Freedom Through The Death of Jesus Christ In Galatians: A Nonviolence Reading

Chapter VII

 Freedom from the System of Sacred Violence into the New Creation


A. The Death of Jesus Christ and the New Creation

Paul uses the expression “new creation” on two occasions, both times as a consequence of the death of Jesus Christ (II Cor. 5.17; Gal. 6.15). In II Corinthians the new creation describes a new way of knowing appropriate to the cross of Christ. This new way of knowing is contrasted with knowing kata sarka (II Cor. 5.16). Paul talks about this fundamental contrast in the context of his argument where he contrasts his boasting based on his “weakness” with Jewish boasting kata sarka. He ridicules Jewish boasting kata sarka based on the Jewish credentials: Hebrews, Israelite and descendents of Abraham (II Cor. 11. 16-23). In essence it expresses the Jewish way of life of exclusionism. In II Cor. 5.12 Paul terms Jewish boasting kata sarka as boasting en prosōpō.[1] In contrast, he claims that even though he too could boast on the basis of the Jewish credentials, he rather boasts in his “weakness” (II Cor. 11.30). He, then, enumerates “the things that show my (Paul’s) weakness” (II Cor. 11. 23-30, 12.5, 9-10). Paul terms this as boasting en kardia (II Cor. 5.12). The reason for this boasting is the death of Jesus Christ: “one has died for all; therefore all have died.” (II Cor. 5.14). The consequence of Jesus’ death on the believers is: “And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them” (II Cor. 5.15). Thus, Paul describes the existence of believers in Christ as mimetically participating not only in the death of Jesus Christ, but also in the nonacquisitive desire of Christ, the agape love. Agape love is in essence living for others (II Cor. 5.14-15). Paul makes a similar statement in Gal. 2.19-20 about his conversion: “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but is Christ who lives in me. And the life I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” The mimetic identification with the crucified Jesus Christ is so strong that Paul could say that Christ lives in me.

In  II Cor. 5.16 Paul points out that  the death of Christ has brought a change in his (and his associates’) perception: “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view, even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way.” Some scholars, like Alfred Plummer and Rudolf Bultmann, take kata sarka[2] adjectivally. According to this interpretation, kata sarka modifies Christon and so Paul in II Cor. 5.16 is referring to “fleshly Christ”. On the other hand, scholars such as C.K. Barrett and J. Louis Martyn support adverbial meaning of kata sarka. Furnish points out that “whenever Paul does construe kata sarka with a noun or pronoun (Rom. 1.3; 4.1; 9.3, 5; I Cor. 1.26; 10.18), the phrase follows the noun, whereas here kata sarka precedes the proper noun, Christ.”[3] Moreover, Paul, in II Cor. 2.14-6.10, emphasizes mainly the turn of ages that the death of Christ has brought forth, and the perception associated with the old age and that of the age initiated by the Christ event.[4] Therefore, Paul, in II Cor. 5.16, is not concerned about Christology, but rather about epistemology. He points out to the Corinthians that the death of Christ has brought an epistemological crisis. This is not a private event relating to Paul and his associates, but, as II Cor. 5.16-17 shows, an event of cosmic proportions.[5] Kainē ktisis taken in the context of II Cor. 2.14-6.10 has mainly the eschatological meaning. So “now” in II Cor. 5.16 refers to the “eschatological now”. Paul says that there are two ways of knowing and it is the eschatological event of the cross of Christ that separates these two ways of knowing: one is knowing kata sarka, and the other knowing kata stauron.[6] Knowing kata sarka is associated with the old age and Paul (and the believers in Christ), in the past, knew Christ in that way, that is, judging Christ from the zealotic point of view as the “cursed of the law” (Gal. 3.13). However, for the believers in Christ, who belong to the community of the new creation, knowing is kata stauron.[7] So the perception, value system and conduct kata sarka have no validity in the community of the new creation. The distinctive mark of the new creation is reconciliation between God and human beings, and among human beings (II Cor. 5.18-19). The community of the new creation is an inclusive community. Conversion not only brings a change in a person’s perception of people and reality, but also transfers him or her from the old age of dichotomies into the new creation of inclusion. In other words, faith in the crucified Christ results in transfer from the system of sacred violence into the system of reconciliation, unity and love.

