Did you know that most of the books that comprise the New Testament are actually letters? These letters (also known as “epistles”) contain both general Christian teaching and specific instructions for the congregation to which they were addressed. As part of our Letters to the Church series, we’re taking a brief look at each epistle in the New Testament. This week, we look at one of Paul’s earliest and most upbeat letters: his epistle to the Thessalonians.
When was it written? Around A.D. 51, making it one of Paul’s earliest letters.
To whom was it written? The new Christian community in the important Macedonian city of Thessalonica. Thessalonica was a major center of trade and military power situated on the sprawling Egnatian Way road.
Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians
Why was it written? After helping to establish the young Christian church in Thessalonica, Paul had been driven out of the city (“torn away,” as he describes it). But the Thessalonians remained in his thoughts and prayers, and after an encouraging report from his fellow evangelist Timothy about the enthusiasm of the Thessalonian church, Paul wrote this letter to encourage the community to continue to stand strong despite the pressures and persecution they faced.
What does it say? The upbeat tone of this letter is evident from its very first sentences: “We always thank God for all of you,” Paul tells his readers, “mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” How encouraging it must have been for the Thessalonians to read those words!
First Thessalonians is a short letter, and much of it is comprised of Paul’s personal words of encouragement. When the letter takes a turn into doctrine and instruction, it is to briefly address two major issues. First, Paul urges the Thessalonians to continually pursue righteous lives despite persecution; and specifically to resist the sexual immorality that would have been an everpresent temptation in a cosmopolitan city like Thessalonica.
What can we learn from 1 Thessalonians? 1 Thessalonians is not a long or complex letter, but in just a few pages, Paul outlines for us a Christian philosophy of life and death. A Christian’s life is to be characterized by prayer, gratitude, self-control, and honorable behavior; and not even the reality of death and sorrow can bring despair to someone whose hope is in the resurrected Jesus Christ.
Consider these questions as you read 1 Thessalonians today:
What does Paul suggest is the appropriate response to persecution?
What do you think Paul means when he says that Christians do not “grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope”?
Imagine that you’ve received this letter from Paul. What might you write back to him in response?
Millions of English-speaking Africans know and love Christ, but for many, God’s Word is hard to grasp. With nearly every full evangelical study Bible written from the viewpoint of the United States and United Kingdom, Africans have lacked a resource that connects with their unique experience, hindering discipleship. But that’s about to change as major Christian organizations, led by Oasis International, are joining together to launch the Africa Study Bible (Tyndale House, 2016) (@africastudybibl), a six-year, cross-continental effort that’s produced the first study Bible developed by Africans for Africans.
What’s the need that prompted the idea to create the Africa Study Bible?
Matthew Elliott: I’ve been working for Africa since 1995, when I was working on my PhD in New Testament in the UK. After 10 years, we really understood the need for Bibles and Bible study materials that Africans authentically connect with. We have many study Bibles, but these don’t meet the full needs of Africans to understand God’s Word. The notes are 95% written by North Americans and Europeans. They don’t apply the Bible’s truth in a way that fits Africa’s needs and culture. To build deeper faith, we realized Africans needed a study Bible built for their specific needs; that applies Scripture in their own context.
Describe the content of the Africa Study Bible.
Matthew Elliott: The best way to say this in one word is “discipleship.” The ASB’s content was built around a framework designed by African leaders in 2011. They spoke with a pastor’s heart, deciding the ASB would be about becoming a disciple of Jesus in the African context. The meaning of a Greek or Hebrew word is the same around the world, but the application to everyday life can be very different. That’s why the 2,200 features have been written by more than 300 Africans. These include 1,500 African proverbs and culturally-relevant application notes. There are also over 50 articles on Christian living, 70 learn notes on important Christian theology, and touch points—where African culture helps a reader understand the culture of the Bible. Connecting the truth of Scripture to life in Africa is what the project is all about. The Africa Study Bible is God’s Word through African eyes!
Who is Dr. John Jusu and why was he named the supervising editor of the Africa Study Bible?
