In this post I would like to turn to two more interesting passages in the epistle. The first follows on from the discussion of 3.1 in my third and fourth posts. In 3.3, Paul goes on to write:
οὕτως ἀνόητοί ἐστε; ἐναρξάμενοι πνεύματι νῦν σαρκὶ ἐπιτελεῖσθεThis is usually taken as a question, “Having begun in the spirit, are you now completing in the flesh?” While I don't think that that can be ruled out, this may in fact be an exclamatory statement – “Having begun in the spirit, you are now completing in the flesh!” He is expressing his horror at what he has heard, that his converts, who had begun with him by accepting the Spirit that made them sons, are "now" sealing or "perfecting" their calling with the "flesh" of circumcision. As usual in the epistle, the terms for what the Galatians are actually doing are present tense, and suggest a process underway (more on this in a future post).
When attempting to get behind Paul’s rhetoric to find out what it was that he thought his converts were doing, it is worth asking the question whether he ever tells us anything concrete about their current practices. He says that they are being compelled to be circumcised, that they are completing in the flesh, and so on, but is there anything that relates to practices other than circumcision that might help? Well, it is worth taking another look at 4.10-11, where Paul writes:
ἡμέρας παρατηρεῖσθε καὶ μῆνας καὶ καιροὺς καὶ ἐνιαυτούς. φοβοῦμαι ὑμᾶς μή πως εἰκῇ κεκοπίακα εἰς ὑμᾶςThe observance of days and months and seasons and years is a reference to the Galatians’ new found commitment to the Jewish calendar, beginning with the Sabbath and continuing with the celebration of other major Jewish festivals and fasts (though see Troy Martin for the alternative view). It sounds like the news that Paul has been given includes this key item, that the Galatians are now observing these works of the law. Its significance for our question is that it coheres with the view that the process of circumcision is already underway in Galatia, just as the issue of food laws had raised its head, to Paul's great dismay, in Antioch (Gal. 2.11-14). In Galatia, as in Antioch before, what Paul calls "Judaizing" is taking place, with works of the law like circumcision, Sabbath and food laws getting adopted by Gentile converts.
You are observing days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, that I might have laboured over you in vain.