Seeking the Common Good with Humility & Perspective

Introductory Note

I preached the following sermon at First UMC-Edcouch & First UMC-Lyford on October 23, 2016. Original title: “Nations, Rulers, & the God of All.” Texts: Daniel 11:36-12:4 & Galatians 3:23-29.


I am a political junkie

Some of you may have noticed by now that I am addicted to political media. My interest in politics began in second grade, when I stared at a poster of US presidents in class instead of paying attention to the teacher. Since then, I have absorbed so much political facts and news that for a while I thought I would go into politics—I’m very grateful that God had other plans for my life! Yet I still obsessively read historical and current political data. It took the severe toxicity of this election to get me to reduce my consumption of political media, and I only started detoxing after this last presidential debate!

You see, as much as I enjoy political engagement, such engagement can take an emotional toll on our souls and on our relationships. I think this is especially true in the last twenty or so years, in the age of the internet and the expansion of news media options. The internet has allowed us to have more information than ever, but it’s also given each person more power to choose their own media and news sources. In my case, it used to surprise me that social media and news websites altered their content based on my preferences—as if everywhere I turn, I only see and hear people with the exact same views as me!

As Christians, the technological and media culture we live in presents opportunities, but also many dangers. When all the messages we see and hear emphasize the truth of our particular worldview, we can forget to listen and love those who don’t share those experiences or perspectives. We can forget that, in the words of today’s New Testament lesson, in Christ “there is no longer Jew or Greek…slave or free…male and female; for all…are one in Christ Jesus!” We can forget that whenever we engage in the public square, including when we vote, we as followers of Jesus Christ are to seek the common good for all with a sense of humility and perspective, knowing that our only true ruler, Jesus Christ, is the only ruler who will remain when all else fades away.

Galatians: you don’t have to be Jewish to follow Jesus

In today’s reading from Galatians, the author is frustrated with the church in the city of Galatia. The author of this letter, the Apostle Paul, had helped start this church, which was made up of Gentiles—people who were not Jewish. You see, some very early Christians thought that one had to be Jewish to also be Christian. Paul, along with the original 11 apostles, opposed this teaching, because Jesus wanted the church to baptize members of every nation (Matthew 28:19). Paul wanted Christians to place their trust in Christ alone by the power of the Holy Spirit, instead of putting their trust in a set of laws meant for one exclusive group of people.

Yet after Paul had left this church to spread the gospel elsewhere, other teachers went to the Galatian church to tell them that they all had to become Jewish! Paul writes this letter to the Galatian church to set them straight. He uses the language of inheritance, reminding them that even though human inheritance is restricted by family, economics, and gender, that in Christ, ALL people, “male and female” (Genesis 1:27), are children of God worthy of the inheritance offered by Christ.

Paul reminds them that when Jesus returns, Jesus will not judge us by our ability to adhere to one set of cultural rules and perspectives. Rather, Jesus will judge us by our ability to love God and love our neighbors, especially those neighbors who need food, water, clothing, comfort, and healing. In short, we love Jesus when we love “the least” in our world (Matthew 25:40), not just those who look and think like us. Paul admonishes the church to find their security and purpose not in self-preservation as part of a like-minded group, but to find their security and purpose in the grace that Jesus Christ offers to all.

Tribalism and political self-righteousness

It’s easy to convince ourselves that we love everyone when we don’t. We go to church, and many of us have raised—or are raising—our children to follow Jesus. Yet the forces of sin and evil find subtle ways to divert us from loving others. We naturally find camaraderie among people who are like us: same life experiences, same culture, same opinions, same interests, etc. There’s nothing wrong with finding common ground with others; unless those relationships become the exclusive focus of one’s engagement with the world. Too often, even in a nation as diverse as the United States, we find ways to associate only with those who abide by the same set of unspoken rules and customs as us. Too often, we only engage in the public square to support and uphold the interests of our group.

Today’s media culture does not help to alleviate this temptation. We can choose news and information sources that confirm opinions that we already have, so that our opinions slowly become more and more entrenched, leading us to judge those different from us ever more harshly. We can even convince ourselves that faithfulness to Jesus Christ and his way isn’t enough, that seeking to know Jesus through the Scriptures, regular worship, and sacrificial service to others just isn’t enough. We can convince ourselves that a set of candidates or policies take priority over what Jesus has already done for us, that checking the right box on a ballot is the true test of one’s faith.

