Galatians 6:11 – What Big Letters!

Paul signs this letter in verse 11 and it is likely that the rest of the letter was written by Paul himself.  Letter-writing was normally done through a secretary, an amanuensis.  The secretary may have had some freedom to express the thoughts of the author in better language than was originally dictated.  It was common practice for the author of the letter to add a personal greeting at the end of the letter.  Perhaps this adds a personal touch to the letter, but it might very well signify approval of the contents of the letter. This is something like a busy executive having a his secretary draft a letter then adding a personal greeting by hand at the end.

Witherington (Galatians, 440) cites P.Oxy 265 as an example of a concluding note added to a document.  If you following the link to you can see a photograph of this practice of adding to the end of a document.  (Even if it is “all Greek to you,” look at the document, you can clearly see the larger handwriting at the bottom of the contract.)  This document is a wedding contract, written during the reign of Domitian (A.D. 81-96).  After 37 lines of regular handwriting, a second hand adds several lines, and a third adds the final three lines in much larger handwriting.  It is hard to make much sense of these lines since they are fragmentary, but the last two lines includes the words “my husband” and “by her in my name.”  Perhaps the first hand is from the father, the second is form the mother.  These brief additions (threats?) to the end of a marriage contract are in their “own handwriting.”

What does “large letters” mean? The Greek word (πηλίκος) can indicate the importance of something or even the length of the letter itself.  The phrase might mean something like “look at the length of this letter!”  The noun gramma (γράμμα), “the letters” (dative plural) indicates the means by which Paul was now writing, with larger handwriting.  Like the P.Oxy 265, the original copy of the letter to the Galatians included this conclusion personally written by Paul.  It was noticeably different than the rest of the letter, and gave a personal touch to a rather contentious letter.

Why write in large letters?  Zeisler thought this meant that the reader of the letter should turn the letter to the audience so that they could literally see the words Paul was writing (Galatians, 98).  It is also possible these large letters indicates emphasis, the “ancient version of bold print” (Witherington, Galatians, 441).  While either of these is a possibility, the most common suggestion is that the largeness of the letters was due (in part) to Paul’s poor eyesight.  Galatians 4:15 seems to indicate that Paul had some sort of eye trouble, perhaps he still struggles to see clearly and simply wrote in a larger hand because he was not able to see very well.

In the light of the papyri fragment above, this reference to large letters may simply indicate that Paul was following normal contemporary letter-writing practice by finishing the letter himself, adding a final word to sum up the whole letter.

Galatians 6:6 – Supporting Those Who Teach

[The audio for this week’s evening service is available at Sermon.net, as is a PDF file of the notes for the service. You should be able to download the audio directly with this link, if you prefer (right-click, save link as….)]

Paul had the right to be supported by his churches, but he voluntarily set aside that right so that he would not be a burden on them (1 Thess 2:5-10, 1 Cor 9:10-11, 2 Cor 11:7-15, 12:13-18).  His refusal to accept gifts from these churches may be related to the poverty of the church (in Thessalonica), or because he did not want to be considered a client of the patronage of the church (Corinth).

But in the Galatian congregations, there were individuals who devoted themselves to teaching and evangelism.  For Paul, those individuals ought to cared for by the churches they served.  I suspect that this has a parallel in the support of students of the Torah in Judaism, but I cannot lay my hand on a text which could date this early which supports this.

If a local teacher demanded compensation, then I suspect Paul might recommend that they bear their own burden and work for their living.  Paul seems to indicate in 1 Thess 2 that the minister of the gospel ought not be a burden, and in 1 Thess 3 that individuals ought to carry their part of the financial load of the ministry.  I am fairly confident Paul would have a few acerbic words to say to modern televangelists.  Anyone going into ministry in a modern context with the intention of becoming wealthy really ought to find another calling!

