Galatians

I've vetted the materials below: given n the difficulties and technical challenges affecting biblical scholarship, and the sheer number of Christian denominations that exist who don't necessarily share the same beliefs or doctrines in common, it's possible disagreements (or possibly outright contradictions) could appear between the sources below. With that said, broadly stated all Christians share certain foundational beliefs in common--the significance of Jesus' divinity, God's grace, the meaning and significance of the crucifixion and resurrection--that should provide unity to even the most contrasting faith traditions.

This study provides students first with an introduction to the historical context in which Paul wrote and worked in. After the historical context is established, the study's emphasis focuses more on Paul's theology in his Letter to the Galatians. I've tried to find and use as much grade appropriate material as possible. With that said, sometimes gaining a deeper understanding for Galatians requires the use of more difficult texts and advanced scholarship. Thus, if you encounter terms or concepts or assertions you don't entirely understand, etc. be sure to write down your questions and direct them my way. If I don't know the answer out right, I'll investigate the question and try to develop a response that's as true to the scholarly consensus of Paul's intended meaning as possible.

Be advisted all assignments must be completed in order to receive credit for the Galatians unit. I'm going to try and keep everything digital so we don't have to worry about losing paper, etc.

What is the context of Galatians?
In the Letter to the Galatians, Paul passionately defends the gospel-message of grace, emphasizing salvation comes through faith in Christ alone, and not through adherence (the following of) laws or customs.

Paul rebukes (corrects) the Galatians for turning away from this simple straight-forward message. He warns the church community in Galatia not to give into the cultural influence of Jewish Christians; specifically, Judaism equated faith-in-God with the performing of a series of rituals and rites, e.g. circumcision, observing the dietary laws, following the Jewish liturgical year, fulfilling Temple obligations, and obviously, not violating the Law of Moses.

Paul argues that through Christ's death and resurrection, Jesus' followers were inheritors of the promise first made by God to Abraham in the early days of Judaism. Paul argues Christ fulfilled the Law's requirements through his death and sacrifice on the cross, i.e. he took our place on the cross and bore the wrath and punishment we deserve upon himself; and through Jesus' death and resurrection he bridged the gulf separating humanity from God.

With that said, Paul isn't arguing the that the Law is no longer applicable or that it no longer matters. On the contrary, he's asserting Jesus didn't come to abolish the Law but fulfill it. Specifically, believers in Jesus are freed from the consequences (death and punishment) of their sinful behavior. By bridging the gulf between us and God, it becomes possible for everyone (first the Jew and then the Gentile) to become part of the first covenant--a covenenant reflecting Abraham's faith--and freed from the bonds of the second covenant (the blind and ritual following of Mosaic Law for its own sake). According to this promise to Abraham, God came to bless, not condemn; He came to heal, not destroy; and He promised to bless and secure the faithful by giving they and their descendants a future, a purpose and salvation.

For this reason Paul emphasizes the importance of walking in the Spirit rather than gratifying the desires of the flesh or making an idol of blindly adhering to Mosaic Law. Again, the Law continues to apply and matter despite what Jesus achieved on the cross; however, the power of the Law to condemn sinners (though justified) is smashed through the grace, love and sacrifice of Christ.. Thus, Paul urges the Galatian community to live by and for love and freedom (and not fall into the temptation of believing that by following the Law to the letter one becomes justified through their actions to receive God's promises).

Central to appreciating the subject matter of Galatians is the dispute between Paul (frequently referred to as the apostle to the Gentiles (non-Jews)) and the leaders of the Jerusalem Church (James, Peter and John). Paul alludes to his disagreement with the leaders of the Jerusalem church community in Galatians on multiple occasions. For this reason keep in mind the following when reading Galatians: the tension between Paul and the leaders of the Jerusalem church arose mainly from differing views on how Gentile (non-Jewish) believers should follow the teachings of Jesus:

Paul emphasized that faith in Jesus alone was enough for salvation, while Jewish Christians in the Jerusalem church felt that Gentiles should also follow Jewish customs like circumcision, the dietary laws, and so on.. This disagreement led to conflict as Paul saw these customs unnecessary for salvation or a relationship with God. However, over time, through discussions and understanding, Paul and James, Peter and John reached a resolution: they agreed that Gentile believers did not need to follow Jewish customs to be considered part of the Christian community; rather, salvation ultimately comes through faith in Jesus instead by following a series of customs and laws. This resolution helped unite the early Christian community by solidifying the message that acceptance by God is based on faith rather than routinely performing religious rituals, follow laws or perform a series of customs.

Context and Idiom: Paul's Life and His Times

1. The Complete Story of St. Paul (30 minutes)
This is the complete story of Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles: from his birth in the bustling city of Tarsus to his death in Rome's imperial capital, and everything in between.

Paul and His Times Assignment

 

2. New Testament Letters: Historical Context (5 minutes)
In the New Testament, there are 21 letters or epistles written by early Christian leaders to communities of Jesus' followers in the ancient Roman world. A wise reading of these letters involves learning about their historical context. Who were the letters written to, where did the recipients live, and what prompted sending the letter?

This video presents information on all the letters (called "epistles") in the New Testament. Although the focus of this video is broad and doesn't just focus on "Pauline" letters, it provides an overall historical context that's otherwise missing in the first video you watched. Specifically, it makes greater mention of the disagreement between Paul and James/Peter/John (who inherited leadership of the Jesus movement in Jerusalem following the crucifixion). This disagreement really comes out through a careful reading of Acts of the Apostles.

New Testament Letters Assignment

In order to gain a full understanding of Paul, we can't limit ourselves to just his letters. We also need to consider the Act of the Apostles, written by Luke (who travelled along with Paul on a number of missionary trips). The video linked below will "fill out" the perspective I'm trying to build for you as it relates to Paul's motivations and context:

Paul in Acts (5 minutes)

There's a great book called Great Lion of God that is a work of historical fiction based on Paul's epistles and Acts. Listening to it daily would help you piece together his life as Saul, the process that lead to him becoming Paul, the tension between himself and the Jerusalem church, and the end of his life (which we don't see in Galatians).


An Advanced Study of Galatians
The host of this video series is Nicholas Thomas Wright is an English New Testament scholar, Pauline theologian and Anglican bishop. The Anglican Church has produced some top notch biblical scholars (my favorite being Michael Goulder). Anyways, Professor Wright is in my opinion a trustworthy expert on Paul's letters. Wright's videos will finsih building the foundation for formally reading Galatians itself. Ultimately, I'm trying to give you sufficient background in understanding Paul and his times so that you don't project your own understanding on to the text but get as close to Paul's intended meaning as possible.

The only assignment for this segment is the following: watch the videos and write down any questions you might have. You may end up with no questions; you may end up with dozens of questions. There's no minimum or maxium. We can use your questions, if you have any, as the basis of conversation and further study.

Here's a link to the Google Doc to log your questions: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Awzqsx0DPW187k5_f-k7ErblaYugqIdmErdurcRbkk0/edit

a. Why a New Galatians Course?

b. Introduction: An Advanced Study of Galatians

c. Galatians 3: New Ideas from Studying Over Ten Years

d. Galatians: Stop Giving 19th Century Answers to 16th Century Questions

e. The Climax of Galatians

f. Galatians What was Paul Accused Of


Reading Galatians
1.

Watch the Bible Project's summary of Galatians.

   
2.

Read Galatians and complete the assignment below chapter by chapter.

Galatians Response Questions

   
3. Galatians Test