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Fondue Easter Nightmare

The Fondue Writers Club is a nationwide movement of writers committed to providing you with quality entertainment, free of charge, just when you need it most.

Okay, there are only about seven of us and the quality might be dubious, but for our sixes of readers, we deliver!

It is my turn to go first for the Easter stories this year. I normally write for fun and am playful for the Fondue Writers while saving my serious thoughts for sermons or novels or angry Tweets in the early morning. Yet, this one has an underlying theological argument I am making. Let the reader understand.

And that is all I’ll say about it. I hope you enjoy ‘Caramel Hill’. We’ll back on Wednesday for Paul Bennett’s story.

Caramel Hill

Jamie D. Greening

            ‘Get up,’ she said. ‘It’s time to get up.’ She shook his shoulder to rouse him. He did not move. She pulled on the big toe that stuck out from the covers. ‘Come on sleepyhead, you don’t want to miss your first Easter Rabbit.’ 

            It was the words ‘Easter Rabbit’ that got eight-year-old Sebastian out of bed. The stone floor was cold when his feet touched it, and he retracted back into bed. His mother came back and said, ‘Come on now. Your father and big sister have already been up for an hour preparing. It is time for you to get moving.’ 

            Most of his preparations had been made the night before, so he knew exactly what to do in the pre-dawn hours of this special Sunday morning. He brushed his teeth in the basin and washed his face. The water felt extra-cold, as winter was having a hard time giving way to spring this year. He wet his head and combed his thick hair. Then he put on the suit of clothes laid out for him. These were not normal clothes. His grandmother had made them from fabric passed down for at least three generations. It was a mismatch of purple and yellow paisley pants and a red pinstriped suitcoat. The shirt was purple, as all the men would be wearing purple shirts today. The shoes were brown, and he hated them. They made his feet hurt. His father called them ‘dressly’ shoes and told him not to worry. He only had to wear them on Easter Rabbit Day in the springtime and at the Santa Claus Festival in the winter and maybe at a wedding or funeral. But the funeral, his father said, was negotiable. It all depended on who died. 

            It was still dark outside when he came out of the bathroom shiny and clean. 

            His father pulled him close and put a pre-tied black necktie around his neck and tucked it under his collar before he tightened it far too tight for Sebastian’s comfort. 

            Sebastian loosened it immediately to keep from choking and coughing. For some reason, this made his mother and father laugh.

            His sister, Margarita, whom they all called Rita, was in charge of carrying the offerings. It was her duty as the oldest sibling. Mother carried the food, which was biscuits, sausage, and hardboiled eggs. Father’s job was to carry the wooden cross.

            Sebastian’s only job was to follow behind the family. This task was not easy because it was dark and there were patches of ice from the previous days rain that had frozen in places.

            Father looked at his family as he hugged the cross. ‘Oh Great Rabbit, we thank you for the gifts of the earth and the changing of the seasons – for winter’s frosty reminder of rest and for spring’s promise of renewal. We remember all those who have gone before us and ask that you help them find their way from the tomb to heaven. In Jesus’ name. Amen.’ He crossed himself with the tip of the cross, then took his place at the head of the process and led his family out of their farmhouse and onto the pitch-black road for the two and a half mile walk through town and up to Caramel Hill. 

***

            As this was Sebastian’s first Easter Rabbit Day, and he was full of questions, as most eight-year-old boys are. ‘Father, why do you carry the cross?’

            ‘My father carried the cross when I was a little boy. His father carried it before him, and you will carry it when you have your own family.’

            ‘I understand that, but why? What is the purpose of the cross?’

            ‘Look at that,’ mother said. ‘Our boy is a theologian. Maybe he’ll go into the priesthood.’

            ‘I can think of nothing finer in all the world than for our boy to be a grand bishop. Think of that mother, our son administering justice and law?’ 

            Sebastian’s mother beamed with pride at the thought. In the darkness, no one could see Rita’s eyes roll. Sebastian, however, would not be deterred. ‘But that doesn’t answer why the cross?’

            ‘Well, son, the way it was told to me, is long ago, before The Conflagration and then the hundreds of wars that followed, way before that, The Great Rabbit decided to bless the world. A man named Jesus was chosen by The Great Rabbit and the Sacred Wind to build a cross that would connect the four corners of the world – north, south, east, and west. Of course, the world is so big and grand it took a mighty big cross. That cross was so big they took pieces of it and built a lot of crosses all over the world as a memorial to that first one.’

