This blog continues my notes on translating Galatians
Christ has set us free so that we can enjoy freedom! So make a stand and refuse to submit again to a yoke of slavery. Look, I, Paulos, am telling you that if you are snipped, Messiah will be of no benefit to you. I repeat my evidence to all who are snipped, that they are obliged to obey the whole Religious Law. If you are being made right by Law, you have been cut off from Messiah and fallen away from his kindness; but we, in the spirit, wait hopefully to be made right by our trust. For in Messiah Jesus, neither snipping nor foreskins count for anything, but only trust working through love.
The Greek eleutheria, freedom, is central to Paul’s version of the joyful news: God, in his eternal plan to perfect creation, has chosen to persuade human beings to accept his/her goodness by means of a trusting relationship with them, as seen in the promise made to Abraham. While this relationship was restricted to the Jewish people it involved obedience to the Religious Law. But now that God has demonstrated love through Jesus Messiah, condemned under the Law, those who trust in God through Messiah are set free from the Law to live creatively in God’s goodness. They are not completely free, but are “being made right” in the power of the spirit, with the hope that in God’s good time their “whole bodies will be set free” and the whole cosmos will share “the glorious liberty of God’s children.”
Paul emphasises that the Galatians can’t add Jewish Law to messianic faith: the two are contradictory. On the one hand, the Law proposes that you earn God’s favour by careful obedience, while the Joyful News says that you start with God’s favour and learn to work along with his love. Again Paul deliberately denigrates Jewish legalism as “snipping and foreskins”; how can that sort of thing make us right people?
Generations of Christian commentators have fashioned a “history of salvation” from Paul’s writings on the differences between his Judaism and his faith in Jesus. Nobody should do this. Firstly because it mistakes Paul’s rhetoric for reality. Secondly because his rhetoric is polemical, armed with his personal experience of two kinds of faith.
But if we don’t make that mistake, do we simply abandon any attempt to make contemporary sense of Paul? I hope not. His disciplined thought about his own life and convictions is a good model for theology:
1. He reflects on the faith communities to which he has belonged and their influence on him.
2. He nevertheless insists on taking responsibility for his faith in Jesus. It is his doing and not something he has accepted from others.
3. He tries to make sense of the most difficult episodes in the life of Jesus, namely his crucifixion and resurrection. These are the ones which prevent anyone thinking of Jesus as just a radical Jewish rabbi.
4. He makes an important distinction between the Jewish Torah religion with its moral and ritual rules, which he sees as a way of gaining God’s approval; and faith in Jesus, which he sees as as the joyful news of God’s approval, and therefore the end of all religion.
5. He allows his imagination to transform and develop his own experience for the benefit of others.
6. As a theologian he neither tries to dominate the community of believers, nor is he dominated by them. As an equal (but having a special function) he argues with them.