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Third Quarter 2017 (June 24–September 29)
COMMENTARY ON THE GOSPEL IN GALATIANS
Week 1: June 24–30
COMMENTARY ON "Paul: Apostle to the Gentiles"
Following is a combined commentary on the material included in the Bible Study Guide with references as necessary to the supplemental passages included in the E. G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons.
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all biblical quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
The lessons for this week begins by introducing us to the Apostle Paul, the author of the epistle of Galatians, by looking at his former life when he was known as Saul of Tarsus and "was ravaging the church', Acts 8:3. For reason best known to the quarterly lesson author, this has been done instead of evaluating the claims Paul makes of his apostleship from within the context of Galatians.
In-as-much as this is the first week of a new quarter titled 'The Gospel in Galatians' it would have seemed appropriate to make the lessons for this week an introduction to the epistle of Galatians by actually turning to and examining the text of the epistle of Galatians.
Since the Apostle Paul introduces himself and establishes his authority very adequately as one personally selected by Jesus Christ within the first two chapters of Galatians it would have been sufficient to study who he is from within this context while also providing us the lesson author's understanding of this important New Testament book. Certainly examining the references to Paul and his earlier life as 'Saul of Tarsus' in the Book of Acts is helpful but that could easily have been done from within the context of learning Paul's message he originally wrote to the Galatian Christians. Sadly there is only one reference throughout the entire lessons for this week that comes from this epistle.
The lesson author makes much of the fact that Paul/Saul obviously witnessed the stoning of Stephen. However Scripture doesn't say he actually took part in the plot that led to the murder of Stephen. While Paul clearly admits that he was one who persecuted Christians it is not claimed from within Scripture that he was one of those who was guilty of the plot that led to the stoning of Stephen:
.... secretly instigated men who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, and they set up false witnesses who said, “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.” (Acts 6:11-14)
It is only speculation to believe Paul/Saul was one of those who instigated others to lie about Stephen. As one who was dramatically chosen by the Lord Jesus Christ to be his ambassador to the Gentiles, Paul says in Gal. 1:20 that he would not lie. He would not lie in the writing of the epistle of Galatians and there is nothing to suggest that he was a party with those who did lie about Stephen.
In Monday's lesson much is made of the Apostle Paul's conversion as if there is something unique in what God did to change Paul that isn't also true of any and all other sinners who respond in faith to the gospel message of Jesus Christ. After all, 'conversion' simply means a sinner has acknowledged that Jesus' shed blood is the one and only thing that atones and covers all his/her sins. Jesus as Lord and Savior then instantly and eternally transfers that repentant sinner out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of God through the regeneration of his dead human spirit, John 3:1-21:
Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. (John 3:5)
It is the power of God through the working of the Holy Spirit that brings a sinners dead spirit to life. No works, most assuredly not even our own good works, can cause that to happen.
Regardless of what or how great our sins may be, we all fall equally and infinitely short of God's glory. The Apostle Paul was neither more nor less so than any other sinner in the sight of God, Rom. 3:21-26:
... for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, ...(Rom. 3:23-24)
We, along with Paul, can know this truth the moment we come before the Savior Jesus Christ in faith for the full atonement of our sins:
May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Col. 1:11-14)
In Wednesday's lesson it is assumed there is such a thing as a "Gentile church". All you need to do is turn to Galatians (or Col. 3:11) and you will learn there is no such thing:
Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise. (Gal. 3:23-29)
Thursday's lesson introduces the issue of circumcision yet fails to acknowledge that Paul covers this topic in Galatians by contrasting New Covenant faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ versus that of Old Covenant law keeping:
Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. (Gal. 5:1-6)
Paul shows that the error of those who preached circumcision was their claiming that they could be justified by their works of the law. It was their failed works of the law, not simply the question of circumcision, that these false teacher were preaching that severs a person from Christ.
You cannot make a non-biblical definition that only certain parts of the law are no longer to be enforced because what Jesus replaced was whole Old Covenant, not just certain parts of the law (the conditions) that were contained within this now an obsolete covenant.
On Friday, instead of doing as is suggested in the quarterly, a better idea would be to read and study your bible. In this case, read and study chapter one of Galatians. After considering the brief introduction and salutation, notice that Paul outlines the purpose for writing to the Christians who live in the Roman Province of Galatia. Since the quarterly title is 'The Gospel in Galatians' it is well to read and understand what Paul has to say about the gospel in these opening verses.
Keep in mind that Paul has the authority of Jesus Christ along with the acknowledged approval and support of the Apostle Peter (2 Peter 3:14-18) to write what he says here:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. (Gal. 1:6-9)
Only if you respond in faith to the message that nothing but the shed blood of Jesus Christ will provide atonement, full complete eternal atonement, will you be transferred out of the kingdom of darkness and eternally into the kingdom of God. Only through the Savior's gift of the Holy Spirit will your human spirit be reborn, which occurs as you are brought eternally into the kingdom of God. Your own works, whatever and however good they may be cannot cause this to happen. In faith you must believe and understand that this is totally a work of Jesus Christ.
Therefore the Apostle Paul invokes a curse upon anyone who would dare teach anything different.