Meantime, trouble was brewing in an area which Paul had visited probably
not more than a few months before he completed Letter L
(1 Corinthians); a messenger from
Galatia brought news of teachers, not authorized by Paul, and proclaiming a
different gospel. They were seeking to impose Jewish ways upon the gentiles
of Galatia, requiring circumcision and the observance of the Sabbath and of
festivals in the Jewish calendar (and perhaps observance of dietary
regulations as well; compare Galatians 2:11-14).
Galatians 1:6-9 6I
am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in
the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—7not
that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and
want to pervert the gospel of Christ. . . . 9As we
have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to a gospel contrary
to what you received, let that one be accursed!
Galatians 4:9-10 9. . . How can
you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits? How can you
want to be enslaved to them again? 10You are observing special
days, and months, and seasons, and years.
Galatians 5:1-2, 12 1. . . Do
not submit again to a yoke of slavery. 2If you let yourselves be
circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. . . .12I
wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!
Galatians 6:12 It is those who want to make a good
showing in the flesh that try to compel you to be
circumcised . . . .
A number of scholars place Galatians before Letter L
(1 Corinthians). Not the least of the reasons for placing Galatians after Letter L is the fact that the collection is still viable in Galatia
at the time of 1 Corinthians, whereas the dispute in Galatia, which
precipitated Galatians, probably meant the end of work on the collection
there—sooner than later, and permanently rather than
temporarily; see Paul and Galatia (2).
What was Paul to do? To retrace his steps to Galatia so soon would seem
futile, not to mention the fact that opportunities were opening up in
Ephesus, and that he would like to wind up his work in the Aegean basin,
complete the collection project, and move westward, toward Rome and Spain. A
letter would have to suffice.
Refer to Romans 1:9-13; 15:22-24.
This letter occupies a special place in his collection of writings, by
virtue of its forensic power, its theological depth, and its parental
poignancy. Along with his anger and defensiveness, which lead him to use
language he might later have regretted, we find a Paul who is virtually
weeping, and sometimes thrashing about verbally, as he tries to deal with
his difficult children. It is a letter which is peculiarly revealing of
Paul, both in the external details of his life, the details which assist
us in “connecting the dots” with some confidence, and in the rich
inner life which was finally the source of his theologizing.
How was he to counter the plausible arguments of these teachers from
abroad, whom we recognize as the rigorists (or their associates) of the
Jerusalem conference and the Antioch episode? Broadly speaking, in
two ways: by defending his independent authority as an apostle
against the challenges of these teachers, and by setting out the
theological grounds for his gospel, especially his ideas about how we get
right with God, and the inner transformation which is the source of this
“Paul an apostle–sent neither by human commission nor from
human authorities . . . . ” (Galatians 1:1).
The strategy of the intrusive teachers was to question Paul’s law
free gospel to the gentiles by undermining his authority as an apostle,
doubtless claiming (as was true) that he was not one of the original
Jerusalem apostles, that he was therefore dependent upon those apostles
(not true), and that he could not claim apostleship because he had not
shared in the Easter appearances (not true). Consequently, his version of
the gospel, which did not require observance of the Jewish law, could not
be trusted; hence these Galatians should reconsider their standing with God
and heed the words of the Jewish scriptures (Paul’s presumed authority
also), which set forth the way of righteousness and provided guidance in
the observance of ritual requirements which would assure these gentiles
that they were truly part of God’s people. So went the rigorist line.
1 Corinthians 15:8.
Paul's defense of his apostleship was simply to tell his story, with an
emphasis to be sure on those elements which would demonstrate that his
authority was derived directly from Jesus Christ, and that he was in
essential respects independent of the Jerusalem apostles. His account also
made clear that the conference in Jerusalem had approved missions both to
the Jews and to the gentiles. Nothing by way of legal requirements had
been added to his gospel, and not even the gentile Titus was obliged to be
circumcised. Paul also recounted the Antioch episode, during which his apostolic
prerogative was sufficient for him to be able to rebuke Cephas for his duplicity.
Galatians 1:11-17 11. . . The
gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; 12for
I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I
received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. . . . 16[When
God was pleased] to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him
among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, 17nor
did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but
I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus.
