing but give a clear knowledge of sin (iii. 9-20).

St. Paul then brings forward his great remedy—the answer of God to the need which is represented by universal human sinfulness. Man has failed to correspond to the suggestions of conscience, he has failed to fulfil the requirements of the written Law, but now he may come into a right relation with God by identifying himself with Jesus Christ. He may be justified (i.e. accepted as righteous) by an act of God's grace (i.e. by an {164} undeserved act of God's love) on account of the redemption wrought by Christ, whom God has set forth as a propitiation to show His own righteousness. God could no longer allow man to mistake His patience with our sins for slack indifference. Man must no longer seek to be justified before God on the strength of what he himself has done, but on the strength of his faith in Christ, i.e. his devoted personal adhesion to Christ (iii. 21-26). St. Paul tells the Romans that this justifying faith excludes glorying, can be realized by Gentile as well as Jew; that by it we establish the Law (iii. 27-31), as the Jewish dispensation, rightly understood, testifies to its necessity. In fact, Abraham himself was justified by faith (iv.) Then St. Paul sets forth in glowing and stately words what are the consequences for us which follow from being so justified. We are at peace with God, and share in His love, and this is the secure ground of Christian hope for life and after death (v. 1-11). The effects of Christ's death are computed by an argumentum a fortiori from the results of Adam's fall (v. 12-21).

The apostle now carefully refutes the notion that the doctrine of justification by faith encourages Antinomianism. Liberty does not mean licence. St. Paul was quite alive to the fact that skilful opponents and brainless admirers would misrepresent his doctrine, which was also Christ's. He therefore takes great pains to show that the connection between the righteousness of Christ and the righteousness of a Christian is not arbitrary or fictitious. His argument throughout implies that man actually receives "the righteousness of God," that is, the righteousness which is inherent in God, and is bestowed by God upon man when he unites himself with Christ (vi.-viii.).

Shall I go on sinning that God's mercy may be all the greater in forgiving me? God forbid: for when I went down into the waters of baptism, I shared in the death of Christ; and when I rose from them, I rose as a sharer in His risen life. Because I am united thus to the life of Christ, sin is foreign to my nature (vi. 1-14). I am no longer under law, but under grace: but {165} to be the slave of sin and be occupied with uncleanness, and to gain the wages of death, is inconsistent with being the slave of righteousness, occupied in a course of purification and rewarded with the gift of life (vi. 15-23).

Next, St. Paul asks why it is that we are no longer under the Law? Because we have no connection with that state of sin to which the Law was applicable. Our soul is like a wife whose lawful husband is dead. Or, to put the truth into another form, our old state was killed by our identification with Christ crucified, and we are espoused to Christ risen (vii. 1-6). What, then, shall we think of the Law? Is it sin? No. It reveals the sinfulness of sin, and it irritates dormant sin into activity. A thing cannot be identical with another thing which it exposes and irritates. But why did God permit the Law, which is holy, to prove fatal to my soul (vii. 13)? He did not. The Law was not fatal, though sin was all but fatal. Sin was permitted to do its worst that its real hideousness might be apparent. This is what took place. The Law gave me an ideal, but my better self, which corresponds to the Law, could not keep me from ding wrong or make me do right. I became involved in a terrible conflict. This was the opportunity of Christ. He has delivered me from that state of the body which involved me in sin and death. Without Him, I should still be serving the Law of God with my conscience, and the law of sin with my body (vii. 25).

Where the Law of Moses failed, Christ splendidly succeeds. He not only sets before men an ideal, but also helps them to attain it, and fulfil the righteous claims of the moral Law, by uniting Himself with them by the Spirit (viii. 1-10). Men are now in a new relation to God: they call Him Father, He sees in them His sons. Though with all creation we wait still in fruitful pain for the fulness of redemption, we wait with confident hope. The Spirit is with us to help and to pray, we remember God's high purpose for us, we have known His love in the past, Jesus in infinite exaltation is interceding for us; {166} who, then, shall ever be able to separate us from the love of God (viii. 11-39)?

