Adolf Von Harnack, The Letter of the Roman Church to the Corinthian Church

Von Harnack, Adolf. The Letter of the Roman Church to the Corinthian Church from the Era of Domitian: 1 Clement with a Collection of Articles on 1 Clement by Adolf von Harnack. Edited and translated by Jacob N. Cerone. Foreword by Larry L. Welborn. Classic Studies on the Apostolic Fathers. Eugene, Ore.: Pickwick, 2021. xxvii+249 pp. Pb; $34.00.   Link to Pickwick  

Edited by George Kalantzis and Jeremiah Bailey, the Classic Studies on the Apostolic Fathers will reprint important studies on the Apostolic Fathers and provide translations of important studies which have not yet appeared in English. In this first volume, Jacob Cerone contributes the first translation of Adolf von Harnack’s brief commentary on 1 Clement and four articles Harnack wrote on 1 Clement. Cerone previously edited volume two and three of Strack and Billerbeck and translated volume three. Along with Matthew Fisher, he edited Daily Scriptures: 365 Readings in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin (Eerdmans, 2021).

Harnack 1 ClementHarnack published Einführung in die alte kirchengeschichte: Das schreiben der Römischen Kirche an die Korinthische aus der zeit Domitians (I. Clemensbrief); übersetzt und den studierenden erklärt (An Introduction to Ancient Christianity: The writing of the Roman Church to the Corinthian from the time of Domitian (I. Clement); translated and explained to the students) in 1929. Published shortly before his death in 1930, the book has never been translated into English. As implied by the title, the book was a farewell gift to students in his Church History seminar. Cerone translates the German into smooth English as faithfully as possible. He breaks up “unbearably long, complex sentences” and fixes many of Harnack’s incomplete sentences. He “gives attention to English aesthetics” and cleans up typographical errors in the original. More importantly, Cerone conforms Harnack’s citations to modern academic writing. In the original, Harnack cited sources as author and year, Cerone added a footnote with full bibliographical information where available. In addition, Harnack sometimes quoted specific verses but only cited the chapter. Harnack had “an irritating habit of quoting sources without citing a source.” When possible, Cerone adds a footnote to the source. Throughout the book Cerone adds Translator’s Notes to clarify Harnack’s point or explain his translation choices. The original book restarted footnotes on each page, this new translation numbers footnotes continuously in each chapter. This means the new translation has different footnote numbers than the original. For most readers this will not be a problem unless one is comparing the original German text to the translation. As Cerone says in his preface, if anyone objects to his translation, the German text is available online for anyone who wants to read the original.

Contemporary readers may wonder what value a hundred-year-old monograph on 1 Clement offers to the study of early Christianity. Recent translations of 1 Clement rely on more manuscripts and rely on an additional century of scholarship. Aside from the historical curiosity, what does Harnack contribute to a contemporary discussion of 1 Clement?

As Larry Welborn says in his forward to this book, Harnack saw 1 Clement as an expression of a pure, simple ethic (the kind of Christianity he though was desperately needed in the early twentieth century. For Harnack, 1 Clement is the most important early church document after the New Testament. Welborn offers four examples. First, for some readers, 1 Clement’s use of the Old Testament as a foundation for Christianity may indicate he sees the church as a replacement of Judaism, but Clement may have the attitude of a respectful God-fearer. Second, 1 Clement’s Christology is based on a bread stream of early tradition that does not make use of Paul. Welborn states this observation had little impact on subsequent scholarship. Third, 1 Clement is permeated with Hellenistic, Roman idealism. Harnack draws attention to allusions to Epictetus, Dio Chrysostom, Seneca, etc. Fourth, 1 Clement’s attitude toward the state is entirely positive. Earthly Rome is a parallel to the heavenly kingdom of God. There is no right to resistance for those who ought to be subservient. Perhaps this is a defensive posture for those suffering under Nero or Domitian, but it is striking that Clement (writing from Rome) is so positive toward the Empire.

