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Reflections on Galatians

Saint Paul

Galatians 1

(Galatians 1) Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;)

Paul steps right up and slams down the gauntlet. There was an idea circulating that Paul was not really an apostle. Take it or leave it, Paul addresses this head on. There was also an idea that, while Jesus was a great Rabbi, that is all that he was. Paul dismisses that by the strong statement of Jesus' resurrection.

There was a deep divide in the early church between those who believed that the faith of Jesus was merely another flavor of Judaism and those who accepted the fact that Jesus had brought something both new and old. It was old in that it went all the way back to Abraham and beyond. It was new in that it made a total departure from practical Judaism.

Jesus made it plain that they could not fit him into the framework of received Judaism. His teachings were new wine, and they would destroy old wineskins if you tried to put them there.

This was easy for Jesus to say, but it was not so easy for those who believed in him to assimilate. It was hard to lay aside the old traditions, especially when those old traditions made you feel special, chosen, set apart. They thought of their faith as a Jewish religious. They thought of Jesus message as a kind of Christian Judaism. These found themselves at odds with Peter and especially Paul.

{2} And all the brethren which are with me, unto the churches of Galatia: {3} Grace be to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ, {4} Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father: {5} To whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

{6} I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: {7} Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.

So we have to accept the possibility that the Gospel could become corrupted, perverted to such an extent that it might as well be another Gospel entirely. This new Gospel is a move away from the grace of Christ.

There is a common error that enters at this point in the thinking of some. They think that the means of salvation in the Old Testament was works, while in the New Testament it was grace. Wrong. Grace is an Old Testament doctrine. Salvation in Judaism was by works. Salvation in the Old Testament was by Grace as will become apparent.

{8} But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. {9} As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. {10} For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ. {11} But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. {12} For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ. {13} For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews' religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it: {14} And profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.

This isolates the problem. The expression here rendered "the Jews religion" is the Greek word  Ioudaismos, from which we get the word, "Judaism." Paul put Judaism, per se, strictly in his past. Not only that, the passage reveals the great gulf between Judaism and the early church. Persecution of Christians was legitimized by the prevailing Judaism. What the troublemakers in Galatia were preaching was a kind of Christian Judaism. And as almost any Jew will tell you, Christian Judaism is a contradiction in terms. It would be new wine in old bottles.

A passage in Matthew 9:11 will serve to illustrate. The rules of the Pharisees forbade eating with Gentiles. The Law did not forbid it so Jesus felt free to eat with them. The Pharisees and the disciples of John fasted often. The Law prescribed one fast day a year. Jesus disciples did not fast very often. Jesus then draws the new wine analogy to tell them that what his teaching cannot be encompassed by the old Judaism.

{15} But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace, {16} To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood:

It is startling to read that that Paul was set apart by God from his mother's womb for the purpose of his calling. And the purpose of this was to preach Christ among "the heathen," the Gentiles.

{17} Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus. {18} Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. {19} But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord's brother. {20} Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not.

It is hard to guess what Paul was fighting here, but he was fighting some sort of accusation, some attempt to undermine his credibility. The methodology is as old as the oldest false prophet. Paul, Barnabas and Silas were the only preachers these people had known. If you are going to win them over to your side, you have to first undermine the credibility of the person who brought the Gospel in the first place.  They attacked Paul's apostleship and authority.

{21} Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia; {22} And was unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea which were in Christ: {23} But they had heard only, That he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed. {24} And they glorified God in me.


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