Preaching on Galatians 1:11–17

15 11 2009

[caveat: some of this material has been reworked from an earlier post]

The essential point of this pericope is that because the gospel has come by a revelation of Jesus Christ, it is not a human message. The logic underpinning these verses can be seen by reversing the order of Paul’s points in v.11–12: the gospel comes through revelation (1:12); it is therefore not human (1:11). In this way, a sermon could include these two points, along with a third regarding the impact of revelation (below).

 

First, our pleasing of God rather than people (1:10) stems from the fact that the gospel is not a human message. It will not appeal to people on a ‘natural’ level because it is a divine message, which can only be received when God opens our hearts. As such, Christians must avoid the temptation to make the gospel more palatable or more ‘human’. To do so, would be to deny the nature of the gospel, and to fall into the trap of pleasing people rather than God. To ‘humanize’ the gospel is also to rob it of its power, for it will domesticate it to the level of all other human wisdom. Thus, ironically, the preacher who seeks the wider acceptability of the gospel will undermine it.

 

Second, the gospel is not a human message because it comes by the revelation of Christ. Christ himself has been revealed and forms the content of the message. While we will not receive a personal revelation akin to Paul’s, the gospel that is taught to us has a divine source and origin. It may have been taught to us, but it was revealed to Paul, who learnt it from no man. This underscores the significance of the apostolic gospel; we are not at liberty to proclaim a message—human or otherwise—that contradicts the apostolic witness. Our gospel must be Paul’s gospel, which is, in fact, the message of Christ.

 

Third, the revelation of Christ cuts through prior convictions, customs, and even heritage. Paul is a walking demonstration of this fact, as he records his firmly-held conviction that the church was misguided, his advancing in Judaism, and the zeal for his ancestral traditions. When Christ was revealed to him, however, his convictions were shattered, his ‘career’ in Judaism abruptly ended, and his ancestral traditions rejected or redefined. Christ tore down Paul’s worldview only to recast it in his own image. The power of the revelation of Christ can be seen in such ways: as the great persecutor of the church, Saul, was transformed into the great apostle Paul, so too does the revelation of Christ shatter, rebuild, and shape lives today.

Posted by Con Campbell

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Galatians 1:17

11 11 2009

οὐδὲ ἀνῆλθον (εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα) (πρὸς τοὺς (πρὸ ἐμοῦ) ἀποστόλους),

ἀλλὰ ἀπῆλθον (εἰς Ἀραβίαν)

καὶ πάλιν ὑπέστρεψα (εἰς Δαμασκόν).

Paul here expands on his statement in 1:16 that he did not immediately consult with anyone. We are told who, in particular, Paul has in mind with the expression flesh and blood (1:16): he refers to those who were apostles before him (πρὸ ἐμοῦ). Immediately following his conversion, and his apostolic commission, he did not even go to Jerusalem to consult with the other apostles. Instead, he travelled to Arabia, then back to Damascus. Acts 9:19b–25 records Paul’s (still known as Saul) activities in Damascus. He preached in the synagogues (9:20) and grew more powerful during this time (9:22). The time spent in Arabia, however, is not mentioned in Acts; it is only recorded here in Galatians 1:17.

 

The verse effectively forms a miniature embedded narrative as Paul recounts his post-conversion movements. As to be expected with (embedded or otherwise) narrative, the mainline is conveyed through aorist indicatives (Campbell 2008b:84–85)—in this case, ἀνῆλθον, ἀπῆλθον, and ὑπέστρεψα.

 

The rhetorical contribution of this verse is to underscore the main point of 1:15–16—that Paul did not consult flesh and blood with respect to his commission to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. As the recipient of the revelation of Christ, by God’s will, Paul had no immediate need to consult with the apostles in Jerusalem. While he will go on to detail his eventual encounter with the apostles—especially Peter—throughout chapter 2, Paul wants the Galatians to understand that his apostleship, and the gospel he proclaims, is not derivative. It does not depend on the other apostles; if it did, his position may be weakened with respect to their regard for him as a genuine apostle.

