In the years before AD 55 Paul had proclaimed the gospel (perhaps twice) to Gentiles who now constituted the churches of Galatia. Although his stay among them was brought about or affected by a "weakness of the flesh" (4:13), the Galatians were more than kind during Paul’s affliction and treated him as an angel of God. Seemingly they saw him work miracles among them (3:5). This memory sharpens his outrage that the Galatians now (4:16) evaluate him as an enemy who somehow cheated them in his preaching about Christ. How had this come about?

After Paul left Galatia, Christians of Jewish origin (6:13) had come, probably from Jerusalem, preaching another gospel (1:7), i.e., an understanding of what God had done in Christ different from Paul’s. (Had they come to Galatia becauwse Paul had been there, or was this simply a stop on their evangelizing route that accidentally brought them into contact with his past work? Were they as pointedly hostile to him as he was to them?) Their "gospel" has to be reconstructed mirror-wise from Paul’s hostile refutation of it—a process marked by uncertainties and not geared to engender a sympathetic understanding of a preaching that most Galatians quickly came to judge more persuasive than what they had heard from Paul.

In subsequent Christian history a sense of the sacredness of NT Scripture and respect for Paul as the great apostle have naturally led Christians to a conviction that his gospel was true to Christ and that of his adversaries was not. Nevertheless, since there is no convincing reason for thinking that "the preachers," as they may be called, were fools or dishonest, I shall seek to show why their gospel, so far as it can be reconstructed, sounded plausible. Paul and the preachers were at one in proclaiming that what God had accomplished through Jesus the Messiah in terms of justification and the gift of the Spirit was for both Jews and Gentiles. But how were Gentiles to receive God’s gift in Jesus? According to Paul’s preaching, God offered justification through the "faith of/in Christ." According to the preachers faith in Christ had a role, but justification was not complete without observing the works of the Law—a preaching that preserved for the Gentiles the great heritage of Judaism with all its ethical guidance. A key factor in that preaching of works was an insistence of circumcision and observing the calendrical feasts (4:10). As the preachers explained, the one true God had blessed all the nations of the world in Abraham who believed (Gen 15:6) and then, as part of the covenant, gave Abraham the commandment of circumcision (Gen.17:10) and the heavenly calendar. Jews are descendants of Abraham through Sarah (the free wife) and have observed the covenant of circumcision (Gen. 17:14) and the Law given by angels to Moses (Gal. 3:19); Gentiles are descendants of Abraham trhrough Hagar (the slave wife). Through the preachers the work of Jesus the Messiah was now being exptended to the Gentiles, who can be fully included in the covenant if they arecircumcised in imitation of Abraham and do the works of the Law.

Yet had not Paul already brought the gospel to the Gentile believers in Galatia? No! In order to make quick converts Paul had preached a truncated gospel that did not tell them that sharing in the Abraham covenant depended on circumcision. Paul had left them without the guidance of the Law, prey to the "Evil Inclination" and the desires of the flesh; and that is why sin was still rampant among them. This was a persuasive message, especially if the preachers pointed out that Paul, who was a latecomer to the gospel, had not known Jesus as the real apostles had. After all, Jesus, who was circumcised himself, had never exempted anyone from circumcision; and the real apostles at Jerusalem kept the feasts and the food laws. How could Paul answer the preachers and win back the Galatians to recognize that he had preached the truth? As we turn to analyze the letter he wrote, we should keep in mind that controversy with the preachers shapes his expression and phrasing. Too often Paul’s "theology" of justification, faith, and fredom is abstracted from Galatians without recognizing the apologetic shaping.

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Robert D. Wallin, G411 Mason Hall, Ann Arbor, MI 48109 USA