Remember the True Gospel


This is an exegesis of Galatians 1.1-10 for Hermeneutics, Fall 2008

REMEMBER THE TRUE GOSPEL

GALATIANS 1.1-10

Main Idea of the Text: There is only one true Gospel of Jesus Christ, and any diversion from that gospel demands condemnation.

I. Paul has both an authority and calling from God. 1.1-2

II. God’s grace and peace rescue us from sin and evil. 1. 3-5

III. The Gospel of Christ is the one, true Gospel. 1. 6-7

IV. Preaching a false gospel is an act worthy of condemnation. 1.8-9

V. Pleasing the world and pleasing God cannot be accomplished simultaneously. 1.10

Practical Application:

1. Remember that you are set apart and called by God.

2. Trust in God’s grace and power to rescue you from sin.

3. Compare all teaching you hear to the Gospel found in the Word of God.

4. Confront and expose false teaching.

5. Be a pleasing servant of Christ, even when it makes you an enemy of men.


Introduction

Described by scholars as “the standard example of Paul’s style and theology,”[1] all other Pauline writings are thus judged against this epistle to the Galatians. Paul visited the Roman province of Galatia with Barnabas on his first missionary journey. His journey through the cities of Perga, Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe is recorded in Acts 13 and 14. “Many scholars conclude that Paul’s Galatian Epistle is addressed to these congregations.”[2] There is debate, however, as to the accuracy of this assessment. Some argue that the letter was not intended for the churches Paul founded in the area of Southern Galatia, but was instead delivered to churches in Northern Galatia, an area comprised of ethnic Galatians. While this theory has support from several well known scholars, a majority of New Testament scholars support the idea that Paul wrote to the churches he had planted in Southern Galatia.

This debate over the recipients of the letter is important, because issues concerning the dating of the letter stem from it. The Epistle to the Galatians is tied closely to the accounts of Paul’s missionary journeys recorded in the book of Acts, and a consistent understanding of the location and time of Paul’s writing to the Galatians solidifies one’s understanding of the events recorded in Acts. While there are several arguments supporting the theory that Paul was writing to ethnic Galatians in the Northern part of the province, this writer agrees with Bruce: “But if they belonged to different ethnic groups (Phrygian and Lycaonian) what common appellation could he have chosen to cover them all except their common political denominator, ‘Galatians’?”[3] When subscribing to the S Galatian theory, the dating of the writing of the epistle to the Galatians should be placed just prior to Paul’s journey to the Jerusalem Council, which took place in 48/49 AD.

Paul wrote this letter to the churches of Galatia in response to news that they had become ensnared in a false teaching that was leading them to abandon the freedom of the true Gospel of Christ. It is recorded in Acts that there were “missionaries” who followed Paul from city to city, teaching new converts that they had to not only accept Christ but also subscribe to certain Jewish customs like circumcision and food laws.

Apparently these Jewish-Christian preachers, telling the Galatians that Paul had failed to instruct them properly in God’s Law, were finding a receptive audience among the Galatians…. Outraged by this development, Paul fired off this letter to dissuade the Galatian churches from accepting this revision—Paul calls it a perversion (1:7)—of the gospel.”[4]

In his desire to remind the Galatians of the one, true Gospel, Paul pens this treatise of Christian liberty. In his letter, Paul defends his own apostleship, apparently called into question by these false teachers; he defends the doctrine of salvation by grace and not works; he appeals to the teachings he left with them on his initial visit and reminds of them of all that he taught them; he confronts them with the freedom from the Law that they have in Christ, and closes by begging them to return to the true gospel of Christ. The argument of this entire letter is grounded in Paul’s opening statements, found in the first ten verses of chapter one.

I. Paul has both an authority and calling from God. 1.1-2

Paul begins his letter by establishing the grounds for which he has the authority to write the following discourse. Throughout his ministry there were those who spoke against Paul and tried to claim that he had no apostolic authority because he had not physically walked with Jesus or been called by Him. Paul refutes this both here and in Second Corinthians. He gives his experience on the Damascus Road, recorded in Acts 9, as his calling from Jesus. Jesus speaks first to Paul, then to Ananias, and tells Ananias that Paul is His “chosen instrument to carry my name to the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.”[5] Paul demands that his readers understand from the beginning that he is “one with personal, delegated authority from God to proclaim accurately the Christian gospel.”[6] The word apostle could be used at the time as a general term as one sent by another; it is used in this manner even within the New Testament.[7] This is why Paul immediately qualifies the word by specifying that he is not sent by men but by God Himself. Paul is establishing that he has been called and set apart by God to do a specific work. He is not writing as Paul, their dear friend, or as Paul, as former pastor, but as Paul, the messenger of God to the Gentiles. And in writing as such, Paul is declaring his words have the authority of God as their foundation and support.

