by Robert Brow  February 1999


Paul was obviously very upset that the Galatians had made a model shift -eis eteron euaggelion- (1:6). And anyone who preached the other gospel was -anathema- (1:8,9). His language is a bit crude. Would that the circumcisers (5:1-4, 6:12,13) -apokopsontai- go and castrate themselves (5:12). That is obviously not a fully balanced statement! Paul could have added the paradox that he still loved those enemies (5:14) and prayed for them. There is a similar apparently contradictory paradox about bearing burdens in 6:2 and 6:5.

What had shot up his blood pressure? I wondered what would a modern equivalent look like among us? So I decided to list the strong black and white contrasts in the Epistle. And that clarified a model shift I myself have experienced in the past few years.

I have often preached about the contrast between Christians producing -ta erga tys sarkos- (5:19) as opposed to -o karpos tou pneumatos-( 5:22). Flesh is the usual translation of -sarkos- but I like to explain it as the natural instincts we received in our genes from our parents (that is why we should honour them !), as these were twisted by our early childhood experiences and later traumas. For some the twisting has really warped them. But none of our animal instincts will by nature want to go the extra mile, love enemies, turn the other cheek, etc. as in Matthew 5:38-45. Only the Spirit can give us the beautiful fruit of Galatians 5:22-23).

But Galatians has another strong contrast between how the Spirit was received -ex ergon nomou- (3:2) and -ex akoys pisteos- (3:2). And then there is a third contrast between two ways in which a person -dikaioutai- (2:16) either -ex ergou nomou- (3 times in 2:16) or -dia pisteos Christou- (also 3 times in 2:16).

As I set out these three very sharp contrasts, I wondered how they were connected in Paul's mind? The evangelical theology I was taught after my conversion, and then got drilled into me in seminary studies, was that a person is first justified -dikaioutai- (2:16) by faith (2:16, 3:2, 6, 9, 14, 22, 24, 26) to receive justification (dikaiosune) (2:21). When this happens the person simultaneously receives the Spirit by the same faith -to pneuma elabete ex akoys pisteos- (3:2). Hopefully sanctification by the Spirit will follow in due course, especially if we keep telling God we are terrible sinners.

Many years later I discovered from Greek Orthodox writers that the Reformation in the west was about the Latin words -justificio- and -justificatio- which are not found in the Greek New Testament or the Apostles' or Nicene Creed. Greek theologians point out that in their language the verb -dikaioo- means to put right or make right, or free, and the noun -dikaiosune- is the state of having been made right or put right, or free. That could occur in the law court of heaven, as imagined by those awful Muslims they have had to battle for thirteen centuries. Eastern Orthodox Christians wonder why their European brothers in the west stand with them against the legalistic attack of militant Islam in the Balkans, and soon in every city of Europe and America?

But the idea invented by those Latin speaking Roman lawyer-theologians since Tertullian and Augustine is hardly an improvement on Islam. They also have a law court in heaven that sentences most people of our world to burn in hell because they did not hear, or make the right decision about Jesus Christ. The idea of that kind of law court in heaven never occurs in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the LXX Septuagint).

If Greek Orthodox theologians are right, then the Latin words -justificio, justificatio- which the Western Church has fought about since the Reformation are spare wheels which are nothing to do with our wonderful Christian -euaggelion-.

As a result of being thus enlightened (Ephesians 3:9, John 1:9), I have been trying out another model to explain the logic of Paul's three contrasts in Galatians. From the beginning (Genesis 1:27) God had only one way for humans to be made perfect -theiosis, teleiosis- in love. That is by looking in faith to the power of God -to pneuma- to do what we cannot do by legalism -ex ergon nomou- (3:12) or by fleshly effort -ta erga tys sarkos (5:19). When we are looking in the right direction by faith (2:16, 3:2, 9, 22, 26) like Abraham (Galatians 3:6-9) we enjoy grace -tyn charin tou theou- (1:6, 2:21), freedom -eleutheria- (5:1, 13) and adoption -uiothesia- (4:5-6) as children of God. That eternal purpose was somehow made visible in our world by Jesus death on the cross (3:1).

And that strikes me as very user friendly good news.

PS If you wanted to explore this further you could try the article on Justification in Romans, or the Commentary on Romans  which uses the same explanatory model.

 Ephesians .....