Galatians 4:11-20

Chapter 4 continues:

11φοβοῦμαι ὑμᾶς μή πως εἰκῇ κεκοπίακα εἰς ὑμᾶς.

I fear you, lest how in vain I labored among you.

11 Timeo vos, ne forte sine causa laboraverim in vobis.

He’s laying a guilt trip.  “I worked so hard, and this is what I get?”

Honestly, until just about now, I’ve been rather uncertain whether he’s afraid of them reverting to paganism, or if it’s the Judaizers that are the problem. Then I took a step back and looked at the forest and realized that this whole letter could be titled “Why Followers of Jesus Need Not Be Jewish.”  

The problem is the James Gang, the ‘other’ gospel he rails about in Gal 1:5.  Having not gotten that until now, well, a little slow on the uptake, what can I say? This is the downside of coming into this cold, without a background in what has been said about these letters already.  I hope this is outweighed by the benefit of seeing everything fresh, even if that means getting lost in the trees and missing the forest from time to time.  

12Γίνεσθε ὡς ἐγώ, ὅτι κἀγὼ ὡς ὑμεῖς, ἀδελφοί, δέομαι ὑμῶν. οὐδέν με ἠδικήσατε:

So become as me, as I also become also as you, brothers, I beg you.  You have not dishonoured me.

 << ἠδικήσατε >> is, literally, dishonoured.  This is almost a technical term, or, a religious or theological concept in Greek thought.  Recall the discussion of << τιμη >> and << δικη >> in Galatians 2:15, above.  The question becomes, how aware was Paul of the import and implications of this word?  Doesn’t matter, ultimately, because it’s the proper word, but it is an important question to ask if one is trying to pin down where Paul stands on certain things.  How Jewish is he?  To what extent has he been Hellenized by the Greek presence in this part of the world for the past 2 or 3 centuries?

12 Estote sicut ego, quia et ego sicut vos fratres, obsecro vos. Nihil me laesistis;

13οἴδατε δὲ ὅτι δι’ ἀσθένειαν τῆς σαρκὸς εὐηγγελισάμην ὑμῖν τὸ πρότερον,

You know, however, that through weakness of the flesh ( = illness ) I evangelized you in the first/at the beginning.

This seems like it might be another of those situations where a certain meaning has come to be taken for granted, when it may not actually be the case.  The word, and the concept, centres on << ἀσθένειαν >>.  What the word actually means is ‘weakness’.  So, it’s not at all odd to consider this as ‘sickness,’ especially when we see the Latin is << infirmitatem >>, right?  Well, maybe.  The Latin also means, primarily, ‘weakness.’  The standard Latin word for ‘illness/sickness is << morbus >>  I bring this up because ‘weakness of the flesh’, especially in a context like this, could be moral as well as physical.  Recall Paul asking the Galatians Having begun in the spirit, will you now be finished by the flesh? (Gal 3:3).

 There is every possibility in the world that I’m wrong on this, but I do want to point out the possibility.  It’s a situation that the underlying connotations are easily ‘lost in translation,’ as it were.

Addendum: I have learned from a secondary source that one possible interpretation of this is that Paul had not actually intended to preach to the Galatians. Rather, his intent was to pass through, but he was laid up by an illness, which sort of forced him to stay.  And, while there, he began preaching.  This is from Paul, The Founder of Christianity, by Gerd Luedemann.

(Note: the ue is meant to represent a “U” with an umlaut.)

13 scitis autem quia per infirmitatem carnis pridem vobis evangelizavi,

14καὶ τὸν πειρασμὸν ὑμῶν ἐν τῇ σαρκί μου οὐκ ἐξουθενήσατε οὐδὲ ἐξεπτύσατε, ἀλλὰ ὡς ἄγγελον θεοῦ ἐδέξασθέ με, ὡς Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν.

And the testing of you in (the illness/weakness of) my flesh you have not set as naught (= disregarded) nor spat out (= rejected), but as an angel of God you have received me, as the Christ Jesus.

Or, so you can read it: And my physical infirmity (illness) was a trial (= ‘burden’ ) for you, but  you did not disregard or reject (me), but you accepted me as an angel of God, as Jesus Christ.

Is it me, or does this whole sequence not really make a whole lot of sense?  It’s more or less OK through the guilt part, but the physical infirmity?  Is he continuing the guilt thing?  He labored, even though he was sick?

Per the note above, this question has been answered, pretty much in the affirmative.

See, the thing is, I could totally just delete these parts about my lack of understanding, and no one would be the wiser.  By doing that, though, I lose the sort of befuddlement that one has when reading some of this stuff the first, or second, or third time.  Somehow, I think it’s important to get this across because a big part of this exercise is to look at the words themselves, w/o paying too much attention to what the scholarly/theological consensus is about what they supposedly mean.  So I’ll continue in the ‘accidental tourist’ sort of mode, and beg your patience for doing so.  

14 et tentationem vestram in carne mea non sprevistis neque respuistis, sed sicut angelum Dei excepistis me, sicut Christum Iesum.

15ποῦ οὖν ὁ μακαρισμὸς ὑμῶν; μαρτυρῶ γὰρ ὑμῖν ὅτι εἰ δυνατὸν τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς ὑμῶν ἐξορύξαντες ἐδώκατέ μοι.

So where is the blessing of you?  For I provide witness (attest) to you that if able the eyes of yous having been dug (pulled) out, you would give them to me.

 Or, so you can read it: So where is your blessing?  For I attest to you, that if it were possible, having pulled out your eyes, you would have given them to me.

