Summary Galatians Chapter 4

To summarize the entire chapter.

In Chapter 4:1-10, we get the extended metaphor regarding the Law as a tutor that was necessary during our time as spiritual minors.  It’s an interesting way to minimize Judaism, the Judaic roots of the Jesus faith without actually dismissing it completely.  It was a necessary step, but the need has now ended.

Starting with 4:11-20, we pick up sort of where we were in 1 Thess chapter 3, with Paul sort of whining about how he doesn’t get no respect.  He worked so hard to bring them the gospel, and, the minute his back is turned, the Galatians are chasing another gospel.

In this stretch I finally figured out that the Galatians had been converted from paganism as the Thessalonians had been.  In addition, this ‘other gospel’ was most likely the gospel as promulgated by James and the Jerusalem assembly.  That is why they preached the need to follow the Law in order to be fully disciples of  Jesus.  This then explains why Paul dedicates most of this letter to contrasting the Promise to Abraham–which now includes Gentiles–with the followers of the Law, and why the former is validated while the latter is decidedly inferior.

This theme is continued in 21-31. There, we go back to the relative values Paul placed on the Law and faith in Jesus. For this, we go back to the story of Abraham, and are presented with two new metaphors. The first is slave vs freeborn, the second flesh vs spirit. Paul flat-out says that Jewish tradition and the Law are slavery; this is the heritage of Hagar, and the followers of the Law are the heirs of Ishmael and not the heirs of Isaac.  Followers of Jesus, OTOH, who don’t put their hopes in the Law are freeborn, the true heirs of Isaac, the children of the Promise.  This is true whether they are Jew or Gentile, slave or free.

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 28, 2012, in epistles, Galatians, Paul's Letters and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. From the discussions so far, it seems to be that:

    1) the James gang seemed to be preaching a form of Judaism that tried to draw orthodoxy towards it through insurgency methods: helping the poor, resisting onerous authority, and drawing on traditional themes of behavior and righteousness in the OT prophetic tradition; whereas,

    2) Paul was working to build a new Judaism, a complete reinterpretation, that trivialized the traditional interpretations by reinterpreting the past in a new way.

    Both sides had apocalyptic traditions, both drew on those who found their actions or behavior inspirational. James would be more attractive to socially-dissatisfied Jews, while Paul would be more attractive to pagans or non-practicing Jews. Both would claim the “true Christ”, but both would find the other so incompatible to their theme, it was a wonder there was any cooperation. It may be that Paul did not make this much of a break until much later. At first, they could build on each other’s previous work, but at one point, they were undoing each other’s work, as we see with these letters of Paul.

  2. Taking what you said in comment to Galatians 4.21-31 about Paul finding being a Pharisee to be something akin to slavery: yes, being an observant Jew is demanding; keeping a kosher house takes a lot of effort; throw in all the other requirements and it’s quite rigourous. Now, yes, Paul would appeal more to Gentiles if all the dietary and other restrictions were lifted; circumcision alone was enough to give a lot of them pause.

    As for the James Gang…my sense is that they had trouble breaking with tradition; Paul seems to have had no such qualms about a lot of things.

    But this brings up an interesting point: how novel was Jesus’s message? Novel enough to inspire Paul to do what he did; not so much to convince James & Co. that this is what Jesus meant. Yes, each would have claimed the ‘true Christ’ (Lord knows this hasn’t gone out of fashion even today), but who was closer to the truth?

    That’s where the Quest for the Historical Jesus comes in: the attempt to find the ‘true Jesus’ by peeling off the layers. However, since James and Paul couldn’t agree on the ‘true Jesus’, I’m not overly optimistic that modern scholars can actually accomplish their goal.

    But the other thing about the James/Paul dynamic: envy. No doubt James & Co. were only too aware that Paul had the more appealing message. This must have driven them nuts. They, doubtless, held their traditions dear, and Paul was diluting and changing that tradition. Worse, he was probably bringing more new converts in than they were.

    As for the insurgency method you mention about James…I’m not sure I see this. Almost the opposite, in fact. I get the sense that James was too afraid (? or something) to make enough of a break with the past, that he saw Jesus as a new interpretation of Judaism, rather than an entirely new message.

    Of course, that’s not to say that Jesus intended to promulgate a new message. James may have been the more correct of the two. Paul OTOH may have been, perhaps, too eager to make the break.

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