Galatians 1–2:10. Paul Presents His Case And
Distances Himself From the Jerusalem Council.
Key Notes: Paul starts Galatians with thunder. His doctrine is independent of the Jerusalem Church. Adapting the Gospel to different cultures using Judaism as a case-problem.
The message of Galatians has been called the “Magna Charta” of Christian freedom, a focused message on freedom in Christ, freedom from the law of Moses. There are, however, puzzles that surround the book and to solve them will help us understand the message.
*When was it written? It is not clear whether it was written before or after the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15. We will do our study on the assumption that the book was written after the Jerusalem Council and make correlations between Galatians and the Acts report of the Council. The council met to deal with the question of whether Gentiles had to go through Jewish rites to be saved.
•Was Galatians addressed to Jews or Gentiles or both? It uses OT generously and I suspect it has Jews as its primary audience because the main problem is their regression back into Judaism. However, “receiving circumcision” (5:2) would apply to Gentiles, so he must have a mixed audience. Paul's letter to the Romans, for another example, is strongly oriented to Jews, calling Abraham “our father”. but it also was written to apply universally—“whoever you are”. (Rom.2:1). I, II Corinthians, on the other hand, appeals to the Greek mind, using more reason and less OT reference.
•Was it addressed to churches of North Galatia or South Galatia? The early Church said “North Galatia” for reasons unclear. There is no consensus now. The only churches that we know Paul ministered to were in South Galatia during his first missionary journey. (Acts 13–14). The question does not seem important except to try to trace Paul’s history.
•Where is Galatia? The word Galatia comes from the area of north-west Europe called “Gallia” by the Romans, “Gaul” in English. It corresponds roughly to modern France. In 278 BC, French Celts were invited to migrate into central Turkey. They over-ran it until 232BC when they were subdued. Their principal city was “Ancyra”, modern Ankara, the capital of Turkey. Julius Caesar described the Galatians he knew as “fickle, boastful, quarrelsome, immoral, lovable and exasperating.” Paul also found the Christian Galatians exasperating.
(The Epistle of Paul to the Galatians. R.A. Cole; IVP,’65, p.17.)
The problem is that the Galatian churches were drifting back into Judaism. (4:9, 10). Paul will give us in reply what Merrill Tenney calls "The Charter of Christian Liberty." It is a sturdy argument for breaking away from the Law--and laws--as a way of salvation. We would wish he could have done it more simply, but he works it out in the context of the problems of Jews trying to leave Judaism, and Gentiles seeking salvation without Judaism. That is part of another problem--breaking away from the religion and culture that one is born into.
There are several arguments mentioned that would be used by the defenders of Judaism:
*The Law is eternal. It cannot be ignored. 4:21
*Circumcision is necessary for Gentiles as well as Jews. 5:2
*Gentile Christians are immoral. 5:13
*Paul is not a qualified teacher, not one of the original apostles. 1:1
What was Paul’s personal relationship to the Jerusalem Church? We have a fair amount of information on this question and it will occupy much of this first lesson.
1:1 Paul an apostle—not from men or through man but through Jesus Christ and God the Father….”
He comes to the issue of his authority in the first sentence. His doctrine and his credentials came by revelation and are not man-made.
1:3–5 He begins with a brief theological statement, starting with a blessing, concluding with a doxology and then launches quickly into His message.
Grace to you and peace
from God the Father and
Our Lord Jesus Christ
Who gave Himself for our sins
To deliver us from the present evil age
According to the will of our God and Father,
to Whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.
1:6 “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different Gospel.”
Paul usually has some praise for the churches he addresses--even the Corinthians, to whom he says,
“I give thanks to God always for you because of the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus.” (ICor.1:4) But he has little patience with Galatian back-sliders and plunges in with his admonition.
1: 7–9 He assures them that there is no other Gospel. If he or even an angel from heaven preached another Gospel, the anathema is delivered. He repeats the anathema for emphasis. It is a severe condemnation of those who subvert the Gospel.
This double curse, then, must fall on all inventors and teachers of false religion, dozens of which originated in our own country. Some of them claim to have revelations from angels. It will fall also on some in modern Christian church pulpits where another Gospel is preached.
