Galatians 1 Review (Monday, June 17, 2012)

Third Week


The following are possible answers to the questions. We don’t know all the answers for certain, and there can be more than one right answer to some.

This review material expands on the answers well beyond what the students could get without the benefit of commentaries and having read well ahead. Neither the student nor the teacher should expect students to answer at this level. Rather, the point of these answers is to give the students supplemental information to build on what they’ve learned from just reading the text.

It’s unlikely that the teacher will have time to cover all this material in class, which is fine. That’s why it’s being posted on Monday following — so students have a chance to review and to expand on their learning.

Reading like a rabbi

It’s important to remember that Jewish rabbis routinely quoted a phrase or verse in the Old Testament, expecting his listeners to recall the entire passage. When Paul refers to the Song of Moses or a prophecy in Isaiah, his expectation is that we’d know these passages by heart and so understand far more than just his few words. Therefore, it’s entirely appropriate to expand on Paul’s words as is done in the review material.

Today, if your teacher were to mention the “prodigal son,” most Christians would recall the entire parable and the countless lessons they’ve heard on the parable from the pulpit and in classes. Just so, when Paul alludes to the Old Testament, he expects his readers to think of the full context.

A good cross-referencing Bible will provide many of these cross-references. You can dig out more on your own with a good concordance, such as BibleGateway on the Internet.

Text and questions

(Gal 1:1-2 ESV) Paul, an apostle — not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead — 2 and all the brothers who are with me, To the churches of Galatia:

Why did Paul, contrary to his other letters, add “not from men nor through man”?

As he’ll explain later in chapter 1, he is anxious to establish his authority and credentials as an apostle fully equal with the 12.

It’s easy to imagine how a Jewish Christian would imagine that the 12 have no equals, and that therefore Paul must be subject to them. Moreover, this controversy came up before the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15, when the Jerusalem church had not yet resolved whether Gentile converts must convert to Judaism.

The vacuum meant that the Judaizing teachers could claim that the apostles supported their views. There was certainly a party in Jerusalem that did, and they’d not yet been corrected by the apostles. And, as Paul will explain in chapter 2, for a while, Peter had not yet fully grasped how the gospel should be applied among the Gentiles — although he’d come to agree with Paul by the time of Acts 15.

Why did Paul identify God as the one “who raised [Jesus] from the dead”? Why not as creator of the universe or as the ruler of heaven and earth? Why emphasize the resurrection?

Galatians is all about the gospel, especially justification by faith in Jesus. The Judaizing teachers wanted to impose the Law of Moses on Gentiles, but to Paul, the resurrection changed everything, because it showed that Jesus is the Messiah and Son of God, leading to salvation by faith in Jesus.

(Gal 1:3-5 ESV) 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

“Grace … and peace” is Paul’s traditional greeting, and Galatians is likely his first letter. Why do you suppose he adopted this form of greeting for this particular church?

The Christians in Galatia needed to be reminded that grace and peace are gifts from God. The church in Galatian could never be united and have peace until the members there were willing to extend to each other the same grace they’d received from God.

Notice how in both v. 3 and v. 1, Paul speaks of Jesus and God in parallel. Why do you suppose he does that?

In other letters, Paul often speaks of God, Jesus, and the Spirit in parallel — giving rise to classic Trinitarian language. But in Galatians, he needs to emphasize the role of Jesus in our salvation as Jesus is not Torah.

Jews thought of their relationship with God as defined by the Torah (the books of the law, that is, the first five books of the Old Testament). Paul wants them to think in terms of Jesus rather than law. Therefore, he is anxious to elevate Jesus in their mind — not merely as Savior but as Christ and Lord.

“Christ” is Greek for “Messiah,” meaning “anointed one.” The Messiah is the king promised by the prophets, the Son of God.

“Lord” is a term used in the Old Testament of God himself. To refer to Jesus as “Lord” is to acknowledge not only his authority (the emperor was called “Lord”) but his equality with God.

What is this “present evil age”? Why call the age “evil”? (Compare Eph 5:16; 6:13)

Of course, for those outside of the church, the world truly was an evil place. See Rom 1.

Deuteronomy 28 prophesies a time when God turns Israel over to suffering because of their rebellion against God. In the Septuagint (Greek translation used by Paul), “evil” is used three times —

(Deu 28:20 ESV) “The LORD will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me.

(Deu 28:35 ESV) The LORD will strike you on the knees and on the legs with grievous boils of which you cannot be healed, from the sole of your foot to the crown of your head.

