Paul’s Anger – Reading Galatians post-Fundamentalism

I’ve chided my brother the Apostle Paul for the past few weeks for his uncontrollable temper in dealing with the Galatians. And I laughed this morning when he urged his audience to use gentleness in dealing with those in sin. I have suggested that the best way to read Galatians was in fact the way Luther did it – with beer. Stone cold dead drunk.

But, we were discussing it today, and the reason for Paul’s anger hit me. Stone cold hit me.

It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. (Gal. 5.1)

Paul was coming from a sect he believed was enslaving. We see this in later treatments of the Pharisees in the Gospels, but for now, Paul believes that the whole of the Law’s physical (ritualistic) requirements were enslaving the Gentiles to whom Christ has set free. I don’t want to get into NPP v. Luther, PSA v. CV; however, I understand his anger.

Paul was reacting against the enslaving power he saw in his former life – he was reacting against himself.

As one who has come from Fundamentalism, I know the feeling. I know the feeling when someone insists that we read Scripture only one way because that is the way they believe authority will be upheld. Or when we must dress a certain way, or when this or that is what is needed to be a real Christian. A real Christian… is no longer about faith in/of Christ, but about finding approval in the eyes of the mortal beholders.

Paul’s wrath is surely felt against those who would bring circumcision to the Galatians and perhaps unjustly in some cases; yet, I know that when I run into fundamentalists, especially those who insist on evangelizing others, of spreading fear, shame, and bondage, my anger gets the best of me. Not because I am weak and temperamental, but because I know the oppression that comes with fundamentalism, and I know the freedom that comes with real faith. When I sees others attempting to enslave the free, my blood boils.

So, maybe I need not be too concerned with my brother Paul’s anger, for the most part – knowing that if I had the chance, I would be just as angry against fundamentalists as well.

Joel L. Watts
Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

One thought on “Paul’s Anger – Reading Galatians post-Fundamentalism

  1. I perfectly understand Paul’s anger against the judeizers, and Ebionites (spell?) of his day (which includes a group probably receiving instructions from a certain James…) enemies of the message of Grace! In fact Paul asks a very telling question to the Galatians: “Who has bewitched you, you foolish Galatians?”. There is an interesting revelation here, a couple in fact: 1st: The existence of the bewitched implies the existence of a witch; 2nd: The bewitched who is made so by the witch is so because he is a fool!
    Yup! Paul was right! The teaching to return to the judeizing practices is akin to witchcraft; and its acceptance is a thing of fools! Now he compares it to slavery! So, witchcraft, foolishness and slavery! Keep at it Brother Paul! Believe me, I am sober as I write this…

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