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December 31: Luke 2:21

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Luke 2:21

Today’s Christmas season note will look at the circumcision and naming of Jesus, parallel to that which was narrated of John in Lk 1:59ff. In the case of Jesus, it is told simply, in a single sentence (2:21). Actually, the circumcision is mentioned primarily to establish the time at which the naming took place:

“And when the eight days of his (be)ing circumcised were (ful)filled…”

The Greek syntax, rendered quite literally here, can be misleading. The reference, of course, is to the period of eight days, after birth, before the male child was to be circumcised.

For more on the naming of a child taking place in connection with circumcision, cf. the earlier note on 1:57-66. The naming of John is given with greater detail due to the importance of the sign attached to his birth (Zechariah’s inability to speak); the naming of Jesus, by contrast, is told with virtually no detail at all:

“…(then) also his name was called Yeshua, the (name) called under [i.e. by] the Messenger before his [i.e. Jesus’] being received together in the belly (of his mother)”

The naming took place in fulfillment of the Angel’s directive (1:31), with no specific action by either parent being mentioned; the emphasis is rather on the heavenly origin of the name (given by the Angel) and that it had been given prior to Jesus’ conception. This is narrated in the passive, and there is no indication of which parent did the naming (cp. Matt 1:21, 25). Possibly this is meant to suggest or allude to a “divine passive”, where God is the implied actor, perhaps even as a foreshadowing of the scene in 2:41-50 (vv. 48-49).

Between the initial mention of the name by the Angel and the naming recorded here, the theme of salvation has been developed, primarily in the two hymns of Mary and Zechariah (the Magnificat and Benedictus). God is referred to as “Savior” (Swth/r) in 1:47, at the opening of the Magnificat, while the word “salvation” (swthri/a) occurs three times in the Benedictus (vv. 69, 71, 77). Lk 1:77 is close to the idea expressed in Matt 1:21, but the Lukan Gospel does not deal directly with the meaning (or interpretation) of the name Yeshua (Y¢šûa±). However, the child Jesus is called by the title Swth/r (“Savior”) in 2:11, in a context where the Messianic vocabulary is especially clear and prominent (cf. the note on 2:10-14). For more detail on the etymology and meaning of the name Yeshua, consult the recent note on Matt 1:21.

Circumcision—The mention of circumcision (lit. “cutting around”) here, and in 1:59, is important for the author’s theme of Jesus as the fulfillment of the types and patterns of the Old Testament (the Old Covenant). Joseph and Mary, like John’s parents Zechariah and Elizabeth, are said (and shown) to have been faithful in observing the commands and regulations of the Torah. Circumcision, as the principal sign (or mark) of the covenant between God and Israel, was in many ways the most important rite and religious-cultural practice in the Torah. Both children—John and Jesus—were circumcised according to the requirements laid down in the Law.

The circumcision of Jesus is not otherwise mentioned directly in the New Testament, but Paul, who addressed the issue of circumcision numerous times in his letters (esp. Galatians and Romans), gives a definite soteriological dimension to Jesus’ fullment/observance of the Law. The passage is Galatians 4:4-5, which also happens to refer to the birth of Jesus. Paul states that Jesus came to be “under the Law”—note how this is set parallel to his (human) birth:

  • “God se(n)t forth his Son”
    • “coming to be (born) out of a woman” (geno/menon e)k gunaiko/$)
    • “coming to be under the Law” (geno/menon u(po\ no/mon)

The purpose of Jesus’ birth and human life was to purchase out (of bondage) the ones who are “under the Law”. Paul’s unique (and controversial) view of the ultimate function and purpose of the Old Testament/Jewish Law (Torah) is too complex to address here. I recommend the interested reader consult the articles on Paul’s View of the Law (part of the series “The Law and the New Testament”), which also includes a discussion of Gal 4:1-11. Paul frequently describes ‘salvation’ in terms of human beings (believers) set free from bondage (slavery) to the the power of sin—where sin is depicted as a hostile ruler or tyrant. Similarly in the Lukan Infancy narrative, in the Benedictus, the image of salvation/redemption starts in the conventional, dramatic context of human powers (i.e. enemies of Israel, Lk 1:71, 74), but is transferred to salvation from sin by the end of the hymn (1:77, cf. Matt 1:21). These same two aspects relate to the idea of redemption as part of the Messianic expectation of the period (2:25-26, 38).

More relevant to the Lukan Infancy narrative perhaps is Romans 15:8ff:

“The Anointed One {Christ} came to be a servant of circumcision over [i.e. on behalf of] the truth of God, to confirm the promises to the Fathers, and over (his) mercy (for) the nations to honor/glorify God…”

Here “circumcision” (peritomh/) is a shorthand for those who have been circumcised—i.e. Israelites and Jews. This would certainly imply that Jesus himself had been circumcised, especially when taken together with Gal 4:4 (cf. above). A major emphasis for Paul throughout Romans is the unity of Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ. Salvation from the power of sin, common to all human beings, is realized through faith in Christ. The thrust of this section has a general parallel with the Song of Simeon (Lk 2:29-32). Moreover, one of the Scriptures Paul cites (in v. 12) is from a passage (Isaiah 11) that was regularly given a Messianic interpretation. Isa 11:10 is similar to the first line of the prior (and related) oracle (vv. 1-9)—for a discussion of verse 1, cf. the previous note on Matt 2:23. We can see how this relates to the portrait of Jesus in the Lukan Infancy narrative:

  • He is the Anointed One (Messiah) and Savior of God’s people (2:11)
    • He is born and lives among the people Israel
      —He is under the Law—circumcised, etc—fulfilling God’s covenant
    • The Good News (Gospel) goes out to the nations
  • The salvation he brings is for all people—Jews and Gentiles both, as the people of God (v. 10)

This will be discussed further in the remaining notes of this series.

Note of the Day (Galatians 3:28, part 3)

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Galatians 3:28, continued

This is the last of three daily notes on Galatians 3:28 and the declaration that “in (Christ) there is no male and female” (v. 28c).

  1. The background and significance of the statement
  2. The logical consequences and possible interpretation(s), and
  3. Comparison with the Pauline teaching in 1 Cor 11:3ff; 14:34-35, etc

See the earlier notes on the first and second topics.

3. Comparison with the Pauline teaching in 1 Cor 11:3ff; 14:34-35, etc

There is an apparent contradiction between the ideal expressed in Gal 3:28c and the view(s) on gender distinction elsewhere in the Pauline letters (such as 1 Cor 11:2-16; 14:34-35; 1 Tim 2:11-15, and Eph 5:22-24). On the one hand, it is stated outright that there is no gender distinction (“no male and female”) for believers in Christ; on the other hand, 1 Cor 11:2ff etc teaches that essential distinctions (including a subordinate role/position for women) are to be preserved. Is Paul being inconsistent? My discussion on this topic will proceed by way of exploring several possibilities that could explain these differences and diverging points of emphasis. The order of presentation does not indicate any preference on my part, but generally moves from critical to tradition-conservative in approach.

a. Paul is inconsistent. In other words, he accepts the declaration of Gal 3:28 without reservation in the case of socio-religious distinction (Jew/Gentile), but really does not for gender distinction (male/female). His position regarding socio-economic distinction (slave/free) is perhaps more ambiguous. Yet there is no indication of any restriction on roles in the Church based on Jew/Gentile or slave/free, such as we find for male/female.

b. Paul changed his mind. This could be indicated by the fact that, in the passages parallel to Gal 3:27-28—namely, 1 Cor 12:13 and Col 3:9-11—there is no mention of “male and female”. According to at least one version of this view, Paul realized the implications and difficulties of Gal 3:28c and avoided including sexual/gender distinction as part of the old order that is eliminated for believers in Christ. However, all of this is based on the premise that Galatians was written well prior to 1 Corinthians, etc., enough so that it would allow Paul time to change his mind or qualify his teaching, and this is highly questionable. There is good reason to think that 1 Cor 11-14 may have been written before Galatians, and that the latter is only slightly earlier than 2 Corinthians and Romans.

