Lecture 1: Introduction to Galatians
Lecture: Introduction to Galatians
I’m Douglas Moo, father of five children with nine grandchildren. My wife and I are together this week; we drove down as we like to make road trips. I teach at Wheaton College, mainly at the graduate school with our Masters and PhD programs there. I did my doctoral work in the Gospels and shifted to Paul and have been teaching this for the past twenty or so years. I wrote the Galatians commentary that some of you are being forced to look through. We will be focusing on Galatians but with a little bit of a twist. It is a rather short book with only six chapters. I will add a module on Paul’s theology, so we will not only look through the letter to the Galatians, we will also look at key ideas of Paul’s theology that emerge from the text. We will look at Galatians verse by verse in an expository manner. We will use the text as a basis to develop some bigger ideas about how people can think about Scripture and interface Scripture with their lives and with their culture. That inevitably gets us into theology, even though I am really on the Bible side of things; that’s where I usually reside and is the work I do. I am committed to careful interpretation of the Scriptures. I am also convinced that we not only need to be good Biblical readers, we need to be good theologians in order to minister successfully. All of you are in ministry in ways that I am not; I have never been in a full-time pastoral minister, although I have been part-time, preaching a lot and have been an elder and involved in church. But most of the questions you face with your people are not questions such a personal struggle with Scripture as such. The questions you get are like these: pastor, how do I know that I’m right with God? I don’t feel like my faith is strong enough; what does the Bible say about that? I have a close relative that has just died; what does the Bible say about her state? These questions can’t be answered simply by going to a single verse in Scripture. These are questions that we can only answer from a base of a broader understanding of what Scriptures teaches, and that is theology in the best sense of that word. So I make no apology for introducing the discussion of theology this week. I don’t think it is just something that should be approached academically for intellectuals but something that is very fundamental to what we do in ministry as well.
II. Preaching on a Letter like Galatians
One of the key issues I think generally in preaching and especially in Galatians is this question of Hermeneutics. This is a word we use to talk about the kind of ground rules for how we interpret and apply Scripture. Some of you will realize that this has been a significant matter for discussion for the last thirty or so years. People have been asking fundamental questions such as from a converted Jew in the 1st century AD. The context is from the Roman Empire. He is a Jew with all of the Jewish background which includes very much the background of the Old Testament. He is writing to young gentile Christians and he is writing in that culture, addressing specific issues to that kind of a congregation. So, how do we successfully transfer Paul’s teaching in that context into our context? Imagine that if someone were to take a sermon of yours which you gave in your church where you were addressing a particular problem that your church was facing and you were really focused on that issue, trying to bring Scripture to bear on the problem. Then someone two thousand years from now comes along and decides to apply what you said to your congregation within that context to their congregation today. It would be hard to imagine what a church context would be two thousand years from now. How different that would be and how different the culture would be. It would also be a different language and people would have different assumptions about things. How they go about successful taking what you said two thousand years ago to bring it into the present context we live in today? That is the basic task we have as preachers; it is a hermeneutical task, a task of effectively interpreting God’s Word given in specific ancient historical circumstances and applying it in a way that makes sense which is true to that text.
B. Example from Galatians
There are two opposite problems we fall into when we try to do this. On the hand, there is historical irrelevancy. I find this particularly true of those who are either in seminary or just out of seminary who are just overwhelmingly excited about all they have learned. They have learned about historical situations and context in the ancient languages perhaps. They are just overwhelmed with all of this; they want to show off their knowledge in effect in a positive way to others. I have heard sermons preached like this by people that focus on this historical irrelevancy. They deal with specifics, and in this case, let’s say the 1st century Galatia in very effective and insightful way perhaps, but with little application to a current set of circumstances. People leave the church wondering what that had to do with them and their lives that week. All of it was true and foundational but largely irrelevant. I suspect that most of us are in the other camp. We make the other error of what I call homiletical expediency. This is just taking the text and preaching whatever seems to work; whatever is going to move the congregation. The danger with this is we lose track of the text itself. We use the text God’s given us in his word as a sort of jumping off point to make whatever points we want to make. The collection between that word and what we are saying gets severed. We need to figure out ways to interpret Scripture well, to do our homework with all the issues of historical context and background with the grammar and exegesis that we want to do. We want to do that well, but we want also to figure out a way in which that can legitimately become the foundation for affective application of God’s Word today.