Posted by Con Campbell





Galatians 1.15–16

10 11 2009

1:15–16

↓Ὅτε δὲ εὐδόκησεν [ὁ θεὸς]

↑ὁ ἀφορίσας με (ἐκ κοιλίας μητρός μου) καὶ καλέσας (διὰ τῆς χάριτος αὐτοῦ)

ἀποκαλύψαι τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ (ἐν ἐμοί),

↑ἵνα εὐαγγελίζωμαι αὐτὸν (ἐν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν),

εὐθέως οὐ προσανεθέμην σαρκὶ καὶ αἵματι

 

The first challenge presented by these two verses is to understand their syntactical structure. There is one independent clause: εὐθέως οὐ προσανεθέμην σαρκὶ καὶ αἵματι (1:16c), which is directly modified by a subordinate clause that has two further subordinate clauses modifying it. The first subordinate clause is Ὅτε δὲ εὐδόκησεν [ὁ θεὸς] […] ἀποκαλύψαι τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ ἐν ἐμοί (1:15a […] 1:16a), which is interrupted by the second subordinate clause ὁ ἀφορίσας με ἐκ κοιλίας μητρός μου καὶ καλέσας διὰ τῆς χάριτος αὐτοῦ (1:15b). The third subordinate clause is ἵνα εὐαγγελίζωμαι αὐτὸν ἐν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν (1:16b), which also modifies the first subordinate clause (1:15a […] 1:16a). The effect of this structure is that Paul is able to make several tangential points before reaching his main concern: he did not immediately consult anyone with respect to his apostleship.

 

The first subordinate clause (1:15a […] 1:16a) indicates that Jesus was revealed to Paul according to God’s pleasure (εὐδόκησεν). Paul regards his conversion and apostleship to be determined by God’s sovereign will, and this fact intersects with 1:1 and 1:12. In 1:1 Paul asserts that his apostleship is divinely appointed; in 1:12 we see that his gospel does not come from a human source. The connection of 1:16a to 1:12 is further enhanced by Paul’s reference to the revelation of Christ: Paul was not taught about Christ, but received revelation of him (see 1:12, above). His Son is the direct object of the verb to reveal, such that Paul is not saying that the message about Christ was revealed to him, but Christ himself.

 

Here in 1:16a, Paul curiously refers to Christ being revealed in me (ἐν ἐμοί). While ἐν is the most flexible of Greek prepositions, here it most likely denotes the object to which something happens (BDAG), such that God was please to reveal his son to Paul. It is worth noting, however, that ἐν ἐμοί parallels ἐν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν in 1:16b. While the latter prepositional phrase is normally translated among the Gentiles—regarding ἐν as locative—the parallel with the former phrase is nonetheless instructive. The purpose of God’s revealing Christ to Paul is that he might in turn preach him among (or to) the Gentiles.

 

The subordinate clause of 1:15a […] 1:16a is intersected by 15b: who from my mother’s womb set me apart and called me by his grace. The two substantival aorist participles, ἀφορίσας and καλέσας, encode perfective aspect, which creates the pragmatic expression of antecedence (even though the participles are substantival; see Campbell 2008a:37–44). These are activities that preceded the main action of God revealing his son to Paul, and they further underscore God’s sovereignty in Paul’s conversion and apostleship. Indeed, it may be argued that the latter participle refers to his conversion, while the former refers to his apostleship. Being called by grace is an experience that is shared by believers, as we see in 1:6—the Galatians were also called by grace—and thus refers to the conversion to Christ that is shared by all. Being set apart from his mother’s womb (ἐκ κοιλίας μητρός μου), however, seems to refer to a unique occurrence. Paul is, after all, set apart, which suggests uniqueness, as does the reference to his mother’s womb. While Paul’s conversion alone does not explain why God chose to reveal his son to him in order to preach to the Gentiles, his being set apart from the womb seems to do this.