(Deu 28:59-60 ESV) 59 then the LORD will bring on you and your offspring extraordinary afflictions, afflictions severe and lasting, and sicknesses grievous and lasting. 60 And he will bring upon you again all the diseases of Egypt, of which you were afraid, and they shall cling to you.

(Deu 31:29 ESV) “For I know that after my death you will surely act corruptly and turn aside from the way that I have commanded you. And in the days to come evil will befall you, because you will do what is evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking him to anger through the work of your hands.”

This is unprovable, but I think it’s exactly what Paul was thinking — and the perfect way to speak to a First Century Jew before the Fall of Jerusalem.

Just as had been true at the time leading up to the Babylonian Captivity and destruction of the Temple by Nebuchadnezzar, Paul saw the Jews living in rebellion to God because they’d rejected his Messiah and refused his calls to repentance.

Jesus himself had prophesied the Fall of Jerusalem, and the nation of Israel was rapidly preparing to rebel against Rome. Paul could see the great evil of the Jews — preferring a military path to peace rather than God’s path via grace. They needed forgiveness and submission to Jesus, not political power.

Therefore, they needed to escape an evil generation — not insist on preserving  a way of thinking that was leading to a horrific destruction.

(Act 2:40 ESV) 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.”

“Crooked generation” is taken from Deuteronomy 32:5 — the Law of Moses — and is part of the Song of Moses, where he prophesies the Jews’ rebellion against God.

(Deu 32:1-9 ESV) “Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak, and let the earth hear the words of my mouth. 2 May my teaching drop as the rain, my speech distill as the dew, like gentle rain upon the tender grass, and like showers upon the herb. 3 For I will proclaim the name of the LORD; ascribe greatness to our God!

4 “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he. 5 They have dealt corruptly with him; they are no longer his children because they are blemished; they are a crooked and twisted generation. 6 Do you thus repay the LORD, you foolish and senseless people? Is not he your father, who created you, who made you and established you? 7 Remember the days of old; consider the years of many generations; ask your father, and he will show you, your elders, and they will tell you. 8 When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. 9 But the LORD’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage.”

(Deu 32:19-21 ESV) 19 “The LORD saw it and spurned them, because of the provocation of his sons and his daughters. 20 And he said, ‘I will hide my face from them; I will see what their end will be, for they are a perverse generation, children in whom is no faithfulness [Greek: pistis = faith]. 21 They have made me jealous with what is no god; they have provoked me to anger with their idols. So I will make them jealous with those who are no people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.”

Thus, to a Jewish audience, who’ve probably memorized the Song of Moses, the allusion to an “evil age” is a reference to a time when God rejects the Jews for their lack of faith.

You see, Moses concludes the Song of Moses with —

(Deu 31:29 ESV) For I know that after my death you will surely act corruptly and turn aside from the way that I have commanded you. And in the days to come evil will befall you, because you will do what is evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking him to anger through the work of your hands.”

Thus, Paul is subtly but powerfully condemning those Jews who cling to the Law as the path to redemption. The Law prophesies their destruction!

To get a sense of the importance of the prophesies in the Song of Moses to the early church, consider that John pictures us as singing that same song in heaven —

(Rev 15:2-3 ESV) 2 And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire — and also those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands.  3 And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, “Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!

Could it be that Paul is suggesting that the Jews are now living in a time when, because of their rejection of the Messiah and refusal to repentance at his preaching that these prophesies were about to come true (as happened when the Romans destroyed the Temple and Jerusalem in 70AD)? Or does Paul see the “present age” as evil for some other reason?

Of course, all ages are evil when lived apart from God. But what makes this particular age “evil”? As suggested above, Paul’s language should remind the Jews of the prophesies of God’s wrath for rebellion and lack of faith.

“Forever and ever” translates “unto ages of ages.” If God is to be glorified for all the ages, how is the current age evil?

The age is not entirely evil. It’s only evil for those who live separated from God — and lack of faith separates one from God.

(Gal 1:6-7 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.

Who is “him”?

God. See v. 5.

What does it mean to be “called” in this context? We often speak of being called to a particular ministry or place in life, but what is “called” referring to here? Do you see any parallels with Isaiah 51:2?

Paul is subtly undermining the false teachers’ conceit that only the Jews are called by God because only they are Abraham’s descendants. But the Jews were called to bring God’s salvation to the nations! And now is the time when they are also called — by the gospel, by God’s choice to establish his throne through Jesus.

It’s tempting to flip over to Romans 8:28-30 to debate Calvinism once again. But Paul wasn’t speaking of Calvinism. Nor was he speaking of being called to a vocation. He is speaking of being called into God’s elect people.

