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Third Quarter 2017 (June 24–September 29)
COMMENTARY ON THE GOSPEL IN GALATIANS
Week 8: August 12–18
COMMENTARY ON "From Slaves to Heirs"
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).
Day 1: Sabbath Afternoon, August 12, 2017 - Introduction
The memory text summarizes this title and emphasis well:
“So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Galatians 4:7, ESV).
What a great passage and what an outstanding message to consider throughout this week. God has, through Christ, made us His child and promised us an inheritance.
While the quote from Watchman Nee is an excellent story that makes the point of this passage well his theology and the churches that sprang from this theology are at least as controversial as Seventh-day Adventism itself. It is worth the time to read a little bit from both sides of the discussion on whether his churches should be counted among the cults. You will find many of the same issues that lead to mixed reactions in response to Adventism, so it isn't surprising that SDAs would be comfortable quoting one of his stories in their publication.
With that side issue behind us, let's continue to the real meat of this subject—our status as children and heirs. Consider the nature of a son. A son is always a son, not just when he does and says all the right things. A son doesn't have to continually prove that he is good enough to be kept as a son. A son doesn't have to demonstrate that he is "fit for sonship" like some teach that we must prove in this life that we are "fit for heaven". There is no discussion about whether a son has made himself ready to become a son like SDAs speak of needing to be ready for Christ's coming.
God has made believers His children. And He has promised, in fact He has guaranteed us that we will receive an inheritance from Him. As we consider the implications of becoming a child and heir of God it clarifies a number of false teachings about our salvation. A child in an imperfect family here on earth can expect something very different than an employee can expect, and certainly different from what a slave could have expected. Do you think a child with a Perfect Heavenly Father could expect more or less than an earthly child?
Day 2: Sunday, August 13, 2017 - Our Condition in Christ
This lesson addresses three main issues:
The lesson begins with a strong point, encouraging some contextually reading by reminding people to go back a verse and understand the current verse in light of the previous verse. Full contextual reading may require reading an even larger amount of Scripture than just the verse immediately prior, but this concept of contextual study is critical to understanding Scripture as it was written. We can't just study one verse at a time here and there and expect to understand what they meant to the author. The lesson asks:
Keeping Galatians 3:25 in mind, read Galatians 3:26. How does this text help us understand what our relationship to the law is, now that we have been redeemed by Jesus?
Since verse 26 makes no mention of the law, the question must require us looking back to what verse 25 says. Verse 25 tells us that as believers "we are no longer under a guardian". Backing up one more verse, we find in verse 24 that "the law was our guardian", so the Biblical conclusion is that we are no longer under the Law.
The lesson emphasizes that our "relationship" to the law is changed. It tries to explain this as having the relationship as a "minor" before and having an adult "relationship" now. This is misleading. Once the child was grown, the pedagogue no longer had any authority to tell the son what to do. The grown child doesn't subsequently cling to the pedagogue as a trusted advisor. The pedagogue completed the task that the Master had assigned to him and moved on to something else, the grown child had no further relationship with this slave. If we accept the direct and plain words of Scripture we can only conclude that we are no longer under the Law, not that we have a new "relationship" with the Law. The author of the study is slightly, but very importantly, altering the words of Scripture in order to insert their own ideas into the passage. "No longer under" means just what it says.
Verse 26 is not just a reference pointing out that believers become sons (children) of God. The lesson did a nice job of pointing out this aspect of the verse and the implications for inheritance. But there is another important part of this verse that was ignored by the lesson.
...for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. (Gal 3:26, ESV)
One of the critical teachings of this verse, a teaching that links this verse to the discussion that comes before it in the Chapter and the discussions that continue into the next Chapter is the teaching of "how" we become sons (children) of God. The verse makes it clear that it is "through faith", in contrast to the Law which we are no longer under. As we look back in the Chapter, Paul makes it clear that inheritance comes by the promise not by the law (v 18) and then links together the promise and faith (v 22). Going a little further back in the Chapter we find that this entire discussion is based on the question of Law versus faith (v 2). That is the broader context and this verse fits perfectly into that overall context when you don't leave out part of the verse from your discussion.
