Lecture 2: Galatians 1
Lecture: Galatians 1
I. Salutation 1:1-5
Some of you are reading John Stott’s book which is very faithful in interpreting Scripture and has a tremendous ability to summarize the text putting it in a way that is faithful, memorable, and useful to that text. This is his basic outline of the letter that I’m using here. It covers things very well; the autobiographical argument, Paul’s authority, that we will consider today. A question behind this part of the text is why we should listen to Paul and the theological argument of justification before God; how are we saved? An ethical argument in regards to what it means to please God. How should we live which is answered in chapter 5:13-6:10? The letter is bracketed by an introductory section and concluding section and three main arguments as we will see how the letter unfolds.
In the introduction of 1:1-3, we have the greetings. The language stated as either men or a man in verse 1; there is a certain rhetorical emphasis which is important for him. Paul at the beginning of a letter will often signal some of his key concerns right at the beginning by the way he phrases the text in what he adds, etc. It is unusual as he doesn’t do this in any other letter he writes, on adding this emphasis not from a man or by a man. Paul shifts the prepositions and also shifts from a plural to singular; neither from men nor through a man. Why Paul does this is somewhat unclear. In a generic sense, no human being appointed me to be an apostle and no single person you might have in mind gave me this authority; whether that be Peter, John or James. The other issue in verse 2, the NIV says, ‘and all the brothers and sisters with me.’ It has a note about that; so the question is in regards to the Greek word that Paul uses which could refer either to ministry associates of his or Christians who are with him. If it is ministry associates, perhaps brother might be a better English translation, but if it is Christians in general, brothers and sisters is a better translation, a more inclusive reference to all Christians. It isn’t clear who Paul has in mind here. Paul will often specifically indicate a people he is working with, Paul, Timothy, Silas or something like that as a number of Paul’s letter begins this way. Paul is the only one named; who the brothers are, we just can’t be sure about. The point of what Paul is saying. ‘It isn’t his own peculiar ideas that he’s communicating.’ What I am communicating is shared by others who are with me. It comes with my authority as an apostle, but it also comes as a common agreement with others Christians that are associated with me here. They are concerned about you, they are also writing for they are behind me in what I am saying. A useful point to remember, Paul was a great man of God, obviously used by God in extraordinary ways. But if you read his letters carefully, it is also extraordinary in how often the way he associates himself with others in the ministry. He isn’t a sort of lone genius or a lone ranger as we sometimes say.
So instead, he is deeply embedded with Christians in general and ministry associates particularly. This includes doing the things he is doing and developing the theory that God led him to develop. For some of us, the challenge is not developing a sort of individualistic approach to ministry but instead not to be isolated from the community of support and accountability that we all need. The ability of others to speak into our own situation is needed in order to sometimes correct and challenge us by raising questions about what we are doing. I encourage you to find a group of people who can do that with you; whether it is pastors, elders or Christian friends.
Question and Answer
Student’s Questions and Comments - I’ve noticed how almost every letter begins with a reference to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Would the evil that he mentioned include the perversion of the Gospel back to Judaism? In verse one, he starts with Jesus Christ and says God the Father but ends by saying, ‘according to the will of our God.’ It states a theological standard from the very beginning by basically saying, here is what we believe. It also seems that he is addressing and saying that there is an evil going on in the church and I am going to address that. It seems to be praise for God’s revelation and redemption and forgiveness; and also seems almost like a doxology in verse 3. Paul has identified himself completely by stating that he is by Christ. He has also identified the relationship to the church which is also by Christ. So Paul is defined by Christ along with his relationship to the churches is also defined by Christ. That would include the historical along with a very clear transition as to what we are dealing with today in regards to church members. In preaching, I would divide it into three sections; first the apostleship and then knowing why you are, the work of Christ in him and thirdly who gets to call him Father. Another way of saying this would be to say that the apostle is defined by Christ, to the churches that are defined with Christ and then grace and peace would be defined by Christ. There is a presentation of who Paul is by these verses.
