Book Review: Grant Osborne, Galatians: Verse by Verse

Osborne, Grant R.  Galatians: Verse by Verse. Osborne New Testament Commentaries; Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2017. 243 pp.; Pb.  $19.99  Link to Lexham Press

As for all the volumes in this series, Osborne targets a general readership rather than a scholarly audience. As he says in his preface, the commentaries in the series should be used for devotional Scripture reading. Since the commentaries are based on the NIV translation a reader can use this commentary as a supplement to their daily Bible reading. A second related goal is for these commentaries to be used in Church Bible studies, perhaps in a small group or Sunday school context. But pastors and teachers will be find the commentaries useful as they prepare sermons on the text of the Bible. Osborne says he wants “to help pastors faithfully exposit the text in a sermon.” Osborne attempts to balance a deep reading of the text with a practical application for the Bible student.

In the seventeen-page introduction Osborne argues for an early date for the book of Galatians, before the Jerusalem conference in Acts 15 (the “southern Galatia hypothesis). Galatians is therefore Paul’s earlier letter, dated to about A.D. 48. The opponents in Galatia are Jewish Christians demanding Gentile converts follow the Mosaic Law, starting with circumcision. He associates these Judaizers with the Pharisees mentioned in Acts 15. Osborne does not see a so-called second front in Galatians, the Libertines (Gal 5:13-6:10). Paul warns against a possible misuse of his teaching rather than any real practice among the Galatian churches. Osborne briefly addresses the New Perspective on Paul, specifically the view that the “works of the Law” refer only to boundary markers (circumcision, Sabbath and food taboos). Osborne agrees with Sanders that Judaism was not a totally legalistic region devoid of grace, but he thinks Galatians is evidence for some legalistic aspects in first-century Judaism.

The introduction offers a detailed outline as well as a three-page summary of the theology of Galatians. For Paul, the death and resurrection of Jesus inaugurated the new covenant. Jesus fulfilled the purpose of the old covenant “rendering them obsolete as a means of salvation” (17). Galatians therefore emphasized justification by faith and freedom in Christ. The Christian life is a life obedience led by the Holy Spirit.

The body of the commentary consists of a series of short chapters with subsections working through each verse of the unit. Osborne makes occasional only use of the Greek text, and all Greek appears in transliteration. His focus is in the NIV translation so readers without specialized training will be able to read this commentary with understanding. Footnotes are minimal and there is almost no interaction with contemporary scholarship. Although this might frustrate academics, Osborne’s writing friendly style makes the commentary useful for a small group Bible study.

As with all the volumes in this series, Osborne’s Galatians commentary is available in print or in the Logos library. The electronic utilizes all of the features of the Logos Library and is available on the desktop and iOS versions of the software. For example, users can float over cross-references to read the text; footnotes function similarly. Clicking a reference will take you to that Scripture in your preferred translation; clicking references to other commentaries will open them if they are unlocked in your library. The electronic version is tagged with real page numbers so the commentary can be cited in the same way as the real book.

Conclusion. Osborne certainly achieves his goal to write a readable commentary of use in a Bible study as well as a helpful aid for pastors preparing sermons. As such, there is no need for Osborne to interact with the massive literature generated by the book of Galatians. He includes sixteen commentaries in his bibliography, including technical, exegetical works such as Martyn and Longenecker, but also several expositional and devotional commentaries. The short chapters could be used as the basis for a Bible Study, although this purpose could have been enhanced by adding a series of discussion questions for each chapter.

 

NB: Thanks to Lexham Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Sex, Sin and the Wealthy in the Church (1 Corinthians 5)

Paul states clearly the sin in the church at Corinth is so bad even the Romans would consider it wrong. Why is the immoral man committing a sin like this? Most scholars thinks money is the main issue. Perhaps the wife was from a wealthy and prestigious family and she is trying to divorce his father. The younger man is attempting to keep any money or property in the family as long as possible.

