Although Western Christianity would eventually be defined as a belief system about God, throughout its first five centuries people understood it primarily as spiritual practices that offered a meaningful way of life in this world — not as a neat set of doctrines, an esoteric belief, or the promise of heaven. By practicing Jesus’s teachings, followers of the way discovered that their lives were made better on a practical spiritual path. Indeed, early Christianity was not called “Christianity” at all. Rather, it was called “the Way,” and its followers were called “the People of the Way.” Members of the community were not held accountable for their opinions about God or Jesus; rather, the community measured faithfulness by how well its members practiced loving God and neighbor. Not offering hospitality was a much greater failure than not believing that Jesus was “truly God and truly human.” Early Christians judged ethical failings as the most serious breach of community, even as they accepted a significant amount of theological diversity in their midst. (p. 149)
Reflections and Questions
1. I consider this a quintessential example of what Girard refers to as a "text in travail" of the Old Testament. It begins on the right track with the prophet Nathan speaking for the God of victims. God will not abide with even his anointed one when they victimize the innocent, even if the victim is a Gentile. The latter could easily have been the occasion for justifying David's actions, such as, "He was only a Hittite, after all." One is typically more justified in sacrificing someone from the outgroup. But David is made to see his error through the Lord's prophet.
But then the story turns God into an active victimizer. The first part of the sentence against David is again in keeping with a Girardian theology: God's wrath is in the form of turning David's family over to the consequences of their own actions. If David insists on living by the sword, then his family shall have to live by the sword. But the sentence of illness and death to Bathsheba's child falls right back into the typical wrathful acts of false gods. It is essentially a child sacrifice carried out by a false god of our making. It brings divine violence into the story in such a way that it reverses some of the responsibility that has truly been laid at David's feet. Losing a firstborn son might seem to heighten the tragedy of his punishment, and thus his responsibility. But that is precisely our human way of thinking at work. It's the way in which we continue to justify capital punishment: such a grave punishment seems to make the punished more responsible for their crimes. But doesn't it instead veil our responsibility for turning around and using the same acts of violence, a violence which is likely to only help perpetuate the cycle? The ultimate theological and ethical question that this story raises is: Can David be held fully responsible for his act of violence against the innocent, when god supposedly turns around and does the same in response?
2. This is the sort of passage that is behind St. Paul's reworking the "wrath of God" in Romans, reworking it as the idea of God handing us over to the consequences of our wrath against each other. Again, that is the perspective of this story, to some degree, as David's family will suffer the consequences of David's violence. But the child becomes the innocent victim which resists Paul's renewed experience of a gracious God. For more on Paul and the "wrath of God" in Romans, see Part II of "My Core Convictions."
3. If I was preaching on this passage I might toy with the idea of the David's dead child as a more faithful predecessor to Jesus than David. Jesus would come to be the Son who gets caught up in the sacrificial machinery. The dead child is even more of a prophet than Nathan in the Girardian sense of being one of the white-robed martyrs who will stand with the Lamb before God's throne in the heavenly city. But developing this theme would take the delicate unveiling of the false god who makes this child a martyr. It is seeing David's violence as the issue and a de-mythologizing interpretation of it that makes the child appear to be a martyr.
Alternate Translation (based on Resources and Reflections below)
We are religious practitioners in nature and not atheist sinners. 16Yet we know that a person is made right not by religious practices but through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. And we have come to trust in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right by Christ’s faithfulness, and not by doing religious acts, because no one will be made right by religious practices. 17But if, seeking to be made right in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Absolutely not! 18But if I build up again the very things [namely, the walls of religion] that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor. 19For I have died to religion in order to live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. 20It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the earthly life I now live I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up to betrayal for me. 21I do not nullify God’s grace! For if being made right comes through religion, then Christ died for nothing.
