After reading Galatians, I am finally, after some 30-odd years of frustration, beginning to understand what Paul meant when he harped on and on about the differences between justification by observing the law and justification by faith in Christ. Before Christ, the only way to atone for sin was by observing the arcane rituals, rules, and sacrifices required by the law, and the atonement was not so much atonement as a placeholder, a symbol for Christ, the final sacrifice. After Christ, the rituals, rules, and sacrifices are all discarded (although that totally contradicts what Jesus himself said in Matthew 5:17-20, where he plainly states that the law is still in effect until heaven and earth disappear, and underscored in Luke 22:16, where he indicates that he intends to observe the Passover with his pals at the end of everything, clearly after the crucifixion). But there is an implied distinction here, one that I never noticed until now: there’s a difference between observing the law and behaving in a way that pleases Yahweh. Paul is saying that Jesusianismists don’t have to observe the dietary laws, the festival schedule, the animal sacrifices--in fact they should positively avoid doing so. He is definitely not saying that it’s ok to throw out the Old Testament rules against homosexuality, slander, and coveting. Those items are on the list titled “Sin”, not the list titled “Law”. I finally get it. Jesusianismists are free from ritual observance, not free to sin.
(Seems like I have another project to take on, if I survive the New Testament: go back through the Pentateuch and make two lists: one titled “Law”, where I’ll put the rules that Jesusianismists can safely ignore, and the other titled “Sin”, where I’ll put the rules that, when broken, result in earthquakes, terrorist attacks, tsunamis, babies with birth defects, and the grisly deaths of uncounted children. Now see, I would think that if Yahweh really loved us and had really had a heart-to-heart with Paul, this distinction could have been made far more obvious. Surely Yahweh knew that lots of people like me would get stuck on this concept without any clarification.)
The epistle to the Galatians is Paul’s attempt to get them to understand that they are entirely free of the old Jewish law. Apparently someone had visited the church and told everyone that they have to observe Yahweh’s weird rules in order to be Jesusianismists. Paul puts special emphasis on the fact that circumcision, the ultimate sign of being Jewish, is no longer required. In Chapter 2, Verse 3, he says that while in Jerusalem, “not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek.” You go, Paul! Wait…what about Acts 16:3? Paul circumcised Timothy, “because of the Jews who lived in that area”! What? Sounds like Paul was still new to the cult, and had not yet worked out his sophisticated theory of justification by grace through faith.
Now that I’ve had this epiphany, I’m asking myself anew why the Jesus cult was so popular. It would have been just another god to worship, but without all of the cumbersome rituals. According to Romans 10:9, all one has to do to join the club is confess with one’s mouth, “Jesus is Lord”, and believe that Yahweh raised Jesus from the dead. I can see hordes of people jumping onto that wagon: a nice little insurance policy just in case this Yahweh/Yeshua is for reals. Seems like deaf-mutes can’t be saved, because they can’t confess with their mouths. I wonder if it’s ok if the person who wants to convert has a lisp.
Paul spends most of the letter trying to convince the Galatians to hold onto what he originally taught them. I've heard it pointed out many times that if you have the truth, then it's not that hard to convince people that you have the truth. All this attorney-talk just emphasizes the fact that Paul is manufacturing this stuff as he goes. Embedded in his courtroom speech are a few verses that at least warrant some comment:
- Chapter 2, Verses 11 - 21, Paul brags about how he confronted Peter openly about Peter’s hypocrisy: withdrawing himself from the company of converted Gentiles when some hard-line Jews came to visit. Seems like Yahweh allows for ex post facto rules: before Paul decided that grace was the key, he continued to observe Jewish law, just like Peter. But after Paul had hammered out a few of the myriad kinks in his new religion, everyone who continued to observe (or even show some sympathy for) Jewish law was a hypocrite who needed to be publicly humiliated. Also, Paul opposed Peter? Peter “was clearly in the wrong”? I don’t know how that fits with Matthew 16:18-19, “On this rock I will build my church…I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven…” Most Jesusianismists seem to agree that this is Jesus putting Peter in charge of the church. How can Paul say that Peter is wrong, after such a ringing endorsement from Jesus?
- Chapter 3, Verse 5: “Does God give you its spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe [the gospel]?” Paul is clearly not thinking straight. Wouldn’t it be that if they were doing things all wrong, God would withdraw the magical powers from them so they’d know that they were blowing it? If God allowed them to continue performing miracles even when they were behaving badly or believing incorrectly, then how can the performance of miracles count as credentials for someone claiming to have the true word of God?
- Chapter 3, Verse 16: “The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say, ‘and to seeds,’ meaning many people, but ‘and to your seed,’ meaning one person, who is Christ.” Now, Jesusianismists, you complain a lot about verses being taken out of context, but what happens when your boy Paul goes nuts taking verses out of context? This business about seed being singular or plural: he’s referring to three different OT verses: Gen 12:7 when Abram (as he was then known) and Yahweh barely knew each other; 13:15, which I’ll come back to, and 24:7, where something rather homoerotic was going on between Abraham and his chief servant. But it’s the context of 13:15 that really gets my attention: read 13:15 and 16 together: “All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring/seed forever. I will make your offspring/seed like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted.” I tried looking through a Hebrew Talmud, and I found that I have no idea whether this Hebrew word for seed/offspring is singular or plural. However, given Yahweh’s pronouncement that Abraham’s seed will be exceedingly numerous, we can safely say that Yahweh did indeed mean seed in the plural, contrary to Paul’s out-of-context misinterpretation. I am reminded that Paul disagreed with Peter, to whom Jesus gave carte blanche.
- Chapter 3, Verse 19: “The law was put into effect through angels by a mediator.” What? What does this mean? To what is he referring? I don’t recall any mention of angels being involved when Chuck Heston was up there breathing volcano fumes.
- Chapter 5, Verses 19 – 21: Things that are still sinful even after the law has been fulfilled by Christ’s sacrifice: “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy, drunkenness, orgies, and the like.” Here he sounds like a true Jesusianismist, putting sex at the top of the list and quite pointedly leaving out slavery, social inequality, child abuse, trashing the environment, “and the like.”
- Chapter 6, Verse 10: “As we have the opportunity, let us do good to all people”. You guys really should read this book occasionally. There are a few good spots.