Daily Bible Study Tips: Comments on Galatians and Ephesians
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The early Church was facing a crisis. People were going around to the new congregations established by Paul and other missionaries and "explaining" that faith in Jesus and baptism into that faith were not sufficient for salvation. For example, someone told the Galatians (who were Gentiles) that they needed to be circumcised. Paul and other apostles and Church leaders responded vigorously to this falsehood and others with sound doctrine. Paul in particular got really ... annoyed, shall we say. Later in the letter to the Galatians he says, "Are you Galatians crazy??
" and "I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!" But his main point is this: "Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed." I keep telling you, don't believe what I say – read the Gospel for yourself!
God promised Abraham and Sarah that they would become a mighty nation and that through them all the nations of the earth would be blessed. We inherit the promise and the blessings through Jesus Christ.
Have you noticed how difficult it is to establish a good habit or to give a up a bad one? I can establish a bad habit instantly, and it's easy to kick a good habit. Not only did I forget to send out the scripture two nights in a row, but apparently no one missed it, because I didn't get any complaints. (Probably you all read the scripture in your Bibles.) A lot of early Christian Jews were having trouble establishing the good habit of complete trust in Jesus Christ for salvation. They felt that there must
be more to it than that! So they tried to hang on to the old habit of circumcision. Paul tells us that we need to give up the old ways and become new people in Jesus Christ.
Today I will tell you a thing or two about Greek and how it is important in the scripture passage we are reading, so if you aren't interested, just skip to the scripture.
The Greek language has gender. Just about everybody in New Mexico knows that Spanish has two genders – masculine and feminine, and that adjectives have to agree in gender with the noun they modify. So we say "casa bonita" and not "casa bonito" for "beautiful house." Greek has three genders – masculine, feminine, and neuter. Adjectives and some verb forms must agree with the noun they modify, just as in Spanish. It can be hard for English speakers to understand that no native speaker and no bilingual speaker of Spanish or Greek would ever make a mistake about gender.
Why am I telling you this? It is important to the interpretation of Ephesians 2:8, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God." This translation is perfectly accurate, but it leads us to an interpretation
that works in English but not in Greek. The vast majority of us conclude that faith is the gift of God, because in English, the pronoun "this" would normally refer back to "faith." In Greek, it is impossible for "this" to refer to "faith" because "faith" is feminine and "this" is neuter. ("Grace" is also feminine.) What the scripture says in Greek is that the process
of salvation by grace through faith is the gift of God. Faith may be the gift of God, too, but that cannot be demonstrated by this verse. (P.S. For those of you who know that my Greek isn't all that good – I didn't make this up. It is the standard commentary on this verse by Wesley and many other Greek-reading scholars.)
Our reading from Ephesians contains the puzzling directive, "Be angry, but do not sin." We are so often told that anger is a sin that we read this and think, "What's up with that?" The answer is that it depends on what you are angry about. Jesus was angry on at least one occasion (Mark 3:5), so clearly anger, in and of itself, is not sinful. Wesley explains that, "Anger at sin is not evil; but we should feel only pity to the sinner. If we are angry at the person, as well as the fault, we sin." He notes that we avoid this latter sin only with difficulty. So it's okay to be angry about the sin, and not okay to be angry at the sinner. Simple, not easy.
One of the classic jokes in any slapstick movie is "Walk this way." Generally, a swaying young woman or elderly butler turns to lead the main characters somewhere, and the main characters follow with an exaggerated imitation of the way the leader walks. Occasionally in the Old Testament, and frequently in the New Testament, "walk" means "put one foot in front of the other"; however, normally in the OT and commonly in the NT, the Bible has an idiomatic use of "walk." When Paul says to the Ephesians, "Look carefully then how you walk," he doesn't mean "Watch where you step." He means, as do all the Biblical writers using this idiom, "Take heed to how you live your life."
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