Remember, there is no “professional pastor” in the first century.  People in a Greco-Roman culture might have devoted themselves to academics (philosophers), relying on patronage to supply their needs.  If they were good at what they did, it was possible they received patronage from the wealthy and lived pretty well.  Josephus, for example, received the patronage of the Emperor himself when he wrote his history of the Jews and the Jewish War.  As an official historian of Vespasian’s major war, he likely was kept well! I expect that the Greco-Roman readers of this letter would have look upon their “pastors” as clients of the patronage of the church.  Perhaps this is the problem in Corinth, since there were often strings attached to patronage.

Galatians 6:1-10 – Bear One Another’s Burdens

Paul develops what it means to “serve one another in love” in Gal 6:1-10.  This section has been described as a collection of general principles appended to Paul’s main argument (Betz, Galatians, 291f).   Witherington, on the other hand, argues that there is a cohesive theme which holds these ten verses together and that they form the conclusion to the argument of the book (Galatians, 417-8).

Paul is alternating between principles for the community and for the individual here. While we tend to take these principles individually, Paul intends some to be for the whole community: correcting a sinning Christian (v. 1a) and bearing burdens (v.2) are clearing aimed at the church group as a whole, while taking account of one’s motivations (v.1b) and bearing your own load (v. 6) are aimed at individuals within the church.

A critical question for reading Gal 6:1-10 is concerns Paul’s command to “bearing burdens.”  What sort of burden does he have in mind here?  Typically verse one and two are taken together – a person caught in a transgression should be helped to bear their burden.  Burden is therefore a spiritual burden, a “besetting sin” which the community can help a person to overcome.  But verse one is not grammatically connected to verse two, rather verses two and three are connected by the use of  γάρ.  If this is the case, then perhaps the “burden” in verse two is unrelated to the transgression of verse one.

The noun translated “burden” in verse two is baros (βάρος).  It appears in the Pauline letters only three times.  1 Thess 2:17 he uses the word to describe financial burden associated with his apostolic authority.  There Paul says that he could have been a burden, but he voluntarily set aside that right as an apostle.  The related adjective abares (ἀβαρής) appears in a similar context in 2 Cor 11:9 and 12:13-18 (using καταβαρέω in verse 16).  There Paul says he was not a financial burden to the Corinthian church.  John Strelan collects several examples of the word from the papyri showing that the word refers to a tax burden (for example, p.Giss I, 7:13, about A.D. 117).  In the context of financial decisions, Sirach 13:2 says that one should not “try to carry a burden too heavy for you.”  In fact, Strelan surveys all of the vocabulary related to βάρος and concludes that the word-group is overwhelming concerned with financial burdens rather than spiritual burdens.  In fact, Gal 6:1-10 has at least seven words which are related to financial transactions (Strelan, 270-1).

Strelan’s article makes a persuasive argument that financial burdens are Paul’s main theme here.  This observation helps make some sense of those who “think they are something” not participating in burden bearing (verse 2).  In addition, it helps us understand the seeming contradiction in verse 5.  There Paul commands that everyone bear their own burden, even though he has just told the congregation to bear their own!  Likely this is a reflection of the work-ethic Paul expresses in 1 Thess 3, one must work to pay for their own needs and not rely on the wealthy in the congregation to support them. Here in Galatians Paul is telling the congregation to work hard, pull their weight, but if someone does fall short the congregation ought to help carry that member.

Perhaps this falling short is a special tax or fine assessed on the Christian for not participating in the Greco-Roman society.  If so, then the whole congregation helping to “bear that load” is a way of walking in step with the Spirit.

Bibliography: J. G. Strelan, “Burden-bearing and the Law of Christ: A Re-examination of Galatians 6:2,” JBL 94 (1975), 266-76.

The Gospel of John and the “Other Disciples” – Andrew

We know far less about Andrew than Peter, James and John, although he is often listed along with these three in the gospels.  Andrew and Peter were brothers, as were James and John, working in the same fishing village in Galilee when they are called to be followers of Jesus.  But all four seem to have been looking for the coming of the Messiah, as we see from reading John 1.

