Top of Free at Last page
Where We Are Going?
Two Different Communities
Listen Up! 1.1-5
Reading the Storyline: New International Version (2011)
Reading the Storyline: Interpretative Paraphrase
Observing the Storyline
A Word about Focus
Interpreting the Storyline
Authority, What Authority? (1.1)
The Present Evil Age (1.4)
What is the Kingdom? A Brief Excursion.
Living into the Story
Two Different Communities
The little Southern town where I was born and grew up was located in the South in the United States. Two different communities were divided by railroad tracks. On one side of the tracks, the whites lived and on the other side, the blacks lived. The railroad tracks were just two blocks from where I was born and where my parents owned a clothing store and a barbershop. Try to imagine that in the 1950s in this town what it would have been like if a missionary had come to visit with an earth-shattering message that tried to build a community where both blacks and whites were welcomed equally and treated equally. As a missionary, you actually start the process and find some beginning success between the two races, and then you leave and go back to report to your mission agency. While away you get a letter from your friends telling you that some agitators from within the community of Jesus followers have started to change the design of the Jesus outpost completely. What they wanted to occur was that the blacks who were a part of this new community of faith, separate themselves until such time that they could participate like a white taking on all the religious attitudes of the whites. They wanted the blacks to “whitize” themselves.
If you can imagine such a serrano, you have the basis for beginning to understand Galatians as a group of folks who had a missionary, in their case Paul, come and share some pretty good news with them. Then, when he left some in the dominant religious culture in that new outpost told the new followers in the outpost that had been started that the message that was delivered by Paul was not complete. Paul, they said, had left part of the story out and they were there to set this outpost straight.
In this story, what is important to remember is that Paul, as the first missionary provided a simple path to the good news, while the second self-appointed agitators rose and provided some additional additives that made the good news Paul delivered complete. It is those additives that the agitators wanted to add that Paul, as the writer of the letter to the outposts in the cities of Galatia wanted to crush once and for all. He was so agitated with them that he says in his letter to them, “As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!” (Gal. 5.12) NIV rather sanitizes this text, it could be translated as the Good News Bible does as: “I wish that the people who are upsetting you would go all the way; let them go on and castrate themselves!.” Try that word in a Sunday morning sermon and see what kind of blowback it gets,
This simple story continues in today’s ChurchWorld. The simple message is lost in a bountiful amount of additives that are believed to round out the good news but deplete the good news from its full truth for life. One wonders why a voice like Paul doesn’t rise and say, “I wish that the people who are upsetting you would go all the way; let them go on and castrate themselves!” But, alas, we have sanitized ourselves in the attitude of political correctness. The sacred text gives us much more latitude in dealing with additives than modern ChurchWorld does. Shame on us!
Listen Up! 1.1-5
Reading the Storyline: New International Version (2011)
Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—and all the brothers(1) who are with me,
To the churches of Galatia:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
[Galatians 1:2 The Greek word for brothers and sisters (adelphoi) refers here to believers, both men and women, as part of God’s family; also in verse 11; and 3:15; 4:12, 28, 31; 5:11, 13; 6:1, 18.]
Reading the Storyline: Interpretative Paraphrase
This is Paul, the one who came among you apostling. Sorry, I have to defend myself, it seems that my authority to speak to you is being challenged by some who disagree with what I taught you while I with you. Let me remind you that my authority to have a conversation with you doesn’t come from humankind nor for that matter does it come from a specific human. Just like the first crew of Jesus followers, my authority comes through Jesus, our Lord, who provided a path back to the Creator, giving himself for us who have missed the mark of being truly human and Yahweh is the Creator of the world in which we live.
They authorized this writing to all of you who are participating in the ecclesiae in Galatia. My traveling partners are my intimate friends and I greet you.
May all of you continue to receive grace and peace from Jesus who came to put us at one with the Creator of the world and to rescue us from this present age of evil. We are being put right according to Yahweh’s will, bowing to worship him now and always. Let it be so!
