Summary of the first two weeks of our Galatians study (Gal. 1):
- Paul is defending his position of authority—his status as an apostle of the Lord. He does this because the Gospel—the foundation of the faith—is at stake. The false teachers associated the “Law-free” Gospel with the “shady character” that is Paul (F.F. Bruce). They said his authority was derivative. They said this because 1. He was not one of the original Twelve, and 2. Because of his checkered past as a persecutor of the faith. He counters this by saying that his apostleship and the Gospel that he preaches were not bestowed on him by the other apostles—or any other person—but came to him directly from God through a revelation of Jesus. Paul makes it clear that God chose him, a “savage wolf,” before he was born to be “not only a sheep, but a shepherd (apostle/leader)” (Calvin). Paul is so adamant in his defense of his character that he might initially strike the reader as arrogant. What we came to see is that Paul pulls rank/defends himself, not to puff himself up, but in order to defend the true Gospel that was so closely associated with Paul and his character. In short, the “Law-free” Gospel was associated with Paul, therefore, to defend the Gospel, he had to first defend himself from false accusations and characterizations.
- Unlike every—every!—other Pauline epistle (letter) to the churches, there is no thanksgiving for the Church at Galatia—even though it was a much more “moral” church than the wicked one at Corinth. In the place of thanksgiving there is astonishment. Instead of praise there is a curse (not on the Galatians, but on the false teachers who were calling the Galatians away from “freedom” and back to “slavery”). Why does Paul write so polemically/so sternly? Because in the case of the church at Galatia, the foundation of the faith—the actual Good News of the Gospel—was at stake.
- It is important to note that the false teachers (probably Jewish Christians) were not saying that the Gentile Christians would be saved by works. They were saying they would be saved by Jesus’ work and their behalf, plus works (circumcision, etc.). For these teachers, Jesus death and resurrection alone was not sufficient for salvation. For Paul, there is no middle ground. To him, Jesus plus works for salvation is not good news—“it is no Gospel.” In fact, the combination results in slavery. For Paul, salvation is a free gift—it comes through the gift of faith, and faith alone! Paul is angry so because these teachers are putting a burden on these Galatian Christians. They were calling the Galatians to slavery/bondage. In other words, Jesus+, much like Google+, is not only lame, but accursed ;)
For Paul the options are freedom or slavery. There is no middle ground. The object of our faith—Jesus Christ—and his work saves us through the gift of faith, and nothing we can do contributes to this deliverance, this rescue operation.