Galatians 5:13-16 – Freedom in Christ

Galatians 5:13-26 is a well known text featuring the oft-memorized the “fruit of the Spirit.”  But for Paul, this section of his letter answers the question of what a Christian community “looks like.”  The Gentile converts to Christ have left their traditional religious and social practices in the temples and want to know what sorts of things define “being in Christ.”  The agitators suggested that they keep the Jewish Law, implying that they have only partially converted when they accepted Paul’s gospel.  But Paul makes it clear in the central chapters of this letter that Gentiles are not converting to Judaism, but they have become part of something new and different, where there is no Jew nor Gentile, but rather and equality in Christ that comes from the Spirit rather than from ethnicity.  This means, Paul insists, that the one who is “in Christ” is no longer under the law, they are free to serve others in love.

This freedom is not a freedom to sin and do whatever one pleases.  In fact, this freedom is not at all to be taken in a modern sense of freedom from all restraints of law and morality!  The believer in Christ is set free from the Law, but this allows him to serve God, to re-enslave himself to a new master.

Does Paul contradict himself in Gal 5:13-16?  He says that the believer is free from slavery to the Law, but now he says that the believer ought to re-submit to slavery, this time to his neighbor, in love. Freedom from Law is not a freedom from everything – total freedom is completely impossible anyway. One always has some sort of obligation to fulfill (to the state, to a spouse, etc.)   Since the one who is in Christ is free from the obligations of the Law, they now must re-enslave themselves to the Spirit.  For Paul, there are only two possibilities, either one is enslaved to the flesh, or one is enslaved to the Spirit.

Paul will unpack what he means by flesh and Spirit in the next paragraph, but for now it is important to understand that these are the only two options for the one who is in Christ.  Based on the rest of the letter to the Galatians, the Law is not an option for living out a life “in Christ.”  Nor would be a blending of “in Christ” and some sort of Greek philosophy.  I suspect Paul would be just as critical of a Galatian church which chose to live out its new life in Christ through Stoic or Epicurean ethical thinking! (Perhaps this is a problem in Corinth more than Galatia.)

This leads me to wonder a bit about how Paul would address the modern church, especially the American church.  Do we really create a community which is “in Christ,” or are we playing around with combining our faith with social status (health and wealth gospel) or political agenda?  I think that Paul would have some stern  words for the way the modern church easily sets aside the fruit of the spirit in order to advance a social or political agenda.

Gospel of John and the “Other Disciples” – Philip

John’s gospel quite different from the synoptic Gospels in that he includes a few stories from the “other disciples.” For example, in Galilee Jesus finds Philip and simply tells him, “follow me.” Philip is featured in John in several contexts (6:5–8; 12:21–22; 14:8–10). In the other gospels Philip. only appears in the lists of apostles.

At the feeding of the 5000, Philip does not anticipate the miracle, but focuses on the problem of feeding such a large group (John 6:5-8). We know that Jesus’ question was a test, and we have a sense that Philip did not “pass” the test. But what is it that Philip should have said or done?

In this context, what was Philip to think? Jesus asks him where they were to buy food – the only answer to that question would seem “nowhere” since we do not have the money, nor is there a place to buy sufficient food. Perhaps Philip was to search his memory for a scriptural context for the event in which he was about to participate. If he knew the scripture well (as was implied at the time of his calling), then he ought to have recalled that the Lord did in fact provide food for Israel in the wilderness, and that one of the images of the messianic age was supposed to be provision of food, so that no one would be hungry in true Israel. Philip therefore looks at the problem from a perfectly acceptable human perspective (this is too great of a problem to handle!), while Jesus looks at the problem from a divine perspective – God owns all the food in the world and provided for his people in the wilderness in the past.

Near the end of Jesus’ ministry, several Greek converts to Judaism ask to see Jesus. They ask Philip to arrange this meeting, but Jesus has told the disciples not to go to Gentiles. This raises a problem, so Philip tells Andrew (John 12:21-22). This too can be taken as a misunderstanding of the scripture. It is not that Gentiles will never be able to come the to the Messiah, Isa 25:6-8 makes it clear that the nations will come to Zion at the time of the Messiah’s banquet. But there is a stream of Judaism which did not think any nations would survive this encounter! Of all the disciples, Philip (the guy with the Greek name) should have understood this most clearly. If he lived in a gentile city, what did he think would happen to his neighbors when messiah came?

