Lecture 2: Galatians
I. Acts and Galatians on Paul's Trip to Jerusalem
The Epistle to the Galatians appears to be the first of the letters in Chronological sequence that Paul wrote. In theological significance it ranks perhaps next to Romans in the history of influence of Paul’s letters in the history of the church. Martin Luther referred to it as the charter of Christian liberty because of the transformation that took place in his own life when he believed that he had understood it rightly. A look at the map of Paul’s missionary journey reminds us of what we consider in more detail in our introductory lecture of Paul in general. Paul had travelled from the mainland from Syrian Antioch with Barnabas a short distance across the Mediterranean to the island of Cyprus and then again across the Med Sea to South central Turkey up to the high plateau country, perhaps where he could recover from the sickness of malaria, to the cities in or near the southern part of the Roman Province of Galatia. These would include the cities of Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe.
A look at some contemporary slides of the terrain and artifacts of southern Galatia shows a well preserved Roman Aqueduct near the city of Antioch. We can get a feel as well of the high plains and terrain where the air would have been less humid. The temperatures would have been a little cooler with disease infestation being less than on the swampy coast line near Myra and Patara. The city of Antioch is a rare sight in the itinerary of Paul that is still being vigorously excavated even in the early 21st century so that tourists who travel there will see substantially more each time they go. Another shows the ruins of a Jewish synagogue, possibly where Paul preached the sermon as seen in Act 13. As we move onto Iconium of modern day Conia, archaeologists were helped in their discovery of the exact location by a Greek inscription of what looks like EIKONIE WN but pronounced correctly as Eikonayum. There was a similar inscription in Latin bearing the word LYSTRA and thus the site of Lystra which is surrounded by some very interesting terrain, including a roughed plateau complete with caves in the vertical side of the hill. This was much more rural and out of the way area than the cities that Paul typical travelled to and ministered in. Another inscription enabled archaeologist to identify the site of Derbe, however hardly any excavation has taken place there.
These out of the way places account for the superstitious nature of the people to Paul when he comes to Lystra as narrated in Acts 14 and people are easily swayed to think of Paul and Barnabas first as gods but then as devils when nearby Jews begin to slander Paul and Barnabas. Perhaps the most interesting question in regards to the letter to the Galatians involved the comparison between Paul autobiographical information in Galatians 1 to 2 and the biographical accounts of Luke in the Book of Acts of the early events of Paul ministry particularly in Acts 9, 11 and 15.
At this point the student is encouraged to look at the text in order to better understand the issues involved here. Since the rise of modern Biblical criticism and in many areas, a skeptical approach to the Biblical documents that doesn’t begin giving them the benefit of the doubt until they are disproved but rather begins with a hermeneutic of suspicion, it has been to assume that the apostolic council of Acts chapter 15 is narrated in Luke’s stylized and selective fashion. Referring to the identical gathering in Jerusalem that Paul describes in Galatians 2:1-10. Clearly both texts refer to a significantly gathering in which Paul and Barnabas join up with various other apostolic leaders in Jerusalem in order to deal with the issue of law keeping with the Christian movement. The two passages of Acts 15 and Galatians 2:1-10 refer to the same meeting. In Acts 15, the problem started with people coming from Judea to Syria and Antioch teaching the requirement that even gentiles who became Christian believers had to be circumcised according to the Law of Moses. Galatians 2 on the other hand while referring to circumcision briefly insists that even Titus who was a gentile was compelled to be circumcised as a believer. Other than that the issue involved in Galatians 2 seems to be more a question of Paul’s legitimacy to minister more generally. The question of division of labor was the issue of which the apostolic leaders ministered primarily in Jewish and Gentiles territories and questions about response to the poor in the early Christian communities. Many critical scholars as a result, simple conclude that Galatians two is a more reliable account because it is autobiographical and Luke has at the very least distorted the full purposes of this council in his more theologically selective and stylized account. But a bigger problem is shown as one continues to read in Galatians 2 and sees in verses 11 and following how Peter reneges on the agreement just made in Galatians 2:1-10. There is nothing corresponding to this, following the account of the apostolic council in Acts 15 and the question comes whether it is historical plausible for Peter to have so violated a carefully hashed out agreement so quickly or whether some things are historically different in that Galatians two that it should be considered a more informal gathering and Acts 15 presents a far more formalized agreement than in reality ever occurred; since Paul would not likely to have encountered Peter backing away in such dramatic fashion from such a formal agreement.
On the other hand, if one simply lists the visits claimed by either Luke or Paul of Paul to Jerusalem after his conversion, the correlations will have to be made differently. The first trip of Paul to Jerusalem is narrated in Acts 9 and in Galatians chapter 1:15-24. The visit to offer famine relief described in Acts 11 and the second account in Galatians will have to be one to ten. That means the Apostolic Council in Acts 15 cannot be matched with Galatians 2:1-10 but has to have taken place afterwards and therefore presumably after Peter’s confirmation with Paul in Antioch in Galatians 2:11-14 as well. What happens if we assume this set of correlations? At first glance, there seems to be a different set of problems. In Acts 9, one reads that Saul, immediately after his conversion spent several days with the disciples in Damascus and began to preach in the synagogues there that Jesus was the Son of God, but after many days, the Jews conspired to kill him. As Saul learned of their plans, his followers devised a means whereby he could leave the walled in town at night. We then read that when he came to Jerusalem he tried to join the disciples but they were all afraid of him until Barnabas came and relieved their fears. On the other hand in Galatians 1:15 and following, the appearance is that Paul did not set off for Jerusalem at all after his time was done in Damascus but rather went immediately into Arabia and then later returned to Damascus visiting Jerusalem only after three years.
