I would like to turn next to a famous verse in Galatians and ask what it implies about how Paul is picturing his opponents:
5.12: ὄφελον καὶ ἀποκόψονται οἱ ἀναστατοῦντες ὑμᾶςThe image is, of course, of Paul's opponents cutting off their own genitalia in the process of circumcising the Galatians (NRSV: "castrate themselves"; NIV: "go the whole way and emasculate themselves!"). It's one of the most biting pieces of sarcasm anywhere in the Pauline corpus. Now of course (one hopes), Paul does not really want anyone to castrate themselves, but notice what he gives away in passing, that when he imagines his opponents, he imagines them with knife in hand. Perhaps he thinks of them as so busy at the work of circumcision that he hopes the "knife slips" (Jerusalem Bible). So in this rare glimpse at his opponents, Paul envisages them as circumcising, and not just "preaching" about it. There is a certain rather anachronistic, Protestant image of Paul's opponents as "preachers", as missionaries who are attempting to persuade the Galatians of their point of view, whose "sermon" can be reconstructed (e.g. J. Louis Martyn), and which the Galatians are currently contemplating, final decision still pending. But Paul's picture of his opponents' gospel involves action as well as words, compulsion as well as proclamation.
Oh that those who are disturbing you would mutilate themselves!
No doubt some will ask, though, whether there is any evidence in the epistle of Paul treating the circumcision of any of the Galatians as having happened. Is the image in 5.12 one of knives ready or knives already being used? In 5.3-4, Paul directly addresses those who have already undergone the knife, the circumcised males in Galatia:
Gal. 5.3-4: μαρτύρομαι δὲ πάλιν παντὶ ἀνθρώπῳ περιτεμνομένῳ ὅτι ὀφειλέτης ἐστὶν ὅλον τὸν νόμον ποιῆσαι. 4 κατηργήθητε ἀπὸ Χριστοῦ οἵτινες ἐν νόμῳ δικαιοῦσθε, τῆς χάριτος ἐξεπέσατε.Paul is testifying here to every circumcised male. He is addressing the circumcised males among the Galatian churches to whom he is writing. When speaking directly to them, he gives a clear indication of their current status. "You have been separated from Christ . . . . you have fallen from grace"; the verbs (κατηργήθητε and ἐξεπέσατε) are both aorist indicatives. The act that has caused the falling away is envisaged as having already happened. The deed has been done. Paul thinks of their circumcision as leading not, as they no doubt intended it, as a means of separating themselves from the ungodly and becoming a part of God’s people. Instead, with characteristically clever irony, he turns this around on them. The act of putting off their flesh has in fact separated them from Christ.
And I witness again to every circumcised male that he is obliged to do the whole Law. You have been severed from Christ, you who are being righteoused by the Law, you have fallen from grace.