Return to Study Guide for Galatians -by Don Kugelberg, Long Beach, California USA
As students of the Bible, we should always have two goals in mind. First, we should read the Bible well. I’ll explain what this requires in a moment. Second, we need to understand how the message contained in the Scripture passage we are studying has relevance to our world. This is not as easy as it seems.
Whenever we pick up the Bible and read it, even in a contemporary version… we are conscious of stepping back two millennia or (in the case of the Old Testament) even more. We travel backwards in time, behind the microchip revolution, the electronic revolution, the scientific revolution and the industrial revolution, until we find ourselves in an alien world which long ago ceased to exist.
To properly read Scripture requires us to know two cultures – the ancient one which provides the context for the passage and today’s which provides the framework on which our thoughts are based. We deceive only ourselves if we believe we are unaffected by the culture in which we live.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
He starts by saying “Don’t be conformed to the world.” What does this mean? To be conformed means to be shaped by something that does not come from within. This is interesting. Why does Paul tells us not to be shaped by something outside of us? As believers, we are in the world but we are no longer of the world.
He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,
2 Corinthians 5:17
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
If we are truly believers then we have a new heart. We are no longer to be shaped by the culture around us. We formerly were of this world but now are different.
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.
Paul starts with a negative – “Don’t be conformed”, and moves to a positive “Be transformed”. Let’s pause again for a minute and ask ourselves. What does it mean to be transformed?
Transformed in the original text come from the word from which we get metamorphosis. What does that mean: A caterpillar to a butterfly or a tadpole to a frog. Inside of every tadpole is the heart of a frog. It is in the tadpole’s DNA, it is who he is. As he goes from tadpole to frog he is going through a transformation as his outside begins to reflect his inner being.
Before we became believers we did not have a choice. The world’s mold not only conformed us, it consumed us, inside and out. We looked and acted just like the world because we were of the world.
Now Paul commands us to be transformed. It begins in the mind. Our mind needs renewal. Where does this renewal come from? Titus 3:6 tells us it is the Holy Spirit who performs the renovations. I believe He uses the Word of God to do so. The Word of God is not approached as one would read a novel.
2 Timothy 2:15
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
We are to earnestly attempt to rightly handle the Word of truth. Bible scholars always look at the Word using a three part process. They ask:
1. What do the words say (observation)? This is the reason we want to use an accurate translation for study and not a paraphrase. A paraphrase already contains another’s interpretation. We want the author’s words.
2. What does the author mean (interpretation)? This is not the same as what does this passage mean to me? It requires us to know the author and his intended audience. It has been said that interpretation requires three things – context, context, and context.
3. Finally, only after the first two questions are answered, can we move to the third question; How does what the author says apply to me and others (application)? The order of the questions is important. Making correct application requires an understanding of the text which only comes from observation and interpretation.
Scot McKnight in the NIV Application Commentary makes the point that understanding Scripture requires us to be involved in three conversations simultaneously.
First we must be conversant with the ancient world, especially the Jewish world, to understand what God was saying at that time. Second, we must be conversant with our culture. …Third we must be conversant with the changes in our culture. What God said to your parents and mine is probably different than what he is saying to you and me and to our offspring.
Before you jump down his throat, McKnight is not saying that the truth of Scripture is fluid. Truth is truth whatever the culture. What he is saying is that the application of truth is different depending on the times to which it speaks.
Luke’s writing in Acts 15 is a great example of what I mean. Acts 15:1:
But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”
This was a burning issue in the first century but today is a non-issue. Does this mean this verse is no longer relevant to today?
2 Timothy 3:16-17
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
The challenge becomes to observe what the text says, interpret the context of the Jerusalem council and its decisions and finally to make application for today. The application to the first century church was easy, James stated it succinctly to the Jerusalem church
Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God,
The Jerusalem council declares that a gentile does not have to be circumcised to become a believer. How does this relate to us? A proper understanding of why this was an issue in the first century church and how the church arrived at their decision shapes our understanding of the theology of salvation today. I’d say understanding the context of the passage is very relevant. It speaks to the question “How can a man be accepted by God?”
Fortunately, the book of Galatians speaks to this larger question raised by those first century believers. Over the coming weeks we will learn as Paul attempts to correct theology that has taken a turn for the worst. By the end of our study, it is my hope that we will not only know what Paul said and the context in which he said it, but most importantly for us, we will be able to apply God’s principles to our own lives and culture and be able to rightly handle God’s Word of truth.
Paul, an apostle — not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead and all the brothers who are with me,
To the churches of Galatia:
We have here presented the author – Paul and his addressees – the churches of Galatia. There is not a whisper of controversy among the commentators about the authorship of this letter. All accept this as an authentic letter written by Paul. We will speak about him later.
The question of who Paul was writing to is not quite so simple. At the time of Paul’s writing Galatia had to meanings. It first of all described an ethnic group. It also described a Roman province.
The commentators wrote pages and pages on whether the subjects were true Gauls who migrated from Europe beginning about 278 B.C. These Northern churches would have been composed of only few Jews and would have been mostly ethnically pure. The alternative is that Paul is referring to the churches within the Galatian Province which Paul visited during his 1st missionary journey. These would be the churches in the southern province of Galatia as defined by the Romans.
I don’t see that the distinction is relevant to our discussions except as they concern the date of the letter. If one chooses the southern churches, then Galatians is one of the earliest epistles written soon after Paul’s 1st missionary trip. If one takes the stance that Paul was writing to the Northern peoples then the letter has to be dated much later since Paul did not visit these churches any earlier than his third journey.
The subject of the letter which we will broach had to do with the gospel as held by the Galatian Church whoever they were.
Return to Study Guide for Galatians -by Don Kugelberg, Long Beach, California USA