Saturday, March 6, 2010

Commentary on Scripture: Galatians

Paul, an apostle... to the churches of Galatia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Galatians 1:1 ~~ Paul immediately establishes his pastoral authority, as sent from God and not from men. He adopts a very different rhetorical strategy than in Philemon, where he seeks to establish personal rapport and disclaims any demands on his own authority.

Galatians 1:3-5 ~~ Paul launches into a doxology that immediately establishes a positive doctrine of atonement, and also introduces a major theme of the letter.

Galatians 1:6-9 ~~ Paul makes a strong and broad-based assertion of his doctrinal authority, and the importance of true doctrine in matters essential for faith.

Galatians 1:6-7 ~~ "Different gospel... distort the gospel." This equivalence supports a broad thesis that error is not independent of truth, but is its corruption or distortion.

Galatians 1:10 ~~ This verse reveals Paul's rhetorical strategy for the beginning of the letter. He appeals to his very abruptness and bombastic tone to show that his apostolic authority is not from men, nor is meant to please men, and that he eschews smooth or apparently persuasive speech because his authority is from God (see vv. 11-12, in which he makes this claim explicate).

Galatians 1:11-12 ~~ Divine revelation was the source of Paul's authority.

Galatians 1:13-2:21 ~~ Paul gives a history of his controversy with the Judaizing sect of Christianity, from Paul as a Pharisee, to his early years as an apostle in the Syrian churches, to the Jerusalem Council and finally concluding with his public dispute with the apostle Peter before the Antioch church.

Galatians 1:13-15 ~~ Paul avoided the Jerusalem church and apostles to avoid conflict and avoid compromising his divinely-appointed authority.

Galatians 1:14 ~~ Paul puts his advanced knowledge and zealousness for Judaic law to good use later in this letter (see Gal. 3:6-18).

Galatians 1:15 ~~ "Set me apart even from my mother's womb...." Is this a reference to Paul's family, such as any brothers or cousins who were also trained Pharisees? Or does Paul simply mean his his Jewish kinsmen?

Galatians 1:17-20 ~~ Paul didn't interact with anyone in the Jerusalem church except for James and Peter until the church report in Jerusalem 14 years after his conversion.

Galatians 2:2-4 ~~ Paul went up to Jerusalem for a report and for resolution of the circumcision controversy (Acts 15). Here it states that "it was because of a revelation that I went up," though he also notes other reasons given in 2:4 ("false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty"). The sequence of events is particularly interesting. It appears that Paul first appeared privately before the Jerusalem Council and "submitted to them the gospel which I preached among the Gentiles," presenting his case to the elders before the church report and the public controversy stirred up by the Pharisaical sects, thus influencing the final resolution given by James and the other elders of the Council.

Galatians 2:4-5 ~~ The Judaizers sought to put Gentiles (who had just gained their freedom in Christ, see 5:1) back into bondage. Paul made no compromise to the converts' Christian freedom.

Galatians 2:6-10 ~~ Paul offers a bittersweet evaluation of his reception in Jerusalem, that those with authority and reputation "contributed nothing to me," those they "gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship."

Galatians 2:8 ~~ Peter ministered to the circumcised, Paul ministered to the Gentiles. How is this verse (and others related to the leadership structure of the early church, see Acts 15) consistent with the unilateral authority claimed by the Papal See in the Roman Catholic Church?

Galatians 2:10 ~~ Paul states that the Antioch Christians were only "asked... to remember the poor," whereas Luke records a list of four mandates in Acts 15:20.

Galatians 2:11-13 ~~ Paul is quite critical in his evaluation of Cephas (Peter). Peter had participated with the Gentile Christians when he first arrived in Antioch, but had withdrawn into the more strict Judaic community when representatives from James in the Jerusalem church had visited. He was "fearing the party of the circumcision" -- presumably, Peter was trying to preserve his credibility from attack by the more radical Jewish sects. This might have been a prudential move (avoiding unnecessary conflict) if it were not for the broader repercussions, for "the rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy," even Paul's associate Barnabas. Peter's acts may have helped his outreach to the Jews, but had also given offense to the Gentile Christians. By his actions, Peter had caused a rift in the church between Jewish and Gentile Christians.