It is interesting to also note that in no other letter does Paul include such a general group as “all the brothers with me” in his greeting. Occasionally he included one or two specific names of those who traveled with him, but here Paul generalizes as though he is including with this letter the support of a group of fellow believers too numerous to name individually. In his Homily on Galatians, Chrysostom declared, “Why does he do this?…So as to destroy their calumny, therefore, and to show that his opinions are shared by many, he adds on ‘the brothers,’ showing that what he writes he writes with their consent.”[8] Paul wants to begin with the understanding that this letter is not being written from hurt feelings or ego. Paul has tested his concern against a body of believers and he has their support for confronting the churches in Galatia.

II. God’s grace and peace rescue us from sin and evil. 1.3-5

Verses three through five still follow the standard format of Roman letters. Following his identifications of writer and recipients, Paul writes a greeting. He greets the readers in Galatia with the grace and peace of “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Grace and peace are two separate qualities present in the life of the believer. The grace of God is what allows us to receive salvation; the peace of God is the result of being put into right relationship with Him in our salvation. Augustine explained it in this manner: “The grace of God, by which our sins are forgiven, is the condition of our being reconciled to him, whereas peace is that wherein we are reconciled.”[9] Simply put, it is by God’s grace that believers are able to experience peace with God.

He further elaborates on the work of Christ in the life of believers in verse four. There, Paul declares to his readers what Christ has done, “gave himself for our sins;” and why he did what he did, “to rescue us from the present evil age;” and the reason why it was necessary, “according to the will of our God and Father.” This is a description of the result of God’s grace in the life of the believer. Sinful, fallen humanity is separated from relationship with God, and there is nothing anyone can do to reconcile himself to God. In fact, in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul declares that “it is by grace you have been saved through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”[10] His grace gives man what is not deserved—salvation and peace. It is through the substitutionary work of Christ that we are able to become a part of the covenant promise of salvation. The early church father Jerome explained the work of Christ in the will of the Father in this way: “Neither did the Son give himself without the Father’s will, nor did the Father give up the Son without the Son’s will… the Son gave himself, that he himself, as righteousness, might do away with the unrighteousness in us.”[11] It is God’s will that His children respond to His grace in faith so that they can receive His peace. At this declaration, Paul breaks into a moment of doxology: this rich, undeserved grace and favor of God should lead all believers to join with Paul in giving glory to God for ever and ever!

III. The Gospel of Christ is the one, true Gospel.

In verse six, Paul transitions from his greeting to the body of the letter in a startlingly unique manner. In Paul’s other letters, he follows his greeting with a gracious prayer of thanksgiving for the people to whom he is writing.[12] When writing to the Galatian church, however, Paul launches directly into a sharp reprimand of the believers in Galatia. He declares they have deserted the one who has called them and have turned to a different gospel. Longenecker explains that the grammar of this sentence shows Paul is emphasizing that this new teaching is not an addition to or expounding upon the teachings he delivered to the Galatians. “In all likelihood the errorists were claiming that their message and actions should be seen as complementary to Paul’s preaching and ministry. As Paul views matters, however, theirs was ‘a different gospel—which is not at all the same gospel.’”[13] One of the indications that there is something awry in the Galatian churches is the presence of confusion or disturbance amongst the members. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth that “God is not a God of confusion but of peace….”[14] By contrasting the peace of God in verse 3 with the confusion found in the church, Paul is confirming to them that these new teachings cannot be of God. This word translated as “confusion” can also be translated as “instability, a state of disorder, disturbance.”[15] Paul points out the source of this confusion is the false teachings of those who are attempting to pervert the Gospel of Christ. Bruce describes Paul argument in the following statement:

Gospel it is not; it is a message of bondage, not of freedom. It is a form of the doctrine of salvation by law-keeping from which Paul himself had been liberated by the true Gospel he received on the Damascus road ‘by revelation of Jesus Christ.’ That was the gospel which he preached to others, including the Galatians, and there could be no other….its touchstone was the proclamation of salvation and life through the grace of God….[16]

IV. Preaching a false gospel is an act worthy of condemnation.

To these false teachers of a perverted gospel, Paul delivers the harshest words he writes in all of the New Testament.[17] Jesus told his disciples that “false teachers are children of their ‘father the devil, and… want to do the desires of [their] father,’ who ‘whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature; for he is a liar, and the father of lies’ (John 8:44).”[18] No doubt Paul had these words of Jesus in his mind as he quickly responded to the news that the Galatians were falling prey to the very false teachers they had been warned about. Paul does not disguise his disgust with these who were destroying the foundation of the faith for which he had nearly sacrificed his life so many times. He boldly declares them to be condemned, for they are indeed preaching a foreign gospel. He is so incensed, not only by the teachings, but by the fact that the Galatians had accepted it as truth, that he repeats himself to ensure they understand his great displeasure and even anger with their situation. Chrysostom says concerning this repetition: “Lest you should think that the words came from passion or were spoken hyperbolically or through a loss of self-control, he says the same things over again.”[19] Paul declares a curse against anyone who shares a false gospel. He also gives very specific instructions to the Galatians concerning how they should receive all future teaching.

