Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: The Pauline Letters (Conclusion)

The Remaining Pauline Letters

Having examined the key passages in the five Pauline letters where eschatology features most prominently—1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Romans—it now remains to survey the eschatological references in the remaining letters. I begin with the two letters where Paul’s authorship is undisputed—Galatians and Philippians (Philemon contains no relevant references).

Galatians

Galatians is not so replete with eschatological passages as are the other major Pauline letters. The primary reason for this surely is the single-minded attention Paul gives to the theological and religious-cultural questions surrounding the relationship of believers to the Torah and the Old Covenant. Even so, there is certainly an eschatological aspect to this area of Paul’s thought, as can be glimpsed by a brief survey of the most relevant passages.

Galatians 1:4

The central tenet of Paul’s soteriology was that the sacrificial death of Jesus freed humankind from bondage under the enslaving power of sin. According to this basic view, the world, in the present Age, is under the control of sin and evil. Paul expresses this clearly here when he states that Jesus gave himself “over our sins, so that he might take us out of th(is) evil Age”. Traditional Jewish eschatology drew a dividing line (conceptually) between “this Age” (o( ai)w\n ou!to$) and “the Age (that is) coming” (o( ai)w\n me/llwn). Paul frequently uses the expression “this Age” (Rom 12:2; 1 Cor 1:20; 2:6, 8; 3:18-19; 2 Cor 4:4; also Eph 2:1-2), with the implication that this current Age is especially corrupt and dominated by evil. The Johannine writings express much the same idea, though with different terminology (1 John 5:19, etc). It is a fundamental tenet in eschatological thought that the time in which people are living, being close to the end of the Age (or cycle of Ages), is more widely corrupt and wicked than the times past—indeed, such wickedness is a sign that the end is near.

Galatians 3:22ff; 4:5ff

In parallel with the idea that humankind, in the present Age, is in bondage to sin, Paul also teaches that people are also in bondage under the Law. This juxtaposition of the Law and sin is one of the most controversial aspects of Paul’s thought (discussed at length in the articles on “Paul’s View of the Law”); and yet he expresses the association clearly enough both in Romans and here throughout Galatians. It is stated most precisely as part of the line of argument in chapter 3 (vv. 22ff). The binding power of the Torah is part of the Old Covenant, which is rooted in the present Age, dominated as it is by sin and evil. The coming of Jesus, with his sacrificial, atoning work, ushers in a New Covenant and the beginning of a New Age (i.e. the “Age to come”). But this is a “realized” eschatology—the New Age is experienced now, in the present, only by believers in Christ, and only through the presence of the Spirit, as Paul describes, especially, in 4:5-6ff. The bondage under the “Law” is not limited to Israelites and Jews, but applies universally to all humankind (cf. how Paul presents this in 4:8-11).

Other References

Several other references with eschatological significance may be noted:

Philippians

We may note first the references to the “day of (Jesus) Christ” in Phil 1:6, 10, and 2:16; this is a Christian development of the Old Testament motif of the “day of YHWH”, when He will appear to bring Judgment on a particular nation or people. By the first-century A.D., the idea was thoroughly and profoundly eschatological—i.e. the end-time Judgment on the nations—with God’s presence in the Judgment filled by his Anointed (Messianic) representative. Thus, for early Christians, it was Jesus Christ who will act as Judge, overseeing the Judgment (Acts 17:31, etc); this will take place upon his return to earth at the end-time. For Paul’s use of this idiom (“the day [of Christ]”) elsewhere, cf. 1 Thess 5:2-5; 2 Thess 1:10; 2:2-3; 1 Cor 1:8; 3:13; 5:5; 2 Cor 1:14; Rom 2:16, etc. It is typically coupled with the idea of believers being able to present themselves with confidence before Christ at his coming, and so here in the three references in Philippians. The climactic lines of the “Christ-hymn” (2:10-11) similarly allude to the role of the exalted Christ as ruler and judge over all.