Galatians 2:14 ~~ Paul confronts Peter directly and begins with a public rebuke. This strikes me possibly as imprudent as Peter's actions, for it may have escalated the crisis and made this letter necessary long after the Antioch controversy.

Galatians 2:16 ~~ This verse is central to the theology of Martin Luther, as it offers a thrice-repeated doctrine of justification by faith and not by the works of the Law.

Galatians 2:17-19 ~~ "if... we ourselves are found to be sinners" -- that is, judged to be sinners, knowledge of which comes from the Law -- we prove ourselves to be transgressors by judging ourselves according to the Law and not according to our liberty in Christ Jesus! Paul seems to state that over-reliance and concern for the actions of Christian living can in fact be sinful when it conflicts with our understanding of our freedom to live by faith in the Spirit.

Galatians 2:21 ~~ if righteousness is from the Law, then Christ's sacrifice was needless and without effect.

Galatians 3:2-5 ~~ Paul harshly criticizes the Galatians' turn from the Spirit (grace) to flesh (works of Law).

Galatians 3:6-14 ~~ Paul embarks on a defense of the doctrines of liberty and faith, drawing from the Law itself. He uses a similar strategy in the section after 4:21.

Galatians 3:6-7 ~~ This verse (Gen. 15:6) is often quoted in the New Testament, and developed in more depth in Romans 4 and Hebrews 11. The sons of Abraham are defined by their faith accredited as righteousness

Galatians 3:8-9 ~~ This verse emphasizes the universal outreach of the Gospel, since the nations would be blessed through Abraham. Also, note the distinction drawn between the "sons of Abraham" and those "blessed with Abraham."

Galatians 3:10 ~~ Those who rely on the works of the Law are cursed under the Law (see 3:13), since they can never abide by all of the requirements.

Galatians 3:11-12 ~~ Paul contrasts living by faith (righteousness) with living by the Law (accursedness).

Galatians 3:16 ~~ Paul's Pharisaical training comes through here, in his familiarity with the Scriptures. He argues from the grammatical structure of the Abrahamic covenant (in particular, the fact that the "seed" of Abraham is in the singular) to show that it is fulfilled not in the Jewish people but in the person of Christ.

Galatians 3:17-18 ~~ This is perhaps the crucial point in Paul's argument: the Abrahamic covenant (the promise given to the patriarch) precedes the Mosaic covenant (the works of the Law given on Mount Sinai). Therefore the Law does not and cannot supersede the promise and the liberty that is fulfilled in Christ.

Galatians 3:19 ~~ The purpose of the Law was to mediate between God and sinful man before the Abrahamic promise had been fulfilled in Christ (see 3:23). While the covenant is given directly, the Law was given indirectly, "ordained by angels" (as per Deuteronomy 33:2, but also referenced in Acts 7:38,53 and Hebrews 2:2) "by the agency of a mediator" (presumably Moses), and passed ultimately to the Jewish people. The concept that the Law was transmitted or even ordained by angels would put a new spin on the entire reading of the Torah, and would certainly diminish its authority compared to the Abrahamic promise received directly from God.

Galatians 3:21-22 ~~ The Law is not contrary to the Abrahamic promise; it serves to point out sin, even while it is powerless to redeem us from sin. However, "the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin" seems to imply (as in Romans 7) that the Law also functions to be corrupted by sin, proving the existence of our sin insofar as it can even corrupt the commandments of God, and showing us the necessity of confession and repentance.

Galatians 3:23-24 ~~ Before Christ, we were in "custody under the Law" like children under the watchful eye of a "tutor" (a slave attendant). As children, we were kept from our adult inheritance and blessings ("being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed"). Like Jacob and the Prodigal Son, we sometimes demand a blessing which is not yet time for us to receive.