On the other hand, some critics believe that Acts is historically in error or theologically incorrect, this allows us to easily understand the expression, after many days in Acts 9, as a very vague definite period of time that certainly allows for the passage of three years. The second problem for interpretation and for harmonization involves the superficial contradiction between Acts 9 in which Paul moves about freely in Jerusalem, staying with the apostles, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord, talking and debating with Hellenistic Jews. But in Galatians 1, he writes, I am personally unknown to the churches in Judea. They only heard the report that the man that was persecuting us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy. Again, on more careful inspection, this supposed contradiction dissolves. Both Acts and Galatians allow Paul to have met with an unspecified number of apostles. In Galatians, it is limited to Peter and James, the Lord’s brother. Moving freely about in Jerusalem hardly would have implied that Paul became well known to any other Christians there since the movement was still so small. But what Acts 9 emphasizes even more is that his ministry took place, not among fellow believers but with the other Jews from the diaspora like he was himself and thus trying to share his faith with them just as he had done in Damascus three years earlier. He was personally unknown to Christians but not his former Jewish compatriots.
This harmonization does more than preserve the non-contradictory nature of Scripture’s teaching and reminds of an applicable principle in any time and culture, mainly that young believers, young in spiritual age, often have their best window of time and opportunities to evangelize their still unsaved family and friends because their own experience is undeniable. Their transformation can be seen and they still have many contacts and acquaintances within the Christian world. Unfortunately, often times, Christians become socialized into the Christian community, and within a couple of years, they don’t have many significant non-Christian acquaintances.
The next problem for the harmonizer involves correlating Acts 11:27-30 with Galatians 2:1-10. At first glance these two visits seem entirely different. Act 11 describes a prophet by the name of Agabus coming from Jerusalem to Syrian Antioch predicting the severe famine that would spread throughout the Roman Empire under the reign of the Emperor Claudius and the disciples provided help for fellow believers living in Judea, sending a gift to the elders by means of Barnabas and Saul. Galatians 2:1-10 on the other hand as we have already noted is primarily presented as a council over the legitimacy and nature of Paul’s ministry. Yet, on the other hand, there are two interesting points of convergence that make a correlation between Acts 11 and Galatians 2, not nearly as implausible as it might seem at first glance. Of the three Jerusalem visits described in the Book of Acts, only Acts 11 can be said as in Galatians 2:2 to have been in response to a revelation from the prophecy of Agabus. Only Acts 11 of the three accounts of Paul going to Jerusalem had anything to do with the poor which is the very points Galatians 2:1-10 climaxes in the final verse. Remembering the poor was the very thing Paul was eager to do. Surly Paul and Barnabas would not have made a journey of this time in the ancient world without doing much more than delivering famine relief. So it doesn’t seem implausible to suggest that these two passages could be matched. What then if Galatians 2:11-13 actually precedes Act 15?
Another point of convergence comes as one reads in Acts 15:1 that it was the problem of salvation requiring circumcision that caused the Apostle Council in Jerusalem, but Galatians 2:11-14 equally clearly was with people coming to Antioch from Jerusalem who were called the circumcision group. All that is missing in the Book of Acts is the encounter with Peter and the hypocrisy of Barnabas himself being led astray. But there is nothing to prevent the remaining of Acts 15 and the Apostle Council being understood as a response to the controversy that took place in Antioch. Once again, the beginning theological student may be asking why so much detail on this issue of correlation of historical information. In addition to whether Scripture contradicts itself or not; the more theological nature is the question of the definition of Gospel in the early stages of the Christian movement, which the theological heart of Galatians will go on to address. What is more, if the encounter between Peter and Paul in Antioch caused the writing of the Epistle to the Galatians as well as the Apostolic Council, it seems highly likely though not absolutely certain that the reason there is no reference in Galatians to that final and more formal gathering of Acts 15 is it had not yet occurred. This then enables us to date the letter to the Galatians prior to the Apostolic Council in the years AD 48 or 49 as discussed in our introductory lecture to Paul, his life and his letters. It also means that it highly likely though again not absolutely required that the portion of Galatia that Paul would be writing to, would be those communities evangelized on the first missionary journey rather than an unknown section of the smaller ethic Galatians province in the northern part of the larger Roman territory by that name. This means that it is perfectly plausible to turn to Acts 13 and 14 for historical background to the community Paul is writing in the letter to the Galatians in a way that it would not be the case under other theories.
