This is the way that I see things so far: Galatians is actually a very interesting book. Paul actually explains why he thinks people should listen to him, and gives backstory for how he got to where he is. It has me curious to see what is next…
I just re-read this chapter for the third time, and I still can’t puzzle out any real meaning here. Paul goes into Pharisee mode here, explaining something about Abraham and belief and righteousness. Apparently anyone who has faith is a true descendant of Abraham, but there was only one descendant who would bless all nations. And the law of scripture was a way to keep everyone in sin until the true descendant of Abraham could come and take the place of the curse so that everyone could be free. Or something like that. I truly have no idea what point Paul was trying to make here, other than to say that faith in Jesus trumps what was written in the law.
Paul is still in teacher mode. And still stuck on Abraham. He tells the story of Hagar and Sarah, but somehow twists the story to equate Jerusalem with Hagar, because Jerusalem and its children are stuck in slavery. Sarah corresponds to the heavenly Jerusalem, which is where all Christians should be seeing as their goal.
Paul gets a little more forceful – and twists the story even more. He pulls out a bit of Genesis (21:10), where Sarah commands Abraham to drive out “the slave woman and her son” and gives this as proof that they are children of Sarah. Paul seems to either forget or purposefully ignore the fact that Hagar – the slave woman – was also blessed by god, and Ishmael was also made a great nation. So why couldn’t Christians be children of Hagar? Or why should children of Hagar and of Sarah not share the inheritance, assuming the inheritance is god’s grace?
Paul can be wicked when he uses his knowledge of scripture to bend it to his point.
Oh, I didn’t realize this, but apparently Paul is still railing against Peter. Or at least against one of Peter’s favorite topics: circumcision. Someone has been telling the Galatians that they must be circumcised. And the Galatians – showing that they aren’t exactly mental giants – have been doing so. Paul begs them to stop doing so, saying if they are circumcised, then they need to follow the rest of the Judaic law also. Apparently if you are in for an inch, you are in for a mile. Paul declares again that Jesus couldn’t give a flying fig (maybe from the fig tree that Jesus cursed to death in Jerusalem) if a man is circumcised or not, as long as they believe and obey the truth.
Paul then assures the Galatians that whoever deceived them thusly will suffer God’s judgement, and he wishes they would castrate themselves. OWIE!!! Question: could Paul be talking about Peter here? Or Peter’s apostles? Hmmm…
Paul returns to his favorite subject: the evilness of sex. This time, Paul lists those things that he wishes he could do. Er, I mean he lists things that are of the flesh, not the spirit, including sexual immorality, impurity, promiscuity, rivalry, jealously, outbursts of anger, quarrels, drunkenness, wild partying, and things like that. I can see Paul’s point here. The things that he calls “works of the flesh” are things that definitely seem to be part of human nature. Lust, envy, anger. But Paul goes above and beyond, stating that these are things which will keep people from the kingdom of god.
Paul lists the fruits of the spirit, and its a good list: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” My issue with these two lists is Paul seems to be stating that you can’t follow both lists. That you can’t have love and joy if you have a lot of sex. That you can’t find peace if you have quarrels. Paul seems to be saying that things are black and white, one or the other, that it’s a zero-sum game. Which I don’t buy.
I just realized something which I should have noticed earlier: Paul likes the people of Galatia much more than the people of Corinth. In the two letters to the Corinthians, Paul continually talked about the ills that the Corinthians were perpetrating. The Corinthians were actively fighting against Paul’s word, and he treated them as troublemakers.
Paul’s attitude is completely different for the Galatians, though. The Galatians aren’t moving away from Paul’s gospel purposefully for spite or for pride, they are doing so because they are being misled. The Galatians need only listen to themselves and they will find their way back to Paul. There’s no reason for Paul to scold them, because their acts are just. They just need to stop being deceived by those who don’t even obey the law that is being forced on the people of Galatia.
I don’t have much to say beyond what I wrote above. Galatians is a kinder, gentler letter than Paul’s letters to Corinth. Paul spends more time telling the Galatians that it is okay to back away from the Judaic law, and gives them examples and justifications for doing so. He is subtly undermining Jewish authority as he does so, but that is neither here nor there. In the end, Galatians shows Paul at both his most politic and at his most manipulative. It’s a fascinating book for that reason.
New installments of The New Testament In Review will be posted each Monday and Thursday. The new posts will always be on my blog, http://biffster.org. The entire series is accessible via http://biffster.org/ntir. If you are one of my Facebook friends, you can get an advance preview on my Facebook page. You can also follow me (@biffster) on Twitter to be alerted to new posts.