Even if Paul or any of his associates were to change their teaching, then the Galatians should not listen to them but treat them like heretics, which they would then be…. The truth outranks anyone’s credentials, and every teacher or preacher must be evaluated on the basis of what he says, not who he is.[20]

“Here Paul showed once and for all that the issue at stake in Galatia was not in the messenger but in the message.”[21] MacArthur goes on to say, “False teachers not only should not be believed or followed but should be left God’s judgment to be accursed. Accursed is translated anathema, which refers to that which is devoted to destruction.”[22] What believers in all times and places must remember is that when sinless Jesus took the punishment for sin on himself on the cross, he took the curse of sin away. To take up a Gospel that requires anything other than the atoning work of Christ is to take that curse from Jesus and place it upon the one doing the false teaching.

V. Pleasing the world and pleasing God cannot be accomplished simultaneously.

After beginning his letter with a sharp rebuke of the report he have received concerning the Galatians, Paul shifts slightly and begins questioning these same believers. In verse ten he returns to discussing himself and his service to God. Paul does not mean in this question that he believes the approval of God can be earned; he has just chastised them for a false Gospel that includes a works-based salvation.

There was a time when in fact Paul did indeed seek to please other human beings. Before his conversion to Christ, he was on the fast track toward the highest echelons of the Jewish rabbinic establishment. His entire career, including his persecution of Christians, was designed not only to justify himself before God but also to curry the favor of those in power so as to better advance his own ambitions. But this kind of self-serving… endeavor was forever shattered when Saul of Tarsus and Jesus of Nazareth collided outside Damascus. Serving Christ and pleasing humanity are mutually exclusive alternatives.[23]

This pair of rhetorical questions is meant to force the Galatians to peer inward for a moment and consider the motivations of their own hearts. By asking these questions of himself, Paul is indirectly asking these same questions of them as well. “It would be a great mistake, then, to interpret Paul’s two questions in 1:10 as the angry outburst of an egotistical preacher. What we have instead is a clear rejection of unworthy motivations for ministry.”[24]

Conclusion and Application

The meaning and intention of Paul in these first ten verses of his letter to the Galatians is as clear today as it certainly was to the original recipients nearly two thousand years ago. Paul intends to remind the believers in Galatia of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ while dispelling the false teachings of works and law-based salvation. As clear as his original intent was, the lessons he desired his original readers to glean from his writings are applicable to readers today.

First, believers should remember that we are all called and set apart by God. Just as Paul desired to emphasize his own election and calling, each believer has be called and set apart by Father God to do His work on this earth. As sure as Paul was of his calling, so too should each believer be today.

Second, believers must rely on the grace of God and not their own work to deliver them from their sins. As a Jewish-Christian, Paul most likely understood the temptation to return to the old habits of the life he led prior to his conversion to Christ. But Paul even more understood the costly yet free grace of salvation in Christ alone. No amount of work on the part of a sinful human will ever stack up to the righteous standards of a holy God.

Third, when confronted with teaching that causes confusion, believers must compare it to the Word of God. There is a difference between confusion caused by false teaching of the enemy and conviction caused by the Holy Spirit concerning sin in the life of the believer. Whenever a believers’ soul is in conflict, the thought must be taken captive and made obedient to the cause of Christ.[25]

Fourth, if it is discovered that the teaching is in violation of Scripture, that false teaching must be immediately confronted and cast aside.[26] There is no room in the church for twisted truth. In his commentary on Galatians, MacArthur declares that “Satan’s primary target for false teaching is the doctrine of salvation, because if people are confused about that they have no way of coming to God in the first place.”[27] There are enough stumbling blocks on the road to salvation without false teachings in the church being added to the list.

Fifth, believers must be willing to stand for the truth of Christ, even when it means making enemies of man. There is no approval of man that would give validity to making a concession in the gospel of Christ. The early church father Tertullian took a similar stand with his congregation in Carthage in the 3rd century. When confronting church members who were still practicing pagan customs to appease their employers, Tertullian asked them why. They responded that they did so in order to be able to work. He again asked them why they must to that, to which they replied, “Because we must live.” At this Tertullian, himself converted upon the witness of courageous martyrs of the faith, replied, “No! You don’t have to work, or eat and you don’t have to live. The only thing you have to do is be faithful.”[28] This is heart cry of Paul in his letter to the Galatians: above all else, remain faithful to the grace bestowed upon man in the true gospel of Christ.