When John the Baptist was still baptizing in the Jordan, Andrew is following him.  They encounter the Lord and John the Baptist announce that Jesus is the Messiah.  In John’s gospel, this is the third day, usually significant in the Bible!  The witness of John starts a “chain reaction” as Jesus is followed by Andrew and another disciple of John the Baptist (1:35-39).

John declares that Jesus is the lamb of God, this time some of his disciples begin to follow Jesus, in effect transferring from John’s ministry to Jesus’. Andrew is one of the disciples simply mentioned in the Synoptics.  In John he figures significantly in several stories.  In each story, he is described as bringing someone or something to Jesus.  This other disciple may be the “disciple whom Jesus loved” in the second half of the gospel.  Andrew declares that Jesus is a teacher and Messiah, and bring Simon, Cephas (Peter) to Jesus.

The next day (the fourth over all), Andrew invites his brother Simon to follow Jesus (John 1:40-42).  Andrew confesses to Simon that they have found the Messiah.   This is a unique occurrence of the word Messiah rather than the common Greek translation, “Christ.” It is significant that Peter’s brother makes this confession early on, later Peter will make the same statement in 6:68, although he uses the title, “holy one of God,” something of a higher Christological statement than Andrew. Andrew is therefore the first disciple to actually call Jesus the Messiah in John’s gospel, although we are not at all sure to what extent he understood the term.

The second time Andrew appears in the story of John’s gospel is at the Feeding of the 5000 (John 6:1-14).  John contrasts two disciples, Phil and Andrew.  Philip, we are told, was tested and his response is a bit flat.  Perhaps Andrew too was tested, although I wonder if his response is a great deal better.  Obviously he sees the same problem as Philip, it is going to be impossible to feed all of these people.   But rather than state the impossibility of the situation, he begins to find a solution.  He made a start at the impossible task, even though it looks a bit weak to the other disciples.

Jesus honors Andrew’s offering, weak as it was, and uses the five loaves and two fish to not only do a great miracle, but also to demonstrate something very important about himself – he is the bread of Life, just as Israel had manna in the wilderness, so too Jesus gives food in the wilderness.  This is an extremely important connection, given that this is around the time of Passover.

Andrew therefore did the right thing, although it seemed fairly insignificant at the time.

Who was the Apostle Thomas?

Thomas has an unfortunate nickname – doubting Thomas.  Most people have heard the phrase even if they have no idea where it came from.  This nickname has stuck, and Thomas’ character as a doubter is famous.  The problem is, it is difficult to know whether his doubt was in fact doubt about Jesus, or confidence in his own understanding about the nature of the Messiah and resurrection.  One can describe Thomas as a very faithful disciples who did not lose his hope in Jesus, despite his own misunderstanding.  In fact, what seems like pessimism may also be read as a willingness to lay down his life for Jesus, to face his persecutors and force the issue of who Jesus really is.

Thomas is only mentioned in Matthew, Mark and Luke, but he is featured in three key stories in the gospel of John.  All we really know about him on a personal level is that he is called “Didymus,” a word which means “twin,” presumably because he had a twin brother. In fact, the Hebrew name Tom or Tomas in Aramaic also means twin.  There were Gnostics who thought that Thomas was Jesus’ twin, and died in his place.  The so-called Gospel of Thomas was written by Gnostics and preserves some teachings of Jesus in an overly-spiritualized form. According to tradition, Thomas ended up as far east as India and planted many churches there before he was martyred.

After the resurrection, Thomas is not among the disciples when Jesus first appears, prompting his famous “doubt” about the resurrected Lord Jesus (John 20:24-30). Where was Thomas?  Why was he not with the disciples?  Was Thomas not with the disciples because he was still in despair over the death of Jesus?  Possibly.  On the other hand, it is possible that Thomas is the only disciple willing to show his face outside of the locked upper room!  Perhaps he is out in the streets, going about his life, willing to “take the risk” that someone might recognize him and arrest him as a follower of Jesus.

