The Passion Narrative: Introduction

The Passion Narrative

I am interrupting the course of the Saturday Series studies this Spring to introduce a special set of studies in celebration of the current Lenten and Easter seasons. This series will examine the Passion Narrative in the Gospels, from the standpoint of New Testament criticism. All of the key critical issues and questions will be addressed, including a number which are relevant for a sound understanding of New Testament theology and Christology. In particular, these studies will consider the narratives in terms of the development of the Gospel (and early Christian) tradition. As it will not be possible to present this material within the confines a few Saturday posts, I am here expanding the Saturday Series format, to allow for more regular posting of articles throughout the remainder of March and into April.

These studies, in large part, reproduce material included in the earlier exegetical study series entitled Jesus and the Gospel Tradition (see the Introduction to this series). The first part of the series was devoted to a detailed examination of the Baptism of Jesus. The second part dealt with the Galilean Period of Jesus’ ministry, especially as an organizing principle within the Synoptic Gospels. The third part, corresponding to this current series on the Passion Narrative, deals with the Judean/Jerusalem Period of Jesus’ life and ministry. It is worth noting this basic two-part structure to the Synoptic narrative—(i) the Galilean ministry (Mk 1:28:30), and (ii) the journey to Judea/Jerusalem and the events there (Mk 8:3116:8). Luke, through his greatly expanded treatment of the journey to Jerusalem, has a three-part division (+ the Infancy Narrative):

    • [The Infancy Narrative]
    • The Galilean ministry (3:19:50)
    • The Journey to Jerusalem (9:5118:34)
    • The time in Judea/Jerusalem (18:3524:53)

The Judean/Jerusalem period may likewise be divided into two main sections, along with shorter introductory and concluding episodes:

    • Introduction: The “Triumphal” Entry into Jerusalem (Mk 11:1-11)
    • Part 1: Teaching in Jerusalem (Mk 11:12-13:37):
      —Episode of the Fig tree (11:12-14, 20-25)
      Temple action (11:15-19)
      —Block of Teaching 1—Debates/disputes with Religious Authorities (11:27-12:44)
      Temple saying (13:1-2)
      —Block of Teaching 2—The Eschatological “Discourse” (13:3-37)
      —Lesson the Fig Tree (13:28-31)
    • Part 2: The Passion Narrative (Mk 14:1-15:47)
    • Conclusion: The Resurrection (Mk 16:1-8[ff])

All three Synoptic Gospels essentially follow this basic outline, though it has been modified and expanded in places by Matthew and Mark (especially the Resurrection episodes in Luke). We may outline the Passion Narrative itself as follows:

    • Narrative Introduction (Mk 14:1-2)
    • The Anointing Scene (14:3-9)
    • Excursus 1: The betrayal by Judas introduced (14:10-11)
    • The Passover: Jesus with his Disciples (14:12-25):
      —The Preparation (vv. 12-16)
      —The Passover scene at mealtime (vv. 17-21)
      —Institution of the “Lord’s Supper” (vv. 22-25)
    • Excursus 2: The denial by Peter foretold (14:26-31)
    • The Passion Scene in Gethsemane (14:32-52)
      —Jesus’ Passion and Prayer (vv. 32-42)
      —The Arrest of Jesus (vv. 43-52)
    • The Jewish “Trial”: Jesus before the Sanhedrin (14:53-72)
      —The Scene before the Council (vv. 53-65)
      —Peter’s Denial (vv. 66-72)
    • The Roman “Trial”: Jesus before Pilate (15:1-20)
      —The Scene before Pilate (vv. 1-5)
      —The Judgment (vv. 6-15)
      —The Preparation for Crucifixion (vv. 16-20)
    • The Crucifixion and Death of Jesus (15:21-40):
      —The Crucifixion Scene (vv. 21-32)
      —Jesus’ Death (vv. 33-40)
    • Narrative Conclusion (15:42-47)

There are six principal episodes, each of which will be discussed in turn, beginning with the Anointing Scene (Mark 14:3-9 par).

It is generally felt by most scholars that the Passion Narrative was the first (and earliest) part of the Gospel Tradition to be given a distinct narrative shape. This can be glimpsed by the early Gospel preaching recorded in the book of Acts, as well as by the kerygmatic (Gospel-proclamation) elements common throughout the New Testament (especially the Pauline Letters). The death and resurrection of Jesus formed the center of the Gospel message, so it is natural that those traditions would be the first to take shape as a simple narrative, to make the details easier to communicate and commit to memory. This also means that a number of these traditions are relatively fixed, and evince less development than in other portions of the Gospel. Details such as Judas’ betrayal or Peter’s denial of Jesus simply had to be included in any telling of the story. Even so, each Gospel writer handles the material in his own distinctive way, “ornamenting”, if you will, around the core traditions.

In considering the development of Gospel tradition, as applied to the Passion Narratives, I find the following to be a sound (and useful) methodological approach. For each passage, narrative, or set of traditions being studied, I examine—

    • The basic Synoptic narrative (as represented primarily by the Gospel of Mark)
    • The so-called “Q” material (shared by Matthew and Luke, but not found in Mark)
    • Traditions and details preserved only in Matthew and/or Luke (so-called “M” and “L” material), as well as original (literary) contributions by the authors
    • Johannine tradition and the Gospel of John

Generally speaking, this order of study is chronological, reflecting ‘layers’ of development—but not strictly so by any means. Indeed, there is some evidence that the Gospel of John, usually thought of as the latest of the canonical Gospels (c. 90 A.D.?), contains early/authentic historical traditions in a form that may be older than those of the Synoptics. Wherever possible, I will attempt to trace the manner of development in the Tradition, and how/why it may have taken place.

Mark 14:1-2 par

The Synoptic Passion narrative begins with this introductory notice:

“Now it was the Pesaµ and the (festival of) unleavened (bread), after [i.e. in] two days. And the chief sacred officials and the writers [i.e. scribes] were seeking how, grabbing hold of him in a (cunning) trap (right away), they might kill (him) off. For they said, ‘Not on the festival, (so) there will not be any clamor of [i.e. from] the people’.”

This is how the narrative reads in Mark (14:1-2). It relates two basic points of historical tradition: (1) that Jesus’ death took place around the time of the Passover (pa/sxa = Heb js^P#, pesaµ); and (2) that the religious leaders of Jerusalem, members of the Council (Sanhedrin), sought to arrest Jesus and put him to death.

Luke’s version (22:1-2) is simpler and more elegant:

“Now the festival of the (day)s without leaven, being called Pesaµ, was nearing. And the chief sacred officials and the writers were seeking how they might do away (with) him, for they were afraid of the people.”

This is clearly related to the historical tradition in Mark; and most critical commentators would maintain that Luke makes use of Mark throughout the narrative (and, indeed, throughout his Gospel). Whatever the author’s source, he has simplified the presentation, but has retained the basic statement relating to the two points of historical information noted above.

Matthew’s version (26:3-5) is even closer to Mark’s, and here it is even more likely that the author has utilized the Markan narrative. However, he has expanded the narration, adding several details which, in particular, make it clear that the Jerusalem Council (Sanhedrin) is involved:

    • He says that the leaders “were brought together” (sunh/xqhsan, vb suna/gw)
    • Along with the “chief sacred officials [i.e. priests]”, he mentions “the elders of the people”
    • The leaders are further said to “take counsel together” (vb sumbouleu/w)
    • The gathering, planning the arrest of Jesus, takes place in the courtyard (au)lh/) of the palace of Caiphas (Kai+a/fa$).

The author also prefaces his narration with an additional Passion prediction/announcement by Jesus (vv. 1-2). This adds to the drama of the opening, and yet it would seem that even this represents an adaptation of the Synoptic narration of Mk 14:1; the same detail is communicated, but presented (dramatically) through the words of Jesus himself:

“You have seen [i.e. known] that after two days the Pesaµ comes to be…”

The information that follows (in v. 2b) reflects the Synoptic tradition of the (three) Passion predictions by Jesus (Mk 8:31; 9:30-32; 10:32-34 par):

“…and the Son of Man is given along to be put to the stake [i.e. crucified].”

While rooted in authentic tradition (the Passion predictions), Matt 26:1-2 is best explained as a literary addition, by the author, to the core tradition.

The next article in this series will deal with the Anointing Scene (Mk 14:3-9 par).

Saturday Series: 2 Corinthians 3:12-18

2 Corinthians 3:12-18

After the exposition and application of Exod 34:29-25 in verses 7-11 (cf. the previous study), using a series of qal wa-homer arguments to contrast the old covenant (and the Law) with the new, Paul returns to the primary theme of his role as an apostle:

“Therefore, holding such (a) hope, we use much outspokenness [parr¢sía]…” (v. 12)

The word parr¢sía indicates something “uttered with all (openness/boldness)”; it can refer specifically to speaking openly in public, or openly as “with boldness”, or some combination of the two. Paul contrasts the openness of ministers of the Gospel (such as he and his fellow missionaries), with Moses who put a covering (kálumma) over his face. The implication is that Moses put the veil over his face when he met with the people after speaking to God. However, this is not at all clear from the Exodus narrative (34:29-34); indeed, it seems to be Moses addressed the people without the veil, i.e. before putting it on (vv. 31-33). After he had communicated God’s word and will to the people, then he donned the covering, wearing it until the next time he encountered YHWH in the Tent of Meeting.

In 2 Cor 3:13, Paul essentially repeats what he said in verse 8, though here the language is more difficult, since he is effectively summarizing the entire line of argument from vv. 7-11 in a single verse:

“…and not according to (the way) that Moses set a covering upon his face, toward the sons of Israel (so that they) not stretch (to see) [i.e. gaze] into the end/completion of the (thing) being made inactive…”

For the verb katargéœ (“make [something] cease working”, i.e. made inactive, render ineffective), which Paul uses on other occasions in relation to the Law, see the previous study on vv. 7-11. The word télos (“completion, finish, end”) is also used in reference to the Law, especially in Romans 10:4 (“Christ is the end [télos] of the Law”); Paul typically means it in the sense of the termination of a period of time, or of the state of things at the end of such a period. Elsewhere, it is clear that the Law (Torah) of the old covenant is only binding and in force until the coming of Christ (see especially the illustrations in Galatians 3-4 and in Romans 7:1-6).

The idea here in 2 Cor 3:13 seems to be that the covering makes it so the Israelites cannot see that the old covenant has come to an end in Christ. It is in this light that Paul makes use of the veil motif from Exodus 34. His usage here would imply that Moses wore the covering so that the people would not see the reflected glory fade from his face. That glory was temporary; it shone on Moses’ face after his meeting with YHWH in the Tent, and then would fade, until the next encounter. This detail is not stated specifically in the narrative, but Paul seems to interpret the passage with it in mind.

Clearly, Paul gives to the Scriptural tradition a uniquely Christian interpretation, which is then applied in verses 14-16 to the people of Israel as a whole. Even as they continue in their religious devotion to the Law and the old covenant, a covering remains over their eyes (and their heart), and they cannot see that the old covenant finds it end (and fulfillment) in the person and work of Christ. There are exceptions, of course, as the number of Jewish believers (even in Paul’s time) attest, and as is expressed in verse 16: “but if they turn toward the Lord, the covering is taken (away from) around (their eyes)”. Paul uses traditional Old Testament language here (of “turning [back] to the Lord [i.e. YHWH]”), though, in context, of course, turning to the Lord (YHWH) involves turning to the Lord (Jesus Christ), cf. Acts 3:19, etc.

In verse 17, Paul adds a third aspect to the word kýrios (“Lord”):

“And the Lord is the Spirit; and (the place) in which the Spirit of (the) Lord (is), (that is) freedom”

Here we reach the climax of Paul’s argument, with two central points of emphasis: (1) the Spirit (pneúma), which is the Spirit of God (and Christ), and (2) freedom (eleuthería). With regard to the last point, in Galatians Paul speaks of “freedom” specifically in terms of freedom from the Law (Gal 2:4; 4:21-31; 5:1ff, 13), while in Romans the emphasis is primarily on freedom from the power of sin (Rom 6:7-23; 8:2, 21), though this too is related to freedom from the Law (Rom 7:1-6). In 2 Corinthians 3, sin is not part of the discussion, but the Law is—the contrast between the old covenant, with its written (tablets of the) Law, and the new covenant makes it likely that freedom from the Law is to be affirmed here as well.