In Galatians the new creation is contrasted with the world (Gal. 6.14-15). The context of the argument in Gal. 6.12-15 and its juxtaposition with the new creation suggest that the world is to be understood as the present evil age (Gal.1.4) where human beings are enslaved to a world of dichotomies. The fundamental opposition between the world and the new creation is expressed by the contrast between the teachers of the “other gospel” and Paul in three basic matters: necessity of circumcision for Gentile believers (Gal. 6.12,15), basis of boasting (Gal. 6.13-14), and the “marks” of Jesus, the victim of sacred violence (Gal. 6.17; cf. 6.12).[8] 

The conclusion of Galatians makes clear how central for Paul’s argument is the cross of Christ as the decisive event in bringing freedom from the world of dichotomies into the new creation. Paul argues that the weakness of the “other gospel” advocated by the teachers is its incompatibility with the cross of Christ. He does this in Gal. 6.14-15 by delineating the relation between the crucifixion of Christ and the new creation. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ has dawned the new creation (Gal. 6.14-15; cf. II Cor. 5.14-17). In Gal. 6.14-15 Paul speaks in eschatological terms of the death of the world. The decisive clue that the language of Gal. 6.14 (“the world has been crucified to me”) is to be taken in eschatological sense is found in Gal. 6.15, where Paul declares that “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything,” because in the ancient Mediterranean world it is understood that the cosmos is structured in “pairs of opposites”.[9] However, Paul is not talking about the destruction of the world of dichotomies by the cross of Jesus Christ, but the crucifixion of believer to the world of antinomies and the world to believer. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ has triggered the crucifixion of believer to the world and the world to believer (Gal. 6.14). Paul’s statements in Gal. 3.28 (“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female”), Gal. 5.6 (“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything”) and Gal. 6.15 (“neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything”) suggest that the world characterized by fundamental structural polarities (Jew/Gentile, slave/free, male/female) is dead to those who are in Christ. Therefore, the social order of exclusionism is invalid in the community of the new creation. The parallel statements in Gal. 3.28, 5.6, 6.15 also indicate that Christ is the embodiment of the community of the new creation. In this context Paul’s assertion that Christ is Abraham’s singular seed, his one and only heir, is critical for his argument on the unified community of the new creation without ethnic, class and gender barriers of separation (Gal. 3.16). The eschatological language of the new creation signifies a new social order where social division between the circumcision and the uncircumcision is abolished, and the Jews and the Gentiles are united. It describes a new pattern of existence created by the Christ event, where the walls of separation have been demolished.[10] The cross of Christ marks to believers in Christ the death of the world characterized by dichotomies (Gal. 2.19-21, 3.1, 10-14). Paul uses the language of death or crucifixion in order to express discontinuity or decisive break between the community of the new creation and the world structured in polarities. Although the community of the new creation comes into being while the old order continues to exist, the former is radically discontinuous from the latter. This community is a nonviolent community in the sense of being inclusive, not having ethnic, class, and gender dichotomies. Only a community based on the system of sacred violence is an exclusionist community, for it defines itself by excluding other peoples through construction of barriers of separation. Inclusion rather than exclusion is the mark of the community of the new creation.

The second contrast between the teachers of the “other gospel” and Paul was basis of boasting (Gal. 6.13-14). The Greek word for “boasting” is kauchaomai, which means “to have confidence in” or “to take pride in”.  Paul says that he “boasts” in the cross of Jesus Christ. His confidence or pride is grounded in the scandalous and provocative cross of Christ, in contrast to that of the teachers of the “other gospel”. The teachers’ confidence or pride is based on the “flesh”. The reason for Paul’s confidence in the cross of Christ is the triple crucifixion: Christ’s, the world’s and Paul’s, where the latter two crucifixions are secondary to and derivative of the former. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ has resulted in the world’s crucifixion to Paul and Paul’s crucifixion to the world. The perfect tense of the verb stauroō indicates that the crucifixions of the world to Paul and Paul to the world, happened at the time of Paul’s conversion and this reality continue even in the present. That is why circumcision or uncircumcision are no longer important or count anything to Paul, because the crucifixion of Jesus Christ has brought Paul’s death to the world of dichotomies and vice-versa. Believers in Christ live to a different pattern of existence, where the pairs of opposites (Gal. 3.28, 5.6, 6.15) lose their significance. That is why Paul says: “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything” (Gal. 5.6, 6.15). Therefore, Paul’s fundamental criticism of the teachers of the “other gospel” is that, by failing to recognize the eschatological significance of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, they seek to remain enslaved to the system of sacred violence.

The fundamental opposition between the new creation and the world is further delineated by Paul’s reference to “the marks of Jesus” on his body (Gal. 6.17). This reference to “the marks of Jesus” on his body should be understood in the context of Paul’s argument against the teachers of the “other gospel” who are advocating circumcision, a mark on the “flesh”, to the Gentile believers. Paul accuses them that the reason for their insistence on circumcision is “only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ” (Gal. 6.12). Paul has already indicated the relationship between preaching of circumcision, cross of Christ and persecution (Gal. 5.11). He says that the cross of Christ is a skandalon (Gal. 5.11). The term skandalon refers to an offence, which arouses resentment or resistance (cf. I Mac. 5.4).[11] That means, the cross of Christ has provoked an opposition against and persecution of those who proclaimed it. It is a skandalon to the Jews because it demolishes the walls of separation between the Jews and the Gentiles, thus disturbing the existing social order based on the zealotic interpretation of the Torah. The cross, by demolishing the ritual barriers around the Jewish community and uniting the Jews and the Gentiles, has given zealous Jews motivation to engage in scapegoat mechanism, in order to prevent “bad violence” of social disorder by “good violence” of the curse of the sacred violence. Thus, the cross of Christ opposes the system of sacred violence. This is confirmed by Paul’s remark in Gal. 5.11: “why am I still being persecuted if I am still preaching circumcision?” It implies that advocating circumcision removes the offence created by the cross of Christ. That is why the teachers of the “other gospel” are advocating circumcision to the Gentile believers in order to remove the offence, and consequently avoid persecution. In contrast, Paul talks about ta stigmata that his body carries (Gal. 6.17). Notice that Paul employs here the Greek word sōma (cf. sarx in Gal. 6.12). Ta stigmata is a reference to the scars of persecution that Paul has received due to his preaching of the cross of Christ (cf. II Cor. 1.8-9, 4.8-12, 6.4-10). These marks on Paul’s body are different from the mark on the “flesh”, because the former are the marks of the victim of the system of sacred violence. So the marks on Paul’s body signify the marks of the victim of the system of sacred violence, whereas the mark on the “flesh” denotes the system of sacred violence.