Matthew Elliott: I first met John in 2011 at our planning meetings for the ASB in Accra, Ghana. I had heard of his skills in education and I remember a lunch we shared where I felt almost prompted by the Holy Spirit to think, “This may be our head editor.” The more I got to know him, the more this was confirmed. I remember sitting at one of the first official editorial meetings with John, and someone asked, “Why are you the right editor for the ASB?” Without hesitation he said, “I am Africa. My country has been through a brutal civil war. I am a second generation Christian. My father was a polygamist. I have moved from the village to the city. My wife and I take care of many war orphans. I live among a tribe and people that are not my own. I am Africa.” All our jaws dropped.
His education is in both theology and education, and that’s exactly what we needed—someone who knew how to help God’s truth speak to the common person in Africa. After six years working together we’ve become close friends and we greatly respect one other. He’s God’s man for the job, I have no doubt.
Why is it important that the study notes, commentary, and reference material are written by African scholars?
Matthew Elliott: I have a good friend who served time in prison. He now has an amazing ministry preaching in prisons—he’s one of the most vibrant Christians I know. I could never have the impact he does with these prisoners. He knows the realities first-hand. He’s done the time. The same is true with writers for this project. Africans know Africans and can speak directly to the root of the matter.
What issues that are unique to Africa will be addressed in the Bible notes?
Matthew Elliott: Just about every feature has a unique African element built in, and many features revolve around uniquely African concepts. Here’s one good example: nations in Africa were divided up by Europeans, not necessarily along traditional ethnic and tribal lines. As a result, different ethnic interests within a nation have caused war, poverty, and great hardship. Now take the book of Joshua and think about living as 12 tribes within one nation. This is the reality the nations of Africa are living in today. Africans can help teach the church what Joshua means to nations made of tribes that each hold traditional tribal lands.
What are some of the countries and denominations represented by the contributing writers?
Matthew Elliott: Fifty countries are represented through our writers and about the same number of denominations. Baptist, Assemblies of God, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Redeemed Christian Church of God–the list goes on.
How have you been able to logistically coordinate the work generated by 350 writers, editors, and project members from various locations? To what extent were you helped or hindered by technology in producing the Africa Study Bible??
Matthew Elliott: The project would not have been possible without the Internet. Totally impossible, in fact. We communicate with writers, share documents, and even pay the contributors through the Internet. One example would be that our review process is Internet based. We have about 10 reviewers spread out in different cities and countries, and they all needed access to the same document at the same time, or the time lag between reviewers would have made the process almost impossible. Sometimes our Wednesday morning editorial meetings are conducted across three continents, from Kenya to California.
With all the languages and dialects spoken in Africa, how will this English Bible make an impact?
Matthew Elliott: While Africans across the continent speak in over 1,500 languages, a very high percentage of the literate Christians in Africa read in one of three languages that are crucial in education. Conservatively, 60% of literate Christians in Africa can read in English, French, or Portuguese. It may be closer to 80%, but the research is hard to verify. Looking at numbers, this means perhaps over 400 million African readers can be impacted by the ASB being published in these three languages.
When will the Bible be in these languages?
Matthew Elliott: It should be in French by 2019 and we hope Portuguese by 2020. Talks are already underway about other major language groups like Swahili, Zulu, and Amharic.
What major Christian organizations are you working with to help launch the Africa Study Bible?
Matthew Elliott: To support the effort, we’re partnering with Tyndale House Publishers to create the study Bible. Other participants include Campus Crusade for Christ International, Willow Creek and Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit, IFES (International Fellowship of Evangelical Students), Scripture Union, Africa Leadership, TransWorld Radio, Moody Broadcasting, Center for Early African Christianity, PJA (Publications pour la Jeunesse Africane), MMD Global, The Livingstone Corporation, InSight Books, Urban Ministries Inc., and the Association of Evangelicals in Africa, with additional participants being added on a regular basis.
Matthew Elliott: We owe a great debt to Tyndale House and the Tyndale House Foundation, who literally birthed this project with us. We believe part of the power of the ASB will be due to people understanding the Bible in a fresh way. They’ll read in the clear and contemporary English used by the NLT. This is especially important for people who read English as a second language. The reading level of the NLT is at sixth-grade, and we’re making sure that our other editorial elements are also very readable.