There are two kinds of “other” gospels, the "less than" and the "greater than".
The “less than” gospels generally reject the Cross— attacking Christian religion as antiquated, with a blood sacrifice, and the Cross--the death dor a criminal. They favor the ethical teachings of the Bible, including those of other religious thinkers.
The “greater than” gospels accept Christ’s death on the cross, but make additional demands in order to assure salvation: baptism, sacraments, charismatic gifts (speaking in tongues), or obedience to rules (no alcohol, tobacco, dancing, gambling, and no jewelry or cosmetics), for example.
1:10 He cannot be a man-pleaser—and be a servant of Christ.
It is tough to speak the truth, especially when your salary depends on it. Paul would not be dependent on people's opinion. A prominent senior Christian leader said that if he had his life to live over again, he would not be a “man-pleaser.” A seminary leader told me that new pastors come out strong but after 5–10 years are preaching what people want to hear.
1:11–2:11 Summary. He defends his authority by an independent revelation of Christian doctrine. He makes three points:
*He started out in the arms of orthodox Judaism, hating the Church. 1:11–16
*His initial orientation to Christianity was independent of the Jerusalem Church. 1:17–24
*The Jerusalem council did not influence his decisions. He influenced the Jerusalem Council’s decision regarding legal observance, and it gave him its blessing. 2:10
1:11–17 He had been a strong advocate for Judaism (1:14), fighting the Christians violently. He underwent a radical conversion.
God had set him apart from the womb (like Jeremiah; Jer.1:5),
called him by His grace,
revealed Christ to him (“in him”),
and commissioned him to preach to the Gentiles.
1:17–24 His preparation was in isolation and we have no details except that it was not in Jerusalem. What Arabia had to offer him except solitude, we do not know. He records two visits to Jerusalem: a two-week visit with Peter after three years absence (1:18), and an official visit fourteen years later (2:1–10). Luke in Acts records three visits--his initial rejection (9:26); -the second Jeruslaem council (15:2-); and his final rejection. 21:17-
*He was first introduced to the Jerusalem disciples with Barnabas’ intervention. (Acts 9:26–30). This is believed to be his visit with Peter, and a brief contact with James. Gal.1:19. This visit was brief because of threats to his life.
*A money gift was delivered to the Jerusalem church to help famine-relief. (Acts11:30). This was delivered to the elders, and evidently did not involve the Jerusalem apostles. Paul does not mention it in Galatians, perhaps because the apostles did not receive the gift.
*The official visit to Jerusalem of Acts 15 and Galatians 2:1–10 are believed to be the same.
1:18–24. Paul’s isolation from Jerusalem was such that he was known only by reputation. He was at pains to make his isolation clear. The central issue was whether Gentiles had to come to Christian fellowship through Judaism. Paul did not come to Jerusalem to get the support of the Jerusalem apostles, but to defeat the Judaizers. He came “by revelation”, meaning that God ordered him to be there.
In this next section, we will try to understand more clearly what went on at the Jerusalem Council. We compare the information from Acts 15 (Luke’s perspective) with the narrative of Gal. 2 (Paul’s perspective).
Acts 15:6 “The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter.”
Gal.2:1–2 Paul went up to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Titus--not mentioned in Acts. He had an audience with the leaders “but privately before those who are of repute”.
Acts 15:5 “But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “’It is necessary to circumcise them and to charge them to keep the law of Moses.'”
Gal.2:4 “False brethren were secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy out our freedom which we have in Christ Jesus.”
Acts15:12 “…they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through among the Gentiles.”
Gal.2:9 “...when they perceived the grace that was given to me, James and Cephas and John…gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship….”
Notably, Titus did not have to be circumcised in order to be accepted in the assembly.
“For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood and from what is strangled, and from unchastity.” (Acts 15:28–29)
James did not mention circumcision in the final Council decree although that was the primary issue. (He also gave Peter credit but did not mention Paul and Barnabas in his decision.) We can see from the Jerusalem decree that Paul did not win a complete victory. This was a soft treaty and more battles would have to be fought. The Galatian church was now the battle-front where details of the agreement would have to be worked out.
2:1–10 Paul was not entirely supportive of the Jerusalem Church. Not only was Christian doctrine not coming from that source, but he did not regard them to be the pillars that they might be.