Thus, the cross of Jesus Christ by inaugurating the new creation has not destroyed the world. But it has deconstructed the system of sacred violence and exposed the latter’s pervasive lie. The new social order of inclusion comes into being, while the social order of exclusion continues to exist. 

B. Faith: An Entrance Requirement to the Community of the New Creation

Faith (pistis) is a fundamental feature of Paul’s message (I Thess. 1.3, 8, 3.2, 5-7, 10, 5.8). In I Thessalonians faith is related to the faith of the Thessalonian believers. In Galatians faith is often used in contrast to the works of the law (Gal. 2.16, 3.2, 5). This repeated antithesis between faith and the works of the law warrants a conclusion that faith is an essential feature of Paul’s message of freedom just as the works of the law are to the teachers of the “other gospel”. Paul’s emphasis on faith is his way of countering the teachers’ emphasis on the works of the law. In this context Paul quotes Gen. 15.6 to expound what he meant by faith. Paul insists that Abraham’s believing provides a pattern for ek pisteōs (Gal. 3.6-7). Paul does this because the teachers of the “other gospel” have used Abrahamic tradition to drive in their point, that is, the importance of the works of the law. They are aware of the Jewish midrash that interprets Abraham’s faith in terms of the zealous act of Phineas that “has been reckoned to him as righteousness”.[12] Thus, Abraham’s faith is interpreted as faithfulness, which is understood in terms of zealous action for God or the law. In this sense Abraham’s faith is linked to the system of sacred violence. Sacred violence is expressed in exclusionism through maintenance of a pattern of life according to the zealotic understanding of law. This pattern of life is expressed by the works of the law or Ioudaizein lifestyle. It is against such a zealotic interpretation of faith of Abraham that Paul uses the term “faith”. He explains his understanding of Abraham’s faith (pistis) by referring to God’s promise: “All the nations shall be blessed in you” (Gen. 12.3; cf. Gen. 18.18). That means, faith of Abraham is the trust in God’s promise or simply trust in God. This kind of faith forms the pattern for all those who believe, in contrast to the way the teachers of the “other gospel” have understood it as faithfulness (in terms of zeal or sacred violence).

The above discussion leads to an issue that has generated much debate in recent years. The question is whether all references to pistis in Galatians point to human believing in response to the gospel. Among the references there are a number of genitive constructions, pisteōs Christou or pisteōs Iēsou Christou (Gal. 2.16, 3.22), and en tē pistei tou huiou tou theou (Gal. 2.20). The phrase pisteōs Christou (or pisteōs Iēsou Christou) is translated by some as “faith of Christ” and others as “faith in Christ”. Those who support the translation “faith of Christ”[13] understand the phrase as referring to Christ’s own faith, that is, faithful obedience displayed in his willing self-sacrifice on the cross. They base their argument on the following: 1. Jesus’ faith or faithfulness was a tradition known in early Christianity (Heb. 2.17; 3.2; 12.2; Rev. 1.5, 3.14, 19.11). Moreover, Christ’s obedience is emphasized in Rom. 5.15-19 and Phil. 2.5-11. 2. In Gal. 3.23-25 Paul says that “faith came” and is “revealed”. If “faith in Christ” is a human response, how can Paul say that it “came” or “revealed”? 3. If Paul were speaking of “faith in Christ”, his failure to make his intension clear by using the preposition is inexplicable, particularly in light of expressions “the faithfulness of God” (Rom. 3.3) and “the faith of our father Abraham” (Rom. 4.12). 4. If pistis Christou means “faith in Christ” in several Pauline texts this phrase is redundant, for these texts also include some other expression designating human faith: “we have come to believe in Christ” (Gal. 2.16), “those who believe” (Gal. 3.22), “all who believe” (Rom. 3.22), “through faith” (Phil. 3.9).     

