Paul and Barnabas have founded the Galatian churches on their first missionary journey. After they left, these Jew-Gentile mixed churches come under the influence of teachers who say that unless the believers keep the Jewish law (and specifically: circumcision), their salvation though Jesus is not really valid.
Paul states strongly that the Gentile Galatian believers have been wrongly put under pressure. Paul also defends his apostleship and the gospel that he preaches, since both have come under attack and have been basically called insufficient, or worse cheap.
Paul argues from the Old Testament that Abraham, the revered Jewish patriarch, was called “righteous” by God because he had faith in God’s promise of God (Gen 15:6), not because he kept any law. Only after he was called righteous through faith, God commands him to circumcise all males of his family as a sign of the covenant already made, not as as a condition to the covenant (Gen 17:10). So Paul calls all who have faith like Abraham “sons of Abraham”, whether they are of the Jewish bloodline or are Gentiles. But those who put their trust in their ability to keep the law (whether Jew or Gentile), he calls “under a curse”, because nobody actually keeps the law fully. Paul urges the believers to not rely on outward adherence to the law (which is a false trust in man’s own efforts and ability) but to put their trust in what Jesus did for them on the cross.
This raises the question why God gave the law at all, some 430 years after Abraham was declared righteous through faith. Paul says that the law was a temporary disciplinarian (Gal 3:23-25), teaching us what sin is, so that we would know our need for forgiveness and trust Jesus and his salvation when it appears.
Paul calls those who have faith ‘sons’ and ‘heirs‘ of God, who are no longer slaves but free, free to obey the Father out of relationship and gratefulness (Gal 4:1,7). The metaphor ‘son’ implies an unbreakable love-relationship which is not something the son can earn but receives freely.
Those teachers have not only put pressure on the Gentile believes, they also have discredited Paul: they have said that Paul has a bad past, that he is not a real apostle, that he is not an eyewitness to Jesus, that he teaches differently from the ‘real’ apostles in Jerusalem. In answer Paul tells his story: that he indeed was no follower of Jesus, rather a persecutor of the church (Gal 1:13-14), but that Jesus himself met him on the road to Damascus and called him to be an apostle (Gal 1:15-16). Paul further shows that he is in good relationship with the apostles in Jerusalem, and that they neither teach circumcision (Gal 2:1-14).
Paul then shows the church, that through all this focus on keeping the law, their relationships with each other have actually deteriorated: there has been division, pride, self-righteousness and definitely less love (Gal 5:15). Paul shows them that trusting in Jesus brings about humility and unity, since all believers are equally saved by grace (Gal 3:26-28). He shows them that only by letting the Spirit lead them and work in them the godly qualities of love, peace, gentleness and self-control actually come about. The Spirit fulfilLs the law in us (Gal 5:16-26).
Author of the Letter
The apostle Paul clearly identifies himself as the author of the letter in Gal 1:1. He follows the Greek letter writing style, in which – unlike today where we sign a letter at the very end – the author first states his identity.
Probably Paul took the help of a scribe to write the letter (especially since he seems to have had eye problems (Gal 4:15). But in order for the readers to know that this letter was indeed written by him, he writes the last paragraph of the letter with his own hand: “See what large letter I make when I am writing in my own hand” (Gal 6:11, see also 2 The 3:17).
The author shares freely about his life: his former life as a persecutor of the church (Gal 1:13-14, parallel to Acts 8:1-3, 9:1), then his radical conversion (Gal 1:15-16, parallel to Acts 9:3-9:), his likely eye problem (Gal 4:4:15, possibly parallel to Acts 9:18 or 2 Co 12:9), his not meeting the Jerusalem church much (Gal 1:18-19, parallel to Acts 9:26,30), his later visit to Jerusalem (Gal 2:1-2, parallel to Acts 11:27-29).
Also many parallels between the letter of Galatians to the story of the church founding in Acts 13-14 can be seen: Gal 2:23 mentions Barnabas, Gal 4:13 mentions Paul’s bad physical state (maybe because of the earlier stoning, Acts 14:19-20), Gal 3:5 mentions miracles (parallel to Acts 14:10) land finally Paul mentions carrying the marks of Jesus on his body, probably also referring to the stoning (Gal 5:17).
So there is very high consistency between Paul’s life, the church founding and the letter to the Galatians, with a clear picture emerging:
After Jesus’ death and resurrection the church has been planted and is spreading, first in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and then in cities further out. One such church planted is in Antioch of Syria, where Barnabas and Paul work and teach (Acts 11:23-26). In a prayer meeting the Holy Spirit sends Barnabas and Paul on a missionary journey to areas even further away (Acts 1:1-3). They preach the gospel and plant churches in Cyprus and in the province Galatia (modern day Turkey). Acts 13-14 gives some detail on the founding of at least four Galatian churches: Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe. Paul and Barnabas typically first find the Jewish community in these Gentile cities and preach the gospel to them. Some Jews believe, others oppose the message. Then many more Gentiles come to faith. The churches are thus mixed Jew-Gentile congregations. Noteworthy miracles also happen by the hand of the apostles (Acts 14:10), but the Jewish opposition is also fierce: Paul is almost stoned to death in Lystra and has to flee to the next city (Acts 14:19-20). Thus the churches are founded rather quickly. This happens in 47 or 48 AD, some 18 years after Jesus died and rose again.
What happened since?
Paul and Barnabas have returned to Antioch in Syria to report to the sending church what God has done during their missionary journey, and especially that he has ‘opened a door of faith for the Gentiles’ (Acts 14:27-28).
But in the meantime the young Galatian churches are visited by Jewish teachers. It is not entirely clear whether these teachers were Christian believers who sincerely believe that circumcision has to be required of all believers (like for example in Acts 15:1 or Gal 2:13) or whether they are Jew-Jews, who try to move in and ‘conquer’ those Paul won to the faith by making them thoroughly Jewish, something that would have earned them praise (Mt 23:15). Paul was plagued by such Jew-Jews all throughout his ministry time, so their presence here is likely. Yet the questions arising around the inclusion of the Gentiles has created tension in churches everywhere for quite a while, basically ever since the gospel was responded to by Gentiles. The questions also progress: Can Gentiles can get saved at all? Should they be baptized at all? Can they receive the Holy Spirit at all? And if so, do they then have to keep the Old Testament law? Specifically: do they have to undergo circumcision? Examples of conflicting views on these questions are visible in stories like Acts 10:47, Acts 11:19-20, Gal 2:4-5, Gal 2:11-14 and Acts 15:1. Eventually things become so divisive that the apostles call a meeting in Jerusalem to settle this question together, once for all. This important meeting happens in 49 AD and is recorded in detail in Acts 15: The assembly reaches the conclusion that the Gentiles are not required to keep the Jewish law (Acts 15:19), but some consideration in a few matters is requested so as not to be too offensive to their fellow Jews (Acts 15:20-21). This decision is put in writing (Acts 15:23) and sent to the various churches.
The fact that Paul doesn’t mention this written edict in Galatians shows that the letter was most likely written just before the meeting happened.
If so the time line is most likely as follows: in 47-48 AD the churches are founded. Within a year or so (48 or 49 AD) when in Antioch of Syria again, Paul hears rumors about the Galatian churches being pressurized to undergo circumcision. Paul decides to quickly write them a letter (Galatians) because he himself urgently needs to go to the apostles’ meeting in Jerusalem (49 AD). Shortly after that meeting Paul goes to visit the Galatian churches so see how they are doing (50 AD, Acts 15:40, Acts 16:1-2). So the letter is most likely written 48-49 AD from Antioch of Syria, which would make it Paul’s earliest letter.
What exactly were the Teachers saying?
We have no record of what exactly those teachers said to the churches of Galatia and how they tried to influence them. But if we look carefully at the way Paul answers their attacks on him and on his gospel in the letter of Galatians, we can get an idea of how they must have accused Paul:
Gal 1:1 Paul: ‘an apostle, sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father…’
Gal 1:15-17 Paul: ‘When God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me…’
Accusation: Paul is not a real apostle, he never followed Jesus, he wasn’t an eyewitness to Jesus‘ ministry, death and resurrection. Paul doesn’t have authority like the others, he is self-appointed. He learned the gospel not from Jesus but from other man’s preaching.
