Tag Archives: Galatians

The Main Message of Galatians

Monday, February 15

6:22 AM The main takeaway I got from reading Galatians over the weekend? It’s much easier to be saved than to act saved. It takes very little effort to sound spiritual. But being spiritual? That’s another story. And just what does a saved person sound like? Well, there’s Tommy Theologian — you know, the guy who’s always talking about Calvinism and expository preaching and historic premillennialism and agape love. Being saved is all about what you know. John Stott used to call people like this “tadpoles” — all head and very little body. Then there’s Pat Popular, with his “Praise Gawd” outbursts and holy “Amens!” In Galatians 5-6, Paul offers us a better definition of “saved.” He is adamant that Christians show their faith by good (and not evil) living. His list of vices in 5:19-21 is hardly arbitrary. You can see this in my translation:

The opposite is also true: Paul’s nine-fold “fruit of the Spirit” goes from descriptions of the mind to human relationships to principles that guide one’s conduct. The word “love” controls it all. At some point, we need to unplug from today’s propaganda machine that bombards us with the three-letter word “Get!” It is the nature of God to give rather than get. And born-again Christians share that nature. But is the life Paul is describing really possible? He seemed to think so. That’s what grace is all about. We have received the opposite of what we deserved. Now it’s our turn to pass that grace on to others. We do this through love.

What is love? Read 1 Cor. 13. Or Rom. 12:9-21. Or Gal. 5:22-23. Then try writing a few practical applications of your own. For example, you might say, “Love is the kindness my son showed me when I needed my tractor fixed.” Or, “Love is the kindness I showed when I brought him and his family lunch the other day.” Love is ______. You fill in the blank. On a day-to-day basis, I’m more struck by the little deeds I see in others than their intellectual prowess or their spiritual boisterousness. When I look in the mirror each morning, I think, “Lord, you actually love this person.” Indeed he does. He’s got big dreams for me. For you as well. And he can spot a cover-up a mile away.

P.S. You may have noticed in my rendering of Gal. 5:19-21 the couplet “envious and murderous.” The word “murderous” isn’t found in some Greek manuscripts. I’ve argued for its originality here.

This, to me, is a clear-cut case of an accidental omission due to a mistake of the eye. Alas, the Alexandrian Priority position is so entrenched in New Testament studies today that scarcely any attention is paid to the longer reading. My friend Keith Elliott used to call this “The hypnotic effect of Aleph and B.” I’m glad to know I’m not the only one concerned about that. I guess that’s why I write books and compose essays and produce power points on the subject of textual criticism. The only way to know for sure whether or not “murderous” is original to examine the evidence for yourself.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)

Commentary on Galatians

Sunday, February 14

6:50 AM I’ve always enjoyed reading the Word Biblical Commentaries. Sure, some volumes are better than others, but Richard Longenecker on Galatians is one of the best. Longenecker, who turns 91 in July, is probably best known for his commentary on Romans in the Eerdmans NIGTC series. But his Galatians commentary is its equal in every way.

In reading a commentary, I always start with the author’s preface. It usually tells you everything you need to know about the book you hold in your hands — the author’s approach, why he felt he was justified in writing it and adding to the already bloated publication scene, his presuppositions, etc. Since we are in Galatians this week in NT 2, I thought I’d reread Longenecker’s preface to his Galatians commentary. What shocked me was how he and I think alike in so many ways.

First, he says he is “always concerned with the history of interpretation — that is, with how a subject has been treated in the past ….”

Second, he wants “to know as much as possible about the circumstances behind the writing and the purposes for which its author wrote.”

Third, he approaches the letter “asking about its literary structures….”

Fourth, he is “concerned with the meaning of words in a text, both as to how particular expressions were used in the day and as to how a given author shaped those expressions for his own purposes.”

Fifth, he is concerned with “the identification and tracing of similar themes and parallel ways of looking at things in roughly cognate bodies of literature with the hope of spawning fresh interpretive insights.

Sixth, he is interested in “the development of thought in the apostolic period and beyond.”

Finally, he considers “the relevance of the NT for Christian faith and life today.”

All I can say is, “Ditto.”

First, I am addicted to what in Europe is called Dogmengeschichte — the history of doctrine. In fact, in Basel there’s an entire department devoted to this subdiscipline. Last week in my NT 1 class, during our discussion of the Synoptic Problem, I spent a considerable amount of time talking about the historical origins of the Markan Priority Hypothesis, my point being that no theory arises in a historical vacuum. Indeed, when one understands the origins of that hypothesis, I believe a case can be made that, from the very beginning, it was a false start, as I try to point out in my book Why Four Gospels?

Second, with Longenecker, I like to approach every New Testament writing as an occasional document — not just the epistles, but the Gospels as well. I assert that the Gospel According to Matthew is a manifesto asserting the right of the Jewish Christian church to exist alongside of and apart from Judaism. It likely originated in Palestine within 10 years of the resurrection and was necessitated by the calumnies being proffered by the Jewish opponents of Jesus. Luke, on the other hand, is a manifesto asserting the right of the Gentile Christian church to exist alongside of and as complete equals to the Jewish Christian church. Hence Matthew is the Gospel of Acts 1-12, while Luke is the Gospel of Acts 13-28. Of course, my historical reconstruction may be totally off. You’ll have to read the fathers for yourself to judge that.