Yet today’s reading from Galatians remind us otherwise. Paul reminds us that all are one in Christ Jesus. For Jesus reigns over heaven and earth, and when he returns to fully establish that reign, all other rulers and systems go away. Today’s reading from Daniel reminds us that even the strongest human ruler will lose their throne in the end. Daniel reminds us that the Day of Resurrection will come, that the righteous will live forever with God. Jesus is the only one who makes us righteous through his death and resurrection; he is the only one who sits on the eternal throne and makes all things new (Revelation 21:5).

Voting for the common good, with humility and faithful perspective

In the state of Texas, early voting starts tomorrow, and concludes on Election Day, November 8. As a self-avowed political junkie, I have firm opinions about how I will vote. In fact, I explicitly chose to deviate from my normal preaching style and read my sermon today to reduce the chance that I would accidentally express those opinions from the pulpit. But even though our eternal salvation does not depend on which ballot box we check, our motivations for voting, and the way we engage in public issues, can reveal the depth—or shallowness—of our faith in Christ. Therefore, I want to offer some general principles about how to serve Christ while engaging in civic responsibilities, based largely on today’s reading from Galatians.

For starters, we engage in politics and voting with great humility. Here is an uncomfortable fact: how one votes in the United States of America has more to do with one’s ethnicity than one’s faith. Per Christianity Today, 65% of church-going evangelical white voters will vote for one candidate, and about 65% of church-going evangelical non-white voters—Hispanic-Americans, African Americans, Asian-Americans, etc.—will vote for the opposing candidate. What does this uncomfortable fact have to do with humility? It takes humility to recognize that our social identity too often plays a larger role in how we think about important social and political issues than our faith in the risen Christ. It takes humility to avoid the temptation to arrive at simplistic solutions for why “the other” is wrong and we are right. It takes humility to prayerfully seek God’s help to overcome our desire to only serve our personal or groups interests. It takes humility to take the log out of our own eye before removing the speck in someone else’s eye (Luke 6:41-42).

To engage in voting and political discourse while serving Christ also takes perspective. No matter who we support on the ballot, Jesus Christ is Lord. No politician can exert more power than Jesus, no politician can model God’s way better than Jesus, and no political system can fully implement God’s kingdom. The best we can hope for, in our church and in our politics, is to offer a witness to the kingdom that God ushers in through the risen Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. All rulers and nations will end one day, even the United States, for when Jesus returns, the faithful will have no need of earthly rulers.

Finally, today’s New Testament lesson reminds me that Jesus Christ died and rose from the dead for the whole world. His ministry revealed God’s love for all people, even those on the outskirts and margins of the dominant cultures of his time. His death atones for all sin at all time, and his resurrection affirms God’s triumph over sin and death so that all might find new and eternal life through faith in him. So how do we live for all people? How do our daily decisions—even our public engagement and our voting—reflect God’s love for the whole world?

Those are not easy questions to answer, and I have already preached too long, so I will not answer them today. But when we seek to engage in politics with faithful humility and the perspective that sees Jesus as our true Lord, then discerning the common good becomes easier. When we recognize the ways that current media and technology too often bring out the worst in us, we can prayerfully seek God’s help in combating those forces. We can do the hard work of seeking relationships with those who are different from us, perhaps even those who we might see as “less” than us, recognizing that in Christ, all are equal, regardless of race, social status, gender, or any other human category. As Christians, we place our faith in Christ alone, not in any political party or candidate. Yet our faith in Christ can still guide how we vote and engage in public issues, so long as we prayerfully seek the common good with humility and perspective, knowing that when the nations, groups, and public policies of this world fade away, Christ will remain as our Savior and Lord. Amen.

(Drafting…or drifting?) Galatians and the Arena

Yeah… I’m still working. Just a draft. The idea is that the death of Jesus is “scene” in the realm of human sacrifice, in tune with the arena and other political suicides.

more Arena talk about Galatians
Villa Borghese gladiator mosaic Español

Are the spectacle and the arena of metaphors it employs important to Galatians? I tentatively argue yes, for the following reasons. As discussed above, Paul uses the games metaphor twice in the epistle, 2.2 and 5.7. Secondly, magical rites were used in the arena to subdue opponents, if not kill them. We find our author alluding to the possibility of his enemies’ use of spells in 3.1 as well as in 5.20 to subdue the Galatians. If we understand Paul’s use of κηρύσσειν as connected to the proclamation in the arena, then the portrayal he mentions in 3.1 takes on a different light. In the vice list present in Galatians 5.19-21, the reader cannot help but notice the list of unvirtuous actions look eerily similar to that of the spectacle. Martyn has little trouble connecting the corruptions to certain deities mentioned above, such as Cybele. He also specifically ties εὁδωλολατρία to the former religious activities of the Galatians.[1] Unlike Betz who argues, that the vice list is nothing more than “a random collection of terms, describing the ordinary occurrences of evil among men,” the list represents well the expected vices of the Spectacle, as it includes the issues of sensuality, local religion, and the dissension often times settled in the arena.[2] Further, there is Paul’s use of κηρύσσειν that, as Conzelmann has noted, may be connected to the stadium. Finally, the entirety of the letter places Paul against adversaries, perhaps pitting the two opponents only in a rhetorical arena, but nevertheless they are fighting for the prize, that of the Galatians.