And yet, it is also clear that something more is meant: a freedom that is centered on the presence and power of the Spirit. Paul can identify the Spirit with either God (the Father) or Jesus Christ; generally, the emphasis is on the latter—the Spirit represents Christ and communicates his presence (and power) to believers, both individually and collectively. Just as believers are “in Christ”, so we live and walk “in the Spirit”; and, as Christ is in us, so the Spirit is in us. The presence of the Spirit means freedom—the same freedom that we have in Christ (Gal 2:4).

It has been somewhat puzzling to commentators just why Paul chooses to compare himself (and other apostles) with Israel as he does in 2 Cor 3:1-18. One may further ask why he breaks off from the main line of argument (at v. 6a) to embark on the discourse in vv. 7-18? Neither the Spirit-vs-letter dualism nor the pointed contrast between the old and new covenant appears to have been necessary for his discussion regarding the nature of the apostolic ministry. Why, then, does he step so boldly in that direction, beginning at v. 6b-7?

One theory is that his opponents were Jewish Christian “Judaizers”, as in Galatians (see also Phil 3:2ff). This would perhaps be supported by the context of 2 Cor 10-13 (see esp. 11:22ff). If there were influential “apostles” working at Corinth who stressed the importance of continuing to observe the old covenant, then the application of Exod 34:29-35 in 2 Cor 3:7ff is especially appropriate. In Jewish tradition, the “glory” (dóxa) associated with Moses and the Sinai covenant does not fade, but continues (forever)—see, for example, 2/4 Esdras 9:37; Deuteronomy Rabbah 11:3. Paul declares quite the opposite, in the sense that, with the coming of the new covenant (and its overwhelmingly greater glory), the old covenant has ceased to be active or effective any longer; on the use of the verb katargéœ to express this, see above.

However, there may be another reason for the illustration contrasting the old and new covenants; it has to do with an emphasis on external criteria which Paul seems to associate with his opponents, especially in chapters 10-13. Note how he begins the long polemical discussion in 10:7 with a reference to looking at things “according to the face” (katà prósœpon), i.e. according to outward appearance. Throughout, Paul feels compelled to compare himself with certain “extra important” (hyperlían, “over-abundant”) apostles, though it clearly makes him uncomfortable to do so (10:12ff; 12:11, etc). He emphasizes various missionary labors (10:1211:15, 27-29), physical hardships (11:23-33, also 6:4-10), special visionary experiences (12:1-7), miracles (“signs of an apostle”, 12:12), skill in speaking and writing (10:9-11; 11:6), but also his own natural ethnic-cultural and religious pedigree (11:22ff).

From all of this, we may infer that there were “apostles” at work among the Corinthians who could make claim to some of these sorts of things, and who may well have denigrated Paul’s own credentials and abilities. The reference in 3:1-6 to letters of introduction/commendation could indicate that these were itinerant or visiting missionaries (or dignitaries) who possessed (and/or relied upon) such letters to establish their external credentials as well. While Paul does engage in some rhetorical/polemical “competition” and comparison of credentials, it is important to note two key qualifying arguments he introduces in chapter 10 at the start:

    • that Paul and his associates (as true apostles) do not live and act “according to the flesh” (katà sárka), vv. 2-3—this expression is sometimes used specifically in the sense of sin and immorality, but here, more properly, it refers to a worldly manner of acting and thinking, worldly standards, etc., and, as such, is parallel with “according to the face” (katà prósœpon) in v. 7.
    • that his true “boasting” (as an apostle) resides in what God has given to him for the proclamation of the Gospel, vv. 8, 12ff; in this regard, note also the discussion in 12:7-10.

The connection between chapters 10-13 and 1-7, 8-9 remains much debated; however, this analysis may help to elucidate the force of Paul’s argument in 3:7-18. The old covenant was manifest in external form—written on tablets of stone, along with a visible aura of light which could be covered up by a veil—while the new covenant is internal and invisible (see also 4:16-18). The new covenant is written in the heart and its glory comes from within. For more on this aspect of the passage, you may wish to consult the recent series of exegetical notes on 2 Corinthians 3, as part of the study series “Spiritualism in the New Testament”. The notes are designed, in part, to elucidate the nature and extent of Paul’s spiritualism.

The Spirit operates from within, giving to believers freedom and the power to live according to God’s will; it is also the source of the apostles’ authority and boldness. That the new covenant does not depend on external criteria is confirmed by the famous conclusion in 3:18. One might expect Paul to end with another reference to the role of apostles—persons called to represent Christ and preach the Gospel—and yet, following the association of the Spirit and freedom in verse 17, he moves in an entirely different direction: “but we all…”

The glory of the old covenant was associated with a special person—Moses—who was set apart to represent God for the people; only he spoke directly with God, and the glory shone only from his face. How different is the new covenant, where every believer in Christ beholds the glory of the Lord, and is transformed, in a permanent manner, far greater than the transfiguration that Moses experienced. The true apostle and missionary does not emphasize his (or her) own abilities and accomplishments—ultimately the new covenant is administered and shared by all believers together.

The primary purpose of these studies was to examine the context of Paul’s famous declaration in verse 18. It is not possible here to expound the verse itself. I have done this recently, as part of the aforementioned set of exegetical notes. For a detailed exegesis of v. 18, please consult these notes.

Next week, we will round out this study of the context of verse 18 with an examination of what follows, in 4:1-6ff.

Saturday Series: 2 Corinthians 3:7-11 (cont.)

2 Corinthians 3:7-11

Paul’s use of Exodus 34:29-35, continued

Last week, we examined the Old Testament tradition (Exod 34:29-35) that is utilized and interpreted by Paul in 2 Cor 3:7-18. In our study, we considered the place of this tradition in its historical and literary context. We may summarize that analysis by pointing out a number of key themes in the Exodus narrative that are relevant to Paul’s exposition: 

    • The establishment of God’s covenant with His people at mount Sinai
    • The people’s violation of the covenant, resulting in the establishment of a second, ‘new’ version of the covenant
    • The place of Moses as a mediator of this covenant
    • The contrast between God’s revelation to the people (in the original covenant) and his manifestation to Moses alone (in the second covenant)
    • The covenant is accompanied by a theophany in which people behold the glory of God; in the re-established covenant, only Moses beholds the glory
    • The covenant (in both versions) is represented by the Torah (= the terms of the covenant) written on stone tablets

These themes are applied by Paul in several important ways. Most notably, he focuses on the re-established covenant, following the Golden Calf incident. In this ‘second’ version of the Sinai covenant, Moses plays a much greater role as mediator of the agreement between YHWH and the people. As noted above, it is Moses alone who beholds the glory of YHWH in the second Sinai theophany. And, following this initial revelation, Moses encounters God in the Tent of Meeting, which is located outside of the camp, and thus in a place that is cut off from the people. The people only see God’s glory as it is reflected, in a partial and temporary way, on the face of Moses.

In this regard, it is worth pointing out again the contrast Paul makes between the old and new covenants, in vv. 7-9ff—the old covenant mediated through Moses and the ‘Law of Moses’ (i.e., the Torah regulations), contrasted with the new covenant in Christ:

    • Vv. 7-8: service/ministry of death [h¢ diakonía tou thanátou]
      • service/ministry of the Spirit [h¢ diakonía tou pneúmatos]
    • Vers. 9: service/ministry of judgment against [h¢ diakonía t¢s katakríseœs]
      • service/ministry of justice/righteousness [h¢ diakonía t¢s dikaiosýn¢s]

In vv. 7-8, the comparative (qal wa-homer) argument is:

“If the ministry of death came to be in (such) esteem [dóxa]… how will the ministry of the Spirit not (even) more be in esteem?”

Similarly, in verse 9:

“If (there was) esteem in the ministry of judgment against (us), how (much) more is the ministry of justice/righteousness over (and above this) in esteem?”

I have translated dóxa here as “esteem” (i.e. honor, dignity, grandeur, etc); more commonly it is rendered “glory” (see above).

As indicated above, the “glory” of the old covenant was marked by the shining of Moses’ face, as Paul describes in v. 7a, mentioning both: (a) the stone tablets on which the commands of the Law had been written, and (b) the nature of the reflected glory in Moses’ face. This last detail is implied as the reason that the veil or face covering (kálymma) was introduced. Both the stone tablets (the first pair of which was broken by Moses) and the face covering represent the limitations of the old covenant and its temporary nature.

In the Exodus narrative (34:29-35), it is indicated that Moses would don the covering after he had communicated God’s word to the people, when the glory of his theophanous encounter with YHWH was still reflected on his face. Paul draws upon a point that is implied in the narrative—namely, that when Moses put on the covering, the glory was fading, and would only be reflected again on his face after the next time he encountered YHWH (in the Tent of Meeting). The reflected glory (of the old covenant) was thus only temporary, a fact that was symbolized by the covering itself. By contrast, the new covenant of the Spirit is permanent, and without any limitations; thus no such ‘covering’ is needed.

The superiority of the new covenant is also marked by use of the comparative/superlative adverb mállon (“more, greater”) and the verb perisseúœ (“to have [in excess] over [and above]”). This is specified even more precisely in verse 10:

“For (indeed) the (thing) having come to be esteemed (now) has been made of no esteem, in this part [i.e. in this respect]—because of the overcasting glory/esteem”

The old covenant came to have glory/esteem (perfect tense of the verb doxázœ), but now it has come to have no glory/esteem (again, with the perfect of doxázœ). By this, Paul further emphasizes the temporary nature of the old covenant. With the coming of Christ, the old covenant has come to an end (Rom 10:4) and is no longer in effect for believers in Christ. The old covenant, with its written Law, now has no glory.

It is hard to imagine a more antinomian statement by Paul. However, he makes clear that this is true only in one respect: because the glory of the new covenant goes so far beyond it. The verb hyperbállœ means to throw or cast something over/beyond, i.e. past a particular distance or measure. This is an important principle for understanding Paul’s apparently negative statements regarding the Law—its binding force has come to an end because of Christ. He says much the same thing, in a more personalized context, in Philippians 3:7-11: all that was of value in his prior religious life (under the Law and the old covenant) he now regards as mere rubbish in comparison with Christ. To neglect or ignore this overwhelming Christocentric emphasis leaves the commentator with no hope of properly understanding Paul’s thought.

If there was any doubt that, in his mind, the old covenant has come to an end, he makes this clear in verse 11:

“For if the (thing) being made inactive/ineffective (was) through glory, how (much) more (is) the (thing) remaining in glory?”

The first verb is katargéœ, literally to “make (something) cease working”, i.e. render inactive, ineffective, often in the technical (legal) sense of “nullify, invalidate, make void”, etc. This word appears already at the end of verse 7 (and will be used again in vv. 13-14); for its use by Paul elsewhere (with regard to the Law), see Rom 3:31; 4:14; 7:2, 6; Gal 3:17; 5:4, 11; and also Eph 2:15.

The second verb is ménœ, “remain (in place), abide”. The contrast is clear enough: the old covenant ceases to be in effect, the new covenant remains and lasts; one is temporary, the other permanent. There is also an interesting distinction in the use of prepositions:

    • the old covenant was (or came) through glory [diá dóx¢s]
    • the new covenant is (and remains) in glory [en dóx¢]

The precise meaning of the preposition diá is uncertain; it could be instrumental (“by means of glory, accompanied by glory”), or could indicate purpose (“because of glory”). Both are possible, but the context of verse 10 suggests the latter—if so, then the idea might be that the glory of the old covenant is ultimately fulfilled in the glory of the new. This will be discussed further when we turn to examine verses 12-18 in next week’s study. Once we have analyzed those verses—again, from a critical standpoint, and in light of the overall context of the passage—we will gain a much clearer sense of Paul’s thought and purpose in the climactic declaration of v. 18.

(For further study and a detailed exegesis on 2 Cor 3:7-11, see my recent notes [part of the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”].)

