COMPANION TO THE NEW TESTAMENT - The New English Bible. By A E Harvey. - © The Delegates of the Oxford University Press, The Syndics of the Cambridge University Press. 1970. - Prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2014.


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P46. Romans 11-12


This letter, like the letters to the Corinthians, was evoked by a particular crisis in the relations between Paul and one of the churches he had founded. Something had been going wrong for some time before the letter was written, and this was not the first time that Paul had intervened (4.16). There was pressure from outside the church and there were factions within it, and the atmosphere was such that charges of various kinds had been levelled at Paul by his opponents. So much, at least, is evident from the letter; but, since this letter is the only record we now possess of the various exchanges which took place, a great deal remains mysterious, and it is impossible to reconstruct with any certainty the precise circumstances to which the letter alludes, and the arguments and accusations which Paul had to meet. In addition, many of the sentences from which we might have hoped to learn something are written in unusually ambiguous idioms; and the difficulty of the Greek has in places produced significant discrepancies in the texts offered by the earliest manuscripts.

We cannot even be sure who THE GALATIANS were. Since the third century B.C., when an invasion of Gauls (in Greek: Galatai) from central Europe had finally secured an area for settlement in the centre of Asia Minor, "Galatia" had been the name currently used for the territory of these invaders. But in 25 B.C. the Roman Province of Galatia was created out of lands which included not only the original Galatian territory, but also (for political reasons) parts of Pisidia and Lycaonia to the south. So that, from the point of view of the official Roman administration, it became correct to call the cities near the coast, such as Derbe, Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, "Galatian".


We know nothing from Paul's own letters of his movements in the central part of Asia Minor. Acts provides a somewhat vague report of a journey by Paul through 'the Galatian region' during his second missionary journey (16.6; 18.23); but it gives much fuller information about Paul's work in the southern cities during his first journey (13-14), so that although these cities could only technically be called "Galatian", it is possible and in many ways tempting to think that it was to their inhabitants that the letter was addressed.
Bound up with this uncertainty about the destination of the letter is the question of its date. If north Galatia was its destination, then it must have been written some time after the events of Acts 16-18, which bring us down to at least A.D. 52. On the other hand, if the cities to the south were the home of Paul's "Galatian" churches, then it could equally well have been written several years earlier, indeed it could be Paul's earliest extant letter. And this wide range of possible dates makes it difficult to relate the incidents mentioned in the letter to other known episodes in Paul's life. Even the fragments of autobiography in chapter 2 present difficulties; for some of the same events are recorded in Acts, and there are serious discrepancies between the two accounts which make it exceedingly hard to fit these events into the history of the early church.

To some extent, the main argument of the letter stands on its own, and all the circumstances do not have to be reconstructed before it can be understood. Nevertheless, it may be helpful to read the letter with some picture of the Galatian church and its difficulties in mind, even though any reconstruction is bound to be somewhat speculative. It appears that the Galatian church, though subject to pressure from the Jewish side, consisted mainly of Gentiles. Even those who had already yielded to Jewish pressure were apparently not Jews by birth, but had recently become proselytes (6.13). On the other hand, the argument of the letter, with its detailed references to the Old Testament, can have been intelligible only to people who were already familiar with the Jewish religion and Jewish traditions. Where were such Jewish-minded Gentiles to be found? One answer may be suggested. They were to be found, in considerable numbers, as associate members of the synagogue in any cosmopolitan city of the Greco-Roman world. These gentile associates were not admitted into fellowship with the Jewish community, for Jewish law forbade full social contact with any who either were not Jews or had not received circumcision and become proselytes. But they were permitted to attend the synagogue, where they were able to hear Scripture read and learn about what was regarded by many educated Greeks as a pure and ethically demanding monotheistic religion. In return, they were normally asked to observe certain moral standards and to respect the Jewish Sabbaths and holy days.

It was among such people as these that Paul made his earliest converts. The Christian preaching had a natural attraction for them. It offered a religion no less exacting and exalted than Judaism, but without the same restrictions on social contact, and above all without the objectionable barrier of circumcision. The narrative of Acts shows again and again how Paul found himself turning away from the Jewish community to this non-Jewish group who proved readier listeners.

But suppose the Jews of the synagogue saw their following of gentile associates being suddenly drawn away into a separate sect: it would not be surprising if they began to put considerable pressure on the renegades to return and, having returned, to accept circumcision as an irrevocable sign of their allegiance; and equally, it would not be surprising if many of the Christians, subjected to persecution from this quarter, felt tempted to purchase a quiet life at the price of accepting the synagogue's conditions. These would, after all, only oblige them to certain outward observances; they would still be free among themselves (so at least they believed, and this view seems quite plausible when we consider the very wide range of beliefs held at that time by law-abiding Jews) to confess Jesus as Lord.

Such was the situation, or something like it, which elicited Paul's letter. To his converts, it seemed merely a practical issue, concerning outward observances. But to Paul it appeared as a challenge to his presentation of the Christian faith. And so he addressed them, not on the level of practical expediency, but of theological truth. His argument rose above the local dispute between church and synagogue, and has been justly prized throughout the history of Christianity as a classic formulation of some of the central truths of the Christian faith. The translators have seized on two of its principal themes in giving it the general heading, Faith and freedom.

Faith and freedom

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Chapter 1.