Gal 1:10 Paul: ‘Am I now seeking human approval or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.’
Accusation: Paul is pleasing men and making quick converts by preaching an ‘easy’ gospel: no law, no circumcision, no conditions! The other apostles preach the real hard-core gospel, including circumcision.
Gal 1:20 Paul: ‘I do not lie!‘
Gal 4:12-20 Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?
Accusation: Paul is lying, he doesn’t know what he is talking about. His gospel is not the gospel the other apostles preach. He has deceived you.
Gal 1:11-23 Paul describes his former life, conversion, difficulty joining the church. He states that he really is called straight by God.
Accusation: Don’t you know who Paul is? He is a sinner, a zealot, a fanatic, a murderer, a persecutor of the church, an enemy of faith. He cannot be trusted.
Gal 2:2, 6-10 Paul submits his gospel to the leaders in Jerusalem and is approved.
Accusation: Paul is on his own. He has no relationship with the real apostles. Paul is not authoritative like them. Jerusalem preaches circumcision, Paul just makes easy converts by cheap grace.
Gal 2:4-5 Paul opposes false believers secretly slipped in … so that the truth of the gospel might remain.
Gal 2:13-14 Paul standing up against Peter. Peter does accept his correction (see Acts 15:7-11). Accusation: Paul is a people pleaser, an opportunist. He has no authority, he is inferior to real apostles. He is in conflict with the other apostles.
Gal 4:17 They make much of you, but for no good purpose
Paul’s counter accusation: their motivation is not right.
Think how frustrating it must be for Paul to be discredited in this way in the eyes of people he won to Christ, for whom he suffered so much and for whom he almost died during the stoning in Lystra! How humbling it must be for Paul to have to defend himself in this way. If Paul was prideful, he would reject these churches who have seen his sacrificial life yet have so easily believed lies about him. But Paul goes through the humbling process of defending himself, not so much because of himself, but because of his gospel. Paul knows that if the Galatians reject him, they will reject his gospel, They will reject truth, they will trust in lies and ‘fall away from grace’ (Gal 5:4). So Paul fights for his gospel, the true gospel: We are saved by grace and should put no false trust in our ability to become righteous by keeping the law.
Paul opens the Galatians’ eyes to what is really happening
It is quite clear that the Galatian believers did not wake up one morning and decide that they want to fall away from grace. Most likely they were not aware at all that their faith in the grace of Jesus was at stake. They probably had no bad attitude at all against Paul initially but when they were challenged by those teachers that God required their circumcision, they were willing to obey this command to please God. They did not realize that they had started to shift from trusting in Jesus’ salvation to something else.
Paul spends his first paragraph on opening their eyes in a few hard-hitting sentences:
Gal 1:6 you are turning to a different gospel
Gal 1:7 not that there is another gospel
Gal 1:7 some people want to pervert the gospel
Gal 1:8 even if we or an angel proclaim a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed let him be accursed
Gal 1:9 if anyone proclaims a gospel contrary to what you received let him be accursed!
Paul shows them what has happened in no unclear terms: they have listened to a false gospel. Paul very emphatically states that what the Galatians received from him is the real thing, the real gospel … even if he himself or an angelic being said something different now, that would be a lie.
Paul re-teaches the Basics
Paul states basic and essential theology upfront in Gal 2:15-21. The question is: How do I get salvation? How can I be made righteous, justified, in right standing with God, made acceptable to God? For God indeed is holy.
There are two basic answers. This contrast is pursued all they way through this letter:
|Trust in:||or Trust in:|
|my ability to keep the law||what Jesus did on the cross for me|
|works of the flesh||faith in Jesus work of salvation|
|reliance on human effort||human effort will never be able to achieve this|
|proving myself worthy||acknowledging my inability|
|self-righteousness||humility of needing Jesus’ atoning death|
|old life under the law||new life free from the law|
|obedience as condition||obedience out of gratefulness|
|obedience by effort||obedience by yielding to the Spirit|
|encourages comparison, division||encourages humility, unity|
|outward adherence||inward yielding|
|temptation to make believe||freedom to admit weakness|
|Pharisaic view||Christian view|
Paul argues from Scripture
The highly educated Pharisee Paul, after being confronted by the living Christ on the road to Damascus, must have gone back over all he knew about God from the Old Testament and re-evaluated everything he thought he knew in the light of the reality of Christ. In Galatians chapter 3 and 4 he gives the Galatians a piece of that.
He starts his argument from Abraham, the revered patriarch and godly example of the Jews. If he can prove his point from Abraham, he has won the argument. Paul here basically enters the home-turf of those Jewish teachers and beats them at their own game. He proves his point from the very Scriptures they are quoting to prove the opposite. Paul is – of course – uniquely positioned to make this argument: He is a Jew of the Jews, a Pharisee, trained at the feet of Gamaliel, keeping the law from youth. Paul really is what they want to be. Or more accurately: Paul was what they wanted to be. Paul has ‘been there’. If righteousness were attainable by human effort, he would have attained it. He at one time thought he had attained it. But he now knows better. He is the ultimate insider, who can slash apart the faulty self-righteousness of this position. And he does so with tremendous authority. Paul – who once was the crown of Pharisaic achievement – is now the humble and bold champion of simple faith in Christ. Jesus really got a hold of him on that road in Damascus.
Paul argues that in Gen 15:6, when Abraham believes God’s promise of a son, God reckons that to him as righteousness. Righteousness, right standing in the eyes of God, acceptability has not come by Abraham obeying the a law, but by putting his trust in God. God enters a covenant with Abraham. Only after this does God command Abraham to be circumcised and to circumcise all males if his family as a sign of the covenant (Gen 17:10). Circumcision, the keeping of this law, is not a condition to the covenant or to righteousness, but a sign thereof, a later added visible thing.
So Paul calls all who have faith like Abraham the “sons of Abraham” (Gal 3:7), whether they are of the Jewish bloodline or are Gentiles. Paul also declares them to be blessed like Abraham (Gal 3:9).
But those who put their trust in their ability to keep the law (whether Jew or Gentile) are “under a curse”, because nobody actually keeps the law fully. By breaking the law, they bring a curse on themselves. Paul shows that when Jesus was on the cross (“hung on a tree”, Deu 21:23), he took that curse on himself and died, so that all who trust in his salvation will receive his righteousness. Paul urges the believers not to rely on law keeping, which is a false trust in man’s efforts and ability, but to put their trust in what Jesus did for them on the cross (Gal 3:6-14).
This raises a question: Did the law that God gave some 430 years later (through Moses) annul the earlier promise of being reckoned righteous by faith? Paul argues that it doesn’t, the later thing does not annul the earlier thing. He brings in Gen 22:18, which says that “the promise was made to Abraham and his offspring”. Offspring is a singular. He then argues that Jesus is that offspring, who inherits the promise of Abraham, and in him all who put their trust in Jesus inherit it as well, as this verse predicts (Gal 3:15-18).
But that raises another question: If the law given later does not replace nor annul the earlier promise, why then was the law given at all (Gal 3:19)?
Paul says that the law was a temporary disciplinarian (Gal 3:23-25), teaching us what sin is, so that we would know our need for forgiveness and trust Jesus and his salvation when it appears.
Paul calls those who have faith God’s “sons” and also “heirs”, heirs to the promise of blessing. The believers are no longer slaves but free, free to obey the Father out of relationship and gratefulness (Gal 4:1,7). The metaphor “son” implies an unbreakable love-relationship which is not something the son can earn but receives freely. The son is the father’s joy, his heir, his representative.
Paul then turns to the Old Testament again and proves his point in one more way, again from the life of Abraham: He recalls the story of Abraham and Sarah wanting to achieve the promised son by using the slave maid Hagar. Paul calls this a “work of the flesh”, a trust not in God but a human effort to bring about the wanted child. Ishmael is born. But then God does give a miraculous son to Abraham and Sara, Isaac, the child born by God’s promise. Ishmael starts persecuting the much younger Isaac, leading to the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael (though already as an adult). Paul uses this story as allegory: the child of the slave Hagar, brought about by human effort is paralleled to the law, to Sinai, to the present Jerusalem, meaning the unbelieving Jews. The child of the wife Sarah, brought about by God’s promise is paralleled to grace, to Calvary, to the future Jerusalem, meaning those who have faith, whether Jew or Gentile (Gal 4:22-31).