Saturday Series: 2 Corinthians 3:7-11

In continuing our contextual study of 2 Corinthians 3:18, we now turn to the beginning of the discourse that covers vv. 7-18. As previously noted (see last week’s study), the principal line of argument Paul is making would have come through clearly enough if he had followed v. 6a with 4:1ff. We shall consider just why Paul branches off with the discourse of vv. 7-18, what may have prompted him to develop his argument with such an expository flair.

The passage Paul expounds, the Scriptural tradition which he takes up, is found in Exodus 34:29-35.

2 Corinthians 3:7-11  

In this section, Paul takes a midrashic interpretive approach to Exodus 34:29-35, which describes Moses’ return from Mount Sinai carrying the two tablets of the Covenant. In v. 29-30 it is narrated that the skin of Moses’ face shone with an aura, indicating that he had been in the presence of God and that YHWH had spoken with him. Once Moses communicated to the people what had been revealed to him, he put a veil or curtain/covering (masweh, LXX kálymma) over his face (v. 33); this was repeated each time Moses received communication in the presence of YHWH (vv. 34-35). Paul draws upon this narrative and uses it as a way to compare and contrast the old and new covenants, centered on the idea of “glory” (dóxa).

In Greek, the word dóxa has the basic meaning of “what one thinks” about something, how it is considered or regarded, often in the (positive) sense of “reputation, renown, honor, esteem, dignity”, etc. It can also carry the more objective meaning “appearance”, including various visual phenomena, especially involving light, brightness, and so forth. It can be applied to God in both primary senses—(1) as the esteem and honor which is (to be) accorded to him, and (2) the brightness and visual phenomena which is manifested by his presence. Dóca is frequently used to render k¹»œ¼ (lit. “weight”) in Hebrew, a word which has a similar semantic range, especially when associated with YHWH.

In 2 Cor 3:7-11, Paul makes use of a series of qal wa-homer arguments—a traditional (Jewish) principle of interpretation, which argues from the lesser to the greater: if something is true in this (lesser) case, then how much more is it to be so regarded in the (greater) case. According to this mode of argument (a fortiori), Paul is working from the basic assumption that the new covenant is superior to the old covenant which God established with Israel at Sinai. The first two arguments (in vv. 7-9) involve the diakonía (“service, ministry”), that is, the administration of the covenant—in the case of the old covenant this began with Moses (and Aaron) and continued through the established priesthood and ritual apparatus (Temple, sacrificial offerings, purity regulations, etc), as well as through teaching and tradition. Note the contrast:

    • Vv. 7-8: service/ministry of death
      [h¢ diakonía tou thanátou]
      • service/ministry of the Spirit
        [h¢ diakonía tou pneúmatos]
    • Vers. 9: service/ministry of judgment against
      [h¢ diakonía t¢s katakríseœs]
      • service/ministry of justice/righteousness
        [h¢ diakonía t¢s dikaiosýn¢s]

The characterization of the old covenant as “the ministry of death” is striking; for the uniquely Pauline view on the relationship between the Law, sin and death, read carefully Romans 5-7 (cf. the articles on 5:12-21 and 7:7-25 in the series “Paul’s View of the Law”), and note also in Gal 3:10-14, 19-22; 1 Cor 15:56.

In vv. 7-8, the qal wa-homer argument is:

“If the ministry of death came to be in (such) esteem [dóxa]… how will the ministry of the Spirit not (even) more be in esteem?”

Similarly, in verse 9:

“If (there was) esteem in the ministry of judgment against (us), how (much) more is the ministry of justice/righteousness over (and above this) in esteem?”

Paul’s use of Exodus 34:29-35

How does Paul interpret and apply the Moses tradition in Exodus 34:29-35? The particular passage Paul expounds must be understood from the standpoint of its context in the book of Exodus.

The Background of the Tradition

The core of the book involves the establishment of the covenant, between YHWH and the people of Israel, which took place in the vicinity of Mount Sinai. In chapters 19-32, the covenant is established, and then is abrogated, when the people blatantly violate the terms of the agreement during the Golden Calf episode:

    • YHWH manifests Himself directly to the people, appearing through a storm-theophany, speaking the “ten words” (ten commandments) which form the basis for the Torah regulations—19:1-20:17
    • The people are overwhelmed and call on Moses to act as their (prophetic) representative; YHWH then manifests Himself to the people, through the mediation of Moses, and speaks further Torah, which comprise the terms of the covenant that Israel is obligated to follow—20:18-23:33
    • The covenant between YHWH and the people is ratified, through a rite (involving a sacrificial offering and ritual meal) on Mount Sinai; YHWH appears in glory before the representatives of the people—24:1-11
    • Again Moses ascends the mountain, where YHWH speaks to him the remainder of the Torah (the ceremonial/ritual regulations)—24:12-31:17
    • Moses receives the two tablets, written with the finger of God—31:18
    • The Golden Calf episode—Israel violates the covenant, Moses breaks the tablets (symbolizes the abrogation/annulment of the covenant), and the people are punished—32:1-35

Chapters 33-34 must be read in light of this narrative. Once the covenant is broken, Israel ceases to be YHWH’s people and He declares His intention to abandon them (33:1-6). It is only through Moses’ intercession (vv. 12-16), speaking with YHWH (as the people’s representative) directly in the Tent of Meeting (vv. 7-11), that the relationship is restored, and the covenant re-established.

In chapters 32-34, there are three primary themes, or motifs, all of which are prominent in chap. 32:

    • The role of Moses as leader and representative of the people before YHWH
    • The identity of Israel as the people of YHWH, and
    • The violation and invalidation of the binding agreement (covenant) between YHWH and His people

These same themes are developed in the narrative in chapters 33-34, focusing on Moses’ unique role as mediator (between YHWH and the people). With the dissolution of the covenant agreement, as narrated in chap. 32, a new situation maintains, which is indicated at the beginning of chap. 33 (verses 1-6). This may be summarized as follows:

    • Israel was God’s people
    • With the invalidation of the covenant, they are no longer treated as His people; indeed, it is God’s intention to establish a new covenant, with Moses (32:10)
    • Through Moses’ intercession there is a partial restoration (vv. 11-14)

At the start of chapter 33, Israel is still not regarded as God’s people. Note the language YHWH uses in speaking to Moses in verse 1:

“Go, go up from this (place), you and the people which you brought up from the land of Egypt…”

It is Moses, not YHWH, who “brought up” the people from Egypt. This almost certainly reflects the violation of the covenant, as echoed in the wording of 32:1. In place of Moses, the people seek for a different sort of tangible indication of God’s presence—namely, the Golden calf:

“Stand (up and) make for us God(s) which will go before us; for, see, this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has come to be for him [i.e. what has happened to him]!”

This wording is repeated in the exclamation at the creation of the Golden Calf: “These are your Gods, (O) Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!” (v. 4). Even so, there has been a partial restoration of the covenant; certainly, YHWH will honor the agreement established with Abraham, regarding the promised Land (33:1-3a, see Gen 15). However, He will not travel or reside in the midst of the people (vv. 3b, 5), a detail which would otherwise be fundamental to the identity of Israel as His people (and He as their God).

A detail often neglected by commentators is that the Tent described in vv. 7-11 is set up outside the camp. While it is possible that, originally, this was a neutral indication of the tent’s location (note the wording in v. 7), in the context of the narrative, it can only mean that YHWH is forced to meet with Moses away from the people, since he can no longer reside among them due to their violation of the covenant. This serves to deepen Moses’ role as the people’s representative before God. The encounter on Sinai, which took place in the general vicinity of the people at large, now becomes an entirely private event. The same dark cloud, which indicated the presence of YHWH at the top of Mt. Sinai, now descends, in less dramatic form, to appear at the entrance of the Tent, where God would meet/speak with Moses. Even though the people could still see the tent, and the cloud, they were cut off from the event (this is true even of Joshua, though he was within the tent itself, v. 11).

In verses 12-23, following the setting established by the tradition in vv. 7-11, Moses intercedes again for the people (vv. 12-13). YHWH agrees to lead the camp in its travels, which partially mitigates his earlier refusal to dwell among the people. At the same time, the people are brought closer to God from a different direction—through Moses’ request in verse 13 that he more completely reflect the presence of YHWH for the people: “Let me know your way(s) and know You…”. This is expressed again, in even more daring form, in verse 18: “Let me see your weight [k¹bœd]!” The Hebrew word k¹»œd (db)K*), which I have rendered literally as “weight”, when used of God, more properly refers to His manifest Presence; it is customarily translated “glory” in most English versions.

An example of such a theophany is the vision accorded Moses and the elders/leaders of Israel in 24:9-11 (“they saw the God of Israel…”, v. 10). As previous mentioned above, this theophany was related to the initial establishment of the covenant, just as with its re-establishment here. Moses is apparently asking for an even more direct and personal revelation by YHWH. This Presence had otherwise been covered by the dark cloud during Moses’ previous encounters.

There is thus a new theophany at Sinai, but it is revealed to Moses alone. This time Moses is to ascend entirely alone—there should be no one on or near the mountain at all (vv. 1-3). Moreover, special emphasis is given to the new set of stone tablets which were carved out by Moses (vv. 1, 4). In obedience, Moses follows this directive and encounters YHWH (vv. 4-9). The promised revelation, as noted above, is described as a spoken declaration, centered on the utterance of the Divine Name YHWH (hwhy), vv. 6-7. While this is referred to in terms of a vision, when the moment comes in the narrative it is described in terms of the spoken word. There can be no doubt, however, that the declaration in 34:6-7 is to be understood as the fundamental revelation of YHWH’s presence. Even more important, from the standpoint of the narrative, is that this theological message is central to the idea of the restoration of the covenant in chapters 34ff. The Presence of God becomes transferred and accessible to the people through the ministry of Moses.

The encounter reaches its climax with Moses’ request that YHWH take the people again as His own. And, indeed, in verses 10-26, God responds by establishing the covenant again with Israel, after which they are once again regarded as His people (compare with v. 10). There are, however, some important points of difference with this second covenant, as expressed through details often overlooked by commentators. First, it is a covenant with Israel and with Moses (v. 27, Moses’ name is given first). This indicates the enhanced role of Moses in ministering the covenant, and in communicating God’s word and presence to the people.

Second, the same basic idea is indicated by the difference in the character of the stone tablets which provide the written basis of the agreement. The first covenant was written on the tablets by the finger of God (31:18; 32:16); by contrast, the second is said specifically to be written by Moses (34:27-28). Some commentators are inclined to gloss over this apparent difference, or to attribute it simply to differences in the underlying traditions. While the latter is certainly possible, in my view it does not change the meaning of the difference in the overall narrative as we have it.

The remainder of chapter 34 further emphasizes, in vivid and dramatic fashion, the mediatorial role of Moses. The Divine Presence is marked and reflected on Moses’ own person (rays of light from his face), visibly and symbolically, as he descends from Mt. Sinai (vv. 29-30). In this glorified condition he communicates God’s instruction (Torah) to the people (vv. 31-33), a process which is repeated at regular points, at least until the Torah is complete and the communal Tent of Meeting (Tabernacle) is built. Indeed, within the narrative structure and setting, this Torah (35:1-3) leads into specific instruction regarding the building of the Tent, through which the people would come to encounter YHWH. This is unquestionably meant as a parallel to the Tent “outside the camp” which only Moses would enter (34:34-35). After the great new Tent is established, God’s Presence fills it (40:34), effectively taking Moses’ place as the one who communicated the Presence to the people (v. 35). Here the Presence of YHWH would reside with Israel through all of the people’s travels (vv. 36-38).

This overview of the literary context of Exod 34:29-35 will help us to understand why Paul chooses it, and develops it in the way that he does. In next week’s study, we will examine carefully how the themes and motifs from the Exodus narrative are developed and applied within the context of 2 Corinthians.

(For further study on Exodus 32-34, see my earlier set of three Saturday Series studies on the passage; and for a detailed exegesis on 2 Cor 3:7-11, see my recent notes [part of the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”].)

