CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

9526a07d9f8686ec5667a96cad064ff6

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES

CHAPTER SIX (Lesson CXLIV)

6:11 I decided to pen this closing in my handwriting, and I want you to notice how large the letters are.

EXPOSITION

Now comes the hardest part of the letter, saying goodbye. Although Paul had a scribe for his letter to the Romans,[1] he wanted to write something in this letter with his own hand. It also suggests that Paul’s eyesight was not optimal, and the fact that he wrote in such big letters was because he needed to see what he was writing. In the closing of his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes a similar farewell: I will write these final words of this letter with my hand: if anyone does not love the Lord, let that person be banned. Lord Jesus, come! “May the love and favor of the Lord Jesus the Anointed One rest upon you.” [2]

 It appears that Paul dictated his letter up to this point to a trusted scribe, whose penmanship made the writing more legible. But now Paul puts his stamp on this passionate epistle to the Galatian believers for whom he loved and suffered. His mention of writing in such large letters suggests to some scholars that Paul suffered from poor eyesight. Therefore, he needed to pen magnified letters to see what he was writing. Still, others believe that Paul deliberately wrote in a large script to ensure that the Galatians recognized who endorsed this letter and could distinguish it from the scribe’s handwriting.

Either way, Paul mentions that he autographed all his letters in this manner.[3] By authenticating each parchment with his handwriting, he wants to make sure they end on a personal note. It implies that whatever Paul wrote from that point on in each letter was just between friends. In so doing, Paul offered proof of his affection for them; even though he was currently involved in ministry with a heavy workload, and was spreading the Gospel to others, he still took the time to sit down and dictate this lengthy epistle for their benefit.

COMMENTARY

Robert of Melun states that Paul ended all his Epistles by writing his name with Hebrew letters. It is not possible to ask Robert what manuscripts he saw to come to that conclusion, but since all of Paul Epistles were written in Greek, signing them in Hebrew would have been counterproductive since many of those he wrote to were Gentiles who spoke only Greek.[4]

Early church theologian Thomas Aquinas points out after admonishing the Galatians on how to behave towards people who are living right and being fair; the Apostle Paul decides to personalize his instructions on how to act toward misbelievers and the nonbelievers. Whenever the Apostle wrote anything unfavorable against them, he followed the practice of penning something they could not misinterpret at the end. In this way, it proved that it came from him with full knowledge of its contents. That’s why he says: “The salutation from me, Paul, written with my hand.

 It allowed him, says Aquinas, to have the entire Epistle to the Romans to be written by someone else at his dictation; then, on the last page, he added something in his handwriting. According to this procedure, then, whatever followed from that place on, Paul wrote in his hand. That’s why he says; See what a letter I have written to you with my hand; to the end, namely, that you might firmly believe everything I’ve said. Furthermore, you might obey better, knowing it’s my letter to you. In this same way, ministers should write in their hand, so that what they teach by mouth and manuscript, may be shown by example. That’s also why it is said: “I have etched your name in the palm of my hands,” [5] and it is told of Moses, that he descended from the mountain carrying two stone tablets written by the finger of God.[6] [7]

Cornelius á Lapide gives us a glimpse of biblical interpretation during the Middle Ages. He takes note of Paul’s brief farewell here in verse eleven. From his research, he found that Chrysostom and Theophylact of Ohrid suggest that Paul was telling the Galatians to observe the scribbled letters he formed in his signature, but yet he knew that the Galatian’s love for him was strong enough to excuse his imperfections. Lapide then quotes Augustine that Paul is telling the Galatians to notice that he signed his Epistle with large letters without any fear of the Judaizers. Hillary of Poitiers and others who agree with him believe that it was code for: See what lofty ideas I have put before you. But Jerome says it shows that Paul used a stenographer who wrote the Epistle up until that point, and from here on out, it is Paul’s handwriting. It was Paul’s way of authenticating the genuineness of the Epistle.

But, Lapide says, the best explanation is that this is an allusion to the length of the letter, and a reference to Paul’s affection for the Galatians, which caused him to dispense with the usual scribe and write a long letter with his hand.[8] While it is always interesting to get one’s facts straight using clear, authenticated evidence, summations, and guesses are only worth the ink, it cost to write them. Since it asserts no power on our salvation, it is a matter of these dedicated Bible scholars hoping their guess will be right.

Catholic writer George Haydock shows us that not all the early leaders of the church agreed on this. He tells us, Jerome understands what he is beginning to write, with the rest written by the hand of another. Chrysostom, Theophylactus, and Theodoret speculate that the Apostle Paul wrote the whole epistle in his handwriting, and here excuses himself for writing the Greek letters so large, which were so very different from those of his native language. But Jerome understands that he wrote only this latter part of the epistle, as a testimony that the whole came from him.[9]

However, reformist Martin Luther sees it differently. For him, with these words, the Apostle Paul intends to draw the Galatians’ closer. “I have never,” he is saying, “written such a long letter with my hand to any of the other assemblies of believers.” His other epistles he dictated and only subscribed greetings and his signature with his hand.[10] Luther feels that Paul had an important reason for doing so because the false apostles were trying to draw the Galatians away with their false doctrine.  He hears Paul saying: “The teachers you have now do not seek the glory of the Anointed One and the salvation of your souls, but only their glory. They avoid the Cross. They do not understand what they teach.”

