Epistles of Thomas

November 13, 2008

Galatians 4-6

Filed under: New Testament — Thomas @ 10:20

In chapter four, Paul continues his explanation about life in the Spirit compared to their former life. Now that Christ has come and died under the Law, people have moved from the realm of the elemental spiritual forces of this world to the realm of Holy Spirit. Paul warns them of the consequences of not living in that reality and then makes an analogy based on the OT story of Hagar and Sarah. He expressly says that he is taking things figuratively as they represent the two covenants. His point is this: “At that time the son born by human effort persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now” (4:29). If they insist on “being Jewish” by following the Law then in actual fact they are identifying with Ishmael, the son who was not part of the promise of God. All Jews identify with Isaac rather than Ishmael (with whom, in reaction, Muslims now often identify). Paul’s opponents would immediately be brought up short because they are trying to be more Jewish when in fact they are becoming un-Jewish. Since World War II there has been a lot of talk about Paul being anti-Semitic (anti-Jewish) but Paul would never have considered himself to be against the Jews or Jewish religion by advocating for the salvation of Gentiles. He saw the inclusion of Gentiles as the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham and as being necessary. He would, in fact, consider himself more Jewish than his opponents who sought to make Gentiles into Jews through circumcision, special days and months and seasons and years. He recognises that to be God’s chosen people (Jewish) is to be descended from Abraham to whom the promise was given. However, to be descended from Abraham is to be descended from his seed, “meaning one person who is Christ” (3:16). Those who do not identify with Christ are not members of the people of promise. Previously, the chosen people had been identified by their possession of the Law (although not necessarily their obedience to it). Now the chosen people are identified by their possession of the Spirit.

Paul beings chapter five by detailing exactly what the problem is, and why it is a problem. He then defines what it means to be a member of the chosen people, those who have received the inheritance who is Holy Spirit. Some commentators have seen chapters five and six as a departure into ethics when they are actually an extension of what he has been saying throughout. If the Galatians continue without the Spirit or reject the Spirit they will live under the power of sin, which he defines in 5:19-21. He then defines what it means to have the Spirit, something exemplified by his fruit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (5:22-23). Note that there is one “fruit,” Christians do not receive only one of these elements but all of them. This is different than the gifts of the Spirit, which are limited in order that together we might build up the body (1 Cor 12:12-31). The elements of the one fruit are available to all. The Spirit has made us a new creation and we live out his fruit in a community of fruit-bearers. “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation” (6:15).


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