Those who hold the view that Paul refers to “faith in Christ”[14] base their argument on: 1. At Gal. 2.15 Paul defines pistis with the parallel verbal expression “believe in Christ”; 2. Like “works of the law” “faith in Christ” refers to human element in transaction of justification; 3. Paul uses the verbal form “to believe” frequently with believers as its subject, but never with Christ as subject; 4. The form (pisteōs Christou) in itself is indeterminative of meaning.[15] The meaning is determined by the context in which the phrase is used.

As discussed above, Paul maintains that Abraham’s kind of faith forms the pattern for all those who believe, in contrast to the way the teachers of the “other gospel” have understood it as faithfulness in terms of zeal or sacred violence as expressed by the works of law or Ioudaizein lifestyle. He continues this antithesis between faith and the works of the law by arguing that faith and law (understood in terms of the works of the law) are mutually exclusive and God’s justifying act is ek pisteōs (Gal. 3.11-12, 23-24). In Gal. 3.24 Paul contrasts the enslaving function of the law with God’s justifying act (that is, righting the wrong). He describes the enslaving function of the law by using the imageries of confinement in prison, prison guard, and paidagōgos. Paul is portraying law as an enslaving power of the present evil age. At the heart of the enslavement is division of the world into Jew and Gentile. In contrast, God’s justifying act is a unifying act: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female” (Gal. 3.28). It is possible only ek pisteōs (Gal. 3.23-24, 3.11). In Gal. 3.26 Paul says that this unifying has happened through faith in Jesus Christ. In Gal. 3.27 he delineates the faith in Jesus Christ by the metaphor of “baptism”. This is the same kind of faith that Abraham had, that is, trust in God or God’s promise (Gal. 3.8-9). Here Paul is talking about human faith in God’s eschatological act in Jesus Christ that has demolished the ethnic, class and gender barriers, and established an alternate world of unified people.

Faith is a feature of the eschatological age, which is inaugurated by Christ’s event (Gal. 3.23). This is supported by the use of the term apokalyphthēnai. Paul uses the term apokalypsis and its verbal form apokalyptein primarily to refer to the eschaton and to God’s action in the end time (Gal. 1.12,16, 2.2; I Cor. 1.7, 3.13).[16] In Gal. 1.12 and 1.16 apokalypsis and its verbal form respectively are used for God’s revelation of God’s son, the victim of the curse of the law. God’s revelation of God’s son disclosed that the death of Jesus Christ was the result of the sacred violence. Through this God has revealed not only his rejection of the law (understood in exclusionistic terms) that crucified Christ, but also God’s vindication of the victim of the curse of the law. In this context Paul also refers to Jesus Christ as the content of the gospel. The expression “faith came” is nothing but a new mode of existence that was made possible by God’s eschatological act in Jesus Christ and the dawning of the new creation.[17] With this line of argument, the references of ek pisteōs Iēsou Christou (Gal. 3.22, 2.16) could hardly be anything else than a reference to faith of believers, that is, human trust in God’s eschatological act in Jesus Christ.

Paul explains faith in Christ with being baptized into Christ (Gal. 3.27). Baptism is a metaphor for dying with Christ. Paul speaks about his conversion experience as being crucified with Christ, or dying to the law through the law (Gal. 2.19). The nature of existence of believers in Christ is expressed in mimetic identification with the crucified Jesus Christ. Faith in Christ means mimetically identifying with the crucified Christ. By mimetic identification with the crucified Christ, the victim of sacred violence, believers in Christ break free from the system of sacred violence. What is implied here is an acknowledgement on the part of the believers in Christ of their enslavement to the system of sacred violence and its violence against the innocent victim. God requires an acknowledgement that Jesus Christ is an innocent victim of the system of sacred violence, and wants the “perpetrators” to confess this. The system of sacred violence, by destroying the voice and language of its victim, perpetuates its own story about the victim. So the victim of the system of sacred violence experiences a loss of his story. God through the revelation of Christ has redeemed the voice and language of the victim. The gospel of Jesus Christ is, in a way, not only demythification of the story about the victim perpetuated by the violent sacrificial system, but also “a reconstruction of the shattered voice” of the victim.[18] Believers in Christ are required to actively hear and acknowledge this story of Jesus Christ, the victim of the system of sacred violence, and their enslavement to the violent system.   

Paul describes the severed relationship of believer in Christ with the system of sacred violence metaphorically by crucifixion of believers to the world of dichotomies and the world to believers, because of Christ’s crucifixion (Gal. 6.14-15). He employs the language of death or crucifixion in order to emphasize detachment from the system of sacred violence. By mimetic identification with the crucified Christ, the victim of sacred violence, believers in Christ break free from the social order of sacred violence into the new creation, which is characterized by love and inclusion of all nations. This mimetic identification with the crucified Christ forms the basis of the existence and life of believers in the new creation. Paul says: “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me, and the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2.20). Thus, the death or crucifixion of Jesus Christ for us is of determinative importance to the existence of believers in Christ and the community of the new creation. Martyn explains clearly this existence of believers in Christ. He says that at stake are two worlds: the world of polarities (ethnic, class, and gender) and the new creation. The death of the world of polarities to believers and believers to the world is Paul’s way of describing complete separation of believers in Christ from the world of polarities. In other words, the life of believers in the community of the new creation is completely beyond the system of sacred violence. Paul denies any existence to the antinomies or sacred violence in the new creation. For him, ethnic, class and gender distinctions do not have any validity in the community of the new creation (Gal. 3.28, 5.6, 6.15). These distinctions are no longer cause of hostility or division in the community of the new creation. The social order of the new creation is “faith working through love”. Law is no longer used for exclusion of neighbor, but acceptance and inclusion through love. The community of the new creation is an inclusive community.

