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:

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            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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Augustine’s Conversion

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What did you learn about Augustine’s conversion?

Augustine played a huge role in the advancement of Christianity and was commonly referred to as the “Architect of the Middle Ages.” As Everett Ferguson points out, “Augustine has continued to be a major influence in theology for both Catholics [in their view of sacraments] and Protestants [in their views regarding grace and salvation.]”

Due to his extensive writings and the biography written by his disciple Possidius, we know more about Augustine’s life and the development of his understanding and teaching of scripture than any other person in the ancient world. Upon examination of all the resources available pertaining to Augustine’s life and conversion, the overwhelming requirement to overcome one’s need for significance and appetites of the flesh are the resounding themes. It was true for Augustine and it remains true today. God is continually trying to speak to everyone and while Augustine’s conversion experience seems miraculous, it is no more of a miracle than simply obeying God’s command to read His Word and then by our actions, if we truly love Him, we will obey what it commands. In Augustine’s City of God, he portrays there being two cities: one just and one wicked and as Fergusson illustrates, “Through their love, human beings adhere to either the one or the other: to God or to self… [Ultimately,] God’s judgment consists in giving people what they love most, [everlasting] life with Him or [eternal] separation for Him.”

In Augustine’s conversion, he came to understand the mercy and grace of God. As a result, he wanted his life to be a living sacrifice that was pleasing to the Lord. He allowed God to transform his life through the renewing of his mind, which came from a deeper understanding of God’s word. Augustine recognized the work of the Holy Spirit and allowed the Spirit to work not only in him, but also through him. He recognized the errors of his ways and then sought to help people avoid making the same mistakes while also helping those currently struggling with the same issues. He took on the humility of Christ in his walk and continually rejoiced in the salvation of his soul and in the God he served. His method of showing teachers must continually be learning and that mentors must always be disciples is the model the church should still strive for because as Christians, we must always be learning and growing in our faith.

Who witnessed to him?

Augustine was born in Tagaste, North Africa to a Christian mother, now named Saint Monica. His father, Patricius was a pagan, but would convert to Christianity and be baptized before his death. While his parents were split on religious views, they both wanted their son to receive the best education and as a result, he would become one of the most renowned professors of rhetoric due to his gifting in communication. Despite this gift, he was unsatisfied by his current teaching in Africa and would ultimately become engrossed by the radical dualistic teaching of Manichaeism because it presented itself as the Christianity for intellectuals. Over time, Augustine began to have doubts and when Faustus was unable to answer his questions, Augustine turned his attention to magic and astrology. Soon after this, Augustine and his mother moved to Rome where his skepticism led him to Neoplatonism where he learned from Plotinus that all beings are good and that there are spiritual realities.

In 384, Augustine became the professor of rhetoric in Milan and during his time there, he went to hear a famous public speaker named bishop Ambrose. It was under Ambrose that Augustine first heard a much more intellectually respectable interpretation of the Bible. Shortly after this, the presbyter Simplicianus would take on Augustine as a personal project and during this time Augustine began to wrestle more with action versus belief. While it was apparent Augustine had undergone an intellectual conversion, his spiritual and moral conversion were not yet complete.

What other factors led to his coming to faith in Christ?

Above all else, it was Augustine’s understanding of philosophy that would lead him not only to faith, but would also make his contributions to academia and literature timeless. His official conversion experience took place in 386 after he heard a little girl singing, “Pick up and read.” When he walked over to where the voice was coming from, he found a book on the letters of Paul, which read, “Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.” Augustine believed this encounter to be divine and that the Lord was speaking directly to him because of his own personal struggle with sexual self-control. After contemplating this encounter with God and its significance in his life, he enrolled for baptism, which he received from Ambrose on Easter Sunday the following year. Fergusson illustrates how, “He had found his way back to the faith of his childhood and turned his back on his oratorical career.”

Augustine also recognized the burdens and baggage of this world were weighing him down; on his own, he was powerless to do anything, but when he surrendered them to Christ, he was set free. His conviction to the truth of God was the lamp unto his path and the redemptive work God did in his life led him in his service to the church. His devotion and dedication to God is much Paul’s model, as he encouraged believers to follow him as he followed Christ.

Bibliography

Ferguson, Everett. Church History: Volume One From Christ to the Pre-Reformation 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013.