Thursday, 7 July 2011

Freedom and Slavery in Galatians (2)

Paul’s Response

Not from Men but from God

            As Paul starts his letter, he strongly reminds the Galatian church that he is a sent one[1] of God, who is a slave[2] of Christ, whose gospel is directly from Christ[3], and not from any other man[4]. And therefore his approver and judge will be the very God that sent him[5]. The source of his message does not even need to be approved by the other apostles, who had a similar direct revelation[6]. All his previous ‘religious work’ was done in his own strength based on the Pharisaical traditions he was raised with[7].

            The Issue of Slavery

            He recounts his time in Jerusalem, which had come about because of the issue of ‘keeping the law of Moses’ with regards to salvation[8]. He then confers privately with the other apostles about the nature of the gospel: “It was not, we may be sure, that he had any personal doubts or misgivings about his gospel and needed the reassurance of the other Jerusalem apostles… but rather… it was to overthrow their (the false teachers) influence, not to strengthen his own conviction, that he laid his gospel before the Jerusalem apostles.”[9] Paul was confident in his calling by God, and his gospel.

            The situation in Jerusalem is resolved, and commands are given to the Gentile churches reassuring them that they are saved purely by grace[10]. However, a later incident with Titus arises on a similar issue[11] (which is comparable to the one here in Galatia) and Paul’s response is to purposely leave Titus uncircumcised[12]. Paul implies that to circumcise Titus would have caused an enslaving mindset to enter into the church, and by leaving Titus’ foreskin intact[13], freedom is preserved[14]. Here is a key point of Paul’s argument, they already know they have freedom in Christ Jesus, and now these false teachers are threatening what already exists.

            In the strongest words in the epistle since the curse formula in 1:6-9, Paul turns his guns full bore on his readers, who by their (near?) capitulation to circumcision are thereby in danger of losing their freedom in Christ. Indeed, they are in danger of losing Christ altogether.”[15] It seems that the issue in Galatia was not, “‘how shall I – a sinner – be justified before a holy God’ but ‘how should we – a mixed congregation of Jews and Gentiles – continue as the people of God.”[16]

Paul is opposing a challenge to the freedom already present in the Galatian church. Barrett summarizes the incoming heresy: “This mediating position claims that Christ alone is sufficient for salvation, but if you wish to be fully a member of the visible people of God you must be circumcised and keep the law… Let them by all means believe in Jesus as the Christ, but let them not seek to avoid their legal obligation.”[17]

[1] Apostolos, Gal 1:1Even like the Angel of God, Christ Jesus cf. Gal 4:14
[2] Doulos, Gal 1:10
[3] Gal 1:12
[4] Gal 1:1, 11
[5] Gal 1:10
[6] Gal 1:18-19
[7] Morris, pg. 53-54
[8] Acts 15:1-5
[9] J. R. W. Stott, The Message of Galatians: Only One Way, IVP, 1986, pg. 41
[10] Acts 15:11
[11] Gal 2:3
[12] For translation issues refer to Morris, pg. 67-8
[13] Where else he is happy to circumcise Timothy – Acts 16:3
[14] Gal 2:4
[15] G. Fee, Freedom and the Life of Obedience, Review and Expositor, 91, 1994, pg. 202
[16] G. Scrivener, Freedom in Galatians, An Essay, 2005
[17] C. K. Barrett, Freedom & Obligation: A Study of the Epistle to the Galatians, Westminster Press, 1985, pg. 15

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