Saturday Series: 2 Corinthians 3:1-6

2 Corinthians 3:1-6

In this study of the famous declaration by Paul in 2 Cor 3:18, we are examining the historical and literary context of the verse. It is to be considered, as we are doing, within the literary context of the section spanning 2:14-4:6. In last week’s study, we looked at 2:14-17, along with the portions of the letter (1:3-2:13) leading up to it. Paul’s main purpose in writing has to do with a disruption in the relationship between he (as an apostle) and the Corinthian churches. He mentions at least one significant episode (2:5-11) which seems to have led to some tension in the relationship.

Another factor which was apparently affecting the relationship negatively was the influence at Corinth of certain apostolic rivals to Paul. Specific (but unidentified) opponents are addressed far more directly (and harshly) in chapters 10-13. Most likely the same people are being alluded to in chapters 1-7 (e.g., 2:17; 3:1ff; 5:12-13), even if, as many commentators believe, chapters 10-13 are part of a separate letter written later than chaps. 1-7.

Almost certainly, Paul would not have introduced the theme of “letters of commendation” here in 3:1-6 if there were not such apostolic ‘rivals’, exerting some influence at Corinth, who were outside of Paul’s immediate missionary circle of friends and co-workers. The wording of verse 1 is important, if a bit difficult to translate literally:

“Do we begin again to present ourselves (as ministers) of (good) standing? (surely) we do not need (letter)s (showing our good) standing sent to you, or from you?”

Paul uses both the adjective systatikós and the related verb suníst¢mi/sunistáœ, which literally means “stand [together] with”, in the sense of placing things (or people) together (and presenting them) in front of someone. As a technical term, it came to be applied to letters a person carried, introducing him/her to another group or in a place where he/she was not known. It was a well-developed literary form in Paul’s time, models of which are provided, for example, by Demetrius (2nd/1st century B.C.) and Libanius (4th century A.D.); see Furnish, p. 180. Traveling missionaries and ministers would typically carry such letters of recommendation, whenever possible, particularly when they were visiting congregations and homes in places where they were not (well) known. Paul offers commendatory passages in his letters for specific individuals—see Philemon; Romans 16:1-2; Philippians 2:29-30.

In the ancient world, which lacked modern-day high-speed communication, such practice was necessary to establish a person’s identity and credentials; it also could serve as a source of authority and legitimacy. Naturally enough, the more impressive or prestigious the letter of recommendation, the more influence it provided; even today, the right letter of recommendation still carries tremendous weight for prospective employers, and so forth. It is possible that Paul’s opponents included visiting “apostles” who possessed such letters and credentials.

In vv. 1-6, Paul argues that neither he nor his colleagues require written letters recommending them to the believers of Corinth, since they are already well known—that is to say, this written authentication is already there in the hearts of the believers, having been written by the very Spirit of God (v. 4). He is referring primarily to the work of preaching the Gospel, which the Corinthian believers accepted; as a result they themselves become “the epistle of Christ”, under the service/ministry of Paul and his fellow missionaries. In verse 2, some manuscripts understandably read “written on your [hymœn] hearts,” but the correct reading almost certainly is “written on our [h¢mœn] hearts” —that is, the Corinthian believers (collectively) are a spiritual ‘letter’ written on the hearts of Paul and his colleagues, which they carry with them everywhere they go. Paul is, of course, emphasizing both aspects of the relationship, in connection with the apostolic ministry of proclaiming the Gospel of Christ. In verse 3, he specifically declares that the Corinthians are “an epistle of Christ”:

“…being made to shine forth [i.e. made manifest/apparent] that you are a (letter) sent (forth) [epistol¢¡] of (the) Anointed (One), having been written, not with black (ink), but with (the) Spirit, not on (the) flat surfaces of stones, but on fleshy hearts.”

It is interesting the way that this image leads Paul so readily to the dualistic juxtaposition contrasting the old and new covenants, in terms of “the written (word/letter) [to grámma]” and “the Spirit [to pneúma]”. See how this contrast in made, twice, in vv. 1-3 and 4-6:

    • Commendatory letters for apostles—believers under their ministry
      • written in the heart
        • contrast with being written in tablets of stone (v. 3)
    • Confidence for apostles before God—ministers of a new covenant
      • of the Spirit
        • contrast with the written word (v. 6)

This is instructive as an example of the way that Paul is able to move from addressing practical matters into a deeper level of theological and spiritual discourse. Indeed, the entirety of verses 7-18 is such an expository discourse, which is not essential to the primary point Paul is making in the passage. To see this demonstrated, try reading up to verse 6a and then jump ahead immediately to 4:1 and continue on from there. The passage, and the argument Paul is making, would flow rather smoothly even if 3:7-18 were not present.

When examining verses 7-11, it will be necessary to consider just why Paul makes this connection here between his apostolic ministry and the old covenant established with Israel. For the time being, we should focus upon the formulation in verse 6, where, after identifying himself (and his colleagues) as “servants/ministers of a new covenant,” Paul adds:

“…not of (the) written (word), but of (the) Spirit; for the written (word) kills off, but the Spirit makes alive”

To someone unfamiliar with Galatians and Romans, this would be a striking declaration, especially his statement that the “written (word) kills” —that is, the Law, specifically in its written form, brings death. Paul explains and expounds this idea in Romans 5-7 (note, in particular, Rom 7:7ff); even so, it must have been rather shocking to believers at the time—as it still is for many today. For the particular identification of the Law with the written word (grámma), see Rom 2:27, 29; 7:6, and note also Col 2:14. In Rom 2:27-29 and 7:6 there is the same contrast between the Spirit and the written word.

The context of chs. 10-13 suggests that at least some of these opponents are Jewish Christians (11:21ff), as in Galatians (cf. also Phil 3:2ff and Col 2:11ff, 16-18), and this may inform the rhetorical approach in 2 Cor 3 as well. Already in 1 Corinthians (1:10-13ff), Paul is aware of certain tendencies toward factionalism among the believers at Corinth, whereby people identify themselves in relation to a prominent apostolic personality. We know that Apollos (see Acts 18:24-19:1) was a Jewish Christian apostle (missionary and traveling minister) who was active at Corinth (1 Cor 3:4-6; 4:6; 16:12). Paul treats Apollos as a legitimate fellow-minister, though one senses a certain tension in 1 Cor 3:4-6ff (compare the contrast between Apollos and the Pauline circle in Acts 18:24-19:1ff).

Paul felt that there was a special relationship between the apostolic missionary and those who came to believe as a result of his work, and he was certainly protective of the churches which he had helped to found. When he was not present, those churches were, at times, vulnerable to the influence of other traveling ministers, people over whom Paul did not have any control. The New Testament bears witness to a number of controversies involving ‘competing’ missionaries. In addition to the situations Paul addresses in his letters (especially in Galatians and 2 Corinthians), we have the noteworthy example of 1 John, in which the author is combating the influence of certain “false prophets”, who can be characterized as Christian ministers and prophet-teachers working (and traveling) throughout the territory of the Johannine churches (see especially the warning in 2 John 7-11).

If Paul’s apostolic ‘rivals’ among the Corinthians were indeed prominent Jewish Christians, then this might explain why he suddenly embarks on the discourse of vv. 7-18, contrasting the old and new covenants. It would be most appropriate if these people, like the opponents in Galatians, continued to emphasize the binding authority of the Torah regulations for believers in Christ. However, if such a ‘Judaizing’ tendency was present in the work of his rivals, one expect a clearer indication of this in the fierce polemic of chapters 10-13, akin to what we find in Galatians.

Perhaps more relevant to verses 1-6, is the possibility that Paul’s rivals possessed impressive letters of recommendation, perhaps even coming from the church(es) of Jerusalem. Some at Corinth might well have asked, “What sort of letters of recommendation does Paul carry, compared to these?” Instead, in this passage, Paul emphasizes a spiritual, rather than a written, pedigree. It is this emphasis on the Spirit that characterizes the entire New Covenant, and the apostolic ministry of proclaiming the Gospel. In next week’s study, we will examine the unique expository discourse that Paul embarks on (in verses 7-11ff), focusing on the Scriptural tradition(s) that he utilizes as the basis for his exposition.

References above marked “Furnish” are to Victor Paul Furnish, II Corinthians, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 32A (1984).

Saturday Series: 2 Corinthians 2:14ff

A key principle of Biblical Criticism, and of a critical approach to Scripture, is that every verse and passage must be examined within the literary and historical context of the book as a whole. This relates specifically to the fields of literary criticism and historical criticism, but to other critical approaches as well. The principle is particularly important when dealing with well-known and popular passages. Some of the grandest and most memorable Scripture verses are precisely those which are most apt to being taken out of context.

In the Saturday Series studies for the first half of 2023, we will be looking at some of these famous passages, which are often cited and referenced altogether out of their literary and historical context. One such verse is 2 Corinthians 3:18, which actually serves as the climax, coming at the very end, of a discourse by Paul, essentially covering most of chapter 3. As grand as the declaration in verse 18 is, to ignore or neglect its place in the chapter 3 discourse, is to miss out on much of its significance.

The discourse that closes with the v. 18 declaration properly spans vv. 6b-18. It has its position within the broader section of 2:14-4:6, which, in turn, comprises a major portion of the literary work covering chapters 1-7. It is best to limit our study here to the first seven chapters, when defining the extent of the literary work (the letter by Paul) that is involved. According to the view of many commentators, 2 Corinthians is, or may be, composed of more than one letter by Paul. Most commonly, the bulk of chapters 1-7 and 10-13, respectively, are regarded as originally distinct and separate letters, written by Paul to the Corinthian churches, which were subsequently combined and edited together. Chapters 8-9 are also considered, by some, to comprise a third letter, and there are even more complicated theories regarding the composition of 2 Corinthians, involving more than three letters.

Following the epistolary prescript (letter opening) in 1:1-2, and exordium (introduction, with blessing/thanksgiving section) in 1:3-11, the body of the letter begins at 1:12. Indeed, verses 12-14 serve as the propositio—that is, the central proposition that Paul will be expounding in his letter, and an expression of his primary purpose (causa) in writing. In verse 12, Paul essentially declares that he (and his fellow ministers, “we”) have conducted themselves in a worthy manner, with an honest and genuine concern for the welfare of the Corinthian congregations. In verses 13-14, he further expresses the wish (and hope) that the Corinthians will fully understand and acknowledge his relationship to them (as an apostle).

The implication, as will become clear throughout the letter, is that there has been a disruption in the relationship between Paul and the Corinthians, which Paul seeks to restore. The breach in the relationship has come from the Corinthians’ side, and he writes in order to persuade them to restore things from their side.

What follows in 1:15-2:13 is the narratio, a narration and presentation of the facts of the case. Often in Paul’s letters, this takes the form of an autobiographical narration, related to the events of Paul’s own missionary work. Here, his narration spans certain events, only alluded to, which have contributed to the strained relationship. The summary of the changes to his itinerary (1:15-22), by which Paul put off his planned visit to Corinth, are related to an earlier conflict that took place among the churches. He mentions both a ‘sorrowful visit’ (2:1), as well as a ‘tearful letter’ (2:3-4), and these seem to have been in connection with a specific episode, involving the discipline of a particular believer (vv. 5-11).

Many commentators have identified this episode with the one described in 1 Corinthians 5:1-5. While this is possible, it is unlikely that 1 Corinthians itself is the ‘tearful letter’ mentioned by Paul. Moreover, the place of this event within the overall context of Paul’s writing in chapters 1-7 makes more sense if the offense involved a personal attack or insult against Paul himself. This, indeed, is suggested by the careful wording in 2:5, in which Paul makes clear that any sorrow (vb lypéœ) brought to him was really brought to the Community as a whole. That is, by offending against a leading minister, one is actually committing an offense against all of the congregation.

The line of argument used by Paul throughout chapters 1-7 does, in fact, focus upon his status as an apostle (apóstolos), and the special relationship that he has—and should have—as an apostle, with the Corinthian churches.

Another source of conflict appears to be the presence/activity of certain apostolic rivals to Paul at Corinth. He only alludes to these in chapters 1-7, but the nature of the references to them, in context, allows us gain a sense of certain features, and the sort of conflict there may have been between they and Paul—see especially, 2:17; 3:1; 5:12-13a. Probably the same people are the target of Paul’s more pointed polemic in chapters 10-13; if chaps. 1-7 and 10-13 are originally part of the same letter, then we can be certain of the identification.

