Galatians: Free in Christ

02-09-2018Book ReviewKevin Perrotta

Greetings! Time at work, family obligations and commitments to friends may interfere with your desire to attend Bible study.  It is understandable. The pace of daily life is a green light with only rare glimpses of the red stop sign, but your friends and fellow parishioners at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Glendale invite you to come when you can. Welcome.

What is the trouble?

The apostle to the Gentiles, St. Paul, is writing in support of the new converts to Christianity in Galatia in Asia Minor. The time frame is 48-50 A.D. or 54-55 A.D., depending on the historical scholars consulted.  St. Paul’s epistle is highly charged with emotions and in many respects defensive. There is a problem, Judaizers. They threaten the work of St. Paul’s preaching and the proper instruction of the converts to the infant church in the region.

Legalists versus Spiritualists!

Who are the Judaizers? This is St. Paul’s term for false teachers of Christianity. It is not that St. Paul operates in prideful concern about his reputation or even about his mission of evangelization, but he reveals deep anguish regarding his conviction that the gospel message itself is being undermined. These Judaizers [Gal 2:14] follow St. Paul in his mission and in his wake, attempt to counter or reteach the Christian message in that Gentiles must show due diligence to Hebrew traditions by holding fast to Mosaic Law, including circumcision and dietary laws.

There is a struggle in the infant church. Somehow, there must be unity between the non-Jews or Gentiles and the Jewish followers of Jesus Christ. Many of the converted, Jewish born Christians still consider this belief in Jesus, the Christ, a sect within Judaism. It is a foreign and uncomfortable concept to abandon 1500 years of Hebrew legal teachings. The Law excludes Gentiles. Yet, when Saul, later Paul sees the light and hears the voice of Jesus, his conversion allows him to see that the message and teachings of this carpenter from Nazareth, this Messiah, is superior to the Law. Christ himself fulfills the Law. This Law includes not excludes the Gentiles.

Who are the Judaizers?

There is tension in the bourgeoning Christian community of Galatia. Opponents of Paul challenge his apostolic authority. The definition of full Christian membership must include the necessity of upholding Mosaic Law. The Judaizers reject the teaching “in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love” [Gal 5:6]. The demands of the Old Testament are to be upheld. This attitude gains traction. St. Paul’s opponents insist his teachings are a dangerous heresy; Christ did not repeal the law. Salvation is available to the Gentiles only if they first become Jews and submit to circumcision and the law.
Biblical scholars have long speculated as to a more specific identity of these Pauline challengers. Did these men teach this legalistic necessity as an unconditional aspect of the gospel or merely as necessary for those who seek Christian perfection? Some theorists suggest that these disturbers are not Jews at all but Gentile converts whose zeal reveals that Judaism is a necessary part of the gospel. Are the Judaizers a branch of the larger Judaizing movement mentioned in AA 15? Most scholars agree with this probability. Whatever their identity in fact, Paul feels compelled to answer their criticisms.

So what is wrong with Saul of Tarsus, now called Paul?

The Judaizers claim that St. Paul is not a real apostle. He had not seen Jesus nor traveled with him among the twelve. He received no mission from Jesus; he is merely an agent of the original twelve apostles from whom he learned the faith and on whom he is dependent. St. Paul’s attackers view themselves as preachers defending the only genuine Christianity, the gospel proclaimed in Jerusalem.

St. Paul counter attacks. He declares his direct and miraculous commissioning by Christ himself. He repeats the amazing account of his conversion and the suffering and revelation that followed. He asserts the divine origin of his authority and doctrine as well as his call to preaching [Gal 1:11-17 and Gal 1:18-24].

Almighty God uses all things to reveal His will.

The stony pathway to Christian unity and eventual separation from Judaism begins with St. Paul. For the first time in his letters to the Galatians, St. Paul works out Christ’s message of liberation. What is the heart of St. Paul’s argument? Faith in Jesus Christ and not the observation of Jewish Law provides salvation.

No one is justified before God by the Law; rather, the Law convicts man of sin. So what is the role of Mosaic Law? The Law is a preparation for salvation, and salvation comes not from papyrus scrolls, but from the sacrificial actions of Jesus Christ. During humanity’s spiritual wandering, the Law is our temporary custodian, but upon our baptism, we are heirs with Christ to the Kingdom of Heaven.  Christ redeems his people from the weight and slavery of the Law. We are free in Christ. St. Paul writes in his Galatian epistle, “God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children”[Gal 4:4-5].