Thursday, April 1, 2010


Galatians 1-3

Galatians is a letter that Paul wrote to the church Galatia. Which church, specifically, this epistle was aimed at is a matter for debate (there is a "north theory" and a "south theory"), but geographically, it was somewhere in Asia Minor, modern day Turkey, and dates to somewhere between 49 and 62 AD. After opening greetings, Paul immediately expresses surprise and disappointment that the Galatians are "so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel." He tells them that if he were "still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ," and that anyone teaching a different gospel, even "angel from heaven," should be condemned. The gospel he preached to them was "not something that man made up" but he "received it by revelation from Jesus Christ." He reminds them of his conversion story, and tells them that he didn't go to Jerusalem to meet Peter or see any of the other apostles until "after three years."

In chapter two, he talks about going to Jerusalem fourteen years later with Barnabas and Titus, and "set before them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles...privately to those who seemed to be leaders." And that "those who seemed to be important...added nothing to my message," recognizing that he "had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews." He then relates a story of Peter coming to Antioch and eating with the Genitles, then "draw[ing] back and separat[ing] himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group." Paul said that he had "opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong." Paul insists that "a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ..for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!"

Chapter three continues the discussion of faith and the observance of the Mosaic law. Paul challenges them on how they received the holy spirit, "by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?" He chastises them for "trying to attain your goal by human effort." He tells them that those who believe "are children of Abraham," who "believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." He reminds them that God told Abraham that "all nations will be blessed through you." He tells them that those relying on observing the law are "under a curse" and that "no one is justified before God by the law." He points out to them that a human covenant, once established, cannot be "set aside or add[ed] to." He then says that the promise to Abraham, the covenant established by God, was to "Abraham and his seed" rather than "seeds." The promise, therefore, is not for many but for one, "who is Christ." He goes on to explain that by this he means that the law "introduced 430 years later" does not set aside the Abrahamic covenant or do away with the promise, "for if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise." The law, he tells them, "was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come." But clearly, the law cannot be "opposed to the promises of God." No, he tells them, "the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law." And he tells them that "there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • I'm certain that people have strong understandings or at least theories, about the "different gospel" that Paul refers to. I haven't done the research to address that question, so I don't know exactly what the context of the epistle is. Clearly, Paul has received reports which concern him about the behavior of some in the churches that he's planted.
    Having read through the first half of the book, it seems exceedingly likely to me that the "different gospel" which concerns Paul is a gospel of salvation through works and the law. I still don't know the source of that gospel, but I think it's reasonable to assume, based on what he writes, that that is the issue.

    And as you read this, you'll see that I write some of the comments before I get to the end of the reading and digest it all...
  • As we saw in Acts, one of the early conflicts in the church was whether the Gospel was for those who lived by the law of Moses or for everyone, and whether Gentile converts needed to be circumcised and follow the dietary laws. Some said yes, others no, and the conflict between those groups can be seen in this epistle, in the story of Peter in Antioch.
  • Another conflict, and not just in the early church, is between "faith" and "works." Paul is clearly, and very explicitly in this epistle, on the "faith" side of that argument. "If a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law."
  • Paul tells the Galatians that ""no one is justified before God by the law," which is something I've mentioned a couple of times when discussing various psalms. The psalmist, on occasion, would justify himself before God "by the law," while Christians do not believe that is possible.
  • It's not immediately obvious to me how to harmonize Paul's contention that "now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law" with Jesus' statement that "until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished." I guess one could argue that the resurrection "accomplished everything" that needed to be accomplished, but whether that would have been Paul's contention or not, I've no idea.

Proverbs 18

Back to proverbs, and again, it's difficult to speak about passages or chapters. This particular set of verses does have a theme which appears in many of them, though.
A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions...The words of a man's mouth are deep waters... A fool's lips bring him strife, and his mouth invites a beating. A fool's mouth is his undoing, and his lips are a snare to his soul. The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man's inmost parts. He who answers before listening— that is his folly and his shame...The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him...The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.
Emphasis mine, and I think it's the takeaway from this set of verses. The world we have been given is one in which communication takes place between people, interaction between people, via verbal communication. This was truer in the days before the press, of course, but it remains true today. What we say has an enormous impact on the people around us, and on ourselves. "The tongue has the power of life and death..."

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