The opening of the letter follows the usual convention (see above on Romans 1, where the words apostle and commission are also discussed (1)). The nature of Paul's apostleship comes under discussion later in the letter, and Paul may be deliberately stressing his credentials at the outset. But this is no more than a hint of what is to come. The greeting itself is conventional enough, apart from one attribute of Christ which deserves notice: he died to rescue us out of this present age of wickedness (4). For Paul, the effect of Christ's self-sacrifice for our sins was not merely to cancel the effect of past misdoings, but to open up a new kind of existence: the new age looked forward to by Jewish thinkers had already begun, and presented an immediate alternative to this present age of wickedness.

I am astonished (6). The letter has to deal with a crisis, and comes straight to the point. Certain persons have been recommending a different gospel. Not that any gospel is possible other than the gospel of Christ: the gospel is the good news that Christ—that is, the Messiah expected in the Jewish religion—has come, and to deny this would be to deny the possibility of any gospel at all. No, these persons have been trying to distort the gospel (7); that is, they have been misrepresenting its practical implications. And this is just as serious: they shall be held outcast (8). The word is anathema—"a curse on him", as the same word is rendered in 1 Corinthians 12.3.

Strong language—which might be appropriate to canvassing for men's support (10) in favour of one religious group or political party over against another. But Paul is not interested in groups or parties. Whose support do I want but God's alone? The gospel comes from God, it is no human invention (11), and the account which follows of how Paul came by this gospel is intended both to demonstrate its divine origin (which raises it above parties) and also to establish the validity of Paul's apostleship which, as he said at the beginning, was conferred on him not by man but by God.

The story of Paul's conversion is told, with slight variations, three times in Acts (chapters 9, 22 and 26). Here, it is told more briefly (for it was not new to the Galatians, verse 13), but with a certain emphasis on two points: first, that it was an experience comparable with the call of an Old Testament prophet, not random but predestined (verse 15 contains allusions to Isaiah 49.1 and Jeremiah 1.5); and secondly, that the call, as in the two Old Testament passages, was specifically a call to preach among the Gentiles (16). The revelation was both to Paul and to a wider public through Paul (so the NEB makes explicit a possible ambiguity latent in the Greek preposition en). It was also so clear and compelling that it did not need either confirmation or elucidation by the Jerusalem apostles; and Paul (this incident is not mentioned in Acts) went off at once to Arabia (17), possibly to begin preaching, but more likely for a period of withdrawal and meditation. (The word Arabia could denote anywhere from the desert in the immediate neighbourhood of Damascus to the shores of the Red Sea. Much of it was the kingdom of Aretas, king of Petra, who is mentioned in 2 Corinthians 11.32.)

Three years later (18). This must be the visit described in Acts 9.26-30, for both accounts presuppose that this was Paul's first visit to Jerusalem after his conversion. The two accounts disagree on several points—enough to show that the author of Acts did not have access to this letter, but not enough to discredit Acts altogether. Paul might well see no reason to mention here some of the more embarrassing incidents mentioned in Acts, and the author of Acts may not have known exactly what the situation was in Jerusalem three years after Paul's conversion, and exactly whom Paul did and did not see. At any rate, Paul says that his motive for the journey was to get to know Cephas. ← Paul's usual name for Simon Peter: the only exception is at 2.7 below. The exact sense of the verb here translated to get to know is disputed. It may mean, "to get information from him". The impression given, in any case, is of a private visit. Apart from Peter, Paul saw only James the Lord's brother (19), who was soon to become the leader of the Jerusalem church, and who seems here (though the Greek is as indecisive as the English) to be counted as one of the apostles. The Acts narrative certainly gives the impression of a much more public visit; but the other apostles may in fact have been away from Jerusalem at this time, and for the purpose of Paul's argument it was the church leaders who mattered. The point being emphasized by Paul and reiterated with an oath (before God I am not lying (20)), is that despite this visit he had remained entirely independent of the Jerusalem church, and that on his return to Tarsus in Cilicia (Acts 9.30) and Antioch in Syria (Acts 11.25) he remained unknown ... to Christ's congregations in Judaea (22). That is to say, whether or not the tumultuous episode of Acts 9.29 actually took place, Paul's first visit to Jerusalem was essentially (so far at least as the church leaders were concerned) a private one, and not such as to damage his claim that, in these early years, he acknowledged no dependence on the Jerusalem church.

Chapter 2.

Next, fourteen years later (1). Attempts to reconstruct the history now run into difficulties. The next visit recorded in Acts (11.30; 12.25) is the mission of Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem with an emergency contribution from Antioch 'for the relief of their fellow-Christians in Judaea' in a time of famine. Since Paul here is also clearly describing his next visit, the two should correspond, and in fact they can be made to do so without serious violence to either. The identification, however, has the somewhat unwelcome consequence that Paul's conversion must have taken place not less than 15 years (which is what, by Greek inclusive reckoning, two periods of 3 and 14 years amount to) before the famine of A.D. 46-48—i.e. only a year or so after the Crucifixion; and also that, if this letter then fails to mention the "council" of Acts 15 which has such a bearing on its subject, the most likely explanation is that it was written before the council took place (probably around A.D. 49), in which case it will be the earliest of Paul's extant letters, and will be separated by several years from the letter to the Romans, which in some ways it closely resembles. The alternative is to assume some error in the order of events in Acts, and to identify this visit to Jerusalem, as described in Galatians, with the council of Acts 15, with which indeed it has some striking resemblances. But in this case there are also serious differences between the two accounts, and it becomes difficult to understand the incident in Galatians 2.11-14 if the decision on this question recorded in Acts 15 had already been taken. Either way, complete harmonization is impossible.

