An Exploration of Galatians: The Motives of the Legalists
Galatian 6:11-13 - Paul writes in big letters at the end of this epistle to get the attention of the churches in Galatia.
”See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand. Those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh try to compel you to be circumcised, simply so that they will not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For those who are circumcised do not even keep the Law themselves, but they desire to have you circumcised so that they may boast in your flesh.“
Galatians 6:11-13 NASB1995
Paul has now taken the epistle to Galatians from his scribe (also known as an amanuensis) and apparently writes the last section himself, using large letters. This technique was to confirm that the letter was authentic and from Paul himself. Apparently there were fraudulent letters sent to some of the churches during this early time that intended to mislead the believers. There are also quite a few commentators who think that Paul had a vision problem, but I agree with the commentary from Enduring Word (see below) that he was making this last section not only a confirmation that the words were from him, but he cannot resist emphasizing, with capital letters, the risk to the believers at Galatia from the Judaizers:
I have written to you with my own hand: Paul’s custom, typical in the ancient world, was to dictate his letters to a secretary. But he would often personally write a short portion at the end, both to authenticate the letter and to add a personal touch.
Other examples of this kind of postscript are 1 Corinthians 16:21-24 (The salutation with my own hand – Paul) and Colossians 4:18 (This salutation by my own hand – Paul). One reason Paul may have done this was to prove that he really wrote the letter, as in 2 Thessalonians 3:17: The salutation of Paul with my own hand, which is a sign in every epistle; so I write.
See with what large letters I have written: Paul points out that he wrote his postscript with large letters. Many speculate this was because he had poor eyesight and could not read or write small print. But it is more likely that he made the letters large simply for emphasis.
“At this point the Apostle takes the pen from his amanuensis, and the concluding paragraph is written with his own hand… He writes it too in large bold characters, that his handwriting may reflect the energy and determination of his soul.” (J.B. Lightfoot)
“Most commentators consider that he used large letters deliberately, either because he was treating his readers like children (rebuking their spiritual immaturity by using baby writing) or simply for emphasis… much as we would use capital letters or underline words today.” (John Stott)
Paul has one more warning in verses 12-13 about the Judaizers and their motives in trying to force the believers in Galatia to be circumcised. He notes that they are doing this to avoid persecution for accepting the Cross of Jesus as well as to revel in the glory of forcing others to comply with the law (when they don’t even comply with the law) so that they can boast. Once again, Enduring Word has a good explanation for these verses:
As many as desire to make a good showing in the flesh, these try to compel you to be circumcised: Paul here referred to the legalistic Christians among the Galatians and wrote frankly about their motive – to make a good showing in the flesh. They worked to bring the Galatian Christians from a Gentile background under circumcision because it would be a good showing for them – but a good showing in the flesh.
The legalists pretended to be motivated out of concern for the ones they tried to bring under the law. But Paul saw through this deception and saw their motive was really selfish, simply desiring the honor and glory of a good showing in the flesh. They wanted the Galatians to become circumcised so they could wear the submission of these Gentiles as a badge of achievement. Even as David had boasted in the two hundred foreskins of the Philistines he had killed, so these legalists wanted the allegiance of these Gentiles primarily as a trophy.
Compel is an important word. There was nothing wrong with a Gentile being circumcised. There was everything wrong in compelling a Gentile to be circumcised, saying he could not be right with God without coming under the law of Moses.
Only that they may not suffer persecution for the cross of Christ: Beyond their own glory, their other motive was to avoid persecution for the cross of Christ. If these legalists had said, “We are saved only by the work of the cross of Christ, not by our obedience under the law,” they would have been persecuted. Probably the persecution would have come from other legalistic Christians or from those still in Judaism. Their unwillingness to stand in the face of this pressure made them stand for false doctrines.
There is also another way to consider this. By aligning Christianity with Judaism through emphasizing circumcision and the Law of Moses, men could escape persecution from the Romans. “To advocate circumcision was to align the new movement with Judaism, a religion that had official Roman sanction, and therefore one that avoided persecution. The preachers Paul was opposing may have included the cross in their proclamation, but by adding the necessity of circumcision they avoided persecution.” (Leon Morris)
Paul hammers the point home (again) about why this legalism is wrong and why the advocates were cowardly. The Judaizers wanted to look good in the eyes of those still practicing Judaism, which was not a faith that was undergoing targeted Roman persecution (yet), unlike early Christianity. They wanted to compel the Gentiles to comply and come under the law of Moses. Compel (ἀναγκάζω or anagkazo) in the Greek means to use force or threats.
My next devotional examines Galatians 6:14-16 - A final explanation for Paul’s motives in writing the letter.
Heaven on Wheels Daily Prayer:
Dear Lord - I am thankful that Paul took the time to emphasize one more time why the legalists were wrong back in the days of the early church. We truly have freedom through the Cross! Amen.
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. lockman.org
The Blue Letter Bible was accessed on 2/8/2024 to review the lexicon for compel.
Commentary from Enduring Word by David Guzik is used with written permission.