II. Galatians as an "Apologetic Letter"
What does Paul write in this epistle? H. D. Betts, University of Chicago Professor, in 1979 says that Galatians should be identified as an apologetic letter; apologetic in the sense of contenting for the faith, not in the sense of someone saying sorry for something. Betts reconstructed from other ancient rhetorical and other literary handbooks and actual epistles a model for a typical apologetic letter. An epistolary prescript first came, a somewhat elaborate greeting, followed by an exordium or a statement of the problem. Subsequently, the narrative portion came next including both the thesis and the presentation of facts leading up to it. In this case there was the exordium of Judaizes, those who are requiring circumcision, perhaps merely as the tip of requiring obedience to the entire Law of Moses for salvation. He anathematizes this approach as we will discuss in more detail shortly. As a results he explains that this is a deviation from the way he preached the Gospel to the Galatians and gives the autobiographical information to justify his way of presenting the Gospel as authoritative if not more so than anyone else. The theological heart of an apologetic letter comes in the proposition, a thesis paragraph if you like, containing the summary of points of agreement and what remains contested, both in this case involving aspects of Paul’s conviction of justification by faith rather than by works of the Law. The pro boxeo section proofs or supporting arguments, not all of which needs to be logical or linear in nature in the ancient Mediterranean world in particular. Some of them will be as some of Paul’s are but others will be more emotional, appealing to people’s experience or illustrious examples or analogies to drive points home. Or even figuratively implying metaphors or an allegory to reinforce one’s reasoning.
Then after the main information of the body is completed, we find exhortation material. Many writers speak of exhortation material in a New Testament letter as Paraklesis , Greek for exhortation, the adjective more commonly used Parenetic, encouraging or persuasive and then as with a traditional Greco-Roman letter of every kind, there is an epistolary postscript including a conclusion and concluding greetings. Betts’ outline of the structure and rhetorical or literary form of this epistles where many writers have questioned parts of this outline, but overall the outline is defensible. For our purposes of an introductory survey however, we may simplify the outline into roughly three sections, not counting the greetings and closing. Almost one section for every two main chapters in the letter in which first an autobiographical fashion, Paul defends his apostolic authority, secondly with the thesis paragraph at the end of chapter two adds the introduction to this second large section. In chapters three and four, he defines justification by faith rather than the Law and thirdly, he defines freedom in Christ through the Spirit least other people not fall into the trap of the Judaizes need to hear a message against antinomianism or Lawless living or least people over reaction to the message he makes sure that it is understood in the first four chapters and swing the pendulum too far in the opposite direction. The thesis and the supporting arguments underneath the section defining justification by faith can remind us largely as best identified with one additional observation and that of 3:19-4:7 which does not function as an additional argument or set of arguments for Paul’s thesis but rather as a necessary digression answering the question, if the Law was not given so that people could be saved by it what then were the purposes of the law?
It is perhaps also worth reflecting on this juncture that precisely because Paul is having to defend his apostolic authority against rivals who claim to be derived from the Jerusalem Apostles that he is defining the theological heart of his message in a diametrically opposite way to that of his opponents that it would have been disingenuous of him not to have included every contact that he had with the Jerusalem Apostles less his opponents accuse him of what today we would call a cover up. But that in turn makes our proposed harmonization between Galatians and Acts all the more secure because the correlation we have proposed is the only possible correlation if we assume that Galatians has not omitted a reference to any of the visits of Paul to Jerusalem that Acts narrates.
III. Galatians Outline
We turn now to the text of Galatians itself. It would be good for the listing student to have a copy of the translation of Galatians, opened in front of them for this commentary section and others. Paul begins with a lengthy and unusual detailed theological opening greeting’s that serves to underline the seriousness of the problem that the infiltration of Judaizes into the Galatian’s churches has started. Even more to the point, the absence of any kind of thanksgiving, whether or not it was customary in an apologetic letter is striking, indeed it is absent from that entire literary subgenre showing that such an apologia was reserved for very serious challenges to one’s particular perspective or world view. What appears replacing the traditional thanksgiving is some of the harshest language in all of the New Testament. Paul writes that he is astonished that the Galatians are changing their theological colors so quickly turning to a message which is not good news gospel in any fashion, speaks of his opponents as throwing them into confusion and perverting the Gospel of Christ and then makes remarkable strong statements in verses 8 and 9 that if anyone, if an angel from heaven should preach a Gospel other than the Pauline Gospel, that person should be an anathema, under God’s curse and he says it twice for emphasis. How are we to account for such strong language?
IV. Being Harsh vs. Being Nice
The same can be ask about Jesus’ teaching out of the Gospels, nowhere more extensively than in the woes against the Scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23 includes some very harsh language. To make matters more complicated and contradictory, one finds both Jesus and Paul being unusually welcoming, showing kindness and relating to those who were outcast or outsides to Jewish and Christian religions. Jesus became known for being friends of tax collectors and sinners and Paul in 1st Corinthians 9:19-23 and this repeats five times on how he tries to be all things to all people so that by all means that he might save some. What’s going on here? The simple answer is that both Jesus and Paul go out of their way of not putting unnecessary stumbling blocks with those who have not yet embraced the Gospel but reserve their harshest language of condemnation for those claims to be religious insiders having already accepting the Gospel and yet told a perverted legalistic works of righteousness that in fact cannot save anyone, neither themselves nor anyone who embraces it. We must exercise extreme caution in different cultures particularly modern western ones where strong language is deemed as culturally naturally even in a number of non-theological settings in the ancient Mediterranean world. A professing Christian disagrees with us on a point even a fairly central point of being a Christian doesn’t give us the right to use this kind of language. But if that point involves the doctrine of salvation such that a person who would embrace it would in fact be putting their eternal destiny into jeopardy than a more tactful ways fail, we have the right to speak in similarly strong language. We have already commented in our introductory letter about Galatians 1:11-12 and how Paul claims to have receives his Gospel solely by revelation from Jesus Christ can be harmonized with those elsewhere in those letters where he speaks of passing on what he received from Christian tradition or directly from other Christian conversations. Indeed, the rest of chapters one and two will go on to talk about three of those conversations, two in Jerusalem and one in Antioch with fellow Christians.