Works Referenced

Bruce, F.F. “The Epistle to the Galatians.” New Bible Dictionary, 2nd Ed. InterVarsity: Downer’s Grove, 1982.

Bruce, F.F. “The Epistle to the Galatians.” New International Greek Testament Commentary. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1982.

Carson, D.A. and Douglas J. Moo. “Galatians.” An Introduction to the New Testament. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 2005.

Edwards, Mark, editor. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. New Testament, vol. 8. InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, 1999.

Elwell, Walter A. and Robert W. Yarbrough. “Galatians.” Encountering the New Testament. Baker: Grand Rapids, 1998.

Fung, Ronald Y.K. “The Epistle to the Galatians.” The New international Commentary on the New testament. Gordon Fee, ed. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1953.

George, Timothy. “Galatians.” The New American Commentary. Broadman and Holman Publishers: Nashville, 1994.

Hansen, W.G. “Letter to the Galatians.” The IVP Dictionary of the New Testament. Daniel G. Reid, editor. InterVarsity: Downer’s Grove, 2004.

Hays, Richard B. “Galatians.” The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. XI. Abingdon Press: Nashville, 2000.

Longenecker, Richard N. “Galatians.” Word Biblical Commentary. Word Books, Publisher: Dallas, 1990.

MacArthur, John. “Galatians.” The MacArthur New Testament Commentary. Moody Press: Chicago, 1987.

Robertson, A.T. “The Epistles of Paul.” Word Pictures in the New Testament, vol. IV. Richard Smith, Inc.: New York, 1931.

Strong, James. Strong’s Dictionary. New American Standard Verson. http://bible.crosswalk.com/ Lexicons/ Greek/grk.cgi?number=181&version=nas. Accessed November 27, 2008.

Wilkins, Tim. “Tertullian’s Advice to E-Harmony?” The Cross Examiner. http://www.crossministry.org/home. Accessed December 3, 2008.


[1]Hansen, W.G. “Letter to the Galatians.” The IVP Dictionary of the New Testament. Daniel G. Reid, editor. InterVarsity: Downer’s Grove, 2004. p. 396.

[2] Elwell, Walter A. and Robert W. Yarbrough. “Galatians.” Encountering the New Testament. Baker: Grand Rapids, 1998. p. 297.

[3] Bruce, F.F. “The Epistle to the Galatians.” New International Greek Testament Commentary. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1982. p. 401.

[4] Hays, Richard B. “Galatians.” The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. XI. Abingdon Press: Nashville, 2000. p. 184.

[5] Acts 9.15.

[6] Longenecker, Richard N. “Galatians.” Word Biblical Commentary. Word Books, Publisher: Dallas, 1990. p. 2.

[7] John 13.16; 2 Corinthians 8.23; Philippians 2.25

[8] Edwards, Mark, editor. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. New Testament, vol. 8. InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, 1999. p. 3.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Eph 2.8-9

[11] Edwards, 4.

[12] Ro 1.8-9; 1 Cor 1.4-9; Eph 1.15-19; Phi 1.3-6; Col 1.3-8; 1 Thes 1.2-3; 2 Thes 1.3-12; Phil 4-7

[13] Longenecker, 4.

[14] 1 Cor 14:33

[15] Strong, James. Strong’s Concordance. New American Standard Version. http://bible.crosswalk.com/Lexicons/Greek/grk.cgi?number=181&version=nas. Accessed November 27, 2008.

[16]Bruce, F.F. “The Epistle to the Galatians.” New Bible Dictionary, 2nd Ed. InterVarsity: Downer’s Grove, 1982. p. 87.

[17] George, Timothy. “Galatians.” The New American Commentary. Broadman and Holman Publishers: Nashville, 1994. p. 97.

[18] MacArthur, John. “Galatians.” The MacArthur New Testament Commentary. Moody Press: Chicago, 1987. p. 10.

[19] Edwards, 7.

[20] MacArthur, 16.

[21] George, 97.

[22] MacArthur, 17.

[23] George, 100.

[24] Ibid., 101.

[25] 2 Cor 10.5

[26] Eph 5.11

[27] MacArthur, 11.

[28] Wilkins, Tim. “Tertullian’s Advice to E-Harmony?” The Cross Examiner. http://www.crossministry.org/home. Accessed December 3, 2008.

