2 Ἴδε ἐγὼ Παῦλος λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι ἐὰν περιτέμνησθε, Χριστὸς ὑμᾶς οὐδὲν ὠφελήσει. 3 μαρτύρομαι δὲ πάλιν παντὶ ἀνθρώπῳ περιτεμνομένῳ ὅτι ὀφειλέτης ἐστὶν ὅλον τὸν νόμον ποιῆσαι. 4 κατηργήθητε ἀπὸ Χριστοῦ, οἵτινες ἐν νόμῳ δικαιοῦσθε, τῆς χάριτος ἐξεπέσατε. 5 ἡμεῖς γὰρ πνεύματι ἐκ πίστεως ἐλπίδα δικαιοσύνης ἀπεκδεχόμεθα. 6 ἐν γὰρ Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ οὔτε περιτομή τι ἰσχύει οὔτε ἀκροβυστία ἀλλὰ πίστις διʼ ἀγάπης ἐνεργουμένη.
7 Ἐτρέχετε καλῶς· τίς ὑμᾶς ἐνέκοψεν [τῇ] ἀληθείᾳ μὴ πείθεσθαι; 8 ἡ πεισμονὴ οὐκ ἐκ τοῦ καλοῦντος ὑμᾶς. 9 μικρὰ ζύμη ὅλον τὸ φύραμα ζυμοῖ. 10 ἐγὼ πέποιθα εἰς ὑμᾶς ἐν κυρίῳ ὅτι οὐδὲν ἄλλο φρονήσετε· ὁ δὲ ταράσσων ὑμᾶς βαστάσει τὸ κρίμα, ὅστις ἐὰν ᾖ. 11 Ἐγὼ δέ, ἀδελφοί, εἰ περιτομὴν ἔτι κηρύσσω, τί ἔτι διώκομαι; ἄρα κατήργηται τὸ σκάνδαλον τοῦ σταυροῦ. 12 Ὄφελον καὶ ἀποκόψονται οἱ ἀναστατοῦντες ὑμᾶς.
2 Look – I Paul say to you that if you were to be circumcised, Christ will benefit you nothing, 3 I testify again to every circumcised man that he is a debtor to do the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you whoever are justified by law, you have fallen from grace. 5 For we by Spirit – by faith – expectantly await the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision avails anything nor uncircumcision but faith working operating through love.
7 You were running well; who cut in on you that you not obey the truth? 8 The persuasion is not of the one calling you. 9 A little leaven leavens the whole batch-of-dough. 10 I am persuaded for you in the Lord that you will think nothing otherwise; but the one disturbing you will bear the punishment, whoever it is. 11 But I, brothers, if I yet preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the offence of the cross would be annulled. 12 I wish even that those troubling you would be cut off.
A sharp break with the preceding section is not present, but Paul does shift language, and the slavery/freedom discourse falls away as he moves to more direct engagement. The commencement of verse 2, “Look – I Paul say to you” disrupts the flow of reading and re-engages the reader and personalises the following statement. Paul is again addressing these Galatian believers, and begins to lay out the consequences if they were to follow the teachings of the Judaisers. Verse 2 states this in the strongest terms, “Christ will benefit you nothing”. The solemnity of this statement is reinforced by a repetition and expansion in v3, with Paul’s “I testify” strengthening the gravity of the statement. The phrase “every circumcised man” here is probably best understood as referring to those currently uncircumcised Gentile-background believers who are considering circumcision. Circumcision in those circumstances is an entrance ritual, the beginning of a whole life as a member of the Mosaic covenant, and so a whole life of legal observance. For those who were circumcised, i.e. Jewish-background believers like Paul, the dynamic is different – they were under Law, but now have been set free by Christ. For those who were never circumcised, in this situation circumcision is a mark that they are going from freedom in Christ to slavery under Law, and so they will become debtors, obligated, to complete the whole Law, just as the Jewish believers had been.
There is a mini-chiasm in v4, with the subjects nested in the middle clause, “you whoever are justified by law”. Paul has already established the impossibility of justification by law, and so the phrase should be understood here as “those currently trying to be justified by law”. These people, Paul says, are “severed from Christ” and “have fallen from grace”. It is a total rejection of the Gospel to re-embrace the Law, and Paul vividly paints the implications in terms of being cut-off or separated from Christ (a relational-union aspect), and falling from grace.
In v5 Paul shifts from “you” to “we”, aligning himself and those readers who either hold his position or are persuaded by it, over against those seeking circumcision and Law-observance. The double ‘by’ prepositions are hard to adequately translate into English, shifting from a plain dative πνεύματι to the prepositional ἐκ πίστεως. The former might better be rendered ‘in the Spirit’, but the meaning is substantially the same. Both modify the experiential reality of waiting. The waiting has as its object ‘hope’, but all waiting could be said to have a certain ‘hope’ as its object. ‘Righteousness’ is the substantive object of the hope, i.e. they are awaiting righteousness. This certainly holds a future/judgment orientation, as is also possible implied back in v2 with its future “will avail”.
