My thesis is that Paul's loss of Galatia was already practically inevitable at the point when Paul was composing his epistle because a substantial number of the Galatians were already circumcised when Paul heard the news that was the catalyst for the epistle. He is not writing to them to dissuade them from a course of action that they are merely considering. Rather, he is rebuking them for submitting to a course of action already well underway in the churches. The case for this is cumulative and results from a careful re-reading of Paul's text. I aim to take several posts to attempt to establish this, so I am afraid that I will be asking for my readers' patience as I develop the case. In this post, I would like to look at an important verse:
6.12: ὅσοι θέλουσιν εὐπροσωπῆσαι ἐν σαρκί, οὗτοι ἀναγκάζουσιν ὑμᾶς περιτέμνεσθαι, μόνον ἵνα τῷ σταυρῷ τοῦ Χριστοῦ μὴ διώκωνταιNow virtually every contemporary Bible translation takes ἀναγκάζουσιν as a conative present, "they are trying to compel you to be circumcised", but this is one of those cases where the translation is conditioned by the prior reconstruction of the situation of the epistle. [For those who need refreshing, the conative present is, in Funk's definition, "used to refer to an act attempted but not achieved (in present time)."] Because commentators assume that Paul is trying to dissuade the Galatians from being circumcised, they resist the force of what he appears to be claiming here, that the Galatians are being forced to be circumcised. There is in fact nothing in the epistle that suggests that we are dealing with attempted rather than actual coercion, and there is a good deal to suggest that Paul is describing compulsion.
Those who want to make a good showing in flesh, these are the ones compelling you to be circumcised, only in order that they might not be persecuted for the cross of Christ.
The language of compulsion has an important parallel earlier in the epistle. When Paul is relating the incident at Antioch, presumably included in the epistle because it evokes for Paul a very similar situation to the one that he is now faced with in Galatia, he uses the same language of compulsion. In 2.14, Paul challenges Cephas before them all with, “If you, a Jew, are living like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to Judaize?” (Εἰ σὺ Ἰουδαῖος ὑπάρχων ἐθνικῶς καὶ οὐχὶ Ἰουδαϊκῶς ζῇς, πῶς τὰ ἔθνη ἀναγκάζεις Ἰουδαΐζειν;). Now if there is a parallel here between the two occasions, in both the Gentile Church (Antioch / Galatia) is being compelled to Judaize (withdrawing from eating with Gentiles / circumcision) by a third party (Peter and those from James / the influencers in Galatia). In the Antioch incident, the “Judaizing”, specifically involving the compulsion to avoid mixed table fellowship, has already taken place. Likewise in Galatia, the compulsion to Judaize, this time represented specifically in the demand for circumcision, was already taking place.
But just how prevalent is the conative present in the New Testament, or indeed anywhere in Greek literature? Since it is, by necessity, determined by context, this is a tough one to judge, but I cannot find a single example of ἀναγκάζω being used conatively either in the imperfect or the present tenses. Outside of Galatians, ἀναγκάζω occurs in Paul's letters only in 2 Cor. 12.11, γέγονα ἄφρων ὑμεῖς με ἠναγκάσατε ("I have become a fool but you forced me . . .") where it is aorist and clearly used of successful compulsion. There is an alleged conative imperfect use in Acts 26.11, καὶ κατὰ πάσας τὰς συναγωγὰς πολλάκις τιμωρῶν αὐτοὺς ἠνάγκαζον βλασφημεῖν ("And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I forced them to blaspheme"), but it is unnecessary to translate the imperfect ἠνάγκαζον here with "I tried to compel them to blaspheme". Rather, Luke's pre-conversion Paul was compelling them to blaspheme, i.e. he was compelling them to call on the name of the Lord (cf. Acts 9.14, 21 – those who are persecuted are those who “call on his name”), which, from that pre-conversion perspective from which Luke's Paul is speaking, is constituted as "blasphemy".
But what about other cases? BDAG gives one other alleged example of a conative use of ἀναγκάζω, again in the imperfect, Ps.-Pla., Sisyphus 1, p. 387B, συμβουλεύειν αὐτοῖς ἠνάγκαζόν με, which it translates as “they tried to compel me to make common cause with them”, but again the conative sense is unnecessary, indeed puzzling. In George Burges's translation, this is the context: "For our rulers had a consultation yesterday and they compelled me to consult with them. Now with us Pharsalians it is a law to obey the rulers should they order any of us to consult with them”.
What we have here, in Galatians 6.12, is an indication of the situation as Paul sees it, based on the news that has come to him, and he depicts the scene in the Galatian churches as one in which his opponents are forcing his converts to be circumcised. In future posts in this series, I will attempt to show how other evidence in the epistle points to the same conclusion.