This blog continues my notes on translating Galatians.
Now the actions prescribed by the flesh and blood self are evident: illicit sex, impurity, debauchery; idolatry, abuse of drugs, antagonism; wrangling, rivalry, hot-headedness; jealousy, division, party spirit; envy, drunkenness, riotous behaviour and suchlike. I tell you now as I have told you before, that those who do such things will have no share in the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-discipline. There’s no Law against things like these.
Those who belong to Messiah Jesus have crucified the flesh and blood self with its affections and cravings. If we have life through the spirit, let’s also keep in step with the spirit, with no empty conceit, no provocation, no envy of one another.
We should note Paul’s contrast between the ‘erga’ the actions prescribed by the flesh and blood self; and the ‘karpos’ the fruit which grows naturally in the person who lives by the spirit. The description is counter- intuitive. The wrong actions are determined by power; the right actions grow freely out of cooperation between person and spirit.
We can see from the list of wrong actions that we are correct in interpreting flesh and blood as a spiritual rather that a bodily power, as many of them hqve nothing to do with the body as such. It’s not easy to translate the list accurately as some of the terms are slippery. Take porneia, (illicit sex) for example: it refers to any sexual activity considered to be wrong. (It was traditionally translated as ‘fornication’ which now has a distinct flavour of Scots Calvinism.) It probably refers to any kind of casual sex. But if Paul was thinking of sex with animals he’d probably have used the same word.
The list however focuses mainly on varied distortions of good personal and communal relationships, which gives us a clue that perhaps even in his mention of sexual wrongs, Paul is primarily thinking of their capacity to destroy human partnerships.
His list of the fruits of the spirit includes self discipline, a virtue that unites Paul’s Christian ethic with both Stoic and Jewish ethical thinking. But it includes so many beautiful qualities that we can imagine how Paul saw them as growing out of openness to the spirit of Jesus / God. They also include some virtues that Paul himself struggled to show. His readers are aware of his occasional bad temper, his loss of patience, want of gentleness. As he must have been.
The list is different from say,Aristotle’s list of virtues, but it includes nothing that had not been considered as good by his own culture. Faith in Jesus does not produce a narrowly religious ethic, but rather people who are capable of actually doing what many people believe to be good. Again we can see that that these virtues contribute to personal and communal relationships.
Paul describes the conversion of believers in Jesus as ‘crucifying the flesh and blood self”. Following the crucified Messiah means leaving the flesh and blood self behind, as he did. The believers’ unity with Jesus is an imaginative sharing of his character which issues in concrete goodness.