Monthly Archives: June 2015

The Theme of Galatians — Justification (Galatians 2:15-21)

Having answered the Judaizers’ criticisms of his gospel (and of him) in Galatians 1:11-2:14, Paul presents in 2:15-21 the theme of the letter–justification by faith, anticipating his fuller consideration in chapters 3 and 4 of that central doctrine in Pauline (and Christian) theology.

Because the passage seems to be a continuation of Paul’s address to Peter that began in 2:14 (“If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”), some Bible versions carry the address on to the end of verse 16 or to the end of the chapter. However because of the passage’s content, I placed it at the beginning of the doctrinal section in the outline of Galatians which I provided in [Galatians — the Magna Carta of Christian Liberty]. If Paul wrote Galatians when he was at Antioch of Syria after his first missionary journey (I think he did, but many scholars think that he wrote it during his third missionary journey), the passage is Paul’s first systematic treatment of justification by faith.

15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. (ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV.)

The phrase “faith in Jesus Christ” is translated “the faith of Jesus Christ” in the King James Version and can also be translated “the faithfulness of Jesus Christ,” but it is translated “faith in Jesus Christ” in all the modern versions of the Bible that I consulted and I think that that rendition makes more sense in the context. Thus, Paul begins by observing that even believers of Jewish birth (such as Peter and himself) knew that justification is by faith in Jesus Christ and not by works of the law.

Justification is God’s act of declaring people righteous. It is His act of declaring, not of making people righteous, but ethical changes follow as a result of a person’s being justified by faith and indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
Faith in Jesus Christ is trust in the gospel message concerning Jesus Christ. Faith is the means by which justification is received, not its source, which is Jesus Christ.
Works of the law are deeds done in obedience to Mosaic law. Interpretations of what Paul meant by “works of the law” range from its referring only to those parts of Mosaic law setting Jews apart from others–circumcision, food laws, and Sabbath observance–to its including all good deeds. I think that he was referring to the law of Moses as a whole. However, I don’t think that he was opposed to the law itself, but to the legalistic use of the law as a way of winning favour with God.

Paul’s point seems to be that if the Jewish Christians realize that justification is by faith in Jesus Christ and not by works of the law, then they shouldn’t be trying to force “Gentile sinners” to submit to the law of Moses.

17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor.

Apparently, the criticism was made that attributing justification to faith alone would lead to believers abandoning moral standards and living licentiously. To the question of whether this made Christ a promoter of sin, Paul responds, “Certainly not!” (Because verse 17 is obscure, there are other quite different interpretations of it; for example, since being justified by faith involves abandoning the law and abandoning the law is sin, is Christ, for whom we abandoned the law, therefore the promoter of sin?) Rather, anyone who returns to the law after being justified by faith denies what Christ did for him and makes himself a sinner again.

19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Paul describes as dying to the law his abandoning the law as a means of obtaining acceptance by God. He observes that it was through the law itself that he died to it (he doesn’t explain the connection but possibly had in mind the idea of Galatians 3:19-25 or of Romans 7:4-6) and that his purpose in dying to the law was that he might live unto God. Paul could do this because God had so united him with Christ that he participated in Christ’s death to the law and resurrection to new life (compare Romans 6:4, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life”). Now Christ, through the Holy Spirit, lives in him so that he is not only justified but also morally and spiritually guided by Christ.

21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

Having answered the objections of the Judaizers, Paul states emphatically, “I do not nullify the grace of God,” implying that they were doing so. (Paul may be responding to an objection by them that he is nullifying the grace of God in His providing the law as a means of being accepted by Him). If people could be justified by observing the law, then there was no need for Christ to die on their behalf. However Christ did die on their behalf, and so they no longer had to observe the law to be justified. Indeed, if they insisted that it was necessary to observe the law to be justified, they nullified what Christ had done for them and he had died for nothing.