Paul makes an emotional appeal to the Galatians to remember how it was when they first believed, how they put their trust in Jesus and how they accepted Paul (Gal 4:12-20). He asks them a series of convicting questions, calling them to look back at how they started in the faith – and evaluate, whether they really have been doing better since they have started obeying the law (Gal 3:1-5). Paul warns them sorely that by ‘adding things’, by ‘adding works of the law’ they will be losing everything: to put their trust in anything other than Jesus’ grace is to reject that grace, is to reject Jesus.
Paul then asks them to look at whether their lives have turned any better by trying to be better. He shows that through all this focus on keeping the law, they have not gotten more godly, rather their relationships with each other have deteriorated: there has been conflict, comparison, division, pride, self-righteousness and definitely less love (Gal 5:15). Paul shows them that this is not the fruit of Christ, but rather the works of the flesh (Gal 5:19-21), which precisely do not fulfill the law.
How then can believers live rightly? Paul’s answer is: by trusting in Jesus and by being lead by the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ grace has made the ground level: all have sinned, all are undeserving, but Jesus has achieved salvation for all. There is no room for pride, rather for humility, honesty, unity and love for one another (Gal 3:26-28, Gal 5:13-14). Divisions disappear, there is no longer Jew or Gentile, high or low, male or female. It is by living by the Spirit that a Christ-like attitude is worked into our lives: love, peace, patience, self-control, the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22). Trust in Jesus and living by the Spirit will do what human effort could not do: a godly life. The Spirit fulfills the law in us.
Mending the Rift
In the last part of the letter Paul is ensuring that his letter will not be used divisively, ‘to prove each other wrong’. Paul doesn’t want anybody to say: ‘See? I told you so.‘ Rather he challenges those who ‘were right’, those who are mature to accept and restore each other, to have understanding and grace for each other‘s weakness (Gal 6:1-5). Paul works hard to mend the rift.
He also doesn’t want to create an ‘opposite legalism’ by his letter: Neither the legalism of ‘You must get circumcised!’ nor the counter-legalism of ‘You mustn’t get circumcised!’ is what Paul wants. He says right out that circumcision itself doesn’t matter (Gal 6:15). It is the putting of one’s faith in human effort, that is the dangerous thing. For those who do not put their hope of righteousness in adherence to the law, they may as well get circumcised … or not. A beautiful illustration of this is Acts 16:3: When Paul finally manages to visit the Galatian churches again, he recruits a promising young man from Lystra: Timothy. Paul then circumcises Timothy! Why? Not to make him ‘more righteous’, but simply for him to be able to preach in Jewish synagogues. Gal 6:15 “For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything!”
SOME BASIC OBSERVATIONS ON GALATIANS
Galatians is a Greek letter, following the usual letter writing style of that time: First author, then addressee, blessing/prayer, then the main text and finally a blessing.
Observation question: Who is speaking/writing?
- Gal 1:1 Paul, an apostle … the author
- Gal 1:2 Churches of Galatia … the addressees.
- Gal 1:2 Father and Jesus
- Gal 1:2 brethren with Paul
- Gal 1:18-2:15 contemporary apostles
- Gal 3:6 Abraham
Observation Question: Where?
- Gal 1:2 Galatia
- Gal 1:17-21 Jerusalem, Damascus, Cilicia, Judea …
Observation Question: When? How long?
- Gal 1:17-21, many time elements when Paul describes his life
- Gal 1:6 ‘so quickly’ … how quickly is ‘so quickly’? …
Observation Question: Repeated words or themes
- Gal 1:6 turning to a different gospel
Gal 1:7 not that there is another gospel
Gal 1:7 some people want to pervert the gospel
Gal 1:8 if we / an angel proclaim a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed
Gal 1:9 if anyone proclaims a gospel contrary to what you received
- Other themes to color for in Galatians:
- law, works of the law, circumcision
- justified, justification
Observation Question: Contrast
- Contrasts like in Gal 1:10 “Am I now seeking human approval or God’s approval?”
- Contrasts like in Gal 1:1 “apostleship not from human authority / commission but from Jesus & Father”
- Contrasts Gal 4:7 “no longer a slave but a son”
Observation Question: Comparison
- Comparison Gal 1:9 “as I said before, so I now repeat”
- Comparison Gal 1:14 “I advanced in Judaism beyond many, for I was fare more zealous”
- Conditions Gal 1:8 “even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed.”
Observation Question: Conditions
- Conditions Gal 1:10 “if I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ”
Observation Question: Emphatic Statements
- Emphatic Statement Gal 1:8, 9 twice: “let that one be accursed!” Gal 1:20 “I do not lie!” Gal 3:2 “foolish Galatians” Gal 5:2 “I, Paul”
Observation Questions: Emotions
- Emotions Gal 1:6 “I am astonished” Gal 1:10 question reveals emotion
- Emotions often with emphatic statements Gal 1:8-9 double accursed also Gal 1:1
Observation Question: Questions
- Questions? Gal 1:10 2 types, asking for information or rhetorical / thought-provoking … 2nd kind here: Gal 3:2-5 a volley of convicting questions
Observation Question: Connectives
- Connectives Intention: Gal 2:5 “we did not submit so that the truth might remain” … Gal 2:13, 2:18
- Connectives Link: Gal 3:7 “so you see” … Gal 3:21, 28 for
- Connectives Reason: Gal 3:9 “for this reason” Gal 4:31 “so then”
- Connectives Reason: Gal 2:11 “because”
Observation Question: Conclusion
- Gal 5:1 “for freedom Christ has set you free, therefore …”
Observation Question: Figurative Language
- Gal 2:9 calling church leaders “pillars”
- Gal 2:10 “right hand of fellowship”
- Gal 3:2 “who has bewitched you”
- Gal 4:19 “pains of childbirth”
- Gal 5:9 “leaven”
- Gal 5:15 “bite, devour”
- Gal 6:9 “sowing”
- Gal 5:13 “through love become slaves to one another”
Observation Question: Commands
- Gal 6:1 restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness
Observation Question: Warning
- Gal 5:21 “I am warning you, as I warned you before”
- Gal 5:2 “I Paul am telling you”
- Gal 5:3 “I testify”
Observation Question: Prediction
- Gal 5:10 “whoever it is that is confusing you will pay the penalty”
Observation Question: Promise
- Gal 6:9 “So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap a harvest in time”
Observation Question: List or Progression
- Gal 5:19 fruit of sinful nature
- Gal 5:22-23 fruit of the Spirit
Observation Question: Logic of Argument
- Gal 3:15-22 law did not remove earlier promise
- Gal 3:19 Why then the law
- Gal 3:21 Is the law opposed to promises?
Observation Question: Illustrations
- Gal 3:15 no changing of a covenant later or after death
- Gal 4:1-2 status of an heir before reaching age is similar to slave, but later no longer
Observation Question: Quotations
- Gal 3:6 quoting Gen 15:6 and many more in that passage
- Gal 4:27 quoting Isa 54:1
Observation Question: Beginning or End of the document
- Beginning: Gal 1:1 Paul starting with a contrast, as in no other of his 13 letters
- End Gal 6:17 From now on let no one make trouble for me … Paul having said & done enough
INTRODUCTION TO INTERPRETATION / APPLICATION
- The Bible is a record of a real God meeting real people and addressing real problems.
- We cannot separate the words of God from the person they were spoken to in the real situation.
- Example: 2 Ti 4:13 … “When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments.”
- What questions do we need to ask: Who wrote this? To whom was it written? Why was it written?
- We need to understand the situation the text was written in … otherwise we will come up with very weird interpretation.
- We need to get to know the people, the background, the happenings, the politics and problems of a time, in order to fully understand how God speaks into it.
- God’s eternal truths are wrapped into the stories of humans set at a certain place in a certain time.
- God’s principles are eternal!
- So we need to ask questions very carefully and diligently in order to really understand what God is saying.
- Our big goal with this Bible study is that we may know God more and therefore love him more. That we may understand God more and therefore obey more joyfully, knowing how good his will is for us.
