Day 5: Galatians 5–6

In a nutshell: Paul’s anger builds toward the interlopers but he tries to conclude his letter on a conciliatory note toward the Galatians themselves.

Our lord makes me confident you will not disagree with my view. In any case, those stirring up trouble among you will have to answer for it, whoever they are.
—Galatians 5:10–11 (Scholars Version trans.)

For the sake of consistency and sanity, I’m publishing a couple posts in advance of the (US) holiday weekend. This reading is for the 5th of July.

I have a poetic offering for you today. But first, a refresher of two David stories:

Again there was war, and David went out to fight the Philistines. He launched a heavy attack on them, so that they fled before him. Then an evil spirit from the Lord came upon Saul, as he sat in his house with his spear in his hand, while David was playing music. Saul sought to pin David to the wall with the spear; but he eluded Saul, so that he struck the spear into the wall. David fled and escaped that night. (1 Samuel 19:8–10)

Many years later, Saul is now dead and David has finally become the king of Israel. He witnesses a beautiful woman named Bathsheba on the roof of a nearby house and commits adultery with her (we don’t know if it was mutual or not, but one does not refuse a king). Later, after Bathsheba becomes pregnant, David has her husband Uriah killed to conceal the deed.

But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord, and the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.”

Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”

Nathan said to David, “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 11:27b–12:7a)

Paul to the Galatians—a postscript

“I wish that those who stir you up over circumcision would go all the way themselves and have everything cut off!” —Galatians 5:12 SV

Paul to the Galatians—a postscript

How long am I to wait for a response?
You people weary me

I hated God’s call until I found you
Like David ruddy-cheeked you came to me and I loved you
In water I woke you
With oil I sealed you
Now Bathsheba is sharpening a knife

Go on, strip off your clothes
Am I Uriah or Nathan here? You tell me.

What I’m sipping is bitter and bright
Sun’s glare, morning’s here
No letters.

The assembly in Galatia to Paul—

You picked the wrong namesake.
Briefly, Saul, we’re through. Hurl what you like.
You gave us these robes.

Saul and David, attributed to Rembrandt. Restored and housed by the Mauritshuis.

 

Questions for the Road:

  • Do you believe Paul and the Galatians were ever reconciled? How would you have responded to Paul?
  • In spite of the anger and frustration I’ve emphasized in my reading of this letter, there are some real gems of advice. In particular, Paul calls upon the lesson to love your neighbor as yourself and elaborates it with a clever reference to circumcision, “But if you bite and nip at each other, watch out that you don’t each other up” (5:15). To me, this speaks to the need for us to fight the relatively small, everyday acts of violence in our lives to achieve real peace. What was your favorite part of this letter? What is redeemable for you, and what would you rather leave behind?

Letters of Paul small squareThanks for reading this entry from the #30DaysofPaul reading challenge. We’re reading the seven undisputed letters of Paul in 30 days: 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Philemon, Philippians, Romans. Why not join us? Download the reading plan, which is based on the work of the Westar Paul Seminar as published in The Authentic Letters of Paul.

Cassandra FarrinCassandra Farrin joined Westar in 2010 and currently serves as the Marketing & Outreach Director. A US-UK Fulbright Scholar, she has an M.A. in Religious Studies from Lancaster University (England) and a B.A. in Religious Studies from Willamette University. She is passionate about books and projects that in some way address the intersection of ethics and early Christian history.

2 thoughts on “Day 5: Galatians 5–6

  1. The author finishes, in chapter 5, his exhortation written against those who would rely on Torah for instruction (pun intended), instead giving the usual Stoic rules of his “gospel.” Again, it is the dualist “spirit versus flesh” lists that starts with fornication, impurity and licentiousness, ending with envy, drunkenness and carousing. The writing would never have been accepted by any recipient except one who looked at the “Galatians” as “them,” those who backslid into the horrible world of Jesus’s Judaism. Think about it for a moment. According to the letter this wide swath known as a backwater had accepted a theological view in which they had been adopted by God. Then, people come to them demanding circumcision and they readily produced foreskins for the clipping. Even odder, the letter writer is demeaning them with every other breath. No, it is a completely unbelievable situation, so one must look at the purpose of the writing. The purpose is to condemn Jewish traditional practices, something that comes to the forefront more in the second century with Barnabas and Ignatius. And, that is when one can comfortably date the writing.

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  2. I hope that I’m not duplicating. I seem to have lost my first effort.

    Galatians 5, a paraphrase: Rejoice, Christ has set us free from the yoke of slavery which is the Torah. If you let yourselves be circumcised you will be cut off from Christ, cut off from trust working through love, and obligated to obey the whole Torah. I wish that those who are confusing you and creating a barrier to truth would suffer a slip of the knife and self-castrate. They fear the persecution associated with the offense of the cross. Remember in your freedom brothers that the Torah becomes a single guide, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Beware of self-indulgence that consumes one in biting and devouring the other. The essence of your freedom is Spirit which opposes the flesh and its wrong doing. Works of the flesh are fornication, impurity, etc…, the passions and desires for which are crucified, and the fruits of the spirit are love, joy, etc…, against which there is no prescription of Torah, and among which are not found competition and envy.

    Galatians 6, a paraphrase: Persons of Spirit should be gentle with transgressors. If their is a Torah or Christ it is fulfilled in bearing one another’s burdens, humility, and being non-judgmental. Each is responsible for his own workload. Teachers and students share the good things equally. Those who plant seed in the flesh will reap corruption. Those who plant seed in the Spirit will reap eternal life at the harvest time. Work especially hard for our family of trust. Our opponents boast in the flesh, but I boast only in the creation of a new self and a new world by the cross of Christ. You’ve noticed, no doubt, how my eye problems force me to write with large letters. I’m tired of trouble. Don’t make any more for me. I have enough marks of Jesus on my body. May you abide in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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