Paul the Apostle and Galatians
Apostle Paul’s Letters were written on occasion. He was not going to present a coherent account of his teaching in them and wrote down his views as it was required by the circumstances that triggered the writing of this letter. The Letter to the Galatians was written in order to defend his reputation in the community. It was founded during his second missionary journey in the north-eastern Phrygia, which was again visited by him during his third voyage. Adherents of Judeo-Christianity, who were members of the Galatian churches, tried to convince the converted Gentiles that if they wanted to be true Christians, they should accept the Jewish Law and perform circumcision (Witherington, 1998, 23). They tried to convince people that Paul was hiding something from them since he was teaching otherwise. Moreover, they argued that Paul could not be an apostle in contrast to these apostles from Jerusalem. The debate in Galatia, in fact, started around a single issue – whether or not the Gentiles accepting Christ had to perform circumcision. Attitude to circumcision actually identified a visible difference of the Paul’s Gospel from the so-called “another gospel”.
One of the attempts to explain the confrontation in Galatia concerns the antithesis of the idea of form and content expressed in terms of “spirit” and “flesh”. According to this approach, Paul criticized the Galatians for their excessive adherence to formal worship leading to the detriment of its content. Proponents of this view refer to the last chapters of the Epistle, in which spirit is opposed to flesh. Paul is known for his tolerance towards the customs, culture, and even religions of his interlocutors. However, this tolerance clearly does not refer to the Jews. “To the Jews I became like a Jew… to those under the law I became like one under the law… to those not having the law I became like one not having the law… to the weak I became weak…” (1 Cor. 9:20-22). Wasn’t it the model of Paul’s mission? How can the words “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value” (Gal. 5:6) be in agreement with another statement of the Apostle: “If you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all” (Gal. 5:2)? There seems to be the only answer. Paul, a native of the Jews, was a passionate opponent of Judaism.
The question of circumcision was, in fact, broader and deeper. Besides the possibility that circumcision would invariably lead to the restoration of all the other rules of ritual including the sacrificial system, the fact that circumcision actually meant the return to Judaism is of paramount importance. It seems that for the Galatians missionaries, the Christian church was located within Judaism as a part of it. Galatian opposition to Paul did not consider Judaism and Christianity as two different religions.
The position of the Apostles James and Peter demonstrates that church leaders did not perceive Christianity otherwise than a reformation movement, but again, within Judaism. James the Just and the entire community of Jerusalem were attracted more by the traditions of their fathers than by Paul’s freedom in Christ. Therefore, it would not be an exaggeration to say that up to a certain point, Christians were a sect that split from Judaism, which makes them similar to the Essenes with their clearly defined dogma and practice.
The contemporaries of early Christianity and, in the first place, the Jews considered Christians as the Jewish sect. Paul contradicted this approach. Criticizing Galatians, Paul, first of all, based upon the understanding of the universality of the church. That is why addressing the Galatians, Paul states that for the circumcised “Christ will be of no value” (Gal.5:2). For the Apostle, the value of Christ was not only in the fact that He is the Savior, but that He reconciled all in one body by the means of the cross. Circumcision championed by those missionaries was “nothing” (Gal. 6:15) for Paul, but its harm was manifested in misrepresenting the nature of the church. “Another gospel” was, in fact, a misunderstanding of universal significance of Christ’s Church and its eschatological mission.
Christianity and Paul, as a follower of the Church, did not wish to remain in a humble position of the sect. It claimed for more, if not for everything. Paul acted in the belief that Christianity was to conquer the world. Almost alone, Paul started the fight for the future of Christianity. Largely due to the titanic efforts of this tireless fanatic, Christianity defined its position of a universal church; the Jews, due to the efforts of Paul, became the ideological enemies of Christians and the source in which Christians have found their hatred of dissenters.
The more Jews rejected Christianity, the more Gentiles accepted it. By the efforts of the followers of Jesus, all the basic aspects of Judaism such as the observance of kashrut and circumcision were abolished. And thus, Christianity evolved into a non-Jewish church, whose position in relation to the Jewish people became more and more hostile gradually turning into persecution. For centuries, the Church had been trying to convert Jews to Christianity with cruelty and violence, but the resolution of the Jews was adamant.
The Church, of course, was the dominant force in the human history, but it never managed to win over the Jews. Thanks to the Torah, the Jews survived in inhuman conditions. They continued to follow their own course. The basis for such fierce resistance and rejection were two Christian assertions that Jews could never accept. Christianity taught that God took human form in Jesus and that Torah had lost its value. That is why Paul so zealously preached to the Gentiles. Figuratively speaking, his work with the Jews failed. In many respects, it happened due to his position concerning circumcision. I cannot agree with his position for his Epistle was one of the reasons which led to hatred and violence between Jews and other nations.