Harnack included two short lists as a kind of appendix to his original book: first, “Problems that have not yet been conclusively investigated” and second, “A look at the development of church history which the letter grants and that should be studied.” These are brief suggestions for his students to explore in a church history seminar. Many of these issues have not been sufficiently explored since this book was published. Harnack asks, for example, what position the letter takes on culture? This is an ongoing discussion in contemporary scholarship. Further investigation of Clement’s positive attitude toward Rome would contribute to the current discussions of Christianity and Empire. A second example is Harnack’s discussion of church structure in Clement (chapter 5). The letter offers a window on the trajectory from the New Testament to the later institution of the Church, especially with respect to the office of bishop.

Conclusion. For anyone studying early Christianity, Cerone’s new translation of Harnack’s final work on 1 Clement is welcome addition. Reading Harnack’s study of this important post-apostolic writer will be profitable for tracing the development of doctrine and practice in the early church.

Bonus: Tavis Bohlinger interviewed Cerone for he Logos Academic blog in 2021 about this book.

NB: Thanks to Jacob Cerone for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

 

Matthew S. Harmon, Galatians (EBTC)

Harmon, Matthew S. Galatians. Evangelical Biblical Theology Commentary. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2021. xvi+531 pp.; Hb.; $49.99. Link to Lexham Press  Link to Logos

This new volume in the Evangelical Biblical Theology Commentary series combines detailed exegetical Galatians commentary with theological observations on theology drawn from one of Paul’s earliest letters. Matthew Harmon (PhD, Wheaton College) serves as professor of New Testament studies at Grace College and Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana. His previously contributed Rebels and Exiles: A Biblical Theology of Sin and Restoration in the Essential Studies in Biblical Theology series (IVP Academic, 2020).

Harmon, GalatiansIn the twenty-four-page introduction, Harmon defends a southern Galatian view. Galatians 2:1-10 is a private meeting with the pillars during the famine visit (Acts 11:27-30). Paul wrote Galatians after returning to Antioch (Acts 14:26-28) and before the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:1-21). A date of 48-49 is most likely.

As is typical in Galatians commentaries, Harmon engages in mirror reading to flesh out the circumstances of the letter. After Paul returned to Antioch, opponents arrived in the newly established churches in Galatia and argue that since Abraham was circumcised before the Mosaic Law, so too should the Gentile believers. The Mosaic Law provides the Gentiles with guidelines for living the Christian life. The opponents also question Paul’s status as an apostle. Since they are acting on the authority of the Jerusalem church, they claim a higher status than Paul. Paul reviews his relationship with Jerusalem, beginning and concluding with an assertion that his authority ultimately rests with God. If anyone preaches a different gospel than Paul has already preached, they are “under a curse.” Any leader can be wrong, as was Cephas in Antioch.

Paul’s theological response begins with justification. Abraham is his chief witness: he was made right with God before circumcision or the law. Since Christ has come, all are united to Christ by faith regardless of ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or gender. Paul gets to this hermeneutically by reading scripture differently than the opponents. Paul reads scripture through the lens of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

For Harmon, this is a “redemptive- historical” lens which evaluates earlier scripture in the light of later scripture. In Galatians, Paul reads Abraham through the lens of Isaiah 49-54. By redemptive historical, Harmon says that Paul sees both continuity and discontinuity between the pre-cross and the post-cross periods. The opponents see significant continuity and very little, if any, discontinuity (20). Regarding ethics, by choosing the Mosaic Law as an ethical guideline, one rejects Christ. Freedom from the law in Christ means an opportunity to serve one another in love and to live out a transformed life free from the power of sin and death.

The body of the commentary (25-371) moves through Harmon’s exegetical outline of Galatians. Each unit begins with the CSB translation followed by two paragraphs on context and structure. Harmon then exposits the text phrase by phrase. Although the commentary is based on the English, he extensively uses Greek (without transliteration), using footnotes for lexical, grammatical, and syntactical issues. He also treats textual issues in the footnotes and refers to secondary literature. Each unit ends with a paragraph bridging the exposition to larger canonical and theological issues. The result is an uncluttered commentary useful for both scholars, students, and laypeople.