A more traditional-conservative version of this overall view would allow Paul to have modified/clarified his position (or the way he expressed it) in the context of progressive revelation.

c. Gal 3:28c does not reflect Paul’s fundamental thinking on the subject. This is based on the theory that Gal 3:27-28 (and 1 Cor 12:13 / Col 3:9-11) reflects an earlier (baptismal) formula which Paul is citing and/or adapting. While the declaration regarding “Jew and Greek” generally corresponds with Paul’s theology and practical instruction, that involving “male and female” does not. There does seem to be a fundamental difference, especially in the way that Gal 3:28c echoes the creation narrative—compare this with 1 Cor 11:7-9 and 1 Tim 2:13-15, where the Genesis account (Gen 1-3) is interpreted and used to make almost the opposite point.

d. The declaration in Gal 3:28c is rhetorical and/or limited in scope. Similar in part to (b) and (c). Again, on the view that Paul is drawing upon an earlier baptismal formula, he does so for rhetorical or dramatic effect, to support his overall argument and teaching in the letter; however, the specific declaration is not meant as a fundamental doctrine.

e. Paul accepts the declaration in theory, but not in practical application. This would indicate a kind of inconsistency, perhaps, as with (a) above. Clearly Paul did not go as far as certain Gnostics and other early Christians in the ideal of eliminating sexuality and gender-based distinction from Christian identity and experience. On this, see the discussion in yesterday’s note. It is fine to speak of us all being one in Christ, but this does not remove the practical reality of differences among individual believers (cf. 1 Cor 12:12-26). The main problem is that Paul seems much more willing to declare that ethnic and religious differences (Jew/Gentile, Gal 3:28a) do not apply to roles and positions in the Church—so why not for gender differences as well (Gal 3:28c)?

f. Gal 3:28c is meant as a declaration for all believers, while the other instruction is not. This is based on the interpretive principle which subordinates instruction, related to specific issues in the local congregations of the time, to doctrines and statements which clearly apply for all believers. While this may be acceptable as a general method for us today, there is little indication that Paul drew such a distinction in his actual letters. Even if we were to theorize, for example, that he allowed customs and practices (e.g. women speaking/preaching in the congregation) which he did not personally endorse (cp. 1 Cor 11:2-16 with 1 Tim 2:11ff), he always is careful to connect his teaching with basic Gospel/Christian principles and traditions. Paul had a much narrower geographical and chronological frame of reference—the establishment and (relatively brief) life-span of congregations, between the resurrection and (imminent) return of Christ—and could readily connect the local with the universal. It is exceedingly more difficult for us to do this today, with the wide gulf in time and culture between, say, mid-1st century Corinth and early 21st century America.

g. Paul sees a distinction between essential identity and practical application. In other words, Gal 3:28 relates to the spiritual identity of believers in Christ (as a theological doctrine), while the other instruction in the letters (1 Cor 11:2-16, et al) applies to the way our Christian life is acted out in practice within an organized community. Such a conceptual division is popular among commentators and theologians, but is altogether too neat and artificial. Why should being male or female have no significance for coming to faith in Christ, but then suddenly be of great importance for our daily life and relationships in Christ? Admittedly, Paul himself, as a minister and founder of churches, had a strong practical side—his vision of the Church involved functioning local communities embedded within the society at large; yet he rarely offers practical instruction which is not closely wedded to the Gospel message and the essential identity of the believer in Christ. This is part of what makes 1 Cor 11:2-16, for example, so problematic for Christians today.

h. The apparent restrictions only apply to role and do not affect essential unity/equality. This is an especially popular view for traditional-conservative commentators today, since it allows one to affirm both (i) equality of men and women in Christ, and (ii) distinct/subordinate roles and positions in the Church. Many today (women especially) consider the logic and terminology (“complementarian”, etc) employed to be rather disingenuous—how can men and women be both (truly) equal and yet (at the same time) in a subordinate position one to the other? Some traditional-conservative interpreters would downplay the idea of subordination—especially in the sense of being secondary or inferior—yet it is hard to deny that Paul has something of this is in mind in 1 Cor 11:3-10 (cf. also 14:34-35; 1 Tim 2:11-15 and Eph 5:22-24ff), especially the manner in which he ties it to the order and hierarchy of creation (vv. 3, 7-9). One very much wishes that Paul had expounded further upon what he presents in 1 Cor 11:2-16, as I suspect it would clarify considerably his actual view of the matter—i.e. how the old order of creation has been transformed for believers in Christ.

i. The apparent restrictions represent a compromise for the sake of peace and order. This takes a simpler, pragmatic view—while Paul accepts essential equality (and unity) for male and female believers in Christ, he also wishes to maintain a certain (customary) order for the Church within the larger society, both from a social and religious point of view. Along the same lines, on the basis of Christian unity itself, believers ought to subordinate their individual rights and privileges, etc, for the good of the community. In 1 Cor 7:2-4ff he describes this in egalitarian, reciprocal terms, for men and women (husbands and wives), while in other passages (cf. above) he uses a more traditional hierarchical relationship (man/husband as head of the wife/woman).


Arguments can be offered for and against each of the nine interpretative viewpoints presented above. I will comment on them only indirectly, by looking at four key points which much be considered and addressed if one hopes to find and accurate (and satisfactory) interpretation to the overall question.

Point #1—Paul, in his other letters and instruction, retains the gender distinction with regard to ministry roles, etc, in the congregation, but does not do the same for religious-cultural (Jew/Gentile) or socio-economic (slave/free) distinctions. It is easy to charge Paul with inconsistency here, but that is a rather superficial way of looking at the matter. I believe a better, and more thoughtful, explanation lies in a consideration of several important factors:

  • At the time Paul wrote Galatians (as well as 1-2 Corinthians and Romans), only the Jew-Gentile distinction was at issue with regard to Christian identity. This was natural enough, since the distinction is fundamentally religious, and defined the community in religious terms. It was for this reason that Paul fought so hard to eliminate the distinction among believers. Our identity in Christ was not to be defined by religious and cultural factors (such as ethnicity, the observance of the Torah, participation in festivals and holy days, etc), but by our faith and (spiritual) union with Christ. On the other hand, going all the way back to the time of Jesus, men and women were accepted as believers together, with little or no distinction (cf. the discussion in Part 7). Similarly, believers from the beginning were drawn from various social classes, and, while there were doubtless questions of status and prejudice which had to be addressed in the congregations, they do not seem to have been serious or widespread enough to affect one’s basic Christian identity within the community. Thus, these social and gender distinctions could be accepted or maintained without seriously affecting a correct understanding of the believer’s religious identity.
  • Paul’s letter to Philemon is instructive, as it expresses Paul’s understanding of the socio-economic distinction (slave/free) in the Church. Onesimus was a slave, with Philemon his master, and yet both men were Christians. Thus, they were brothers and equals in Christ, while at the same time, on the wider social level, they were in the hierarchical relationship of master and slave. While this situation is foreign to us today, and rather difficult to appreciate, it allows us a window into the thought of many early Christians, such as Paul. The social distinction could be maintained right alongside of the ideal of equality among believers.
  • It was the biological-gender (male/female) distinction which was most fundamental to Christian society, centered as it was on the family unit and marriage bond. Paul’s model for the Church seems to be as a community existing within the larger society. He may have encouraged believers to remain single and unmarried (1 Cor 7), but he recognized that husbands and wives (with their children) made up, and would make up, a large segment of the congregation. Thus, there was greater reason to maintain the man/woman and husband/wife distinction.

Point #2—In the places where Paul (or the Pauline tradition) mentions the male/female distinction, it is often connected with the Creation narrative of Genesis, as I have discussed extensively in earlier notes and articles in this series. Even in Gal 3:28, the phrase “male and female” almost certainly derives from the Genesis account. While Christians today may not always appreciate (or agree with) Paul’s interpretation and use of the Creation account to establish male-female relations and roles in the Church, this dependence on the Scriptural tradition must be recognized. It also means that his view of gender relations is not merely practical or customary, but reflects an essential aspect of the human condition as established by God.

Point #3—Gender distinction and roles in the Church are not simply based on the original created order, but, rather, I believe, in Paul’s mind are supposed to reflect the new creation among believers. Admittedly, he does not discuss this in detail, and the point must be inferred from the relevant passages in his letters, but I think it is reasonably clear, especially when one examines 1 Cor 11:2-16 (cf. Part 1 and the related notes). According to Paul’s thinking (and his theology), the new creation in Christ does not abolish the old order, but transforms it. The old order is eliminated only in terms of the fallen human condition—i.e. our bondage to sin (and the Law).

Point #4—When considering the portions of the undisputed letters (i.e. 1 Cor 11:2-16 and 14:33-36) which seem to contradict Gal 3:28c, one must keep in mind the two fundamental (and interrelated) themes Paul emphasizes in 1 Corinthians:

  • That believers should fulfill in practice (that is, in the life of the Community) the ideal of unity—i.e. of our union in Christ, as the body of Christ. To this end, believers are to subordinate their individual concerns and interests to the (greater) good of the Community.
  • While the principal bond of unity is spiritual (that is, in and by the Spirit), it should be manifest in practice, and in daily life, according to a particular arrangement or order established by God. Paul makes this particular point numerous times, especially within the instruction regarding congregational life and worship in chapters 11-14. This arranged “order” is expressed and realized two ways:
    (i) horizontal—the reciprocal relation between believers, i.e. we are to subordinate ourselves to each other, as brothers and sisters, equally.
    (ii) vertical—a hierarchical chain of relation: God–Christ–Believers. Paul extends this by way of the Genesis account: God–Christ–Man–Woman.

Contrary to some the view of some commentators, Paul does not only emphasize the latter (vertical) aspect of the established order; rather, he has both aspects in view. Admittedly, Christians today often find it difficult to accept both aspects, and it is in the specific division of believers into male and female (based on the Genesis account) which is most problematic, as I have already discussed extensively in relation to 1 Tim 2:11-15 (cf. Part 5 and the notes on v. 12 and Gen 3:16). However, if we wish to be faithful students and interpreters of the Scriptures, we must grapple with the language and imagery which Paul (and the Pauline tradition) uses.

Note of the Day (Galatians 3:28, part 2)

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Galatians 3:28, continued

This is the second of three daily notes on Galatians 3:28 and the declaration that “in (Christ) there is no male and female”.

  1. The background and significance of the statement
  2. The logical consequences and possible interpretation(s), and
  3. Comparison with the Pauline teaching in 1 Cor 11:3ff; 14:34-35, etc

For the first topic, cf. yesterday’s note.

