To the churches of Galatia:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
–Galatians 1:1-5 (ESV)
In the Holy Epistle to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul argues against Gentile believers in Yeshua (Jesus) of Nazareth undergoing conversion to become Jewish. Paul maintained that Gentile believers attained salvation and inherited the blessings promised to Abraham through faith, not conversion.
The Apostle Peter said that the writings of “our beloved brother Paul” contain “some things hard to understand.” If that was true in Peter’s day, how much more so today. Paul was a prodigy educated in the most elite schools in Pharisaism. He wrote and thought from that Jewish background. Unfortunately, that makes several key passages of his work almost incomprehensible to readers unfamiliar with rabbinic literature. I invite Christians to use this book as an opportunity to study Paul’s epistle to the Galatians from a Jewish perspective.
-D. Thomas Lancaster
from the Introduction (pg 1) of his book
The Holy Epistle to the Galatians: Sermons on a Messianic Jewish Approach
I reviewed Lancaster’s book the better part of two years ago, but I never thought my write-up did the book justice. Normally, Lancaster writes in an easy to follow manner, making complex theology accessible to laypeople and non-scholars such as me, but Galatians was probably a bit of a stretch to try to get to fit into a comfortable mold. I’m sure I missed a lot along the way, although when I pulled the book out of my closet (my wife allows me exactly one closet for all of my books…she’s trying to train me not to be a “pack rat”), I saw that I have voluminous notes scribbled all over a mass of bits and scraps of paper like so much ticker tape parade confetti. I was obviously trying to “get it.”
And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.
–2 Peter 3:15-16 (ESV)
That’s Peter’s description of and probably experience with the writings of Paul, as Lancaster quoted from in his introduction, and we can see from the full quote that not only can Paul’s meaning be misunderstood, but it can be deliberately “twisted” with the potential result of “destruction” by people Peter refers to as “ignorant and unstable.”
I don’t think you have to be “unstable” to misunderstand Paul and especially his letter to the churches in Galatia, but a lot of us are ignorant (I don’t mean that in a pejorative manner) of what it was to think, write, and live as a highly educated Pharisaic Jew in the middle of the first century, a mere decade or two before the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. It may be ignorance, at least in part, that makes Paul’s Galatians letter so difficult to grasp. I’m sure it’s my ignorance that resulted in me not fully comprehending Lancaster’s book back in the summer of 2011.
But that’s about to change.
This coming Wednesday evening, my weekly conversations with Pastor Randy at my church are taking a left turn at Albuquerque, so to speak, and following Paul’s classic letter into Galatia. This time, Pastor Randy and I will be pursuing Paul’s letter together. Frankly, I can’t wait.
I wish Pastor would put his bio on the church’s website (which needs serious help, but I’m working on it) so I could access more than just my failing middle-aged memory to describe him. He’s not only been a missionary and a Pastor, but he also has a history as an educator in a scholarly setting. I’ve seen what he studies and reviews just to get ready for a single sermon, and it usually involves anywhere between twelve and twenty books. In our discussions we may not always agree on everything, but my respect for his knowledge and insight continues to grow geometically with each encounter. Admittedly, it’s an honor to just sit in the same room with him for ninety minutes or so once a week and be able to access his thoughts and experiences, especially since his education and background are a great deal of what I lack.
Lancaster repurposed twenty-six sermons on Galatians, which he delivered to his congregation, Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin in 2008, to create this book I’m about to revisit. That’s twenty-six weeks and twenty-six opportunities for me to not just re-read Lancaster’s book, but to study it and to learn from two fine scholars and devoted believers in Christ.
Along the way, I’m hoping not only to learn a lot more about Paul’s letter, but more about the nature of how Paul saw non-Jewish God-fearing believers within a Jewish worship and faith context, who they were in the Jewish Messiah King, and how he saw their role, and our role, in the Kingdom of Heaven. I’m hoping to learn a little something more about myself as a Christian, too.
I was able to talk with Pastor Randy briefly just before services began this morning (as you can imagine, Sunday is his especially “busy” day) and confirmed our meeting for this coming Wednesday and the plan to cover Sermon 1: Letter to the God-Fearers (Galatians 1:1-5). I’m planning on taking notes as I read through the book and during my discussions with Pastor Randy so that I can collect the results of this experience, not just for my own edification, but hopefully for yours.
I invite you to come along with Pastor Randy and me on this weekly adventure as we return to the churches of Galatia by way of Lancaster’s The Holy Epistle to the Galatians. May we all learn the wisdom and message of our Master together through the voice of his Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul, and through this, may we all draw ever closer to God.