On several occasions, Harmon deals with controversial topics in the study of Galatians, sometimes in two places in the book. For the troublesome phrase, “works of the law” (ἐξ ἔργων νόμου). He summarizes James Dunn’s views that the phrase refers only to certain boundary markers (primarily circumcision and food laws in Galatians) in a lengthy footnote (110). He then returns to the Works of the Law in the biblical theology section of the book (434-38) as part of a larger discussion of the Mosaic Law in Galatians. In that section, he discusses the background of circumcision, table fellowship and food laws, Sabbath, and Jewish festivals. He concludes, “there is good reason to conclude that the mosaic law demanded perfect obedience.” Paul therefore insists that anyone who submits to circumcision must keep the entire law, not only so-called boundary markers. For Harmon, this agrees in principle with James 2:10.

Similarly, he introduces the issue “faith of Christ Jesus” in 2:16. In the commentary’s body, he briefly describes the issue: Is the phrase an objective genitive or subjective genitive? Should the phase be translated “faith in Jesus” or “faith of Jesus?” Does Paul refer to a person having faith in Jesus to be justified, or does he refer to the faithful act of Jesus on the cross? This has been a highly controversial topic in recent years, and part of the so-called new perspective on Paul. He returns to the issue in the biblical theological section 465- 70. After summarizing the various sides of the issue, he concludes in favor of the objective genitive: Paul refers to the believer’s faith in Jesus Christ.

Like the Two Horizons commentary series, Harmon makes a series of biblical theology comments following his exposition (373-478). This is a robust biblical-theological section. It is in some ways a “theology of Paul through the lens of Galatians.” He begins with salvation history, or apocalypticism, in the apostle Paul. This is a hot topic in Galatians studies since the commentaries of J. Lewis Martyn and Martinus de Boer. By salvation history, Harmon means a “gradual unfolding of God’s plan culminating in Christ.” The apocalyptic view focuses on God breaking into history through Christ, providing a sharp antithesis: before Christ and after Christ. These are not two opposing views; Harmon wants to integrate them into a more holistic reading of Galatians, not unlike N. T. Wright or Michael Bird, An Anomalous Jew (Eerdmans, 2017). he lists several of the apocalyptic antitheses, or contrasts before and after Christ. For example, the present evil age stands in contrast to the new creation, or the messianic age. Paul’s view is a modified version of the common Second Temple Jewish view that history is divided into two ages, a present evil age, and a future messianic age (403). The modification is “already/not yet. Justification paves the way for the new creation, as evidenced by the activity of the Holy Spirit in this age.

Harmon includes several pages on the Abrahamic covenant, summarizing his monograph on the covenant in Second Temple Judaism, She Must Go Free (de Gruyter, 2010). Although the importance of the Abrahamic covenant was recognized in Paul’s day, there was a wide range of opinion on how to interpret it. In Galatians, there is a clear disagreement between Paul and his opponents on the relationship of the Abrahamic covenant and the work of Christ (386). The promise to bless all the nations is fulfilled in Christ, those who trust in Christ are justified before God.

A second major topic in the theology for a Galatians commentary concerns the exile and return from exile. Paul quotes Deuteronomy 27:26 in Galatians 3:10 and in Deuteronomy the ultimate curse is exile. Although Israel returned from exile, they did not experience salvation. For Harmon, Paul is reading Isaiah 40-55, especially the fourth servant song (Isaiah 52:12-53:12), through the lens of Jesus’ suffering under the curse of the law. For Harmon, “Isaiah consistently connects the promise of return from exile with the transformation of creation” (393), the gift of the spirit (394), and the blessing of the nations (395). Christ accomplishes the new exodus by becoming a curse for us. “Paul uses the sin-exile-restoration theme as a supplement to the larger framework of the Abrahamic covenant fulfilled in Christ” (401). Some of this material appears in Harmon’s Rebels and Exiles: A Biblical Theology of Sin and Restoration (IVP Academic 2021).

Paul’s view of the purpose of the Mosaic Law is one of the most challenging biblical theology issues in Galatians. for Paul, sometimes the law has a positive function, but in other cases it is a negative function. The law is limited to a time and has a clear beginning and end. Other times, Paul repudiates the law, rejecting a specific aspect such as circumcision and food laws (Galatians 2:3-6; 2:11-14). Other times, Paul replaces law with a new guideline, such as the law of love. In other examples, Paul re-appropriates the law, using it like wisdom literature or prophecy, so that the story of Abraham is read as a prophecy fulfilled in the work of Christ.

