The Galatian Heres(y|ies)?

I’ve been working through Galatians as part of my Life and Letters of the Apostle Paul class, and it has been immensely rewarding! I worked through the letter in the early days of my renewed faith, but never really figured out what Paul was saying. This time I’m better equipped, but the text is even more difficult and ambiguous in Greek!

One thing I’m trying to figure out is the shape of the heresy (or heresies) in Galatia. I’ve always heard and accepted that Paul has Jewish Christians in mind. These are fellow disciples of Jesus who are insisting on circumcision and other Jewish practices for Gentile converts. Yet I’m wondering if Paul has broader Jewish thinking in mind too. Certain features make it clear that Jewish Christians were problematic. Chapter 2 talks about certain men coming from James. But 3:1-5 lead me to think there were also Jewish “rejecters” of Jesus in Galatia as well, who were advocating whole scale abandonment of Jesus. Paul’s statement that “before your very eyes the Messiah was clearly portrayed as crucified” doesn’t make sense of a Jewish Christian argument. It would require docetism on one hand (I don’t think that is what’s going on here), or a more mainstream Jewish rejection of Jesus on the basis of his crucifixion. I’m not sure how that statement could be targeted at Jewish Christians.

Multiple “heresies” makes better sense of the letter, at least what I’ve looked at so far. Paul reacting against a non-Messianic sect makes more sense of his very strong rhetoric in Galatians. I think he would have been more conciliatory with fellow brothers insisting on Mosaic law (which we see him practicing in Acts and even in his own letters à la 1 Cor 9). Hypothesizing on the basis of style is quite weak though.

So what’s your take on Paul’s opponents in Galatia? I actually have to write a letter as one of his opponents for my class, so I need to decide on the shape of their beliefs!

~alex

One thought on “The Galatian Heres(y|ies)?

  1. With apologies for blatant self-promotion, my historical fiction novel, “A Wretched Man, a novel of Paul the apostle” explores these issues. Galatians was particularly important in my research because it is easily the most auto-biographical of Paul’s writings.

    I do believe Paul’s opponents in Galatia were “men sent from James”, and the running conflict between James and Paul comprises the plot of the novel.

    If you or your readers are interested, you can find out more at the novel’s website by clicking on my name.

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