Tuesday, August 5, 2014

English: Map of the Letters of Galatia
English: Map of the Letters of Galatia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


In the first entry in the Bible Junkies Online Commentary on Galatians, I discussed introductory matters concerning the founding of the churches to the Galatians, the situation when Paul wrote to them, when the letter might have been written and the type of letters which Paul wrote, based on the common Greco-Roman letters of his day. In the second post, I considered the basic content and breakdown of a Pauline letter. I noted the major sections of the formal letter structure and, in the context of each section, outlined the theological and ethical (as well as other) concerns of Paul, including some Greek words which will be examined more fully as we continue with the commentary. In the third entry, I looked at the salutation, which is long for Paul’s corpus (only Romans 1:1-7 is longer) and briefly commented on the lack of a Thanksgiving, the only letter of Paul’s which does not have one. The fourth entry discussed the opening of the body of the letter, a significant part of the letter especially in light of the absence of a Thanksgiving. In the fifth entry, I examined the beginning of the opening of the body of the letter, in which Paul describes his background in Judaism and I placed this in the context of Judaism in the Hellenistic period. In the sixth post in the online commentary, I continued to look at Paul’s biographical sketch of his life, this concerning his earliest life as a Christian. In the seventh post, I examined what Paul says about his subsequent visit to Jerusalem to see the apostles and the Church in Jerusalem. In the eighth entry, Paul confronts Cephas about his hypocrisy in Antioch. 

The ninth blog post started to examine the theological argument in one of Paul’s most important and complex theological letters. In the tenth entry, Paul makes an emotional appeal to the Galatians based on their past religious experiences and their relationship with Paul. In the eleventh chapter in the series, Paul began to examine Abraham in light of his faith. The twelfth blog post continued Paul’s examination of Abraham, but also claims that Christ “redeemed” his followers from the “curse” of the Law.  In the thirteenth study in the Galatians online commentary, we looked at Paul’s claim that God’s promises were to Abraham and his “offspring,” with a twist on the meaning of “offspring.” The fourteenth entry examined Paul’s question, in light of his claims about the law, as to why God gave the law. The fifteenth chapter in this commentary examines the function of the law, while the sixteenth post studied how the members of the Church are heirs to the promise.

In the seventeenth entry, I observed what it means to be an heir in Paul’s theological scenario. And in the eighteenth installment, Paul transitions back to his relationship with the Galatians, but before he concentrates on this in full, he returns to the issue of the stoicheia, commonly known as the four cosmic powers, earth, air, water and fire. In the nineteenth blog post, Paul relies on his personal relations with the Galatians to draw them to his point of view. In the twentieth entry, Paul speaks of an allegory of Hagar and Sarah. The twenty-first chapter in the series, finds Paul speaking against circumcision. In the twenty-second blog post, found below, I examine how Paul begins to reflect on the practical, ethical implications for the Christian life.


4. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians  
d) Body of the Letter (1:13-6:10):
v) Ethical Exhortation (5:13-6:10): Ethical Implications of Freedom in Christ (5:13-26)

13 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 14 For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 15 If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. 16 Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another. (NRSV)

Paul next addresses the ethical implications of freedom in Christ. What does it mean to live free from the Law? Paul does not himself put it in this negative form; he positively asks what it means to be “called to freedom.”  As Paul writes, “for you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another” (Galatians 5:13). This translation, however, does not properly render the key word sarx, or “flesh.” The text reads that one should not use freedom as an opportunity (aphormê) for the “flesh.” “Flesh” is not simply the body, the physical body, but the whole person turned away from God. Michael Gorman says, “For Paul the opposite of the flesh is not some immaterial human spirit, but the Spirit of God, the Spirit of the Son. Thus not giving opportunity to the flesh means, by implication, giving opportunity to the Spirit” (Apostle of the Crucified Lord, 218). This should not be read as an indictment of the body, but an indictment of the whole person turning away from God’s will. “Self-indulgence” in that sense is a good translation, especially if flesh is misunderstood as the body alone, but since sarx is such a significant word for Paul, we ought to use it whenever it appears. 

We should also note that “you” in Galatians 5:13 is in the plural (hymeis) and so refers to the whole of the Galatians community, not just individuals. This is an instruction for the whole Church to turn away from the flesh and “through love become slaves to one another.” The contrast between freedom/slavery is intentional in this verse, but there is both a contrast and a melding of the two concepts: when there is properly enacted freedom in Christ, the community willingly enslaves itself to each other through love (agapê). 