Do you anticipate selling the Africa Study Bible in the USA or is it solely for distribution in Africa?
Matthew Elliott: Tyndale will release it into the US in February 2017 during Black History Month. Exciting!
Will it be available only in print or is there a digital format too, especially since mobile devices are prevalent throughout Africa?
Matthew Elliott: Tecarta will release the Africa Study Bible App this November for the complete Bible. It’ll be in both iOS and Android. If anyone would like a preview right now, the sample Gospel of John is already available for free! Search for “Africa Study Bible” in either the App Store or the Play Store.
What do you hope will be the result of people reading the Africa Study Bible?
Matthew Elliott: Growing disciples of Jesus in Africa who really understand how to better apply the Bible to their daily lives.
Describe the Kickstarter campaign.
Matthew Elliott: Everyone can really help us launch the Bible for Africa and receive a copy of the Bible this year, months before it’s launched in the US and Europe. With a goal of raising one million dollars to print the first 100,000 copies, we’re seeking private donors as well as launching a Kickstarter campaign, which runs through June 16. Contributors to the Kickstarter campaign have the opportunity to receive incentives ranging from artwork prints to limited Italian leather editions of the ASB as well as all-expense paid trips to the launch of the ASB in the United States and in Africa. We want to have the first run of the ASB available in Africa by the end of 2016. Go to Kickstarter right now for “Launching the Africa Study Bible.” What are you waiting for?
What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App?
Matthew Elliott: Actually, Bible Gateway is my go-to online Bible for my review and editorial work for the ASB. Sure, I have a high-tech Bible software program appropriate for my work as a New Testament scholar, but I’m able to use Bible Gateway so easily without any interruption to my editorial work flow. I use it in working on the ASB, often multiple times a day.
Bio: Dr. Matthew Elliott serves as president of Oasis International and project director for the Africa Study Bible. Oasis International serves areas of the English-speaking world where people lack access to affordable Christian literature and the Bibles needed to mature in their faith. In these countries, the measure of annual incomes is often in hundreds, not thousands, of dollars. The great needs of Africa, in particular, drive Oasis to concentrate on this continent, where the Church is experiencing significant growth yet printed resources are scarce.
Matthew earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and master’s degree in New Testament at Wheaton College, as well as a Masters of Theology and a Doctorate of Philosophy in New Testament Studies from University of Aberdeen (Scotland). He was ordained at College Church in Wheaton, Ill., under Dr. Kent Hughes. He’s the author of Faithful Feelings: Rethinking Emotion in the New Testament (InterVarsity UK/Kregel, 2006) and Feel: The Power of Listening to Your Heart (Tyndale House, 2008). Matthew, his wife, Laura, and three children reside in the Chicago area.
The season of Passover is April 22-30, 2016. Browse resources for Passover in the Bible Gateway Store.
Do you wish you knew more about the Jewish background of Scripture? Are you curious about the ways that the Christian faith connects to its roots in Jewish history and culture? This April, Bible Gateway invites you to join us for a free two-week devotional experience that explores the Jewish roots of Christianity: Holy Land Moments.
We’re timing the Holy Land Moments devotional to take place during the Jewish festival period of Passover (known as pesach in Hebrew). Passover is a commemoration of one of the key events in the history of Israel: the rescue of God’s people from slavery in Egypt. Passover is an important historical and theological moment for both Jews and Christians, and we thought it appropriate to observe it with a devotional that explores the connecting points between Jewish history and Christianity.
Click here to sign up for Holy Land Moments—just check the box next to Holy Land Moments and then provide your email address to the right. Holy Land Moments starts April 24 near the beginning of Passover (April 22) and continues for two weeks. If you’re interested in the Jewish roots of Christianity, or are just looking for something slightly different in your devotional reading, this is a perfect chance to try something new! Sign up today, and share it with your interested friends!
The season of Easter began March 27, 2016 and ends May 15, 2016 (Pentecost). Passover is April 22-30, 2016. Browse resources for Easter and Passover in the Bible Gateway Store.
