Friday, November 29, 2013

Exegetical Notes on Galatians 6:11-18

Text

11 Ἴδετε πηλίκοις ὑμῖν γράμμασιν ἔγραψα τῇ ἐμῇ χειρί. 12 Ὅσοι θέλουσιν εὐπροσωπῆσαι ἐν σαρκί, οὗτοι ἀναγκάζουσιν ὑμᾶς περιτέμνεσθαι, μόνον ἵνα τῷ σταυρῷ τοῦ Χριστοῦ μὴ διώκωνται. 13 οὐδὲ γὰρ οἱ περιτεμνόμενοι αὐτοὶ νόμον φυλάσσουσιν ἀλλὰ θέλουσιν ὑμᾶς περιτέμνεσθαι, ἵνα ἐν τῇ ὑμετέρᾳ σαρκὶ καυχήσωνται. 14 Ἐμοὶ δὲ μὴ γένοιτο καυχᾶσθαι εἰ μὴ ἐν τῷ σταυρῷ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, διʼ οὗ ἐμοὶ κόσμος ἐσταύρωται κἀγὼ κόσμῳ. 15 οὔτε γὰρ περιτομή τί ἐστιν οὔτε ἀκροβυστία ἀλλὰ καινὴ κτίσις. 16 καὶ ὅσοι τῷ κανόνι τούτῳ στοιχήσουσιν, εἰρήνη ἐπʼ αὐτοὺς καὶ ἔλεος καὶ ἐπὶ τὸν Ἰσραὴλ τοῦ θεοῦ.
17 Τοῦ λοιποῦ κόπους μοι μηδεὶς παρεχέτω· ἐγὼ γὰρ τὰ στίγματα τοῦ Ἰησοῦ ἐν τῷ σώματί μου βαστάζω.
18 χάρις τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ μετὰ τοῦ πνεύματος ὑμῶν, ἀδελφοί· ἀμήν.

Translation

11 See with what large letters I write to you by my own hand. 12 As many as wish to make a good showing in flesh, [they are] those compelling you to be circumcised, only so that they might not be persecuted by the cross of Christ. 13 For the circumcised themselves do not keep Law but wish you to be circumcised, so that in your flesh they might boast. 14 May it not be that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world have been crucified to me and I to the world. 15 For circumcision is not 'something' nor uncircumcision but a new creation. 16 And as many as hold to this canon, peace be upon them and mercy and upon the Israel of God.
17 Finally let no one cause troubles to me: For I bear the scars of Jesus in my body.
18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ [be] with your spirit, brothers: Amen.  

Comments

We come now to the final verses of the letter. Despite colourful suggestions for verse 11, the plain meaning is difficult to overturn – that Paul now personally writes with large letters, i.e. Paul himself is writing the original autograph at this point and his own handwriting is distinctive and larger than whatever secretary he is employing, and this is a sign of authenticity. Does the aorist need any particular explanation? I wouldn’t think so.

In verse 12, then, Paul begins a recapitulation of the dominant conflict his epistle has engages in.  By identifying the group firstly as ‘as many as wish to make a good showing in the flesh’, Paul continues his polemic strategy. He expresses an interpretive baseline understanding of their actions (the desire for public acceptance and reputation), and then subjoins this with the defining clause, ‘they are the ones compelling you to be circumcised’. The third clause gives their purpose, but by preceding this with μόνον he qualifies it entirely, so that this is their whole goal in doing so, that they might not be persecuted by the cross of Christ’. Their purpose is ultimately about their own avoidance of suffering in the public sphere, not about those they compel to be circumcised. ‘by the cross of Christ’ here should not be understood as the means or instrument of persecution, by any means, but is causal (one might translate ‘for the cross of Christ’; personally I would express it as something like “through the fact of their allegiance to the reality of the cross of Christ as shorthand for the counter-world message of the gospel”). Paul characterises them as self-centered in their desires.