Paul’s opponents are sometimes called ‘Judaizers’, which is a misnomer because Jews do not ‘Judaize’. To ‘Judaize’ means ‘to try to become Jewish’. Only gentiles can technically ‘Judaize’. Jews can ‘proselytize, that is, urge male gentiles to become proselytes or converts to Judaism by being circumcised; whereas gentiles who follow Jewish customs, particularly by adopting circumcision, are said to Judaize. So it is more accurate to say that the Jewish-Christian teachers/ missionaries/intruders/agitators were trying to ‘proselytize’ Paul’s gentile converts by urging them to ‘Judaize’.[ref] Wright, N. T.; Bird, Michael F. The New Testament in Its World. 712, Zondervan Academic. Kindle Edition. [/ref] Some scholars, associated with the so-called New Perspective (actually an array of various new perspectives), deny that Judaism was legalistic. They argue that Paul’s real target in Galatians was certain Jewish believers who demanded that Gentiles adopt Jewish practice to belong to God’s people. The application, then, addresses ethnocentrism.[ref] Craig Keener. “Jesus Followers in Step With the Spirit” https://influencemagazine.com/en/Practice/Jesus-Followers-in-Step-With-the-Spirit. accessed. 7.4.2020. [/ref] Kenner suggests:
The New Perspective contends that Jewish tradition came to highlight Israel’s privilege more than its mission to the nations, using God’s Law as a means of ethnic pride. If Israel was wrong to do so, surely we must avoid any sense of ethnic, racial, or cultural superiority that fails to rightly love our neighbor beyond ethnic, racial, or cultural lines.[ref] Keener. “Jesus-Followers… accessed 7.4.2020.[/ref]
Observing the Storyline
A Word about Focus
Remember the first time you did something new. Remember the excitement you felt. Well, Galatians is the first book written in the First Testament, although there is debate about that.[ref] The writing date assigned to Galatians is usually connected to its destination. Guthrie says that the “date of the epistle depends on the decision regarding its destination.” (Gutherie, New Testament Introduction, 472. F.F.Bruce, “The Epistle to the Galatians: A Commentary on the Greek Text” in The New International Greek Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982. Dating is usually determined by an interpreter by whether the addressees are regarded as South Galatians or North Galatians theory. In general, those who hold to a North Galatia theory, date the book on or about the time of Paul’s Ephesian ministry, 56 A.D. [F.F.Bruce, “Galatian Problems. 4. The Date of the Epistle,” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 54 (Spring 1972): 251]. On the other hand, those who hold to the South Galatia theory generally date the book either before or after the Jerusalem council of Acts 15.12. This latter view is generally believed to be around 48 A. D., the date corresponding generally to that proposed under the South Galatia theory. [/ref] So as we begin our conversation about Galatians, we might think of it in that remember-the-first-time category The book of Galatians is the first book from an author offering a corrective lens to a group of churches he had spent several years with planting and cultivating. Let’s read Galatians again for the very first time.
Galatians has been variously interpreted over the centuries. Some who are heirs of the Reformation (Luther or Calvin’s version) have been particularly persuaded that the book is one whose focus was against “works-righteousness” which means “the problem of humans trying to please God through their own efforts, sincerity, and works.”[ref] Scot McKnight. Galatians (The NIV Application Commentary Book 9) (Kindle Locations 433-434). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.[/ref] Those in that camp of thinking were taught to think thoughts like: “we live under grace, not under the law.” This was surely the focus of Luther over against his conversation partner, which was the Roman Catholic Church of his day. But “works righteousness” may not necessarily be what Paul may have had in mind when he first wrote the letter to the ecclesiae of Galatia. We hope that we as readers can come to grips with the message of Paul as presented in this letter to the ecclesiae in Galatia and let that message help us focus on what it means today to be the people of God sent into the world for the sake of the world. To that focus, we now turn.
Interpreting the Storyline
Authority, What Authority? (1.1)
The first idea to comprehend as we begin Galatians is that Galatians is not written to individuals, it was written to a group of churches[ref] I use the word ecclesiae, which is the plural of ecclesia, instead of “church” throughout this material. As an example, the book of Galatians was written to all the different communities of faith that were formed in the area of Galatia in different cities like Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. To get a picture, there was one “church” in the geographic area called Galatia, not several different churches. I use the word “ecclesia” in this work to indicate a local expression of the ecclesiae. The word “church” has come to mean for the most part a building that stands at the corner of “walk and don’t walk” anyplace in the world. Rather, “church” is simply a community of folks who are bound together at any moment in any place (home, public meeting place, coffee shops, etc., for the purpose of being equipped to bring the gospel into their own community. See. Keener. Galatians. 51-52 where he suggests that the word in Galatians “includes multiple house churches in multiples cities.” [/ref] in a specific geographical area (the ecclesiae in Galatia). The concept that the Bible was written for us individually so that we can secure some kind of personal spirituality is the product of the Enlightenment Project and the rise of the concept of the autonomous individual. While the individual is important, she or he is only important in light of being a functioning part of a community of other Jesus followers. Strong individuals don’t build the church. Strong churches build strong individuals.[Previous sentence a pull quote] It is important to recognize that the genius of Scripture is that followers of Jesus heard their formation within a community of God’s people. Paul’s message, as well as other Second Testament writers, can be heard and lived into most clearly from within a community of those who follow Jesus. The present local ecclesia may have some work to do to ensure that “biblical illiteracy” and “theological amnesia” is eradicated.[ref] Joel B. Green and Michael Pasquarello III, Narrative Reading, Narrative Preaching. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 23-24. [/ref] Surely, biblical preaching and teaching need to be recovered in the local ecclesia and the worldwide ecclesiae.