There is a further difficulty presented by Paul's own account. The words was not compelled to be circumcised (3) are as ambiguous in the Greek as they are in English: it is impossible to be sure whether Titus was in fact circumcised or not. Moreover, in the next sentence, it is not quite clear whether Paul is referring to something which happened during the visit or something which happened subsequently; and the obscurity of his words has caused the further complication of a number of variants in the manuscripts (see notes [d] and [e] in the NEB).

Despite these difficulties, it is possible to see the point which Paul is making in recalling these events. Paul's gospel was 'no human invention' but something received directly 'through a revelation' (1.11-12). From the outset, it was addressed to the Gentiles, and its proclamation was to that extent independent of the mission to the Jews being conducted by the Jerusalem leaders; indeed, this gospel was given to Paul quite independently of them (this is the reason for Paul's emphasis on the unofficial nature of his first visit, 1.18-24). The climax of the argument is reached with the second visit (2.1-10). This time, Paul took with him a Greek named Titus, perhaps as a living example of what had hardly yet been seen at Jerusalem— a non-Jewish, uncircumcised Christian! (Titus, either then or subsequently, became the subject of pressure from a party within the church which could not yet conceive of a society composed of both Jews and non-Jews; who were shocked by what Paul called the liberty we enjoy in the fellowship of Christ Jesus (4); and who could see only one solution to this new problem, namely that of making all non-Jewish members acceptable to a Jewish community by having them circumcised—a solution which Paul could only call bondage.) Ilis object was to make sure that the race I had run, and was running, should not be run in vain (2)—not in the sense that anything could be wrong with his own proclamation of the gospel, for he 'received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ' (1.12); but rather (presumably) to forestall the danger of the Jerusalem church falling out of sympathy with what lie was doing, in which case their common cause would be imperilled by disunity. In the event, the Jerusalem leaders accepted the situation: they did not prolong the consultation (if that is what the difficult Greek word (6) means) but agreed on a partnership. Paul and Barnabas were entrusted with the mission to the Gentiles, while they went to the Jews (9). The only condition was that the new gentile churches should express their loyalty to Jerusalem by sending financial relief—a collection which we know Paul subsequently took very seriously (Romans 15.25-7; 2 Corinthians 8), and which he may even have begun already. ← The Greek tense is again ambiguous; see the footnote to this verse in NEB.

With this narrative, Paul has sought to establish the following points: (i) that his original call and his own special mission were received directly from God by a revelation, and not from the Jerusalem church; (ii) that for many years he worked quite independently of the Jerusalem church, most of whom had never even met him; (iii) that his visit three years after his conversion was private and exploratory only; (iv) that when he finally went to Jerusalem to coordinate his work with that of the other apostles, the legitimacy of all his previous missionary activity among the Gentiles was recognized, and he was encouraged to continue working on the same lines and with the same independence as before, with the single proviso that he should raise funds for the relief of the Christians in Jerusalem. All this is stated with great emphasis; and it can be presumed that Paul was concerned to answer a party in Galatia which questioned his right to take important decisions independently of the Jerusalem church.

Paul's mission to the Gentiles, even though it was recognized as legitimate by the whole church, nevertheless had embarrassing practical consequences. These consequences may hardly have been experienced at first in Jerusalem (where a non-Jewish Christian would have been a rarity) but presented an acute problem wherever (as in a city such as Antioch) the young church was likely to consist of both Jews and non-Jews. How could these two distinct groups be expected to form a single congregation? And in particular, how could Jews, who had been brought up to regard sitting at table with non-Jews as a serious sin, now take part in the Lord's Supper of a gentile church? Paul's own experience in such churches had convinced him that the solution was what he called the liberty we enjoy in the fellowship of Christ Jesus (4); and Peter, perhaps encouraged by his experience at the house of Cornelius (Acts 10), adopted this liberty when he visited Antioch: he was taking his meals with gentile Christians (12). But (in theory at least) there was another solution: if all non-Jewish Christians were to be circumcised, it would then be permissible for the Jewish Christians to eat with them, and the problem would disappear. This solution, that Gentiles must live like Jews (14), was seriously envisaged by a party at Jerusalem (where James was now the leader), and the arrival of some of this party at Antioch precipitated the crisis described in verses 11-14.

Paul rejected this solution outright, not merely because it would soon have been impracticable anyway, but because of his conviction that their conduct did not square with the truth of the Gospel (14). Circumcision must not be regarded merely as a matter of practical expediency in a mixed community; on the contrary, Paul saw it as an act charged with theological significance. The following chapters are a sustained attempt to alert the non-Jewish Galatians to the danger of taking this question of circumcision too lightly.

But first Paul has something to say about the proper attitude of Jewish Christians (like himself) to circumcision. ← It is possible (for there are no inverted commas in a Greek manuscript) that verses 15-21 (or some of them) are a continuation of Paul's reply to Peter. The NEB translators, along with most English versions, have rejected this possibility. In any case, Paul's remarks are addressed to Jewish Christians, real or hypothetical. We ourselves are Jews by birth (15), and therefore have been circumcised. But now, like all Christians, we too have put our faith (16), no longer in such things as circumcision (what the law demands (16)) but in Jesus Christ. Being justified is a human impossibility (this is argued in detail in Romans 3: here Paul simply adduces, as a proof from Scripture, Psalm 143.2). God has now made it possible—but not by such deeds as circumcision.

