Thursday, March 13, 2014

#40daybible Day 14 (Galatians)

The second to last reading for this week is Paul's letter to the Galatians. The reading starts with a rather lengthy introduction that more or less interprets the whole letter.

Background to Galatians
  • It is interesting that it locates Galatians at almost exactly the same time as Romans and suggests Paul might have written it from Corinth during his three month stay there. Surely that is when he wrote Romans
  • The intro mentions that many think Galatians was Paul's earliest letter. This is a popular dating because it allows you to think that the Jerusalem Council solved the circumcision issue, as well as that justification by faith was a more or less full developed doctrine for Paul from the very beginning.
  • I have long favored a dating while Paul was at Ephesus, between the two above. Rhetorically, Galatians seems to me to fit somewhere in between 1 Thessalonians and Romans. If I were to finish my Paul novel, I would date it to Paul's time in the Hall of Tyrannus.
  • The audience of Galatians is probably the churches from Paul's first missionary journey: Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe.
Content of Galatians
  • In the first two chapters, Paul tries to establish 1) that the pillars of the Jerusalem church actually agree with him on whether Gentiles must be circumcised to be saved (the four pillars were James, Peter, John, and probably originally John's brother James, who was martyred)...
  • ... but 2) that he has as much authority as they do and thus does not need their approval for what he teaches. For him, justification by faith means Jew and Gentile should eat together as equals and that debates over "works of Law" like the purity rules that caused problems at Antioch of Syria should be thrown out the window. He has authority from God to hold this position even though they disagree with him.
  • The key verses are Galatians 2:16-21 (CEB). This thick theology presents a zipped file that will unzip into Romans. Here's my decoder ring:
  • "works of Law" = a phrase Jews used in reference to how to keep the Jewish law properly, especially when it came to the details (like who can eat with who at Antioch). In Galatians, the primary referent seems to be circumcision and those elements of the Jewish Law that distinguished Jew from Gentile.
  • "faith of Jesus Christ" = an ambiguous phrase that grammatically could mean either "the faithfulness of Jesus Christ" (thus probably referring to his faithful death) or "faith in Jesus Christ." I wonder if Paul used it as a double entendre and played on both meanings.
  • The bottom line is that you cannot get right with God as a Gentile by getting circumcised and beginning to practice the Jewish particulars of the Law. In fact, Jewish believers themselves did not believe this was enough to be found acceptable before God in the final judgment. Rather it was the faithful death of Jesus Christ that was the only basis for justification before God, and the only way to appropriate Christ's faith was by placing one's faith in his death on the cross.
My highlight:
  • In addition to the fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5:17 is very clear on what Paul believes about the place of sin in the life of a believer: "Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh." After arguing in the first 4 chapters that you couldn't get right with God on the basis of "works of Law," he wants to make it clear in the last 2 chapters that this is not a blank check to do whatever you want.

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