Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Who are you?

Following on from the mighty Who gig, I'm reflecting on questions of identity tonight at our midweek gathering. in particular looking at what Paul says on the subject in Galatians and why.

I'm intrigued by the suggestion Bruce Winter makes that when Paul speaks in 6:12 of his rivals wanting to 'make a good show', he could be using the word in a more technical legal sense of 'secure legal status.'

The argument is that Paul's rivals are pressing the gentile converts to get circumcised so that they will come under the umbrella of Judaism, a religio licita, and so be protected from having to participate in the imperial cult, something 4:8-10 suggests might be happening (or so argues Justin Hardin of Oklahoma Baptist University).

It's also possible that Paul's rivals are looking over their shoulders at increasingly militant Judean nationalists who are stirring up trouble for groups in Jerusalem who appear to be rather tolerant of gentiles.

Both these reasons could lie behind Paul saying his rivals were teaching what they did in order to avoid being persecuted for the cross (6:12b).

It all throws up the fact that identity - who we are, how we define ourselves in the the world - is a key issue for Galatians. In the ancient world identity came via family and place in the household, status (whether slave or free and whether born free or freed during one's lifetime), membership of voluntary associations that gave strong group identity and practice of religion (besides the imperial cult which everyone had to practice at certain times in the year).

For Paul our identity is derived from Christ - our crucifixion with him (2:20, 6:14), demonstrated in baptism where we join a community of equals from which we take on a new identity (3:26-29). we are children of God (4:6-8), defined by our trust in the faithful work of Jesus.

Reading Galatians provokes us to think about where our identity comes from - the world around us or our commitment to Jesus in the new community of equals we join by baptism?

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