This letter, probably from the mid 50s AD, finds Paul fuming at the Christians in Galatia. Apparently, since he last touched base with them, other apostles have come calling and they’ve stirred the pot with their message. Contradicting Paul, they want all these pagans who had converted to the Christian faith to also get circumcised and observe the laws of the Torah— that is, to take on the marks of Jewish identity. This really angered Paul, since he believed that Jesus had come precisely to knock down barriers like those between Jew and pagan.

Like a good master of argument, Paul begins stating his own credentials as an apostle (check out his whole story in 1:11-2:14), and how he’s always stuck to his law-free gospel, even quarreling with St. Peter at Antioch over whether or not Jews, considering their dietary restrictions, could share a table with their pagan-convert brothers and sisters. Paul zeroes in on the point— Christians are justified by Jesus’ death on the cross, not by anything anybody did, or any ethnic identity marker like circumcision. God is for everyone— “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (3:28). Paul then holds up Abraham, whom his enemies had invoked, as a fine example of faith in God rather than as the father of circumcision. Finally, Paul gets so incensed that he wishes these other apostles “would castrate themselves” (5:12), turning circumcision on them and taking it a bit too far, you might say. He finishes the letter encouraging them to support one another in community.