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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Galatians and Messianic Jews

series on the last three chapters of Galatians begins today.

The writings of Paul have always been, to me, subservient to the Gospels. In many denominations, Paul's words is the center; but Paul as interpreted in a modern, post-Reformation mindset. In other words, from a Rationalist, Individualist, anti-Roman Catholic (abuses grown out of the Middle Ages), Graeco-Roman mindset. Today this is framed by the most pressing question imaginable to us: "If you died tonight where would you spend eternity?" [As I have shared before, this question never seemed to be on Jesus' lips.]

Our assumptions, however, are assumptions. This means we do not even know we have them. So "the way it is" is not questioned.

I am Catholic (though not Roman) and I have long believed that the prevailing belief that "we go to heaven if we believe in Jesus and we cannot earn heaven it is a grace" while true, was also distorted by those who held to it. The constant debates on faith and works were troubling to me. I just could not make sense of it. Over the years I have written about this a great deal. Then along comes Galatians and I find myself thinking, maybe I got it wrong. Going to the commentaries seemed to confirm that.

However, on Friday, I read some Messianic Jewish comments on Galatians. They (Messianic Jews) have their own agenda, obviously, but there are some lose ends which they seem to take care of. 

Paul was a Jew, and as Derek Leman reminds us, a practicing Jew (according to Acts). I already know that, but I am reminded that the actual conflicts and players in Galatians are unknown to us. We have to guess who the various parties are and many references leave themselves open to many possibilities. But reading the letters as written by Torah believers (which Paul was) does shift the vantage point.

The ancient beliefs about faith (trusting trustworthiness) and salvation (deliverance from our dire situation) have taken on new meanings in our modern context. For example, while Paul calls all Christians saints, many think Saints are the canonized, like St. Paul or St. Joseph.

So in Galatians 4, we may be missing out on some of the subtleties of Paul's point. He sets forth the paradox, an heir, while underage, is under the authority of a caregiver. That power over us, for good or ill, is not God. Paul explains, Jesus came to deliver all, at the right time, to become children of God. (cf John1 for the same declaration). This intimate relationship with God transcends the earthly realm (under the various powers). It is Jesus who is the focal point, nothing else. The Torah served as a preparation for him. This does mean the practices are subservient to Him. The question is do Gentile believers have to become Jews? Paul answer loud and clear, no.

The story of Abraham and the two sons, some speculate, is what the "outside missionaries" used to convince the Galatians to embrace circumcision and become Jews. They might have said, "become Isaac, not the outcast pagan son of Hagar!" But Paul turns it on its head, making the children of faith/promise Isaac, while calling earth bound Jerusalem the slave boy! It is the heavenly Jerusalem (something which we see in the Apocalypse as well) where the true glory resides. Christ means freedom. The key is CHRIST. There is no other means of encounter superior to Him.

There is so much more to study and learn, but about this I am sure. Jesus Christ is God incarnate. No one and nothing else is the fullness. Jesus carries us where our own legs cannot walk. We are dependent. Yet, we are not relieved of the ethical demands of life in the Kingdom. Paul never implies that. Trying to figure it out can make the head spin. It is, however, the case that God is merciful on those who truly love and seek Him. So we can trust in Him and not be afraid, even if we take obedience very seriously 

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