Lecturer’s Response and Comments – I doubt that Paul would be using language that strongly in regards to Judaism. It is possible that Paul obviously does not want to talk about the Law itself as being evil. Paul has tremendous respect for the Law as it was given to them by God. It had its purpose and plan; he doesn’t want to denigrate the law itself. Is it possible that he was using the language of going back to the law, would be like turning the clock back, pretending as if Christ had not really come to bring forgiveness of sin? I suspect in the first case, Paul wants to talk about how the revelation of Jesus was kind of fundamental in changing life around. So he says that he is by Jesus Christ and then in verse 3 he wants to add this descriptive clause to Christ, ‘who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age.’ It is almost like that sort of thing – it is repeating common language almost, typical perhaps of Paul’s day. The language of who gave himself for our sins is usually thought to reflect Isaiah 53, the suffering servant themes. This was a fundamental part of the early churches’ teachings. We have to be faithful to the text in regards to the people I am addressing or the situation that I am addressing, especially their needs and to the context and in regards to the ministry you have. All of you have been focusing on theological things; what about the historical things within verses 1 to 5? What about the church in Galatia. That is not only historical but geographical. When we begin a series, we want to bring in certain data, but you have to do that carefully and wrap it up in other things otherwise you just turn an audience off. It becomes very boring for them. In regards to the subjunctive; this tends to be used in purpose clauses of this kind; it doesn’t indicate any indefiniteness; it is just the way Greek indicates purpose. It is a kind of a mood that is a little less certain and clear. It will be used for things, by definition, haven’t happened yet.
You have this in Romans, a sort of Christological statement. It is actually rare for him to have a reference to the resurrection of Christ. Yes, where the Son was appointed as being the Son of God in power through the resurrection of the dead. Other than that, Paul rarely refers to the resurrection. Paul does talk about the resurrection a lot; but in terms of the introduction, it is fairly rare for him to do so. It might signal a sort of emphasis here as that is something that Paul doesn’t do very often. It is one of the issues that is going to dominate Paul’s argument in Galatians; this is the difference between him and these other Jewish missionaries that James Dunn talks about. The key difference between them is how significant is the coming of Christ really is for changing things. The Jewish Christian missionaries were trying to insert Jesus into a continuing salvation history in the sense that everything goes on as it did before; circumcision is still needed, and still being under the Law and Christ also comes into this situation. The Messiah has come but it doesn’t really change things dramatically. Paul’s argument in Galatians is that you are underestimating what has changed with the coming of Christ. It is not fully appreciated just how significant the break that Christ has introduced into God’s plan of Salvation. And the resurrection is one way to introduce that theme right here at the beginning.
In verse 4, a little unusual compared to other introductions of Paul; you often have him giving this grace and peace wish from God our Father, the Lord Jesus Christ which is fairly common. But it isn’t common what he goes on to say in verse 4, ‘who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.’ Right from the beginning of the letter, Paul is clearly giving us a sense of how he wants us to understand matters. This whole idea of the present evil age in contrast with a new age that has now donned in Christ; you will see the significance of this movement. So how would you preach this? How are you going to take Paul’s identification and address and maintain authenticity and at the same time making it relevant and applicable? But, I am not convinced that verse 4 is all that clear in giving us a key to the outline of the book. To me, sent not from man or by man is a fairly good summary of what Paul is doing in the first part of the letter. He repeats this language later in verses 11 and 12.
II. Galatians 1:6-10
Verses 6 through 10 show us something that doesn’t happen here. Almost all letters of Paul except Galatians begin with a thanksgiving or blessing to God for the reader. Here, Paul seems to be so upset with the Galatians and so unhappy with their willingness to entertain these other ideas about the Gospel that he has no time or interest in giving thanks for them. Galatians is a fairly strong letter, obviously dominated by a clear argumentative purpose that he has indicated right from the beginning. Rather than thanking God for them, he is simply right into an explanation of what they have done. There is something doing the calling here and the question with Paul is who does the calling? I don’t think he ever talks about the Gospel of doing the calling but it is fairly consistent at referring to God the Father who is the one who calls according to Paul. That would suggest there the reference is personal, implicitly, I think to God the Father. You see the deep concern with some of the words he is using, like deserting, turning, throwing, etc. which is an indication of the concern he has for the Galatians. The issue that Paul is making to the Galatians is really fundamental to the spiritual life of the Christians. It also raises the question of the length of the language we may sometimes need to use in the defense of the Gospel also. In terms of identifying situations similar to the one Paul is talking about. I am not sure whether Paul is actually considering all of his languages as there seems to indicate that he is in the ‘heat’ of the moment, speaking as it were in the moment, appropriately into the situation and the language comes fairly natural to him. But, in regards to today, many are afraid to use such strong language with what is not being preached about today in regards to same-sex gay marriages etc. and especially with people coming into the church perverting the Gospel. There are indeed other Gospels claiming to be good news but in fact aren’t because of some fundamentally flawed element or deviation from the true Gospel. These verses help in refuting people like Bart Ehrman in what he says against the Gospel and the things he makes up in regards to the continuity of the true Gospel.
