12 Γίνεσθε ὡς ἐγώ, ὅτι κἀγὼ ὡς ὑμεῖς, ἀδελφοί, δέομαι ὑμῶν. οὐδέν με ἠδικήσατε· 13 οἴδατε δὲ ὅτι διʼ ἀσθένειαν τῆς σαρκὸς εὐηγγελισάμην ὑμῖν τὸ πρότερον, 14 καὶ τὸν πειρασμὸν ὑμῶν ἐν τῇ σαρκί μου οὐκ ἐξουθενήσατε οὐδὲ ἐξεπτύσατε, ἀλλὰ ὡς ἄγγελον θεοῦ ἐδέξασθέ με, ὡς Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν. 15 ποῦ οὖν ὁ μακαρισμὸς ὑμῶν; μαρτυρῶ γὰρ ὑμῖν ὅτι εἰ δυνατὸν τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς ὑμῶν ἐξορύξαντες ἐδώκατέ μοι. 16 ὥστε ἐχθρὸς ὑμῶν γέγονα ἀληθεύων ὑμῖν; 17 ζηλοῦσιν ὑμᾶς οὐ καλῶς, ἀλλὰ ἐκκλεῖσαι ὑμᾶς θέλουσιν, ἵνα αὐτοὺς ζηλοῦτε· 18 καλὸν δὲ ζηλοῦσθαι ἐν καλῷ πάντοτε καὶ μὴ μόνον ἐν τῷ παρεῖναί με πρὸς ὑμᾶς. 19 τέκνα μου, οὓς πάλιν ὠδίνω μέχρις οὗ μορφωθῇ Χριστὸς ἐν ὑμῖν· 20 ἤθελον δὲ παρεῖναι πρὸς ὑμᾶς ἄρτι καὶ ἀλλάξαι τὴν φωνήν μου, ὅτι ἀποροῦμαι ἐν ὑμῖν.
12 Become as I, because I also [became] as you, brothers, I beg you. You did me no harm; 13 You know that it was on account of [the] weakness of the flesh that I preached-the-gospel to you in the first instance, 14 and you did not despise1 me nor disdain your trial in my flesh, but received me as an angel2 of God, as Christ Jesus. 15 Where then is your [former] state-of-blessedness? For I testify to you that if able, having plucked out your eyes, you would have given them to me. 16 So I have become your enemy, speaking the truth to you? 17 For they are zealous of you, not in a good way, but they wish to shut you out, so that you might envy them. 18 It is good to be sought always in a good way and not only in my being present with you. 19 My children, whom I am again giving birth to until Christ shall be formed in you: 20 I wished to be present with you now and to change my [tone of] voice, because I am at a loss in your case.
1 more literally: spit out, a superstitious sign of rejection
2 angel, or messenger.
A key question as v12 begins is the ‘what’ that Paul became? The context persuades me that in light of the preceding discourse about sons, slaves, and the Law, Paul’s implication is that he became ‘like a Gentile Sinner’, in being freed from the Law. In effect he stepped outside the ‘Law-experience’, and entered into a entirely new category of existence. That realm of existence is Christ, who has fulfilled the Law, so that this new form of existence is not ‘outside the Law as transgression’ but ‘outside the Law as beyond something rendered obsolete by perfection of its telos’. Ultimately, Paul’s exhortation rests upon the deeply problematic move of why they would try and step inside the Law-experience, when this is part and parcel of what Christ has set them free from.
Paul links his exhortation to the past relationship between himself and the Galatian believers. He mentions in turn: that there is no disruption of relationship at least on his part – he does not feel wronged or alienated by them. Furthermore, he recollects to them the circumstance of his first coming to them and the occasion of his (relatively) prolonged stay, namely some kind of physical ailment. Despite speculation, the text and Paul remain silent on its exact nature. The focus rather of Paul’s account is on the quality of their reception. In v14 he offers a powerful identification, in that to receive Paul, insofar as he is an agent of gospel preaching, is to receive Christ. This accords well with ambassadorial representation, cf. for example 2 Corinthians 5:20.
The formerly blessed and beneficient welcome is then contrasted, in v15, with their inexplicable change of conduct. Previously the extent of their love for Paul was unbounded, now it appears to have been utterly reversed. Paul locates the reason for this not so much in the Galatian believers, to whom he is appealing, but in outsiders, the Judaisers, whom he excludes from both his target audience and from consideration. Essentially Paul is engaging in a rhetorical tactic (and I mean no disparagement by this, only observation) of trying to re-align this group of believers with himself and the true gospel, but disassociating them from the alternate group of teachers, whose ‘gospel’ Paul has already rejected, and which he perceives to be an abomination that will lead believers to hell.
This is not merely or only a theological alignment question, but a profoundly personal one. Formerly they showed a deep and personal affection for Paul. Paul now raises the compelling question, is his speaking of the truth the basis for their becoming hostile to him? The implicit claim is that speaking truth ought never to be such grounds.
In v17 Paul moves back from the personal to the theological, but without leaving the personal behind. He highlights the opponent’s zeal, or desire, for the Galatian believers, but suggests that it is not a wholesome one. That by apparently ‘including’ them by the extension of Mosaic law code, they in effect exclude them, so that they become second-tier believers, Gentiles who might ‘envy’ true-born Jews. The outcome of the opponents’ zeal is to deprive these very believers of the benefits of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Rather, Paul says, there is a good way to be ‘sought’, to be desired, to be included, and this is not circumscribed by Paul’s own physical presence. Paul considers, given the events in Galatia, that he is again trying to ‘give birth’ to them, that Christ may be formed in them. The interrupt caused by his opponents and its grave effects on this group of believers is so severe that Paul depicts his strivings on their behalf as tantamount to needing to be (re-)converted, because of the deficiency of their grasp on the gospel; their willingness and gullibility in being deceived by the false gospel is evidence that in a real sense Christ is not (fully) formed in them.
And so Paul expresses throughout this passage and especially in v20 a real sense of aporia, he is at a loss as to what to do with them, how to persuade them, why they have been taken in, why they have turned hostile. For those who grasp to gospel and its implications, there is a profound ‘why’ that finds no answer, when considering those who turn away, or pervert the gospel itself. Paul’s own personal desire is for physical presence (to deal with this in person) but also to change his tone, that this wasn’t a problem he needed to address, but he cannot simply ignore or diminish its importance, it must be dealt with.