- There is no lack of very good teachers who give us good teaching, but when we ourselves read the Bible it’s often not so exciting. Our goal is not to give you ‘wonderful teaching’, our goal is to help you study the Bible in such a way, that you yourself find treasure in God’s word. Not because somebody else tells you, but because God himself shows you!
BASIC REQUIRED INFORMATION – GALATIANS
- Gal 1:1, 5:2 mentions Paul.
- Gal 1:13 “my earlier life in Judaism”, which agrees with Paul’s life
- Gal 6:11 “big letters with own hand”. In 2 The 3:17 Paul calls this his mark in his letters
- Gal 1:2 “to the churches of Galatia”
- Acts 13-14 mentions this to be at least the city of Antiochia of Pisidia in Galatia, Iconium of Pisidia in Galatia, Lystra in Lycaonia of Galatia and Derbe in Lycaonia of Galatia. Modern day Turkey.
The story is found in considerable detail in Acts 13-14:
- Acts 13:1-3 God calls and initiates a new Gentile mission movement. Antioch of Syria is the sending church. Barnabas and Paul are indicated by the Holy Spirit.
- Acts 13:13-16 They come to Antioch, the first Galatian city, where they go to the local synagogue and Paul preaches
- Acts 13:17-41 Paul’s sermon
- Acts 13:42-43 Interest by the hearers, Jews and devout converts to Judaism become believers
- Acts 13:44-47 Next sabbath many non-Jews come, the Jews who didn’t believe oppose Paul
- Acts 13:48-52 Gentiles become believers, spread to region, Jews incite a persecution through leading men and women, Paul moves on to Iconium
- Acts 14:1-7 Same story in Iconium, again persecution by Jews, Paul & Barnabas flee onward
- Acts 14-8-18 Lystra, healing of a crippled men, Paul (who speaks) is considered Hermes, Barnabas (who is senior) is considered Zeus. Almost worship of Paul and Barnabas. Converts result.
- Acts 14:19-20 Jews from Antioch come, win over crowd > Paul almost stoned, on to Derbe
- Acts 14:21-23 church planted in Derbe, then steps retraced, encouraging the young churches, appointing elders in them.
- Acts 14:24-27 return journey through Perga, Attalia. Report to sending church: Gentiles believe
- In summary: Summary Paul and Barnabas are founders, mixed Jew-Gentile churches, persecution by
Jews, almost stoning of Paul, miracles, quite quickly planted churches.
- Links to Gal 3:1 Christ “publicly exhibited as crucified” <=> Paul’s almost death in Lystra
- Link to Gal 2:13 “even Barnabas” was led astray
- Link to Gal 3:5 where miracles by the Spirit are mentioned
- Link to Ga 4:13 “physical infirmity” <=> Paul’s state after stoning
- Ga 6:17 “I carry the marks of Jesus branded on my body” <=> stoning
- The letter must be written after the founding 1st missionary journey (Acts 13-14, 47-48 AD). Source: NT combined time line.
- The letter likely was written before the Jerusalem council (Acts 15, 49 AD). The mentioning of the Jerusalem council’s decision and a copy of the letter would have clarified the dispute easily yet Paul doesn’t mention it > most likely because the council didn’t happen yet
- most likely from Antioch, Syria, where Paul returned, and from where he goes to the council
- Likely scenario: Paul, after a few months gets news of trouble in Galatia, has to go to Jerusalem to speak about
this same troubling issue hoping to bring a once-for-all solution. He quickly writes “Galatians”, sends it by somebody’s hand to Galatia, and himself leaves for Jerusalem. When he is back to Antioch, he soon leaves for Galatia to see how his letter was received (Acts 15:36-16:2).
- Jewish converts (racially & religiously Jewish)
- Jewish proselyte converts (other race but Jewish religion)
- Gentile converts (racially & religiously non-Jewish)
- Gal 4:14-16 before they showed faith, accepted Paul, respected him, showed goodwill
- Gal 5:7 you were running well
- Gal 1:6 turning away from the true gospel
- Gal 5:4 depend / trust in works of the law (circumcision), not faith in Christ & his grace
- Gal 5:15 bite and devour one another, divisions, quarrels
- Gal 5:19-21 warning that those who do these sins will not inherit the kingdom > sins present
- Politically Galatia is since roughly 133 BC part of the Roman Empire, earlier ally of Rome, and happy to be so
for being part of the Roman Empire means secure borders. It also means living under the Roman peace, relative lawfulness and just judiciary, good administration,
developed infrastructures (roads, water systems, bridges)
to ensure quick movement of military and trade
- Economically Galatia was crossed by Roman trade routes, even the big East-West axis of the Roman empire. This resulted in relative prosperity due to trade. It was generally a fertile area, farming of sheep > wool, wool cloth, grain, wine were produced.
- Spiritually generally there was Roman or Greek idolatry. From the West there was an influence of Greek philosophy, science, logic, eloquence. From the East there was an influence of magic, mystery cults, rituals, forms of experiential idolatry.
- Galatians is mostly prose > literal interpretation
- Gal 4:27 is an OT quote in poetry > figurative interpretation
- Galatians is a letter, written in the current Greek style
- problem > solution
- theology > application
- big contrasts interrogation
Main Ideas or Topics
- salvation is through grace by faith only, not by keeping the law or own effort
- by faith in Jesus and by being led by the Spirit we fulfill the law (the command to love)
- to trust in and accept circumcision = to reject Jesus = to fall from grace … warning!
- no differences of ethnicity / gender / status in Christ … all sinners, all saved by grace > unity
- to bring back the Galatian churches from legalism to the true gospel of faith in Christ
- to answer questions, accusations and false teaching by the circumcision faction
- to challenge the church to God-dependent, Spirit-led spirituality in unity and mutual love
- to challenge the Galatians to hold on to the freedom of grace
By using the first 5 Interpretation Questions we will get us the needed Context and Historical Background. This is preparatory work for more Interpretation.
Who is our author?
- Paul, a very known & important figure, mentioned 156x in the Bible. Good to now read all these.
- Paul tells quite a few details about his life in this letter: Gal 1:13-2:14
- See: Handout Paul’s Life (Short Summary)
- Paul’s Life
- Important for Galatians: Paul is the ultimate Jew-Jew. He is the law-fanatic. He knows the Scriptures inside out. He was zealous but it lead him to be a violent & hate-filled man. Then Jesus met him and his life was changed.
- Paul knows the depths of Judaism, of zeal, of attempts to keep the law. He is the ultimate insider.
- But also he knows the utter failure of this to produce a godly life. He has been there and done that. And it didn’t work. He is no longer fooled. He no longer trusts the self-approach. He is “the apostle of the heart set free” (F.F. Bruce). And he will not go back. And he will not let his churches go back.
- He can write address the issue with unparalleled authority. And with unparalleled passion.
Who is our audience?
- Gal 1:2 churches of Galatia … plural.
- In general Acts is the historical NT book that gives us information on the background and main actors.
- From Acts 13-14 we know: Antiochia, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe and probably many more smaller churches in Galatia.
Historical Background? Church Founding?
- We learned about that and recorded earlier. A short summary: Jew-Gentile mixed churches, opposition from Jews > suffering, miracles, suffering, quickly established.
Relationship of the audience with the Author?
- Originally very good: these are the Galatian Jews that responded to Paul & Barnabas’ teaching about the Messiah. These are the Galatian Gentiles who converted anew to Christ.
- They heard Paul, were convinced, trusted him, saw miracles, experiences salvation, were formed into churches.
- Then some time goes by, about 6-18 months.
- Some people come in and teach in the Galatian churches.
- They could be true believers who sincerely think they are preaching orthodox Christian doctrine (like James before Acts 15).
- Or they may be Jewish preachers, who deceptively come in as supposed believers and influence churches back to Judaism (Ac 13-14 would allow for such a setting). In order to do so they would have to lure people away from devotion to Paul and his teaching, they would have to ‘discredit’, sow ‘reasonable doubt’, isolate him, claim that the true center in Jerusalem is teaching otherwise.
- Paul hears about this influencers and their influence and is upset – an worried. The answer is “Letter to the Galatians”.
Further Interpretation questions
These will be the most important ones, those we use most when we will actually look at the text.