St. Paul turns now to a parenthetical discussion which necessarily suggests itself here. It has practically happened that God's own people, the children of Abraham, in spite of their privileges, are excluded from this new salvation which comes from acceptance of Christ. This does not mean that God has been unfaithful. St. Paul vindicates His action toward them, and he shows that it has been consistent with His previous action towards the Israelites (ix. 6-13), righteous (ix. 14-21), and merciful (ix. 22-29). God has always shown that He is free to select whom he likes to carry out His purpose in the world.[1] The Jews are rejected because they seek to be justified, on the strength of their own works (ix. 30-33; x. 1-3): now, the method of the Law has been superseded by Christ's, which is an easier method (x. 4-10) and universal (x. 11-13). And the Jews have had every opportunity for hearing of it (x. 14-21). But God has not rejected them entirely or finally (xi. 1-10); and if their fall has led to the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles, how much more happily fruitful will be their reception into the Church (xi. 11-15)! We may hope for this ultimate acceptance of the gospel by both Jew and Gentile because of the original holiness of the Jewish stock. The Gentiles are grafted into that: just as we may be cut off from it if we sin, so the Jews more easily may be grafted in again if they will (xi. 16-24). St. Paul now shows how the hardening of the Jews and the disobedience of the Gentiles alike have served the purposes of God. Israel as a nation shall be saved by the Messiah. The chapter closes {167} with words of reverent admiration for the wonderful workings of the Divine Providence (xi. 25-36).

After this long doctrinal argument, St. Paul insists upon certain practical duties (xii.-xv. 13). We may notice in xiii. 2 ff. the emphasis which is laid upon the dignity of the civil government, a dignity which was immeasurably degraded ten years later by the wanton persecution of the Roman Christians. And xiii. 13 is a verse ever to be remembered by the Church as the verse by which God brought Augustine from free thinking and licentious living to be numbered among the saints. In xiv. begins some considerate advice about certain Christians "weak in faith." They seem to have formed a party, but not a party which can be identified with any other religious clique mentioned by the apostle. Their vegetarianism and their observance of particular holy days have suggested the theory that they were Christians who followed the ascetic practices of the Jewish sect of Essenes. The theory that they were Gentiles who affected the customs of the Pythagoreans has commended itself to other writers. On the whole, the number of Jews in Rome supports the theory that these were Jewish Christians. St. Paul deals very tenderly with these total abstainers from meat and wine. He evidently does not put them on the same level as the sectaries of Galatia or Colossae.

The Epistle closes with various references to personal matters, including the expression of a desire to visit Spain and Rome (xv. 34).



Salutation and introduction (i. 1-15).

(1) DOCTRINAL.—The subject of the Epistle. How is righteousness to be attained? Not by man's work, but by God's gift, through faith, i.e. personal attachment to Christ (i. 16, 17).

A. Righteousness as a state of man in the sight of God (Justification): i. 18-v. 21.

a. Righteousness was never attained before Christ came. The Gentiles neglected their conscience until they sank into abominable sins; future judgment will certainly come on all men without respect of persons; the Jews, too, have no right to criticize the Gentiles—they had the Law of Moses, while the Gentiles only had the unwritten law of conscience, yet they failed. The Jewish quibble that there was no good in being a Jew if God condemned him, is refuted. The witness of the Old Testament to the universality of sin is quoted (i. 18-iii. 20).

b. Exposition of the new method of attaining righteousness. It is independent of the Law, is universal, is obtainable through Christ's death which manifests God's righteousness. This method excludes human boasting, and can be experienced by Jew and Gentile alike (iii. 21-31).

c. The relation of this new method to the Old Testament. Abraham, the typical saint of the Old Testament, was not justified because of works, or circumcision, or law. His faith shows that the Old Testament supports the Christian method of salvation (iv.).

d. The blessed state of the justified Christian. He is filled with hope, and this hope is guaranteed by the proved love of God. What a contrast between this blessedness and the effects of Adam's fall! The work of Christ resembles that of Adam, because it passes from one man to all men: it differs greatly, because Adam's fall brought sin, our condemnation, our death. Christ's gift brings grace, our acquittal, our life. The Fall brought sin, Law increased sin; Grace is greater than sin (v.).


B. Righteousness as necessarily involving moral progress (Sanctification); vi.-viii.

a. Refutation of the theory that we may continue to sin in order to give God fresh opportunities of displaying His lovingkindness. Our baptism implies union with the sinless Christ. Refutation of the theory that we may as well sin as not sin because we are no longer under the Law. Our marriage to Christ must be fruitful (vi. 1-vii. 6). The Law is not to be disparaged, though it is impotent to rescue me in the terrible moral conflict under which I should suffer, if it were not for Christ (vii. 6-25).

