Where We Are Going?
Reading the Storyline: New International Version (2011)
Reading the Storyline: Interpretative Paraphrase
Observing the Storyline
Interpreting the Storyline
From the Spirit or Law (3.1-5)
Children of God Through Faith (3.26)
Children of God through Baptism (3.27)
All Explained (3.28)
Premise Illustrated (4.1-7)
A Pagan Past (4.8-11)
Living into the Story
Reading the Storyline: New International Version (2011)
You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain? So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.” The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.
Brothers and sisters, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case. The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.
Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator. A mediator, however, implies more than one party; but God is one.
Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.
Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.
Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.
Reading the Storyline: Interpretative Paraphrase
Galatians, how brainsick you have become! Have you completely lost your minds? What happened to your clear focus on the story of the crucified Jesus? Here’s a question that I hope you can answer: How did the life that you now live come about? Did you begin your new life when you received the Spirit because you kept boundary markers or was it because you simply decided to follow Jesus? Are you so harebrained that you began with the Spirit but you are trying to end with human effort? Was your suffering for following Jesus a vain act, if following him could be such? So, let me know, is the one who supplies the Spirit to you and works mightily among you, does he do this because you have chosen to keep the boundary markers or because you have followed Jesus into his story?
Even my forefather Abraham lived in the story provided to him by Yahweh and he found himself living on the right path instead of the wrong one. So, it follows that if you follow the same storyline that Abraham followed, then you are his children. Abraham had a version of the good news proclaimed to him when he was told that all nations through his family would find blessing. The results: being a part of Abraham’s family means being blessed by Yahweh. Those who live to follow the boundary markers do so at great risk of living under a curse. But, for those who choose to live in the freedom of Yahweh’s story will not suffer the curse because Jesus took that curse by hanging on the cross and dissolved it. It has been apparent within the storyline that those living according to the boundary markers avails nothing because it is recorded somewhere that the right-pathed people live because of Yahweh’s faithfulness to his covenant. So, if you are going to live by the boundary markers, then you will always have to live by them.
Jesus has delivered us from living in the wrong story, one which allows the additives of boundary markers to be the goal of our life. How did he create such for us? By absorbing the storied life of boundary markers into his own life by hanging from the cross in Jerusalem. This selfless act allowed the promise of the Spirit received by Yahweh’s grace, the blessing given to Abraham to become available to those who are not Jews. Just like Abraham believed, we too can choose to believe. Brothers and sisters, here is an illustration of how this works. When a person decides to write a will and it is confirmed, the will cannot be rescinded by anyone other than the writer. Therefore, the promise was given to Abraham and his descendent. You should note that the will does not say “descendants” because it was not given to many but to one to which the will was referring. The descendent is Jesus. Think of it this way: The covenant made with Abraham by Yahweh came 430 years before the covenant given to Moses which has been summarized by some as boundary markers. The second one does not cancel the first one which would make the promise of the first one not have an effect. In short, the last one does not have anything to do with the promise given in the first one. They are separate issues.
This kind of thinking surely may cause you to raise the question: “What about the covenant with Moses?” It was created as a guide to life until the real life-giver, the “descendent,” came to give life. It should be obvious that the receivers of this covenant did not have a face-to-face encounter with its creator, rather they received it through Moses working as middle management so to speak after he received it through angelic couriers by the sender Yahweh. Think UPS! You can see how this covenant given through Moses is a different delivery method from the one delivered directly to Abraham who received it by trusting the sender. That could raise another question: “Does the Mosaic covenant go against the promise to Abraham?” No, not really! Because the covenant given to Moses could not in itself make a follower have new life because if that would have been the case, there would only be a need for that covenant. But, that was not the case, because real human life came from Jesus for those who chose to follow him. Before Jesus, the covenant served as a guideline keeping us in the correct story awaiting the time for the real truly human maker to arrive. It was something like a private nanny you hire to take your children to their school and protect them from any danger along the way until they arrive safely at their destination. The good news is that you can now come directly to Jesus and live for Jesus without adding any boundary markers to your life. You become part of his family because you chose to be a follower of Jesus. Formerly, there were all kinds of divisions like being Jewish and those that were not Jewish, slave and free, male and female, but now in the family that Jesus has created these divisions no longer exist. They have been abolished forever. In the family of Jesus, we are all equal as Jesus followers. Where does that put you concerning to Abraham’s family, you are now Abraham’s descendent and heir because of the promise given to him by Yahweh. That’s really good news.