A second more remote possibility is the man is exercising his freedom in Christ. It appears some early Christians believed they were free from the Law, so in order to demonstrate that freedom, they “sinned that grace may abound.” It is possible the young man was trying to demonstrate his freedom from the Law by breaking a very strong taboo and engaging in an ongoing affair with this step-mother.

Carol and GregSo why has the man not been arrested and charged with the crime everyone seems to know about? The problem may be that in order to prosecute, the husband would have to sue for divorce. If this was an arranged marriage between wealthy families, there would have been complications in setting the marriage aside.

Bruce Winter points out only the husband has the right to prosecute in this case, although there is a sixty-day period for him to do this, after which someone else could potentially bring charges. Perhaps the exclusive period has not expired when Paul is writing, or maybe there is no one that is “wronged” by the relationship and it is being passed over because of the man’s position and power.

Additionally, if the husband was not a believer the church didn’t have any sway with him to get him to press charges and exile his son. Because the penalty included loss of property, perhaps the man was not willing to prosecute and possibly forfeit some of his own property.

If this suggestion is correct, then there are two strands of culture that the church is struggling with here, the sexual sin and the favoring of the rich in the courts. Paul wants to deal with the sinful man within the church itself. This has the potential to create an unfortunate principle that Christians who have grave sins ought to be tried in an church-court and not by the government, making it possible for some crimes to be covered up by the church. This was not Paul’s intent at all! Ironically he is not trying to cover up the sin but deal with it in a public and open way.

How does this idea of dealing with sin “in house” work in a contemporary context? I am not advocating ecclesiastical courts, and people who have broken the Law should not find refuge in the church. How do we draw some connections between the first and twenty-first century with respect to church discipline?

Leaders are Servants and Stewards (1 Corinthians 4:1-5)

In 1 Corinthians 4, Paul calls himself and Apollos “stewards” who have been entrusted with the most important thing imaginable, the “mysteries of God.” Like a fund manager, he is to protect that investment but also see that there is a return on that investment.

But at Gordon Fee points out, God seeks stewards who are faithful, they are not chosen due to their “not eloquence, nor wisdom (nor ‘initiative,’ nor ‘success’—our standard requirements).” Those who have been entrusted with the Gospel are to humbly servant the master and seek his glory and honor alone.  The leaders of the Corinthian church are failing in just this regard, they are seeking their own honor rather than the one who has called them.

Paul and Apollos have been entrusted with the mysteries of God (4:1-2). A steward in this context is a servant entrusted with a task, a commission. Paul uses a slightly different word for servant in 4:1 than in 3:5 (ὑπηρέτης vs. διάκονος), but there is likely no difference in meaning. In both cases the servant is subordinate to a master and serves by doing the will of that master.

InvestmentA steward (οἰκονόμος) is a manager or administrator.  This could be a servant put in charge of a household (Joseph, for example, or the servants in Jesus parable in Luke 16). It can refer to a city official, such as a public treasurer, the word used to describe Erastus in Rom 16:23. An administrator is charged with a task (manage a city’s money, for example). In the LXX, the word translates Hebrew words of civil administrators (1 Kings 4:6, 16:9, Isa 36:3, 22, 37:2, etc., cf., eight occurrences in Josephus with the same sense).

The content of this deposit is the “mysteries of God.” Rather than a huge sum of money to invest and protect, Paul is a servant of God’s revelation. Mystery is typically something that must be revealed to be known, a secret hidden until the time is right. This is not something guess-able, but rather a revelation of something new and previous unknown.

In order to be a successful steward, they must be “found faithful.” If the steward is a money manager for a city, they have to protect the money entrusted to them and invest it in a way that returns a profit. Paul and Apollos are therefore accountable for their management of the mysteries of God. The preaching of the Gospel will naturally expand the body of Christ, and there are some strategies Paul might use to preach the Gospel in ways that are more likely to bear fruit. He goes first to the synagogue, for example, since that is where he will find people who already know the Scripture and may be looking forward to the coming of the Messiah, as well as some God-Fearing Gentiles who are interested in the Jewish God. When he was in Athens, he went to Mars Hill, a place where people enjoy discussing new ideas and debating philosophy. His goal was to go to the location where he would have the best chance getting an audience for the Gospel.