            ‘Is our cross made of pieces of Jesus’ cross?’

            ‘Sure is. My grandfather told me himself.’

            ‘But how did the cross work? Did people walk on the cross to safety? I don’t understand why? or How? What was so special about Jesus that The Great Rabbit chose him? Why is this day different from all the other days?’

            ‘No, people didn’t walk on the cross. The Great Rabbit killed the man Jesus on the cross to show us how much The Great Rabbit hates our wrong doings. And that is the whole point of the Easter Rabbit Day. We go and make atonement for our many wrong doings by appeasing The Great Rabbit every year. If we fail to do so, the priests tell us that at the end of all things The Great Rabbit will kill us on a cross of our own design.’

            ‘Is The Easter Rabbit the same thing as the The Great Rabbit?’ Sebastian was very confused. Maybe theology wasn’t his thing after all. 

            ‘In a way,’ his mother said. ‘Every village or town has its own Easter Rabbit they gather around every year. The priests for that village keep him cared for and protect him from the mice and other creatures. It is designed to make us remember The Great Rabbit. That is one of the things Jesus said for people to do, was to remember. This is the way we remember.’

            His father continued. ‘Long ago, before The Conflagration, we knew a lot more about The Great Rabbit and the man Jesus. But we lost all the books when we put the world back together. Our priests cobbled together what we know and have shown us the way to appease The Great Rabbit.’ 

            ‘Is it true,’ Sebastian again tugged at his collar as he spoke, ‘there is an egg hunt after breakfast? What is that about?’

            Rita jumped in to answer, ‘I know this one. I learned the reason last year at Easter Rabbit Day. The priests hide the eggs then we have to find them – it’s not hard because they are colored – we have to hunt them to remind us The Great Rabbit will hunt down and kill on a cross everyone who doesn’t make offerings to him.’

            Their father said, ‘That is a perfect answer, Rita.’ 

            ‘I found the second most eggs of anyone last year,’ Rita continued. ‘Only Jacob Snodgrass found more eggs than I did, which made me mad because the kid who finds the most eggs gets a piece of th—’

            ‘Hush your mouth, Margarita! You know that is one of the secrets. Sebastian will learn these things in due time just like you did, just like I did, and just like all those who came before and come after us will.’

            The road came to a fork, which Sebastian’s father had warned them of, and at that same juncture they encountered other pilgrims.

            ‘Ah, it’s the Brady bunch,’ Sebastian’s mother said. ‘The egg is boiled,’ she said.

            All eight members of the Brady family responded with the age-old response, ‘The egg is hidden.’

            Then Sebastian and his family replied with the ancient liturgy: ‘Indeed, the egg is boiled and hidden.” 

            The two families walked on in silence the short distance to the top of Caramel Hill.

***

            Sebastian’s father was wise and had timed their arrival right on time. Darkness was giving way to a glow and from the east the sun was about to burst over the valley below. He saw his friend, Robert, another eight-year-old boy for whom this was his first Easter Rabbit Day as they entered the crowd. His mother disappeared for a moment to go place the breakfast food with the other women who brought their dishes. The food was all placed on tables which had been brought by the priests the day before. Everyone had brought their very best Easter Rabbit day dishes. Most of them consisted of variations on eggs. There were trays of boiled eggs, scrambled eggs, fried eggs, and egg hash. Mrs. Haversham had brought her famous bacon omelet and a puffy pastry she called a crescent. Old Mrs. Smithwyck provided glass jars filled with strawberry jams from her farmland and fig preserves from her fig trees. The legend she told was that her great-great grandmother had received a splinter from the original cross of Jesus and put it in the ground on the Friday before Easter Rabbit Day and at sunrise twelve fig trees grew out of the ground to full maturity and were filled with ripe figs. Mrs. Gentile slaughtered two hogs in the winter and brought cured sausage, ham, and bacon. 

            ‘Hey Robert,’ Sebastian said.

            Robert, trying to impress his friend with his spirituality, said, ‘The egg is boiled.’

            Sebastian rubbed his cold hands together and blew warm air from his mouth into them then stuck them into the pockets of his coat which covered his multi-colored attire. He shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘Yeah, yeah, this is neat, isn’t it?’  