The Judgment itself (i.e. the judgment on the wicked) is alluded to in 1:28 and 3:19, emphasizing again how the idea of salvation, for early Christians, was primarily eschatological—that is, we are saved from the coming Judgment. Moreover, for believers, salvation also involves entering (and inheriting) the Kingdom of God (cf. above), which entails the idea of receiving a heavenly reward. Paul’s repeated references to this reward that awaits the faithful believer, is very much reflective of the early Christian eschatology—cf. 3:8ff, 14. A more direct promise and eschatological declaration is found in 2:15 (with echoes of Dan 12:3):

“…that you should come to be without fault and without ‘horns’, offspring [i.e. children] of God without (any) flaw, in the middle of a twisted (Age) of coming-to-be and (those) having been turned throughout, among whom you will shine forth as lights in the world!”

The future resurrection of believers is specifically emphasized in 3:10-11, drawing upon the familiar Pauline motif of believers’ participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus (‘dying and rising with Christ’). The eschatological orientation continues in verses 17-21, warning again of the impending Judgment (v. 19) and the heavenly reward that awaits for those believers who remain faithful (vv. 20-21). This promise of final/future reward is expressed primarily in terms of the resurrection, along with the motif of the ‘heavenly city’ (cf. on Gal 4:26, above):

“For our citizenship [poli/teuma] begins under [i.e. has its existence] in the heavenly (place)s, out of which also we look to receive from (God) a savior—(our) Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed—who will change the shape of the body of our lowliness, (to be) formed together in the body of his honor/splendor [do/ca], according to the (power) working in (him) th(at makes) him to be able even to set all (thing)s in order under him.” (vv. 20-21)

The end-time appearance, or return, of Jesus is clearly indicated here, which will coincide with the resurrection/transformation of our bodies (1 Thess 4:4-17; 1 Cor 15:23ff); it is also alluded to in the short declaration in 4:5b: “The Lord is near [e)ggu/$]”. To be sure, this is another reference to the imminent eschatology of Paul, which he shared with most believers of the time, as I have noted repeatedly; on the use of adverb e)ggu/$ (“near”) to signify this, cf. the earlier article in this series on the imminent eschatology of early Christians.

Colossians and Ephesians

Many critical commentators view both Colossians and Ephesians as pseudonymous. For my part, I accept Colossians as authentically Pauline (on objective grounds), with no real reservations. However, the situation with Ephesians is a bit more complicated, with more questions that could legitimately be raised in terms of the vocabulary, style, etc, of the letter. Even so, the eschatology of Ephesians does not appear to differ markedly from either Colossians or the other undisputed letters. Therefore, all other critical questions (regarding authorship) aside, it is proper to examine the eschatological passages of Ephesians here together with those of Colossians.

The exordium and opening section(s) of Colossians (1:3-29) are full of eschatological references and allusions which reflect other key passages (already discussed) elsewhere in Paul’s letters. As we have seen, the thanksgiving aspect of the exordium allows Paul the opportunity to encourage believers to remain faithful, in light of the promise of the heavenly reward that awaits them. This is emphasized here in 1:5, 12:

“…through the hope th(at is) being stretched out (waiting) for you in the heavenly (place)s” (v. 5)
“…giving (thanks) to the Father for (His) good favor, to the (One) (hav)ing made us fit unto the portion of the lot [klh=ro$, i.e. inheritance] of the holy (one)s in the light” (v. 12)

The end-time (and afterlife) Judgment scene, along with the role of the Anointed Jesus as Judge (cf. above), is likewise alluded to in 1:18, 22:

