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Of the Occasion of writing the Epistle to the Galatians.
Not long after the Galatians embraced the gospel, certain Jewish Christians, zealous of the law of Moses, came among them and taught them, that unless they were circumcised and obeyed the law, they could not be saved, Gal. v. 2. And so successful were these Jewish zealots in propagating this error, that some of the Galatians actually submitted to be circumcised, Gal. v. 2.-12.
The doctrine of the Judaizers, concerning the necessity of circumcision to men's salvation, the apostle termed another gospel; or rather, he declared it to be no gospel at all, because the Judaizers, utterly ignorant of the nature and efficacy of Christ's death, affirmed that the gospel had no sacrifice for sin ; and that pardon and justification were only to be obtained through the Levitical atonements; for which reason they exhorted the Galatians to be circumcised, that they might be entitled to the benefit of these atonements. However, as they acknowledged Jesus to be a prophet sent of God, and considered his doctrines and precepts as an excellent institute of morality, they did not require the Galatians to renounce the gospel, but exhorted them to join the law with it, that by adopting the expiatory rites of the law, the gospel might be rendered a complete and effectual form of religion.
Some however of the Galatians, better instructed, opposed these errors as contrary to the doctrine of Paul, whom they still respected as their spiritual father. Wherefore the Judaizers, to lessen his credit, represented to the Galatians, that he was none of those who had accompanied Jesus during his ministry on earth, and from that circumstance they inferred that he was no apostle ; or at best an apostle of men ; that he received his commission to preach the gospel from the brethren at Antioch, or from the apostles at Jerusalem; that any knowledge of the gospel which he possessed, had been communicated to him by those who gave him his commission; that very little regard was due to the doctrine of such a teacher; that the apostles who accompanied Christ in his lifetime, being well acquainted with the true nature of the gospel, had a better claim to be followed, especially Peter, James, and John, who, as the false teachers affirmed, themselves obeyed the law, and enjoined it to all, as
Moses, but from their being expressly forbidden by Christ and his apostles. At the death of Christ, the law of Moses was abolished in all its parts, to all mankind as a religious institution, Coloss. ii. 14. note 5. Wherefore, no one is obliged to perform any moral duty, because it was enjoined by Moses, but because it is written on men's hearts, and is enjoined by Christ; who in his gospel hath renewed the moral precepts of the law of Moses, with greater efficacy than they were enjoined to the Jews, having established them on better promises than were held forth in the law.
5. That the brethren of the Gentiles, who were bound by the decree, were the converted proselytes alone, may be argued from the reproof which Paul gave to Peter, for refusing to eat with the Gentiles in Antioch.
After the council, Peter followed Paul to Antioch, and did eat with the Gentiles, before certain persons came from James; but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself. For this Paul blamed him openly, as compelling the Gentiles to Judaize. I ask, Did Paul mean that Peter compelled the Gentiles to observe the four precepts enjoined in the decree? If the decree was general, we cannot doubt that all the converted Gentiles in Antioch were observing these precepts when Peter withdrew from them, and did not need to be compelled to observe them. And if they were not observing them, Peter did right to compel them; and was not to be blamed for so doing. Or, by Peter's compelling the Gentiles to Judaize, did Paul mean, that he compelled them to receive circumcision, and give obedience to the whole law of Moses? This I think no one will affirm, who recollects what Peter and James declared in the council, that that law was not to be put on the necks of the Gentiles. The truth is, the Judaizing to which Peter compelled the Gentiles, by separating himself from them after the council passed their decree, cannot be understood, on the supposition that their decree related to the whole body of the Gentiles : but it may easily be explained, if it related to the converted proselytes only. For when the converts from idolatry began to multiply in Antioch, through the labours of Paul and Barnabas, it is natural to think, that after the council of Jerusalem had bound the converted proselytes to observe the four precepts as formerly, the zealous Jewish believers in Antioch would insist, that the converts from idolatry ought to be put on the same footing with the converted proselytes, and be obliged to obey the four precepts: that the brethren of Antioch consulted James on the question, who it would seem sent them word by their messengers, that the converted idolaters were bound by the decree equally with the proselytes: that the idolatrous Gentiles, rightly instructed by Paul, refused to observe these precepts: and that on their refusal, Peter, who happened to be then in Antioch, withdrew from them; although before the messengers returned from James, he had gone into their houses, and eaten with them. This conduct Paul justly condemned, as a compelling the converts from idolatry to Judaize, that is, to obey the four precepts as necessary to salvation, contrary to the truth of the gospel. For the idolatrous Gentiles, having no connection with the commonwealth of Israel, were under no obligation whatever to obey the law of Moses, and therefore, if any part of that law, was bound on them by Peter, it must have been as a term of salvation, contrary to that freedom from the law of Moses wherewith Christ had made the idolatrous Gentiles free.
