Paul’s Letters to the Galatians & Thessalonians

galatians

Paul wrote to the Galatians following his visit to the region, around 48 AD and this would be the first letter he would write to a church he had personally established. Michael Burer explains, “Whether the book was written to North or South Galatia is a central interpretive problem for the exegete… Douglas Moo ultimately prefers the South Galatian theory, arguing that Paul wrote the book in AD 48 on the eve of the apostolic conference in Jerusalem; he thus believes that Galatians is Paul’s earliest letter.”[1] While Paul was there, he preached and taught of salvation and justification by faith, in Jesus Christ.

After leaving, he received word that a group of people Paul calls “Judaizers” were teaching the Gentile converts that they must also uphold the Mosaic Law and be circumcised, if they wanted to become true Christians. Thomas Lea and David Black describe these Judaizer’s teachings as “legalism,” which points to local Jews being the opponents since they were more interested in opposing the preaching of Christ rather than subverting what Paul taught.[2] As D. A. Carson and Douglas Moo illustrate, when Paul received word of this, “Without pausing for the customary thanksgiving greeting in his letter, [he] expresses astonishment that the Galatians are deserting not only the gospel but God Himself.”[3] In Paul’s opening remarks, he defends his apostolic status and emphasizes he received his gospel not from man, but by a special revelation from God. Here, Ronald Fung confirms, “The revelation spoken of obviously refers to Christ’s appearing to Paul on the Damascus road. It should not be taken as referring to ‘various revelations’ of the kind mentioned in 2 Cor. 12:1, thus making the revelation of the gospel not immediately a part of Paul’s initial experience of encounter with Christ, but subsequent to it.”[4]

            While there is some debate as to whether the opponents of Paul in Galatia were Jews or Gentiles, the overwhelming evidence seems to point to Jewish Christians. Part of Paul and Barnabas’ evangelism strategy was to start their efforts in the Jewish synagogues, where they could preach to Jews and God-fearing Gentiles. As Carson and Moo demonstrate, “the emphasis [of Paul’s opponents] on keeping the Mosaic Law makes it almost certain they were Jews, as they taught those who embrace the Christian salvation must also submit to Jewish law, the Torah.”[5] Paul’s rebuttal was, “If you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.”[6] He also cautions them, “Be careful, if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.”[7] Paul is ultimately warning them of the dangers of division and fighting against one another. F. F. Bruce agrees stating, “Galatians was written by Paul to warn his Galatian converts against certain “trouble makers” who were urging upon them a line of teaching and course of action which, as he saw the situation, threatened to undermine the gospel which he had brought to them and which they had accepted.”[8] In more recent times, Bruce illustrates, “the opinion has been expressed by some scholars that the ‘trouble makers’ were inculcating a form of Gnosticism.”[9]

One of Paul’s fundamental goals in ministry was the unification of the church and this effort to undermine the work he had started surely angered him. He had sought to show them freedom in Christ, while his opponents sought to enslave them to the requirements of the law. Paul recognized the danger in this new teaching, as it seriously compromised the message of the gospel. Carson and Moo further explain, “What the Galatians were in danger of doing was not adding some interesting new insights into the meaning of Christianity, but of returning to the law-covenant in such a way that the climatic triumph of the gospel was implicitly called into question.”[10] This, Paul could not stand for, so he wrote primarily to address the issue of freedom in Christ, by justification of faith versus slavery to the Law, by adherence to the old ways. Paul left little doubt to the importance of the redemptive work Christ accomplished on the cross and his allegorical reference to Abraham further showed the law could not invalidate the promises of God.

