the third, a Roman Christian whom Paul employed as his
amanuensis in writing his epistle to the Romans (16:22).
Thorn in the flesh
(2 Cor. 12:7-10). Many interpretations have been given of this
passage. (1.) Roman Catholic writers think that it denotes
suggestions to impiety.
(2.) Luther, Calvin, and other Reformers interpret the
expression as denoting temptation to unbelief.
(3.) Others suppose the expression refers to "a pain in the
ear or head," epileptic fits, or, in general, to some severe
physical infirmity, which was a hindrance to the apostle in his
work (compare 1 Cor. 2:3; 2 Cor. 10:10; 11:30; Gal. 4:13, 14;
6:17). With a great amount of probability, it has been alleged
that his malady was defect of sight, consequent on the dazzling
light which shone around him at his conversion, acute opthalmia.
This would account for the statements in Gal. 4:14; 2 Cor.
10:10; also Acts 23:5, and for his generally making use of the
help of an amanuensis (compare Rom. 16:22, etc.).
(4.) Another view which has been maintained is that this
"thorn" consisted in an infirmity of temper, to which he
occasionally gave way, and which interfered with his success
(compare Acts 15:39; 23:2-5). If we consider the fact, "which the
experience of God's saints in all ages has conclusively
established, of the difficulty of subduing an infirmity of
temper, as well as the pain, remorse, and humiliation such an
infirmity is wont to cause to those who groan under it, we may
be inclined to believe that not the least probable hypothesis
concerning the 'thorn' or 'stake' in the flesh is that the
loving heart of the apostle bewailed as his sorest trial the
misfortune that, by impatience in word, he had often wounded
those for whom he would willingly have given his life" (Lias's
Second Cor., Introd.).
the apostolic letters. The New Testament contains twenty-one in
all. They are divided into two classes. (1.) Paul's Epistles,
fourteen in number, including Hebrews. These are not arranged in
the New Testament in the order of time as to their composition,
but rather according to the rank of the cities or places to
which they were sent. Who arranged them after this manner is
unknown. Paul's letters were, as a rule, dictated to an
amanuensis, a fact which accounts for some of their
peculiarities. He authenticated them, however, by adding a few
words in his own hand at the close. (See GALATIANS, EPISTLE TO
The epistles to Timothy and Titus are styled the Pastoral
(2.) The Catholic or General Epistles, so called because they
are not addressed to any particular church or city or
individual, but to Christians in general, or to Christians in
several countries. Of these, three are written by John, two by
Peter, and one each by James and Jude.
It is an interesting and instructive fact that a large portion
of the New Testament is taken up with epistles. The doctrines of
Christianity are thus not set forth in any formal treatise, but
mainly in a collection of letters. "Christianity was the first
great missionary religion. It was the first to break the bonds
of race and aim at embracing all mankind. But this necessarily
involved a change in the mode in which it was presented. The
prophet of the Old Testament, if he had anything to communicate,
either appeared in person or sent messengers to speak for him by
word of mouth. The narrow limits of Israel made direct
personal communication easy. But the case was different when the
Christian Church came to consist of a number of scattered parts,
stretching from Mesopotamia in the east to Rome or even Spain in
the far west. It was only natural that the apostle by whom the
greater number of these communities had been founded should seek
to communicate with them by letter."
Galatians, Epistle to
The genuineness of this epistle is not called in question. Its
Pauline origin is universally acknowledged.
Occasion of. The churches of Galatia were founded by Paul
himself (Acts 16:6; Gal. 1:8; 4:13, 19). They seem to have been
composed mainly of converts from heathenism (4:8), but partly
also of Jewish converts, who probably, under the influence of
Judaizing teachers, sought to incorporate the rites of Judaism
with Christianity, and by their active zeal had succeeded in
inducing the majority of the churches to adopt their views (1:6;
3:1). This epistle was written for the purpose of counteracting
this Judaizing tendency, and of recalling the Galatians to the
simplicity of the gospel, and at the same time also of
vindicating Paul's claim to be a divinely-commissioned apostle.
Time and place of writing. The epistle was probably written
very soon after Paul's second visit to Galatia (Acts 18:23). The
references of the epistle appear to agree with this conclusion.
The visit to Jerusalem, mentioned in Gal. 2:1-10, was identical
with that of Acts 15, and it is spoken of as a thing of the
past, and consequently the epistle was written subsequently to
the council of Jerusalem. The similarity between this epistle
and that to the Romans has led to the conclusion that they were
both written at the same time, namely, in the winter of A.D.
57-8, during Paul's stay in Corinth (Acts 20:2, 3). This to the
Galatians is written on the urgency of the occasion, tidings
having reached him of the state of matters; and that to the
Romans in a more deliberate and systematic way, in exposition of
the same great doctrines of the gospel.
Contents of. The great question discussed is, Was the Jewish
law binding on Christians? The epistle is designed to prove
against the Jews that men are justified by faith without the
works of the law of Moses. After an introductory address (Gal.
1:1-10) the apostle discusses the subjects which had occasioned
the epistle. (1) He defends his apostolic authority (1:11-19;
2:1-14); (2) shows the evil influence of the Judaizers in
destroying the very essence of the gospel (3 and 4); (3) exhorts
the Galatian believers to stand fast in the faith as it is in
Jesus, and to abound in the fruits of the Spirit, and in a right
use of their Christian freedom (5-6:1-10); (4) and then
concludes with a summary of the topics discussed, and with the
The Epistle to the Galatians and that to the Romans taken
together "form a complete proof that justification is not to be
obtained meritoriously either by works of morality or by rites
and ceremonies, though of divine appointment; but that it is a
free gift, proceeding entirely from the mercy of God, to those
who receive it by faith in Jesus our Lord."
In the conclusion of the epistle (6:11) Paul says, "Ye see how
large a letter I have written with mine own hand." It is implied
that this was different from his ordinary usage, which was
simply to write the concluding salutation with his own hand,
indicating that the rest of the epistle was written by another
hand. Regarding this conclusion, Lightfoot, in his Commentary on
the epistle, says: "At this point the apostle takes the pen from
his amanuensis, and the concluding paragraph is written with his
own hand. From the time when letters began to be forged in his
name (2 Thess. 2:2; 3:17) it seems to have been his practice to
close with a few words in his own handwriting, as a precaution
against such forgeries...In the present case he writes a whole
paragraph, summing up the main lessons of the epistle in terse,
eager, disjointed sentences. He writes it, too, in large, bold
characters (Gr. pelikois grammasin), that his hand-writing may
reflect the energy and determination of his soul." (See