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Reviews | The Letter to the Galatians

The Letter to the Galatians

John Carter

Hardback or e-book (ePub)

133 pages

The Letter to the Galatians

The Christadelphian review (from October 2006)

Pondering with Paul

IF you are looking for a straightforward book to read or study which isn’t too long, is full of interest, and will help you examine some quite searching questions, the Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Galatians might be the very thing. Just six chapters long, it contains historical data, a thoughtful analysis about law and promise, some personal insights into the lives of Old Testament characters, and pointers to the apostle’s own personal route to spiritual mindedness, and to ours! It could be ideal for personal or group study and might fit very well into a Bible Class programme, either chapter-by-chapter or in a series based on particular themes and ideas.

As ever, when such a choice has been made, a little help never comes amiss and such help is at hand. It’s nearly 50 years since Brother John Carter, who was then the Editor of The Christadelphian, wrote his commentary on Galatians. It’s quite a short commentary as these things go – just 123 pages in the edition that has just been reprinted – but it’s packed with insights and helpful comments. This new edition is clearer to read than the earlier ones and has more sub-headings to split up the text. That makes it even easier to use in a group format, should you decide to read it around and then discuss the letter, section by section; and it makes it more attractive if you just want to read the book for yourself.

The Contents page acts as an analysis of the way the book tackles the urgent problem about which Paul wrote. Brother John explains why he believes the apostle was writing to the ecclesias in South Galatia – the ones he had founded himself during the first missionary journey, described in the book of Acts. He traces the various visits to Jerusalem mentioned by the apostle and ties them in with Luke’s inspired account, concluding that Galatians was written just on the eve of the Council of Jerusalem, described in Acts 15. So the first few chapters give a helpful insight into Paul’s early experiences and the growing problem: how were Gentile and Jewish converts going to live together as one, and were the Gentiles obliged to keep any aspects of the Law of Moses?

Galatians chapter 3

Galatians 3:16 is one of those verses that get quoted over and over again, and that is quite understandable. Most Christadelphians know it by heart: “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ”. It is one of those vital explanations given in the New Testament that confirm the importance of the Abrahamic Covenant, both in relation to the Lord Jesus and, through him, for all believers. But there’s much more in Galatians 3 than that, which is why the pace of Brother Carter’s book slows markedly at this point and gives the most careful and detailed consideration to this chapter.

Here are just a few matters for you to ponder, before looking up the book to see what the writer has to say about them:

  1. When Paul asks his readers: “Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” what does he mean by them having “received the Spirit”?
  2. What did the Jews make of Genesis 15:6 (that God counted Abraham’s faith as righteousness) and how do the three occurrences of that verse in the New Testament complement one another?
  3. What is the blessing that God promised Abraham and his seed in Genesis 12:3?
  4. What does “Justification” mean?
  5. How was Jesus Christ made a curse for us?
  6. Was Jesus constituted a sinner because he was born with the same nature we bear?
  7. What is “the promise of the Spirit” that we receive through faith (3:14)?
  8. Does Paul refer to a man’s “Last Will and Testament” or to a “Covenant”, in 3:15, and how does that tie in with Hebrews 9:16-17?
  9. When did the 430 years commence, which is referred to in 3:17?
  10. What particular purpose did the Law of Moses serve, and when did its effectiveness cease?
  11. What does Galatians 3:20 mean – “Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one”? Do you know which of the 430 different interpretations of this particular verse is to be preferred?
  12. Why does Paul talk about our “putting on” Christ (3:27), as though it were a toga we are to wear?

One sample answer

Brother Carter deals with all these questions succinctly and clearly. For those who have not yet got a copy of this excellent treatment of the epistle, here is an extract from the explanation in respect of Question 6 above: “Was Jesus constituted a sinner because he was born with the same nature we bear?” This was a topic that occupied quite a lot of Brother John’s time as an Editor, both at home and abroad, and he dealt with such questions in several of his other writings. [1]

This is part of what he says in his Letter to the Galatians:

Christ has been “made a curse”; he elsewhere says that he was “made under the law” and while there is a close connection between the two statements, there is greater significance in the phrase “made a curse”. If we put the statement in the concrete form instead of the abstract – which Paul was led to use because he had just spoken of the curse of the law in connection with others – then it is declared that Jesus was accursed! This truly makes the statement startling, but we have in no wise altered Paul’s sense and at once the parallel suggests itself – he was accursed for us and “he was made sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Besides being grammatically impossible, we must reject as futile in the light of this parallel the suggestion that by “sin” Paul in this place means “sin offering”. No – Paul means sin, but we must understand what is intended by the word. Christ was made sin in partaking of the nature in which sin reigns and which produces sin, and which therefore by metonymy is called sin. We may go further and say he was made “sin” in enduring the consequences of sin – sin not his own, for he did not sin – but sin which has left its effects upon the whole race of mankind in bringing all under subjection to death. If we recognise how horrible in God’s sight sin is, then we see how the effects of it are brought to a focus as it were in His own obedient Son. “Him who knew no sin God made to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him.”

He was made to be – we become; the difference being that he felt and endured in his own person the consequences of sin, accepting voluntarily those consequences, whereas we are forgiven our sins and so become the righteousness of God. He was made “sin” without being a sinner; he was also “made a curse” without transgressing the law. How this came about Paul explains. He was cursed in the mode of death, and this involved no personal responsibility on his part. An edict of the law declared: “Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree.” Christ was nailed to the tree and so came under the curse.

That sample answer will give new readers a fairly good idea of the depth and clarity of this commentary. No hard questions are ducked: all are tackled in a straightforward and thoroughly scriptural way and, in the process of following Brother John’s train of thought, you get a good insight into his method of careful Bible study and the books he read and recommends. It will also act as a most helpful introduction to your next study – Paul’s Letter to the Romans, and to Brother Carter’s helpful insights in respect of that epistle too.

If you haven’t got this book, which is now available in a much improved format, this is a book well worth your consideration. If you already have it – read it!

TECWYN MORGAN

[1] See, in particular, Christadelphian Unity in Australia, the Accepted Basis, which contains the text of two talks on the Atonement which were given by Brother Carter in Australia in 1958. This is available here.

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