Thus, faith in Christ enables believers in Christ to free from the system of sacred violence into the community of the new creation, where people irrespective of their ethnic, class and gender backgrounds are united in Christ as children of God and possess God’s eschatological gift of the Spirit. 

C. Love: A Nonacquisitive Desire

Faith is not only an entrance requirement into the community of the new creation, but also a fundamental determinant of life there. For Paul, it is not a passive human attitude or passive human belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ, but is active in the sense of expressing itself in life. It is the fundamental determinant of believers’ life in the community of the new creation: “faith working through love” (Gal. 5.6). It is constant “walking in the Spirit” and not gratifying the desires of the flesh (Gal. 5.16).

The history of scholarship has given a wide range of explanations for the relationship of the paraenetic section of Gal. 5-6 with the preceding chapters. Some regard the paraenetic section as an appendix to the letter. They view that the material in this section is unrelated to Paul’s main argument in the previous chapters. Others consider this section to be an integral part of the entire letter.[19]  Some, who belong to the latter group, tried to explain Gal. 5-6 by arguing that Paul was fighting two opponents in Galatians: in chapters 1-4 Judaizers or legalists, and in chapters 5-6 libertines. James Ropes argues that Paul adds the exhortation section to confront libertines.[20] The problem addressed in chapters 5-6 is libertinism, because Paul not only encourages his readers to stand firm in freedom, but also warns them against the misuse of freedom (Gal. 5.1,13). Scholars, who argue that Paul’s opponents in Gal. 5-6 are libertines, also indicate the list of the “works of the flesh” to support their view.  However, Walter Schmithals, among other scholars, questioned the artificiality of this solution. He proposed Jewish-Christian Gnostics as the opponents of Paul in Galatian churches.[21] This proposal has not gained much support.

The above solutions share a common presumption that there is a dissonance between Paul’s moral exhortation in Gal. 5-6 and his argument in chapters 1-4. This is due to the understanding of the works of the law in terms of good deeds, and Paul’s argument to be against legalism or works righteousness. However, as discussed in the previous chapters, the issue that Paul addresses in Galatians is freedom. This freedom is freedom from the world of dichotomies into the new creation. The appearance of this dominant theme in the paraenetic section provides continuity with Paul’s preceding argument (Gal. 5.1,13). Therefore, the paraenetic section in Gal. 5-6 is integral to Paul’s argument in the context of the Galatian crisis and has an important role to play in addressing the issue of freedom.

The significance of Paul’s instructions in Gal. 5-6 to his overall argument on freedom is indicated by the use of indicative-imperative combination. The structure of imperative developing out of indicative appears in Gal. 5.1 (“For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery”), 5.13 (“For you were called to freedom, brethren, only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love become slaves to one another), and 5.25 (“If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit”). Herman Ridderbos says that the relation of the indicative to the imperative must not be reversed.[22] The imperatives are grounded in the indicatives. In all the above three instances there is an affirmation of freedom in Christ (in Gal. 5.25 freedom is represented by the Spirit) and an appeal to live out that freedom. Paul emphasizes that freedom has come through Christ and Galatians have been set free, and this freedom is meant to be lived out. Commenting on Paul’s use of the indicative-imperative combination Barclay says, “One of the distinctive features of Paul’s use of the indicative-imperative combination is his effort to match the content of the two moods: if the indicative is ‘you have been freed’, the imperative is ‘do not become slaves’ (5.1).”[23] This phenomenon indicates that Paul wants to show the Galatian believers that there is only one pattern of behavior which is consistent with their present state of freedom in Christ and their membership in the community of the new creation.

Paul appeals or encourages for preservation of freedom from the system of sacred violence into the new creation that has been achieved through the death of Jesus Christ.  In Gal. 5.1 the aorist tense of eleutheroō points to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ that has exposed the sacrificial structure of Judaism and thus enabled believers in Christ to withdraw their credibility and allegiance to Judaism and transfer to the community of the new creation. However, since the world of dichotomies is not destroyed but only deconstructed by the death of Jesus Christ, it remains a threat to the community of the new creation. This threat is seen in the teaching of the teachers of the “other gospel”. That is why Paul strongly exhorts the Galatian believers to “stand firm”. Circumcision enslaves them again to the system of sacred violence, from which Christ event has set them free. The consequence of choosing circumcision is that “Christ will be of no benefit to you” (Gal. 5.2). That means, their intended action would negate the significance of the death of Jesus Christ. Because the antinomies, circumcision and uncircumcision, are not valid in the new creation, which is dawned by the Christ event (Gal. 5.6).