At the last supper, Philip misunderstands Jesus’ statement “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:8-10). Jesus says that he is about to go back to the father, but Philip cannot seem to understand this rather complex theological statement. Just show us the father, Philip says, and forget about these theological claims about yourself. “Philip’s words here are easy to understand because they represent the general human longing to gain a firsthand personal and practical confirmation of theological ideas and assertions” (Borchert, John 12-21, 112).

Here is the problem – Philip’s practicality prevents him from hearing the deep resonations of Jesus’ statement about himself. Jesus is claiming to be God here, Philip sets that aside rather easily. Jesus rebukes Philip, although Jesus does uses the plural pronoun. All the disciples misunderstand that the messiah is not just a deliverer, but the Glory of God incarnate.

Is Philip a rationalist? (Borchert says this, more or less.) Not really, but his pre-conceived ideas about who messiah could be has blinded him from hearing this (somewhat clear) revelation form Jesus that the Messiah is in fact God, dwelling among men, so that he can solve the problem of sin once for all.

Two Pools in Jerusalem – Bethesda and Siloam

At the 2010 meeting of the Near Eastern Archaeological Society, James Charlesworth gave a brief report on the two pools mentioned in the gospel of John, the pool of Bethesda (Bethzatha, John 5:2) and the Pool of Siloam (John 9:7). Because these two pools were unknown until recently, scholarship has occasionally dismissed John’s Gospel as non-historical.  For example, since  Bethesda was said to have five “roofed colonnades,” medieval commentaries took this as an allegory for the five books of the Law.  In fact, there were two connected pools with a shared colonnade between them, hence five in all.  Siloam was thought to be the pool at the end of Hezekiah’s tunnel, but it is now virtually certain that a nearby pool was the pool of Siloam.  

Charlesworth cited Ronny Reich as claiming that both pools were mikvoth, pools used for ceremonial cleansing before going up to the Temple.  In both cases there are stairs leading to a platform, which is consistent with other mikvoth around Jerusalem.  What is missing is the divider found on most of these pools.  Charlesworth indicated that there were other mikvoth which did not have the divider, even though it is a common feature. Charlesworth speculated that the pool was a reservoir which was re-configured during the Herodian period to serve as a mikveh.

If these identifications are correct, then the pool of Siloam was a massive mikvoth at the southern approach to the Temple mount.  The pool is fed by the Gihon spring (providing living water) and could have serviced the thousands of pilgrims which came to Jerusalem during the feast days.  That Jesus would heal a man and send him to a mikvah is significant.  The blind man is healed, ritually cleansed, and then he goes up to the Temple to worship.

The pool of Bethesda was likely another water reserve re-configured as a mikvah. The pool may have been built by Simeon, a high priest who lived about 200 B.C. (Sirach 50:3). Charlesworth showed several snake figures excavated at the pool, indicating that the area also housed an Asclepeion, a pool dedicated to the healing god Asclepius.  It is possible then that the blind, lame, and paralyzed were not waiting for the God of Israel to heal them, but rather the god Asclepius.  If this is true, then there is a tension in the story: who are you going to believe can heal you, the god Asclepius, or the God, Jesus?

In both cases, the identity of these pools help to illuminate the stories as they appear in John.  The writer of John is not simply familiar with major features of Jerusalem, these locations are critically important to the point of these healings.

Gospel of John – Multiple Edition Theories

In most Multiple Edition theories there was a single base document which underwent several revisions, possibly at the hand of the original author, over a number of years.  Analogies for this sort of work abound in modern scholarly writing where an author revisits his book 20 or 30 years later and revises the book to reflect additional learning or thinking, possibly to bring it up to date.  Brown himself is an example of this as he was in the process of revising his commentary on John after 30 years when he died.