- Goal of the Author? What does he want to achieve? What does he want the readers to know? Do? Believe?
- Meaning to the Audience? What did this mean to those who first read this?
- Significance? How was this important to those who first read this?
- Context? What comes before and after this statement? How does the argument flow? Example: Why does Paul follow up Gal 1:6-9 with Gal 1:10? They say “Paul is a people pleaser, he sells a cheap gospel, no law, no circumcision, he is just making easy converts – oh, just believe.”
- Why? Why did the author say this? Why was this needed to be said? Queen of the Interpretation questions.
- Does the author interpret his own words? An example of this is found in Gal 3:17 ‘My point is this: …” Paul explains his words himself.
- Is the author giving an Illustration? An example of this is found in Gal 3:15-16: Once somebody dies his will or contracts are not changed.
- Meaning of quotes: What is the meaning of the quote? Context of the quote? Why this quote? What emotion does this quote evoke?
STRUCTURE, COMPOSITION, FIGURES OF SPEECH
There are four types of Structure used in the NT: gospel, letter, history (Acts), Revelation. Structure refers to the total writing, whereas Composition is about a part of the book. It shows how the material is arranged.
- Problem to Solution. Gal 1:6-9 Diagnosis of problem: false gospel of the law. Gal 5:2-6:17 Solution: refuse pressure / be lead by the Holy Spirit who will work godliness in us
- Theology to Application. Gal 2:15-21 Theology > saved by faith not works. Gal 3:6-4:7 Theology > Abraham: first righteous by faith, then circumcision as sign of a covenant. Gal 4:21-5:1 Theology > Hagar and Sarah as illustrations for slavery and freedom. Gal 5:2-6:17 Application
- Big Contrasts run throughout the book of Galatians … not just an occasional ‘but’ (all books have that): works of the law versus dependence of faith; depending on my effort versus depending on Christ’s righteousness and what he did for me; slavery versus freedom; sonship versus slavery; pride versus humility
- Interrogation. Gal 3:6-18 by law not faith we inherit the promise, are blessed and are sons of Abraham. Gal 3:19 why then the law? Gal 3:19 because of sin. Gal 3:21 law then against the promises? Gal 3:21 by no means!
Figures of Speech
- Simile. Example Gal 4:14 welcomed me as an angel.
- Metaphor. Example Gal 2:4 false believers slipped in. Gal 2:9 pillars. Gal 2:9 right hand of fellowship. Gal 3:1 who has bewitched you? Gal 3:24 law was our custodian. Gal 4:15 torn out your eyes. Gal 4:19 my little children for whom I again in travail. Gal 6:2 bear one anothers burdens.
- Personification. Example Gal 3:8 scripture, foreseeing justification by faith declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham. Gal 3:22 scripture has imprisoned all things.
- Allegory. Gal 4:24-26 Hagar and Sarah stand for two covenants.
- Hyperbole. Gal 5:12 I wish they would castrate themselves!
- This is the Goal of all Bible Study. If we only do Observation and Interpretation we will become smart and have swollen heads but no changed hearts.
- Bible: no separation between knowledge and practice: John 8:31-32 “know the truth by continuing in the truth”
- no lack of theory ‘list of shoulds’ …
- In application we bring the text from Historical Context to the here and now: Eternal principles or the word of God poured into actual practical real situations.
- Bible does not teach systematic theology nor a list of main points of theology. Rather it’s stories of people, it’s relational and revelatory.
- If you do an overly devotional reading of Gal 3:1 you will conclude: “oh, God must be angry with me today!’
- Rather: These were real people, in real situations, in real history, long time ago … how do I draw out the eternal principle which also applies to me today?
- Solid observation followed by solid interpretation will yield true, appropriate application … not shifting water lilies floating in whatever direction.
- Identification with 1st Readers
How am I like the Galatians?
- taking on other people’s pressures? being insecure? agreeing to what I shouldn’t? forever trying to please people?
- Am I in the meriting or performance mindset? competitive? forever proving myself? winning brownie points? bargaining with God? How do I get a hold of grace more deeply? How do I heal more? can I equally rejoice at somebody else’s success? am I trying harder?
- Who am I putting pressure on? throwing my type of spirituality at? judging? despising? separating myself? thinking myself beyond? any groups I look down on? have no hope for? am I divisive? am I mending or exacerbating conflicts?
Identification with the Writer
- What can I learn from Paul? How am I like Paul? Am I a church planting leader? a preacher? a pastor? a discipler? a leader of a bible study? a mother?
- Paul knows his audience
- Paul is emotionally involved, not distanced, in relationship
- Paul shows care, concern, worry … he is upset, not indifferent, intense, won’t let go, blunt, direct
- Paul is wholehearted, whatever the cost, thinks this his responsibility
- Paul is teaching difficult concepts to new believers, develops, builds understanding, so they can stand on their own feet, maybe at a later date rebuff other false teachings
- Paul is standing up for truth, doesn’t care about reputation, is not making everybody happy, is single minded
Timeless of Time-bound truth?
- Gal 5:2 circumcision = cut off from grace. Here the time-bound truth or command is: Don’t circumcise!
- Gal 6:15 circumcision or not means nothing. Here the timeless truth: Circumcision of not is not the issue
A counter legalism is equally not it: Don’t circumcise!
- The point is: Don’t have faith in anything but Christ. If you have faith in it, then it is forbidden. Example: wearing a cross as necklace.
- Gal 2:19 I died to the law
- Gal 5:21 those who do these things will not inherit the kingdom
What can I learn?
What do I need to change?
Ways of applying: Prayer
Ways of applying: Meditation
- Application must be personal don’t be convicted for everybody else! Don’t be judgmental!
- Application needs to be something possible, something you can realistic do. Don’t promise the blue sky!
- Don’t just state the principle “I will forgive everybody” but think beyond that: Whom do you need to forgive? Just how will you do this? What practical first step will you take today? What exactly will I do?
GALATIANS – CHAPTER 1 PAUL IN NEED OF DEFENSE
- Gal 1:1 “apostleship from God, not men”. Called by Jesus just like the original 12 apostles. Accusation: He is no real apostle, he doesn’t even know Jesus, he wasn’t an eyewitness to Jesus ministry, death and resurrection. Paul is self appointed.
- Gal 1:10 “God’s approval, not man’s”. Accusation: Paul is pleasing men and making quick converts by preaching an ‘easy’ gospel: no law, no circumcision, no conditions! The other apostles preach the real hard-core gospel, including circumcision.
- Gal 1:20 “I do not lie!” Accusation: Paul is lying, he doesn’t know what he is talking about. He is deceiving.
- Gal 1:11-23 Paul’s former life … conversion … difficulty joining the church … gospel straight from God. Accusation: Don’t you know who Paul is? A a zealot, a fanatic, a murderer, a persecutor of the church, an enemy of faith .. he cannot be trusted.
- Gal 2:2 Paul submitting his gospel to the leaders in Jerusalem. Accusation: Paul is on his own. He has no relationship with the real apostles, Paul is not authoritative like them. Jerusalem preaches circumcision, Paul just makes easy converts by cheap grace.
- Gal 2:4-5 Paul opposes false believers secretly slipped in … truth of the gospel remains.
- Gal 2:6-10 Paul’s gospel and calling confirmed and approved by the leaders. Accusation: as above.
- Gal 2:13-14 Paul standing up against Peter. Peter does accept his correction (see Acts 15:7-11). Accusation: Paul is a people-pleaser, an opportunist. He has no authority, he is inferior to the twelve apostles.
- Gal 4:12-20 “Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?”
- Gal 4:17 “They make much of you, but for no good purpose”
GALATIANS 2:11-14 CONFLICT WITH PETER
- Gal 2:11-12 … the opposition: “certain people came from James” … for fear of the circumcision faction
- Gal 2:13-14 … Paul standing up against Peter
- Gal 2:13 “even Barnabas led astray”! .. Galatians would have loved Barnabas,the encourager
- Even Peter and Barnabas flunked! … This is comforting for the church, he is not shaming the church … ‘this has been a problem in many places!’, ‘you are not alone in falling into this trap’ … Paul is gracious to the Galatians, encouraging them to accept correction as Peter has accepted correction.
