The Letter of Paul to the Galatians Online Commentary (16)

In the first entry in the Bible Junkies Online Commentary on Galatians, I discussed introductory matters concerning the founding of the churches to the Galatians, the situation when Paul wrote to them, when the letter might have been written and the type of letters which Paul wrote, based on the common Greco-Roman letters of his day. In the second post, I considered the basic content and breakdown of a Pauline letter. I noted the major sections of the formal letter structure and, in the context of each section, outlined the theological and ethical (as well as other) concerns of Paul, including some Greek words which will be examined more fully as we continue with the commentary. In the third entry, I looked at the salutation, which is long for Paul’s corpus (only Romans 1:1-7 is longer) and briefly commented on the lack of a Thanksgiving, the only letter of Paul’s which does not have one. The fourth entry discussed the opening of the body of the letter, a significant part of the letter especially in light of the absence of a Thanksgiving. In the fifth entry, I examined the beginning of the opening of the body of the letter, in which Paul describes his background in Judaism and I placed this in the context of Judaism in the Hellenistic period. In the sixth post in the online commentary, I continued to look at Paul’s biographical sketch of his life, this concerning his earliest life as a Christian. In the seventh post, I examined what Paul says about his subsequent visit to Jerusalem to see the apostles and the Church in Jerusalem. In the eighth entry, Paul confronts Cephas about his hypocrisy in Antioch. 

The ninth blog post started to examine the theological argument in one of Paul’s most important and complex theological letters. In the tenth entry, Paul makes an emotional appeal to the Galatians based on their past religious experiences and their relationship with Paul. In the eleventh chapter in the series, Paul began to examine Abraham in light of his faith. The twelfth blog post continued Paul’s examination of Abraham, but also claims that Christ “redeemed” his followers from the “curse” of the Law.  In the thirteenth study in the Galatians online commentary, we looked at Paul’s claim that God’s promises were to Abraham and his “offspring,” with a twist on the meaning of “offspring.” The fourteenth entry examined Paul’s question, in light of his claims about the law, as to why God gave the law. The fifteenth chapter in this commentary examines the function of the law, while this, the sixteenth post, studies how the members of the Church are heirs to the promise.

Advertisement

 

4. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians  

d) Body of the Letter (1:13-6:10):

iv) Theological Teaching (2:15-5:12): Why then the law? (3:25-29) part 3. 

25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise. (NRSV)

In the previous entry, Paul focused on how the law functioned in fulfilling its purpose and whether the law was opposed to God’s promises. Paul’s explanation settled on the image of the paidagôgos whose task was to oversee a boy prior to his reaching maturity, usually around the age of 17.  Is the image of the paidagôgos a negative or positive image with respect to the law?

This depends upon the angle from which one examines Paul’s image and maintaining a view of the limited function of the law in Paul’s thought. Certainly, from the point of view of first century Jews, and those who have followed the Torah since then, Paul’s view of the Law as having a sort of built in obsolescence with the coming of Jesus would be negative. If one does not accept Jesus as the Messiah, or rejects that the coming of the Messiah indicates the end of the Law, it would be difficult to accept that Paul’s view has a positive function. Within the Church, however, Paul’s view is intended to indicate that the Law of Moses had a positive, but chronologically and functionally limited, purpose.

The role of the paidagôgos in the Greco-Roman world was accepted and valuable for those families which were able to employ someone, usually a slave, for this purpose. Sometimes the paidagôgos was mocked in Greco-Roman literature as a slave who had limited abilities and was able to perform no other task, but the goal of protecting a boy from harm and unwanted attention, sometimes sexual attention, and making certain they made it to school and performed their lessons was essential. The paidagôgos was also able to discipline the boy, even though the boy would ultimately be freed from the authority of the paidagôgos and have authority and, frankly, ownership, over him when he reached the age of majority.

For the boy chafing under the rule of the paidagôgos, especially one reaching the end of his tenure under the authority of the paidagôgos as a teenager, it is hard not to think that freedom from the authority of the slave was a wonderful thing! Greco-Roman authors speak of teenage boys, newly released from the authority of the paidagôgos, marauding on the streets and slyly warn to keep one’s family safely locked away. This image of the dangers of newly acquired freedom will also play a role in Paul’s warnings for those in the Church later in the letter.

