“For through the Law I died to the Law”
For through the Law I died to the Law, in order that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and what I now live in the flesh I live in faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself up for me.
Paul's paradoxical formulation here is a crux. What does it mean to say that through the Torah he died to the Torah? My suggestion is that this must be understood in the light of Paul's paradoxical opposition of the true Torah to that which is understood as Torah by other Jews, as we have seen in our reading of Romans 2 above. Paul's whole argument there is that there is a true Law (the Law of faith; 3:27), and that this Law is different from the false Law of the observances of physical rites and the trust in physical genealogical connection. The true Law is the spiritual, allegorical, inward interpretation of the external, which is only its sign. In our verse in Galatians, Paul is arguing exactly the same proposition and giving it its christological foundation as well. Through the true meaning of the Law, which was revealed in the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ as a hermeneutic key and as a mysterious transformation, I have died to the old (mis)understanding of the Law as the outward observance which makes one (so I thought) a real Jew. Paul is referring here to the christological apocalypse he experienced and which, I will argue, the Galatians experienced as well. This interpretation is certified by the phraseological identity of the ἐν ἐμοί both places (Betz 1979, 124). This is gnostic in the etymological sense of a knowledge which transforms the person of the knower entirely. Bultmann's descriptions of the Hellenistic mystic fit Paul perfectly at this moment:
Man is related to the other world by participation in it. Something in him has come from that other world, that world of light. Depending on which mythical or cultic tradition determines the thought patterns, it is there from the very beginning as a primeval portion of light that has descended into matter, or it is the result of some change or influx due to a sacrament or an ecstatic experience. This something in man is regarded as the essential element in the one born again. And yet it has no necessary connection with the empirical man, with his acts and his fate. (1967, 19–20)
This is very close indeed to the Pauline discourse on the meaning of dying with Christ as an ecstatic experience and baptism as a sacrament in Galatians.
Paul follows this with a remarkable and necessary corollary to his argument. His Jerusalem opponents could certainly have argued something to the effect that while it is true that Christ's coming has redeemed the spirit, we who still dwell in flesh must observe the Torah in order to control the flesh and make it as well obedient to God's will. Paul counters this by saying that the very dwelling in the flesh is only apparent. In reality, he is no longer living in the flesh but in a hidden spiritual existence called Christ living in me. A passage from the Corpus hermeticum, Chapter xiii, cited by Bultmann, provides an extraordinary parallel (however Bultmann himself quite puzzlingly fails to note this parallel):
Seeing in myself an immaterial vision, produced by the mercy of God, I have left myself in order to enter into an immortal body, and I am now no longer what I was, but I have been begotten in the intellect. This cannot be taught, and it cannot be seen by means of the material elements through which we see below. This is why I am no longer concerned with this initial created form which was my own. I have no more color, cannot be touched, and do not extend in space; all that is foreign to me. Now, my child, you see me with your eyes, but what I am you cannot understand when you look at me with your body's eyes and with the physical sight. It is not with those eyes that anyone can see me now, my child. (Bultmann 1967, 18–19)
Note the extraordinarily clear platonistic influence on this passage as well. Although Paul has not physically died, it is Christ who lives in him. He was crucified with Christ, and he has been transformed into the sort of being that Christ was, only apparently fleshly but through faith entirely spiritual. Observances in the flesh would seem, then, totally irrelevant. “The practical consequence of this can be either libertinism or asceticism” (Bultmann 1967, 21). It is easy to see how the Corinthians “misunderstood” such preaching.