Sat, 30 August 2008
St. Irenaeus Ministries will be featured on EWTN's "Life on the Rock" Thursday, September 4th at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. Find out more on siministries.org.
God's law is always good when properly interpreted and executed (cf. Ps 119). When used incorrectly, specifically when manipulated for self-justification, it is disastrous. The law can illuminate one's sinful ways and highlight God's justice, but it cannot make one just.
Just as parents establish restraints and regulations on their young children, God used the law to instruct the fledgling Jewish people. Far more than a set of arbitrary burdens, our Heavenly Father intended his children's compliance with the law to be an expression of their love for Him. God also willed that it would be an aid to his people in the acquisition of the freedom, responsibility and love necessary to accept the Messiah. Many Jews, however, viewed the law as an end in itself; some even worshiped it instead of God.
Paul instructs, "Now before faith [Jesus Christ] came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith could be revealed. So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ ... and if you are Christ's then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise" (Gal 3:23-26, 28). Even so, the heir to God's promise remains a minor, living under the care of the stewards of his household, "until the date set by the father" (4:2).
"But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons" (4:4-6). After adopting fleshly creatures as His sons, God conceives them anew as heavenly creatures by sending "the Spirit of his Son" into their hearts; through God they are no longer slaves but sons, and if sons, then also heirs (cf. 4:6-7). Paul finally appeals to the Galatians not to merely live within a religious system but to use religion to more completely embrace the living Christ, deepening an intimate relationship with the Triune God.
Music: Schumann's Scenes from Childhood, Op. 15 performed by Donald Betts. www.musopen.com
Sat, 23 August 2008
Paul continues to explore the correct relationship between the Mosaic law and Gentile Christians in Galatians 3:10. By stating that "in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham [came] upon the Gentiles," he overturns the argument of the Judaizers (cf. 3:14). One must not let the Mosaic Law replace God's covenant with Abraham, for "Anything that comes afterward does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void" (3:17). With this logic Paul advocates Covenantial Theology: God makes multiple covenants with His people over time to unfold His plan in stages, building block upon block; later covenants do not nullify prior covenants. Biblical Christians ought to contrast Paul's orthodoxy with the heterodox Dispensational Theology that arose in 19th Century Protestant circles and appears in the Scofield Reference Bible (1st ed. 1909).
He continues, "Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the offspring should come to whom the promise was made" (3:19). The law can do the work of God by stirring up those who have faith to realize that they must rely on the promise of God. One should follow God's laws without acquiring a delusional attitude of self-righteousness.
The law does not work against God's promises but serves as a custodian for the people of God until they come of age (cf. 3:24-29). God designed His people to mature and become "sons of God, through faith" in Christ Jesus (3:26). Christians who follow God's will from the heart are likely to produce works of faith from the heart.
Baptism fundamentally changes one's soul so that "there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave, nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus," though one's body and state in life are likely to remain the same (3:28). Further nourished by the gift of the Eucharist, God prepares his people to go into all the world and spread the gospel.
Music: Bach's Aria Variata, BVW. 989 performed by Brendan Kinsella. www.musopen.com
Sat, 16 August 2008
The issue of Galatians has always been stark: either the Judaizers are correct and Paul is a gross heretic, or Paul's gospel is from God and the Judaizing legalists are confusing the Galatian converts. Yet, Christians since the Protestant Reformation have used Paul's argument in this epistle to understand to the relationship of faith and works. One would have to bend Paul's logic and terminology to argue that living the essential gospel does not entail any form of religious action. Certainly he sees baptism, the laying on of hands, conduct-changing repentance, and other vital acts as key to living a Christian life.
Christians should rightly be weary of both legalistic additions to the gospel and an attitude of antinomianism, a philosophy of lawlessness. The correct understanding of the nature of saving faith and Christian liberty is at stake in Chapter 3. An upset Paul asks who has tricked the Galatians into questioning the clear gospel in which he instructed them. He also asks whether or not the supernatural life, Spirit and miracles he offered them are more convincing than the new philosophy of the Judaizers.
The phrase "the works of the law" does not mean obedience to the law (cf. 3:5). A negative term in this context, Paul instead rebukes a reliance on self-justification through good works to gain access to salvation and absolve sins. The true child of God admits his weaknesses and wholeheartedly trusts in Jesus Christ despite his faults rather than try to manipulate a legal system in order to gain eternal life by his own actions. More important than the acts themselves are one's motives and intent.
