February 13, 2013

The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians

Tom Lowe

Chapter V.A: Authentication of the Epistle (6:11)

Galatians 6:11 (KJV)

11 Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand.

Ye see how large a letter.

This clause can be read in a couple of ways. It can be read as imperative (a command), “see ye,” observe, take notice; or as indicative (signifying, or pointing out), "ye see,” ye do see, or you may see with your own eyes; but it makes little difference to the meaning of the sentence, either way. The Greek word translated “how large” is found in only one other place in the New Testament, but there it is rendered, “how great” (Heb. 7:4). On the other hand, this verse has been given a variety of interpretations and used by preachers to express ideas, which I believe the author never intended. I’ll present the various meanings given to this clause, and let you decide which is the correct one.

First: Paul is calling attention to the largeness of the characters themselves. He wrote in large letters because he had poor eyesight—Where is then the blessedness ye spake of? for I bear you record, that, if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me” (Ga 4:15). Some have supposed that his thorn in the flesh was a weakness of the eyes which rendered it difficult for him to write—“And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure” (2 Cor. 12:7). The apostle may have been afflicted with ophthalmia, a common disease in the East, which could cause total blindness. (e.g.) Gal 4:13-15.

All the oldest manuscripts are written in uncial, that is, capital letters; the "cursive," or small letters, were not used until a more recent time. Paul seems to have had a difficulty in writing, which led him to make the uncial letters larger than ordinary writers did. He mentions this as a means by which they would know that he wrote the whole Epistle with his own hand. They would know that the Epistle was genuine, since it was in his own unique handwriting; and it was proof of the special affection he had for them that he was willing to undertake this labor on their account.

Second: He is letting his readers know he is aware of his poor handwriting, and that many of the characters are deformed. He is a Hebrew, and therefore, not used to writing Greek.

Those who argue against this opinion point out that Saul was born in Tarsus, a city which, according to Strabo, rivaled both Athens and Alexandria in philosophy, and in arts and sciences; and therefore he could not be ignorant of a language which must have been the very means of conveying all this instruction. As for writing it, there was in his time nothing difficult, because the uncial character (capital letters) was the only one in use, and this character is as easily made as the capitals in the Roman alphabet, which have been taken from it.

Third: He is referring to the grand and inspirational matter which it contained. By using large letters, he was emphasizing certain parts, which he hoped would induce them to give those parts greater attention.

Fourth: He is commenting on the length of the letter, and the wordiness of his writing. He is not making an apology, but rather he mentions it as an expression of his love for them, care of them, and concern for them. He took so much pains to write so long a letter to them, in order to set things right in their view, and recover them from error. Actually, this is not such a long letter when compared to the epistles he wrote to the Romans, Corinthians, and Hebrews.

Fifth: His poor handwriting was due to a nervous condition which caused his hands to shake and the letters to be irregular in size and shape.

Sixth: Ordinarily, he dictated his letters. But now, having no amanuensis at hand, but driven by the spiritual danger of his dear Galatians, he writes this Epistle with his own hand. We cannot know what pain and difficulty this entailed. His darkened vision compelled him to use "large letters.”

Seventh: Most commentators believe he used large letters deliberately, either because he was treating his readers like children (rebuking their spiritual immaturity by using baby writing) or simply for emphasis, similar to how we would use capital letters or underline words today.

Usually Paul employed an amanuensis, to whom he dictated the letter; except he added his name, with a brief benediction or remark at the close. For example, at the end of the Roman letter his amanuensis took the liberty of identifying himself, “I Tertius, who wrote this epistle, salute you in the Lord” (Romans 16:22); And when he wrote to the Corinthians for the first time, he lets his readers know that he wrote the greeting himself, “The salutation of me Paul with mine own hand” (1 Corinthians 16:21).  As for what induced him to depart from his usual custom when he wrote this letter, and write the whole thing himself, is unknown.

I have written unto you with my own hand.

The epistle to the Romans was written by Tertius (Romans 16:22), though dictated by the apostle.  The others were very likely written by Timothy, or some other amanuensis. The apostle only signed his name, and wrote his salutation, which was his custom in all his epistles. It also assured his readers of the truth and genuineness of them—“The salutation of Paul with mine own hand, which is the token in every epistle: so I write” (2 Thessalonians 3:17). But this letter was not merely dictated by the apostle, but was written by him, giving it a personal touch the others did not have. The Galatians knew his handwriting, and since it was not usual for him to write his own correspondence, it was proof of his affection for them. It must have impressed them for Paul to sit down and write such a long epistle to them with his own hand, in order to expose the errors of the false teachers, and reclaim them for the Lord Jesus and His service.  This was not a long letter, but it was a long one for him to write, and showed the depth of his love and concern for these Galatian believers; in contrast, there are the Judaizing teachers who sought only their own ease—“Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ.” (Gal. 6:12). They were only interested in making converts who would observe the rites and ceremonies of Judaism as a part of Christian worship.

I conclude, therefore, that what the apostle says in this verse concerns the length of the epistle, since it was in all probability the largest he had ever written with his own hand, though several, much larger, have been dictated by him, but they were written by his scribe or amanuensis.

We may imagine the apostle painfully and laboriously writing one portion after another of the Epistle; often pausing to rest his eyes as he came to the end of each section of his argument; each one seems to him a long and tiring effort. And now at last he exclaims," Look, what a long letter I have written to you with my own hand! And I hope you see from my labor how deeply I am concerned for you, and how serious the danger you face from those false teachers.


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