Monday, June 22, 2015

NT: Galatians

I continue my occasional review of the New Testament with Galatians.

The Epistle to the Galatians appears in the New Testament after 2 Corinthians and before Ephesians - it’s the ninth book. It is worth noting that Galatians is thought by some to be the first of Paul’s Epistles to be written - between 45 and 55 C.E. As such, it serves as a window into what the Christian world was like at the earliest times, and may tell us something about what Paul - whom might be called the father of the Christian Church - believed about Jesus and the Jewish world in which he became aware of him.

To be charitable, there are other views about the order in which NT books were written. A quick Googling on “chronology of books in the new testament” returned me other timelines. I've omitted Galatians-first entries, since that seems to be a majority view:Galatians is short, just six chapters, and appears to be motivated by Paul’s concern that the Galatian congregation is already straying from “the gospel” that they’ve been given regarding Christ. From Chapter 1:

6 I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel:
7 Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.
8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.

Apparently there’s another gospel or two that are floating around, and which Paul considers bad juju. Here, we can already see that there’s a tradition of preaching about Christ - that there are at least two, in fact - the one that Paul prefers, and the one that he thinks will pervert what he’s preaching. We don’t know (yet) what these gospels are, whether they have a name or a source or what tradition they present, but it will be interesting to see what turns up as Galatians unfolds.

11 But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man.
12 For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.
13 For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews' religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it:

In the verses above, Paul attests that his version was received by revelation, not from man. Now this-heah is interesting! He hasn’t told us anything about Christ in this letter yet, but he claims his gospel came from beyond. You get the impression that he could be claiming that the revelation is from Jesus himself, but Gal 1:12 could be interpreted as an anonymous revelation _of_ Christ as well. We have no idea what his intention is, except to impress the audience that his words come from on high. That might work if you believe that sort of thing.

Anyway, Paul visits Peter and sees no other Apostles “save James the Lord’s brother”. The adventure begins.

The start of Chapter 2 tells us a couple of things about Paul, and (we might presume) the Christian community that he so strongly influences:

1 Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also.
2 And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain.
3 But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised:
4 And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage:

He “went up by revelation”. Does that meant he didn’t physically go? Curious choice of words!

In verse 4, he reports spies that might want to bring him into bondage. We thus have, in just four verses, a reliance on revelation (or his imagination, if you’re skeptical) and a feeling of persecution. If his followers adopt Paul’s particular way of seeing the world, we could be in for a long, strange trip.

It gets weirder. Paul’s obsession with circumcision is an unfortunate sign of the times. Of course, if the present-day U.S. Government was going around snipping the ends of dudes’ dicks off, I might be as obsessed (and fearful) too. So, maybe Paul’s not as bent as I first thought. One of the defining features of Christianity then appears to be their desire to keep their weiners in one piece. Okay then, we finally have a solid rationale for Christianity!

Among other oddities:

9 And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision.

Wherein Paul mentions a John - but apparently not an Apostle, if the prior chapter is to be believed. Oh, and more dick mangling.

Chapter 3 seems to be one long admonishment of the “foolish Galations”.

In Chapter 4, he gives a shout out to Abba, then continues his rant in slightly more subdued tones. At least he enjoys ’70s pop music.

Now, in Chapter 5 - something memorable:

19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,
20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,
21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

But he still can’t get off the topic of circumcision completely.

Chapter 6 is just the denouement of his admonishments and encouragements. Kinda anti-climactic.

If Galatians is the earliest record of Jesus, then you’d think there’d be a hint of something more than just the object of worship or salvation. Jesus might be. a Golden Calf, for all Paul has told us. Even the reference to Peter only implies that he’s an Apostle, which implies the existence of an Apostle meme that his audience understands. The best evidence that Jesus is flesh-and-blood is the mention of James as His brother. That’s all that I can detect. So Jesus is pretty mysterious, circa 47 A.D.

Just for completeness, here are the verses in Galatians that mention Jesus. Not a one that gives us historical or biographical information.

Galatians 1:1 (KJV)
Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;)

Galatians 1:3 (KJV)
Grace [be] to you and peace from God the Father, and [from] our Lord Jesus Christ,

Galatians 1:12 (KJV)
For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught [it], but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Galatians 2:4 (KJV)
And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage:

Galatians 2:16 (KJV)
Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.

Galatians 3:1 (KJV)
O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?

Galatians 3:14 (KJV)
That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

Galatians 3:22 (KJV)
But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.

Galatians 3:26 (KJV)
For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:28 (KJV)
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 4:14 (KJV)
And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, [even] as Christ Jesus.

Galatians 5:6 (KJV)
For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.

Galatians 6:14 (KJV)
But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.

Galatians 6:15 (KJV)
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.

Galatians 6:17 (KJV)
From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.

Galatians 6:18 (KJV)
Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ [be] with your spirit. Amen.


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