[1] J. Louis Martyn, Galatians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (vol. 33A; Anchor Yale Bible; New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008), 496–97.

[2] Betz, Galatians, 283. See also Longenecker (Galatians, 254) who agrees with him.

(drafting) Paul’s Use of Spectacle and Sports Metaphors

Gladiators in the Spectacle from the Zliten mosaic.
Gladiators from the Zliten mosaic. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You know the drill. This is scratch work. The gist of this is to show that the use of spectacle, cultic sacrifice, etc… imagery would not be foreign either to Paul or the audience(s) which is why such an analogy that I will propose in Galatians can be allowed. 

Paul’s Use of Spectacle and Sports Metaphors

Given that this present study is largely dependent upon Paul’s ability to use emplotments relevant to his audience, and thus an acceptable and provable transference of semiotic cues, we must first determine if Paul (and his spectators) used metaphors related to the spectacle. It is my assertion he did and as such, I will briefly examine such symbols in the Pauline corpus, first to identity Paul’s use as well as an expectation that his audience (as well as the general Pauline corpus audience) would have understood them, given the frequency of use. While I do not consider the Pastorals or Ephesians and Colossians as authentic to Paul, given that their authors expected to appeal not only to the authority of Paul, but so to the audience of Paul’s authority, I will assess their uses of spectacle and sports metaphors as a secondary support to the overall hypothesis that Paul not only used the images, but the understanding of what the phrases meant was accessible to a wide audience.

As Peter O’Brien has noted, the verb τρέχω is a favorite image in the Pauline corpus.[1] Rather than the nominal meaning of a swift walk, it has connotations of the stadium where prizes were awarded for an athletic feat of endurance. In Philippians 2.16, it is directly connected to the sacrifice (σπένδω) Paul is making to bring the faith to the church there. Further, the prize (βραβεῖον) alluded to in 2.16 is more forcefully spoken of in 3.12–14 and 4.1.[2] Paul’s allusions to the stadium games are more than nuanced in 2 Corinthians 9.24–26. There, he drew upon the games in Corinth to better illustrate to the believers in the city the life of the follower of Jesus.[3] Indeed, Anthony Thiselton suggests ἐν σταδίῳ could be translated as stadium, a choice that would transform the passage, moving it past the idea that Paul is merely speaking of a foot race, but quite possible the entirety of the arena games.[4] Hans Conzelmann adds to our understanding of Paul’s metaphor by suggesting his self-designation (κηρύσσειν) is likely tied to the stadium as well.[5]

Several more times in the Pauline corpus do the sports metaphors emerge. In Galatians particular it emerges twice, in 2.2 and 5.7. This is followed by secondary Pauline literature such as Hebrews 12.1, where the race is seen as surrounded by a cosmic arena. The metaphor makes an appearance several times in the pastorals. In 1 Timothy 1.18 and 4.7–8, the training (for the race) prevents bad religion. In 2 Timothy 2.5 and 4.7, once again a prize emerges as the victor’s crown, something the author of those letters would have us believe Paul is concerned with and demands the reader to focus on. Even with the earthly race in mind, each instance does have a cosmic focus, either with a heavenly audience (as in Hebrews 12.1) or with a heavenly grown (with the other references). However, these metaphors are usually limited to games, perhaps only requiring a symbolical sacrifice. The sacrifice, however, of the arena is a real one in several other references.

In 1 Corinthians 4.9, Paul is not necessary bemoaning the spectacle, but rather places God as the one who has placed the apostles on ἀπέδειξεν.[6] In his mind, God has determined that the apostles are the gladiatorial show, the dénouement where one side will lose, suffer death, and be sacrificed. According to Conzelmann, Paul is adopting a Stoic stance in placing himself as the hero in a cosmic struggle. “The Stoic picture of the philosopher’s struggle as a spectacle for the world is taken over by Paul into his world-picture (cosmos and angels) and reshaped in terms of his eschatology; ‘spectacle’ has for him a derogatory sense. He is thinking not of the warrior who is admired by God for his heroism, but of the scenes in the Roman theatre with those condemned to death.”[7] It should not be surprising, then, to discover another such reference, perhaps even one causing more dread to the reader’s mind, in Paul — and there is one in the same letter.