Justification and righteousness are central to the dispute between Paul and his opponents and are crucial for understanding Galatians. But, as Harman observes, this is no easy task. He therefore focuses on the Jewish background for justification, specifically the book of Isaiah (once again following his own monograph, She Must Go Free). He argues Isaiah 40-55 uses righteousness language in parallel with salvation language with strong eschatological overtones. In Isaiah, God is fulfilling his promises to set things right in the world, saving people from sin, and bringing judgment on his enemies. This righteousness is forensic, dealing with a person’s status before a holy and just God in his court of law. But this status ought to lead to ethical righteousness. Paul closely tracks with this view from Isaiah in Galatians. Christ is the means of justification through faith in Jesus, but there is an “already/not yet” aspect to justification. Both are present in Galatians, but most often Paul has the future in mind (450). But Paul does not disconnect justification from present realities. The future or final justification shapes the believer’s life in the present age.

The biblical theology section of the book has shorter sections on God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), and the servant of the Lord, seed/offspring, and the use of the Old Testament in Galatians.

Conclusion. Even if this book only contained Harmon’s detailed commentary of Galatians, it would be valuable. But his lengthy discussion of Paul’s theology drawn from Galatians makes this an especially welcome contribution to the study of Galatians.

 

NB: Thanks to Lexham Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Other Commentaries in this Series:

 

 

N. T. Wright, Galatians (Commentaries for Christian Formation)

Wright, N. T. Galatians. Commentaries for Christian Formation. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2021. xix+419 pp. Hb; $39.99.   Link to Eerdmans  

This new Galatians commentary is Eerdmans’s first in the Commentaries for Christian Formation series, edited by Stephen E. Fowl, Jennie Grillo and Robert W. Wall. The goal of the commentary is to serve the church by “showing how sound exegesis can underwrite preaching and teaching, which in turn forms believers in the faith” (ix). This is not a homiletical, pastoral commentary. The commentary does serious exegesis and thoughtful reflection on the text. Considering the general editors, this series may look like a theological commentary like the Two Horizon series (Eerdmans, with contributions by Fowl and Wall). Unlike the Two Horizons volumes, Wright integrates his theological observations into the commentary itself rather than in a second section. Wright is not doing “theological interpretation of scripture” as practiced in that series. For example, he observes Galatians could teach “there is one holy, catholic, and Apostolic Church,” and Paul would agree with this statement. Yet Wright thinks we should never substitute a “creedal checklist” for the specificity of Paul’s own argument in his own situation (5).

N. T. Wright, Galatians CommentaryGalatians is a dense argument and theologically challenging. As Wright explains in the introduction to the volume, his goal is to “get inside those tight packed paragraphs and see what makes them work as they do, or at least as Paul hopes they will” (xiv). How does all this relate to Christian formation? Wright assumes “Christian formation means the shaping of communities, and individuals within them, so that they reflect more fully and faithfully the fact that the Spirit of Messiah Jesus is dwelling in their midst (corporately) and within them bodily (individually)” (3). Christian formation is more than the spiritual or theological equivalent to a team building day at work, or a football coaching session. It is discovering, sometimes through painful practice, what it means to be the Messiah’s people, a single anointed community. This requires more than a rational analysis of the text, the “what did it mean at the time,” although it requires that hard work be done properly. What it meant must move toward what it means now through prayerful and pastorally sensitive work of pastors and teachers.

In the introduction to the commentary, Wright states Galatians is not about “how to be saved from sin in order to go to heaven.” In fact, Paul hardly mentions sin in the letter and salvation is not mentioned at all. The book of Romans is about sin and salvation, but these are not the main topics of Galatians. Galatians is about who should be counted as a part of the single family of God (9). That Galatians is about sin and salvation results from the Reformation’s response to the medieval Catholic view of purgatory and indulgences. All this is classic N. T. Wright, drawing from previous work on Paul’s theology, in his more popular level Surprised by Hope. As he says, “if you change your eschatology, everything changes.” If Galatians is not about “life after death” but that the new heavens and new earth are “here and now,” then the book is no longer about medieval purgatory and salvation from sin. Galatians is about “how you can tell, in the present time, who were the people of God; who will be vindicated as the true Israelites in the new age to come” (14).