Verses 13-16 however, introduce us to a topic we need to elaborate more on, namely Paul’s conversion and call or commission. Ever since the dramatic turnaround in the life of Martin Luther, the first and some would say the preeminent Reformation leaders, there has been an understandable tendency begun by Luther himself, to read Paul’s remarks here and one or two other places in his letters as a mere image of Luther’s experience with medieval Catholicism. Martin Luther in the early fifteen hundreds was a Catholic Monk struggling to be a very faithful Christian to keep all of the Christian commandments as well as those of his religious order as best he understood them but becoming more and more frustrating by his inability to do so. It was returning to the Greek of Galatians and Romans rather than the Latin Vulgate translation which has misled people in various places that convinced Luther that salvation or justification to use Paul’s preferred term in Galatians was by faith alone and not by good works, even works of the Torah or the inspired Hebrew Scriptures. It was natural then to read Paul’s conversion in light of his own experience and assume that first century Palestinian Judaism was equally consumed with salvation by works as his experience in medieval Catholicism had been and also, Paul was a frustrated Jew fighting harder and harder to obey the law but being unable to do so. But Paul’s testimony here in Galatians 1:13 and following belies this interpretation as will Philippians 3:6 and following later on. Paul’s reflection here of his pre-Christian attitude was that he was advancing in Judaism beyond many of his own age among fellow Jews and was extremely zealous for the traditions of his fathers. He was doing very well, thank you very much, he might have said. It was only after God in Christ encounters him on the Damascus road when he realized how misguided his previous adventures had been. Far from being psychological right for a conversion experience, God probably needed to provide the surprise dramatic and supernatural revelation as the vision on the Damascus road was to get through to this zealous and committed orthodox pharisaic Jew who was willing to commit acts of terror in persecuting Christians, believing it necessary to purge the Jewish religion of these apostates.
We have already commented in our introductory remarks in Galatians in some detail about his first two trips to Jerusalem, narrated in chapter one verses seventeen and following and then again at the beginning of chapter two. It’s uncertain that verses 15 to 21 continue Paul’s words as there were no quotations marks in the ancient language and these words read equally to that of Paul’s later summary of the theological issues at stake for the Galatians. As already noticed, they also form what we think of as a thesis paragraph or collection of short paragraphs giving the message of the letter of Galatians at its theological heart.
V. Paul vs. the Judaizers
Looking at the next PowerPoint slide, the difference between Paul and the Judaizers will be discussed. Both groups claim to be Christian believers and both recognize that faith in Jesus as Messiah was utterly essential for justification, being made right with God, both even recognize that good works formed an important part of Christian living. But as Paul understood the Judaizers’ claims, as he had encountered them elsewhere and as he had heard second hand how similar Judaizers were infiltrating the Galatian churches. He understood that their message required faith in Christ be supplemented by works of the Law before anyone could be declared justified with God. This was an impossible approach to salvation for no one would ever please God enough so as to merit his favor. Paul’s understanding of faith, works and justification, as faith in Christ by itself producing the right standing before the Lord, but then followed by a life of good works, not the works of the Torah with the 613 laws of the Old Testament obeyed as if Jesus had not changed the application of any of them, but rather with good deeds created by the Holy Spirit that now indwells all believers and motivates them to do good works in continuity with the moral standards of the laws of Moses but not as any kind of a necessary obedience to a specific list of do’s and don’ts of the Old Testament. Galatians 2:15-21 certainly includes some of the most condensed and perhaps dense theological teaching in the letter which the textbook attempts to unpack in more detail but the basic contrast seems to reflect the heart of it.
There are those that speak of this presentation of the Judaizes’ religion as a perspective of first century Judaism. The new perspective on Paul which is also a ‘new look’ of first century Judaism since the ground breaking work of E.P. Sanders in 1977 of Paul and Palestinian Judaism. A subsection of the textbook opening chapter on Paul more generally introduces the student to the issues at stake here which we can summarize in this context by highlighting that Sanders and others who have followed him has shown that first century Judaism was not in the main a religion of classic legalism in the sense of doing good works in order to merit salvation. As we mentioned in our opening lecture, most Jews understood the Law to have followed salvation just as Mt Sinai followed Exodus. The Law was the way of living out a person’s life as already the covenant made created fellowship between people and Yahweh, God of Israel. This approach to Christian living, Sanders dubbed covenantal nomism and he explains with the succinct summary that obeying the law for 1st century Palestinian Jews was much more about how one stays saved than how one got saved. But we are no longer in 1st century Palestine or in Southern Galatia. Rather we have a changed situation where gentiles are coming to faith in Jesus and having certain groups of Jewish Christians or professing Jewish Christians claim that they must obey the entire Torah in order to be saved.