Kenneth Berding writes the following as his opening paragraph in an article.[ref] Kenneth Berding, “The Crisis of Biblical Illiteracy and What We Can Do About It,” Biola Magazine. http://magazine.biola.edu/article/14-spring/the-crisis-of-biblical-illiteracy/ (accessed June 22, 2020). See also: The Barna Group, “The State of the Bible | 2014,” The Barna Group. http://www.americanbible.org/uploads/content/state-of-the-bible-data-analysis-american-bible-society-2014.pdf (accessed April 9, 2016). [/ref]
Stacey Irvine ate almost nothing but chicken nuggets for 15 years. She never tasted fruits or vegetables. She occasionally supplemented her diet with French fries. One day her tongue started to swell and she couldn’t catch her breath. She was rushed to the hospital, her airway was forced open, and they stuck an IV in her arm to start pumping in the nutrients she needed. After saving her life, the medical staff sent her home, but not before they warned her that she needed to change her diet or prepare herself for early death. Somebody surely needs to ask: “Where’s the beef?”
We have been led to think and thus to believe that each individual is to become “just like Jesus,” that there is a one-to-one relationship to be achieved in a relationship. Campaigns like “What Would Jesus Do?”[ref] Wikipedia. What Would Jesus Do? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/What_would_Jesus_do. (accessed. June 22. 2020. [/ref] suggests that each individual just needs to mimic Jesus. If we could only accomplish that then somehow we can achieve change in the world. This is not the case! There is no way that any individual will ever be able to individually mimic Jesus. This whole idea is simply wrongheaded and devoid of critical thinking.[ref] Critical thinking can be defined as a mode of thinking — about any subject, content, or problem — in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully analyzing, assessing, and reconstructing it. Critical is the very opposite of narrow-minded or domatic thinking, i.e., listen to me because I’m correct while all others are incorrect. [/ref]
Let’s think about this concept this way. Jesus was Body I and his church is Body 2. We as individuals make up Body 2, but we are not in and of and by ourselves Body 2. We function as conduits of God’s grace (called gracelets[ref] Winn Griffin, Gracelets: Being Conduits of the Extravagant Acts of God’s Grace. (Woodinville, WA: Harmon Press, v.1.5. 2015) [/ref]) and as we function we are some part of Body 2, maybe functioning as a foot, a hand, a nose, an eye, a tongue, a nail, and, yes, sometimes even an annoying hangnail and sometimes just functioning as a butthead. But, we are never all of those things at one time. We are a part of a larger community that is sometimes in the sacred text referred to as the church (ecclesia). John Donne wrote in 1624 that “no man is an island.” [ref] John Donne, Meditation XVII: Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions. (Canada: Northern Adventures, 1624). [/ref] The same is true of individuals, “no individual is the ‘church.’” Scripture just doesn’t support such a concept despite the popular saying, “I am the church!”
This is an important concept to comprehend because it will affect the way we read Galatians and all other biblical books as well. We troll Scripture looking for little nuggets of text to extract from their context that we believe we can apply directly to each of us as an individual.[ref] Winn Griffin, “The Toxic Use of the Bible and Its Antidote,” ChurchWorld.org. http://churchworld.org/2015/10/24/the-toxic-use-of-the-bible-and-its-antidote/ (accessed June 20, 2020). [/ref] We look for personal applications, thinking that if we can just discover something in a fragment of the text that we will become a better follower of Jesus. This whole process is froth with problems and is one of the additives we need to pluck from our lives by the roots. Quoting verses is simply wrong-headed theology and is overwhelmingly a plague in modern-day Christianity.