The focus of verse 26 isn't so much our relationship to the Law and how it changes. Instead it is a question of our status as heirs and children of God and how that status comes about. We are sons/heirs through faith, not because of works of the Law.
The lesson then moves from being children of God to the question of Baptism. The author claims that "Paul sees baptism as a radical decision" and as eloquent as this sounds, it simply isn't Biblical. The author sees baptism this way and attributes that teaching to Paul. But there are no passages from Paul describing baptism as a "decision", let alone a radical one. Theological viewpoints are reinforced through repeating statements like these as if they were truth. Avoid being manipulated by looking for the Scriptural support for the statements.
The author also attributes the notion that Paul describes baptism as a symbolic uniting with Jesus. But the new birth associated with baptism is more than a symbolic union with Christ. Jesus describes it as being born of the water and the Spirit (John 3:5). When we are born again, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us. The Holy Spirit is God's seal (Eph 1:13) and it guarantees our status as His children and His heirs (Eph 1:14; Rom 8:16; 2 Cor 1:22).
The lesson quotes a Roman Catholic professor regarding the events that accompany baptism when he notes that "Paul is describing the righteousness which is conferred upon believers". It is interesting that the author of this lesson would choose a quote that was so carefully worded. Conferred has two accepted meanings, but those two meanings are drastically different theological teachings. Conferred can mean the credited (i.e. imputed) righteousness described by Paul in Romans. But "conferred" can also be used to describe the infused righteousness taught by works-oriented religions like Roman Catholicism and historic Seventh-day Adventism. By carefully selecting a word that can mean either one, the author can not be pinned down on whether his views are Biblically accurate.
The lesson ends with one of those question types that I remember as being so popular among SDA Sabbath School class; a question that is based completely on speculation and philosophy. Instead of focusing on what the Scripture being studied actual says, the question asks for speculative extensions of a concept found in the lesson. Because we are heirs like Christ is an heir, doesn't mean that everything that is true of Christ is also true of us. Such speculation is a dangerous practice where we substitute our wisdom for the plain Word of God. It is also a substantial tangent that avoids the key point of the passage under study that we are children of God through faith not through the Law.
The quarterly lesson glosses over key phrases in the passages studied and fails to link together the current passages with the surrounding passages. The author of the study introduces small modifications to the teaching of Scripture, repeating these as if they were facts. The questions tended to address tangential elements of the passage, directing people away from the strong points made in Scripture that would raise questions about SDA doctrine. Unfortunately, people can follow these tangents and think that they actually studied the Bible while having been lead away from a few of the core teachings.
Day 3: Monday, August 14, 2017 - Enslaved to Elementary Principles
Gal 4:1-3 (and following) examines the role of the Law for the believer drawing on a comparison to an heir who is a minor with an appointed guardian contrasted with the grown child.
The lesson begins with a reasonable explanation of the nature of the guardianship over the minor heir. The descriptions contained in the lesson do a nice job of helping people to understand the context.
Unfortunately the good foundation that is laid in the opening two paragraphs is quickly undone with a leading question that directs people away from the context of the verse. Specifically, the lesson states:
Read Galatians 4:1–3. What is Paul saying there that, again, should help clarify what the role of the law should be in our lives, now that we are in Christ?
It becomes clear just how misleading this question is when you read a couple of verses ahead of what is covered in today's material. The lesson, and particularly this question, is setting you up to conclude that you are a child in Christ that still may need oversight. But the message of this passage is, in reality, quite different. The "child" in this analogy are God's people before the coming of Christ. In verse 2 Paul speaks of being "under guardians and managers until the date set by his father". The guardians and managers that God's people were under is the Law. The phrase "until the date set by his father" corresponds directly to verse 4 "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son". So what Paul describes here in this analogy, that God's people were placed under the Law until Christ repeats through analogy what Paul stated directly in Gal 3:19 "Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made" and Gal 3:24 "So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came". Paul is presenting the same truth with multiple descriptions to help make it clear.
