Sunday, October 15, 2006

Paul's lack of travel plans in Galatians

I have suggested previously that it is likely that Paul lost the battle in Galatia (see Does Galatians post-date 1 Corinthians; cf. also Does Galatians post-date 1 Corinthians II and Does Galatians post-date 1 Corinthians III). There are other reasons for thinking that Paul lost the Galatian churches, and the signs are that Paul already knew the inevitability of this when he was writing Galatians. One of the striking absences here is of travel plans. Paul always makes travel plans in his epistles, always talks about his next visit; it's a repeated theme. Consider the evidence:
1 Thess. 2 17 But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short while -- in person, not in spirit -- were all the more eager with great desire to see your face. 18 For we wanted to come to you -- I, Paul, more than once--and yet Satan hindered us . . . . 3.6 But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you, 7 for this reason, brethren, in all our distress and affliction we were comforted about you through your faith; 8 for now we really live, if you stand firm in the Lord. 9 For what thanks can we render to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice before our God on your account, 10 as we night and day keep praying most earnestly that we may see your face, and may complete what is lacking in your faith?

1 Cor. 16.5-10: But I will come to you after I go through Macedonia, for I am going through Macedonia; 6 and perhaps I will stay with you, or even spend the winter, so that you may send me on my way wherever I may go. 7 For I do not wish to see you now just in passing; for I hope to remain with you for some time, if the Lord permits. 8 But I will remain in Ephesus until Pentecost; 9 for a wide door for effective service has opened to me, and there are many adversaries. 10 Now if Timothy comes, see that he is with you without cause to be afraid, for he is doing the Lord''s work, as I also am.

2 Corinthians 12.14: Here for this third time I am ready to come to you, and I will not be a burden to you; for I do not seek what is yours, but you; for children are not responsible to save up for their parents, but parents for their children . . . . 20 For I am afraid that perhaps when I come I may find you to be not what I wish and may be found by you to be not what you wish; that perhaps there will be strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance, disturbances; 21 I am afraid that when I come again my God may humiliate me before you, and I may mourn over many of those who have sinned in the past and not repented of the impurity, immorality and sensuality which they have practised. 13.1 This is the third time I am coming to you. Every fact is to be confirmed by the testimony of two or three witnesses. 2 I have previously said when present the second time, and though now absent I say in advance to those who have sinned in the past and to all the rest as well, that if I come again I will not spare anyone.

Romans 1. 9 For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you, 10 always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you. 11 For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; 12 that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other's faith, both yours and mine. 13 I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far) so that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles . . . . 15 So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

Romans 15. 22 For this reason I have often been prevented from coming to you; 23 but now, with no further place for me in these regions, and since I have had for many years a longing to come to you 24 whenever I go to Spain--for I hope to see you in passing, and to be helped on my way there by you, when I have first enjoyed your company for a while -- 25 but now, I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints.

Philemon 22: At the same time also prepare me a lodging, for I hope that through your prayers I will be given to you.

So in all five of those epistles, Paul is clearly making travel plans, thinking and praying about when he is able to make it to see his churches. When writing Philippians, Paul is in prison and so is unable to make travel plans. Yet even here, the aspiration to get to the Philippians again is at the forefront of his mind, even to the extent of making it his reason to continue living:
Phil. 1, 21, 24-7 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain . . . 24 yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again. 27 Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel
Moreover, he hopes to send Timothy to the Philippians so that he can hear about them (Phil. 2.19-23), he reiterates his own aspiration, "I trust in the Lord that I myself also will be coming shortly" (2.24) and talks about sending Epaphroditus (2.25-30).

In Galatians, though, there is none of this. In 4.20, there is a moment when he wishes himself not writing this epistle but instead exhorting them directly in person ("I could wish to be present with you now and to change my tone"), but otherwise, strikingly, there is nothing -- he does not say that he is planning to come, or that he is praying to find an opportunity, or that he hopes to come, or that he will be sending Timothy (or Titus). Sadly, it seems that he already knows that it is too late. His Galatian churches have chosen to follow what he sees as "another gospel", and he will not be visiting the region again.


Stephen C. Carlson said...

Pretty interesting observation, Mark.