When I was a kid, my mom had a Promise Box[ref] Winn Griffin, “Promise Box Syndrome,” http://trainingjesusfollowers.com/promise-box-syndrome/ (accessed June 20, 2020). [/ref] of Scripture verses on the dining room table. Before I could leave to go to school, I had to pull one out and read it aloud. The box was yellow and red and the little cards inside were all different colors. This morning exercise never made any sense to me as a kid, and it still makes no sense to me as an adult. I realize that God can use anything that he wishes and I have heard stories to that effect, but because God uses something, it does not follow that he is authorizing it as a way of life or condoning it as a practice becoming a follower of Jesus. This little practice kept me away from the text of Scripture well into my adult life. If I could have one wish, I would wish that all the Promise Boxes would be lost to individual use and in its place, the whole story of God would be found and understood and then lived into. Maybe we could have a Promise Box burning ala Paul book burning in Ephesus (Acts 19).
We need to start at the local ecclesia level to smash and shatter additives. When the church has additives, it passes those additives on to its congregants. We have enough additives to go around and when we put ourselves on a personal additive diet and somehow the additives don’t go away, we think that we are simply not strong or spiritual enough to rid ourselves of these pesky little invaders. The problem is at the other end. We need to discover the additives that our local ecclesia is feeding and re-enforcing in us with, and with the help of the Spirit, get rid of them at that level. One of those additives is listening to sermons which are made up of verses strung together to tell a different story than the story in which they live. Happens every Sunday in almost every local ecclesia around the world. This personal additive is pandemic!
When you open up your email program to write an email to a friend, it has a “from” line and a “to” line. You must use the email address to whom you are writing in the “to” line. It is also suggested that you provide a subject demonstrating to the reader what you are writing about. You write in the body of the email what you want to communicate. The email program sends it out from your very own email address, so the recipient will know from whom it is coming. Just like an email today has a “from” line, letters in the ancient world had a particular form. They begin with the author’s name (see Romans, 1 Corinthians, etc.) along with the address of the recipients and a greeting. The introduction of Galatians follows this standard opening and like other openings in letters by Paul, this opening is pregnant with theological content.
According to Tom Wright, Paul was one of the best-known characters of the first century within his world. He suggests that it is a possibility that there have more comments on the writings of Paul from the ancient world and any other group of writings from that time frame. He considers Paul one of the most exciting writers of any age in history. He believes that Paul had a great “thinking” mind writing with passion and humor. He was one of the major intellectuals of the ancient world. He was a master of thinking about new ways with new thoughts. He had an enormous worldview that was very demanding on his hearers. As a matter of fact, on ancient ruler called Paul crazy. [ref]N. T. Wright, “Paul a Biography.” Udemy. Session One: Gal 1:1-4; Paul’s background.[/ref] In short, “The Apostle Paul is one of a handful of people from the ancient world whose words still have the capacity to leap off the page and confront us.” [ref]N. T. Wright. Paul: A Biography. HarperCollins. 1.[/ref] As I suggest later, Paul lived in three worlds, Jewish, Greek, and Roman, and was well versed in all of them.
Growing up with this background gave him great dexterity in communicating the good news about Jesus. When you open up your email program to write an email to a friend, it has a “from” line and a “to” line. You must use the email address to whom you are writing in the “to” line. It is also suggested that you provide a subject demonstrating to the reader what you are writing about. You write in the body of the email what you want to communicate. The email program sends it out from your very own email address, so the recipient will know from whom it is coming. Just like an email today has a “from” line, letters in the ancient world had a particular form. They begin with the author’s name (see Romans, 1 Corinthians, etc.) along with the address of the recipients and a greeting. The introduction of Galatians follows this standard opening and like other openings in letters by Paul, this opening is pregnant with theological content.
In his opening words, Paul immediately begins to express his concerns for writing the letter at hand and his concern for the recipient of the letter. He begins writing about his unquestionable authority to be writing them and his hope that he and his readers would be rescued from this present evil age.[ref] Ladd, George Eldon. A Theology of the New Testament. 9 (Age to Come), 45 (Present Evil Age). Eerdmans Publishing. Kindle Edition. [/ref] Being rescued from this present evil age is an ongoing theme within the greater narrative of the story of God.
