Monthly Archives: June 2016

Christian Freedom (Galatians 5:1-12)

Paul wrote his letter to the churches of Galatia because they were listening to people who told them that to be saved they had to be circumcised and obey the law of Moses in addition to believing in Jesus Christ. He asserted that Jesus Christ himself had called him to be an apostle to the Gentiles and revealed to him the gospel that he preached to them–that they were saved by faith in Jesus Christ and not by works of the law–and thus that their listening to the Judaizers (the name we give to the false teachers) was actually a deserting of the gospel rather than an assuring of it. With this passage he prepares for the conclusion to the letter in which he will demonstrate that the believers’ liberty doesn’t lead to license, as his opponents probably charged, but to holiness before God through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV)

Although ultimately Jesus Christ came to set us free from sin and death, here “for freedom Christ has set us free” refers to his setting us free from the observances of the law which the Judaizers had told the Galatians were necessary for salvation. Paul exhorts the Galatians to “stand firm” in this freedom and not submit again to a “yoke of slavery.” “Stand firm” has a military flavor, indicating that they should hold their position and not let the enemy encroach on their territory. By “a yoke of slavery” Paul means the yoke of the law, which was viewed by Jews (and the Judaizers) as good but by Paul as slavery. Although the Galatians had not been under the law, they had been subject to “the elementary principles of the world” (4:3) or paganism (4:8-9).

2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

The Galatians may have thought that their being circumcised wouldn’t mean much, but Paul warns them that accepting it would mean acknowledging that the law was necessary for salvation, which would place them under obligation to keep the whole law perfectly. By “again” Paul may be reminding them of what he had said in 3:10, “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.” (James agrees, saying in James 2:10, “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.”)

Moreover, they would be “severed from Christ [and] fallen away from grace” because they would be placing their trust in the law instead of in Christ’s provision for their salvation. Instead of trying to become righteous through their own efforts, they should be waiting through the Holy Spirit and by faith for the righteousness which would be theirs when they go to be with the Lord (Hebrews 12:23). (An alternate interpretation of “the hope of righteousness” is that it refers to God’s declaration that the believer will be judged righteous at the final judgment.)

If the Galatians were to be circumcised and thus “severed from Christ [and] fallen away from grace,” would they lose their salvation? Those who believe that a person cannot lose his or her salvation point to such passages as Romans 8:38-39, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord,” and argue that the Galatians who accepted circumcision must never have been fully committed to Christ and thus had never experienced salvation. Those who believe that a person can lose his or her salvation point to such passages as Hebrews 6:4-6, “For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt,” and claim that the Galatians who were circumcised showed that they had lost their faith in Christ and thus forfeited their salvation. Personally I believe that Christians can apostatize and thus lose their salvation but am uncertain whether the Galatians’ acceptance of circumcision would constitute apostasy.

“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love” makes it clear that Paul isn’t opposed to circumcision itself but only to it when it is required for salvation. Later he had Timothy circumcised to avoid offending the Jews (Acts 16:3) and told the Corinthians, “Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God” (1 Corinthians 7:18-19). Here he says that the only thing that is required for salvation is “faith working through love.”

7 You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? 8 This persuasion is not from him who calls you. 9 A little leaven leavens the whole lump. 10 I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view than mine, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. 11 But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. 12 I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!

Paul seems to have been fond of using athletic imagery to describe the Christian life (see 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Galatians 2:2; Philippians 2:16, 3:13-14; and 2 Timothy 4:7). The Galatians had begun the race well, but someone had cut in front of them, keeping them from obeying the truth. Paul asks rhetorically, “Who hindered you?” and then declares that it wasn’t “him who calls you,” by whom he could mean as in 1:6 (”I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel”) either Paul himself or God. The obvious answer to the question is the Judaizers, but Paul may be suggesting that just as God was behind Paul’s calling the Galatians Satan was behind the Judaizers’ hindering them.

When “leaven” is used as a symbol in the Bible, it indicates evil or corruption (except in Matthew 13:33). Here it refers to the false teaching, which like leaven or yeast grows and affects what it is part of. Paul could mean either that the Galatians accepting circumcision could lead to their accepting more of Judaism or that their accepting it could lead to other churches accepting it. However Paul is confident that the Galatians will return to what he had taught them and that the Judaizers will suffer God’s judgment.