Advertisements

Obedience: A Loving God Demands a Loving Response


This is a paper I wrote on Deuteronomy 10.12-22 for Introduction to Old Testament, Fall 2008:

Introduction

Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Pentateuch, so named for the Septuagint title Deuteronomion, or “second law,” can be considered the last will and testament of Moses. After leading the people of Israel out of Egypt and through the subsequent forty year wandering in the wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula, Moses and the Israelites arrive just over the Jordan River from the long awaited Promised Land. Before the Israelites cross into the Promised Land, Moses has some final words for the people to remember as they begin their lives serving God in the land He had promised their forefathers.

Deuteronomy is comprised of a series of speeches or “sermons” delivered by Moses just prior to his death. Internal evidence suggests Moses himself wrote the majority of Deuteronomy, while there is also internal evidence pointing to the use of a final editor. The most obvious proof of work separate from Moses is the inclusion of his death at the end of the book.

“Recent studies have…detected a five part concentric pattern known as a chiasm. The speeches of Moses may thus be described in the following fashion:

A The Outer Frame: A Look Backwards, chapters 1-3

B The Inner Frame: The Covenant Summary, chapters 4-11

C The Central Core: Covenant Stipulations, chapters 12-26

B` The Inner Frame: The Covenant Ceremony, chapters 27-30

A` The Outer Frame: A Look Forwards, chapters 31-34”[1]

Ancient cultures were formed on tradition of orality; this led to much of the writing preserved from this time period having a notable poetic structure, especially in didactic sections. This was specifically designed to aid the hearer in memorization and understanding. This paper will argue that Deuteronomy 10.12-22 forms a chiasm similar to that of the book as a whole, and thus emphasizing the importance of this passage as a summary of the law in its entirety.

Context

Chapters 4-11 comprise a historical review of Israel’s journey from Egypt to the plains of Moab. Moses is reminding the people of all the Lord has done for them on this journey. From chapter four through 10.11, Moses recounts in narrative form the giving of the law, the rebellious response of the people, and God’s gracious forgiveness and restoration of His people “so that they may enter and possess the land that I swore to their forefathers to give them.”[2] God is setting the people up for a transition from discussing His faithfulness to Israel to discussing their own faithfulness to Him. “As has been noted repeatedly, covenant relationship between the Lord and Israel had to be expressed in both a vertical and horizontal dimension. To love God is to love one’s neighbor, and to serve God necessitates societal obligation.”[3] This specific passage is designed to point the reader to examine his own heart in light of the requirements of a holy and righteous God.

I. The Lord’s Requirements of His People 10. 12-13

The word in Hebrew translated “‘and now…’ marks a transition from history (9:7-10:11) to the moral religious lesson that is to be drawn from it.”[4] These words are essentially saying to Israel, “In light of all that I am and all that I have done for you, let me explain how you are to respond.” “The opening words of v 12 are among the most familiar in the Hebrew Bible, partly because of their use in Mic 6:8—‘what does Yahweh require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?’”[5]

God’s will for his people is not clouded in obscurity. While there are multiple ways God’s will may come to fruition in the life of a faithful follower, these are the essential elements God requires of his people. There are five listed specifically within this section: (1) to fear God, (2) to walk in all his ways, (3) to love him, (4) to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and (5) to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees. One observation can immediately be made regarding the state of these commands. They are neither passive, nor is there an allowance for someone to accomplish these tasks for another; each command of God requires an active response of obedience from the individual. The first command in this list, to fear God, is the spring from which the other actions can flow. The verb used here, which is translated “fear” speaks not only of terror, but of reverential awe, which “motivates one to worship and obedience.”[6] Only when one has a right attitude and perspective toward God can right walking, love, service, and respect for His decrees follow.

Merrill suggests this list should be viewed as “fear” and “walking rightly” working in conjunction with one another to produce the next three: love, service, and obedience. He also suggests that the word love should be viewed as a technical term describing Israel’s reaction to the covenant relationship they have with God.[7] Craigie describes this initial list of God’s requirements of Israel as a description of “allegiance to the God of the covenant.”[8]

The closing statement of verse 13 is often overlooked in discussions concerning the law. While the emphasis tends to be placed on man’s ability (or inability) to successfully keep these laws, rarely is there a discussion concerning the reason behind the laws given by God. The law of God, handed down to Israel through Moses, is not a collection of laws designed solely to isolate Israel from a surrounding pagan society. In fact, this passage specifically describes how the Israelites are to appropriately interact with outsiders. But God himself qualifies these laws as statutes that are “for your own good.” The law of God is not an irrational set of decrees arbitrarily handed down by a distant deity. Rather, they are guidelines established by a loving Father, designed to bring success and safety to His children.

