Galatians: An Introduction (Monday, June 4)

Background

Scholars consider Galatians to be among the first of the New Testament books written. 1 Thessalonians might be older. The Gospels, of course, deal with earlier events but were written well after most if not all of Paul’s epistles.

Therefore, when we read Galatians we must resist the temptation to read it as though Paul’s original readers had copies of James, Acts, or Matthew, with cross references and tabbed pages to help with the interpretation. We can’t edit Paul by combining his words with the words of other authors.

However, the Galatians did have the Old Testament — and Paul frequently refers to Old Testament passages to make his points. Indeed, his writings make much better sense when we read them as deeply rooted in the Tanakh (Old Testament).

Romans and Galatians

The closest parallel in the New Testament is Romans, which covers many of the same themes and doctrines, often in much greater detail. In fact, this is likely one reason we so rarely cover Galatians in our Bible classes — it’s just so tempting to cover Romans instead. But, then, Romans is so grand and covers so many huge doctrines that you really can’t cover it in a quarter.

And Galatians offers its own special advantages. As similar as it is to Romans, it’s also different, offering different perspectives that help fill out Paul’s theology and greatly enrich our understanding.

Galatia and the Jewish Diaspora

There were two Galatias. One was a city in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) and the other a province in Asia Minor (like Marion, Alabama and Marion County). Scholars enjoy debating which one is the intended recipient, but the bottom line is that we just don’t know.

In Paul’s day, Asia Minor was part of the Roman Empire, of course, and the culture and language was Greek. That’s hard to imagine for us, because today Turkey is a Muslim nation. In Paul’s day there had been Grecian cities in Asia Minor for centuries, long before Alexander the Great conquered that part of the world (the eastern Roman Empire) and forced nearly all of his Empire to adopt Greek language and culture.

Moreover, there had been Jews scattered throughout the eastern Roman Empire for centuries — some due to persecution and some as part of a merchant class. It was very common for a Roman city to have a Jewish section and synagogue. The Romans tolerated Judaism throughout the Empire, and as a result, Jews traveled freely and had a very substantial presence in many cities.

We tend to think of the Jews as a very tiny minority outside of Judea, but in reality, there were Jewish communities throughout the Empire, some with very substantial populations — still in the minority but not at all on the fringes of society.

First Century Jews living in Judea and east of Judea, especially in Babylon, were often very strict followers of the Torah. It’s from this part of the Jewish world that the rabbis, Pharisees, and Essenes come. They read their Scriptures in Hebrew and honored the “oral law” — the traditions of the rabbis.

One likely reason is that most of the Jews in Babylon did not relocate to Judea. By Jesus’ time, they’d been there for centuries, practiced their religion in their synagogues, and occasionally made pilgrimages to Jerusalem. These would be the “old school” Jews with roots going back to the time of Nebuchadnezzar.

However, Jews scattered to areas west of Jerusalem either due to pre-Roman persecutions or as merchants. Under the Seleucid kings — that is, during the time of Alexander’s empire between the Persian and Roman empires — the Jews were often severely persecuted to force them to adopt Greek customs and gods.

The western Jews read their Scriptures in the Greek — using the Septuagint translation, spoke Greek, and followed Torah. But their approach to Torah was typically less strict that in the east. Practices varied, but it was impossible to honor Torah strictly in their part of the world, and so they focused on particular practices as means of distinguishing themselves from the surrounding Gentiles.

Identity markers

Thus, circumcision, the food laws, the Sabbath, and Jewish feast days became markers that distinguished Jews from Gentiles. This not to say that they didn’t honor the Ten Commandments and other moral teachings, but that, in their minds, these practices became identity markers that would clearly distinguish the Jews from their neighbors.

We forget that the Greeks had public baths in which men bathed naked — making circumcision an obvious fact. Kosher practices made it impossible to eat meat from the local Gentile butcher. Where the Jews didn’t have a large enough presence to support their own butcher, they would be vegetarians.