2. The consequences and possible interpretation/application

In the previous discussion of the declaration in Gal 3:28 (cf. the prior note, along with Part 3 of the series “Women in the Church”), I pointed out the connection with the creation narrative in Genesis, and that the believer’s new identity in Christ essentially represents a “new creation”. This means that the old created order has been transcended and/or transformed, including the social and biological distinction of “male and female”. Any proper interpretation of Gal 3:28 is made more difficult by the fact that, of the three distinctions—Jew/Greek, slave/free, male/female—Paul really only discusses the first extensively in his letters. He says relatively little about the elimination of socio-economic (slave/free) distinctions, and even less about the socio-biological (gender-based) distinction. His instruction in 1 Cor 11:2-16; 14:34-35 (not to mention 1 Tim 2:11-15) suggests that he was not inclined to pursue the declaration of Gal 3:28c to what might seem its natural fulfillment—the elimination of sexual/gender distinction in Christian life and worship. Some commentators consider Paul to be inconsistent in this regard, and I will discuss this point in the next day’s note. It is perhaps significant that, in the passages parallel to Gal 3:27-281 Cor 12:13 and Col 3:9-11—there is no mention of the male/female distinction.

There were, however, other early Christians who did apply Gal 3:28c (and/or its underlying thought) more thoroughly from a religious standpoint. We find this, especially, among the Gnostic groups and writings from the 2nd and 3rd centuries (cf. my articles on “Gnosticism” and “Women in Gnosticism“). For example, in the so-called “Tripartite (Three-Part) Tractate” from Nag Hammadi [NH I.5], there is a similar declaration, blending (it would seem) Gal 3:28 and Col 3:11, but with a decidedly Gnostic interpretation:

“For when we confessed the kingdom which is in Christ, we escaped from the whole multiplicity of forms and from inequality and change. For the end will receive a unitary existence just as the beginning, where there is no male nor female, nor slave and free, nor circumcision and uncircumcision, neither angel nor man, but Christ is all in all.” [132, lines 16-28] (transl. by Harold W. Attridge and Dieter Mueller, NHL p. 95 [italics mine])

This particular interpretation, very much of a piece with Gnostic thought of the period, seems to recognize a tradition, well-known from ancient myth and religion, that humankind originally—and in its ideal/pristine state—was essentially sexless or androgynous (i.e. male-female). In the Greco-Roman world, this tradition is most famous from the myth narrated by Plato in his Symposium 189D-193D. That it was known by Greek-speaking Jews at the time of the New Testament, is attested by Philo of Alexandria (On the Contemplative Life §63; On the Creation §§134ff, 151-2); a similar idea is preserved in Rabbinic tradition as well (Genesis Rabbah 8:1). We should not, however, confuse the myth with the way that myth was used by Gnostics and other early Christians. Its primary purpose was to affirm an ascetic (and mystic) ideal—human beings (that is, believers or gnostics) must transcend the bounds of the material world, as defined largely in terms of sexuality and (physical/biological) generation. This is perhaps best expressed in the Gnostic (Valentinian?) writing, the so-called Gospel of Philip, which makes heavy use of sexual (nuptial) motifs to describe salvation (and Christian/Gnostic identity) in terms of a re-union of male/female back into an original unity (cf. my earlier survey of this work).

One might be inclined to dismiss such apparently heterodox emphases out of hand, were it not for two important facts: (1) there is an extra-canonical saying of Jesus along these lines, and (2) there were strong ascetic and mystical tendencies in Christianity even in the early period of the New Testament. With regard to the first point, a saying ascribed to Jesus (i.e. a Jesus tradition), dating from at least the early 2nd century, has been preserved in two (or three) separate sources (note the common elements [italics mine]):

2 Clement 12:2 Gospel of Thomas log. §22 “Gospel of the Egyptians”
Clem. Alex. Miscellanies [Stromateis] 3.92-93
For when the Lord himself was asked by someone when his kingdom would come, he said: “When the two shall be one, and the outside as the inside, and the male with the female neither male nor female.” (transl. Kirsopp Lake, LOEB edition) When you make the two one, and when you make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside, and the above like the below, and when you make the male and the female one and the same, so that the male be not male nor the female female…then you will enter [the Kingdom].” (transl. Thomas O. Lambdin, NHL p. 121) …when Salome asked when the things she had asked about would become known, the Lord replied: “When you trample on the shameful garment and when the two become one and the male with the female is neither male nor female.” (transl. Bart D. Ehrman, Lost Scriptures [Oxford: 2003], p. 16)

The form of the saying in 2 Clement 12 is more likely to be authentic (the others showing more obvious “Gnostic” coloring); the author gives a relatively straightforward interpretation in vv. 3-5:

  • “the two are one” = “when we speak with one another in truth, and there is but one soul in two bodies…”
  • “the outside like the inside” = “i.e., just as your body is visible, so let your soul be apparent in your good works”
  • “the male with the female neither male nor female” = “when a brother sees a sister he should have no thought of her as female, nor she of him as male”

This interpretation reflects a fairly conventional (and orthodox) ethical approach. The last point brings out something of the ascetic emphasis shared by Gnostics, as well as other early Christians—believers (men and women) should interact without any sexuality (esp. sexual desire) being present and active. Paul generally shared this ascetic outlook, though he did not go nearly so far as most Gnostic groups. Especially instructive is his guidance regarding marriage and sexuality in 1 Corinthians 7 (cf. below). Regardless of whether the saying in 2 Clement 12, etc (or anything like it) actually comes from Jesus, it raises some interesting questions in light of Galatians 3:28. How should believers—men and women—interact as believers in Christ? How far should believers continue to identify or think of themselves specifically as “male” or “female”? Paul offers relatively little instruction in this regard; however, there are three areas which effectively counterbalance the approach taken by other early Christians (and Gnostics):

1. Marriage and the family unit—In the undisputed letters of Paul, his teaching regarding the place and importance of marriage is surprisingly slight. Apart from the use of marital imagery for the purpose of illustration (Rom 7:2ff; 2 Cor 11:2; Gal 4:27, etc), his direct instruction is virtually limited to the discussion in 1 Corinthians 7, which may be summarized as follows:

  • Some believers in Corinth were of the mind that sexual contact should be avoided (v. 1ff), even for those who are currently married
  • Paul argues that husbands and wives should not deny each other (vv. 2-4), except on a temporary basis, for the purpose of prayer (vv. 5-6)
  • Those who were married when they came to faith should remain so (general prohibition of divorce), even if one is currently married to a non-believer (vv. 10-16)
  • Similarly, those who are engaged, or for whom there are plans for marriage, they may fulfill the obligation now that they are believers, without fear of sin (i.e. marriage itself is acceptable and not sinful) (vv. 28, 36-39)
  • However, Paul makes clear his preference that believers remain single and unmarried (vv. 6-9, 26-27, 28b-35, 38, 40); this is often glossed over or mitigated by commentators today who wish to emphasize marriage as the accepted norm for Christians

The situation (or, at least the emphasis) is somewhat different in the letters where Pauline authorship is questioned; there we find sections which affirm specific and traditional (gender) roles in the family and marriage bond—Col 3:18-19ff; Eph 5:22-33; 1 Tim 2:11-15; (3:11); Tit 2:4-5. Compare these passages with the seemingly more egalitarian (reciprocal) language used in 1 Cor 7:2-4ff. Even so, regardless of the authorship of Ephesians (and/or Colossians), that Eph 5:22ff reflects genuine Pauline teaching would seem to be confirmed by 1 Cor 11:3-10; and similarly 1 Cor 14:34-35 in the case of 1 Tim 2:11ff.

2. Respect for social custom and convention—It was a point of considerable importance for Paul that the newly-founded Christian communities do nothing which might cause offense or bring scandal (unnecessarily) in the eyes of outside observers. This emphasis runs through much of the ethical and practical instruction in 1 Corinthians and Romans, and can be glimpsed variously in the other letters as well. Though he does not specifically state it, I believe this has a significant impact on his concern for preserving gender roles and distinctions in the Church (in spite of Gal 3:28c). If we had more information regarding the situation he addresses in 1 Cor 11:2-16 (the use of headcovering for women who speak/preach publicly in the meeting), we might have a clearer example of this principle at work. Similar concern for social (and religious) custom may also underlie the controversial instruction in 1 Cor 14:34-35.

3. Roles in the (organized) congregation and public worship—This has been the subject of various articles and notes in the current series Women in the Church. The key passages which indicate restrictions on the participation of women in the congregation, or which define specific (and/or subordinate) roles, are:

These references, however, should also be compared with passages where Paul refers to women as ministers, co-workers, or otherwise as leading figures in the churches, without any apparent distinction—Rom 16:1-7ff; 1 Cor 16:19 (also 2 Tim 4:19); Phil 4:2-3; Col 4:15; and, with regard to the congregation and worship meeting, note the overall context of 1 Cor 11-14.

A strong argument could be made that the Pauline concern to preserve socio-religious custom and order in the congregation, which includes the preservation of traditional gender-distinction, in many ways violates the very substance of the declaration in Gal 3:28c. Paul has, in fact, been charged with inconsistency in this regard, that his practical instruction and ministry methods are at odds with the ideal expressed in Gal 3:27-28. This will be explored in the next daily note.