            Robert was confused by this lack of formality, and then repeated the rest of the refrain himself, ‘The egg is hidden. Indeed, the egg is boiled and hidden’ and then, and only then, did he say, ‘Neat indeed. This is way more fun than cleaning the poop out of the barn before breakfast.’ 

            ‘My thoughts exactly,’ Sebastian said. ‘Did your father talk to you about Jesus and the cross and how The Great Rabbit killed him?’

            ‘Sure did. Scared me to death. I’m afraid to die on a cross of my own design. I’ll do whatever The Great Rabbit wants.’  

            ‘Apparently he wants the offerings,’ Sebastian said. ‘What I can’t figure out is why. None of this makes a whole lot of sense. I mean it is fun and all, but it doesn’t make any sense.’

            ‘Shhhhh.’ Robert put his hand over Sebastian’s mouth. ‘Someone will hear you.’

            ‘Someone did, you did.’

            ‘What if The Great Rabbit hears you?’

            ‘If the priests have to protect him from mice the rest of year, I don’t think he is much of a threat to me.’

            Robert’s eyes were so big they glowed in the predawn shadows. ‘We will have to talk about this tomorrow when we are at work.’

            ‘It just seems to me,’ Sebastian said, ‘that none of this makes any sense. How is it that a rabbit, of all the animals in the world, is somehow the creator of everything. I don’t get why he is so mad at us that he would hunt us down and hang us on a giant cross. It just all feels kind of made up to me, like the stories Grandpa used to tell me before he died about the ghost that he said lived in the cellar. He said his name was Frederick and that he came out at night and tried to eat all the pickles we’d put away. Grandpa knew I loved the pickles, so he told me the only way to keep the ghost from eating the pickles was to leave fruit, or a nut, or sweet bread when we have it in Grandpa’s room. Turns out, there is no ghost. Grandpa just wanted me to bring him a snack every night, and he got away with it too, for almost a month. He was always doing that kind of thing to me and anyone else who would fall for it. He was a hoot and I miss him, but he was really good at making up stories to get you to do something he wanted done. ’   

            Robert’s mother came and took him by the hand and led him to the family. 

            The sound of a beating drum began to beat in a slow rhythm.

            Friendly conversation came to a halt as the twenty-seven families gathered in close to the statue of The Great Rabbit on top of Caramel Hill.

***

            The drumbeats grew faster and faster.

            At the precise moment the first rays of sunlight poked across the heavens, the drums became silent. A trumpet blew. 

            Sebastian and the other young children had moved toward the front of the crowd to see. The seven priests were assembled in their ceremonial gowns around the statue, three on each side and the bishop in front. The priests on the side wore purple dresses that flowed from their neck to their feet. Within the purple were pastel splashes of yellow, pink, and green. On their heads were hats that looked like eggs. The bishop wore a solid white dress and a golden scarf. On his head were rabbit ears.

            The bishop shouted, ‘Hallelujah.’  The crowd answered with an enthusiastic, ‘Hallelujah.’

            He began the invocation. ‘On this sunrise we remembered the great sacrifice. As the sun comes from The Sacred East, we celebrate The Easter Rabbit and the miracle of life and death. All life comes from The Great Rabbit’s divine egg, and even though we die, we are entombed within the shell of his goodness and spared from his wrath. This morning we gather as a faithful community in the name of the blessed trinity.        In the name of The Cadbury. In the name of The Cottontail. In the name of The Champagne Brunch.’

            Everyone assembled responded with, ‘Amen.’ 

            Sebastian tasted the anticipation in the air. He’d never imagined anything like this in his wildest dreams. 

            The six priests behind the bishop each lifted torches into the air which the bishop lit. 

            ‘The Sun burns from the east to the west every day and from the north to the south throughout the seasons of the year, illuminating the world with the remembrance of the cross of Jesus for everyone to observe. It is through this fire that all life which comes from The Great Egg which The Great Rabbit has laid across the universe. It is into this fire which our sacrifice of thanksgiving burns.’

            The priests then simultaneous lit a pit filled with wood that Sebastian heretofore had not even noticed. It was in front of the statue of The Great Rabbit, and it blazed high into the air. It was then that Sebastian noticed the grotesque smile on the face of the statue. He began to think maybe his friend Robert was right, and he should be afraid of this creature. 