From this opening, we can discern that Paul’s concern was to demonstrate that as the founder of these churches, he had authority from God to teach them and that what he was about to teach them would keep them from the corruption of this present evil age, now but not yet. He wanted his recipients to remember his relationship with them against the background of being accused by trouble makers that were suggesting that he was not a real missionary/apostle [ref] The word “apostle” means to be a missionary. Unfortunately, in the earlier translations of Scripture, the translators simply used “apostolos” which simply means “a delegate; especially, an ambassador of the Gospel.” Over the years it has come to be a designation of position and is very popular among the Pentecostal/Charismatic churches worldwide. Craig Keener in his commentary on Galatians translations the word “apostle” as “agent.” Keener. Galatians. Baker Books. 2019. 48. [/ref], i.e., he had no real authority to have taught them anything about following the Jewish Jesus.
I tell the following story in my book Gracelets about an encounter that I once had on a trip to the East coast to teach.
On one occasion while I was teaching a First Testament Survey course on the East coast (I live on the West coast), I entered the classroom and within a few moments, an older very friendly gentleman came up to me and inquired if I was the teacher for the course. When I told him, yes, he reached into his billfold and pulled out a card and handed it to me. His card designated him by the name Apostle. Let’s just call him Apostle Ned Smith (no offense to any Ned Smiths out there that might be reading this) and formally introduced himself to me as Apostle Ned Smith. He was beaming and eager for a conversation. So I began, so you are an apostle? May I ask you a couple of questions? He nodded his head. Have you ever been sent out to plant a church? “No!” he responded. Have you ever been on a mission trip anywhere with church planters? “No!” he responded. Have you ever led a Bible study here in this church or anywhere else? “No!” he responded. Do you attend this church? “No!” he responded. “God did not call me to attend a local church but to have a worldwide ministry,” he informed me. So, let me get this straight, you have never planted a church, gone on a missionary trip to help plant a church, never taught a Bible study here or anywhere else, you don’t attend this church or any other church, not even a home group or anything like that? Does that about cover it? He shook his head in the affirmative. So, one final question, if you don’t mind: Who designated you as an apostle?
He gave me a short story about a brief encounter he had with God and came away from that encounter with a firm belief that he was now an apostle. Really? I handed him back his card and said, “Sir, I’m sorry, but you are not an apostle. Why do I say that, because there are no apostles except when apostling occurs and from our short time together, it doesn’t look like any apostling has occurred in your life? He was stunned!” [ref] Griffin, Gracelets: Being Conduits of the Extravagant Acts of God’s Grace, 185-186. [/ref]
It is fair to say that when Paul calls himself an apostle, which by the way is a terrible translation, it should be translated missionary, as we shall see below. It is not to be thought of as a missionary in the Late Modern period.
The word apostle is an interesting word and it has had a comeback in today’s Charismatic churches. However, it seldom means in modern Charismatic/Pentecostal churches what it meant during the time in which Paul was living and writing this letter and other letters to follow. In Hebrew, the word shaliaḥ[ref] Keener. Galatians. 49. [/ref] was used to describe a personal agent who represented another, an ambassador, or missionary, if you please. The essence of the usage is: a person’s agent is like the person who sent him. One can see that Paul, the Jew, clearly saw himself as an official ad hoc representative of Jesus. The basic definition of the word apostle is one who is sent. It was used in the early ecclesiae to designate the functioning of missionaries (read: Acts 14.14-18). Within the functioning state of being another’s representative, this person carried the authority of the sender. Paul’s authority, which came from Jesus was to create new communities and show them the way to be truly human. An apostle was not a position, as so often it is thought to be today. In short, it was an ad hoc gracelet flowing through anyone the Spirit chose to send on a task as his representative.
Paul knew that there was a specific group of ambassadors, often called the Twelve. Why was this important? It is thought that this group was considered by the ecclesiae in Jerusalem, although we don’t know how early, to be a group of individuals who participated in things that no others would have or could have access to participation. Early in the stories told by the gospel writers, which were written later than Galatians, we are told about the present Jewish leadership of Jesus’ day not accepting his words and works. In response to that denial, Jesus chose twelve folks to follow him. You can read that story in the first chapters of Mark.