Like multiple-source theories, these sorts of theories can become rather complex.  W. Wilkins, for example, saw four stages for the gospel of John.  First, a Book of Signs, 4 in Galilee and 3 in Jerusalem.  Seven Discourses were later added to the signs and then another  writer added 3 Passover stories (2:13-22, 6:51-58, 12:1-7).  A final redactor added chapter 21, completing the book as we have it today.  While this accounts for the whole Gospel of John, it is nearly impossible to know if any of these revisions of the book actually happened – there is no documentary evidence for this sort of a theory.

Raymond Brown suggested a more plausible multiple edition theory.  The natural first stage was the actual public ministry of Jesus and his disciples.  After the resurrection, the twelve apostles publicly preached the resurrection of Jesus. The synoptic gospels reflect this apostolic preaching.  The tradition that Mark preserve the preaching of Peter may indicate that the outline and content of the book as the content to of the apostolic “trust.”  Matthew and Luke make use of Mark, and possible Q (or Matthew has the Q material, either way, Matthew and Luke reflect the Galilean disciples of Jesus).

According to Brown, John reflects the preaching and teaching of the disciples of Jesus in and around Jerusalem.  This accounts for the different sorts of information that was remembered and passed along, for difference sin tone and language, for the emphasis on Jerusalem and the Jewish festivals, and possible (so says Brown), the Light / Dark theme that is parallel to what we read in the Qumran materials.

It is possible that the Johannine Community included Samaritans, based on John 4 and 8:48 (Jesus is accused of being a Samaritan.)   Jews and Samaritans sharing fellowship in a single religious community would have been scandalous, especially in pre-70 Judea.    Brown suggests that Jews that accepted Jesus as the Messiah convinced in synagogues.

There were debates within the synagogues which generated a number of “homilies” preserving Jesus’ teaching that were attempts to convince Jews that Jesus was the Messiah.  It is possible that some time before 70 these Christians were expelled from the synagogue, ostracized and persecuted. (See 1:11, 10:28-29; 15:18, 16:2 and the“not of this world” theme in 15:18, 16:3, 16:33).  John therefore could be aimed at Jewish Christians that are still in the synagogue (“crypto-Christians” in Brown) who are not fully “Christian” in the opinion of the author.  They need to come out and be separate from the Synagogue.  A second aim would therefore be to continue to try and convince Jews and Jesus was the Messiah.

If Brown is on the right track, then it is possible to read John as a reflection of the “parting of the ways” between Judaism and Christianity in the mid-90’s A.D.  This theory accounts for the Jewishness of John’s Gospel while also reflecting a fairly well-developed Christology.

Did John Know the Synoptic Gospels?

Scarcely is there a subject in Johannine studies that is fraught with more mines in the field than the relationship between John and the Synoptics.  G. L. Borchert, John 1-11 (NAC 25a Nashville: Broadman & Holman), 37.

One of the reasons that the Gospel of John seems so different is that the three synoptic gospels are so similar.  Because of the similarities between Matthew, Mark, and Luke some theory of literary dependance must be given to explain the close relationship.  John appears to be quite independent of the synoptics.  There are a number of key omissions in John’s gospel.  For example,  There is no birth or baptism story, nor is there a temptation in the wilderness.  Jesus casts out no demons nor are there any real parables (although there are some parabolic actions).  There is no “communion” established at the Last Supper.  Instead, John describes Jesus washing the feet of the disciples (13:1-16.)

Remarkably, there is no prediction of the fall of Jerusalem.  I find this interesting since one of the key arguments for a date after A.D.70 is this predication placed on Jesus’ lips.  The Gospel of John is universally thought to be written in the 90’s, well after Jerusalem was destroyed.  If the gospel writers were inclined to create things to make Jesus appear to be a prophet, where is any hint of the coming Jewish war?  Perhaps this is related to another issue, the complete lack of prophecies concerning a second coming.  Instead, Jesus promises to send the Paraclete to the disciples after he returns to heaven (14:25-26, 16:7-15).  Where is the Olivet Discourse in John’s Gospel?  I suggest that this material was omitted since it was included in the Apocalypse of John.

