Galatians 1:6 – I Am Astonished!

One of the first thing the reader of Galatians must realize is that Paul is very upset that some people in his churches are considering keeping the Law as a part of their salvation.  Why is Paul so harsh on those that are preaching that Gentile sought to keep the law?

F. F. Bruce suggests that Paul knows that law-keeping for salvation is a “snare and a delusion” from his own personal experience. He had kept the law as perfectly as anyone, yet he had not been pleasing to God. But he clearly sees that now. In addition to the simple self-deception of law-keeping legalism, Paul knows that there are dangerous implications for those gentiles that try to keep the Law, they risk not really being saved.

I am shocked, shocked!

I am shocked, shocked!

This is possible, but it does not really take into account recent studies on Paul and Judaism. For example, the Pharisees did not really think that keeping the law made one right with God. The Jew is right with God by election (God chose Israel), and the Jew stays right with God by keeping the Law as best as he can.

Not all Jews had to be Pharisees, but all Jews keep the “Works of the Law:” Sabbath, Food Laws and Circumcision were the principle boundary markers which defined “a Jew. ” I think that Paul means that if the Galatian Gentiles keep the boundary markers, they will be not really different than Gentile god-fearers. These people worship in the synagogue and try to keep the law as best they can as non-proselyte Gentiles.

To acknowledge Jesus is to acknowledge that the Law has been fulfilled in him as the Messiah and the believer is under no obligation to keep the law.

The fact remains that Paul’s gospel is that God sent Christ into the world to rescue those who were condemned in this evil age. Gentiles are not converting to Judaism, they are saved apart from the Law. If they are converting to Judaism, then they are not really saved, since the Jew also needs to accept the Gospel.

The harshness we detect is perhaps more of a product of our modern, western multiculturalism. Paul declares boldly that there is only one Gospel, his Gospel. The others are wrong, with the result that a person cannot be right with God apart from Paul’s gospel.

16 thoughts on “Galatians 1:6 – I Am Astonished!

  1. Not meaning to be picky, Phillip, but what (in relation to your post title) astonished you? (I know it may be a bit rhetorical, but I AM curious.)

    As to your concluding paragraph, I believe you are right as to Paul’s meaning/intention (tho I absolutely differ with his conclusion). One can understand neither Paul’s pioneering work nor the somewhat different “gospel” generated in Palestine, which I see as the main object of Paul’s “complaint/challenge”, without a serious look at a “social interest” set of dynamics (or “theory”) in the development of any religion (including Christianity!). Cf. the various works of Burton Mack and Jonathan Z. Smith.

    It is most in the writings of Paul, and somewhat in Acts, that we see how social settings, needs and dynamics are both formative of theological concepts and also respond to them, often gradually transforming societies.

    • They are all on wordpress, and many are on my computer since they start out as word processor documents. There is a search box in the left margin, or you could use google (add site: URL to search a particular site).

  2. Your comment “Paul knows that there are dangerous implications for the Gentiles for the Gentiles…they risk not really being saved.” was really interesting to me, as it reminded me of a way of thinking that is very prominent in our culture. Most of our society would think that if someone is a “good person” then “good things” will come their way, or there is often this idea that doing good things and abstaining from bad things makes us righteous, which also runs the risk of one not really being saved. As stated, that is our multiculturalism way of thinking. Paul’s blunt way of speaking about the Law is very clear. Gentiles are not converting to Judaism, they are converting to new life in Christ. Following the Law is not what is important for converts, rather it is following Christ that makes someone saved. Paul is very blunt in stating this the only right gospel is his own, but his boldness was necessary in bringing his message to the Gentiles.

  3. Christianity is beautifully unique by way of how it salvation is granted. There are no steps involved in gaining salvation beyond simple acceptance: it cannot be earned by any sort of action or deed. Instead, the action portion follows salvation: you are loved enough to be given salvation freely, and that love should be enough to inspire good deeds. For as we know, faith without works is dead(James 2:17). but this way of doing things is certainly not in harmony with the human thought that says that nothing in life is free. Case in point, the many other religions that require some sort of ritual of action before they can be saved. With this in mind, one can certainly understand how one can misunderstand the Law as a way to earn salvation. It may even feel right, because getting something in exchange for something makes more sense to us than getting something for free. This is of course, not what the Law is or ever was, but many have approached it as such due to this faulty attitude.