“[I]f I…still preach circumcision” suggests that the false teachers had told the Galatians that Paul was still advocating circumcision as he had before his conversion. They may have based their claim on Paul’s expressing the view that he states here in verse 6, “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything”; or on his following the policy that he later described to the Corinthians, “To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law” (1 Corinthians 9:20); or even on his allowing Jewish converts to circumcise their sons as he later had Timothy, whose mother was Jewish, circumcised(Acts 16:3).

“But,” Paul asks, “if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed.” “[T]he offense of the cross” is generally explained by the claim of Deuteronomy 21:23, which Paul quotes in Galatians 3:13, “a hanged man is cursed by God.” However it might be that here Paul has a different idea in mind. “[T]he cross provokes offense…because it stands for the way of salvation by grace through faith in the atoning death of the crucified One, apart from circumcision and the law, over against the way of salvation by legal works” (Ronald Y. K. Fung, The Epistle to the Galatians in The New International Commentary on the New Testament, Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988, pages 240-41). Paul implies that if he were preaching circumcision the offense of the cross would be removed and he wouldn’t be persecuted and concludes that since he is being persecuted the claim that he preaches circumcision must be false.

Paul’s wishing that the Judaizers would go all the way and “[castrate] themselves” may sound coarse but expresses well Paul’s concern for the truth of the gospel.


Hagar and Sarah (Galatians 4:21-31)

Paul wrote his letter to the churches of Galatia because they were listening to people whom we call Judaizers who told them that to be saved they had to be circumcised and obey the law of Moses in addition to believing in Jesus Christ. Paul responded by arguing that both Jews and Gentiles are justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law and that the Galatians’ listening to the Judaizers was actually a deserting of the gospel (and of Paul, who had presented it to them) rather than an assuring of it. In our consideration of the letter we’ve reached 4:21-31, in which Paul uses the Old Testament account of Abraham’s two wives and two sons to illustrate his argument. I’ll divide the passage into three parts in considering it: the story (verses 21-23), the interpretation (verses 24-29), and the application (verses 30-31).

The Story

Paul opens with an appeal to those wanting to live according to the law (the Mosaic law) to listen to what the law (the book of the law) actually says: “Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law?” (ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV; references aren’t given for quotations from the passage which we’re considering, Galatians 4:21-31).

Paul then refers to the account of Abraham’s two wives and two sons given in Genesis 16-17 and 21. Because Sarah hadn’t borne Abraham any children, she proposed that he take her servant, Hagar, as a second wife. He did so and Hagar bore him a son, Ishmael. Later God appeared to Abraham and told him that He was going to give him a son, Isaac, by Sarah and that He would establish a covenant with Isaac rather than with Ishmael. As God had promised, Isaac was born. At the party celebrating Isaac’s being weaned, Sarah saw Ishmael laughing at Issac and demanded that Abraham cast out Hagar and Ishmael. He did so.

Paul makes these contrasts between Ishmael and Issac:
– Ishmael was born of a slave woman, Hagar. but Isaac was born of a free woman, Sarah.
– Ishmael was born “according to the flesh” (in the ordinary course of nature) when Abraham and Sarah took matters into their own hands by having a child through Hagar, but Isaac was born “through promise” when God fulfilled his promise to Abraham that He would miraculously give him a son through Sarah.

The Interpretation

Paul asserts that Hagar and Sarah represent two covenants that God made with His people:
– Hagar represents the covenant between God and Israel made at Mount Sinai in Arabia. Just as the descendants of Hagar were slaves because she was a slave, the Israelites became slaves to obey the law when they entered into the covenant at Mount Sinai.
– Sarah represents another covenant which Paul doesn’t identify. Some commentators identify it with the new covenant of Jeremiah 31:31-34 (quoted in Hebrews 8:8-12) and others identify it with the promises made by God to Abraham in Genesis 17 and earlier (see Galatians 3:15). However, as Douglas J. Moo points out, “if we do identify this second covenant as the Abrahamic covenant, we must also follow Paul’s lead and speak of the Abrahamic covenant as christologically defined” (Galatians in Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Publishing Group, 2013, page 301). Just as the descendants of Sarah were free because she was free, Christians are free because of their acceptance of what Jesus did for them on the cross.

Perhaps because the Judaizers stressed their relationship with the Jerusalem church, Paul brings Jerusalem into his presentation. He connects it with Sinai because of the importance of each in Judaism, Sinai’s being where it originated and Jerusalem’s being where it was currently centered. He contrasts “the present Jerusalem” and “the Jerusalem above.” “The present Jerusalem” corresponds to Hagar because it and its children (the Jews) are slaves (to the law) as she was, but “the Jerusalem above” (the one in which Christ reigns and Christians are the citizens) corresponds to Sarah because like her it is free and our mother.

