St Paul Writes from Ephesus

In AD 54 St Paul, now in Ephesus, writes to the Galatians. Now 50-51 years old, he has been a Catholic for 20 or 21 years.

He had founded the church in Galatia only two years ago in AD 52 and had made a further visit to the Galatians in AD 53. He has been greatly disturbed by reports reaching him, that these Gentile converts were being led astray by Judaizers. These Jewish converts, most of Pharisaical training, had often been – and would continue to be - the bane of Paul’s missionary life.

Among the Galatians, the Judaizers had advanced three arguments:

  Paul was not a “real” Apostle as were those appointed prior to the Crucifixion;

  Paul was false to the teaching of Christ and the true Apostles in teaching that     converts to Christ, Jew or Gentile, were not bound by the Law;

  Gentile converts must be circumcised and submit to the ritual and dietary   requirements of the Law.

From the heart of the large and busy church in Ephesus, St Paul writes with righteous indignation. The very opening words of the Epistle bristle with his targeted refutation of these falsehoods: “ Paul, an apostle sent, not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead……” (Gal. 1:1) No Galatian reader can doubt that they are about to get the TRUTH with “both barrels”. He offers them his blessing: “Grace and peace be to you from God the Father, and from Our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins that He might deliver us from the wickedness of the present world according to the will of God our Father; to whom is glory forever and ever. Amen” (Gal. 1:3-5) The reference to the “wickedness of this world” suggests his concern at the forces that have been preying on his Galatian flock.

St Paul asserts firmly that he has preached the truth of Christ’s Gospel to them and that anyone, man or angel, who preaches otherwise – even if it were Paul himself – must be declared anathema. He emphasises that in his preaching of the Gospel, his only purpose is to please God – not men.

St Paul vigorously asserts that what he preaches is a direct revelation from Jesus Christ and not something taught to him by other men. He recounts the story of his miraculous conversion, his retreat in Arabia, his time in Damascus, after three years his fifteen-day visit to St Peter in Jerusalem, where he also met St James. Then he briefly recounts his early missionary journeys and after 14 years his visit to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Titus. He emphasises that “the leaders” St Peter, St James and St John did not see any need for the circumcision of Titus – a Gentile. The leaders shook hands with St. Paul and confirmed his mission and teaching to the Gentiles, only reminding him to have care for the poor “the very thing I was eager to do.” (Gal. 2:10)

St Paul explains how in Antioch he found it necessary to remind St Peter of their freedom from the Law since Peter was continuing the observances of the Law when eating with Jewish converts.

In the course of outlining the consequences of being saved by and converted to Christ St Paul utters the sublime phrase that glows ever more powerfully as the centuries pass: 
”It is no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me.” (Gal. 2:20)
He wraps up his opening argument against the Judaizers quite succinctly: “For if justice is by the Law, then Christ died in vain.” (Gal. 2:21)

St Paul now lays out in detail the essence of his argument (we can see here the outline of the argument, mature and fully developed, in his mighty Epistle to the Romans (Foundation December 2008). He reminds the Galatians of the movement of the Holy Spirit which brought them Faith in Jesus Christ. But he shows that the Law is concerned with the flesh, not the Holy Spirit who even worked miracles among them. Faith is the key as it was for Abraham who “believed God and it was credited to him as justice.” (Gal. 3:6) He teaches that “men of Faith are the real children of Abraham” (Gal. 3:8) and reminds them of the words of God to Abraham “in thee shall all nations be blessed” (Gal. 3:9). Here he is highlighting the situation of the Gentile converts. The covenant God made with Abraham was made 430 years before the Law was given and was not annulled by the Law. The promises of the Covenant were made to Abraham “and his offspring” (Gal. 3:16) – Christ – and now by grace and faith all converts are one in Christ and thus heirs to the promises of the Covenant. The Law is not relevant to them..

St Paul is very movingly personal in demonstrating his concern that the Galatians might give up the freedom they have been given in becoming one with Christ. “I fear for you, lest perhaps I have laboured among you in vain….”. (Gal. 4:11) “And you know that on account of a physical infirmity I preached the Gospel to you formerly; and though I was a trial to you in my flesh, you did not reject or despise me; but you received me as an angel of God,, even as Christ Jesus.. ” (Gal. 4:13-14) Paul’s intimate concern for his Galatian children in Faith is powerfully evident. It is the greater because of their generous and grace-filled treatment of him when he first brought the Good News to them, despite the fact that his illness at that time evidently disfigured him or affected him in some way that made him a “trial” to them. “I wish I could be with you now, and change my tone because I do not know what to make of you.” (Gal. 4:20) He begs them once again not to accept circumcision and the obligations of the Law which would separate them from Christ. He sums up: ”For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision is of any avail nor uncircumcision, but faith which works through charity”. (Gal 5:6) 

This latter statement most clearly refutes the mischief of false teachers such as Luther who tried to argue that St Paul taught salvation by Faith alone and attempted to contrast his teaching with that of St James (who taught that Faith without good works is dead). Clearly, St Paul and St James were of one mind – the mind of Christ.