1. J. Louis Martyn, Galatians
(Anchor Bible Series). Martyn's primary thesis about Galatians
really comes to roost in this passage. He refers to the cross
event as "apocalypse," God breaking into our human realm and
setting a "cosmic antinomy," a divine instance of anti-law. In the
introduction Martyn considers the charge of Galatians being
anti-Judaic and writes, "For without exception, in the passages
listed, as in others, the ruling polarity is not that of
Christianity versus Judaism, church versus synagogue. As we will
see repeatedly, that ruling polarity is rather the cosmic antinomy
of God’s apocalyptic act in Christ versus religion, and thus the
gospel versus religious tradition" (p. 37). In other words, the
Reformation was off-track to the extent that it used Paul's
message as one of Christian grace versus Jewish works in its own
attack on Roman religion, unwittingly reinforcing anti-Judaism.
Martyn is posing to us that Paul's view of the Christ event is
that it is supposed to carry us beyond all religion, precisely to
the extent that religion has been oppositional -- i.e., part of
the problem, not the solution. Martyn writes,
With the advent of Christ, then, the antinomy between apocalypse and religion has been enacted by God once for all. Moreover, this antinomy is central to the way in which Paul does theology in Galatians, not least in connection with one of its major themes, rectification. As the antidote to what is wrong in the world does not lie in religion — religion being one of the major components of the wrong — so the point of departure from which there can be movement to set things right cannot be found in religion; as though, provided with a good religious foundation for a good religious ladder, one could ascend from the wrong to the right. Things are the other way around. God has elected to invade the realm of wrong — “the present evil age” (1:4) — by sending his Son and the Spirit of his Son into it from outside it. This apocalyptic invasion thus shows that to take the Sinaitic Law to the Gentiles — as the Teachers are doing — is to engage in a mission that is marked at its center by the impotence of religion.
We sense, then, the reason for Paul’s certainty that neither Christ nor Abraham is a religious figure, but we also see that, in Paul’s view, the antinomy between apocalypse and religion militates against the emergence of religion within the church. And for that reason the church is not a new religion set over against the old religion, Judaism. (p. 39)
In short, Martyn confirms what we are saying about Paul meaning
"religion" when speaking about the "law" -- no where more clearly
than in describing the effect of Gentiles giving in to the
When Gentiles turn to the observance of the Sinaitic Law after having been baptized into Christ, Paul says that they embrace a form of religion that is for them indistinguishable from the pagan religion into which they were born! For this step removes them from Christ (4:8-11; 5:4). Quite specifically, then, for Gentiles Law observance is nothing other than a religion — as opposed to God’s apocalypse in Christ — and therefore enslaving. (p. 39)To better convey what Paul meant, as a pre-modern person without the secular separation of law from religion, by ho nomos and ergon nomos, I recommend translating these terms as "religion" and "religious practice."
3. Robert Hamerton-Kelly has a good section on 2:19 in Sacred Violence, pp. 65-71. A brief example:
Given that we are the slaves of desire in any case, the true mimesis is to let one's desire be shaped by the nonacquisitive divine desire as seen in the Cross, and thus be liberated from the realm of mimetic rivalry and sacred violence. (p. 69)He also comments on this passage quite a bit on pages 166-169. Link to an excerpt of the first portion of chapter 7, "Sacred Violence and the Reformation of Desire," pp. 161-173.
5. Andrew Marr, Abbot of St. Gregory's Abbey (Three Rivers, MI) is a long-time reader and writer on Mimetic Theory and in his blog, "Imaginary Visions of True Peace," reviewed in 2013 Brigitte Kahl's Galatians Re-Imagined, "'Stupid' Galatians, Stupid Us."