I understand that this all sounds pretty heady, but it does work out on your benefit. When an heir was a minor, he was no better off than a slave even if he legally owned the whole kit and kaboodle. The heir had to live with those who could help you administrate your life and tutor you along the way until the time that your parent decided to give you your inheritance. This is the way it was with us, we were infants who lived according to a few boundary markers because the true human maker had not yet arrived. But, he has now shown his face because of the time arranged by Yahweh for him to arrive. Jesus came born of a woman and lived under the conditions of the boundary markers so that he might rescue us from the leverage the boundary markers had over us. We have now been adopted into his family. We now can live our lives as newly created humans because as newly created humans Yahweh has sent his Spirit to us and we cry out. What a great parent you are! Our communication with the Creator of the universe lets us know without any doubts that we are no longer slaves but free having full access to all the inheritance. Wow! What a privilege to be known by Yahweh, so, with that in mind, why would anyone want to turn around and put additives into their new human creation. What’s up with that? Do you want to live continually in bondage? These boundary markers have been removed, so don’t go back and add them again. If you do, then I will have wasted my time among you sharing the story of Jesus.
Observing the Storyline
A new reading section begins at what we have traditionally seen marked as Galatians 3. This larger section is often referred to as the theological section of Paul’s argument about the additive of boundary markers. The first few sentences essentially state the argument for the whole section. Paul used the “literary use of rhetorical questions” where the answer to each question states his thesis. Paul’s argument is different than normal, he argues from their experience. Paul goes on to describe a “before and after” picture to contrast how the Galatians were slaves before the gospel story was received and free in Christ after they chose to live into the story of Jesus.
Having now argued his position against the Jewish missionaries and their doctrine of additives (Jesus-plus-Moses, i.e., Jewish national imperialism and boundary markers), and that the story of Abraham demonstrates that God works by grace and not by grace plus additives, he now turns to how this should be lived out by Jesus followers in Galatia. Let’s see how he proceeded.
Interpreting the Storyline
From the Spirit or Law (3.1-5)
Paul wanted the Galatians to know that their conversion into the people of God came because of the Spirit not because of boundary markers provided by the Law of Moses. He appealed to their experience and from their experience to some lessons about theology. Experience here does not mean some subjective thought about something that one thinks but rather it means the concrete events and realities that had happened to the Galatians and about their perception of those events. He begins the section by a rebuke (Gal. 3.1) and then asks questions about their experience (Gal. 3.2-5).
“Galatians, how brainsick you have become!” is traditionally translated as, “You foolish Galatians.” These in-your-face words were not intended by Paul to win the Galatians over. It was not a personal insult either. There was a wide margin of acceptable language for debate in the ancient world. This kind of heated speech is found coming from the mouth of John the Baptist (Matt. 3.7-10), Jesus (Matt. 23; Luke 24.25), James (James 4.1-12), 4.13-5.6, and Paul (here and 2 Cor. 10-13). In today’s language, we must find language that is acceptable within the debate world. Herein lies our problem. We often just pull a phrase from the sacred text and use it without knowing the background from which it came. I was once discussing with my father-in-law as we were traveling in a van together with our families. He was not happy about the way that I was answering a question that had been posed to me by my brother-in-law. Finally, in a moment of desperation on his part, he spoke forcefully to me, “you fool!” The family instantly reacted to him quoting back to him one of the sayings of Jesus about calling your brother a fool. But, it is my opinion, that he was speaking to me by just pulling the phrase from Paul here in Galatians and using it without knowing what lay underneath the phrase. In my opinion, when we take such an action quoting precisely a biblical phrase, we are simply abusing it for our purposes while hiding out under some supposed idea that we are being biblically spiritual by using the words of the sacred text is such a spurious manner.
“Foolish,” (amoetai: can be defined as “without knowledge”) captures the point of Paul. He means by the term that they were illogical because they did not commit to the Pauline gospel of Jesus while succumbing to the Jewish missionaries’ gospel of Jesus-plus-Moses. Crucifixion, a terrible Roman punishment, was a critical part of Paul’s understanding of Jesus. While this subject may be distasteful to those who live in the twenty-first century, it was often given attention in Paul’s theology about Jesus. It was because of the cross that the Galatians were delivered from this present evil age (Gal. 1.4). John Stott says, “There is then, it is safe to say, no Christianity without the cross. If the cross is not central to our religion, ours is not the religion of Jesus.” [ref] John Stott, The Cross of Christ: 20th Anniversary Edition. (Westmont, IL: IVP Books, 2006), 68. [/ref] We may hasten to say that the cross is the symbol that represents the torturous death of Jesus giving his life for the world. Crucifixion was a cruel practice in the ancient world that had as its foundation torture. The act of crucifixion did not damage any of the vital organs. It did not cause excessive bleeding. Death came at a slow pace often over many days by asphyxiation. Sometimes the person’s body was left on the cross and served as rotting food for the birds while the family was denied burial of the body. Crucifixion was a public affair to remind others of the ghastly fate that awaited those who set themselves against the authority of the state.