In 1 Corinthians 15.32, what began as an arena of games and moved to an gladiatorial combat, now emerges as a stadium of sacrifice — and it may be that Paul experienced the arena first hand.[8] As Keener notes, the victim of such sacrificial acts was not expected to survive, which is why the connection to the resurrection is important.[9] Likewise, this connection between the sacrifice in the arena and the resurrection provided by Christ is unambiguously found in 2 Corinthians 2.14–15. This idea that the spectacle is on a trajectory from a mere analogy of self-discipline in the life of the Christian to the emplotment of Paul’s message is demonstrated in Colossians 2.14–15, where the author uses Pauline imagery to suggest that those who would usually be displayed at the games were the ones Jesus had freed from sacrifice by his sacrifice. But more than that, those who had imprisoned the formerly bound were now led through the arena, ready to be sacrificed. The foes are better identified in Ephesians 6.12.

There can be no doubt that the reception of the Pauline corpus, even the disputed letters, included those familiar with the metaphor of sports and spectacle. Further, it would be wrong to single out the sports metaphor, stripping it away from the spectacle semiosis employed by Paul and subsequent writers. It was not merely an analogy of self-discipline, but encompassed the whole of the arena, including sacrifice before the cosmic audience. Paul and his audience would have easily understood and accepted such analogies, allowing us to better examine the role human sacrifice and the arena may have played in Galatia and the epistle bearing its name.

[1] Peter Thomas O’Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians: A Commentary on the Greek Text (New International Greek Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991), 299–300.

[2] See V. C. Pfitzner, Paul and the Agon Motif: Traditional Athletic Imagery in the Pauline Literature. Leiden: Brill, 1967, 139–41. Pfitzner demonstrates the oversaturation of athletic imagery in the Philippians passage.

[3] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 1 Co 9:24–25.

[4] Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text (New International Greek Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000), 710.

[5] Hans Conzelmann, 1 Corinthians: A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians (Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975), 163.

[6] Thiselton, First Corinthians, 359.

[7] Conzelmann, 1 Corinthians, 88–89.

[8] See Thiselton, First Corinthians, 1252, for the discussion he seemingly hosts on the topic between the two opposing (literal v. hypothetical) views. For this study, it matters little, but I do side with the view that this is a metaphor.

[9] Keener, Bible Background, 1 Co 15:32.

(Draft) Church Fathers (Part 1)… (Jesus’ Suicide in Galatians)

Same rules as these posts.


Early Christian Interpretation of Galatians, Apostolic Fathers to Augustine

While Galatians has become somewhat of a staple in theological interpretation since the Reformation, thanks in large part to Martin Luther’s anchoring to it his challenge to Roman Catholic theology, its use in the early church was minimal when compared to Paul’s other epistles. In this section, I will examine how patristic authors used and interpreted Galatians. I will limit the time period from the apostolic age to the time of Augustine, roughly 400 years.[1] I will explore the patristic use of Galatians in three parts. In the first part, I will examine its usage by three apologists active from the end of the second until the beginning of the third century; while they did not leave us with commentaries on the whole epistle, their use of the epistle is important in understanding its place within the early Christian apologetic framework. Second, I will explore the commentaries of two late fourth century theologians, Marius Victorinus and Augustine. Third, I will draw attention to the use, interpretation, and citation of Galatians 3.13 by a wide variety of Christian apologists and theologians. Given the use of this particular passage to the overall thesis of this current study, the exploration of how patristic sources read and used it, separate from the rest of Galatians, remains quite important.


