Friday, August 13, 2010

342: To be a Slave, or Not to be a Slave & Galatians: In Review

Galatians 4-6
"But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness." - Romans 6:17-18

"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." - Galatians 5:1

I had a hard time picking a quote today. This entire section is a gold mine of stupid.

Chapter 4 starts with talk of Jesus setting us free from slavery. This, of course, contradicts Paul's own teaching about being slaves to righteousness, instead of sin. Are we slaves to righteousness, or are we set free from slavery by Jesus.

The chapter continues with Paul (again) complaining that the Galatians are becoming slaves to worldly things. Therefore they're not following Jesus. Paul says that he's going to be in the "pains of childbirth" until the Galatians turn to Jesus. I'm sure the pain in Paul's vagina (metaphorically speaking) will get the Galatians on the Jesus bandwagon.

Paul then tries to draw some strange analogy between the followers of Jesus, and the descendants of Abraham. Abraham had sons from a slave woman, and from a free woman (the sons were Ishmael and Isaac, respectively). Paul uses this as confirmation that the Galatians should not be slaves, because the bible says they should cast out the Ishmael and his mother.

Chapter 5 starts with Paul again talking about slavery. He says that we should not burden ourselves with the yoke of slavery. And again he is contradicting his demand in Romans that we all be slaves to righteousness.

Seemingly still on the subject of slavery, Paul says, "I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law." As usual, Paul fails to add any qualifiers to this statement, thus making it sound like a universal rule.

What does Paul mean by "lets himself be circumcised"? I'll go out on a limb here and say that the vast majority of circumcisions happen to babies. Did they let themselves be circumcised? It must be pretty hard to be a bible literalist and also be circumcised, considering that you have to follow all the Old Testament laws and Christ is meaningless.

This time, Paul can't even wait more than a sentence before contradicting himself. He says, "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value". Make up your mind, does circumcision bind you to Old Testament law, or is it completely meaningless?

Fast forward another couple of sentences, and Paul again seems to contradict himself. He says, "Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted?". Did he not just say several times that he wasn't preaching circumcision? Directly before this, Paul says, "The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty, whoever he may be." The only one throwing me into confusion is Paul.

Paul has even more harsh words for these people that are confusing the Galatians. He says, "I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!" Today I learned a new comeback from the bible, "I wish you would just go chop your balls off!" I'll have to use that next time I get into a dispute with one of my Christian friends. For someone that's supposed to be channeling God, Paul sure seems petty and immature.

The next section is about living your life by the Spirit. Paul says that if you live by the Spirit, you will not "gratify the desires of the sinful nature". He also says that if you live your life by the Spirit you are no longer bound by the law. What, then, are you bound by? Your own interpretation of what you think God is telling you to do through the Holy Spirit? But if we hypothesize for the moment that God doesn't exist, then that just turns into "do what you think is right". Isn't this the very reason some Christians claim that atheists have no basis for morality?

Paul goes on to define some sinful things that are "obvious", including "sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery [whatever that is]; idolatry and witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy... [etc.]". Most of these terms leave interpretation completely up to the individual. For example, what is "sexual immorality"? I guess we have to let our own personal "Spirit" tell us. Paul says that if we do any of these poorly defined things, we will not inherit the Kingdom of God. I guess we are bound to Paul's made up law now?

Chapter 6 is mostly about sharing each other's burdens. But near the middle of the chapter Paul says, "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows". In an attempt to find out what Christians think this means (I've witnessed and participated in my fair share of God mockery, it's obviously possible) I ran across this ridiculous website. It cites random cases of someone mocking God, and God "getting even". This one's my favorite:
After the construction of the Titanic, a reporter asked him how safe the
ship would be. With an ironic tone he said: "Not even God can sink it." The
result? I think you know what happened to the Titanic.
First of all this is barely mockery, it's almost a figure of speech. Second, does this article mean to say that, had the maker of the titanic not made this offhand remark, the titanic wouldn't have sunk? What kind of superficial God to Christians worship?

Paul ends his letter with a strange comment. He says, "Finally, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus". This has led to frenzied speculation that Paul had the stigmata (incidentally, the term "stigmata" originated with this very passage). Other apologetics, however, say that Paul could have just been referring to marks of torture in the name of Jesus.

Galatians: In Review
There's really nothing to be said here that hasn't been said in the reviews of Paul's other letters. Paul just seems to be further damaging his credibility by constantly contradicting himself in different letters to different people. With every new letter Paul seems to come up with a new concept that Jesus never talked about.

Here we have some interesting mental gymnastics in an attempt to save the bible's credibility:
With the busy topic lately of "Is the entire Bible true?" I'd like to say this: To the unbeliever, no amount of evidence or persuasion will suffice. To the born-again Christian, no more is necessary; plenty exists already.
I don't think the bible, by it's very nature (+/- 2000 years old), can give horribly credible evidence. Though, the bible's credibility could be easily verified if it's "writer" would simply appear to everyone in existence and say "hey, the bible is true".
Abstaining from certain foods was an Old Testament requirement. The New Testament says all foods are permitted. Both are true, but there is a timing issue. Since certain foods were considered unclean, the practice of abstaining was symbolic and pointed futuristically to a time when cleansing from sin and uncleanness would come. Jesus fulfilled that with His sinless death on the cross; therefore the old practice no longer has value.
That's perfectly consistent until you consider that Jesus said none of the Old Testament laws would be abolished. Jesus also says that we should follow the Old Testament laws in order to get into the Kingdom of Heaven, but Paul says that's unnecessary.
Homosexuality, slavery and polygamy always have been wrong. It is man who has chosen to ignore that. Jesus did not address slavery because He was fulfilling a much larger purpose of redemption and of challenging people on the state of their eternal souls, not getting caught up in every single thing to which he could have called attention.
Whoa, now I'm really lost. Where does the bible say slavery (besides the spiritual slavery of Paul) is wrong? The Old Testament promotes it, unless a Jew is the slave. And the New Testament doesn't condemn it. It's the same idea with polygamy. The Old Testament certainly doesn't forbid it. And nobody in the New Testament even mentions it. I'm obviously missing some moral commandment that's hidden away in the bible, somehow making it consistent with modern morality.
Honoring the Sabbath is still correct. Christ reiterated that. Honoring God in one's heart is the most important. Do people honor it? Not most. Is that God's fault? I don't think so. It is mankind that has made it difficult to do with our busy schedules. My hat is off to the Chick-fil-A-ers of the world!
In what way did Jesus reiterate that we should honor the Sabbath? Jesus in fact says that we should break Sabbath law so that we can do good, just like any other day. Even if he had said we should unequivocally keep the Sabbath. The Sabbath is on Saturday. You've been honoring a Sabbath day, not the Sabbath day. "Hats off" would really be in order for Chick-fil-A (they are closed on Sunday, if you don't know what I'm talking about) if they, say, donated all their Sunday profits to charity. That would truly be in keeping with the wishes of Jesus.
Most folks who keep pointing to these alleged discrepancies do not understand the purpose and timing behind some of these Old Testament requirements nor the fulfillment Christ finished, and thus why it is no longer applicable in the New Testament. They just see a discrepancy.
All the discrepancies are easy to clear up if you simply (as this writer has done) completely fabricate various biblical teachings that aren't actually there. Paul would be proud.


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  3. Galations 4

    Gal 4:4-7: "But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir."

    There are a number of interesting points here. First of all, Paul's argument is that everyone was a slave under the (Jewish) Law until God freed us from the Law, by sending the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, thereby making us sons and thus heirs. Note that, according to what we saw earlier (3:23-25), we were freed from the Law when faith came (in Paul's time), not at the time of Jesus' sacrifice, and since in 4:6-7 it is said that the sending of the Spirit of the Christ by God is what brought about this change (it is God's act, not Jesus', that does it according to v. 7), the sending in v. 4 by God of his Son also likely has the meaning of the sending of him into people's hearts. In other words, the sendings in vv. 4 and 7 may the be same act. In any event, it is bizarre that Paul would say that it is the sending by God of the Spirit that freed us from the Law instead of saying that Jesus did by getting himself killed.

  4. Bryan, you're missing the point Paul made about the Galatians: It is not that they are becoming "slaves to worldly things," but rather that they are adopting Jewish practices, such as circumcision and observing special days, and thus are becoming slaves to the Jewish Law. Paul doesn't say anything about them "not following Jesus."

    Gal 4:25. Saying that Jerusalem is in slavery may refer to the Roman subjugation of the city in 70 AD (or even after 130 AD if this was written by a Marcionite). Or it just may be Paul's poetic way of saying that the Jews are still slaves to the Law (or both).

    Gal 5:2. "I, Paul." Why does Paul need to remind the readers that he is the one writing to them? Unless it's not Paul who is writing.

    Bryan, back then, many people were circumcised as adults. In particular, this was true of Gentile converts to Judaism (or Jewish Christianity), about which Paul is writing.

    Gal 5:3: "Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law." So if one is circumcised as a child, that is OK, since it was involuntary, but if you choose to be circumcised, then you must live like a Jew. I wonder if health care workers in Africa tell people this, when they are trying to convince them to get circumcised for STD-prevention purposes.

    Gal 5:11. Paul used to be preaching circumcision? Was this before or after he converted to Christianity? Was he at first a Jewish Christian? And what is the "offense of the cross"?

    Gal 5:14. It is amazing that he could say that the whole Law is summarized by Love Thy Neighbor without crediting this to Jesus. Unless of course Jesus didn't say it, which is probable since it is found in rabbinic literature as well.

  5. Yup, gmal pretty much hits the nail on the head, regarding the "contradictions" you point out, here.

    As a former agnostic, myself, I just wanted to comment really quick that if you actually put effort into resolving these contradictions--pretending for a moment that the Bible was designed by God to look like foolishness to those who'd rather not believe--you will learn a lot. I used to help "enlighten" (make fun of) my Christian friends by pointing out Bible contradictions to them. Now I know better; these "contradictions" evaporate on closer inspection.

    Even we weak-minded flesh bags use "contradiction" as a literary device to teach each other. It only makes sense God would, too. Check out Proverbs 26:4-5 for a good, obvious example.



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