Meekness is the Pastoral Gene

Life_in_Tension_revision_front_20200101Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, 

for I am gentle and lowly in heart, 

and you will find rest for your souls. 

(Matt 11:29)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Meekness is a pastoral characteristic, as Charles Colson (2005, 30) writes: “Freedom lies in obedience to our calling.” We know this not only from the words of Jesus, but also from his disciples and those that followed. For example, Jesus says:

And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward. (Matt 10:42)

Here he is encouraging his disciples to display humility lived out (or meekness) in front of, not children (“little ones”), but young believers (or seekers). The word for disciple (μαθητής; “mathetes”) here means—“one who engages in learning through instruction from another, pupil, apprentice” (BDAG, 4662)—and Jesus’ disciples were instructed to teach young believers with an attitude of gentleness and service, modeling meekness in what they said and did.

The Apostle Paul paraphrases Jesus’ command, making teaching meekness (or gentleness) an explicit requirement for church leaders, as when he writes:

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Tim 2:24–26)

Gentleness (or meekness) also appears on many of Paul’s lists of the fruits of the spirit (e.g. Gal 5:19–23; Col 3:12–14) and in the writing of James and Peter (Jas 3:13; 1 Pet 3:15). 

Interestingly, meekness is cloaked in one of the most famous images of Christ: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11) The image of the Good Shepherd is, in fact, a messianic image prophesied by Isaiah in one of his Servant Song passages:

He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. (Isa 40:11)

The Apostle John pushes the shepherd metaphor even further when he writes:

For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. (Rev 7:17)

Here the messianic shepherd is also both a lamb and a king, underscoring that meekness is a divine attribute.

Shepherding likewise anchors the great pastoral passage in the Gospel of John where the risen Christ confronts and restores Peter to leadership:

Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these? He said to him, Yes, Lord; you know that I love you. He said to him, Feed my lambs. (John 21:15)

Three times Jesus asks if Peter loves him and with each of Peter’s responses he asks Peter to give up fishing (catching fish with hooks and nets) and to take up shepherding (caring for, defending, and feeding sheep; John 21:15–18). As with Peter, Jesus bids all his disciples to care for his flock displaying meekness.


Bauer, Walter (BDAG). 2000. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. ed. de Frederick W. Danker. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. <BibleWorks. v.9.>.

Bethune, George. 1839. The Fruit of the Spirit. Reiner Publications.

Bridges, Jerry. 1996. The Practice of Godliness. Colorado Springs: NavPress.

Colson, Charles and Harold Pickett. 2005. The Good Life. Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers

Meek is the Pastoral Gen

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Church and State

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in ChristBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Today when we talk about our freedom in Christ, we normally refer to our freedom to live within the will of God through Christ’s forgiveness and the work of the Holy Spirit. In the early church, freedom in Christ also meant freedom from the micro-management of daily life proscribed by Mosaic Law, which encompassed much more than the Ten Commandments and served as the foundation for the theocratic state of Israel.

The earliest mention of relationship between church and state is the reference to Jesus’ suffering under Pontius Pilate in both the Nicene and Apostle’s Creeds (PCUSA 1999, 1.2 and 2.2), an explicit statement of religious persecution—a measure of the level of this intrusiveness.

Church and State in the Bible

Two traditions of church and state relations appear in scripture: the theocratic state of Israel and the magisterium of Rome. Tensions between the two conceptions of state authority arise not only in the view of legitimate use of power, but also in influence of law as it effects the distinction between private and public space.

The theocratic state of Israel is most obvious in the Old Testament where we observe tension between king and prophet, but this is also the world into which Jesus was born. When Jesus taught about taxation with a denarius coin—render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s (Matt 22:21)—his concern was that the religious state—even as a client state of Rome—dominated public life to the exclusion of God.

We are reminded that John the Baptist was executed by King Herod because of his indiscrete comments about Herod’s adulterous marriage (Matt 14:3-11). Jesus’ own teaching on marriage put him at similar risk (Matt 19:9). Although Jesus is formally sent to the cross by Pontius Pilate, it is the Jewish authorities who hand him over to Pilate (Matt 27:1-2). In a theocratic state, the lines between public and private space are blurred and do not always enhance personal faith.

The early persecution of the church, like that of Jesus himself, had a Jewish origin. Before he became Paul the Apostle, Saul was a zealous Jew and persecutor of the church (Acts 8:1-3). Rome allowed Israel autonomy in religious affairs and focused on other matters.

The Apostle Paul, whose ministry was outside the nation of Israel, viewed the state as having more limited influence—that of a civil magistrate —which relieved much of the tension found in Jesus’ ministry. Paul exhorts us: Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God (Rom 13:1).