Dorothy Lee suggested that John uses Thomas and Mary Magdalene as examples of two individuals who struggle to understand the resurrection.  There a few parallels between the two witnesses of the resurrection.  For example, both attempt to touch risen Jesus.  Both Mary and Thomas mix faith with misunderstanding, and both receive a revelation from Jesus.  For Lee, Thomas is no less faithful than the other disciples because of his absence from the upper room.  Thomas’ reaction to the resurrection leads to a significant statement of who Jesus is in the conclusion of gospel of John.

Thomas is therefore singled out from the disciples to be the first to recognize Jesus as Lord and God after the resurrection.  In the synoptic Gospels, Peter speaks for the twelve at the midpoint of the story to confess that Jesus is God’s Messiah, but in John it is Nathanael in the first chapter and Thomas in the twentieth chapter who confess that Jesus is the messiah.  In Thomas’ case, he calls Jesus Lord and God – a highly theological statement which indicates that Jesus is not just messiah, but in fact God.  Notice that Jesus does not correct Thomas, as an angel might if someone offered to worship it as a god.  Jesus accepts this worship from Thomas because he is in fact God.

Bibliography: Dorothy A, Lee, “Partnership In Easter Faith: The Role Of Mary Magdalene And Thomas In John 20,” JSNT 58 (1995): 37-49.

Gospel of John and the “Other Disciples” – Nathanael

The identity of Nathanael is a problem since he is not mentioned as a disciple in the synoptic gospels.  Usually he is identified as Bartholomew based on the order of the apostles in the synoptics.  (Bartholomew always follows Philip in the lists.)  Bar-Tholami is the from of the name in Aramaic, meaning “son of Tholami,” therefore his full name was likely  Nathaneal Bar-Tholami (cf. Simon Bar-Jonah). John seems to treat Nathanael as an apostle, and he never mentions Bartholomew, making the identification quite likely.

When Philip declares that he has found the Messiah, he describes Jesus in biblical terms: Jesus is the one whom Moses wrote about in the Law and the Prophets wrote about (John 1:43-45).  That the Law and the Prophets testify to the messiah is clear from other New Testament texts.  Early on the apostles drew together a number of texts which were proofs that Jesus was the Messiah, but their source for much of this material is Jewish thinking about what to expect in the Messiah.

Nathaniel’s response is stunning:  “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”  (1:46) This seems a rude statement of prejudice, probably because Nazareth was a rather small and insignificant town in Galilee. It is true both towns were small and insignificant, but what should Nathaniel have said?  Presumably he ought to have recalled that the Messiah was to come from Bethlehem, according to Mi 5:2; or that he should be in the line of David from Psalm 2, or that he will be a king of Israel as in Zeph 3:15, or that he will come as a peaceful king riding a donkey, as in Zech 9:9.  But not that he will be a carpenter form Nazareth!

Is this an irrational prejudice? Most likely, and it is this sort of prejudice which blinds people to the gospels – how can someone like that possible have something to share with me spiritually?  Perhaps we do not suffer from a prejudice, but other people might very well have a real problem with us and will not hear the gospel because we are overplaying a less important issue rather than helping people to encounter Jesus.  In Nathaniel’s case, prejudice does not prevent him from coming to faith in Jesus.  He is able to set aside his preconceptions and encounter Jesus as he really is – the Son of God.

When Jesus arrives he declares that Nathaniel is an “Israelite in whom there is no guile.”   The background to this equally puzzling statement is the story of Jacob.  Jesus might as well have said, “here is a son of Israel with no Jacob left in him!” Just as the true heir of the promise was Jacob, not Esau; the true heir of the promise in John are the disciples, not the Pharisees, etc.  That there is a bit of play on the Jacob story is also clear in the reference to “heaven opening” and angels ascending and descending.  Essentially Jesus is saying that Jacob is a true Israelite, a man who is honestly seeking his God and is not distracted by the Works of the Law (Romans 2:28-29, 9:6-7)  In John 8:31 Jesus says that if the disciples abide in his words they will truly be his disciples, the same word is used as 1:47.

Nathaniel is a True Israelite, and if the disciples really understand and internalize his Jesus’ words they too will be True Israel.