SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
So much here to talk about. Okay, so let's begin by remembering the context. Remember that the context of the letter to the Galatians is Paul's polemic…it’s his most polemical letter against his opponents who were telling the recent converts in Galatia that they had to be circumcised in order to be saved. So Paul brings it to its climax by saying that the only thing we can glory in is the cross of Jesus Christ. Now, at this point you might think, yeah that's right, because it's through the cross that salvation comes. But then Paul says something that I suspect you, or at least I would not have said about the cross. He says:
[F]ar be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
What does that mean? That through the cross, “the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Well, if you want the answer, you have to look at the next line because notice what he says:
For [which connects it] neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.
Now, if you've been journeying with me through the letters of St. Paul, you'll know that over and over and over again, I've suggested that one of the keys to understanding Paul's thought is understanding the ancient Jewish idea of two worlds or two ages. The old creation, or this age, this world, and the new creation or the world to come, the age to come. And I love this passage because here Paul makes explicit what is often implicit in his letters, namely that the undergirding insight, or the foundational thought, that underlies all of his theology is what has happened in Christ through the coming of the new creation.
And so here he makes explicit that the reason we only glory in the cross and the reason circumcision doesn't count for anything, or uncircumcision for that matter, is that a new creation has come. The Greek word here is kainē ktisis
. So what Paul reveals when he talks about this distinction between the old and new creation, and he links the cross to the coming of the new creation, is this, when Jesus was crucified on Calvary, according to Paul, it wasn't just his body that was put to death. It wasn't just his body that was crucified, but it was that his body, which is a part of this creation…he’s from the dust. He's a man of the dust, he's a son of Adam. That when his body, which is made from this creation, was crucified, in some real sense the world itself, the old world, the old creation, the fallen world, was also put to death on Calvary. The world was crucified on Calvary.
That's why Paul actually uses the word cosmos. When he says “the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” The Greek is “the cosmos
has been crucified to me, and I to the cosmos
.” So if you look for example at the chart I have here of these two spheres, the old creation and the new creation, this world and the world to come. What you'll see is that according to Paul, through the cross of Christ, we die to the old world. We die to the world in which circumcision was required— like under the old covenant—where things like circumcision and uncircumcision mattered. Now we become members of the world to come, of the new creation, by being members of Christ, because Christ was crucified to this world, but he didn't just die in the resurrection, he also rose up. And in his body, he's the beginning of the new creation. He's the beginning of a whole new world in which there's no more sin, there's no more death, there's no more dying anymore.
So Paul's argument is so sophisticated here, it's so profoundly theological that it's easy for us sometimes to miss it. Paul is not saying, note this, he's not saying that Gentiles don't have to be circumcised because it's a difficult procedure and we're not going to make a lot of converts. He's not giving practical reasons that circumcision isn't necessary. He's giving Christological, theological, cosmological reasons. He's saying, if you have been baptized into Christ, if you have faith in Christ and have been baptized, then you've already become part of the new creation in which circumcision or uncircumcision doesn't matter anymore, because you're a member of the body of Christ, of the mystical body of Christ.
Therefore, for someone who's been baptized to go back and receive circumcision— which is what people are trying to get the Galatians to do—would be like someone in the new creation going back to the old creation. It doesn't make any sense. And so Paul says, “Our glory is not in the honor that being circumcised would bring to us." Which is what some of his opponents were trying to do, saying if you want to be a real follower of Christ, you have to follow the whole law, you have to be circumcised. But he says, no, that's not where our glory comes from. Our glory comes from the cross of Christ, through which “the cosmos has been crucified to me, and I to the cosmos. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation” is what matters. And then he says:
Peace and mercy be upon all who walk by this rule, upon the Israel of God.
In other words, if you want to belong to Israel, the Israel of God, the way you get into Israel, become a member of the people, is not any longer through circumcision, but through participation in the cross of Christ, which according to Paul earlier in the letter he's going to say is through faith and baptism. So I just think this is such a powerful, powerful passage in Paul, because it reveals to us the deeper logic of why he believes circumcision is not necessary. It's not because circumcision is bad. It's not because the law of Moses is bad. It's because both of those things belong to the old creation. And if you believe in Christ and you've been baptized, you don't belong to the old creation anymore. You've literally been made a new creation in Christ. And as a member of his body, you belong to the new creation. Even though visibly, you're still living in this fallen world, you have your foot so to speak in two different worlds at the same time. Visibly, you live in the old creation, but invisibly and sacramentally, you're now a member of the mystical body of Christ. You're a member of the new Israel of God, that is the church.For full access subscribe here >