Paul’s View of the Law: Galatians (Conclusion)

Galatians 6:11-18 represents the conclusion of the letter (the Epistolary Postscript), originally in Paul’s own handwriting (v. 11).

Postscript (Galatians 6:11-18)

The Epistolary Postscript may be divided as follows:

    • Verse 11—Introductory notice
    • Verses 12-17—The conclusion (peroratio)
    • Verse 18—Benediction

In classical rhetoric the peroratio is used primarily to sum up the essential arguments and points presented during the speech (or, in this case, the letter), referred to as the enumeratio or recapitulatio (cf. Betz, Galatians, pp. 312-3). Since Paul recapitulates much of what he has already stated—and which has already been discussed in the previous articles and notes in this series—I will treat the relevant statements in vv. 12-17 rather briefly, before proceeding to several concluding points regarding Paul’s “View of the Law in Galatians”.

Verses 12-13—Here Paul engages in a sharp polemic (indignatio) against his opponents, putting them in a bad light for the Galatians. He returns to the causa of the letter (i.e. his reason for writing): that these Jewish Christians are attempting to compel (or at least influence) the Gentile Galatians to become circumcised (and to observe the Torah). The claims Paul makes here may be summarized thus:

    • Their motivation in urging/demanding circumcision is deceptive and not honorable (v. 12, 13b):
      • They wish to have a nice appearance (i.e. look good in people’s eyes) “in the flesh” [e)n sarki/]
      • They want to avoid being persecuted for the true Gospel (“for the cross of Christ”)
      • They want to be able to “boast” [kauxa/omai] “in the flesh” [e)n th=| sarki/] of the Galatians
    • They (“the ones circumcized”) do not actually keep the Law themselves (v. 13a)

Note the two-fold use of the expression “in the flesh”, in light of Paul’s use of “flesh” (sa/rc) throughout Galatians and in the rest of his letters. There is a bit of wordplay involved—they want to be accepted and admired in a fleshly (that is, carnal/worldly), rather than spiritual, manner, according to:

    1. Their own flesh—in their external, superficial (and self-centered) approach to religion
    2. In the Galatians‘ flesh—by the adoption of the Jewish law and ritual, without properly understanding the significance and consequences of doing so

Some critical commentators have seriously questioned whether Paul is fairly (and accurately) representing the position and motivation of his opponents. While some polemical distortion may be involved, there is also, on objective grounds, a believable kernel of historical truth, especially with regard to the idea that fear of persecution (from fellow Jews) was a motivating factor. That Paul, and other early missionaries, at times, endured severe hostility and persecution is indicated throughout his letters, as well as the narratives in the book of Acts. Consider also how, according to Paul, social and religious pressure from the presence of prominent representatives of the Jerusalem Church was enough to influence even stalwart apostles such as Peter and Barnabas (Gal 2:11-14). The claim in v. 13—that his (Jewish Christian) opponents advocating Torah observance do not actually keep the Law themselves—is more difficult to judge.

Verse 14—The centrality of Christ—and, in particular, of his death (the “cross of Christ”)—is expressed in this verse in a manner similar to other passages in Galatians (Gal 1:4; 3:1, 13; 5:11, 24), and especially Gal 2:19ff. For other references in Paul’s letters, see 1 Cor 1:17-18, 23; 2:2, and also 1 Cor 1:13; 2 Cor 13:4; Rom 6:6; Phil 2:8; 3:18; Col 1:20; 2:14; Eph 2:16. Paul contrasts his boasting (in the cross of Christ) with that of his opponents (above). His statement that “the world has been put to the stake [i.e. crucified] to me, and I to the world” closely echoes those earlier in Gal 2:19; 5:24, and is, naturally enough, governed by the prepositional phrase “through Christ Jesus”.

Verse 15—Paul comes one last time to the cause, or reason for his writing to the Galatians—the question of whether believers in Christ ought to be circumcised (and observe the Torah). It is also the last major doctrinal statement of the letters. Because of its importance, it will be discussed—along with the parallel formulations in Gal 5:6 and 1 Cor 7:19—in a separate note.