Since the system of sacred violence is not destroyed, but only exposed by the Christ event, the lifestyle pertaining to it remains a threat to members of the community of the new creation. Notice the parallelism between Gal. 5.13 and 5.1, except that “freedom” is in emphatic position in the latter whereas “you” (that is, Galatian believers) in the former. Paul’s warning in Gal. 5.13 and 6.7-8 implies that there is a possibility of believers in Christ giving “an opportunity for the flesh” or “sowing to the flesh” (Gal. 5.13, 6.7-8). Flesh here represents a way of life denoted by Ioudaizein (Gal. 2.16, 3.3, 4.23,29, 6.8,12,13), which is nothing but a lifestyle that befits the system of sacred violence. Flesh has its own “desire” (Gal. 5.16) or “passions and desires” (Gal. 5.24). It engages in inevitable conflict with the Spirit (Gal. 5.17). Such mutual opposition implies mutual exclusion.[24] Flesh produces its own “works” (Gal. 5.19-21) that contrast sharply with the “fruit” of the Spirit (Gal. 5.22-23). “Works of the flesh” and “fruit of the Spirit” are commonly referred as catalogues of vices and virtues. Martyn says that this “identification seriously distorts Paul’s understanding,” because Paul is talking about the marks of two communities, one under the influence of the flesh and the other led by the Spirit.[25] Therefore, “works of the flesh” characterizes the world of flesh. It is striking to see prevalence of greed (Gal. 5.16), fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, jealousy, anger, envy, drunkenness and carousing under the works of the flesh (Gal. 5.19-21). These traits are all interrelated aspects of what Girard identifies as acquisitive mimetic desire. Because these are the characteristics of a person who mimes the object of desire of another person and is ambitious to possess what is deemed desirable by the other. This acquisitive mimetic desire produces “works”. The conflictual nature of the “works” of the acquisitive desire is evidenced by enmities, strife, quarrels, dissentions, and factions (Gal. 5.20). Paul also indicates rivalry as the work of the flesh: “biting and devouring one another” and “consuming one another” (Gal. 5.13-15). Thus, acquisitive mimetic desire, which is characteristic of the flesh, leads to rivalry and conflictual violence. This generates scapegoating mechanism and sacred violence of exclusionism, persecution and killing.

However, freedom enabled by the Christ event from the system of sacred violence into the new creation transforms the desire of believers in Christ. Paul says that they have crucified the “flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5.24). Here Paul uses an active verb stauroō to describe that believers in Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (cf. Gal. 2.19, 6.14). To say that believers in Christ have “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” suggests believers’ resolution and conscious effort to renounce the acquisitive mimetic desire that leads to rivalry and conflictual violence, and ultimately generates scapegoating violence. This takes place at the time of conversion, when believers are transferred from the social order of sacred violence into the new creation. This is supported by the use of aorist tense estaurōsan, and close parallel with Gal. 2.19-20 and 6.14-15. Believers not only renounce the acquisitive mimetic desire, but also mimic the nonacquisitive desire of Christ, the agape love (Gal. 2.20). In other words, faith in Christ means mimetically participating not only in the death of Jesus Christ, but also in the nonacquisitive love of Christ. This faith expressed in the nonacquisitive love becomes the distinctive characteristic of the community of the new creation, which Paul terms: “faith working through love” (Gal. 5.6).

Scholars differ on the voice of the participle energoumenē (Gal.5.6). Some interpret it as passive (“faith that is activated by love”) and others prefer middle (“faith that is actively expressing itself through love”).[26] Paul does not regard faith as passive, but as active: “faith working through love” (Gal. 5.6). Barclay calls “faith in Christ” as “the fundamental determinant of all Christian behaviour.”[27] Notice the parallelism between Gal. 5.6 and 6.15. Paul identifies “faith working through love” with the new creation (cf. I Cor. 7.19).[28] The new creation is characterized by “faith working through love”. Faith in Christ is not only the entrance requirement into the community of the new creation, but also manifests itself through love. Sam Williams says, “It erupts into communal life as love.”[29] The model for agape love through which faith makes itself effective is Christ (Gal. 2.20). The mimetic identification of believers with the crucified Christ as model is so strong that Christ is said to be “living in them”. That is why in Gal. 5.14 Paul does not say that believers should obey the law’s command to love the neighbor. They do not love because the law commands them to do it. They love because the faith in Christ makes them mimic the nonacquisitive desire of Jesus Christ. Therefore, the nonacquisitive desire of Christ, expressed in agape love, becomes the pattern of life in the community of the new creation. The communal life marked by the nonacquisitive love is reflected in mutual love and service (Gal.5.13).

