A Commentary by John Stott

Galatians. 6:13-16. Three great truths about the church.

a). The church is the Israel of God.

‘All who walk by this rule’ and ‘the Israel of God’ are not two groups, but one. The connecting particle *kai* should be translated ‘even’, not ‘and’, or be omitted (as in RSV). The Christian church enjoys a direct continuity with God’s people in the Old Testament. Those who are in Christ today are ‘the true circumcision’ (Phil.3:3), ‘Abraham’s offspring’ (Gal.3:29) and ‘the Israel of God’.

b). The church has a rule to direct it.

God’s people, God’s ‘Israel’, are said to ‘walk by this rule’. The Greek word for ‘rule’ is *kanon*, which means a measuring rod or rule, ‘the carpenter’s or surveyor’s line by which a direction is taken’. So the church has a ‘rule’ by which to direct itself. This is the ‘canon’ of Scripture, the doctrine of the apostles, and especially in the context of Galatians 6 the cross of Christ and the new creation. Such is the rule by which the church must walk and continuously judge and reform itself.

c). The church enjoys peace and mercy only when it walks by this rule.

‘Peace and mercy be upon all who walk by this rule, upon the Israel of God.’ How can the church be sure of God’s mercy and blessing? How can the church experience peace and unity among its own members? The only answer to both questions is ‘when it walks by this rule’. Conversely, it is sinful neglect of ‘this rule’, the apostolic faith of the Bible, which is the main reason why the contemporary church seems to be enjoying so little of the mercy of God and so little internal peace and harmony. ‘Peace upon Israel’ is impossible when the church departs from its God-given rule.

Conclusion (verses 17 and 18).

Verse 17: *Henceforth let no man trouble me; for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus*. The Greek word for ‘marks’ is *stigmata*. Medieval churchmen believed that these were the scars in the hands, feet and side of Jesus, and that Paul by sympathetic identification with Him found the same scars appearing in his body. It was said that as Francis of Assisi contemplated the wounds of Christ, there appeared in his hands, feet and side ‘blackish, fleshy excrescences’, exuding a little blood. Some accounts even said that nails like iron had grown out of his flesh, black, hard and fixed. Up to the beginning of the twentieth century no fewer than 321 claims to such ‘stigmatization’ had been made, in some of which, in addition to the five wounds in hands, feet and side, it was said that marks appeared also on the forehead (where Christ wore the crown of thorns), on the shoulder (where He bore the cross) and on the back (where He was scourged), some being accompanied by acute pain and profuse bleeding. Those cases which seem to be well attested would today be termed ‘neuropathic bleedings’, caused by sub-conscience auto-suggestion. B.B.Warfield gives a full account of claims to stigmatization in his *Miracles, Yesterday and Today*.

It is most unlikely, however, that the *stigmata* of Jesus which Paul bore on his body were of this kind. Doubtless they were ratherwounds which he had received while being persecuted for Jesus’ sake. According to 2 Corinthians 11: 23-25 he had received ‘countless beatings’ – five times the thirty nine lashes of the Jews, three times beaten with rods and once stoned. Some of these sufferings may have already been endured before the time of his writing this Epistle. Certainly he had already been stoned in Lystra, one of the Galatian cities, and left in the gutter for dead (Acts 14:19). The wounds which his persecutors had inflicted on him, and the permanent scars they left behind – these were ‘the marks of Jesus’.

The word *stigmata* was used in secular Greek for the branding of a slave. It is possible that Paul had this in mind. He was a slave of Jesus; he had received his branding in his persecutions. The word was also employed for ‘religious tattooing’ (Arndt-Gingrich). Perhaps Paul was claiming that persecution, not circumcision, was the authentic Christian ‘tattoo’.

This was the ground of his plea ‘henceforth let no man trouble me’ or, as J.B.Lightfoot interprets it, ‘let no man question my authority’. Paul longed to be left alone by these false teachers. As a Jew he had on his body the mark the Judaizers were emphasizing; but he had other marks too, proving him ‘to belong to Jesus Christ, not to Jewry’. He had not avoided persecution for the cross of Christ. On the contrary, he carried wounds on his body which designated him a true slave, a faithful devotee of Jesus Christ.

Finally, verse 18: *The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brethren. Amen*. Paul had begun the Epistle with his customary salutation of Grace (Gal.1:3) and gone on to express his astonishment that the Galatians were ‘so quickly deserting’ the God who had called them ‘in the grace of Christ’ (1:6). Indeed, the whole letter is dedicated to the theme of God’s grace, His unmerited favour to sinners. So he ends on the same note.

Thus the authentic characteristic of the gospel is ‘the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ’, and of the gospel preacher ‘the marks of Jesus’. This is so for all God’s people. Paul bore the marks of Jesus on his body and the grace of Jesus in his spirit. And he desired his readers to have the same, for they were his ‘brethren’ – the last word of the Epistle – in the family of God.

Tomorrow: A Review of the Epistle.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Galatians: Calling Christian Leaders. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.