Paul doesn’t record how Peter responded to what Paul said to him. (His not doing so suggests that Peter didn’t give in to Paul’s rebuke. However, Peter’s address to the Jerusalem church afterwards [Acts 15:7-11] indicates that by that time he supported Paul’s position.) However, the important thing for us today is how we respond to it. Are you trying to mix law and grace as the Judaizers did, or are you trusting completely in what Jesus Christ did for your salvation?

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Paul’s Second Missionary Journey – 4. Paul’s Address in Athens (Acts 17:22-31)

In my last article in this series of articles on the life of Paul, I observed that those with whom Paul talked in the marketplace in Athens, which included some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, brought him to the Areopagus or hill of Ares, where the Athenian council met, and asked him to explain “this new teaching.” I described Paul’s response to them as “the prime example in Acts of preaching to the Gentiles.” In this article I’ll comment briefly on what he said to them.

Paul opened his address by saying, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious” (ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV). The Greek word for “religious” can be taken either positively (“pious”) or negatively (“superstitious”). Thus some commentators think that Paul was complimenting the Athenians and others think that he was criticizing them. More likely he was just making an observation to pave the way for his referring to the altar to the unknown god which he’d seen in the city, in preparation for his presenting the gospel to them.

23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, “To the unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for “In him we live and move and have our being”; as even some of your own poets have said, “For we are indeed his offspring.” 29 Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.

Paul’s beginning his address by referring to the altar to the unknown god rather than to Jewish history, as he had in his sermon in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:16-41), illustrates his starting where people were in presenting the gospel to them. Similarly he quoted from Greek writers in the address instead of quoting from Jewish scriptures as he had in his sermon in Antioch. His listeners didn’t likely know anything about Jewish history and scriptures but undoubtedly were familiar with their own religion and writings.

After referring to the altar to the unknown god, Paul told his listeners that he was going to tell them about that god, the one true God who made the world and everything in it and thus is Lord of heaven and earth. Perhaps gesturing toward the nearby temple to the Greek goddess Athena (known as the Parthenon, the temple was on the Acropolis, the highest hill in Athens), Paul declared that God doesn’t live in temples and doesn’t need to be served by priests and sacrifices because He is the source of life and breath and everything that we have.

Paul went on to claim that not only does God give human beings everything that they have but also He created all of them from one man (Adam) and determined when and where they would live. According to Calvin, God’s determining “allotted periods” and “boundaries of their dwelling place” means that “before men were brought into existence, He determined what their future circumstances would be [and] disposed the whole course of their life” (The Acts of the Apostles 14-28, translated by John W. Fraser, Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press, 1966, page 117). However in giving us free will God gave us a share in determining what will happen. Thus I understand Paul’s just to be asserting God’s sovereignty over His creation, not His eternal predestination of everything that would happen in it.

Paul then explained that God did this so that people would seek him. “That they might feel their way toward him and find him” suggests a groping about to try to find God without a certainty of finding Him. And yet, as Paul observed, God is actually not far from us. Paul supported his claims about God’s relationship with us with two quotations from Greek writings. “In him we live and move and have our being” comes from a poem to Zeus attributed to the Cretan poet Epimenides (sixth century B.C.), and “For we are indeed his offspring” comes from a poem to Zeus by the Cilician poet Aratus (third century B.C.). Zeus was the supreme god in Greek religion; the Romans equated him with their supreme god, Jupiter.

From our being God’s offspring, Paul concluded that idols of gold, silver, and stone made by us are unsuitable representations of Him. This concept wouldn’t be a new one to the philosophers who were questioning him, but it hit at Greek popular religion.

Having made his case against their idolatry, Paul presented the gospel to his listeners. After observing that in the past God had overlooked mankind’s ignorance of Him, he asserted that God was now commanding all people everywhere to repent, proclaiming that God “has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” This repentance would involve their turning from practicing idolatry to trusting in Jesus Christ and a corresponding change in their way of life.

On hearing this, some mocked and others expressed an interest in hearing more about this at another time. Paul then left them. Some men joined him and believed. Apparently there was no persecution nor was a strong church established.