Galatians as Theological Support

Irenaeus of Lyons (130–202) made slight use of Galatians to combat Marcion of Sinope, first in repealing the offensive dualism proposed by the church’s first heretic, and second, as a subset of this first strategy, in building certain thematic doctrines (such as his Mariology in Adv. Haer. 5.21.1) that showed the canon to contraindicate Marcion’s teachings. He was the first early writer to explicitly use portions of Galatians in his works, even though, as stated earlier, neither he nor other ante-Nicene writers provided commentary to the whole of the epistle. Using Galatians 4.4–5, Irenaeus built a significant bulwark against Marcion.[2] Also, he employed Galatians 1.1 to secure the validity of Church Tradition via apostolic succession (Adv. Haer. 3.13.2). This was similar to the argument Irenaeus employed in Adv. Haer. 3.13.3 when he used Paul’s story in Galatians 2, a story which told of a heterodoxy that arose among the Apostles so that no one Apostle could treat themselves as sole arbiter of the Gospel’s meaning. Along these same lines, Irenaeus utilized Paul’s illustration of Abraham (Galatians 3.5–6; Adv Haer. 4.21.1; 5.32.2) to state that the Christian faith was a direct continuation of Abraham’s faith. In another place (Adv. Haer. 5.12.5; 15.3), he used Galatians 1.15 to fight against the dualistic treatment of flesh and spirit, which treated spirit as the only godly and useful part of humanity, at the expense of treating the flesh as evil or worldly. Also, the writer used Galatians 5.19–21 to rail against his opponents (Adv. Haer. 5.11.1, for one example). Ultimately, however, Irenaeus did not attempt to use Galatians in any singular, systematic purpose. Rather, he used it in a prooftexting fashion, placing verses as they suited his purposes next to other sources in order to make the claim that the tradition of apostolic succession surpassed any new revelation, including Marcion’s.

Like Irenaeus, Tertullian (160–220) did not provide a commentary, instead making use of Galatians in polemical discussions.[3] Unlike Irenaeus, however, Tertullian, utilized his knowledge of Latin rhetoric and oratory to more skillfully craft his polemic. Simultaneously, he afforded us the insight into a type of interpretation not yet covered in this study. Like Irenaeus, Tertullian heavily relied on Paul to combat Marcion’s forced division between the God of Paul and the God of the Jews.[4] He accomplished this first by showing that Paul was a Jew, and second, by showing that Paul was an Apostle, even if a lesser Apostle.[5]

The former of Paul’s identities required the Roman lawyer use the Abrahamic imagery in Galatians 3.6–9 to show that the Christian message was a direct descendant to the faith of the Jewish patriarch.[6]   Likewise, this allowed Tertullian to claim a singular cosmological reality for the Judeo-Christian tradition (Adv. Marc. 5.2.7), unlike Marcion’s staged system.[7] Tertullian appeared to use De praescriptione 33 as a sort of Pauline prophecy against the Ebonites while simultaneously maintaining, opposite Marcion and others, that Paul did have the full knowledge of the Gospel and nothing else was needed to enter into faith.[8] Finally, Tertullian was able to use Galatians as a way to introduce his hermeneutic framework. In Adv. Marc. 3.5, he countered Marcion by using Paul’s allegory of the two sons of Abraham (Galatians 4.22–24), among other examples, to instruct others as to how to properly interpret Scripture.[9] Tertullian acceded to the heresiarch an almost correct view of Galatians. He allowed Marcion a great amount of interpretive room with Galatians. Indeed, Marcion, like Tertullian, viewed Galatians as polemical. Even with this allowance, however, Tertullian utilized his talents in logic and oratory in order to tightly define key terms and concepts of Galatians. He then furthered his argument by recasting several scenes in the epistle in order to produce an interpretation of Paul and his epistle that maintained a strong connection to the Jerusalem church, and thus to normative Christianity and Abraham, even while holding a supercessionist tension with Judaism.

Europe had Irenaeus and Northern Africa had Tertullian. Contemporary with these two men, yet dealing with different issues and living in a different region, Clement of Alexandria provided the land of Egypt with some excellent theological insights that incorporated Paul’s epistle. For example, it is likely Clement used Galatians 3.23 as the impetus of his Paedogogus, as the first chapter of that work seems to indicate.[10] The theme of Galatians 3.23 also wove itself through Stromata 1.26, a segment in which the Alexandrian theologian, utilizing Galatians 3:19-23, built a case for seeing a connection between Abraham’s faith and the Christian faith in the Law of Moses. In the words of Romans, another letter in which Paul makes connections between Abraham’s faith and Christianity, this constituted a connection “from faith to faith”.

Clement’s usual employment of Galatians generally fell between two frameworks, with some exceptions. The first framework used Paul’s statements on ethics as the basis for Clement’s ethical exhortations. In this category, I would also include his views on sexual intercourse, which he considered ethical, especially in contrast to the writings of his detractor, Julius Casinos (See Strom. 3.13, where Clement uses Galatians 3.28).[11] In Strom 3.18, he used Galatians 2.19–20 not only to call for the faithful to engage ethical behavior but also to give the purpose for this ethical engagement.