- Do not shame … do not embarrass … do not say ‘how could he?’ … that shows you have not yet been honest about your own heart
- Was it right for Paul to rebuke Peter publicly? … since the offense (removing himself) was also public, yes.
- Paul is unconcerned about ramifications, loosing reputation, disagreeing with leadership … he is no ‘yeah-sayer’, no ‘swallower’ with internal resentment and gossiping behind leader’s back
- We must learn not to suffer in a corner, to gossip or to resent leadership but rather to speak freely, directly, address, disagree
- Leaders do not have to be infallible, they are not!
- But leaders need to respond to truth in humility when it comes to them … which Peter did, which is why he is a good leader. Do not ask of leadership what it cannot be (perfect). Do not disqualify people for one mistake or sin.
- Confession, forgiveness, restitution, acceptance, moving on.
- Peter (as the first Pope) is clearly not infallible! Pope as infallible is a very late invention (1867 AD?)
GALATIANS 2:15-21 RE-TEACHING THE BASICS
- Paul teaches the very basics in this passage: saved by grace. Theological teaching piece amidst stories, experiences, examples, practicals
- The question how do I get justification? How do I get accepted by God? … God is holy, good, pure … humans are evil.
- The contrast of works of the flesh vs faith in Jesus, of
law vs grace, of trusting in effort vs trusting in Jesus’ accomplished work, of self-righteousness vs humility of needing Jesus’ atoning death, of Judaism vs Christianity
- “I have been crucified with Christ, I died, I died to the law, I am free from the law, Jesus now lives in me”
- Christ died, my sins are punished and atoned for, he died so I might live.
- Living lives by and through and for him! … you can’t do it on your own, he doesn’t expect you to do it on your own.
GALATIANS 3: 1-5 A VOLLEY OF CONVICTING QUESTIONS
- Feelings of anger, frustration, perplexity … calling emotionally on their own experience
- Rhetoric questions … meant to induce thinking and conviction and realization … contrast to make them think
- Questions are more powerful than comments or accusations, self-evaluation more effective, less ‘guards up’
- Appealing to something they had, they knew, they experienced
- Need for evaluation, self-examination, demand for growth and development
- Gal 3:1 ” publicly exhibited as crucified” … probably referring to Paul’s sacrificial “almost death” in Lystra for the gospel (Acts 14)
- Gal 3:2 … “works of the law vs believing what you heard?”
- Gal 3:4 … “ending with the flesh vs started with the Spirit?”
- Gal 3:5 … “work miracles” (Acts 14:3 in Iconium and Acts 14:8-10 in Lystra) “by works or faith?”
GALATIANS 3:6-18 ABRAHAM, RIGHTEOUS BY FAITH
History of Abraham and the Jews
Where did the Jews come from? What is the history of this nation? What did they believe? > given in the Old Testament:
- Gen 12:1-3 2000 BC … Abraham chosen … promise of God to make him a ‘great nation’ all the earth be blessed
- Gen 15:6 “Abraham believed the LORD and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness”
- Gen 16 no child of Sara by promise … child of Hagar by human intervention or flesh
- Gen 17:9-11 circumcision commanded as a sign of the covenant
- Gen 21 child of Sara by promise: Isaac
- Abraham > Isaac > Jacob = Israel > Joseph > the family moves to Egypt because of a famine
- 400 years in Egypt Israel becomes a big people (estimated 2 Million)
- 1445 BC deliverance from Egypt under the leadership of Moses, law at Sinai, 40 years in the wilderness
- 1405 BC conquest of Canaan … time of the judges
- 1000 BC time of the kings … spoken to by prophets … idolatry, law not kept
- 586 BC deported to Babylon for punishment
- 539 BC some come back to Judea … weak, subject to other powers, but law-abiding
- 70 BC Rome, the new world power, conquers Judea … some Jews collaborate, some oppose
- New Testament: Pharisees, who are law-abiding, self-righteous, separatist, superior, hoping for a Messiah but declaring Jesus ‘false’ because he doesn’t fit their theology. Paul was one of them!
- Gal 3:6 = Gen 15:6 Quote: Just as Abraham ‘believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness’
- Gal 3:7 Comparison: “so, you see, those who believe are descendants of Abraham” … Who is a descendant
of Abraham? A blood Jew? > Not those who are by bloodline are descendants, but those who like him have faith.
- Gal 3:8 Personification “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared
the gospel beforehand to Abraham”
- Gal 3:8 = Gen 12:3 Quote: “All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you”
- Gal 3:9 Connective: “for these reason, those who believe are blessed with Abraham who believed.”
- Gal 3:10 = De 27:26 Connective: “for all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written:
Quote: “Cursed is anyone who does not observe and obey all the things in the law”. If we break only one law, we are lost, no pick and choose, no balancing, no bargaining
- Gal 3:11 Connective “Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law; for:”
- Gal 3:11 = Hab 2:4 Quote: “The one who is righteous shall live by faith”
- Gal 3:12 Contrast: “But the law does not rest one faith; on the contrary”
- Gal 3:12 = Lev 18:5 Quote: “Whoever does the works of the law will live by them”
If we really kept the law it would mean life … but we don’t!
- Gal 3:13 “He redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written”
- Gal 3:13 = Deu 21:23 Quote: “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”. This is a obscure little law in Deu 21:22-13: After an execution (by stoning) sometime a body would be hung on a tree for shaming. The Law says that one cannot leave the body up even one night but have to bury the corpse that same day. This law is a convict’s human right to some dignity even in the case of a death
sentence with shaming. This also shows how horrific crucifixion was in the eyes of Jews, besides the actual painful death. Now this law has taken on a whole new meaning and importance in the New Testament.
- Gal 3:14 Connective “in order that in Christ Abraham’s blessing come on Gentiles”
- Gal 3:14 Intention “so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”
- So far Paul has argued, that before there ever was the law, or even a law at all (circumcision being one of the first ones), there was Abraham’s faith in God and his promise, a reliance, a putting of hope in God that pleased God > Abraham is declared righteous. God makes a covenant with Abraham. So: first was faith, then came a law (circumcision), then came the law (Moses).
- The question now arising is: Did the law given later annul the earlier covenant? In answer to that: Gal 3:15-18:
- Gal 3:15 Illustration: Once a person’s will has been ratified, no one adds to it or annuls it. Interpretation: The earlier promise (to Abraham) is not annulled by the later given law (Moses’ time).
- Gal 3:16 = Ge 22:18 Quote: “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring … it does not say “and
to offsprings” as of many; but is says, “And to your offspring,” that is, to one person, who is Christ.”
- Ga 3:17 Paul gives the interpretation of his own words “My point is this: the law, which came 430 years later, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise”
- Ge 3:18 Condition and Contrast “for if the inheritance comes from law, it no longer comes from the promise,
but God granted it to Abraham through the promise”
- Paul argues that the law given later does not annul the earlier covenant and promise. The promise was given to Abraham and his offspring Christ, going beyond the giving of the law.
- Christ is the true promise. In Christ the justification of all who will believe – including Gentiles – is fulfilled.
- That raised another question: If the promise remains, and if the law doesn’t make righteous, why was it ever given? > In answer to that: Gal 3:19-20.
- Paul (after stating straight theology) goes on to prove his point from the Old Testament, the very ‘home turf’ of the Jew-Jews he is writing against: Abraham and circumcision:
- Abraham (the honored father of Jews) also was justified by faith, long before cc or law came (Gen 15:6). Circumcision indeed was commanded by God, but as a sign, an outward evidence of that faith, a confirmation of that covenant, not a prerequisite for justification
- The law indeed was commanded by God … but not to achieve justification: For nobody can really keep the law fully, all fall short and are guilty. Therefore no one is justified by the law.
- The law cannot make blameless, it cannot justify and Abraham was justified without it.
- The law judges and condemns … whoever does not fulfill it all the way is cursed. If I rely on the law, I have to obey the whole law and -failing – incur the curse
- Jesus took the curse of our law-breaking on himself. He became a curse for us, freeing us from the curse.
- In this way through Abraham all peoples of the earth blessed. This promise of blessing to all peoples is to Abraham and his offspring (singular): Jesus (Gen 17:1-8)
- Once a will or covenant is given and confirmed, it will not be annulled by a later thing.
