26 January 2015

Galatians 1:11-24

“You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life … I was violently persecuting the church of God” (v. 13)

Psalm: Psalm 139


Paul's dramatic conversion can be an uncomfortable read for those for whom faith has been a continual, slow-burning journey. It is possible to feel a little inadequate (or at least, a little less interesting) when we read that God revealed his message directly to Paul (then named Saul) on the road to Damascus (see Acts 9:1-19; 22:3-21; 26:12-23) and that Paul then immediately turned away from his earlier existence of "breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord" (Acts 9:1). However, Paul does not reject his status as a Jew or "the traditions of [his] ancestors" (Galatians 1:14) - instead, he turns away from seeking validation through obedience to the laws of Moses and through his own significant achievements (about which he does not hesitate to remind us) and places himself at God's disposal.

The balance that Paul strikes between his heritage and the revelation he received from God is vital to his letter to the church in Galatia (a region in modern Turkey). Under the new covenant between God and his people that was forged by Jesus' death and resurrection, "there is no longer Jew or Greek" (Galatians 3:28). This meant that Gentile (non-Jewish) believers were no longer required to become Jews, or to carry out the ceremonies and rituals set down in the laws of Moses. However, in the short time since Paul had established the church in Galatia, it had been infiltrated by false teachers who had convinced many that "unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved" (Acts 15:1). The Jerusalem Council in AD 48/49 would rule that Gentile converts should not be circumcised (see Acts 15), but as Paul fails to mention this, it seems likely that his letter to the Galatians was written before the decision was made. Paul's purpose in his introduction is to remind the church that he received God's message directly (and unmediated through teachers with their own agenda) and that although he holds fast to the traditions of his Jewish ancestors, he is justified by faith alone, and not by obedience to the law (Galatians 2:16).

To Ponder

  • If you have come to a Christian faith from another faith background, what traditionshave you found it helpful to retain and incorporate?
  • Are all testimonies (personal stories of faith), however dramatic, equally useful as tools for evangelism? Why?

Bible notes author

Naomi Oates

Naomi Oates has worked for the Connexional Team in a variety of guises since 2012, currently as the Executive Officer to the Secretary of the Conference. She is also training part-time for presbyteral ministry.