Paul's "Cutting" Remarks – Spotlight on WBC: Galatians, $9.99 for a Limited Time
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Paul's "Cutting" Remarks – From WBC: Galatians by Richard N. Longenecker
5:7 “you were running well. Who cut in on you to be keeping you from obeying the truth?” While the first half of this section on “Holding Fast to Freedom” is, as Betz notes, a “highly condensed section,” the second half beginning with v 7 “is freer, appearing like a rambling collection of pointed remarks, rhetorical questions, proverbial expressions, threats, irony, and, climaxing it all, a joke of stark sarcasm” (Galatians, 264). In effect, having argued and exhorted at length, Paul now brings his treatment of the Judaizing threat to a close with this loose collection of comments and remarks.
The figurative use of an athlete running in a stadium to represent living one’s life is frequent in Paul (cf. 2:2; also 1 Cor 9:24-27; Phil 3:14; 2 Tim 4:7; Acts 20:24). Such athletic imagery for life was common in the ancient world… The verb [translated as] (“hinder,” “thwart,” “block the way) in the context of a race suggests tripping or otherwise interfering with a runner, which inevitably had to do with one runner cutting in on another as they ran and so impeding the other’s progress… In the foot races of the Greek festivals there were rules against tripping or cutting in on an opponent…just as there are today. Thus Paul asks his Galatian converts: “Who cut in on you to be keeping you from obeying the truth?” The question, of course, is rhetorical and calls for the same answer as the question of 3:1, “Who bewitched you?” In both cases it was the Judaizers…
5:12 “as for those who are troubling you, O that they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves.” Having concluded his treatment of the Judaizing threat…Paul now adds an additional, sarcastic comment meant to caricature and discredit his opponents…
Greek commentators consistently translated [the key feature of the sentence] as a term for self-mutilation. John Chrysostom, for example, read v 12, “If they will, let them not only be circumcised, but mutilated,” … And most modern translations view the verb in this fashion as well…
Latin commentators, however, treated the expression more ambiguously… So many have understood “cut off” in terms of a withdrawal from the churches or self-imposed excommunication rather than emasculation… W. M. Ramsay, in fact, mounted a rather vigorous attack against understanding Paul here as using such “foul language” as castration or mutilation, simply because such a “scornful expression would be a pure insult, as irrational as it is disgusting” (Galatians, 438; see also 437-40).
Yet as insulting and disgusting as it may seem, Paul’s comment should be understood as a sarcastic way of characterizing the Judaizers and his attitude toward them, as most modern commentators recognize (so, e.g., Lightfoot, Burton, Mussner, Betz, Bruce). Indeed, it is the crudest and rudest of all Paul’s extant statements, which his amanuensis did not try to tone down… Underlying the sarcasm and crudity of the comment, however, is paul’s understanding of circumcision as purely a physical act without religious significance (cf. 5:6; 6:15), which when done for societal or physical reasons is acceptable but when done either to gain acceptance before God or to achieve a more acceptable lifestyle becomes simply bodily mutilation (cf. Phil 3:2)…
Two dangers threatened Christian freedom in Galatia: the first was the acceptance of Jewish nomism as a lifestyle for Gentile Christians, which in effect brought one right back to the basic question of whether righteousness was to be gained by “works of the law” or by a response of faith to “the faithfulness of Jesus Christ” (cf. 2:16); the second was the corruption of the Christian life by reliance on “the flesh” rather than “the Spirit.” The most immediate danger was that of Jewish nomism, which was brought in from outside the church by the Judaizers. So Paul deals with that first and most extensively in 1:6—5:12…
Most often Galatians is viewed as the great document of justification by faith. What Christians all too often fail to realize is that in reality it is a document that sets out a Christ-centered lifestyle—one that stands in opposition to both nomism and libertinism. Sadly, though applauding justification by faith, Christians frequently renounce their freedom in Christ by espousing either nomism or libertinism, and sometimes (like the Galatians) both. So Paul’s letter to the Galatians, though directly relevant to the Galatian situation, speaks also to our situation today.
- Richard N. Longenecker
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