Jumping back into blogging after a 2 month hiatus. I think that after going through the Bible in a year at break neck speed, I’ll go back and pick a book at a time and go through them slower and more deliberately. I’ll start with Galatians (since I’ve been studying this in my small group anyway).
The background of Galatians (and I suppose any letter or book in the Bible) is key to understanding it. It seems that there was this group in the early Church called the Judaizers. They taught that “a number of the ceremonial practices of the OT were still binding on the NT church.” They also argued against Paul’s claim to be an apostle, accusing him of trying to win favor with Gentiles by dropping those OT traditions.
All of that sets up his opening line. (I think it is great that Paul never goes with a simple greeting, but sets the tone from the start with a power-packed message that serves as an outline for the rest of his message.)
“Paul, an apostle – sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who was raised from the dead – and all the brothers with me”
Looking back and knowing the resume that Paul has, it seems almost laughable that anyone would question his authority. Aside from Christ himself, Paul might have been the most important figure of the New Testament. But again, I have some sympathy for these early church members.
Say you are a Jewish believer at that time. For hundreds of years your people have passed down religious practices. Some are required by law and some are more traditions. Along comes the Savior! This is wonderful and amazing but also pretty confusing, because he turns all you know on its ear and sets you off in different directions from anything you’ve ever been taught.
Now all of a sudden you are eating with Gentiles and this guy Paul is going off on something called a missions trip.
I suppose it would be more comfortable to go back to the old traditions and blend them in with your new found Christian faith. It would be easy to dismiss Paul as some attention seeking radical who wasn’t even with Christ during his ministry on Earth. That doesn’t excuse it. Those attitude are still dead wrong and Paul is right to rebuke them strongly. I just think it is fair to say that people of that time could get tripped up pretty easily with some wrong thinking.
In a similar way, I can apply that same logic to people of different faiths right now. Mormons and Muslims both believe that there was a Jesus Christ and that he was a prophet and a teacher. They just get the message completely wrong and distort the Gospel (“which is really no gospel at all” v.7).
Just because I can have empathetic feelings for those led astray doesn’t make their message any less wrong. My heart aches for someone who believes in their heart that they have the right view of God, but because they preach a gospel different from the on Paul taught (which came from Christ himself), they are “eternally condemned.”
There is an ultimate truth about God and I completely reject the notion that “whatever god you believe in is the god you’ll see in heaven.” To wit, believing that an empty swimming pool has water in it will not make it hurt any less if you jump into it head first. The word of the Lord was given to Paul by Christ himself and he passed it along to us in a message that is consistent with the rest of Scripture. That’s what I put my faith in.