Friday, January 09, 2015

Gal 1:1-17

Paul could very well introduce a category of explanation that we very often ignore, in the first verse of this letter: "not through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father."  Christ, and God, doing things -- on their own.  Not just placeholding explanations for what humans do.

This certainly is a difference between God and idols.  Idols are described as bringing victories to armies, or the cause of prosperity of a city -- "great is Artemis of the Ephesians" -- but it is an ascription.  Christianity, and Paul here, assert that God does things: He's not just the invisible explanation for what human beings credit him with.

"Jesus Christ and God the Father" did something, with the result that Paul is something ... an apostle.  What Jesus Christ and God the Father did, was send Paul, and the result is both that he is an apostle, but also ... that he got sent!  If that is already done, certainly the Galatians can take 1:3 as more than well-wishing.

It all comes from this category of explanation!  A God who can do things, can actually send "grace to you and peace from God."  Our "best wishes" may not come into existence, but with Paul calling them down from God upon the Galatians it is one and the same, the wishing of it, and the pronouncement of it to be the case.

It comes from the same kind of thinking that prompts Paul in another letter to tell the Philippians, "He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus" (Ph 1:6). There we notice its certainty because it is stated so, in the indicative, but here, as a blessing Paul calls down ... do we have the temerity to say it is only a casual well-wishing on the level of "good luck" or "stay well!"?  I hope not.

To punctuate the connection between God having done things and God as doing things in the future, as we read, we hear that "the Lord Jesus Christ" did something -- gave Himself for our sins, in order to do something else for us -- rescue us from this present evil age."

OK, Christ gave Himself for our sins.  What was the purpose of that?  Is He done now, and the ensuing outcome just completely our doing?  No, the next thing was "so that He might rescue us from this present evil age"  -- whether we conceive of this as Christ doing so by one and the same act, or whether the rescue from "this present evil age" is subsequent -- it is still Christ doing it, not something that is ours to complete.  And Paul sees and assigns glory to God for ever, for this.

We have to go on to 1:6ff in order to understand better why Paul began this way, about God being the One who sent him, and his being sent through Jesus Christ.  He will explain that part of his argument, but what is the problem?  The problem is the quick desertion going on, by the Galatians, of God!

In all the arguments about the nature of salvation we've heard, it is good to realize that so many of them define the severity of the consequences of deserting God, but do not say what deserting God is!  Isn't Galatians, to the extent that it explains what the Galatian churches were doing, an answer to that question?  It must be, since Paul says they "are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ" (1:6). At the least, what the Galatians were doing is truly deserting God, however more other kinds of desertion of Him there are.  Therefore it should very much grab our attention.

To desert  for "a different gospel" is to desert God. Paul has already reminded them of something we know he considers "of first importance" in the gospel, that Christ died for our sins (1 Cor 15:1ff).  He mentions it here as "Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for our sins," and we might be correct to  guess that the sentence might have a hint at Paul's corrective, that he couldn't wait to apply to their reading: "so that He might rescue us from this present evil age."  This "so that" part -- could Paul be emphasizing it so early in his letter, so urgently, because it is such an important part of the cure to the desertion?  I think so.  This phrase suggests that the desertion to the different gospel was to the idea that Christ gave Himself for our sins, so that _something else_ would go on and rescue us from this present evil age, and Paul is saying that's a different gospel.  The true gospel, which they were "so quickly deserting" (1:6), would be that "Christ gave Himself for our sins, so that _He_ might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father (1:4)."

So far this must just be a guess, because Paul does not come out here and say what the distortion (1:7) is.  But we can see if the guess has support by reading the rest of the letter.  It fits the idea of deserting God, because they are deserting God's will for the purpose of Christ giving Himself. 

The Galatians are being disturbed by some who "want to distort the gospel of Christ" (1:7).  That's another whole category than the making of a mistake.  To want to distort the gospel of Christ is not the same at all as making a mistake. 

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