In Galatians, we have a very interesting example of this. What Galatians is about in a very simplistic generalized way; you gentiles should not become Torah observant out of the mistaken idea that you need to do this to be saved. The Torah is our transliteration in English of the Hebrew word usually translated as Law. This is a word that is all over the Hebrew Old Testament. I think it may be useful, however, to use the word, Torah, so that we are reminded that we are in a 1st-century Jewish atmosphere, not Law in the broader sense of the word. It is not the law of a government or state or nation. It is not even a law that we might find as some Lutherans would argue throughout Scripture. In a certain sense, you could call the Sermon on the Mount as Law; we are given commands in that sermon. Notice the specific phenomenon of the Old Testament Law as being foundational to the Jewish life in the 1st-century era. This is fundamentally what Galatians is about; yet, this is a very gross generalization. Most interpreters will agree with this in some sense, that it is a generalization. But there becomes a key divide then when we push to the next stage; why shouldn’t these gentiles be Torah observant? Why is Paul telling them you should not take on the burden of trying to do the Torah?
They shouldn’t do it because in doing the Torah, it involves something that humans fundamentally just can’t do well enough. This could be called the traditional answer. The reformation and all of us in different ways are heirs of that reformation; it made a fundamental point, a fundamental theological point of not trying to do Torah as a way of getting saved. If you do that, you are going to be bound up to an impossible, sort of endless treadmill situation. You will do and do and do, but your doing will never be good enough. It will always be tainted by sin; it will always be imperfect by doing some good things and then a bad thing. This is the nature of the human condition. So don’t do Torah because our doing can never put us into a relationship with God. A very good answer has been given to this question, however; particularly popular in the last four years or so. On this view of things, taking on Torah is wrong because it is a function of elevating Israel and keeping gentiles out is over. The Torah in the 1st-century Jewish world specifically functioned to mark out Israel as God’s special people. We all know how this works; we have enough contemporary examples of how this worked. The religious groups wanted to keep itself separate. So, what does it do? Well, it emphasizes certain clear practical practices that will separate them from the culture at large. We will wear veils and certain things that will be considered taboo. People will dress in certain ways. In certain parts of America, you will see orthodox Jews wearing their hair in certain ways or wearing a certain kind of hat that is odd compared to contemporary styles. Religious organizations in trying to maintain their identity will often put up those kinds of boundaries so that the organization can remain intact and separate from the culture outside of it. We have a history of many Christian organizations doing something like that in order to maintain that kind of relationship.
The argument in regards to point 2 is that in Paul’s 1st-century world in doing the Torah especially had that kind of function. You have now got Jews, many of which are living in Israel under a pagan government. So, Rome is in charge, the Jews aren’t in charge of their own nation. They are subservient to the Roman Empire. More Jews live outside of Israel than in Israel itself. They are living in what is called the diaspora, in places like Alexandria, Rome, etc.; they are scattered all over the Mediterranean World. And so the pressing issue was how to keep themselves separated from being overwhelmed by the Hellenistic and Roman culture that they were a part of. They would emphasize certain things that were distinctive. One, they would circumcise males, a physical mark that really separates people out. Another would be the rigorous observation of the Sabbath. You are doing something that no-one else does. You make sure that you are very scrupulous about the food laws. You don’t eat the things that gentiles do. This is another way to be separate from others. So, this was the fundamental issue in Galatians. It was not trying to do the Law in order to get right with God; it was Jews insisting on the Law in order to keep Gentiles out. And now that Paul is preaching the Gospel and gentiles are responding to the Gospel, Paul is saying that it is a new day, the Torah is no longer defining who the people of God are. Gentiles are now allowed in; you gentiles don’t have to do the Law to become saved. You don’t have to become Jews in effect in order to be Christians. You don’t need to take on the Law in this way. So two very different answers and in the reading, you have done you will see that S. Night basically gives the second answer whereas my commentary and that of John Stott gives the first answer; James Dunn is fairly close to the second answer as well. We will say more about this as we go.