Note of the Day (Galatians 3:28)

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Galatians 3:28

The next three daily notes serve as a supplement to the recent article on Galatians 3:28 in the series Women in the Church, as well as to the study on the subject as it relates to the Pauline letters as a whole, and to the role of women from the standpoint of early Christianity and Gnosticism. Here I will be looking in more detail at three specific aspects of this verse—particularly, the declaration “there is no male and female”:

  1. The background and significance of the statement
  2. The logical consequences and possible interpretation(s), and
  3. Comparison with the Pauline teaching in 1 Cor 11:3ff; 14:34-35, etc

Today’s note treats the first of these topics.

1. Background and Significance

As previously discussed (cf. Part 3 of this series), the three-fold declaration in Gal 3:28 is clearly connected with the rite of baptism: “For as (many of) you as have been dunked [i.e. baptized] into (the) Anointed (One) {Christ}, you have sunk in(to) (the) Anointed [i.e. put him on as a garment]” (v. 27). There are parallels to Gal 3:27-28 in 1 Cor 12:13 and Col 3:11, also associated with baptism. Many commentators believe that this reflects an (earlier) baptismal formula; if so, it is probably not a specific formulation original to Paul, but rather something he cites to support his argument (and for dramatic effect), something which would be familiar (and dear) to recent converts. Let us compare these three passages (note the central statement in bold):

Galatians 3:27-28 1 Corinthians 12:13 Colossians 3:9-11
“For as (many of) you as have been dunked [i.e. baptized] in the Anointed {Christ}, have sunk in(to) [i.e. put on] the Anointed;
in (Christ) there is no Yehudean {Jew} and no Greek, there is no slave and no free (person), there is no male and female
for you all are one in (the) Anointed Yeshua {Jesus Christ}.”
“For in one Spirit we all were dunked [i.e. baptized] into one Body—
(even) if Yehudeans {Jews} and if Greeks, if slaves and if free (person)s
and we all were given to drink of (the) one Spirit.”
“…having sunk out from the old man…and sinking in(to) [i.e. putting on] the new…
where in (Christ) there is no Greek and Yehudean {Jew}, circumcision and foreskin…, slave, free (person)
but the Anointed {Christ} is all (thing)s and in all (things).”

The basic setting is baptism as an initiation rite, similar to many other such religious rituals worldwide. The closest parallels would be from the Greco-Roman (pagan) mystery cults, though one can also cite similarities in a Jewish setting (such as the Qumran community of the Dead Sea Scrolls). We actually know relatively little about the specific ceremonies practiced by the mystery religions; however, note the reference in Apuleius, Metamorphoses 11:24, which involves an initiate in the mysteries of Isis, who has put on robes following the sacred ceremony (cf. also Plutarch, Isis and Osiris 352b; Firmicius Maternus, Error of the Profane Religions §§19, 22). For a (Hellenistic) Jewish use of the same kind of symbolism, cf. Philo, On Flight and Finding §§109-12; Joseph and Aseneth §§14-17. It is likely that early Christian tradition made use of (white) robes to symbolize the “putting on” of Christ.

In such religious initiation, the ritual signifies the establishment of a new identity, and all the more so in the case of Christian baptism—the believer enters the water, dying to the old, and being born (again, spiritually) to the new. Paul clearly connected baptism with the believer’s participation in the death (and resurrection) of Christ (Rom 6:3-11; 8:9-11; Col 2:12ff; cf. also Gal 2:19-20), and this must also inform the baptismal formula used in Gal 3:27-28, etc. Note the parallel between “putting on” (lit. “sinking in[to]”, vb. e)ndu/w) in Gal 3:27 and “putting off” (lit. “sinking out [from]”, vb. [a)p]ekdu/w) in Col 3:9—the believer “puts off” the ‘old man’, the old nature (like a snake shedding its skin), and “puts on” the new nature (Christ). It is this fundamental sense of a new religious (spiritual) identity which provides the context for the three-fold declaration in Gal 3:28 with its repeated use of e&ni (“there is in…”). The reference is to the preposition e)n (“in Christ”, e)n Xristw=|) at the end of the verse, but also to the earlier use of the verb e)ndu/w in v. 27. That verb is usually translated “put on”, “clothe [yourself]”, but, in order to preserve the wordplay (among other reasons), it is better to render it literally, “sink in(to)”. Note how this frames the central declaration:

  • “You have sunk in(to) [e)ndu/sasqe] Christ”—i.e., you are now in Christ (v. 27)
    “In (Christ) there is… [e&ni]”
  • “You are all one in Christ [e)n Xristw=|] (v. 28d)

Baptism symbolizes (ritually) the believer’s union in Christ, which is also to be understood as becoming part of a unity—that is, of all believers, as a single body. This is the point emphasized by the formula in 1 Cor 12:13:

  • “For we all were dunked [baptized] in one Spirit
    —”into one Body”
  • “…we all were given to drink of (the) one Spirit

A comparison between 1 Cor 12:13 and Gal 3:27-28 (perhaps written only a few years apart), indicates that the three-fold declaration in Gal 3:28 ought to be understood in terms of believers being part of the one body of Christ. In other words, the declaration is governed by the overriding idea of our union (together) in Christ; here is the formula:

  • V. 28a: “in (Christ) there is no Jew and no Greek”—religious/ethnic distinction
  • V. 28b: “in (Christ) there is no slave and no free (person)”—socio-economic distinction
  • V. 28c: “in (Christ) there is no male and female”—social (and biological) distinction

This makes for a powerful statement and strongly suggests that our new identity in Christ somehow transcends, or renders invalid, the normal distinctions and characteristics of our (previous) way of life. The problem is that Paul, in his letters, really only discusses the first of these—the religious (and ethnic/cultural) distinction between Jews and non-Jews (“Greeks”, i.e. Gentiles). This is a central theme, especially in Galatians and Romans, and Paul argues forcefully that the “new covenant” in Christ effectively abolishes the old. Perhaps the most direct declaration along these lines is in 2 Cor 3:1-18 (esp. verses 6-11, 12-16); while Ephesians 2:11-22 neatly sums up the Pauline teaching, with the idea that Jewish and Gentile believers have become “one new man” in Christ (vv. 15-16). Thus, while Jewish and Gentile believers, respectively, might (voluntarily) continue to observe certain customs, these cannot—and must not—create division or separation within the body of Christ (cf. Gal 2:11-14; Rom 14, etc). In every way that matters, there is no difference whatever between believers, from an ethno-religious or cultural point of view.

The same would certainly apply to socio-economic distinctions, such as slave vs. free, rich vs. poor, etc., though Paul says relatively little about this. According to the narratives in Acts, many of the earliest converts in Paul’s missionary work were from the upper levels of society (16:13-14; 17:4, 12, 34, etc), but certainly from the middle/lower classes as well (cf. 1 Cor 1:26ff, etc). In dealing with the social situation of slavery in the Greco-Roman world, Paul tends to downplay any possible revolutionary aspect to the Christian message (1 Cor 7:21-23; Col 3:22-4:1; cf. also Eph 6:5-9; 1 Tim 6:1-2; Tit 2:9-10); social change would occur naturally, through conversion to the Gospel, rather than by active efforts to change the laws and structure of society. More commonly, Paul uses slavery/freedom as a motif for the Gospel itself—human beings are in bondage under sin (and the Law), and only through trust in Christ and the work of the Spirit do we find freedom (cf. Rom 6:15-23; 8:1-17; Gal 2:4; 3:21-26; 4:1-7, 8ff, 21-31; 5:1). In the letter to Philemon, there is a moving account of a runaway slave (Onesimus) who has become a believer, and is now returning to his (Christian) master. This illustrates the dual (and somewhat paradoxical nature) of the relationship between Philemon and Onesimus—on the one hand (at the social level), they remain master and slave, but on the other (in Christ) they are brothers and equals.

This brings us to the thornier question regarding the social (and biological) distinction of male and female—do these no longer apply to believers in Christ, as the declaration in Gal 3:28c suggests? I have already addressed this in Part 3 of the series (“Women in the Church”), but it will be useful to supplement that discussion with a few points here.

  • The expression “male and female” (a&rsen kai\ qh=lu) refers not only to the conventional, social difference(s) between men and women, but also to the essential physical/biological differences.
  • Almost certainly it alludes to the creation account in Genesis (1:27; 5:2); the significance of this will be dealt with in the next note. It is interesting that in 1 Cor 11:2-16 (also 1 Tim 2:11-15) the creation narrative is used to make virtually the opposite point—that gender distinction is to be preserved in the Church, with women (it would seem) in a subordinate role.
  • The context in Galatians is important—Paul is arguing that believers are the true heirs of Abraham (to the promise of God), which means, according to the cultural background of the illustration, that believers are sons. But clearly, this is not to be taken literally; believers—men and women both—are “sons” in this sense. It is not a question of gender (in spite of the traditional gender-based language).
  • Beyond this, Paul is definitely speaking of a new situation for believers. Again, this is especially clear from the surrounding context:
    —Believers are no longer (ou)ke/ti) bound under the old way of things (3:25; 4:7)
    —This old condition is described as being under (u(po/) the authority (i.e., bound, enslaved) of the old order—the Law, sin, death, etc. (3:10, 22-23, 25; 4:2-5, etc)
    —The old order of things involves “the (arranged) elements [stoixei=a] of the world” (4:3, 9; cf. Col 2:8, 20), which certainly includes the (fallen, corrupt) order of creation
    —But believers are freed from the old order (3:21-26; 4:1-11, 21-31; 5:1ff, 13); this freedom is in relation to the presence and work of the Spirit (3:2ff, 14; 4:6, 29; 5:5, 16-18ff), which is not tied to the created order (cf. John 3:3-10)
    —This new condition (and identity) in Christ, and through the Spirit, is defined as a new creation (6:15; 2 Cor 5:17; Col 3:10, also Eph 2:15; 4:24)—which suggests that the old (created order) has passed away or been completely transformed (cf. also Rom 7:6; 8:19ff; 1 Cor 5:7)

All of this sounds impressive, but what does it actually mean for believers? What are the consequences of this new condition or new identity? This must be addressed in two parts: (a) how extensively should Gal 3:28 be applied at the religious (and spiritual) level, and (b) what are the practical implications for Christian life and community? These questions will be dealt with, in turn, in the next two daily notes.