2 Corinthians 2:14ff

This brings us to Paul’s exposition, the probatio (“proving”) of the proposition, which contains the arguments by which he hopes to persuade the Corinthians. He begins this in 2:14-16, with a statement in the form of a thanksgiving, such as we find in the introductions of a number of Paul’s letters:

“Now to God (be thanks for His) favor, the (One) always leading us in a triumph in the Anointed, and the smell of the knowledge of Him shewing (forth) through us in every place, for a good scent of (the) Anointed we are to God among the (one)s being saved and (also) among the (one)s being destroyed—to the (one), a smell out of death into death, and to the (other), a smell out of life into life.”

Paul makes use of two images here to describe his apostolic ministry. The first, using the verb thriambeúœ, is that of people being led (and shown off) as part of a triumphal procession; while the second involves the spread of a distinctive smell/scent (osm¢¡) through the air. The latter is certainly the dominant image in vv. 14-16, and, for this reason, one should be cautious about reading too much into the first image.

The main question regarding the image of the triumphal procession is: are the people being shown off the victors (i.e. the general’s troops, etc) or the vanquished (captured prisoners, etc)? Commentators have been divided on this point—viz., whether Paul is emphasizing strength and victory or weakness and suffering. Overall, the latter seems more likely, in keeping with Paul’s specific emphases, both here in chapters 1-7, but also in chaps. 10-13. Probably the central idea being stressed is that the apostolic missionaries are led about (by God) from place to place, as people through whom God makes His presence manifest, showing it to all people.

The scent exuded by Christian missionaries is specifically that of Christ, “of the Anointed,” and doubtless there is a play on the idea of fragrant oil or perfume used for anointing (compare the imagery in John 12:3). An apostle—one who is “sent forth” by Christ, as his representative—gives out the aroma of Christ. Clearly, the proclamation of the Gospel is what Paul principally has in mind—the “good message” of Christ, given to us by God.

The Divine aspect of the apostolic ministry is certainly being emphasized in the question Paul poses at the close of verse 16: “And toward [i.e. for] these (thing)s, who (is) fit (to serve)?”. The adjective hikanós is related to the verb hiknéomai, which denotes coming to (and reaching) a certain point. Thus the adjective can refer to someone having a certain level of ability or competence to carry out a task. But who is fit for a ministry that involves life and death, of proclaiming a message (the Gospel) so powerful that it will confirm whether a person lives or dies?

The idea of a person’s fitness for the apostolic ministry leads to the apologetic testimony that follows in verse 17. Paul categorically denies being like those who use the word of God as a way to gain personal profit—the basic sense of the verb kap¢leúœ—and, in this regard, he probably has certain apostolic rivals in mind (see the discussion above). Instead, Paul affirms that he conducts himself with sincerity and integrity, as a true servant and minister of God. All throughout 2 Corinthians, there is an apologetic thrust to his discourse, as he defends his status as a true apostle.

In next week’s study, we will turn to 3:1-6, where Paul makes use of a different image to illustrate his fitness as an apostle.


Saturday Series: Galatians 6:11-18

These recent Saturday Series studies have focused on New Testament Rhetorical Criticism, using Paul’s letter to the Galatians as a framework for the rhetorical analysis. Classic rhetorical techniques were utilized in a particular way within the context of letters and epistles, and are related to the specific conventions of the epistolary form. Paul adopted these rhetorical techniques in very distinctive ways, in order to convince his audience—in this case, the believers and congregations in Galatia—regarding the issues he was addressing. In this regard, Paul’s letters (Galatians, in particular) are closer to Greco-Roman philosophical writings, in the form of letters, such as the Moral Letters of Seneca.

We have gone through Galatians, from a rhetorical-critical standpoint, section by section, and have now reached the final section of the letter. Galatians 6:11-18 represents the conclusion of the letter (the Epistolary Postscript), originally in Paul’s own handwriting (v. 11).

Postscript (Galatians 6:11-18)

The Epistolary Postscript may be divided as follows:

In classical rhetoric the peroratio is used primarily to sum up the essential arguments and points presented during the speech (or, in this case, the letter), referred to as the enumeratio or recapitulatio (see Betz, Galatians, pp. 312-3). Since Paul recapitulates much of what he has already stated—and which has already been discussed in the previous studies in this series—I will treat the relevant statements in vv. 12-17 rather briefly, before proceeding to several concluding points regarding Paul’s arguments.

Verses 12-13—Here Paul engages in a sharp polemic (indignatio) against his opponents, putting them in a bad light for the Galatians. He returns to the causa of the letter (i.e. his reason for writing): that these Jewish Christians are attempting to compel (or at least influence) the Gentile Galatians to become circumcised (and to observe the Torah). The claims Paul makes here may be summarized thus:

    • Their motivation in urging/demanding circumcision is deceptive and not honorable (v. 12, 13b):
      • They wish to have a nice appearance (i.e. look good in people’s eyes) “in the flesh” [en sarkí]
      • They want to avoid being persecuted for the true Gospel (“for the cross of Christ”)
      • They want to be able to “boast” [kaucháomai] “in the flesh” [en t¢¡ sarkí] of the Galatians
    • They (“the ones circumcized”) do not actually keep the Law themselves (v. 13a)

Note the two-fold use of the expression “in the flesh”, in light of Paul’s use of “flesh” (sárx) throughout Galatians and in the rest of his letters. There is a bit of wordplay involved—they want to be accepted and admired in a fleshly (that is, carnal/worldly), rather than spiritual, manner, according to:

    1. Their own flesh—in their external, superficial (and self-centered) approach to religion
    2. In the Galatians‘ flesh—by the adoption of the Jewish law and ritual, without properly understanding the significance and consequences of doing so

Some critical commentators have seriously questioned whether Paul is fairly (and accurately) representing the position and motivation of his opponents. While some polemical distortion may be involved, there is also, on objective grounds, a believable kernel of historical truth, especially with regard to the idea that fear of persecution (from fellow Jews) was a motivating factor. That Paul, and other early missionaries, at times, endured severe hostility and persecution is indicated throughout his letters, as well as the narratives in the book of Acts. Consider also how, according to Paul, social and religious pressure from the presence of prominent representatives of the Jerusalem Church was enough to influence even stalwart apostles such as Peter and Barnabas (Gal 2:11-14). The claim in v. 13—that his (Jewish Christian) opponents advocating Torah observance do not actually keep the Law themselves—is more difficult to judge.

Verse 14—The centrality of Christ—and, in particular, of his death (the “cross of Christ”)—is expressed in this verse in a manner similar to other passages in Galatians (Gal 1:4; 3:1, 13; 5:11, 24), and especially Gal 2:19ff. For other references in Paul’s letters, see 1 Cor 1:17-18, 23; 2:2, and also 1 Cor 1:13; 2 Cor 13:4; Rom 6:6; Phil 2:8; 3:18; Col 1:20; 2:14; Eph 2:16. Paul contrasts his boasting (in the cross of Christ) with that of his opponents (above). His statement that “the world has been put to the stake [i.e. crucified] to me, and I to the world” closely echoes those earlier in Gal 2:19; 5:24, and is, naturally enough, governed by the prepositional phrase “through Christ Jesus”.

Verse 15—Paul comes one last time to the cause, or reason for his writing to the Galatians—the question of whether believers in Christ ought to be circumcised (and observe the Torah). It is also the last major doctrinal statement of the letters. I have discussed it—along with the parallel formulations in Gal 5:6 and 1 Cor 7:19—in some detail, in an earlier note.

Verse 16—Here Paul offers a conditional blessing; there are two phrases which should be examined:

    • hósoi tœ kanóni toútœ stoich¢¡sousin, “as (many) as walk in line by this (measuring) rod” —Paul uses the same verb (stoichéœ) as in Gal 5:25 (“walk in line in/by the Spirit”); the noun kanœ¡n (used only by Paul in the New Testament, here and in 2 Cor 10:13-16), indicates a (straight) measuring line or rod (“reed”), or, more abstractly, a boundary, rule, and the like. The “rule” he refers to is the statement in verse 15, though doubtless Paul would apply it to the entire teaching and line of argument in the letter as well.
    • epí ton Isra¢¡l tou Theoú, “upon the Yisrael {Israel} of God” —this expression has proven most difficult for commentators, representing a crux interpretum, especially with regard to the relationship between Christian and Jewish identity in Paul’s writings. For more on the expression, see my earlier note.

Verse 17—In this last verse of the section, Paul makes a final appeal to his own experience (his suffering) as a missionary for Christ. This may be referred to under the rhetorical category of conquestio, a statement intended to arouse pity in the audience (see Betz, Galatians, p. 313). The key phrase here is Paul’s declaration, which he gives as the reason why no one should be trying to oppose or disturb his work: “for I bear in my (own) body the stigmata of Yeshua”. A stígma (plural stigmáta) was a visible mark, here probably with the connotation of the piercing or branding done to a slave or prisoner. Paul is likely referring, in a concrete sense, to the scars on his body as a result of being whipped; but, no doubt, he means it in the overall context of his labors and sufferings as a missionary for Christ—see especially 2 Cor 11:23-33 and the narratives in Acts. It is also a subtle way of emphasizing again his personal (apostolic) authority, concluding, as he began in 1:1, with a motif that runs through the entire letter.

Concluding Notes

Having concluded this rhetorical-critical study of Galatians, it may be helpful to summarize the key points of emphasis and arguments made in the letter, related to Paul’s central proposition regarding the Torah, and the relation of the Old Testament Law to believers:

    • Paul’s status as an apostle, along with the (Gospel) message he proclaims, comes directly from God and Christ by way of revelation—this is contrasted with the authority of the prominent Jewish Christians of the Jerusalem Church (including Peter), and, especially, with the “false” Gospel of his (Jewish-Christian) opponents.
    • Already at the ‘Jerusalem Council’, Paul’s missionary approach to the Gentiles was accepted and affirmed by other Jewish Christian believers (and leaders in the Church)—a fundamental tenet of this approach for Paul was that (Gentile) believers should not be required to be circumcised or to observe all the commands of the Old Testament/Jewish Law (Torah).
    • Observance of the Law was not required in order for believers to be accepted (made/declared just, or righteous) by God and saved from the coming Judgment; quite the opposite!—justification comes through trust/faith in Christ, and not by observing the Law (“works of Law”).
    • Beyond this, believers in Christ are entirely free from the Old Testament/Jewish Law—this is understood by Paul primarily by way of identification with (and participation in) the death (crucifixion) of Christ. Understood spiritually, and realized symbolically through the (initiatory) rite of Baptism, believers die to the old, and live in the new.
    • By various arguments, Paul establishes that the Law was only temporary, and in force only until the coming of Christ (see the six lines of argument in the probatio of chapters 3-4, discussed in prior studies).
    • The purpose of the Law during this time was to hold people in a kind of bondage, or slavery, primarily by making manifest the power of sin. Freedom from the Law is closely connected to freedom from the enslaving power of sin (a dynamic described more extensively in Romans).
    • The freedom of believers is defined fundamentally in terms of sonship—of being sons (children) of God and heirs of the promise and blessing of God. This promise (using the example of Abraham/Isaac from Scripture) is prior to, and separate from, the Law. The promise relates both to justification (by faith/trust) and receiving the (Holy) Spirit.
    • The old covenant and promise to Israel is fulfilled decisively in believers—a new identity (“in Christ”) is established, separate from the old Israelite/Jewish identity tied to circumcision and observance of the Torah.
    • The marks of this new identity—as distinct from circumcision and the Torah—are three: trust/faith, the Spirit, and love.
    • Love—understood primarily in terms of sacrificial, mutual love between believers—is the only “Law” which Christians must observe (the “love-command” being the fulfillment of the entire Law); it may be referred to as “the Law of Christ”.
    • Proper religious and moral/ethical behavior is established by the work and guidance of the Spirit, and not by observing the commands, etc. of the Torah. These two guiding principles: (1) walking in/by the Spirit, and (2) the “love command”, take the place of the Torah for believers.
    • The fundamental principle of Christian freedom (from the Law) in Christ applies to both Jewish and Gentile believers alike. However, it should be noted that Paul does not deal much in the letter with how this plays out for Jewish Christians.

