And now, on to Goicoechea and Galatians:
When something particularly egregious happens that is a symptom of systemic problems in society, like the Rodney King beating or Columbine shooting or the death of Socrates, it can be an occasion/catalyst for society to pause / hold a moratorium on itself. The death of Jesus was another historical example of this, because what could cry for change more than the specially chosen one of God who demonstrated who he was through wisdom, signs, and wonders being abandoned and denied by his disciples (and let down when his disciples got violent at the arrest), turned on by the crowd, conspired against by the Jewish supreme council and denied Justice by Pilate. For the converted Saul, this demanded an overhaul of living in the “Flesh” generally from a Jewish and pagan standpoint. Paul contrasts living in the Spirit with living in the Flesh
One of the issues with trying to be fair with Galatians is determining what Paul was doing. It’s all too easy to simply dismiss Paul out of hand as pro slavery, misogynistic, homophobic, without trying to understand why Paul was arguing what he did. Paul is homophobic, as was often the case in antiquity, and in fact such themes may have been born out of Jews distinguishing themselves from competing fertility cults. Beyond this, it was cultural, and so homosexuality was often looked down upon, not for what we would call “moral reasons,” but because the passive partner was viewed as “un-manly.”
For Goicoechea, Paul teaches a philosophy of Love, as I’ve been explaining in these posts. Paul says:
- 4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable; it keeps no record of wrongs; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Cor 13:4-7).
The ethical mandate here with Paul is going to be differentiated from the self-realization ethics of the philosophers of the time by loving the other more than yourself, such as a parent’s love of a child or as someone’s love of enemy like the forgiving, dying Stephen. This was Paul “in theory,” although “in practice” Paul had to respond to the immediacy with which he thought the return of Christ was imminent and so Paul was interested in presenting the most attractive and minimal requirements necessary to make people acceptable to the returning Jesus. In this way, Paul said
- 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to gain Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might gain those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not outside God’s law but am within Christ’s law) so that I might gain those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, so that I might gain the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. (1 Cor 9:20-22).”
So, on the one hand we have a Paul who was homophobic and misogynistic and pro slave in a hypermasculine bigoted Roman empire, and yet the ideal for Paul is Christ would return and set up his Kingdom where, getting us back to Galatians, in Christ “There is no longer Jew or Greek; there is no longer slave or free; there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28).”
In Philippians 3:5-7 Paul identifies the fleshly as Law keeping, zeal, success in morality. Paul’s vocabulary now has become something that includes zeal, an emotional virtue; law keeping; and blamelessness, a moral virtue. Only they’re not virtues because they are missing dependence on the Spirit and glorying in Christ Jesus
In the same way, only God can give the Christian the power to set aside our desire to sin and to do what is good and right. Galatians 5 calls this walking by the Spirit, in His power instead of ours. It is the only hope any of us have to serve God in this life. Romans 7 points out that the law is holy and good in the sense that it reveals to all who try to follow it just how very sinful we are. The law shows us that no matter how good our intentions, we still end up falling short and in need of the deliverance available only through faith in Jesus. Jesus fulfilled the law by interpreting it more strictly, like adultery is not just the physical act but even a lustful eye. Under this interpretation, even though Paul’s world was evil we see the law was ultimately given in God’s knowledge that the Jewish supreme council would conspire against Jesus and trick Pilate into killing Jesus even though they knew it was not God’s will for Jesus to die. The essence of the flesh in relation to the law is ignoring or perverting the spirit of the law, hence the Jewish Supreme council trying to find a loophole so they could execute Jesus even though God forbid it (John 18:31).
Paul was not trying to overhaul society by doing long term rehabilitation and recovery. He was doing triage to address the most immediate problems that needed to be addressed in anticipation of Christ’s imminent return where Jesus would set up the kingdom of God on earth. He was a dress maker trying to present as many people as possible as acceptable to Christ. We can point to Paul’s questionable views on women, slavery, etc, but this ignores that Paul held a universalist outlook, just that trying to enact those changes himself would alienate the church even further from society and hence would be counterproductive to the apocalyptic context he was operating in. Also consider Paul’s relative Junia who Paul appreciated as high up in the Jesus movement.
- In Galatians 5:13–15: My brothers, you were called, as you know, to liberty, but be careful, or this liberty will provide an opening for self indulgence. Serve one another, rather, in works of love, since the whole of the Law is summarized in a single command: Love your neighbor as yourself.
