Summary of Week 5: Galatians 3:1-9
Gian Lorenzo Bernini “Dove of the Holy Spirit”
(I provided a rather lengthy introduction to set the stage for our passage this week: Galatians 3:1-9. For those who have followed along feel free to either read it or ignore it and skip to "Current Passage" below. One final note, we do not usually go this in depth at the Thursday night gatherings. This summary is more for me than anyone else, though hopefully it has been helpful for others.)
At the very beginning of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he rebukes them (Gal. 1:6). Unlike all of his other letters to churches, he is not thankful for their faith and does not acknowledge their blessedness. Instead he is astonished about how they could be lead away from the true Gospel—the forgiveness of past, present and future sins, the breaking down of ethnic barriers, and the cosmic (all-encompassing) victory and reconciliation which Christ accomplished through his death and resurrection—to another one that is no Gospel at all. He then proceeds to pronounce a curse—twice—on those who would proclaim a Gospel contrary to the one who delivered, whether they be apostles (including himself) or even an angels from heaven.
From here Paul defends his apostolicity because the false teachers who have infiltrated Galatia have belittled it. He clearly notes that his apostleship comes from Jesus Christ and God the Father and not from or through any person—whether apostolic or otherwise. He does this by presenting his own (sequential) narrative.
The second episode of chapter 2 starts at verse 11, where Paul breaks the flow of his sequential narrative somewhat. He interrupts the flow of his own journey by writing about a crucial encounter with Peter in writing, “But when Cephas came to Antioch” (the linear continuity of the “then’s” have given way to a discontinuous “but”). Not only has the narrative shifted characters—Paul to Peter, but the location has also changed—the scene has moved from Jerusalem to Antioch. Moreover, the first episode of chapter 2 has dealt with the symbol of the Mosaic Law that is circumcision, the second episode deals with another symbol of the same Law—table fellowship.
Unlike the Jerusalem church and all the daughter churches of Antioch, the church at Antioch was made up of Jewish and Gentile Christians. It was truly a multicultural church. In this episode, Paul publically condemns Cephas the apostle. It’s significant that he writes this fact before even noting the details of the encounter. Following the line of thought from the first episode of chapter 2 and from his rebuke in chapter, Paul reiterates the fact that the Gospel is over the apostles (the Gospel is the foundation of the Church and not vice versa.)
Having summarized the incident, Paul provides the details. Cephas, who had been regularly eating with Gentiles, decided to withdraw from table fellowship out of fear of the newly arrived circumcision party “come from James” (from Jerusalem). A party that was evidently none too pleased with the resolution seen in the first episode of chapter 2. Cephas, a pillar of the church at Jerusalem, was very respected, and his withdrawal lead to that of the Jewish Christians of Antioch and even—the ever faithful and true advocate and friend—Barnabas (a crushing blow to Paul.) These Jewish Christians abandoned their Gentile brothers at table not merely for daily meals, but also for the ultimate meal—the Eucharistic feast.
Paul notes that their behavior was hypocritical to be sure (Cephas had “play acted” a part that was not him—he had grown accustomed to feasting with Gentiles), but more importantly was “not in step with the truth of the Gospel.” Through his actions, Cephas made the Gentile Christians at Antioch feel like second class citizens, and not just Peter but also one of their own religious leaders—Barnabas. Cephas had effectively preached an anti-Gospel (which, as we learned from chapter 1, makes him accursed!!!). Paul sees that this act of sin is no mere transgression, and therefore disregards his usual call for a gentle confrontational approach (Gal, 6:1).
The presentation of Paul’s public speech to Peter is very interesting. He starts off by addressing Cephas in front of the audience of Antioch and then intentionally broadens this speech to include the False Teachers and the present audience of Galatia! Having openly rebuked Cephas, Paul goes on to rhetorically put his arm around him and the False Teachers of Galatia’s shoulders in writings, “We ourselves are Jews by birth and not 'Gentile sinners.'” He then undercuts the distinction between Jew and Gentile in writing, “yet [even] we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through the faith of Jesus Christ.” The faith of Christ does not serve as a supplement to the keeping of the Law, either for Christians of Jewish or Gentile lineage. On the contrary, concerning salvation, observance of the Law and the faith of Christ constitute a genuine antimony (Martyn, 249). Together with the Gentile, the Jew stands before God with empty hands. Both are to put their trust in the faith of Christ with the source of their (and our) acceptance being his crucifixion and resurrection.
Episode 2 of Chapter 2 ends with the implicit notion that Paul suffered a political loss. Cephas, the Jewish Christians of Antioch, and Barnabas did not come to see things the way Paul did—at least not initially. He was very quick to point out the victory and advance of the Gospel through his own political triumph in episode 1 at Jerusalem; it would only make sense that he would do the same at Antioch if successful. It would only have served to advance his case with the present Galatian audience. Nevertheless, as evidenced in our current passage (3:1-9), Paul continues to "fight" for the true Gospel despite his prior setback no matter who opposes him.
With that noted, it must also be emphasized that Paul was in no hurry to break communion with those with whom he vehemently disagreed. In fact, it is just the opposite. Cephas, the circumcision party at Jerusalem, and the false teachers of Galatia have erred at the very foundation of the Christian faith. They have replaced the Gospel once given for another that—as Paul has early made very clear—is no Gospel at all. Nevertheless, Paul does not call for a split in the church. He prized unity far too much for that. Like the Church Father Athanasius (who would come after him) Paul fought to stay united even while warring with his fellow brothers and sisters over the heart of the Christian faith.
