Scripture: Galatians 6:11-18
Key Verse: (15) “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation!”
Reflection: My first exegesis class in seminary was on Paul’s letter to the Galatians. We translated every word of the Greek into English after spending a summer learning Biblical Greek. While I’ll confess I’ve lost much of my Greek grammar and vocabulary from that fall of 1994, I remember the greatest gift of exegesis was the careful attention we had to pay to every word of that letter. By focusing on the minute details, the overarching message of the letter came into great focus—kind of like one of the pointillist paintings of the great impressionists. Like Seurat’s “Grand Jatte,” with its thousands of tiny brush strokes that come together to create a beautiful picture, the verb tenses and moods, the noun declensions, the way one translates the genitive case (is it the “faith of Christ,” or “faith in Christ” that justifies us?) all come together to offer the larger meaning of Paul’s letter.
Paul writes to the Galatians in response to a group scholars refer to as “The Judaizers,” likely people sent from James to persuade the Galatians that in order to be true Christians, they must first become Jews; they must be circumcised. Paul is outraged by this proposition and argues that the Galatians are justified not by works of the flesh, but by the faith of Jesus Christ who has reconciled all people to God (Gal. 2:16ff). Therefore, as Paul writes in Galatians 3:28,”There is no longer Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Throughout the letter he asserts that we are not made right with God by anything we do, but by what Christ has done. Therefore we cannot be divided by things of the flesh, by divisions born of this world. At the end of the letter, Paul grabs the quill from his secretary and scrawls, “See with what large letters I write with my own hand!” He’s furious that fellow Christians would succumb to worldly categories after having been freed by Christ to be reconciled to God and to one another. And so he concludes: “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation!”
A new creation is the goal of the gospel; a creation where all the dividing lines that separate us from one another collapse. How desperately our world needs this good news these days. So many things divide us. In Paul’s day it was circumcision, what is it in our day? It’s class. It’s race. It’s political party. It’s religion. It’s national origin. These are all “works of the flesh,” defined by the ways of this world. Paul would tell us: they count for nothing. God’s new creation is everything.
Prayer: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Amen.”
Author: Joe Clifford
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].