- 2000 BC promise given to Abraham. 1445 BC law given to Moses. The promise is not canceled through the law given later.
- Gal 3:6 sons of Abraham by flesh vs sons of Abraham by faith
- Gal 3:14 blessing on Jews only versus blessing on all the Gentiles of the world
GALATIANS 3:19 WHY THEN THE LAW?
What does Galatians say about the law?
- Gal 2:16 no justification, no righteousness, no acceptability can be reached by keeping the law
- Gal 2:19 “through the law I died to the law” … law condemns, judges and proves our failure
- Gal 3:10 the law curses disobedience
- Gal 3:12 the law blesses obedience … law would justify complete obedience, but humans can’t reach it
- Ga 3:17 the law does not annul prior covenant / promise
- Gal 3:18 the law does not give us inheritance
- Gal 3:21 the law does not oppose God’s promises
- Gal 3:19 the law given because of transgressions
- Gal 3:23-24 the law = disciplinarian for a time
What does the New Testament in general teach about the law?
- Rom 3:31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law
- Rom 7:6 But now we are discharged from the law, dead to what held us > slaves under the new life of the Spirit
- Rom 7:12 law is holy, just and good
- Mt 5:17-18 law eternal / unchanging. Jesus doesn’t abolish the law, he came to fulfill the law.
- Mt 5:19 those who keep the law = great in kingdom, those who don’t small but both are in the kingdom! so how do we enter the kingdom? law is not an issue … how effective will we be within the kingdom > law plays a role
How do we put this together??
- The law is a revelation of God’s will what he wants and doesn’t want
- The law is a revelation of God’s character only a just God requires justice among men
- The law is a revelation of right and wrong what I should do and what I shouldn’t do
- But because I don’t keep it, the law shows me my sin, my bad state. The law judges me. The law proves to me that I can’t measure up whatever I do.
- The law therefore shows me my hopeless situation, my need of forgiveness, for help, my desperate need for a Savior
- The law pushes me to accept forgiveness on any terms when it comes, to run to the Savior, to surrender unconditionally
- But the law has no power whatsoever to save me, to make me acceptable.
- Illustration: Law as signpost, telling me where to go, but not getting me there
- Illustration: Law as light, showing me how dirty I am, but no power to clean me up. The law = light. The cleansing = Jesus.
- Illustration: Law as diagnosis, telling me what disease I have, that I need treatment, but it doesn’t cure. The law = diagnosis. Jesus = treatment.
- Illustration: Law as high jump mark, telling me how high to jump, but giving me no power to jump. Only if I get ‘into Christ’, he jumps and clears the mark for me.
- Illustration: Law’s role around the kingdom. The function of the Law when I am still outside of the kingdom of God: pushing me. Function of the Law when I am inside the kingdom of God: teaching me. But the Law has no function of the Law in getting me from outside to inside. Jesus is the door.
- Do not ask of the law what the law can’t give! > The law was never given to make good or righteous, it never will achieve making me good and righteous. Only Jesus can.
- But the law fulfills a good and needed function: unless I know my problem, I won’t accept the solution.
- Do not think that God has ‘lowered the mark’ in the New Testament. He hasn’t. What has changed in the New Testament is that now Jesus jumps for me, and I in him I clear the mark. But the mark is the same.
- People say: in the Old Testament God was holy and harsh, but in the New Testament Jesus thankfully is gentle and gracious.
- No! God is always completely holy, never indulging any injustice, hating sin as it hurts people, always judging evil. God fully judges sin in the NT as well, but he judges Jesus instead of me.
- There is not change in God (Heb 13:8, Jam 1:17). There is no division in the Trinity.
- People say: We are no longer under the law! – Does that mean that now murder and adultery is good? No! What hurt humans in the OT still hurts humans in the NT, and it is still forbidden. Actually: Jesus raises the standard, not only ‘no murder’, but ‘no resentment’ (Mt 5:21-22).
- Paul calls the law holy and eternal. Why eternal? Because the law is a revelation of the character of God, who never changes. God’s character will never change, neither will the law.
- What has changed? Now Jesus’ forgiveness frees us, so we can now live a life in Jesus and by the Spirit of God, who fulfills the law in us.
GALATIANS 3:26-29 GRACE’S LEVEL GROUND / UNITY
- If you want to become good, acceptable, worthy by the law, it will drive you to work, to work hard, to perform, to earn favor with God, to be better than others, to compare, to compete, to put down, to …
- Legalism will always put us under pressure, and put us into competition with everybody, it will always produce hierarchies of favors and achievements.
- Grace on the other hand puts us all on the same level … we all need grace to the same degree … we all are freely given grace … equally unmerited … and grace is for all equally effective.
- Grace is the great abolisher of differences / class / status / cast / ethnicity / gender … before grace we are all the same. The ground around the cross is level.
- Grace abolishes ethnic decent and racial pride … there is neither Jew nor Greek
- Grace abolishes status / cast / class … there is neither slave nor free
- Grace abolishes gender difference … “there is neither male nor female” Gal 3:29 … we are all (Jew or Greek, cc or not cc) sons of Abraham by faith … we are all heirs … we are an expression of the promise, that the blessing given to Abraham would indeed bless all peoples of the earth.
- Never look down on anybody of another ethnicity, nationality … never feel inferior to anybody of another ethnicity or nationality … God has wanted you to be Bengali, and that is great, it is not greater, though, than anybody else’s ethnicity, and it is not inferior to anybody else’s ethnicity.
- Never look down on anybody of a lower class … never show undue respect to anybody of an upper class. Do not hesitate to serve downward, do not hesitate to refuse upward.
- Never look down on anybody of the other gender … never look up to anybody of the other gender. Man and woman re equally in God’s image, equally gifted, equally called, equally endowed with leadership, equally sinners, equally needing his grace, equally receiving his grace, and God’s grace is equally effective.
- David Hamilton puts it this way: Satan destroys women by shame … and men by pride.
- Utter importance of these versus for world history … we are all relatives! no inherent differences! no ‘indigenous have no soul’ (claimed in the Middle Ages)! no evolutionary freedom to kill! no superior races (which lead to the genocides of the 20th century)!
GALATIANS 4: 1-7 SLAVERY VERSUS SONSHIP
- Contrast: No longer slavery … but adoption.
- What is the difference between a slave and a son? … unlimited access, relationship, unconditional acceptance, regardless of performance, informed, trained for responsibility & future leadership
- Child of God … you do not need to perform for acceptance … you do not need to prove yourself worthy … you are made worthy, freely. You are a true son.
- You are a true son, though not an only son. Others are co-adopted with you. Siblings are not chosen, they are, and they are even if they do wrong.
GALATIANS 4:21-5:1 GOD DESIRES FREEDOM
The story in Genesis
- Gen 16:2 Sarah initiates and Abraham complies with a human way to produce the needed heir
- Gen 16:4, 6 Hagar’s contempt when pregnant > she is cast out
- Gen 12 Ismael’s description: a wild ass, independence, power, hostility
- Gen 17:23 circumcision instituted as a sign of the covenant previously made
- Gen 18:9 son by wife Sarah re-promised
- Gen 21:2-3 Isaac born
- Gen 21:10-12 Sarah demands: cast out! Ismael shall not inherit with Isaac. God agrees
- Ge 21:15-21 God ensures the survival of Ishmael & Hagar, Ismael’s age is 18 years (13 years at circumcision, approximately 5 years of breastfeeding)
- Gen 21:18 promise to Hagar: Ismael shall become a great nation
- Gen 25:9 Ishmael nad Isaac burying Abraham together
- All in all this is not a nice story, the reality of human choices with all their consequences that are not wiped away, and are still visible today.
- God does not prevent this happening, he does not make human choices impossible, he does not remove consequences, he responds to new realites created by human choices, even bad choices …
Another convicting Question
- Gal 4:21 “Tell me, you who desire to be subject to the law, will you not listen to the law?”