“…and he [i.e. Jesus] is the head of the body of the (ones) called out [e)kklhsi/a], the (one) who is (himself the) beginning, (the one) produced first [prwto/toko$] out of the dead, (so) that he should come to be (the one) being [i.e. who is] first in all (things).” (v. 18)
“…and now he (has) made (things) different (for you) from (what they were before) [vb a)pokatalla/ssw], in the body of his flesh, through (his) death, to make you (to) stand alongside (him) in his sight, holy and without fault and without (any reason) to call (you) in (to judgment) [a)ne/gklhto$].” (v. 22)

Even though Colossians 1-2 indicates a belief in the pre-existent deity of Jesus, here his position as (heavenly) ruler and judge is expressed more traditionally, in terms of his resurrection and exaltation. Moreover, it is his sacrificial death which enables believers to stand before him in holiness (at the Judgment). These are familiar Pauline themes, as is the idea in 1:26f, of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a secret (musth/rion) that has been kept hidden throughout the Ages, until the present time—cf. Rom 16:25; 1 Cor 2:1, 7; and, similarly, with special emphasis, in Eph 3:3-6, 9. This idea is strongly eschatological, i.e. that believers are living at the onset of a New Age, with the implication that the current Age, with all that has gone before, is coming to an end.

Colossians 3:1-4

The most prominent eschatological passage in Colossians is 3:1-4. As in the exordium, Paul ties his exhortation for believers—that they should live in holiness and faithful devotion—to the promise of Jesus’ end-time return. He makes use of the traditional concept of believers being gathered to Jesus, at his return (1 Thess 4:14-18; cp. Mark 13:26-27 par, etc), but deepens the imagery through the theological (and Christological) motif of beliefs being united with Jesus (“in Christ”). Note how this added dimension gives to the traditional eschatology a profound new meaning:

“So, if you were raised together with Yeshua, you must seek the (thing)s above, the (place at) which the Anointed (One) is sitting on (the) giving [i.e. right] (hand) of God—you must set (your) mind (on) the (thing)s above, not (on) the (thing)s upon the earth. For you died away, and your life has been hidden with the Anointed, in God; (and) when the Anointed should shine forth, (he who is) our life, then you also will shine forth with him in honor/splendor.”

It is beautiful indeed how Paul weaves into the idea of Jesus’ return the (baptismal) imagery of believers participating in the death and resurrection of Jesus (Rom 6:3-4 etc, and earlier here in Col 2:11-13, 20). To use the familiar Pauline language, believers are “in Christ”, which means that, in a real sense, we are with him where he is now—at the right hand of God the Father in heaven. So, too, we will be with him when he appears on earth at the end-time. We might even say that we will be meeting ourselves, not in a concrete metaphysical sense, but in terms of a full realization, and fulfillment, of what we are in Christ (for a similar idea, expressed rather differently, cf. 1 John 2:28-3:3).

Additional References in Ephesians

As noted above, Ephesians restates many of the same ideas and points of emphasis in Colossians, and this is also true in terms of the eschatology of the letters. For example, Eph 1:8 more or less says the same as Col 1:5, 12 (cf. above), bringing together the idea of the “hope” (e)lpi/$) that waits for believers in heaven, along with the heavenly reward that we will inherit (as our “lot”, klh=ro$, klhronomi/a). This also is part of the exordium (and thanksgiving) in Ephesians, which resembles that of Colossians in some of its wording and theological expression, such as the emphasis on Christ’s position as ruler and head over all things (1:20-23), including his role in the Judgment at the end of this Age (v. 21, cp. Col 1:18, 22, above). A different sort of emphasis is found in 1:10-12ff, which blends together “realized” and future eschatology, drawing upon the (baptismal) imagery of being “sealed” with the Spirit; this is expressed in unquestionably Pauline terms:

    • In Christ (“in him”) we have already (i.e. now, in the present) obtained our inheritance (vb klhro/w)—v. 11, “realized” eschatology
    • Yet in Christ (“in him”) we still hope for what is to come (v. 12), our “seal” of the Spirit being a promise (and guarantee) of our full inheritance (klhronomi/a)—v. 14, future eschatology
      (cf. also 4:30 where the Spirit-seal is said to be specifically for “the day of loosing from [bondage]”, i.e. the day of Christ and his return)