This choice of twelve was surely an echo of the twelve tribes that composed Israel and was a path the early writers indicated for their readers that there was a continuation of Israel with afoot. There is indeed symbolism in the selection of twelve disciples as a new creation, a new Israel, moving forward the story of God. The selection of the twelve was the birth of a new version of the ecclesiae; God’s sent a “people” to the world. If we were keeping count: “Church 1.0” was in the Garden story. “Church 2.0” was the selection of Abraham and Sarah to bless the whole world through their family of twelve sons and their wives. “Church 3.0” was the selection of the twelve disciples by Jesus (read: Mark 1 to see this story). “Church 4.0” was the empowerment of about 120 folks on the Day of Pentecost. All these “church” versions had some things in common but were upgrades to meet the growing demands of the movement of the story of God.
The original twelve are thought to be unique. We shouldn’t forget that one of the original twelve turned traitor and committed suicide and was replaced to keep the symbolism of the twelve intact. As Jesus had selected the original twelve and the eleven had chosen a replacement, Jesus continued to make selections of folks who would be “sent ones” to accomplish the Missio Dei. Paul was one of these “sent ones” (missionary/apostle) along with others who formed a wider group (read: 1 Cor. 15.3-7). Paul’s idea of apostleship was formed by his concept of mission (read: 1 Cor. 9.1ff. 15.10; Gal. 1.15ff. 2.6-10). The earliest Gospels suggest that the primitive sense of apostle was a missionary (read: Matt. 10.5-8; Mark 6.37-40) was the intended meaning of the word. You might take notice that only in the context of “mission” are the disciples called apostles. As we just suggested, it was and is not a title as it has become; it was a function.
The sent-by-Jesus-ones, called apostles/missionaries/ambassadors, did have a unique ministry in the ecclesiae created by Paul. Christ personally commissioned Paul, in a post-resurrection appearance (read: 1 Cor. 9; 15.3-7; Gal. 1), to be a missionary planting small outpost to demonstrate the kingdom (read: 1 Cor. 3; 9; 15). As a founder of these specific outposts, he had a continuing responsibility to provide guidance and solve problems regardless of where he was geographically residing. This responsibility is the primary reason for his letters to all ecclesiae that we find in the Second Testament. We should take note that he did not consider himself an apostle to the other ecclesiae, where all would recognize his authority. When in a certain context, he functioned as a “sent-by-Jesus-one,” he was apostling. When he lay down at night to sleep, he was Paul. This wrongheaded “position theology,” I fear, is somewhat rampant in certain parts of the ecclesiae today. Men and women believe themselves to be “apostles” and then structure their ministry to be carried out over a vast number of ecclesia. While not universal in the sense of global, they see themselves universal within a small contingency of churches that make up their small universe who believe they are the true ecclesiae of the last days. This whole concept could be understood as a present-day additive and one that needs to be dismissed.
The authority Paul carried was confined to his sphere of influence and mission (Gal. 2.7-9, 2 Cor. 10.13-16), to the outposts he planted. First Corinthians 12.28 is often used to confirm that there is a permanent gift of “apostle” and is applied to the ecclesiae as a whole. But, what is missing in that interpretation is the fact that Paul is supplying an answer to a local outpost when it was gathered together in someone’s home. When the body is together, are all apostles. Both the context and the grammar supplies the answer, “No, absolutely not!”
Paul contested vigorously the claims that other “apostles” could exercise authority in the outposts that he planted (2 Cor. 10-13). Not during his lifetime is it recorded that he attempted to exercise any authority over the ecclesiae in Jerusalem (Acts 15). He saw himself as a functional and situational appointee by God for the business at hand, in this case, the ecclesiae in Galatia. And his function seems ad hoc at best.