Paul could travel the Roman Empire establishing churches—frequently over the objection of his Jewish colleagues—because civil authorities showed interest in matters of faith only to the extent that public order was disturbed. Even in Jerusalem, Paul is able to use his Roman citizenship to garner protection from the magistrates who by arresting him also saved his life from an angry Jewish mob (Acts 21-22). For the most part, religion fell in private space in polytheistic Rome even though Rome occasionally persecuted the church after it became more influential. 

The pertinent question today is this: does the secular state more closely resemble secular Rome or the theocratic state of Israel?

Augustine, Luther, and Calvin

This dichotomy between the theocratic state of Israel (still subject to Mosaic law) and the magisterial state of Rome (subject mostly to civil law) found in the New Testament is lost in the writing of Augustine’s book, De Civitate Dei (The City of God). Augustine pictured two eschatological cities, the city of God, and, the earthly city, in opposition. The city of God consists of those who love God rightly and the earthy city consists of those contemptuous of God (Weitman 2009, 236-237).

Building on Augustine’s two cities and Paul’s magisterial state, Luther divided the world between the Kingdom of Christ (church) and the Kingdom of the World (secular state) which defined the concept of church and state in reformation thinking (Bainton 1995, 186-187). Because the reformation divided the Protestant Churches from the Catholic Church, this division between church and state was pragmatic giving legitimacy to German princes that aided Luther in his break from Rome.

Unlike Luther who was almost exclusively a theologian and pastor, Calvin was both a lawyer and civil magistrate. Calvin’s writing on church and state accordingly lent further credibility to Luther’s teaching on separation of church and state (Calvin 1939, 202-214). We think of Calvin primarily as a theologian, but he is best known in Europe for having been the first to introduce public education and public water works.

Why Do We Care?

One observation that we can draw from Old Testament law is that it tends to pervade all aspects of daily life. This is the nature of using rules verses principles. Principles can be outlined and apply in an infinite number of contexts; rules always to be updated constantly to deal with new circumstances. Secular law is no different.

Ethical behavior defined in secular law binds every Christian and yet the law need not comport with Christian ethical principles. Christians find themselves in an ethical bind with secular laws that legalize immoral behavior. The problem can be overwhelming in trying to explain to your children that the things that their friends are allowed to do, they cannot do because they are Christians. As teenagers, the temptation just to walk away from the faith can be real and immediate. 

The breakdown of the separation of church and state means that churches must lobby government to fashion laws that govern their own members and it makes it harder for them to do so. It also makes it harder for churches to discipline their members when they are unfaithful to biblical teaching and their church’s own confessions.


Bainton, Roland H. 1995. Here I Stand:  The Life of Martin Luther.  New York:  Meridan.

BibleWorks. 2011. Norfolk: BibleWorks, LLC. <BibleWorks v.9>.

Calvin, John. 1939. A Compend of the Institutes of the Christian Religion.  Edited by Hugh Thomson Kerr, Jr.  Philadelphia:  Presbyterian Board of Christian Education.

Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA). 1999. The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)—Part I: Book of Confessions. Louisville, KY: Office of the General Assembly.

Weithman, Paul. 2009. “Augustine’s Political Philosophy” pages 234-252 of The Cambridge Companion to Augustine.  Edited by Eleonore Stump and Norman Kretzmann.  New York:  Cambridge University Press.

Church and State

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Hart Argues History to Inform the Present

Review of Davide Bentley Hart's Atheist DelusionsDavid Bentley Hart. 2009. Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The old saw goes: you cannot argue someone out of a position that they were not argued into. Apologetics is accordingly most useful in convincing oneself of the reasonableness of views that you already loosely hold. For critics who engage primarily in slander, correcting the veracity of arguments propping up such slander does not normally lead to retraction of the slander so much as the advancement of new arguments of similar veracity, particularly when political or financial incentives motivate the slander. Even weakly argued slander can imperil loosely held faith so the apologist is bound to remain fully employed.


David Bentley Hart opens his book, Atheist Delusions, with these words:

“What I have written is at most a ‘historical essay,’ at no point free of bias, and intended principally as an apologia for a particular understanding of the effect of Christianity upon the development of Western civilization.”(ix)

Hart’s concern about bias is interesting because quickly proceeds to outline his decision criteria for establishing historical truth:

“It may be impossible to provide perfectly irrefutable evidence for one’s conclusions, but it is certainly possible to amass evidence sufficient to confirm them beyond plausible doubt.”(ix)

Again, this is interesting because Hart begins playing by postmodern rules of argumentation—a modern writer might appeal to objective truth (or rationality) at this point, which would invite derision from postmodern critics.

