Here we continue with another chapter from Charles A. Wiseman’s book Is Universalism Of God? This chapter concerns Galatians — one of the most popular of Paul’s epistles among Christian universalists who will robotically quote verse 3:28 as if it is irrefutable, prima facie proof that Christianity is a unqualified, universal faith intended for anyone and everyone:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
It never occurs to universalists that there were Israelites among the Greeks — most notably, the Danaans — rather, they automatically assume that “Greeks” here in Galatians somehow means any “non-Jew” (and therefore non-Israelite) regardless of ancestry or origin — and nothing could be further from the truth, as Wiseman shows here:
To Whom Was the Book of Galatians Written?
The book of Galatians is quoted quite frequently by universalists and egalitarians to prove their point. We often hear them quote how “there is neither Jew nor Greek, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (3:28); and how “we are justified by faith in Jesus Christ” (2:16). They say anyone that believes can be a “son of God” or is “an heir of God” (4:6,7).
These — along with other similar verses [such as Colossians 3:11] — are quoted to show how all people are or can be “God’s chosen” — or that there no longer is any racial or ethnic preferences according to God. The universalists and humanist Christians assert that Christ is the “all in aII” for Israelites and any non-lsraelites alike — and that Paul was telling the non-Israelites in Galatia that they too are included within the Body of Christ.
When Paul said “you” or “we” or “us” — to whom was he referring? Is it anyone who happens to read the letter? No, it is not. The letter was written to a specific people whom Paul had already met and with whom he was already familiar. It is these people who are “sons of God” — or are “in Christ.” So it is critical to understand to whom the Book of Galatians was written.
Universalists read the book of Galatians just as they do much of the Bible — as though it is a letter personally written to them last week. They refuse to follow the rules of logic that require us to keep the epistle within its original historical context — and within the scope of the intended audience.
Let us examine what one humanist-minded “Christian” stated in regards to why he thinks Galatians is universal in scope:
“It is my contention that the book of Galatians was not written to the scattered Israelites of Galatia exclusively, but to all Christians in Galatia. In saluting those people to whom the epistle was written, Paul identifies them as “all the brethren,” in verses 2 and 11. No mention of Israeliteness — or lack thereof — is made. In fact, the next mention of any type of Gentile is found in Galatians 1:16 where Paul declares that he was called to preach to the heathen, which word does not in any way imply a diaspora. In Gal. 2:2, Paul refers to the same people he preaches to as “Gentiles” with no distinction in meaning made or in any way implied.”
This statement — like many of those made by humanist Christians — is riddled with error, speculation and faulty logic. The fact that the letter was written to “Christians” does not necessarily mean they were non-Israelites. It is well known that the [early] converts to Christianity during the “Apostolic church” were almost without exception made up of Israelites.
This Universalist also recognizes that Paul is writing his letter to the Galatians — a people he calls “brethren” — a term Paul uses ten times in the epistle. But the Universalist claims this term has no implication of “Israeliteness.” Well, if one only superficially looks at the epistle to the Galatians, they can probably say that, but if they want to employ proper exegesis, they need to look at other places where this term is used.
The term “brethren” is adelphos in the Greek (#80) — and like the similar Hebrew term “denotes any blood-relation or kinsman” (to quote Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon). Other than a literal brother, this is the more common usage of the term. While some would say the term means a fellow believer, there is more justification for applying the definition of racial/ethnic kinsman:
-The Apostles were ‘brethren” of Jesus (Matt. 4:18,21 John 20:17), all of them Israelites.
-On Pentecost Peter addressed the ‘brethren” (Acts 2:29,37), whom he also calls ‘Men of Israel” (2:22).
-Peter again uses the words “Men of Israel” and “brethren” synonymously (Acts 3:12,17).
-The “children of Israel” in Egypt are referred to as the “brethren” of Moses (Acts 7:23,25).
-The prophecy of the advent Jesus was to come from among your “brethren” (Acts 3: 22;7:37).
-Paul refers to the people in Galatia as “Brethren, children of the stock of Abraham” (Acts 13:26).
-The apostles and elders at the Jerusalem council are called “brethren” by Peter, and says they are related to the Israelite fathers (Acts l5:7,10).
-Paul called the Judean Israelites in the Sanhedrin his “brethren” (Acts 23: l-6).
-In his letter to the Romans Paul shows his dedication “for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites” Rom. 9:3,4).
-The “Brethren” are those of Israel who Paul desires to be saved (Acts (10:1).
-Paul calls the Corinthians ‘brethren” telling them how “all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea” (1 Cor. 10:1).
-James wrote his epistle to ‘the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad” whom he calls “My brethren” (James l:1,2,16; 2:1,5, etc.).