6. See the Trinity C reference and quote from James Alison, "The Pauline Understanding of Desire" in The Joy of Being Wrong, pp. 147-156. The quoted reference (p. 151) to last week's Romans 5:1 (which only falls in years with an early Easter) also makes use of Gal 2:19-21:
It is the same understanding that underlies the metaphor of the indwelling of sin to be found in 7:13-25. Sin is a force which moves all persons so that they cannot obey the law they know to be true (the fundamental prohibition against envy and its positive counterpart, love of neighbor as self). Thus the existential condition of every person is that of a conflictual self moved from without. The "I" is not something which controls, but which is controlled by sin which has reached within (7:20). The only force capable of undoing this constitution of the self by the violent other of sin is God as revealed and made available by Jesus Christ (7:25). Exactly what this change might consist in can be shown by reference to Galatians 2:19-21, part of a passage dealing with many of the same themes as Romans. The other in question, God working through Jesus Christ, is able to re-form the "I" of Paul so completely that his "I" is actually replaced by Christ: "It is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me (Gal 2:20)." There could be no clearer indication of a mimetic psychology than the de-possession of the "I" formed by the world, and the constitution of an "I" that is possession by Christ.7. Douglas Campbell, The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul. Nothing will ever be quite same in Pauline scholarship after Campbell's dismantling of justification, showing it to be a secondary way of speaking for Paul when in debate with a version of Christianity that is conditional in its grace -- and because we misread Romans 1-4, Protestantism has often lapsed into the conditional grace that Paul is trying to undo. Paul's primary language of unconditional grace is a language of deliverance centered in Romans 5-8. His critique of Romans 1-4 is extended to Galatians 2-3. On this passage, see pp. 838-852. See also my "Customer Review" on the Amazon.com page.
We can therefore talk about Paul's understanding of the human subject in terms of triangular desire, whether a beneficent or a maleficent triangle. This can be seen in three steps: Initially the subject lived in a relationship of pacific imitation of (obedience towards) the model (God) and was able to love Eve and creation (the object designated by the model) in a non-rivalistic fashion. This constituted the first Adam. Then, when free desire distorted itself to envy, the model became a rival, and its will (the prohibition) an obstacle, the object became conflictual (nakedness, work, strife), and the subject was constituted by the sinful other. Now, with the coming of Christ, and by producing an imitation of Christ, the Holy Spirit forms a new "I" that is at peace with God (Rm 5:1). [p. 151]
Making this verse about our faith in the Christ (using the objective translation of the genitive) has brought about a new Protestant form of "works righteousness" -- and a rather impoverished one, at that. All we have to do, according this Protestant version, is believe certain things about Jesus and we will be saved -- with salvation basically meaning our souls going to heaven. I say this is impoverished because believing certain things does not feed a hungry child or help care for this creation. But why would the latter things have any ultimate significance, anyway, if our hope is only for souls going to heaven -- not for a whole new creation? If I had to choose a "works righteousness," I would certainly choose one based on the law that at least has me doing good works and working on the side of life. Simply believing certain things doesn't get anything done that really matters. (For more on the translation of pisteos 'Iesou Christou and the notion of a Protestant "works righteousness," see the comments on Romans 3:22 on the Reformation Day page; and "My Core Convictions," IV.2.)
But, of course, I don't think this passage is really about a "works righteousness," whether based on the law or human faith. It's about our identity as children of God. I would offer an expanded paraphrase of Gal. 2:16a, within the context of the larger argument in Galatians, as, "we know that a person is declared "child of God" (a member of the covenant family) not by observing Torah but through the faithfulness of the Messiah Jesus, God's Son, which took him to the cross under the curse of Torah (Gal. 3:13)." Looking ahead to 3:13 ("Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us-- for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree'") gives a necessary clue to the conclusion of this passage in 2:21: "for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing." Christ took the curse for us under the law, which is why we know Torah by itself can't be the way to gain our identities as God's children anymore.
