John Barclay, in his lecture on Grace and Salvation in Galatians and Romans, first gives us his view of Galatians.
He is speaking largely to Italian priests and scholars, so he uses an analogy about the change in currency. Not so long ago the lira was the official currency; but now it is the euro.
The problem in Galatia, says Barclay, is that the understanding of human worth in both Jewish and Greco-Roman society no longer works. That understanding of human worth was the old currency. It involved Torah-keeping people as having higher worth than gentile sinners. It involved the free-born having higher worth than freedmen or slaves. It involved men having higher worth than women. It involved a system of shame and honor.
But that old currency, according to Paul, has changed drastically in Christ. People who still bank on the old currency are like people depositing lira instead of euros in the bank. They fail to recognize that the old system of worth no longer applies.
This is what lies behind Galatians 1:6
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are following a different gospel (NET Bible).
Some Galatians do not see that the “grace of Christ” is the new currency. Human worth is now based only on the gift of God.
This is because Paul believes that the gift of God has been given prior to and without regard to this understanding of worth.
His own life experience confirms this. He persecuted the church with violence. Yet before this– in fact, before he was even born–God had set him apart in grace (1:15). This grace, this gift of God was entirely apart from any standard of human worth, including his former “zeal for the Torah”. This transposition of value changed Paul. He now banks on a different currency. He now trusts in “the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” (2:20). Because of this he is unwilling to “nullify the grace of God” (2:21).
In the ancient world, Barclay says, gifts were given to those worthy of receiving them based on some system of value. Paul’s idea of the gift or grace of God radically breaks from this. The gift of God is incongruous. It is a misfit gift.
For this reason Paul confronted Peter at Antioch (2:11 ff.). Peter, by withdrawing from sharing a table with gentiles, was importing a system of worth that did not fit with God’s radical gift in Christ.
The same was true of the fact that Paul no longer required circumcision for his converts. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision (which Barclay relates to the Greek system of worth in valuing and admiring the unblemished male body) had anything to do with the incongruous grace of God in Christ.
Barclay interprets the phrase “faith in Christ” as trust in the gift of Christ. Many in the New Perspective on Paul movement want to interpret it as the faithfulness of Christ. So this makes a difference.
One of the striking things I notice about the Galatian letter is that those churches must have been mostly non-Jewish, and yet Paul assumes that they live and think from the Hebrew Scriptures.
They must have been immersed in Roman society. Barclay points out that near the end of the letter, Paul speaks to them more as citizens of the Roman Empire. Beginning in 5:22 he talks about the fruit of the Spirit and how those who are in union with Christ (Barclay’s understanding of what Paul thinks salvation means) live in the Roman world with a new set of values based on the cross and its devaluation of former systems of worth.
Finally, a very important thing to note is that for Barclay this is not a discussion about works and works righteousness. What Paul is rejecting is not works of the law so much as all former systems of human worth. It is about worth, not works.