Therefore, the mimesis generated by the acquisitive desire, which is underlying the system of sacred violence, has given way to the mimesis generated by the nonacquisitive desire in the new creation. Freedom of believers in Christ is expressed in the nonacquisitive desire of mutual love and service (Gal. 5.13). The nonacquisitive desire of mutual love and service is the essence of the law: ho pas nomos en heni logō peplērōtai en tō Agapēseis ton plēsion sou hōs seauton. The translation of peplērōtai as “is summed up” is not accurate in the context of Paul’s argument in Galatians. Paul employs the noun form of plēroō to refer to the Christ event that has enabled believers in Christ to be freed from the enslavement under the law and so the Ioudaizein lifestyle pertaining to the social order of antinomies, into the new creation where “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 4.4; cf. Gal. 3.28, 5.6, 6.15). This Christ event has done something to the law. As Cousar comments, “The perfect tense and passive voice of the verb (plēroō in 5.14) indicate that something has happened to the law.”[30] By freeing those under the enslavement of the law into the new creation where Jew and Greek are united and thus fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham (Gal. 3.8), the Christ event has restored the law “to its rightful identity.”[31] Martyn supports this interpretation of the verb plēroō in Gal. 5.14. He says:

In Gal. 5.14, that is to say, the guiding imperative of the Law (Lev. 19.18) is not the result of an insightful deed of Paul, his act of reducing the Law to its essence (his achievement of the reduction in unum). On the contrary, that guiding imperative is the result of the powerful deed of Christ…The law taken in hand by Christ (Gal. 6.2) is the Law that Christ has restored to its original identity and power (Gal. 5.14).[32]           

Thus, the Christ event has restored the original meaning of the law. In other words, the original interpretation of the law as loving service to neighbor is restored in the new creation.

Paul delineates further the restoration of the Torah to its original meaning in Gal. 6.2. Here he employs the compound verb anaplēroō. Majority of scholars acknowledge a close link between Gal. 6.2 and 5.13-14: use of words from the root plēroun, and a reference to mutual service. The law here is conjoined with Christ, “the law of Christ” (cf. I Cor. 9.21 ennomos Christou). There are different views about the interpretation of the phrase “the law of Christ”[33]: “the law of the Messiah”[34], “Christian law”[35] and “principle” or “norm” that controls the Christian life[36]. However, these interpretations are unlikely. Paul’s use of the term anaplēroō suggests that the “law of Christ” is related to the eschatological age inaugurated by the Christ event. Bearing of burdens is a slave’s task.[37] Moreover, in I Cor. 9.19-21 being under ennomos Christou is related to being a slave of all. Although it is unclear in Gal. 6.2 what ta barē refers to, it is evident that Paul is instructing the Galatian believers to love one another through mutual service. The following verse confirms this interpretation, where Paul says that this mutual service fulfils the law of Christ (Gal. 6.2). Therefore, to fulfill the law through love means to fulfill the law of Christ. There are instances in Paul’s letters where Paul links “love” and “Christ” through the example of Christ’s death (Gal. 2.20; II Cor. 5.14-15). This suggests that when Paul talks of “fulfilling the law of Christ” he is, in fact, referring to the Torah, but redefined through Christ. Moreover, in II Cor. 5.14-17 this link between love and Christ through the example of the death of Christ is related to the new creation, where reconciliation is realized. Thus, the new creation is characterized by the law redefined through Christ. It is the law interpreted not in terms of sacred violence generated by the acquisitive mimesis, but in terms of love expressed through mutual service that controls life in the community of the new creation. Gal. 5.13-6.10 is a description of social and communal manifestations of “faith working through love”.

The nonacquisitive love that underlies the community of the new creation is expressed in “the fruit of the spirit” (Gal. 5.22). The singular noun “fruit” indicates that the way of life according to the Spirit is cohesive and unified.[38] It builds and supports community. Interestingly love heads the list of “the fruit of the spirit”. Cousar notes, “The remainder of the list gives further substance to the word “love” and depicts the qualities characteristic of the community in which the Spirit is active.”[39] The appeal for living out freedom in the community of the new creation continues with an exhortation to “restore” the one who “is detected in a transgression” (Gal. 6.1). The verb “restore” has a sense of “mending” or “to repair” (Mt. 4.21; Mk. 1.19). There is no retributive action or exclusion of the person from the community of the new creation. The mimetic identification with the crucified Christ is “constitutionally different” from an excluding system of sacred violence.[40] It is a subversive social order to the existing order of sacred violence. That is why Paul reminds the Galatian believers of their possession of the Spirit, the identity of their membership in the community of the new creation. Each member of the community of the new creation is called to self-awareness (Gal. 6.2) and self-evaluation that helps to free the community from scapegoating (Gal. 6.3-5). It is this attitude that helps the members of the community of Christ to “bear one another’s burdens.” The word baros means “anything grievous and hard to be borne”. Most probably, it refers back to “temptation” or “trespass” a believer may be influenced by. That means, the restoration of a transgressed believer is a burden-bearing activity. It is identifying with fellow transgressed member, rather than scapegoating that believer which results in excluding him/her from the community. Paul says that burden-bearing fulfils “the law of Christ” (Gal. 6.2). Thus, the law redefined through Christ is not a weapon of sacred violence, but uniting, identifying and building.