B. Where the Law of Moses failed, the incarnation of Christ succeeds. The life of Christian righteousness is ruled by the Holy Spirit. It implies filial confidence in God, a glorious inheritance, divine assistance, inviolable security (viii.).

C. The problem raised by the fate of the Jews: ix.-xi.

a. Their rejection from their privileged position a sad contrast to their high destiny; the entire justice of God in forming a new Israel of Jews and Gentiles alike (ix.).

b. The cause of their rejection was that they sought to be justified in their own way and not in God's way, and this in spite of Christian opportunities and prophetic warnings (x.).

c. Consolations which qualify the severity of their fate. Their unbelief is only partial and temporary, and God's purpose is to restore all. Doxology (xi.).

(2) PRACTICAL.—The Christian sacrifice, and the duties of a Christian (xii.). Church and State, the law of love, the approaching judgment (xiii.).

Toleration for weak and eccentric Christians; vegetarians, observers of private holy days and total abstainers, not to be disturbed; we must do nothing that makes a brother stumble. Christ pleased not Himself; He was both a minister of the circumcision and the hope of the Gentiles (xiv. 1-xv. 13).

Personal conclusion (xv. 14-xvi. 27).

[1] The Calvinistic doctrine of predestination, as taught in the writings of Calvin and in the Presbyterian Westminster Confession, is a complete perversion of St. Paul's teaching. Calvin teaches a predestination to heaven or hell; St. Paul here speaks of an appointment to certain duties on earth. The Calvinists asserted that some men "cannot be saved;" St. Paul teaches that God so acted "in order that He might have mercy upon all" (xi. 32).





[Sidenote: The Author.]

There is no good reason for doubting that this beautiful Epistle is the work of St. Paul. It is full of Pauline thought, and is well attested by external evidence. It is apparently quoted in the very ancient work known as the Epistle of Barnabas, and Justin Martyr quotes the title of Christ "the firstborn of all creation" (Col. i. 15). It is included in Marcion's canon and in the Muratorian Fragment, as well as in the Old Latin and Peshitta Syriac versions. The notion that it is only a weak reflection of Ephesians seems incredible, for neither of the two Epistles is appreciably inferior to the other, and in each one there are several unique passages which represent as high a level of intellectual and spiritual attainment as the passages which are in some degree common to the two. Moreover, we cannot trace any definite method according to which the one writing has been used for the other, and destructive critics have only destroyed one another's arguments in their attempts to show which of the two Epistles is genuine, or why they both are forged. It is also important to consider the association of this Epistle with that to Philemon: the transparent genuineness of the latter makes it practically certain that Colossians is genuine as well.

Objections to the authenticity of Colossians have been {171} steadily growing fainter. It was denied by Mayerhoff in 1838, and by the whole Tuebingen school, in spite of very strong external evidence. (1) The heresy opposed by St. Paul was said to be a form of 2nd-century Gnosticism; but the affinities which it shows with Judaism point rather to the 1st century. (2) There are a large number of words which St. Paul uses nowhere else, thirty-four being found in no other part of the New Testament; but several of these words are called forth by the special error which St. Paul rebukes, and the Epistle does contain eleven Pauline words used by no other New Testament writer. (3) The doctrine has been declared to be not Pauline, but a further development of St. Paul's doctrine of the dignity of Christ. This objection rests entirely on the hypothesis that Jesus Christ was not God, but was gradually deified by successive generations of His followers. The critics who declared that no apostle believed Christ to be more than an ideal or half-divine man, and said that St. John's writings are forgeries of the 2nd century, described the doctrine of Colossians as a transition from the true Pauline doctrine to the doctrine of the Logos contained in the fourth Gospel. But St. Paul states nothing about Christ in this Epistle which is not implied in earlier Epistles. He only makes fresh statements of truth in view of fresh errors.

[Sidenote: To whom written.]

