They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

A Walk Through Galatia – Part 2

In our first session, we looked at the land, the people, and the stories of the Roman province of Galatia during the time that Paul would have visited in 45-47 c.e. After visiting the towns of Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Derbe, and Lystra, Paul later wrote a letter back to these churches (the Book of Galatians) trying to instruct them in their new faith in the God of the Jews and His son Yeshua, the promised Messiah.

We were fortunate to be able to spend two full days in Galatia, walking where Paul walked and concentrating on the text of Acts and the Book of Galatians. Just being in the land, seeing the people and listening to the stories in their original setting gave us a unique perspective on these Bible texts. There have been countless works written on Galatians and on the concept of grace over the years.

This lesson will in no way attempt to be a scholarly presentation of all there is to know about grace or some new idea that has never been presented before. It will simply be my attempt to write down what I learned about this subject while I was there in Galatia. Hopefully, I will share something with you that might help you in your struggle with understanding the concepts that Paul presented in his wonderful letter. As my rabbi began to develop the struggle between faith and works, it started to become much more clear to me what I believe Paul was trying to say. As it turns out, the concepts of grace and works are inextricably intertwined.

First of all, there has been tension between these two ideas since Christianity began and there is some comfort in knowing that the subject was being debated even during Jesus’ day. The pendulum has swung back and forth throughout church history, from grace to obedience and back. Every generation seems to lean too far either one way or the other. The keys to this subject are this: What does it mean to “have faith”? What does it mean to be righteous?

To most present day Western Christians, faith is mainly an activity of the mind. To, “have faith”, or “to believe”, is to intellectually agree or to have a belief in some statement or idea. However, the Eastern thinking Hebrews looked at faith much differently. To a Jew, righteousness or faith was not someone in a certain condition, but an action to be performed. So they debated, “How do you become righteous?” They asked, “What does the Text have to say about righteousness?” One school of thought pointed out what happened in Numbers 25:5-13 with the story of Phineas, the grandson of Aaron. Psalm 106:28-31 speaks of this incident and says, “Phineas intervened (took action) and this was credited to him as righteousness.” Phineas got his righteousness from God by taking action. Another school of rabbinical thought, however, pointed out what it says in Genesis 15:6 as to what righteousness was. In this passage, God told Abram to go look at the stars and this will be how many children you will have. Verse 6 says, “Abram believed the Lord and He credited it to him as righteousness”. So it seemed that Abram got his righteousness from just believing. They debated back and forth and both camps had the Scriptures to back their position up. If they debated this question it should be legitimate for us to also ask, “Does righteousness come from doing something (an action) or does it come from just having a belief in what God says?” Or, is it somehow, both?

The key to understanding this concept comes from looking at what the meaning of the Hebrew and Greek words that are translated “ faith” in the Text. The Hebrew word is, “emunah” (Strong’s H530) and it’s Greek counterpart is “pistis”. Please carefully examine the definitions of these two words by clicking on the links. In Part 3 we will explain these words and how their definitions are such a key to understanding what Paul was saying in Galatians when he said, “The righteous will live by his faith”.

A Walk Through Galatia

Lyaconia and Galatia

Most scholars believe that the apostle Paul wrote the book of Galatians to the churches that he founded in that Roman province in Asia Minor on his first missionary journey in 45-47 A.D. Those churches were the ones he started in Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe as chronicled in Acts 13 and 14. Also, a majority of scholars think that Galatians was the very first book written of all the New Testament canon, possibly in 48 or 49 A.D., even before any of the four gospels were written down.

The book of Galatians has always been thought of as the premier work on the gospel of grace; that man is justified and saved only by faith in Jesus Christ, and that there is nothing that he can do to earn his salvation. Galatians 2:16 says, “Know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So, we too have put our faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.” Galatians if often referred to as, ”Luther’s book”, because Martin Luther relied so strongly on this book to refute the prevailing theology of his day. It is obviously a book worthy of our study and debate. What was it like in the province of Galatia during the time Paul and Barnabas made their fist trip there? What did they find and what were the people like when they visited these first churches to give them the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ? Let’s take a walk through Galatia and see if we can unlock some of the secrets of this marvelous book.

It’s hard to put into words or even on paper how being in the land of the Bible widens your perspective and understanding of the gospel text. Nowhere was this more evident than the two days we spent walking through the huge rural province of Galatia. Each day we were let off our bus in the middle of nowhere and spent the entire day walking and following our guide through the rural countryside. As best we could, we tried to follow the route that we thought that Paul and Barnabas would have taken as they walked to Pisidian Antioch from the coast, and then on to Iconium, Derbe, and Lystra. Also, Paul came back through these same cities on both his second and third missionary tours. Amazingly, all four locations have been found and most have been archaeologically excavated at least to some degree. The whole area is very mountainous and remote even today and certainly even more so in Paul and Barnabas’ day. In two days of walking, we only came upon 3 or 4 rural villages. Just feeling the remoteness of the area with your boots was a real eye opener. Even the names of the land suggest how remote and rural the country side is. For example, Lycaonia, where Paul and Barnabas were mistaken for Zeus and Hermes, means “wolf land” and today is the home of the world famous sheep protecting dog, the Kangel. We saw these huge canines, but kept our distance, as they tended their flocks of goats in the rugged mountains. We began to get a feel for the people and the land as we observed the native Galatians in their home environment. A highlight of the trip was being invited to eat lunch with the townspeople of a local village, by the mayor of the town himself. Seated in the one room village school, we ate a simple but wonderful meal of home grown vegetables, fruits, and breads that they prepared for us. We spoke to them through an interpreter and they seemed so happy to have us as their guests.

We also learned many other lessons of the land. We stood in the remains of the synagogue at Antioch and read from the Bible Paul’s speech that he gave to the Jews and Gentiles that had gathered there to hear him speak (Acts 13:14-48). We had a faith lesson in a sheep fold (See “Kingdom of Heaven is Forcefully Advancing”) and sat under a linden tree near Lystra and heard the story (See “The Gods are Back!”). Also, we stood on top the tel of Lystra and heard the inspiring story of Timothy (See Timothy the Unlikely Disciple, Part 1Part 2, and Part 3). All of these stories are wonderful examples of how understanding the history and culture of the area makes such a difference in understanding these Bible stories. As we walked and read the scriptures in the land they were written to we began to wrestle with the idea of grace vs. works. What was Paul trying to say as he wrote to this group of rural and remote people? In our next session we will attempt to grapple with this age-old struggle in the church. Which one is it, or is there a way to reconcile the two?