Is the οἱ περιτεμνόμενοι of v13 middle or passive? I have translated simply ‘the circumcised’, referring neither to ‘those that have been circumcised’ or ‘those that circumcise themselves’, because the whole point of the Judaising group is to convince Gentile-background believers to become circumcised so that they are effectively Jewish-proselytes. By subsuming their Gentile background into a Jewish identity, they remove the scandal of the cross and form one new community of Jewish believers in the Messiah, not the one new community of Jews and Gentiles who follow the Messiah. It is, from this view, a moot point whether the participle is taken as middle or passive, since those who receive circumcision are by so doing entering the community of those who practice circumcision among themselves.

Nonetheless, Paul’s overall identification of this group is as a third party, to which his Galatian addresses are not (yet) beholden). His critique at this point is their failure to keep the Law. We have already traced Paul’s argument throughout Galatians that keeping Law qua Law is doomed to failure, is the cause of Curse upon those who fail, and is a theological and salvation-historical misstep for Gentile background believers to undertake. Here he simply reiterates that they fail to keep it, which is damning since their whole case is built upon the attempt to keep it. Despite this hypocrisy, Paul writes, they desire these Gentile-background believers to be circumcised, which is equivalent to entering into the Mosaic covenant and proselyte Jews and so committing to keeping the Law, again not for the sake of these ‘converts’, but for the sake of this Judaising party. It would add to the prestige, influence, dominance, and so ‘rightness’ of the Judaising position.

In contrast, Paul presents his own position in the same terms, that is, in terms of the basis for his claim to honour and status. For Paul, in v14, there is no basis for such a claim, “except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”. The introductory “may it not be” has both genuine optative force – it expresses Paul’s desire in the matter, but it may also be seen as an expression here that contrasts the whole of Paul’s platform, in contrast to the Judaisers. Whereas their ground of boasting is the Law as Mosaic covenant and winning converts to that, Paul’s ground of boasting is the cross, as metonym for the salvific event of the death of Jesus. But the relative clause that follows must further qualify our reading of this claim, “through which I have been crucified to the world and the world to me”. Firstly, while οὗ may strictly look back to Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ or σταυρῷ, the latter seems far more likely. Secondly, while it overwhelmingly true that claiming the shameful death of the cross as the grounds of boasting is itself an inversion of the whole honour-shame schema, the relative clause actually goes further. Glorying in what is shameful (the cross) is inversion, but when Paul adds the relative clause, it means that in the honour-game of Greco-Roman society, Paul has exited the game with a null score. It is the ultimate failure and the ultimate zero. But, complementing this, the world has been crucified to Paul – in Paul’s eyes the world itself has been brought to absolute nothing.

This is not to say that the honour-shame dimension is the only one operating here, rather I an  highlighting that this is the end of the game for both sides, Paul no longer contests in the world’s honour-games, and Paul no longer cares anything for those honour-games that continue in the world.[1]

More broadly, Paul’s claim continues the theme explored elsewhere of being co-crucified with Christ. Paul represents his union with Christ as one of union with him in his death, and that co-crucifixion effects Paul’s translation from the realm of the world and all its values, while the world as a systematic entity opposed to God is entirely dead to Paul. In this claim, Paul is paradigmatic for the believer in general.

Verse 15 strikes a resonance with 5:6, and reminds us that in a letter in which Paul rails so fiercely against those pressing for, and those desiring to undergo, circumcision, that it is not the actual fact or state of circumcision that is the issue. Indeed, when we read this against Acts 16:3, Paul’s extreme relativisation of the practice of circumcision lays bare the theological rationale that informs both his attitude here and there.
This is borne out by the verse. One could re-arrange it as three propositions

Circumcision is not a ‘thing’
Non-Circumcision is not a ‘thing’
The fact of a new creating is a ‘thing’

What hangs on τί in this verse? I would suggest that Paul here is using a compact expression to indicate something like “a reality worthy of consideration”. This is why the actual physical status of being circumcised or not doesn’t matter one whit, and why Timothy can be circumcised, because it doesn’t matter, and why Gentile-background believers can remain uncircumcised, because it doesn’t matter, and so on. What does matter? The reality of the new creation. It is not immediately clear whether this should be read as individual, or as humanity, or as universe, but my inclination is towards the later. There is a universal-in-scope new creation, new reality coming-into-being through the coming of the Messiah, and its sweeping scope radically alters the conditions of absolutely everything, not least the relationship of believers to God, no longer exclusively through the Mosaic covenant, but through Jesus Christ.