The Romans did not have a regular, weekly work calendar. Rather, they had numerous holidays and festivals to honor the gods. Therefore, if a Jew took off every Sabbath and refused to celebrate the Roman “holy” days, his life would follow a very different rhythm from his Roman neighbors — marking him as obviously having a different religion.

It’s just human nature that we identify ourselves by our differences and not our commonalities. Therefore, in the Jewish mind, these practices came to define their identities as Jews and therefore their relationship with God.

God fearers

There was another cultural phenomenon that bears mention: the God-fearing Gentiles. Acts records that Paul preached in the cities to Jews and “God fearers,” meaning Gentiles who worshiped YHWH. It appears that these God-fearers were not proselytes and so not circumcised. However, they worshiped YHWH and attended synagogue, and so, in some sense, they were tied to the Jewish community.

Acts records that they were among the earliest converts to Christianity — which offered Gentiles a path to God without having to become Jews — and hence allowed them to worship God as full participants in the community of the saved without circumcision.

Circumcision

In an age without anesthetics or antibiotics, circumcision for an adult male convert was no small matter! And adopting Jewish food practices and holy days would be very difficult for a Gentile. Thus, these identity markers not only marked the Jews as different but made it very difficult to convert Gentiles to Judaism.

Thus, Galatia was a Greek-speaking part of the Roman Empire, where Greek and Roman gods were worshiped, but with a significant Jewish presence. The Galatian church had both Jewish and Gentile members, in a world where the Jews made a point to separate themselves from the Gentiles — not just on Saturdays but all day and all week long — as a means of honoring God.

When Christianity was first preached there, it was surely to an audience of both Jews and God-fearing Greeks. And when the first congregation was formed, it was a mix of Jews and Greeks.

The call for unity of Jews and Gentiles

Now, in the First Century, it was unthinkable to have a Jewish congregation and a Greek congregation in the same town. One of the essential points of the gospel was the unity of the church across ethnic lines. Indeed, Christianity was (and is) a fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham —

(Gen 22:17-18 ESV) 17 I will surely bless you … and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”

Moreover, the prophets and Paul saw Christianity as inviting all nations into Israel —

(Isa 49:6 ESV) 6 he says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

(Zec 8:20-23 ESV) 20 “Thus says the LORD of hosts: Peoples shall yet come, even the inhabitants of many cities. 21 The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the LORD and to seek the LORD of hosts; I myself am going.’ 22 Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the LORD. 23 Thus says the LORD of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.'”

There was but one congregation in each city, although that congregation would typically meet in several houses. Therefore, it was essential that a way be found for Jews and Greeks to be united in Christ.

Must Gentiles become Jews to be saved?

This gave rise to the obvious question: Must Gentiles become Jews to be saved? And the early church struggled with this issue.

In Acts, Luke spends two chapters dealing with the conversion of Cornelius (Acts 10 – 11) and then half of chapter 15 dealing with how to incorporate Gentiles into the church.

The story of Peter and Cornelius illustrates just how deeply the Jewish-identity issue ran in Jewish thought. Peter — the leader of the apostles — was very reluctant to preach to a Gentile even though Jesus himself had commanded it in Acts 1:8 and Matt 28:19.

A key passage is —

(Act 11:2-3 ESV) 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, 3 “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.”

Immediately upon the conversion of Cornelius, there formed a “circumcision party” who condemned preaching the gospel to the uncircumcised and eating with them. You see, in the First Century, eating with someone symbolized acceptance. Jews did not eat with Gentiles.

It’s hard to imagine that attitude, but things weren’t that different in the US during the 1950s and earlier. Whites did not eat with blacks. They had separate restaurants and were not invited into one another’s homes.

The Jews would have justified their attitudes in terms of a desire to remain “clean” before God, but there is nothing in the Torah declaring Gentiles unclean or banning common meals. The Pharisees saw uncleanness as being like a contagion — that is, if I touch something unclean, I become unclean (true under the Torah), and so if someone touches me, he becomes unclean (not true). And, of course, Gentiles would not have done the things necessary to be ritually clean.