            ‘Now,’ The bishop started again, ‘the time has come for all of you to make your sacrifices before The Great Rabbit.’ 

            Rita knew this was her cue. She opened the bag she’d dutifully carried and gave her father, her mother, and her brother each the offering. It was a chocolate bunny rabbit. Sebastian was so shocked by this he shouted aloud, ‘What?’ Heads turned toward him, and he felt the embarrassment of his lack of sophistication. He lowered his voice and said, ‘What is this? You didn’t tell me about chocolate?’

            ‘It is not permitted to speak of it. It is one of the secrets.’ His father smiled at his son. ‘Just do as we do, and all will be fine.’ 

            ‘What does it mean?’

            ‘Stop asking questions, Sebastian. Just follow along. Soon this will be over then we can enjoy breakfast with our neighbors.’

            The drumbeats started again. 

            Families began to make their way to the fire pit and Sebastian saw their oblation. Each person broke the bunny in half. Some people had large chocolate bunnies. Others had smaller ones. His, and his families, were about five inches in length. At the fire pit, they threw the top half with the head and face into the fire, and the other they put in a basket on the ground beside the bishop.

            ‘What happens to the chocolate in the basket?’ he asked. 

            ‘That goes to the priests.’ His mother answered and then she put her finger over her mouth to silence any more questions. 

            Soon the smell of roasting chocolate filled the air.

            When his father began to move toward the pit, the three others followed. Father broke his and threw the head into the fire and the bottom into the basket. His mother and Rita followed in order. Sebastian paused and took in the scene. He looked right into the eyes of the bishop. The bishop smiled at him and whispered, ‘Go ahead, my child. Make your sacrifice.’ 

            Sebastian broke his bunny, but he threw the bottom into the fire and the head into the basket. 

            The bishop frowned.

            Sebastian smiled. 

            Soon everyone fulfilled their duty to The Great Rabbit. Sebastian thought it was over and was already thinking about the fig preserves Rita had told him about. The bishop, however, was not finished.

            ‘As has been done from time immemorial, we now bring the atoning sacrifice before The Great Rabbit in atonement for our many sins.’

            Sebastian had forgotten about the other six priests, and in the time of chocolate offering, they had disappeared. Now they reappeared, each one carrying snow white rabbits in their arms. They approached the great fire pit.

            The sun was fully risen, and Sebastian could see the terror in the eyes of the rabbit and the violence in the eyes of the shaman. 

            The first priest held the rabbit by its feet and said, ‘slain from the foundation of the world,’ and with a knife he slit the rabbit from top to bottom. Then he opened it up and sprinkled its blood onto the fire. He then threw the bunny into the flames.

            The other five priests repeated the same action. 

            Blood flowed on top of Caramel Hill.

***

            A peal of thunder broke across the clear skies. 

            Lightening flashed.

            A new figure arrived at the top of the hill. He was wrapped in buckskin and carried a large staff. He worked his way through the crowd and stood directly before the bishop.

            Another roar of thunder.

            Lightening.

            ‘Idolaters!’ he screamed. ‘Heretics!’

            Sebastian shivered. He did not know what those words meant, but he could feel the confrontation. ‘Who is that?’ he asked his mother. 

            ‘A Paulite. No one knows his name or where he came from.’ 

            The bishop stood defiant before the stranger. ‘Why do you trouble us with your backward ways? Why do you bother us as we worship the circle of life, the sun, and the never-ending life cycle of the eternal egg given by The Great Rabbit?’

            The man in buckskin spat on the statue. 

            ‘There is no such thing as a great rabbit. That is the amusement your fathers and mothers invented long ago to replace the truth. You have committed the syncretic sin of blending fairy tales with the truth and thus produced an even great abomination, a false religion that has a form of godliness yet is meaningless. I have come to deliver to you the truth.’

            The bishop’s face flared red in the morning sunlight, ‘What do you know of the truth?’

            ‘Fifty years ago, we recovered the book. The real authority from the One True God. It was found buried under rubble from the bombings and fires of the Conflagration. Now that we know what we are looking for, we have found copies of it all over the place as well as some books written about how to understand it. We are in a new time, and God has seen fit to bless us with truth. God has winked at your sin up until now because you didn’t know any better, but here, in this age, we have found the true word and I attest to you there is not a single mention in it of The Great Rabbit.’