 

As noted above, God’s purpose in choosing to reveal his son to Paul was that he might preach him among the Gentiles (1:16b). The ἵνα with subjunctive εὐαγγελίζωμαι indicates purpose (Wallace 1996:471-73). With the subjunctive’s direct object αὐτὸν, Paul does not say so that I might preach about him, but so that I might preach him. Paul’s preaching does not merely concern the proclamation of a message, but also the proclamation of a person. The prepositional phrase ἐν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν is normally regarded as locative, translated as among the Gentiles, though might rather be regarded as expressing the object to which something happens (BDAG): to the Gentiles. The attraction of this reading is that it consolidates the parallel with ἐν ἐμοί in 1:16a, and is also a stronger expression. Paul does not proclaim Christ merely among the Gentiles, as though are simply the sphere of proclamation; he proclaims Christ to them. Thus, this understanding of the phrase is more direct and is to be preferred.

 

The main clause of 1:15–16 is finally reached with 1:16c: I did not immediately consult with anyone. This clause derives its significance from the syntax of the sentence; even though the sentence’s subordinate clauses are full with theological significance, Paul’s main point must remain here. The adverb εὐθέως (at once, immediately) seems a little odd, given that it modifies a negative action—or an action that Paul did not take—namely, that he did not consult flesh and blood (οὐ προσανεθέμην σαρκὶ καὶ αἵματι). There are at least two alternatives for understanding the function of the adverb. First, it may be used to express the fact that there was no lag between the revelation of Christ to him and Paul’s going into Arabia (1:17). Read this way, εὐθέως actually modifies ἀπῆλθον in 1:17, which is sixteen words away. More likely, the adverb means that Paul did not immediately consult others, but did so after three years (1:18). In this way, εὐθέως modifies the verb following it, rather than one that is quite removed.

 

The verb προσανατίθημι expresses the idea of consulting with someone (BDAG), which naturally requires the following nouns to be dative (σαρκὶ καὶ αἵματι). This use of the dative case expresses association or accompaniment (Wallace 1996:159-61); Paul did not partake in consultation in association with anyone. While the phrase σαρκὶ καὶ αἵματι clearly refers to people, the rhetorical force of these words is to highlight the distinction between Paul’s God-ordanied apostolic appointment and the influence that people may have had. People are only flesh and blood, but the revelation of Christ is divine.

Posted by Con Campbell





My letter in the Sydney Morning Herald

10 11 2009

…is published here (and in the printed version of the paper).

It’s in response to this piece.

Posted by Con Campbell





A different kind of resurrection prophecy?

10 11 2009

Yesterday I wrote a talk for church on Luke 24:1–12. It’s such an interesting passage, and one of the things that comes out at me is how Jesus (might have) predicted the unbelief that followed the discovery of the empty tomb.

First, there are many references to unbelief in the passage:

v.1 = the women bring spices for Jesus’ dead body

v.3 = they didn’t find the body

v.4 = they were wondering about this

v.5 = the angels ask: ‘why are you looking for the living among dead?’

v.6 = ‘don’t you remember what he told you?’

v.8 = then they remembered

v.11 = the apostles did not believe the women

v.12 = After running to the tomb, Peter left wondering what happened

 

I think this may have been what Jesus had in mind in Luke 18:8: ‘When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

In other words, with Jesus’ resurrection, not only were his own words (and those of the prophets) fulfilled, in that he was raised after three days, but his prediction regarding lack of faith at his ‘coming’ was also fulfilled.

Thoughts?

Posted by Con Campbell





Body language

8 11 2009

I’ve been doing some work on the ways in which union with Christ is expressed through Pauline metaphors, and I’ve been reminded how rich the metaphor of body or the body of Christ is.

As the body, the church is one and many; it expresses unity and diversity. There is one body, but each member plays its role according to the various gifts given to the body (1 Cor 12; Eph 4). In fact, the diversity of the body actually serves its unity (Eph 4:11-14).

The body is organic and dynamic. It grows and changes, it matures and is built up. In an interesting twist of the metaphor, the body grows out from Christ, but also grows into him (Eph 4:15–16).

Christ is the Head of the body. The body grows from him and into him, while he cares for and nurtures it. The body is united to its head in an organic way. He not only leads his body, but is her saviour (Eph 5:23).

The body metaphor is not merely a metaphor. There is an ontological reality that lies behind it, which has implications for the way in which believers treat their own bodies (1 Cor 6:15–17).

The very nature of the idea of the body of Christ denotes solidarity, union, and coalition between Christ and his people.

Posted by Con Campbell