In short, a refusal to eat with Gentiles was not required by God but had evolved as an identity marker foreign to scripture. It was, indeed, indicative of a certain arrogance. Rather than being a light to the world, the Jews had chosen to withdraw from the world and prove their godliness through separation.

And this, of course, came across as offensive. How could it not? And the result was that the Jews had failed at one of their central missions —

(Isa 42:6-7 ESV) 6 “I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, 7 to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.”

(Isa 49:6 ESV) 6 he says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

(Isa 60:3 ESV) 3 And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.

Israel was supposed to be a light to the world, drawing the world toward God. But they’d hidden their light under a bushel basket.

The circumcision question was resolved in Acts 15 —

(Act 15:1-2 ESV) But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question.

Now, we should likely take “circumcision” as shorthand for “become a Jew.” It’s just that these men led with their strongest argument. After all, circumcision goes all the way back to Abraham, commanded by God as a seal of his covenant.

(Gen 17:10-14 ESV) 10 “This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, 13 both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

We often stereotype the teachers of circumcision as wicked and malicious — and Paul certainly has some harsh words for them. But they were building their case on scripture. It’s easy to see how a First Century Jew could consider circumcision essential to salvation.

Their mistake was in ignoring God’s choice to give the Spirit to Cornelius without circumcision. Indeed, as explained in the “Faith That Works” series at One In Jesus, God circumcised their hearts by the Spirit when he poured the Spirit out on them, and it’s circumcision of the heart that matters.

(Rom 2:28-29 ESV) 28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

This is a critically important passage to understanding Paul, and the truth of it is proved by Cornelius.

We probably should pause to look at Colossians —

(Col 2:11-12 ESV) 11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.

This passage is often interpreted as meaning that baptism replaces circumcision, but Paul is really referring to the Spirit. The “circumcision made without hands” cannot be water baptism, because water baptism requires, you know, hands. It’s a physical act.

Rather, Spirit baptism normally happens concurrently with water baptism (Cornelius was an exception, of course), so that the receipt of water baptism is evidence of the receipt of Spirit baptism. They happen at once (normally) so that Paul can refer to water baptism as the time when the “circumcision of Christ” is given via the Spirit, that is, “without hands.”

Thus, Cornelius becomes the prototypical Gentile convert. He receives circumcision of the heart, the true mark of a Christian —

(Deu 30:6 ESV) 6 And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.

(Again, see the “Faith That Works” series for more detail on how central this line of thought is to Paul.)

The letter from the Jerusalem council

We return to Acts 15. Paul and his missionary team returned to Jerusalem and reported great success in converting the Gentiles. And then —

(Act 15:4-5 ESV) 4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. 5 But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.”

Notice that the Pharisees weren’t just arguing for circumcision. Their agenda was for the Gentiles to become proselytes, that is, Jewish converts. Circumcision would have been just the first step.

In short, rather than being “all things to all men,” the Pharisees in the church insisted that the converts adapt to their culture. They were far more concerned with their traditions and identity as Jews than in saving the lost.

Peter then makes an impassioned speech—

(Act 15:7-11 ESV) 7 And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9 and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. 10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

He argues —

  • Cornelius’s receipt of the Holy Spirit without circumcision plainly means that God doesn’t require physical circumcision.
  • Salvation is about the state of our hearts — as transformed by the Spirit — rather than the state of our flesh. Notice that Peter refers to their hearts twice! I take “cleansed their hearts by faith” as an allusion to Deu 30:6 — circumcision of the heart.
  • We cannot be saved by obedience (v. 10).
  • Salvation is by faith — and therefore not by anything else. Re-read verses 7 and 11. His point is that faith in Jesus isn’t added to 613 other commands but becomes the only test.

James, brother of Jesus, concludes, and the leadership agrees —

(Act 15:19-20 ESV) 19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.

