D.A. Carson’s and Douglas Moo’s introduction to Paul’s Letter to the Galatians

19 12 2011

This short letter has an importance out of all proportion to its size. There is always a tendency for people to think that their salvation (however it is understood) is something that is to be brought about by their own achievement. How they understand salvation may vary, and the kind of achievement they see as necessary may correspondingly vary. But that their eternal destiny rests in their own hands seems a truism, so obvious that it scarcely needs stating. Christianity has often been understood as nothing more than a system of morality, as the careful observance of a sacramental system, as conformity to standards, as a linking up with others in the church, and so on. There is always a need for Paul’s forthright setting out of the truth that justification comes only through faith in Christ. This must be said over against those who stress the importance of works done in accordance with the Torah or any other achievement of the sinner.

The Christian way stresses what God has done rather than what sinners do to bring about salvation. There can be no improvement on the divine action by any human achievement, by way of either ritual observance or moral improvement. The cross is the one way of salvation, and no part of Scripture makes this clearer than does Galatians.

We should not miss the importance of Paul’s appeal to Abraham (Gal. 3:6-29). This takes the reader back to a time when the law had not been given; the covenant established with Abraham takes precedence over the law (3:17). The law cannot annul the promise of God. Those who were forsaking simple reliance on the promise of God were turning from the divinely appointed way and mistaking the real purpose of the law (3:19). If Paul’s Galatian friends would give proper consideration to the example of Abraham, they would see the serious error into which they were falling when they began to rely on the Torah.46 If we read the account of Abraham and his faith in its proper sequence in the unfolding history of redemption, instead of anachronistically assuming, with many Jews, that Abraham must have kept the law, it becomes clear that God’s way has always been the way of promise and faith. This brings Paul to the magnificent thought that all human distinctions have now become irrelevant (3:28-29). Christ came at the appointed time to redeem enslaved sinners (4:4-5), and Paul makes an important point when he says that he did this work of redemption “by becoming a curse for us” (3:13). This is a significant contribution to our understanding of the atonement.

Along with the emphasis on justification by faith in Christ is an emphasis on Christian freedom: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Gal. 5:1); believers are literally to “walk in [NIV `live by’] the Spirit” (5:16). Even those who are justified by faith in Christ sometimes find it easy to subject themselves to the slavery of a system. Paul’s words remain the classic expression of the liberty that is the heritage of everyone who is in Christ.

Galatians is a constant reminder of how important it is to understand what the Christian faith implies for Christian living. Even Peter and Barnabas could go astray. Paul does not complain of their theology, but of their practice when “those who belonged to the circumcision group” induced them to withdraw from table fellowship with Gentiles (Gal. 2:11-14). No letter makes as clear as this one does the importance of living out all the implications of salvation through the cross.

read in its original format here

William Bell Scott: “The Rending of the Veil”

19 12 2011

Below is a painting from the Victorian period by William Bell Scott.  Based off of the following passage found in Matt 27.45-51:

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour.  And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink.  But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.

The veil in the Temple was meant to separate God who dwelt in the Most Holy Place  from the people.  Only the high priest would come behind the veil, only once a year and not without blood (Heb 9.2-7).  Jesus sacrifice on the cross is a sacrifice that permanently removes the barrier between God and the people forever.  The significance of the veil being torn testifies to this fact.  As you can see from the painting, Scott is keen to stress this as a mighty wind appears to be rushing out from the Most Holy Place into the world much to the surprise and terror of the priests.  Note the sacrificial lamb on the altar as well as the crucifixion taking place just above the walls on the upper right hand side of the painting.  For an extended treatment of this topic in scripture see Heb 9.11-10.22.   How could you even begin to preach on this?  The sheer weight of the ancient plan of God unfolding in the seconds after Jesus’ death is too staggering for words.  This painting, for me, is the best attempt I’ve seen outside of Scripture to give the proper weight to that fearful, glorious, and joyful moment.

Why did the pre-conversion Paul persecute the church?

19 12 2011

“It may be observed, however, that the preaching of Jesus crucified as the Messiah would have been intolerable to Paul’s orthodoxy (as a Jew) and it seems probable that in addition to, or at least in conjuction with, his devotion to the law the early Christians’ preaching of a crucified Messiah also contributed to Paul’s persecuting frenzy.  For when Paul says to the Corinthians, ‘Jews demand a sign and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ curcified, a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Gentiles’ (1 Cor 1.22), we may recognize the voice of one who ‘had stumbled over it himself.’…To Paul as to every other Jew, a crucified Messiah was not only an insult to his national-political messianic hopes, it was also ‘incomprehensible absurdity,’ since the Messiah was, almost by definition, one uniquely favored by God (Isa 11:2), whereas a hanged man was, according to the law, cursed by God (Dt 21:23).  That Paul must have seen in the cross the decisive refutation of the claim that Jesus was the Messiah may be inferred from passages such as Mt. 27:42; Lk 24:20; Jn 12:34 and does not depend on whether Gal 3:10-14 can be appealed to as providing evidence of how Paul once thought.

The crucifixion at once rendered it unnecessary to give any serious consideration to the question of Jesus’ messiahship:  Jesus had been condemned not only by the court of Judaism, but by the high court of heaven itself; hence, his disciples’ claim that he was the Messiah could only be blasphemy worthy of death (Lev 24:16), and their further claim that he was risen could not be treated as anything but criminal deception.  Thus the plain sentence of the law led Paul to dismiss the claims of the Nazarenes as blasphemous and culpably false, and this, coupled with his clear grasp of the fundamental incompatibility between Judaism and the Christian faith, impelled him to give himself wholeheartedly to what he considered the unmistakable and sacred duty of uprooting the pernicious sect of Jesus’ followers.

It may safely be assumed, therefore, that Paul’s persecution of the Church was in fact caused by the offense of the cross as much as by his devotion to the law, although the offensiveness of the cross was undoubtedly rendered the more repugnant by his zeal for the law.  That he should mention his devotion to the law rather than the offense of the cross as the reason for his hostility to Christian faith is understandable in a context where he is concerned to emphasize the fervor of his early attachment to Judaism.  His purpose in Gal 1.13 is to justify his contention that the gospel came to him without human mediation (Gal 1.11):  the fact that he was an ardent persecutor of the Church shows that both his inward orientation and his conduct were incompatible with the basic principles of Christianity, so that there can be no question of his having received, even unconsciously, the gospel from the hands of the apostles of Christ.”

From Fung,’s NICNT commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, selected paragraphs from pgs 58-62

How did Jesus pray?

19 12 2011

From the “Tefillah” (“the prayer”; that is the prayer of all prayers) or “Shemoneh Esre” (Eighteen Benedictions) recited by the Jewish people since before the time of Jesus during synagogue worship.  I have excerpted the second benediction, which Jesus would have prayed throughout his life.  Perhaps as you read it, picture Jesus reciting it on the eve of his betrayal, or carrying the cross on the long road to Golgotha. 

“You are mighty, humbling the proud; strong, judging the ruthless; you live for evermore, and raise the dead; you make the wind to return and the dew to fall; you nourish the living, and bring the dead to life; you bring forth salvation for us in the blinking of an eye.  Blessed are you, O Lord, who bring the dead to life.”

to see the Tefillah in its entirety, click here