Friday, March 07, 2014
Is Galatians 5:12 sub-Christian?
Note: Here’s another single verse reflection from Galatians 5, taken from expanded notes from my sermon on Galatians 5:7-12.
“I would they were even cut off which trouble you” (Galatians 5:12).
Paul’s sentiment in v. 12 has been much discussed. Some have been troubled by it. Longenecker called it, “the crudest and rudest of all Paul’s extant statements” (Galatians, p. 371). Paul says, “I would they [the false teachers, the troublers] were even cut off [apokapto: literally to cut off; also with the sense of to mutilate of to castrate] which trouble you.” Paul is essentially saying, “They care so much about circumcision, I wish they would just go the whole nine yards and emasculate themselves.” So, the NIV: “As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!” Indeed, Paul uses very vivid language Paul. There is also a play on word here with v. 7. I wish the ones who cut you off in the race (egkapto; v. 7) were cut off completely (apokapto; v. 12).
In our modern day emphasis upon a more therapeutic and “feminized” view of ministry, my guess is that there would be more than a few who might accuse Paul of expressing a sub-Christian sentiment here. They might say something like, Paul had anger issues. He is just too harsh. He needs training in counseling. To make the case against Paul, they might place alongside this passage others like:
1 Corinthians 4:21 What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?
Or even, Galatians 3:1: “O foolish Galatians….”
This is not, of course, to excuse real abuse in any form, but Paul is not being abusive. His inspired words here are like the inspired words of the imprecatory Psalms (cf. Psalm 137). Timothy George concludes:
In this emergency situation Paul summoned the courage to utter a word of imprecation. It had to be said, and it was right for him to say it because a lesser rebuke would have signaled an unconscionable compromise and retreat. Let no one ever utter such words lightly, unadvisedly, or in a spirit of personal aggravation or revenge. Those kinds of statements are likely to return upon the one who pronounces them with all the reciprocal force of a boomerang (Galatians, p. 373).
Paul’s words are there to serve as an inspired warning against ungodliness. They come with apostolic authority. Those who preach falsehood should be cut off and they will be cut off.