In his book Anti-Roman Cryptograms in the New Testament – Symbolic Messages of Hope and Liberation Norman A. Beck devotes a chapter to Paul’s use of anti-Roman cryptograms. In that chapter Beck does not discuss Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Below I analyse Galatians 1:1-12, which in my opinion is fully devoted to the struggle between Paul’s gospel of the Christ and the opposing gospel of Roman imperial ideology. Paul has encrypted this text for safety reasons.
The Nestle-Aland translation of this fragment goes as follows (my subdivision):
(1) From Paul, apostle not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead. (2) And from all the brethren who are with me, to the churches of Galatia: (3) Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
(4) Who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father; (5) whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.
(6) I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ* and turning to a different gospel.
(7)Not that there is another gospel, but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of the Christ.
(8) But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed.
(9) As we have said before, so now I say again, if any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.
(10) Am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still pleasing men, I should not be a servant of the Christ.
(11) For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not man’s gospel. (12) For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
The Essene activist Paul lived and worked in the eastern part of the Roman empire, and throughout his letters several coded anti-Roman messages can be uncovered, as Beck has shown. From the first verse of his letter to the Galatians, Paul establishes a supreme ruler opposition between God and Jesus Christ on one side, and ‘men’ and ‘man’ on the other.
When Paul opposes God and men/man, he seems to make a sharp distinction between the true and only God of the Jews and certain human beings. The humans who most of all qualify as God’s opponents are humans who are undeservedly worshipped as gods. The humans to whom Paul in all probability refers in this context are the Roman emperors.
‘To deliver us from the present evil age’ in verse 4 is a possible translation, encouraged by a textual variant. The majority of the texts however gives ἐκ τοῦ αἰῶνος τοῦ ἐνεστῶτος πονηροῦ, which can be translated as ‘from the age of the present evil’ as well as ‘from the age of the present evil one’, considering πονηρός as a noun instead of an adjective, as is frequently the case elsewhere in the New Testament (see BDAG p. 851). In an era dominated by the Romans, it is obvious who this evil one would be.
In line with the opposition between ‘God and Christ’ on one side and the Roman emperors on the other, in verse 6 follows the opposition between Paul’s gospel and an alternative gospel, the gospel of Roman imperial ideology. To Paul’s disappointment, this rival gospel seems to have attracted a part of his audience.
In verse 8 Paul shows his deep aversion towards this rival ‘good news’ of Roman imperial ideology and those who proclaim it.
In verse 10 Paul diametrically opposes ‘seeking the favour of men’ (the Roman emperors) and ‘seeking the favour of God’, and similarly ‘pleasing men’ (idem) and ‘to be a servant of the Christ’. Paul sees himself as the propagator of the κύριος Χριστός (kurios Christos) against the dominant ideology of the κύριος Καῖσαρ (kurios Caesar).
In verse 11 Paul says that ‘the gospel which was preached by me is not man’s gospel’. By ‘man’s gospel’ he refers to the all too human gospel of the divinized Roman emperor. Paul on the contrary received the truly divine gospel of the Jewish/Essene Christ through a revelation.
Traditionally the opposing gospel in this chapter is explained as a rival Jewish or Christian gospel. I believe this is contradicted by the fact that Paul does not discuss any detail of the content of his own or the opposing gospel. When the other gospel were Jewish or Christian, there would have been no obstacle to discuss concrete points of controversy. The Roman authorities remained aloof from internal Jewish affairs, as Gallio’s viewpoint in Acts 18:12-17 shows. Avoiding the discussion of concrete points of contention indicates that Paul aimed at Roman imperial ideology and that at the same time he feared the Roman authorities. In Galatians 1 Paul is sketching the clash between two politicoreligious worldviews. In a world dominated by the Romans it was too dangerous for Paul to overtly attack the gospel of the blessings that according to Roman propaganda the divinized Roman emperor bestowed on his subjects. For Paul’s informed audience this concealed attack on Roman imperial ideology was clear enough.
I believe that with my identification of the man/men in Galatians 1 as the Roman emperor(s) and of the gospel opposed to Paul’s as Roman imperial ideology is an important addition to Beck’s overview of anti-Roman cryptograms in Paul’s letters.
* Nestle-Aland considers this ‘Christ’ to be ‘of doubtful authenticity’. Some manuscripts give θεός (‘God’).