    • This was a great explanation! I find it interesting that Paul even goes so far as to say that the Gospel he preaches is the only Gospel and that the Galatians should reject all others. Even if he is the one to preach a different Gospel over time (Galatians 1:6-9). It is interesting to consider how we view the Gospel, like you said, in that we have a way of adding to it. We want to feel like we’ve earned it, but the truth is we never can earn it. We don’t deserve it and nothing we can do will make us any closer to earning it. It is by God’s grace that He offers us salvation freely. Paul understood this and gave his life to proclaiming this good news. His faith produced actions, rather than trying to make his actions produce faith or salvation. It’s beautiful to read how Paul’s life was transformed and how his joy was made complete, even in the midst of suffering. Paul leaves a an impression on those he came in contact with in his life, but also now as we read and look back over his life. It’s encouraging, inspiring, and convicting!

  4. Paul’s interaction with the Judaizers actually reminds me somewhat of his debate with the Gentiles in Acts 14. In both instances Paul is proclaiming that what the Gentiles are relying on will not save them, and that faith in Jesus Christ is all that matters. Although the Law was used by God to instruct humanity (mostly Jews), Christ’s death fulfilled it. So now, to say that obedience to the Law is a requirement for salvation is just as incorrect as to worship Paul as Hermes. The Judaizers may have had good intentions; however few things damage the Church more than false teaching from within. To Paul it was vital that everyone knew that it is “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to [God’s] mercy He saved us” (Titus 3:5a).

  5. It is very interesting at the beginning of the book of Galatians, Paul uses some very strong language in defense of “His Gospel”. He says that the Judaizers’ other gospel is no gospel at all and that if anyone (man or angel) preaches any other gospel, then he should be eternally condemned! Paul believes so wholeheartedly in the message of grace that he was ready and willing to defend it in any way that he could. Jews may have seen the law as a way to grow closer to God and set them apart (which was its intention), but the problem comes when it turns to legalism. I think that is why Paul defended the message of Grace. The true message of Christ holds no room for legalism. Legalism just doesn’t fit into the work of Christ, and Paul wanted to protect the gentile converts from that snare.

  6. This such a hugely debated topic. Not only are we debating and discussing this today in the 21 century, but this was being discussed in the first century as well. If there is one main point to be focused on I would choose the meaning of accepting Christ as Messiah (1), the implications of that, when becoming a believer (a), and what your lifestyle should portray (b).
    “I think that Paul means that if the Galatian Gentiles keep the boundary markers, they will be not really different than Gentile god-fearers” (Plong). Your life is definitely a testimony to others. If the Gentile Christians were following the Law, unbelievers who saw that, first thought would imply that becoming a Christian meant also to follows these boundary markers. Taking the immediate attention away from the core of the gospel and deluding in the mess of the Law. Even we he had followed the law he didn’t keep it perfectly, or please God from keeping it. Paul was preaching the meaning of accepting Christ as your personal savior. That commitment meant, that your following of Christ signified that you understood the Law was extinguished through Christ making it obsolete, and therefore the idea of following the law took away the gravity, truth, and magnitude of the point. Why muddle your life with something that was known to potentially distract you from Christ? Why do it? Why not just give up your old identity? 2 Corinthians 5:17. Give up your old self and embrace your new identity in Christ. Christ followers lives should portray a life centered around a gospel with Christ at the core not Christ mixed with law. These are the reasons I believe Paul made this a point of this everywhere he went.

  7. I think another reason that Paul was so harsh on those preaching that the Gentiles needed to follow the Law was because there was SO many preaching that they needed to do so. Polhill says that, “the growing influence of zealotic Jews in the last two decades before the Jewish War put pressure on the Jewish Christians to conform more faithfully to the Torah” (pg. 140). Because there was so much Jewish influence around the Gentiles, they were constantly being bombarded about needing to conform to the Law. Also, it was said that some of the Gentiles followed the Law to avoid being persecuted (Polhill 140). Paul seemed to have to fight against the Judaizers quite often, which is probably why he was so harsh against them. Pohill says, “They (Judaizers) sought to convince the Galatians that they could not be a part of God’s people without circumcision. Paul felt otherwise: for him, Gentile Christians could not share in God’s covenant if they were circumcised” (Polhill 141). Paul knew what ‘way’ was the right Way, which could be another reason why he was so adamant about preaching that Gentiles need not follow the Law.

