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JSNT 8 (1980) 66-70


One of the unsolved problems of New Testament history is that of the date and destination o(Galatians.' > In the century since the classic restatement of the North Gala'tian view by Lightfoot /!/, and the detailed advocacy of the South Galatian theory by Ramsay /2/, no consensus has emerged; and the work of these two giants still provides the fullest and most cogent expositions of the alternatives in respect of destination. On the question of date there are three groups of possibilities: an 'early' date, after Acts 15:1 but before the meeting described in Acts 15:6ff (e.g. Duncan in the Moffatt Commentaries /3/) ; a 'middle' date, from either Corinth or Antioch during the course of or at the end of the Second Missionary Journey (e.g. Ramsay himself / 4 / , Zahn /5/, Bacon /6/ and, more recently, Bornkamm /I/ and Filson /8/) ; and a 'late' date during the course of the Third Missionary Journey and roughly contemporaneous with Romans. Such a 'late' date is required if the North Galatian hypothesis is held, but is linked with the South Galatian theory by, e.g., John Bligh / 9 / and J.A.T. Robinson /IO/. In view of the wide division and spread of opinion it would seem that the comment of Kirsopp Lake in 1938 is equally valid today: "It is impossible to fix the time when Galatians was written, or the persons to whom it was addressed" /ll/. It is, however, the purpose of this paper to draw attention to an episode in the life of Paul which appears to have been overlooked hitherto in discussions of the question, and which may provide a clue suggesting that a ^'middle'1 date is to be preferred; and so supporting the South Galatian hypothesis. This episode is that referred to in Acts 17:14-16 and I Thess 3:1-2. Paul had been forced to leave Beroea and had moved on to Athens, leaving instructions for Silas and Timothy

Wainwright: Where did S i l a s go?


to rejoin him as soon as possible. Their arrival is reported in Acts 18:5, when Paul had left Athens and was active in Corinth. I Thess 3:2, however shows that Timothy - and so, presumably, Silas also - had joined him at Athens. Timothy had been sent to Thessalonika, leaving Paul alone. Hence our question, "Where did Silas go?". The importance of this question becomes clearer when we consider the position at Thessalonika. The church there was in the middle of a grave crisis, both doctrinally and in its everyday life, needing all the help and support that could be given. Paul would have gone himself had not "Satan hindered" /12/. In his stead he sent Timothy, young both in years and in the faith - a clear case, we might think, of a boy being sent to do a man's job. Why not Silas, a "leading man" in the Jerusalem church /13/, mature and older in Christian life and experience, able and strong enough to be entrusted by the church at Jerusalem with a mission requiring both tact and force of character? The only rational explanation is that Silas was needed for a mission even more urgent, which perhaps only he could perform /14/. It is our suggestion that this mission was to deal with the crisis in Galatia. One of the stumbling blocks to all theories regarding Galatians has been its total lack of reference to the meeting and letter described in Acts 15 - so much so that the vast majority of commentators accept that, even if it is not completely unhistorical. Acts 15 presents a greatly exaggerated and idealised picture of what happened, or that in some way or other the narrative of Acts must be re-organised /15/. If we are to regard Acts 15 as reliable, it is hard to see a better argument than that of Lightfoot /16/, which is, basically, that the 'decrees' of the council were not relevant to the situation in Galatia. Nevertheless, this is very much in the nature of special pleading /17/. The suggestion of an 'early' date is an attempt to cut the Gordian Knot by suggesting that, as the council had not yet taken place, no reference to its result was possible. But even this fails when we consider the situation required by this hypothesis - that emissaries of the Jerusalem church were unsettling the Galatians, and that Paul was on the point of setting out for Jerusalem to get the matter settled. In these circumstances, Paul could hardly but say, in effect, "Hold hard: I'm going to get this matter sorted out with the leaders at Jerusalem". But not merely does he not do this, he positively rejects the idea that a legal ruling from the Jerusalem church can settle the issue.


JSNT 8 (1980)