Chapter 3 opens with Paul delivering yet another epistolary rebuke. Having turned his attention away from the Galatians after the initial rebuke in 1:6, he returns back to them in 3:1 after skillfully addressing their False Teachers. His diatribe is full of sarcastic rhetorical questions that are previous unseen in the letter. In this short section (3:1-3:5), Paul contrast the “happy march of the gospel into Galatia with the odious defection occurring at the present time” (Martyn, 282.) Paul is convinced that the gospel message that had—and has—the power to evoke faith is the opposite of observance of the Mosaic Law.
Rembrandt van Rijn “Apostle Paul”
Having earlier addressed the Galatians as “my brothers and sisters” (1:11), Paul now sharpens his tongue. Having recalled his public confrontation with Cephas at Antioch, and composed his emotional and combative speech directed to the False Teachers at Galatia, Paul stings the Galatians with an emotional outburst that suggests that they are distinctively lacking wisdom (“Oh Foolish Galatians!”).
He then uses the vocabulary of magic to explain their defection from the true Gospel when writing, “who has bewitched you” or “who has cast a spell on you.” Knowing about Gentile aversion to circumcision, Paul maintains that the False Teachers must have been virtual magicians to make the Galatians long to submit to the practice along with the Mosaic Law in order to keep a steady dose of the Spirit. Paul is suggesting that in giving the False Teachers their ears they are leaving the realm of faith for that of superstition. As commentator J. Louis Martyn notes, “When Gentiles take up observance of the Law as though that were salvific, they give themselves over to—or they return to (4:9)—a belief in magic.” (Martyn, 283).
This spell-binding astonishes Paul. How can those who’ve heard the true Gospel willingly return to bondage? It must be something akin to sorcery. For Paul had skillfully and vividly “painted a picture of Christ marked by crucifixion.” He made clear to them that Christ died as a condemned criminal, that his death is the event in which God has begun to free the whole of the cosmos from bondage to the powers of evil (1:4) (including the forgiveness of sins)
Paul then delivers a rhetorical question which forces the Galatians to enter the argument he is making against the False Teachers. He focuses on the Holy Spirit because he knows that the False Teachers are doing the same for different ends (i.e. a false Gospel). These Teachers are showing from the Old Testament that Law observance is the way one can be assured of a steady supply of the Holy Spirit and of his power. To combat what Paul considers a virus, Paul takes the Galatians back to the beginning—their birth as a Christian church. Using a phrase widely used among early Christians to refer to the inception of the Christian life (“to receive the Holy Spirit,” e.g. Acts 2:38, John 20:22), Paul writes of something that happens to human beings. God causes the Spirit of the Son to invade their hearts. In the lives of the Galatians things began to be the way they really are when Paul preached Christ crucified to them and when the Spirit of Christ came upon them (cf. 3:14).
Paul then writes, “Did you receive the Spirit because you observed the Law, or as a result of proclamation that has the power to elicit faith?” The implied answer is most definitely the latter. This is how faith was birthed and the Spirit given to the Gentiles at the Galatian church(es). Paul then goes on to ask a further rhetorical question with the answer widely regarded as revolutionary in the history of religion. He writes, “Having begun in the Spirit, you are now being perfected by means of the flesh?” the implied answer being an emphatic NO. This notion that maturity in the Christian life—that a steady supply of the Holy Spirit throughout her days—is not contingent upon obedience to the Law was quite simply radical. It was ground-breaking two thousand years ago, and it continues to be so—even among Christians today.
Paul, still shocked that the Galatians could exchange this great news of freedom for the bondage of sanctification via Law observance, plays around with the idea that the Galatians experienced the initial gift of the Spirit in vain and that they persist in linking their experience of the Spirit to their observance of the Law (“Have you experienced these remarkable things in vain?”). He then finishes the thought by writing, “if, indeed, that is conceivable,” thus recoiling from this terrible thought. The Galatians are genuinely in danger (cf. 4:11, 20; 5:4; 6:8), but Paul can scarcely entertain the possibility of miscarriage with the implied answer being: “Surely it is inconceivable!” Miscarriage is inconceivable for Paul not because of any steadfast character on the part of the Galatians, but because of the steadfastness of God who does not commence his liberating work in order to carry it partway through (Phil 1:6; Gal. 5:10). It is God’s faithfulness, then, that provides the foundation of Paul’s confidence.
Fully bringing the tense of the rhetorical questions from past to continuous present, Paul writes, “When God even now supplies the Spirit to you, and when he works wonders in the midst of your communities, is he doing those things because you observe the Law, or is he doing them through the proclamation that elicits your faith?”
So far, Paul has been making a case that God supplies the Spirit via the proclamation of the Gospel which has the power to elicit faith by looking at the birth of the church at Galatia. He effectively proclaims that the developments that have occurred since their birth are disastrous. They need to go back to the way things were at their birth: Understand that the Spirit is given via a church life that is marked by the power of God’s own message—the Gospel that has the power to elicit faith. From here, Paul moves on to his second tactic— to show how the Old Testament taught ahead of time what their experience has been. He knows the False Teachers are exegeting the Old Testament for their own purposes, and he is determined to beat them at their own game, by showing the true witness of the Scriptures.
*I don’t have time to go as in depth into this section (3:6-3:9), but suffice it to say that Paul shows that the basis for the supply of the Spirit for the Galatians was the same for Abraham in his day. God delivered him a promise—a Gospel—Abraham trusted in it, and God recognized this faithful trust. Those whose identity is derived from faith—the faith of Christ and their own faith—and not observance to the Mosaic Law, these are the true heirs of Abraham. God worked through Abraham, and Abraham’s seed—Christ, to bless the Gentiles who would become incorporated into the family via the work of Christ.
|The stars representing the vast number of Abraham’s heirs|