galatians - week three

Here is the introductory page for Galatians chapter three and week three of our congregational conversation about Paul's Letter to the Galatians ...

In preparation for our time together read Galatians, chapter three. Note your own questions and insights. Bring them with you to our conversation. Consider these questions:

In verse one Paul says: “It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly exhibited as crucified!” We have glimpses of the description that Paul offered of the events of Holy Week in I Corinthians 11:23-26 & 15:1-11. What is your reaction to Paul’s focus on the cross and resurrection rather than on the life and teachings of Jesus?

“Paul told the Galatians the hideous story of Jesus’ death by crucifixion, not, to be sure, so as to bring them to cheap tears, but so as to bring them face-to-face with three facts: (a) Jesus died as a condemned criminal. (b) His death is the event in which God has begun to free the whole of the cosmos from bondage to the powers of evil (1:4). (c) The Galatians were grasped by God in the realistic message of this death, and their being so grasped was signified in the baptism by which they participated in the death of that condemned criminal (Galatians 3:13, 26-29) … Paul told the Galatians neither some of Jesus’ parables nor a story of his life. He vividly narrated the essentially punctiliar event of Jesus’ betrayal, condemnation crucifixion, and resurrection.” (J. Louis Martyn, Galatians, p. 283)

In verse two Paul asks: “Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard?” He claims that their life as a church owes its origin to the Spirit that entered their lives when they heard about the crucifixion and resurrection. What kind of spirit informs a church grounded in the cross and resurrection? How might it differ from the spirit that informs a church grounded in “doing works of the law”?

In verse eight Paul writes: “And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying ‘All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you’. For this reason, those who believe are blessed with Abraham who believed.” What do you make of this definition of the gospel? How would you define the gospel in a sentence?

“The unwritten logic of Paul’s claim must be something like this: (a) Scripture promises that Gentiles will be blessed in Abraham. (b) Gentile Christian communities, who – like Abraham – have come to believe in Israel’s God apart from the Sinai Torah, have experienced the blessing of the Holy Spirit, palpably present in their midst. (c) Therefore, this experienced Spirit must be the promised blessing of which Scripture speak … So self-evident does this rereading appear to Paul that he does not even bother to justify it.” (Richard B. Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul, p. 110)       

What difference does it make if the church is an offspring of the covenant with Abraham rather than of the covenant with Moses? How would you describe what it is like to “receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:14)?

Perhaps the most well known lines from this letter are: “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:27-28 – compare I Corinthians 12:12-13). How might you interpret this passage? What is Paul trying to say? How do the changes in the Galatian church reveal to Paul that it is in danger of forgetting its baptismal identity?

Note also "children of the promise" and "An Apocalypse of Jesus Christ".

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