The whole question in context of Galatians is precisely about how one ‘gets saved’ because gentiles were not born into the covenant community of God. At this point, we have to acknowledge the way Paul presents the teaching of the Judaizes and for that matter the way Luke in Acts 15 presents it, is that for these outsiders, at least one small select party of Jews who had also professed salvation in Christ were requiring Law keeping in order to ‘get saved’. Perhaps they were a small minority of 1st century Jews; perhaps they reflected a position that was not quite the same as any Jews who had not professed any kind of faith in Jews, which simply lacked the historical evidence to be sure. But since the completion of the translation of publication of the documents from the Qumran community known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, there is a very intriguing short fragmentary document called 4QMMT from the 4th Qumran cave and the MMT refers to some of the works in the Torah. Here, we have the ambiguous phrase ‘the works of the law’, which are being put forward as a requirement for right standing with Yahweh, virtually precisely the way that the Judaizes who Paul combats in the Letter to the Galatians.
The relative section of the fragment, verses 25-32 in the English reads:
‘Remember, David, who was one of the pious ones, he too was freed from many afflictions and was forgiven.’ We might ask, how? So the writer goes on to say, ‘and we have written to you some of the works of the Torah.’ There’s that key phrase never before attested exactly in that form in Jewish literature. ‘We have written to you some of the works of the Torah which we think are good for you and your people for we saw that you have intellect and knowledge of the Law.’ Most scholars believe at this point that the Qumran community is writing to the main line Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, to the various groups, particularly the Sadducees who were responsible for over sight for temple worship and practice there. Since elsewhere it’s clear that the Essene sect represented in the Qumran community believed that all the rest of Judaism outside of Essence sectarian practice was apostate. ‘Reflect on all these matters and seek from him (God), that he may support your council and keep you from the evil scheming and council of the devil so that at the end of time, you may rejoice in finding that some of our words are true and it shall be reckoned to you as justice.’ This language in the original Hebrew could have given rise to the Greek expressions found in Galatians and Romans of Paul’s writings translating or eluding to language from Genesis 15 about Abraham’s faith that was reckoned to him as righteousness or justice. ‘And it shall be reckoned to you as justice when you do what is upright and good before him, for you good and that of Israel.’
And that good involve the central works of the Torah. As it is inaccurate to say that 1st century Palestinian Judaism and before knows nothing of the legalizing mindset that adheres to at least part of the Judaizes teaching in Antioch and Galatia.
VI. History in Romans and Galatians
How then do we refute such heresy? The proofs, the pro boxeo begins in Galatians chapter three. The first argument is from experience; you began by faith not by works of Law in your Christian life, why would you want to change that method now? And Galatians 3:6 quotes the very principle about Abraham’s salvation or justification that we have just sighted from 4QMMT. The second argument in verses 7-9 involves an argument from history and it is one that will be repeated in Romans as well. It has often been schematically understood as viewing the period of the Law as something of parenthesis in the history of God’s dealings with Israel. Clearly in Genesis 12 which came more than four centuries before the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai. The promises to Abraham came before the era of Moses the Law Giver and Paul has just made it clear that he understands Abraham’s right standing with God to have come about by faith. Thus his conclusion is that the Law was a temporary period, a concept that he will unpack more in Galatians chapters three and four as he proceeds, but that in the Christian era, the age of the fulfillment of God’s promises, the age of the coming of the Messiah, Jesus and salvation through Jesus but salvation that hinges on the law is in error.
VII. Law vs. Gospel
Galatians 3:1 through 14 is another opaque segment of this epistle. It appears to play off two Old Testament texts against one another with respect to the manner of salvation and then concludes with the solution that redemption comes through faith in Christ and the promise of the spirit. How are we to deal with the fact that Paul first quotes Deuteronomy as teaching that everyone is cursed who does not continues to do everything written in the Book of the Law and then adds from Habakkuk 2:4, no one is justified before God by the Law because the righteous will live by faith. When in the context of Habakkuk the prophet is talking exactly about what Sanders has designated as covenantal nomism. The righteous person, the elect within Israel, the one who is already in right covenant standing with the Lord will live out his life of Godliness by his faithfulness to the Torah. What is more, Paul goes on, the Law is not based on faith, on the contrary it says whoever does these things will live by them but when one looks up this quote from Leviticus 18, it is clear that it is held out to the Jews as a real possibility again most likely to be interpreted in the sense of covenantal nomism as how they are to live out a life of righteousness in gratitude to God for the salvation he has already given to them.
There are at least two contrasts implicit between faith and Torah obedience. It would appear that Paul is saying that within the Old Testament, right and wrong responses and appropriations of the Law are disclosed. Faith in God’s promises, culminating in recognition of the Messiah, when he comes, is as with Abraham, is right way to be in right standing with God. Whereas, attempts to merit God’s favor to Torah obedience is always doomed to failure. But what about the covenantal nomist option, when the Law is used properly as the outgrowth of faith in God’s promises? The second contrast implied in these verses because of the changes that have taken place, now that the Messiah has come and provided a fashion for full redemption. Even that which was the right way in Old Testament times, is it now a closed door? It is no longer adequate to have faith in the promises of God. In general when a person has heard the message and it has been explained that Jesus is indeed the Jewish Messiah and at the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises and the arrival of the New Age has begun. Faith must now be explicitly directed to Jesus as Messiah and fulfillment of those Old Testament promises as the right way to salvation. Whereas allegiance to anyone or anything else including the Old Testament forms of worship of Yahweh, God alone apart from accepting Jesus leads only to damnation. Paul returns to his time line analogy in verses 15-18, again talking about how the period of the Law does not annul the giving of the promise which occurred four hundred and thirty years earlier. At this point, Paul anticipates the question, what then was the purpose of the Law?