II. The Owner and Creator of the universe chose a people for Himself to love 10.14-15

Verses 14-15 further elaborate on the reason God has provided this law under which his chosen people are to live. God is described in these verses as being the owner of heaven and earth and everything in the earth. This is a theme drawn from the creation account of Genesis 1 and 2, and is carried throughout the remainder of the Old Testament writings. The Psalms especially emphasize the fact that all things belong to God. Yet, in spite of the fact that He owns all things and could have chosen any people in any place at any time, He chose to set His affections upon Israel. “A sharp disjunctive and restrictive adverb of which Deuteronomy is especially fond… makes the contrast vivid between the whole universe and the one people…Why God had this desire to love the patriarchs is never stated, because God’s election is always a mystery of His grace.”[9] God’s love for the patriarchs can be seen in fruition by the fact that He called the Israelites out of Egypt and brought them to the plains of Moab so that they could take possession of the land He had promised to Abraham. Just as God had demanded love in action from the Israelites, He modeled love in action by fulfilling the promises made to the patriarchs. God demonstrates His love by fulfilling His covenant with His people. God is again showing that the requirements He sets down for the Israelites are a reflection of His holy character and not a collection of arbitrary rules.

III. Those receiving the blessing of God’s covenant love must respond in obedience 10.16

Verse 16 serves as the crux of this chiastic description of God’s covenantal stipulations for His people. God gives His people instruction as to how they are to carry out the command He has given them in verses 12 and 13. The commands set down in 12 and 13 cannot be fulfilled in the human heart alone. Jeremiah describes the heart of man in this way: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? ‘I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.’”[10] This is what God is confirming in this verse. Circumcision was initiated as an outward symbol for man of the covenant made with God. “God’s requirement was that his people love him, but to do this, they required a particular attitude of heart or mind, which—like circumcision—involved decision and action symbolizing allegiance.”[11] In this chiasm, God gives Israel instructions as to what do—fear, love, obey—and why they should do these things—he’s the great God of the universe who chose to love them—but in verse 16, God provides for them the means by which they will accomplish these tasks. “Circumcision of the heart connotes being open, responsive, and obedient to the Lord.” While circumcision denotes the responsive heart, “throughout the Old Testament ‘stiffnecked’ is a metaphor for stubbornness and recalcitrance (cf. Job 9:4; 2 Chr 30:8; 36:13; Neh 9:16-17, 29; Jer 7:26; 17:23; 19:15). In the present context it denotes a lack of compliance to the covenant requirements.”[12] These two attitudes—a circumcised heart and a stiff neck—illustrate the choice Israel must make: to uphold their portion of the covenant or to rebel and go their own way. The remainder of Deuteronomy is set up in such a way that they are constantly reminded of this choice. God gives them a law, then explains the blessings of obeying and curses of disobeying. The choice to live in blessing or in curse hinges on the attitude in which the Israelites approach God. “In view of God’s election-love, one must be humbled so that he can be submissive to the guidance of God. Otherwise, love of God is impossible.”[13]

IV. The All-Powerful God loves and protects the weak and powerless 10.17-19

In keeping with the chiastic pattern, verses 17-18 reiterate the character and nature of God in relation to loving people. God has just laid before Israel the mutually exclusive choices of serving Him or serving themselves. He now reminds them one more time of His power, love, and compassion.

His greatness is portrayed by the names ascribed to him as well as by the characteristics and acts attributed to him. “God of gods” and “Lord of lords” (v. 17) are Hebrew superlatives. The designations do not suggest that there are in reality other divine gods or lords over whom God rules. Rather, as God and Lord he is supreme over all.[14]

This description of God’s power and sovereignty place him in comparison to earthly kings who often make such claims for themselves. But the second portion of the description of God found here places him in direct opposition to most earthly rulers. God is also described here as being impartial and unaffected by bribes. It is God alone who knows the heart of man, and he cannot be swayed by insincere pledges of allegiance. The status and position of man is inconsequential to God. Not only is he not swayed by those in powerful positions, he defends and cares for those who have no means of protecting themselves. God does not exploit the needy; rather, He lifts them up to a position of being worthy of love. During this time, there were no legal rights for widows or orphans.[15] In most cultures, they were left to fend for themselves, but usually with no legal means of doing so. God declares here that he is the one who cares for those who cannot care for themselves. This is a practical picture of the love God provides in salvation for his people. Israel could nothing to protect and provide for itself; they had to totally rely on God. And here God is again saying that it is he who protects the powerless.