Paul goes on to observe that just as Ishmael persecuted Isaac (not described as such in the Old Testament account but suggested by Genesis 21:9), Christians were being persecuted by the Judaizers. Some commentators treat this (verses 28-29) as application rather than interpretation.

Before my study of Galatians 4:21-31 in preparing this post, I was skeptical over how much meaning the account of Hagar and Sarah in Genesis and Paul’s interpretation of it would have had for the Gentile Christians whom he was addressing. However reading the speculation by various commentators that Paul was reacting to a claim by the Judaizers–that the Jews were children of the free woman and the Gentiles of the slave woman, and thus that the Gentile Christians of Galatia could only be recognized as sons of Abraham by being circumcised–made his including the passage in his letter to the Galatians reasonable.

The Application

Just as Abraham cast out Hagar and her son, the Galatians should have nothing to do with the Judaizers and those who accepted their message “for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” This implies that we should reject not only legalism but also those who teach it.

Paul concludes: “So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.” We are not under the law but live by faith in Jesus Christ.

Paul after Acts

The Biblical account of the Paul’s life ends with him in Rome: “He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:30-31, ESV). Some think that he was then tried and executed but that Luke didn’t record those events because he wanted to end Acts on a triumphant note.

However writing from prison Paul told the church in Philippi and Philemon in Colossae that he hoped to visit them soon (Philippians 2:24; Philemon 22), and so he must have expected to be released. Also some of the details given in Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus don’t fit into the account of his life given in Acts and suggest that he returned to Crete, Asia Minor (Turkey), and Greece after that account. Moreover tradition indicates that he visited Spain.

Here I’ll summarize what is known and surmised about Paul’s life after his stay in Rome described in the book of Acts. My main sources are “Paul’s Fourth Missionary Journey,” NIV Study Bible, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2011, pages 2028-29) and The Fourth Missionary Journey: What Happened to Paul after Acts? at The Good Book Blog, the faculty blog of Talbot School of Theology at Biola University.

After being under house arrest in Rome for two years, Paul was released, possibly after appearing before Nero in fulfillment of the promise made to him in a vision by an angel that he would stand before Caesar (Acts 27:24). Both of the sources referred to above speculate that on Paul’s release he visited Spain. In his letter to the Romans written about five years earlier, he’d expressed his intention to visit Rome and Spain after delivering a gift from the churches in Greece to the church in Jerusalem (Romans 15:23-29). As well Clement, writing about A.D. 96, described Paul as “reaching the limits of the West” (1 Clement 5:7), probably referring to a place west of where Clement was (Rome). Paul likely stayed some time in Spain preaching and teaching.

Perhaps on his return from Spain Paul sailed to the island of Crete, where he ministered with Titus. However he didn’t stay long enough to follow his usual practice of appointing elders in the churches and left Titus to do so, reminding him of this in Titus 1:5, “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you” (ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV).

Subsequently Paul visited Miletus, Colossae, and Ephesus in Asia Minor. Some passages indicating or suggesting that he visited them are:

I left Trophimus, who was ill, at Miletus (2 Timothy 4:20).
At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you (Philemon 22; written during Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome, to Philemon, master of Onesimus, who according to Colossians 4:9 lived in Colossae).
As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith (1 Timothy 1:3).

On his way from Ephesus to Macedonia (the northern part of Greece), Paul passed through Troas, where he left his cloak and parchments with Carpus (2 Timothy 4:13). In Macedonia he probably visited the churches in Philippi (fulfilling the wish that he’d expressed in Philippians 2:24), Thessalonica, and Berea, which he’d established on his second missionary journey. From there he went on to Corinth, where he left Erastus (2 Timothy 4:20), and headed for Nicopolis, the port city on the west coast of Greece where he planned to spend the winter (Titus 3:12).

However either on his way to Nicopolis or shortly after arriving there, Paul was arrested and imprisoned in Rome again. His asking Timothy to bring his cloak and to try to get to him before winter (2 Timothy 4:13, 21) suggests that he was imprisoned just before winter set in. This time he was not in his own rented house but probably in “the dank, gloomy chamber of horrors then called the Mamertine Prison” (Charles Swindoll, Paul: A Man of Grace and Grit, Nashville, Tennessee: W Publishing Group, 2002, page 316). And this time he wasn’t released but instead was executed by beheading.

