Paul’s Letter To The GalatiansThe Unkindest Cut of All:
The Role of Circumcision in the Christian Church
The expansion of the Christian church in Galatia was an extraordinary feat that few men could have completed successfully. The daunting task of spreading the church and then keeping it running was left to one of the most pious men of that era, Paul. His letters illustrate the difficulty of dealing with the newcomers to the Christian religion. From answering technical questions about the second coming of Christ to attempting to resolve the problems the new Christians were having with pagan ministries, Paul certainly had his hands full in Galatia. One of the main problems Paul had in Galatia was the appearance of Jewish Christians, who told the Gentile Christians that they were required to be circumcised. To Paul, this was a threat to the way of life he had prescribed to the Gentile Christians. So it came to be that the center of all the controversy in Galatia revolved around an ancient ritual. Paul’s path to God, and the fate of Gentile Christianity, teetered in the balance of the unkindest cut of all.
The first subject Paul wished to address in his Letter to the Galatians was his legitimacy as a missionary in the name of God. He reviews his past as a Jew and recounts his days of persecuting the Christian church. Paul believes that if the Galatians remember who he once was, they will decide that if one of the false teacher’s own defected to Christianity, then perhaps they were correct in following Paul, the converted Jew. Paul continues his lecture on how he is a legitimate carrier of the message of the Lord by stating that he recognized, “…the favor bestowed…” (Gal. 2:8) upon him by the Lord. Paul is clearly restating his role in the evolution of the Christian church to underscore his righteousness in the eyes of the Lord. This is more than ample proof for the Galatians that Paul is the carrier of the true message.
Paul wrote his scathing Letter to the Galatians to reinforce the teachings he had presented there during his second missionary journey. He intended to illustrate to the Galatians that there was a strong dividing line in the Christian faith between the law and the Spirit contained in them through Jesus Christ. As it turns out, Jewish Christians had visited Galatia in the absence of Paul and preached to the Gentile Christians about their Christian duty to receive and follow Jewish law, which included circumcision. Paul saw this as undermining his central Christian theme of focusing on the Spirit rather than the laws of man. By submitting to these false teachers, whom Paul believes has “…cast a spell over them (the Galatians),” (Gal. 3:1) they would be returning to the days when they were, “…slaves to gods who are not really divine.” (Gal. 4:8) Paul sought to restore the Galatian’s faith in his teachings by showing them that they were incorrect in believing that they could finish in the flesh what they began in the Spirit. Paul begins by asking a simple question, “…how did you receive the Spirit?” (Gal. 3:2) Paul asks again, “Did you receive it through the law or through faith in what you heard?” Of course, the Galatians received the blessing of Christ through the Spirit and therefore have no duty to follow the laws that the Jewish Christians had prescribed. Paul goes on the remark that, “All who depend on observance of the law…are under a curse.” (Gal. 3:10) Paul again emphasizes this when he states, “…no one is justified in God’s sight by the law.” (Gal. 3:11) What Paul is stating here is that the path that the law provides is not the way to eternal life. Heaven cannot be attained through strict observance of the law alone. One must realize that the true path to the Kingdom is through faith. Paul illustrates this through the Book of Genesis, Chapter 15 Verse 6, where it states; “Abram put his faith in the Lord, who credited it to him as an act of righteousness.” Paul further explains this by quoting Genesis, Chapter 15 Verse 6, where it states, “Abram put his faith in the Lord, who credited it to him as an act of righteousness.” In Galatians 3:15-18 Paul attempts to explain why Christ is the actual recipient of the promises made to Abraham by the Lord. Paul does this by stating, “You cannot add anything to a man’s will or set it aside once it is legally validated. There were promises spoken to Abraham and to his ‘descendent’. Scripture does not say ‘and to your descendents,’ as if it applied to many…” (Gal. 3:16) Paul is using this passage to illustrate that Jesus Christ is the actual “descendent” of Abraham. After establishing this, Paul goes on to state that, “…a covenant formally ratified by God is not set aside as invalid by any law that came into being four hundred and thirty years later.” (Gal. 3:17) Here Paul is referring to the laws given to Moses. Paul is telling the Galatians that since the Promise was given to Christ, it cannot be nullified by a set of laws that came so long after the Promise. Thus, precedence dictates that the Promise given to Abraham supercedes any laws given to man afterwards. However, Paul does not want to discredit God’s law entirely, so he likens it to a protective guardian, watching over us until we come of age. Evidence of this can be found in Galatians 4:1-2, where its states, “Brothers, as long as a designated heir is not of age his condition is no different from that of a slave…for he is under the supervision of guardians and administrators until the time set by his father.” Furthermore, Paul warns the Galatians not to use this newfound freedom to disregard the law and, “…live in (the) freedom…that gives free reign to the flesh.” (Gal. 5:13) It can be deduced from this statement that Paul did not want the Galatians to believe that simply because they had received the divine Spirit that they could be lawless barbarians, beholden to none. The point here was to illustrate that God’s Spirit held more weight than the laws of man.
In conclusion, Paul’s exemplary display of scorn, religious morality, and compassionate understanding led to the Galatians following the true path to the Lord. Paul’s use of Scripture and common sense was essential to presenting his point to the people of Galatia. Paul merely believed that submitting to the Jewish law of circumcision would lead to the Gentile Christians following the other rituals common to the Judaic faith. He did not want the Galatians to feel they were justified in the Lord through the law. To Paul, this was quite impossible. In Paul’s opinion, the only way to be justified in the eyes of the Lord was to welcome his Spirit into your heart. This would allow a freedom from the bonds of paganism, a freedom that Paul truly wished for his people in Galatia. By presenting the facts to the Galatians, Paul made it to where Christ had real value to the people of Galatia. They truly had to believe that Christ’s Spirit was inside of them. He made it clear that it was not enough to just follow the law of man. By writing the Letter to the Galatians, Paul destroyed an illegitimate short cut to the Kingdom of Heaven.