Finally v6 concludes a statement of who the Galatians are, giving the reason for the expectant waiting that occurs ‘by faith’. At first glance it seems paradoxical that Paul can relativise circumcision and uncircumcision, saying that neither makes a difference, when he has spent so much time arguing against circumcision. But it is the very context of circumcision that makes the meaning. For the Judaisers, circumcision is the beginning of life as a member of the Mosaic covenant, and Galatian believers undergoing circumcision enter into a re-Judaised pattern of life. But the very status of physical circumcision itself matters nothing in Christ. Nor does, to extend it, one’s prior status of being circumcised or uncircumcised, a Jew or a Gentile, matter “in Christ Jesus”. The absolute irrelevancy of circumcision provides us with the understanding of how Paul could have Timothy circumcised in Acts 16:3, not as the beginning of a life of Law observance, but as a physical concession to allow Timothy to be, like Paul, a Jew to the Jews. But here the act of circumcision is invested with much more salvific significance. To become circumcised under these circumstances functions as a denial of the gospel.
What does count, Paul insists, is “faith operating through love”. “Expressing” might be a better translation for the meaning. While “faith” is the foundational principle, it must be expressed, executed, in living, and the manner and means of that execution is “love”. The shape of that love, Paul will take up a little further, but it is a faith-fueled life of loving that matters, not the status of circumcision or not.
In v7 Paul changes tack a little. He returns to an appeal to his readers. He reminds them first of their previous response and progress, i.e., ‘running well’. And contrasts that with the current situation, that someone has ‘cut in on’ them; my translation preserves a movement motif rather than a more typical ‘hindered’. In any case, the the question is rhetorical as it is clear ‘who’ these hinderers are, but Paul identifies them by their result – they have restricted or stopped them from obeying the truth, that is the truth of the gospel. This ‘persuasion’, i.e. the act and/or content aimed at persuading them away from the truth, does not have its origin in him who calls them. The present ‘calls’ may focus our attention on the ongoing calling of God, rather than a singular act in the past.
v9 appears to be proverbial in nature, but is not found as a set proverb elsewhere. It has parallels, perhaps, in Mt 13:33, Lk 13:21. In any case, it is an illustrative proverb, taking the reality of the work of a small amount of yeast through a whole lump of bread, and applying it to the realm of thought and persuasion. While this teaching, regarding Judaisation of believers, seems small, it is significantly threatening the whole Galatian church[es]. Despite this appearance, Paul remains persuaded (note the play between v8 and v10 on persuasion), that they will not adopt this teaching, but ‘think nothing otherwise’ – i.e. hold no doctrines in a manner alternative to the orthodoxy that Paul has taught. This alternative gospel will not ultimately prevail, rather its purveyor will face (final) judgement. The reference ‘whoever it is’, is probably not to personal ignorance on Paul’s part, but rather to an irrelevancy of the prominence or prestige of that figure, or those figures.
Next Paul addresses what sounds like an allegation against him, or at least a statement of hearsay, that he himself still ‘preaches circumcision’. It would certainly have helped the Judaizers’ cause if they alluded or stated that Paul himself taught circumcision in the sense that they did. Paul raises the question, that rests on the following logic. If A, then not-B; B; therefore not-A. If Paul were preaching circumcision, he would not face persecution, i.e. his preaching would be a form of Judaism that would fit in with both contemporary Judaism and within the accommodated settlement that Judaism had in the Roman Empire. It is likely, given the next statement, that Paul probably has persecution and pressure from fellow Jews in mind. The offence of the cross has both Jewish and Gentile aspects, but in this letter that scandal or offence is more directly related to the Jewish context. The ‘offence of the cross’ here holds the very idea that the Cross, not initiation into old covenant membership and Law-keeping as means of righteousness, is the way of salvation. For those prioritising the old covenant, and circumcision as the means of entering into it, the Cross is always a stumbling block, as seen in the bulk of chapters 3-4. If Paul preached circumcision, he would not preach the Cross in terms of salvation by grace through faith, he would relativise it to the Mosaic covenant.
Others translate v12 in a more forceful sense than I have here, and give the middle-tense a more reflexive force, e.g., “Would that these agitators castrate themselves”. There is no doubt about the forcefulness of Paul’s words, and the play upon ‘cut off’. Paul’s desire is, then, dual. First, a real desire that these troublers, agitators, disturbers, would be separated from the community of faith, and secondly a not-too-subtle suggestion that if they went further than circumcision to self-mutilation or self-emasculation, they would in fact be truly cut off, in terms of the OT Law, since this would exclude them from the worshipping community. Paul’s words are fighting words, as he finishes up a section in which he has gone head to head with these agitators, and sought to show how their devastating teaching is ‘another gospel’, which is totally emptied of salvific value, and so ‘no gospel at all’, and in doing so made heartfelt appeals to the Galatian believers not to be swaying or persuaded into following this destructive teaching.