Friday, October 07, 2011

Commentary: Look for what is Not There

Look for what is Not There

In an episode of a TV show, two FBI scientific investigators are called to Philadelphia to find out why people from all over the city were dying of similar symptoms.  Other than the facts that they all lived in Philadelphia and were dying with similar symptoms the victims seemed to have nothing else in common.  They were from all kinds of backgrounds and from all over the city.  One of the investigators realized that what all the evidence they had there was not leading them anywhere, so he decided to look for what was not there.  Most of the victims were dying miles from their homes.  He figured they had to travel, but they were no car keys in the victims' remains.  Further investigation showed that they all took the subway.  Could the subway lead to the answer of how the contagion started?  All of these people would have to coincide at the same please and the same time in the subway.  Once they found the spot where they could all coincide, they found someone carrying the contagion agent.  What was not there – the lack of car keys – led to the solution.

Most epistles of Paul follow a similar format, which included:   (1) a greeting; (2) a word of thanksgiving; (3) the main body of the letter; and, finally, (4) a closing remark and salutations.  Now, When Paul wrote to the Galatians, he was not trying to produce a literary masterpiece. Instead, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Paul was addressing specific situations that involved him and the believers in Galatia (so was the case with other letters).  However, the letter of Galatians seems to break the mold.  There are obvious similarities between Galatians and the others, but what is not there sets them apart.  In other words, although Paul's epistles generally follow the basic format of ancient letters, Galatians contains a number of unique features not found in Paul's other epistles. When recognized, these differences can help us better understand the situation Paul was addressing.

In the salutation of the epistles Paul typically introduced himself as an apostle, but in Galatians the salutation is a little longer, as he goes out of his way to describe the basis of his apostolic authority.  Let us read it,

Gal1:1 Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;)

Gal1:2 And all the brethren which are with me, unto the churches of Galatia:

Gal1:3 Grace be to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ,

Gal1:4 Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father:

Gal1:5 To whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.


What this means to us is that unlike the other churches, his apostleship was being questioned and undermined in Galatia.  When you cannot attack the message you attack the messenger.  Paul's opponents could not attack his message, so they attacked Paul's calling as an Apostle.  Now, if Paul was not an apostle, then his message was not necessarily from God.  Ellen White says,

"In almost every church there were some members who were Jews by birth. To these converts the Jewish teachers found ready access, and through them gained a foot-hold in the churches. It was impossible, by scriptural arguments, to overthrow the doctrines taught by Paul; hence they resorted to the most unscrupulous measures to counteract his influence and weaken his authority. They declared that he had not been a disciple of Jesus, and had received no commission from him; yet he had presumed to teach doctrines directly opposed to those held by Peter, James, and the other apostles. . . "(Sketches from the Life of Paul, page 188 – 189)

The other thing that is different is the thanksgiving.  This is missing in Galatians.  Paul found reasons to thank God for those to whom he wrote his letters.  The churches in Galatia had none.  Although Paul addresses all kinds of local challenges and problems in his letters to the churches, he still made it a practice to follow his opening greeting with a word of prayer or thanksgiving to God for the faith of his readers.  He even does this in his letters to the Corinthians, who were struggling with all kinds of questionable behavior (compare 1 Cor. 1:4 and 5:1).  The situation in Galatia is so upsetting, however, that Paul omits the thanksgiving entirely and gets right to the point.  Ellen White also points this out,

How different from his manner of writing to the Corinthian church is the course which he pursues toward the Galatians! In dealing with the former, he manifests great caution and tenderness, while he reproves the latter with abrupt severity. The Corinthians had been overcome by temptation, and deceived by the ingenious sophistry of teachers who presented errors under the guise of truth. They had become confused and bewildered. To teach them to distinguish the false from the true, required great caution and patience in their instructor. Harshness or injudicious haste would have destroyed his influence over those whom he sought to benefit… In the Galatian churches, open, unmasked error was supplanting the faith of the gospel. Christ, the true foundation, was virtually renounced for the obsolete ceremonies of Judaism. The apostle saw that if these churches were saved from the dangerous influences which threatened them, the most decisive measures must be taken, the sharpest warnings given, to bring them to a sense of their true condition. (Sketches from the Life of Paul, 189 – 190)

As Ellen White says the biggest danger that the Galatians faced was rejecting Christ.  This would mean forfeiting their salvation.  Something Paul could not allow, without a fight.  He loved them too much to let them go.  So, why is this important to us?  It is important to us because, we can fall in the same trap.  For example, it is no secret that Ellen White's calling as a prophet has been under attack not only by non-Adventists but by Adventists as well.  This poses a problem for us: if she is not a prophet, then our understanding of the atonement in the light of the Sanctuary message is not valid.  Therefore we have no reason to exist.  Everything we have taught for almost 170 years is a lie.  Thus, we are a fraud. 

If Paul wrote a letter to our church today what would it say?  Would he have to defend his Apostleship or defend Ellen White's "prophet-ship?"  Would he have to defend her message?  These are serious issues to ponder.  

Raul Diaz