We are going to talk about the new perspective later having a chance to get into a few of these issues then. James Dunn is a key new perspectives advocate. They don’t want to downplay what Paul is saying in verses 4 and 5 but instead point out other places in Galatians that Paul is something different than what we have sometimes seen. I think it is adding this other element of Paul rather than removing what we are seeing here in terms of individuals. There is also the idea of the present age and the age to come contrast as a basic way of structuring and thinking about what God has done in history in terms of his revelation and his unfolding plan. For Paul, one of the points he is going to make in regards to the Torah, God’s Law, which was a good thing that God gave to his people Israel, but it was for a particular period of time that is now past. The coming of Christ has now changed that; we will see this argument in Galatians 3 especially. I want to highlight the word grace in verse six. It isn’t an important word in Galatians as it only occurs a few times. But I think it is a key word here. The NIV has, ‘the one who called you to live in the grace of God.’ The problem is to understand what this simple expression in the Greek means and how to unpack it and unfold it. I think the point Paul is making is not just that we were initially called by grace, but we are called to be people to reside in grace. That is where we are located as Christians, and the false teachers are fundamentally undercutting that. So Paul is making a point about his understanding of the new reality that is ours in Christ, a reality that is dominated by grace; we are living in that grace. So the problem is not so much how one is saved initially, it is how one is going to continue to live after being introduced into God’s grace. That to me is more of the issue as we see Paul addressing in Galatians. Again, they started well, but how are they finishing. I will go back to that language again.
The importance of the Gospel is foremost and practically and we need to ask what things are essential to the Gospel? At what point do I say that I disagree with you, but you have fallen under a cruse for not preaching the true Gospel. Scripture doesn’t give us a neat guideline here. We have to be really thoughtful, careful and seek to understand Scripture as a whole; and to know where to draw those lines. We all know some who err to one extreme, who have no lines at all having some vague idea that Jesus is important. The other extreme is drawing the line so tight that everyone must agree with all of the details of my theology. Somewhere there is a middle position but I think we struggle to figure out just where those lines need to be drawn. Sometimes we can get help from history; what did the early Christians and what the reformers thought were the vital issues. Can we learn from them so that we are not just trying to re-invent the wheel as one would say? One question before we leave the paragraph, why does Paul introduce an angel here? What is unusual here? What strikes me as something that I would have thought not naturally included? As I read the paragraph saying, ‘we or an angel from heaven.’ Is this just for rhetorical effect? Even if some exalted massager from God who would appear in a haze of glory should do this; is that the point he is making? Or is there some evidence that these people were claiming to have an angelic revelation? Angels are going to play an interesting role in Galatians in a couple of places, that’s why I bring the idea up here. This isn’t the only place where you get an interesting reference to the angels in Galatians. Someone has said that the belief in angels is a great religion for the modern age, because you have this vague notion of supernatural powers that are friendly to you, but they make no demands on you. There is the idea of powers up there on my side but they don’t have any ability to tell me how to live my life. Perhaps the situation is similar in the case of the Galatians in comparing Christ to angels. As far as the Jewish faith is concerned, angels became more important to them.
For the word, curse, we often use curse in relation to swear language. If you look at the biblical background to this word anathema which can be rendered as set apart as sacred and can even be rendered as gifts, but more so the idea of exterminate is connected to it because any object so devoted to the Lord could not be redeemed. It is clearly God who is inflicting the curse; so I believe translating it as God’s curse is correct. In reference to angels again and I don’t think this is connected to Gnosticism as that was a movement of the 2nd century. You really don’t have Gnosticism in Paul’s day yet. You do have some ideas that later became part of Gnosticism. When Paul wrote Galatians, there could have been one other letter that could have already been written and that was James. Otherwise, there was no New Testament letters or Scripture to appeal to in Paul’s case.
