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Archive for May 14th, 2017

Father Callan’s Commentary on Galatians 4:31-5:12

Posted by Dim Bulb on May 14, 2017


A Summary of Galatians 4:31-5:12~In commencing the new section with Gal 4:31 we are following the division made by Bousset, Lagrange and Zahn. The recurrence of the word freedom joins it with what precedes, as a result with its sources. Many critics see in Gal 4:31 the last word of the allegory illustrating the two alliances, rather than the beginning of a practical conclusion. But the allegory was really concluded in Gal 4:28, and is presupposed in Gal 4:29-30. It seems better then to regard 31 as the point of transition between what has preceded and the section that now follows (Lagrange).

In the first place the Galatians must make their choice, either of the whole Law without Christ, or of the faith of Christ accompanied by charity without the Law. If they choose the Law, they must renounce Christ; if they wish to be Christians, then the Law must be abandoned (Gal 4:31-5:6). Having pointed out the dangers to which they are exposed, St. Paul next warns the Galatians to beware of false leaders who are courting a just and severe chastisement (Gal 5:7-12).

Gal 4:31. So then, brethren, we are not the children of the bondwoman, but of the free: by the freedom wherewith Christ has made us free.

So then (διό = dio). Better, “Hence,” or “consequently.” The general principle of the whole Epistle is here resumed under the color of the allegory, and the practical result of our being Christians is restated, namely, that we are free by the freedom wherewith Christ has made us free, i.e., we are sons of the free woman and enjoy a freedom which we owe to Christ, the author of our liberty. This is the reading of the Vulgate, and the easiest for this clause. In the best MSS., however, and according to the Greek Fathers, this final clause of the present verse belongs to the first verse of the following chapter, and the meaning is probably: “Christ has liberated us for freedom, in order that we may be and may remain free”; or, if we join “stand” to “freedom,” we shall have: “Stand firm to the freedom wherewith Christ has made us free.”

Gal 5:1. Stand fast, and be not held again under the yoke of bondage.

Stand fast, i.e., in the liberty of the Gospel, as opposed to the slavery of your former condition in paganism and under the Law.

Gal 5:2. Behold, I Paul tell you, that if you be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.

I Paul, as an Apostle, as an Israelite of the race of Abraham, and of the tribe of Benjamin (Rom. 11:1), who, in times past, was an ardent defender of Jewish traditions (Gal. 1:14), and who, consequently, should not be suspected, as a Gentile convert might be, of prejudice against the Jews and the Law.

If you be circumcised, i.e., if you receive circumcision, thinking it a necessary means of salvation, then Christ shall profit you nothing, because you do not regard Him as entirely sufficient for you, and so deprive yourselves of the grace and friendship of Him alone who redeemed you and is able to save (cf. Lagr., h. I.).

St. Paul’s precise language here shows that the Judaizers were insisting on circumcision, not as something merely desirable, but as essential to salvation.

Gal 5:3. And I testify again to every man circumcising himself, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.

This and the following verse repeat and amplify the thought of verse 2. If circumcision be necessary for salvation, then so is the entire Mosaic Law; and they who thus put themselves under the Law, by that very fact deprive themselves of Christ and His benefits.

Again may refer to what was said in the preceding verse, or to what St. Paul had taught the Galatians on his second visit to them.

Circumcising himself. Better, “Permitting himself to be circumcised,” i.e., he who is circumcised after Baptism. Circumcision was a public and a solemn engagement to fulfil the whole Law—a thing impossible, as we have seen, to man unassisted by grace. It seems probable that the Judaizers had not made it clear to the Galatians that the reception of circumcision included the obligation of observing the whole Law.

Gal 5:4. You are made void of Christ, you who are justified in the law: you are fallen from grace.

You are made void, etc. Better, “You are cut off from Christ as useless, you that would be justified by the law,” etc. From these words it seems pretty certain that the situation among the Galatians, while grave, had not come to the worst.

Are justified, i.e., would be justified (δικαιοῦσθε = dikaiousthe, conative). Fr. Callan indicates that the word is being used in a “conative” sense; i.e., expressing a wish, desire, or craving on the part of those contemplating being circumcised.

Gal 5:5. For we in spirit, by faith, wait for the hope of justice.

For we, i.e., as for us Christians.

In spirit, i.e., in the Holy Ghost, according to the Greek Fathers; but, according to the majority of the Latin Fathers, in the spirit as opposed to the flesh, the principle of the Christian life. The distinction is not very marked, since the interior spirit and principles of good actions is a participation of the divine Spirit (cf. Rom. 8:14 ff.).

“Spirit” here is not to be joined with “by faith,” as if it meant the Holy Ghost who is given in consequence of faith. The spirit is the moving force or energy of the soul; while faith is the habit which, giving internal conviction of mind regarding supernatural truths, forms the basis of the Christian life.

By faith, i.e., by virtue of faith.

Wait for, i.e., look forward to with intense longing and security (απεκδεχομεθα = apekdechometha). Cf. Rom. 8:19, 23.

Justice does not mean justification, which is already supposed by St. Paul as the entrance to the Christian life; nor does it signify an increase of grace and holiness. We have here the subjective genitive (δικαιοσυνης = dikaiosynes), and so hope of justice means the hope which proceeds from justice. Never in St. Paul do we find justice used as a synonym of eternal life (Lagr.).

Gal 5:6. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision: but faith that worketh by charity.

For introduces the reasons which make firm our hope. To have been a Jew or a pagan is of no account in Christ Jesus, i.e., in the Christian life, which is a life united to Christ, and animated by His Spirit.