VIII. Tertius Usus Legis - The Three Uses of the Law
The protestant reformers came to the conviction, first of all, out of Galatians that there were three uses of the Law for the Christian era and all of these can be seen in Galatians chapter 3 and following. Verse 19 and 20 briefly introduces us to the first of these and Romans 6 explains them a bit more. Namely, it was a deterrent to sin for unbelievers. What then was the purpose of the Law, Galatians 3:19 asks? It was added because of transgressions, until the seed to whom the promise referred had come. It’s possible as the textbook explains in more detail that this should be translated, ‘it was added in order to cause transgression, at the very least, in the sense of making explicit that certain evil deeds were against God’s Law. It was in hopes of at least some instances of deterring people from continuing to break those laws. But the second reason from 3:21 and following involves our need of a Savior, involves recognizing that during this period of the Torah Law is precisely that; it is temporary and custodial in nature, it is like the jail keeper, keeping the prisoner bound, it is like the school master or the slave responsible for taking the young student to and from school, no longer needing to function in that way. It is like the guardian and trustees of a minor who supervise his estate until time he or she is ready to take over. In each case, it is a temporary period of time when one looks forward to growing out of. And each segment of Galatians 3 and 4 in which these metaphors appear, the point is additionally made that such a Savior has come as in Jesus and therefore the prisoner has served his sentence and has been freed. The school boy has graduated, etc. There is now freedom from the Law. Do Christians then jettison the Old Testament? Paul also quotes the Torah and has done so already throughout Galatians and will continue to do throughout the rest of his writings. But as chapters 5 and 6, particular of Galatians will make clear, the Law has an abiding value for Christian as moral guide, setting out fundamental ethical principles whereas what Christians came to refer to as the civil or ceremonial laws, do not continue as unchanged into the New Testament period, but reflected a unique arrangement with Israel.
But it isn’t just a moral guide that Christians find what they should do and not do. It is not just to the Torah and to the moral components that they should turn but rather to the full extent to the Christian revelation, beginning with the teachings of Jesus and then apostolic instructions as shown in scripture. So to anticipate Paul’s argument and jump ahead for the moment to the second half of Galatians 5 and first part of Galatians 6 was by the Spirit in 5:13 and following is described as shown in verse 14 as loving ones neighbor as oneself and thus fulfilling the entire law. It’s described as avoiding the sinful desires of the flesh but living out the fruit of the spirit. In verses 16-26 and the fruit of the Spirit is explicitly enumerated and given in verses 22-23 as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. With Paul saying, against such things, there is no law. In other words, this type of moral living cannot be legislated. No one could ever create a comprehensive list of do’s and don’ts that would guarantee that people would be perfectly loving and joyful and peaceful and kind, etc. in every situation they might find themselves in life. This combination of fundamental moral principles of the Old Testament, the legitimate applications of the rest of the Old Testament, once mediated through the grid of fulfillment in Christ combined with the fullness of Christians revelation, now codified in the New Testament, together forms what Paul then in Galatians 6:2 refers to as the Law of Christ.
IX. Galatians 3:28
We return to where we left of in the sequence of passages in Galatians 3. As we have already mentioned, each of these analogies of the nature of the Law as a temporary custodian climaxes with the affirmation that Christians now live beyond that period. Perhaps the most dramatic and undoubtedly the most influential and controversial of these, comes in 3:26 through 29. So in Christ Jesus, you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who are baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise. Even verse 28 alone has spawned numerous comments and controversies. On the one hand, there are those who refer to the equality in Christ of Jew and gentile, slave and free, male and female with equality with respect to salvation. All people, no matter what their human status may be, now come to God through Christ on exactly equal terms by faith apart from the works of the Torah. At the other end of the spectrum of those who find this text as a programmatic charter for an entirely egalitarian interpretation of Paul and of Christianity more generally in which no distinction in roles or functions for Jew or gentile, slave or free, male or female can possibly be ever again be countenance.
It would appear that neither of these two extremes is defensible from this verse or short paragraph in and of itself. On the one hand, this is set in the context, verse 27 of Christian baptism, the rite of initiation into the Christian community that corresponded at least in part to the rite of circumcision in the Old Testament, but gentiles today often do not think of how liberating and equalizing baptism was as a ritual in part replacing circumcision. For it was ministered to men and women alike. Because baptism is a fundamental outward ritual and sign denoted the inward change that comes when a person trusts in Christ. It would seem inadequate to say that the equality of verse 28 in for salvation only. There must be some visible privileges, rituals, freedoms that meaningfully communicate today to a watching world; the way Christian baptism did to Jews used to the solely male performed rite of circumcision that will point to today’s people and cultures of the liberating and equalizing roles of the Gospel. While one is thinking of the ordnances or sacraments, one might consider allowing men and women equally to serve communion in the modern day church, since there is no text anywhere saying who can minister this particular ordnance, despite centuries of limitations of various clerical leaders in certain Christian traditions. But on the other hand, it appears to go further beyond what can be fairly inferred just from this short text that Paul would not have envisioned any further distinctions between Jew and gentile.
