Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 1, verse 2

Galatians 1:2 “and all the brothers with me, To the churches in Galatia:”

“and all the brothers with me” This also speaks to RELATIONSHIP. At the leadership seminar held at SOGF in October, 2004, Charles Simpson’s major theme was that everything in Christianity is about relationships. That is one of the underlying themes here in Galatians. Verse 1 begins by speaking of and implying Paul’s intimate relationship with God, now here, in verse 2, it speaks of such a relationship with his brothers in Christ. Everything in the Kingdom is relationship-based! Also, I think this indicates Paul had a well established relationship within the church at large, and was properly submitted to church authorities. This is brought out more and discussed in Chapter 2, but all of Paul’s relationships were righteous, proper, and wholesome.

“to the churches in Galatia:” Here is something interesting! He says "churches," not "church." He uses the plural. This is a radical departure from the greetings used in his other letters directed to particular churches. For example:

a. Romans 1:7: “to all in Rome who are loved of by God and called to be saints.”
b. 1 Corinthians 1:2 & 2 Corinthians 1:1: “to the church of God in Corinth”
c. Ephesians 1:1: “to the saints in Ephesus.”
d. Philippians 1:1: “to all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philipi.”
e. Colossians 1:2: “to the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse.”
f. 1 Thessalonians 1:1 & 2 Thessalonians 1:1: “To the church of the Thessalonians”

In all his other letters, Paul’s address is to a singular entity, or one group of Christians; only in Galatians does he speak to “churches” in the plural. Why is this?

During Old Testament times, Galatia was a vital commercial center along the trade route between Europe and Greece on one side and Egypt and the middle east on the other (Galatia is located in the central part of what is today Turkey). It was a very urban area – lots of commerce, trade and industry. It was originally populated by Greek tribes, with a sizable Jewish population from at least the time of the divided kingdom (that is, immediately after the reign of King Solomon), and then much more so after the time of the exile. 300 years before Jesus’ birth, there was a population explosion among the barbarian tribes of central Europe. At the same time, the Romans were beginning their expansion into central Europe. These barbarian tribes (the Gauls) were resettled in Galatia by the Romans, and almost overnight, they were the largest ethnic group in the region. The relationship between these ethnic groups was never smooth – they co-existed under Roman rule, but they never really got along. My guess is that converts to Christianity met in groups that corresponded to their ethnicity. It’s a big region, so there were probably large numbers of each ethnic group who met in their own way, culturally (language, dress, music, etc.). We will see as we progress, that this underlying issue of ethnicity, though not openly express in the letter to the Galatians, is intricately tied to the major issues of Paul’s letter. This concept has tremendous application to the church in America today, and especially to Christians who live in a racially diverse area, like the area I live in. The comparison between the Galatia of Paul's day and the community I live in is almost uncanny. Galatia was a large, urban center where three major ethnic groups (along with other smaller ones) vied with each other for survival, with the influx of the newest of these groups radically changing the landscape. Here in the southern suburbs of Chicago, we live in a large, urban center where three or more major ethnic groups in large enough numbers to be near equals, where, in my lifetime, I have seen the influx of one of these groups happen so quickly that in a short time they took over as the majority. The social issues are probably quite similar. In sum though, its seems pretty clear that there is an implication of many diverse congregations in Galatia, and yet the difference with our time is they related together in a unity under Paul’s authority as the Apostle/Overseer.

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