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Sabbath School Insights
2017 Quarter 3: Jul - Sep
Insight #2 July 8, 2017
The authority of Paul and the gospel he preached came directly from God and not man. He evidently told this when churches in Galatia were raised up. And he again made this plain in the beginning of his letter to them. 11 “I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. 12For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Galatians 1:11-12. So, both authority and gospel came directly through Christ Jesus. Peter wrote that Paul’s writings were considered as Scripture during his and Paul’s lifetime (2 Peter 3:15-16).
Paul’s opening salutation to the Galatians contains the gospel. E. J. Waggoner wrote: “The first five verses form a greeting such as, with the exception of the first verses of the book of Romans, is not to be found elsewhere in the Bible, and, consequently, nowhere else in the world. It contains the whole Gospel. If there were no other portion of Scripture accessible, this contains sufficient to save the world. If we would study this small portion as diligently, and prize it as highly, as if there were no more, we should find our faith and hope and love infinitely strengthened, and our knowledge of the rest of the Bible much increased. In reading it, let the Galatians sink out of sight, and let each one consider it the voice of God, through His apostle, speaking to him to-day.” The Glad Tidings (original), p. 10.
The author of the Sabbath School Lesson makes a good observation for Tuesday’s lesson: “One of the unique features of Paul’s letters is the way he links the words grace and peace in his greetings. The combination of these two words is a modification of the most characteristic greetings in the Greek and Jewish world. Where a Greek author would write “Greetings” (chairein), Paul writes ‘Grace,’ a similar-sounding word in Greek (charis). To this Paul adds the typical Jewish greeting of ‘Peace.’…. [T]he words basically describe his gospel message.”
The subject in the letter to the Galatians is the gospel of Christ. Paul previously taught the Galatian Gentiles that this gospel is the only way of salvation from sin. But there “false brethren” who came in secretly “to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage.” Galatians 2:4. They did not believe the gospel of Christ fully and so followed Paul presenting “another gospel” to the Galatians (verses 8-9 KJV), which was not really “another” but was a perversion of the gospel of Christ (verses 6-7). The gospel was under severe attack by both man and devils.
The issue of the letter is the true way of salvation from sin as against a false way. It was a perversion of the true way. Paul was so concerned that he uttered a curse on anyone, even “an angel” who preached “any other gospel” to the Galatians other than what he preached to them (verse 8). He expressed this a second time: “now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed” (verse 9).
Later Paul made an appeal directly to the Galatians in these words: “This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? — Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? Galatians 3:2–3.
In Galatians 3:1, Paul used very strong communication calling the Galatians “foolish.” This is a much stronger word in the original language. The word from which “foolish” is translated means “unintelligent, foolish, dull-witted.” (A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature (3rd ed., p. 84). Louw and Nida put it this way: the Galatians were unwilling “to use” their “mental faculties in order to understand —‘foolish, stupid, without understanding.’ ” “Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition, Vol. 1, p. 385).
I have four Bibles which translates the word from which “foolish” comes, in much stronger language: “You stupid Galatians! You must have been bewitched—you before whose eyes Jesus Christ was openly displayed upon His cross!” Galatians 3:1, New English Bible (see also The Complete Jewish Bible, God’s Word Translation and The New American Bible).
The Holman Christian Bible identified this as hypnotism. “Who has hypnotized you?” (3:1). The Galatian believers were directed away from the gospel of Christ and not just toward, but into spiritualism. This is true even today. Satan, high priest of his synagogue is super active in scattering seeds of his false gospel in the world field.
“False brethren” taught that faith in Christ alone was not enough. Something must be added. (See Acts 15:1-5). Is there a possibility that this same false teaching is alive and well today? Notice what the prophet wrote:
“Let the subject be made distinct and plain that it is not possible to effect anything in our standing before God or in the gift of God to us through creature merit. Should faith and works purchase the gift of salvation for anyone, then the Creator is under obligation to the creature. Here is an opportunity for falsehood to be accepted as truth. If any man can merit salvation by anything he may do, then he is in the same position as the Catholic to do penance for his sins. Salvation, then, is partly of debt, that may be earned as wages. If man cannot, by any of his good works, merit salvation, then it must be wholly of grace, received by man as a sinner because he receives and believes in Jesus. It is wholly a free gift. Justification by faith is placed beyond controversy. And all this controversy is ended, as soon as the matter is settled that the merits of fallen man in his good works can never procure eternal life for him.” Faith and Works (p. 19–20.
The “false brethren” of Paul’s day were angry with Paul and his message of salvation based on faith in Christ alone and not on works of the law. Paul did not declare that the law was not good, nor that it was done away with. In Romans, he wrote that faith “establishes the law.” Romans 3:31. Justification by faith establishes God’s law in the heart of the believer. We are never justified by keeping the law; neither are we justified from keeping it; we are justified in order to keep the law. If we keep in mind the prepositions underlined in the sentence just before this one, then justification by faith and obedience will not be in conflict. So, let’s keep “the faith of Jesus” and “the commandments of God” through faith in Christ alone.