Amazing prophecies of God’s plans for the world can be found embedded in the customs of the feasts of Israel. The intricate detail of the prophecies illustrated in the observances of these feasts provide insight into God’s plan for the ages.
Michael Norten: Many Christians are not aware of how really important these biblical feasts are to our understanding of our salvation and the plans God has for mankind. When I discovered their importance, I was overwhelmed. They’re God’s game plan or playbill for his total redemptive plan performed by Jesus Christ, presented in seven festivals. This way we can learn through activity and fellowship. God wants us to learn about him through all five of our senses. I found that I can teach the whole council of God or all of systematic theology by using the feasts as the outline or headings.
What is the significance that these feasts are observed in Spring and Fall?
Michael Norten: The Spring feasts are observed in the harvest season, because the harvests picture so much in Christ’s redemptive plan. Primarily, though, the Spring feasts picture the major events of Christ’s first coming to this earth. Then the Fall feasts picture the major events of Christ’s second coming. It’s quite interesting that there are several months between the Spring and Fall feasts, because that break seems to picture the many years between the two comings in which we call the age of grace or the church age.
How do the feasts work together as a message from God?
Michael Norten: First of all, God said in Leviticus 23:1-2 that these times are his appointed times. They are not Israel’s or the church’s appointed times. Secondly, Christ fulfilled the feasts on the very day of each feast, by his appointed actions. He was crucified on Passover, buried on the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, rose on the Feast of First Fruits, and brought the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. I believe that Christ will fulfill the Fall feasts just as explicitly in his second coming.
What is the origin of the Passover feast?
Michael Norten: In Exodus 12:2-3 God told the people the instructions for the Passover feast. It was to be a way to teach the children and further generations about how God rescued His people out of Egypt. Now it’s also a teaching method to illustrate how Christ provided salvation.
What elements comprise the Passover feast?
Michael Norten: Last year I performed three Seder or Passover dinners. The dinner and program is done according to a program outline called the Haggadah. The presentation plate or Seder plate has several elements: bitter herbs, shank bone, vegetable, horseradish, roasted egg, and charoset. They all have a story behind them, but two of the most interesting elements are the cups of wine and the matzah bread (unleavened bread).
The matzah bread is interesting because it appears to be pierced, bruised, and striped, making a picture similar to Isaiah 53:5-6. Also, the four cups represent the four promises that God gave in Exodus 6:6-7. The names given to the cups are: 1) cup of sanctification, 2) cup of praise, 3) cup of redemption, and 4) cup of the kingdom. The third cup is the one that Jesus held up to announce his shedding of blood and the covenant (Matt. 26:28). This is the cup that we drink at the observance of communion. It’s interesting that Jesus didn’t drink of the fourth cup, because he will have us all drink of that cup together when we’re in the kingdom.
A rabbi explained to me that the third cup is also the cup of betrothal and the fourth is the cup of consummation. When a man proposes to a prospective bride, he offers her a cup of wine. If she accepts and drinks the cup, he tells her that he will go to his father’s house to prepare a place for her. When we drink of the communion cup, we’re relaying to Christ that we accept our betrothal to him as the bride and will live a holy life waiting for his return. When the wedding of the bride and groom has been consummated, they drink the cup of consummation together at the marriage feast. We’ll drink that cup when we’re all together with Jesus at the marriage supper of the Lamb in the kingdom.
How does Passover reflect the gospel?
Michael Norten: It reflects the gospel much like the communion service does, but with more detail. It’s fascinating that when the families took their lamb to be sacrificed, they wanted to make sure that they got their personal lamb back for the family meal. They would get a bronze plate with their family name on it and put it around the lamb’s neck with a red lanyard. When Pilot placed the sign above Jesus on the cross that read, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews,” he had it written in three languages: Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. When artists painted Christ on the cross, they took the first letters of the title in Latin spelling INRI to depict the sign for sake of room. It is astounding that when you do the same thing in the Hebrew, it spells YHVH, the Tetragrammaton form of Yahweh! God wanted his Lamb back, which he did at the resurrection. He put his name on his Lamb for his family, which consist of those of us who have accepted Christ as our savior.
