Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Galatians & Giving (part 4)

When it comes to participation in the Gospel and the kingdom for which it makes its claim, Paul clearly sets Gentiles on equal footing with the Jews.  This section of the letter to the Galatians leads into the recollection of his heated encounter with Peter, in which he decries Peter’s attempt to force Gentiles to adhere to the covenant markers of Judaism in order to be full participants in the covenant. 

Paul abhors this notion, saying that this is a setting aside of grace, making it so that Jesus the Christ died for nothing (2:21).  Paul surmises that if covenant membership was predicated on bearing the covenant markers of Judaism, then the Gospel claim of Jesus’ Lordship had no place nor efficacy.  Therefore, Jesus Himself becomes an unnecessary revelation of Israel’s God, making His ministry, His shameful death, and His Resurrection pointless.  Again, with this Paul is setting Jews and Gentiles on equal footing in regards to participation in the covenant. 

Paul is insistent that Gentiles do not have a lesser position in the covenant, and therefore that they most certainly do not have a lesser position in the church.  Unfortunately, this seems to be what is being communicated, perhaps even unwittingly and unintentionally, to the Gentiles that at least partially compose this particular congregation.  With this, one does well to remember that the recipients of this letter are most likely hearing it read to them at the setting of the community meal.  In this case, it is possible that, as Paul reports to be the case at Antioch (and therefore the reason he brings it to the fore here), the believers in Galatia have taken to having separate meal tables---one for Jews and one for Gentiles (though one would not insist that this must be the case). 

In the third chapter of Galatians, Paul imports the example of Abraham.  It is with Abraham, of course, that circumcision originates as the sign of the covenant.  Having imported Abraham, Paul immediately writes that “God would justify the Gentiles by faith” (3:8b), adding the report of the promise that “All the nations will be blessed in you” (3:8c).  To this Paul attaches “So then those who believe,” with that belief being the belief in the Gospel that Jesus is Lord, which Paul insists is the sole covenant marker for Gentiles, “are blessed along with Abraham the believer” (3:9). 

Just as circumcision was a secondary marker for Abraham with belief being the primary marker, so it would also be for Gentiles.  Gentiles were not to be relegated to second-class status if they did not have or observe the visible covenant markers (the works of the law---these having nothing to do with earning salvation or earning one’s way into heaven) of Judaism.  Gentile Christians were not to be shamed or looked down upon while Jewish or Judaizing Christians had honor accrue to them.  It must be recognized that Gentiles, and the need for them to be viewed as equal sharers in the covenant and its blessings, are primarily in view for Paul as he goes on to add that “in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham would come to the Gentiles” (3:14a). 

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