Verse 16—Here Paul offers a conditional blessing; there are two phrases which should be examined:

    • o%soi tw=| kano/ni tou/tw| stoixh/sousin, “as (many) as walk in line by this (measuring) rod”—Paul uses the same verb (stoixe/w) as in Gal 5:25 (“walk in line in/by the Spirit”); the noun kanw/n (used only by Paul in the New Testament, here and in 2 Cor 10:13-16), indicates a (straight) measuring line or rod (“reed”), or, more abstractly, a boundary, rule, and the like. The “rule” he refers to is the statement in verse 15, though doubtless Paul would apply it to the entire teaching and line of argument in the letter as well.
    • e)pi\ to\n  )Israh\l tou= qeou=, “upon the Yisrael {Israel} of God”—this expression has proven most difficult for commentators, representing a crux interpretum, especially with regard to the relationship between Christian and Jewish identity in Paul’s writings. It will be discussed, in some detail, in a separate note.

Verse 17—In this last verse of the section, Paul makes a final appeal to his own experience (his suffering) as a missionary for Christ. This may be referred to under the rhetorical category of conquestio, a statement intended to arouse pity in the audience (cf. Betz, Galatians, p. 313). The key phrase here is Paul’s declaration, which he gives as the reason why no one should be trying to oppose or disturb his work: “for I bear in my (own) body the stigmata of Yeshua”. A sti/gma (stígma, pl. stigmáta) was a visible mark, here probably with the connotation of the piercing or branding done to a slave or prisoner. Paul is likely referring, in a concrete sense, to the scars on his body as a result of being whipped; but, no doubt, he means it in the overall context of his labors and sufferings as a missionary for Christ—see esp. 2 Cor 11:23-33 and the narratives in Acts. It is also a subtle way of emphasizing again his personal (apostolic) authority, concluding, as he began in 1:1, with a motif that runs through the entire letter.

Concluding Notes

Having concluded this study of Paul’s View of the Law in Galatians, it may be helpful to summarize the key points of emphasis and arguments made in the letter:

  • Paul’s status as an apostle, along with the (Gospel) message he proclaims, comes directly from God and Christ by way of revelation—this is contrasted with the authority of the prominent Jewish Christians of the Jerusalem Church (including Peter), and, especially, with the “false” Gospel of his (Jewish-Christian) opponents.
  • Already at the ‘Jerusalem Council’, Paul’s missionary approach to the Gentiles was accepted and affirmed by other Jewish Christian believers (and leaders in the Church)—a fundamental tenet of this approach for Paul was that (Gentile) believers should not be required to be circumcised or to observe all the commands of the Old Testament/Jewish Law (Torah).
  • Observance of the Law was not required in order for believers to be accepted (made/declared just, or righteous) by God and saved from the coming Judgment; quite the opposite!—justification comes through trust/faith in Christ, and not by observing the Law (“works of Law”).
  • Beyond this, believers in Christ are entirely free from the Old Testament/Jewish Law—this is understood by Paul primarily by way of identification with (and participation in) the death (crucifixion) of Christ. Understood spiritually, and realized symbolically through the (initiatory) rite of Baptism, believers die to the old, and live in the new.
  • By various arguments, Paul establishes that the Law was only temporary, and in force only until the coming of Christ.
  • The purpose of the Law during this time was to hold people in a kind of bondage, or slavery, primarily by making manifest the power of sin. Freedom from the Law is closely connected to freedom from the enslaving power of sin (a dynamic described more extensively in Romans).
  • The freedom of believers is defined fundamentally in terms of sonship—of being sons (children) of God and heirs of the promise and blessing of God. This promise (using the example of Abraham/Isaac from Scripture) is prior to, and separate from, the Law. The promise relates both to justification (by faith/trust) and receiving the (Holy) Spirit.
  • The old covenant and promise to Israel is fulfilled decisively in believers—a new identity (“in Christ”) is established, separate from the old Israelite/Jewish identity tied to circumcision and observance of the Torah.
  • The marks of this new identity—as distinct from circumcision and the Torah—are three: trust/faith, the Spirit, and love.
  • Love—understood primarily in terms of sacrificial, mutual love between believers—is the only “Law” which Christians must observe (the “love-command” being the fulfillment of the entire Law); it may be referred to as “the Law of Christ”.
  • Proper religious and moral/ethical behavior is established by the work and guidance of the Spirit, and not by observing the commands, etc. of the Torah. These two guiding principles: (1) walking in/by the Spirit, and (2) the “love command”, take the place of the Torah for believers.
  • The fundamental principle of Christian freedom (from the Law) in Christ applies to both Jewish and Gentile believers alike. However, it should be noted that Paul does not deal much in the letter with how this plays out for Jewish Christians.

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