Some take these as being a reference to the so-called Noahide (or Noachide) Laws, that is, the laws of God in effect from the time of Noah until Moses, according to Jewish tradition. That seems very improbable to me — both because the notion contradicts the speech that Peter had just given and because James’ proposal doesn’t exactly fit the Noahide laws.

Others argue that James is referring to the laws of Leviticus 17-18 that apply to non-Jews living among the Jews. But, again, such an interpretation contradicts what Peter had just said and doesn’t explain why James didn’t refer to other laws that apply in the same circumstance, such as the requirement that non-Jews in Israel keep the Sabbath (Lev 16:29).

Rather, as the translators of the NET Bible suggest,

These restrictions are not on matters of salvation, but are given as acts of sensitivity to their Jewish brethren, as v. Act 15:21 makes clear. Another example of such sensitivity is seen in 1Co 10:14-11:1.

And, I would add, Romans 14.

We miss this interpretation because we are so rule-bound in our own thinking. But we cannot read Galatians and Peter’s speech in Acts 15 and conclude that these are God-given laws of eternal import. Neither are these mere suggestions. They are, instead, rules imposed by God-given leadership as to how to deal with the sensitivities of brothers in that time and place.

Today, an eldership might insist that members of the church attend services in suits, not as an eternal command but as a matter of sensitivity to the consciences of certain members. Such instructions are binding — not in these sense of creating a new law that must be obeyed forever but in the sense that we are all required to obey the godly instructions of our leaders and in the sense that we are required to be sensitive to the scruples of others.

But notice that James did not entirely submit to the Pharisees scruples. Contrary to their consciences, he did not require physical circumcision. He gave them half a loaf. Neither did he overrule Peter’s teaching or insist that the gospel be watered down. No, the teaching of grace was to continue, even if it gave offense, and the demands of the Pharisees would be met only to the degree needed to keep the church together long enough for the Pharisees to better understand grace.

The reason for the letter

Galatians is written to the church in Galatia, and they already knew what Paul was concerned with. But we aren’t Galatians, and so we have to sort out the problem from reading just one side of the conversation.

Clearly, the main issue is the teaching of certain Jewish Christians that the Galatians must be circumcised to be saved.

(Gal 6:12-13 ESV)  12 It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ.  13 For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh.

However, there was also an issue relating to Jewish special days —

(Gal 4:9-11 ESV)  9 But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?  10 You observe days and months and seasons and years!  11 I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.

This is surely a reference to Sabbaths, Jewish feasts, and such like.

Thus, we see the church being asked to insist on certain Jewish practices as identity markers rather than faith in Jesus — and Paul concludes that insisting on these practices risks damnation.

(Gal 5:2-6 ESV)  2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.  3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.  4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.  5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.  6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

(Gal 1:6-9 ESV)  6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.  8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.  9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

This is some of the strongest language in the Bible (which says a lot!), and yet no one contradicted the gospel outright. Rather, the effort was to add certain identity markers to the gospel as further conditions of salvation, making faith in Jesus inadequate.

When we read Galatians, we must bear in mind that no one argued against the gospel. The means of initial salvation were not in dispute. Rather, once a convert was baptized, the false teachers insisted that the converts must obey certain additional rules or lose their salvation. Their identity as Christians must be marked by more than mere faith in Jesus. And for some reason, Paul thinks this approach to Christianity destroys its power to save.

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About Jay Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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12 Responses to Galatians: An Introduction (Monday, June 4)

  1. Jerry says:

    There were two Galatias. One was a city in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) and the other a province in Asia Minor (like Marion, Alabama and Marion County). Scholars enjoy debating which one is the intended recipient, but the bottom line is that we just don’t know.

    Paul,… to the churches in Galatia….” (Galatians 1:1-2)

    There was but one congregation in each city, although that congregation would typically meet in several houses. Therefore, it was essential that a way be found for Jews and Greeks to be united in Christ.

