Were the Galatians Already Circumcised?

Building on a lot of previous blogposts (see here for all the references in the first paragraph), Mark Goodacre is trying to convince us that the Galatians were already circumcised by the time Paul wrote his flaming letter. He’s not convincing Mark Nanos, who has replied at length (and more than once) in comments. Don’t miss this series; it isn’t over yet, and I’ll continue to post summaries of Mark’s argument as they appear.

Part I: In Gal 6:12, “these are the ones compelling you to be circumcised”, should not be taken as the conative present, as if Paul is saying “these are the ones trying to compel you to be circumcised”. Just as at Antioch (Gal 2:14), the compulsion has already taken place. [EDIT: The compulsion, precisely speaking, is already taking place. See Mark’s comment below.]

Part II: The lack of thanksgiving at the opening, in contrast to every other Pauline letter, indicates that something rather drastic has already taken place in Galatia.

Part III: In Gal 3:1, Paul is attempting to explain what the Galatians have already done in the light of the evil eye. (Though note Mark Nanos, who replies that Gal 3:1 implies exactly the opposite, that the evil-eye accusation depends on the Galatians not being circumcised.)

Part IV: Paul charges the Galatians with not thinking at all, rather than thinking the wrong way; and Gal 5:10 says nothing about Paul’s supposed confidence that they will remain on a non-circumcision course (in response to Mark Nanos).

Part V: In Gal 3:3, the terms for what the Galatians are doing suggest a process already underway, just as Gal 4:10-11 — “you are observing days and months and seasons and years” — certainly implies this.

Part VI: In Gal 5:12, Paul imagines his opponents with a knife already in hand — “so busy at the work of circumcision that he hopes the knife slips”. And in Gal 5:3-4, he addresses those who have already undergone the knife: they “have been severed from Christ” and “have fallen from grace”.

Part VII: In Gal 5:2, Paul is not speaking about the possibility of the Galatians getting circumcised. If that were the case, he would have used the aorist subjunctive rather than the present subjunctive (i.e. “if you get circumcised” rather than “if you are circumcised”).

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4 thoughts on “Were the Galatians Already Circumcised?

  1. Thanks for mentioning this, Loren. It’s good to have Mark Nanos’s feedback, and I hope to answer his remarks later this evening. One minor correction to your summary: I don’t think “the compulsion has already taken place” but that it is already taking place, a bit of a technicality, I know, but Paul always uses these present tenses, you are being compelled, you are turning away etc. I think the reason for this is that he is addressing churches in which a process has begun, and he hopes that it has not yet reached everyone there.

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