Once this reality is grasped, what circumcision matters becomes apparent. In the Galatian context circumcision signifies an embrace of the Law as law, and so a failure to understand the significance and consequence of the new creation. Whereas in Acts 16 the unimportance of physical circumcision at all renders the choice to circumcise Timothy understandable – it doesn’t signify re-embrace of the Mosaic Law as Law at all, but a concession for the sake of removing stumbling blocks.

Verse 16 begins to transition into a closing blessing. The initial relative indefinite “as many as” refers to those who hold to this “canon” (rule; I just preferred to hold on to the archaising ‘canon’ in my translation). What is this ‘canon’? Most readily it should be understood as the principle expressed in verse 15, which represents in a very fundamental and compressed form one of the underlying tenets of Paul’s theology. To grasp this rule is to grasp the singular gospel of Paul’s preaching, looking back to his bombastic opening in 1:6-9. So it is those people who receive the blessing of peace and mercy.

What then of the construction “and/even upon the Israel of God”? There are two intertwined questions, (1) who is the ‘Israel of God’? (2) is this group co-terminous with ‘however many hold to this canon’? (thus shaping the translation of καί.

Despite the emphasis that I have maintained upon Jew/Gentile distinctions within Paul’s addressing of us/you within this letter, Paul’s theological drive is to represent JBBs and GBBs as one new humanity united in the Messiah under a covenant and set of promises that precedes the Mosaic Law and sees Gentiles as incorporated into the Abrahamic promises. This, in keeping with the sense of “all Israel” in Romans 9, and the thoughts expressed by Romans 9:6 and 11:26, leads me to conclude that the Israel of God here is synonymous with the (newly constituted) people of God.

The phrase Τοῦ λοιποῦ is a standard way of entering into a concluding section. Here that section is quite short. Paul gives an injunction followed by the reason. In an epistle shaped primarily by the conflict with Judaisers over and about the Galatian churches, Paul expresses the injunction that no one should ‘cause him troubles’, or perhaps in a more vernacular strain, “give him grief”. The grounds are expressed simply as “I bear the scars of Jesus in my body”. But what on earth is Paul talking about?

Firstly, we can easily lay aside importing back any modern connotations of stigmata into this verse. Paul uses the words to indicate scars or marks caused upon his body, and the reference is likely two-fold. One, he refers the physical sufferings he has endured as a slave of Christ as a mark of his allegiance to and participation in the sufferings of the Christ. Two, the marks indicate his possession as a slave owned by his master. Indeed, these two references are one and the same thing for Paul – his sufferings are the mark that he is a slave who belongs to Christ, and they are thus the proof of that allegiance.

In stark contrast to the nothingness of circumcision and non-circumcision, these physical marks do ‘mean’ something – they indicate Paul’s clear position as both slave, and so also representative, of Jesus (cf. the argument through chapters 1-2).

Finally Paul closes with a benediction, verse 18. The grace of the opening benediction (1:3) is repeated, though without the elaborations of the introduction. “with your spirit” substitutes in for the more common “with you”, but without much change in meaning. Paul’s letter closes with the confirmatory ‘Amen’, his hearty affirmation of all that he has said, and most of all his prayerful declaration of grace to them.



[1] I do not mean ‘games’ here as if there are actual games, I simply mean that the conduct of humans in competing for, accumulating, defending and attacking, honour, may be understood overall as a ‘game’. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

New sermons

I have just been updating my sermon archive, so there are a number of new sermons.

You can follow them over at my sermon blog, or find a complete archive here, or on itunes.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Things that make me angry about the removal of NIV 1984 from websites

(This post is a rant)

Here is Biblica on why there is no NIV 1984 edition.