“—to them we did not yield submission even for a moment, that the truth of the Gospel might be preserved for you.” (2:5)
”and from those who were reputed to be something (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say who were of repute added nothing to me.” (2:6)
“James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars….” (2:9)
Nevertheless, valuable New Testament writing emerged from the apostles of the Jerusalem Church: I,II Peter, John’s Gospel, I,II,III John and Revelation, and the General Epistle of James.
Paul was eager not to make a breech between himself and the Jerusalem church. He acknowledged that they were apostles before him and were his Christian brothers. (1:17) . So they divided the territory of Europe and Asia, with Paul going to the Gentiles and Peter to the Jews. They parted with a cordial hand-shake.
Paul was determined that no one confuse His message with that of the Jerusalem Church.
“--not from men nor through man….” (1:1)
“…not man’s gospel….” (1:11)
“…I did not confer with flesh and blood….” (1:16)
“…nor did I go up to Jerusalem….” (1:17)
“…saw none of the other apostles….” (1:19)
“…not known by sight…." (1:22)
“…those who were of reputation added nothing to me.” (2:6)
We are not able to clearly analyze the opposition Paul faced. He was not dealing with defined groups with labels, but only with parties and their leaders. Some hints about the struggle are evident both in Acts and Paul’s writing.
“The circumcision party” chided Peter for eating with Gentiles of Cornelius’ family. (Acts. 11:2)
“Some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees” were advocating circumcision and keeping the Law at the Jerusalem council. (Acts 15:5)
“…certain men came from James” and induced Peter to stop eating with Gentiles." (Gal.2:12)
“Many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed…they are all zealous for the Law.” (Acts 21:20)
“…false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ....” (IICor.11:13)
So the Jerusalem Church was full of new Jewish Christians as well as some who were not yet converted. They may have come to Christ but have not given up Judaism. Paul did not want his work among the Jews or Gentiles to be tainted with their influence. He had made a clean break from the old culture, to an all-consuming, totally new way of life. Justified by Christ alone—without Judaic culture— was the goal. Both principles are crucial—justification and the culture--and different. The Gentiles must be freed not only from the Law as the means of salvation, but also from circumcision, the ritual purifications, the food laws, and the Jewish festival calendar. We will return to justification later.
It is hard for anyone to separate from early life-experiences. We think that the way we were taught in school is the right way for everyone to be taught. The songs we sang were the good songs. Overseas missionaries found it hard to allow the “indigenization” of Christianity--local clothing (or non-clothing), dance and music, and worship forms. But the success of the modern Christian movement in Africa really began after colonial rule collapsed and European ways were abandoned. “God”, using their tribal name, was their African God, not the God of the West. The Scripture in Maasai was crucial. It is not the Nicene Creed that they recite although it is doctrinally sound. (“Whose Religion is Christianity?” L. Sanneh, Eerdmans, 2003; foot-note, p.59–60).
Nevertheless the specter of syncretism hangs over any attempt to adapt (indigenize or contextualize) the Christian message to new cultures. How can we be sure that “God” using the Maasai tribal name is not the pagan deity they once worshiped with a new title? The Virgin Mary was easily assimilated into the Athenian temple of the ancient Greek goddess Aphrodite. Christ is an avatar in the cycles of Hindu mythology.
Paul had to solve two problems in Galatia, the loss of doctrinal clarity (drift into legalism) and the resumption of old cultural habits. We will watch him at work and learn from his methods. Will he contextualize or teach cultural change?
Can we learn to use contemporary language to communicate the Gospel to this generation? Can the message be made clear without using the technical words justification, sanctification, redemption, atonement, and resurrection? Can "The Son of God" be made palatable to Muslim seekers?
If hip-hop is the language, Christ must be proclaimed in hip-hop. If the mega-church appeals to American families, the Gospel will be preached in front of video screens. If rock music communicates with the coming generation, sing it out. May wisdom and grace be given.
“Whose Religion is Christianity?” L. Sanneh, Eerdmans, 2003 is a provocative resource on Christianity and cultures. Sanneh is a Christian historian of African Moslem background. His credentials are sound. His perspective is unique and optimistic.