Galatians 3:28 ~~ The unity of the body of Christ is an oft-repeated sentiment in the Pauline epistles; this verse is repeated verbatim in several other locations.

Galatians 4:1 ~~ In light of 3:23-26, which considers our custody as children under slaves, Galatians 4 begins by comparing our status as children to that of slaves. This was common to Hellenistic culture (cf. Aristotle's Politics, Book 1).

Galatians 4:3 ~~ As children (future heirs) we were held in bondage to the "elemental things" or "principles of the world (the Law, implied by 4:10).

Galatians 4:8-10 ~~ before knowing God, we sought for God in those things which were not Him. But now, after faith has taken hold, it would be sin to return to the "weak and worthless principles" of the Law. Desire to be enslaved by the Law is fundamentally anti-Christian (Gal. 5:1 - "It was for freedom that Christ set us free").

Galatians 4:10 ~~ "days and months and seasons and years" probably refers to the liturgical calendar of the Hebrew traditions and the Law.

Galatians 4:11 ~~ "I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain." Through the letter, Paul drops his more bombastic tone, and towards the end begins to reveal his insecurities about his apostolic leadership for the Galatians. Similar sentiments are echoed in 4:20 and 5:7.

Galatians 4:12 ~~ Here's a paradoxical statement: "become as I am, for I also have become as you are."

Galatians 4:12-15 ~~ Paul states that the Galatians who received this letter initially heard the Gospel because of an unspecified weakness or illness. This may imply a detour in the first missionary journey recorded in Acts 13, or possibly an unrecorded detour in the second journey (Acts 16; but see Acts 16:6-8 where the Holy Spirit prevents them from spreading the Gospel in Bythinia and northern Galatia) or even the third journey (Acts 18:23) though the date of the journey and this letter would be an issue. Whatever the history, the Galatians evidently did not despise Paul for only teaching them the Gospel as a result of illness, but viewed it as an act of Providence. Yet now, having overcome such adverse conditions to receive the Gospel, the Galatians begin to reject Paul's teachings for relative trivialities.

Galatians 4:17-18 ~~ The Judaizers seek the Gentile Christians not commendably (as apostolic authority) but to reinforce their own religious authority ("shut you out" from the Christian community by the works of the Law, "so that you will seek them" for permission to be brought back within the community of grace.

Galatians 4:20 ~~ This is a counterpart to 4:11 and 5:7. Paul is so overcome by fear and worry that he desires to be present, to act or do something, to even "change my tone" if it would help the Galatians find their way back. Paul is perplexed, especially in light of the question in 4:21.

Galatians 4:21-28 ~~ Paul gently mocks the inconsistency of the Galatian's reliance on the Law, for the Law itself, beginning with the Abrahamic covenant and the division between Sarah and Hagar points towards freedom from the Law (that is, the "promise"). The current Jerusalem (i.e., the Judaic Law) is in slavery, where the new Jerusalem offers freedom (see Isaiah 54:1 and Revelations 21:2).

Galatians 4:29-31 ~~ The allegory of Hagar and Sarah is followed by the allegory of Ishmael and Isaac, that those in slavery (Judaizers) seek to persecute and bind those who enjoy freedom (believers of the promise).

Galatians 5:1 ~~ "It was for freedom that Christ set us free"; I love this verse.

Galatians 5:2-4 ~~ In the context, accepting circumcision from the Judaizers would be a mortal sin for the Galatians, for it would be testimony of the insufficiency of Christ's atonement (v. 4).

Galatians 5:4-5 ~~ Paul contrasts those who seek justification by law (active pursuit of actual restoration by definite means) to those who wait for the hope of righteousness by faith through the Spirit (passive acceptance of potential restoration by imprecise or uncertain means).

Galatians 5:6 ~~ Circumcision is meaningless compared to "faith working through love."

Galatians 5:8 ~~ Paul flatly states that the Judaizers (or whoever preaches justification by works of the Law) are not from Christ.

Galatians 5:9 ~~ This seems to be something of a non sequitur, regarding the pervasive influence of Judaizers.