God also tells them that he loves the alien. The word used here for alien or sojourner is

a technical term for the foreigner who has left his own people and has taken up residence in Israel. Though especially liable to injustice and oppression, he was a member of the covenant…. As God loves the sojourner, so Israel is to love him, remembering they were once in the same position in Egypt—whence they were delivered from oppression (cf. Lev 19:34).[16]

V. Fear and worship the Lord, for He has greatly blessed his people 10. 20-22

The chiasm of 10.12-22 is completed with a return to the expectations God lays out for the Israelites. After the descriptions of God’s great power and love, Israel is again reminded to fear and serve the Lord. “The theme of this part of the address is repeated here for emphasis.”[17] The Israelites are given another key to covenantal love; only if one “holds fast” to the Lord will he be able to walk rightly with him. This phrase, also translated “cleave” or “cling,” “indicates a very close and intimate relationship. The same verb is employed to describe the relationship between a man and his wife.”[18] God is to be trusted by his people as a wife trusts her husband for love and protection. He further declares Israel’s ability to trust him by declaring they are to take their oaths in his name. He is unchanging, and the promises he makes are to be trusted without question.

Because of this unchanging reliability, verse 21 declares that Israel is to see God as their praise. Due to grammatical ambiguity, this phrase can be translated two ways. One, this can mean that God is to be the sole recipient and object of praise. This is fitting, for the previous verses fully provide reason for God to be the sole object of worship by Israel. Two, this phrase can also mean that God’s provision for Israel is the foundation on which Israel is praised by surrounding nations.[19] Though weaker contextually, this translation can also work here considering the previous discussion concerning God’s care for and love of the aliens in Israel. Either way, the object and purpose of the worship is unchanging; the Lord God of Israel is worthy to be praised.

Verse 22 serves as a final illustration to the Israelites as to why God is worthy of this praise. He has performed mighty works before their eyes, and the care and protection he provided to the patriarchs on their journey into Egypt, as well as the care and protection he provided to this generation of Israel on their subsequent journey out of Egypt are to serve as markers, reminding them that their God is the God of covenant love and faithfulness.

Conclusion

Though the Israelites of Deuteronomy are separated from us by millennia, we are closely connected to them by our covenant relationship with God. Even the stiff-necked rebellion and subsequent exile of Israel proves that God is trustworthy—He is trustworthy to not only provide blessing for obedience, but also discipline for disobedience. The character of God is one of absolute consistency and reliability. In Malachi 3, God describes to the people a time when they will be restored to Him as His covenant people. Though they have disobeyed and abandoned God, He will not abandon them. Throughout Israel’s spiritual adultery, God holds to the covenant he made with the patriarchs. “So I will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me,” says the Lord Almighty. “I the Lord do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.”[20] Because the Lord does not change, we can assured even today that by following the commands laid down in this passage—by fearing God, walking in his ways, by loving, serving, and obeying him—he will be faithful to defend us who are weak people, incapable of saving ourselves.


Works Referenced

Arnold, Bill T. and Bryan Beyer. “Deuteronomy,” Discovering the Old Testament. Baker: Grand Rapids, 1999.

B., D.R. “Deuteronomy.” Harper’s Bible Dictionary. Paul J. Achtemeier, editor. Haper & Row: San Francisco, 1985.

Buttrick, George A. The Interpreter’s Bible. Abingdon: New York, 1953.

Christensen, Duane L. “Book of Deuteronomy.” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible. Watson E. Mills, editor. Mercer University Press: Macon, 1991.

Christensen, Duane L. “Deuteronomy 1-11.” Word Biblical Commentary. Nelson: Nashville, 1991.

Craigie, Peter C. “The Book of Deuteronomy.” New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1976.

Easton, M.A. “Deuteronomy.” Easton’s Bible Dictionary. Online version. Accessed September 12, 2008.

Kalland, Earl S. “Volume 3: Deuteronomy- 2 Samuel.” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 1992.

Lienhard, Joseph T., ed. “Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.” Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. InterVarsity: Downers Grove, 2001.

Luther, Martin. Lectures on Deuteronomy. Jaroslav Pelikan, editor. Concordia: St. Louis, 1960.

Merrill, Eugene H. “Deuteronomy.” The New American Commentary. Broadman and Holman: Nashville, 1994.

Phillips, Anthony. Deuteronomy. University Press: Cambridge, 1973.

Thompson, J.A. “Book of Deuteronomy.” New Bible Dictionary, 2nd Edition. InterVarsity: Downers Grove, 1962.

Weinfeld, Moshe. “Deuteronomy 1-11.” The Anchor Bible. Doubleday: New York, 1991.

Weinfeld, Moshe. “Deuteronomy.” The Anchor Bible Dictionary. David Noel Freedman, editor. Doubleday: New York, 1992.


[1] Arnold, Bill T. and Bryan Beyer. “Deuteronomy,” Discovering the Old Testament. Baker: Grand Rapids, 1999. p. 143.

[2] Deut 10.11

[3] Merrill, 201.