The only reason that the meaning of the phrase "elementary principles" found in verse 3 would be disputed is that some do not like the conclusion that must be reached if you allow Paul to explain what he means from the surrounding verses. The lesson comes closer to the contextual truth than I would have expected when it calls these the "rudimentary principles of religious life". But instead of accepting that the Law is an indivisible whole, as Paul teaches in Gal 3:10 and 5:3, the author of the lesson incorrectly inserts the concept of "ceremonial" laws. There is no Scriptural basis for splitting the law apart into ceremonial, moral, and civil laws. Historically, this splitting of the Law wasn't seen until centuries after the time of Christ. Without historical or Scriptural evidence that this concept was ever present during or before the time of Paul's writings how can it be so readily accepted?
Setting aside the problems with the entire concept of ceremonial laws, the literary context of Galatians argues against the idea. The notion that Paul is discussing "ceremonial" laws doesn't fit the other descriptions of the law in the surrounding verses. In verses 4b-5a Paul states that Jesus was "born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law". Is anyone going to contend that people needed to be redeemed from just the ceremonial law? That makes no sense. Understand that this passage is a continuation of the discussion of the role of the law that began at the start of Chapter 3. Is there any curse associated with the ceremonial law from which we need to be redeemed (3:13)? The obvious answer from the surrounding Scripture is that the Law is more than just the ceremonial elements.
The lesson makes a really great concluding remark. "To regulate one’s life around these rules instead of Christ is like wanting to go back in time. For the Galatians to return to those basic elements after Christ had already come was like the adult son in Paul’s analogy wanting to be a minor again!" If you combine the truth expressed in this conclusion with the understanding that the Law is a whole, not just a set of ceremonies, you are understanding Paul's comments quite well.
The lesson ends with another question that directs people away from the actual content of the passage. Nothing in this passage discusses, or even hints at, the topics of childlike faith and spiritual maturity. It actually appears that these concepts may have been inserted to reinforce the false notion that the child discussed in the passage is describing a believer and the relationship between the child and the law describes the role the law should have in our own lives (similar to the misdirection found in the first question of this lesson).
The quarterly lesson does not allow the surrounding Scripture to define what the passages mean. Instead of relying on Scripture to interpret Scripture, the lesson inserts leading questions that direct the unsuspecting reader away from the contextual understanding of the passage. Take the time to evaluate the surrounding context and see how consistently Paul presents the same truth over and over again using different comparisons.
Day 4: Tuesday, August 15, 2017 - "God Sent Forth His Son"
In context, Gal 4:4 is part of a continuing discussion about the nature or role of the law relative to a New Covenant believer. This lesson treats this verse complete separate from what precedes or follows.
In order to understand Paul's intent, we need to review the passage not just the individual verse. There is no problem with pointing out that God is active in working His will throughout history, or that Christ came at a specific time, a time that was pre-planned by God. But more important, in the immediate context, is that two verses earlier the passage is also speaking about a date set by God. Ignoring the immediately surrounding verses in order to discuss other applications violates basic rules of reading comprehension and common sense.
In verse 2 the child (the Israelites under the Old Covenant as shown in the previous lesson) is under guardians and managers (described as the law in Gal 3:24) "until the date set by his father". Verse 3 begins describing "In the same way…" comparing our spiritual situation with the child who is an heir. Just as there is a "date set by his father" in the earthly example, there is the point where "the fullness of time has come" in the heavenly reality being described. This fullness of time is the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Before Jesus the followers of God (Israel) were under the guardianship of the law. But that was for a specific period of time leading up to the date set by the Father. After that date the status of the child changed and the guardian (law) no longer managed the actions of the grown heir. "In the same way" the status of God's followers changed and the law that managed the action of these followers no longer ruled them.
The lesson is correct in pointing out that Christ had to take on our humanity in order to redeem us. And there is nothing inherently wrong in examining that truth with along with this passage. The SDA lesson wants the readers to engage in discussion about the "why" of God's action. In this case, several of the verses listed do point out reasons:
The lesson correctly points out that "God took the initiative in our salvation"; unfortunately this statement leaves open the idea that salvation is now our responsibility, since God has made the first step.