Colossae was the least important town to which any Epistle of St. Paul which now remains was addressed. The place was on the river Lycus in Phrygia, about ten miles from Laodicea and thirteen from Hierapolis, and thus the three towns were the sphere of the missionary work of the Colossian Epaphras (Col. iv. 12, 13). Colossae had been flourishing enough in the time of Herodotus, but now, overshadowed by greater neighbours—Laodicea, Hierapolis, and Chonae—and perhaps shaken by recurring earthquakes, it was sinking fast into decay. Still it derived importance from its situation on the great main road which connected Rome with the eastern provinces, the road by {172} which Xerxes had led his great armament against Greece. And as the people had a special way of their own for producing a rich dye named Colossinus, it retained a fair amount of trade. We may account for the presence of Jews at Colossae which is suggested in the Epistle, by remembering its convenient position and its trade speciality. The people were mainly the descendants of Greek settlers and Phrygian natives, and the intellectual atmosphere was the same as that of which we have evidence in other parts of Asia Minor: every one was infected with the Greek keenness for subtle speculation, and the usual Phrygian tendency to superstition and fanaticism. Thirteen miles away, at Hierapolis, was growing into manhood the slave Epictetus, who later on will set out some of the most noble and lofty of pagan thoughts. The persistent love of the people of this neighbourhood for the angel-worship which St. Paul rebukes, is illustrated by the facts that in the 4th century a Church Council at Laodicea condemned the worship of angels, and that, in spite of this, in the 9th and 10th centuries the district was the centre of the worship of St. Michael, who was believed to have opened the chasm of the Lycus, and so saved the people of Chonae from an inundation.

Colossae, being exposed to the raids of the Moslem Saracens, disappeared from history in the 8th century.

The Church at Colossae was not founded by St. Paul, and he was not personally acquainted with it (Col. ii. 1). But we can hardly go so far as to say that he had never seen the town at all.

[Sidenote: Where and when written.]

St. Paul sent this letter, together with that to Philemon and the circular which we call "Ephesians," by Tychicus from Rome, probably in A.D. 60. He alludes to his imprisonment twice incidentally, and again with pathetic simplicity in the postscript added by his own hand, "Remember my bonds."

[Sidenote: Character and Contents.]

Some difficulties are connected with the heresy taught by the religious agitators at Colossae. It is plain that their {173} teaching affected both doctrine and practice. They appealed to visions and a knowledge of the celestial world (ii. 18), and therefore set up a worship of angels which tended to thrust Christ from His true position in the creed of the Church. They treated the body with unsparing severity (ii. 23), they abstained from meat and drink, and paid a punctilious attention to festivals, new moons, and sabbaths (ii. 16). St. Paul calls these practices "material rudiments" (ii. 8), elementary methods now superseded by faith in Christ. Moreover, it is almost certain that literal circumcision was practised (ii. 11). These things point to Judaism. And yet St. Paul does not seem to be rebuking a return to the Judaism of the Old Testament. He could hardly have described a compliance with Old Testament injunctions as an "arbitrary religion" and "doctrines of men" (ii. 1, 22, 23). It might be Pharisaism, but if we look in the direction of Judaism, it is most natural that we should think of a Judaism resembling that of the Essenes. The Essenes were vegetarians, they avoided wine, they kept the sabbath with special scrupulousness, and had some secret teaching about the angels. These resemblances have tempted some commentators to identify the false teachers with the Essenes. But there is nothing to prove that the Essenes worshipped the angels, and St. Paul makes no mention of the Essene veneration for the sun, or their monastic life, or their elaborate process of initiation. Besides this, the principal community of Essenes dwelt by the Dead Sea, and it is very doubtful if any existed in Asia Minor.

It is best to confess our ignorance. All that we can say is that the scruple-mongers at Colossae taught doctrines which had points of contact with Essenism. They employed some affected interpretation of the Old Testament. They also were influenced by heathenism in their conception of half-divine beings intermediate between God and the world. How far they held any definitely dualistic view of matter we cannot tell. {174} But their system was a mischievous theosophy, which they endeavoured to popularize under catchwords like "wisdom" and "philosophy." The fact that there was at this time such a widespread tendency to adopt an exaggerated asceticism and theories about mediatorial spirits, makes it unnecessary to suppose that the Colossian heresy need be affiliated to any particular school of speculation.

The Epistle consists mainly of a more or less indirect argument against the insidious "philosophy" of the heretics, with an exhortation and personal notes.