            ‘How do you know?’ someone from the crowd asked. It didn’t sound to Sebastian like a challenge as much as a legitimate question. He found that he too wanted to know the answer. It felt like the Paulite knew that, and so he turned from the bishop and began to address the crowd.’            ‘Because I read the book. I have studied it thoroughly. There is no Great Rabbit, no Easter Rabbit, and no eggs. However, you will be relieved to know there is Jesus. Jesus was the son of God, the one true God, who died on a cross. That part of what you believe is true. But it was not because The Great Rabbit killed him, it was because religious people and corrupt leaders killed him. By his death, though, God reconciled the world to himself.’

            ‘What does that mean?’ Sebastian’s father asked. ‘Reconciled?’

            ‘To be honest, we are still working on that one. Our smartest people believe it is about the ability to be forgiven for our wrongdoings without having to kill rabbits or build fires to burn chocolate. It is peace. Peace with each other. Peace with yourself. Peace with God. Jesus has already shed the only blood that must be shed.’

            ‘You are out of your mind,’ The bishop said. ‘If you don’t leave here immediately, I will arrest you for disturbing our religious assembly.’

            ‘I am not leaving,’ The Paulite said, ‘I am determined to deliver to you the whole truth. This Jesus died but he rose from the dead on the third day. That is what Easter is all about. He is alive and not dead and because of that, you and I can have life. But you can’t have it if you continue to worship this abomination. You have exchanged the gift of The One True God for trinkets and breakfast food and vain rituals. The time has come to put away your transgressions.’

            The bishop brought the six priests around him. ‘Your show is over. Arrest him.’

            They moved toward him, but he stretched out the wooden staff and prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, show yourself mighty and powerful as in the days of Peter and Paul and the prophets of old.’ 

            The skies thundered.

            The bishop forced a manufactured bravado, a laugh that didn’t fit the moment. ‘See, The Great Rabbit is thundering against you. You have aroused the wrath of The Rabbit. He will smite you with The Cottontail and hang you on a cross of your own design.’

            As with one who suddenly understands something, The Paulite prayed again, ‘Lord, hold this not against them,’ but before the prayer was finished the sky roared with thunder and lightening came down from the sky and struck the bishop and the six priests. The air was electric with the crisp ozone. The crowd gasped, but they didn’t have time to speak or move, for another lightning bolt, but one that looked more like fire, came down and consumed the statue of the rabbit and the pit of burning chocolate and slaughtered bunnies. Nothing was left. It was as though they had been evaporated and all that remained was the charred earth. 

            Again, the crowd gasped, but another bolt descended, and it did the same to the table of breakfast food. The fig preserves, the bacon, the eggs, the fancy bread were all gone as well as the table. 

            The loudest thunder Sebastian would ever hear in his life rolled across the earth. It sounded like it came from above and below. It lasted thirty minutes, and the crowd stood there motionless.

            Sebastian smiled. 

            At the last peal, rain fell atop Caramel Hill. 

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Galatians Six: Let No One Give Me Any More Problems!

It has been a joy to translate Galatians over the last two months and to share it with all three of my dear readers. In this last chapter, we are visited again by the muckety-mucks, called to remember Paul’s illness (eyesight causes big letters), and the joy of a new creation. He also gets a little grumpy, too.

This is not the place for deep study, but as a translator I notice the end of this book comes quick – almost suddenly – and there is an absence of any kind of personal goodbyes. Scholars have many reasons for this and you should look some of them up. 

In the meantime, enjoy! 

Galatians: Chapter Six

1. Brothers and sisters, should anyone be overcome in a transgression, those of you who are spiritual ought to restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness. Be aware of yourself, though, that you are not tempted.

2. Carry one another burdens and so fulfill Messiah’s law.

3. If anyone think himself to be some muckety muck when he is not, he has deluded himself.

4. Instead, let everyone test his own work. Then he can have pride in himself in private, and not at the expense of anyone else, 

5. because everyone will carry his own burden.

4. Instead, let everyone test his own work. Then he can have pride in himself in private, and not at the expense of anyone else, 

5. because everyone will carry his own burden.

