Teaching Galatians in India
During my spring break I was able to go on a trip to India with my officemate Chris Brewer and his dad Gary.
We began our trip in Imphal, which is the capital of the state of Manipur in the northeast (we weren’t far from the border of Burma). When we arrived it happened to be the start of the nation-wide color festival Holi so we saw people all over town with various smatterings of colors all over them. It was also the annual dance festival for the state of Manipur. Each year women from the various villages raise money for their dances by obstructing traffic in order to get some money. There were women everywhere! Most often they would link arms and run out in front of the car. Other times they would tie ropes around a tree on one side of the road and pull it from the other side (a few times we only barely noticed the rope in the nick of time!).
The middle section of our trip was spent in Silchar (and surrounding villages) in the neighboring state of Assam. Although the flight was only 25 minutes, it would have been an all day drive had we chosen to go by car (because of the road conditions and the terrain). The state is well known for its tea and we were able to drive through a beautiful tea garden, take a tour of a tea factory, and enjoy tea and snacks at the home of the owner of the factory.
The last stretch of our trip took place in Delhi. Here we were mostly sight-seeing. We got to see the Taj Mahal, the Lotus Temple, the Red Fort, the Museum of Modern Indian Art, and we also drove around some of the Parliament buildings.
The main thing that Chris and I did was teach and speak. We each lectured a total of 19 hours (15 hours at Chil Chil Baptist College & Seminary in Imphal and 4 hours at Northeast India Baptist Bible College in Silchar). And we spoke four separate times at church/chapel services; Chris and I tag-teamed and shared our testimonies at one church when we first arrived, then we separately gave chapel talks at Chil Chil, and then on Sunday we each gave a sermon twice (covering four different churches). So it was mostly go-go-go! It wasn’t a very relaxing trip, but it was certainly rewarding.
And Id like to share one quick reflection from our trip.
At each institution I taught through the text of Galatians. The students were very shy on the whole and we weren’t able to get them to talk much. I basically just lectured each time and so that was fine for my teaching style, but I kept trying to get the students to open up a bit. Despite the fact that at both schools the students were very reticent to talk in class, I did receive one common question. Although I forget the exact wording of each question, they related to the interpretation of Galatians 3:28. Here it is below.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (ESV).
Now, there were a few passages in Galatians that I figured could cause problems while I was in India. I was most nervous about Galatians 6:16 to be honest—who is the “Israel of God”? Since I knew the institutions were more dispensational I figured I’d have a hard time being forthright about what I think Paul is saying here (since I think he’s including Gentiles in this group). However, I did not anticipate Galatians 3:28 creating an issue. After spending a couple of weeks in India though, it makes a lot of sense.
In Paul’s day these words were entirely counter-cultural, and that is still true today. But I was able to witness first hand some ways in which this verse is counter-cultural in a culture different from my own. Most notably, the influence of the Indian caste system (“no slave nor free”) clashes directly with this passage. I would have liked to dive deeper into the way that our unique cultural perspectives affect our hermeneutics, both for me as a Western thinker and for the students from my class in India. Alas, if only they were more talkative! But I still appreciate the glimpse I had. It was eye-opening in many ways. Paul’s radical vision of the unity of the people of God still has power to scandalize.