Galatians 5:11 ~~ As in 1:10, Paul ironically points out the ease by which he could concede to the Judaizers, to avoid the persecution of these heterodox sects. But he is unwilling to abolish the "stumbling block of the cross" (a similar phrase is used in Rom. 9:33 and 1 Cor. 1:23).

Galatians 5:12 ~~ There are two possible readings of this verse. It might be an uncharacteristically bitter and vengeful outburst at the Judaizers (as in, "they should go mutilate themselves!") or it might be a particularly pointed attack (as in, "circumcision for the Gentiles would be akin to castration for the Jews; you first!") Either way, this is an extraordinary verse.

Galatians 5:13 ~~ Here is the summary statement of Galatians: "You were called to freedom, brethren."

Galatians 5:13-14 ~~ With these verses, Paul turns from defending the doctrine of Christian liberty to exhorting and encouraging its proper use -- for Christian fellowship, service, and love.

Galatians 5:15 ~~ Paul warns against the critical attitude embodied by the Law, saying how it might be turned against you by your enemy.

Galatians 5:16-17 ~~ To walk by the Spirit is to "crucify the passions and desires of the flesh" (5:24).

Galatians 5:19-21 ~~ "Deeds of the flesh" (list of vices), emphasizing works and actions. "Deeds" (plural) also implies variety.

Galatians 5:22-23 ~~ "Fruit of the Spirit" (list of virtues), emphasizing habits and traits. "Fruit" (singular) also implies unity.

Galatians 5:23 ~~ For such quality of virtue "there is no law" (see also 5:18, "If you are led by the Spirit you are not under the Law"). These virtues are sufficient without any requirement for action, for they will be imbued in every deed done by the person possessing such virtue.

Galatians 5:25-26 ~~ Here is a summary statement of the habits of vice, rooted in a rejection of hierarchy. We ought to avoid a spirit of boasting(when above), a spirit of cutthroat competitiveness (when beside), and a spirit of envy (when below).

Galatians 6:1-8 ~~ Paul outlines a doctrine of Christian unity and fellowship, considered in relief with individual moral responsibility. Paul seems to relish the sheer quantity of paradoxes in this section.

Galatians 6:1 ~~ We are to forgive and restore those who sin gently (to preserve their soul) and carefully (to preserve our own).

Galatians 6:2 ~~ Paul begins by outlining the duty for bear the loads of others (the law of Christian charity), before declaring that we can only bear our own loads when we come before judgment (v. 4-5).

Galatians 6:3-4 ~~ Another paradox: we are to take pride in our own work, insofar as we approach Christ, even while we are deceived if we think ourselves to be more than nothing.

Galatians 6:6 ~~ Another paradox, or else a non sequitur: we must bear others' loads (for charity), but can only bear our own loads (for judgment), but must "share all good things" with those who teach the word or instruct us in goodness (implying a duty to provide for teachers and evangelists).

Galatians 6:7-9 ~~ "Whatever a man sows, this he will also reap." Redemption and restoration are tied to Spirit and grace, but inheritance of the blessing is directly linked to works of faith.

Galatians 6:11 ~~ Paul takes the pen in hand, and laughs at the contrast between his handwriting and the fine meticulous penmanship of a scribe.

Galatians 6:12-13 ~~ The Judaizers advocate circumcision not as a doctrine truth, but to stave off persecution and boost conversion rates among Jewish audiences. These are largely political considerations, which Paul considers hypocritical and lacking consideration for the Gentile believers. On the other hand, by practicing circumcision, early Christianity could be associated with Jewish rites that were protected by and from Roman interference.

Galatians 6:15-16 ~~ The works of the Law and differences under the Law are meaningless in light of the restoration of the whole Creation by the cross (see also 5:6).

Galatians 6:17 ~~ Paul concludes with a personal appeal for doctrinal peace and for recognition of his authority in light of his suffering condition (perhaps alluding to his "illness" from 4:13, or "thorn in the flesh" from 2 Cor. 12:7).

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you spirit, brethren. Amen.