It is clear that the term “brethren” was used by Paul in Galatians of those who had a [literal] kinship with him — those who were [fellow] Israelites (Acts 13:26). The term did not mean a fellow believer — since Paul speaks of “false brethren” (2 Cor. 11:26; Gal.2:4).
The Universalist [quoted above] also mentioned that Paul was called to preach among the ‘heathen’ (1:l6), which he automatically assumes to be non-Israelites. However, this word “heathen” in the Greek is [from] the same word that is translated as “gentiles” in Gal. 2:2. The word is ethnos, (#1484) — and simply means a race or nation or tribe. Paul is not saying “heathen” in verse 16 as we would use it today — he is talking about the nations — one of which is Galatia.
The Universalist says that no distinction in race is implied any way in Paul’s use of “gentiles.” That is basically true — which means he is not justified to assume they are non-Israerites. Again, proper exegesis requires we look at all of Scripture — not just one verse in Galatians — to understand what is meant. Throughout the New Testament, the use of “gentiles” (ethnos) usually means nations other than Judea.
Thus, those of Galilee are referred to as “Gentiles” — such as in Matthew 4:15 — but this does not mean that Jesus and the Apostles from Galilee were non-Israerites. The ethnos or “nations” was obviously used in some cases by Paul — and the writers of the Gospels — to describe a kindred people or those who were of the same racial/ethnic stock as themselves.
Thus, the “Gentiles” are “brethren” (Acts 15:23; Romans 1:13). Israelites were clearly “scattered” in other lands (James 1:1). Since they were not part of the Judean nation, they were ”aliens from the commonwealth of Israel” (Ephesians 2:12). They were of another nation [or tribe] — not of another race.
[Note: the original Greek suggests that Ephesians 2:12 should more properly translated, “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel” — thus emphasizing that the Galatians were originally part of the tribes of Israel from which they became estranged after the Assyrian captivity. CFT]
Now to further show that Paul was addressing his own kindred people in and among the nations (“gentiles”) he addressed, let us see which people in Galatia Paul visited on his missionary journeys. The book of Acts describes the journey of Paul into Galatia and other nations (see map below).
When Paul came to Antioch in Pisidia, he went into a synagogue and preached to the people calling them “Men and brethren” and also “Men of Israel” (Acts 13:15,16). He spoke to them about how “The God of this people Israel chose our fathers” (verse 17). It is quite apparent that in this Galatian city, Paul was speaking to Israelites.
At Iconium, Paul went to a synagogue of the Judeans and spoke so that a great multitude both of the Jews [Judeans] and of the Greeks believed” (Acts 14:1). So here two national groups were addressed — the Judeans, of course, being Israelites. Like his missionary visits to other cities, Paul goes straight to the synagogues — because that is where he would find Israelites.
Paul wrote his letter “unto the churches of Galatia” (1:2) which were the churches he established on his evangelistic journey. It only makes sense that the people to whom Paul wrote his letter would be the same people he visited in Galatia.
Josephus, in Antiquities (16. 32), testifies that many Israelites resided in Galatia — but it is true there was another type of people there. The country of Galatia — formed by Augustus in 25 B.C. — “was so called because a tribe of Gauls had settled there in the third century B.C.”(2) The Gauls had settled there “after migrating from western Europe.”(3) The term “Gaul — or Gallo-graeci — is another form of the name Kelts. Their character is ascribed to the Gallic race by all writers.”(4) So the Galatian population contained those of European stock — and thus were also Israelites.
2 Davidson, The New Bible Commentary, Eerdmans, pp. 1001, 1002.
3 The Wycltffe Bible Commentary, Moody Press, p. 1283
4 Jamieson, Fausset & Brown, Commentary on the Bible, vol.2, p. 322.
The book of Galatians also supplies us with other internal evidence which reveals Paul was writing to Israelites:
Gal. 3:7 “Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.”
Gal. 3:13 “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law.”
Gal. 3:23 “But before faith came, we were kept under the law.”
Gal. 4:4-5 “God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.”
Gal. 4:28 “Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.”
These words and statements would be rather bizarre and unfamiliar to a non-Israelite people. They would not apply to such a people. Only Israel was under the law (Psalm 147:19-20) — and of the lineage of Abraham and Jacob to whom the promises were made. Further, Paul’s use of “us” and “we” within these verses identifies the Galatians with himself as Israelites.
Universalists and humanist Christians read only those verses which are generic and appear as though they could mean or include anyone. They will avoid those verses which clearly deal with the racial or ethnic exclusiveness of Israel. They refuse to look at the whole picture to see how the words used are qualified or limited by context or related subject matter. Instead they quote only verses that say “those who are of faith” are “heirs according to the promise” — thinking [simplistically] that anyone who [merely] “believes” is made an heir. But this qualification is placed upon all Israelites — whether they be Judeans or Galatians or Greeks or Gauls.