If Galatians Were Published Today…

Right now, I’m teaching a Sunday School class walking through Galatians at our church. If you’ve read in Galatians recently, you know that it’s one of the most emotional things we have record of that Paul wrote. And it’s not just any emotion – he’s mad. Really, really mad. And insulting. And funny, too.

So what would happen if Galatians were published today? This clever article contains letters to the editor from readers assuming Paul published it in 2009. Here’s a taste:

Dear Christianity Today:

In response to Paul D. Apostle’s article about the Galatian church in your January issue, I have to say how appalled I am by the unchristian tone of this hit piece. Why the negativity? Has he been to the Galatian church recently? I happen to know some of the people at that church, and they are the most loving, caring people I’ve ever met.

Phyllis Snodgrass; Ann Arbor, MI

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Dear Editor:

How arrogant of Mr. Apostle to think he has the right to judge these people and label them accursed. Isn’t that God’s job? Regardless of this circumcision issue, these Galatians believe in Jesus just as much as he does, and it is very Pharisaical to condemn them just because they differ on such a secondary issue. Personally, I don’t want a sharp instrument anywhere near my zipper, but that doesn’t give me the right to judge how someone else follows Christ. Can’t we just focus on our common commitment to Christ and furthering His kingdom, instead of tearing down fellow believers over petty doctrinal matters?

Ed Bilgeway; Tonganoxie, KS

HT: Challies

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6 Comments

  • Becky Dietz says:

    Wow. Truth has become pretty unpopular, hasn’t it?

  • rey says:

    This satire or whatever it is supposed to be ignores a very important point, i.e. that Paul’s purpose in writing the Galatian letters was to PROVE to the Galatians that he is an apostle because they, and indeed all Asia Minor, were beginning to doubt his apostleship. Paul begins with the thesis “I am an apostle not of men but of Jesus Christ” and defends the thesis by saying:

    “I am independent of the 12, and better than them. Whereas they walked faithfully with Jesus throughout his earthly ministry and saw his miracles and heard his teachings, I received an internal revelation of Christ which is much better. Not only that, but the top 3–Peter, James, and John–are a collection of nobodies who only seem to be something, but whatever they are doesn’t make a lick of difference to me. In truth, they’re all Judaizers! Yet, even they acknowledge that God has chosen me to preach to the Gentiles, and they can’t add anything to me. I know you’ve read in that ‘book of Acts’ that in the Jerusalem Council they added letters to me to deliver to the churches, but its a lie. In reality all they tried to add to me in the Jerusalem Council was to remember the poor, as if I wasn’t already going to do that. And, look, Peter’s a big fat hypocrite! I’ll relate to you an incident that happened in a far away place which you can’t possibly verify, and which I have no reason to share with you other than that I need to make the real apostles look bad to make myself seem like an apostle. I chewed Peter down, and that makes me the top apostles now!”

    It is no wonder that after this letter, not only Galatia, but all of Asia Minor (many of which Paul established, and which includes Ephesus, Laodicea, Lystra, Derbe, Colosse) rejected Paul as a false apostle, as Paul complains to Timothy right before his death, 2nd Timothy 1:15 “This you know, that all those in Asia have turned away from me.” John also represents Jesus as having him write a letter to Ephesus (which is in Asia) and say to them on Jesus’ behalf “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars;”

    You mock those who find problems with Paul, but the fact is that Paul’s claim to apostleship stands on such shaky grounds that when challenged by the Galatians to prove that he is an apostle, the best he could do was attack Peter, James, and John.

  • Michael K. says:

    That’s pretty strong language, Rey. Let me say a few things.

    1. I don’t think you can say that Paul’s main point was establish himself as “the top dog” apostle. He was writing to defend the gospel against the onslaught of the Judaizers. I think it’s pretty clear from the rest of Paul’s writing that he didn’t have an interest in building himself up. If he were really interested in that, why take Titus to Jerusalem? Why go to the council in Acts 15? Why not just start the church of Paul? It was because he was interested in the unity of the church.

    2. It’s true that he corrected Peter. But I don’t think you can characterize Peter, James, and John as Judaizers. That’s a pretty bold statement – are you really saying that Peter, James, and John didn’t believe that grace through faith is the means of salvation?

    3. Paul went to the other church leaders not to attack them, but to try and bring a unified approach to the gospel going out to the Gentiles. It’s true that Paul had some specific ideas about how that went out, but if he really had the intention you say he did, again I have to wonder why he would go to the others at all.

    4. I’m not sure I would have liked Paul. He doesn’t seem like a very nice guy. But I have trouble with the way you characterized him above. It seems to me that his harsh tone in Galatians wasn’t because he was being attacked, but because he saw the glory of Christ in jeopardy by the Judaizers.

  • rey says:

    “1. I don’t think you can say that Paul’s main point was establish himself as ‘the top dog’ apostle.”

    “I laboured more abundantly than they all:” (1st Cor 15:10) and 2 Cor 11:5 “For I consider that I am not at all inferior to the most eminent apostles” and “for in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles,” (2 Cor 12:11)

    And, in his epistles, Paul paints himself as THE apostle to the Gentiles, whereas in Acts 15 Peter claims this title for himself, and Paul seemingly doesn’t question it to Peter’s face. Peter said “ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe.” Peter doesn’t sound too convinced that Paul is THE apostle to the Gentiles, but that doesn’t stop Paul from claiming he is, in Romans 11:13 and Galatians 2:7-9.

    “I think it’s pretty clear from the rest of Paul’s writing that he didn’t have an interest in building himself up. If he were really interested in that, why take Titus to Jerusalem? Why go to the council in Acts 15?”

    (1) You can’t become the top dog without becoming well known and showing up the current top dogs. (2) His ambitions may have started after the Jerusalem council. As already mentioned, it was there that Peter proclaimed himself the apostle to the Gentiles. It was probably at that exact moment that Paul began to covet ripping the title away from Peter.

    “2. It’s true that he corrected Peter. But I don’t think you can characterize Peter, James, and John as Judaizers. That’s a pretty bold statement – are you really saying that Peter, James, and John didn’t believe that grace through faith is the means of salvation?”

    I am saying that Paul, being unable to prove his apostleship, resorts to trying to pain Peter, James, and John as Judaizers. Those who teach a different gospel in Galatians 1 are the same as those who “seemed to be something” in Galatians 2 of whom Paul also says “whatever they were makes no difference to me” and of whom he says a few verses later “these who seemed to be pillars” (identifying what they seemed to be) and finally he names them “Peter, James, and John” and then he launches into saying that they made an agreement with him to only preach to Jews (being that he is trying to paint them as Judaizers) but that they reneged, specifically Peter, coming to Antioch and trying to compel Gentiles to live as Jews. Paul’s entire argument throughout chapters 1 and 2 is “I am a real apostle because Peter, James, and John are Judaizing hypocrites.” The rest of the book flows from this, for as Paul has set up these 3 apostles as Judaizing boogymen he now proceeds to demolish the strawman he has created, and finishes with a jab (clearly linking back to 2:9 “seemed to be pillars”) when he says in 6:3 “For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.” That’s a jab back at Peter, James, and John whom he said “seemed to be something–whatever they were makes no difference to me.”

    “3. Paul went to the other church leaders not to attack them, but to try and bring a unified approach to the gospel going out to the Gentiles.”

    The book of Galatians is written after the Jerusalem Council, as is clear from it mentioning the Jerusalem Council as in the past. Paul is now clearly lying as to the outcome of the council and bashing the apostles because it is all he knows how to do when his apostleship is challenged with “Hey Paul, John came through Galatia on his way to Ephesus and he says your predestination doctrine is garbage.”

    “4. I’m not sure I would have liked Paul. He doesn’t seem like a very nice guy. But I have trouble with the way you characterized him above. It seems to me that his harsh tone in Galatians wasn’t because he was being attacked, but because he saw the glory of Christ in jeopardy by the Judaizers.”

    There were no Judaizers in Galatia. John had passed through Galatia on his way to Ephesus and enlightened them as to the true gospel, which does not include God being the author of evil and the accompanying view of predestination as Paul teaches in Roman 9 with his “if anyone disagrees with my false doctrine that makes God the author of sin, he is talking back to God!”

    Now that the Galatians were awake to the truth, and all Asia was following, Paul had to convince them that John was a Judaizer to bring them back to his dogmas. Paul failed. All Asia finally rejected him (2nd Timothy 1:15), and John wrote to the Ephesians in the person of Christ praising them for exposing Paul (Rev 2:2). Paul’s doctrines were ignored from then on, all the way to 140 when Paul’s popularity was revived among the Marcionites but Paul was still ignored among the orthodox (as Justin Martyr) until the late 2nd century with Irenaeus. Even then, Romans 9 was never believed until the 380s, and it split the church then too! And ever since, there has been war, as many wake up and see that Paul’s doctrines are false and push back, whereas others try to eradicate the teachings of Christ Himself in favor of Pauline Romans 9esque worship of evil.

  • Michael K. says:

    Rey – It seems like we’ve got a difference at a base level that leads to 2 different interpretations. Your comments are certainly well thought-out and interesting, so I wondered if I might, instead of responding to each, ask where your animosity toward Paul comes from? You seem to have a really negative view on Paul and his work. Just curious to know the backstory of where that came from.

  • rey says:

    A few months ago I decided to read Paul as he is rather than as I wanted him to be. I have always forced Paul into conformance with Jesus’ sayings in the gospels due to the constraints of the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy. But I decided to let Paul speak for himself on his own terms and see what he had to say. This also left me free to pursue bits of history always ignored, such as his ultimate rejection by ALL of Asia Minor. When doing this study, the one thing I could not get over and kept going back to was Paul’s attack on Peter, James, and John, and his contradiction of Acts at many points in his biography there. It became abundantly clear that Paul thought he could convince the Galatians that he is an apostle by bashing real apostles, and that the entire matter of the rest of the epistle (i.e. the Judaizers) was nothing but a strawman with which to attack these three apostles so as to make them seem like evil men to the Galatians so they would reject Peter, James, and John and return to Paul. But, he failed in the end. Part of the reason for looking at this approach is that I read in a certain commentary, I believe on Galatians, a quote by John Locke I think it was, that said something to the effect of “Paul must be read not as we would read him today, but as being as convincing as he was to his original readers.” This quote is from memory and way off, but this got me to thinking: Was Paul really all that convincing to his original readers? We don’t have his original readers’ responses, but judging by some of what he writes to them we can get a general idea, and judging from his ultimate rejection by all of Asia Minor I think a clear argument can be made that they weren’t all that convinced. Then there is the fact that no ecclesiastical writer even mentions Paul till after 140 AD. Justin Martyr, right in 140 AD speaks of the 12 apostles as spreading the gospel throughout the whole world, as if he knows nothing of Paul. That same year, however, Marcion (a Docetic Dualist and considered a heretic) published a canon including 10 letters of Paul. And then in about 180 or so we find Irenaeus quoting Paul. Even so, most of the time when Paul is quoted by the ‘fathers’ they skirt around Romans 9 and other such material clearly treating Paul as almost Deuterocanonical. Its not until 380 that Paul is truly accepted. So, the fact is, his original audience rejected him, and then through a heretic he began to gain popularity in the mid second century, then over time he gradually moved from Deuterocanonical status to inerrant status and split the church into Agustinians and Pelagians.

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