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Galatians 6:11–12

“It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ” (v. 12)  

Much as an executive today might use a secretary to write his letters, a first-century author often relied on an amanuensis to compose his epistles. An amanuensis would take dictation from the author and put pen to paper, writing out the letter and making sure it was sent to its intended recipients. Sometimes the author gave an outline to the amanuensis and allowed him to come up with the actual prose, which the author later proofread and approved. Either way the named author himself usually wrote at least a short greeting at the end of the letter even if the amanuensis prepared the rest of the text.

Paul followed this custom as well. Tertius, for example, wrote with his hand the epistle to the Romans, though Paul (and through him the Spirit) authored its contents (Rom. 16:22). Today’s passage indicates that the apostle likely used an unknown individual as an amanuensis to write Galatians. He says in 6:11 that he is writing to his recipients with large letters, and since readers know the epistle is from Paul (1:1–5), this sentence is superfluous unless he is adding greetings to a letter for which he is the author but not the physical writer (see also 2 Thess. 3:17). His final comments are made entirely with large letters, a reference to Greek uncials (capital letters), conceivably for emphasis since this is the last chance he has in Galatians to define the perils of adopting the old Mosaic law.

These concluding comments in Galatians 6:11–18 summarize the epistle’s major themes and explicitly identify the Judaizers’ fear of persecution as what motivated them to insist on circumcising Gentile Christians (v. 12). As we saw weeks ago, first-century Jewish nationalists were apt to persecute any Jews who were seen as overly friendly to Gentiles. Jewish persecution of Christianity in those days often had more to do with the fact that ethnically Jewish Christians would not circumcise Gentiles than with the proclamation of Jesus as the Messiah. Forcing Gentile Christians to take on circumcision could be a good way for Jewish believers to prove their loyalty to Judaism and escape suffering. But to do this, Paul reminds his readers, was to deny the sufficiency of the cross, which levels the field for Jew and Gentile alike before God (3:28).

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

John Calvin says that for us, as for the Judaizers, “a dread of the cross” leads one “to corrupt the true preaching of the cross.” The Judaizers were afraid to stand up for what was scandalous in their day — that the cross removes distinctions within the people of God. Today it is a scandal to believe the distinctive acts of Jesus’ death and resurrection are the only way by which we can be reconciled to God. Let us be willing to die for that scandalous truth.

For Further Study
  • Nehemiah 4
  • Hebrews 11

Doing Good to All

The Cause and the Effect

Keep Reading The Church in the 9th Century

From the April 2009 Issue
Apr 2009 Issue