Galatians 1:6-24

I think of yesterday’s first reading, 1:6-12, as the opening of the Body of the letter. The omission of the Thanksgiving strikes me even now as a little shocking because even in situations that seem to have run out of control in other cities (think Corinth) Paul manages more than a perfunctory Thanksgiving. The lack of a Thanksgiving indicates that Paul either feels that there is truly nothing in Galatia for him to give thanks - and would that not be a little shocking? - or that Paul wants to shock the Galatian Christians to life because they are in danger of losing the Gospel. Paul, in fact, accuses the Galatians of "forsaking" the Gospel and turning to another Gospel. He quickly states, though, that there is no other Gospel, but that "some" want to pervert the Gospel(1:6-9). Who these people are that wish to preach some other Gospel has always been an open question. It seems that they must be Christians who still maintain the necessity of following the Law of Moses (which will become clearer as we continue to read this letter). This raises a question we should discuss over the next few days: do Christians not still follow God’s law? How could God’s law not be relevant? At this point, however, Paul simply argues that those who teach anything beyond the Gospel brought by Paul are "accursed (1:8, 9)," which is strong language, the language of ancient polemic. Paul then asks, rhetorically, if he in saying this is only attempting to curry favor or "please people" (1:10). This is clearly a claim made against him. Most likely, his opponents in Galatia have argued that Paul’s Gospel is a watery gruel, designed to make people happy by removing the need to follow the laws of circumcision or kosher, for example, but not aimed to please God or meet true human need. Paul’s reply: his Gospel is not his, it is from God (1:11-12) and what he preaches, he preaches due to a revelation from Jesus Christ, a clear reference to his Damascus Road experience. Paul uses this event to segue to his background in Judaism, when he still was a persecutor of the Church and not its proponent (1:13-24,the first reading for October 7). Paul, persecutor of the Church, was called by revelation to proclaim the Gospel to the Gentiles; this call, and the Gospel, were not given by human authorities (1:15-19), not even Peter, whom Paul often calls by his Aramaic name, Cephas. What is most important to Paul’s argument is his divine revelatory call, but Paul is also letting the Galatians know that as a former Pharisee, "zealous for my ancestral traditions," Paul knows the law and what it means to follow the law with love and dedication. Yet, somehow, God’s gracious call, literally, turned Paul to Christ and away from his former life in Judaism. Why should this be the case? John W. Martens
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