Perhaps we account most naturally for the broken order and lax coherence of this letter, by the suggestion that, as St. Paul dictated it, there was present with him a sense of almost nervous hesitation. He has exactly a gentleman's reluctance to do an ungracious action: while he knows that it is his duty to warn the Colossians of a serious danger, he knows that unless he does so with much tactful delicacy, they will resent his interference. So he begins by saying what polite things he can about them, and instead of going on at once to talk of the heresy, he first says with plain significance that he perpetually prays for their perfection in knowledge, activity, and constancy. An incidental allusion to God's method for human salvation gives St. Paul an opportunity for making a digression—one of the most important statements in the New Testament—concerning the nature and work of Christ (i. 14-20). He shows the Colossians what views they ought to hold concerning Him. This would keep them from giving to the angels what is due to Christ alone. Christ is the Redeemer. He was born prior to all creation, even the angels, and all creation coheres through union with Him (i. 15-17). He is the Head of the Church in virtue of His resurrection, and as embodying the full number of divine attributes (i. 18, 19). He is the Saviour of angels and men by His death, and in this salvation the Colossians ought to share (i. 20-23).

It seems that now he will deal with the heresy, but again he {175} postpones it. He breaks in with a digression of a pastoral character. He speaks of his commission to preach (i. 24-29), his anxiety even for Churches that he has never visited (ii. 1-5), and he exhorts the Colossians to continue in their original faith (ii. 6, 7).

At last he enters upon the main business of the Epistle and begins dogmatic controversy. After a warning against spurious philosophy, he asserts that Christ is the sole incarnation of Deity, to whom all spirits are subject (ii. 9, 10). This is the true doctrine: God has not divided His attributes among a group of angels; all are to be found in Christ. And the true method of salvation is simply that union with Christ which begins with baptism, the Christian's circumcision. In it we receive that forgiveness which was won for us when Christ died, and both blotted out the Law and triumphed over evil angels (ii. 13-15). The apostle then directly condemns the practices of the false teachers—their anxious and mechanical conduct with regard to food and seasons, their intrusion into celestial secrets and their doctrine of angel-worship, their loose hold on Christ the Head, symptoms of an affected humility which is no real check against the indulgence of the flesh (ii. 16-23).

He then turns to practical exhortation. In the bracing words made familiar to us by the Epistle for Easter Day, St. Paul bids the Colossians leave the gently stimulating exercise of intellectual theorizing and listen to the stern demands made by Christ on life and character. They have risen to a life hid with Christ in God; they must make dead the faculties of sensual action, angry thinking, and evil speaking: this is implied in forsaking heathenism for the universal Christ (iii. 1-11). Live quietly in peace and love, show a gracious life in a gracious worship, consecrate your words and deeds by doing all in the name of the Lord Jesus (iii. 12-17).

Then the special duties of wives and husbands, children and fathers, slaves and masters, are dealt with. Prayer and thanksgiving are enjoined on all alike, and the Christians are bidden {176} to "buy up the opportunity" of furthering the cause of God in their dealings with the outer world, having their speech seasoned with the salt of wholesome wisdom (iii. 18-iv. 6). A few words are said about Tychicus, Onesimus, and other friends, including "Luke, the beloved physician," and the Epistle ends with a farewell which St. Paul wrote with his own hand. Before writing it, the apostle directs that this letter should be read at Laodicea, and that the Colossians should procure another letter which had been left in that city. This was probably the so-called Epistle to the Ephesians.


Salutation, thanksgiving, the apostle's prayer for the readers (i. 1-13).

Christ, who redeemed us, is pre-eminent in Person, being the Head of the natural creation, and of the spiritual creation, because the sum of divine attributes dwells in Him (i. 14-19). He is pre-eminent in work, having reconciled us to God (i. 20-23).

St. Paul's own commission and his anxiety (i. 24-ii. 7). Warning against the delusion of a false philosophy. The "fulness" is in Christ, therefore the Colossians must avoid semi-Jewish practices and also avoid the worship of angels (ii. 8-19). The converts have died with Christ to their old life and earthly ordinances (ii. 20-25).

The converts have risen with Christ to a new life and heavenly principles, vices must be made dead, virtues must be put on (iii. 1-17).

Obligations of wives and husbands, children and parents, slaves and masters (iii. 18-iv. 1).

The duty of prayer and thanksgiving, and right behaviour towards the unconverted (iv. 2-6).

Personal conclusion, and a message relating to an Epistle from Laodicea (iv. 7-18).



[Sidenote: The Author.]