[4] Weinfeld, 435.

[5] Christensen, Word Biblical Commentary, 205.

[6] Merrill, 202.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Craigie, 204.

[9] Buttrick, 400.

[10] Jeremiah 17.9-10

[11] Craigie, 205.

[12] Merrill, 203.

[13] Buttrick, 400.

[14] Kalland, 86.

[15] The expansion of the law concerning the care of widows, orphans, and aliens can be found in De 24:17-22.

[16] Buttrick, 401.

[17] Craigie, 207.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Christensen, 207.

[20] Mal 3.5-6

Christians and Culture


I recently was assigned an essay in which I was to answer the question, “How ought Christians react to the shifting moral values of culture?” Here’s my answer…

I have read the assigned book, Reforming the Morality of Usury, in its entirety.

Much like the time of the Reformers, today’s culture is in the midst of a massive shift in moral thinking. As secular culture becomes more permissive concerning topics like abortion, homosexuality, euthanasia, genetic research, and even financial responsibility, it is the responsibility of the church to determine the absolute morality of such issues in light of the absolute truth of the Word of God. Often concessions are made in issues of morality by claiming that, since the culture has changed, many laws of the Bible are now outdated. For example, the Old Testament prohibition on tattooing is used to support this argument because tattooing is currently a culturally accepted art form in America. Issues of capital punishment are also used by some to decry the Bible as a moral authority. Because our current culture does not solicit the use of capital punishment for behaviors such as homosexuality, adultery, or dishonoring parents, then it is reasoned that none of the moral laws or consequences should apply any longer. With this view of law in the Bible, the proverbial baby of moral law is thrown out with the bathwater of time bound, theocratic law.

If believers hold to the presupposition that the “all or nothing” view of law in Scripture is incorrect, how should Christians view and apply Scripture to daily life? The ever-changing nature of the world is further proof that the world is diametrically opposed to the immutable God, Creator of the universe. Secular culture is constantly shifting the boundaries of right and wrong, but Scripture contains God’s statement concerning Himself: “I the Lord do not change” (Mal 3:6). While God was speaking of His covenant promise to Israel, this concept of God’s immutability carries through His entire being. Regardless of the behavior of His chosen people Israel, God’s covenant with them was never changing, and neither was His response to them; when they obeyed He blessed them and when they strayed He disciplined them. The Psalmist praises God that His love and faithfulness endures forever (cf. 100:5; 107:1; 117:2; 118:1-4, 29; 136:1-5).

Just as God is unchanging, we are told that His word is unchanging as well. Throughout Scripture, God’s words never change. From Genesis to Revelation, each author, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, traces the consistent story of redemption and salvation. The Lord tells Isaiah to proclaim to the people in Isaiah 40:7-8, “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.” Though men will rise and fall and be blown away like the grass in the wind, the unchanging Word of God will remain forever.

According to these very brief glimpses into the nature of God and of His Word, one can surmise that God is unchanging in His very nature. Just as the Scripture sheds light on the nature of God, it also reveals the nature of man. As mentioned above, God told Isaiah that people are like grass and they fade in glory and fall. The prophet Jeremiah was told that the heart of man is wicked (17:9). Samuel told King Saul that “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind” (1 Sam 15:29). When Paul describes weak-willed women to Timothy, part of that description includes that they are “swayed by all kinds of evil desires” (2 Tim 3:6). Though man is always changing in thought and deed and conviction, God never changes

So according to the Scriptures, which have been shown to be unchanging, God is unchanging, trustworthy, and loving in His eternal nature, but man is changing, swaying, untrustworthy, and wicked. If the story stopped there, it would seem hopeless for the church to react to the changing culture in any other way than to mirror culture itself. There are, however, commands given to the church specifically concerning how we as believers are to interact with the changing culture of the current society. In Romans 12:2, the apostle Paul instructs the believers in Rome: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.” As believers, we are not to conform to the changing winds of culture. We are instead to renew our minds so that we are able to test and approve God’s will. By renewing our minds through studying Scripture, we will be able to rightly discern the world around us. Peter also addresses this topic in 1 Pet 1:13-16: “Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’”

Succinctly written in the very words of God, the church is told that as the culture around us changes, we are to nevertheless be holy as God is holy. We are to remain steadfast and unwavering in the beliefs that the precepts in Scripture are right, true, beautiful, restorative, and refreshing. The only way that Scripture will be seen in such a light is for believers to uphold it regardless of the culture around us. Scripture tells us that God is calling unto himself a people from every tongue, tribe, and nation, which assumes that His Gospel supersedes the fluctuating tides of culture. The church’s responsibility is to continue living in such a way that we are not only hearers of the never changing word, but we are also doers of the same.