In 1968 an adult male was discovered buried in a cave who had been crucified between the beginning of the first century AD and the mid-60s. The study of the remains indicated that a nail was driven through each of his forearms and one single iron nail was driven through his heel bone. His shins had been broken intentionally. Crucifixion was not standardized in the Roman world. During the siege of Jerusalem, Josephus observed how hundreds of Jewish prisoners were crucified, leaving the manner in the hands of the Roman soldiers.[ref] John J. Davis, “Rethinking The Crucified Man from Giv’at Ha-Mivtar ” Associates for Biblical Research. https://biblearchaeology.org/research/new-testament-era/4185-rethinking-the-crucified-man-from-givat-hamivtar (accessed June 23, 2020). See also: Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, and I. Howard Marshall, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. (Westmont, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013), 147. [/ref] They nailed their prisoners in different positions. It was a horrific and brutal act. It has been somewhat sanitized in the modern world and in our modern ecclesiae by hanging the symbol as an art piece. One wonders how we would react if we walked into or church and saw a rough piece of wood full of splinters with red blood stains embedded into the wood.
The next question: Did you begin your new life when you received the Spirit because you kept boundary markers or was it because you simply decided to follow Jesus? This is usually translated as “Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?” This question is key to understanding Paul’s definition of an authentic Christian experience. It is a question about initiation. To answer it honestly would cause his Galatians hearers to have to abandon the “different gospel” of the Jewish missionaries and return safely to the good news he had preached when he was with them. The idea of “receiving the Spirit,” has a long history of interpretation. In the recent period among the Pentecostals, it is often seen as a separate blessing given by God after the initial conversion experience.[ref] See the Late James D. G. Dunn (d. 2020). Baptism in the Holy Spirit. 1977.[/ref] In some Pentecostal circles, this infilling is accompanied by “speaking in tongues,” as the official stamp of approval that a person has entered into this second blessing. Paul clarifies this idea in a later writing to the Romans: to be a Christian is to be indwelt by the Spirit and to be indwelt by the Spirit is to be a Christian (as clarification see Rom. 8 especially verses 9-11). By this question, Paul seems to indicate that the initiation into the people of God is their reception of the Spirit. The Galatians may have spoken in tongues, displayed miracles, or prophesied as a demonstration of the Spirit. While these effects are the result of receiving the Spirit, this does not seem to be what Paul is interested in here. What he wants the Galatians to know is what triggered the experience of receiving the Spirit in them: was it by observing the boundary markers or was it by receiving the Spirit? If they received the Spirit by faith (one could read here the idea of “were converted”), then it was wrong for them to add the boundary markers to faith to be the authentic people of God. Christian communities do not need additives.
He continues in the next sentence with, “Are you so harebrained that you began with the Spirit but you are trying to end with human effort? “One could conclude that Paul was answering his previous question. Translated the text reads: “…after beginning with the Spirit,” which assumed that the answer to the previous question was by hearing about the Spirit. How Paul wants to know, can they reach perfection or completion if they started with the Spirit and are trying to continue by the flesh (sarx, [ref] For a discussion of the term sarx, see Ladd’s A Theology of the New Testament. 509-512. Kindle Edition. [/ref] unfortunately, translated human effort in the NIV, which could make the English reader think that the issue is one of effort, i.e., by works)? What Paul has in mind by the flesh is the sense of a life that is not solely based on the work of Christ and the power of the Spirit. To live in the flesh is to ignore the Spirit. In this context, Paul was thinking of circumcision that for the Jewish missionaries was the completion of their conversion.
The third question pertains to “suffering” that was most likely caused by the Jewish missionaries because the Galatians would not take their advice and add the boundary markers to the newfound story. Paul is saying something like: “If you suffer for converting to Jesus and convert to Judaism, your suffering as a Christian would be for nothing.” Suffering is a part of the storyline of following Jesus. It seems that our problem is that what we in the West think of as suffering may not be the case. We often take our inconveniences and elevated them to the status of suffering. A few years back in a fellowship of Jesus followers that I participate with, a family lost one of their sons who was murdered. The complete mental devastation of dealing with following Jesus and losing a child would compete for suffering over against, say, losing your cable connection while watching a live sporting event. Paul does not provide any specific information about the kind of suffering the Galatians were receiving at the hand of the missionaries, only that it was occurring. His point seemed to be directed to the fact that their true suffering for being followers of Jesus would have inconveniences.
Finally, there is a question about miracles (Gal. 1.5). Paul’s argument is the same, but instead of “receiving the Spirit: it is “working miracles.” What triggered the miracles? Was this from Moses or was it from what they had heard and believed in the gospel.