The lesson also correctly points out that "born under the law" points to Jesus' Jewish heritage and His role in bearing our condemnation. But it blatantly ignores what Scripture says in the following verse that He came to redeem thus who were under the law.
The same conclusion for that last lesson applies equally to this one. The quarterly lesson does not allow the surrounding Scripture to define what the passages mean. Instead of relying on Scripture to interpret Scripture, the lesson inserts leading questions that direct the unsuspecting reader away from the contextual understanding of the passage. Take the time to evaluate the surrounding context and see how consistently Paul presents the same truth over and over again using different comparisons.
Furthermore, the lesson introduces interesting truths (with a couple of errors mixed in for good measure) that are unrelated to the contextual understanding of the verse. By focusing on these other important and interesting ideas, the reader is distracted from following the analogy being used by Paul in the book that we are studying.
Day 5: Wednesday, August 16, 2017 - The Privileges of Adoption
In context, Gal 4:5-7 is part of a continuing discussion about the nature or role of the law relative to a New Covenant believer. Specifically, this section discusses how believers become heirs in order to continue the comparison between the child heir who is under the guardianship of the law until the time comes that he is an outright heir, free from the management of the guardian. Believers are fellow heirs with Christ through our adoption by God. These specific verses address that process of adoption.
The lesson starts strong by pointing out the idea that redeem means to "buy back". Many popular SDA teachings on Christ's atoning death downplay or outright deny that His death was paying a price for sin. Christ's death is more than an example of how far God is willing to go to save His people. It is more than a demonstration of the depth of God's love. It is more than restoring the relationship (you may have heard the false characterization of at-one-ment with God). There was a price that had to be paid. The covenant of the Law required that sin be paid for through death. Christ's death paid the price that the Law required.
The lesson quickly comes off the rail when it chooses to introduce four things from which people need to be freed. The passage is clear about redeeming "those under the Law". To introduce redemption from things other than the Law is ignoring the verse itself and the surrounding context. But even worse, the lesson introduces a concept that it reads into Scripture. It states that the redemption that is needed is not from being under the Law, but only from the condemnation of the Law. This is one of the two main changes that SDAism has to make to the passages here in Galatians in order to maintain its doctrines. First, change the statements referring to the Law to become statement referring only to the condemnation of the Law. This way SDAs can hang on to guardian that, as grown children, they should no longer be under. Second, SDAs change the statements about the Law to refer to the ceremonial laws. Interestingly these two changes are contradictory to one another. No one needs to be redeemed from the condemnation of the "ceremonial" law. It is the "moral" law that condemns, not the "ceremonial". Now in fact there is no such distinction of the law found in the Bible. It is a man-made distinction that didn't start for centuries after the time of Christ.
The discussion of adoption is a solid discussion. But it ignores the implications of being an heir. It also ignores a consistent New Testament theme surrounding this adoption. The New Testament repeatedly talks about adoption or inheritance in combination with the indwelling Spirit (Rom 8:15-17; Eph 1:13-14; 2 Cor 1:21-22; 2 Cor 5:1-5). Yet the entire SDA lesson quarterly ignores the indwelling Holy Spirit as the guarantee and seal of our inheritance. Could it be that this clear Biblical teaching doesn't quite fit with SDA theology? If the indwelling Holy Spirit is God's seal promising our inheritance, as Scripture says, then how can the Sabbath be God's seal as SDAism teaches?
The lesson ends with a question that illustrates just how poorly the SDA authors have understood the central message of Galatians. The book of Galatians is about the supremacy and adequacy of faith; along with the foolishness of thinking that our works and efforts can improve what we already have through faith ("O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? … Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh"). Compare that with the question that is focused on our works and efforts: "What can you change to bring about this closeness?" If you are a born-again believer, you have that closeness, even if you don't feel it every day. You can't do anything to become "more" His child. The premise that your status as a child of God depends on what you do, or on what actions you might change actually denies that Christ has paid the price and redeemed us.