So, the implications are fairly obvious; what is going on in Galatians and how do we preach its fundamental message. If the first view is correct, then the focus is on the individual relationship with God. In other words, it’s wrong to try to do the Torah because I’m trying to get myself into a right relationship with God by doing which never works. It is the fundamental antithesis of faith versus works; a hallmark of reformation theology broadly defined. A Protestant theology is found here and the keyword, justified, which Paul uses again and again in Galatians, is a part of this. It talks about us being right with God. And so in preaching Galatians, these would be some of the key themes that you would want to be exploring and emphasizing and applying. On the other hand, if the second answer is correct, that being the root issue, then gentile inclusion into the people of God is the issue. Again, the fundamental antithesis is not my faith and my doing, but it is faith, perhaps even Christ’s own faith verses this Torah observance. And justification will have the sense of joining God’s people. I will elaborate on this as we go along. These are two very different approaches of the letter to the Galatians. Our commentaries are divided on this in very obvious ways. And the point is, it yields different kinds of applications. I think the first answer is fundamentally correct and is at the heart of the theology of Galatians. But there is also some truth in the second point as well. Galatians is a letter, not just about me getting right with God by faith rather than works, but also a letter about how the Gospel is this inclusive power; the Gospel breaks barriers and is designed by God to bring all kinds of different people together; just as it was bringing Jews and Gentiles together in Paul’s day. As in Paul’s day, it is designed to do the same in our day, bringing people from all over the world together whether they are poor, white, Asian, rich or black. The church is this inclusive place that is open to everybody, not in a sense that Christ is left out of course.
(What are you concerned most about in regards to the types of preaching you do?) I am more concerned about faithful Biblical preaching than expository preaching. I think there are certain issues that are best handled in what we call topical preaching. I would not say that authentic Biblical preaching would always have to go through a verse by verse exegesis. If you want to preach on pro-life, for example, it is very difficult to go to a text for the points you want to make. The bread and butter of my preaching if I were in a church would be preaching through Biblical books in the order of the text within a particular paragraph. Let say that you had three points of a sermon that has to follow the order of the text. Well, you have three points and in terms, I want to communicate the passage, my first point would come from verses 4-6 and my second point would come from verse 1-3 and thus a slightly more expansive view of expository preaching.
(So expository preaching is where the message of the sermon is the message of Scripture.) This would be the message that would be faithful to Scripture. We are going to be following through the letter and talking more about some of those this afternoon as we look at the landscape in the way Galatians is being understood these days.
III. Introductory Information
A. Who were the Galatians
We need to look at these in order to understand the letter and to know who the Galatians were and when did Paul write the letter and why did he write it. These points are central to understanding what the letter is doing. It was given at a particular place and time; Paul didn’t write Galatians to 21st century America, or England or South African or Chinese residents. He wrote it to the 1st-century people living in the ancient Roman Empire. And if we don’t appreciate some of those specifics of the context, we are going to make mistakes in understanding what Paul is saying in the letter.