For example, in Stromata 3.5, Clement explained, utilizing Galatians 5.13, that even though believers have been given the ultimate liberty by Christ, ethical living and a life in the context of self-control was the ideal use of the liberty that Christ has given us. The same applied to Strom. 4, in which Clement used Galatians 5.16–17 in much the same way as throughout chapter 5 to teach what the expected ethical behavior was, a quality he termed “manliness.” Of course, ethical behavior, from his perspective was connected to correct repentance, a critical quality that believers need to possess in order to avoid reaping what we have sown (e.g. the use of Galatians 6.7 in Quis. Div. 4).

Clement’s second framework used Paul’s statements on the law both to connect Christianity to Abraham and Judaism, while showing (Greek) philosophy’s “schoolmaster” role. Accordingly, law and philosophy will only bear fruit to the extent that they ground themselves in Christ.[12] In an exception that does not easily fit into either of the above two categories so easily, but remains germane, Clement did use Galatians 6.9–10 as self-justification for writing a number of other works and for validating the rightness of martyrdom.[13]

[1]          For a discussion on Greek and Latin commentaries during this time, see Joseph Barber Lightfoot, ed., St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians. A Revised Text with Introduction, Notes, and Dissertations. (4th ed.; Classic Commentaries on the Greek New Testament; London: Macmillan and Co., 1874), 227–36. Lightfoot lists more than I will examine, but gives a good overview of the commentary’s context. See also, Alexander Souter, Earliest Latin Commentaries On the Epistles of St Paul. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999); Maurice F. Wiles, The Divine Apostle: The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles in the Early Church, First Edition. (Cambridge University Press, 1967); and C.H. Turner, “Greek Patristic Commentaries on the Pauline Epistles” in James Hastings (ed.), A Dictionary of the Bible (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1904), Extra Volume, pp. 484-532. For various citations of Galatians among early Christian writers, see Mark J. Edwards, ed., Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, 2nd edition. (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2005). Two unpublished dissertations help to highlight Galatians in the early church. See W.B. West, Jr., “Ante-Nicene Exegesis of Romans and Galatians,” Th.D., University of Southern California, 1942 and Daniel Rodney Bechtel, “The Exegesis of Galatians 2.14–21 by the Early Greek Fathers and the Major Recent Commentators,” Ph.D, UMI, 1986.

[2]          See, Richard A. Norris, “Irenaeus’ Use of Paul in His Polemic Against the Gnostics,” in Paul and the Legacies of Paul (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1990), 79–98; M. C. Steenberg, “The Role of Mary as Co-Recapitulator in St Irenaeus of Lyons,” Vigiliae Christianae 58, no. 2(May 1, 2004): 117–137, 119; and Tyson Guthrie’s paper, “Irenaeus’s Use of Galatians 4:4-5”, presented at the Society of Biblical Literature “History of Interpretation” session (2014).

[3]          For Paul in the second century, with a contribution focusing on Tertullian, see: Michael F. Bird and Joseph R. Dodson, Paul and the Second Century, 1st edition. (London; New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2011). For an anthology examining Tertullian’s use of Paul, see Todd D. Still and David Wilhite, eds., Tertullian and Paul (New York, NY: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2013).

[4]          It should come as no surprise that Galatians was Marcion’s primary tool in attempting to wedge Paul away from the Apostles, and thus Jesus away from Judaism. See Adv. Marc. 4.3.2–4 and 5.2.1 for Tertullian’s admission and reasoning as to why. See also, Ulrich Schmid, Marcion und sein Apostolos (Berlin; New York: De Gruyter, 1995), 282–83; 294–96. Tertullian, like Marcion, was a supercessionist; however, unlike Marcion, Tertullian would see the continuity between Israel and the church.

[5]          For the former premise, see McGowan, “God in Christ,” in Still (ed), Tertullian and Paul, 5. For the latter, see Adv. Marc. 1.20.2 and De praescriptione 23 as well as below. In De praescriptione 23, Tertullian enforces the interpretation that Paul’s rebuke of Peter was not a matter of doctrine, but one of how the doctrine should be carried out. Paul’s reliance upon apostolic doctrine and his connection to the Apostles is maintained, even if Paul’s status is muted somewhat.

[6]          This does not prevent Tertullian from acknowledging Marcion’s claim regarding the anti-Judaism theme of Galatians (Adv. Marc. 5.2.1). See Adv. Marc. 5.3.2, one of Tertullian’s longest continued use of Galatians, providing an interpretation for the Sitz im Leben, that of the Galatians returning, or turning to, the Law of Moses rather than the Gospel. Tertullian maintains that the Law was over, but it is over because the Creator sent Christ and in doing so, ended the law himself.