The genuineness of this winning little letter could never be doubted except by the most dryasdust of pedants. It is no proof of acuteness to detect the artifice of a forger in its earnest simplicity, its thoughtful tact, and affectionate anxiety. There is about it a vivacity and directness which at once and decisively stamp it as genuine. And external evidence shows that it was included in the earliest lists of St. Paul's Epistles. It was accepted by Marcion, included in the Muratorian Fragment, and expressly attributed to St. Paul by Origen. It shows a number of coincidences with Colossians, Ephesians, and Philippians, and it is especially connected with Colossians by the proper names which it contains, such as Archippus, Aristarchus, Mark, and Luke. No evidence exists to show that any early Christians denied this Epistle to be by St. Paul. But it does appear that some of them half disliked its inclusion in the Canon, thinking it too trivial to be numbered with the Scriptures. To modern readers it manifests a great treatment of little things, which is one of the surest proofs of inspiration.

[Sidenote: To whom written.]

The Epistle is addressed to Philemon, a substantial citizen of Colossae. He has been converted by St. Paul, who writes with deep appreciation of his faith in Christ, and of the kindness that he has shown to the saints. He gives him the honourable title of "fellow-worker." Religious services and the social gatherings of Christians are held in Philemon's house.

[Sidenote: Where and when written.]

This Epistle was written during St. Paul's first imprisonment in Rome, A.D. 59-61. In ver. 10 St. Paul alludes to his "bonds."

[Sidenote: Character and Contents.]

Philemon had a Phrygian slave named Onesimus, who first {178} robbed him and then ran away. Onesimus was able without much difficulty to get to Rome, and here he met the apostle, who received him into the Church. The young convert served him with such eager willingness that St. Paul would have been glad to keep him with him, but he decides to send him back to Philemon with this letter to ensure his forgiveness.

We have, therefore, in this letter a picture of St. Paul in a new relation. There is no other letter in the New Testament of such a private nature except 3 John. The great apostle of the Gentiles is taking his pen to provide a dishonest runaway slave with a note that shall shield him from the just anger of his master. He writes both with a strong sense of justice and with his own perfect diplomatic instinct. The letter is at once authoritative, confident, and most gentle. He does not command or insist, yet it is quite clear that Philemon must do just what he asks. There is no violent attack upon slavery as an institution. Any such attack would have been both foolish and criminal. For it would have encouraged slaves to make Christianity a cloak for revolt, and precipitated horrors far worse than those which it could have professed to remove. But St. Paul asserts a principle which will eventually prove fatal to slavery. When he tells Philemon to receive Onesimus "as a brother beloved," he is really saying that our estimate of men must not be based on their social class, but rather on their relation to God.

This letter has been compared with a letter written under similar circumstances by the younger Pliny, one of the best of the pagan gentlemen of Rome. But while the letter of Pliny is more elegant in language, the letter of St. Paul is a finer masterpiece of feeling. A Roman slave was still allowed no rights and no family relationship, and for the smallest offence he might be tortured and killed. In the next century the Emperor Hadrian first took away from masters the power of life and death over their slaves, and it was not until the time {179} of the Emperor Constantine, who established Christianity, that the laws affecting slavery pointed to the future triumph of emancipation. But the ancient conception of slavery was doomed as soon as "slave-girls like Blandina in Gaul, or Felicitas in Africa, having won for themselves the crown of martyrdom, were celebrated in the festivals of the Church with honours denied to the most powerful and noblest born of mankind." [1]


Salutation from Paul and Timothy to Philemon and Apphia (? wife), to Archippus and the Church in Philemon's house; thanksgiving for Philemon's faith; a plea for the pardon of Onesimus, St. Paul promises to be responsible for what was stolen; a lodging to be prepared for St. Paul; concluding salutations, benediction.

[1] Lightfoot, Colossians and Philemon, p. 325.




[Sidenote: The Author.]

The Pauline authorship of this Epistle is well attested by external evidence. Before 150 we have proof of its wide use among both heretics and Catholics; it is quoted probably by St. Clement and St. Polycarp, and some of its characteristic ideas are to be found in a more developed form in the Shepherd of Hermas. There is one clear reference to it in St. Ignatius, and two other possible references. We trace an interesting connection between the thought of this Epistle and that of the Revelation and the Gospel of St. John (e.g. ch. xvii.) and the First Epistle of St. Peter. Perhaps we may account for it by accepting Renan's suggestion that St. Peter, St. John, and St. Paul were in Rome together. The strongest argument for the Pauline authorship lies in the undesigned coincidences between Ephesians and Romans. In both we notice the same courtesy of manner and sensitive frankness, the same setting forth of God's method of salvation, the same valuation of the relative position of Jews and Gentiles, and of their union in Jesus Christ; the same thought of God's eternal and unchanging purpose very gradually revealed, and extending in its ultimate operation to all creation. It has been well said that the Epistle to the Ephesians is required to give completeness to the argument of Rom. xv. Though we do not find here the controversial reasoning of the earlier Epistle, we have some of those characteristic passages in which the {181} writer, carried away by emotion, leaves statement for prayer or praise (cf. Rom. xi. 33 and Eph. iii. 20). We have, indeed, in this Epistle evidence which points to a date later than that of some of his Epistles. We miss the expectation of Christ's immediate coming; the Gentiles are now quite secure in the Church; there is proof of the growth of Christian hymns (v. 14, 19). But the names of the ministers of the Church seem very primitive, the words "presbyter" and episkopos not being mentioned. And words such as "worlds," "fulness," "generations," which were used in a special sense by the Gnostics of the 2nd century, are here used in an earlier and less technical meaning.

