Galatians – Paul’s Arguments

September 13, 2008

Paul puts forth several lines of argumentation in Galatians 1-4, including:

1) The Messiah is greater than Israel and is a hope for the whole world;

2) More than a fulfillment of the law, Christ is God’s perfect gift for those who, in their mortal weakness, cannot hope to fulfill all the demands of God by themselves;

3) Paul’s ministry to the Galatians exhibited both bona fide miracles and the introduction of the Spirit in these Gentiles’ hearts;

4) The law served Israel as a tutor who controls an unruly child, but Christians are called to be adults, not mere children; and

5) It is foolish to turn from the Spirit’s promptings and rely on self-justification and slavish bondage.

In Chapter 4 he discusses the theology of the law and the promises of God. He teaches that the promise precedes the law, and further states that God intended for the law to show His people they had the disease of sin, that they might yearn for the Messiah’s redemption. Using the two sons of Abraham in an allegory, Paul illustrates how the son of a slave, conceived through man’s fleshly design, stands in contrast to the son of a free woman, born through supernatural grace (cf. v 21-31). His gospel offers freedom in Christ; this freedom is born of maturity and establishes a right relationship with God. If Christ has set us free from the shackles of self-justification under the law, Christians must "stand fast, therefore, and … not submit again to a yoke of slavery" (5:1).

Paul then makes a strong and concise rabbinical argument: "If you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who receives circumcision that he is bound to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace" (v 2-3). In this attempt to convict the Galatians, Paul explains that Christians are called to a life of faith and love in the Spirit that comes from God, hoping "through the Spirit, by faith," for the righteousness that will be revealed at Chrit’s second coming (cf. v 4). He further states, "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love" (v 6).

By asking "who hindered you from obeying the truth?" Paul contrasts obedience to God with an obedience merely to the law (v 7). Notably, the Greek word for disobedience is the same word for disbelief. A Christian notion of obedience would be to respond to God with trust and belief, relating to Him as He is. One expresses his obedience by reciting the Creed at Mass, which begins in the Latin with the word credo: I believe. This deeply personal statement is akin to a marriage vow. Like the Shema Israel, however, our life in God is both deeply personal and deeply communal, demanding a loving response: "Hear O Israel: the LORD our God is one LORD; and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might." (Deut 6:4-5).

Music: Beethoven’s Sonata No. 8 in C Minor "Pathetique", Op. 13 performed by Daniel Veesey. www.musopen.com

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