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An Apparent Problem

Paul wrote to the Galatians in response to a doctrinal and ecclesiastical controversy created by Judaizers—Jewish-Christians who were teaching Gentile members of the Church the false doctrine that in order to be saved, they must be circumcised and observe the ritual requirements of the law of Moses.

The book of Acts refers to similar teachers, providing helpful historical background about what apparently was not an isolated controversy. Prior to the events recorded in Acts10, probably most, if not all, members of the Church were Jewish.

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Either they were Jews by birth, or they were proselytes—Gentiles who had converted to Judaism by being circumcised and committing to live the law of Moses. And certain men which came down [to Syrian Antioch] from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.

Acts —2. The council of Apostles and elders that met in Jerusalem rejected the teaching of the Judaizers and affirmed that Gentile members of the Church did not need to be circumcised or observe other rituals of the law of Moses see Acts — The Apostles and elders did call upon Gentile Saints to live moral teachings of the law, specifically to avoid idolatry and sexual sin see Acts — They also counseled Gentile Saints to observe some kosher dietary restrictions, apparently not as a requirement for salvation but to avoid offending the Jewish communities where they lived and thus potentially hindering missionary work in those communities.

Whether Paul wrote his epistle to the Galatians shortly before or sometime after this council in Jerusalem is a question that is still debated. This is the very problem that Paul addressed in Galatians. In Galatia, Paul had preached the gospel, established branches of the Church, and then departed to spread the gospel in other locations.

The Book of Romans Explains God's Plan of Salvation

Paul understood that in this crisis, the Galatian Saints were at risk of losing eternal blessings. Why was it so serious a matter for these Gentile converts to be circumcised and start observing the law of Moses? That is, when a person underwent circumcision and signaled his intention to live by the law of Moses, he obligated himself to keep the entire law—all its rituals, all its prescribed sacrifices, all its dietary regulations, all commandments and prohibitions given in the Torah and taught by the rabbis.

Essentially, the law was given to lead to Christ see Galatians —25 and not vice versa. It was in this context that Paul wrote to the Galatians about faith and works. His main point is found in Galatians the passage cited above that appears to be contradicted by James. Notice that in this verse, Paul used the term works three times, but never once by itself.

In this context, it is evident that Paul used the term works with particular reference to circumcision and the other distinctively Jewish observances of the Mosaic law, such as the Sabbath and feasts held at specific times during the calendar year. The Judaizers were teaching Gentile Saints that to be saved they essentially had to become Jewish and do Jewish works—the rituals of the law of Moses. The Judaizers probably emphasized circumcision because it was the rite by which one entered the old covenant and committed oneself to the obligations of the law of Moses; for this reason, the term circumcision became an abbreviated way of referring to all the requirements of the law.

With this understanding, we can appreciate why Paul bolstered his argument by referring to Abraham. For Paul, Abraham was an ideal case study, the quintessential role model of one who was justified by faith and not by the works of the law of Moses. Moreover, Paul pointed out, Abraham lived more than four centuries before Moses.

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Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster Galatians , 24— Paul was urging the Galatian Saints to abide in the new covenant, the gospel covenant, rather than regress to the terms of the old covenant under the Mosaic law.

Paul was not teaching that human efforts are unimportant in the process of salvation. This confusion sometimes arises because of later contexts particularly Ephesians —9 in which Paul does appear to have used the term works more generally. But those passages use different terms in a different context and thus teach a different doctrine.

In the specific context of Galatians, Paul used works to mean distinctively Jewish practices of the law of Moses. He was teaching that the means of salvation that God had provided for all people, Jew and Gentile, was ultimately not the law of Moses but the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Salvation came through Christ; the law had been given to lead Israel to Christ.

First, it teaches that we are justified by our faith in Jesus Christ. In teaching about our faith in Christ, Paul did not use the word faith to mean merely passive mental assent. The Greek words translated faith pistis and to have faith or to believe pisteu? Nevertheless, Paul did not classify baptism or obedience to the gospel as works, because, as we have seen in this context, works meant works of the law of Moses—distinctively Jewish rituals—not general efforts to live the gospel. Paul saw baptism and obedience to the gospel as outgrowths of faith in Jesus Christ.

For Paul, faith meant a wholehearted acceptance of salvation through the Atonement of Christ; to place faith in Christ was to commit oneself into his care with a trust that naturally manifested itself in actions such as repentance, baptism, and striving to live by the Spirit. As Stephen E. As Paul later wrote to the Saints in Rome, he expanded upon many of the same teachings that he had presented in Galatians see Romans 1—8.

Paul the Apostle - Ancient History Encyclopedia

For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Briefly, two important characteristics of these passages need to be recognized. Works in this context does appear to refer more broadly to our acts of religious devotion in general. On the basis of our works, we all fall short. It deepened his appreciation for the Atonement of Christ. Thus, we cannot assume that even Paul always meant the same thing by the terms he used.