A relatively decent lesson fell apart in the final discussion questions. The works-oriented SDA gospel that focuses on what you can change and what you can do differently in order to bring about a closeness to God is revealed in these questions. No matter how many good statements SDAism has about grace and salvation by faith there is always a big "but" that is waiting to be added to the Gospel. And that big "but" always involves our works.
Day 6: Thursday, August 17, 2017 - Why Turn Back to Slavery?
Properly understood, Gal 4:8-20 is part of a continuing discussion about the nature or role of the law relative to a New Covenant believer. Paul has not suddenly changed topics, instead he is patiently continuing with the very same subject. Look ahead to verse 21 and it is clear that the subject is still the law. Resist the temptation (and the directions of the SS lesson) to treat Paul like a child with Attention Deficit Disorder who can't stay on the same subject. Understand that he is an inspired author carefully explaining a complex and controversial subject that was threatening to divide the early church.
The opening question is an excellent one. Paul takes the false teachings very seriously and these verses, particularly in modern translations, capture that seriousness quite well.
Unfortunately the excellent question is immediately followed by a misleading statement. The lesson claims that Paul does not describe the exact nature of the Galatians' religious practices. But this is only because the author of the lesson refuses to examine the surrounding context. What has been the topic for the last chapter? The Law. What is the very next verse after this section you were asked to read? "21Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law?" The exact nature of the Galatians' abhorrent religious practices involved being under the Mosaic Law.
Thinking back to the earlier verses in the end of chapter 3 and the beginning of chapter 4, it becomes even more clear what it means to move from sonship back to slavery. The son was no longer under the law once the time appointed by the Father came. To go back to being under the law would be akin to returning to a time when he was no different than a slave (Gal 4:1). We can also look forward in the chapter to understand the difference between the son and the slave. The slave is associated with Mount Sinai (verses 24-25), famous as the place where the law was given. The free son is associated with the heavenly kingdom (vs 26). When Scripture is allowed to speak for itself, it is clear that Paul is still talking about the Law in these verses.
The second question asks what the Galatians were doing that was so objectionable. If you ignore the clear links to the law, this question is hard to answer clearly. But if you combine the desire to be under the law (vs 21) with the observance of days, months, seasons, and years (verse 10) you come up with some clear answers. Does the Mosaic Law demand the observance of a specific day (each week)? Does the Law demand the observance of each new moon (a monthly observance)? Does the Law include times that must be observed in different seasons of the year? Does the Law include Sabbath years and a Jubilee year? The answers to these should be abundantly clear. Of course SDAism wants to deny that these could possibly be referring to the Seventh-day Sabbath. And the authors put forth several false arguments.
The first false argument is that "If observance of the seventh-day Sabbath subjects man to bondage, it must be that the Creator Himself entered into bondage when He observed the world's first Sabbath". There are several false aspects to this argument:
There is nothing to indicate that God observed a Sabbath day at the end of creation, or that the seventh day of creation week was a Sabbath for the whole world. God stopped (literally he "Sabbathed") creating at the end of the 6th day. God did not start again on the 8th day. Thus this was not a case of God observing the Sabbath.
Even if we set aside the argument above, something that subjected man to bondage would not automatically subject God to bondage.
Furthermore, observing the Sabbath when it was still a shadow of what was to come in Christ did not cause bondage. It is only clinging to, or returning to, the shadow AFTER the reality has arrived that creates bondage.
The second false argument put forward in the SS lesson is "Why would Jesus not only have kept the Sabbath but taught others how to keep it, if its proper observance were in any way depriving people of the freedom that they have in Him?" But Jesus never taught others how to keep the Sabbath, this is a blatant misrepresentation of Scripture. What Jesus did multiple times was to explain why the Sabbath law did not apply to Him or His followers. In one case He does this by comparing the Sabbath with a "ceremonial" law regarding the showbread (Matt 12:4). Laws regarding the Sabbath, such as the work of killing beasts and kindling a fire for their sacrifice, did not apply to the priests. Christ also pointed out that the Father in heaven worked every day as a means of defending His own work on the Sabbath.