In 2007, my views on these matters has been deepened by reading N. T. Wright on St. Paul. Reading his work on the Historical Jesus had already led me to change my thinking -- or at least have better biblical support for the way of faith that I have experienced and tried to live. Wright's readings of Paul confirm this way of reading the New Testament, with particular help on reading important passages such as this one, and numerous other similar passages in Romans. In his Paul for Everyone: Galatians and Thessalonians commentary, Wright translates this phrase as, "we know that a person is not declared 'righteous' by works of the Jewish law, but through the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah." His discussion of the words like 'righteous' and 'righteousness' place them in the context of Jewish covenant theology. The larger picture is that God is putting the world to rights by, beginning with Abraham and Sarah, gathering all the world into a covenant family. The main issue in Galatians -- against Jewish teachers who want to impose Torah on all new Christians, including circumcision -- is what gives us our identity as God's people, as part of God's family. Here is Wright's summary of this passage:
The point of it all, here in Galatians, is quite simple. Paul was demonstrating to Peter that even Jewish Christians have lost their old identity, defined by the law, and have come into a new identity, defined only by the Messiah.The Torah was supposed to be putting the world to rights by leading God's people to unite all of creation as the Creator's true and ultimate household. Torah was supposed to bring fulfillment of the promise to Abraham to be a father of all nations (the subject of the verses to follow in Gal. 3:1ff.). But human sin has turned the law into another tool for dividing us instead of uniting us, conferring blessings on some and curses on others. Jesus the Messiah had to submit to being cursed under the law in order to bring fulfillment to both the promise to Abraham and the law of Moses. Only the Law of Love "in the Messiah" can bring all of creation together as God's household.
This doesn't mean, as he says in verses 17-18, that by losing Jewish identity we are 'sinners,' as the Jews had regarded the Gentiles. On the contrary, if like Peter you reconstruct the wall between Jews and Gentiles, all you achieve is to prove that you yourself are a lawbreaker. If the law is what really matters, then look out: you’ve broken it! (p. 27)
We can look ahead to two important passages. Galatians 3:28-29:
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. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise.Gal. 2:18 is talking about the walls we build up between each other based on things like Torah. These walls are torn down in Jesus the Messiah (cf. Eph. 2:14ff.). If we build them back up, then in the Messiah we can see that this is truly what it means to break the law, a law fulfilled in love, the only law which fulfills the promise to Abraham and Sarah of bringing "all the families of the earth" (Gen. 12:3) into the covenant family.
And the second passage to look ahead to is Galatians 5:14: "For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" Torah is not completely rejected or replaced by the Messiah. Rather, in the cross of the Messiah, we see that Torah is interpreted wholly and completely by love. Torah is fulfilled by love and only love.
2. The debate on how to translate pisteos 'Iesou Christou has seemed more crucial here in Galatians 2 than in Romans 3. And I think the tide is turning in favor of the subjective translation: "the faith of Jesus Christ." I first encountered the debate in Charles B. Cousar's A Theology of the Cross (1990); he argued against the trend of the modern translators to translate in the objective, "faith in Christ," and he instead translated it in the subjective, primarily from its occurrence in Gal. 2:16. Cousar naturally repeated the argument from authoring the Galatians volume in the Interpretation Commentary series (1982). I am aware, through more recent research, that Richard B. Hays wrote an important book with his postion clear in the title: The Faith of Jesus Christ: The Narrative Substructure of Galatians 3:1-4:11. He argues against the mainstream of thought (represented especially by James D. G. Dunn), seeing Paul's thought as more narrative in character than doctrinal. Paul has the story of the cross in mind as God's way to putting things right as a way that fulfills the Torah (also narrative in character).
In 2007, I am benefitting from reading J. Louis Martyn's Anchor Bible commentary on Galatians, especially the notes on verse 16 and "Comment #28: God's Making Things Right by the Faith of Christ" (pp. 263-275). He translates 2:16a as, "Even we ourselves know, however, that a person is not rectified by observance of the Law, but rather by the faith of Jesus Christ." He argues for translating the dikaioo (verb) / dikaiosyne (noun) word group as rectified and rectification. This helps get around two problems. First, the word group in Greek are cognates; in English the two most common translations -- "justified" and "righteousness" -- fail to convey the relatedness. Second, the common English translations carry either juridical or religious connotations. "Rectified" avoids the latter connotations to more closely relate what Martyn thinks Paul is actually talking about, namely, God's setting to right the things that have gone wrong in creation. Martyn also changes the translation of ergo nomou from "works of the law" to "observance of the Law," a more wholistic way of translating the shocking antinomy between Jesus Christ and Torah. (Much of Protestantism mistakenly sees the antinomy in these verse as faith vs. works.) Torah was supposed to be the way of putting the world to rights, but the cross of the Messiah, as being cursed under the Law, shows the Law to have been a failure because of sin. It is the faith of Christ in going to the cross which has become the way of God putting the world to rights. It reveals how even gracious gifts such as Torah can become tools of Sin. (And Mimetic Theory helps us to better understand Sin as the anthropological enslavement to our origins in collective violence that shapes all subsequent human culture towards being constituted as over against the Other. It takes the Messiah submitting to such collective violence in order to bring an inbreaking of God's way of founding culture on love and forgiveness.)
