Recreating the Cosmos: A Holistic Reading of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, by Jeremy W. Barrier. A critical review by Roy Davison.
Belgium, Herselt (BNC) – Jeremy W. Barrier is Director of the Graduate Program and Associate Professor of Biblical Literature at Heritage Christian University in Florence, Alabama.
This book resulted from his work during ten months as a Humbolt Scholar at the Faculty of Catholic Theology of the University of Regensburg in Germany.
The book consists of 110 pages and is published by Cascade Books, Eugene, Oregon. Copyright 2017. It has an attractive cover and although the type is rather small it is quite readable. Electronic versions are available.
This book is not a commentary on Galatians, and does not claim to be. It is a “reading” (personal interpretation) of Galatians by Jeremy Barrier. He also describes it as a “series of meditations” (p. 108). This gives the author much leeway to write whatever comes to his mind.
He is a good story-teller and his many accounts of personal experiences are interesting, although it is not always clear how they relate to Galatians.
It is not a scholarly work. Key terms with various possible meanings are not defined and sources are not documented, except that a bibliography is provided at the back.
The author states his aim: “The purpose of this book is to present a meditation on Paul’s text to the Galatians with the intent purpose of reclaiming Paul for those of faith, like myself, who have grown tired of thinking that Christians are the people who draw lines, make distinctions, and police borders. This book is an attempt to shift our vision of Paul away from one that sees him as one whose major role was the policing of religious borders” (p. 6).
The fundamental question then is: Are Christians supposed to draw lines, make distinctions and police borders? And, what does Paul teach about this in Galatians?
Although Barrier does not state this specifically, except that on page 4 he mentions that a wrong idea has prevailed for 500 years, he is opposing the common understanding of Galatians, chapter 1, by Protestant reformers. After discussing the curse Paul pronounces on any who change the gospel, Martin Luther states in his commentary on Galatians 1:9, “In spite of this emphatic denunciation so many accept the pope as the supreme judge of the Scriptures.” John Calvin, discussing Galatians 1:9, states: “To what poor subterfuges do the Papists resort, in order to escape from the Apostle’s declaration!”
The Protestant reformers believed that Paul’s strong statement in chapter 1 entitled them to classify Roman Catholicism as being accursed by God because of its departures from the original gospel. Were they wrong? I think not.
To accomplish his purpose of discrediting people “who draw lines, make distinctions, and police borders” Barrier must deal with Galatians 1:8, 9. Thus he has an entire chapter “On Maledictions (Or On Cursing).” In this chapter he misrepresents and maligns Paul in an attempt to escape the obvious meaning of what Paul says.
He begins the chapter thus: “Okay, I admit that a title such as ‘On Maledictions’ is not very obvious. Well, the only alternative title I could think of was ‘Damn You All to Hell’” (p. 14).
Does that fairly represent Paul’s statement? Or is it an attempt to prejudice the reader against Paul?
What does Paul say: “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8, 9).
When facing departures from the original gospel we must draw lines, make distinctions and police borders!
Barrier leads up to his quotation of this passage in a flippant way with the following false description of Paul’s statement: “Paul follows his greeting with an intense curse; calling upon the gods sitting in the clouds to rise up from their lofty beds and thrones, to take spears, gauntlets, arrows, and swords in hand, and descend upon the mountainous regions of Galatia bringing utter ruin and destruction upon these inhabitants. Well, not every inhabitant – just a fell swoop lopping the heads off of just those who receive Paul’s letter” (p. 15).
There is much wrong with this description. (1) He is trying to associate Paul’s statement with heathen curses rather than relating it to Old Testament teaching. A curse of God is the opposite of a blessing of God (see Genesis 12:3; Deuteronomy 11:26, 29; 28:16-20; 29:14-20; 30:19). (2) He first says that Paul is calling on heathen gods to rain destruction on all the inhabitants of Galatia. He “corrects” this to “Well, not every inhabitant – just a fell swoop lopping the heads off of just those who receive Paul’s letter.” Since he admits that the first part of the statement was wrong, why did he leave it in the book? But his “correction” is also wrong! The curse did not apply to those who received Paul’s letter, but only to false teachers, including Paul himself if he should depart from the original gospel! (3) This description is not only false, but extremely distasteful, disrespectful to Paul and the Holy Spirit, and maybe even blasphemous.
Barrier demonstrates a lack of respect for Paul: “If an angel descended in my presence and explained to me good news in a new way, I would be inclined to listen; quite frankly, I don’t think I would care what Paul thought. Clearly, Paul is coming across as quite an arrogant ole fellow, and maybe he needs to calm down a bit” (p. 18).
To “substantiate” his accusation of arrogance, he states: “This is a man who believed that he had actually been called up to heaven by God (2 Corinthians 12:1-10)” (p. 19). Barrier says that Paul considered himself to be “the chief of staff, the majority-whip, the hit man for the mob boss…” (p. 20). Where does Barrier get this? This is not a meditation. This is a wild imagination and again, one that borders on blasphemy.
We are not surprised then when Barrier asks: “Does this mean that I approve of all of Paul’s words, methods, tactics, and approaches? No!” (p. 21). Paul wrote: “If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 14:37).
Barrier does not view Paul’s accounts of visions as being reliable: “Further, in Galatians 1 and also 2 Corinthians 12, the texts (amongst others) seem to imply that Paul was prone to having apocalyptic auditory and visionary experiences, where he claimed to have been interacting with ‘the Lord,’ while the revelations of god are unfolded before him” (p. 103).
It is strange that in the beginning of the book “God” is capitalized, but in the latter part, it is written with a small letter, “god”.
In this review I have focused on the stated purpose, “to present a meditation on Paul’s text to the Galatians with the intent purpose of reclaiming Paul for those of faith, like myself, who have grown tired of thinking that Christians are the people who draw lines, make distinctions, and police borders” (p. 6).
In Galatians, Paul’s lines are drawn so forcefully and closely, however, that Barriers “meditations” just demonstrate his own lack of respect for Paul and his writings.
His book contains many more untruths and private interpretations that could be exposed but this will suffice to reveal the approach and nature of the book.
Roy Davison devotes himself to the gospel in Belgium, as well as being a part-time translator. He is the creator of the Old Paths websites (http://oldpaths.com).