May 17, 2015.
Daily Reading: Galatians 1-3.
Background: This letter was written by Paul to the churches in Galatia with the apparent purpose of dealing with the differences between Jews and Gentiles in matters of fellowship and teachings, confronting the disputes that the Christians in Galatia were having over matters of the Mosaic Law and Gentile faith. Scholars date the letter c. 40 (late 40s)-60 AD. Twice in the book of Acts is Paul mentioned to have traveled through the region of Galatia, once specifically mentioning the strengthening of the disciples (see Acts 16:6 and 18:23). The council that in discussed in chapter 2 of this letter is likely the Jerusalem council that was called in Acts 15:1-35 to discuss the issues that Paul deals with in this letter.
Concepts and Connections.
1. The true gospel: After a short greeting, Paul gets straight to the point of his letter to the Galatians, which is not all that typical of his letters (he usually starts out with thanksgivings and prayers), which might imply the urgency and importance of his words. The matter was indeed important, for the Galatians had removed themselves from the true gospel and had fallen into the teachings of another. Notice that the other gospel that the Galatians were now teaching was not a completely different gospel, but rather a twist on the truth. They were not renouncing Christ, but rather changing the gospel of Christ as they saw fit. In the context of the rest of the letter, we will see that the way they were distorting the gospel was by trying to enforce Mosaic Law on Gentile Christians, calling for a salvation that was based on works (of the law) rather than one in which justification came through faith. Paul felt very strongly about what they were doing, even calling a curse upon anyone, man or angel, who preached any other gospel than the one that he had delivered to them. He repeats this twice, reinforcing its importance. Paul was not concerned with trying to please man (though he certainly wasn’t actively trying to offend, see I Corinthians 9:19-23, 10:33) through compromise of the truth. He was concerned with being a servant of Christ, not a servant of man.
2. Paul’s special revelation of the gospel: To defend his point as to why his gospel is the one that they should listen to as opposed to any other, he shares with them (probably as a reminder) the way in which he obtained the gospel that he preached to them. Looking back to his conversion (see Acts 9), we see that he immediately went out and proclaimed Jesus in the synagogs in Damascus without first going to Jerusalem and consulting with anyone in the church there. His gospel did not come from man, nor was he taught by any man. It came from God, and he was taught by God (compare with II Corinthians 12:1-10). The point was, Paul received the gospel that he taught others straight from God. That is why the Galatians could trust that it was his gospel that they should adhere to, not another.
1. Interactions between Paul and other pillars in the early church: Paul continues his letter by recounting a time the he and Barnabas went up to Jerusalem to discuss the gospel that Paul was preaching to the Gentiles. This account is probably that of the Jerusalem counsel that was called over Paul’s teachings found in Acts 15:1-35. This counsel was called to discuss the very matter that Paul was addressing here in the churches in Galatia. Certain people of the congregation were trying to impose Mosaic Law on Gentile believers. Paul tells this story to emphasize his point, and to show to the Galatians that it was not only him who taught this gospel, rather it was accepted by all the apostles. Paul saw those who would try and impose the law as ones who were tying to taken away their liberty in Christ Jesus, and this was not to be tolerated, if only for the sake of the churches as those in Galatia who would be lead astray had they tolerated such a teaching. While they were in Jerusalem, however, Paul even had to rebuke Peter to the face over his hypocrisy, for he would eat with the Gentiles until the circumcision party showed up, after which he would withdraw and not associate with the Gentiles. His influence was substantial, even leading Barnabas astray. Thus it was necessary for Paul to rebuke him for what he was doing, and that he did. Fortunately, it would seem that this did not cause a permanent rift between the two, as Peter speaks well of Paul in a later epistle (see II Peter 3:14-18). Paul makes it clear that there is a time when we must stand up for the truth, especially when the error that is being taught has the influence to lead others astray.
2. Justified by faith: Paul then begins his discourse about justification through faith, which will continue on into the next chapter. Paul knows that even those who were Jews by birth could not be justified by the Law, for no man could keep the Law perfectly, save Jesus Christ. If justification was based on works, than all men were doomed, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (see Romans 3-4). This is why it was so important that the correct gospel be taught and received, for it was only through Christ that all men could me saved, not through works of the Law. Paul goes on to make the bold, yet true, claim that if righteousness were based on the Law, then Christ died in vain. This error was a big deal. Paul’s gospel, both to the Jews and Gentiles, was always based on Jesus and a relationship with Him. We have been crucified with Christ, and we have died to the Law that could never bring about justification (see Romans 6:1-11 and Hebrews 10:4). Any other gospel than this would nullify the grace of God.
The purpose of the Law: If justification comes through faith and is not based on works of the Law, and if the Law never had the full power to forgive sins without the blood of Christ, what then was the purpose of the Law? Was it in vain? Certainly not (see Romans 7)! The Law indeed had a purpose, which we will see a little later, but the first point Paul was making was that justification by faith predated the Law (Romans 3-7 is a good parallel to the teaching that is found here). He quotes what is said about Abraham in Genesis 15:6 to show that it was by faith Abraham was justified, not by works of the Law, which hadn’t even come yet. It was not that Paul was trying to do away with the Law or the Hebrew scriptures, but rather he used them to show that this was always the plan. There was no change in God’s doctrine, so to speak, for justification had always been through faith. The Law served to make known to the Jews what was righteous and what was sin, and was given as a guardian until Christ came. It allowed the children of Israel to grow and mature to a point where God’s ultimate plan, salvation through the Christ, could be enacted. And what a glorious plan that was. No man could be justified by the Law, because the Law itself said “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” (see Deuteronomy 27:26) Since we know that no man kept the law perfectly (save Jesus Christ), then it must follow that all men were cursed from the Law, and therefore justification could not come from the Law. However, Christ came to become the curse for us, shedding His blood that we might be free from the curse of the Law, justified through faith in Him. To show that is was Christ who was the ultimate fulfillment of the promise given to Abraham (see Genesis 12:7), Paul makes an argument over one letter in Scripture (or what would be one letter in English, at least), the plurality of the term “offspring.” The singularity of the term necessitated that it was the Christ whom God was ultimately talking about, and this promise was given 430 years before the Law was given. Thus, the Law could not nullify a promise given by God before it. However, the Law was necessary to indicate sin, but in doing so, it imprisoned everyone to sin until Christ could come to do away with that sin. The Law was a guardian until He who was perfect came to justify us through His blood. Now, those who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ and are all one in Christ (see also Romans 6:1-11). There is no distinction made between all who are in Christ, for He justifies us all the same. And if we are all one in Christ, then we are all Abraham’s offspring and heirs according to the promise given to him so long ago (compare with Romans 11:11-24).
Tomorrow’s Reading: Exodus 29-32.
Praise God for His redemption.