III. Galatians 1:11-2:14
We continue in chapter 1:11 to 2:14 which is the first major section of the letter. Here, Paul picks up the language from verse 1 about the way in which he has received and been commissioned as an apostle. Verses 11 to 12 are a kind of theme for what follows. He says, ‘I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the Gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.’ He then talks about that revelation and how he received it and moves on to talk about his contact with the Jerusalem apostles, culminating then in this discussion of the conflict that Peter and Paul got into at Antioch. One of the issues that arise out of verses 11 and 12 is the relationship between Paul’s statement here and his acknowledgment elsewhere that he received the Gospel from others in 1st Corinthians 15:3. He seems to be saying that he received the Gospel from others. This is a different point from Galatians. In Galatians, he is referring to what he knows about the Gospel; fundamentally, it has a source in divine revelation. It is not something that I learned from any human being. Yes, human beings did help me understand it; they also communicated this truth to me. But none of them was the ultimate authority for the Gospel. They are not the reason I believe it or the reason I preach it as I do. We need to always be aware of what is being said in relation to the larger context of Scripture so we don’t indicate something that is imbalanced. A lot of the errors that we confront in the church are not errors of contradiction but instead errors of imbalance. They are often true things that have been taken in isolation or pushed to an extreme. The devil knows that he will not always convince us to teach things that are out and out false, but he is very clever in forcing us into imbalances that ultimately create very serious problems. Galatians is a strong polemical letter; Paul is arguing a point passionately and because of that especially, we need to make sure we are putting what he says in the broader context of Scripture.
He goes on in verse 13 and talks about his conversion, contrasting his previous way of life in Judaism and how he was persecuting the church. Paul is trying to emphasize the strong turn around he had experienced; just how radical things changed for him. He had advanced in Judaism beyond many of people his own age. He was zealous for the traditions of the fathers; I wasn’t just some untutored Jew; I knew Judaism. He is saying that he understood is very well, being passionate about it. Don’t let these false teachers suggest to you that I don’t understand or have a sense of what is going on in the Old Testament and the Jewish faith. When God set me apart and called me by his grace, he was pleased to reveal his Son to me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles; my immediate response was not to consult any human being. That is a long sentence in verses 15 and 16 and as I read it, something strikes me as somewhat unusual here. The main clause is, ‘my immediate response was not to consult any human being.’ Paul puts this in the main clause and puts his conversion in the subordinate clause when God reveals his Son to me. Paul is telling the story with a certain purpose in view. It is to say that my contact with human beings was minimal. This part of the letter is Paul talking about this negative side of things. He didn’t receive it from any man, not when I was converted, I didn’t try to consult with anybody right away. The conversion of Paul is introduced in terms of this larger purpose that Paul has to talk about his relationship with the apostles in Jerusalem, all of that emphasizing his fundamental point that he hadn’t received the Gospel from any man. In setting him apart from the womb, he may be reflecting that of Jeremiah's conversion of 1:5. There are also allusions to the servant in Isaiah 49, the rich Old Testament background that Paul is drawing in here. He says that even before his birth, God had him destined for something and that destiny came into place when I was called by his grace. We have the word grace again. He was pleased to reveal his Son in me or to me; you can translate it either way. The reference is the appearance of Christ on the road to Damascus.
He does on to say that God did this so that he might preach him among the Gentiles. Paul brings that in here which is obviously relevant to the situation of the Galatians who are gentiles as well. So, I was converted, I didn’t feel any need to rush to have someone explain to me what had happened. I did not go up to Jerusalem and see those who were apostles before I was. I went into Arabia and then later returned to Damascus. This is the only place Paul talks about going to Arabia; we have no way of knowing why he went there or what he did there. Luke fills this out in a little more detail; Paul also alludes to this in 2nd Corinthians 12 where he talks about being lowered in a basket at the time of King Aridus because he was persecuted in Damascus. Then, perhaps two or three years afterward his conversion, he makes his way to Jerusalem.
Question and Answer
Student’s Questions and Comments - I think it is ironic that this man who was steeped in the Jewish tradition and being a Pharisee was then called to reach the Gentiles. I would much rather preach verses 1 to 10 than this passage. There is a lot of detail that is not necessarily theological as such.