References marked “Betz, Galatians” are to: Hans Dieter Betz, Galatians, in the Hermeneia series (Fortress Press [1979]).

Saturday Series: Galatians 5:1-6:10

The bulk of chapters 5 and 6 (5:1-6:10) makes up the exhortatio—that is, the section where, according to classical (deliberative) rhetoric, the author/speaker exhorts his audience to action or to a decision; in a religious or philosophical context, as here, this may be accompanied by ethical-moral instruction (parenesis) as well. Parenesis is a marginal component of classical rhetoric, featuring more commonly in Greco-Roman philosophical works; the Moral Letters of Seneca, in this regard, offer a general parallel to Paul’s letters (see Betz, Galatians, p. 254).

Exhortatio (Galatians 5:1-6:10)

I divide and outline the exhortatio into three main sections, prefaced by a primary exhortation:

    • 5:1—Exhortation regarding freedom vs. slavery
    • 5:2-12—Exhortation/warning regarding the Law (circumcision)
      —vv. 2-6: The Law vs. Christ
      —vv. 7-12: Those who are influencing the Galatians to observe the Law
    • 5:13-25—Exhortation/warning regarding freedom in Christ, which specifically includes:
      —vv. 16-21: The works of the flesh
      —vv. 22-25: The fruit of the Spirit
    • 5:26-6:10—Instruction related to Christian freedom (“walking in the Spirit”)
      5:26-6:6: Dealing with fellow believers—the “law of Christ”
      6:7-10: Harvest illustration and concluding warning

What is important is the way that Paul fashions his exhortation (and parenetic material) in relation to the primary argument of the letter—namely, that the Torah no longer has binding authority for believers in Christ, and that Christians (Gentile believers, in particular) are not obligated to observe the Torah regulations and requirements (such as circumcision and the dietary laws). The first section (including the opening verse 1) comprises Paul’s primary exhortation. In the next two sections, his argument regarding the Law is applied to the moral/ethical instruction of believers (i.e., the parenetic content). A key question and issue Paul addresses is this: if the Torah is no longer binding for believers, then where do we turn for guidance and direction in ethical matters? The answer is two-fold, rooted in the presence of the Spirit, but also involving important (apostolic) guidance regarding what it means to “walk in the Spirit”.

Galatians 5:1

The main exhortation in this verse picks up with the previous freedom vs. slavery theme used throughout the arguments in chapter 4:

“To freedom (the) Anointed has set us free; therefore stand (firm) and do not again have held (down) on you a yoke of slavery”

The dative of t¢¡ eleuthería is best understood as a dative of goal or purpose, i.e. “to freedom” , “for freedom”, parallel to the expression ep’ eleuthería in verse 13. For Paul, there is a fundamental connection between freedom and the Spirit (see 2 Cor 3:17). The exhortation is expressed according to two verbs:

The first is active, exhorting the Galatians to action (or continuation of action); the second is passive, implying something which is done to them by others, but which the Galatians may be allowing to happen. The image related to slavery is especially vivid—that of someone holding a yoke down upon their shoulders. This expression (“yoke of slavery”) is found in 1 Tim 6:1; a burdensome “yoke” is related to the Law in Acts 15:10 (Peter speaking), which may be contrasted with ‘yoke of Christ’ (Matt 11:29f)—see a possible parallel in the “Law of Christ” (Gal 6:2, to be discussed).

Galatians 5:2-12

This first section may be summarized as an exhortation (warning) regarding circumcision and Torah observance, which is, of course, the main reason (or cause) for Paul writing to the Galatians.

Vv. 2-6The Law vs. Christ. Paul begins directly, with a solemn asseveration:

“See—I, Paulus, relate to you that if you should be circumcised…”

In other words, if the Galatians allow themselves to be circumcised, and persuaded to be bound by the Torah commands, then the following will be the result:

    • Christ will be of no value to you (“will benefit/profit you nothing”), v. 2
    • You will be obligated (“one in debt”) to keep (lit. “to do”) the whole Law, v. 3
    • You will be made inactive (i.e. useless) (and will be) away from Christ, v. 4a
    • You will fall out of favor (with God), [i.e. will fall from grace], v. 4b

The first two results (vv. 2-3) use the language of commerce and debt, from two vantage points—(a) losing the value/profit of Christ, and (b) becoming indebted to the Law. The second two results (v. 4) are parallel expressions of loss, falling (a) “away from Christ” [apó Christoú], and (b) “out of favor/grace” [{ex} t¢¡s cháritos]. From a modern-day Christian (or secular) standpoint, one might be inclined to view observance of the Torah as a relative matter of indifference, and yet, for Paul, as vv. 2-4 indicate, the consequences for the Galatians in so doing would be dire indeed. Why should this be? Is Paul simply indulging in some rhetorical exaggeration to make his point? The answer, I think, can be glimpsed by what follows in verse 5:

“For we, in/through (the) Spirit [pneúmati], out of trust [ek písteœs], look to receive from (God) (the) hope of justice/righteousness [elpída dikaiosýn¢s]”

This is another powerful declaration of Christian identity, bringing together in compact form several of the key terms and expressions Paul has been using in Galatians. In particular, it is another clear statement of the fundamental premise that righteousness comes only through the Spirit and faith (in Christ), and not by observing the Law (indeed, quite the opposite!). An even more decisive declaration against keeping the Law comes in verse 6:

“For in (the) Anointed Yeshua circumcision does not have any strength, (and) neither (does having) a foreskin, but (rather) trust working in (you) through love

The Law, especially in its ritual/ceremonial aspects (the foremost being circumcision), has no strength; in this regard, see the description of the “elements [stoicheia] of the world” as “weak and poor” (4:9), as well as the basic proposition that the Law is not able to make/declare people just before God (2:15-16, etc, see also Paul in Acts 13:38-39). For the first time in Galatians, faith/trust in Christ is connected with love, and this will become an important emphasis in the instruction throughout chaps. 5 and 6. Also, there can be little doubt that we have here an intentional and specific contrast between “works [érga] of the Law” and faith/trust (by the Spirit) “working in [energoumén¢]” us. For other Pauline formulations parallel to v. 6, see my earlier note on Gal 6:15.

Vv. 7-12The ones influencing the Galatians. Here Paul breaks off to engage in a direct attack against his Jewish-Christian opponents, that is, the ones who are influencing the Galatians to be circumcised and to observe the Torah (see also further on in 6:12-13). It must be admitted that such polemic as Paul uses here, while generally acceptable within the standards of ancient (Greco-Roman) rhetoric and ‘diatribe’, makes for rather uncomfortable reading today. The specific language and style ought to be treated with considerable caution by commentators and preachers.

In many ways, verses 7-10 parallel vv. 2-4 (see above); while the earlier passage laid out the consequences for the Galatians if they accepted circumcision, here Paul describes the character (and fate) of those who have been encouraging them to be circumcised (i.e. the so-called “Judaizers”)—they are said:

    • to be contrary to the truth (v. 7)
    • contrary to the one calling people to faith (i.e. God) (v. 8)
    • troubling the peace and unity of believers (v. 9-10)
    • they will come under the judgment of God (v. 10b)

In some ways, vv. 11-12 serve as a parallel to the declaration in verse 6 (above); there Paul stated the unimportance of circumcision compared with faith/trust in Christ, here he contrasts proclaiming circumcision (and the Torah) with proclaiming the Gospel (especially the cross, i.e. the death of Christ). The exact logic and context of verse 11 is a bit difficult to determine; it may be that Paul’s opponents accused him of inconsistency, of advocating for circumcision even while denying its requirement for Gentiles (see Acts 16:3). In Gal 6:12-13, he also alludes to the fact that some (Jewish) Christians were embracing circumcision and the Torah so as to avoid persecution; here, however, he makes clear that the persecution he (and his fellow missionaries) have endured is because of the Gospel (the “cross of Christ”). After experiencing the transformative revelation of the Gospel message in Christ, through faith and the Spirit, to turn again to the Law (and circumcision) would effectively rob Christ’s death of its power and significance, as stated previously in Gal 2:21.

Verse 12 concludes with a terse bit of darkly ironic wordplay, a kind of “bloody joke”:

“I owe [i.e. I wish] (it to them that) they will even cut themselves off, the ones stirring you up!”

Commentators are generally agreed that here the verb apokóptœ, “cut (away) from”, i.e. “cut off” is used in the sense of (self)-mutilation or amputation—i.e., castration. The ones troubling (“stirring up, upturning”) the Galatians are doing so by encouraging them to be circumcised, that is, to have the foreskin cut off; in more vulgar modern idiom, we might translate verse 12 as: “the ones (who are) unsettling you, I wish that they would cut off their {blank}!” Take Paul’s expression for what it is worth in context, it certainly is another example of how seriously he regards the issue.

Galatians 5:13-25

If vv. 2-12 was an exhortation (and warning) against observing the Torah, this section provides rather the opposite: regarding the freedom (i.e. freedom from the Law) which believers have in Christ. Verse 13 states the primary exhortation, similar to that in verse 1:

V. 13:
“For you have been called out (to be) upon [i.e. for] freedom, brothers! only (do) not (let) the freedom (be) unto a rushing (away) from (God) to the flesh, but (rather) be a slave to one another through love.”

The word aphorm¢¡ literally refers to a movement or sudden/violent impulse away from something (or someone) and toward something else. More abstractly, it can also indicate a tendency or opportunity to move/act in a particular direction. There is, perhaps, a modern tendency to think of the “flesh” as personal (carnal) sin, but the immediate context (and also the list of “works of the flesh” in vv. 19-21), rather emphasizes self-centered (and/or violent) behavior against others (that is, other believers). Such fleshy action and attitude disrupts and destroys the peace and unity of the body of Christ (believers as a whole). In this respect, it is indeed striking that Paul introduces the idea of true and proper slavery for believers—of serving one another through love. This prepares the way for the similarly surprising idea of Christians following the “Law”, but in a special, qualified sense.

Verses 14-15—After spending all of the first four chapters of Galatians setting Torah observance (“works of Law”) in contrast to the Spirit and faith in Christ, treating it in terms of slavery, Paul now turns to describe the way in which Christians are still under Law. This is done in a manner common, it would seem, in many parts of the early Church, by bringing together the entire Law under a single command:

“For all the Law is filled up [i.e. fulfilled] in one word, in the ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself'” (v. 14)

The quotation is from Lev 19:18 (LXX), a verse established in early Christian tradition through the teaching of Jesus, as part of the two-fold “greatest commandment” (Mark 12:31 par; Matt 5:43; 19:19)—also related to the so-called “golden rule” (Matt 7:12; Luke 6:31)—as a ‘summary’ of the Law. Paul offers a more precise contextual statement in Rom 13:8-10; for other instances in early Christian writings, see James 2:8; Didache 1:2; Barnabas 19:5; and Justin, Dialogue with Trypho 93:2.

It is sometimes referred to as the “love command”, under the influence of similar language in the Gospel and letters of John (Jn 13:34-35; 14:15-24; 15:10-17; 1 Jn 2:7-11; 3:23; 4:21; 5:1-3). It is likely that this particular teaching and use of Lev 19:18 is not original with Jesus, but may have been part of contemporary Jewish tradition, as associated with first/second-century Rabbis Hillel and Aqiba (see Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 31a; Genesis Rabbah 24:7, etc).

Paul actually does not refer to this as a command, nor as something which is to be “done”, but as something fulfilled (see Jesus’ words in Matt 5:17). Such love is identified by Paul, paradoxically, as slavery (that is, labor and service), but he does not refer to it in terms of “work” (as the observance of the Torah commands would be, “works”); any work that is done, in Paul’s thought, surely would be ascribed to Christ and the Spirit, see vv. 5-6, and the famous statement that Christ is the “end/completion of the Law” (Rom 10:4). In verse 15, Paul indicates what is opposite, i.e. behavior which violates the love-command—namely, antagonistic behavior toward one another, described in crude, “beastly” terms of biting, tearing, eating, etc.

