July 7, 2006

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

St. Paul: His Letter to the Galatians

Paul’s disagreements with the leaders of the Church in Antioch made it impossible for him to remain there.

In the spring of the year 52, therefore, when snow in the Taurus mountains had melted enough, Paul left Antioch and headed for Ephesus, where he had left Aquila and Priscilla. On the way, he stopped in Galatia, the first time he had been there in four years. All seemed to be well there.

He reached Ephesus—which was to be his base for the next two years and three months—at the end of the summer. He found Aquila and Priscilla, and moved in with them.

From them, he learned about Apollos, a converted intellectual Jew from Alexandria who had been in Ephesus, but recently had moved on to Corinth. Although he was undoubtedly glad to have assistance, Paul probably had some normal foreboding about what Apollos might do in Corinth.

Paul used his base at Ephesus to send missionaries to other cities—probably to all of the seven churches mentioned in Revelation since they were all within a 120-mile radius of Ephesus.

In the late spring or early summer of 53, Paul got disturbing news. He learned that a delegation from the Church in Antioch was determined to convince Paul’s communities that they had to be circumcised and follow the Jewish laws. The delegation had gone to Galatia, and then was going to the churches in Philippi, Thessalonica and Corinth. These were what Paul called the Judaizers, who would continue to be a problem.

They attempted to discredit Paul, telling the communities that he represented no one but himself and certainly not the original and true Apostles in Jerusalem.

Then they taught about Abraham and God’s promises to the Jews. They acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah, but insisted that his importance lay only in the fact that the salvation promised to the Jews was now available also to the Gentiles.

This called for immediate action! Paul dashed off his Letter to the Galatians, focusing on the Judaizers. It’s a masterpiece of rhetorical ability and literary skill.

Paul first asserted that his commission came directly from Jesus Christ, not from the church in Jerusalem or Antioch.

Indeed, he had been in Jerusalem only twice. The first time was to make sure he and the leaders of the Church there agreed on “the truth of the gospel.” The second time was when the decision was made that Gentiles did not have to become Jews.

He then focused on Abraham’s faith, which he said was fundamental—not the law. He also said the promise to Abraham was to him and his descendant—in the singular. This reference, he said, was to Christ.

It was a forceful letter. Paul minced no words, saying, “O stupid Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” Then he reiterated what he had taught them about the unique importance of Christ and his redemptive sacrifice on the cross.

He said that faith in Christ, not following the Jewish law or submitting to circumcision, was sufficient to gain eternal life. †


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