St Paul now reminds his Galatians of the characteristics of the life of followers of Christ who, being led by the Holy Spirit avoid all lustful behaviour, idolatry; witchcraft, and all negative viciousness. Rather, in them can be found”charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, modesty and continency.” (Gal. 5:22)

He specifically counsels them to concentrate on the conduct of their own lives. But where one of their number goes astray, to counsel that one in meekness and humility. “….while we have time, let us do good to all men, but especially to those who are of the household of the faith”. (Gal. 6:10)

In his concluding remarks, he attacks the motives and the actions of the Judaizers. He cries out, “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ…”

I Corinthians

Three busy years later in AD 57 St Paul is in the early years of his third missionary journey (see Foundation October 2008). He is disturbed by reports he has received from the church he had founded in Corinth. He was last there in AD 51 and it seems that the Gentile converts in that wealthy pagan city had tended to lose their way in important matters.

St Paul addresses the problems in broad groupings. The first is factionalism, then Christian life, the sacrament of marriage, the consumption of idol offerings, the celebration of the Eucharist, appropriate dress, the Mystical Body of Christ, prophesy and speaking in tongues, the resurrection of the body and finally St Paul’s intentions. The list is extensive and the letter is long, in fact, St Paul’s second longest exceeded only by the Letter to the Romans (Foundation December 2008) The difference is that this first epistle to the Corinthians is “an easy read” unlike the complex letter to the Romans. It should be noted here that there is evidence in this letter (at 1 Cor.5:9) that there had in fact been an earlier letter from St Paul to the Corinthians and there is evidence in the Second letter to the Corinthians (at 2 Cor. 2:4 and 7:8) of another letter preceding it -neither has come down to us. So that the letters we have are actually the second and fourth of St Paul’s letters to the Corinthians.

Factionalism is the first topic which no doubt reflected or resulted in, some of the other issues dealt with later. St Paul tackles it head-on. He reminds the Corinthians that it was Jesus Christ he preached to them and into whom they were baptised. Therefore their slogans of “I’m for Paul/Apollos/Cephas are absurd. Paul, Apollos, Cephas are for Christ and Christ should be the unifying common inspiration of every one of them. He then sets about elaborating on the origins and implications of the Christ-centred reality of the Church He points out that “… Jews ask for signs, and the Greeks look for “wisdom”, but we for our part, preach a crucified Christ – to the Jews a stumbling-block and to the Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men…” (I Cor. 1:22-25) “Therefore let no one take pride in men. For all things are yours whether Paul, or Apollos or Cephas; or the world or life or death; or things present, or things to come – all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” (I Cor. 4:22-23) He tells them that he is sending Timothy to assist them to re-order their approach and conform with what he has taught them.

Apollos was an Alexandrian Jewish convert. He was evidently a highly educated man in terms of philosophy and may have been influenced by the ideas of Philo of Alexandria. However that may be, his knowledge of Christ’s Gospel, which he began to preach, was seriously deficient. (Acts 18:24-28) As we have seen earlier, St. Paul discovered that Apollos had been unaware of the Holy Spirit and was simply performing John’s baptism., rather than the Sacramental Baptism of Christ. It will be recalled that St Paul left Aquila and Priscilla the task of completing Apollos’ instruction in the Faith. St Paul properly baptised those Apollos had earlier “ baptised “ It would seem that Apollos was certainly not a wrongly intended person, and he was certainly not unintelligent, but perhaps his very intelligence had led him to believe he knew it all, long before he did. St Paul treats of him kindly and carefully in his writings, no doubt not only out of regard for his abilities and work but also on account of his strong following in Corinth.

St. Jerome recounts that Apollos was so disenchanted by the divisions in Corinth that he retired to Crete, but when St Paul’s letter healed the divisions there Apollos returned, becoming in due course bishop of the city.

St Paul moves on, addressing the scandal of one of the community who has been carrying on with his father’s wife. (Paul notes that even the pagans would not behave so.) He forcefully insists that the man be excommunicated – separated from the community. He also refers to cases where members of the community are prosecuting cases in the civil courts against one another. He strongly upbraids them for not dealing with the problems within the community itself. In any case, he says, if an agreement cannot be reached, “Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?” (I Cor. 6:7)

In a summary section useful still in to-day’s society St Paul says ”Do not err; neither fornicators, nor idolators, nor adulterers, nor the effeminate, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor the covetous nor drunkards nor the evil-tongued nor the greedy will possess the Kingdom of God” (I Cor. 6:9-10)

Urging them to physical morality he says:” For you have been bought at a great price. Glorify God and bear Him in your body.” (I Cor. 6:20)

In an extended consideration of the married state St. Paul makes it clear that he is answering questions that the Corinthians have put to him in a letter(I Cor. 7:1) St Paul heavily emphasises the preferred status of the celibate life. But he makes it plain for them that there is nothing wrong in being or getting married. He simply makes it clear that the single person needs only to please God, whereas the married person has to please his/her spouse also. His comments are equally applied to those who are widowed.