3. The theme of this passage of Christ living in us might better be a foil for next week's gospel (in the Revised Common Lectionary only) of the Gerasene demoniac. Our choice these days, as well, is to have a legion of other's desires reside in us, or to welcome Christ to live in us. The other gospel story that is apropos here is the story of Jesus commenting on the casting out of a demon only to have many more demons take its place (Matthew 12:43-45): "When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting place, but it finds none. Then it says, 'I will return to my house from which I came.' When it comes, it finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So will it be also with this evil generation." The only real alternative to this is for Christ to live in us.
1. Raymund Schwager, Jesus in the Drama of Salvation, pp. 37, 40. Link to a crucial excerpt on Jesus' Mission called "God's Turning toward His Enemies," pp. 36-44. Especially of note to me has been this simple statement: "In his basileia message, salvation and penance seem to have exchanged places" (p. 38). This has been a key thread to Schwager's Girardian interpretation of the Gospel, one that has had great influence on me. I think he is right in arguing that a key point of Jesus' message was to reverse the usual order of penance and forgiveness. With Jesus, forgiveness comes first and is what enables us to begin living lives of penance. It's not an "if-then" logic -- 'if you repent, then you will be forgiven.' It's a "because-therefore" logic -- 'because you have already been forgiven, therefore you are freed to respond with a changed life, a heart that turns to God.' Schwager also is insightful in connecting this to the other aspect of Jesus' message which is so unique: love of enemies. We are called to love our enemies because God has first loved us in that way; God has forgiven us while we were still enemies (cf., Rom. 5:8-10). Quintessential of this message is the story of the healing of the paralytic, Mark 2:1-12 (and par.), who is forgiven first, seemingly as a condition of his healing. This story in Luke is another in which Jesus directly forgives someone, to the chagrin of the religious leaders.
A little bit more difficult to see is how crucial this element of Jesus' mission continues to be. In a very real way, this kernal of Jesus' message escalates in importance precisely to the extent that it makes enemies among the religious. It meets resistance; one could even say that it eventually gets him killed. But this means that, if his message remains consistent, Jesus will continue on this course towards death realizing that he is even dying on behalf of those who kill him. God's love extends to all enemies, even those who continue to resist the message itself of God's love for enemies.
The latter, however, is a slightly different situation, so this is where Jesus' words of seeming condemnation come in. They are not necessarily words of ultimate, final condemnation -- if they were, then why die for these people? But Jesus confronts them with parables that make clear their reluctance to receive God's grace freely -- such as the elder son who keeps himself out of the party for his younger, prodigal brother. This is the theme that Schwager develops in the second act of the Jesus drama as the resistance to his message builds, a theme which he entitles the "Doubling of Sin and Hell" (excerpt from Jesus in the Drama of Salvation, pp. 63-69). But it is a theme that will continue throughout the drama of Jesus' mission, as he does end up dying even for those who remain enemies of God by their resistance to the message that God loves enemies.
For a sermon on these themes, link to "Something to Sing About."
2. Robert Hamerton-Kelly, sermon from June 17, 2007 (Society of St. John at St. Mark's Chapel, Palo Alto).
3. Gil Bailie, "The Gospel of Luke" audio tape series, tape #4. (Actually, Bailie skips over this passage in his comments, but this tape helps with the surrounding context.)
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