6. The learner of the word must share all good things with the one teaching the word. 

7. Make no mistake, God is not to be mocked. Whatever a person sows, that person will reap.

8. The person who sows in the flesh will reap ruin from the flesh. The person who sows in the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit. 

9. Do not get tired of doing good, for in due time we will reap, if we do not give up. 

10. Therefore, then, let us use the time we have for good to all people, but mostly to the households of God. *

11. Do you see how big the letters are that I wrote for you in my own hand?**

12. Many of those who wish to look proper in the flesh try to force you to be circumcised but only because they do not want to be persecuted because of Messiah’s cross.  

13. Those who are circumcised do not obey the law but they want you to be circumcised so they can brag about your body. 

14. It will never be that I will boast, except in the cross of the Lord our Messiah Jesus, by whom the whole universe is crucified to me and I have been crucified to the whole universe.

15. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything, but new creation is! 

16. As for the many who will stay in line with this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, as well as the Israel of God.

17. As to the rest, let no one give me any more problems, for I bear on my body the slave branding of Jesus. 

18. Brothers and sisters, the grace of the Lord, our Messiah Jesus be with your spirit. Amen. 

Translation Notes

*households is plural. Seems to indicate in Paul’s mind that households are churches, but they probably meet in people’s actual homes, so it is less a metaphor and more of a physical description. 

**Most translations do make this a question, and the GNT does not indicate it is an interrogative, but the way I read the sentence it makes the most sense as a rhetorical question Paul is asking his readers.

Study Questions

1. What do you make of verse 2, that says we carry each others burdens, then verse 5 that seems to say the opposite?

2. Would you agree that we are all a little delusional when it comes to self-evaluation (vv 3-4)? How delusional are you in particular?

3. What are all of the ramifications of ‘ruin’ in verse 8?

4. How do you feel about Paul specifying we ‘mostly’ do good to those who are believers? 

5. Paul’s theology envisions the crucifixion of Jesus as having cosmic implications. How do you interpret verse 14? 

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Galatians 5 — Works of the Flesh and the Fruit of the Spirit

Christ-followers often come back to Galatians 5 because of the beautiful simplicity of the Fruit of the Spirit in verses 22 and 23. I know I do. However, that is only a fraction of how much is going on in this chapter. Paul really goes after his opponents and tells them things like they’ve rendered Jesus useless, they should castrate themselves, and they will face judgment for the troubles they are causing. This was fun translating.

Below is my rendering of Galatians 5 from the Greek New Testament. Behind that are translation notes (*) and then five study questions which can be used for personal or group study. I will post Chapter Six next week. Enjoy!

Galatians: Chapter Five

1. Messiah freed us to live* free. Stand strong, then, and do not get tangled up again in a yoke of slavery.

2. Look, this is me, Paul, talking. If you let yourself be circumcised, then Messiah will be of no use to you. 

3. I solemnly swear to you again, everyone who has been circumcised is obligated to observe the whole law. 

4. All who are made right by the law were cut** off from Messiah. You lost grace. 

5. We eagerly await in the Spirit, by belief, for the hope of rightness.

6. In Messiah Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision matters, but belief working through love. 

7. You began running so well; who slowed you down to not be persuaded by the truth?

8. That persuasion is not from the one called you. 

9. A small amount of yeast leavens the whole batch of dough.

10. I myself am persuaded about you, in the Lord, that you will not think any other way. The person who troubles you will bear the judgment, whoever he is. 

11. Brothers and sisters, if I preach circumcision then why am I still being persecuted? If that were so, then the scandal of the cross would be cleaned up.***    

12. Oh, how I wish those upsetting you would castrate themselves.**** 

13. Brothers and sisters, you were called into freedom, only do not use freedom as an excuse to indulge in the flesh. Instead, serve one another with love.

14. For the whole law has been fulfilled in one saying, ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’

15. But if you bite and chew on one another, watch out that you do not destroy yourselves.***** 

16. I say, you must walk in the Spirit. Do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 

17. For fleshly desires are against the Spirit, and spiritual desires are against the flesh, for these oppose one another so much so that you do what you do not want to do. 