    Galatians was written to a group of churches, not to a single congregation. Since there, typically, was but a single congregation in each city (though it may meet in multiple locations), it is highly unlikely that Galatians was written to a single city, but rather to the province of Galatia. This is not an absolute proof that it could not have been to the city of Galatia. It is, however, a strong indicator that it was not.

  2. Jerry says:

    Jay,

    This post prompted some thought on my part of an incident in Ezra 4. While it is clear that Isaiah declared that Israel was to be a light to the Gentiles, it is also clear that Israel never did fulfill Yaweh’s purpose for them. Near the beginning of the return of Israel from Babylon, the Samaritans asked them:

    Let us help you build because, like you, we seek your God and have been sacrificing to him since the time of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.

    To this, the Jewish leaders replied,

    You have no part with us in building a temple to our God. We along will build it for the LORD, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus, the king of Persia, commanded us.

    My question is: Is Israel’s rejection of those who later became known as The Samaritans mean that they were rejecting the role God had given them as being a Light to the Gentiles?

    Traditionally, over the past 100+ years, churches of Christ have eschewed any cooperative efforts with “the denominations.” This stance is justified, at least in part, by the example of Israel’s leaders in Ezra (and Nehemiah). What do you think about this use of Israel’s example, and what do you think about Israel’s rejection of the Samaritan offer to cooperatively build a temple to God?

  3. aBasnar says:

    Therefore, when we read Galatians we must resist the temptation to read it as though Paul’s original readers had copies of James, Acts, or Matthew, with cross references and tabbed pages to help with the interpretation. We can’t edit Paul by combining his words with the words of other authors.

    I said it somewehere else already: I think this is a dangerously wrong approach. Why? Because the written teachings always followed and rested on the oral teaching. What they read, they automatically linked with what they heard – they crossreferenced by memory. So – in fact – we HAVE to combine each epistle with all other NT teachings.

    Think about that (quite an alien thought to us):

    2Th 2:15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.

    The spoken teaching of any apostle is as authoritative as the written books. Especially the epistles that were not “planned” books as the gospels, but rather written on occasion to encourage or correct a congregation therefore are never to be read on their own. There is a whole set of oral teachings that provides a background to the epistle, and these apostolic teachings are “scattered” throughout the whole NT.

    In the case of Galatians we have to go to Acts, esp Acts 15 as well. We have to read the longer discourse on the Law in Romans parallel to Galatians (and the other epistles where Paul deals with this subject). Why? Because Galatians does not provide a full discussion in itself, it rests on previously held oral teachings. See for instance:

    Act 16:4 As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem.
    Act 16:5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.
    Act 16:6 And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.

    This means the story of Acts 15, the epistle of the apostles were already known in the Galatian churches. And I bet they had a lot more to say than what is summed up in this chapter of Acts. There were questions, I suppose, answers, sermons on the subject. As it was Paul’s nature, I am sure, his oral teaching was delivered with a lot of passion and patience as well. And that gives a reason why he is writing so angrily and impatiently – because he devoted so much time on teaching these subjects already!

    If we now just go by the written words of Galatians we leave out a lot of the subject and just go by this glimpse on a debate that went on for decades. How likely is it that we then receive a balanced view of it?

    Alexander

  4. aBasnar says:

    These restrictions are not on matters of salvation, but are given as acts of sensitivity to their Jewish brethren, …

    This is not very convincing, since the issues ran far deeper than that. The dietary laws were a lot more complex than just not eating blood – yet, not eating blood is a command given to all descendants of Noah, thus predating Moses and even Abraham by centuries. Therefore I think it is still binding, and we teach it that way. Not as a matter of salvation, but as a matter of obedience and reverence to the life God created.

    Alexander

  5. aBasnar says:

    The means of initial salvation were not in dispute. Rather, once a convert was baptized, the false teachers insisted that the converts must obey certain additional rules or lose their salvation.

