“How can you force the perverts to live like virgins?”: Anarchy, freedom, and servitude in St. Paul’s Galatians

by jdavidcharles

“I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Gal. 2.14)

For St. Paul, the correlation between the slave, the Jew, and the woman is obvious. These are all functionally the same thing for Paul–the servant of the law of the other–the one who submits to the master, the Gentile, the male. Paul sees the oppressed as being “held captive to the law,” (3.23) that is, the law is our oppression. Paul consistently accuses the Galations of perverting the gospel of freedom, of anarchy, into another gospel–an unholy gospel which rather than put to death the “guardian” (3.25) of the law, tries to make oneself the master of the law–the law’s guardian. This for Paul is what it means to cause division, to live according to the flesh.

Rather radically, Paul sees the law as directly opposed to freedom (“by works of the law no one will be justified,” 2.15). It is important to realize that it is not just the Judaic law, but the law of oppression as such. To overcome this kyriarchy, the master/slave binary, is to willingly make oneself a servant–that is to love. Law itself is flesh and death, spirit is love and living in freedom: “You were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another” (5.13-15). Paul sees anarchy, that is a religion without law or constraint but purely grounded in the freedom of love, as the very basis of “Christianity.”

The often quoted list of sins Paul accuses the Galatians of (“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these” (5.19-21)) is typically treated as a list of things Christians ought not do (a new law?), but, given what was just said above, this is exactly antithetical to Paul’s view of a lawless religion. Rather, these are things Christians cannot do. These sins only exist in a religion of the law–they are impossible for those living a lawless religion. Having a religion of the law is what creates rivalry, division, and strife, particularly gender, kyriarchical, and racial divisions–remember, according to the spirit there is “neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one” (3.28). Likewise, idolatry is something which can only emerge when one follows a religion of the law–afterall, Paul’s religion is a rather idolatrous one: he refers to living under the law as being “enslaved to those that by nature are not gods” (the implication being living according to the spirit is to be of the nature of god, to be gods) and considers god to be more himself than he himself is (“It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (2.20)).

Even sexual immorality is impossible in the anarchy of the cross because there is no more perverse/virgin binary. This is the purpose of the allegory of the slave woman and the free woman in 4.22-26. Christ has destroyed this binary. We have all become liberated from the law, from the language of perversion. We now live with “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (5.22-23). Its not that we ought not to be perverse, we ought not to be idolaters, we ought not to cause divisions–its that according to living in the Spirit–freedom and love–these things simply cannot exist. Perversion is no more–what is there to pervert if there is no law? How can one betray the image of the “ideal-servant” when there is no master-law to submit too?

When living according to the spirit the very ideal of the virgin (the pure woman of submission), the Jew (the pure follower of the law), the slave (the pure and silent worker), etc., is an utter impossibility. These things are no more. There is no virgin. No Jew. No slave. When the law is irradicated and is replaced with love, that is willful and reciprocated “bear[ing of] one another’s burdens” (6.2), freedom flourishes. Freedom for Paul, by definition, is love beyond kyriarchical binaries–a love beyond the perverse/virginal, master/slave, Jew/Greek, wo/man.