Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Galatians 6:15 - New Creation

As he comes to the end of his letter to the Galatians, Paul restates a key point in 6:15 -

"For neither circumcision is anything, nor uncircumcision but new creation"

That circumcision is a key issue in the letter is obvious, but where does this reference to "new creation" come from? So, in light of this somewhat unexpected twist of phrase, I ask the following questions:

1. What exactly does Paul mean by "new creation"?

2. How does the concept of "new creation" relate to other key themes in the letter such as justification, the Spirit, promise, blessing, children of Abraham, the heavenly Jerusalem, etc.?

3. Are there any pertinent OT backgrounds that might shed light on the phrase "new creation"?

As usual I have my own thoughts, but I'd like to start by opening the floor to you.

9 comments:

Brian Nystrom said...

1. Paul seems to be looking back to the last part of v.14, "I [have been crucified] to the world." Through the cross of Christ, he had died to the world and is now a new creation; which is everything, and with respect to which circumcision has no relevance.

3. As far as OT passages which may shed light, here are a few, I think:

Deut 30:6, "Moreover the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live." So, the command to love God will only be accomplished by God's circumcision of the heart; not by man's circumcision of the flesh.

Jer 31:31,33, "31 Behold, days are coming," declares the Lord, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah...33 "But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the Lord, "I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God and they shall be my people." The new covenant brings a a new working of God on the heart so that they can obey.

Ez 11:19, "And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh." Once again, the need for a new work of God on the heart which allows for obedience (v.20)

So, prophecies that man needs to be a new creation in order to live in obedience to God and love him with all his being; to fulfill the law. Neither the circumcision of the flesh or the lack of can accomplish this.

Other: It is interesting to note the other uses of the phrase "neither circumcision or uncircumcision counts for anything; but..." in Paul. In Gal 5:6, the offset is "faith working through love." In 1 Cor 7:19, the offset is "keeping the commands of God." Here, the offset is "a new creation." Perhaps the three comments together provide additional insight into Paul's intent.

Anonymous said...

1) I think the "new creation" is essentially a synonym for "new humanity," "household of God," "temple," a.k.a the church. (Translating it as "creature" obscures the meaning.)

Something "new" has been created? What? I think Brian is correct in that Paul is looking back to the last part of v. 14. The world has been crucified to Paul, and Paul to the world. However, I don't think the emphasis is on a new Paul, but a new world...a new creation as it were.

V. 16 continues "And those who will walk by this rule..." What rule? The rule of the new order. There are new norms.

Ephesians 2:11 brings up the subject of those of the circumcision and the uncircumcision...and then in v. 15 "by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace." Again something new is created from these two groups...only this time Paul calls it a new "man" (I think "humanity" is a better translation.)

Notice that "peace" is a result just as it was in Gal 6:16.

In Ephesians, Paul continues, "and might reconcile them both in one body"..."fellow citizens, "God's household" and a "holy temple"...all references to the church!

The same phrase kainé ktísis appears in 2 Cor 5:17 with what I believe is the same sense. I think our individualistic culture has caused us to be blind to this more corporate sense.

2) The short answer would be "the same way they related to the church." But that probably doesn't really answer the question.

3) I really haven't done much work on the OTB of this concept "new creation". I think Brian has offered a reasonable starting point.

Matt Harmon said...

Just to stoke the fire a bit here ...

I think the most important OT background for new creation is Isa 40-66, in which the theme is interwoven with the mission of the Servant, the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham, the promise of a New Exodus, and the redemption of Jerusalem. I don't have the space here to defend it, but I did deal with this significantly in my dissertation.

Anonymous said...

So, how do we get a copy of your dissertation? Care to email it to me?

Oh, btw, yes, I AM serious.

Brian said...

I think I would have to disagree that the main thrust here of "creation" is the corporate sense. Paul is talking about himself in v. 14. "He" is boasting in the cross of Christ. Why? Because it has accomplished something significant in his life. Through the cross, the world had been crucified to him and he to the world. This is not the "world's" experience but Paul's experience. The world no longer has any influence over him or appeal to him.

"Paul" is a new creation. His relationship to the world has changed because he is a new creation. Not through ceremonial law but through the transforming power of the cross. The only corporate sense I can find here would be the corporate effect of this experience on all Christians. But it sure seems like Paul is speaking individually.

I think the "rule" is referring to the cross and the resulting new creation. Only through the new creation can we have peace with God and experience His mercy. This is His blessing upon our faith.

It also seems a stretch to get a corporate sense from "creation" in the Corinthian passage.

Anonymous said...

I'm limiting my comments to question #1. Is there an implied verb in the Gal 6:15 passage? Is the sense of the passage, "For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything, but (becoming)a new (kind of)creation is something.?" (the RP Amplified version) Tie the Jeremiah 31 passage with Paul's comments in Romans 2:25-29. Throw in the II Cor 5:17 context that "from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh." Circumcision of the flesh does not result in a new creation. The Messiah has established an age where righteousness is achieved by faith and the metaphor of a circumcised heart is used to describe a change in character, ie a new creation. Although the meaning of a "circumcised heart" is hard for me to grasp. What does THAT phrase imply?

Anonymous said...

Hey Matt!

Where are you?? Jump in, the water's fine!

Matt Harmon said...

Sorry I haven't jumped in lately; I'm in the middle of finals week.

Generally speaking there are three ways that the phrase "new creation" has been understood:

1) Ecclesiological: it refers to the formation of the church

2) Soteriological-cosmological: it refers to the dawning of the new age in Christ

3) Soteriological-anthropological: it refers to a new type of human existence now possible in light of the cross

I am inclined that all three views have something helpful to contribute. I think that from the ecclesiological perspective Christ's death on the cross is an act of new creation that brings into existence a new people of God. Cosmically speaking, Christ's death on the cross has ushered in the Messianic Age (though not in its fullness, obviously). And anthropologically speaking, new creation does refer to the radical transformation that takes place in a person upon conversion.

As for acquiring the dissertation, the only way to do that currently would be to borrow it from the Wheaton library. I hope to revise it over the next year or so before submitting it for publication. Until then, you will have to find other ways to cure bouts of insomnia :)

Tom said...

Matt,

When you get time, I'd appreciate your reflections about the following questions/ideas from Galatians...

5:2-3 - How does one who approaches this text from a "perseverance of the saints" perspective read this text? A quick reading could lead one to think that if these Christians were circumcised, they could loose their salvation.

5:26 - Is Paul changing subject from walking in the Spirit to local church relationships? Can one conclude there is a strong connection here between walking in the Spirit and fellowship in the church?

4:24 - What do you do with "These things may be taken figuratively?" Is this a license to allegorize?

I'm sure I'll have more questions. I'm writing a Bible study for a series we will do at our church.