posted on Feb, 19 2016 @ 05:01 PM
“My little children, with whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you”- Galatians ch4 v19
The purpose of Paul’s letter to the Galatians is to convince them of the danger of submitting to circumcision, or any of the other requirements of
the Law of Moses.
In the middle of the fourth chapter, he resorts to making a personal appeal.
He complains of his anxiety about their intentions.
He reminds them of the confidence they placed in his teaching, when he first encountered them.
He makes accusations of insincerity against the advocates of the Law.
I don’t intend to consider this appeal in detail, apart from the verse quoted above.
It isn’t easy to understand or visualise the image which Paul is presenting.
Admittedly Paul is rather prone to slightly confusing metaphors.
Already, in this chapter, “freedom from the Law” has been described by two different metaphors at the same time; a child growing to adulthood, and
a slave becoming a free member of the family (vv1-7).
Writing to the Corinthians, he calls himself an “abortion”, just to make the point that he was not “born” as an apostle at the same time as
the other apostles (1 Corinthians ch15 v8). With the result that none of the standard commentators can see that this is what he is getting at.
In this case, though, I’m beginning to think that the standard translation may be part of the problem, and it may be worth a closer examination.
“My little children”.
Having brought them into faith and “sonship”, he cares for them as a parent.
That’s understandable enough, and the same concern shows up in his letters to the Corinthians and the Thessalonians.
“With whom I am again in travail”.
He goes on to suggest that he is giving birth to them, feeling the equivalent of labour-pains.
The literal Greek says “of whom”, but English usage prefers “with”, and the meaning is the same.
This is not a great difficulty either. He’s using that image because he wants to stress what trouble and anxiety the event is causing him.
He says “again”, because he’s been through it all once already, when he first came to them
No, the real problem for me is that final phrase, “until Christ be formed in you”.
At first glance, Paul’s meaning seems to be that Christ is growing or gestating, within the Galatians.
But this makes a very awkward image when combined with the first part of the sentence.
We were told that Paul was “in travail” with the Galatians, that he was giving birth to them, but now the potential child is Christ himself?
We were told that Paul himself was the one who was in travail, but now the act of giving birth is projected within the Galatians?
We were told that Paul was already in travail, but now the gestation process is not yet complete?
I think a fresh look at the translation would reduce the confusion.
In the Greek, the second half of the verse reads;
…MEKRIS OU MORPHOTHE CHRISTOS EN HUMIN.
A translation following the same word order would be;
“..Until that is-formed Christ in you”.
This word order suggests a possibility which we can’t see in the usual English translation.
It allows us to read “Christ in you” as a distinct phrase, a specific term.
Following on from that, we may understand the complete phrase, “Christ in you” as the subject of the verb “is formed”.
Then the two halves of the sentence join together more easily.
Paul is “in travail with” the attainment of “Christ in you”; that is, the condition that Christ has been formed in the Galatians.
In other words, he is hoping to “give birth to” the spiritually enhanced version of the Galatians.
When they, too, will be able to say “It is no longer I who live, but Christ in me” (as Paul says in ch2 v20).
He is being forced to repeat what he thought he had achieved when he converted them in the first place.
So that is my proposed re-modelling of the translation of this verse;
“I am in travail again until the “Christ in you” has been formed”.
The time occupied in meditating on this verse would be well spent.
Because anyone who begins to see what Paul means by “Christ in you” is already, I believe, half-way towards understanding the core of his message.