If now (17). Popular Jewish theology (as can be seen from many passages in the gospels) regarded the Gentiles as, by definition, "sinners"; and any Jews who flagrantly transgressed the law were relegated to the same category —indeed, some pious Jewish circles regarded the majority of their fellow-countrymen in Palestine as sinners. The same accusation could be made (and presumably was made) against Jews who had become Christians and were now committing such unlawful acts as taking their meals with Gentiles. If so, it would seem to follow (granted this somewhat technical meaning of "sin") that Christ is an abettor of sin (17). But this technical meaning of "sin" and "law" is now a thing of the past for the Christian. What is sin (i.e. real transgression of the law) is building up again the old system of observances, when in fact the Christian has died to law (19) by being crucified with Christ (20). To continue to believe that, after this, there is saving value (righteousness (21)) in keeping the law, would be to nullify the grace of God now revealed in Jesus Christ. What appears, in Jewish eyes, to be a "sinful" disregard of the law is in fact the new life, entered upon by dying with Christ to the law, and governed, no longer by law, but by faith in the Son of God (20).

Chapter 3.

Paul now turns to the Galatians. They have been bewitched (3), that is to say, they are evidently under a sinister kind of pressure to adopt Jewish observances (things essentially material (3), to do with keeping the ceremonial law) and have already partly yielded. Paul appeals to the most certain fact of their Christian experience: they have received the Spirit; and he asks them twice over whether this experience has been the result of keeping the law (2) or of believing the gospel message (3). This second clause, believing the gospel message, is a paraphrase. Literally, the Greek means "having faith in what you heard" (as contrasted with the keeping of the law), and it is important to keep this literal meaning in mind; for if the answer to Paul's question is "having faith" (which of course it is—the question is a rhetorical one),
then Christians are men of faith, and therefore Abraham's sons (7).

Why does Paul introduce Abraham at this point? When addressing non-Jewish Christians, he could surely have used the simpler argument that, in Christ, they had no need of Jewish ordinances such as circumcision, and therefore no need of the Abraham mythology either. But for Paul to have abandoned this mythology, and all the theology which went with it, would not have been so easy. Like every Jew, Paul regarded Abraham as the key figure in the history of mankind. Abraham was the symbol of God's concern for men, it was Abraham who embodied the proposition that God can deal with men in terms of a promise, a covenant, an assurance of salvation. All this had been expressly given to Abraham. And not merely to him: through him, to his descendants—the Jews.

So, at any rate, it seemed to the Jews. But this conclusion was hard to reconcile with the (to Paul) incontestable fact that non-Jews, by becoming Christians, had entered into at least as rich a relationship with God as the Jews had ever enjoyed. A non-Jew would probably therefore have been tempted to jettison the premises, and abandon the whole argument as irrelevant. But Paul could not jettison the premises, for they were written into the Old Testament record, which, as a Jew, he knew to be a true revelation of God's dealings with men. Instead, he chose to reinterpret the Abraham story in another way. The relevant passage is Genesis 12-17. In the course of these chapters it is repeatedly stated that God made his promise to Abraham and to his "descendants" (sperma, 'issue'), but that his descendants would inherit the promise only on condition that they were duly circumcised: "Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off" from his people" (Genesis 17.14). The meaning of these chapters seems quite clear: the promise was made only to the physical descendants of Abraham, and only to them on condition that they were circumcised. Taken literally, they could mean nothing else.

But Paul opens up a new line of interpretation altogether when he takes these texts to be referring, not to Abraham's "descendants", but to Abraham's sons (7). This harmless-looking alteration has considerable significance. A "descendant" of Abraham could only mean one who was literally of the family, that is, a Jew: but a "son" of Abraham could have a wider meaning. A common idiom in Palestine was to speak of (for instance) a "son of peace", meaning a "peaceful man". Equally it was an acceptable Greek idiom to speak of a "son of Plato", meaning a Platonic philosopher. So, a "son of Abraham" could mean: an Abraham-like man. Paul's point is this: God's promises were not made just to Abraham's physical descendants, but to sons of Abraham, that is, to any Abraham-like man.

But if physical descent does not count, what is the criterion for recognizing an Abraham-like man? Paul answers: his faith. To prove this, he takes an isolated text (a procedure which seemed less shocking to Jewish scholars of his time than it does to us) from the same chapters of Genesis: Abraham put his faith in God, and that faith was counted to him as righteousness (6) (Gen. 15.6). Paul's understanding of this verse is developed at length in Romans 4. Briefly, it may be said that he regards it as the clue to understanding Abraham. What secured for Abraham his status as "just" before God (his righteousness)? Not any outward act of obedience, but simply faith; and Abraham's true "sons" are those who, confronted by the promises of God in the form of the Gospel of Christ, also have faith. This puts an end to all superiority based on membership of the Jewish nation. The Gospel which evokes the faith of the Christian now is equivalent to the promise which evoked the faith of Abraham then—and Paul presses into the service of this interpretation another verse from the same chapters of Genesis: In you all nations shall find blessing (8) (18.18), which makes his point for him all the more cogently in that he quotes it with the usual word "tribes" replaced by nations (ethne, which is also the usual Greek word for "Gentiles"). The Jews normally took this verse to mean simply that all tribes would acknowledge that Abraham was blessed; but Paul, by a slight manipulation, turns it into a prophecy that (as he devoutly believes is already happening) the Gentiles will come to share in Abraham's blessing.

