Galatians 3

This post follows the Bible reading plan available at oaktreechurch.com/soap. You can read all my New Testament notes in my book New Testament: Chapter by Chapter.

Chapter three begins the second of three sections, this time with a question of accusation against Paul’s readers. Based on their movement away from faith toward works, Paul believed that they had been put under a spell of sorts. Galatians 3:1-5 is a figurative snapping of Paul’s fingers or shaking them awake from a spiritual trance. Had they so quickly (Galatians 1:6) forgotten that they were saved through faith so that they were now willing to require circumcision for new converts in their churches, from their communities?

Using his favorite example (see also Romans 4), Paul pointed them to Genesis 15:6, where Abraham – the great father of the faith – simply believed, centuries before the Law was given (Galatians 3:6-14). At the same time, Paul introduced Abraham’s spiritual family, consisting of those, and only those, who simply believe as he did. This family included Gentiles, as God had promised in the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:3). Paul also pointed out that one cannot obey only parts of the Law to be declared righteous. In fact, when one places himself under any part of the Law, he places himself under the entire Law and is subject to every part of it. Yet even that cannot provide eternal salvation because the Law could never accomplish that. This is why Christ had to die, becoming a curse under the Law so he could free people from the Law and receive the promised Spirit.

In Galatians 3:15-22 he used classical Greek logic to unquestionably show the difference between the physical promises (plural) that God made to Abraham and his physical descendants and the spiritual promise (singular) that he made to Abraham and everyone who believes. Because the Law came after God made these promises, it could not invalidate the promises. Instead, God designed the Law to protect the Israelite people from defecting from him so they could one day receive the promised Spirit through faith in Jesus. Under the Law, neither a Gentile, a slave, nor a woman could receive an inheritance. In Christ, however, all people can receive the Spirit through faith, whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female (Galatians 3:28). No believer is left out of this spiritual inheritance because we “ARE ALL SONS OF GOD THROUGH FAITH” (Galatians 3:26).

Sadly, many today who attempt to use this passage to eliminate functional roles in the home or church (female elders, feminist theology, etc.) completely miss the context of spiritual inheritance and are bringing their false theology to the passage for their own purposes. Others go so far to teach that God has even removed the distinctions between male and female to support their depraved belief that God approves of homosexuality in the Church.

 

Galatians 2

This post follows the Bible reading plan available at oaktreechurch.com/soap. You can read all my New Testament notes in my book New Testament: Chapter by Chapter.

Chapter two records yet another visit Paul made to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas and Titus (Galatians 2:1-5). The fact that Luke never mentioned Titus in Acts makes it difficult to make a certain determination, but the “FOURTEEN YEARS” Paul mentioned makes it possible that this was the famine relief visit in Acts 11:30. This interpretation is preferred because this visit was “ONLY . . . A PRIVATE MEETING WITH THE INFLUENTIAL PEOPLE” rather than all the apostles and elders and congregation at the Jerusalem Council. 1 In this meeting, Paul made sure to emphasize that he preached justification by grace through faith alone and did not insist on circumcision for Gentiles (Galatians 2:6-10). The other apostles agreed with his message and agreed that he and Barnabas “WOULD GO TO THE GENTILES AND THEY TO THE CIRCUMCISED.” (This also implies that their Acts 13-14 missionary tour had not taken place yet.)

In a show of “goodwill” for Paul and Barnabas’ ministry in Antioch, Peter made a visit there (Galatians 2:11-14). Although he had good relations with them for a while, including eating meals with them, when “CERTAIN PEOPLE CAME FROM JAMES” 2 he began to pull away from the Gentiles. This hypocrisy grew to such a level “THAT EVEN BARNABAS” got caught up in it. Because of the public humiliation these Jews imposed on their Gentile brothers, Paul publicly called them out.

Paul used the recollection of this event to segue into his first major doctrinal statement of the letter’s body and introduced his main thesis: “WE KNOW THAT NO ONE IS JUSTIFIED BY THE WORKS OF THE LAW BUT BY THE FAITHFULNESS OF JESUS CHRIST” (Galatians 2:16). To the Jews God gave the covenants, promises, etc. (Romans 9:1-5), and Jesus said that “SALVATION IS FROM THE JEWS” (John 4:22). Paul’s emphasis that he was a Jew “BY BIRTH” (literally, “by nature”) rather than “by conversion” was to show that he was not justified by any of those. Even a Jew must believe in Jesus, something Paul expands in detail in Romans.

One debated point in this passage and several others in Paul’s writings has to do with the phrase “THE FAITHFULNESS OF JESUS.” Although this is often considered the best translation of the Greek text, most translations offer “FAITH IN JESUS.” This seems to do damage to Paul’s meaning, emphasizing our faith rather than his work. 3 Much has been written on this, and it is impossible to work through the whole debate here.

Notes:

  1. Some of this depends on whether “FOURTEEN YEARS” goes back to Paul’s salvation, including the “THREE YEARS” of Galatians 1:18, or if it follows consecutively after those three years. In the latter case, this visit may be the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, meaning this letter must have been written later. I prefer the former view.
  2. There are some who believe this means that James instigated this display. While this was possible, there is nothing else in Scripture to corroborate this charge.
  3. The Greek text of Galatians 2:16 reads in part ἵνα δικαιωθῶμεν ἐκ πίστεως Χριστοῦ καὶ οὐκ ἐξ ἔργων νόμου, “so that we might be declared righteous by faith/faithfulness of Christ and not by works of law.” To translate the first half “by faith in Christ” loses the effect of the parallel between “faithfulness of Christ” and “works of law.”

2 Corinthians 8

Chapters eight and nine contain some of the most well-known passages on giving in the New Testament. When churches hold giving campaigns and pastors preach on tithing, these chapters are likely to come up. “They gave according to their means and beyond their means” (2 Corinthians 8:3). “Make sure you excel in this act of kindness, too” (2 Corinthians 8:7). “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). These and others seem to teach that giving to the church is important, and it is. The problem, however, is that was not Paul’s point when he wrote.

In reality, one of Paul’s missions, while he preached the gospel and planted churches, was to raise support for other struggling believers, especially those in Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 16:1-3; Romans 15:25-29). Thus, the giving that Paul asked the Corinthians to do was not for their own church; he was encouraging them to give generously for the benefit of others. He noted that the Macedonian churches (Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea) continued to give, even sacrificially, during a difficult period (2 Corinthians 8:1-5). When Titus went to Corinth, Paul instructed him to make sure they did the same (2 Corinthians 8:6-9). It was especially important to Paul that they gave toward this mission because they had already promised that they would and had begun putting money aside for it (2 Corinthians 8:10-11; 1 Corinthians 16:1-3). As he would explain further in chapter nine, Paul was less concerned with the amount they gave as he was that they gave. However, he did want them to consider their better financial situation as an opportunity to serve, since it may not always be that way. One day they might find themselves on the receiving side, subject to someone else’s generosity or lack thereof (2 Corinthians 8:12-15).

Titus and another brother were going back to Corinth again, carrying this letter with them and planning to accept the financial gift from the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 8:16-19). Paul noted that, especially with the accusations still swirling about him, he would not accept the gift personally, so as to not add fuel for his accusers (2 Corinthians 8:20-24). As if that were not enough, Paul sent yet another brother with them – for a total of three trustworthy men – to accept the money and return with it, so they could distribute it as necessary. Not only was there great wisdom in having multiple men traveling together for protection, but Paul was also right to “recuse” himself from showing up at Corinth for what could be construed just for money.