Galatians 1 (day 1092) 27 December 2012
Here is a list of the ways in which Paul starts his letters.
Romans: “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God…”
1 Corinthians: “Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes…”
2 Corinthians: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother…”
Galatians: “Paul an apostle – sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead – and all the brothers who are with me …”
Ephesians: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God…”
Philippians: Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus…”
Colossians: Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother …”
1 Thessalonians: “Paul, Sylvanus, and Timothy …”
2 Thessalonians: “Paul, Sylvanus, and Timothy …”
1 Timothy: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope …”
2 Timothy: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus …”
Titus: “Paul, a slave of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that is in accordance with godliness …”
Philemon: “Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother …”
1-5: As you can see from the above list, the greeting in the letter to the Galatians is markedly different from all the rest, and in the very first verse Paul seems to take on a defensive and argumentative tone. He wants to insist from the very beginning that his ministry is directly commissioned by God, not by any human authority. Galatia was a Roman province in central Asia Minor (Turkey) established in 25 B.C. by Caesar Augustus. Iconium, Derbe and Lystra, three towns in the south of the province, are mentioned in Acts (14:1-23) as places Paul visited and perhaps established churches, but the letter is not specifically addressed to any of these or others which Paul might have started. There is no way to satisfactorily correlate the account of Paul’s travels in Acts with references in the letters to various places and events.
6-9: This is the place in the letter where we expect Paul to give thanks for his readers (see, for example, Romans 1:8-15; 1 Corinthians 1:4-9), but instead the letter takes an unexpected turn as Paul immediately begins accusing them of “turning to a different gospel.” We will learn later that the “different gospel” is that other preachers have convinced many of them that they must be circumcised if they are to be saved (see 5:3, 6). Paul has insisted from the beginning that circumcision has nothing to do with salvation, and curses those who disagree.
10-12: Now there follows the question of authority: who has the authority to determine which position is correct? Paul insists that the gospel he proclaims comes directly from Jesus Christ, and thus his authority should not be questioned.
13-17: He recounts the story of his own conversion, emphasizing that he knew as much about Jewish traditions as anyone, but his encounter with God’s Son led him to proclaim the gospel. Again he insists that what his teaching came from no human source but directly from God. By the way, Paul’s three year sojourn in the wilderness of Arabia is mentioned only in verses 17-18. That part of his experience was left out of the Acts account.
18-24: Following his hermitage in Arabia Paul says he went to Jerusalem where he met with Cephas (Peter) and James, then was off to Syria and Cilicia. His point is that the gospel he has proclaimed was not compromised by contact with other sources in Judea.
Galatians 2 (day 1093) 28 December 2012
1-10: His meeting with the leaders in Jerusalem is apparently the one mentioned in Acts 9:26-30. He insists that there was a general understanding that circumcision was not required and that he, Paul, would be the apostle to the Gentiles.
11-14: The confrontation between Paul and Peter in Antioch is not recorded elsewhere. Paul says that he challenged Peter for his duplicity regarding Jewish dietary restrictions.
15-21: Paul’s favorite theme is presented here again: we are justified by faith, not by works; that is, not by keeping the Law of Moses. His logic is summarized in verse 21: “If justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.”
Galatians 3 (day 1094) 29 December 2012
1-5: Paul reminds them that when they first heard the gospel they received the Holy Spirit, and tells them that if now they depend on being circumcised they nullify the Spirit’s influence. They are going backwards, he says, from spirit to flesh.
6-9: In a rather incredible leap Paul links Christians to Abraham. He will make this point in a number of places. The gist of his argument is that Abraham lived in a time before the law, and therefore God’s choosing of him had to do with faith, not law.
10-14: The blessing of Abraham is mediated through Jesus Christ who became a curse by dying “on a tree.” Thus, Christ is condemned by the law, but through his condemnation God’s salvation is made available to Gentiles.
15-18: The way to get right with God is through faith, not through law; that is a point Paul continues to emphasize. He wants to show that faith predates the law, and illustrates that point by using Abraham as his example. In this paragraph he uses the argument from Genesis 17:7-8 that God’s promise was to Abraham and his offspring, which in the Biblical text is a singular noun. Paul says the word offspring in that passage is not a reference to the Jewish people, but rather a reference to a single person, Jesus Christ. The covenant with Abraham thus skips over the law to Christ, making the law null and void as a means of entering into a right relationship with God.
19-20: So, why did God give the law in the first place? Paul says it is because of transgressions; that is, the purpose of the law is to define sin. The law, furthermore, was given through angels (a late rabbinic idea that God, being holy, did not directly give the law but transmitted it through angels) by a mediator, Moses. A mediator is one who stands between two parties, and a covenant based on law is broken if the law is broken. But a promise depends only on one person. God makes the promise of eternal life through Jesus Christ, and that promise is held by God’s grace through faith.