So, Paul as a Roman citizen would be used to eating with pagans and would not exclude them. In this way we see Paul moving away from Mosaic Covenant theology to Davidic Promise theology. Goicoechea comments:
- Paul is explaining the new law of agape as based on the Davidic Promise Theology rather than the Mosaic Covenant Theology and he emphasized the renewal of the Davidic promise in that the promise is no longer so much concerned with the renewal of the promised land and a Jewish nation but for blessing for all persons of the earth. The emphasis is on serving others. All five kinds of Greek ethics were also types of self realization ethics which are here transformed into an ethics of suffering and service for others. Being called to live in the incarnated, crucified resurrected Body of Christ means that we are now to love all others humans persons as we love our self for now each and every single individual person has a unique worth as a member of the Body of Christ. Even though Christ has redeemed us the call must go out to each person so that he or she can begin to serve the neighbor rather than being caught up in self-indulgence. This new notion of the neighbor as including every human person takes us beyond the limits of living according to the law of the flesh. (199-200)
The law was holy and served its purpose in making people sinful beyond measure and thus making their hidden sinfulness conspicuous, but now we need to move beyond circumcision to a circumcision of the heart and so the fleshy drive to be blameless is exchanged for the desire to love others as more important than ourselves: serving. In interpreting the New Testament we sometimes get so hyper focused on what Jesus is doing that we forget the other half of the argument and the dystopian world that turned on Jesus. The argument is that this was God’s plan of redemption all along, for humanity’s hidden wickedness to be amplified and un-hidden, so recognition and repentance was possible.
- At Tarsus, where Paul grew up, there was a Stoic school and being a Roman citizen for him meant knowing and practicing the Greco- Roman Stoic philosophy with its universal law for all reasoning humans which Paul preferred to the Mosaic Law after his conversion. The Stoics explained how by cultivating apathy we can be freed from a network of concupiscible and irascible passions and freed for a life of reasoned calm and tranquility. That sort of tranquility could bring about self realization and the great Roman Peace. In a Stoic form but with a revolutionary new material list Paul writes at Galatians 5:19–23:
- “When self-indulgence is at work the results are obvious: fornication, gross indecency and sexual irresponsibility; idolatry and sorcery; feuds and wrangling; jealousy, bad temper and quarrels; disagreements, factions, envy; drunkenness, orgies and similar things . . . What the Spirit brings is very different: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control . . . you cannot belong to Christ Jesus unless you crucify all self-indulgent passion and desires”
- So Paul does state his new ethics in the Stoic form of becoming free from vice and free for virtues but the Stoic would still have a self-centered ethics of self-realization whereas the suffering servant will love especially the enemy with this new agape. (pp. 200-201)
We can still see the influence of the philosophers in Paul’s approach. Goicoechea argues:
- Plato in his Symposium and Phaedrus explained his ethics in terms of a growth in a more and more excellent eros that could let the soul and the city state be liberated through recollection. Aristotle continued on with the same four cardinal virtues but explained them in terms of an Apollonian friendship rather than in the Platonic terms of a Dionysian eros. Aristotle’s ethics too is a self-realization ethics in which the virtues are means to the end of one’s own happiness and also a happy and healthy city state which persons who practice the four moral virtues and the five intellectual virtues can attain by being good political animals for their highest good. Paul’s ethics of agape with its three theological virtues as the primary structures of the new Christian attitude radically differs from both the eros ethics of Plato and the Philia ethics of Aristotle in aiming at the joy and peace of reconciliation for all the creatures of the earth. For Plato and Aristotle there were still the Greeks and the Barbarians just as for the Jews there were Jews and Gentiles. Paul sees Jesus as going beyond this self-realization ethics of us and them to a new ethics of brotherly love of all humans. Now the Stoics did think along those lines in that they thought that the reason that all humans share in common is the basis for a brotherhood of man. But their universality of a brotherhood of all reasoning beings still depended on power and setting up an empire of Caesar’s power that could enforce peace… Each of the five Greek philosophies had a natural law ethics in which right reason was the standard for activity as it would judge thoughts, words and deeds in accord with human nature adequately viewed in all of its essential relations and thus decide its worth. Plato defined self-realization in terms of that activity which would enable the soul to recollect the truth which formerly nourished it and thus rise up out of the body to contemplate once again the Good, the True and the Beautiful by ascending the ladder of love out of the cave. Aristotle defined self-realization as the happiness which arises when we actualize