Epistle to the Galatians
|Epistle to the Galatians|
Fragmented copy of the Epistle to the Galatians, circa 400 CE.
The Epistle to the Galatians, often identified simply as Galatians, is the ninth book of the New Testament. The text is a letter written by Paul the Apostle in ancient Greek around 40-60 CE and is addressed to churches in the region of Galatia (modern Turkey). This letter is in the public domain.
In it, Paul condemns those who follow Mosaic Law, especially circumcision, and tells people to stop being evil and be good.
Growing up Christian, I read various passages from this letter, but I didn't read it all the way through and really try to understand it until 2016.
Authorship and Dating
Unlike most of the books of the New Testament, the majority of historians agree that this letter is a genuine product of Paul, and while they're unable to pinpoint a date, suggest authorship between 40-60 CE.
There are no known original manuscripts. The oldest fragment is Papyrus 46 dated to around 175-225 CE.
The author of the letter condemns those who still keep with the Mosaic Law, especially circumcision, and tells the readers that all people who believe in Jesus through faith, regardless of their social rank, are one. I can only imagine how much of a culture shock this was to traditional Jews. This letter also includes the Fruit of the Spirit.
- In general, I find the letter to be a minor improvement over the message of the Old Testament, but still lacking depth.
- Paul spends a lot of time talking about circumcision and how it's not necessary to be a follower of Jesus. I certainly see the elimination of a mutilation ritual as a step in the right direction, but it contradicts the earlier message of the god of the Torah where he explains, many times, that circumcision of all men will be a covenant that lasts forever (Genesis 17:10-14). Paul even goes so far as to say that circumcision will prevent Christ from having value to you (5:2) which starkly contrasts the Torah.
- In the letter, Paul explains that the Old Mosaic Law no longer applies to followers of Jesus because the sacrifice of Jesus nullified the contract (3:10-14). Again, I see this as an improvement, but it contradicts pretty much all of the old testament. The Torah explains that the Mosaic Law would last forever, and even though there was prophecy of the Messiah coming, no prophecy even hints at changing those laws. To me, this really cements the idea that Paul's god is very different then that of the Jews.
- Paul contrasts between what he describes as sins of the flesh from the fruit of the spirit. In the sins of the flesh category he includes sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, rage, selfishness, dissension, factions, envy, intoxication, and orgies, while in the fruit of the spirit category he includes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (5:19-23). However, many of the things listed are ambiguous or axiomatic, and sometimes both. For example, in the list of good things, Paul includes "goodness." Well, sure, something that is good is good, but that doesn't teach the reader anything new. Likewise, from the list of bad things, Paul includes "sexual immorality," but the qualifier "immorality" is defined as, "that which is wrong," which doesn't teach the reader anything because he doesn't specify which sexual acts are moral and which are immoral. Also, by making blanket statements that rage is evil and patience is good, he doesn't tell the reader, who may be dealing with a loathsome person, when it's okay to finally lose your patience and become enraged at them or for how long should you be faithful to a cheat or liar before dissenting. His black and white statements offer no nuance or depth so anyone with a sense of justice more mature than a child's will find them useless.
- Paul promotes salvation through faith (3:2-5), which I find abhorrent. Telling someone that you'll help them, but only if they believe without doubt that you will, is pathetic. This also contradicts James 2:14-18, 24 which says faith without deeds is useless.