Having shown the cardinal significance of faith, Paul now goes back to his original rhetorical question and picks up the other half of it: keeping the law (2). From the Jewish point of view, obedience to the law (10) was the obvious road to salvation—and this was the course being urged upon the Galatians. But not only is reliance upon the law incompatible with faith in Christ—'if righteousness comes by law, then Christ died for nothing' (2.21)—but law itself has terrible penalties attached to it; for Scripture says (Deuteronomy 27.26). 'A curse is on all who do not persevere in doing everything that is written in the Book of the Law'; and since Paul takes it for granted I hat no one succeeds in doing all that is written in the Book of the Law, it follows that, so far as the law goes, everyone is cursed. The law can never be a means to righteousness (or "justification"), which must come, if at all, in some other way. How then does it come? The answer is given by one of Paul's favourite proof-texts from Scripture, Habakkuk 2.4: 'he shall gain life who is justified through faith' (see above on Romans 1.17). This way of faith is incompatible with the way of law; for law's emphasis is entirely on "doing" he who does this shall gain life by what he does (Leviticus 18.5) and since, as we have seen, no one ever can "do this", the only result of the law is to put a curse on everyone.

This curse was broken by Christ. According to the law (Deuteronomy 21.23) Christ's death on the cross rendered him an accursed thing; yet Christ was shown (by the resurrection) not to be accursed in God's eyes, but on the contrary righteous. Thus, by Christ, the law was discredited, and along with the law that legalistic interpretation according to which it was thought that the blessing of Abraham could be extended only to the Jews.

But here an objection could be made. Paul's case against the law had rested so far on his interpretation of the figure of Abraham. But, so far as the law was concerned, the decisive figure was surely not Abraham but Moses. The promises made to Abraham may have been only provisional: the final dispensation of God was not revealed until the law was given to Moses. Paul's answer to this objection involves a play upon the Greek word diatheke, is which normally meant will and testament (15) but which, in the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament, was used in the special sense of the covenant (17) made by God with his people. Taking the word in its usual sense of will, Paul first points out that once a will has been duly executed (15), and the testator is dead, no alteration can be made. Therefore, since God's promise to Abraham was called "a will" (or "covenant") then it could not be altered by the subsequent dispensation of the law of Moses. True, God does not die, and can hardly be thought of as making wills. But from the fact
that the same word could do duty for both, Paul infers that the testament, or covenant (17) given by God to Abraham had at least this in common with a "last will and testament" in ordinary life, that it could not be invalidated by subsequent legislation.

(The argument is interrupted by a parenthesis which seems bewildering to a modern reader, since it involves a highly technical form of argument. In the so-called "allegorical" method of interpreting Scripture, which Paul occasionally adopted (see below on 4.24), the hidden or "spiritual" meaning of a text was held to be at least as important as the literal meaning. One of the signs which was believed to indicate the presence of such a hidden meaning was a noun occurring in the singular when a plural noun might
16 have been expected (or vice versa). Now in fact the word 'issue' (16) here was perfectly intelligible as a collective description of the physical descendants of Abraham. But Paul (somewhat arbitrarily, as it seems to us) chose to regard this noun as a less natural expression than the plural, 'issues', and therefore as an indication that there was a hidden meaning. By this method of interpretation (which would have been regarded as legitimate by many Jewish scholars) he was able to declare: the ' issue' intended is Christ. The point becomes important at the end of the chapter.)

Then what of the law? Paul has been arguing that salvation depends neither on physical descent from Abraham, nor on obedience to the (subsequently enacted) law, but only on faith; and he is now ready, in the light of this, to reveal to the Galatians the true seriousness of what they would be doing if they came to accept the Jewish attitude towards the law. But first, he has to guard against an apparent implication of his argument: what of the law? It would almost seem as if the law has been by-passed altogether, and lost its whole value and function. Exactly as in the letter to the Romans (7.7-13), Paul feels the necessity to show that the law still has a purpose, and here he suggests a number of answers:

(i) It was added to make wrongdoing a legal offence (19)—a somewhat obscure sentence in the Greek, but it probably suggests one possible function for the law, that of helping to draw the line between right and wrong.

(ii) It was a temporary measure (19), now suspended, but historically significant.

(iii) It was promulgated through angels. This is not stated in the Old Testament; but that angels were present at the law-giving on Sinai was an accepted tradition in Paul's time; and this circumstance is apparently taken to indicate the subordinate place of law. Similarly, there was an intermediary—meaning, of course, Moses; and Paul again takes the mediating function of Moses (for reasons as obscure as in the case of angels) to be a sign of the law's inferiority to the new dispensation.

(iv) The law was a kind of tutor (24). In the ancient world the tutor (paidagogos) was a slave who was put in charge of his owner's children, to accompany them back and forth from school and generally to supervise their conduct. The children owed obedience to this tutor until they came of age; and Paul finds the analogy with the law so striking that he develops it further at the beginning of chapter 4.

For reasons such as these Paul is able to claim that the law has, or at least lias had, a necessary function, and is not invalidated by the new state of affairs brought about through Christ. Does the law, then, contradict the promises? No, never! (21) On the contrary, it is the very verdict passed on mankind by the law (and by Scripture which embodies the law), that men are everywhere in subjection to sin (22), which shows that the ground on which the promised blessing is given must be something quite different, namely, faith in Jesus Christ.

The whole argument can now be summed up and applied to the Galatian crisis. The traditional Jewish interpretation of 'Abraham' and 'the law' created barriers and divisions among men: only the physical descendants of Abraham—the Jews—could inherit the promises made to Abraham, and only those who acknowledged obedience to the whole of the law of Moses— that is to say, Jews and proselytes—could hope to escape the severity of (iod's judgement upon the rest of mankind. But Paul has now shown that I he true sons of Abraham (and so his real 'issue') are not sons by birth or nationality, but sons because they have a comparable faith; and equally, the law itself, by its own limitations, points to the necessity of faith. Faith is therefore the sole criterion: the old divisions and barriers have been superseded. Any attempt to re-create them (for instance, by adopting the essentially divisive and exclusive rite of circumcision, as the Galatians were showing signs of doing) is a denial of this new unity in faith, this union (27) with Christ into which they have been baptized (the garment metaphor (26) belongs to the language of baptism). For you are all (28) (and this all is very emphatic, and is placed twice over at the beginning of the sentence in the Greek) you are all sons of God ... you are all one person in Christ Jesus. The old distinction between Jew and Greek has been abolished—indeed, as if this were not enough, Paul enlarges on his theme far beyond the point required by the argument: all distinctions, whether social (slave and freeman) or even natural (male and female), are abolished by this new unity in Christ.