- Gal 4:22-5:1 Two covenants contrasted:
Sarah (real wife) Hagar (concubine / second wife)
free woman slave woman
son according to promise son according to the flesh = human effort
Mount Sinai = place where law was received
Arabia = desert = fruitlessness
Jerusalem come from above current Jerusalem = spiritual leadership / believers = Pharisees, Sadducees, the Jerusalem that rejects Jesus
our mother their mother
Isaac Ishmael <<< persecution casting out >>>
you are sons of promise heirs will not inherit
based on GRACE based on FLESH / HUMAN EFFORT
by grace by works of the law
relying on what Jesus has done relying on what I am doing
NEW COVENANT OLD COVENANT
GOD’S WAY HUMAN WAY
leads to humility leads to pride
> acceptance of others > competition > comparison
> freedom to be real > pretense > self-righteousness
> honesty > proving myself > looking down on others who do less
> love, service > division / conflict > jealousy
by Jesus in our heart
by Spirit guiding us
> LAW ACTUALLY FULFILLED > LAW NOT FULFILLED
GALATIANS 5:2-15 WARNINGS! WHAT THE LAW MEANT
- Emphatic Statement Gal 5:2 “Listen! I, Paul, am telling you …”
- Conditional Statement Gal 5:2 “if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of not benefit to you”
- Repetition Gal 5:3 “once again …”
- Condition or relative sentence Gal 5:3 “the man who lets himself be circumcised he is obliged to obey the entire law”
- Warning / Emotion Gal 5:4 “You have cut yourselves off from Christ, you have fallen way from grace”.
Paul now summarizes his challenge or appeal and translates it into concrete action: do NOT accept circumcision
- Connective / Contrast Gal 5:6 “For in Christ neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, … only … faith working through love”
- Gal 6:15 “For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything!”
- Acts 16:3 Paul going to Lystra (after this letter & Jerusalem council) and circumcises Timothy!
- Is this a contradiction? No. For Paul doesn’t fall into the ‘opposite legalism’. Circumcision in NOT forbidden to those who don’t put faith in it. Timothy is circumcised not to ensure his ticket to heaven, but to allow him to minister fully in synagogues, according to the principle: “a Jew to the Jews”.
- So also now: maybe circumcision is a good or needed medical intervention, or desired for its hygiene, nothing is a problem with that. Nobody needs to remove the marks or circumcision.
- Do not fall into opposite legalism while fighting another legalism!Do I love legalism? do I love testing people’s obedience? We need to train by freedom for freedom.
- Other religions believe in controling the environment. No faith in self-control. Christianity is very different.
- Warning or Emphatic Statement. Gal 5:10 “whoever it is that is confusing you will pay the penalty” … Paul calls on, challenges and warns the ‘some people’ of Gal 1:7.
- Gal 5:12 “I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!” … Paul’s most impolite and very emotional sentence.
- Gal 1:8, 1:9 “let that one be accursed”
- Gal 6:7 “God is not mocked … if you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from your own flesh”.
- Paul does not seem to know who the negative influencer are. If they are misguided believers, and they respond to the truth of his letter, good. If they are consciously deceiving, they are dangerous and in danger, God is not mocked. Intentional deception is a grave sin.
- Love truth, stand for truth! We need a holy fear of lying, deceiving, of being deceived, of teaching falsely.
- Repeated Theme “the law = love, service”: Gal 5:13-14 “do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another”
- Gal 5:14 Law is summed up in a single commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”
- Gal 5:21 “Those who do such things (sins) shall not inherit the kingdom of God”.
- Gal 5:23 “There is no law against such things” (fruit of the Spirit)
- Gal 6:7 sowing > reaping … action > consequence
- Gal 6:9 “So let us not grow weary in doing what is right”
- Gal 6:10 “whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all”
- The law is holy, eternal, unchanging, God’s character never changes, he still wants the same things.
- The keeping of law is not a condition to salvation, but it is a necessary fruit of being in Jesus and lead by the Holy Spirit
- Yield to the Spirit to work in us godliness and godly behavior.
- Understand cause and effect
GALATIANS 5:16-26 HOW THE LAW IS REALLY FULFILLED
- Paul has shown that focusing on the law doesn’t make us more lawful or law-abiding, rather the opposite.
- How then do we keep the law? > by trusting in Jesus’ grace and the righteousness given freely and by yielding to the Spirit.
- Gal 5:16 “live by the Spirit”
- Gal 5:18 “be lead by the Spirit”
- Gal 5:22 “fruit of the Spirit”
- Gal 5:25 “if we live by the Spirit, let us be guided by the Spirit”
- In contrast and opposition: flesh or sinful nature > watch the list carefully:
- Gal 5:19 fornication, impurity, licentiousness sexual sins … by mind and body
- Gal 5:20 idolatry, sorcery spiritual sins … by spirit
- Ga 5:20 enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy selfishness sins … by mon
- Gal 5:21 drunkenness, carousing indulgence sins … by mon-sorir
- Gal 5:26 conceited, competing, envying selfishness sins … by mon
- From this passage an anti-body, anti-physical world attitude has wrongly sprung. Yes we also can sin by the body, and many sins in their final stage are exercised via the body, but the deepest root of sin is not the body, rather it is pride and selfishness (sins of the mind and spirit).
- Over half the sins on the list have nothing at all to do with the ‘body’. I don’t do ‘factions’ because I’m hungry!
- Old translations say ‘flesh’, which doesn’t mean body. ‘flesh’ means the prideful, selfish bend of the human heart, the sinful nature … as evidenced in small children.
- Gal 5:21 Warning: those who do these things will not inherit the kingdom of God
- Gal 5:23 Fruit of the Spirit … “there is no law against such things” … rather: this is the actual fulfilling of the law!
- With Jesus living in my heart, forgiven, cleansed, accepted, freed … I now out of gratefulness live a life yielded to the Spirit at all moments > they in me will fulfill the law. Jesus came to fulfill the law. In the kingdom means where God’s will is done means where the law it kept.
GALATIANS 6:1-5 MENDING THE RIFT
Command to restore in gentleness, to be careful about oneself
- Gal 6:1 “if anyone is detected in a transgression…you who have the Spirit > restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness”
- Gal 6:1 “Take care that you yourselves are not tempted”
- Paul is not ‘doing politics’, ‘who is for me and who is against me?’, ‘punishing’, ‘witch hunt’, no further splitting and aggravating, he doesn’t care who had what role if only now they understand and the gospel, truth and freedom is restored
- Paul prevents ‘grace doctrine bashing’ … triumphing of those who were ‘right all along’ … preventing further splits and pride
- Legalism can be on either side You must circumcise!! You must not circumcise!! are equally legalisms. Rather: Need to restore those who erred … mending the rift, re-establishing unity
- Restore with humility and gentleness … knowing you are not immune either… unity of us all temptable
- If you here of a sin in a leaders’ life always ask yourself: do I have that same sin in my life, possibly as small weed?
- Do not resent, look down or ask: how could he? Do not be surprised, do not judge … rather deal with the same sin in your own heart though maybe small in size still.
- Gal 6:2 “Bear one an other’s burdens … so fulfill the law of Christ.”
- Gal 6:4 “All must test their own work”
- Gal 6:5 “for all must carry their own loads”
- The goal is mutual helping and carrying of loads … with the end goal of each one being able to carry his own load, take care of himself and be responsible himself.
- The end goal is not boundary-less enmeshment, but increasingly self-responsible but humble and interdependent adults
- Do not use this Scripture to justify surety or standing collateral.
- Gal 6:6 Paul still affirms openness to teaching and hospitality and generosity to teachers, even after all the troubles with false teachers coming in.
- Gal 6:7-10 This is back to normal OT reinforcing cause and effect teaching. Grace doesn’t abolish cause and effect. Grace gives us the chance to become God’s children, inhabited by him and lead by him. But the goal is the same: godly living.
- Gal 6:11 “large letters” … possibly due to Paul’s eye trouble. Authentification of his letters (2 The 2:2-3,17)
- Gal 6:12-16 Motivation of circumcision preachers: making converts, boasting in numbers.
- Gal 6:15 Paul doesn’t fall into the opposite legalism. He doesn’t swing the pendulum the other way, he steadies it in the middle: none of these works is what we should put our confidence in!
- Gal 6:17 Paul, probably referring to his many sufferings and his almost stoning in Lystra. Paul is willing to go so so far, but there is such a thing as ‘absurd charges’.
- Gal 8:18 The final blessing to the Galatians is – of course- grace.