Where a person is married to an unbeliever they should continue in that marriage as long as the unbeliever consents to live with them. But if the unbelieving spouse leaves the marriage St Paul rules that the abandoned party has the right to marry within the Church. (This is known as the Pauline Privilege.)

He urges the Corinthians to adhere to their status on becoming Christians, whether single, married or slave. Further, he urges those now married or single to remain in that state, those in charge of an unmarried ward should have the ward follow the same counsel. However, those who are widowed or single and wish to marry may do so. St Paul’s concern is the approach of the Second Coming and his aim is to concentrate their attention on God, rather than the affairs of this world.

Food which has been sacrificed to idols and then offered/sold for consumption presents problems Paul says. He insists the food itself is not a problem – the “gods” it has been sacrificed to are nothing. But he does see potential for giving scandal. This would be particularly the case if the Christian party was seen eating the food where it might appear that he was consenting to the sacrificial rite e.g. in the pagan temple feast or in the home of someone who makes a point of identifying the food as having been sacrificed to a “god”. Any onlooker might assume that the Christian had apostasised. In other circumstances St Paul says, there is nothing to worry about.

He considers at length the right of preachers and teachers of the Gospel to support. He insists on the right whilst noting that he has never taken advantage of it, supporting himself through his tent making activities. As we have noted elsewhere in our examination of St Paul’s life and work, these were skills he probably acquired among the nomadic tribes of Arabia during his three-year retreat there. His present prolonged stay in Ephesus was facilitated by the tent making opportunities created in that pagan pilgrimage centre by the four-yearly festival of the “goddess” Diana which is believed to have swelled the population of the city from 35,000 to 1,000,000 this was the “great opportunity” St Paul referred to-great as a source of income from the tent-dwelling pilgrims, but more importantly great in delivering to him over 950,000 people to evangelise.


He comes to the consideration of the celebration of the Eucharist. St Paul vigorously remonstrates with the Corinthians for their unworthy celebration of the Eucharist. It was the custom of the very early Church to integrate the essence of the Eucharistic celebration within a light meal- after the fashion of the Last Supper (in which it will be remembered, Our Divine Lord consecrated the bread at the beginning of the ritual Passover meal, and the wine at the end of the meal). However, the Corinthians had descended into a routine in which each party brought his own food – the rich an abundance and the poor their own meagre fare. The result was a shameful clash of scandalous excess and miserable poverty in the midst of the celebration of the Eucharist – the heart of Christian unity. St Paul puts them straight in short order.

He reflects on the distribution of spiritual gifts in the Church. He acknowledges the value of both prophesy and speaking in tongues in the Church. But he emphasises the importance of all gifts to the Mystical Body of Christ, just as every organ of the physical body has its role and complements the others.

He injects at this point his truly superb reflection on Charity (Love):

Charity is patient, is kind,

Charity does not envy, is not pretentious, is not puffed up,

is not ambitious, is not self-seeking

is not provoked, thinks no evil, does not rejoice over wickedness, but rejoices with the truth; bears with all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (I Cor 13:4-7)

Now he returns to the question of prophecy and of tongues. He accords prophecy the higher standing. He sees value in the gift of tongues when they can be properly interpreted by the speaker or another. But, he says, “….yet in the church, I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may also instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue”. (I Cor. 14:19) He proposes that when the church assembles no more than three persons should speak in tongues, and then only if there is an interpreter. He requires women to remain silent in the churches and they should veil their heads just as men should leave their heads uncovered. Above all, he stresses the need for order and proper procedure in the churches.

Toward the end of the Epistle, there is a lengthy examination of the question of the resurrection of the body. St Paul insists that the Resurrection of Christ has won for us the resurrection of our own bodies as incorruptible spiritual bodies.

In concluding he urges them to assist in the collection for the saints in Jerusalem currently being taken up in the churches, asking them to appoint a delegate to go to Jerusalem with their contribution in company with other such delegates.

He foreshadows a possible visit to Corinth and urges their wholehearted cooperation with Timothy during his visit. Paul reports that although he asked Apollos to go to Corinth he would not do so at present.

He urges them also to co-operate with Stephanas and Fortunatus in Achaia, together with Achaicus and sends greetings from the churches of Asia and from Aquila and Priscilla.

Paul signs off in his own hand and blesses them in Christ. At the same time, he anathematises any member who does not love the Lord Jesus Christ.

COPYRIGHT This article first appeared in the January 2009 issue of FOUNDATION.


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