Diametrically opposed to this view is that put forward by Ramsay /18/, that the major issue dealt with in Galatians was the meaning of the Apostolic Decree, and in particular the word ("necessary things") /19/. One cogent interpretation is that while only these basic things are necessary, more is required for perfection: that while gentiles need not accept circumcision and the law, they will be better equipped for salvation if they do. In Ramsay's words "...this expression can plausibly be interpreted to imply the ellipsis, 'but, if you voluntarily undertake a heavier burden, we shall praise you for your zeal in doing more than the necessary minimum'," /20/ and the corollary was that it was from jealousy that Paul was keeping his converts at the lower stage, that when he told them that the ceremonial law was unnecessary he had become their 'enemy' /21/, and that he was trying to hold them back in the spiritual stage while carrying forward to the perfect stage only some special favourites such as Timothy. An argument such as this could have been presented in very powerful terms by the circumcision party: and we would hardly be surprised if the Galatians, with all the fervour typical of new converts, were to accept avidly the possibility of progressing further in the faith which had, even at the level to which they had already progressed, provided such inspiration. If something like this was indeed the teaching of the Judaisers, it will be obvious that to combat it required (a) a refutation of the argument that "this is what the decree really means" and (b) a powerful counterblast to the general argument that perfection can be obtained through the Law. In other words, rebuttal was needed both on the basis of authority and on the basis of theology. Galatians provides the second in the clearest possible way, and Paul was uniquely able to write it. On the question of the interpretation of the Jerusalem decree, however, he had no more authority than the Judaisers and would have appeared to have had less, since they came from Jerusalem, claiming the as their mentors /22/. Amongst Paul's circle, though, there was one man who more than any other was fully able to provide what was needed. Silas had been commissioned - indeed, mentioned in the Apostolic letter by name - to deliver and explain what had been decided. Paul, by himself, could not deal authoritatively with the interpretation of the decree: Silas, so far as we know, had neither the personal experience nor the theological depth to deal with the profundities of the question itself. But Silas and Paul together form the strongest possible combination for

Wainwright: Where did Silas go? an overwhelming refutation of the arguments of the Judaisers.


Here then is the reason why Paul makes no mention of the decree. Not merely was it unnecessary for him to do so: once an authoritative interpretation of the decree had been given, to raise the issue again would have suggested that after all there was something left unresolved. Instead, he contents himself with insisting that there was no opposition or contradiction between himself and the leaders of the Jerusalem church, and he omits altogether any mention of the council, since that would have been a matter fully dealt with by Silas. It is suggested, therefore, that the answer to the question posed in the title of this paper is 'Galatia'. This explains why Luke makes no mention of Silas joining Paul at Athens - he wishes to gloss over the whole incident as much as possible as a battle won and best forgotten, mention of which was irrelevant to his aims. This solution enables us to give the most natural explanation to the events narrated in Gal. 2, and to the expressions in Gal. 1:6 and in 4:13. We are able to give a greater degree of credibility to the narrative in Acts 15, and above all we see more clearly the basic message of the letter, "So far from circumcision and the Law leading to greater perfection, they negate true faith in Jesus Christ" though the working out of this last point requires a full-scale commentary rather than a single article.

NOTES /I/ Lightfoot, J.B., St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians /2/, London & Cambridge, 1866. /2/ Ramsay, W.M., St. Paul the Traveller and Roman Citizen, 1st edn London 1895, 4th edn, 1898; Historical Commentary on St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians, London, 1899. /3/ Duncan, G.S., The Epistle of Paul to the Galatians, London, 1934 (Moffatt New Testament Commentaries). /4/ St. Paul the Traveller... pp.l89ff. /5/ Zahn, T. (ET), Introduction to the New Testament. Edinburgh, 1909, Vol.1, pp.l93ff. /6/ Bacon, B.W., The Story of St. Paul, London, 1904, pp.229ff pp.229ff. /!/ Bornkamm, G., Paulus, Stuttgart, 1969. (ET, Paul, New York & London, 1971.) Appendix I. /8/ Filson, F.V., A New Testament History, London, 1965, pp.242ff.


JSNT 8 (1980)

/9/ Bligh, J., Galatians, London, 1969, who assigns the final composition of the letter, using material formulated very much earlier, to A.D.57. /10/ Robinson, J.A.T., Re-dating the New Testament, London, 1976, pp.55ff; cf. also Jewett, R. Dating Paul's Life, London, 1979 pp.57 & note, 103. /Il/ Lake, K. & S., An Introduction to the New Testament, London, 1938, p.125. /12/ I Thess. 2:18. /13/ Acts 15:22. /14/ Ramsay's suggestion (St. Paul the Traveller..., p.240) that Paul sent Silas to maintain communications with Philippi does not meet the objection stated: nor does that of Kirsopp Lake and Cadbury (Beginnings of Christianity IV p.224) that Silas remained with Paul at Athens, on the evidence of in I Thess 3:1. /15/ E.G. Bornkamm, op.cit. c.4; Jewett, op.cit. pp.79ff; Lake, K. The Beginnings of Christianity London, 1933. Vol.V pp.l95ff. On the reliability of Acts generally see Jewett op.cit. passim.; Haenchen, E., in Studies in Luke-Acts ed. Keck, L.E. & Martyn, J.L., London, 1966, pp.270ff.; Haenchen, E.(ET), The Acts of the Apostles, Oxford, 1971. /16/ Op.cit. pp.l26f. /17/ Lightfoot's point that "There is no reason for supposing that the decree was intended to be permanent and universal" seems amply refuted by Gerhardsson, B. Memory and Manuscript, Uppsala, 1961, pp.245ff. /18/ Historical Commentary... pp.258f; cf. p.326. /19/ Acts 15:28. /20/ Historical Commentary... p.258. /21/ Gal.4:16. /22/ Gal.2:9.

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