There is always a tendency to follow miracles rather than the giver of miracles. There are so many who just give over their sanity to some sort of insanity when it comes to participation in this arena. Once I was asked by a sincere congregant if he believed that he could walk on water. I asked him why he would want to do such a thing. He told me that Jesus did it so he wanted to do it. He then told me that he had been practicing in his pool. I asked if he could swim suggesting that he might not want to practice in the deep end if he couldn’t. He took my comment as a lack of faith on my part. I wanted to know if there was another reason he wanted to accomplish this feat. He admitted it would make him look “spiritual” among his peers who believed that doing miracles was a mark of spirituality maturity.
Somehow we have come to think in a confused way of thinking about the subject of miracles.
In my book Gracelets[ref] Winn Griffin. Gracelets. Being Conduits of the Extravagant Acts of God’s Grace v1.5. 125-126. https://amzn.to/3dmaUd8 [/ref] , I wrote the following about miracles:
Miracles, Effects of (energemata dunameon): 1 Cor. 12.10, 29 The effect of an extraordinary event in which the power of God has been displayed.
What if “effects of miracles” is a summary statement (cp., the word used in 12.6 and 12.10)? “Effects” may be the results, which God produces with gracelets, i.e., human words are spoken and God produces “powerful” (dunamis) results. Of course, our current word “miracle” is so watered down that it is overused to describe almost anything. As an example, in the 2015 Super Bowl game between the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks, there was a play in the last few minutes of the last half, which was reported by USA Today Sports as follows: “Jermaine Kearse’s bobbling catch was a miracle…”[ref] ESPN, “Jermaine Kearse’s Bobbling Catch Was a Miracle (Even Though It Didn’t Matter in the End),” ESPN http://ftw.usatoday.com/2015/02/jermaine-kearse-catch (accessed 5.27.2020). [/ref] Too bad the supposed miracle was turned on its head a couple of plays later by a goal-line interception. The cheers of a miracle were turned into the moans of defeat.
This “effects of miracles” gracelet most likely covers a broad range of events. [ref] Gordon Fee. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. 659. [/ref] It is a continuing sign of the breaking in of the kingdom of God into this present evil age. Paul uses the same word to describe this gracelet as he used in 1 Corinthians 12.6. The word effects here in 1 Corinthians 12.10 is the same word as in 1 Corinthians 12.6 (the result, which God produces by the gracelets). The word here translated miracles is dunamis, which means power. The word dunamis implies the strength of someone to bring about an event. The evidence of God’s power was the resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor. 6.14). Paul continues in 1 Corinthians 15.42-44 to say that Jesus was raised in power (dunamis) and he was raised in a spiritual (pneumatikos) body. He was the firstborn from the dead in a new, never-before-kind-of-body, a body infused with the life-giving Spirit of God.
In the modern world, the autonomous person and reason have taken the front seat, often trying to push experience out of the car. In response, experience tried to drive the car and jettison reason as a passenger. Both activities are wrongheaded. One needs to find harmony between reason and experience. Sometimes reason leads and experience follows, while other times experience leads and reason is better served. One without the other only leaves half-witted people. If there is anything that Christian communities don’t need, it is more half-witted people. Think “a foolish or imbecilic person.[ref] Here are some Synonyms for half-wit: berk [British], booby, charlie (also charley) [British], cuckoo, ding-a-ling, ding-dong, dingbat, dipstick, doofus [slang], featherhead, fool, git [British], goose, jackass, lunatic, mooncalf, nincompoop, ninny, ninnyhammer, nit [chiefly British], nitwit, nut, nutcase, simp, simpleton, turkey, yo-yo. (Merriam Webster Dictionary (online): https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/half-wit#synonyms, accessed 5.27.2020) [/ref] Every follower of Jesus needs to have a local ecclesia in which s/he can recount their experiences with God, especially their conversion experience. Ecclesia should not be defined here as the building at the corner of walk and don’t walk, Anytown, World, it can be any place where Jesus followers decide to meet. It is not a place for group therapy where ignorance leads to more ignorance. I once read that small groups are where folks get together to practice their individuality while thinking they are practicing community. [ref] Randy Freeze, The Connecting Church. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2001), 46. Freeze suggests that small groups “mainly provide occasions for individuals to focus on themselves in the presence of others. [/ref] Without personal storytelling, we have no life. When we hear the experiences of others, we can understand them better, pray for them more accurately, and continued instruction can be better served.
There is little doubt that Paul’s understanding of the gospel comes from being immersed in the story of Israel recorded in our First Testament. That story serves as the foundation for the book of Galatians as well as other Second Testament books, like Romans. He focuses on Abraham to challenge the view of the Jewish missionaries that the Gentiles must be circumcised (accept the boundary markers of Judaism), to be a part of the people of God.