If Paul describes Apollos and himself as servants and stewards, then certainly the leaders of the church at Corinth are servants as well! Verse 6a Paul says that the things he has applied to himself and Apollos are applicable to all Christian leaders at every level, from a nursery worker to the long-time elder to the Lead pastor.

The proper attitude of a Church leader ought to be, “This is God’s church and I am just taking care of this for a while.”

Church Leaders are Co-Workers in God’s Service (1 Corinthians 3:1-9)

In 1 Corinthians 1-2, Paul argues God has inverted the thinking of the world by choosing the foolish to humble the wise; by choosing the weak to humble the strong. The one who is in Christ has the Spirit of God and the Mind of Christ and ought to be thinking differently than the world, especially when it comes to leadership within the Church.

Unlike Greek and Roman philosophers, the Christian should not to think of themselves as a disciple of any teacher or leader, nor should a leader think they are developing prestige or honor by attracting many followers. In contrast to the way the world things, the one who is in Christ ought to think of themselves as co-workers busy at work in God’s service.

Paul is primarily addressing the leaders of the church. This is in fact the longest discussion of the relationship of church leaders to their congregations in the New Testament (Ciampa and Rosner, 1 Corinthians, 142). They are not like leaders in the Roman world who are adored and honored, they are simply co-workers in God’s service.

Divisions over leadership are immature (3:1-4 ). The church at Corinth are not maturing like they should have, they are not “spiritual” yet, they are still “fleshly”  Spiritual (πνευματικός) refers to a person who has the Holy Spirit, someone who is led by the Spirit of God.  “People of the flesh” (σάρκινος) refers to the fact they are still thinking as they did before they came to faith in Christ. The noun refers to physical human attributes, often the weakness of human flesh (contrasted with spiritual life, Rom 7:14, 2 Cor 1:12).

The irony is that the church at Corinth made the most use of the gifts tongues and prophecy of the Spirit in the New Testament (Garland, 1 Corinthians, 109). It is possible members of the church thought of themselves as “spiritual” because the manifestation of the Spirit characterized their worship. They are not spiritual simply because they have those spiritual gifts.

Baby Eating MeatIn this section, Paul uses the metaphor of caring for a child. When he was with the church, he fed them milk, since that was appropriate for a child. But as a child matures they are ready for solid food. Paul’s point here is the church is not progressing toward maturity in a normal way, they are spiritual stunted and still need “milk not solid food.”

Everyone has an idea what the “meat” is as opposed to the “milk.” Usually it is “the hard doctrines I understand but you do not because am more spiritual than you are.” First, this cannot be a “secret doctrine” Paul holds back until people are more mature. There is no secret or hidden teaching Christianity holds back until people can handle it. 1 Cor 2 made this point very clear, the secret mysteries of God have already been revealed!

Second, Paul’s point is not that there is a mix of spiritual and unspiritual in the church at Corinth. The whole church is immature and infantile in their thinking because they have these divisions. It is not that Apollos their teacher is highly advanced spiritually and the others are lagging behind. Because there are divisions, the whole church is not growing properly.

Third, Paul is not exhorting the “slow people” to catch up, but the whole church to come together in unity and grow spiritually. He is not pointing fingers at individuals in the church that are bringing the average down, he is saying the local manifestation of the Body of Christ at Corinth is stunted and not growing properly. The whole Body has to grow, not just a part.

This view of church leadership has the potential to transform the way a local church does ministry. In fact, there are many examples of selfless leaders humbly serving their congregations. How could Paul’s vision for the Corinthian change the way churches function? How does the milk.meat metaphor work when applied to church leadership in a modern context? Is “meat” always “hard doctrine”? Should we only ordain people to ministry who properly understand Calvinism?

Worldly Rivalries (1 Cor 1:11-12)

1 Corinthians begins with four chapters directed at reported divisions in the church. In 1:11 Paul uses the noun ἔρις (eris), quarreling or discord. This word refers to a “hot dispute” between rivals (Ciampa and Rosner, 1 Corinthians, 77). It appears in Sirach 40:9 in a list of things that will come upon the sinner: “death and bloodshed and strife and sword, calamities and famine and ruin and plague.”