To begin, though, Paul will simply indicate that freedom has been gained with the coming of Christ. Paul writes in Galatians 3:25-26, “But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian (paidagôgos), for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.” Faith, the coming of Christ, has led in Paul’s equation to (a spiritual) maturity, which is when the paidagogos was relieved of his duties. Members of the Church are now children of God (literally “sons of God”) which speaks of belonging in the family, perhaps through adoption or perhaps through spiritual union with Christ. There is certainly a mystical component to being “in Christ Jesus,” gained through faith and baptism, but there is no question that the familial imagery is dominant here and in combination with the previous image of being children of Abraham in the covenant, “children of God” refers to becoming full members of God’s family upon reaching spiritual maturity. Christians are adopted into the family of God (see also Romans 8:14-17).

Paul continues the baptismal and familial imagery in the next three verses. He writes, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:27-29).  To be “baptized into Christ” is to be “clothed with Christ” and scholars argue whether this is a comment on a baptismal garment which new members of the Church would wear. Fitzmyer even wondered whether being “clothed with Christ” could have been influenced by the mystery religions in which an initiate might put on the god’s robes (Fitzmyer, NJBC,787). It certainly fits, though, with the language of adoption too, if the newly baptized are incorporated into the new family of God, heirs to the promises as noted earlier. As Galatians 3:29 will go on to state,“And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise.”

To be an heir is not to be a slave, but to be a full member of the family. Though Christ himself, according to Paul, is the only “offspring,” by incorporation into Christ, one becomes a brother or sister in the family. In the family, it seems, previous social distinctions are washed away, at least theoretically, as “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Whatever the continuing social realities outside of the Church, or even within the Church at a human level, Paul insists that every baptized member of the Church is an equal spiritual heir.

Galatians 3:28 could certainly have been a baptismal formula (see 1 Corinthians 12:13 and Colossians 3:11), but it is the only formula which includes a sort of erasure of gender distinction, which some scholars claim suggests Genesis 1:27 and a return to original or new creation. If Christians are a new creation, as Paul will argue later in this letter and elsewhere (Galatians 6:15; 2 Corinthians 5:17), it seems social, gender and ethnic differences are to meld into a familial unity. The implications of such familial and spiritual unity in the Church, though, did not seem to have social or political ramifications, at least not in Paul’s day. How we ought to understand and interpret this passage, though, it seems is still open for discussion. While Paul certainly understands spiritual equality to be a part of the spiritual inheritance of the promise, how much further ought this to be understood in the life of the Church? After all, everyone is now an “offspring” of the promise.

Offspring, which Paul insisted should be read as a singular noun  (Galatians 3:16-18), now is understood, as noted above, to include the brothers and sisters of Christ who have “put” Christ on and have been baptized corporately “into Christ.” “If you belong to Christ,” Paul says, “then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29). The corporate language is taken over from the covenant with Abraham, but now reflects those who have faith in Christ, who are “heirs” and part of the family and no longer children under a paidagogos. That is, earlier Paul had rejected a corporate reading of “offspring” as referring to the physical descendants of Abraham and claimed it referred only to Christ, but now it is extended to include through Jesus the spiritual heirs. The New Oxford Annotated Bible states, however, that “Christ alone is Abraham’s offspring…but now includes all those united in baptism with him” (Sheila Briggs, 316 NT). This seems incorrect, though, since Paul states clearly that “you are Abraham's offspring,” plural you, “heirs,” plural heirs (klêronomoi), “according to the promise.” After claiming that there was only one “heir” of Abraham, Jesus Christ, Paul has now stated that in fact, there are many adopted heirs through Jesus Christ. The offspring are once again plural, they just enter the family in a new way.

 

Next entry, Paul continues to discuss the heirs.

John W. Martens

I invite you to follow me on Twitter @Biblejunkies

I encourage you to “Like” Biblejunkies on Facebook.

This entry is cross-posted at Biblejunkies

 

 

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.

Advertisement

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

Homeless people are seen in Washington June 22. Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Fla., chair of the U.S. bishops' domestic policy committee, released a statement Nov. 17 proclaiming that the House of Representatives "ignored impacts to the poor and families" in passing the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act the previous day. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)
The United States is thwarting the advancement of millions of its citizens, a UN rapporteur says.
Kevin ClarkeDecember 16, 2017
Why not tax individuals for what they take out of society instead of what they contribute?
Paul D. McNelis, S.J.December 15, 2017
Pope Francis will renew the mandate of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors for another three years, informed sources told America this week.
Gerard O’ConnellDecember 15, 2017
Worshippers recite the Lord's Prayer during Mass at Corpus Christi Church in Mineola, N.Y., on Oct. 13. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz, Long Island Catholic)
Making ancient Scripture sensible in contemporary languages will always prove a hazard-heavy challenge.
Kevin ClarkeDecember 15, 2017