It has been argued that Ephesians is a forged imitation of Colossians, because about half of its verses have parallels in Colossians. This argument has broken down, since it has been shown that it is equally easy to prove that Colossians is based upon Ephesians. And there is nothing strange in the idea that St. Paul wrote two similar letters at the same time to Churches in similar difficulties. The two Epistles resemble one another just as two letters written by one man to two different friends during the same week. The phrase "holy apostles" (iii. 5) is also said to be a formula which St. Paul would not have employed. But the word "holy" is used in his writings almost in the sense of "Christian;" it signifies consecration rather than personal perfection. There would, therefore, be no vanity in the apostle applying such a title to himself. The attempt to make the style furnish an argument against the genuineness of the Epistle has also failed. There are thirty-two words used only in this Epistle, but there are also eighteen which are found in Pauline Epistles and not elsewhere in the New Testament. The assumption of some sceptical writers that an apostle must have been too unintelligent to enrich his vocabulary, scarcely deserves serious examination. No one would think of applying the same rule to a Greek classical writer, and if he attempted to do so, he would find that Xenophon varies his language as much as St. Paul.


The real reason why the authenticity of this Epistle has been attacked is this. Ephesians teaches that the Church is a universal society, visibly united by baptism and the ministry, embracing Jew and Gentile on equal terms. But, according to Baur, this conception of the Church is a product of the 2nd century. He assumed that St. Paul could not include the twelve under the name of the "holy apostles," or teach a Catholic doctrine of the Church.[1] The present school of rationalists is inclining to admit that Ephesians is genuine. But it is hard to see how they will be able to do this without also admitting that the Epistle implies that the other "holy apostles" held, like St. Paul, that Christ is divine.

[Sidenote: To whom written.]

It is almost certainly not primarily a letter to Ephesus, but a circular letter to several Churches in Asia Minor.

In i. 1 we read the words "to the saints which are in Ephesus." But the words "in Ephesus" are omitted in the two great MSS. K and B. Origen also implies that these words were absent in some MSS., and St. Basil definitely says so. And as the Epistle contains no salutation to any individual, it is difficult to imagine that it was specially addressed to Ephesus, where St. Paul's friends were numerous and dear (see Acts xx. 17-38). In some passages St. Paul speaks as if he and those to whom he writes knew each other only through third persons (i. 15; iii. 2). This suggests that the Epistle was written primarily to a Church like that of Colossae which he had never visited.

The probable solution is that it was written to the Christians of Laodicea in the first instance. Tertullian says that Marcion had copies with "Ad Laodicenos" as the title. Now, in this case Marcion had nothing to gain by fraud, and we may therefore suppose that he had honest grounds for using this title. The same title gains some support from Col. ii. 1; iv. 13, 16. The last verse suggests that it was to be passed on from Laodicea. Perhaps several copies of the letter were written at {183} Laodicea, and a blank space left in them for the insertion of the various addresses. No doubt the letter would be forwarded to Ephesus in time.

Laodicea, at present called Eski-Hissar (the "old fortress"), is now utterly deserted. It was probably founded about B.C. 250 by Antiochus II. Theos, and named after his wife Laodike. It was distant eleven miles from Colossae. The population included some Syrians and Jews. It rose to great wealth under the Roman power, and was so rich that when it was destroyed by an earthquake in A.D. 60 it scorned to seek pecuniary aid from the emperor. It was in a central position on the great trade route from the east, and was famous for its banking business, its manufacture of fine garments of black wool, and its "Phrygian powder" for weak eyes. In Rev. iii. 18 there appears to be a veiled allusion to each of these three sources of prosperity. Timothy, Mark, and Epaphras (Col. i. 7) were instrumental in spreading Christianity in this region. Laodicea was the leading bishopric of Phrygia throughout the Christian period.

