Thursday, April 24, 2014

Notes on Galatians 1:6-10

In these first two chapters Paul makes it clear that his gospel is independent from:
  • Man (1:6-17)
  • The churches of Judea (1:18-24)
  • The pillars in Jerusalem (2:1-10)
  • Peter (2:11-21)

Normal conventions of letter writing in the first century included a prayer for the readers (as in nearly all of Paul's other letters). Paul departs from that in striking fashion.

6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting 

“Quickly” - similar wording is used in the Greek translation of Exodus 32:8 when Israel sinned with the golden calf at Mount Sinai.

It is important to note that the verb is present tense, not past tense. They were in the process of deserting, but they had not completely deserted the gospel, yet. Later, Paul says he is confident they won’t (5:10).

him who called you in the grace of Christ 

They were not deserting Paul, but God.

and are turning to a different gospel— 

The word “gospel” has a rich background. In its Roman setting, it referred to news about the king, such as of a victory or a successor’s birth. Here’s an example from an ancient inscription in honor of Augustus:

“Since Providence, which has ordered all things and is deeply interested in our life, has set in most perfect order by giving us Augustus,  whom she filled with virtue that he might benefit humankind, sending him as a  savior, both for us and for our descendants, that he might end war and  arrange all things, and since he, Caesar, by his appearance excelled even our anticipations, surpassing all previous benefactors, and not even leaving  to posterity any hope of surpassing what he has done, and since the birthday of the  god Augustus was the beginning of the good tidings (Greek euangelion) for the world that came by reason of him….”

The OT background to this term can be found in Isaiah 40:9-10 and 52:7.

7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 

This is the same way the work of the Judaizing teachers is characterized in Acts 15:24 - they were “troubling” the brethren.

8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, 

Those who were troubling the Galatians were hardly of the stature of Paul, not to mention angels. So if neither Paul nor an angel could preach a different gospel, then obviously, neither should these troublemakers. The fact that Paul calls a curse upon his own preaching demonstrates his humility under the gospel.

let him be accursed. 

The term for judgment here, “accursed,” is anathema, which is the equivalent to the term used in the OT to describe something placed under the ban (Josh. 6:17-18).

9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

“Anyone” broadens the scope of Paul’s warning.

Compare this passage to 1 John 2:23-27. In both instances the apostles call their readers back to what they heard from the beginning as the standard of authority.

10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

I have previously thought that Paul is implicitly criticizing the motives of the Judaizers - they were trying to please people and avoid persecution (which is true according to 6:12). But actually I think the point Paul is making has to do with his own motive. Perhaps some of the Judaizers were accusing Paul of softening the message of the gospel in order to get lots of Gentile converts. Paul turns this accusation around by saying that whereas he once tried to please man (“If I were still trying”), his decision to follow Jesus ended such ambition.

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