Friday, April 05, 2013

Galatians in a nutshell

Yes, I’m leaving out way too much (it is meant to be in a nutshell!). There is not enough emphasis on the apocalyptic frame, nor the potentially helpful salvation-history thread reworked by Paul around Jesus Christ etc. I’ve also been a little too explicit where Paul was not. So, this summary is not without real problems, but let me know what you think. And as you will see: it is meant not for academics but for an “interested lay person”

Gal 1-2

The God of the true gospel over against the false gospel of the Teachers, and Paul’s relationship with the people the Teachers use to bolster their authority

I hear you have been influenced by false teachers who think law obedience is essential to your life in Christ, to make you holy before God, to therefore one day stand justified before God. They claim to represent the mother church in Jerusalem and make reference to the Law itself and to Abraham for the rite of circumcision. But they, and I, all stand before God who has revealed his truth in Jesus Christ! This is the true gospel revealed to me. Cursed be those who preach another gospel.

Revealed by God, my gospel is independent of any human approval. Certainly, the Jerusalem church didn’t have any problems with it before. They rather glorified God because of me! And sure enough, when Peter started getting silly I opposed him in public. But that is because he was wrong! I had to be firm because the truth of the gospel is at stake here! And this is why I’m retelling all of this autobiographical information.

The true gospel is fundamentally all about Jesus Christ

You see, what matters is Jesus Christ – and his faithfulness – because he sets us free. This isn’t merely being accounted right before God in the future, as perhaps the Teachers are saying with their focus on law observance. God in Christ has set us free from the deeper tyranny of the cosmic power of Sin.

Gal 3-4

And come on Galatians, you already know this! You received the Holy Spirit of God because of this message of Christ’s faithfulness!

Okay, let’s get stuck into the bible passages that the Teachers are using to deceive you. Yes, God’s covenant with Abraham involves righteousness language, and yes it did involve circumcision (as the Teachers say), but actually he is a forerunner, as a man of faith, of Christ the faithful one. The promise to Abraham was ultimately a promise to his seed, the one man Jesus Christ, and the law came much later and cannot annul this Abrahamic faith-covenant! And these same scriptures witness to the fact that Christ assumes our cursed-under-law state and terminates it! Life is in him, this true justified life, set free from Sin, is right now and found in Christ alone. Because this is so, we know that the Torah doesn’t bring such life; that is what God brings in Christ! You see how good exegesis really is all about Jesus?!

In light of this Christ-Scripture exegesis, Why then the law at all? To act as a guardian until the fullness of time, until Christ’s faithfulness was revealed, that which led him to give himself for us, and thereby set us free. The law is not opposed to Christ, it simply wasn’t meant to do the same thing. It is Christ who established life in the Spirit and present liberation, and in so doing he brings all ethnic, social, and gender related distinctions to an end, all of which belong to the realm of the Flesh. Gentiles now known by God, I’m afraid that you will be enslaved again to the realm of Flesh and Sin. Remember our past relationship and ignore these manipulative Teachers!

Okay, one final bit of exegesis because these Teachers keep going on about Jerusalem and their authority derived from the mother church. You who want to be subject to the law - remember what the law says about Sarah and Hagar. There is a Jerusalem from above, our true mother – not the present city of Jerusalem from where the Teachers claim to derive their authority. As scripture says: Drive out this slave and her children! Stand firm in the freedom Christ has already won for you!

Gal 5-6

The freedom won by Christ means righteous lives

And this freedom is not simply easy living – it is freedom to serve and obey, freedom from the tyranny of the Power of Flesh and Sin. Live by the Spirit, in Christ Jesus, where all creaturely distinction has been terminated (including circumcision and uncircumcision). Love your neighbour as yourself and reject the works of the Flesh that destroy community and dampen life in Christ. So you see, this isn’t easy grace – but grace that empowers you to righteous life! Don’t be deceived – you reap what you sow.

A final word

Be as I am and never boast in anything but the cross of Christ – forget those Teachers who want to boast about (your circumcised) flesh! The grace of Christ be with you!


At 4/05/2013 5:36 PM, Anonymous Alan K said...

Now if you can just get all of your colleagues in Biblical Studies to pare it down as well--especially one Douglas Campbell!

At 4/06/2013 5:56 AM, Blogger Richard Fellows said...

Pretty good, Chris. However, your treatment of Gal 1-2 is conventional and problematic, I feel. If the Teachers were claiming that the Jerusalem apostles were on their side then we would expect Paul to either point out that the Jerusalem apostles were not on their side, or argue that the Jerusalem apostles have no authority anyway. The conventional understanding of Gal 1-2 requires us to be belief that Paul used BOTH arguments without indicating clearly when he was switching. Paul's line of thought would have been hard for the Galatians to follow. Moreover the two arguments undermine each other. Why would Paul undermine the authority of those who agree with him?

My own view is that, after Paul delivered the decisions of the elders (Acts 16:4), everyone knew that the Jerusalem apostles were against circumcision (for Gentiles). However, after Paul circumcised Titus-Timothy in preparation for the onward journey (Acts 16:3) , the Teachers concluded that Paul had yielded to their view and that he intended to preach circumcision in his new territory (Europe). They inferred that it was only Paul's loyalty to the Jerusalem apostles that made him continue to preach Gentile liberty to the Galatians. They tried to persuade the Galatians to be circumcised by saying that Paul was really a supporter of circumcision.

Paul later got wind of this misinformation and wrote Galatians. He said, "When I circumcised Titus-Timothy I was not yielding the principle, not for an hour (2:4-5). I am not now preaching circumcision (5;11), by golly (5:12). I am not writing these things just to please the apostles (1:10); who they are means nothing to me (2:6). After my conversion I did not immediately go to Jerusalem to ingratiate myself with the apostles; I went only after 3 years and met only Cephas and James and stayed only 15 days. I preach Gentile liberty out of conviction, not out of obedience to Peter; there was even an occasion when I opposed Peter publicly for not being supportive enough of Gentile liberty (2:11-14).

Does this make sense? I have yet to hear a rebuttal from anyone.

At 4/12/2013 6:26 AM, Anonymous Tim said...

I love these short summaries. Here's mine in one paragraph:

Paul challenges the Galatians who have been influenced by people persuading them that they need to be circumcised. He stresses that Jesus died for their freedom, but that what they are doing is making Jesus’ actions irrelevant. They are made heirs and sons of Abraham through being in Christ. This was always how it was meant to happen; the law was only ever a temporary guardian, providing a means to deal with sin. Now, justified by faith, they are called to a Spirit-filled and Spirit-guided life of freedom (from the law). Circumcision or un-circumcision means nothing, only faith coming to expression in and through love (as in love your neighbour as yourself). They are called to walk by the Spirit and not gratify the desires of the flesh; rather they should display the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Circumcision counts for nothing; what does is the new creation life made possible in Christ.

At 5/06/2013 3:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Neck deep in Galatians right now!!! Very helpful nutshell. Thanks.


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