What do we mean, concretely, do we think, by words like “promise,” “blessing,” or “inheritance”? This seems like an important question, raised by Galatians 3:18-29, the text we are studying for Sunday, May 15. For instance, what do we think it means, rather specifically, to be “Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise”?
If one of our dear aunts suddenly dies, and names us in her will, what it means to be “an heir” is quite specific, and usually material. We know what it means; we can say what it means. Is the inheritance Paul is talking about in Galatians equally specific? Do we know what it means? Can we say what it means? What do we think we know? What do we say? And why do we say that, instead of something else, do we think?
Some notes on the text are here. Here are a couple more questions we might want to think about or discuss in class:
What do we think “the law” means in v19 (or, vv19-24)? What are our main examples of things commanded or prohibited by “the law”? How do we understand the difference between being and not being “under the law” (v23)? What concrete difference does it make? How do we know this, or why do we think this?
[more provocative, maybe] Are there laws, or is there a law, we do follow? Which one, or ones? Why is that?
[more theoretical, maybe; but maybe practical, too] What is the relationship between “obeying the law” and “freedom,” do we think? [For instance, can we “be free” and also “obey the law”? Or does “freedom” mean “no one tells me what to do”? Or are we free if we obey some laws, but not others? Or … what?] What makes us think this?
What examples come to mind? How many different examples can we think of? What difference do the examples seem to make for how we answer this question? Do we learn anything from that? What?
What do we think Paul means when he says we have “clothed ourselves with Christ”? Does that bring any images to mind for us? What images?
How do those images relate to v28? What do we think v28 means, exactly? Why do we think that?
Overall, this seems like a text that gives us an opportunity to examine our own thinking in several possibly deep areas. [What ethical demands we consider legitimate, what group or class boundaries we recognize and think other people ought to recognize, what we think it means to “have faith in Jesus Christ” and what we think the concrete benefits of that faith are supposed to be, all spring to mind. But that’s probably not an exhaustive list.]
We might think this text says a lot more than it does. Once we look at it, we might realize that we bring a lot to our understanding of this text from elsewhere – such as, our whole lives growing up in Protestant churches, if indeed that’s been our experience. Taking a closer look at how we have come to think the text says what we think it says, and how what we think it says seems to compare with what we see written on the page, might be a worthwhile exercise.
Image: “Am Mittagstisch,” an image by Hermann Groeber [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons,