The second in a new series on translating Paul’s letter to Galatians.
*I’m amazed at your speedy transfer from the one who called you in the kindness of Messiah, to another joyful message!*
After brisk greetings, Paul moves abruptly to his business which is to take his readers up on their “transfer” from his message. His amazement is ironic – they’ve done something marvellous – by switching allegiance: the Greek metatithesthe (transpose, transfer, desert one for another) is a technical sounding word which continues the notion that they’ve been clever. Then he reminds them that they’ve been called into existence as an assembly (the Greek word for “calling” is the same root as the word for “assembly”) by someone who acted “in the kindness of Messiah”: the whole life death and resurrection of Jesus is a kindness or favour which provides the joyful message that emissaries like Paul have announced. Never mind, he hints sarcastically, they’ve just turned from one joyful message to another!
*There is no other joyful message, but there are some people who are hassling you and want to pervert the joyful message of Messiah.*
This sentence drops all sarcasm and spits out Paul’s anger. “Pervert” in Greek is metastrepsai, another meta word with the connotation of clever distortion. When we understand that in all probability these “people” are Christian teachers who see their faith as an extension of Judaism, we should be aware of what we’re reading: an assertion that only Paul’s version of the joyful message is genuine. Paul emphsasises this assertion in his next phrase:
*So even if we or a messenger from heaven should give you a different joyful message from the one I announced to you, put him under God’s curse! As I’ve just said, and now repeat: if anyone gives you a joyful message different from what you received, put him under God’s curse!*
Paul often uses the first person plural “we” when he means himself as one of the emissaries of Messiah Jesus. He is suggesting that even his own teaching has to be examined by his original announcement of the joyful message. It was and is authentic, and anyone who offers something different is to be “anathema” a word which describes something consecrated to a God, or handed over to a God as being taboo, and therefore devoted to destruction. To place someone under the curse of God, was a very serious action. Paul repeats himself to show that his words are not thoughless anger but a considered command.
Conscious that these words may seem over the top to his readers, he defends himself by saying that at least he can’t be accused of sucking up to them:
*Am I now currying favour with human beings, or God? Maybe I’m trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a slave of Messiah.*
Later in this letter Paul will tell how there was a time when he sought and found favour from his peers in the Jewish faith. His surrender of all reputation for the sake of Jesus is linked in his mind to the centrality of Jesus’ crucifixion. Even trying to gain the favour of God through keeping the religious Law, becomes futile in Paul’s eyes. So here, in his emphasis on being a “slave” (servant is a wrong translation) of Messiah, we can see how radically Paul has abandoned all human greatness.
But does his surrender to God justify his habit of saying he’s right all the time?