Note of the Day – December 14

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Galatians 4:7

This series of Advent season notes on Galatians 4:4ff concludes here with a discussion of verse 7:

w%ste ou)ke/ti ei@ dou=lo$ a)lla\ ui(o/$: ei) de\ ui(o/$ kai\ klhrono/mo$ dia\ qeou=
“And so you are not yet [i.e. no longer] a slave, but (rather) a son—and if a son (then) also (one) holding the lot [i.e. an heir] through God”

The declaration in the first part of this verse, which follows vv. 4-6, begins with a decisive announcement using the compound particle w%ste, difficult to render literally in English, but meaning something like “so then, therefore”. It is an emphatic inferential particle, expressing the result or consequence of what was stated in vv. 4-5, 6. The next word ou)ke/ti is another compound particle which functions as an adverb (modifying the verb ei@); it means “not yet, not (any) more, no longer”. There are two aspects of its use here:

  • As an indication of time—the period of slavery/bondage has come to an end (cf. 4:4 “when the fullness of time came”, also v. 2)
  • As an indication of status or condition—believers are no longer in the (legal) status of slavery/servitude

The present verb form ei@ means that this new condition or time period is currently realized and/or experienced by believers—we are no longer slaves. For the nature of this slavery or bondage under sin (and the Law), see the prior notes on verses 4-6. The new condition or status is that of son; the theme of believers as the sons (children) of God is central to the arguments in Galatians (Gal 3:7-9, 14, 16-18, 26, 29; 4:22-31) and Romans (Rom 4:13-25; 8:12-17, 19-23, 29; 9:7ff, 26), cf. also 1 Thess 5:5; 2 Cor 6:18; Phil 2:15; Eph 5:1, 8. In turn, sonship is connected to the idea of inheritance. There are three ways that Paul makes use of the heir/inheritance concept in his letters:

  • The traditional ethical imagery, drawn from same Jewish background that informs the sayings/teachings of Jesus, of inheriting the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9-10; 15:50; Gal 5:21, also Eph 5:5; cf. Matt 5:5; Mark 10:17 par; Luke 10:25)
  • Similar symbolism connected with the reward/fate of the righteous in the (last) judgment (Col 1:12; 3:24, and also Eph 1:11, 14, 18; Tit 3:7; cf. Matt 25:34; Acts 20:30; James 2:5)
  • Interpretation of the Abraham/Isaac narrative from Genesis, applied to believers in Christ

The last of these is most prominent in Galatians and Romans, with two main sections in each letter, which are in many ways parallel:

  • Gal 3 (esp. vv. 15-18, 24-29) / Rom 4 (esp. vv. 13-25)
  • Gal 4:1-7 / Rom 8:12-17ff

The first section (in each letter) deals directly with the Scriptural account of the blessing and promise to Abraham—in particular, of the child (Isaac) promised to him, and through whom many descendants would come (cf. Gen 12:1-3; 13:15-16; 15:1-6; 17:1-8, 15-19; 18:10-14; 21:1ff). In Gal 3:9, 14, 29 Paul identifies believers—those who trust in Christ—as Abraham’s children according to the promise. Christ himself is understood as the true son and heir (Gal 3:16), and believers are (fellow) sons and heirs as well (Rom 4:13-14; Gal 3:29).

The second section describes the sense in which believers are sons and heirs of God: through the work (the death) of Christ, and our participation in (and identification with) his death (and resurrection), cf. Gal 4:4-5; Rom 8:2ff, 13. The Spirit then confirms our identity as sons (and heirs), crying out in and with us “O, Father!”. The word generally translated “heir” (klhrono/mo$) refers to one who “holds the lot”, the klh=ro$ being the pebble or marker which indicates that a person will receive a specific portion of the thing being distributed (land, property, etc). In some ways, the Spirit is itself the lot that believers hold, indicating our inheritance (with Christ) of the Father’s estate (i.e. the kingdom of God).

In this Advent/Christmas season, in which the birth of Jesus is celebrated, it is important always to keep in mind the ultimate purpose of the birth, as Paul describes vividly in Gal 4:4-7: God sent forth his Son so that we too would become his children, receiving placement as a son (ui(oqesi/a) along with Christ himself. It is God the Father who accomplishes this, as indicated in the last words of v. 7 (dia\ qeou=, “through God”). The expression dia\ qeou= is a bit unusual here, and it has resulted in several variant readings in the textual tradition, most frequently the substitution or addition of a reference to (Jesus) Christ: (a) dia\ [ )Ihsou=] Xristou= (“{an heir} through [Jesus] Christ”); (b) qeou= dia\ [ )Ihsou=] Xristou= (“{an heir} of God through [Jesus] Christ”). However, assuming that the more difficult reading dia\ qeou= is original, I believe that Paul uses the expression here, in its (final) emphatic position, to make clear by what power it is that we are made sons of God—it is through the work and power of the Father himself (cf. John 1:12-13).

Note of the Day – December 13

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Galatians 4:6

This series of Advent season notes has been examining Galatians 4:4, looking at each word or phrase in the verse, in order—

o%te de\ h@lqen to\ plh/rwma tou= xro/nou e)cape/steilen o( qeo\$ to\n ui(o\n au)tou= geno/menon e)k gunaiko/$ geno/menon u(po\ no/mon
“but when the fullness of time came, God set forth out from (him) his Son, coming to be out of a woman, coming to be under the Law…”

as well as the conclusion of the sentence in verse 5:

i%na tou\$ u(po\ no/mon e)cagora/sh| i%na th\n ui(oqesi/an a)pola/bwmen
“…so that he might buy out [i.e. redeem] the (one)s under (the) Law, so that we might receive from (him) placement as a son”

Now it remains to look at Paul’s statement in verse 6, which builds upon the previous two verses:

o%ti de/ e)ste ui(oi/ e)cape/steilen o( qeo\$ to\ pneu=ma tou= ui(ou= au)tou= ei)$ ta\$ kardi/a$ h(mw=n kra=zon: a)bba= o( path/r
“And, (in) that [i.e. because] you are sons, God set forth out from (him) the Spirit of his Son into our hearts crying ‘Abba, Father!'”
Note: later manuscripts tend to read “into your [u(mw=n] hearts”, but the ‘earliest and best’ manuscripts have “into our [h(mw=n] hearts”, and this is most likely the original reading.

This verse is best analyzed by comparing its similarity to vv. 4-5:

  • God set forth out from (him) [e)cape/steilen] his Son
    • (into the world) [i.e. the human condition: “coming to be out of a woman, coming to be under the Law”]
      • so that we might receive ‘adoption’ as his son(s)
  • God set forth out from (him) [e)ape/steilen] the Spirit of his Son
    • into our hearts
      • crying (in/with us) “Father!”

As mentioned previously, the very same idea is expressed in Romans 8:15:

“for you did not receive the Spirit of slavery again into fear, but (rather) you received the Spirit of placement as a son, in which we cry ‘Abba, Father!'”

Here the adoption (“placement as a son”) is identified with the Spirit (“you received the Spirit…”), whereas in Gal 4:5-6, the two are connected, but distinct. In Galatians, it almost appears that Paul treats these as two stages in the ‘order of salvation’—being made/designated as sons through Christ’s work, and (then) receiving the Spirit as confirmation of sonship. This possibly reflects baptism ritual (Gal 3:27, also Rom 6:3-4; 1 Cor 12:13; Col 2:12); certainly a two-stage rite developed in the early Church whereby: (1) descent into and ascent out of the water symbolized participation in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, while (2) anointing/chrism represented the receipt/seal of the Spirit. There is, however, no reason to treat these as distinct episodes or phenomena in an absolute or metaphysical sense.

The connection with freedom from slavery/bondage (under sin and the Law), shared by Gal 4 and Rom 8, is also highly significant—for the Spirit represents and embodies the freedom that believers have in Christ, as Paul declares in 2 Cor 3:17 (cf. also Gal 4:31; 5:1, 13ff; Rom 6:7, 18ff; 7:3ff; 8:2, 21). Indeed, Paul seems to understand the Spirit primarily as the abiding presence of Christ in and among believers, much as we see in the Gospel and letters of John, though it may alternately be referred to as the “Spirit of Christ” and the “Spirit of God” (Rom 8:9)—the two concepts really cannot be separated. Insofar as believers are “in Christ”, they are in the Spirit; similarly, the Spirit is in believers, just as Christ is in us.

Two additional aspects of verse 6 are especially noteworthy:

  • The phrase which introduces the verse (o%ti de\ e)ste ui(oi/, “and in that you are [e)ste] sons”)—this expresses the reality (i.e. the status) of believers, and it is significant that here it is separated specifically from the experience of the Spirit; the Spirit confirms and declares what we already are in Christ. It might be thought that this status of son (and heir) is introduced by Christ’s work (and our faith in him); however, the context of the illustration in 4:1-3 (also 3:24-26) suggests that believers are already God’s sons (and heirs) even while “under the Law” and “under sin”—this status is only realized through the work of Christ on our behalf. There may be a ‘gnostic’ tinge to this idea, but it is actually fundamental to the doctrines of election and predestination. Paul does not draw such a connection precisely here (cf. Eph 1:5), but it is well established throughout his letters. Rom 8:26-30 is especially relevant, since we find there the same image of the Spirit in us crying/groaning to God.
  • The oracular role of the Spirit, crying out to God (in us) “Father!”—Paul actually uses the Aramaic aB*a^ (°abb¹°), transliterated in Greek as a)bba=. It is a vocative form (“O, Father!”); by adding the Greek o( path/r, Paul is simply translating the Aramaic for his Greek-speaking audience. The parallel passage in Rom 8:15 (cf. above) uses the same formula; elsewhere in the New Testament a)bba= is only used (preserved in the words of Jesus) in Mark 14:36. Almost certainly Paul’s employment of the word here (and in Rom 8:15) is a result of its importance within the sayings of Jesus, as preserved in early Gospel tradition. Interestingly, in Rom 8:15, it is we (believers) who cry “Abba, Father”; in Gal 4:6 it is the  Spirit in us who cries these words. This reflects a sense of interaction, cooperation, even identification, between believers and the indwelling Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 6:17; 12:13; Eph 2:18; 4:4), such as Paul describes in Rom 8:26ff.

The conclusion of Paul’s argument in 4:1-7 (verse 7) will be discussed in the next note.

Note of the Day – December 12

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Galatians 4:4-5

This series of Advent season notes has been examining Galatians 4:4, looking at each word or phrase in the verse, in order:

o%te de\ h@lqen to\ plh/rwma tou= xro/nou e)cape/steilen o( qeo\$ to\n ui(o\n au)tou= geno/menon e)k gunaiko/$ geno/menon u(po\ no/mon
“but when the fullness of time came, God set forth out from (him) his Son, coming to be out of a woman, coming to be under the Law…”

The conclusion of the sentence is found in verse 5, will be discussed in today’s note:

i%na tou\$ u(po\ no/mon e)cagora/sh| i%na th\n ui(oqesi/an a)pola/bwmen
“…so that he might buy out [i.e. redeem] the (one)s under (the) Law, so that we might receive from (him) placement as a son”

This verse is comprised of two purpose/result clauses, marked by the particle i%na (“[so] that”):

  • “so that [i%na] he might buy out [e)cagora/sh|] the ones under the Law [tou\$ u(po\ no/mon]”
  • “so that [i%na] we might receive from (him) [a)pola/bwmen] placement as a son [th\n ui(oqesi/an]”
Clause #1:

The first purpose/result involves redemption, the verb e)cagora/zw literally meaning “buy/purchase out”, the context being that of purchasing a slave out of servitude/bondage. The verb is rare, used only 4 times in the New Testament (all in the Pauline letters); the most relevant instance is in Gal 3:13, which I mentioned in the previous note. Gal 3:10-14 is generally parallel to 4:1-7:

  • Human beings are under the curse (i.e. under the Law and under sin), v. 10
  • Jesus came to be under the curse, by “coming to be” (geno/meno$) the curse himself (through his death on the cross, in fulfillment of the Law), v. 13
  • In so doing, he redeemed (e)chgo/rasen) humankind from the curse (of the Law)
  • As a result, believers receive the blessings and promise of Abraham (v. 14), i.e. we come to be children (sons) of Abraham, and heirs according to the promise (cf. 3:15-29)

The expression u(po\ kata/ran (“under the curse”) stands midway between the parallel expressions u(po\ no/mon (“under the Law”) and u(po\ a(marti/an (“under sin”)—this helps to explain the twofold meaning of e)cagora/zw in Gal 4:5:

  • human beings are purchased out of bondage to sin, freed from its enslaving power (cf. also 1 Cor 6:20; 7:23)
  • believers are freed from servitude to the Law of the old covenant, no longer bound by its authority

Clearly, this redemption applies to Gentiles as well as Israelites and Jews. Even though Gentiles are not “under the Law” in the sense of being obligated to observe the Torah, they are, in their own way, still under the Law. This is partly explained by the phrase “enslaved under [u(po/] the ‘elements’ [stoixei=a] of the world” in verse 3 (cf. also v. 9 and Col 2:8, 20), though Paul does not clarify the exact relationship between the Law and the “elements of the world”. The only information provided in the immediate context of Galatians and Colossians has to do with certain ceremonial/ritual behavior—observance of the Sabbath and holy days (Gal 4:10; Col 3:16-17), dietary and/or purity regulations (Col 3:20-22), and, possibly, circumcision (Col 3:11; also fundamental to the arguments in Galatians). In Romans 2:12-15; 3:9ff and 7:13ff, Paul offers a somewhat different description of how Gentiles are “under the Law” (and under the power of sin). For the uniquely Pauline understanding of the relationship between the Law and sin, see Gal 3:19-25; Rom 3:19-20; 5:18-21; 7:7-25; 11:32. Clearly, it is the sacrificial death of Christ that frees believers from the power of sin (and the Law)—Gal 2:19-20; 3:10-14, 23-26; Rom 3:21-26; 5:1-11, 18-21; 6:1-11, 14-15, 22; 7:1-6; 8:1-4; 10:4; 2 Cor 3:7-18, etc. Believers participate in Christ’s death (and resurrection) through faith and the Spirit, marked by the symbolism associated with baptism (Rom 6:3-4; Gal 3:27; 1 Cor 12:13; Col 2:12, etc).

Clause #2:

The second purpose/result clause involves sonship, that is, of believers’ status as sons (children) of God. This is typically described as adoption, though the Greek word (ui(oqesi/a) properly means “placement as a son”—often in the technical/legal sense of adoption, but it can be used in other symbolic/metaphorical ways as well. Paul uses the term in Rom 8:15, 23; 9:4 (and it is also in Eph 1:5). Note the context of these passages:

  • Rom 9:4—it is used of Israel, the people (collectively) considered as God’s “son” in a symbolic/spiritual sense (Exod 4:22; Hos 11:1f; Jer 31:9; cf. also Isa 1:2; 30:1, 9; Mal 1:6)
  • Rom 8:15—believers, through the Spirit, receive ‘adoption’ as sons of God
  • Rom 8:23—similarly of believers, but in an eschatological sense, tied to the resurrection (i.e. redemption of our bodies)
  • Eph 1:5—again of believers, but prior to our coming to faith, connected with the idea of predestination

Rom 8:15 is very close in language and meaning to Gal 4:5-6 (v. 6 will be discussed in the next daily note).

The verb a)polamba/nw (“take/receive from”) along with ui(oqesi/a expresses clearly the idea that, through Christ (and our trust/faith in him), we receive from God placement as sons (we are made his sons/children). Note the conceptual chiasm in vv. 4-5:

  • God sends forth his Son
    —as a human being under the Law
    —to redeem/purchase those enslaved under the Law (and sin)—as a result:
  • We receive placement (i.e. are ‘adopted’) as God’s sons

This is expounded further by Paul in verse 6.

Note of the Day – December 11

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Galatians 4:4

This series of Advent season notes examines Galatians 4:4. The particular word or phrase discussed each day will be underlined and indicated in bold in the verse:

o%te de\ h@lqen to\ plh/rwma tou= xro/nou e)cape/steilen o( qeo\$ to\n ui(o\n au)tou= geno/menon e)k gunaiko/$ geno/menon u(po\ no/mon
“but when the fullness of time came, God set forth out from (him) his Son, coming to be out of a woman, coming to be under the Law…”

u(po\ no/mon (“under [the] Law”)

The expression u(po\ no/mon (“under [the] Law”) appears a number of times in Galatians and Romans—Gal 3:23; 4:4-5, 21; 5:18; Rom 3:21; 6:14-15—as well as in 1 Cor 9:20. The preposition u(po/ has the basic (metaphorical) sense of being under the authority of someone or something, in this case under the Law (no/mo$). Paul uses the word no/mo$ almost exclusively in reference to the Old Testament Law (Torah); only occasionally does it have a more general or broader meaning, as in Rom 2:14; 3:27; 7:21-25; 8:2—especially noteworthy is the expression [o(] no/mo$ [tou=] qeou= (“[the] Law of God”) in Rom 7:22, 25; 8:7; 1 Cor 9:20, which I take to be synonymous with the will of God, and not precisely identical with the Torah as such (though, of course, the will of God is expressed in the Torah). As far as being “under the Law” (u(po\ no/mon), this primarily refers to those who are under the authority of the Law—i.e. Israelites and Jews—obligated to observe its commands, regulations, precepts, etc. However, in Galatians especially, Paul uses the expression with a define an particular nuance, as synonymous (or parallel) with:

  • u(po\ kata/ran (“under [the] curse”)—Gal 3:10, i.e. the curse of the Law (cf. Deut 27-28)
  • u(po\ [th\n] a(marti/an (“under sin”)—Gal 3:22 (also Rom 3:9; 7:14)
  • u(po\ paidagwgo/n (“under a paidagogos“)—Gal 3:25, cf. also Gal 4:2 (“under guardians and house-masters”)
  • u(po\ ta\ stoixei=a tou= ko/smou (“under the stoicheia/elements of the world”)—Gal 4:3 (cf. Col 2:8, 20)

This relates to the unique, fundamental view of the Law expressed by Paul, esp. in Galatians and Romans, which is marked by two principal teachings:

  1. The main purpose of the Law is to bring knowledge/awareness of sin to human beings—in particular, that they are enslaved under the power of sin—which, in turn, “increases” sin and brings humanity further into bondage (cf. Gal 3:19-25; Rom 3:20; 5:20-21; 7:7ff; 11:32)
  2. The power of sin (and the Law) comes to an end through the work of Christ (his death and resurrection)—as a result, believers are no longer “under the Law” (cf. especially Gal 2:19; 3:13, 22-26; 4:28-31; 5:1ff; Rom 3:21ff; 5:15-21; 6:14-15, 22; 7:1-6; 8:2ff; 10:4).

I have examined these (and other) passages all throughout the articles on Paul’s View of the Law (cf. on Galatians and Romans). The two theological/doctrinal points listed above inform the use of the expression “under the Law” here in Gal 4:4, as the context of Gal 4:1-11 makes clear.

The illustration in vv. 1-3 (parallel to that in 3:24-26) depicts believers (prior to faith) collectively as a son (and heir) who is directly under the authority of household servants, effectively in bondage, though he is destined to inherit the father’s estate. This period of ‘bondage’ lasts until the time set beforehand by the father, at which point the child is no longer under the authority of servants, but is free and master of the estate (just like the father). This is the time referenced in verse 4, as discussed in an earlier note. It is also clear from verse 4 just what happens at this time—God sent forth his own son in human form (“coming to be out of [e)k] a woman”), which also indicates that he shares in the human condition (cf. the previous note). This condition is also what is meant in the next phrase (“coming to be under [u(po/] the Law”), in a two-fold sense:

  • As a Israelite—Jesus’ earthly parents were from the tribe of Judah (and possibly Levi, cf. Luke 1:5); according to the Lukan Infancy narrative, Jesus’ parents and relatives where devout and faithful in observing the Old Testament Law (Luke 1:6, 59; 2:21-24, 27, 39, 41-42ff), and presumably would have instructed Jesus as a child to do the same (Luke 2:51-52). For Jesus’ observance of the Law as an adult, there are relatively few references in the Gospels, but see Matt 5:17-19; Mark 14:12ff par; note also the thought and language in Matt 3:15; Mark 10:18-19ff par, etc.
  • As human being—according to Pauline thought, Jews and Gentiles are both, in their own way “under the Law” (Rom 2:12ff), especially in the sense of being enslaved under the power of sin (Rom 2:12ff; 3:9-20, etc), which is revealed and judged under the Law. It is not entirely clear whether (or in what sense) Jesus, in taking on human “flesh”, was “under sin” (cf. Rom 8:3; 2 Cor 5:21), but in Gal 3:13 it is said that Jesus effectively comes “under the curse” (by coming to be the curse himself, for our sake).

Gal 3:10-14 is especially important for an understanding of 4:4f; note the logic:

  • Human beings are under the curse (i.e. under the Law and under sin), v. 10
  • Jesus came to be under the curse, by “coming to be” (geno/meno$) the curse himself (through his death on the cross, in fulfillment of the Law), v. 13
  • In so doing, he redeemed (e)chgo/rasen) humankind from the curse (of the Law)
  • As a result, believers receive the blessings and promise of Abraham (v. 14), i.e. we come to be children (sons) of Abraham, and heirs according to the promise (cf. 3:15-29)

This very same line of logic applied to Gal 4:1-7 as well, which will be demonstrated more fully in the discussion of verse 5 in the next daily note.

Note of the Day – December 10

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Galatians 4:4

This series of Advent season notes examines Galatians 4:4. The particular word or phrase discussed each day will be underlined and indicated in bold in the verse:

o%te de\ h@lqen to\ plh/rwma tou= xro/nou e)cape/steilen o( qeo\$ to\n ui(o\n au)tou= geno/menon e)k gunaiko/$ geno/menon u(po\ no/mon
“but when the fullness of time came, God set forth out from (him) his Son, coming to be out of a woman, coming to be under the Law…”

e)k gunaiko/$ (“out of a woman”)

The first participle geno/menon (“coming to be”) is followed by the prepositional expression e)k gunaiko/$ (“out of a woman”). As indicated in the previous note, the verb gi/nomai with the preposition e)k (“come to be out of”) is often used for natural production or birth. The addition of gunh/ (“woman”) specifies what would otherwise be obvious, while also giving an elevated style and rhythm to the sentence. Several aspects of this phrase need to be examined:

1. The reality of Jesus’ birth. Here e)k gunaiko/$ makes his coming to be [geno/menon] concrete, part of the natural process of human birth. Jesus was truly and actually born: (a) from a woman generally, i.e. through natural childbirth, and (b) from a particular woman, i.e. Maryam (Mary). Note also the use of gi/nomai + e)k in Rom 1:3, which likewise affirms Jesus’ real human birth, but in a different respect (“out of the seed of David”). In the second and third centuries, in order to combat “docetic” views of Jesus, the reality of his human birth was occasionally given additional emphasis by commentators and scribes, which is reflected in a number of variant readings in the manuscripts.

2. His Humanity. The phrase “born of a woman” is a circumlocution for human beings in general, i.e. the human condition. It is a Hebrew idiom, used occasionally in Old Testament poetry (Job 14:1; 15:4; 25:4), cf. also 1QS 11:20ff and 1 Cor 11:12. Paul, along with virtually all early Christians, accepted—indeed, would have taken for granted—that Jesus was a real human being. Only at the end of the New Testament period, do we see any indication of believers questioning the reality of Christ’s humanity (cf. 1 John 4:2). Various forms of “docetic” Christology—i.e., that Jesus only seemed or appeared to be a normal human being—had developed by the mid-2nd century, and continued to exert influence over Christian thought for some time.

3. His Suffering. “Born of a woman” signifies the process of childbirth, including its pain, which is representative of human suffering and misfortune as a whole (Gen 3:16ff). This is implied in the use of the expression in Job (above), and see also Isa 21:3; 26:17; Jer 4:31; 13:21; 22:23; 49:22; Hos 13:13; Mark 13:8 par; John 16:21; Rom 8:22; 1 Thess 5:3, etc. It is not certain that Paul is referring specifically to Jesus’ suffering here in Gal 4:4, but Christ’s death (on the cross) is in view all throughout Galatians (esp. 1:4; 2:19-20; 3:1, 13; 5:11; 6:12, 14). Paul typically does not emphasize the physical pain, etc. of the crucifixion, but the idea of suffering is certainly present in Gal 3:13, where Jesus is said to have become the curse of the Law.

What of the relationship between sin and the human condition? In the religious tradition of ancient Israel, childbirth itself resulted in impurity for the mother, which had to be cleansed (cf. Lev 12:1-8; Luke 2:22, 24). This likewise is indicated in the use of the expression “born of a woman” in Job 15:14; 25:4, which leads to a highly sensitive Christological question: in taking on human flesh, did Jesus take on the sin/impurity that is in the flesh (according to Paul’s way of thinking, cf. Rom 7:5, 7-25) as well? The main passages where Paul addresses this are:

  • 2 Cor 5:21: “…the (one) not knowing sin He [i.e. God] made (to be) sin over us [i.e. on our behalf], (so) that we might come to be the righteousness of God in him”
  • Rom 8:3f: “God, sending his own Son in (the) likeness of flesh of sin [i.e. sinful flesh], also judged against sin in the flesh, (so) that the righteousness of the Law might be fulfilled in us…”
  • Gal 3:13: “Christ bought us out of [i.e. redeemed us from] the curse of the Law, coming to be (the) curse over us [i.e. on our behalf]…”

The key portions (in italics) are especially difficult, from the standpoint of orthodox Christology, for they suggest some degree of identification between sin and the person of Christ. I have discussed 2 Cor 5:21 and Rom 8:3 together in an earlier note. In any case, the focus of Christ being made sin, coming to be the curse, etc, is specifically his death on the cross. It is this sacrificial work which redeems and frees humankind from sin and, ultimately, from suffering.

4. The Virgin Birth? Does Gal 4:4 imply a belief in the virgin birth? Though occasionally traditional-conservative commentators have sought to use this verse as evidence for the doctrine, there is really little (if any) indication of this in the text. As noted above, the expression “out of a woman” need not mean anything more than (ordinary) human childbirth and the human condition (with its ‘labor pains’) in general. While it may be assumed that Paul accepted the idea of Jesus’ virgin birth, he does not mention it anywhere in his letters. Rom 1:3, the only other reference to Jesus’ birth as such, could actually be read in the other direction, with “out of the seed of David” indicating the genealogy of Joseph (as in Matthew 1 and Luke 3). In point of fact, the virgin birth is not referenced in the New Testament outside of the Infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke, neither in the early preaching recorded in the book of Acts, nor in the Letters, nor elsewhere in Gospel tradition; indeed, the birth of Jesus itself is scarcely even mentioned. Clearly, it was not an integral part of the early Gospel proclamation and instruction, and believers today should exercise considerable caution in trying to make the virgin birth (or conception) into a binding point of doctrine.

Note of the Day – December 9

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Galatians 4:4

This series of Advent season notes examines Galatians 4:4. The particular word or phrase discussed each day will be underlined and indicated in bold in the verse:

o%te de\ h@lqen to\ plh/rwma tou= xro/nou e)cape/steilen o( qeo\$ to\n ui(o\n au)tou= geno/menon e)k gunaiko/$ geno/menon u(po\ no/mon
“but when the fullness of time came, God set forth out from (him) his Son, coming to be out of a woman, coming to be under the Law…”

geno/menon (“coming to be”)

The verbs gi/nomai and the related genna/w both have the fundamental meaning “come to be, become”; genna/w more precisely denotes coming to be born, but gi/nomai can be used in this sense as well. The closeness of form and meaning between the two root verbs has occasionally resulted in textual confusion—note, for example, the variant readings between ge/nesi$ (“coming to be”) and ge/nnhsi$ (“coming to be [born]”, i.e. “birth”) in Matthew 1:18, the two words differing by only two letters. Here in Gal 4:4, the verb is used twice, in parallel participial phrases which modify “his son” (to\n ui(o\n au)tou=), and, in a broader sense, describe the result of God’s sending him forth:

  • coming to be [geno/menon] out of a woman
  • coming to be [geno/menon] under the Law

In each phrase, the precise meaning of geno/menon is governed by the prepositions with follow: e)k (“out of”) and u(po/ (“under”). The verb followed by e)k is often used to indicate physical birth, as in the LXX 1 Esdras 4:16; Tobit 8:6; and Josephus Antiquities II.216, similarly of trees and other natural production, Matt 21:19. This is sense in Rom 1:3 as well, where the context is generally close to that of Gal 4:4:

“…about his [i.e. God’s] son the (one) coming to be [genome/nou] out of [e)k] (the) seed of David according to (the) flesh…”

The “seed of David” would seem to indicate that Jesus’ father comes from the line of David, and, indeed, Joseph is identified as a descendant of David in Matt 1:2-16 and Luke 3:23ff. However, in Rom 1:3, Jesus is specifically referred to as God’s son; the ambiguity between the two basic propositions is intrinsic to early Christian tradition regarding the birth of Jesus. Neither in Rom 1:3 nor in Gal 4:4 (or anywhere else in his letters) does Paul specifically mention the virgin birth as such; this will be discussed further in the next note. It is interesting, however, that the only other passages in the New Testament where the preposition e)k follows directly after gi/nomai are in the baptism and transfiguration scenes:

  • Mark 1:11—”and a voice came to be [e)ge/neto] out of [e)k] the heavens…”; cp. Matt 3:17 (“[there was] a voice out of heaven…”) and Luke 3:22 (“and a voice com[ing] to be out of heaven…”)
  • Mark 9:7—”and a voice came to be [e)ge/neto] out of [e)k] the cloud…”; cp. Luke 9:35; Matt 17:5 (“and [there was] a voice out of the cloud…”)

In both instances, a heavenly, divine voice “comes to be”, i.e. is heard, out of heaven (or the cloud, par. to the cloud of God’s presence in Exod 13:21; 40:34-38, etc); and in both narratives the voice makes a declaration regarding Jesus as God’s Son: “you are my (be)loved Son…” (Mark 1:11 par). Consider also, in this regard, the variant reading in a number of key (Western) witnesses, where the voice from heaven cites Psalm 2:7: “you are my son; today I have caused you to be (born) [gege/nnhka]” (cf. Acts 13:33; Heb 1:5; 5:5).

There are, in fact, definite Christological implications to the use of gi/nomai in several key passages of the Gospel of John. For example, there is a clear theological distinction between gi/nomai (“come to be, become”) and ei)mi (“be, [have] being”)—in Jn 1:1 ei)mi is used (3 times) of God/Deity, while in Jn 1:3 gi/nomai is used (again 3 times) of creation (also vv. 6, 10); in other words, God is, but creation comes to be. We see this same distinction in Jn 8:58: “before Abraham came to be [gene/sqai], I am [ei)mi/]”. Yet, in other references, Jesus comes to be as well (using gi/nomai):

  • Jn 1:14: “and the Logos came to be [e)ge/neto] flesh, and put down tent [i.e. dwelt] in/among us…”
  • Jn 1:15: (John the Baptist speaking): “the (one) coming in back of me has come to be [ge/gonen] in front of me, (in) that he was [h@n] first of [i.e. for] me” (also v. 30)

Jn 1:14 clearly refers to the birth/incarnation of Jesus (cf. below); in Jn 1:15, 30, on the other hand, there is a complex and subtle wordplay that interacts on two different levels of meaning. I have discussed this verse in detail in an earlier note. Several other passages in the Gospel should also be mentioned, where gi/nomai has (or may have) a special theological/spiritual nuance:

  • Jn 1:6—a man (John the Baptist) came to be [e)ge/neto] who witnessed regarding the Logos
  • Jn 1:12—believers in Christ are enabled to become [gene/sqai] offspring/children of God (cf. also Jn 8:33; 10:16; 12:36; 15:8)
  • Jn 1:17—(God’s) favor and truth came to be [e)ge/neto] through Christ
  • Jn 3:9—”how are these things able to come to be [gene/sqai]?” (context of Jesus’ discourse with Nicodemus)
  • Jn 5:6ff—”do you wish to become [gene/sqai] whole?”
  • Jn 10:35—”…toward whom [i.e. those addressed in Ps 82:6] the Word/Logos of God came to be [e)ge/neto]”
  • Jn 12:29-30—the voice of God (sounding like thunder) coming/came to be [gegone/nai/ge/gonen]

In the Gospel of John, the related verb genna/w describes spiritual birth (from above) in Jn 3:3-8, but is also used in a manner similar to gi/nomai in two important verses:

  • Jn 1:13—believers, enabled to come to be offspring of God, come to be born out of God [e)k qeou=]
  • Jn 18:37—(Jesus to Pilate): “unto this I have come to be (born), and unto this I have come into the world…”

As a result of the Christological debates and controversies in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th centuries, theologians and commentators were uncomfortable saying that Jesus “came to be” (using gi/nomai), since the verb could be used generally for various kinds of natural production or creation. The Arian controversy, in particular, made it unacceptable to say that Jesus “came to be” in the sense of being created. Some manuscripts and witnesses of Gal 4:4 read gennw/menon (“coming to be [born]”) rather than geno/menon (“coming to be”), including Old Latin versions which have “natum ex muliere” instead of “factum ex muliere”; a similar variant occurs in Rom 1:3. Both verses were cited by Irenaeus (Against Heresies III.22.1, V.21.1) and Tertullian (On the Flesh of Christ §§20-22) in the late-2nd/early 3rd century, arguing in support of the reality of Jesus’ (human) birth. By the time of the Nicene and Constantinopolitan Creeds in the 4th century, Christ’s pre-existent divine nature is unequivocably affirmed, along with the phrase gennhqe/nta ou) poihqe/nta, “coming to be born (from God), not made” (natum [genitum], non factum).

Does Gal 4:4 show evidence for the twin doctrine of the pre-existence and incarnation of Christ? Taken literally, the verb e)caposte/llw would mean “set forth from out of” the place where God is (i.e. heaven). Later Christology could speak of the Son (Christ) being born/generated out of [e)k] the substance of God the Father, but this is foreign to Paul’s way of thinking. In terms of Jesus’ birth, here only his ‘human nature’ is emphasized—he comes to be (born) out of [e)k] a woman. Based on Phil 2:6ff, it may assumed that Paul believed in some manner of (divine, heavenly) pre-existence for Jesus; however, it is interesting that he does not make much of it in his letters—there is virtually no other mention of the idea, though it can be inferred from passages such as 2 Cor 8:9; Col 1:15 (note also, possibly, Eph 4:8-9). The references to the voice of God coming to be from out of heaven (Mark 1:11; 9:7 par; Jn 12:29-30) show that, within early Christian tradition, there was an established use of gi/nomai (+ e)k) for a kind of sensible/tangible incarnate manifestation or revelation of God on earth, which was specifically tied to the person of Jesus Christ. Whether we are justified to read something of the sort in Gal 4:4 is difficult to say; Paul certainly understood that God worked through Jesus, manifesting His own righteousness, love, and so forth (Rom 3:21ff; 5:8; 8:3, etc). If we accept Col 1:15-19 (also 2:9) as Pauline, then he certainly held to a belief that generally corresponds to the incarnation, also evinced by Phil 2:7; Rom 8:3 (and note 1 Tim 3:16). With regard to the idea of the virgin birth, this will be addressed briefly in the discussion on the words “out of a woman” in the next note.