Further, in Gal. 6.9-10 Paul encourages believers to persevere in doing good. Here the term kairos appears twice. NRSV translates it as “harvest time” in Gal. 6.9, and “opportunity” in 6.10. However, in both occasions kairos refers to eschatological time. Furnish comments:

Thus, as we have opportunity does not mean: Whenever, from time to time, it may be possible to do good, we should do it. It means, rather, as long as this present eschatological time continues, it is in fact the time to love, and we should be obedient in love.[41]

Since the time that governs the community of the new creation is the eschatological time, Paul is encouraging believers to work for the common good. In other words, it is the social order of nonacquisitive mimesis that underlies the community of the crucified Christ.




[1] Victor Paul Furnish, II Corinthians: Translated with Introduction, Notes, and Commentary (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1984), p. 308.

[2] Kata sarka occurs nineteen times in the undisputed letters of Paul. Excluding the two occurrences in II Cor. 5.16, of the seventeen, it is used thirteen times adverbially, while four times adjectivally.  

[3] Furnish, II Corinthians, p. 313.

[4] Martyn, Theological Issues in the Letters of Paul (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1997), pp. 92-93.

[5] Martyn, Theological Issues, p. 94.

[6] For the discussion on this read Martyn, Theological Issues.

[7] Martyn, Theological Issues, pp. 107-108.


[8] Cousar, Reading Galatians, p. 110.

[9] Martyn, “Apocalyptic Antinomies in Paul’s Letter to Galatians” in NTS 31 (1985), pp. 410-24.

[10] Barclay, Obeying the Truth, p. 102.

[11] Betz, Galatians, p. 269.

[12] Discussed in Chapter IV.

[13] Luke T. Johnson, “Romans 3.21-26 and the Faith of Jesus,” in CBQ 44 (1982); Hays, The Faith of Jesus Christ; Morna D. Hooker, “PISTIS CHRISTOU,” in NTS 35 (1989), pp. 321-342;  Longenecker, Galatians, pp. 87-88; Frank J. Matera, Galatians (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1992), pp. 100-101; Sam K. Williams, “Again Pistis Christou,” in CBQ 49 (1987), pp. 431-447.

[14] Betz, Galatians, p. 117; Arland J. Hultgren, “The Pistis Christou Formulation in Paul,” in NovT 22 (1980), pp. 248-263; F.F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Galatians, p. 139; Dunn, “Once More, PISTIS CHRISTOU,” in Society of Biblical Literature 1991 Papers, ed. By Eugene H. Lovering (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1991).

[15] Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1998), p. 380.

[16] Gaventa, From Darkness to Light, p. 23; Cousar, Reading Galatians, pp. 36-37.

[17] Keck, Paul and His Letters, p. 86.


[18] Phelps, Shattered Voices, p. 44.

[19] For a survey of views on the paraenetic section of Gal. 5-6 read Barclay, Obeying the Truth, pp. 9- 26.

[20] James H. Ropes, The Singular Problem of the Epistle to the Galatians (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1929).

[21] Walter Schmithals, Paul and the Gnostics, tr. by John E. Steely (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1972), pp. 13-64.

[22] Ridderbos Paul, p. 254.

[23] Barclay, Obeying the Truth, p. 225.

[24] Barclay, Obeying the Truth, p. 112.

[25] Martyn, Galatians, p. 496.

[26] Martyn, Galatians, p. 474.

[27] Barclay, Obeying the Truth, p. 237.

[28] Moises Silva, Interpreting Galatians: Explorations in Exegetical Method (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2001), p. 182.

[29] Williams, Galatians, p. 144.

[30] Cousar, Reading Galatians, p. 99.

[31] Cousar, Reading Galatians, p. 100.

[32] Martyn, Theological Issues, pp. 247-248.

[33] For a detailed discussion on this read Barclay, Obeying the Truth, pp. 127-135.

[34] W.D. Davies, Torah in the Messianic Age and/or the Age to Come (Philadelphia: Society of Biblical Literature, 1952); The Setting of the Sermon on the Mount (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976).

[35] W.D. Davies, Paul and Rabbinic Judaism, p. 144; Longenecker, Paul: Apostle of Liberty (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1976), pp. 183-190.

[36] Raisanen, Paul and the Law, p. 80; Burton, Galatians, p. 329; Bruce, Galatians, p. 261; Hays, “Christology and Ethics in Galatians: The Law of Christ,” in CBQ 49 (1987), pp. 268-290.

[37] Barclay, Obeying the Truth, p. 131.

[38] Cousar, Reading Galatians, p. 104.

[39] Cousar, Reading Galatians, p. 104.

[40] Hamerton-Kelly, Sacred Violence, p. 86.

[41] Victor Paul Furnish, The Love Command in the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1972), p. 101.


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