This is not a football rivalry (although those can get heat up fast); it is more like standing in the lobby of the Creation Museum with a sign that says “I believe in Evolution,” or visiting Planned Parenthood wearing a pro-life t-shirt. This word describes an emotional flare-up, going beyond reasonable discourse

Greek OratorHow can the presence of “divisions” be described as “worldly?” The “divisions” seem to be over leadership: some considering Paul their authority, other Apollos, others Peter, and still others only Jesus. It is within the context of describing these divisions that Paul describes the church members as worldly.

Bruce Winter describes the Greco-Roman practice of discipleship in the second chapter of his book and finds a great deal of parallels between the disciple-teacher relationship in the culture of Corinth and the problem of divisions in the church over the authority of teachers.

Dio Chrysostom visited Corinth about A.D. 89-96.  He described the activities of the disciples of the Sophists – the professional orators who were able to command large audiences, high fees for educating youth, and often a great deal of power within the city. The skill of oration involved not only speaking skills, but also an attractive demeanor, the best orators were good looking, athletically trained men.  Orators might be employed as lawyers, gaining clients from the very highest ranks of the city. Dio Chrysostom also observed that the disciples modeled himself after his teacher, taking the imitation seriously, including style of speech, dress, and even walk.

There was extreme competition among the orators for honor and power.  The better the orator, the higher the fee, and the more disciples he will attract.  Dio complained that Corinth was filled with “wretched” sophists, many of whom were debating one another with “shouting and abuse” near the temple to Poseidon.

Disciples could be fiercely loyal to their teacher, the term used to describe a loyal student is “zealot.”  (This is not to be confused with the Jewish Zealots of the mid-60’s in Palestine.)  The teacher expected exclusive loyalty from the student, which included the defense of that teacher or the ridicule of other competing teachers.

Bruce Winter reports the story of students following a rival teacher and his disciples listening for mistakes of grammar or rhetoric (Winter, After Paul Left Corinth, 39). When the mistake was made they would ridicule that teacher as deficient. Philostratus tells the story of a teacher that was so ridiculed that he ordered his slaves to thrash the disciple that was mocking him.  The slaves actually beat the rival teacher’s disciple to death!

Obviously Christian teachers are different than an orator or philosopher. If the Corinthian Church is thinking about their Christian teachers as a Greco-Roman orator, then they are importing “worldly thinking” into the church and risk the unity of the Body of Christ. To what extent does this kind of thinking cause trouble in a modern context? While I would love to see the Beth Moore disciples go after John’s Piper’s disciples in a turf-war, I am not sure the Christian church is effected in by the world in quite the same way—or is it?

Love Your Neighbor (Galatians 5:14)

Paul alludes to Leviticus 19:18: the Law is fulfilled in one commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Gal 5:14). This verse is the most quoted verse from the Pentateuch in the New Testament, despite the fact it is almost never referred to in first century Jewish texts. Perhaps this is because Jesus himself stressed love of neighbor as a fulfillment of the law.

There was a lively debate in the first century on how to sum up the Law. When a teacher of the Law asks Jesus what the greatest command is, he responds “to love the Lord your God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:34-40). Jesus says the Law and prophets “hang” on these two commandments.

Love Your NeighborHowever, defining just who was included as a neighbor was also a hotly debated topic. Prior to the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), Jesus is asked by an expert in the Law to define “neighbor.” The man likely understood the word “neighbor” to refer to his fellow Jews, since that is what neighbor means in Leviticus. But Jesus expands “neighbor” to include anyone who is in need.

It is possible Paul has fellow-Christians in mind here, given the context of factions within the church (5:15, 26), but he will expand the doing of good in 6:10 to everyone, but especially the “household of faith.” Paul’s point is not, “if you want to keep the Law, love your neighbor.” He has said repeatedly that the age of the Law is done and over with and the one who is in Christ is free from the Mosaic Law.

