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Comments on Galatians—Readers' Guide in ELCA's Third Sexuality Study

by Dr. Frederick W. Baltz (WordAlone board member), St. Matthew Lutheran Church, Galena, Ill.

September 21, 2007

[Note: Dr. Fred Baltz's commentary can be used as an extra resource in reviewing and studying the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Sexuality Task Force's third study: "Free in Christ to Serve The Neighbor: Lutherans Talk About Human Sexuality." Remember that responses to the study are due by Nov. 1. This study and the responses are to be used in writing a proposed social statement on sexuality for consideration at the 2009 churchwide assembly. It is to contain recommendations on questions of blessing same-sex relationships and of ordaining persons in same-sex relationships. —Betsy Carlson, editor.]

This paper is a brief commentary on Professor David L. Tiede's paper, "'For Freedom Christ Has Set Us Free': A Readers' Guide to Galatians," which is included in "Free in Christ to Serve The Neighbor: Lutherans Talk About Human Sexuality," number three in the ELCA's series, Journey Together Faithfully: ELCA Studies on Sexuality.

My first intention was to prepare a full Bible study independent of the one found in the third study, but in reality few congregations will study Galatians twice, or use two different guides simultaneously. It seemed like a much better idea to prepare a brief response to some of the assertions in Dr. Tiede's readers' guide. I will limit this to three short, but very important, points.

1. What stands out immediately as one reads the readers' guide is the peculiar expression: "God is doing a new thing" (p. 97--even called an "insight summary"). In Galatians 6:15 Paul talks about a new creation; that is the only place an expression at all similar to "new thing" can be found in the letter. Why then say that God is doing a new thing? This is the very language used when openly gay priest Eugene Robinson was elevated to Bishop in the Episcopal Church.

The exegesis of Galatians reflected in the readers' guide therefore immediately becomes suspect of leading toward an unstated but definite end result which may have little or nothing to do with the real message of Galatians. In other words, whether or not Dr. Tiede meant to do this, his study seems to be steering those who use it toward a position in approval of homosexual behavior in the church on the basis of something Paul does not even say in Galatians.

2. The study claims Paul writes of an "altered covenant (pp. 95, 96)." But this is not at all what Paul maintains in Galatians. Paul's point is this: the promise to Abraham of Gentile inclusion (". . . all the Gentiles shall be blessed in you" 3:8) precedes the Law and is not dependent on the Sinai Covenant with Israel. The promise does not alter the Covenant whatsoever. It was in force 430 years before the Covenant. There is no justification here for saying or implying that Scripture may be altered in our day because of some new thing God is allegedly doing now.

It would have been better here to explain Galatians by pointing to Paul's concept of "mystery," a part of Paul's thinking which is consistent with and logically prior to his unfolding case in Galatians. The mystery is that God's long-hidden plan has been revealed with the resurrection of Jesus. There is no change of plan, but the revealing of the pre-existing, hidden plan, which even prophets and kings only glimpsed.

3. Missing from the readers' guide is any lengthy discussion of Paul's directives for living. In fact, it is barely mentioned at all. Fornication is first on Paul's list of things to be avoided (5:19). It remains the judgment of biblical scholars that fornication would normally have been thought to include homosexual practice. In a Bible study meant to accompany the denomination's moral reflection on sexual matters, how or why would this information be omitted?

As individuals and congregations use the study found in the third sexuality study, I hope they will also consider these observations and ask the Spirit to guide them in their discernment.