And this is what makes me angry.

1. The 2-year transition

Sure, you can run a 2-year transition for your corporation to phase in a new translation across the board. But churches don't run on this kind of timeline. They don't buy pew bibles that often, most of them that have 1984 NIVs aren't going to roll out 2011 NIVs anytime soon. Which means you rolled out a new version and cut off support for an old version.

2. The whole name thing

"There is only one NIV". Except there isn't. Or there wasn't. Comparing this to the '78 to '84 change isn't very useful, it's disingenous. The '84 existed for 18 years before they tried to update it with the tNIV, which they very clearly labelled as the tNIV. It didn't float because people (a) were entrenched with the '84 NIV, and (b) were unhappy with the changes. It was clear to everyone in 2002 that the tNIV was significantly different, and deserved a different name.

Fast forward to 2011, and the new NIV comes on the scene, except apart from a brief time at the start, there's no name difference. So we have immediate confusion. And it is a different version, it's a different translation.

Stats on differences:
31.27% of NIV 2011 verses adopts a tNIV reading
7.85% of NIV 2011 verses adopt an entirely new reading

So you're telling me that a book in which 40% of the text has had some kind of change in it is the same version? Sure, you could call it the same book (oh, wait, we already did that, it's the Bible), but please don't act like calling it the same version is anything but a trick. It's a trick.

3. Citing statistics that are not relevant

"God's favor continues to rest..." begins a paragraph that rattles of a number of statistics on use and adoption of the NIV. Except that you refused to brand this NIV as a different version which makes lets you use stats related to the 84 NIV, not the 2011 NIV, which significantly weakens the claim people like and support the new NIV and certainly, to me, casts doubt on any claim to 'God's favor'. 11 million to 450 million doesn't sound like ringing endorsement.

Further down they state the current version is the most popular version on the Biblica website. Is this because it's the default? Or because they removed the '84? Or because the other 2 versions are Spanish version and one aimed at a lower reading level?

4. Why not just keep offering it online?

Behind the answer that they should focus on the newest and the best is disingenuity, at best. Is it really technically and resource-wise difficult for them to continue to host a legacy version? Would doing so somehow impede their ability to make available the most recent?

Neither is comparison with other versions reliable. The changes in the ESV are not that great. I can't comment on the 7 versions of the Message, but it's so far down the paraphrase end of the spectrum I'm not sure it's necessary. Again, 40% of verses have differences in the NIV 2011, that is not a minor set of updates.

5. Conclusion

The whole thing smacks of trickery. It's not honest. It doesn't serve churches. If I was them I couldn't write this kind of nonsense without feeling bad about myself.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Exegetical Notes on Galatians 6:1-10


Text

Ἀδελφοί, ἐὰν καὶ προλημφθῇ ἄνθρωπος ἔν τινι παραπτώματι, ὑμεῖς οἱ πνευματικοὶ καταρτίζετε τὸν τοιοῦτον ἐν πνεύματι πραΰτητος, σκοπῶν σεαυτὸν μὴ καὶ σὺ πειρασθῇς. 2 Ἀλλήλων τὰ βάρη βαστάζετε καὶ οὕτως ἀναπληρώσετε τὸν νόμον τοῦ Χριστοῦ. 3 εἰ γὰρ δοκεῖ τις εἶναί τι μηδὲν ὤν, φρεναπατᾷ ἑαυτόν. 4 τὸ δὲ ἔργον ἑαυτοῦ δοκιμαζέτω ἕκαστος, καὶ τότε εἰς ἑαυτὸν μόνον τὸ καύχημα ἕξει καὶ οὐκ εἰς τὸν ἕτερον· 5 ἕκαστος γὰρ τὸ ἴδιον φορτίον βαστάσει.
6 Κοινωνείτω δὲ ὁ κατηχούμενος τὸν λόγον τῷ κατηχοῦντι ἐν πᾶσιν ἀγαθοῖς. 7 Μὴ πλανᾶσθε, θεὸς οὐ μυκτηρίζεται. ὃ γὰρ ἐὰν σπείρῃ ἄνθρωπος, τοῦτο καὶ θερίσει· 8 ὅτι ὁ σπείρων εἰς τὴν σάρκα ἑαυτοῦ ἐκ τῆς σαρκὸς θερίσει φθοράν, ὁ δὲ σπείρων εἰς τὸ πνεῦμα ἐκ τοῦ πνεύματος θερίσει ζωὴν αἰώνιον. 9 τὸ δὲ καλὸν ποιοῦντες μὴ ἐγκακῶμεν, καιρῷ γὰρ ἰδίῳ θερίσομεν μὴ ἐκλυόμενοι. 10 Ἄρα οὖν ὡς καιρὸν ἔχομεν, ἐργαζώμεθα τὸ ἀγαθὸν πρὸς πάντας, μάλιστα δὲ πρὸς τοὺς οἰκείους τῆς πίστεως.