Verses 16-25—Here Paul embeds within his exhortation and basic teaching (vv. 16-18, 23b-25) what is often described as a list (or catalog) of “vices and virtues” (vv. 19-23a). Such lists were traditional and basic to Christian instruction; Paul did not create these, but rather adapted them, drawing upon the traditional language and terminology, in his letters (lists of “vices” being much more common)—see Rom 1:19-31; 13:13; 1 Cor 5:10-11; 6:9-10; 2 Cor 12:20-21; Col 3:5, 8; also Eph 4:31; 5:3-4; 1 Tim 1:9-10; 2 Tim 3:2-5; Titus 3:3. For other examples in the New Testament and early Christian literature, see Mark 7:21-22f par; 1 Pet 2:1; 4:3, 15; Rev 21:8; 22:14; Didache 2:1-5:2; Barnabas 18-20; the letter of Polycarp 2:2; 4:3; Hermas, Commandments 5.2.4, 6.2, 8.3-5; Similitudes 6; 9.15, etc. Of the many examples in Greco-Roman literature and philosophy, one of the earliest is in Plato’s Gorgias 524-525. Instances can also be cited from Hellenistic Judaism (works of Philo, etc) and the texts of the Qumran community, most famously the treatise of the “Two Spirits” in the Community Rule (1QS 4:3-11). For more on the subject, see the excursus in Betz, Galatians, pp. 281-3.

The list of ‘vices’ (vv. 19-21) are referred to specifically as “works of (the) flesh” (érga t¢¡s sarkós), an expression clearly intended as parallel to “works of (the) Law” (érga toú nómou), Gal 2:16; 3:3, 5, 10. These are all generally actions, reflecting sinful, selfish and immoral behavior; and, even though the Law would appear to guard and regulate against such things, according to Paul it actually serves to make manifest and increase the very sinfulness expressed by this list (as discussed previously). This is not to be taken as an exhaustive catalog (or checklist), but one that fairly comprehensively represents human wickedness.

As might be expected, Paul does not use the corresponding term “works of the Spirit” for the opposite list in vv. 22-23, but rather “fruit [karpós] of the Spirit” —for it is the Spirit that does the working (vv. 5-6), and, indeed, the items in the list are not actions, but rather personal characteristics, attitudes, and (one might say) modes of behavior, generally corresponding to the term virtue (aret¢¡) in Greek philosophical and ethical thought. Commentators have noted a formal difference in the lists—the “works of the flesh” show little clear order, perhaps intentionally reflecting the inherent disorder of carnal behavior and lifestyle; the “fruit of the Spirit”, on the other hand, can be grouped neatly into three sets of three (see the similar famous triad in 1 Cor 13:4-6).

To see how these two lists fit in the overall structure of this section, I would suggest the following (chiastic) outline:

    • Exhortation: “walk [peripatéœ] in the Spirit” (v. 16)
      • Conflict for believers: “flesh against the Spirit” and “Spirit against flesh” (v. 17)
        • Affirmation for believers: “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under Law” (v. 18)
          • Works of the flesh (vv. 19-21)
          • Fruit of the Spirit (vv. 22-23a)
        • Affirmation for believers: If the fruit of the Spirit is present, “there is no Law” (v. 23b)
      • Resolution of conflict: the flesh has been crucified (with Christ) (v. 24)
    • Exhortation: “walk [stoichéœ] in the Spirit” (v. 25)

The importance of verses 16-18 and 23b-25 cannot be overestimated, and I have discussed them in more detail in earlier notes.

Galatians 5:26-6:10

This section properly presents specific religious and ethical instruction (parenesis), making up a very small (but significant) portion of the letter. It is presented as a series of teachings and proverbial statements (or aphorisms), which may be characterized as ‘gnomic sentences [sententiae]’ (see Betz, Galatians, pp. 291-2).

5:26-6:6—Here Paul offers basic direction and encouragement in terms of dealing with fellow believers. It is here that Christian “Law” (that is, the ‘love-command’) is most clearly expressed. Verse 26 describes behavior which is opposite of that governed by the love-principle, in a manner similar to that of verse 15. Gal 6:1, by contrast, gives more positive instruction in how believers (according to the fruit of the Spirit) deal with such negative, sinful behavior, the goal being to restore/repair (katartízœ) the life of the offender, and, in so doing, restore the body of believers (the body of Christ) as a whole. This is stated more generally in verse 2 as bearing each others’ burdens, and is also another way of stating the love-command (or principle), see on 5:14 above, and my earlier note on 6:2.

The expression “the Law of Christ” is significant, and is discussed in the aforementioned note. Verses 4-6 give practical advice and encouragement along these lines, in more conventional ethical terms, as can be found in other of Paul’s letters—for v. 4, see 1 Cor 11:28; 2 Cor 10:13, 15; 13:3, 5; for v. 5, see 1 Thess 4:11; 1 Cor 3:8; 7:7; Rom 14:5, 12; for v. 6, see 1 Thess 5:12-13; Rom 12:13; 15:27; 1 Cor 9:11; 2 Cor 9:12-14; Phil 4:15-17.

6:7-10—Paul concludes his exhortation with a proverbial illustration (vv. 7-9) involving the harvest, returning to the contrast and conflict between flesh and the Spirit—the warning is ultimately eschatological: however a person sows, whether “into the flesh” or “into the Spirit”, so he or she will reap in the end (i.e. the Judgment before God). This serves as a serious ethical warning. Freedom from a set of religious regulations and commands, means that it is absolutely necessary for believers to be guided by the Spirit, and, most importantly, to be willing to walk according to this guidance. It certainly may be tempting to resort to a set of (written) regulations to help in this regard, but, to do so will effectively cut off our reliance upon the Spirit of Christ. Paul was well aware of this, but believers throughout the centuries, it must be said, have generally been reluctant to accept his “antinomian” teaching.

In the final verse, Paul at least introduces a positive sense of “work” for Christians, in terms of doing good—that is, showing and demonstrating love and concern—for all human beings, but especially, and particular, toward fellow believers. This is the essence of the “love command” as taught by Christ in the Gospel of John (see throughout the discourses in chaps. 13-17).

References marked “Betz, Galatians” are to: Hans Dieter Betz, Galatians, in the Hermeneia series (Fortress Press [1979]).

Saturday Series: Galatians 4:21-31

Probatio (Galatians 3:1-4:31)  

In our study on Galatians, looking at Paul’s letter from the standpoint of Rhetorical Criticism, we have been proceeding through the probatio (chaps. 3-4), looking at each of the six main lines of argument in turn.  We have reached the sixth (and final) argument:

    1. An appeal to the Galatians’ experience (3:1-6) [study]
    2. Scriptural argument: the blessing of Abraham comes by faith (3:7-14) [study]
      —contrasted with the curse of the Law (vv. 10-13)
    3. Scriptural argument: the promise to Abraham comes through Christ (3:15-29) [study]
      Illustration: the nature of a testament/covenant, with a contrast between the Law and the promise (vv. 15-18)
      Statement(s) on the purpose of the Law (vv. 19-25)
      Statement on the promise that comes through Christ (vv. 23-25)
    4. Illustration: Slavery vs. Sonship (4:1-11) [study]
    5. Appeal based on the example and person of Paul (4:12-20) [study]
    6. An allegory from Scripture illustrating Slavery vs. Sonship (4:21-31)

Section 6: Galatians 4:21-31

The final argument Paul presents takes the form of an allegory (all¢goría, v. 24). It is one of the more familiar portions of the letter, but, as with Paul’s other statements regarding the Law in Galatians, the full force and significance of his argument are often ignored or softened by commentators. The section may be outlined thus:

    • V. 21—Opening question (challenge)
    • Vv. 22-23—Summary of the story from Scripture
    • Vv. 24-27—The (allegorical) interpretation: Two Covenants
      —Vv. 24-25: Jerusalem below—the earthly Jerusalem (Sinai)
      —Vv. 26-27: Jerusalem above—the heavenly Jerusalem
    • Vv. 28-31: Believers as children of the promise & freedom—conflict

Verse 21—Paul uses the interrogatio rhetorical method, as he questions his audience, prompting them and allowing them to bring forth a determination themselves. See Gal 3:2ff for a similar use of this technique. The question actually serves as a challenge to the Galatians:

“Relate to me [i.e. tell me], (you) the ones wishing to be under (the) Law [hypó nómon], will you not hear the Law?”

The expression “under the Law” (hypó nómon) has been used repeatedly (Gal 3:23; 4:4-5, also 5:18; Rom 6:14-15; 1 Cor 9:20), along with the parallel expressions “under (the) curse” (3:10), “under sin” (3:22), “under a paidagogos” (3:25, cf. also 4:2), “under the elements [stoicheia] of the world” (4:3). It refers, of course, to Jews (and Jewish Christians) who are (or who feel) obligated to observe the commands and regulations of the Torah; but, as the parallel terms indicate, Paul uses it as a shorthand for the bondage human beings are under prior to faith in Christ. The expression “hear the Law” has a two-fold meaning: (1) to obey the Law, and (2) literally, to hear the words of the Law (i.e. of Scripture). The latter is what Paul means primarily here, but he may also be saying, “if you want to be under the Law, are you willing to obey the Law (i.e. the true Law of Christ)?”

Verses 22-23—In these two verses, Paul summarizes the Scriptural narrative found in Genesis 16:1-6; 21:8-14, citing Gen 16:15; 21:2-3, 9. That Hagar was a slave or “servant-girl” (paidísk¢) is indicated in the narrative (Gen 16:1ff; 21:10ff, also 25:12); the contrast of Sarah as a free woman can be inferred/implied naturally from the context. This sets the stage for the theme of freedom in Christ to follow in 4:31/5:1ff. The Hagar/Ishmael vs. Sarah/Isaac contrast is also expressed by the mén…dé (“on the one hand…on the other…”) construction in verse 23 (cf. also vv. 8-9) [Note: some manuscripts (Papyrus46 B f vg) omit mén]. As we shall see, the juxtaposition of these characters is ultimately meant to show the contrast/conflict between “promise” (epangelía) and “flesh” (sárx); and, of course, the promise is closely connected with the Spirit (Gal 3:14). The expression “according to (the) flesh” (katá sárka) is used elsewhere in Paul’s letters (Rom 1:3; 4:1; 8:4-5, 12-13; 9:3, 5; 1 Cor 1:26; 10:18; 2 Cor 1:17; 5:16; 10:2-3; 11:18), and a Spirit-Flesh dualism is an important aspect of Paul’s thought in both Galatians (Gal 3:3; 4:29; 5:16-17; 6:8) and Romans (Rom 8:1-17) [cf. also Phil 3:3].