Paul quotes from the story of Abraham, “Abraham believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness (Genesis 15.6).” Paul’s point was that Abraham’s right standing with God was not achieved by keeping the Law, but by simply believing in God. He concluded by telling his readers that anyone who believes is a child of Abraham, i.e., a member of the people of God since Abraham was the father of the chosen people.
Instead of closing his argument, he continued with three aspects of the narrative about Abraham to drive home his case about Gentiles who believe in Jesus and receive God’s blessing. First, Paul demonstrates that the justification of the Gentiles is the fulfillment of the divine promise to Abraham that every nation would be blessed through Abraham (Gen 12.3). The point that Paul was making for the Galatians was that God promised that through Abraham all nations would be blessed and that very point challenged the belief that the Jewish missionaries brought to the table that only those who accepted the cultural boundary markers and lived within them in addition to faith in Jesus could be God’s people.
Second, the promise made by God to Abraham found their complete fulfillment in Jesus. He arrived at the belief by noting that the promise was given to Abraham and his “seed.” The “seed” of Abraham was none other than Jesus.
Finally, the covenant that God made with Abraham took precedence over the covenant that was given to Moses at Mt. Sinai (Gal. 3.15-25). He notes that the covenant that was given later fulfilled a temporary role until Jesus came. By itself, the covenant could never make anyone righteous.
The followers of Jesus in Galatia had been duped into believing that they could be included in the people of God by adding the boundary markers to their faith in Jesus. However, those who are of faith are already in the circle of God’s blessing (3.9). Paul contrasted faith and Law and then sketched out the flow of salvation history. He ends the section with two more questions. Why the Law? (3.19) and, Is the Law opposed to the promises of God? (3.21). Paul describes the Law as having a temporary function and a mediated origin and thus leaving the Galatians, who wanted to add this to their faith in Jesus, would be left with no sound reason for doing so.
All of God’s children have equal status. He will soon say that there is simply no distinction in Christ (Gal. 3.28).
We must come to grips that faith is the response that God wants from us if we are to be accepted by him and that faith finds a way to work itself out in obedience. We must also realize that our life in the Spirit is the primary mode in which we live obediently before God. It is not Jesus plus Moses, or anything else for that matter, but Jesus and life empowered by the Spirit to obey God in this present evil age.
In this section, Paul contends that God’s acceptance and a continuation of a relationship with God were based on faith, was for everyone, and was not based on adding boundary markers to the message of Jesus. The main premise of Paul is that the Galatian Jesus followers are part of the people of God because of their faith in Jesus (Gal. 3.26). The sentence continues by stating that everyone who was baptized has been clothed in Christ (Gal. 3.27). In both these sentences, Paul uses the word “all” and he explains who the all is in Galatians 3.28. There is no Jew nor Greek (racial), slave nor free (social), male nor female (sexual) differentiation in Christ because his death and resurrection brought about one “people.” The “allness” of God’s plan goes beyond the local ecclesiae of Galatia and includes his universal ecclesiae of all times and places. If you belong to Christ then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise (Gal 3.29).
Children of God Through Faith (3.26)
What does it mean to be “children of God”? When we hear “son” in scripture as in Galatians 3.26 in the New King James Version, we should not imply “male.” Again the word “all” will help us be inclusive of both male and female in “sonship,” therefore, the word “children” is much better suited in this verse. The last thing that Paul had in mind when he used the Greek word “son” [υἱός (hyios)] was maleness. The “you” of verse 26 is plural and refers to all the Galatian Jesus followers. We must keep in mind that most of the time in Paul the pronoun “you” is plural and is not meant to be taken personally but corporately, i.e., not for an individual but for the whole ecclesiae. Not only are the Galatians “children of Abraham” (3.7), but they are also “children of God.” Being a “child” of God is an eschatological promise that describes the intimacy that God’s children will have with God in the present world because of the word of Jesus on the cross. The word that all are children of God would have been particularly shocking to the Jewish missionaries. They believed that the Galatians were only half converted, not fully converted until they added the Jewish boundary markers to their faith in Jesus. Following Jesus produced an end to the national restrictions of Judaism.
In Paul’s day, adoption was a specific Roman law in which the father had absolute power over his children as long as they lived, even over their life and death. Children never possessed anything. All possessions were the property of the father. To be adopted was to take a serious step.
This Law had a process: the ceremony included trading the child to be adopted two times between the two families and taking the adopted person back two times. On the third time, the trade was completed.
At that point, the person adopted had all the rights and privileges of the new family and lost all the rights and privileges of the old family. This included all the debts, connection with the previous family, etc. The old family was abolished as if it had never existed.
This position came by grace, not by right. The adopted child (son or daughter) was heir just the same as the natural child. Adoption occurred because of the love of a parent for a child, love that brought him/her into the family as a full-fledged member with all rights and privileges.
Heirship implied responsibility, also. It is inconceivable that we should enjoy a relationship with God as his child without accepting the obligation to imitate the Father and cultivate the family likeness. Adoption should also be understood from a First Testament background which is the backdrop of Galatians 4.1-7. Think about what this process means for you as a person or for a community of Jesus followers.
Children of God through Baptism (3.27)
Paul saw faith as expressed in baptism and the experience of baptism as being clothed in Christ, i.e., as if you put on new clothes. Today, among some local ecclesia, there is a belief that baptism is a secondary issue as part of the initiation rite into the Christian faith. While there is a difference between internal and external reality in Paul, he seems to place baptism here as a parallel to faith. One might see it as the initial and necessary response of faith. We must take to heart that the ancient world was much more prone to rites and symbols than the Western world is. Baptism was, however, not just a ritual. It was the earliest moment of faith for the early followers of Jesus. There was no such thing as an “unbaptized” Jesus follower. Baptism was not an addition to faith, because that would make Paul’s work of removing the Jewish missionaries’ proclamation of Jesus plus Moses a removal of one “plus” factor to another “plus” factor: Jesus plus baptism. Baptism was not necessary for salvation, but faith without baptism was not faith in the early ecclesiae.
Baptism was a ceremony that could be viewed as a dying and rising with Christ (cf. Rom. 6-1-14). It was a played-out-drama in the lives of followers of Jesus. It was associated with taking off sins and putting on a new life. In this passage to be “clothed” with Christ is most likely a reference to the early practice of Christians stripping and the reclothing of themselves in a white robe that provided a symbol of taking off sin and putting on the righteousness of Jesus.
Stripping off the old, to put on the new
The Apostolic Tradition explains how those to be baptized must “remove their clothing,” and go into the water “naked.” Scholars debate the extent to which baptisms were “naked” and whether or not it meant simply the outer garments, or all clothes. In either case it spiritually represented a particular “death” to the old self and a firm departure from sin. It was a physical reminder that they were to be born a new person in baptism and had to cast off their old ways, discarding their old clothes to put on the new life in Christ.
Immediately after baptism the newly baptized would put on a white garment, which represented the cleansing of their sins and the purity of their soul, born anew in the font of baptism. [ref] Aleteia. “How was baptism practiced in the early Church?” https://aleteia.org/2019/04/26/how-was-baptism-practiced-in-the-early-church/ (accessed 6.27.2020).[/ref]
All Explained (3.28)
The ecclesiae is “one in Christ Jesus,” so Paul told his readers. What does it mean to be “in Christ”? Moderns in the last half of the twentieth century seemed to have chosen off one term to explain one’s relationship with Christ: “born again.”[ref] Colson, Charles W. Born Again. Chosen Books, 1975. This book has a Repackaged edition (September 1, 2008). https://amzn.to/2CDJhiX [/ref] This idea hasn’t changed much in the first part of the twenty-first century. We have become extremely anemic because of our dummying-down process. To be “in Christ” is another way of viewing the life-changing experience that happens when one meets Jesus. Conversion to Jesus is to be swallowed up in him so that we are consumed by him. Many metaphors are presented by the authors of the Second Testament to help readers (near and far) to understand new life in Christ. One is justification, another is baptism in the Holy Spirit, yet another is redemption, and the list goes on. All these terms (often looked at as theological and rejected as too heady) are expressions to indicate the new relationship that followers of Jesus have with God that Jesus brought them via the Spirit.
The Jewish missionaries of the day in Galatia thought that Paul was not building a proper foundation for the ecclesiae because he was breaking down the lines between Jews and Gentiles. But, for Paul, faith in Christ annihilates such distinctions as cultural/racial, social, and sexual ones. The first-century Jewish male prayed: “Blessed be God that he did not make me a Gentile; blessed be God that he did not make me ignorant or a slave; blessed be God that he did not make me a woman.”[ref] Yehudah Mirsky. “Three Blessings.” My Jewish Learning. https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/three-blessings/. accessed 6.27.2020. [/ref] Paul may have been responding to this kind of demeaning prayer with his three areas in which no distinctions should be made. This does not mean that one can make other distinctions because they are not “one” the three that Paul categorized. One must remember that all lists in the Second Testament are not complete, they are representative.
There is neither Jew nor Greek. Paul was against anything that would demand an additional cultural or national change. It was unthinkable that one would have to become a Jew in addition to becoming a Christian. Cultural and racial divisions have no part in the ecclesiae that Jesus founded. Everyone must be treated in light of their new relationship with God, not on their past cultural relationship. This is certainly not easy, but it is doable.