Translation


1 Brothers, if a person be detected in some transgression, you who spirit-people restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, keeping watch on yourself lest also you are tempted. 2 The burdens of one another, bear, and thus fulfil the law of Christ. 3 For if someone seems to be something, being nothing, they deceive themself. 4 Let each person put their own work to the test, and then only unto themself alone he has an object of pride and not unto the other [person]. 5 For each will bear his own load. 6 Let the one being instructed in the word share with the instructor in all good things. 7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked. For whatever a person sows, this also they will reap. 8 Because the one sowing unto their own flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction, but the one sowing unto the spirit, from the spirit will reap life eternal. 9 Let us not become weary, doing the good, for in the proper time, being unwearied, we will reap. 10 So then as we have occasion, let us do the good to all, yet especially towards the members of the household of faith.

Comments

Building on what Paul has just been writing concerning community life, v1 shows community life in action. In the case where someone in the community has some aspect of sin come to life, the other believers (you spirit-people, often translated as “you who are spiritual”, but the force of πνευματικοὶ has less to do with more ‘spiritual’ than others, and rather more connection with simply being people who are indwelt and transformed by the Spirit) are to restore that person, i.e. undertake a process of spiritual rehabilitation to help the sinner overcome their sin. This in particular is to be done with a “spirit of gentleness”: tender consciences are generally to be treated gently, not with harshness. And furthermore with vigilance, so that responsibility to care for sinning brothers and sisters is matched with accountability to watch over oneself.

This community care is broadened into a more general principle in v2, with the call to bear one another’s burdens. This is framed as fulfilling the law of Christ. Again, as part of Paul’s radical re-situation of the Law of Moses, the Law of Christ functions to replace any notion of Law as Moral Standard, even as Paul himself employs the Law of Moses as part of his ground-source of ethical material.

Our understanding of v3 in part hinges upon whether we understand δοκεῖ in the sense of ‘seem’ (as per our translation) or ‘think’ (taking a reflexive meaning – seems to themselves). While in our translation we have preserved some element of ambiguity, the following “they deceive themselves” indicates that the ‘seeming’ cuts both ways. As a community, or a family, does not engage in other-deception within the community, false evaluation of oneself is both self- and other- deception and has no place in this community. Instead of this practice of deception and comparison, we have v4 – a call to self-appraisal (and honest appraisal) of one’s own deeds. The arena of ‘boasting’, or perhaps less prejudicially, ‘pride-taking’, is in relation to one’s own deeds and before God, not in relation to others and their deeds.

How does this fit into broader teaching about not boasting, and boasting only in the Lord? We take it that in light of an honest self-appraisal before God a person may have a sense of ‘job well done’, neither a grounds for pride before God, nor of self-promotion in the presence of others, but rather satisfaction in the Lord. The Christian life is not one of endless self-despisal and deprecation, as some have mistaken it.

