Hello! Yesterday I mentioned that Galatians is one of the strongest theological books in the canon and today you will find out why. However, Galatians can also come across as super anti-Jewish, or specifically, anti-law. So, scholars of the Bible that have intentionally and respectfully read the entire Bible up until this point please do your best to resist any anti-Semitic feelings that rise upon reading this today. As a reminder - the Old Testament was not replace by the New Testament and that Paul was a Jew himself. With that said let's dive into one of the best examples a theological argument with today's reading.
Scripture to Read
Questions to Consider
What do you consider more important - faith or the law? What happens if you go too far in one way over the other?
Do you agree that the law should be abolished now that Jesus has come? Why or why not?
What is your reaction to the famous line of "there is no greek or jew, male or female, free or slave but only in Christ?"
- Commentary -
The following is a paraphrase from the New Interpreters Bible.
It's extremely important to read Galatians 3 in its entirety as one singular argument otherwise it loses its punch. Throughout this richly textured argument Paul developed a number of themes that can stimulate fundamental theological reflection.
The Source of our Identity: Our identity is given to us through our union with Christ as a result of baptism. This is both were we get the idea of "born again" to suggest that whoever we were before baptism is disregarded as we now "put on Christ" in our baptisms. For those with troubled pasts this is a gift, but for those who have lived a blissful life this is less meaningful or even troubling to think of. For Paul this lays the foundation for his argument about whether or not the Galatians would need to be baptized. He (passionately) argues that those things and customs of the past are a waste of time because we now have a new life with new traditions through Christ.
The Meaning of Faith: Galatians was Martin Luther's favorite epistle because he saw in it a compelling expression of the doctrine of justification by faith alone. When we speak of "faith" as a central theme of this letter, however, we must observe carefully how Paul actually uses this concept. The root meaning of pistis is "trust." Abraham is the paradigm of faith because he trusted in God's promise. Abraham's faith was not a matter of believing a list of propositions or a system of doctrines about God; rather, it was a matter of primal trust in the bare, direct promise of God to bless him and give him a great nation. Therefore for modern Christians we are called into relationship with God (as any relationship is built upon trust) and not blind devotion to doctrine, creed, or discipline.
Christ Has Liberated Us from Captivity: It is noteworthy that Paul says nothing at all in Galatians 3 about "forgiveness of sins." The effect of Christ's death is described not in terms of forgiveness but in terms of liberation. He reinforces this image through the exile of Israel and in the general captivity sin holds humans in. Paul's argument of liberation is probably the farthest from his jewishing upbringing (and this is shocking on its own as this was one of the earliest letters of Paul) as he suggests that the coming "day of the Lord" will not the Jewish expected day where the law will upheld and honored by all in the world. Instead, Paul argues that the law will be abolished and with it the consigned blessings and curses that come with following (or not) the law. Instead, the freedom that Christ gives is a community that lives under the Spirit.
The Spirit as God's Promised Blessing: Closely related is the fact that promised blessing given in the new covenant through Christ is the "promise of the Spirit" (3:14) The inheritance now given to the community of Jews and Gentiles in Christ is redefined in terms of the presence of the Spirit that makes the more and assures their status as God's children.
The Law's Place in the Christian Story: Galatians is not shockingly considered the most "anti-law" letter in all the canon and probably the most harsh on all of the Old Testament (and the Jewish faith for that matter) as Paul gets so close to outright rejecting the law entirely. But, he doesn't and we need to remember that. Paul is not denying that God gave the law; rather, he is resisting the demand that Gentile converts be forced to come under the Law's requirement of circumcision. Everything that Paul says in this letter must be interpreted within the framework of this very specific situation and question. The problem for modern readers is that we don't have the original letter that Paul is replying to here. It would be like being copied on a huge email chain at the last email but not having access to the chain before this and trying to guess what people are talking about. The problem with the removal of the law from the Christian community is that without specific "do's" and "don'ts" regulated by the Torah and are only held accountable to a "Life in the Spirit" raises its own problems which Paul will address later on in this letter. Finally, the law is not a preamble to Christ - Paul did not believe that and modern christians should reject such thinking. The Old Testament is not replaced by the new. The law does not lead us to Christ; rather, Christ came to us in our imprisonment. The difference is crucial for Christians.
New Creation: Unity in Christ Transforms Social Divisions. The famous line of Paul's that there is no longer slave or free, Jew or Gentile, male or female is one of the few clear examples of a social justice references from Paul. When read in context that Paul is arguing with missionaries who were preaching the opposite of Paul's claims we can recognize that any modern conventions that believe in any type of separation or disbarment from Christ's church were analogous to the missionaries that Paul was actively resisting.
Whew, lots to say for just this single chapter of Galatians. This is what I mean when I say that Galatians features some of the richest theological discernment of any book in the Bible. What sticks out to you?
Praying the Hymns
Our prayer for today is inspired by hymn 316 - He Rose. Despite this being an African Spiritual hymn I could not find a single video of a person of color singing it. So, I share this video as its the only one I could find. However, this is fitting for our reading today as it shows there isn't "White" or "black" hymns of praise....just hymns of praise. So all people together join in giving glory to Christ.
1 They crucified my Savior and nailed him to the tree, they crucified my Savior and nailed him to the tree, they crucified my Savior and nailed him to the tree and the Lord will bear my spirit home.
Refrain: He rose, he rose, he rose from the dead! He rose, he rose, he rose from the dead! He rose, he rose, he rose from the dead, and the Lord will bear my spirit home.
2 Then Joseph begged his body and laid it in the tomb, then Joseph begged his body and laid it in the tomb, then Joseph begged his body, a nd laid it in the tomb, and the Lord will bear my spirit home. (Refrain)
3 Sister Mary she came running, a-looking for my Lord, Sister Mary she came running, a-looking for my Lord, Sister Mary she came running, a-looking for my Lord, and the Lord will bear my spirit home.
4 An angel came from heaven and rolled the stone away, an angel came from heaven and rolled the stone away, an angel came from heaven and rolled the stone away, and the Lord will bear my spirit home. (Refrain)