Ephesus was the capital of the Roman province of Asia. With Antioch in Syria and Alexandria in Egypt, it ranked as one of the greatest cities of the East Mediterranean lands. Planted amid the hills near the mouth of the river Cayster, it was excellently fitted to become a great mart, and was the commercial centre for the whole country on the Roman side of Mount Taurus. The substratum of the population was Asiatic, but the progress and enterprise of the city belonged to the Greeks. There, as in the Florence of the Medici, we find commercial astuteness joined with intense delight in graceful culture. Some of the best work of the greatest Greek sculptors and painters was treasured at Ephesus. A splendid but sensuous worship centred round the gross figure of the goddess Artemis, whose temple was one of the greatest triumphs of ancient art. In the British Museum are preserved some fragments of the old temple built by Croesus, King of Lydia, in B.C. 550. The vast {184} temple which replaced this older structure was built about B.C. 350, with the help of contributions from the whole of Asia. The wealth of the city was increased by the crowds which attended the festivals, and many trades were mainly dependent upon the pilgrims, who required food, victims, images, and shrines. In St. Paul's time the city contained one temple devoted to the worship of a Roman emperor. Ephesus was also a home of magical arts, and was famous for the production of magical formulae known as "Ephesian letters." The actual foundation of the Christian Church in Ephesus may be ascribed to Priscilla and Aquila, whom St. Paul left there on his first visit (Acts xviii. 19), On his return to Ephesus he stayed there for two years (Acts xix. 1, 10), and the opposition of the tradesmen to a creed which affected the vested interests of idolatry was the cause of the riot so vigorously described by St. Luke. Even after the riot the superstitions of the mob were a serious danger to St. Paul (1 Cor. xv. 32; xvi. 9; 2 Cor. i. 8-10). At a later period Ephesus became the residence of St. John.

[Sidenote: Where and when written.]

St. Paul wrote this Epistle during his imprisonment at Rome, which began in A.D. 59 (see iii. 1, 13; iv. 1, vi. 22). Rome is not mentioned in the Epistle, but the connection between Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, and Philippians points to the high probability that they were all written from the same place. This place is much more likely to have been Rome than Caesarea, the only other possible locality. Ephesians was apparently written later than Colossians, for it shows an emphasis on new points of doctrine—the continuity of the Church, the work of the Holy Spirit, the analogy between family life and the Church, and the simile of the spiritual armour.

[Sidenote: Character and Contents.]

The Epistle is of the nature of a sermon, full of closely interlaced doctrinal arguments on the greatness of that one Gospel and that one Church by which all distinctions in mankind are bridged over and salvation is made sure. The writer {185} fears that there will be some lack of unity in the Church, and that the moral tone of his converts will sink. He wishes for a Christianity both Catholic and deep. So he presents his readers with the portrait of a Church predestined before all ages, appointed to last through all ages, in which all men will be united in holiness and love. If Galatians and Corinthians are more vivid, Romans more rich, and Philippians more affectionate, Ephesians gives us St. Paul's most mature and complete picture of Christianity.

St. Paul explains how his Gentile readers came to their present position in the Church. They are not to regard it as a matter of chance. They were called to Christ as the result of an eternal counsel of God. God intended from eternity to adopt them in union with His Son. This intention was now made known, to sum up all things again in Christ (i. 10). The apostle prays for his readers that they may receive enlightenment, and grow in knowledge, particularly concerning the power of God shown in the resurrection and ascension of Christ and his consequent relation to the Church.[2]

The unity of all things in the Son of God is explained in Colossians as having been involved in His creation of them. In Ephesians St. Paul assumes this relation, and shows that it is largely in abeyance through sin. Estrangement has come between man and his God, involving man in death and in the wrath of God (ii. 3-5). A wall of division has also been made between Jew and Gentile (ii. 14). This division was visibly embodied in the Jewish ordinances. But Jew and {186} Gentile alike have now been reconciled to God, and in being reunited with God are reunited with each other. This momentous change was effected by the shedding of Christ's blood on the cross. The readers are to remember that they are being built into God's own habitation, of which Christ is the Corner-Stone (ii. 20).

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse