Paul’s choice of words in his letter to Christians in the province of Galatia reflects careful intention. The issues he confronts are extremely serious, the opponents powerful and persuasive, and his audience somewhat befuddled. Strong warnings mingle with cries of frustration as he encourages these believers to keep running well the discipleship race. He has equally strong words for those unidentified proponents who articulate a “different gospel – which is really no gospel at all” (Galatians 1:6-7). In the conclusion to his argument Paul tells the Galatian congregations: “Do not err; God is not scorned (muktērizetai)” (6:7). This is the only place in the New Testament where this verb in its simple form occurs.
The verb muktērizō and its related compound ekmuktērizō derive from the noun muktēr, “nose” and have the sense of wrinkling or turning up the nose to demonstrate contempt, scorn, distaste, or ridicule. The idea of mockery or derision is conveyed quite explicitly by various facial expressions, i.e. body language. The nose, for whatever reason, when contorted in certain ways, communicates in many cultures a sense of disagreement based in scorn or contempt. The person finds the message, action or very being of another completely disagreeable and by wrinkling the nose displays this contempt. Of course the reason for this ridicule or contempt needs to be defined. Hellenistic Greek used the noun muktērismos to describe “sneering” or “derision”.
We discern the contemptuous hostility expressed by the compound form of this verb when Luke uses it to describe the actions of the Jewish rulers towards the crucified Jesus. In his narrative (23:35) these rulers stood watching the proceedings and they “even sneered (exemuktērizon) at him.”1 The following verse turns our attention to the soldiers and they “mocked (enepaixan) him” (23:36). These two verbs used in parallel define one another to some degree. Luke also used this compound verb (16:14) to describe the Pharisees’ response to Jesus’ teaching. When they hear his teaching that a person cannot serve God and ‘mammon’, according to Luke’s narrative, the Pharisees “were sneering (exemuktērizon) at him” because they “loved money.”
We catch the wider significance of Luke’s choice of terminology when we examine the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint). Although both forms of this verb, as well as the noun muktērismos occur in the Septuagint, the compound verb ekmuktērizō only occurs in biblical and post-biblical literature. The sense of these terms is discerned when we see them in context. For example, when Elijah is in contest with the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel, he “mocked (emuktērisen) and said, ‘Call in a loud voice! For he is a god, for prating occupies him and at same time he is perhaps giving an oracle….”2 The sense of ridicule and contempt is clear. When Hezekiah consults the prophet Isaiah about what to do in response to the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem, God ridicules the Assyrians through the prophet’s word:
“Virgin daughter Sion made nothing of you and sneered at (emuktērisen) you; daughter of Jerusalem shook her head at you.” (2 Kings 19:21)
The Rabshakeh, the leader of the Assyrian forces had taunted the inhabitants of Jerusalem, ridiculing their ability to resist his armies, but God says in response that Jerusalem will “sneer at” the Assyrians and their claims. That night God slays 85,000 Assyrian soldiers and Sennacherib must retreat in disarray.
Sometimes the actions of God towards his people in judgment cause their neighbours to hold them in derision. Psalm 80, a “prayer for Israel’s restoration”, declares that God has “made us a controversy to our neighbours; our enemies mocked (emuktērison) us.”3 Similarly Psalm 44(43):14(13) describes how God made Israel “a reproach” to their neighbours, “a mockery (muktērismon) and laughingstock to those around us.”4 While it is not certain, the content of these Psalms suggest that they are in response to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians.
Elsewhere in Proverbs 15:5 a person who “despises (muktērizei) a parent’s instruction,…” is defined as a fool.
The Psalmist is sure that God will have the last laugh. According to Psalm 2:4 “the Lord will mock (ekmuktēriei)” the insolent and contemptuous nations. His laughter echoes through eternity.
In the final section of his teaching in his letter to the churches in Galatia Paul warns them not to follow the Judaizers and accept circumcision as a necessary completion to the work of Jesus and an essential step for non-Jewish believers to possess the status of “sons of Abraham.” If Jesus is the Messiah and God has carefully and deliberately planned his death and resurrection as the basis upon which human beings can be declared innocent before God, then to reject Jesus and his Gospel is to hold God in contempt. This is the God “who sent his son” and then “sent the spirit of his son” to create the only means for salvation. To say that confident faith in the Messiah’s sacrifice is not sufficient to create peace with God makes God a liar.
People who subvert the truth of the Gospel will reap the consequences. As Paul states in Galatians 1:8-9, to proclaim as Gospel something that is not Gospel brings God’s anathema. Such people are “false brothers” and treat God with contempt. At the end of the day these individuals “will reap what they sow,” i.e. God’s just condemnation. Acting in this manner makes us enemies of God. False teachers may succeed in deceiving other human beings and ‘bewitching’ (3:1) them with clever ideas. However, they will discover that they are deceived and God will hold them in contempt.
Paul chose this kind of language deliberately. He wanted to make a deep impression upon these Galatian Christians and give a clear warning to the Judaizers who were teaching these false ideas. Strong words were necessary because the stakes were high. Paul’s whole life was devoted to God – he was a zealot for God. On the Damascus road he discovered that his persecution of the followers of Jesus made him God’s enemy, and caused him to treat Jesus, the Messiah of God, with contempt. His zeal was totally misdirected and was putting him directly in conflict with God – as Jesus challenged him, “why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4).
Our Western society constantly scorns the Lord Jesus Christ and God, the Father. Many people are religious and consider themselves spiritual, but their refusal to listen to the Good News and recognize in it God’s promise for eternal life is an act of contempt. When human beings live like this, they laugh at God, deride the sacrifice of his Son, Jesus, and scorn his salvation. But God is not scorned! God will have the final word.
- it is easy to recognize within our Western culture the way people treat God with contempt, but do we do or say things as Christians that mock God?
- when our confession conflicts with our ethics, do we treat God with contempt? When God urges us to be one in Christ and to love one another, but we fail to do so, is God mocked?
- is our zeal for God rightly directed?