According to Isaiah, Abraham was “called” by God out of Ur.

(Isa 51:1-2 ESV) “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the LORD: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. 2 Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, that I might bless him and multiply him.”

In Isaiah, God comforts Israel by reminding them of their roots — that they are part of God’s cosmic plan, beginning with Abraham, to bless them and give them salvation.

But, Paul’s point is, the call came from God by grace, not because of Abraham’s superior works.

(Isa 51:3-5 ESV) 3 “For the LORD comforts Zion; he comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.

4 “Give attention to me, my people, and give ear to me, my nation; for a law will go out from me, and I will set my justice for a light to the peoples. 5 My righteousness draws near, my salvation has gone out, and my arms will judge the peoples; the coastlands hope for me, and for my arm they wait.”

We Gentiles are called because we’ve become Abraham’s spiritual descendants. We share in Abraham’s call.

The fact of being called says that the Gentles are also part of God’s elect, destined by God for salvation, comfort, thanksgiving, and song — to be a light to the peoples (nations).

What is the “gospel”? See Gal 2:15-16. Compare Isa 52:7; 1 Cor 15:1-8; and Rom 1:1-6.

These aren’t the only passages that help define “gospel” for us, but they are among the most important. The Galatians, of course, had already heard the gospel from Paul. Here are some critical points that we often miss —

  • “Gospel” finds roots in several passages in Isaiah, especially Isa 52:7: “Your God reigns”! This is the Lord’s Prayer: “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus is the Messiah and Lord. God, through Jesus, reigns — is taking charge. God’s goal is that every knee should bow before him.

(Isa 45:22-23 ESV) 22 “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. 23 By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.’

  • We often teach “gospel” as being solely about how to be saved, but it’s also about whom to serve. We are saved to serve. Our salvation is the addition of one more pair of knees to those who honor God and Jesus as co-regents (father and son who rule as kings together).
  • There is no other king. To call Jesus “Lord” and “Savior” and “Son of God” is to take away titles given to Caesar and give them to Jesus. Indeed, the coronation of a new Caesar was called “good news.” Therefore, to confess “Jesus is Lord” implicitly says “And Caesar is not.” Now you understand the reason for the persecutions!
  • The gospel is “in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3). It’s not just that God can see the future but that the gospel fulfills God’s purposes in his dealings with Israel — a fact that is critically important to Galatians.
  • The gospel is “of first importance” (1 Cor 15:3). Therefore, everything else is less important and must be interpreted in light of the gospel.
  • Not every command or every doctrine, not matter how true, is “gospel.”

From the previous readings, what makes the gospel the Galatians were following a “different gospel”?

This is far from obvious from chapter 1 of Galatians. Paul doesn’t really explain it until chapter 5 — which makes Galatians hard to follow on first reading (unless you’ve read a decent introduction).

The Judaizing teachers taught Jesus, baptism, faith in Jesus … all those things. They had no disagreement with the elements of the gospel. They had just one problem: they didn’t think the gospel was adequate to save.

Rather, to them, faith in Jesus was not enough. Once a convert is baptized, the Judaizing teachers would require him to submit to certain identity-marker rules of the Law of Moses — or else be damned.

Now, it is, of course, possible for a Christian to fall away. Salvation can be lost. Moreover, the need for a Christian to obey was not in dispute. All agree that Christians must be penitent, meaning they must have obedient hearts that seek to follow God.

The difference is that Paul — and the gospel — insist that God forgives sins for those Christians who have penitent hearts, but the Judaizing teachers made an exception for circumcision and other identity-marker practices. They insisted that this must be done to remain saved. Faith and penitence (a part of “faith” in Paul’s vocabulary) are not enough. They get you in but you don’t stay in without the proper boundary markers. Grace doesn’t cover those kinds of mistakes.

Why does following a different gospel mean that you’re deserting God, even though you still worship God and believe in Jesus?

This is an extremely important question and one that Paul will answer later in his letter. The gist of the answer is that is makes Jesus insufficient and returns the convert to legalism. That is, once you add circumcision, you soon find yourself adding feast days and Sabbaths as acts of obedience for which there is no grace. Then you add the food laws. Pretty soon, grace is gone. After all, where do you draw the line if not at faith? How do you distinguish one command as subject to grace from one that is not?

Indeed, this kind of thinking makes Christianity very subjective, as God gives no guidance for why some laws are outside grace and others are not. The answer becomes a matter of tradition or convenience — or just how strongly you feel about it.

The result would be unending division and fighting. Unity would be destroyed because salvation would be based on man’s opinions and not the gospel of Jesus.