Verse 5 suggests some unity to the mini-unit of 2-5, though the word for load differs from that for burden in v2. Most commentators thus suggest a different meaning, given that v2 calls for bearing one another’s and v5 calls for a shouldering of one’s own. But is φορτίον automatically more bearable than τὰ βάρη? A burden does not necessarily imply that it is unmanageable, and in different circumstances what was a load can become a burden, and vice versa. Our capacity to bear the difficulties of life varies based not only on those difficulties, but our very selves and the community around us.

Paul’s injunction then, may be seen as a non-reciprocal command, or an expectation of non-reciprocity. “I, for my part, try to bear my own load, and have a sharp eye out to help carry other’s.” Such a pro-active ethic of taking on one’s own responsibilities and others’ echoes the pro-active version of the Golden Rule of Jesus = an ethic that is not first grounded in expectation of reciprocity may in fact provoke grace all the more.

Reading vv2-5 as a whole, we see that Paul turns the whole ‘boasting’ game on its head. Against a cultural world in which boasting was an extra-familial affair, and the place that isn’t for boasting is the home, Paul’s communitarian ethic establishes the church as that kind of place – a place not fit for boasting. Boasting and honour-games within the family have no place. And yet, outside this new community, we boast in the cross, the most shameful object in the ancient world. O Christians glory in their shame, to steal Paul’s words from Phil 2:19 and turn them on their head!

In verse 6 the focus shifts to the relation between teachers and the taught. Specifically, Paul has in mind instruction “in the word”, i.e. teaching of the Word of God as revealed in the Scriptures and focused on the Gospel. While verse 6 itself seems to centre on those who are being instructed, the following verses may be read with particular application to those doing the teaching. Although it has been typical to read these verses as a set of more generic moral exhortations, their application to teachers of the Word is worth pondering.
Verse 7 then, gives us a series of three statements:

               Do not be deceived
               (why? In what regard?)   God is not mocked
               (Grounds)                       For whatever a person sows, this also they will reap.

Paul has already made reference to self-deception in verse 3. Seeing truly is a basis for right action, and in this case it is having a right understanding of the relationship between act (sowing) and effect (reaping). In particular, we are to have a right understanding of how our actions within the community (and without) interact with God. It is a deceived person who things that God can be mocked and the consequences will not be negative. Paul then moves to the more general principle ‘what is sowed will be reaped’.
This general principle is elaborated and specified in verse 8. The possible options are dichotomised (compare Paul’s approach to flesh and spirit in chapter 5) into flesh and spirit, with the attendant consequences destruction and eternal life.

For the teacher of the Word this raises specific questions of application: how are you investing in the community. Is your teaching (as sowing) in accordance with the Spirit and directed towards producing eternal consequences? Or is it according to flesh and directed towards fleshly gain (but then ultimately destruction)? The same questions can be asked more generally of the community but with reference to teaching.

Verse 9 goes on to exhort perseverance in Christian life, but perhaps in the ministry of the Word in particular, for it is a wearying profession (cf. 2 Cor 4:1, 16). Where do those in ministry gain their support and sustenance? Is it not in the mutual bearing of burdens of the community, the sharing of good things from those instructed, the community of love that is to exist within the Spirit-people of Christ?


Verse 10 helps emphasise the focus in this section on the engagement of the community within itself, though not necessarily only to itself. Firstly, we note the  phrase “as we have occasion” – not a restriction to lessen the possibility of doing good to only when circumstances arise in which it is possible, but rather a promotion of the very possibility of doing good. Secondly, ‘to all’ is probably to be understood as ‘all without distinction’ rather than ‘all without exception’ (the latter being our natural tendency for ‘all’, but the usage of πᾶς aligns better the former). Some are wont to read μάλιστα δὲ as “namely” in place of “especially”, which would act to restrict the scope of this injunction to the church community. This translation seems indefensible to me, but neither is this verse a proof text for the broader scope of the church’s ministry of good deeds and social justice in the world. The Scriptures build a strong enough case for an ethos of mercy and justice more broadly and in other passages, there is no need to rest it on this slender pillar. Rather, verse 10 functions to summarise the call to right action within the community, without distinction, and beyond.