[7]          It is open to debate as to exactly what Marcion’s cosmology was. See Andrew McGowan, “Marcion’s Love of Creation,” in Journal of Early Christian Studies 9:3, 295–311 for a balancing view of Marcion’s cosmology as well as Judith M. Lieu, Marcion and the Making of a Heretic: God and Scripture in the Second Century (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015).

[8]          See David M. Scholer, “Sed enim Marcion nactus epistulam Pauli ad Galatus: Tertullian and Marcion on Galatians,” a paper delivered by the late Dr. Scholer at the Thirteenth International Conference on Patristic Studies in Oxford, 16-21 August 1999.

[9]          See Geoffrey D. Dunn, “Tertullian’s Scriptural Exegesis in de Praescriptione Haereticorum,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 14, no. 2 (2006): 141–55.

[10]         See the note at Paed, 1.1 in Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, eds., Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (Entire) (vol. 2; The Ante-Nicene Fathers; Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885).

[11]         Clement’s concern with validating the flesh against Marcion, Valentinus and others appears in Strom 3.17 when he uses Galatians 3.3 to offer direct proof against Marcion that the dichotomy the gnostic had created was patently false.

[12]         See Clement’s use of Galatians 3.6–7 in Paed 1.11 and Strom. 2.28 where he strives to show that law and faith are both united under the one God, because where as the law had led people to God, only faith (in Christ) can impart proper knowledge. He is resourceful in using Galatians 3.25 to support Galatians 3.12 and 3.19 demonstrating that it is indeed the law, the very law despised by Marcion and other gnostics as well as the law cherished by the Jews, that leads to and ends in Christ. See Paed.1.6, 11 and Strom. 1.26, 2.7–10. The apologist goes further, however, and places Greco-Roman philosophy on the same level of the Mosaic law, allowing that it acted for the Greeks the same way the law acted for the Jews. See his use of Galatians 4.1–3, 9 in Strom. 1.11 and Prot. 5 and 11.

[13]          For instance, see Clem. Al., Paed. 3.12 and Misc. 1.1

(Draft) Proposal for… (Jesus’ Suicide in Galatians)

As with yesterday, this is a draft. Constructive, polite, and wonderful comments only.

ben witherington quote jesus death


This volume proposes to draw out a model not yet properly offered. I will attempt to present the death of Jesus not as one who was sacrificed unwillingly; committed suicide in a traditional sense; or suffered martyrdom; but rather as a devotio, albeit a devotio strictly defined against the combined backdrop of Second Temple Judaism, Stoicism, and existing patterns of the Roman devotio.

Defined simply, the devotio, which originated in ancient Roman religion, was a self-sacrificing type of suicide.   Persons who executed devotiones did so neither for nor against a religious or political cause, but rather for a much deeper reason: To produce a significant change in social order that would result in an expected cosmic peace. With respect to Jesus’ death, each of the aforementioned views — sacrifice, suicide, and martyrdom — have been dealt with by scholars; however, no such work yet exists explaining the death of Christ by the model set forth by Roman Stoics and initiated by Decius Mus, Cato the Younger, and the Emperor Otho. Rather, such a view is often misunderstood as a “noble death.”[1]

Further, I will propose death by devotio indicates not only a high Christological self-viewpoint and communal viewpoint, but also, when paired with Judaism, it shows an elevated covenantal viewpoint. Indeed, had Jesus not thought of himself as God’s son or the Davidic messiah, he would not have completed the devotio, since only divine sonship and messianic self-identity can provide adequate motive for engaging in a devotio on behalf of the kingdom of God.

This is why we find this example used in Galatians. This type of self-sacrifice, which repeats itself throughout the New Testament, originates chronologically with Galatians, a text that abundantly features this concept. Prolific, varied atonement models have led to a conflated maelstrom of hermeneutical confusion, and once the tempestuous sea of voices shouting various models is calmly silenced and the faithful reader is left alone to interpret the text, what will emerge — I believe — will be the earliest model for the atonement drawn from one of the earliest New Testament documents.

While the physical result — death — is the same in sacrifice, suicide, martyrdom, and devotio, the purpose and expected outcome are different. For the moment, I will include devotio in the realm of suicide (self-inflicted death but not martyrdom).[2] Furthermore, I will only offer speculation as to the exact outcome of the calculus of life. Belief does not include factual truth and, as yet, we are unable to determine the precise consequence of either ending one’s own life (suicide), or others ending one’s life (sacrifice and martyrdom); therefore, I will speak only to what was said to have happened, or rather, the purpose of each change of reality as intended.

