Return to Study Guide for Galatians -by Don Kugelberg, Long Beach, California USA
Our language offers many marks to the author who wants to emphasize something he’s written. He can use exclamation points, underlines, dashes, or bold face print. New Testament Greek did not offer many of these options. It was written in large block-like letters similar to our capitals and the words were generally run together without punctuation or spaces. When a New Testament writer wanted to emphasize or highlight certain words he would either place them at the beginning of the sentence or he would pen the words in a bolder style.
Paul has been dictating his letter through an unknown scribe. At this point in the letter, however we read:
See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.
From this point forward Paul takes the pen from the scribe’s hand and puts words to paper himself. Scribes were commonly used to write letters since as professional transcribers they could print legibly and quickly and most importantly they were trained to write compactly as papyrus was expensive.
As we will note, Paul does more than just sign the letter. The verses that follow summarize the letter, remaking his main points so as to insure that the Galatians would know that the words the secretary wrote accurately reflected his personal thoughts.
The handwritten summary begins in verse 12:
It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ.
He begins by stating the problem which caused Paul to write in the first place. Some teachers arrived from Jerusalem who were declaring another gospel. They claimed to believe in the cross of Christ and the empty tomb. They claimed, however, that in order to be saved, you had to be circumcised. Their claims were identical to those noted in the Acts 15:1:
But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”
We have struggled with their spiritual status throughout this class and I have purposely avoided being didactic on whether these Judaizers were believers who were deceived or were in fact non-believers trusting in another gospel for salvation. Paul makes three claims in verse 12 which make our dilemma clear.
We can see this readily if we change the order of the verse around somewhat.
“Those who would force you to be circumcised want to make a good showing in the flesh in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ.”
In a later letter to the church at Corinth, Paul stated: (1 Corinthians 1:23)
but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.
We discussed earlier that the fact that Jesus was crucified was proof positive to the Jews that he could not possibly be the long awaited for Messiah. Deuteronomy 21:23 stated specifically that a man hung on a tree was cursed by God. What was a crucifix if not a tree?
As the gospel began to spread we learn from the book of Acts that the first persecutions came not from the Romans but rather from the Jews. In the seventh chapter of Acts we can see if we look carefully that it was the Jews who persecuted Stephen.
And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen.
And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council,
Stephen’s own words in chapter seven leave no doubt as to his persecutors.
You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.
Paul himself before his conversion a Jewish Pharisee was one of the foremost of the persecutors. He was present at Stephen’s stoning and Scripture tells us he approved of the stoning.
But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.
As the Church spread into Asia Minor, Saul intended to follow it, even there.
But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
It was men just like Saul that the Judaizers feared. They knew that devout Jews became angry when people failed to maintain the proper boundaries between Jews and Gentiles. Yet here Jewish Christians were mingling with uncircumcised Gentile Christians. They were eating and fellowshipping with each other freely. This was scandalous to the Jews and the Judaizers knew that sooner rather than later there was bound to be trouble from the authorities at the nearest Jewish synagogue. They urged the Gentile Christians to be circumcised as soon as possible to avoid the trouble. They knew that in the Jewish faith itself that Gentiles were welcome if they agreed to join God’s covenant by circumcision.
They felt they could avoid this pending persecution and indeed, defend their own involvement with Christianity if they could point out that the Gentiles in the Galatian church were being circumcised in large numbers. This is what Paul means when he says “They desire to make a good showing in the flesh.”
Verse 13 makes this point very clear:
For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh.
Paul is not accusing the Judaizers of failing to keep the whole law. No one can do that. Their hypocrisy lies in the fact that they were selecting which portions of the law they would adhere to. Paul pointed out earlier in the letter that if you were going to cling to the law then you would have to obey it all – in its entirety.
Paul knew that the Judaizers were not urging circumcision because they felt it was a theological requirement but rather out of fear. They had determined that they would boast in the number of circumcisions performed when the authorities knocked on the door. Paul draws a distinction between the Judaizers and himself.
But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
We as believers have come to see the cross as something noble or even beautiful. But to the people of New Testament times it was the most ugly thing imaginable. It was a symbol of ultimate humiliation. The Jews and Gentiles alike considered it so disgusting that Philip Ryken in his commentary on Galatians states that it is difficult for us to conceive of a contemporary cultural equivalent to the cross.
F.F. Bruce states that the
Object of Paul’s present boasting was, by all ordinary standards of his day, the most ignoble of all objects – a matter of unrelieved shame, not of boasting. It is difficult, after sixteen centuries and more during which the cross has been a sacred symbol, to realize the unspeakable horror and loathing which the very mention or thought of the cross provoked in Paul’s day. The word “crux” was unmentionable in polite Roman society; even when one was being condemned to death by crucifixion the sentence used an archaic formula which served as a sort of euphemism: “Hang him on the unlucky tree.”
What a strange thing to boast about. What was Paul thinking? Over and over he brings up the cross and Christ crucified.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.
1 Corinthians 1:23
but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,
1 Corinthians 2:2
For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Society felt that the cross should have discouraged the early church. How can you base a set of beliefs on the teachings of one who had been executed as a low-life criminal? Paul doesn’t cover it up – he advertised it. The very thing that polite society thought too obscene to mention Paul broadcasts all over Asia Minor and Europe!
Paul boasts about the cross because it is the only thing in which to boast! It means that God loves us enough to die in our place, that our salvation rests on Him who became cursed for us. It means that the second person of the Trinity has redeemed us from the death sentence that hangs over us. It points out to us that there is no other way to be saved.
For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.
It is the cross which transforms us into the new creation that Paul mentions. He then moves on to say that all who realize the fact that the cross is what makes us a new creation are the true Israel of God.
And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.
He finishes in Galatians 6:17-18
From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.
The Judaizers carry circumcision as a mark of their beliefs. Paul bears the scars of a life lived boasting in the cross of Christ.
Paul’s statement is similar to the response of Antipater, the father of Herod the Great when he was accused of disloyalty to Caesar. Throwing off his clothes and exposing countless scars, he said he needed to say nothing about his loyalty because his body shouted it aloud without saying a word.
Paul’s “stigmata” is his claim to authority.
Return to Study Guide for Galatians -by Don Kugelberg, Long Beach, California USA