Verses 24-27—Paul interprets the Genesis story as an “allegory” (all¢goría), that is, a description of one thing under the image of another; the verb all¢goréœ (in v. 24) in this context means to speak/interpret by way of allegory. Familiar from Greco-Roman and Hellenistic-Jewish literature and philosophy, it is also similar to the creative midrash interpretive tradition in Judaism; for other examples in Paul’s letters, cf. 1 Cor 10:1-13; 2 Cor 3:7-18. The contrast/conflict between Hagar/Ishmael and Sarah/Isaac in the narrative is coordinated and aligned together (systoichéœ, v. 25) as follows:

Slave-girl vs. Free (woman) [v. 22b]

Flesh vs. Promise [v. 23]

(Old) Covenant vs. (New) Covenant [v. 24]

Jerusalem (on earth) vs. Jerusalem above [v. 25-26]

Hagar/Ishmael vs. Sarah/Isaac [v. 28-29]

As indicated in verse 24, Paul gives prominence and priority to the idea of two covenants—the Greek word rendered “covenant” (diath¢¡k¢) is literally something “set through (in order)”, often in the legal sense of a will or testament (as in Gal 3:15-17), but here corresponding to the Hebrew b®rî¾ (“agreement”), that is, the agreement (covenant) established between God and his people (Israel). The two covenants—old and new—are contrasted syntactically by way of another mén…dé formulation (see above):

    • mén: one (the old) from mount Sinai into/unto slavery [eis douleían]… (vv. 24-25)
    • dé: (the other), the Jerusalem above, (which) is free [eleuthéra estin]… (vv. 26-27)

Paul establishes this line of association first by equating Sinai with the (current) earthly Jerusalem in verse 25; he does this by way of (allegorical) correspondence, even though he recognizes that Mt. Sinai is actually in “Arabia” (presumably the Sinai peninsula). This equation has the following interpretive relationship:

    • The Sinai covenant (the Law/Torah) leads to slavery [douleía]
    • Jerusalem is currently serving as a slave [douleúei]

The last point could be taken either in a socio-political (i.e. under Roman occupation) or religious-spiritual (bondage under the Law and sin) sense, or both. This contrasts sharply with the traditional Jewish self-understanding of freedom related to the Torah and the covenant with God (see Mishnah Abot 6:2, also e.g. John 8:33), which Paul reverses completely. Here is the associative logic as a whole:

    • The Old Covenant (the Law/Torah) given at Mt. Sinai
      • Sinai = earthly Jerusalem
        • The Jerusalem below | Slavery
        • The Jerusalem above | Freedom
      • Jerusalem (above) = believers in Christ
    • The New Covenant (the Spirit/promise) realized in Christ

Verses 26-27 describe the “Jerusalem above” (h¢ ánœ Ierousal¢¡m), which is clearly to be understood in a spiritual sense; for similar examples of Jewish identity being appropriated/fulfilled by believers at the spiritual level, see Rom 2:28-29, and previously in Gal 3:7-9, 14, etc. This idea of a heavenly Jerusalem came to be well-established in early Christian thought (see Hebrews 12:22; 13:14; Revelation 3:12; 21:2-22:5), and generally builds on the (eschatological) Old Testament and Jewish tradition of a “new Jerusalem”—e.g. Isa 54:10ff; 60-66; Ezek 40-48; Tobit 13:9-18; Jubilees 4:26; 2/4 Esdras 7:26; 10:40ff; 2 Baruch 4:2-7; 32:2-23; 1 Enoch 90:28f; 2 Enoch 55:2; for an interesting ‘Gnostic’ interpretation, along the same lines as Paul in Galatians, see in Hippolytus, Refutation of Heresies 5.7.39, 8.37. See Betz, Galatians, pp. 246-7.

Another familiar, and related, Jewish tradition was Jerusalem/Zion as a mother (v. 26). As such, this image is parallel to that of the Jewish concept of freedom associated with the Law and Covenant; and, again, Paul reverses this traditional association, by way of citing Isaiah 54:1 (LXX), a passage which came to be used in Judaism in the context of the rebuilding of Jerusalem (see the Targum; Pesiqta Rabbati 32:2). The context of Paul’s citation (v. 27) rather suggests a correlative juxtaposition between physical barrenness and spiritual life.

Verses 28-31—These verses begin and end with statements of Christian identity, related to the parallel concepts of promise and freedom:

V. 28: “But you {some manuscripts read “we”}, brothers, according to Isaac, are offspring of (the) promise
V. 31: “Therefore, brothers, we are not offspring of the (slave)-girl, but of the free (woman)”

Verses 29-30 stand in between, and are descriptive of conflict for believers:

V. 29: External—drawing upon Jewish tradition of conflict between Ishmael and Isaac (not indicated specifically in the Scripture narrative itself), see t. Sota 6:6; Genesis Rabbah 53 (34a), etc. This is interpreted by Paul according to two aspects: (1) Jewish hostility and persecution toward early Christians, attested to amply by Paul in his letters and in the book of Acts. (2) The dualism of katá sárka (“according to the flesh”) vs. katá pneúma (“according to the Spirit”). Here the conflict is still external—i.e. the issue being that regarding circumcision and actual observance of the Torah commands; for an internal expression of this dualism in the hearts/minds and lives of believers (before and after conversion), cf. Romans 7-8.

V. 30: Internal—quoting Gen 21:10 and applying it primarily in a religious-spiritual sense: believers are the heirs in Christ (Gal 3:29; 4:1, 7; see also Rom 4:13-14; 8:17), and should no longer wish to come under a yoke of slavery. That Paul may here be expressing the rejection of Jews is certainly possible (see 1 Thess 2:14-16; Rom 9-11), but I do not believe that this is his emphasis—it rather relates more properly to his exhortation to the Gentile Galatians that they “cast away” the yoke of bondage (i.e. observance of the Torah) which they are considering placing upon themselves.

In summary, I would illustrate the thematic structure of these verses as follows:

    • V. 28—Believers are children of the promise
      • V. 29—Conflict for believers: Flesh vs. Spirit
      • V. 30—Action for believers: “Cast out” the son of the slave-girl (i.e. slavery)
    • V. 31—Believers are children of the free woman

There is an interesting (and moving) history associated with the interpretation of verse 29:

“Even as then the one coming to be (born) according to the flesh pursued [i.e. persecuted] the one (born) according to the Spirit, so also now.”

As indicated above, Paul is drawing upon historical Jewish tradition (related to Ishmael and Isaac) and applying it (primarily) in terms of Jewish persecution of the early Christians, but also, in a secondary sense, of the Jewish Christian opposition to Paul and his work. Later on in Church history, it also came to be applied definitely in this context of the persecution of Christians by other Christians. The supposed Christians doing the persecuting were thus acting “according to the flesh” (and not the Spirit). This was a popular verse among Anabaptists, Spiritualists, and other dissident (independent) believers during the Reformation period, who found themselves frequently under (often intense) persecution by Roman Catholics and Protestants alike. It was also a key verse by those few who dared to speak out (and write) against the practice of persecuting and executing supposed heretics—most prominently, Sebastian Castellion, who wrote vehemently against Calvin and the Reformed of Geneva for their role in the execution of Michael Servetus.

References marked “Betz, Galatians” are to: Hans Dieter Betz, Galatians, in the Hermeneia series (Fortress Press [1979]).

Saturday Series: Galatians 4:12-20

Probatio (Galatians 3:1-4:31)  

In our study on Galatians, looking at Paul’s letter from the standpoint of Rhetorical Criticism, we are proceeding through the probatio (chaps. 3-4), looking at each of the six main lines of argument in turn.  We have reached the fifth argument:

    1. An appeal to the Galatians’ experience (3:1-6) [study]
    2. Scriptural argument: the blessing of Abraham comes by faith (3:7-14) [study]
      —contrasted with the curse of the Law (vv. 10-13)
    3. Scriptural argument: the promise to Abraham comes through Christ (3:15-29) [study]
      Illustration: the nature of a testament/covenant, with a contrast between the Law and the promise (vv. 15-18)
      Statement(s) on the purpose of the Law (vv. 19-25)
      Statement on the promise that comes through Christ (vv. 23-25)
    4. Illustration: Slavery vs. Sonship (4:1-11) [study]
    5. Appeal based on the example and person of Paul (4:12-20)

Section 5: Galatians 4:12-20

In this section, Paul appeals to the Galatians on the basis of his own person and example, having begun this transition already with the rhetorical question (expressing self-doubt, dubitatio) in verse 11. There he expresses concern that his missionary work to the Galatians may have been in vain. In his commentary on Galatians (pp. 220-1), Betz refers to this as an “argument from friendship,” and cites numerous examples from Greco-Roman literature, including works “on friendship” (perí philías). The general parallel is accurate, in at least two respects:

    • The argument involves reciprocity between Paul and the Galatians
    • His (true) friendship with the Galatians is contrasted with the false friendship of his Jewish-Christian opponents

I would outline the section as follows:

    • V. 12—the “friendship” theme is established: imitation and reciprocity
    • Vv. 13-15—an appeal to the Galatians’ past response to Paul (their friendship)
    • V. 16—contrast with the present situation: has Paul become their enemy?
    • Vv. 17-19—contrast between Paul and his opponents (true and false friendship)
    • V. 20—concluding statement of Paul’s concern (parallel with v. 11)

Verse 12—Paul’s personal appeal to the Galatians is here expressed in terms of imitation (“come to be as I [am]”) and reciprocity (“even as I [am as] you [are]”). The motif of following Paul’s own example appears frequently as a point of exhortation in his letters (1 Thess 2:14; 1 Cor 4:16; 11:1; Phil 3:17; also 1 Cor 7:8, 40; 10:33). Similarly, the idea of mutual care and concern among believers is a primary ethical (and theological/spiritual) teaching, and, as such, may be connected with the so-called “love command” (Gal 5:13-14; 6:2). In a way, this basic formulation expresses the only sense in which believers are any more “under Law” —we are obligated to love one another, and to share each others’ burdens. Equally important is the way Paul makes this appeal based on his own person and authority. As previously noted, this was a key theme and point of emphasis throughout the first two chapters of Galatians—his role and authority as an apostle (to the Gentiles), which he received directly (by revelation) from Christ. Therefore, his personal authority becomes a valid (and vital) argument in support of the Gospel he has been proclaiming, including his teaching regarding the Law.

Verses 13-15—Several words and phrases are particularly worth noting:

    • eu¢ngelisámen (“I proclaimed the good message”), v. 13—note the contrast between the “good message” (Gospel) and his own human weakness.
    • edéxasthé me (“you received me”), v. 14—receiving (déchomai) one sent to proclaim the Gospel is effectively the same as receiving the Gospel itself (Acts 8:14; 11:1; 17:11; 1 Thess 1:6; 2:13; 2 Cor 6:1; 11:4), as well as receiving the one who sends (see Jesus’ saying in Matt 10:40 par).
    • hœs ángelon theoú … hœs Christón I¢soún (“as a Messenger of God… as [the] Anointed Yeshua”)—this is an important principle: that the apostle is one sent by God (and Christ) and acts as Jesus’ own representative; in accepting Paul (and the Gospel he proclaimed) they were accepting God the Father and Jesus Christ (whose representative Paul is).
    • The description of sacrificial friendship in v. 15 draws upon similar exemplary imagery in Greco-Roman literature and philosophy, as most notably narrated in the Toxaris (40-41) of Lucian (see Betz, Galatians, pp. 227-8).

Verse 16—The Galatians’ prior friendship (vv. 13-15) is contrasted with the current situation. By turning to “another Gospel” (1:6ff), they are essentially rejecting Paul; therefore he asks the (rhetorical) question: “so have I become your enemy [echthrós], (in) telling the truth to you?”

Verses 17-19—Here Paul creates a subtle contrast between himself and those Jewish Christians who are influencing the Galatians to accept the Law. Vv. 17-18a make use of wordplay involving the verb z¢lóœ, with its dual meaning of “to be zealous/jealous”, and the adjective kalós (“beautiful”, “fine, good, exemplary”). The implication is that Paul’s zeal (for the Galatians) is fine/good, but the ‘zeal’/jealousy of his Jewish-Christian opponents is not. Note also how a kind of false reciprocity is expressed in v. 17, parallel to that of v. 12. The verb z¢lóœ can carry the sense of “longing” for someone/something, especially in the context of friendship and (erotic) romance; thus we might paraphrase verse 17— “their longing for you is not good; rather, they wish to close you off so that you should long for them!” In verse 18b-19, Paul expresses his own longing for the Galatians; indeed, his own friendship for them goes even beyond a lover, and is actually more like a parent (a mother) who is giving birth to a child! His ‘labor pains’ (on their behalf) continue, as he expresses it marvellously, “until (the time in) which (the) Anointed {Christ} should be formed/fashioned in you”.

Verse 20—This is another example of the rhetorical device of dubitatio (expressing self-doubt), similar to that in verse 11. The expression “I fear for you” at the start of v. 11 is parallel to “I am at a loss in (dealing with) you” at the close of v. 20. The verb aporéœ means “without a way through (a situation)”; in English idiom, we might say “I just don’t know how to deal with you” or “I am at my wits’ end with you!” In the rhetorical context, Paul is here playing a role—he has tried all these different ways to convince the Galatians, he is now left with expolitio, i.e. modulating the voice for the purpose of persuading the audience (cf. Betz, Galatians, p. 236). If only he were there with the Galatians in person, they could really hear what he was saying! This demonstrates just how important Paul regarded the matter.

One final argument remains in the probatio (chapters 3-4), namely, the famous allegory of 4:21-31; this will be discussed in our next study.

References marked “Betz, Galatians” are to: Hans Dieter Betz, Galatians, in the Hermeneia series (Fortress Press [1979]).