One further point rounds off the argument. Paul has demonstrated earlier (by some highly technical reasoning) that the phrase, Abraham's 'issue', has a hidden meaning, namely 'Christ'. But Christians are all one person in Christ (29). Therefore they too are the true 'issue' of Abraham to which the promise was made.

Chapter 4.

The incompatibility of this new faith with any kind of reliance upon the law can be illustrated still further. Paul has already talked of the law as a kind of tutor (3.24). He now picks the idea up again. Before Christ we were "minors", and so (since we were under a tutor) no better off than a slave (1). But this slavery can take different forms. The Jews' slavery was obvious enough: it was slavery to the law. But non-Jews also were in slavery; and Paul is writing for them when he says, We were slaves to the elemental spirits of the universe (3), ← The meaning of this phrase is a puzzle. The argument would run most simply (since the Jewish law would then be the subject throughout) if the second alternative translation in the NEB footnote could be adopted, "elementary ideas belonging to this world", a phrase which could at least include the ordinances of the law. But the Greek words mean literally "elements of the natural world" (the first alternative translation), a scientific or philosophical term for the basic constituents of the physical universe, also used sometimes to refer to the stars. Enlightened minds would hardly have thought of these as imposing slavery; but popular belief may well (and we have evidence for this at a later period) have regarded these "elements" as the agents of spiritual or demonic powers to which mankind is subject. It is assumed here that Paul's thought embraces two distinct kinds of "slavery", both of which are brought to an end by Christ: slavery to the law, and slavery to superstition. that is, to those elements of pseudo-philosophy, astrology or even sheer superstition which governed the lives of all but the most enlightened, and from which they needed the release offered by the coming of Christ as surely as did the subjects of the law (5).

And if the reality of this release needs further proof, an argument is to hand from Christian experience. If you find that your prayer (or rather, the prayer of the Spirit praying within you) is addressed to God as 'Abba' (6) (an intimate word for 'Father'), then this proves that you are God's son, and if a son, then ... an heir, due for release from all tutorship and all dominion from outside. There is a fuller treatment of this theme in Romans 8.14-17.

In which case—how can you turn back? (9) The pagan's submission to superstitious beliefs (beings which in their nature are no gods (8) or beggarly spirits of the elements (9)) is equivalent to the practical obligations imposed by the synagogue to keep special days and months and seasons and years (10) (the Sabbaths, new moons and holy days of Jewish observance). Even if the Galatians' previous servitude was of the former kind, their present intention to adopt Jewish observances is no advance, but merely a relapse into similar service all over again (9). If they persevere, they will nullify their newly obtained freedom, and all Paul's pains will be labour lost (11).

Put yourselves in my place (12). The letter now becomes more personal, and the passage is obscure mainly because we do not know enough of the circumstances to be able to understand the allusions. In addition, the Greek is particularly difficult and ambiguous. Even the first words raise a question. Put
yourselves in my place ... for I have put myself in yours
. Literally, the Greek means, "Become as I am, for I too as you". The NEB interpretation may be right; but equally Paul may be making the same point here as in 1 Corinthians 9.22 ('I have become everything in turn to men of every sort'): just as he, Paul, has exercised the freedom to behave like a non-Jew ("I as you"), so the Galatian Christians should, with the same freedom, resist the pressure being put upon them to behave like Jews. There follows a reference to Paul's previous visit (and again, as the footnotes show, the Greek is too ambiguous for us to be sure which visit he means, or how many visits there had been). Evidently Paul had been forced by an illness to abandon some more ambitious journey and to preach to the Galatians instead; but his illness had not been held against him, either (as appears to have happened at Corinth, see above, p. 581) as a means of discrediting the gospel, or as a pretext for withholding hospitality. On the contrary, their welcome had been cordial, and contrasted sharply with the present relations between them, which Paul seems to have recently rendered even more strained by being frank with them (16).

There follows a brief reference to the party which is putting pressure on the Galatians—presumably the advocates of greater allegiance to the synagogue; but it is impossible to be sure exactly what Paul is accusing them of here. Their approaches have been deceitful, and advantage may have been taken of Paul's absence; and their success is sufficient for Paul to be at his wits' end (20). That is about as much of the picture as we are allowed to see.

At any rate, the Galatian Christians have already gone some way towards subjecting themselves to the Mosaic law (you who are so anxious to be under law (21)), and Paul now mounts a direct attack on this attitude out of the Law itself (for the Law was the correct name for the whole of the first five books of the Old Testament). The passage referred to consists of those chapters in Genesis (16-21) which tell the story of Abraham having children, first by his slave, Hagar, and then (late in life, and so through God's promise (23)) by his free-born wife, Sarah. Normally, this story was taken quite straightforwardly: the Jews regarded themselves as descended from Abraham and Sarah, and despised the tribes supposed to be descended from Abraham's union with Hagar. But Paul turns this usual interpretation upside down, and makes the Jews the descendants of Hagar, the Christians the descendants of Sarah.