This leads to one of the most important verses in Galatians (and in the whole Pauline corpus): “For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Galatians 5:14). Again a translation issue to begin: “summed up” is actually the word “fulfilled” (plêroô) in the perfect tense, “has been fulfilled.” This is an important translation because whenever Paul speaks of Christians positively with respect to the Law of Moses, he says that they “fulfill” never “do” it (Stephen Westerholm, “On Fulfilling the Whole Law” (Gal. 5:14)” in Svensk Exegetisk Arsbok 51 52 (1986-87) 229-237). Paul never wavers in this language. But what does it mean that the “whole law” (ho pas nomos) is “fulfilled” (peplērōtai) through love of neighbor (5:14)? 

N.T. Wright states that “now that the Messiah has come, his true people will truly ‘keep Torah,’ even though this Torah-keeping will not look like what those {other Jewish teachers} had imagined” (Paul and the Faithfulness of God Parts III and IV, 1109). I think something like this, combined with the fact that Christ has brought the law to fulfillment, and that people under the guidance of the Spirit are now capable of enacting the dictates of the law, joins to create a Messianic people who now fulfill the Law of Moses which has been brought to Messianic completion. Note, however, that Paul only offers Leviticus 19:18 - ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ – as the fulfillment of the Law, not Deuteronomy 6:4 – the love of God, which is also the case in Romans 13:8-10: why is this? I do not have a good answer except to say that perhaps Paul assumes the love of God in the community or that the love of neighbor makes manifest the love of God. Whatever the explanation, and I do not know if mine suffice, it is clear that Paul believes that the application of love in each ongoing situation in the lives of the Church and of individuals, under the guidance of Christ and the Spirit, will not lead people away from the law but to its fulfillment. 

Paul then admonishes the Galatians, in light I would suspect of the broken relationship between Paul and the community in particular, and perhaps factions with the Galatian churches, not to “bite and devour one another” and to “take care that you are not consumed by one another. Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:15-16). The central point here is that the Church should “live by the Spirit” and not “gratify the desires of the flesh”; the one leads to fulfilling the law, while the other leads to the destruction of community. Being enslaved to one another in love is genuine freedom.

The contrast between flesh and Spirit is continued in the next verses. Paul continues to build his case, stating that “what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law” (Galatians 5:17-18). This is a fairly straightforward restatement of what Paul has just argued with the exception of the last phrase of v.18, “if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law.” “Subject to the law” in this case is the shorthand form “under the law” in Greek, which must indicate “under the authority of each dictate of the Law of Moses, which involves the need to “do” every element of the law. Paul has already claimed that those in Christ, guided by the Spirit, “fulfill” the law when guided by love under the authority of the one who has fulfilled the law, Jesus Christ. 

It is a fair question to raise though, how does the Church or an individual member of the Church fulfill the law? Paul outlines the works of the flesh, which are opposed to the ways of God, and so would never fulfill the law. Here we get a negative picture: “Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these” (Galatians 5:19-21a). Two notes should be added to this list: the works of the flesh listed are primarily not things involving the body (such as sexual sins, though they appear) but choices of how we treat each other (“enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy”); and the list of works of the flesh could be expanded it seems forever, as Paul ends with “and things like these.” I will return to this final point later. Paul then offers this:  “I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:21b). The language of inheritance (klêponomeô) is significant and sometimes overlooked (it appears also for instance in 1 Corinthians 6:10). It is a key image of family and covenantal membership. It is those who are part of the family that inherit. To be a part of the family of Abraham, through the son Jesus Christ, is to be an inheritor of the kingdom. If the community does not behave according to the terms of the fulfilled law, they can also be disinherited. This is the equivalent of Paul the spiritual mother/father warning, “You can also be asked to leave the family.” 

That’s the path not to take to fulfill the law, but how does love in action look within the family according to Paul? Christians must show evidence of the fruits of the Spirit: “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things” (Galatians 5:22-23). Notice that unlike the works of the flesh, which include the listed works and “things like these,” there are only nine fruits listed. While the works of the flesh can manifest themselves in numerous ways, the Christian life must show evidence of these particular fruits. It gives a major clue as to what a life of love will actually look like in practice. 

Finally, Paul says, “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another” (Galatians 5:24-26). , The Spirit opposes the flesh and “its passions and desires” (5:24); the Christian must be guided by the Spirit (5:24-26). It is fascinating that when Paul speaks of “passions and desires,” he speaks of ruptures in interpersonal relationships (conceit, competition, envy).  In the family of those who follow Jesus, he speaks the language of  love, which is the language of living together in peace. 

Next entry, Paul speaks of the social implications of freedom in Christ
John W. Martens
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This entry is cross-posted at America Magazine The Good Word