This blog continues my notes on translating Galatians
The main issue for the translator in the first few verses is to make sense of Paul’s chaotic syntax. It’s easy to catch Pauls drift but hard to be sure precisely what he is saying.
Fourteen years later I went up to Jerusalem again with Barnabas, taking Titus along with us. I went up following a communication from God and set out the joyful news I had been announcing to the Gentiles, in a private meeting with those considered important, in case I was running or had been running in the wrong race.
Paul uses the Greek apokalupsis to describe his reason for going to Jerusalem. In think he wants again to emphasise his freedom from human motives or pressure. Maybe he pushes this line too often? The comparison of the life of faith with athletics is one he uses several times in his letters. In this case I think he’s suggesting a runner who takes the wrong route or takes part in the wrong race. He remains reluctant to accept the Jerusalem leaders at face value.
Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was forced to have his foreskin snipped, although he is Greek! – the problem was the pseudo – brothers smuggled in; they insinuated themselves to spy out the freedom we have in Messiah Jesus, so that they could enslave us –
We did not offer obedience to them, even for one hour, so that the truth of the joyful news would continue to dwell with you.
Paul refused to see faith in Jesus as membership of the Jewish people, and therefore did not require converts to be snipped according to Jewish practice. Doubtless the Assembly in Jerusalem, and other assemblies influenced by them continued to follow Jewish custom. Circumision is a very latinate translation of the Greek peritemno, while snipping is more direct and reflects Paul’s scorn for the custom, and for the “pseudo brothers” who are derided in the words smuggled and insinuated. The issue for Paul is eleutheria en Christo, freedom in Messiah, which he defines as freedom from the power of sin and death, freedom to live here and hereafter as God’s children, through trust in Jesus. It is also freedom from religion and its rules for gaining God’s favour, which are unnecessary because that favour is given gratis in Jesus, Paul is not being finicky about the Jewish religious law; he knows that trust in the way of Jesus is a departure from all religious behaviour: if God gives his/her goodness freely, what could religion be for?
Just as Paul and his companions refused to be enslaved, he wants his Galatian converts to refuse also. That’s why he’s telling this story. Paul is of course aware of the customs of slavery, in his own society and others. He clearly states that they have no place in the assemblies of Jesus where all distinctions are wiped out. Religious, political and social slavery are linked in his analysis because they are all imposed by the spiritual powers that rule the world, which have however been utterly defeated by Jesus Messiah. Paul’s vocabulary of freedom and slavery is fundamental to his theology.