18. If you are led by the Spirit, then you are not under the law.

19. It is obvious what he works of the flesh are: sexual immorality, nastiness, indecency, 

20. idolatry, sorcery, quarreling, rivalries, jealously, fits of rage, selfish ambition, divisiveness, factions******  

21. envy, drinking binges, orgies and things like that. As I said before when I told you, people who do these kinds of things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 

22. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, belief, 

23. gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things. 

24. But those who are in Messiah Jesus crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.*******  

25. If we can live in the Spirit, then the Spirit can keep us in line. 

26. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying one another. 

Translation Notes

*The word ‘live’ is not found in the text, but it makes sense and must be what Paul is implying. Messiah did not free us to live as slaves, but as free people.

**I find no small amount of word play with the use of ‘cut off’ from Messiah in the context of a discussion about circumcision.  

***Scandal here is commonly rendered as stumbling block, which it is. However, the Greek word here is so close to our word scandal and it means roughly the same. Stumbling block makes sense with the ‘running’ metaphor of v. 7, but he is three metaphors removed from that (argument, yeast, and now cleaning something up). I don’t see any need to use the stumbling block as being in the way of a runner metaphor any longer. 

****Again, the wordplay. The troublers advocated circumcision; Paul thinks they didn’t cut off enough when they were circumcised. It is a rather provocative and graphic statement that seems to imply they will no longer be able to reproduce, spiritually speaking, followers of their bad teaching.  

*****It is actually a repetition of the phrase ‘one another  — watch out that you don’t destroy one another’ but I chose to differentiate this from the biting and chewing with a different word. 

******There is a religious component to the word used by Paul to describe factions. He is speaking of religious divides such as the Pharisees and Sadducees, or in modern times perhaps he might mean Calvinist and Arminian, as an example of religious factions. There is apparently no limit to human beings and our divisive tendencies.  

*******The word I render as ‘passions’ is in the same group as the familiar Greek word ‘pathos’ and therefore carries a feeling of passion that is mixed with suffering – you feel it! 

Study Questions

1. In verse 2 Paul says if the Galatian Christians carry through with circumcision, then Jesus is of no use. Is there a modern equivalent to this line of thinking – something we might engage in that nullifies the work of Christ in us? 

2. Verse 7 is a clunky read, but the line of thinking is clear. Which part speaks to you most – the implication that you formerly were doing well but now aren’t, that someone specific has slowed you down, and the trick they are using is to persuades you against the truth? 

3. A little yeast makes the whole batch rise. This powerful metaphor in verse 9 is used by Paul in 1 Corinthians 5 to describe how sin infects a congregation while here he means legalistic teachings. Are there other ways we could use this metaphor, and are any of them positive rather than negative?

4. There are two possible ways to understand verse 10. One is that Paul is convinced the Galatians will eventually see things as he does, and the troubler will be judged. The other is to view Paul’s words as being about the stubbornness of the Galatians and so the meaning is something like “I’m certain you will not change your mind no matter how much I try to persuade you, but the person who did this to you will bear the judgment for what he has done.” It seems to me both are possible in the grammar of the text. Which one do you lean toward? Why? 

5. Can you connect the desires of the flesh in verses 19-21 with a correlating fruit of the Spirit in verses 22 and 23? How does that clarify meaning, or does it muddy the waters more?

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Galatians 4 — Where Did Your Happiness Go?

For me, as a translator and reader, the frustration level Paul feels with these people in the Galatian church(es) is mounting. He has worked himself up to a place where he just doesn’t know what to do with them. He seems to try one more thing — allegory.

As always, the translation is first, taken from the Greek New Testament. Behind that are translation notes and then we finish with five questions you can use for personal study/reflection or in a group Bible study.

Galatians: Chapter Four

1. What I say is this, at the time an infant inherits, he is practically no different than a slave, although he is the master of everything.

2. He is under a guardian and steward until the time approved by the father.

3. We are, then, when we were infants, enslaved under the elements of this world. 

4. But when the right time came, God sent out his own son, born of a woman, born under the law

5. so that he might ransom those under the law, and then we can receive adoption. 

6. You are now children to whom God sent out the Spirit of his son, crying out in our hearts, ‘Abba, Father.’ 

7. You are no longer slaves, but children, and if children, then inheritors through God. 

8. Back when you did not know God, you were enslaved to nature, which is not God.

9. But now you know God, and even more you are known by God. How then is it you turn again to the weak and inferior elements? Do you wish to serve them as you did at the beginning

10. by observing days, months, seasons, and years? 