After arguing that Gentiles do not have to keep the Law, it is ironic Paul now says when they love their neighbors they “fulfill the Law.” It is as if Paul is saying, “If you really want to keep the Law, love your neighbor.” Like a prophet from the Old Testament, Paul tells his readers their observance of rituals do not mean anything if they do not do the heart of the Law, namely, love of God and love of neighbors. If one is loving one’s neighbor, then they are already doing the “spirit of the Law.” By walking by the Holy Spirit, the believer is already fulfilling the whole law.

The reason the Galatian believers are to submit to the Law of Love in Christ is that their current behavior is going to destroy the church. They are biting and devouring one another (5:15). Paul describes the factions in the Galatian churches as wild animals. They are like “mad beasts fighting each other so that they went up killing each other” (Betz 277). Wild animals are commonly used as metaphors for bad behavior in the Greco-Roman world, so this is a metaphor the Galatians would have immediately understood.

There is a danger in keeping the Law, but Paul says here there is also danger in factionalism. The body of Christ functions best when there is unity in local churches (Phil 2:1-4). The problem Paul must address is therefore “how do I serve my brother and sister in love?”

How does Paul describe the life of service to one’s neighbor in Galatians? What does this “look like” in a contemporary setting?

Freedom in Christ (Galatians 5:13-16)

The fact the believer is free from the Law should not necessarily lead to the view that the believer may indulge in sinful behavior (Galatians 5:13). Does Paul contradict himself in this verse? He has consistently argued in Galatians that the believer is free from slavery to the Law, but now he says the believer ought to re-submit to slavery, this time to his neighbor. Freedom from Law is not a freedom from everything. There is always some sort of obligation to fulfill, whether to the government or family, etc. Here in Galatians 5, Paul has in mind our obligation to serve God by serving one another.

Galatians Freedom in ChristSince the one who is in Christ is free from the obligations of the Law, they now must voluntarily re-enslave themselves to the Spirit. For Paul, there are only two possibilities, either one is enslaved to the flesh, or one is enslaved to the Spirit. Paul will unpack what he means by flesh and Spirit in the next paragraph, but for now it is important to understand these are the only two options for the one who is in Christ.

Based on what Paul says in Galatians, the Law is not an option for living out a life “in Christ.” Nor is it acceptable to blend a life “in Christ” with something else, such as a Greek philosophy or worship of another god. Paul would be just as critical of the Galatian churches if they chose to live out a new life in Christ through popular Stoic or Epicurean ethical philosophy as he is with the Gentiles trying to keep the Law.

The fact we are free from the Mosaic Law is not to be used as a reason to indulge in sinful behavior. The noun here refers to a starting point, like capital for a business venture or a military base from which an assault is launched. By the first century, the word was used for “pretext” or “occasion, opportunity.” In 1 Tim 5:14 it is used for an “excuse” for Satan to slander unmarried widows for moral lapses.

Since the believer in Christ is free from the Mosaic Law, it is possible some people took Paul’s gospel as a license to sin. Paul must deal with this problem here and in Romans 6:1-1-4 since there were people who did take their freedom too far. Some of the problems described in 1 Timothy and Titus are a result of people “sinning so that grace might abound.” The letter of Jude deals with people who “pervert the grace of our God into a license to sin” (Jude 4). If someone is free from all restraint of the Law, what keeps them from indulging in all sorts of sin?

Someone might say, “If election and preservation means I cannot lose my salvation, then I can behave any way I would like and still be saved.” Paul would never agree with this statement. This is an issue of spiritual maturity. For example, imagine the first taste of freedom a teen has when they go to college. Mom and Dad are not watching them all of the time so they have the freedom to do whatever they want. As a result, many college freshmen get into trouble (or at least the freshman fifteen….or twenty!)

While it is possible for a person to understand their freedom in Christ in this way, Paul says it is inappropriate for the one who is “walking by the Spirit” to indulge the sinful nature.

What is an example of a Christian using their freedom as an excuse for sin? Based on Galatians, how would Paul respond to that sort of misuse of one’s freedom in Christ?