Paul’s ministry in Athens is often described as a failure, with the suggestion being made that it would have been more effective if he’d been less intellectual. However, as I observed in my last article, I think that its relative lack of success just illustrates the difficulty of witnessing to intellectuals and I still admire Paul’s policy of becoming like those to whom he witnessed in order to win more of them (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).

Paul and the Leaders of the Church (Galatians 1:13-2:14)

In Galatians 1:1-10 Paul rebuked the Galatians for turning from the one who had called them to another gospel, that of the Judaizers (the Judaizers were Jewish Christians who told Gentile believers that they had to be circumcised and obey the Mosaic law, in addition to believing in Jesus Christ, to be saved). In Galatians 1:11-2:14 he tells them the story of his conversion and call and of his subsequent relationship with the Jerusalem apostles, his purpose being to validate the gospel that he had preached to the Galatians and to answer criticisms made of it (and of him) by the Judaizers.

In my last article I considered the thesis statement with which Paul opens Galatians 1:11-2:14, “For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:11-12, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV). In it Paul asserts to the Galatians that God was the source of the gospel which he preached, implying that they could rely on it (and on him) and thus should disregard the Judaizers’ criticism of it (and of him) and their claim that the Galatians needed to be circumcised and obey the Mosaic law, in addition to believing in Jesus Christ, to be saved. In this article I will explain how the autobiographical material in Galatians 1:13-2:14 supports that thesis statement.

Galatians 1:13-2:14 contains four parts, each of which I referred to recently in an article in my series of articles on the life of Paul.

Paul’s Conversion (1:13-17)

In Paul’s Conversion and Call I summarized and commented on Paul’s initial encounter with Jesus Christ when he was on his way to Damascus to arrest Jewish Christians there and its immediate aftermath as Luke describes them in Acts 9:1-25, 22:3-16, and 26:9-18. Here Paul emphasizes that God brought about and called him in that encounter and that he didn’t consult with anyone at the time.

15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone (ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV).

Paul’s First Jerusalem Visit and Other Travels (1:18-24)

In Paul’s Missing Years I summarized what Luke tells us in Acts 9:19-30 and 11:25-26 and Paul tells us here (and in 1:17) about the fourteen years between Paul’s conversion and his commission. It included time in Damascus, Arabia, Jerusalem, and the area in which he had grown up. Here Paul focuses on his limited contact with the apostles in Jerusalem and the churches in Judea in those years.

18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother…. 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ.

Paul’s Second Jerusalem Visit (2:1-10)

In Paul Commissioned I summarized what Luke tells us in Acts 11:27-30 and 12:25-13:3 and Paul tells us here about Paul and Barnabas’ meeting with the apostles in Jerusalem when they brought relief from Antioch to the church there. The Judaizers may have claimed that the meeting showed that Paul was subject to the Jerusalem church, but Paul shows that the church leaders recognized his ministry to the Gentiles.

2 I … set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain…. 6 … those … who seemed influential added nothing to me. 9 And when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.

The Incident at Antioch (2:11-14)

In The Incident at Antioch I summarized and commented on Paul’s account here of his confrontation at Antioch with Peter over his withdrawing from eating with Gentile believers when representatives of James visited Antioch. The Judaizers may have claimed that the confrontation showed that Paul was out of line with the Jerusalem church, but Paul argues that he was right in confronting Peter.

Apparently the Judaizers didn’t oppose Paul’s basic message of “Jesus Christ … crucified” (Galatians 3:1). What they opposed was the implication that he drew from it that Gentile believers were accepted by God apart from the law. Having answered their criticisms of his gospel (and of him) in 1:11-24, Paul presents in 2:15-21 the theme of Galatians–justification by faith.

Paul’s Second Missionary Journey – 3. Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens

In my last article in this series of articles on the life of Paul I described his visit to Philippi, which ended with the city’s magistrates asking him and Silas to leave it. After visiting and encouraging the believers, they took the main east-west Roman highway, the Via Egnatia, to Thessalonica, the capital and the largest and most prosperous city in the province of Macedonia and about 151 kilometers from Philippi. On the way they passed through Amphipolis and Apolonia, possibly spending a night in each of them but not doing any preaching in them because didn’t have a synagogue.

