The Letter of Paul to the Churches of Galatians: An Introduction

A Return to the World’s Efforts to Compromise the Gospel

As in the time of the Apostle Paul, the attempts to compromise the gospel has taken a toll on the Church universal.  Paul battled this tendency during his life and wrote a letter to the Galatians churches to warn them of those who wanted to compromise the one true gospel.  At the beginning of that letter, he declared,

“But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.  As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8-9).

While the circumstances differed from those of today, the dangers remain just as high.  Other so-called gospels bring about a curse from God.  The one true gospel has its source in Him.  It concerns His declaration of the means of redemption found in His Son, Jesus Christ and informs us of the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing about the promise of redemption.  To compromise the gospel is to compromise not only God’s revealed word but also the work of God in redemption and God Himself.  A compromise of the gospel affects all three: God’s word, God’s work, and God Himself.

Paul informed the Galatians that such a compromise led them back into slavery to the fallen flesh and its corruption highlighted in the Law of Moses.  Those who preached another gospel to the Galatians churches raised doubts about God’s word to the apostles, God’s work of redemption through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and the very nature of God.  This letter explores all three of these theological issues and explains the outcome of compromising the gospel.

Today, we live in a world in which religions proliferate like ants. Just open the telephone book or an Internet page for churches within a given city, and you will discover a variety of churches.  Many teach another gospel than the one from the Bible.  Not only are numerous churches preaching another gospel, but also there are a myriad of religions spread across the world.  Most believe in many gods (polytheism).  Others believe in some ominous spirit that permeates nature (pantheism, panentheism).  Others believe in no gods at all (atheism, humanism) or claim that we cannot know if God exists (agnosticism).  Each has its own gospel (or good news) for bringing hope to humanity.

While Paul does not address religions per se in his letter to the Galatians, he makes it very clear that any other message than the gospel he preached receives a curse from God. If such messages receive God’s curse, how serious should we take the one true gospel rather than following cursed messages from whatever source?

As we go through this letter, we will encounter terms Paul uses to describe the gospel that need our special attention so that we can understand his message.  The original readers of this letter were well aware of what these terms meant because of the problems they encountered with the false teachers who came to them.  It is important to place ourselves in their shoes, their culture, their historical context, and their language so that we can understand what they did and not walk away from reading this letter with a different message.  These terms consist of law, flesh, faith, promise, justify, righteousness, grace, and liberty.  These words have context out of which Paul’s message arose.  We will walk through this letter carefully, paying attention to the repetition of these words so that we can come to grips with Paul’s message.  Not only will we do this, but we will also determine how Paul’s message encounters the pluralistic (many religions) world in which we live.  As we do this, we will be able to discern the one true gospel as opposed to the many false gospels spread across the world.

What is the Point in Faith?

A person in another discussion board posed the following scenario worthy of discussion, because it appears to make faith an abstraction divorced from reason and knowledge.  This article replies to the concluding question.

—————————————————

“I have a hypothetical for any believers who consider faith a virtue. Imagine a young child born to Christian parents. In circumstance A, the child is raised Christian. In circumstance B, the child is adopted and raised Muslim.

Regardless of who raises the child, by adulthood it will believe one of these religions on faith. These religions however, totally negate each other.

My question is: what is the point in faith?”

LINK: https://disqus.com/home/discussion/channel-religion/the_irrationality_of_faith/

The point in faith? To understand faith, one must drill down into its meaning. The way of and context for your question seems to focus on faith as an abstraction. It is not. Allow an example.

Suppose you enter enter a marital relationship. For the sake of argument, let it be within the context of the Christian faith since you address that faith leading up to your question. Christians view such a marriage as exclusive and permanent. The question arises in that relationship: Does each spouse trust or believe in the other for faithfulness and commitment to that exclusivity? Trust and believe are simply the verb parts of speech for the noun faith. The foundation for that believing or trusting is that the relationship actually exist and is therefore based on and grounded in reality: two people are married and have established a real household. Even your example bears this out.

The outcome of the actual relationship is a family unit of the two parents and children. Christians hold to faith in the same way. Mutual faith in the marital relationship is not an abstraction. Rather it is a bond acted out in commitment and the behaviours and actions that commitment ensues.