One will find a linguistic theme underpinning much of the New Testament, one which I maintain, is a latent deposition of the devotio. First of all, Paul used passive language in Romans 4.25 to describe Jesus as one who “delivered up for our sins” without strictly naming who or what led to this.[3] Likewise, in a statement clearly imitating Emperor Otho, Caiaphas hinted that the death of Jesus was a sacrifice (John 11.50) although Jesus earlier assured readers of the account that this sacrifice happened because he allowed and initiated it (John 10.18).

Further, we may read the startling example of Hebrews 10.19–20 which have long been recognized as connected, at least in verbiage, to the story of Decius Mus. Of Mus, Lucius Annaeus Florus wrote: “alter quasi monitu deorum capite velato primam ante aciem Dis Manibus se devoverit, ut in confertissima se hostium tela jaculatus novum ad victoriam iter sanguinis sui limite aperiret.”[4] This statement parallels the sacrifice found in the Hebrews passage, in that, just as Decius Mus sacrificed himself so that the Roman armies would have a literal way opened to victory against the Latin armies, so Christ’s death and self-sacrifice in the midst of an otherwise hopeless situation opened up a spiritual way of victory against the hordes of hell, in order that believers might enter the presence of God. Even in light of these examples, in order to really begin the investigative work into the devotio as an early model, if not the progenitor of other models, we must turn to one of the earliest documented evidences of the death of Jesus: Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia.[5]

Concerning the dating of early Pauline correspondence, there is some dispute as to whether or not Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians before he composed Galatians. Both letters seem to have an early date. Ultimately, however, this discussion is irrelevant to our discussion for two reasons. First, on one hand Galatians was written to a regional group of churches while on the other hand 1 Thessalonians was written to a single church. Thus, Galatians exercised greater influence on a larger number of churches. Secondly, Galatians dealt with the foundation of the Pauline Gospel—Christ and him crucified—and with several topics directly related to the fruit of that foundation. 1 Thessalonians, by comparison, did not. Rather, with a much narrower scope, it exclusively dealt with a single issue not unrelated to the foundation of the Pauline Gospel—the return of Jesus. So, ultimately, even if the writing of 1 Thessalonians predated Galatians, Galatians was still the first of Paul’s writings to work exclusively with the death of Christ on the cross, its meaning for those who follow him, and topics that naturally flowed out of that foundational topic. Because of this fortunate placement of Galatians (as an early letter and as one speaking directly to the meaning of the death of Jesus), I will focus only on it for this work.

[1]          For example, see the work by Friedrich Avemarie and Jan Willem van Henten, Martyrdom and Noble Death: Selected Texts from Graeco-Roman, Jewish and Christian Antiquity. (Routledge, 2002) and Arthur Droge and James Tabor, A Noble Death: Suicide and Martyrdom Among Christians and Jews in Antiquity (HarperSanFrancisco, 1992). I will cover the scholarship on “noble death” as a subset of self-sacrifice” as viewed by both Romans and Jewish in subsequent chapters.

[2]          Jarvis Williams briefly examines devotio as a background to the Maccabean martyrdom, which is his proposed background to Paul’s theology of atonement; however, while he can admit that the act has certain elements (expiatation, appeasement, aversion of wrath, and a victim that is more than human) he passes over it as a similarity to martyrdom (Maccabean Martyr Traditions, 35–37, cf. 43.).

[3]          For more on how this verse and how passive language plays a part in Paul’s apologetic, see Jonathan A. Linebaugh, God, Grace, and Righteousness in Wisdom of Solomon and Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Texts in Conversation (Novum Testamentum, Supplements) and Wendy Dabourne, Purpose and Cause in Pauline Exegesis: Romans 1.16 and 4.25 and a New Approach to the Letters

[4]          Epitome 1.14.3, see Harold W. Attridge and Helmut Koester, The Epistle to the Hebrews: a Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible; Fortress Press, 1989) 285n26. See also, Marcus Dods, “The Epistle to the Hebrews,” in The Expositor’s Greek Testament: Commentary, Vol. IV. (George H. Doran Company, n.d.), 4346.

[5]          For the sake of brevity, I will follow Longenecker’s date and audience measurements. See Richard N. Longenecker, Galatians (vol. 41; Word Biblical Commentary; Word, Incorporated, 1998), lxx and lxxii—lxxxvii. He posits Galatians as earlier than 1 Thessalonians and written to communities in southern Galatia.