Third, what isn’t there to love about the literary structure of the book you’re studying? Longenecker sees a twofold division in Galatians: a Rebuke Section and a Request Section. My own outline differs from that a bit. But without at least discussing the structure of a writing (its forest, if you will), there’s really no point in looking at the trees and the tiny saps.

Fourth, I find no little pleasure in doing lexical analysis in texts and asking how the author employs those lexemes to accomplish his goal in writing. A good example is the lexeme pherĊ in Heb. 6:1, a nautical metaphor that seems to have been missed by a good number of commentators (David Allen being a notable exception in the NAC series).

Fifth, parallels have always enchanted me. In fact, when we’re studying Galatians, it will be helpful to ask how Paul has pursued the same or similar themes elsewhere in his writings (Romans, for example). When I did my orals in Basel, one of my assigned topics was Paul’s letter to the Philippians. I prepared diligently. During the exam, however, nothing was asked about Philippians specifically. Instead, a question might have gone something like this: “In Phil. 1:19, Paul speaks of suffering as the rule, not the exception, of Christian living. Where else in his letters does he develop the same theme?” My Ph.D. students know that I’ll occasionally do the same thing with them.

Sixth, apostolic history forms the basis for several of my writings, including my book Seven Marks of a New Testament Church, where I take a close look at apostolic history to see what a New Testament church looks like.

Finally, if you take God seriously, you have to take the life lessons of the New Testament documents seriously as well. The New Testament wasn’t given for our information but for our transformation. Exasperating as it can be, applying the text is a must. The only hitch is that you must cock an ear to the Bible and, above the humdrum of life, listen for the gentle whisper calling your name.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by Permission.)

Paul’s Magna Carta of Christian Liberty

(July 4, 2020) 8:15 AM Good morning, and Happy Independence Day! What better way to spend the morning than by reading and meditating upon Paul’s Magna Carta of Christian Liberty, the book of Galatians! My study focused on the letter’s second paragraph, namely 1:6-10. This morning I chose as my base English text the Good News Bible, comparing it carefully it with my Greek New Testament.

I was again reminded of just how difficult it is to translate from one language into another. Choices, choices, choices! The GNB’s “I am surprised” could have also been rendered “I am shocked” or “I am amazed.” The GNB’s “you are deserting” could have also been rendered “you are turning away from” or “you are transferring your allegiance from.” The GNB’s “there are some people who are upsetting you” could have also been rendered “there are some people who are agitating you” or “there are some people who are troubling you.” The GNB’s “trying to change the gospel of Christ” could have also been rendered “trying to pervert the gospel of Christ” or even “trying to reverse the gospel of Christ.” The GNB’s “may he be condemned to hell” could have also been rendered “may he be accursed” or even “may he be anathema.”

The list goes on and on. How does one decide which meaning is correct or best suits the context? That, alas, is the question of the ages for anyone seeking to exegete a biblical text! That’s how this works, ladies and gentlemen, that’s how this works. You labor and struggle and ponder and compare and review options until you come to your own understanding of what this or that passage is actually saying. That said, Paul’s point here is clear:

To turn away from Christ and embrace another gospel is to desert the only true gospel. We cannot finish, by our obedience, what Christ has begun. We cannot add our works to the work of Christ. Salvation is by grace alone. To add human works to the finished work of Christ is to introduce confusion and error into the church. But God will not stand for that. The Greek word translated “accursed” is anathema. Paul wants God’s eternal judgment to fall upon the false teachers. Why, to imply that Christ’s work was somehow incomplete is to make his cross redundant! There’s only one gospel and it must be kept pure at any cost. This is the message of Galatians in a nutshell.

Friend, whenever I think of Christianity as a set of external actions, as a way I have to look or act, I tend to fall into the trap of legalism. But I can’t push and shove my way closer to God. True spirituality isn’t primarily a matter of works and human willpower. It is all God’s grace. He simply draws us to himself and we’re overcome by a sense of awe and reverence, gratitude and humility. Legalism, on the other hand, is a game nobody ever wins.

I don’t know why I’ll telling you this, dear reader. Nothing I just wrote is new to any of you. I think Gal. 1:6-10 just reminds me of how Paul seems to be saying, “Dave, on this Fourth of July, do not forget what was purchased for you on the cross of Calvary. Stand fast in that liberty from both legalism and license by which Christ has set you free. God did not pay such a price merely to shine you up a bit and add his righteousness to your own. It is by God’s grace, his unmerited favor, that you are saved. As you live looking to him for every need of body, mind, and spirit, enjoy the freedom from fear and worry and all the evils that would enslave you.” I think it was Phillips Brooks who said, “Grace stands for Great Redemption at Christ’s Expense.” Whoever it was, that’s what it is.

Independence Day is a beautiful day for the people of the USA. Let us celebrate every year with grateful hearts, beautiful fireworks, and food aplenty. Happy Fourth of July!

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)