THE LETTER TO THE GALATIANS - PART II
FAITH IN CHRIST JESUS
I. The introduction to the Galatians sets up the theme that the Gospel is salvation from our sins through Jesus Christ
A. As usual, St. Paul introduces himself as an apostles, but here emphasizes the fact that his calling is directly from God. He focuses on God, focusing on Jesus Christ and God the Father.
- St. Paul makes the
same point in other letters, but here at greater length, distinguishing
that authority from that given by humans.. Compare Rom. 1:1; 1
Cor. 1;1; 2 Cor. 1:1; Eph. 1:1; Col 1:1; 1 Tim. 1:1, 2 Tim. 1:1.
- St. Paul also emphasizes
the Resurrection. That issue is not central to this letter, but
other letters, especially First Corinthians and First and Second Thessalonians,
that some people doubted the Resurrection. St. Paul may have included
this reference here to combat any doubts that could arise.
- St. Paul indicates,
however, indicates that the message is not just his; it is that of all
the brethren, that is of the whole Church.
B. The letter is addresses to the churches (plural) in Galatia. This reference could simply mean that there were a number of cities in Galatia. Or it could be an indication that the letter was addressed to both northern and southern Galatia.
- As with First and
Second Thessalonians, but unlike the other Pauline epistles to communities,
there is no reference to "the holy one" or "the ones called to
be holy." This omission may be due to the fact that this letter,
like those to the Thessalonians was written early, or could be due to
fact that St. Paul was indicating that they were not to be set aside
by the Jewish rites, which were sometimes called the Levitical holiness
C. As is common, St. Paul wishes them grace and peace from Jesus Christ and God the Father.
- As with the first
lines, there is not as much of an emphasis on the Spirit at this early
time in Christianity, although the end of the letter will certainly
describe living in the Spirit. Other (probably later) letters
would more clearly describe the Holy Spirit as a person. See,
e.g., 1 Cor. 12:1-13; Eph. 4:1-6
- Here, St. Paul sets
up the theme that we are saved from sins by Jesus Christ, and thus rescued
from "the present age." There is a calling not to rely on
works for salvation, but also to avoid the decadence of the world.
See also Matt. 11:16, 12:39-45; Luke 11:29-32; 2 Cor. 4:4.
D. In place of the usual thanksgiving, there is a rebuke here for turning to the different gospel. This rebuke sets up the theme for the letter.
1. St. Paul dramatically contrasts the true gospel with a false gospel presented by some people whose interest is in disturbing them.
- The implication is that the community
was at peace until outsiders came.
- As he emphasizes elsewhere, there can be only one gospel, for there is only one way to salvation, that is, through Jesus Christ. See also Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 1:10-17, 12:12-31; Eph. 4:5-6.
2. St. Paul says that anyone who presents a gospel other than the one that the Galatians first received should be anathama (accursed, separated, cast outside.)
- He warns that
even if an angel of God proclaims a different gospel, he should be anathama.
A true angel, of course would not do so. But the point is that,
even if a person's eloquence, appearance, and arguments appear good,
his message should be rejected if it contradicts what is known to be
true. The argument goes back to the distinction in Dueteronomy
between a true and false prophet. Duet. 13:2-6.
- Likewise, St.
Paul emphasizes that he did not create the gospel, and so if he should
contradict it, he should be rejected.
E. St. Paul then
begins to take on what appears to be a claim of the interlopers that
he had not told them that the Jewish ritual law was needed because he
was currying favor with them.
II. The letter then turns to a history both of St. Paul's ministry and of the question at hand.
A. First, St. Paul emphasizes that he received the gospel directly from Jesus, not from a human being. Such is the basis for his argument that he is an apostle like the rest.
1. He begins by emphasizing how zealous he was for the law, to the point of persecuting the church because of his beliefs.
- Part of the idea
is that, if the Jewish ritual law had been necessary, he of all people
would have kept it.
2. Then, St. Paul describes how God had called him from his mother's womb to be a prophet and now made clear that calling.
- Isaiah and Jeremiah
had likewise said that they were called from before their births.
See Is. 49:1; Jer. 1:4-6.
- St. Paul indicates
that it was no accident that he did not know the truth until that time,
for God revealed it to St. Paul exactly when He wanted to.
3. St. Paul indicates
that he went into Arabia (probably here meaning either an area to the
south of modern day Syria or the Nabatean kingdom in modern day Jordan),
presumably to reflect upon the gospel and learn more about it.
It appears from Second Corinthians that he had some mystical experiences
here. See 2 Cor. 12:2-10. He then went back to Damascus
and it is likely that he proclaimed the gospel there as he had done
at first. See Acts 9:19-22.
4. He then went to Jerusalem to confer with Peter and James. This journey may be the same as the flight required by assassination attempts in Damascus. See Acts 9:23-30.