all of our human potentialities by means of the four cardinal moral virtues and the five intellectual virtues. The Stoics thought of the long chain of negative passions as colliding with the long chain of positive passions and each of the passions had a mechanism of self interested desire within it. If we cultivated detachment from a small self interested desire through apathy we could build up the good of the cosmopolitan whole. Given its universalism you can see why of the Greek ethical views Paul would build on Stoicism in thinking of his Christian ethics. Paul’s new ethics of the servant who would even suffer for others was contrary to each of these Greek ethical systems which did not emphasize the worth of being a humble servant of others as was Jesus or of suffering in the Body of Christ with him to glorify God by sharing in the goodness of atoning sorrow. Thus in their ethical and political thinking the Greeks would always put themselves as first and see Barbarians as inferior. So also the Jews as the chosen people of God would always because of their history of being subjugated by empires, see others as natural enemies rather than as members of Christ’s Body. So Paul’s new ethics of the agapeic imperative which says: “Love your neighbor as yourself” and included all humans as neighbors, especially our enemies and persecutors, turns the ethics of the territorial imperative of the natural law completely upside down. (202-204)
We can see the background of the philosopher in Paul, who is depicted as debating philosophers and having come from Tarsus, the birthplace of the stoic enlightenment. Socratic questioning was meant to uncover belief after belief until an underlying principle or foundation is unearthed. The law served the same function for the Christians in that the law was abused and abused until it was so abused that the re-velation is God’s specially chosen one was executed as a criminal – hence manifesting the true nature of the dystopian world Jesus lived in. Goicoechea comments:
- But when Socrates claimed that he was the wisest man in Athens because he alone knew that he knew nothing he too developed a noble ethics of self-realization and looked down on slaves and the slavish attitude that is ignorant and ordinary. Socrates clearly saw himself as wise and others as fools. But Paul’s ethics always stresses being a fool for Christ’s sake. As soon as the good of the other becomes the point of your ethics and not the primacy of your own good then you stress serving others and even being a slave so as to be equal to all slaves who are not to be thought of as inferior but as equal members in the Body of Christ. If one lives according to the standard of the flesh then slaves, women and aliens will be inferior. So the whole point of the new ethics is not only to have a theory in which the inferior are seen as equal but also a practice that accomplishes that ideal and such a practice begins by seeing the folly of one’s unnatural ethics and of being a servant. Paul’s ethics which he first learned by beholding Stephen does not look upon suffering as an evil to be avoided but as the way of joining Jesus in suffering and redeeming humankind. But Jesus went out especially to the suffering and with his love let them experience the value of their suffering. He became a suffering servant to introduce a new ethics that would bring about a new culture in which all sufferers could see themselves as members of his Body in the agapeic imperative. But Paul’s ethics was very Jewish in its apocalyptic context. The Jews believed since the time of the Babylonian exile and especially since the time of Daniel during the Hellenic Empire in the coming of a Messiah who would free them from subjugation. The coming of the Messiah was a major disputed question which divided Jews into factions just as it became a disputed question which divided Christians as they waited for the second coming. Even though Paul’s ethics is revolutionary in his totally new approach to all humans being our neighbors whom we should love as ourselves and in his new belief in the equality of all persons be they Greek, Jew, female, male, master, or slave he was not an insurrectionist who wanted to fight the Roman State and its injustices. Because of his belief in an immanent second coming he thought Christ would come soon and bring about a new Kingdom of love, justice, and peace for everyone. So until then men and women should keep their traditional customs as should masters and slaves and Greeks and Jews. Jewish men could be circumcised but it was very important that Gentile men need not be. Women should still wear head covering in church and glorify men as men glorify God. A slave should go back to his master. Of course, we should all love each other as equals in the Body of Christ, but we should keep the old customs until Christ comes and establishes his new Kingdom. (206-7)
I think this servant ethic can even be traced back to the death of Socrates where Socrates tells Crito to offer a rooster to Asclepius for the pharmakon (poison/cure) that heals Socrates of his body and begins to heal the corrupt society that killed him. We have a similar image of the impaled just man in Plato’s Republic!
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Next Time: Goicoechea and Paul’s Romans
Goicoechea, David. Agape and Personhood: with Kierkegaard, Mother, and Paul (A Logic of Reconciliation from the Shamans to Today) (Postmodern Ethics Book 2). Pickwick Publications, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.