Central Argument

As an historian, Hart focuses on using the past as a vehicle for understanding the present, writing:

“This book chiefly—or at least centrally—concerns the history of the early church, of roughly the first four or five centuries, and the story of how Christendom was born out of the culture of last antiquity. My chief ambition in writing it is to call attention to the peculiar and radical nature of the new faith in that setting: how enormous a transformation of thought, sensibility, culture, morality, and spiritual imagination Christianity constituted in the age of pagan Rome.; the liberation it offered from fatalism, cosmic despair, and the terror of occult agencies; the immense dignity it conferred up on the human person…”(x-xi)

What struck me in the middle of this lengthy essay was how much paganism of these first centuries of the church resembled the anxiety that we see every day in postmodern culture.

The Mythology of Modernism

Through the lens of historical observation, Hart furthermore chips away at the mythology surrounding the modern period. He writes:

“…what many of us are still in the habit of calling the ‘Age of Reason’ was in many significant ways the beginning of the eclipse of reason’s authority as a cultural value; that the modern age is notable in large measure for the triumph of inflexible dogmatism in every sphere of human endeavor (including the sciences) and for a flight from rationality to any number of soothing fundamentalisms, religious and secular; that the Enlightenment ideology of modernity as such does not even deserve any particular credit for the advance of modern science; that the modern secular state’s capacity for barbarism exceeds any of the evils for which Christendom might justly be indicted, not solely by virtue of the superior technology, but by its very nature…”(xi-xii)

Hart’s comment about barbarism is particularly interesting because today’s culture is quick to forget about the millions killed by the National Socialists and by various Marxian governments in our time yet obsesses about the thousands killed during the Crusades or the Spanish Inquisition hundreds of years ago, where the historical veracity of various claims requires close scrutiny that is almost never offered.

Faith in Choice

An important critique that Hart examines at length is the postmodern obsession with personal freedom. He writes:

“…there is no substantive criterion by which to judge our choices that stands higher than the unquestioned good of free choice itself, and that therefore all judgment, divine no less than human, is in some sense an infringement upon our freedom. This is our primal ideology. In the most unadorned terms possible, the ethos of modernity is—to be perfectly precise—nihilism.”(21)

This observation is damning in its implications for the banality of our time. Freedom defined in terms of market choice for goods and ideas leaves no philosophical room for God, the development of personal character, or even the organization of communal activities, present or future. Inherent in this focus is an assumption that individual making choices has the resources required to make them and society is eager to provide them. Focusing on choice accordingly leaves decisions about everything else up to whoever is powerful enough to enforce them. Even the choices offered today may disappear quickly as a lack of interest in the future may lead one to eat one’s own seed-corn or to trade away one’s own freedom in the rush to consume.


Hart writes his book in 17 chapters divided into four parts:

  1. Faith, Reason, and Freedom: A View from the Present
  2. The Mythology of the Secular Age: Modernity’s Rewriting of the Christian Past
  3. Revolution: The Christian Invention of the Human
  4. Reaction and Retreat: Modernity and the Eclipse of the Human(vii-viii).

These chapters are preceded by an introduction and followed by notes and an index.


David Bentley Hart’s Atheist Delusions is an interesting read for the historically sensitive and philosophically astute. Hart offers commentary on current cultural controversies that both enlightens and challenges one to probe deeper, if for no other reason than to understand his voluminous vocabulary.

Hart Argues History to Inform the Present

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1 Corinthians 3: Infants in Christ

Stephen W. Hiemstra (1955)
Stephen W. Hiemstra (1955)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Jesus answered him, Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3 ESV).

We really want to be in control.  From a very young age, we do not want to depend on other people, to be told what to do, or to answer to anyone.  We take seriously the Declaration of Independence when it reads:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men [and women] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness (July 4, 1776).

Not only do we want the freedom to deny the control of other people and other nations, we want to deny the restrictions placed on us by God himself.  Rather than a sign of maturity, this control fetish is a sign of childishness—children always imitate their parents wanting to do adult things before they are ready.

For the Corinthians, childishness had two prominent features.  They considered themselves to be very spiritual people (v 1) and they divided themselves into political parties (v 4).  The Apostle Paul responded by offering them a lesson in Christian leadership.

Christian leadership, according to Paul, consists in building on the foundation laid by Jesus Christ (v 11), serving God as we are assigned (v 5), and compensated according to quality of the work done (VV 8,13-14). Paul writes:  I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth (V 6). In this agricultural motif, the farmer does not know how the seeds grow; farming consists only in fostering the growth of healthy seeds. Paul’s point is that God is responsible for growth—follow Jesus, not his servants.