Some people attempt to divorce faith from what exists or reason. Nothing could be further from the truth. For if that were so, then there could be faith without the relationship or in non-existence itself. However, biblical faith is not divorced from reality, reason, or what exists. It requires knowledge, and knowledge requires reason to make sense of that knowledge. Faith and knowledge do not stand independent from one another. For if they did, there would be no faith but presumption or the Kierkegaardian leap into the dark abyss of nothingness.

Those who divorce faith from knowledge and reality are not defining faith but presumption. A great biblical example of such faith is found in Hebrews 11:3,

“By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible ” (NKJV).

In this passage, the author attests faith as commitment to knowledge, that is what actually exists. It affirms two things about this reality: 1) God created what exists so that existence did not just pop up out of nothing, and 2) the visible did not create the visible (for example rocks did not create other rocks at the outset or that matter is eternal). The author of the Hebrews rejects the division of faith from knowledge and reason, for he points to knowledge and he uses syllogistic reasoning. Therefore, the whole point of faith within the context of biblical faith is affirmation and commitment to what is real and not to what does not exist.

That commitment recognizes (knowledge of reality) that God created us to be a certain way, and to be another way strains or breaches the relationship and leads to alienation. That is the reason that the Bible frequently uses marriage as a metaphor to express the relationship between God and humanity. As I said before, in this context faith is the bond for the real relationship to God in the same way that it is in the actual marital relationship. It is not irrational but very reasonable and joins with reason to makes sense of what exists – the relationship. Otherwise, faith would not be faith but presumption. Presumption is irrational and a leap.

Easter: Something Borrowed, Something New?

Every Easter those who oppose the Christian biblical faith surface the notion that Christians borrowed the celebration of Easter from pagan sources.  Accordingly, they say Christians developed their own traditions that buried the pagan sources and resurrected the story of Christ.  Consequently, the entire Christian religion, according to them, stands on pagan sources as a relatively new holiday for Christians to use for their claim of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  For pagans who deny the resurrection, they claim Christians raise up Easter from something borrowed and something new.  However, is this notion true?  Additionally, how does such a notion affect Christian faith in the claim that Jesus did rise from the dead that first Easter morning?

First, consider the origin of Easter.  Many have attributed Easter to the ancient English monk and historian, Bede (673-735 AD).  In identifying names to the months of the year ancient cultures assigned to them, Bede wrote the following in his work De temporum ratione,

“In olden time the English people — for it did not seem fitting to me that I should speak of other people’s observance of the year and yet be silent about my own nation’s — calculated their months according to the course of the moon.  Hence, after the manner of the Greeks and the Romans (the months) take their name from the Moon, for the Moon is called mona and the month monath.

The first month, which the Latins call January, is Giuli; February is called Solmonath; March Hrethmonath; April, Eosturmonath; May, Thrimilchi; June, Litha; July, also Litha; August, Weodmonath; September, Halegmonath; October, Winterfilleth; November, Blodmonath; December, Giuli, the same name by which January is called.  …

Nor is it irrelevant if we take the time to translate the names of the other months.  … Hrethmonath is named for their goddess Hretha, to whom they sacrificed at this time.  Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated “Paschal month”, and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month.  Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance.”

Bede points to a particular goddess for the month of Eosturmonath (April) as the origin for the name of Easter.  Those who wish to associate the Christian celebration of Easter seem to have a case for their claim that paganism is its source.  Such a claim, according to Anthony McRoy is suspect, speculation, and far from the truth (“Was Easter Borrowed from a Pagan Holiday?”  Christianity Today, http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/2009/april/was-easter-borrowed-from-pagan-holiday.html).  He points out that Bede’s claim of Easter deriving from the goddess Eostre has no substantiation anywhere else in history.  He also points out a timeline conflict,

“The first question, therefore, is whether the actual Christian celebration of Easter is derived from a pagan festival.  This is easily answered.  The Nordic/Germanic peoples (including the Anglo-Saxons) were comparative latecomers to Christianity.  Pope Gregory I sent a missionary enterprise led by Augustine of Canterbury to the Anglo-Saxons in 596/7.  The forcible conversion of the Saxons in Europe began under Charlemagne in 772.  Hence, if “Easter” (i.e. the Christian Passover festival) was celebrated prior to those dates, any supposed pagan Anglo-Saxon festival of “Eostre” can have no significance.  And there is, in fact, clear evidence that Christians celebrated an Easter/Passover festival by the second century, if not earlier.  It follows that the Christian Easter/Passover celebration, which originated in the Mediterranean basin, was not influenced by any Germanic pagan festival.”

Not only did Augustine celebrate Easter in Britain, but earlier Christian authors also affirmed its celebration well before pagan stories surfaced, showing that Easter could not have arisen from pagan stories.  Gregory Naziansus (329-390 AD) gave an Easter homily (Second Oration 45.5, Thomas Oden, Classic Christianity: A Systematic Theology, 132).  In the beginning of the 4th century, Christians sang an earlier Easter hymn (Oden, 273).  Cyril of Alexandria (378-444 AD) gave a sermon called On the Incarnation in his Easter Homily 1.6).  Even farther back, Chrysostom (349-407 AD) narrates Paul’s written account of Christ’s resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:3; Homily on Corinthians, 38.2, Oden, 479) on the first Easter.  Before him, Eusebius of Caesarea (263-339 AD) wrote “On the Celebration of the Pascha [Easter].”

The actual name of the event does not really rise to the level of significance as the event itself.  Words pass through many languages, alphabets, cultures, and time periods.  Some point to Bede as the source of the word Easter from pagan sources.  Yet others, including Wycliffe, Tyndale, and Luther in their translations brought the word for Easter from the word Pascha, signifying that Christ was the lamb sacrificed for all humanity.  While Bede speculated about the connection between Easter and the goddess Eostre, he associated the month named after Eostre as “Paschal month,” demonstrating that the earliest celebration of Easter dates to the original biblical truth and not to pagan sources.

More could be cited of early church Fathers who preached Easter sermons.  Suffice to say, these early Church Fathers give overwhelming evidence of Easter’s celebration and the event it commemorated – Christ’s resurrection.  Oral tradition of actual events precedes their written authorship showing that Christians of earlier centuries dating back to the Apostles passed on to the next generation what they learned from the original eyewitnesses through hymns and actual historical oral accounts.

What do we then learn from all of these authors dating to the earliest centuries after Christ?  Easter arose from the actual event, Christ’s resurrection, and not pagan sources. Easter signified the earliest remembrance of Jesus rising from the dead!  Eyewitnesses (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) recorded what they saw and heard from Jesus after His resurrection.  They passed this good news to their disciples in the gospels they wrote some 20-30 years later.  Paul also saw Jesus and recorded his encounter of Jesus even earlier (Galatians, 53-55 AD) than when the Apostles wrote their gospels.

Eyewitnesses and subsequent authors recorded actual historical events about Christ’s resurrection.  They put to rest any fictitious notion of pagan sources for it.  Speculations cannot overturn historical fact.  Rather, they highlighted that behind the myths lie actual events.  We only need to view contemporary celebrations of Christian remembrances to see how rapidly pagan innovations occurred.  The mind stirs up fanciful creations consisting of bunny rabbits hiding eggs for little children to find.  These mimic actual events with changes to align with fresh ways of expressing paganism.  They bring to mind celebration of the freshness of the earth’s resurrection from a wintery dead state and the correlation to Christ’s resurrection from death.

The truthful themes of the first resurrection surface in the fanciful pagan rites of the contemporary.  The wretchedness of the human condition splashes across theater screens.  One need only turn to Hollywood to view resurrection played out in one movie after another.  Deus ex-machina (God of the machine) descends from the heavens in the form of humanity (Superman).  Captain AmericaThe X-Men, and the salvation of Frodo and Sam on Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings provide one fictitious example after another of resurrection and redemption.  They supply deliverance from human tragedy.  In such cases, paganism depends on established Christian truth and its preservation and not the other way around.  The evidence for the foundational truth of Christ’s resurrection is overwhelming.  Paganism uses and twists historical truth for its own means and message.

Christians need not fear fables, fiction, and allegations of the pagan sources for Easter.  These pagan sources do not exists. Paganism rests on speculation and novelty resulting from becoming “futile in their thoughts” (Romans 1:21, NKJV).  Pagans borrow from the truth to create their own myths for their leap of faith.  Given the continuous line of written testimony from the first century forward, we can take heart and have hope in the resurrection of Christ as we also celebrate Easter.  Paganism cannot just brush aside truth having its foundation in history.  We can rest in Christ’s promise that as He rose from the dead and went to be with His Father, He will come again and take us with Him to be with His Father and ours (John 14:1-3).