B. When did Paul write Galatians
Clear enough, Paul is writing to people in Galatia, to the churches of Galatia calling them foolish. Galatians can have an ethnic sense or it can have a provincial sense; that is in Paul world, Galatians referred both to an ethnic group and to a province of the Roman Empire. The question has been in New Testament scholarship for many years, which of these people did he have in mind? The situation in Paul’s day in considering ethnic Galatia, a region that was settled by immigrant Gauls from Thrace, the Celts in the early 3rd century BC. So in Paul’s day, this was Galatia but then there was the province of Galatia, a Roman province. Is Paul writing to people living in the highland of central Anatolia or was he writing to people somewhere in the province which would include the Southern part of Galatia? Southern Galatia included the cities of the first missionary journey in Acts 13 – 14 where Paul and Barnabas first traveled to Cyprus and then headed up into Asia Minor and preached at Antioch and then went on to Lystra and Iconium and Derbe. There, they planted churches and then retraced their steps back to Palestine. So those cities were part of the Roman province of Galatia.
So, the background from the Book of Acts, we have the first missionary journey in Acts 13 & 14 taking Paul to the southern part of provincial Galatia somewhere around AD 46 or 48. On the second missionary journey, Luke tells us that Paul’s friends traveled throughout the region of Phrygia which was in the west central part of Anatolia. They did a similar thing in the 3rd missionary journey traveling from place to place throughout the region of Galatia. These verses in Acts are disputed over in regards to referring to the place of Phrygia and also to the place of Galatia or Phrygian as being part of Galatia. Did he travel through the Phrygian part of Galatia in the south? So you get all these questions about when Paul wrote and that is why this is particularly significant. So, is he writing to people in the north or in the south which has an effect on when he wrote; because if he is writing to people up in north Galatia, we know he could not have gotten there until later in his ministry career. So that pushes the date of the letter to a later point. This third option is that Paul writes Galatians about the same time as he writes Romans. The two books are very similar in certain ways; some of the themes are similar, the vocabulary shared between them is similar also. So that has been a popular option; on the other hand, if he wrote to these churches in the southern part of provincial Galatia, then we could place the date a little earlier. The option I prefer is that Paul is writing to the churches he founded on the 1st missionary journey. They were Christians who lived in the southern part of the province of Galatia. And he is writing just before the Jerusalem council in AD 48.
If we date Galatians any later than this, we end up with two problems that I find hard to overcome. These are both arguments from silence which are not always very conclusive. The silence is fairly significant here. If Paul in Galatians is talking about the matter of whether Galatians and Gentiles, in general, should have to come under the Law of Moses; why doesn’t he ever refer to the Jerusalem council’s decree? Remember in Acts 15, there was a gathering of early Christian leadership. James was the leader of the Group; Paul spoke a little and then Peter spoke a little and then James gave a decisive word. Basically, that word was that we shouldn’t burden the gentile in asking them to take on the Law of Moses. It was a decision not to impose the Law onto the Gentiles. The questions is raised that if that decree had already been issued, if that meeting had already taken place with the decision already been made, why did Paul not mention it. The obvious reason was that it hadn’t happened yet. Second, Paul is telling the Galatians in chapters one and two about his visits to Jerusalem. So, in looking at the Book of Acts and comparing it with the Book of Galatians, you get this kind of sequence: Paul was converted on the Damascus Road and eventually returned to Jerusalem. This happened around AD 35 or 36. It is difficult to be absolutely certain of this date. Then after ten years, we hear about Paul and Barnabas going to Jerusalem bringing relief to the church because of the famine. They came from the church at Antioch to help their brother and sisters in Jerusalem. And then we have Paul in Jerusalem attending the Council in Acts 15. That is the Book of Acts. Now we see in Galatians where Paul tells us about his relationship with the Apostles. He says he went to Jerusalem and met Peter three years after his conversion. This is Acts 1:18-20; that lines up with Galatians, almost exactly.