Paul’s lesson clearly applies to us today.

Don’t we consider ourselves spiritual?  Paul talks about the wisdom of this age (v 18).  Hays (49-50) notes that spiritual elitism can take the form of spiritual gifts, scholarly knowledge, doctrinal correctness, moral uprightness, or political correctness[1].  When we do not consider ourselves spiritual elites, we can, of course, simply support our favorite pastor, denomination, or author who expresses our elitist preferences. Is it any wonder that schisms in the church appeal over and over through the ages and frequently find root in a selective reading of scripture itself?

Paul sees this tendency towards spiritual elitism in the Corinthians (vv 18-20) and cites the Prophet Job:

He [God] frustrates the devices of the crafty, so that their hands achieve no success.  He catches the wise in their own craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are brought to a quick end (Job 5:12-13 ESV).

Paul ends this section with another admonishment about boasting saying:  For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future– all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s (vv 21-23)

As the church, we collectively are God’s temple [2] and under his watchful eye (vv 16-17).


[1]Hays, Richard B.  2011.  Interpretation:  A Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching—First Corinthians (Orig pub 1997).  Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press.

[2]ὁ γὰρ ναὸς τοῦ θεοῦ ἅγιός ἐστιν, οἵτινές ἐστε ὑμεῖς (1Corinthians 3:17 BNT).  Translated is:  for God’s temple is holy, and you all are [that temple].


  1. How was your week? Did anything special happen?
  2. What questions or thoughts do you have about 1 Corinthians 2?
  3. What does it mean to be spiritual (πνευματικοῖς)?How about worldly (or fleshly; σαρκίνοις)? What is an infant (νηπίοις) in Christ? (vv1,3)
  4. What would you say that the milk teachings of the church are as opposed to the solid food teachings?(v2)
  5. What particular problem does Paul focus on? (vv3-5)
  6. What does Paul say about this problem?
  7. What is important in leadership? (vv6-11)
  8. How is a leader measured or tested?(vv12-15)
  9. What does Paul say about the temple? What is confusing about this statement in English but not Spanish (vv16-17)
  10. What wisdom is Paul talking about? What does he say? (vv18-20)
  11. What does Paul say about boasting? (vv21-23)

1 Corinthians 3: Infants in Christ

First Corinthians 2

First Corinthians 4

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Galatians 5: Healthy Boundaries

Fruits by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,

goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control;

against such things there is no law (Gal 5:22-23 ESV).

An interesting conversation going on in missionary circles concerns the definition of a Christian.  Is a Christian someone who has been baptized and confirmed?  Or, is a Christian someone has consistently grown closer to Christ as a disciple?  While only God knows truly who is saved, the definition of a Christian is important in understanding the role and articulation of the institutional church.  This is particularly a problem in non-western countries where persecution threatens both life and livelihood.

In Paul’s ministry among the Galatians, the question of who is a Christian was upfront and personal.  Is a Christian a sect within Judaism or an independent faith?  Being circumcised identified one with the Jewish faith, but in the first century it more importantly marked one politically as a Jewish nationalist.  And it was also not just something that your wife would notice.  Entry into the temple in Jerusalem required a ritual bath (purified, e.g. Acts 24:18) and sports in the gentile world were also frequently practiced “in your birthday suit”!  Both activities made circumcision a public event in a way that we might overlook today.

How does Paul answer the question of who is a Christian?  Ironically, Paul stands with Moses when he said:  Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart (Deuteronomy 10:16).  In Paul’s words:  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love (v 6).  Neither Moses nor Paul accepted the idea that by itself circumcision placed any claim on God.  Faith working through love, as Paul says, speaks to changes in the heart.

Paul’s comments have immediate application in our cultural environment.  In our context, Paul would say:  neither baptized nor unbaptized; neither communicant nor non-communicant; counts for anything.  Going through the motions to join a church does not count.  The question remains: is your heart moving closer to Christ or not?

Movements of the heart might seem rather private but this does not imply that one can be a Christian incognito (secret Christian).  Our freedom in Christ is freedom to love our neighbors as ourselves (v 14).  Do you think that your neighbor will notice?  If money and time are involved, do you think your spouse would notice?  How about your kids?

In drawing healthy boundaries, Paul offers both a list of vices (vv 19-21) and a list of virtues (vv 22-23).  Interestingly, while the list of virtues will not guarantee admission to heaven, practicing the vices will keep you out (v 21).  In Paul’s mind, grace includes law, but is not limited by it.