Galatians 2:3-14 3But even Titus, who was
with me, was not compelled to be circumcised, though he was a
Greek. . . . 6[Those who were of repute] added
nothing to me [RSV] . . . . 9[The pillars] gave
to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we should
go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised . . . . 14[At
said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a
Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like
“. . . And we have come to believe in Jesus
Christ, so that we might be justified . . . ” (Galatians
Paul also responded to the rigorist teachers in a theological fashion,
especially with his teaching on justification by faith, as it has
usually been called. Whether he had taught or written about it earlier, or
whether it was merely implicit in his law free gospel, here in Galatians this formulation does come to expression
in no uncertain terms.
It is arguable that the crisis in Galatia was the catalyst which prompted
some of his most acute reflection on how we get right with God, and how
that relationship is generated and nourished by faith in Jesus Christ.
This is an important enough teaching in the letters, and in the history of
the church, that we need to explore it in some detail.
| • We begin with the
recognition of the metaphorical character of
Paul's salvation language—even of the term salvation itself. (Other
metaphors will be identified in later sections of this work.)
Justification is a term taken over from a court of law, in which the
defendant is acknowledged as worthy of condemnation but then is graciously
||Click also on Corinthians
| • Paul is emphatic in denying that justification comes by works of
the Jewish law or by claims to self-righteousness of any sort: “We
know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through
faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus,
so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the
works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the
law” (Galatians 2:16).
The NRSV footnote offers “the faith of Christ” as an alternative
translation of the Greek pistis Christou in 2:16. This rendering of the Greek
as a subjective genitive is currently supported by a number of scholars. But
the reading in the NRSV text seems to be favored by the verbal equivalent,
“to believe in Christ Jesus” (pisteuein eis Christon Iêsoun),
where a subjective genitive is out of the question.
| • As this text (2:16) already shows, a person gets right with God
by believing in Christ Jesus. Faith as Paul uses the term means not so
much giving assent with the mind as the commitment of one’s whole being,
and in this context commitment to Jesus Christ. Paul’s concept of faith
is rooted in the Jewish Bible, and especially in the account of
Abraham’s believing or trusting God that he would have a son and that
his descendants would be numerous as the stars.
Galatians 3:6-9; compare Genesis 15:6.
| • The death
of Christ is crucial to this new relationship with God. His death is a
gracious act of self-giving, motivated by love: “[He] loved me and
gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if
justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing”
(Galatians 2:20-21). This idea of vicarious suffering is not new with
Paul, for it appears already in the summary of gospel tradition which Paul
quotes in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, “3. . . that
Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures . . .
| • While
justification is a legal metaphor, it also has an inward
aspect, i.e. the faith relationship with Christ so intimate that one
recapitulates the death and resurrection of Christ. Christ becomes the new
ego, the new center of life: “19. . . I have
been crucified with Christ; 20and it is no longer I [Greek, egô]
who live, but it is 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” (Galatians 2:19-20).
| • But the actions of God’s grace by no means exclude good
works; good works are no longer the root, but the fruit of the tree, as
Luther expressed it. One’s good works are actually energized by
the recognition of God’s gracious influence, as Paul would have occasion
to observe in the Philippian letter (2:12-13).
Two other themes are worthy of mention for their own importance, as
well as for their contribution to the argument of the letter. As
part of our survey of Paul’s Christology, or theologizing about Christ, we note here a
text which implies Christ's pre-existence, as well as his divine
Galatians 4:4-5 4But
when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman,
born under the law, 5in order to redeem those who were under
the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.
And we mention again the love/agapê principle, which now
is identified as a summary of the law, as well as one of the virtues which
is the fruit of the Spirit’s working.
Galatians 5:13-14 13For
you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your
freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love [agapê]
become slaves to one another. 14For the whole law is summed up
in a single commandment, “You shall love [agapân] your neighbor
Galatians 5:13-14, 22.
The Reception of the Letter
We are not told whether the Galatian believers gave this remarkable
document a favorable reception or not. The reality is that we have
no evidence of the resumption of the collection in Galatia, and hence no
evidence that the dispute was resolved by this letter.
In Romans 15:26, Galatia is not included with Macedonia and Achaia as
contributors. Click on Paul and Galatia (2).
February 6, 2003
button below to continue, Ephesian Headquarters (5).