Galatians 1
Galatians 2
Galatians 3
Galatians 4
Galatians 5
Galatians 6

Comment Here



Paul's Letter to the Galatians
Saint Paul   Painting: St. Paul by Rembrandt van Rijn

Introduction, A Church Divided

While Paul was at Corinth (About 51 A.D. and when Paul was about 55 years old) some very troubling news arrived from the Galatian churches. The best scholarship suggests that these churches were in Southern Galatia. I think they were the churches of Derbe, Lystra, and Iconium, that are described earlier in Acts. The cities are in what today would be in southeastern Turkey.

The churches established there were the results of the first real thrust of the Gospel into the Gentile world. There were Jews and gentiles in these churches, but they were, in the main, Gentile. Paul had just gone through these churches, confirming them in the faith, and delivering the decrees from Jerusalem regarding what was required of Gentile Christians. There was no question of the validity of the Ten Commandments or the written law, but they were not required to be circumcised or to enter into all the requirements of Judaism (See on Acts 15).

As you read Paul’s letters you will encounter repeatedly what seem like contradictory statements relative to the law. Paul’s does not believe the written law was abolished, but he takes great exception to the legalistic attempts to impose the system of Judaism on the church.

Galatians is a difficult book. It is nearly 2,000 years old. It comes from a foreign culture in a language that is not only foreign, but obsolete. But what really makes Galatians difficult is that you are reading someone else’s mail. The Galatians knew what this letter is all about. We don’t. We have to glean our knowledge of the problems in Galatia from the letter itself. We can understand a lot of it–perhaps most of it. But we have to be careful not to be too dogmatic in the tricky areas. One thing is clear. The old circumcision party from Jerusalem had arrived in Galatia and were trying to pull the same deal that they had tried in Antioch. If you haven’t already reviewed Acts 15, this would be a good way to start the study of Galatians.

It is odd how man seems to be so dissatisfied with God. Seriously. We seem to think that we can improve on what He has done. It is one thing when we do this by creating a new Rose, or a new breed of dog. It is another thing all together when we think we can improve on His religion. And we do. If we weren’t so busy improving on God’s religion, there wouldn’t be so many varieties of religions in the world.

At the time Jesus walked the streets of Jerusalem, there was a dominant religion there. It was a kind of Judaism. Perhaps a proto-Judaism. During and after the Babylonian exile, the Jewish sages had begun the development of the Mishnah–a formalization of their oral traditions, memorized and passed down from generation to generation. Their religion centered on the study of the law. The problem was That as they developed their tradition, they "improved" on the law considerably. The result was Judaism.

Judaism, though, was not homogeneous. It was quite sectarian, as human nature would lead us to expect. The Pharisees taught both the Oral and Written law. The Sadducees taught only the written law, and the Essenes thought both of them were corrupt.

Then along comes Jesus, and he rejects sectarian Judaism in all its forms, finding himself in regular conflict with both Pharisee and Sadducee. And here we come to one of the most fundamental mistakes people make about Jesus, in fact about the entire NT.

Sectarian Judaism is not the religion of the Old Testament. Judaism, rather, is the response of the Jewish people to the revelation of God in the Old Testament, But it is much, much more than God ever revealed. Judaism is a cultural response to God. It is, in the main, an honest response and deserves our respect as such.

But while Jesus observed the law of God and never sinned, He was not a "Torah observant Jew" in the sense that a "Torah observant Jew" considered the Oral Law and tradition a part of the Torah. There is a wide gulf between the Law of God as expressed in the Old Testament, and the law of the Jews, as encountered in the New Testament.

Not a few modern teachers confuse this issue. They take note of the rejection of the law of the Jews by both Jesus and Paul, and they interpret this as an rejection or abrogation of the Law of God. But the written law of God is confirmed by both Jesus and Paul.

The issue becomes complicated early in Christian history, because the fledgling church was divided almost immediately by those who wanted to retain the full package of Judaism as a part of Christianity. These believed that the gospel Jesus brought was an expansion of Judaism. After all, Jesus was a Jew, all the disciples were Jews. They were the chosen people. All the rules they had created relative to Gentiles, then, were still to be observed.

On the one hand, you had a group called "believing Pharisees" who considered the new faith a Jewish faith, and on the other a group (Which included Peter and Paul) who understood that the gospel was to go to the gentiles–the whole world. This conflict defines most of Paul’s ministry, and dominates many of his letters. If you don’t know the players and the issues, it is very easy to misunderstand Paul.

Many teachers believe firmly that Paul taught the abolition of the Law. But in fact, Paul confirms the law of God, while he "abrogates" the law of the Jews. This is nowhere more evident than in his letter to the Galatians.




Hit Counter


Contact us              Copyright 2009 Ronald L Dart, all rights reserved.