Twice more in his epistle to the Romans, Paul refuted the charge that he promoted or condoned sin see Romans —2, 14— Paul was also accused of teaching against the law of Moses, which if true would have been regarded as a serious offense—blasphemy—for the law had been given by God. But Paul took pains to clarify that the law was good. The law was not responsible for human sin or the consequences of sin; the law merely made human sins clear for all to recognize:.

What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet Was then that which is good made death unto me? But sin, that it might appear sin, work[ed] death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful. Romans ; , 12— Paul explained that the problem with the law was that while it clarified what sin was, it did not deal with the problem of human weakness or impart spiritual life see Romans ; Galatians For that, we needed the Atonement of Christ.

This, of course, was not true; Paul and the other Apostles taught that Gentile members of the Church did not need to live the law of Moses. To dispel the rumors, Paul went to the temple as requested—and that is where the riot broke out and Paul was arrested see Acts — Though many commentators have emphasized the seeming disagreement between Paul and James, it is possible to see them as mutually supportive, each ministering to different ethnic groups, and both trying very hard to keep the Church together at this time of extraordinary cross-cultural tensions.

These phrases suggest that James and his readers were aware of people who were speaking in a simplistic way about faith absent from works. We can see these usages at work throughout these verses in James. The King James Version does not translate the Greek article h? Even so faith [h? But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith [h? James next turned, as Paul did, to the example of Abraham.

Paul the Apostle

It is plausible, therefore, that James could have heard distorted versions of what Paul had taught about Abraham and felt impelled to reassure his readers and correct doctrinal misunderstandings. Seest thou how faith wrought with [sun? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Paul would have agreed, for, as we have seen, Paul did not conceive of faith without obedience.

Thus James did not oppose Paul; he opposed only the false idea that faith was passive. Paul would not have disagreed. Paul had taught that God offered salvation through the Atonement of Christ, and thus the way we receive the blessings of the Atonement is by faith in Christ—faith that leads us to enter the new covenant and live the gospel. James would not have disagreed. Both Paul and James taught faith in Jesus Christ and lived by that faith. Both knew that true faith in Christ transforms us, for both had experienced personal transformation arising from their faith.

James had initially disbelieved that his brother Jesus was the Christ, and Paul had initially persecuted the Church see Mark ; John ; Acts —2; Galatians Both had their own sacred experiences coming to know the risen Lord see Acts —22; 1Corinthians My approach to this subject is also somewhat similar to that of Stephen E. Richard Neitzel Holzapfel and ThomasA.

I agree with Robinson and Hauglid generally that Paul and James harmonize in doctrine while differing in semantics, audience, and historical setting, but the scope of this paper has permitted a more in-depth, contextual look at these issues. Huntsman, and ThomasA. What James meant by the terms dikaiosun? Paul and all the rest of Scripture in ascribing justification to works. It says that Abraham was justified by his works when he offered his son Isaac; though in Romans4 St. Paul teaches to the contrary that Abraham was justified apart from works, by his faith alone, before he had offered his son, and proves it by Moses in Genesis Paul demonstrates in Romans4.

This fault, therefore, proves that this epistle is not the work of any apostle. He mangles the Scriptures and thereby opposes Paul and all Scripture. Peterson and StephenD. Roberts, 2nd ed. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, , Acts says nothing of Paul the letter writer, and he is not called an apostle except in one instance Acts , Acts Indeed, the so-called Jerusalem Council dealing with issues arising from Gentiles entering the new movement looks quite different in Acts Acts and Galatians Gal Such points of discrepancy may appear insignificant, but their resolution has been of major importance to New Testament interpreters.

Some scholars suppose that Luke, the writer of Acts, created a more subdued and even subordinate Paul in an attempt to mediate conflicts between early Christian communities of Jewish and Gentile affiliation.

Others propose that Luke, who may have traveled with Paul, offered an accurate portrayal and that there is no actual disjunction between Acts and the letters. Yet others account for congruity and discontinuity by suggesting that Acts was composed in the second century, and that its author knew almost nothing about Paul but used his letters as a source for the Acts narrative.


  • more on this story.
  • Paul and James on Faith and Works.
  • Fiori di carta (Italian Edition).

The writer of Acts applied creative intelligence and imagination to source materials to draw out complex personal and social experiences of the past. This use of fictional techniques by both ancients and moderns can result in more vivid and persuasive narratives about historical events. At best, we have two legitimate and engaging portraits of Paul. Both can be seen as true and historical, affording different vantage points from which we can examine the story of Christian beginnings in fuller and more imaginative ways.

Todd Penner, "Paul and Acts", n. Todd Penner Independent Scholar. The religion and culture of Jews. A program of good works—or the calling to such a program—performed by a person or organization. A collection of first-century Jewish and early Christian writings that, along with the Old Testament, makes up the Christian Bible. The Coming of the Holy Spirit 1When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. View more.