What other secrets of feasts does your book unlock?
Michael Norten: There are so many prophecies and teachings that are unlocked, but here’s one that I’d like to mention. I was always puzzled about Jesus not wanting Mary at the tomb to touch him, because he hadn’t been glorified, yet. I was reading Josephus’ work to find out his take on the Feast of First Fruits. He mentioned that they were not allowed to touch the barley until the first fruits were presented to God at the temple. Jesus was described as the first fruits of those who were asleep in 1 Corinthians 15:20. He told Mary that he was going to the Father. That made all the sense in the world. He was the First Fruits. After he had apparently made a quick trip to the Father and back, he allowed Thomas to touch him.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Michael Norten: One of the most meaningful discoveries that I found is about the care of the lambs. Micah 4:8 says that the Messiah would be announced at the tower of the flock. That’s significant, because the shepherds that were in the field when the angel announced Christ’s birth used the tower of the flock to aid in the birthing of the lambs, because they were shepherding priests that provided the lambs for sacrifices at the temple. They would wrap the newborn lambs with strips of cloths made from recycled priestly undergarments to protect them from blemish. Then they gently place them on the manger to keep them from being trampled. When the shepherding priests saw baby Jesus prepared just like their lambs, they were so excited, beyond description. It was a personal sign to them that only they would have understood. We need to be just as excited about the coming of our Savior. He has given us many more signs of His soon return.
What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App?
Michael Norten: I use Bible Gateway all the time. It is a Godsend for so many. I used it profusely while writing my book. The search engine and study tools are so handy no matter where you are. I don’t remember when I first discovered Bible Gateway, but I have used it ever since and many of my friends depend on it.
Bio: Michael Norten received a ThM from Dallas Theological Seminary in 1974. He has served on staff of a number of ministries such as Campus Crusade for Christ and Search Ministries, and served as a Bible instructor in Bible conferences and institutes. He was an associate pastor of Lewisville Bible Church in Lewisville, Texas, and served as interim pastor and pulpit supply for some churches in North Texas. He has been teaching the Bible for over 40 years. After authoring the book, Unlocking the Secrets of the Feasts, published in 2012 and 2015, Michael has been teaching and speaking at churches about Bible prophecy as well as the prophecies imbedded in the seven feasts of Leviticus 23.
According to a new report, the Bible is among the most criticized books at public schools and libraries across the country. Out of 275 challenges in 2015 recorded by the American Library Association (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom, the Bible ranks in the top ten at number six.
The ALA says people complaining think putting the Bible on library shelves violates the separation of church and state, but that’s really not the case. James LaRue, director of the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom, says the library association does not oppose having Bibles in public schools. He says the Bible does not violate the separation of church and state as long as the library does not endorse or promote the views included in the Bible.
“The Bible has been criticized, challenged, and banned by individuals, groups, and governments through centuries of persecution yet it remains the singular, most popular, life-changing literary work in the world because of its unique inspiration (2 Tim. 3:16-17), and Bible Gateway is committed to making it accessible wherever people are,” says Rachel Barach, general manager, Bible Gateway.
Barach says it’s important to keep in mind that the ALA list is based on a relatively small number of challenges, and that the Bible continues to be overwhelmingly accepted by people around the world. For example, “the Bible is read on Bible Gateway by people from more than 240 countries or territories, including China, Vietnam, Cuba, and North Korea,” says Barach.
The ALA report goes on to quote The Harris Poll of 2244 Americans, saying a third of the respondents (33%) don’t think children should be able to get the Koran from their school library and 29% say the same of the Torah or Talmud. And 26% don’t think children should be able to get books that question the existence of a divine being or beings from school libraries. But Americans are least opposed to restricting children’s school library access to the Bible (only 13%).
The Bible is currently crowned “America’s favorite” in another recent Harris Poll. In 2014, the same as in 2008 when The Harris Poll last asked the question “What is your favorite book of all time?,” the number one answer was the Bible.
According to a report by United Bible Societies, the full Bible is now available in 563 languages spoken by nearly 5.1 billion people and a further 1,334 languages spoken by 658 million people have a New Testament. This leaves 281 million people with only some portions of the Bible and a further 497 million people with no Scripture translated in their language at all.
