Friday, August 22, 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, I examined how Paul begins to reflect on the practical, ethical implications for the Christian life. In the twenty-third entry, found below, I examine how the fruits of the Spirit are to impact the social or communal life of the Galatians.


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

1 My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. 2 Bear one another's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. 4 All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor's work, will become a cause for pride. 5 For all must carry their own loads. 6 Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher. 7 Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. 8 If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. 9 So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. 10 So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith. (NRSV)

The title of this entry, Social Implications of Freedom in Christ, is somewhat misleading, as Paul understands that all of our behaviors should impact brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as people outside of the Church, in a positive, life-giving manner. He does not set aside the personal ethical implications of the life in Christ from the social implications of life in Christ. I am making this distinction to differentiate Paul’s description of how the fruits of the Spirit should be operative in individual Christian lives from the impact these fruits should have within the community of the Church when engaged with one’s brothers and sisters (and outside the Church when engaged with all others). Indeed, Paul’s purpose in this section is to create a community ethic which lives out the love of neighbor which Paul has written about in Galatians 5:14.

The first note that Paul offers is that those who sin ought to be restored in gentleness. He writes, “My friends {adelphoi, brothers and sisters}, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted” (Galatians 6:1). The first question is who are those “who have received the Spirit”? Does the Greek phrase hoi pneumatikoi speak of particular members of the Galatians community who are mature and spiritual (see 1 Corinthians 3:1; Philippians 3:15) or does it refer to everyone within the community? Michael Gorman argues that “those addressed in v.1 (hoi pneumatikoi) are probably all the Galatians by virtue of their being recipients of the Spirit” (Apostle of the Crucified Lord, 220), but given the fact that Paul has warned the Galatians in chapter 5 that those who do not have the Spirit will not inherit the Kingdom of God, and the fact that we do have examples throughout Paul’s letters of mature and infant followers of Christ, I think that Paul wants the mature Christians to act as examples of imitation for the Galatians who have strayed and to encourage them back onto the path.

What Paul means by these mature Christians not succumbing to temptation themselves could have a range of possibilities. It should be noted that although this phrase is translated by the NRSV as plural, it is actually in the singular, leading to a literal translation such as “(each person) looking to yourself, so that you will not be tempted.” It seems to me that the temptation might emerge from a number of sources: being drawn in by the very sin(s) one is correcting; using the opportunity for correction as a temptation to one of the works of the flesh (angers, quarrels, dissension, etc.); or even falling sway to the temptation of superiority and smugness.

The Galatians are to “bear one another's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). Certainly restoring someone to the Church, which is the goal of correction, is a way of bearing “one another's burdens,” but it is also a form of love of neighbor or another way to describe love of neighbor. Many scholars have wondered if, then, the “law of Christ” is more than love of neighbor or if it refers to some sort of law, with a set of regulations. In light of Galatians 5:14, and the use of “fulfill” there and here, I think Paul’s “law of Christ” is the law of love. He might be using the term nomos ironically here for those interlopers who want the Galatians to follow the nomos of Moses, but I do not think Paul could intend a set code of law, other than the law of love or a sense of Christ’s model of love as a law to be imitated. 

The reason why I think the possible temptations of Galatians 6:1 might have to do with superiority and smugness is that Paul goes on to say that “if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor's work, will become a cause for pride. For all must carry their own loads” (Galatians 6:3-5). Even if there are those who have the spiritual maturity to correct brothers and sisters in a spirit of gentleness, or strong enough to help bear someone else’s burdens, this should not distract from the weaknesses and burdens we all have. So, Paul is not contradicting himself here when he argues that “all must carry their own loads,” for even when we have help, we still have our own burdens.[1] To bear someone else’s burden does not relieve us of our own spiritual journey or development.  We all have our own work to do, says Paul, and that is what must be tested. 

For biblical scholars, however, there is no question that the best verse in Galatians is found next, that “those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher” (Galatians 6:6). What does it mean? And why does it occur here? The Greek is as follows: Κοινωνείτω δὲ ὁ κατηχούμενος τὸν λόγον τῷ κατηχοῦντι ἐν πᾶσιν ἀγαθοῖς. The words used for teaching and teacher (“the one who teaches”) are forms of katêcheô, from which we derive “catechesis” and “catechism.” It seems unlikely that Paul has in mind himself here, but instead those who have the role within the community as teachers of the Gospel and Scripture. “All good things” (en pasin agathois) must reflect financial support of the teacher from the material goods of the Church. I think that this verse occurs here because this is a practical manifestation of love of neighbor or bearing one another’s burdens. It is also possible that in light of the interlopers in the community the actual support of the teacher left behind by Paul (or chosen by Paul from within the community) has ceased. Paul wants to rectify this practical oversight among the Galatians, if my reconstruction is correct.  

Paul ends this section with warnings and encouragement, based on how one lives out the Christian life: are the Galatians being guided by the Spirit, showing evidence of the fruits of the Spirit, or are they living in the flesh, bearing witness to the works of the flesh?  Paul’s warning comes first: “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit” (Galatians 6:7-8). When Paul speaks of sowing to the Spirit, not the flesh (6:8), eschatological concerns seem to come to the fore here for the first time in the letter. This is what is at stake for the Galatians: eternal life. How they behave has implications for their inheritance of the kingdom of God.

Paul continues his eschatological overtones in the next verses of encouragement, where he writes, “So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith” (Galatians 6:9-10). When Paul says, “For we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up,” he again stresses the positive outcome of living the Christian life, but also that it is a life in which one must persist and persevere (“if we do not give up”) to attain eternal life. It is a practical task Paul leaves for the Galatians: “work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.” Paul does see a special call on fellow believers to care for one another, but the care of all people is a part of the task of living out the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is, in fact, the law of Christ.

Next entry, the final entry finds Paul bringing his letter to an end.
John W. Martens
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This entry is cross-posted at America Magazine The Good Word


[1] Joseph Fitzmyer, S.J. in the NJBC Galatians (789) does not believe the “burden” (baros) of Galatians 6:2 is the same as the “load” (phortion) of Galatians 6:5, though both verses use the same verb (bastazô) for “carry.” He believes that the “load” are everyday responsibilities while the “burden” is something different (though he does not detail what). I dislike disagreeing with Fitzmyer, because he is usually right!, but I think Paul has in mind here self-correction as a means of balancing fraternal correction which could lead to a sense of spiritual superiority.