As we have already pointed out, there were more apostles than the twelve listed in Mark 3.13-19 and Acts 1.12-26. Scripture mentions others such as Paul (Gal. 1.1), Barnabas (Acts 14.14), James (Gal. 1.19), Silas and Timothy (1 Thess. 1.1, cf. 2.6), Epaphroditus (Phil. 2.25), Andronicus and Junias (Rom. 16.7). We should pause and notice that Junias was a female and what we are presented in the Romans’ account is a husband-wife team or a brother-sister apostolic team. These two folks, male and female, were considered to be well-known apostles (Rom. 16.7). The obvious conclusion was that there was at least one woman who functioned as an apostle in the early church. [ref] William Barclay, “Commentary on Romans (William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible),” StudyLight.org. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/romans-16.html (accessed Jund 20, 2020). [/ref] As an aside: folks who are still working within the framework that women cannot have any “authority” over a man should take note of this almost off-hand comment by Paul. They should give attention to the whole story of Scripture and stop the incessant dabbling over one passage of Scripture in Timothy, which does have a way of being understood that does not say what it seems to say in our English translations. Recently, I heard a popular TV preacher suggest to his physical audience and his electronic audience that was in the thousands that a woman could not be “co” anything with a male, like a co-pastor. This idea must be sickening to God who has no preferential treatment to his creation of humans. Listen to the podcast listed in the following footnote. [ref] Winn Griffin, “The Story of God and the Equality of the Sexes,”http://askdrwinn.com/2 (accessed April 9, 2016). [/ref]
Church history has named numerous others as apostles. Among them are Ansgar (801-865) who was the Apostle of the North (Scandinavia); Cyril (826-869) and his brother Methodius (815-885) were Apostles of the Southern Slavs; Otto Von Bamberg (1060-1139) was the Apostle of Pomerania; Hans Egede (1686-1758) was the Apostle of Greenland or Eskimos, and Robert Morrison (1782-1839) was the Apostle to Burma. [ref] Kurt Koch, Charismatic Gifts (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1975), 126. See also: J. D. Douglas, The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church. (Bletchley, Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster Publishing, 1978), 335. [/ref]
Paul warned the Corinthians about false apostles (2 Cor. 11.12-15) and John mentions the possibility in Revelation 2. When Scripture provides caution, it usually is set in the context of possibility. It could be concluded that it would be useless to caution a congregation if there were only the twelve original apostles. We should note for timeline purposes that Revelation was written in the middle of the ‘90s in the first century.
It is sometimes necessary to research the very meaning of a specific word to hear what the first writer meant and what the first readers/hearers would have understood. By the way, don’t let anyone teach you that parsing a word to get a clear picture of what is being said is somehow not a spiritual activity. It is usually proclaimed by those who either have not been taught not learned to study how to understand a word or have taken the easy way out and concluded that a concordance search has revealed a true meaning or worst-case scenario are just too lazy to do the work of research to attempt to find contextual meaning. One might see these folks with the same glasses that Paul saw the agitators in Galatia. They simply deliver a different story than the one intended by the author of the work.
The language of Ephesians 4.13 depicts the reason why apostles are still active in the ecclesiae today. Paul’s language in that text is about “people moving along a road to a certain goal.” The Greek text is phrased in such a way as to leave no doubt that one day the goal would be reached. [ref] Marcus Barth, Ephesians. Volume 2. (New York, NY: Double Day, 1974), 484-496. [/ref] Marvin R. Vincent says that the word until specifies the duration of the time these ministries and impartation of gracelets are to last. [ref] Marvin R. Vincent, Vincent Word Studies in the New Testament, Four Volume Set. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1985), 3.390. [/ref]
Apostolic ministry is alive and its meaning should be healed in the present ecclesiae. Some work done in a local ecclesia today by women and men is the work of an apostle/missionary while they are doing such work. Remember, there is no such thing as a “position of apostle,” just as there is no “position of pastor.” Apostle is functional and the gracelet doesn’t reside in the woman or man doing the work but resides in the Holy Spirit who gives the gracelet through us as he wills. Such is the case of the word “pastor” as well.
The Present Evil Age (1.4)
In the first century, almost all Jewish people divided history into two ages: the present age, which was under the domination of evil nations, and a future age (the age to come) where their Covenant God would rule the world unchallenged by all other powers. In this opening passage, Paul asserts that he believed that the Messiah (Jesus as King) had already come into this present evil age and brought the age to come (the kingdom/rule of God: see below). Paul told the ecclesiae in Galatia from the start of his letter that it was important for them to have this kingdom understanding. Because of the invasion of Jesus into the present evil age, they now lived between the times of the kingdom that had come and the kingdom that was coming. The Galatians were already citizens of God’s kingdom. As citizens, they lived to show others around them what it was like to be a citizen. A Roman citizen was not one who was simply living away from Rome who was waiting for the day to return to Rome. He or she was a person who lived in a community that demonstrated what it was like to be a Roman citizen to others around them who were not Roman citizens. Therefore, as citizens, the Galatians did not have to follow Jesus and then become a part of the Jewish nation (cultural imperialism: the art of separating, promoting, distinguishing and artificially injecting the culture of any society into another society) following the boundary markers of circumcision, food laws, and calendar events. The Western world has done this to the Eastern world in its missionary work, which is inserted an additive to world evangelism and an additive to many ecclesiae today.