The above numbers indicate much work remains to be done to bring the Bible to languages where it does not yet exist, and to make the Bible available to those who want to read it but are prevented from doing so by the censorship of an anti-Christian government. But the Bible’s broad availability—online and in print—and its acceptance and prominence in American public life should be a source of encouragement for both Christians and advocates for intellectual freedom.
Just eight months ago, Zondervan added a vital new member to its study Bible family, the NIV Zondervan Study Bible, spearheaded by general editor and The Gospel Coalition co-founder, D.A. Carson. Now Zondervan’s new, dedicated iOS app brings the best of evangelical biblical scholarship to an even broader spectrum of Bible readers.
An added bonus when you purchase the NIV Zondervan Study Bible print edition: you’ll get a code to gain free digital access (a $19.99 value) to its comprehensive study notes, maps, charts, articles and more from your computer or mobile device through Bible Gateway and Olive Tree.
The full text of the New International Version of the Bible, the world’s most read and most trusted modern-English Bible translation, grounds the distinctive features and functions of the NIV Zondervan Study Bible app. The applicable, hands-on study tools provided in the print version are now available in an intuitive and searchable format through the new app.
Supporting the project’s unique goal of “unpacking God’s story,” the new app’s features include nearly 20,000 new, comprehensive verse-by-verse study notes and hundreds of four-color images, including over 70 informative charts, more than 90 maps, and hundreds of photos. The NIV Zondervan Study Bible app will help Bible students from every walk of life grow deeper in their understanding of Scripture as God’s story.
The NIV Zondervan Study Bible app also houses a library of 28 relevant and theologically rich articles that track the development of the Bible’s themes, such as covenant, the Bible and theology, and love and grace, written by award-winning authors like D.A. Carson, Tim Keller, Kevin DeYoung, Philip Johnston, and many other trusted evangelical pastors and biblical scholars.
The NIV Zondervan Bible Study app provides numerous digital-only benefits to Bible students in its searchable index of topics, charts, maps, images, study notes, and complete Old and New Testaments. An adjustable split screen displays the Bible text and main study notes together, and a resources button gives options for images and study aids related to the text being read. Users can also add personal notes, highlights, and bookmarks for future reference or to make their own personal studies. Through select-and-share options, readers can share text and notes on Twitter, Facebook, text, email and others. The app’s font size is adjustable for comfortable reading, with the option to display the Words of Christ in red. The NIV Zondervan Study Bible app has been optimized for iPad and iPhone and allows readers to buy the app once and use it on both devices. An Android app will be coming soon.
Under the guidance of Carson, the text of the NIV Zondervan Study Bible represents the work of associate editors Richard S. Hess, T.D. Alexander, Douglas J. Moo, and assistant editor Andrew David Naselli, as well as 60 additional contributors. Says Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, “This NIV Zondervan Study Bible is a tremendous tool for informed Bible reading and study. The notes are written by the best assembly I’ve seen of faithful, international scholars.” More information is available at www.UnpackingGodsStory.com.
Zondervan is a world-leading Bible publisher and provider of Christian communications. Zondervan, as part of HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc., delivers transformational Christian experiences through its bestselling Bibles, books, curriculum, academic resources and digital products. The Company’s products are sold worldwide and translated into nearly 200 languages. Zondervan offices are located in Grand Rapids, MI. For additional information, please visit www.zondervan.com.
The NIV Zondervan Study Bible, featuring Dr. D.A. Carson as general editor, is built on the truth of Scripture and centered on the gospel message. It’s a comprehensive undertaking of crafted study notes and tools to present a biblical theology of God’s special revelation in the Scripture.
Have you ever wondered how your Bible was made? I’m not referring to the long history of inspiration, preservation, and translation that brought God’s Word through the ages of history to our bookshelves today—I’m talking about the physical process of creating a printed Bible. Our friends at Crossway have published an interesting video tour of a Bible bindery in the Netherlands:
Did you know that most of the books that comprise the New Testament are actually letters? These letters (also known as “epistles”) contain both general Christian teaching and specific instructions for the congregation to which they were addressed. As part of our Letters to the Church series, we’re taking a brief look at each epistle in the New Testament. This week, we look at one of Paul’s shorter and most focused letters: his epistle to the Galatians.