There is neither slave nor free. In the ancient world, slavery was common among Gentiles and Jews. There have been population estimates that suggest slaves made up a large part of the Roman Empire.[ref] UNRV Roman History. “Roman Slavery” https://www.unrv.com/slavery.php. (accessed. 6.24.2020) [/ref] Slaves were gained by indebtedness, capture in war, and birth. There was generally mistreatment of racially different slaves, although some were treated kindly. There were kindness laws in Judaism (Lev. 25-39-55). Paul could be telling the Galatians that within the Christian family that there is no room for slavery. It had become irrelevant in one’s relationship with God and thus the ecclesiae. Think about the social relevancy of this statement. In the ecclesiae, the slave became brother or sister. Both had the Spirit of God equally. It is most likely true that in the early ecclesiae that slaves could have spoken a word of prophecy to an owner and the owner would have received it with gratitude. This was a complete social role reversal. Some scholars believe that Onesimus, who was a slave of Philemon’s became the leader of the ecclesiae at Ephesus.[ref] F. F. Bruce. The Epistle to the Galatians (The New International Greek Testament Commentary). 1982. 189. https://amzn.to/2CviHZh [/ref] Paul’s point was not a social agenda, but an atmosphere that would eventually lead to the annihilation of slavery throughout the world.
There is neither male nor female. There seems to be more heat than light when it comes to talking about the sexes (male and female). Paul spoke these words in a worldview (both Roman and Jewish) that believed in the inferiority of women. Josephus, the Jewish-turned-Roman historian, spoke of such in his book Against Apion, “For, says the scripture, A woman is inferior to her husband in all things.”[ref] Josephus. “Against Apion.” Book 2.25. https://penelope.uchicago.edu/josephus/apion-2.html. accessed 6.27.2020. [/ref] To this demeaning situation in the culture which had been brought into the ecclesiae, Paul takes a firm stand. For those who are “in Christ” all criticism, snide remarks, insinuations, overt prejudices must end, because in Jesus he has made male and female one. This concept must be a reflection from the metanarrative of creation where God made humankind in his image, male and female he made them. “In Christ” there is a reversal of the garden. Again, Paul set up an atmosphere where women could be respected and become leaders in the ecclesiae (Phoebe: Rom. 16.1; Priscilla: Acts 18). It’s been a little over 2000 years and the ecclesiae still struggles with this simple idea: that “in Christ” and his ecclesiae there is no distinction between male and female in the ministries that they can do or the things they can achieve.
Since the Galatians have believed in Jesus and since Jesus is the seed of Abraham, one can conclude that the followers of Jesus in Galatia are also the seed of Abraham. If they were the seed of Abraham, they inherited the promise of Abraham that was a relationship with God that did not have additives to secure the relationship. What the Jewish missionaries wanted was the notion that in the promise of Abraham; a person had to keep the boundary markers to receive the promise. But, the Jewish missionaries were wrong, the promise was received by faith plus nothing, nada, zilch!
Premise Illustrated (4.1-7)
For Paul, the concept of being children (Gal. 3.26-29) shows that the Jewish missionaries were wrong and those living today who hold to the same ideas are like their forefathers, wrong as well. He makes the point in Galatians 4.1-2. A child cannot inherit an estate until he becomes an adult. During this period he is dependent on a guardian, but only until the father’s set time to inherit. Paul provides an application in Galatians 4.3-7. The childhood period was the period of the Law and then in the coming of Jesus, the inheritance was inaugurated. Full rights (i.e., freedom from the Law, the boundary markers) did not come until the work of Jesus was complete. Being like children is for Paul like being bound by the boundary markers (Gal. 4.3). Now we have become God’s children at the time set by the father. God sent the Spirit of Jesus into our lives and we now fully know God as father. To know him as father means to become his heirs. How? Because followers of Jesus have received the inheritance of faith in Jesus, they no longer need to be bound by the boundary markers of Judaism or any other markers in today’s ecclesiastical society.
This passage is a true passage of egalitarian freedom. Jesus set this freedom in motion by his death on the cross. Paul explains the freedom to the Galatians who were being asked to place additives onto their simple faith in Jesus. The idea that there are no racial, social, or sexual distinctions in the church should cause all who are his children to shout for joy. However, we have not, even after 2000 plus years, arrived at this freedom stated by Paul in this book. As an example, we still have white, black, Hispanic, Chinese, Korean, etc., ecclesia. Social classes should have no bearing in the ecclesia. The ecclesia should be multi-ethnic. I am not sure what Paul would say if he saw the many different ethnic ecclesia today. Does not an all-white or an all-black or an all Hispanic or an all Chinese church in a pluralistic society say more about disharmony and disunity to the world to which it has been sent to minister than the power of God to bring harmony?