    We can be a lot more specific on that: They rejected the epistle of the apostles and insisted on the obedience to the Mosaic Law as they aregued in Acts 15:1 and Acts 15:5. This shows us somethng very interesting:

    Normally controversies are not settled once and for all by one conference/meeting/epistle/sermon. Fighting heresy is like fighting our sinful nature – it will never be finished. Our flesh and the same temptations come up again and again, although they have been crucified a thousand times already. Therefore we cannot be at rest in this world, there is no peace for the Kingdom in this age: Enemies from within and enemies from without require wise, consistent and sound leadership.

    And more than once we should ask ourselves: Are we on the right side of the battle?

    Alexander

  6. aBasnar says:

    One last word:

    There are two ways of resisting apostolic teaching:

    One way says: This is not enough – let’s add to it!
    The other one says: This is too much – let’s declare it obsolete!

    The way Christians deal with Acts 15 is a prime example! The Galatians followed the first option, modern churches (with some exceptions) typically follow the second option. Either way they nullify Apostolic teaching.

    Alexander

  7. Jerry’s comment about congregations is worthy of note. Jay has spoken to the idea of “the church in the city” in past posts. In his letters, Paul always appears to refer to the believers in a city in the “collective singular”, that is, “the church”. Indeed we have no conclusive evidence from the text as to the definition of “Galatia”, but reading this letter as to a region is entirely consistent with the lingo of Paul’s other letters, while reading it as to “churches” in a single city would be the single exception to how he referred to the church everywhere else.

    Fact is, we do not find any evidence of the earliest believers organizing discrete mutually-exclusive local “congregations”, as we do. While it is clear that there were a variety of gatherings and groupings of believers, this was apparently an organic process. Cornelius and his household would likely have met together and seen Cornelius as a leader. That “household” would probably have been like our Southern hyper-extended families, which can also include friends, two neighbors, a guy from work, and assorted “shirt-tail kin”. Another form of grouping might have been an existing synagogue who all received the Messiah. These connections would also very likely overlap. There would have been a network of connections among believers who were part of various “households”, which is also where local elders came to be recognized.

    The idea of one group of believers setting themselves apart from others believers and “starting a congregation” disconnected from them would have been seen as symptomatic of a problem in the church, not just “business as usual”.

  8. Alabama John says:

    Charles,

    And it still is!

    We’ve taken totally independent from the denominations to totally independent of each other way too far.

    Disasters like we have had with tornadoes and the qualifying of which COC would qualify for help, if any, exposed this to be true even above most COC members beliefs.

  9. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Jerry,

    You make an excellent point. I’m struggling with a little jealousy …

  10. aBasnar says:

    Even though the church in Antioch seems to have been divided – as Paul is telling his version of the story in Gal 2 – it is always called the church (singular) of Antioch. That#s the way the Spirit views things.

    Even the churches in Asia Minor (Revelation) were as different as they could be, but still the Lord was in their midst, which means: He was as close to Laodicea as He was to Philadelphia. While we surely would have disfellowshipped some of these 7 churches He did not. Which does not mean there was nothing to be rebuked! But all of these rebukes (strangely) were addressed to all churches (“What the Spirit says to the churches” – plural). This again forbids us to point with our fingers at the errors of others. All that is worthy of correction does not only affect the local congregation where this happened, but all churches, where either Satan’s seed has only been planted (but yet unvisible) or stands in full bloom as well. That’s BTW why we need the letter to the Galatians, although we have no Judaizers among us. But the same principles are at work.

    Alexander

  11. Jerry says:

    Jay,

    You make an excellent point. I’m struggling with a little jealousy …

    Now you know how I feel when I read some of your posts and wonder, “Now, why didn’t I see that before?”

  12. eric says:

    (Act 15:19-20 ESV) 19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.
    I feel like these things were more to help keep us on a spiritual track than a salvation issue. Not that I think that was implied in any way by the post. It just got me to thinking why these things were listed, and I think it has to do with the mind set of love for God above all else, love for one another and humane treatment of animals. Also to combat pagan influences or a turning back to pagan beliefs.

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