Romans chapter 11 will appear to suggest at least one biding distinction, nor between slave or free, although we will see that Paul’s seems to sow the seeds for the absolution of slavery, he doesn’t do it unambiguously during his life time and in his writing and indeed will give instructions for those who find themselves unalterably enmeshed in the institution of slavery. How to live in that institution, likewise it seems precarious to derive from the passage alone a complete realization of all roles and distinctions when it comes to genders. Perhaps that is what Paul teaches, but if he teaches it, we will have to discover it from other passages and not nearly from this one. After all, as Ben Witherington points out in an article in New Testament studies in 1981, one can turn to other Jewish or Greco-Roman writers and find equally sweeping statements of equality in the abstract, only to be followed up by other texts that continue to preserve equally clearer role distinctions than anything in the Epistles of Paul. Witherington, for example, cites the much later rabbinic documents, Seder Ehyahu Rabak, section seven which reads, I call heaven and earth to witness that whether gentile or Israelite, man or woman, slave or handmaid reads this verse, the Holy One, blessed be he remembers the binding of Isaac. Again, Rabbi Judah ben Shalam in commenting on Psalm 56:3 in the Midrash, known as Exodus Rabah Kasad Shalak in section 21.4, If a poor man says anything, one pays little regard but if a rich man speaks, immediately he is heard and listened to, before God, however, all are equal, women, slaves, poor and rich. Or yet again in Yahku Yehla Ka, section 76, God said to Moses, irrespective of persons with me, whether it be Israelite or gentile, man or woman, slave or handmaid, whoever does a good deed shall find a reward at its side. Yet there is virtually no evidence in the Rabbinic Judaism contemporaneous with these documents of women occupying the highest levels of Synagogue, leadership and apparently the rabbis that promulgated these pairings of legal teachings did not see any contradiction among them.
X. Paul's Typology in Galatians 4:21-31
After the section on the purposes of the Law, Paul returns to his arguments for justification by faith, more generally. In chapter 4:21-31, he builds on the story of Sarah and Hagar in the accounts of Genesis: first, the slave wife of Abraham and the other, the free wife, such that Israelites as members of God’s free covenant people saw their spiritual descent as coming from Sarah and the son she bore to Abraham in their old age, Isaac; whereas, it was the gentile people who were viewed as the off spring of the slave woman, Hagar and her son, Ismael. In a shocking reversal of this analogy which was indisputable in terms of physical descend, Paul makes the claim that now in the age after the coming of Christ, the spiritual descendants of Sarah and Hagar and Isaac and Ismael are virtually the opposite. It is Christians, now already, even just twenty years after the inception of the movement, is starting to be made up of more gentile people who are the true spiritual descendants of the free woman and her son. What also Paul calls the Jerusalem from above to distinguish it from the Israel dominated literal Jerusalem, the capital city of Judah. On the other hand, it is those Jews that the majority tragically at the time of the writing of Galatians which had not yet embraced the Gospel who were, spiritually speaking, the enslaved descendants of Ismael by means of Hagar.
There are other portions of Galatians we could comment on. We skipped over the argument dealing with slavery in 4:8-20 to move to the segment on freedom in the Spirit of the Law. We haven’t commented on the metaphor of the half-way house in 5:1 and following or on other details in 5:12 to the end of the body of the letter in terms of what moral living rather than lawless living by the Spirit, but our time is limited and we refer the readers and students to the textbook and to the more extensive references in the footnotes and bibliographies for further material. At this time, we want to move to concluding and application remarks. And once again, try to come up with a blend or synthesis of the most legitimate insights of both the so-called old and new perspectives on Paul and on 1st century Judaism.
XI. Judaism vs. Paul
There are three fundamental contrasts that must govern the application of Paul’s teachings and particularly the letter to the Galatians with the very real threat of Judaizes in the background. Against the new look on Paul or least against extreme forms of it, we must insist that the classic legalistic perspective that required certain deeds of the law in order to merit God’s favor and not salvation, was in existence in 1st century Judaism whether or not it was a majority view. And thus to apply Paul in general and Galatians in particular in any other time and culture requires identification of any similar legalistic schemes where certain forms of works righteousness, deeds or rituals must be done or other practices avoided least someone’s salvation or right standing with God be called into question. And every error of Christian history seems to have examples of such. But with the new look on Paul; we must not play down the more subtle threat of covenantal nomism. For it is insidious and at times even imperceptible transition or crossing of a line that separates God’s people, Jewish or Christian from doing good from the natural outgrowth of the salvation already accomplished for them to a form of religious living which those identical good works are done for a different motivation, perhaps not to merit God’s salvation but nevertheless to merit his favor is some respect. This can be his blessings on their lives in the present or additional rewards in a life to come. We may speak of an improper covenantal nomism as redefining religion in terms of rules rather than a vibrant living relationship between humans and their God. But it is the merit of James Dunn’s numerous publications to which the textbook calls attention in the introductory chapter on Paul, that it was not all works or all works of the Torah that were equally stressed in the 1st century any more than any religion equally stresses all of the commands and mandates of its scriptures.
Some of the works that were particularly important for 1st century Palestinian Jews, Dunn has come to refer to as badges of national righteousness. Those very visible or well-known practices that distinguish Jews from the surrounding peoples such as circumcision, the dietary or food laws, the particular forms of sacrifice and temple worship, the belief in being a uniquely elect people, destined to inherit a uniquely promised land and other similar central customs or institutions. One thinks of the Sabbath Laws, the New Moon festivals, the seasonal or annual feast days that likewise had at best only partial parallels, and in the case of a weekly day of rest, no parallels at all in the gentile nations immediately surrounding the land of Israel in the 1st century. It would have been very easy therefore and in some of the Jewish literature suggest that would indeed happen from time to time to foster a mentality of ethnocentrism or more of a nationalist pride exalting the nation or people because of these unique customs and practices against the gentiles, the rest of the non-elect countries and people of the world.