The ecclesia still has difficulty bringing the egalitarian, neither male or female, concept to practice in its midst. There are still ecclesia that dates back to ancient times that treat women as inferior. We’ve still got a long way to go. But we have the power of the Spirit to help us change. And change we must if we are going to impact the world with the gospel. Let it be so!
A Pagan Past (4.8-11)
The beginning word of this section, “formerly,” (tote) is a word that makes a specific contrast to “now.” Paul described the Galatian Jesus followers as those who had not known the true Creator-Covenant God of Israel, but the gods they did know were not gods at all. This would apply to the Gentile Jesus followers who made up the ecclesiae of Galatia.
From an auspicious beginning in which they had been known by God, they had now turned to an inauspicious position. The force of the phrase “are known by God” rather than “you know God,” soundly insists that people do not naturally seek God. Caught in their web of sins and love for themselves, they are not seeking his sacrosanctity (his holiness; it’s always good to learn a new word). In short, humankind plays out Genesis 3 daily, by hiding from the presence of God. While God also plays out Genesis 3 daily, he seeks people out. One writer suggests that God is like a hound of heaven: he has your scent and he is on your trail (both Jesus followers and non-Jesus followers).
For Paul, turning their backs on God meant that they were returning to their pagan past where they did not know the true God, and the gods they thought they knew were not gods at all. They were returning to the “weak” and “miserable” spirits (Gal. 4.9). These principalities were considered “weak” because they had no power to rescue anyone from this present evil age and bring them to be known by God. They were “miserable” because they were not able to supply God’s rich blessings to their followers. When the Jewish missionaries heard this, it would have horrified them. Adding the boundary markers to Jesus was like returning to the former paganism. Paul lumped Judaism, in terms of national imperialism and paganism together. Paul most likely meant that whatever leads one astray from their sole reliance on Jesus is not real Christianity; in fact, it is sub-Christian and should be condemned. It is fair to say that we all have to become aware of the possible “principalities,” that cause us to return again and again to our former life, thus demonstrating to the world that we have not been fully set free by Jesus.
He illustrates what he knows them to be doing in their return. They had begun to observe special days, months, and seasons of the year (calendar events). Ancient Judaism had its calendar special days (the weekly Sabbath), months (new moons), and seasons (festivals like Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles), and years (sabbatical and jubilee years). Paul told Jesus followers at Galatia that adding these calendar events was returning to their paganism. They had demonstrated a willingness to relinquish the Spirit (Gal. 3.2; 4.6) in favor of tradition and custom.
Paul’s fear in all of this was that he had somehow wasted his time and effort on the Galatians. Paul was not afraid of sharing his emotions with his followers. He expressed “astonishment” over their quick desertion of the gospel he had presented (Gal. 1.6). He conveyed “anger” over the Galatians who had moved backward by additions to the gospel (Gal. 4.1-5). Now, he demonstrates “fear.” He was afraid that their change in direction (the phrase “you are observing” is in the present tense, which indicates that they were presently changing direction by adding calendar events which could have been a movement toward circumcision) demonstrated an extremely serious matter. It was a matter of life and death.
Should we as twenty-first-century followers of Jesus become fearful enough to speak out when our local ecclesia adds new laws and beliefs to worship? Do we become troubled when followers of Jesus put more emphasis on keeping a certain tradition rather than growing in their relationship with God through Jesus, empowered by the Spirit? Are we so sanitized that we don’t even recognize that additives-to-Jesus are being added daily and weekly to our faith? What are some of these additives? How about our view of salvation? It is common in the local ecclesia today (maybe even in your local ecclesia) that salvation means to make a mental ascent to a group of beliefs and that gets us a free pass to go to heaven. There is a total disconnect from life and lifestyle. We add “morality” to the Jesus mix. We often may say: “If you believe and ‘don’t do blank (fill in the blank),’” or “If you are truly worshiping God you will blank (fill in the blank).” When we do this we add “structure” to the Jesus mix. Isn’t it right to live a moral life? It truly is. But we have often defined morals around a Western way of thinking. We don’t need to strive to live a moral life because morals are an additive to the faith. Rather, morals are a part of the package of being “set apart” by God as his children so that we can minister to the world and be his true image-bearers. We are empowered by the Spirit to live out a moral life. The Galatians issue is not about morality or a form of salvation that we have made popular today. It is about becoming the people of God and how that influences our whole life. How does being the people of God influence the way we reflect on the problems of the world? How does being the people of God cause us to live with the power of the age to come in this present evil age as agents of the kingdom of God? Anytime a person or a group begins to bring additional stuff into the Jesus mix, they are faced with the same problems that the Galatians had. They became foolish for being led away from the gospel to a pseudo gospel that is powerless to bring any change into this present evil age.