He achieves this feat by treating the story as an allegory (24), that is to say, by taking each character in it as a symbol of something else. The key to this symbolism is the antithesis, slavery: freedom. Hagar was a slave woman, and this made her appropriate to symbolize the law, and the covenant given with it on Sinai, which (as the argument of chapter 4 has shown) was a kind of slavery; and also the Jerusalem of today (25), which, either because it was under Roman occupation (this would be one of Paul's rare political allusions), or else because it was still governed in the main by the Mosaic law, was also in slavery. All three are linked by the common tie of slavery: they belong "in the same column" (a metaphor which underlies the Greek word translated represents in verse 25). On the other side stands, first, Sarah (the free woman (26)); secondly, the new covenant of freedom (which Paul does not explicitly mention, but his reference to two covenants (24) shows that he has it in mind); and, thirdly, the heavenly Jerusalem (26), which can be shown to belong to this column by the fact that Isaiah, when using language entirely appropriate to a childless wife such as Sarah (54.1), was in fact prophesying a new Jerusalem of the future (54.11-12). So two columns emerge:

slavery freedom
Hagar Sarah
Sinai: covenant of the law new covenant
Jerusalem today New Jerusalem

Thus, by an allegorical interpretation of Scripture (a method Paul seldom used, but which was brought to a fine art, for example by Philo of Alexandria), Paul finds further support for the conclusion reached in chapter 3. The true sons of Abraham are those who live under the new covenant of faith and are members of the new Jerusalem; the Jews, by comparison, are still labouring under the slavery of the law, and are no better off than the "Hagarenes" and other tribes supposedly descended from Hagar.

Paul scores one further point from the same narrative in Genesis, though this time by a more direct application of the biblical text. The sequel of God's miraculous promise to Sarah was the birth of a son, Isaac, who, having been born as the result of a promise (28) rather than in the normal course of nature, could be called (since "promise" and "spirit" belong closely together in Paul's mind) the spiritual son (29) as opposed to Hagar's son, the natural-born son. Now our existing texts of Genesis (21.9) do not say that Hagar's son persecuted the boy Isaac; they say that he "played with him" or "laughed at him". But the Hebrew word is a little obscure, and it seems that Jewish scholars were becoming accustomed to taking the word to mean "persecuted", which then gives more point to Sarah's request to Abraham which follows in Genesis: 'Drive out the slave-woman and her son ...' (30) And this gives Paul one more proof that he is correct in identifying the Christians with the descendants of Sarah, the Jews with those of Hagar; for just as Hagar's son persecuted Isaac, so the Jews are now persecuting the Christians. You see then, my brothers ... our mother is the free woman (31). The correspondence has been established by two separate arguments. Christ set us free (5.1), and so placed us in the "freedom" column. The moral is inescapable: refuse to be tied to the yoke of slavery again.

Chapter 5.

But possibly the Galatians did not think of it as "slavery" at all. To them, the issue may have seemed to be one merely of keeping out of trouble by agreeing to certain conditions. Even if these conditions did include the irksome rite of circumcision, they were still only binding themselves to certain outward observances. They could still hold their Christian beliefs as before, and it would surely be a gross exaggeration to call this slavery.

But if this is what they thought, they had been grievously (perhaps even deliberately) misinformed. The real situation was that every man who receives circumcision is under obligation to keep the entire law (3). The circumcised proselyte was as much subject to every detail of legal observance as was the born Jew, so that everything said above about the 'slavery' of the law would apply to the Galatians, if they were circumcised, just as much as to the Jews—and Paul proceeds, in a few emphatic sentences (4-6), to recapitulate the great argument of chapter 3.

Paul has been addressing the whole congregation; but the blame for the present state of affairs did not necessarily rest with all of them. Proverbially ('a little leaven ...' (9)) even one man might be sufficient to "unsettle their 9 minds", and he would be the one who ultimately must bear God's judgement (10). As for the suggestion (we assume it was made by his opponents) that Paul himself was still advocating circumcision (11): something in Paul's past may have given colour to the accusation (such as the circumcision of Timothy recorded in Acts 16.3), but it could be scotched by a simple observation of fact. It was being claimed by some of the Galatians (see below on 6.12) that accepting circumcision was a way of "escaping persecution"—presumably persecution from the Jews. But Paul was still persecuted, his preaching was still a stumbling-block (as he describes it himself in 1 Corinthians 1.23). Evidently, then, he could not be advocating circumcision now, even if he had In fact urged it in one particular case in the past.

You, my friends, were called to be free men (13). This is not a general statement about the human race, like "Man is born to be free". It refers to a particular moment of liberation. The freeing of slaves was a familiar feature of Paul's world. It was often done, both by Jews and pagans, under the guise of a religious act: the ransom money was paid to the owner through the treasury of the temple or the synagogue, so that it could be said that God had "bought" (or called, as here) a slave into freedom. This procedure offered a ready analogy to Christian experience. In so far as it was accepted that living under the law (or, for a pagan, under the 'elemental spirits') was a kind of slavery, then the liberation which had been gained through Christ could aptly be likened to a slave's acquisition of freedom. ← This metaphor may also underlie 5.1: 'Christ set us free, to be free men.' Also perhaps 3.13: 'Christ bought us freedom.'