Stanley Porter lists four possible positions on John and the synoptics:

  1. John knew the synoptics, or at the very least he knew Mark, which he used in writing his gospel,  This “restricted dependence” theory is often complicated by arguing that it was not a canonical Mark he read, but rather a proto-Mark. Few (if any) advocate this position today.
  2. John and the Synoptics used interlocking sources.  This “flexible dependence” is advocated by D. A. Carson, C. Blomberg,  D. M. Smith, B. de Solages, and G. Beasley-Murray.  John may not have used the synoptics, but he was aware of them.  Some things are made more clear in John (that Jesus knew his disciples prior to their call, how did Peter get into the courts, why did people think he was going to destroy the temple?)   Some things in John are more clear after reading the synoptics (Jn 12, why is Philip hesitant to bring a Gentile to Jesus? Mt 10:5, do not go to the Gentiles)
  3. John used a combination of written and oral sources, some of which were known to the writers of the synoptics.  This is a semi-independence theory, advocated by Gordon Smith, C. K. Barrett).  A potential problem is that it is hard to imagine that independent oral traditions continued well into the 90’s if the synoptic gospels were well used by the churches.
  4. John used written or oral sources that the synoptic gospels did not know.  This is a complete independence theory.  C. H. Dodd (1958, 1963) is the chief commentary here, there is no literary use of the synoptic tradition at all!

Even if the gospel of John is independent literarily, it is hard to imagine that John was not aware of the preaching of the gospel (the kerygma) that lay at the foundation of the synoptics. Carson and Moo call this an “interlocking tradition”  – they use each other without betraying dependance.  John was most likely aware of the contents of the three synoptics.  This may account for the large amount of unique material; what the synoptics chose to omit John decides to include (such as visits to Jerusalem prior to the crucifixion), but also details are added with help us to understand the synoptics – Jesus already knew the disciples before he called them (John 1).

These differences may include the more advanced theological agenda found in John compared to the synoptics.  The idea of who Jesus was has developed from the time of Mark, perhaps as many as thirty years of thought has gone into who Jesus was and what Jesus did on the cross!  John is interpreting the life of Jesus with the understanding that some 60 years have passed since the crucifixion – providing a theological hindsight to understand the words and deeds of Jesus more clearly.

Bibliography: D. M. Smith, John Among the Synoptics: The Relationship in Twentieth-Century Research (Minneapolis:  Fortress, 1992).

Stanley Porter, “The Sources of John’s Gospel,” an unpublished paper read at the 2003 meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society.

ETS Atlanta – N. T. Wright

N. T. Wright served up an amusing of a plenary address, beginning with at least three jokes delivered in his typical deadpan style. Mike Witmer has already said that he seemed “a bit snippy and defensive,” which was true, although I took it in good humor.  Of course I was not being called a Neo-Catholic, this is certainly strong invective, if the target is solidly in the Reformed tradition!

There were a number of things which need to be clarified, and I think that he was well within his rights to say that bloggers have gone a bit nuts over what me may or may not believe on any given topic.  This carried over to IBR, where he mentioned at least twice that Jesus was the second person of the Trinity and he managed to tweak Dispensationalism at least once.  I really think that he is weary of people assuming that he rejects a particular doctrine based on statements that are not really addressing that issue.  Wright has become a flashpoint for Reformation defenders, but he is not an easy target.  He is correct to call bloggers to personal responsibility, and I applaud his comments that the sorts of things that pass for scholarship on blogs ought to be held accountable.  I personally like the fact that he is aware of the sorts of things that are posted on blogs, even if he does not know what a Nintendo Wii is.

On to the substance of Wright’s talk.  Wright correctly said that the Justification debate is about “scripture and tradition.” Ever since the reformed community began to answer the New Perspective on Paul, the charge has been that people like Sanders are striking at the heart of the Reformation and destroying the doctrine of Justification by Faith.  Wright says that is simply not true.  From his perspective, he is continuing the reformation by going back to scripture for proper categories to describe theological concepts.  This of course is exactly what the reformation-stream critics of Wright claim to be doing as well, but to be honest, it is hard to say that they do in fact use scripture first and tradition second.  I went to many papers prior to Wright on the topic of justification which cited the Westminster Confession more than Paul, a serious problem if the goal is a biblical theology.