C. Why did Paul write
In Galatians 2, Paul says that after fourteen years he visited Jerusalem again and describes a meeting with the Apostles there. How does this match up as it is a little difficult to figure out. When we look at what Paul describes in Galatians 2:1-10, it sounds a lot like this. There are enough similarities to make us think perhaps these are identical and if that is the case, Paul is writing after the Council and doesn’t mention that specifically for one reason or another. But the accounts aren’t quite the same and question becomes (this is the argument from silence) this; if in Galatians Paul mentions only these two visits to Jerusalem, then what happens to this one? A number of critical scholars say that this isn’t a big deal; Acts often gets things wrong which makes it unreliable and thus can’t trust Luke’s history. So they say that he just fabricated this. But in taking Acts seriously, as we should as an effective and accurate history, we don’t have that option. In Galatians 1 and 2, Paul is trying to convince the Galatians about his relationship with Jerusalem. It is a highly charged polemical context here, you wouldn’t expect him to omit one of his visits; this would have given fuel to his opponents to negatively talk against him. I think it is unlikely that he would have left out any visits. So, if Acts is accurate and Paul hasn’t left out a visit, then when he writes Galatians, he has only made two visits to Jerusalem. Thus, Galatians has to be dated before the Council meetings. Richard Longnecker, one of my own teachers, makes an argument that these two arguments from silence are relatively persuasive. The point then, we find Galatians to be the first letter Paul wrote; and if this chronology is correct, it was just before the Jerusalem Council. It would have been the first letter he wrote, thus giving us some context about the situation from that point in time.
Even if the Antioch incident takes place after the famine relief visit, then it also takes place after Peter’s visit to Cornelius and the vision and his coming back to Jerusalem in Acts 11 at the beginning of the chapter and explaining how he has now been given the message from God regarding the Gentiles. Peter’s behavior at Antioch, whether it comes earlier or later, is hard to explain. There are things going on in the background; we are only hearing Paul’s voice with the Galatians. We never hear Peter explaining his side of the story as Acts doesn’t give us a full picture of everything that happened. The letters of Paul and Peter don’t give us all of the information and we end up seeing only a small amount of the background information.
Here, there is general agreement on a broad outline of the letter. Paul mentions agitators at the beginning and at the end of the letter. There were people disturbing these new Christians in South Galatia. It is a serious matter where Paul talks about them preaching another Gospel. Clearly, insisting on obedience to the Law is an important matter. In chapter 4, Paul talks about them observing special days, months, seasons and years, referencing Jewish holy days and festivals; circumcision is an obvious issue which explicitly comes at the beginning of chapter 5. Paul accuses them of trying to finish by means of the flesh. In my reading of Galatians, this word ‘finish’ seems to be important. So, putting all of this together, James Dunn summarizes this in a nice succinct description of what is happening. So, Galatians is a response to a challenge from Christian Jewish missionaries who had come to Galatia to improve or correct Paul’s Gospel and to complete these converts by integrating them fully as heirs of Abraham through circumcision and bringing them under the Law. This is a fairly good description of what is going on in Paul’s response to the people here. You have these missionaries who have come in after Paul had done the initial work of evangelism planted the churches. They have their own way of thinking about these things and how they think the Galatia Christians need now to proceed and so Paul is responding to that kind of an argument. It makes perfect sense against the background of the 1st-century Jewish world which we can easily forget because of our historical perspective of the two thousand years that have passed. When the Gospel was first being preached in the 1st-century Jewish world, it was by no means evident that the Law should not continue to be the way to guide the people of God. The Messiah had come; Jesus was the promised Messiah, but where in the Old Testament do we read that when the Messiah came, the Law was going to be optional? You could possibly get this out of some of the texts, but it isn’t absolutely clear and there were a lot of Jews in the 1st-century world that were convinced that Jesus was the Messiah. Apparently, these people in Galatia were in agreement with this. But why should the Law be dispensed? Didn’t God give the Law as an external way of regulating his people; wasn’t circumcision something to mark all of Abraham’s heirs? Great! We will let the Gentiles come into the people of God but they have to come in under the same terms that we are in; the terms of the covenant that God entered into with Abraham and Moses. We have to appreciate how legitimately difficult this issue probably was for the 1st-century church to sort out.
Just to summarize Paul’s response to this basic argument; we are justified by faith in Christ alone and this is entirely adequate for salvation.