Charting Galatians

In my last post I ventured to offer up Rollin Ramsaran‘s directional reading of Paul as a corrective to Luther’s, Schweitzer’s, and Sanders’ reading. Today I’d like to run Galatians through Ramsaran’s “Pauline Moral Reasoning” chart (“the Paul Chart”) and see what happens. I should note that this is my reading of Galatians using Ramsaran’s reading strategy; I am riffing on his composition and might play a note here or there that he would not. Once again, here is our guide:

My friend, Jordan Kellicut, sent me this image, which is spiffier than the one drawn from my notes. His assistant, Jessie, at Oakland Drive Christian Church cleaned this up nicely.

1. Grace. While χαρις appears in 1.3, we don’t begin to get the freight of this term until 1.6: I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel. God’s grace is the beginning point for Paul’s theology. Through Christ, God has extended God’s grace to the nations. Here, in the first verse of Paul’s letter to the divided gentile communities in Galatia, Paul reminds them of the prior condition that has allowed gentiles into the covenant: God’s calling in grace. This note will resound again and again in Galatians.

2. Faith. The proper human response to God’s grace is faith/faithfulness. Here I am not signaling any of the πιστις χριστου debates. By “faith/faithfulness,” I think that Paul calls his communities not only to believe in Christ, but to order their lives according to that faith. In any case, 2.15-21 has Paul reminding his auditors that the proper response to God’s grace in Christ is covenantal faith (here borrowing from N. T. Wright). Both grace and faith will make more appearances in the letter; they are a fugue in Paul’s rhetoric.

3. The Giving of the Spirit. When humans respond in faith to God’s grace, they are bound to one another and together to Christ through a shared πνευμα, the Spirit. Following hot on the heels of Paul’s reminder about faith as response to God’s grace in 2.15-21, Paul presses a question hard against his audience: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? (3.2). In Paul’s theological order of operations, the Spirit is given to the gentiles via covenantal Jesus-faith, not through works of Torah. 3.1-14 has Paul reminding his auditors of the Abraham narrative to drive home the point that the Spirit has been promised to the gentiles through Jesus-faith.

4. Freedom. Paul is emphatic especially in Galatians that the gift of the Spirit, given in response to human faith, leads directly to freedom. Because of our American context, in which “freedom” is part of a large network of political rhetoric and ideology, we need to slow down and attempt to parse Paul’s concept of freedom. This won’t be exhaustive; it is, as N. T. Wright would put it, “necessarily impressionistic.” For Paul, I want to suggest that freedom moves in two directions: freedom from and freedom for. Believers are freed from, among other things, the power of Sin. Paul signaled this very early in the letter (1.4), but works the ground over more fully in 3.19-29. But the scripture has imprisoned all things under the power of Sin […] we were enslaved to the elemental spirits of the world (3.22; 4.3; cf. 4.8-9). 4.21-5.1 is an extended meditation on Sarah and Hagar to further drive home the point: grace leads to faith leads to Spirit leads to freedom. What humans are freed for will become clear in the next section (5B).

5A. Gratitude to God. Admittedly, this item is difficult to chart in Galatians. Like assembling IKEA furniture, we need to keep the screws a little loose in our application of this or any other reading strategy to Galatians. In any case, “gratitude to God” clearly does not represent the “weight” of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. I would identify the weight of Paul’s emphasis on the first four: Grace, Faith, Spirit, Freedom. We could argue that thankfulness for God’s grace (note the dotted line) is implied in the letter, but I’m not going to die on this hill.

5B. Cruciform Love for Others. Humans are freed from Sin for the purpose of faithful, loving service. Despite the libertine’s favorite verse (5.1), I don’t think Paul thought the Christian life ought to be driven by the whims of the individual (cf. Rom 14-15 if you don’t believe me). Humans are freed for service: For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another (5.13). Paul’s conception of Christian freedom is, almost paradoxically, slave-shaped (which is to say, it is Christ- and cross-shaped: cruciform. Read Michael Gorman). Paul calls himself a “slave of Christ” (Rom 1.1) and exhorts his audience to become like he is (Gal 4.12). Bear one another’s burdens, Paul says, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ (6.2). Self-giving servant love looks like Christ, the one who gave himself for the sake of others.

6. Joy in Suffering. Like gratitude to God, joy in suffering does not represent the weight of Galatians. We get a banner example of Paul’s own joy amid suffering in Phil 1.15-26. The closest thing I can find in Galatians, however, is Paul’s ever-so-brief mention of persecution in 5.11 and 6.12. For Paul, persecution is of no matter: the world has been crucified by the cross of Christ and is now reborn as a new creation (καινη κτίσις; 6.15), which, I would imagine, is cause for great joy for Paul and the believer. The logic of Paul’s joy-in-suffering is not masochistic; it is eschatological.

7. Hope and 8. Stand at the Parousia. While the final two items may be discrete elsewhere in Paul, they are collapsed into one verse in Gal 5.5: For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousnessAs others have pointed out, there is comparatively little in Galatians about the eschatological coming of Christ (parousia). J. Louis Martyn is right to nuance the point. No, Galatians does not discuss eschatology as explicitly as 1 Thess or 1 Cor. But, importantly, the righteousness described in this verse is not descriptive of a believer’s life in the present, but of what the people of God await at the end (if you hear echoes of the New Perspective here, you’re right). We certainly get more from Paul on the eschaton elsewhere (e.g. 1 Thess 5; 1 Cor 15), but I think the logic of eschatology underwrites this verse.

There you have it: my first and necessarily provisional pass through Galatians using Ramsaran’s directional paradigm as a guide. I have attempted to “keep the screws” loose and not make the chart overly determinative. In this regard, it’s been pretty easy to chart Galatians and I haven’t felt a need to use a shoehorn. Ramsaran’s directional paradigm is built on a close reading of all Paul’s letters. Not only does the chart bear out in broad strokes, it helps us to identify the weight of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. For my money, it’s items 1-4: Grace -> Faith -> Spirit -> Freedom, but I welcome the insights of others.

This post is part of an ongoing series reflecting my engagement with some of the “big ideas” in Galatians studies in preparation for a comprehensive exam.


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