Paul’s Letters to the Thessalonians:

ms_1_2_Thessalonians

            Jeffrey Weima points out, “Paul’s two letters to the Thessalonians had been neglected for a long time by biblical scholars-so much so that they were once named as ‘the Cinderellas’ of the Pauline corpus. Happily, the situation has changed as these two letters have now finally made it to the ball and begun to receive over the past decade or so the attention that they deserve.”[11] Carson and Moo demonstrate Paul was anxious to return and comfort the Thessalonians in the midst of the persecution that had arisen and that he had three basic purposes in writing I Thessalonians: (1) to clear up any misconceptions about his own motives in light of his hasty departure for Thessalonica;[12] (2) to remind the Thessalonians of some key ethical implications of their new faith;[13] and (3) to comfort the Thessalonians over the death of some of their fellow Christians.[14][15] In verse sixteen, Gordon Fee demonstrates:

What Paul appears to have done is to apply the language of the “Psalm of Ascent” to describe the coming from heaven of the truly Great King, the risen Lord, Jesus Christ, who is now seen as “descending” in a way similar to the “descent” of Yahweh at Sinai. The psalmist, in celebrating Yahweh’s “ascent” to Mount Zion after he “had subdued nations under us,” thus picks up the motifs of Exodus for the enthronement of Yahweh, which was celebrated by accompanying “shouts of joy” and the “voice of the trumpet.” In Paul’s version a further “adjustment” to the language takes place, since this is now less “fanfare” with regard to the coming of Christ than it is “summoning” language, thus powerful imagery for “waking the sleeping,” which after all is the singular point Paul is making in this context.[16]

            In II Thessalonians, Paul’s focus shifts to eschatology, as Carson and Moo highlight two important points that emerge: (1) Paul makes clear the reality of future judgment for those who are tormenting the Thessalonians;[17] and (2) the day of the Lord, the time when God through Jesus intervenes to save his people and judge their enemies, will only occur after the preliminary events: the ‘rebellion’ and the revelations of the man of lawlessness.[18][19] Another important theme Paul writes about relates to persecution, and even with this topic, he puts it into an eschatological perspective. Carson and Moo show Paul does this because of, “their erroneous notion that the day of the Lord had arrived[20] and their tendency to idleness.”[21][22]

            In addition to these themes, Paul also sought to deal with morality issues that had developed within the church, specifically idolatry and laziness. The converts Paul is addressing had come to believe now that they have become Christians, they did not have to do anything but live their lives as they pleased, until Jesus returned. Carson and Moo show, “Paul’s defensive posture about his motives and methods in preaching the gospel is evidence that he was combating definite opponents, usually thought to be Jews, spiritual enthusiasts, or Gnostics.”[23] Paul also sought to stress the importance of understanding and applying the  entire word of God in their daily lives, whether or not Christ’s return was imminent or not.

Bibliography

Bruce, F. F. Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977.

Burer, Michael H. “Galatians.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 57, no. 4 (12, 2014): 832-5, http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1645736912?accountid=12085 (accessed June 7, 2016).

Carson, D. A. and Douglas Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament, Second Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005.

Fee, Gordon D. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Fung, Ronald Y. K. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Galatians. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Lea, Thomas D. and David Alan Black. The New Testament: Its Background and Message. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2003.

Weima, Jeffrey A. D. “1 & 2 Thessalonians.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 56, no. 3 (09, 2013): 636-40, http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1495414270?accountid=12085. (accessed June 7, 2016)


[1] Michael H. Burer, “Galatians.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 57, no. 4 (12, 2014): 832, http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1645736912?accountid=12085. (accessed June 7, 2016).

[2] Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black, The New Testament: Its Background and Message, (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group. 2003), 364.

[3] D. A. Carson, and Douglas Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, Second Edition, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. 2005), 456.

[4] Ronald Y. K. Fung, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Galatians, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 53.

[5] Carson and Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 465.

[6] Galatians 5:2 (ESV)

[7] Galatians 5:15 (ESV)

[8] F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977), 179.

[9] Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, 179.

[10] Carson and Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 468.

[11] Jeffrey A. D. Weima, “1 & 2 Thessalonians.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 56, no. 3 (09, 2013): 636, http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1495414270?accountid=12085 (accessed June 7, 2016).

[12]  I Thessalonians 1-3

[13] I Thessalonians 4:1-12

[14] I Thessalonians 4:13 – 5:11

[15] Carson and Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 542 – 544.

[16] Gordon D. Fee, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 176.

[17] II Thessalonians 1:6-10

[18] II Thessalonians 2:3

[19] Carson and Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 550.

[20] II Thessalonians 2:1-12

[21] II Thessalonians 3:6-15

[22] Carson and Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 546.

[23] Carson and Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 544.

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