But Paul has no such fear; he glories in the cross because of the drastic and irreversible change it brought to the world of humankind. So, he didn’t want them to have any doubts about this letter that he was sending. John Calvin also subscribes to this concept that Paul wrote this whole epistle in his handwriting, as does John Wesley. However, later commentators have taken this to mean that Paul is referencing his closing, not the entire epistle.[11]

Wesleyan theologian Adam Clarke (1760-1832) agrees that there is an unusual variety of opinions concerning the Apostle’s meaning here in verse eleven. Some think he refers to the whole epistle, others that the largeness of the Greek letters relates only to his closing remarks, and yet others to the inadequacy of the Apostle’s writing. It appears that most of his epistles were written by a stenographer, and simply authenticated with his signature. But the whole Epistle to the Galatians was written by his hand. To say that the Apostle was unskilled in Greek, and especially in the Greek characters, is in Clark’s opinion absurd.

Perhaps they forgot that he was born in Tarsus, a city which, according to Strabo, rivaled both Athens and Alexandria in philosophy, and the arts and sciences; and, therefore, he could not be ignorant of a language which was the very means of conveying all this instruction. His writing the epistle proved uncomplicated since the Greek script he used dominated penmanship in those days. They resemble that character of the Roman alphabet, not Hebrew. Clarke concludes, therefore, that what the Apostle says must be understood as referring to the whole epistle, in all probability the largest he ever wrote with his hand. However, he dictated several, much larger epistles written by his scribe or secretarial assistant.[12]

John Brown (1784-1858) takes verse eleven here as the final section of this letter, and everything written from this point on is in the Apostle Paul’s handwriting. So, everything Paul writes from here to the end is personal for those who know him among the Galatian assemblies of believers. One can surmise that he intended it for those in leadership. Paul doesn’t want them showing off just to make themselves look good. In other words, don’t go around like the high priests in Jerusalem with their elaborate garments adorned with jewelry and gold chains. And also, for those who bought into the Judaizer’s false gospel of adding Jewish rites and rituals including circumcision.[13]

Charles J. Ellicott (1819-1903) responds to the various interpretations of Paul’s statement as to how big the letters of his handwriting are. He believes that the only way to arrive at a meaningful understanding is to look at the meaning of each word. Paul begins with the Greek verb eidō (“see what” – NIV), which means “to perceive with the eyes.” So, it does not imply an up-close inspection of one letter but to what one perceives in reading. Then comes the Greek pronoun pēlikos, which refers to expansive or large. It is only used once again by the writer of Hebrews, who said, “Now consider how great this man was” – speaking of Abraham.

So, it can also mean qualitative as well as quantitative. It leaves open the door in understanding whether Paul refers to the size of the letters or the length of the epistle. Finally, we have the Greek verb graphō, which refers to the size of the individual letters which form a word or sentence. Elsewhere in Scriptures using this Greek verb, the standard English translation is “written.” Therefore, Paul is not intimating his signature, but his handwriting.

The only thing left to consider is whether Paul refers to words written up to this point, or inscribed from here on out? It would seem odd for Paul to preface what he’s about to write with such a notice. It looks more natural when it ends what he has already written.[14] That’s why the KJV translates the Greek verb graphō as “have written,” and the NIV, “as I write,” and the NEBam now writing.” [15]

[1] Romans 16:22

[2] 1 Corinthians 16:21-23

[3] See Colossians 4:18; Philemon 1:19; 2 Thessalonians 3:17-18; and Philippians 19

[4] Robert of Melun: On Galatians, op. cit., (Kindle Location 1737)

[5] Isaiah 49:16

[6] Exodus, Chapter 32

[7] Aquinas, Thomas: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[8] À Lapide, Cornelius: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 340

[9] Haydock, George: Catholic Bible Commentary, Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[10] Luther, Martin: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[11] Ernest DeWitt Burton: Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit. p. 347 (See Romans 16:22)

[12] Clarke, Adam: Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit.

[13] Brown, John: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 259-265

[14] Charles J. Ellicott: On Galatians, op. cit., pp. 148-149

[15] Those translations that support the traditional rendition of Paul words as written in the KJV are The New American Standard Bible, the New Revised Standard Bible, the New Jerusalem Bible, the New Century Version, the New International Version, the Complete Jewish Bible, and the New English Bible. Those that chose to put it in what Paul is about to write are: “I will write these closing words in my handwriting. See how large I have to make the letters!” – The Living Bible; “Notice what large letters I use as I write these closing words in my handwriting – New Living Testament; “See what big letters I make when I write to you with my hand.” – New Life Version. I agree with the NIV.

 

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s