Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Letter to the Galatian church

Galatians has a theme running through the letter which is important to recognise in order to understand the epistle rightly. Paul's concern is that the Galatians wish to enforce the Mosaic Law on Gentile Christians. This is problematic because not only is it incorrect and unnecessary, it denies the essence of the gospel. By trying to enforce this the Judaisers were denying salvation through faith in Christ alone. Paul begins his letter identifying this very issue:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel (Gal 1:6).
What follows in the letter is an extended treatise on how Christ supercedes the Mosaic Law.

Paul states that there is only one gospel; that all other gospels are false; that anyone who preaches otherwise should be accursed; that Paul did not get this gospel from man but directly form Christ himself; that this is evidenced by his conversion from a persecutor of the church to a preacher of the gospel to the Gentiles; and that he confirmed with the apostles that the gospel he taught to the Gentiles was the true gospel.

It was evident to the apostles that just as they had been entrusted the gospel to the Jews, Paul was entrusted the gospel to the Gentiles. From this background Paul speaks against Gentiles having to obey the Mosaic Law. The Judaisers claimed that the Gentiles coming into the church had to obey the Mosaic Law including becoming circumcised. Paul therefore uses circumcision to refer to Jews and uncirumcision to refer to non-Jews. He proves his position first by referring to the situation in other churches and then by appeal to Scripture.

Concerning the situation in other churches Paul states that Titus the Greek was not compelled to be circumcised. He also notes that Peter was eating with Gentiles even though Jews do not eat with Gentiles. It was only after Judaisers infiltrated the church that Peter stopped eating with Gentiles, others followed suit. Paul labels the Judaisers the circumcision group, and not only did they persuade Peter but other Jews as well. Paul states that such behaviour is hypocritical and points out that he, Paul, had to rebuke Peter for trying to get the Gentiles to obey the Mosaic Law. If Peter, though a Jew, was permitted to behave like a Gentile, how much more so were Gentiles allowed to do so, That is, Gentiles do not have to behave like Jews: they do not have to obey the Mosaic Law.

It is uncertain what Paul is saying next. Translations differ as to whether Paul's rebuke to Peter ends at verse 14 or verse 21. If the quote ends at verse 14 then the subsequent discourse could be a development of Paul's rebuke of Peter or a new argument. If the quote ends at verse 21 then it must be a development of the rebuke. Of greater consequence is whether Paul means that Jewish Christians are found to be sinners (that is sinning) or to be among sinners (with Gentiles). Either way these Jews are "sinning", but the former position is sinning against the Law and against God, yet if the latter, Paul is implying a "sin" against the Law but not a sin against God.

Assuming the former, that is Jews are found to be sinners (against God), Paul is saying that he and others are Jews by birth, not Gentiles, not so-called sinners. Even so, as a Jew, as someone belonging to the group that God gave the Mosaic Law to, Paul knows that it is not obedience to the Law which justifies him but faith in Christ. In fact in it impossible to made right with God through obedience to the Law. Yet what about a Jew who is not trying to be made righteous through the Law but is trying to be made righteous in Christ? Such a person will inevitably disobey the Law at some point and is therefore identified as a sinner. Paul asks, because they are a sinner, even though they have faith in Christ, does that make Christ himself a servant of sin? That is, Jews are sinners because they disobey the Law yet are righteous because of faith in Christ; and if Christ is making  righteous those who are otherwise sinners, is Christ himself facilitating sin?

Assuming the latter, that is Jews are found among sinners, Paul is still saying that the Jews, who are not so-called sinning Gentiles, are not made righteous by obeying the Mosaic Law but through faith. However Paul then goes on to say that Jews are seeking to be justified by Christ while at the same times they are found to be with sinners, that is, eating with Gentile sinners. And if eating with Gentiles is sinful then is Christ facilitating sin?

The answer to either question is: Absolutely not!

Paul then illustrates why Christ is not facilitating sin.
For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. (Gal 2:18 ESV)

For if I build up again these things which I destroyed, I show myself to be a transgressor. (LEB)

If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a lawbreaker. (NIV)
The LEB and ESV are saying that if a person tears down something then at a later stage rebuilds it, the fact of rebuilding shows that the person now knows that they were wrong to destroy it initially. Rebuilding is an admission of guilt. The NIV assumes the same but with the added implication that because rebuilding would prove transgression, Paul is in fact not rebuilding. Going with the LEB and ESV Paul says that Christ is not facilitating sin because the transgressor is the sinner not Christ. Going with the NIV Paul is saying that Christ is not facilitating sin because the charge of being a sinner is false and Paul is not rebuilding what he tore down.

It is difficult to decide between the two options. Paul elsewhere makes it clear that even as Christians we are not without sin. And he uses somewhat similar arguments in other letters (Romans 6:1; 7:13). But the connection of the argument with Paul's rebuke of Peter gives credence to the second view: Paul is not rebuilding what he broke down, it is not sinful to eat with the uncircumcised, and Christ is not facilitating sin. It also implies that those who would rebuild the barrier between Gentiles and Jews are admitting guilt and are the sinners.

Either way, through the law Paul died to the law so that he might live for God (Gal 3:19).