Wright attempted to deal with “justification in context,” repeating the sorts of things he said in Justification.  Justification is not about how you get saved, says Wright, but about membership in the people of God.  I really think he is correct, and probably standing on the shoulders of Albert Schweitzer again by emphasizing identification with Christ as the chief metaphor for salvation. The phrase “in Christ” is far more common in the New Testament that the metaphor of justification, and ought to be more emphasized than it is.  He stresses the context of justification as a Hebrew law court, not a modern one.

This leads to what is perhaps most controversial in Wright’s Pauline theology, a denial of the classic doctrine of imputation.  That language is simply not found in the Bible, says Wright.  Taken in context, justification is not about crediting Christ’s righteousness to the believer’s account as if Christ has a surplus of righteousness which can be doled out to whoever needs it.  Wright was adamant (even emotional) that this is a medieval construction which the Reformers did not quite get to.  If they had, they would have dispensed with it as a non-biblical way of describing salvation.

But this does not mean that the believer does not have Christ’s righteousness.  It is not imputed, but since the believer is “in Christ,” what is Christ’s is the present possession of the believer.  Our identification is so complete that we can be called righteous since at the final judgment, we will be “right with God” because we are totally “in Christ.”

This is not imputation – but not far off.  The gap between Wright and his critics is often not very great and comes down to Wright’s refusal to use categories drawn from systematic theology and confessions to interpret Paul.  Rather, he wants to use Paul to create a serious, exegetically grounded biblical theology.  This is why he faces such strong opposition, he challenges the secure doctrines of the Reformation!

Galatians 5:1-12 – Religion or Relationship?

Galatians 5:1 is a transition from the scriptural argument in chapters 3-4 to the final section.  In chapters 5-6 Paul will begin to deal with the consequences of legalism and begin to address a real problem for his view of the Law.  If I am free from the Law, what is it that God does require of me?  Is there another law, or set of instructions which the Gentile believer in Christ must follow, or is the Christian completely free from all restraints?

This is a difficult passage in some ways because Paul is very personal and emotional.  Paul drives his point home using language which is jarring.  If the Galatians return to the old covenant, Christ will be of no advantage to them and they will put themselves in very real spiritual danger.  Paul’s use of shocking language in these verses is calculated and intentional – he is demanding that his readers make a decision to stand firm in the gospel now, before they accept the Law.  It will take a conscious decision on the part of the Galatian believers to be “in Christ,” to live in the freedom of their adoption as children of God rather than to return to the now out-dated and obsolete covenant of the Law.

What would be the motivation for Gentile members of the Galatian churches to adopt Jewish Law?  Ben Witherington suggests that by accepting Jesus as messiah and Savior, they have also turned their backs on the traditional gods of the Greco-Roman world as well as ritual observances associated with the gods.  To accept Jesus as Savior is to reject pagan gods.  By rejecting pagan gods, the Gentile converts severed many social ties and joined a religious movement unlike the rest of the ancient world.  There are virtually no rituals in the Christian church other than an initiation ritual and a shared meal.  There are no sacrifices or liturgy to follow, no festivals, feast days, temple or central gathering places.  The Jewish Law, in Witherington’s view, provided an opportunity for Gentile believers to concretely express their Christian identity.  Since Judaism was an ancient religion, Gentile converts could avoid the charge that they were accepting a new religion, a “superstition” which was suspect in the Roman world.

Here we see one of the greatest applications of Galatians to a modern church setting.  Very few people would argue that Christians ought to be keeping the whole law (although there are a few).  More likely is the claim that one must do a series of rituals in order to be right with God, or that one must subscribe to a particular doctrinal formulation, or that one must avoid certain lifestyles or behaviors.  Paul never says that one must act like a Christian in order to be right with God – one is right with God because they have been adopted into God’s family and they are his children.

Paul is not talking about a religion in Galatians, but rather a relationship with God.