But faith that worketh, etc., i.e., faith, the basis of Christian life, moved, or energised, by charity or love of God, which shows itself in the performance of good works and in the keeping of the Commandments. These words bridge over the gulf which seems to separate the language of St. Paul and that of St. James. Both assert a principle of practical energy, as opposed to a barren, inactive theory (Lightfoot). ενεργουμενη (= energoumene) is considered passive by the Greek Fathers, but middle by all the Latins except Tertullian. In its passive sense it is perhaps more favorable to the doctrine of faith animated by charity, as by its form; but even in the middle voice it is by no means opposed to the Catholic doctrine, which never held that faith is constituted by charity.

Gal 5:7. You did run well; who hath hindered you, that you should not obey the truth?

The Galatians began so well; but someone has turned them, at least to a degree, away from the truth. Who is responsible for this change? There is still hope that they will not be lost entirely. Severe judgment awaits their seducers. Fr. Callan is here summarizing the basic points of verses 7-12.

You did run well, i.e., you were doing finely in the Christian life. The metaphor in “run” refers to the contests in the racecourses among the Greeks. Cf. 1 Cor. 9:24.

Who hath hindered you, i.e., who has got in your way. The allusion is still to the race-course.

The truth. The article (“the”) is wanting in Greek, but the reference without doubt is to the Gospel.

Gal 5:8. This persuasion is not from him that calleth you.

This persuasion, i.e., not to obey the truth (verse 7), to believe that circumcision is necessary for salvation, as the false teachers have told you.

Is not from him, etc., i.e., not from the Eternal Father (Gal 1:6) who called you to the Christian faith, but is rather from the evil one working through the Judaizers.

Gal 5:9. A little leaven corrupteth the whole lump.

A little leaven, i.e., a bad influence, even though small, will lead to total disaster, to accepting all the doctrines of the Judaizers. Leaven here may mean one point of false doctrine from the Judaizers (St. Chrys., Theoph., etc.) ; or those Galatians who had been already seduced, including the agitators themselves (Theod., St. Jerome, St. Aug., etc.). The latter opinion seems the more probable.

Leaven is usually in Scripture a symbol of evil influence, except in Matt. 13:33 and Luke 13:20 ff., where as a parable,
it illustrates the Kingdom of God.

Gal 5:10. I have confidence in you in the Lord: that you will not be of another mind: but he that troubleth you, shall bear the judgment, whosoever he be.

In you, i.e., as a body of the Church in Galatia. St. Paul firmly trusts the majority of the Christians there.

In the Lord, the source of all his hope and confidence, in whom the majority of the Galatians are securely united.

That you will not be. An expression purposely vague, since Paul does not know exactly what to think about the situation (Gal 4:20).

He that troubleth, etc., i. e., the leader of the disorder, whoever he was.

The judgment, i.e., the punishment suited to his offence.

Gal 5:11. And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? Then is the scandal of the cross made void.

And I, etc. Better, “But I,” etc., in contrast to the false leader who was seducing them. St. Paul is not concerned with
what his enemies say about him. What this was is not clear. The Fathers think the Judaizers were saying that Paul himself was in favor of circumcision, basing their contention perhaps on the fact that he had circumcised Timothy (Acts 16:3). This was, indeed, no argument, because Timothy had been circumcised not as a matter of necessity, but only as an expedient to further the preaching of the Gospel among those of Jewish origin.

If I yet preach, etc. This may mean, “If I again preach,” etc., alluding to the case of Timothy, or to some few similar instances, perhaps, which in reality were not a preaching of circumcision at all. More probably St. Paul, in the above phrase, is referring to the calumny of the Judaizers who falsely said he still preached circumcision. To refute such a calumny he asks why. then do the Jews persecute him for not practicing the Law, for preaching rather its abrogation (Acts 16:16 ff.; 17:5 ff.; 18:6, 9 ff.; 21:28).

Then is the scandal, etc. If Paul still preaches the necessity of circumcision, as his enemies say, then there is no reason why he should be enduring persecution for preaching the contrary; then the cross of Christ, as a means of salvation so scandalous to the Jews, is done away with. The supposition is so plainly false and absurd. The Jews found the cross a “scandal,” a “stumbling block” (1 Cor. 1:23), chiefly because it removed the obligation of the Law.

Gal 5:12. I would they were even cut off, who trouble you.

The sense of this verse is expressed very well by St. Thomas, h. 1., following the interpretation of all the Fathers: “Utinam non solum circumcidantur, sed totaliter castrentur(I wish that they be not only circumcised but totally castrated). The Apostle ironically wishes that those fanatical Judaizers, who are troubling the Galatians, would not only insist upon circumcision but upon complete castration, if this would please them better, thus imitating the heathen fanatics who practiced such mutilations in honor of the goddess Cybele. The Galatians could understand very well what St. Paul was saying here, because Pessinus, one of the principal towns of Galatia, was the home of the worship of Cybele (Light.). This is a possible interpretation. St Paul sometimes employed images that his formerly pagan converts could relate to. See this footnote to 1 Th 2:1-17 in the NABRE.  Many modern scholars appeal to Deut 23:1, however, in light of Isa 56:3, Wis 3:14 and Acts 8:26-39 such an appeal might be problematic. I would suggest the following: The Greek word translated above as “cut off” is apokopsontai, from the root, kopto, to chop or beat down. The same root appears in verse 7 where it was asked: “who has hindered (enekopson) you?” Both verses should be seen in light of verse 4: “You are made void of Christ, you who are justified in the law: you are fallen from grace.” The words “made void” translates katergethete, a word that can be translated as severed or separated, thus being synonymous with forms of the word kopto. Any Christian who accepts the rite of circumcision as necessary for salvation has been severed from Christ (4), and it is this the trouble makers in Galatia are trying to do, thus hindering or cutting them off (7). So St Paul wishes that the trouble makers would be cut off from the Galatains (12).


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