Just as it is for Philippians, the travel plans in Philemon are similarly striking because Paul is a prisoner for that one too (Phlm 1)

simon said...

I wonder if Galatians is a rather exceptional letter in that it has no travel plans but it also has precious little personal, relational material either. Paul offers no report on how he prays for the church, no greetings from the people with Paul as he writes. Does this suggest a very early letter written and sent in a hurry ahead of leaving for the meeting in Jerusalem (reported in Acts 15:2b-35), meaning Paul has no time for niceties - and, because he's so angry at what happening, no inclination either? I'm of the school that thinks Galatians 2:11-14 is the incident Luke cryptically refers to in Acts 15:1-2a that triggers the Jerusalem council. If Galatians was written as Paul packed for this meeting (metaphorically - I realise he didn't have much to pack!), it could explain the almost complete lack of personal information in the letter.

Michael Pahl said...

Mark, if Galatians is written just before the Jerusalem council, then this lack of hopes or plans is equally explainable. Paul is uncertain how the council will go, uncertain how the "pillars" will respond given Peter's and James' apparent reneging on their prior affirmation of Paul's gospel. He is uncertain how the Galatians will respond, uncertain about this whole region he has just recently poured his life and energies into. Paul is certain about his call and his gospel revelation, but he's uncertain about almost everything else related to his personal "mission."

Richard Fellows said...

Paul had been badly misunderstood in Galatia to he wrote this stern letter without social pleasantries to emphasise to the readers that he really meant what he said. The lack of pleasantries does not show that he had given up on the Galatians. Indeed, I see no despair in Paul's arguments. For example he writes "I am again in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you". The tearful letter was another severe letter, and it was written in confidence that things would come good (2 Cor 2:3; 7:14).

I don't think we can know for sure whether Galatians was successful. The survival of the letter may suggest that it was. It seems that the readers respected the letter sufficiently to preserve it.

It is true that the Galatians did not participate in the collection of 55/56, but this does not convince me that they had fallen out with Paul. I place the collection from Galatia just before the second missionary journey.


Christopher Shell said...

2 Timothy does strike me as rather pauline and similar to Philippians. It assumes Galatia to be still in Paul's ambit (unless we read 'Gaul' in ch4). The picture given would have to assume that neither Paul nor one familiar with Paul's mission wrote it. The proposed picture would also have to assume a north Galatian theory, given that Ac 20 init includes south galatianists (Derbe, from memory, just about qualifies as part of the Galatian province tho' there were fluctuations; and Timothy was from Lystra). Otherwise I tend to agree with the picture given, & particularly like the use of comparative travel plans. Galatia is a letter apart in its format in so many ways - but I hadn't noticed this one.

Frank McCoy said...

Perhaps Simon has the right idea--Galatians was written in hurry and anger before a meeting in Jerusalem with an uncertain outcome--but not the meeting of Acts 15 as he suggests; rather, the meeting of Acts 18:22. Too, while Ben Witherington III sees connectivity between Gal. and Hebrews (NTS, v. 37, 1991, pp. 146-52), perhaps it is not (as he suggests) Galatians influencing Hebrews but the reverse. Scenario:(1)(Acts 18:1-17)Paul, Silvanus (Silas), Timothy and two arrivals from Rome (i.e., Priscilla and Aquila) at Corinth. Silvanus, a "Hebrew", writes Hebrews to the "Hebrews" in Jerusalem to convince them that Paul has things right. He closes (13:23-24)by mentioning the status of Timothy and by sending greeting from the two arrivals from Rome, but does not also send greeting from Paul--for he is to convey Hebrews to Jerusalem and, so, is to personally greet the "Hebrews". (2)(18:18) Paul takes a Nazarite vow at Cenchreae to consecrate himself for his Jerusalem journey (3)(18:19-20) Paul arrives at Ephesus and learns of the situation in Galatia. He dashes off Galatians. (4)(18:21-22a) He journeys to Jerusalem to deliver Hebrews to the "Hebrews" and to try to hammer out an agreement with the three Pillars on how to handle the situation in Galatia. (5)(18:22b-23) Paul journeys to Galatia to personally visit those to whom we wrote Galatians.