Galatians 5:12 – I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves! For you were called to freedom, brothers.
Maybe it was this verse, possibly the most arresting and awkward Scripture in the New Testament, that Peter was thinking about when he said in 2 Peter 3:15-16, “Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters…There are some things in them that are hard to understand…”
The big debate in the Galatian church was over circumcision. A legalistic, religious faction had risen up in the church pressuring men who were Gentiles, to be circumcised like Jewish men. They were told that this was necessary to earn favor from God, which is antithetical to the fact that God operates by pure grace.
To correct the growing false teaching, Paul wrote the letter of Galatians under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to be read in the church. We can safely assume that the hearing of this Scripture in church created a bit of an awkward moment.
What does Paul mean?
Some years ago, I was touring the lands written about in the New Testament. At one point, in the region of Galatia, a professor of history who was with us took us to the ruins of an ancient temple. It was a stunning scene and, as I stood amidst the rubble and remaining arches and structures, it seemed like this temple was massive in comparison to other buildings in the region from that era.
Then, the professor explained it was dedicated to a female deity. In various cultures, there is a mother goddess of fertility who is known by various names such as Artemis, Cybele, Diana, etc. Temples in her honor were used as banking centers, sites for demonic spirituality, sexual immorality, banking, and holidays. These temples were a demonic counterfeit to the real Temple where they worshiped the counterfeit Mother God instead of the Creator Father God.
Then the professor said something curious. He said that for a man to qualify as a candidate to be a priest of the mother goddess, he had to emasculate himself. As he sprinkled this historical insight into our conversation, I was immediately reminded of this verse and wondered if the original hearers would have seen that as condemning the legalistic false teaching as equally demonic and ungodly as the demonic worship of the mother goddess.
What do you do when you read something in the Bible that offends you?