Guess Who Tried His Hand at Mirror-Reading Galatians? (Gupta)

I am going to teach a 6-week course on Galatians towards the end of the semester and I am reading a number of commentaries (esp Hays, Dunn, and Moo, as well as a new monograph by Rosner and a short book on justification by Westerholm). One contested issue in the more recent study of Galatians is the legitimacy of using clues within the letter to “mirror-read” the motivations and arguments of the third-party missionaries (or agitators, teachers, etc…). Some interpreters have developed quite extensive theories about the teachings of the missionaries, while others (like John Barclay) are more cautious and minimal.

Martin-Luther-1526-1I was a bit surprised to see Martin Luther himself try out some mirror-reading in his commentary: early in his study of Galatians he imagines the instruction of the Jewish-Christian missionaries in this way:

“You have no right to think highly of Paul. He was the last to turn to Christ. But we have seen Christ. We heard Him preach. Paul came later and is beneath us. Is it possible for us to be in error—we who have received the Holy Ghost? Paul stands alone. He has not seen Christ, nor has he had much contact with the other apostles. Indeed, he persecuted the Church of Christ for a long time.” (CCEL, p.9)

Isn’t this remarkably accurate? I think this goes to show that mirror-reading is not a modern phenomenon, and it is hard not to do this kind of thing with such strongly polarized and seemingly defensive/responsive statements from Paul as we see in Galatians.

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One thought on “Guess Who Tried His Hand at Mirror-Reading Galatians? (Gupta)

  1. No, this is not accurate, and illustrates the dangers of mirror reading without trying all the angles at which the mirror can be held. The agitators were actually saying, “Paul believes in circumcision (as his circumcision of Titus-Timothy shows), so it is OK for you to be circumcised (for Paul is an authority on the scriptures). He wants to please the Jerusalem church leaders, and that is the only reason why he delivered their decrees against circumcision, and why he continues to tell you not to be circumcised. He is a loyal messenger of Jerusalem, not because he believes their Law-free message, but because he is as ambitious for promotion within the church as he was in his earlier life in Judaism. He agreed to collect money for Jerusalem and this proves that he tries to please them, so don’t don’t believe him when he tries to tell you that he opposes circumcision. In Galatia he is obliged to follow Jerusalem’s Law-free doctrine, but in his new territory his circumcision of Timothy shows his intention to preach circumcision in his new territory. Follow Paul’s actions, not his words.”

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