21-22: Ergo, the law cannot be the basis on which eternal life is granted; faith, however, can be and is.
23-29: Of course, the faith of which Paul is speaking is faith in Jesus Christ. Since Christ is the recipient of the promise given through Abraham, faith in Christ supersedes the law which was given as an interim guide for living within the covenant.
Galatians 4 (day 1095) 30 December 2012
1-7: Paul likens the law to trustees assigned to govern the behavior of a minor child until the time comes for the passing of the inheritance. In Christ we have been redeemed from allegiance to the law and now have the status of children of God, inheritors of eternal life through faith in Christ.
8-11: Paul grieves that the Christians in Galatia have “fallen back” into slavery to the law. The requirement of circumcision has been mentioned before and will be again. Here Paul also mentions that they are keeping the observance of special days and seasons; apparently the teachers who have convinced them of the necessity of circumcision have also laid on them the burden of keeping the Jewish festivals.
12-20: His tone takes on a personal timbre as he recalls the time he spent with them. He refers to an infirmity, the nature of which we are never to learn, but he has mentioned suffering with a “thorn in the flesh” on another occasion (2 Corinthians 12:7). He urges them to “become like I am,” meaning to give up their new allegiance to the legalists who have turned them away from relying on faith. He recalls how tenderly they had treated him before and wonders what has become of their good will towards him.
21-31: Back to Genesis. Abraham had two sons; one by Sarah’s maidservant Hagar, the other by Sarah. Hagar’s child was Ishmael, Sarah’s was Isaac. The covenant promise was of course carried through Isaac, not Ishmael. In Biblical lore Ishmael was sent away from Abraham’s family and married an Egyptian woman (Genesis 21:20-21). In a curious twist, Paul now identifies Hagar and Ishmael with Jerusalem because she, having been a slave, represents slavery to the law, while Isaac represents the church because he is the child of the promise (born to a barren woman to whom God promised a child). Abraham was told by Sarah to drive Hagar out (Genesis 21:10), and God supported her in that demand (Genesis 21: 12). Paul is actually telling the Gentile Christians in Galatia that they are symbolically the spiritual children of Abraham/Isaac, while the Jews are symbolically the legal descendants of Abraham/Ishmael.
Galatians 5 (day 1096) 31 December 2012
1: Christ has set us free from the onerous requirements of the law. I think that’s what he means.
2-6: His argument is that it is not possible to be justified by the law, but only by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ. His conclusion, that circumcision voids the grace of God, is nonetheless unconvincing, it seems to me.
7-12: Nevertheless, he pronounces doom on those who are trying to persuade the Galatians that circumcision is necessary for their salvation. He carries their argument to the extreme; if cutting off a little flesh is good, why not go all out and castrate themselves? I doubt he meant that as a joke.
13-15: The freedom to which we are called in Christ is not unbridled freedom, however. It is freedom to be servants to each other through love.
16-21: It is interesting that Paul, though insisting on freedom from the law in terms of circumcision, should be so interested in cataloguing all the ways in which our failure to abide by the restrictions of the law in terms of behavior should lead to our condemnation. But he is not talking about circumcision here; he is returning to his theme of the separation of flesh and spirit which he began in chapter 3. Living according to the flesh leads to the kinds of corruption listed here.
22-26: Living according to the spirit, on the other hand, leads to the attitudes listed here.
Galatians 6 (day 1097) 1 January 2013
Happy New Year!
1-5: This is a confusing passage. I think it means something like this: Those who transgress are to be gently restored, taking care to avoid any temptation to join them in their transgression. In other words, don’t do what they do, but do take up the burden of correcting their mistake, otherwise they might think more highly of themselves than they ought. On the other hand, don’t take pride if you succeed in their restoration; that is their victory, not yours. Be proud instead of what you yourself might accomplish.
6: This is one of those places where I picture Paul pacing back and forth dictating the letter and losing his train of thought for a moment to throw in something that just popped into his head. It is good advice, perhaps, but feels out place.
7-10: Do what is right and work for the good of all – that is how one “sows to the Spirit.”
11: Paul concludes the letter with his own handwriting. Scholars love to speculate as to why he wrote with big letters. Some think his eyesight was poor. Some say his dependence on secretaries to whom he dictated resulted in his penmanship being so unpracticed that his handwriting resembled that of a child just beginning to learn to write.
12-16: A final swipe at the troublemakers who think they all should be circumcised.
17: And now, he says, don’t bother me anymore, please.
18: And finally, to emphasize the other main point of his letter, he prays the grace of Jesus Christ to be not with them, but with their spirit.