Galatians: Old and New

[This is the 6th in an 8-part, text-based series on Paul’s letter to the Galatians.  The entire series, which includes other types of posts as well, may be accessed through this link.]

Conceptually speaking, Galatians is sometimes seen as a “mini-Romans”:  each letter presents Jew-Greek issues and treats them from the new Christ-centered perspective.  Galatians is obviously not as extensive or theologically developed as the later Romans, but it is at least as emphatic, in my estimation.  Having studied some in Galatians and having been somewhat intimidated by the prospect of truly studying Romans, 🙂 I’m glad I have done the former.  It takes less effort and is very inspiring!

One of the issues dealt with solidly by both Pauline letters is the relationship of the Jew to the New Covenant and the Savior, Jesus the Christ.  The following lists, based on information in Ben Witherington’s Grace in Galatia (Eerdmans, 1998), helps in solidifying the distinction.

Pejoratives

  • Hagar
  • The covenant from Mt. Sinai                 
  • The current Jerusalem                           
  • The children of the slave (i.e. Ishmael)   
  • Not sharing the inheritance
  • Flesh, emphasis on physical things (e.g., circumcision)
  • Jewish nature
  • Old Law
  • Judaizers (key:  2:14, e.g., Peter, just before proposition 2:15ff)

Affirmatives

  • [Sarah]
  • The covenant of the promise
  • The Jerusalem above
  • The children of the free (Isaac)
  • Sharing the inheritance
  • Spirit
  • Leading/governing/piloting (paidagogos root) of Law
  • Law of Christ (5:14, 6:2)
  • Faith, belief
  • Gospel, preaching, messenger

In the above categories, we may see clearly that the former items are presented negatively in Galatians, while the things in the “Affirmatives” list are positive and to be pursued by the Galatian Christians.  In the reading and study of Galatians, there can be no doubt that the Old Covenant is being contrasted with the New, with the former viewed unfavorably.

I’d like to move now to one specific passage that may serve as an exemplar in viewing Paul’s message about New vs. Old.  I imagined these conversational responses inside the heads of the first “Judaizing” hearers of 3:28, as they read/heard 3:26-29.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek.”

“Yeah, yeah … I know he’s been saying that, but he can’t really mean that.”

“Neither slave nor free.”

“Now he’s meddling.  He really needs to just stop.”

“Neither male nor female.”

“What?!!  This guy is clearly off  his rocker.  Now he’s talking physical impossibility.

Wait … if that’s what he’s saying, maybe he really does mean that the Jew/Hellenist distinction s supposed to be erased in Christ now. . . .” 

This imaginary “conversation” sprang from my growing understanding of the radical change Paul was affirming in terms of adherence — i.e., moving from Old to New.

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