As F. F. Bruce observes in his outstanding portrayal of the life of Paul (Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1977, page 446), Paul’s last words have been preserved in 2 Timothy 4:6-8:

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

Paul in Rome

Although the Roman governor, Festus, couldn’t find anything wrong with him, Paul feared that Festus might turn him over to the Jews to do them a favour and appealed to have his case heard before the emperor, which was his right as a Roman citizen. Unfortunately the ship on which Paul and other prisoners were being taken to Rome was wrecked off the small island of Malta, but fortunately they along with the soldiers guarding them and the crew of the ship were all able to get to shore safely.

In this article I’ll consider Luke’s record in Acts 28:11-31 of Paul’s journey from Malta to Rome and of the first two years of his stay there. I’ll divide my account into four sections: Paul’s journey to and arrival at Rome, his first meeting with the leaders of the Jews, his second meeting with them, and his life in Rome. In my next article, the last in this series on the life of Paul, I’ll summarize what is known and surmised about Paul’s life after his initial stay in Rome.

Paul’s Journey to and Arrival in Rome

After three months in Malta, its now being safe to navigate the Mediterranean Sea (and thus probably mid February), Paul and those with him set sail for Italy in a ship that had wintered in the island. Like the ship which had been shipwrecked the ship was from Alexandria in Egypt, and probably it was also a grain ship. They put in at Syracuse at the eastern end of the Sicily, the large island southeast of Italy, and stayed there three days. From there they went on to Rhegium on the southern tip of Italy and, when a south wind sprang up a day later, to Puteoli on the Bay of Naples, a major port for Roman traffic.

At Puteoli they met some Christians, showing that Christianity had not only reached Rome but other parts of Italy. Perhaps because the centurion had business there, he allowed Paul to accept their invitation to spend a week with them, undoubtedly accompanied by a guard. As well, in the journey by road from Puteoli to Rome they were met at two places, the Forum of Appius (64 kilometers from Rome) and Three Taverns (48 kilometers from Rome), by Roman Christians who had heard about them. Seeing them caused Paul to thank God and take courage. When they came to Rome, Paul was allowed to live in private quarters (a rented house, Acts 28:30) with a soldier to guard him.

Paul’s First Meeting with the Leaders of the Jews

Three days after arriving in Rome, Paul invited the “local leaders” of the Jews (probably the elders of the synagogues) to meet with him, hoping to defend himself before them and to proclaim the Gospel to them. He told them:

Brothers, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans. When they had examined me, they wished to set me at liberty, because there was no reason for the death penalty in my case. But because the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar—though I had no charge to bring against my nation. For this reason, therefore, I have asked to see you and speak with you, since it is because of the hope of Israel that I am wearing this chain. (Acts 28:17-20, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV. “The hope of Israel” referred to by Paul is the coming of the Messiah; see Acts 23:6; 24:15; and 26:6-8, 23.)

They replied that they hadn’t received any letters from Judea about Paul and that none of the Jews who had come from Judea to Rome had said anything evil about him. However they knew that the Christian sect which he belonged to was spoken against everywhere and they wanted to hear about its views from Paul.

Paul’s Second Meeting with the Jews

Later an even greater number of them spent a day at the place where Paul was staying. He expounded to them about the kingdom of God and about Jesus, trying to persuade them from the Old Testament that Jesus was the messianic Son of David who would lead the kingdom of God against the power of Satan (see Matthew 12:23-29). Some were convinced by what Paul said, but others would not believe. They left after Paul quoted Isaiah 6:9-10, which he attributed to the Holy Spirit’s speaking through Isaiah, to explain their failure to accept the gospel:

Go to this people, and say,
You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed;
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.

He concluded, “Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen” (Acts 28:29). However his declaration doesn’t mean that he gave up on the Jews in Rome, and undoubtedly he continued to witness to them as well as to the Gentiles.

Paul’s Life in Rome

Paul spent the next two years in Rome waiting for his accusers to come from Jerusalem to press their case against him. Living in his own rented house and providing for his expenses, he welcomed “all who came to him,” which would likely have included both Jews and Gentiles, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about Jesus with boldness and without hindrance.

John Albert Bengel observes: “A victory of God’s Word. Paul at Rome is the crowning point of the Gospel, and the end of Acts…. He began at Jerusalem; he ends at Rome….Thou hast, O Church, thy form. It is thine to preserve it, and to guard thy trust” (Bengel, New Testament Word Studies, translated from the Latin by Charlton T. Lewis and Marvin R. Vincent, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 1971, volume 1, page 925).