But the use of this metaphor also points to a difficulty. The Jews thought of their law as their one bulwark against the general immorality of the pagan world; and the Christians to whom Paul was writing had been for some time associated with the synagogue and so had come to accept the standards of moral behaviour which the law imposed on them. But now, remove the restraint of the law, and what was to prevent these people from immediately relapsing into their immoral ways? The very frequency with which Paul had to utter warnings about this (I warn you, as I warned you before (21)) suggests that such accusations, if they were made from the Jewish side, were not without foundation. Paul may have been right in theory when he argued that observance of the law had no value; but morally, the position was a dangerous one. And so now, as a consequence of his whole argument, he has to turn his attention to moral questions. Do not turn your freedom into licence for your lower nature(13).

If, for the Christian, the law was now superseded, what was there to take its place? What was there now to guide behaviour and enforce moral standards? Paul has two answers to this. The first is very brief, and somewhat paradoxical. The old slavery has gone, and been replaced by ... another slavery! The new slavery is to one another in love—and this is nothing other than a summing up of the whole law. The same point is made more fully in Romans 13.8-10.

The second answer is more far-reaching. It presupposes an analysis of human conduct in terms of the Spirit and the lower nature (the "flesh") which is worked out at greater length in Romans 7 (see above p. 521). This analysis is a matter of faith rather than psychology, for the Spirit is not as it were a source of inspiration which anyone can draw on at will, but is a gift of God directly dependent upon the acknowledgement of Jesus as Lord. Once received, it becomes a new and dominant factor in moral conduct, and works against the desires of your lower nature. It offers, in fact, an empirical answer to the question, what guide and motive in moral conduct will take the place of the now obsolete law?

Lists of virtues and vices were a standard rhetorical device in the ancient world, and we possess many examples of them, both serious and flippant. We should probably not look in these verses for any distinctively Christian moral insight: Paul's list can be paralleled from both pagan and Jewish sources, and indeed these show that he drew on both. What is distinctive is the source of these virtues: they are the harvest (or "fruit" (22)) of the Spirit—that is to say, not the result of high moral aspirations or of strict legal discipline, but a consequence of accepting the new guidance and dynamic which is now available to those who belong to Christ (24), who have crucified the lower nature, and who find themselves in the grip of a new kind of motivation altogether. This view of the Spirit seems to be Paul's own. Whereas (for instance in Acts) the Spirit is on the whole the source of supernatural guidance, prophecy, ecstatic utterance or other somewhat exceptional powers, here it is seen as responsible for much less sensational and more ordinary qualities; it is indeed the distinctive motivation for the whole of the Christian's moral conduct. The qualities and excellences which flow from it make ordinary civil restraints superfluous: There is no law dealing with such things as these (23).

Chapter 6.

The lists of vices and virtues are followed by some specific moral instructions. Again, we should probably not expect them all to be distinctively Christian. Several of these somewhat jerky sentences are known to be proverbs (a man reaps what he sows, for instance (7)), and others have a proverbial ring; and verse 6 simply reiterates a principle which seems to have been generally accepted in the early church (as elsewhere), that teachers should be paid. Paul is not working out a new moral standard; he is recommending an already accepted one, but with this difference: the motivation is to be quite new—once again, the Spirit (8).

You see these big letters? (11) The clearest evidence about the mechanics of Paul's correspondence comes in 2 Thessalonians 3.17. Like other letter-writers, such as Cicero and Augustine, he seems usually to have dictated his letters and then added a greeting in his own hand (which was perhaps strikingly large). This time, he adds, not so much a greeting, as a final urgent appeal, in which he drops the veiled and tactful manner of the rest of the letter and comes directly to the point, thus allowing us to gain a clearer glimpse of the danger threatening the Galatian church than any we have had up to now.

At last he names his opponents: they were those who do receive circumcision (13) that is to say, not Jews (who would have been circumcised at birth), but Gentiles who had yielded to Jewish pressure and had only recently been circumcised. ← It would of course greatly simplify the argument if Paul's opponents were in fact Christian Jews; but the force of the Greek participle, both here and at 5.3, is only faithfully rendered by a phrase like "those who receive circumcision", that is, non-Jews who are becoming proselytes by being circumcised. Even they, Paul argues, had still not realized the full implications of their action, and that it entailed a thoroughgoing obligation to observe every article of the law (5.3). Their only object had been to escape persecution for the cross of Christ (12), which they hoped apparently to achieve if they could satisfy the local Jewish community both by receiving circumcision themselves and by trying to force circumcision on their fellow-Christians (16). If they succeeded, the church would no longer present to the synagogue the spectacle of a dissident and supposedly lawless group, but a fair outward and bodily show of men who had accepted an irrevocable and outward act of allegiance to the Jews, even while professing their Christian beliefs. Here would be something for them to boast of! (13)

The word boast ← The Greek word is difficult to translate. See above on 2 Corinthians 1.12. recalls Paul to one of his deepest theological convictions. A Christian has no ground for boasting save the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (14). None of the old distinctions and observances retains any ultimate validity. 'There is no such thing as Jew and Greek' (3.28): the only thing that counts is new creation!

And so Paul's greeting to this torn and harassed church is a partial one. His blessing (the usual Jewish one of peace and mercy (16)) can only be upon those who take this principle for their guide, and who thereby qualify, not as the outward, but as the true, Israel of God.

The marks on Paul's body (17) could mean almost any distinctive scar. The meanings of the Greek word include a soldier's tattoo, a leopard's spots, and a brand burnt on the skin of a runaway slave. We shall probably never know whether Paul meant the scars of his labours (vividly described in 2 Corinthians 11.23-7), the "brand" of his Christian baptism, or a merely figurative and internal scar; but whatever he meant, he probably intended it to be understood as the antithesis of that all-too-physical mark which his opponents were advocating, and which indeed was the practical issue to which the whole letter is devoted: circumcision.