(Gal 1:8-9 ESV) 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.

“Accursed” translates the Greek anathema. Its roots go back to the Torah, where it’s translated as “devoted to destruction” where the context is normally being an abomination in God’s sight —

(Num 21:3 ESV) And the LORD heeded the voice of Israel and gave over the Canaanites, and they devoted them and their cities to destruction. So the name of the place was called Hormah.

(Deu 7:26 ESV) And you shall not bring an abominable thing into your house and become devoted to destruction like it. You shall utterly detest and abhor it, for it is devoted to destruction.

(Deu 13:15 ESV) you shall surely put the inhabitants of that city to the sword, devoting it to destruction, all who are in it and its cattle, with the edge of the sword.

What would anathema mean to Paul?

“Go to hell.”

Why does Paul pick this language? Why so harsh? After all, these were Christians who worshiped God and believed in Jesus and were good, moral people. Why speak in these terms?

See above. Privileging certain commands as outside of grace runs exactly contrary to God’s purposes for the gospel — to invite the Gentiles in and unite them with the Jews; to give grace to those who need it.

(Gal 1:10 ESV) 10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Most commentators conclude that Paul is defending himself against accusations being made by his opponents, the Judaizing teachers. Why would his opponents accuse him of seeking man’s approval rather than God’s?

It was a way to undermine his teaching. The accusation was that the merits of Paul’s teaching can be seen from the merits of his motivations.

The devilish part of this approach is that Paul can’t prove his true motivations — and if his churches are persuaded to doubt his motivations, his teaching falls apart.

Do we ever slander our brothers with similar accusations?

It’s a very common way for us to slander each other and our opponents in other denominations. If we say that brother X worships the way he does purely too seek entertainment rather than to actually worship, we’ve questioned his motives — utterly without evidence and leaving him no way to disprove us. How can we know his heart?

It’s an astonishingly effective way to unfairly undermine anyone — and therefore one of the most un-Christian tactics possible. When someone makes such an argument, they obviously are arguing without any proof, counting on our willingness to believe what’s convenient to our position.

They should be rebuked.

Is it okay for Christians to attack their opponents by questioning their motives?

No, it’s sin. “Judge not.” As we cannot know their true motivations — only God can — we risk slander, which is one of the most commonly condemned sins in the New Testament.

(Gal 1:11-12 ESV) 11 For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

How did Paul receive the gospel? (See Acts 9:1-31)

From Jesus, while in the Third Heaven.

(Gal 1:13-17 ESV) 13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 14 And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.

Why does Paul make a point of his independence from the original 12 apostles? (Remember that Paul is speaking of a time before the Jerusalem council met, as described in Acts 15, to decide whether Gentile converts must be circumcised and otherwise convert to Judaism to be saved.)

The apostles had not yet taken a formal position on circumcision. As Paul will explain in chapter 2, even Peter got caught up in treating the uncircumcised as second-class Christians.

Paul’s opponents were surely using this as a means to undermine Paul, claiming that the original 12 apostles disagreed with him — by their silence if by no other means.

[QUOTE] (Gal 1:18-21 ESV) 18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. 20 (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.

What do you suppose Paul did during his three years in Arabia? Nobody knows, of course, but what would make sense? (Consider 2 Cor 11:32-33. Commentators believe that Damascus was part of the province of Arabia at the time.)

While many speculate that he spent his time studying in an effort to develop his theology, 2 Cor 11:32-33 suggests that Paul was busy preaching the gospel. It’s just that Luke did not choose to record this part of Paul’s story. This is no surprise, as there are countless apostolic stories not found in Acts.

Why does it matter than Paul spent so much time with Cephas (Peter)?

To show that they did not actually disagree. They may have disagreed (in practice) at one point, but that disagreement had been resolved and they now teach the same thing.

Why does Paul mention that he only saw Peter and James? Why would it matter if he’d seen the rest of the 12?

Paul is walking a rhetorical tightrope. He wants to show that he is in agreement with the apostles but that he is not subordinate to them — so that his teachings have authority.

(Gal 1:22-24 ESV) 22 And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me.

Why does it matter that Paul was celebrated in the Judean churches even though he’d never been there?

Judea is the home of the Jerusalem church and the very heart of Judaism. If Paul was teaching error, no one would have been more anxious to condemn him.

Paul seems anxious to be perceived as one of the apostles and not in any way inferior to the other apostles. Does he present a persuasive case?

The case gets stronger in chapter 2, but he’s already shown that he’d been accepted by the apostles, even Peter. But he does need to build on the case. He’s not finished, and the rest of story will seal the argument.

About Jay F 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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