The rescue that Paul spoke about was none other than the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus that had occurred in Israel. It was in that great moment of history that Jesus had become the true Israel and had brought the end (but not yet) into present existence. He had done for Israel what Israel could not do for herself. Now, through the true fulfilled Israel (the followers of Jesus, the church), the world could finally see the light of God and as it represented that light to the nations. This true Israel was to be a city set on a hill, [ref] This phrase has unfortunately been used in USAmerican politics to refer to USAmerica mainly by Presidents John F. Kennedy (1961) and Ronald Reagan (1980) along with other politicians. [/ref] the true image-bearers of God to the world for the sake of the world. One might want to note that this “rescue” was not to bring about some sort of private salvation for individuals so they could go to heaven when they died. This “rescue” was for the ecclesiae so that they could become the missionaries of God to the world bringing the world back to Yahweh, the Creator, without cultural additives as a prerequisite to being a Jesus follower or cultural additives added to a follower of Jesus after they had encountered Jesus. Paul closed his opening sentences by telling his readers that his apostleship and their rescue was by the will of God [ref] Winn Griffin, googling God’s Will. (Woodinville, WA: Harmon Press, 2011). See my book for a discussion of the concept of God’s will. [/ref] and that Yahweh should receive their worship because of it.
What is the Kingdom? A Brief Excursion
“Kingdom” is normally understood as a realm over which a king rules. A modern-day example of this idea was the United Kingdom which was made up of many nations: Great Britain, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, etc. People live in the kingdom (a place) and are subjects of the King or Queen who exercises his or her authority over his or her subjects.
Another way to view the idea of kingdom is found in its dictionary definition: “The reign or rule a king has over his subjects.” [ref] Dictionary.com. Kingdom. Defined as “a state or government having a king or queen as its head.” https://www.dictionary.com/browse/kingdom. (accessed. 6.22.2020) [/ref] This definition is closer to the primary meaning of the Hebrew and Greek words than the concept of a realm. In Hebrew, the word for kingdom is malkût (mal-coot). The Greek word is basileia (bah-see-lay-a). The concept of the kingdom of God is rooted in the First Testament and begins as early as the story of the Garden where Yahweh created a world over which he was going to rule. The prophets declared the kingdom as a day in which men and women would live together in peace; where social problems would be solved and the evil would pass away (Isa. 2.4; 11.6). The “now but not yet” aspect of the kingdom is where we presently live with a vision of living in the new creation of God from the future in the present.
Central to the ministry of Jesus was the concept of the kingdom of God. The authors of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) filled their books with teaching about the kingdom. They often summarized the material as the beginning of Mark illustrates. “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’” (Mark 1.14-15). Mark’s summary demonstrates the idea of the words and works of Jesus.
Matthew summarized similarly. He succinctly shows the ministry of Jesus in 4.23 and 9.35 as it centered on the kingdom. Jesus also summarized the message of the kingdom when he gave instructions to his twelve disciples (Matt. 10.1ff.). The gospel of the kingdom is the only gospel that he instructed his disciples to preach. One wonders if we caught a glimpse of proclaiming the kingdom, what would change in our local ecclesia. When Luke recorded the sending of the seventy disciples (Luke 10.1ff.), Jesus used a similar set of words.
The term kingdom was frequently on the lips of Jesus and the idea of the kingdom was central to the proclamation of Jesus. His words were designed to demonstrate for us how to enter the kingdom (Matt. 5.20; 7.21). His works authenticated that the kingdom was present in his ministry (Matt. 12.28). His parables informed us about the mysteries of the kingdom (Matt. 13.11). His prayers modeled for his disciples the desire of his heart, which was that the kingdom would come to earth (Matt. 6.10). His death, resurrection, and ascension made us the agents of the kingdom (Acts 1.8). His Second Coming promises the consummation of the kingdom for his children (Matt. 25.31, 34) in the new creation. [ref] Winn Griffin. God’s Epic Adventure. 229. [/ref]
Living into the Story
- How does your ecclesia function as a missionary sent from God to the people in your world?
- Does your local ecclesia consider its work apostolic? Why? Why not?
- How does understanding that the local ecclesia is made up of citizens of the rule of God in this present evil age cause you to rethink the lifestyle of the ecclesia?
- How does your local ecclesia community practice cultural imperialism?