- The James referred
to here would presumably be James the Greater, who the Gospels refer
to a "brother of the Lord" although that term in Greek also means
any close male relative. See Mark 6:3, 15:40. It would appear
to be the same James the Apostle who is the brother of John. That
James would later be killed in the persecution under Herod. See
5. St. Paul then refers to his widespread acceptance from the people in Judea even though they had not seen him. This reference would give him greater credibility for arguing that the ritual laws were not needed, for if anyone should object to that principle it would be the people in Judea.
B. St. Paul then refers to his consultation with Peter, James and John in Jerusalem.
1. The most likely time for this consultation was just before or during the council of Jerusalem that was called to resolve the issue of whether the Gentile converts to Christianity should be required to adopt the ancient Jewish practices. See Acts 15:1-35.
- This consultation
was about either 14 or 17 years after St. Paul's conversion; the former
calculation would easily fit the timing of the Council of Jerusalem,
which occurred in 49 or 50 A.D. That latter timing could fit it.
- It is possible, if one accepts that Jesus was crucified around 30 or 31 A.D. and St. Paul converted within three years of that time, that this consultation could have occurred just before St. Paul's first missionary journey. See Acts 13:1-3.
- St. Paul's
description of the council emphasizes the approval of his mission given
by the church, especially her leaders. Here, St. Paul does not
emphasize the role of the leaders as much as he would elsewhere.
See, e.g., Eph. 4:11-14, 1 Tim. 3:1-13, 4:11-16.
2. St. Paul emphasizes here the Council's approval of his ministry in general.
- He refers to
Peter again as Cephas, for apparently by that time, Peter was known
more by this title, which means rock.
- The James would
mean the Bishop of Jerusalem, rather than the James referred to earlier,
for he had been martyred by then.
- The John referred to here is almost
certainly John the Apostle.
C. St. Paul then describes an incident not referred to in Acts of the Apostles, in which Peter was in Antioch and tried to satisfy the Jewish converts by refusing to be at table with the Gentile converts.
1. It appears that St. Peter and the others were not insisting that the Gentile converts adopt the Jewish practices. However, to avoid causing offense, St. Peter, St. Barnabas and the other leaders were not dealing with the Gentiles as much.
- The passage emphasizes
eating with the Gentile converts, for that was apparently a crucial
part of the community.
- St. Peter and
the others may not have cut off all dealings with the Gentile converts,
but did not deal with them as much.
2. St. Paul took Peter to task for allowing by his actions people to get the impression that adhering to the Jewish law was necessary for membership, or perhaps full membership, in the Church.
- St. Paul did
elsewhere keep some Jewish practices to avoid giving offense to the
Jews, such as having St. Timothy circumcised and keeping the Jewish
law in Jerusalem. See Acts 16:3, 21:22-26.
- Apparently, this
particular insistence on the law was giving more of an impression that
dissent from the Council of Jerusalem was permissible than the other
3. St. Paul apparently
prevailed in this dispute, for verses 15 and 16 indicate that all of
the leaders agreed with him.
4. The Catholic
faith maintains that the Pope and the bishops are without error when
teaching doctrinally for the Church, not that their behavior is always
a good witness. See Vatican II Council, Lumen Gentium
25; Catechism 890-892; see also Matt. 23:1-3.
III. In verses 15 to 21 of chapter 2, St. Paul then outlines the main point of his argument, i.e., that salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ.
A. In verses 15 and 16, he argues that even the leaders of the Church, who were from the Jewish faith agreed on the point that salvation is through Christ Jesus.
1. He repeats
three times for emphasis that we are justified through faith in Christ
Jesus, not through the works of the law.
2. The term for
justified here, dikaioun implies both making a situation right and declaring
someone just. The sacrifice of Jesus does both of these things,
making up for our sins and making us just in God's sight.
3. The contrast is between faith and works of the law.
- Faith means more
than abstract belief, but rather a personal relationship with Jesus.
Chapter 5 will build on the moral implications of this expansive view
works of the law would mean the torah, the ancient Jewish law.
He does not seem to mean the natural law available to all peoples, as
the letter to the Romans discusses, for the implication here is that
the Jewish leaders had the law and others were sinners in light of it.
However, the same principle would apply; salvation is not through works
of the law, although moral actions are needed to live out that faith.
B. Verse 17 responds
to the objection that Christ is allowing sin or ministering to it, for
He provides salvation outside of the law. The letter to the Romans
responds to a similar objection. See Rom. 6-8.
C. Verses 18 and
19 instead respond that the law points the way to Christ, and therefore
to insist on the old ritual law is paradoxically to violate it, for
one misses the very point of the law. As with the ministry of
St. John the Baptist, the law points the way to Christ and diminishes
as He approaches, for it is fulfilled. See John 3:22-30.
D. Verses 20 and
21 describe that fulfillment of the law as Christ living within one.
When this condition is fully present, sin is driven out, not by the
external law, but rather by the transformation from within. The
prophets spoke of a day when the external law would be written on the
peoples' hearts. See Jer. 31:31-34; Ez. 36:25-29, 37;23-28.
St. Paul is indicating that this prophesy has been fulfilled.