The lesson ends asking the question "How could a wrong attitude lead us into the kind of bondage that Paul warned the Galatians about so vehemently?" The answer to that is very simple, but likely offensive to many SDAs. The belief that it is obedience to God's Law that ultimately determines salvation is exactly the same bondage that was being thrust on the Galatians.
Day 7: Friday, August 18, 2017 - Further Study
As always, the lesson ends with Further Study in Ellen White's writings.
If you pick and choose Ellen White statements carefully enough, you can make her say anything you want. Clearly the authors of this lesson want to make her sound like she believed that salvation was entirely by grace and that works have nothing to do with salvation. But she has so many statements to the contrary. Here are just a small sampling:
"We are not God's people unless we are such entirely. Every weight, every besetting sin, must be laid aside." Testimonies, vol 5, p 83.
"Why do you not cease from sin? You may overcome if you will co-operate with God. Christ's promise is sure....He who through His own atonement provided for man an infinite fund of moral power will not fail to employ this power in their behalf." Review and Herald, vol 4, p 232.
"If you will only watch, continually watch unto prayer, if you will do everything as if you were in the immediate presence of God, you will be saved from yielding to temptation, and may hope to be kept pure, spotless, and undefiled till the last." Gospel Workers, p 128
"The soul temple must not be defiled by loose or unclean practice. Those whom I [God] will acknowledge in the courts of heaven must be without spot or wrinkle." SDA Bible Commentary, vol 7, p 969.
"Not one of us will ever receive the seal of God while our characters have one spot or stain upon them. It is left with us to remedy the defects in our characters, to cleanse the soul temple of every defilement."Testimonies, vol 5, p 214.
"All who receive the seal must be without spot before God--candidates for heaven." Testimonies, vol 5, p 216.
"Letters have been coming in to me, affirming that Christ could not have had the same nature as man, for if He had, He would have fallen under similar temptations. If He did not have man's nature, he could not be our example. If He was not a partaker of our nature, He could not have been tempted as man has been. If it were not possible for Him to yield to temptations, He could not be our Helper. It is a solemn reality that Christ came to fight the battles as man, in man's behalf. His temptation and victory tell us that humanity must copy the pattern." Selected Messages, book 1, p 408.
"He who has not sufficient faith in Christ to believe that He can keep him from sinning has not the faith that will give him entrance into the kingdom of God." Selected Messages, book 3, p 360.
"Everyone who by faith obeys God's commandments, will reach the condition of sinlessness in which Adam lived before his transgression. They testify to their love of Christ by obeying all His precepts." SDA Bible Commentary, vol 6, p 1118.
"Every thought and word and deed of our lives will meet us again. What we make of ourselves in probationary time, that we must remain to all eternity. Death brings dissolution to the body, but makes no change in the character. The coming of Christ does not change our characters; it only fixes them forever beyond all change." Testimonies, vol 5, p 466.
"...the character you bear in probationary time will be the character you will have at the coming of Christ. If you would be a saint in heaven, you must first be a saint on earth. The traits of character you cherish in life will not be changed by death or by the resurrection....Jesus does not change the character at His coming. The work of transformation must be done now. Our daily lives are determining our destiny." Adventist Home, p 16.
"The refreshing or power of God comes only on those who have prepared themselves for it by doing the work which God bids them, namely, cleansing themselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." Testimonies, vol 1, p 619.
Which is the "real" Ellen White; the one telling us that our works and merits will not get us into heaven, or the one telling us that obtaining heaven depends entirely on our work? Is it any wonder that SDAism teaches such a confused gospel that is so filled with "but"s?
The lesson concludes that "To relate to God on the basis of rules and regulations alone would be foolish." The real foolishness is trying to relate on to our Father on the basis of rules and regulations at all. The book of Galatians isn't promoting the idea of faith plus rules and regulations; it is promoting faith alone. Paul was writing against some teachers in Galatia that wanted to add rules and regulations as the next step to go beyond where faith had taken believers.
"O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? …Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?"