Let's look at Galatians

Written by Ian on Wednesday 22/08/07

Paul is writing to the Galatian Churches regarding observance of the law. He is making it clear that there is to be no altering the gospel (Gal 1:6), and he is opposed to anyone preaching another gospel - even to the extent of calling for them to be eternally condemned (Gal 1:10) and (worse in the short term?) emasculated (Gal 5:12).

From Paul's impassioned response we might surmise that some zealous agitators have entered the Galatian church, arguing for gentile believers to be circumcised. He seems to have been surprised by the rapid and insidious spread of this influence (the word 'marvel' in Gal 1:6). Paul's response is characteristically direct. This includes establishing his own credentials, describing himself as an apostle (Gal 1:1), and particularly the divine revelation given to him (but stronger even than that - it was given in him, since he was reserved from birth for this purpose Gal 1:15-16). He even goes so far as to invoke worldly authority given to him by Peter et. al. to preach the gospel to gentiles (Gal 2:9).

Strangely he then outlines his difference of opinion with Peter (Gal 2:11) - perhaps indicating to the Galatians that if even Peter could be deceived by this issue, there is little shame in their own deception, provided they turn back to the true gospel.

However the bulk of his argument is that believers (Jew and Gentile) are justified through faith - belief in Jesus Christ - not through deeds or outward observance of the law. Probably the agitators were using the argument of being faithful to the law, since Paul takes particular care to discredit the importance of relying on the law alone for redemption:

  • Christ has set us free from the law (Gal 5:1)
  • Was Abraham a man of faith, or of the law {and if so, what law}? (Gal 3:6-14)
  • God's covenant does not rely on the law (Gal 3:17)
  • Being led by the Spirit is incompatible with being led by the law (Gal 5:18)
  • we...are not justified by observing the law (Gal 2:16)
  • If the law could justify, then Christ died for nothing (Gal 2:21)
  • The charge of hypocrisy: even Peter, a Jew, does not follow the law (Gal 2:14)

    To sum up, Paul strongly imparts the justification through faith message using several techniques:

    i) Showing no substitute to faith - the law can not redeem (Gal 3:11)

    ii) Invoking the example of the greatest Jewish figure not under the law (Gal 3:17)

    iii) Reminding the church of the new covenant (Gal 5:14)

    iv) Discrediting hypocrites who say they follow the law (Gal 2:14)

    v) Identifying the true purpose of the law (Gal 3:19)

    vi) A sense of the theatrical (Gal 1:6)

    vii) Humour/sarcasm (Gal 5:12)

    viii) With allegorical references (Gal 4:21-28) to Hagar's descendants - subject to law - representing the earthly Jerusalem, as opposed to Sarah's descendants - subject to a promise - representing the inheritance of heaven (I assume here that ‘The Jerusalem that is above’ refers to heaven). Paul writes in v.28 that we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman. This also links back to the theme of slavery in Gal 4:7 and to believers being children of Abraham in Gal 3:7. Both themes will have particular resonance with the Jews... maybe he was expecting someone to show this letter to the agitators and thus influence them directly rather than only to the church that they were agitating?

    ix) Through expressing his love for, and commitment to the Galatian church. In fact in Gal 6:11 he talks about the big letters he is writing with his own hand - perhaps indicating he cares so much he would pen this himself rather than through the customary use of an amanuenses!

    Above all remember this - Justification through faith and not works