11. I fear there is a possibility my work with you has been in vain. 

12. I beg you, brothers and sisters, become like me, just as I became like you. You did me no harm. 

13. I preached to you the first time, as you know, because my body was sick.*

14. You did not despise me nor reject me, even though my body put so much trouble on you. Quite the opposite, you received me as an angel of God, like I was Messiah Jesus. 

15. Where did your happiness go? I testify to you that back then, if you had been able to, you would have dug out your eyes and given them to me.

16. So, I have now become your enemy by telling you the truth? 

17. They care about you, but not in a good way. Instead, they want to shut you out, hoping that you might care only for them.

18. It is always good to have someone care about you if for a good reason, and not just when it is convenient ***

19. My children; again I am in labor until Messiah is born**** in you, 

20. but I wish I was with you right now so I could change my tone. But I am at a loss about you. 

21. Those of you who want to be under the law, tell me, will you listen to the law?

22. For it is written that Abram had two sons, one by the slave girl and one by the free woman.

23. The child of the slave girl was born in a natural way, while the child of the free woman by promise.***** 

24. Which, if it is allegorized, these two women are two covenants. One which was born on Mt. Sinai into slavery, which is Hagar. 

25. But Hagar, which is Mt. Sinai in Arabia, now corresponds to Jerusalem where she is enslaved along with her children. 

26. By contrast, the Jerusalem from above is the free woman, who is our mother. 

27. For it is written, ‘Rejoice, barren woman, who has not given birth. Shout and cry, but not in birth pangs, for the lonely have more children than those with a husband.’

28. You, brothers and sisters, are children according to the promise of Isaac. 

29. Just as when the child born of natural means kept persecuting the child of the Spirit, so it is now.

30. What does the scripture say? ‘Throw out the servant girl and her son, for the son of the slave girl will not inherit with the son of the’ free.******

31. You see, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave girl, but of the free woman.  

Translation Notes

*literally ‘weakness of the flesh’ which is best interpreted an illness. Speculation at this point is that Paul got sick when he first arrived among the Galatian churches. No small amount of ink has been spilled throughout history guessing his illness.  

** The word I am translating as ‘care’ is ‘to be interested in.’ That feels clunky in English. 

***I took great liberty here in the rendering. The second part of the phrase is ‘not only when I am present with you.’ I think Paul gets a little around his pronouns and ideas here, and what he is trying to convey is that it is nice when people care about you, but not just when it is to their benefit which he refers to as ‘present’. 

**** ‘formed in you’ but given the context, I feel like he means born but it could mean develop, grow, or shaped. The image is powerful. 

*****the word ‘child’ does not appear in this verse. It is completely insinuated. 

******The original citation in Genesis 21:10 does not have the word ‘free’ in it but instead references Isaac by name.

Study Questions

  1. The apostle uses cosmic language to describe whom we are enslaved too — the elements of this world. I believe he is referencing sin, which is woven into everything. How is sin fundamentally a part of this world? How will it ever get out of it?
  2. If we took vv 9-10 at face value, then we’d stop observing Christmas, Easter, Advent, Lent, Pentecost and maybe even Sunday as a special day of worship. That is probably not what Paul is talking about. But what is he talking about?
  3. In verse 17 there is a change in focus – now it is on the troublemakers among the Galatians. Paul says they are pretending to be interested in them but are really shutting them out. This is a common practice among manipulative people today – to overwhelm a person with attention for the sole purpose of silencing all the other voices – family, friends, church – so that they have complete control. Have you ever observed this taking place? Has it ever happened to you? What is the best way to handle it? 
  4. I almost translated verse 20 as Paul saying, “I just don’t know what to do with you.” You can sense his feeling of helplessness. In verse 11 he says that he is afraid all his work is meaningless, or ‘in vain’. Has there ever been a church situation you feel the same way about? How about in your family? How do you cope with these feelings? How did Paul?
  5. This chapter finishes with a very troubling analogy. Abram abandoned his parental responsibilities to his firstborn son, Ishmael, and left him and his mother, Hagar, in grave jeopardy and peril as he made them leave. Paul himself describe it as an allegory. Does that soften it? How much liberty should we have in taking hard places in the Bible and ‘allegorizing’ them?