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Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-9)

On his first three Sabbath days in Thessalonica Paul spoke in the synagogue, where he “reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ'” (ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV). Notice what he focused on when preaching in the synagogue: (1) the necessity for the Christ or Messiah to suffer, an idea which they resisted even though it was found in the Old Testament (Psalm 22; Isaiah 53); (2) the necessity for him to rise from the dead; and (3) identification of Jesus as the Christ. Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined them. So did a great many God-fearing Greeks and some of the leading women. God-fearers were Gentiles who accepted the truth of the Jewish religion and had a loose connection with the synagogue without being circumcised and becoming full proselytes.

Although Luke doesn’t refer to it, Paul’s three weeks of preaching in the synagogue were probably followed by a purely Gentile mission. This is indicated by his settling down to his trade–tentmaking (Acts 18:3)–in order to not be a burden to the believers (1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-8) and by the Philippians’ sending him supplies at least twice while he was in Thessalonica (Philippians 4:16).

However the success of Paul and silas’ ministry brought trouble. Seeing supporters becoming Christians, the Jews became jealous and, recruiting some wicked men from the marketplace, formed a mob. They started a riot and attacked the house of Jason, the host of Paul and Silas, in order to bring them out to the crowd. Not finding them, they dragged Jason and other believers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.”

Disturbed by what they heard, the people and the city authorities required Jason and the other believers to give them money as security that there would be no more disturbances and probably that Paul and Silas would leave Thessalonica and not return. The believers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, 81 kilometers southwest of Thessalonica.

Berea (Acts 17:10-15)

After Paul and Silas arrived in Berea, they went as usual to the synagogue. The Jews there “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (leading Luke to describe them as more noble than the Jews in Thessalonica) with the result that many of them believed. So did a number of prominent Greek women and men.

When the Jews of Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the word of God in Berea, they came there and stirred up the crowds against him. The believers immediately sent Paul to the sea and accompanied him by sea or road (the text doesn’t specify which) to Athens. Luke observes that Silas and Timothy remained in Berea, meaning that Timothy, who had stayed in Philippi when Paul and Silas had left it, must have rejoined them in Berea. After bringing Paul to Athens, those escorting him returned to Berea, taking with them a command from Paul for Silas and Timothy to join him in Athens as soon as possible.

Athens (Acts 17:16-34)

While Paul was waiting for Silas and Timothy in Athens, he was deeply troubled on seeing that the city was full of statues of the Greek gods. Thus he began ministering without them, witnessing in the synagogue to the Jews and God-fearing Gentiles on the Sabbaths and in the marketplace to whose who happened to be there–Luke observes that “all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new”–on weekdays.

Among those with whom Paul talked in the marketplace were some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. Epicureanism and Stoicism were two of the most popular philosophies of the time; please ask in a comment on this post if you’d like me to summarize their beliefs. Some of them said about Paul, “What does this babbler wish to say?” and others said about him, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities.” Luke notes that they said the latter because Paul was preaching Jesus and the resurrection–apparently they thought that Paul viewed Jesus and Anastasis (“resurrection”) as gods.

Those with whom Paul talked brought him to the Areopagus or hill of Ares, where the Athenian council met, and asked him to explain “this new teaching.” Some scholars think that they brought Paul before the council itself and others that they just brought him to the place where the council held its meetings. Paul’s response to them is the prime example in Acts of preaching to the Gentiles and I’ll devote my next article in this series of articles on the life of Paul to it.

After interacting respectfully with some of their thought, Paul presented the gospel to them thus:

Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.

On hearing this, some mocked and others expressed an interest in hearing more about this at another time. Paul then left them. Some men joined him and believed. Apparently there was no persecution nor was a strong church established.

Paul’s ministry in Athens is often described as a failure, with the suggestion being made that it would have been more effective if he’d been less intellectual. However I think that its relative lack of success just illustrates the difficulty of witnessing to intellectuals. Thus I still admire Paul’s policy of becoming like those to whom he witnessed in order to win more of them (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).