But it is not as though he does not believe that God saved people from their sin. This is absolutely clear from the book of Galatians. God demonstrated his love by sending his son for our sins. “This love—freely given, greatly returned, lavishly shared—is at the heart of Christian formation” (21).

Wright devotes the second half of the introduction to the situation in Galatia. He states his view that the book was written to southern Galatia, to churches visited by Paul on his first missionary journey in Acts 13-14. Paul wrote Galatians after the first missionary journey but before the Jerusalem council in Acts 15 (21). This differs from some other recent commentaries (Keener, for example, argues for southern Galatia, but dates the book after the Jerusalem council). Wright does not offer any arguments in favor of this view, but refers interested readers to several historical and archeological studies as well his Paul: A Biography for the details. (See also my comments on Galatians and Act 15.)

Instead of engaging in protracted arguments about the destination of the letter, Wright wants to think more deeply about “the social and political situation,” what he calls “the real-life situation” of the Galatian readers. He sees Roman imperial ideology and the demand to worship Caesar as Lord as a serious challenge for gentile believers in Jesus as Messiah. Jews were exempt from these demands, so gentile Galatian believers could claim to part of the Jewish exemption from the imperial cult. They are not part of a new religion, but part of an ancient (and exempt) religion. This view worked in Corinth (Acts 18), but it did not work in southern Galatia. A new group of non-Jews claiming the Jewish exemption would threaten that exemption for the local Jews. Local Jews would therefore want to separate from the gentile Christians. Even some zealous Jews from Jerusalem, the men from James, could see Paul’s mission to the gentiles as “colluding with Pagan wickedness” (28).

The solution was to compel gentile believers to convert fully to Judaism, starting with circumcision. This showed that the new movement was indeed genuinely Jewish and showed the “puzzled or suspicious local pagan authorities that the claim to the exemption from normal imperial religious practices was genuine, however unexpected and unwelcome it might have been” (29).

Paul’s answer is not to offer Christianity as a superior alternative to Judaism. That reading reflects eighteenth century History of Religions thinking (and I would add, those categories really didn’t even exist as alternatives when Paul wrote Galatians). Instead, Paul insisted on offering a messianic eschatology, resulting in personal and communal transformation (32). Wright develops this in three main points found in Galatians:

  • First, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has done what he has always promised: he has launched his new creation (32). The present evil age is coming to an end and the age to come has already begun with the death and resurrection of the Messiah. Therefore, to get circumcised denies the new creation has really begun (33).
  • Second, God’s Messiah Jesus has fulfilled the divine purpose for Israel in his death and resurrection and has accomplished the new exodus. This is the ultimate rescue from the ultimate enemy, sin and death. It would shock Jewish readers to learn that Israel finds its fulfillment through a crucified Messiah. But even more shocking, the Torah has done its job and is now set aside. The Torah accomplished its purpose, and its time is complete. To force non-Jewish believers in Jesus as Messiah to keep Torah for its own sake, or to look like good Jews to the Roman magistrates or to the anxious, zealous Jews from Jerusalem must be firmly resisted (36).
  • Third, God has given his spirit to be the transformative energy for his new people. The spirit is an advanced gift from the future inheritance (38). As a result, all of God’s people belong at the same table. The church’s Jewish neighbors would not understand this, and maybe even other Jewish believers in Jesus as messiah would not understand. Even the “men from James” from Jerusalem didn’t understand the importance of the unity of all believers, whether Jew or Gentile, male or female, slave or free.

The main body of the commentary begins with a new translation drawn from his The New Testament for Everyone. Unlike some exegetical commentaries, Wright does not comment on lexical or syntactical issues, along with his translation. In fact, his translation is periphrastic, occasionally sounding more like The Message than the NRSV. This is not a problem since the goal of the translation is to express Paul’s ideas in language “for everyone.”