Lecturer’s Response and Comments - I suspect that God had that planned and a person who God wanted to use to accomplish this. Paul was obviously a passionate individual and from people, in our day we know where people who are passionate about one thing can be turned around and be passionate about another thing. This can sometimes be one hundred and eighty degrees off than what they were about before. It was God who had a plan to prepare Paul with his Jewish background to bring that background into his proclamation to the Gentiles. Sometimes, the application is a little more difficult to discover within a narrative like this.
Paul continues and after three years….. So you have the sequence of Paul’s conversion and after three years in verse 18 and then in chapter 2:1, it is after fourteen years. Paul is giving unusually precise figures to us; as if he is wanted again to impress the Galatians with his accuracy and completeness. There is a purpose in those numbers. He goes up to Jerusalem to be acquainted with Kephas or Cephas, another name for Peter with different spellings. Paul stayed with him some fifteen days. He only saw James, the Lord’s brother but his visit was not to submit himself to any kind of training from them. Peter and Paul spent time together talking about the theology of course; what else would they talk about? James, Jesus’ brother became a significant leader in the early church. The impression that Paul gives was that he was there a short time; I certainly met them but they weren’t engaged in teaching me the Gospel. Peter obvious reminisced about the life of Christ. The background to this perhaps had something to do with the accusations the false teachers were making against him. We are kind of reading between the lines trying to determine what the situation may have been in the way Paul writes about it. We could imagine the agitators coming into these churches and saying something like this, ‘we are very grateful that Paul has been through here and converted you. He is a gifted evangelist. We love the ministry he is engaged in and the work he is doing, but Paul doesn’t always have the full word on the Gospel. After all, Paul was a latecomer; he never walked with Jesus.’ I can just imagine how they would use this sort of language to make a point. ‘Paul was not there from the beginning and perhaps doesn’t understand the Gospel all that well. We are now coming to you representing the authentic apostles like Peter, James, John and the others. We want to correct some things that Paul have said or didn’t tell you about and that you need to know if you want to truly follow the path he has set you on.’ This seems to be what they were saying. But to counter that, Paul has to say that he didn’t get his Gospel from them but he had gotten it from God. This is the Gospel Christ revealed to me; that is my authority and my basis. That is why you should believe what I am saying over against those false teachers who are claiming to represent the authentic apostles.
Paul concludes chapter 1 by finishes off some of his autobiographical details. ‘Then I went to Syria and Cilicia.’ Remember that Tarsus was in Cilicia, so this is talking about that ten year period between the time he went to Arabiya and Jerusalem. He said that he was personally known to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They praised God because of me.
Question and Answer
Student’s Questions and Comments - Do you think Paul was thought to be ineffective and that his intent was to prove himself, especially if they were criticizing him for not being under the apostles and not representing them? Perhaps he is also trying to explain why his theological points were different, rather than trying to prove that he wasn’t under the apostles. What about what he said in 1st Corinthians in regards to the historical facts that he received from someone? So how would we apply this today; I don’t it would be a stretch to use this part to make the application of Paul saying that he wasn’t just relying on his Jewish education and on the relationship with the apostles but his personal experience he has with Christ. What he has is not just intellectual or trying to win a point or argument.
Lecturer’s Response and Comments – I think that is the reason Paul goes on to say what he does in 2:1-10. The first part of his argument was that he hadn’t learned his Gospel from them. I think for Paul to say, I was with them and I learned it well, would again, betray the point that Paul wants to make. He just wants to make a fundamental point, ‘the Gospel I proclaim is rooted in God’s authority in Christ and has nothing to do with the apostles.’ He goes on to say that they actually approved his Gospel when we did have a chance to talk about it; we did come to an agreement about the essence of the Gospel. But I think that he wants to establish in chapter 1 that the authority for the Gospel he preaches has nothing to do with any human being. There might be a little hint of that in regards to proving his own theology with his agreement with Peter working with the Jews and Paul working with the Gentiles. What Paul is struggling for in chapter 1 is more fundamental, that is the fundamental nature of the Gospel that he sees as that which is in agreement among all the apostles. In 1st Corinthians, it is not just the historical facts, but instead, there are theological differences in what he is saying there, not just historical. I don’t think that it is a neat division between theology and history. Yes, that is a good point and I can see that.