  8. It seems that part of why Paul is upset at some of the Jewish leaders maybe has to do with the fact that Paul realized in Phil. 3:5 that he was a “Jew-y Jew” and he counted it as loss in comparison to knowing Christ and it upset Paul that many Jews still wanted converts to the Way to obey the Law. I wonder if a part of Paul being upset has to do with his own journey from Judaism to being a follower of Christ and realizing that keeping the Law was no longer was necessary for salvation because of Jesus having fulfilled the Law. In Gal. 3:10-13 Paul is clear that those who rely on the Law are not justified by God but instead it is through faith by grace that we are justified. I am curious how long it took Paul to come to this realization and how difficult it would have been for him to no longer keep Kosher but sit and eat with Gentiles in hope of winning others for Christ?

  9. I can understand Paul’s frustration with the people from his church. These Jews did not comprehend that the Law given to Moses was not the only mode to follow God. However, the fact that the people were conveying to salvation through the means of Judaism rather than accepting salvation through grace, only exemplified the stubbornness of the Jews. It was not through the Law that people were to become sons of God, instead its through Christ himself.
    It is interesting in this post how you mentioned how Gentiles were “saved apart from the Law.” Which basically typifies that the Law was not something that was rescinded by Jesus (according to Paul’s Gospel) but instead could be continue to be upheld as a “trademark” that was given from God to his chosen people (Israel). Gentiles, then, did not have to convert in order to gain salvation for Jesus paved their way, for his intentions were to save those who were condemned. This is well mentioned and completely agreeable.
    Nevertheless, Paul’s frustration clearly indicates how fast he held to his Gospel. He understood that this newfound Christianity was to vilify the old self-center doctrine of the Laws of Moses, to a doctrine whose primary focus was Jesus Christ and the grace that he afforded to all who were condemned. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Eph. 2:8-9.

  10. I find it very intriguing to think of the the “harsh” attitude that Paul had about the Gospel. I would go so far as to say that modern Christians ought to be integrating a little more “harsh” Gospel into their life, and especially into their evangelism. Galatians is very obviously a letter full of frustration, and I think it’s completely valid frustration. It was incredibly hard for the Jew to grasp the concept that the Law had been fulfilled and that it was not the way to God anymore. Paul’s Gospel, THE GOSPEL says that Jesus is the only way to God. The problem that keeps arising is that the only people who have had any way to God have been the Jews, and the Gentiles that followed Jewish Law, so now that Paul is telling them there is more, they just can’t quite get it. The danger for the Galatians not realizing their new freedom in Christ is the possibility of them “falling back into their former slavery” (Polhill 150). Paul was trying to make them realize that the only way for them to be truly free of their old lives was to become slaves to a new life in Jesus.

  11. I’m interested in your last paragraph. What I understood was that you are suggesting that what we perceive as “harsh” is only due to differing societies. While it was still just as harsh then as it is now, it is now considered less acceptable to be harsh with each other.
    I personally like what F. F. Bruce has to say about this as well, but maybe only because I feel as though I can slightly relate to the feeling of the Law becoming a trap to lead me away from true salvation and towards legalism.

  12. I can see how Paul would be upset with what was going on with the church of the Galatians. In Paul’s view, for the people to obscure the Word of God to prevent them to hear the Gospel is a huge thing to Paul. To see a church doing this would be devastating. Paul’s anger towards this reminds me a lot of what Jesus did in Mat. 21 when he goes to the temple and sees how the temple is being used. Jesus got angry seeing the people not worshiping God in his temple but using it for there own gain. For today, we tend not to use this approach to reach out to other churches but I think it is sometimes really needed. we don’t see Paul always angry at the church for the mistakes they were doing but for the Galatians, he thought this was necessary.

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