Monday, November 13, 2006

Were the Galatians already circumcised? V

This is the fifth post in the current series and it follows on from Were the Galatians Already Circumcised? I, Were the Galatians Already Circumcised? II and Were the Galatians Already Circumcised? III and Were the Galatians Already Circumcised? IV.

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 ἐπιτελεῖσθε
This 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 ὑμᾶς

You are observing days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, that I might have laboured over you in vain.
The 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.


Richard Fellows said...

Your observations on the circumcision of the Galatians have been very interesting, Mark. It is worth adding that circumcision was the final step in the conversion process and showed a high degree of commitment. Therefore, those in the Galatian churches who were being circumcised would have been among the most committed members, without whom the churches would not have been viable. The circumcision of just a few key members of the churches and their re-assimilation into the synagogues would have resulted in the complete loss of the churches. When Crispus defected to Paul's camp he carried many of the Gentiles in his congregation with him, so it is not hard to imagine that if the key leaders of the Galatian churches were circumcised and returned to their synagogues, the others would follow them back to the synagogue (and perhaps remain as God-fearers). Thus, the loss of the Galatian churches would not require the circumcision, en mass, of all its members, but only a few opinion-formers.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I just can't pass this post up. I could not disagree more with both of your interpretive decisions here.

I have argued following Troy Martin's insight, with additonal reasons why the calendar is the non-Jewish calendar. Mark, look, what is missing from Paul's time elements is the one that is specifically Jewish! Yes, "Weeks" is missing.

Your point depends upon interpreting it to be a Jewish calendar, and a larger assumption that Paul does not observe the Jewish calendar nor the groups he founds. That point I will leave alone here, but just note that is very unlikely, for then he would have adapted the Greco-Roman alternative; he and his communities must have a calendar, and there is no seven day count besides the Jewish calendar on offer, so how do they know when Sunday arrives?

Anyway, enough of that. I also want to point out that I have argued at length in my essay on the Antioch Incident in Galatians Debate ("What was at stake in Peter's 'Eating with Gentiles' at Antioch?") why food is not at issue in Antioch; I hope you will read why I believe you are mistaken to follow the crowd on that interpretation, and the implications that follow from subscribing to it. I also explain why Paul's use of the language of "judaizing" there refers specifically to proselyte conversion, not to adopting some Jewish behavior apart from that course.

Take care,
Mark D. Nanos

Anonymous said...

I would agree with your insight on the matter. Since the Gaelic background would consist of a lunar calendar, the logical attraction would be that the Jewish Calendar and overlooking the shadows as relates to Christ's fulfillment and his coming.