  1. How did the snow affect your week?
  2. How was your week? Did anything special happen?
  3. Do you have questions from chapter 4?
  4. What is freedom; what is slavery in Paul’s eye? (v 1)
  5. What is Paul’s point about circumcision and the law? (vv 2-6)
  6. What does Moses say about circumcision? (Deuteronomy 10:16-17) Why does he talk about bribing God?
  7. Why does circumcision require the whole law be obeyed? (v 3; Deuteronomy 27:1-3)
  8. One interpretation of Paul’s, advocated for example by Charles Finney (The Spirit-Filled Life (Orig pub 1861). New Kensington:  Whitaker House. 1982), was to compare grace to pledging guilty before a judge while law was like pledging innocent. Why is this legal analogy helpful?
  9. What is Paul’s argument in verse 7? (Hint: vv 7-11)
  10. What is the offense of the cross that Paul refers to? (v 11; 1 Corinthians 1:17-18)
  11. What is the freedom in Christ that Paul talks about? (vv 13-14) Can you be free in Christ and have no one notice?
  12. What does it mean to walk by the spirit or, alternatively, walk by the flesh? (v 16)
  13. How does the law and gospel relate? (v 18)
  14. What are the works of the flesh? (vv 19-21)
  15. How do the works of the flesh relate to salvation? (v 21)
  16. What are the fruits of the spirit? (vv 22-23)
  17. How does the cross of Christ relate to the works of the flesh? (v 24)

Galatians 5: Healthy Boundaries

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Galatians 6: Parting Comments 

Galatians 4: Slave and Free 

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

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Introduction to Galatians

GalatiansBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel (Galatians 1:6 ESV).

What exactly is the grace of Christ and what is the Gospel?  What is this different gospel that Paul writes about?  Over the coming six weeks, I hope to explore what Paul has to say about these and related topics in his letter to the Galatians.  My purpose today is to provide some background for this study.

Authorship, Location, and Date

No one disputes that the Apostle Paul wrote this letter (epistle) to the churches in Galatians.  However, since the nineteenth century, there has been a controversy among scholars as the location of these churches because the region of Galatia changed over time and included different ethnic communities.  In general, if Galatia refers to the southern part of Galatia, then the letter corresponds to Paul’s first missionary visit to the region (AD 49); if it corresponds to the northern part, then it corresponds to the second missionary visit (AD 53-57).

Other controversies revolve around lining up Paul’s trips to Jerusalem mentioned in Galatians 1:18 and 2:1 with corresponding verses in the Book of Acts.  Further disagreements arise in lining up the different passages where the region of Galatia is mentioned in the New Testament (NT).  These passages are:  Acts 16:6, 18:23, 1 Corinthians 16:1, Galatians 1:2, 3:1, 2 Timothy 4:10, and 1 Peter 1:1.  The details of these arguments are beyond the scope of this review [1].


The scholarly debate over Galatians is spirited because the letter compactly states the core themes in Paul’s theology.  Topics addressed include the relationship between law and gospel and between Jew and gentile.  Answers to these questions help define the nature of God’s grace, the role of our faith, and, in effect, the scope of Christian freedom.  The brevity of Paul’s letter forces scholars to interpret statements made in Galatians in terms of Paul’s other letters and the scope of other authors in the NT.


Hermes was the messenger god; hermeneutics is according the study of interpretation.  While there are many important schools of interpretation, three dominant interpretive views stand out: author, scriptural, and reader.  The author view asks:  what did the author mean to say?  The scriptural view asks:  when something is unclear, is there a clear statement elsewhere in scripture?  The reader view asks:  what does it mean to me?  John Calvin asked each of these questions and required also that interpretations consult the original languages of scripture—for example, Galatians was written in Greek.


It is helpful to use a wide variety of resources in Bible study even if time and energy are limited.  I plan to use these commentaries:

Bruce, FF. 1982.  The Epistle to the Galatians:  A Commentary on the Greek Text.  NIGTC.  Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans.

Hansen, G.W.. 1993. “Letter to the Galatians” pages 323-334 of Dictionary of Paul and His Letter. Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship.  Edited by Gerald F. Hawthorn, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid. Downers Grove:  InterVarsity Press.

Keller, Timothy.  2013.  Galatians for You.  USA:  TheGoodBook.

McKnight, Scot. 1995.  The NIV Application Commentary:  Galatians.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan.

Of these, the Keller commentary is the most accessible to a lay reader.

I also make frequent reference to the Nestle-Aland Greek NT (Novum Testamentum Graece, 2012, Munich:  Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft) which includes an excellent concordance.


[1]If you are interested, check out:  (Hansen 1993, 327-328).

Introduction to Galatians

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Galatians 1: Christ Alone 

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

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