When was it written? Uncertain, but likely around A.D. 50. It might be one of Paul’s earliest known letters.
To whom was it written? “Galatians” could refer to people living in at least two different parts of the Roman empire, so we don’t know for certain—but this letter was probably written to the network of early Christian churches in the Roman province of Galatia (modern-day central Turkey).
Why was it written? As is often the case with Paul’s letters, the epistle to the Galatians was written to address a specific problem in the recipients’ communities. In this case, the problem was caused by “Judaizers:” Jewish Christians who insisted that Gentile (non-Jewish) converts to Christianity must abide by Jewish traditions (notably circumcision). In the early years of the Christian church, as the Gospel message spread far beyond its geographic roots in Palestine and out into the wide Gentile world, the question “What must I do to be saved?” needed a clear and decisive answer. Paul composed this letter to settle the matter once and for all.
What does it say? Unlike some of Paul’s other letters, which cover a wide range of themes and topics, the epistle to the Galatians is short and focused. Threats to the early church’s spiritual health usually came from the hostile pagan world, in the form of sinful vice, un-Christian philosophies, or the temptation to backslide. But the threat facing the Galatian churches came from within, and it probably had good intentions: it came from Christians who couldn’t accept that the Gospel of Jesus Christ was truly free.
Today, Christians are quite familiar with the idea of salvation as a free gift of God—no strings attached. But many early Christians, particularly those from Jewish backgrounds, struggled to believe that something as momentous as salvation didn’t come with a few rules and requirements. If the Gospel of Jesus Christ was the culmination of God’s covenant with Israel, it made sense to them that the behavioral rules of that old covenant still applied.
But a Gospel that came with rules wasn’t truly free. Paul insists that any gospel which requires humans to jump through behavioral hoops is no longer the gospel of Jesus Christ; it’s an entirely different, false gospel; a “gospel contrary to the one you received.” The price of redemption was paid by Jesus Christ alone; it can’t be earned by observing rituals or carrying out the “right” behaviors.
Galatians 3:1-14: Belief in Jesus Christ, not adherence to laws and rituals, is the core of the Gospel.
Galatians 4:8-11: Paul is exasperated that the Galatians, having found freedom, are lapsing back into spiritual slavery.
Galatians 5:1: The Gospel offers freedom, not slavery to a new set of rules and laws.
What can we learn from Galatians? The book of Galatians outlines the important concept of Christian liberty—the idea that belief in Christ frees people from the impossible burden of being perfect and following all the rules. This is a more difficult concept to accept than you might initially assume: although few Christians today insist on adherence to Jewish traditions, a look at church history through the centuries (and today!) makes it clear that humans just can’t resist adding rules and restrictions to the simple message of Jesus Christ. Those rules might be well-intentioned, and it might be wise to follow them… but the instant we imagine that following those rules is necessary for salvation, we’ve bought into the false gospel about which Paul warned the Galatians.
Consider these questions as you read Galatians today:
Does your experience with Christianity cause you to associate it with freedom, or with a list of rules to follow? What has shaped your perspective?
If extra rules encourage good behavior and don’t hurt anyone, why do you think Paul saw them as such a threat?
Throughout his letters, Paul urges Christians to behave righteously and in a God-honoring fashion. Does that contradict his message here about freedom from rules?
Imagine that you’ve received this letter from Paul. What might you write back to him in response?
I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace. - Acts 20:24 (NIV) fal.cn/2W8j...
"The question comes down to this: Who owns your stuff? Will you willingly share so others’ lives may be bettered? The satisfaction from serving God in this way never rusts, tarnishes or fades. Dear God, help me remember that You own all my stuff. Help me have the same mindset as King David, to share it all with others so Your work can be done and others’ lives can be touched." - Karen Ehman, Encouragement for Today Devotions fal.cn/2G2B...
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. - Titus 2:11-14 (ESV) fal.cn/2GKx...