One of the most overlooked references to the new creation, and also to the church’s identity, is in Gal 6:15-16:
For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation (καινὴ κτίσις). And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.
You can see here that Paul is summarizing his argument in Galatians because he states “neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision.” That claim alludes to the occasion for the letter. Since he’s summarizing the letter, it’s important that he refers to a “new creation” and also to the “Israel of God.” We might surmise that this theology underlies his argumentation throughout Galatians.
Grant Osborne, in his Galatians Verse by Verse (pp. 216-217), summarizes succinctly why Paul refers here to the new creation:
Whether one is circumcised is now completely irrelevant in light of the new world order introduced by Christ and the cross. This rite was part of the old covenant system, which was fulfilled and completed in Christ, so that the act of circumcision no longer has covenantal implications but is now part of “the world” (v. 14), and all Christians have died to it in terms of any salvific significance. Paul had already stated this in 2:19 (“died to the law”) and 5:6 (“neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value”). All differences—racial, ethnic, economic, gender, and social—have broken down in Christ, and oneness pervades all relationships in him (Gal 3:27–29).
Paul now states the key point to this section: “What counts is the new creation.” A literal translation would be more succinct: “but a new creation.” New creation theology provides some of the most exciting truths in the New Testament. It begins in John 1:3–5, where we read that Christ was the agent of the original creation (v. 3) but now has brought into this world a new creation of spiritual life and light in God’s salvation (vv. 4–5). In 2 Corinthians 5:17 this new creation is entirely salvific: “If anyone is in Christ, [they are part of a] new creation.” The new convert is recreated as part of a new world and a new reality. In Ephesians 2:15 Christ has “created in himself one new humanity out of two” (Jew and Gentile), so the new creation contains a new humanity as a result of Christ and the cross.
But what about the “Israel of God?” Does this refer to ethnic Israel, or to the new Israel, composed of all who have faith in Jesus? Osborne (p. 218) again moves swiftly through the controversy, providing his own conclusion:
The faithful are here called “the Israel of God.” Interpreting this phrase is quite difficult, as there are two distinctly different ways to translate this verse. The question is whether those “who follow this rule” and “the Israel of God” are two different entities (the church and ethnic Israel) or the same entity (the church)….
Word order could favor the two-group option (literally, “peace upon them and mercy also upon the Israel of God”), but the message of the book definitely points toward “the Israel of God” being the church as the true Israel. It is hard to conceive, after all that Paul has written against the works of the law, that he would be pronouncing a blessing on the Jewish people. If this is summing up the message of the book, then the emphasis would be on the reversal of the Jew-Gentile disparity and the union of all peoples in Christ.
We therefore see two phrases that are essential to Pauline theology, tucked away right at the end of Galatians, where we would never expect to see it. Paul’s soteriology is intricately connected to his eschatology and ecclesiology. Is yours?Paul's soteriology is intricately connected to his eschatology and ecclesiology. Is yours? Click To Tweet