 What the heck is this all about? Going from laying on the guilt to them pulling out their eyes for him.  Perhaps this is supposed to mean that, back in the day when he was doing all that work to bring them to the Jesus faith, they thought so highly of him that they would have pulled out their eyes for him.  Or something.  I’m totally open to suggestion.

 Just a quick note here.  The tense of << ἐδώκατέ >> here is aorist.  This is the most common of the past tenses.  To translate as “would give”, this should be a subjunctive.  As, indeed, the Latin is. To translate  << ἐδώκατέ >> here as a simple aorist, without the element of unreality implied by the subjunctive doesn’t quite feel right.  And it seems the translator of the Vulgate came to the same conclusion. I don’t think I’m doing violence to the Greek, but I’m willing to hear arguments to the contrary.

 Again, though, this makes me wonder what sort of process we’re dealing with here.  This whole section seems odd, and the Greek is a bit…idiosyncratic.  The problem is, when the Greek gets this odd, we have to ask if the author did it deliberately, or if s/he did simply because s/he didn’t know any better.  Above, in 1:10, we talked about Paul having a secretary who was from Athens, and so, presumably, a bit more versed in Greek prose.  This section seems rough; not just the Greek, but the flow of the thought overall.  Did Paul not have the secretary rewrite this?  Or did Paul add something to the text?  Or what?

15 Ubi est ergo beatitudo vestra? Testimonium enim perhibeo vobis, quia, si fieri posset, oculos vestros eruissetis et dedissetis mihi.

16ὥστε ἐχθρὸς ὑμῶν γέγονα ἀληθεύων ὑμῖν;

Therefore, did I become an enemy of you, having told the truth to you?

16 Ergo inimicus vobis factus sum, verum dicens vobis?

17ζηλοῦσιν ὑμᾶς οὐ καλῶς, ἀλλὰ ἐκκλεῖσαι ὑμᾶς θέλουσιν, ἵνα αὐτοὺς ζηλοῦτε.

They (wish to) rival you not well ( = in a bad way), but they wish to shut you out, so that you may (wish to) rival them.

 Honestly not sure I get this sentence at all.  First, the verb << ζηλοω >> is difficult.  Liddell & Scott define this as “to rival, to vie with, emulate.”  It cross references it to the Latin verb we see here, <<aemulor>>, which Lewis & Short also define as ‘to rival, to endevour to equal, or to excel one, to emulate, to vie with.’  The thing is, the base definition of ‘to emulate’ is not ‘to imitate’, but ‘to strive to equal or excel.’  So you get

“They strive to equal you , not in a good way, but they wish to shut you out, so that you may strive to equal them.”

 The ‘they’ is the preachers of the other gospel; at least, that’s the most likely antecedent.  Now, this makes more sense when we realize that ‘they’ are the Judaizers,  this makes more sense. They are trying to convince the Galatians that proper followers of Jesus keep the Jewish Law, too.  This becomes a badge of one’s seriousness, or one’s piety.  RL Fox called these sorts “religious overachievers”, and I like that. So, in that way, they strive to equal, or outdo the Galatians by following the Jewish Law, but then that means the Galatians have to play catch-up, so that they will then have to strive to equal those maintaining Jewish Law.

So, we go from guilt, to physical infirmity, to pulling out eyes, to being enemies, to this whole thing with rivals.  Understanding whom Paul is talking about makes this more clear, but it also makes me worry (probably unnecessarily) that we’re simply heading down the path well-trodden.

17 Aemulantur vos non bene, sed excludere vos volunt, ut illos aemulemini.

18καλὸν δὲ ζηλοῦσθαι ἐν καλῷ πάντοτε, καὶ μὴ μόνον ἐν τῷ παρεῖναί με πρὸς ὑμᾶς,

But it is good to be sought always in a good way, and not only in the me being with you.  (…not only when I am with you.)

When the cat’s away, the mice will play.  Some things never change, do they?  Love these little very human touches.

18 Bonum est autem aemulari in bono semper, et non tantum cum praesens sum apud vos,

19τέκνα μου, οὓς πάλιν ὠδίνω μέχρις οὗ μορφωθῇ Χριστὸς ἐν ὑμῖν:

My children, over whom I labor again until such time as Christ is formed in you.  

 Note that << ὠδίνω >> also has the sense of ‘labor’ as in childbirth.  This gives the sense that Christ is gestating in one’s spiritual womb. Of course, for anyone who’s seen Alien, other images are possible!

Cf below, Gal 4:27

19 filioli mei, quos iterum parturio, donec formetur Christus in vobis!

20ἤθελον δὲ παρεῖναι πρὸς ὑμᾶς ἄρτι, καὶ ἀλλάξαι τὴν φωνήν μου, ὅτι ἀποροῦμαι ἐν ὑμῖν.

For I wished to be present among you and make other (= ‘make different’ = ‘change’) my voice (often translated as ‘tone’, as in ‘tone of voice’) since I am uncertain in ( = of ) you.

Sounds like Paul wants to be on the spot to instill a little discipline.

20 Vellem autem esse apud vos modo et mutare vocem meam, quoniam incertus sum in vobis.


About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on October 26, 2012, in epistles, Galatians, Paul's Letters and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. An interesting point about the struggle with who was above or below each other or more equal or not. Possibly related is the passage in 1 Corinth, where Paul talks about who he has baptized or not, responding to how there is a hierarchy of “who baptized who” and how many steps they were from Jesus, and where Paul points out how he is only one step from Jesus.

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