Self and Others, Spirit and Flesh: Ethics and Anthropology in Galatians 5 and 6

Studies on Paul’s anthropology from Bultmann and Käsemann, to Engberg-Pedersen and Stowers, to Susan Eastman’s latest monograph have wrestled with the “puzzle” of the Pauline self (Eastman, Paul and the Person, 2017). Previous scholarship, especially the recent works of Eastman and Matthew Croasmun (The Emergence of Sin), has been especially concerned with articulating the Pauline self’s agency, embodiment, and relation to other members of the community. Surprisingly, however, texts that feature prominently in studies on Pauline ethics (e.g., Galatians 5–6; 1 Cor 8; Romans 14–15), which contain some of Paul’s most sustained interaction with precisely these key elements of the Pauline self, do not play a central role in most scholarly discussions of Paul’s anthropology, including in Eastman’s work on Galatians and Croasmun’s work on Romans. Likewise, scholars working within Pauline ethics rarely concern themselves with addressing the ontological question of the Pauline self, and instead limit themselves to paraenetic questions regarding the source, shape, and demands of Paul’s moral discourse.

However, Paul’s paraenetic discourses have much to contribute to discussions of the Pauline self. Using Galatians 5 and 6 as a test case, in this paper I will argue that Paul’s ethics are underpinned by an anthropology that assumes an eschatological continuity of the self’s embodied identity. However, despite assuming the continuity of embodied identity, Paul’s anthropology relativizes the significance of some acts done in the body (Gal 5:2, 6:11-15; 6:7-8), yet heightens the importance of other acts done in the body (Gal 5:19-21). Furthermore, Paul’s paraenetic discourse in Galatians 5 and 6 highlights the embodied intersubjectivity of the Pauline self as an agent that is capable of relating to “Flesh,” “Spirit,” and to other believers (see Eastman, Paul and the Person, 116). Strikingly, Paul also seems to assume that a person’s actions are in some sense constitutive of the self’s identity (e.g., Gal 5:6; 5:16-17), which suggests that the Pauline self is not only relational, it is performative. Taking these elements together, Paul’s anthropology in Galatians 5 and 6 might best be thought of as an embodied performance of the eschatological self through participation in and empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

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