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THE EPISTLE TO THE GALATIANS.
The argument of this epistle in some measure proves its antiquity. It will hardly be doubted, but that it was written whilst the dispute concerning the circumcision of Gentile converts was fresh in men's minds; for, even supposing it to have been a forgery, the only credible motive that can be assigned for the forgery was to bring the name and authority of the apostle into this controversy. No design could be so insipid, or so unlikely to enter into the thoughts of any man, as to produce an epistle written earnestly and pointedly upon one side of a controversy, when the controversy itself was dead, and the question no longer interesting to any description of readers what
Now the controversy concerning the circumcision of the Gentile Christians was of such a nature that, if it arose at all, it must have arisen in the beginning of Christianity. As Judea was the scene of the Christian history; as the Author and preachers of Christianity were Jews; as the religion itself acknowledged and was founded upon the Jewish religion, in contradistinction to every other religion then professed amongst mankind; it was not to be wondered at, that some of its teachers should carry it out in the world rather as a sect and modification of Judaism than as a separate original revelation; or that they should invite their proselytes to those observations in which they lived themselves. This was likely to happen : but if it did not happen at first;
if, whilst the religion was in the hands of Jewish teachers, no such claim was advanced, no such condition was attempted to be imposed, it is not probable that the doctrine would be started, much less that it should prevail, in any future period. I likewise think, that those pretensions of Judaism were much more likely to be insisted upon, whilst the Jews continued a nation than after their fall and dispersion; whilst Jerusalem and the temple stood than after the destruction brought upon them by the Roman arms, the fatal cessation of the sacrifice and the priesthood, the humiliating loss of their country, and, with it, of the great rites and symbols of their institution. It should seem therefore, from the nature of the subject and the situation of the parties, that this controversy was carried on in the interval between the preaching of Christianity to the Gentiles and the invasion of Titus; and that our present epistle, which was undoubtedly intended to bear a part in this controversy, must be referred to the same period,
But, again, the epistle supposes that certain designing adherents of the Jewish law had crept into the churches of Galatia ; and had been endeavouring, and but too successfully, to persuade the Galatic converts, that they had been taught the new religion imperfectly and at second hand; that the founder of their church himself possessed only an inferior and deputed commission, the seat of truth and authority being in the apostles and elders of Jerusalem; moreover, that whatever he might profess amongst them, he had himself, at other times and in other places, given way to the doctrine of circumcision. The epistle is unintelligible without supposing all this.
Referring therefore to this, as to what had actually passed, we find St. Paul treating so unjust an attempt to undermine his credit, and to introduce amongst his converts a doctrine which he had uniformly reprobated, in terms of great asperity and indignation. And in order to refute the suspicions which had been raised concerning the fidelity of his teaching, as well as to assert the independency and divine original of his mission, we find him appealing to the history of his conversion, to his conduct under it, to the manner in which he had conferred with the apostles when he met with them at Jerusalem : alleging, that so far was his doctrine from being derived from them, or they from exercising any superiority over him, that they had simply assented to what he had already preached amongst the Gentiles, and which preaching was communicated not by them to him, but by himself to them; that he had maintained the liberty of the Gentile church, by opposing, upon one occasion, an apostle to the face, when the timidity of his behaviour seemed to endanger it; that from the first, that all along, that to that hour, he had constantly resisted the claims of Judaism; and that the persecutions which he daily underwent, at the hands or by the instigation of the Jews, and of which he bore in his person the marks and scars, might have been avoided by him, if he had consented to employ his labours in bringing, through the medium of Christianity, converts over to the Jewish institution, for then “would the offence of the cross have ceased.” Now an impostor who had forged the epistle for the purpose
of producing St. Paul's authority in the dispute, which, as hath been observed, is the only credible motive
that can be assigned for the forgery, might have made the apostle deliver his opinion upon the subject in strong and decisive terms, or might have put his name to a train of reasoning and argumentation upon that side of the question which the imposture was intended to recommend. I can allow the possibility of cuch a scheme as that. But for a writer, with this purpose in view, to feign a series of transactions supposed to have passed amongst the Christians of Galatia, and then to counterfeit expressions of anger
and resentment excited by these transactions; to make the apostle travel back into his own history, and into a recital of various passages of his life, some indeed directly, but others obliquely, and others even obscurely bearing upon the point in question ; in a word, to substitute narrative for argument, expostulation and complaint for dogmatic positions and controversial reasoning, in a writing properly controversial, and of which the aim and design was to support one side of a much agitated question—is a method so intricate, and so unlike the methods pursued by all other impostors, as to require very flagrant proofs of imposition to induce us to believe it to be one.
1. That the Epistle to the Galatians, and the Acts of the Apostles, were written without any communication with each other.
2. That the Epistle, though written without any communication with the history, by recital, implication, or reference, bears testimony to many of the facts contained in it.
First. The Epistle, and the Acts of the Apostles, were written without any communication with each other.
To judge of this point we must examine those passages in each, which describe the same transaction; for, if the author of either writing derived his information from the account which he had seen in the other, when he came to speak of the same transaction, he would follow that account. The history of St. Paul, at Damascus, as read in the Acts, and as referred to by the Epistle, forms an instance of this sort. According to the Acts, Paul (after his conversion) was certain days with the “disciples which were at Damascus. And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God. But all that heard him were amazed, and said, Is not this he which destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent; that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests? But Saul increased the more in strength, confounding the Jews which were at Damascus, proving that this is
Christ. And after that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him. But their laying wait was known of Saul; and they watched the gates day and night to kill him. Then the disciples took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket. And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples.” Acts, chap. ix. 19–26.
According to the Epistle, “When it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal his own Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen, immediately