These arguments, if I am not mistaken, prove that the brethren of the Gentiles, about whom the apostles and elders in Jerusalem deliberated, and concerning whom they passed their decree, were not converted idolaters, but converted proselytes. And I have been at the more pains to establish this fact, First, Because it shews us that the four precepts enjoined in the decree, were, as they are called in the decree, necessary things to the converted proselytes only; not however as terms of salvation, but to entitle them to those political privileges which were granted to them by the law of Moses, as inhabitants of Canaan ; consequently that these were not religious, but political precepts, whose obligation was confined to the converted proselytes, and expired when that class of men ceased to exist. Secondly, Because this decree, contrary to the intention of those who framed it, affording a plausible pretence to the Judaizers for insisting, that all the Gentile brethren were bound to observe the law of Moses, the right knowledge of the persons who were bound by that decree, will make us sensible that the controversy concerning the obligation of the law of Moses, which rent all the Gentile churches in the first age, was determined by the apostle Paul, according to the mind of his brethren apostles, and according to truth, when he taught, that after the death of Christ, the obligation which lay on the Jews themselves to obey the law of Moses, arose merely from its being the municipal law of Judea.Thirdly, The right knowledge of the purpose for which the four precepts, mentioned in the apostolical decree, were enjoined on the converted proselytes, will convince us, that Paul's practice, with respect to the law of Moses, was perfectly consistent with his doctrine concerning that law, and with the truth of the gospel, which made no alteration in any person's political state. His doctrine was, that every one ought to continue in the political state wherein he had been called. Wherefore, when he exhorted the Jewish converts to continue subject to the law of Moses, it was only because it was the municipal law of Judea, which as good citizens they were bound to obey. For the same reason, he himself always obeyed the law whilst he resided in Judea. And even in the Gentile countries where the Jews were numerous, he observed the distinction of meats and days appointed by Moses, that he might gain the Jews to Christ. And when he came to Jerusalem with the collections, because a report prevailed, Acts xxi. 21. that he taught all the Jews who were among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying, That they ought not lo circumcise their children, neither 10 walk after the customs, he, by the advice of James, assisted certain Nazarites to discharge their vow; and thereby shewed the falsehood of the report which was spread concerning him. The truth is, he no where taught any of the Jews to forsake the law of Moses, but always inculcated the obligation of that law as the law of their state. What he taught was, that no person could be justified by the law of Moses, and that whoever sought salvation by obedience to that law, separated himself from Christ, and was fallen from grace. Wherefore, when he himself obeyed the law, and advised others to do so, it was not as a term of salvation, but merely as a matter of political obligation.
In giving to the assembly of the apostles, and elders, and brethren of the church of Jerusalem, who met to deliberate concerning the circumcision of the converted Gentiles, the appellation of The Council of Jerusalem, I have followed the ancient ecclesiastical writers, who generally gave it that name. Nor is the appellation improper. For though it was inferior to those assemblies, which in after times were dignified with the title of Councils, in this respect, that it was composed of members from one church only, it far surpassed them all in the quality of its members, and in the authority of its decisions. It was composed of all the apostles who were then in Jerusalem, men endowed with the continued inspiration of the Spirit of God; and of the elders of the church of Jerusalem, most, if not all of them,
For by obliging the apostle to produce the evidences of his apostleship, and to relate the history of his life, especially after his conversion, we have obtained the fullest assurance of his being a real apostle, called to the office by Jesus Christ himself, and acknowledged to be an apostle by them who were apostles before him ; consequently we are assured that our faith in the doctrines of the gospel, as taught by him, (and it is he who hath taught the peculiar doctrines of the gospel most fully,) is not built on the credit of men, but on the authority of the Spirit of God, by whom Paul was inspired in the whole of the doctrine which he hath delivered to the world. See Pref. to 2 Corinthians, sect. ii. page 302.
This letter being directed to the churches of Galatia, it was to be read publicly in them all. We may therefore suppose, that it was sent first to the brethren in Ancyra, the chief city of Galatia, with an order to them to communicate it to the other churches in the same manner as the first epistle to the Thessalonians was appointed to be read to all the holy brethren in that city, and in the province of Macedonia. See Prelim. Ess. ü.
I have hinted above, that Titus was the bearer of the epistle to the Galatians. My reasons for that conjecture are, 1. That Titus being a Greck, was greatly interested in the doctrine which this epistle was written to establish, and would willingly undertake the office of carrying it to the Galatians ; more especially as he was mentioned in it by name. 2. Having been present in Jerusalem with Paul at the council, he could by word of mouth attest the things which happened in Jerusalem, to which the .apostle appealed in proof of his own apostleship, and in proof of the doctrine which he uniformly taught. And that doctrine Titus no doubt confirmed, by relating to the Galatians, that Paul resisted the Judaizers in Jerusalem, when they attempted to have Titus himself circumcised.--However, if the reader thinks Titus was not the bearer of this letter, he may suppose it was sent by the person who brought the apostle word of the defection of the Galatian brethren, which occasioned its being written.