How did Paul die through the Mosaic Law. He says,
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal 2:20)
Elsewhere he says that anything that hangs on a tree is cursed (Gal 3:13). Christ died under the Law and Paul died with Christ. Paul died through the law just as Christ did. And now he lives for Christ.
I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. (Gal 2:21)
Paul tells the Galatians that not only can righteousness not be obtained through the Mosaic Law, were it able to be thus obtained, then Christ died for nothing. Because Christ did die and he died for us, then by his death we know that righteousness through the Law is impossible. Further attempting to obtain righteousness through obeying the Law is tantamount to denying that Jesus needed to die. It is a denial of the gospel!

Paul now explains further why the Mosaic Law no longer holds: the Law was temporary while waiting for God's promise. God promised Jesus who is our righteousness. God gave the Law while we waited for Jesus to come.

The sons of Abraham are not those who are descended from Abraham but those who have the faith of Abraham. Covenants are final once ratified. No one can change them or annul them (Gal 3:15). God made a covenant with Abraham and this cannot be changed or annulled by any person. This covenant was a promise to Abraham concerning Abraham's seed. While seed can be a collective singular (Gal 3:29), Paul specifies that seed here refers to a single descendant, not all Abraham's descendants. The Mosaic law came after the promise and it cannot change or annul the promise. The promise to Abraham was Christ and it remained Christ until he came, even during the time of the Law. If this is the case then why did Moses give the Law? God gave it because of transgressions (Gal 3:19). It was given to regulate sin until the promise came through Jesus.

Paul develops the giving of the Law in an interesting way.
[The law] was put in place through angels by an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.
More than one what?
  1. One party? God being one party and the Israelites being the other. 
  2. More than one Israelite? The Israelites needed a representative who was their intermediary.
Paul then asks if the Mosaic Law is opposed to God's promise. In other words, if the promise is primary, and the law is temporary and given to regulate transgressions, then is the law contrary to the promise? No. If there were a law that could bring life then it would be given. There is no law that can bring life which is why the promise was given, and why Jesus had to die. Scripture imprisoned everything to be a slave to sin. We were imprisoned and held captive under the Law. God did this so that the promise could come to those who believed God, until the revealing of faith.

The law is like a guardian. It exists until we become heirs of the promise through Christ. But faith has now come, we are no longer under the guardianship of the law. Christians do not need to defer to the Mosaic Law. Differences that were previously apparent: Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, are no longer present. We are one in Christ and we are Abraham's seed because we belong Christ.

We are heirs of the promise in Christ. The heir while he is a child is like a slave. A child under a guardian is as a slave. Before Christ we are slaves under the law. Slaves to elementaries. Elementary principles or elementary spirits.

Prior to knowing God they were enslaved to that which by nature are not gods. This could mean principalities and powers: elementary spirits. Now they are turning back to special days and seasons. This could mean elementary principles. Paul may be appealing to both meanings. Note that Paul is not averse to describing spiritual beings as gods (1Co 8:5) though they clearly are false gods and not God (1Co 10:20-21). Satan is the god of this age (2Co 4:4). Elementary principles may be the preferred reading.

Then to reiterate that promise has priority over the Law. Paul uses the example of Hagar and Sarah. The birth of Ishmael came via the normal method which is analogous to the Law. And Hagar was the maidservant of Sarah, which represents the slavery under the Law. Sarah was made fertile after menopause as a result of a promise of God. This is analogous to the promise of faith in Christ. Sarah, the free woman, is the mother of the faithful. Jerusalem corresponds to Hagar, the Jews who do not know Christ, the Law. In Christ we are no longer residents of the Old Jerusalem, we are children of the promise, residents of the New Jerusalem. We are free in Christ. To be circumcised is to revert to the Law, to become a slave again, to reject salvation through Christ. And the only way you can have salvation is to keep every last regulation of the Mosaic Law without a single mistake. It is Christ or the Law, you cannot have both.

Throughout Paul appeals to the Galatians that they may hold to the truth. Paul refers to Judaisers as false brothers (Gal 2:4). He entreats them to listen to him because of their love for him (Gal 4:14,15) and his concern for them (Gal 4:19). Others do not care for them and use them for their own purposes (Gal 4:17). They only want to boast in their own flesh (Gal 6:12) and in the flesh of those they persuade (Gal 6:13). Paul wishes that those who draw the Galatians away from Christ would emasculate themselves (Gal 5:12).

Christ is freedom from the Law. And if anyone is tempted to sin, Paul reminds them that because faith supercedes the Law, then if we have Christ we can live by the Spirit. Walk in obedience to the Spirit who now dwells in you. Fleshly desires are contrary to the Spirit. But if you obey the Spirit you are not under the Law (Gal 5:18), there are not even any laws against the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:23).

Paul warns the Galatians concerning sins to avoid and how to help others caught in sin. He reminds them to sow to the Spirit and not to the flesh. And finally,
For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. (Gal 6:15)
Paul was persecuted by the Jews for this teaching. Those promoting circumcision wanted to avoid persecution. But Paul would not deny the gospel even though that meant persecution. God gave a promise. That promise meets its fulfillment in Christ. The Law was never the promise, it was temporary because of sin. One can try and obey every law but there was no Law that could bring salvation. Or one can trust in the promise and put his faith in Christ.

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