Hebrews 12 shows examples of obedient acts of faith, for "by faith Abraham obeyed," persistently migrated West, and even tied his son Isaac on an altar for sacrifice. These wise actions exhibit a total reliance on God. The Book of Hebrews, John 8, Romans, Galatians, James and others show the necessity for the Christian not only to believe, but also to work in accord with God's will through his actions. Paul always sought to bring about obedience to God through faith among the Gentiles. One finds the phrase "the obedience of faith" throughout the Epistle to the Romans, notably at the beginning and the end.
The relationship of faith and works bears significance to all Christians, but in a special way to Mass-attending Catholics. The difference between clocking in and out of Mass and offering one's total self in faith and humility with the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and receiving His body and blood is the difference between an act of legalism and an act of faith.
Music: Beethoven's Sonata No. 14 in C Sharp Minor performed by Paul Pitman. www.musopen.com
Sat, 9 August 2008
The start of the second chapter of Galatians accounts Paul's journey to Jerusalem "after fourteen years," when he seeks Apostolic verification of the authenticity of his gospel and ministry. The Apostles clearly affirm his message and works, for "even Titus was not compelled to be circumcised, though he was a Greek" (v 3).
His words become passionate when he describes the attempts of certain Judaizers to sabotage his ministry, but states "to them we did not yield submission even for a moment, that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you" (v 5). Paul shrewdly puts himself on a par with Peter, whom he refers to as Cephas, citing his mission to the uncircumcised and that of Cephas to the circumcised (v 8).
He writes, "But when Cephas came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned," for he had abandoned eating with Gentiles after the arrival of the "circumcision party" (v 11-12). Peter's insincere actions influence the rest of the Jews and even Barnabas, going against the Antiochian Church's former custom of open fellowship between Jews and Greeks. Reacting to this, Paul says to Peter before the assembly, "If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?" (v 14). A former rabbinical student, Paul properly follows the law but knows that "if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose" (v 21). In this he emphasizes the singular merit of Christ's sacrificial death and upholds the notion of Biblical Catholicity, where both Jew and Greek have access to life through His saving death.
Paul's intolerance to and efforts against legalism, divisions, and mere "cultural Christianity" should motivate the modern Christian who may feel surrounded by ungodly influences in an overly-polite Church; if he seems shrill, it is because modern Christians are so dull.
Additionally, it is pivotal that Christians accept the life-giving sacrifice of Christ and proclaim with Paul that "I have been crucified with Christ; it is not I who live but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (v 20). Only then will one discover that the Christian life is truly about "putting on divinity," and entering into the uncreated life of the triune God.
Music: Beethoven's "Symphony No. 4 in B Flat Major, Op. 60" performed by the Skidmore College Orchestra. www.musopen.com
Sat, 2 August 2008
Within the first eleven verses of Galatians, Paul essentially damns twice over the Judaizers who have spread a contrary gospel. In our excessively polite culture, Paul's unwavering attitude toward critical theological issues may seem hostile or exaggerated; in reality, his reaction is both fitting and necessary.
The most important argument in the dating of Galatians is the absence of any appeal to the Council of Jerusalem's decision (cf. Acts 15). Because of this, it is extremely likely that Paul wrote this epistle sometime between A.D. 46 and A.D. 48. A significant chronological problem remains, however, in two separate portions of the text. First, Galatians 1:18 speaks to Paul's first visit to Jerusalem three years after his conversion. Later, it states that he travels to Jerusalem after another fourteen years (cf. 2:1). Mathematically, seventeen years before the A.D. 48 would bring one to the improbable conclusion that Paul composed this letter in A.D. 31, too early by any theological or chronological assessment. However, one must realize that it is a Jewish chronological practices to consider even a part of a year as an additional year; it is also entirely possible that Paul may not have meant to add these fourteen years (cf. 2:1) to the three years he specifies earlier (cf. 1:18).
Paul's point in referencing these years is to establish that God has given him His gospel, that the Jerusalem authorities confirmed his possession of the essential gospel and that villains of God's gospel are accursed.
To provide some chronological background, one could date Paul's conversion in either A.D. 34 or 35 (cf. Acts 9), which would place many of the events within the Book of Acts in that decade. By A.D. 44, the gospel spreads into Antioch and beyond and in Chapter 13 of Acts, the Holy Spirit sets Saul (Paul) and Barnabas apart for missionary activity. Towards the end of this first missionary journey, Paul travels through southern Galatia and participates in a famine-relief effort in Antioch. He then travels to Jerusalem after fourteen years, which again, may refer to a date fourteen years after his conversion (cf. Gal 2:1). It is during this trip that Paul notices a rise of intense anti-Gentile attitudes among the Christians in Jerusalem and his confrontation with the Judaizers becomes inevitable.
Music: Mussorgsky's "Night on Bald Mountain" performed by the Skidmore College Orchestra. www.musopen.com