Fear is where application to the Christian world in the 21st century perhaps becomes the most poignant. There are, as we have already mentioned from time to time, groups of people for instance claiming that baptism or speaking in tongues or some other good work or abstention from an even deed is an actual requirement for salvation. But for most who find themselves listening to these lectures, this will probably not be as nearly a common experience in their spheres of influence as the most insidious redefinitions of the faith in terms of rules rather than relationships. One former student of mine who was brought up within the Baptist tradition once said that he now understood that his approach and misunderstanding of Christianity as he had grown up was similar to an exclusive country club, trying to expand its membership through offering anyone who would come, a free one year membership, just like salvation is entirely free. But then if you wanted to continue with this country club, you paid extremely high annual membership fees.
Charles Swindoll in a book entitles, the Grace Awakening, quotes Eugene Peterson’s Travelling Light in a beautiful excerpt of contrasting the right and wrong approaches to the Law and to the rules in any age of religious history, for example, the word ‘Christian’, means different things to different people. To one person, it means a stiff inflexible way of life, querulous and unbending. To another it means a risky surprise filled adventure, lived, tiptoeing at the edge of expectation. Either of these pictures can be supported with evidence. There are a number of illustrations for either position with congregations all over the world. But if we restrict ourselves to biblical evidence, only the second image can be supported with an image of the person living zestfully, exploring every experience with pain and joy and enigma and insight, fulfillment and frustration as a dimension of human freedom, searching through each for sense and grace. If we get our information from the biblical material, there is no doubt that the Christian life is a dancing, leaping and daring life. How then does this other picture get painted in so many people’s imaginations? How does anyone live a life of faith associated with dullness, caution, inhibition with dodgy actions? We might suppose that a congregation of Christians, well stocked with freedom stories, stories of Abraham, Moses, David, Samson, Deborah, or Daniel but not for a moment countenance any teaching that would suppress freedom. We might reasonably expect that a group of people who from childhood told stories of Jesus setting people free and who keep Jesus as the center of their attention in weekly worship or be sensitive to any encroachment on their freedom. We might think that a people that has at the very heart experience release from sins, guilt and Spirit’s freedom, a people who no longer live under tyranny of emotions or public opinion of bad memories. But freely in hope and in faith and in love that these people would be critically alert to anyone or anything that would suppress their newly acquired spontaneity.
But in fact, the community of faith, the very place where we are most likely to experience the free life is also that very place we are in most danger of losing it. And Charles Swindoll, himself, goes on to say, ‘be honest. How many congregations do you know who are, dancing, leaping, daring,’ congregations? Congregations whose individual grace awakening are motivating people to live out their freedom in Christ? I’m afraid that the number is much fewer than we might guess. Let’s get specific, how many Christian do you know who exercise the joy and freedom to be a person full of life, living on tiptoe and enjoying spontaneous living as opposed to the hundreds of thousands who take their cues from the legalists?’ He really means covenantal nomist, ‘and live life accordingly? Isn’t it surprising to anyone who has been set free that anybody who would ever want to turn to bondage?’ That’s exactly the Paul makes in Galatians. ‘I suggest that you ponder, that the one place we would expect to be set free would be the place we would be placed into slavery.’ As usual, he’s correct, surly that must grieve our God. What happened in the first century can surly happen in the 21th century? Paul writes to the Galatians of his surprise; you were running well, who hindered you in obeying the truth.
And then perhaps, the most powerful play of all is the application of ethnocentrism or nationalism. Applications that are perhaps more needed in what has been called the balkanization of our world ever since the breakup of the Soviet Bloc around 1990. Fragmentation into numerous competing nationalist entities in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Bloc, with a war of genocide in Rwanda in the early 1990s and of horrific strife in other African and Southeast Asian spheres and Indian subcontinent along with the Latin American context. The most notable conflict is the war in Iraq and also with Isis. Who knows what vast injustices against humanity against itself in the name of defending the national interest of a particular country or ethnic group against another? We will be characterizing our world as you are listening to this lecture. Will the American and others be reduced to the poverty that characterizes other parts of the world? Will we be anymore immune to internal civil warfare? When will we stop identifying God’s will with the national interest of a particular government or political party within a country?
A former missionary to Rwanda and subsequently executive of CB international, the foreign missionary organization of the Conservative Baptist Movement subsequently renamed World Venture, a man by the name of Glen Kindoll, spoke powerful as one of the last western missions to leave and literally rescued from Rwanda during the days of civil war. A period when estimates ranged from as high as 80% of people who expressed some form of Christianity, the highest percentage of a so-called evangelical faith of any nation on earth and yet such professing Christians were involved in the hacking off of limbs of warring African tribes against one another. What went so horridly wrong? Kindoll’s response was that the missionaries never proclaimed the full Gospel. We never taught them that loyalty to Christ and to brothers and sisters in Christ run deeper than loyalty to their tribe. One wonders how many western Christians have been taught the same thing, when one realizes that their tribes may mean their racial makeup or their gender or their ethnicity or social economic bracket or their membership in some homogeneous group, club or organization. Surly there is much to apply to the much improvised form of Christianity theological speaking that passes for the real thing in many parts of our world today.