After a brief introduction to the main theme of the unit, the commentary precedes paragraph by paragraph divided into verses and clauses. Although there are occasional references to Greek, these are always in transliteration and will not distract readers who do not know Greek from understanding the commentary. He occasionally interacts with modern secondary literature in footnotes. But as he says in the introduction, he does not engage in “zealous footnoting that is now common in commentaries.” He recommends recent commentaries by Moo, deSilva, and Keener for that sort of thing. His primary goal is to explain what Paul meant, and then what it might mean for today. This book is not a compendium of what other commentaries have already said.

Even though this is a “Christian formation” commentary, it is thoroughly historical, sociological commentary. Wright does the exegetical work required (“what did Paul say”) and places Paul in the proper historical context, both in terms of Jewish backgrounds and the Greco-Roman world of the Galatian churches. More than most commentaries, reading the introduction is critically important. Wright consistently ties his exegesis back to the three main points from the introduction describing the situation of the Galatian churches.

Because this is N. T. Wright, prose is well-written and will be enjoyed by both laypeople and academics. He highlights main points with judicious use of italics and bold print. The lack of argument in the book will frustrate some academic readers, but footnotes to Wright’s many other books on the Apostle Paul are sufficient. However, it is unnecessary that one reads the 1500-page Paul and the Faithfulness of God to understand this commentary. Although it helps to have a working knowledge of the last 40 years of Pauline studies, one can appreciate the argument of this commentary without working through Wright’s Paul and his Recent Interpreters.

In the end, this Galatians commentary achieves the goal of clearly explaining the text of Galatians as it would have been understood in the original historical and cultural context (as described by Wright). The commentary does make a significant contribution toward Christian formation by challenging readers to hear and apply the text in a modern context.

 

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Galatians 6:11 – What Big Letters!

Although Paul signs this letter in Galatians 6:11 in his own handwriting, it is unlikely the rest of the letter was written by Paul himself. Letter-writing was normally done through a secretary called an amanuensis. This secretary may have had 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.

P.Oxy 265

P.Oxy 265

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 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.

Doing Good to All – Galatians 6:9-10

If the one who is walking in the Spirit is supporting the local Christian community, how was that community supposed to use the support?

“Doing good” might refer to doing things that were considered a civic virtue in the community.  In a Jewish context “doing good” might refer to giving to the poor, protecting the widow and orphan, even burying the dead. Since the theme of giving money is prominent in this chapter, it is possible Paul’s command here was applied to a community fund which was collected and distributed to those in need.  How did the early church distribute funds?

Paul warns his readers not to become weary in doing these acts of goodness. The phrase appears in 2 Thessalonians 3:13.  The word Paul uses here (ἐγκακέω) sometimes refers to discouragement, or losing heart, perhaps even afraid.  The final phrase uses another verb (ἐκλύω) which refers to being exhausted or worn out. It appears in several military contexts to indicate losing one’s nerve. Why would someone become discouraged or afraid of doing good deeds?Image result for rich ignoring poor

One option is that there is no response from those that are helped.  To extend the sowing and reaping metaphor, if a farmer sowed seed in a field and nothing ever grew, he might give up sowing that particular field. If you volunteer at a homeless shelter, you can do many good things for people. But there might be little or no response from the people you are trying to help. That can be very discouraging!

A second option is that someone in Paul’s churches was afraid to do good works such as helping the poor in a community where helping the poor was not considered a virtue.  Early Christians often helped people who were very sick, even when their lives were a risk.  It is possible that this is a real fear people felt when doing acts of mercy.

A third option is that people who are busy doing good do in fact get tired of the work. Paul may very well have in mind physical exhaustion from serving people in the community! This is a danger in any kind of service, but it if someone is serving in a ministry where they are working hard and never see any results, they naturally become discouraged.

The fact that Paul includes a condition in verse 9 (if we do not give up) is an indication that the harvest or reward does not happen automatically (Witherington, Galatians, 433). It is hard work to be a member of God’s family, but it is ultimately rewarding.

Doing good begins with the “household of faith” and moves outward to everyone else.  This may be people in need within the household of God because they have a burden they cannot bear.  It also includes those who have been called by God to teach the Scripture in the local church.