We may also see an echo of Col 3:1-4 (cf. above) in Eph 2:6-7, where we find the same basic idea of believers being present (now) with Jesus in the heavenly places, with the promise that we will experience this more fully “in the coming Ages”. Admittedly, the eschatological sense of this is not as strong in Ephesians as in Colossians, but it is still clearly discernable. A different way of expressing the (future) realization of our identity in Christ is found in Eph 4:13, with wording that is more distinctive of Ephesians:

“…until we all should meet down (together) into the unity of the trust and the knowledge (we have) about the Son of God, (and so) into (being) a complete man—into the measure of (the) stature of the fullness of the Anointed”

Another image of this completeness of believers in Christ, only to be realized at the end-time, and in the Ages to come, is that of the bride presented to her husband in perfect holiness and purity (5:27, cf. 2 Cor 11:2, and compare Rev 19:7ff).

Two other passages in Ephesians have an eschatological emphasis; both are part of a traditional mode of ethical instruction and exhortation, urging believers to continued faithfulness:

    • 5:5, 8-14—The use of light vs. darkness imagery, along with much of the wording, is quite similar to Paul’s instruction in 1 Thess 5:1-11 (cf. the earlier article on this passage), though perhaps with somewhat less eschatological urgency
    • 6:12-13ff—The characterization of the present Age as evil and wicked, and that it is all the more so as the end draws closer, is common theme in Jewish and Christian eschatology of the period; the urgency of the instruction here implies that believers are about to enter into an especially intense period of distress and persecution (cf. Mark 13:5-13ff par, and throughout the book of Revelation, etc)

2 Timothy (and the Pastoral Letters)

As with Colossians and Ephesians, there are many questions (and doubts) among scholars regarding the authorship of the Pastoral Letters; many critical commentators consider all three letters to be pseudonymous. I am inclined (on entirely objective grounds) to accept 2 Timothy as authentically Pauline; in my view, the style, wording, points of emphasis, not to mention the personal details, all seem to conform fairly closely with what we find in the other (undisputed) letters. By contrast, 1 Timothy contains many words and phrases, etc, which are atypical of Paul, and so the questions regarding authorship are considerably more significant; the situation with the letter to Titus is harder to judge, due to its relative brevity. As it happens, there are many more eschatological references and allusions in 2 Timothy than there are in 1 Timothy or Titus—a fact which would tend to confirm the authenticity of 2 Timothy, and, perhaps, support the idea that 1 Timothy (and Titus) were written later, and/or by someone other than Paul.

Indeed, as I read 2 Timothy closely, I can find little (if anything) to distinguish the eschatology of the letter as being in any way different from that of Paul’s other letters. The language is generally similar, including the expression “that day”, referring to “the day of Christ”, when the exalted Jesus will appear and God will judge the world through him (cf. above). The specific expression “that day”, also found in 2 Thess 1:10 (cp. “the day” in 1 Thess 5:4; Rom 2:16), occurs here in 2 Tim 1:12, 18 and 4:8.

Also thoroughly Pauline is the idea of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a secret hidden away throughout the Ages, but only revealed (to believers) in the present time—2 Tim 1:9-10, and cf. on Col 1:26f above. The language and wording is quite consistent with Paul’s usage elsewhere, as are the references to the future resurrection and the heavenly reward that awaits believers (2 Tim 2:10, 18). The eschatological dimension to the idea of salvation (2:10) is typical of the earliest Christian period, and tends not to be as prominent in later writings. As for the reference to the resurrection in 2:18, the fact that some might say that it “had already come to be” —that is, it had, somehow, already taken place—demonstrates the prevalence of the same imminent eschatology we see elsewhere in Paul’s letters (and throughout most the New Testament); by contrast, toward the end of the first century A.D. (and thereafter), this sort of imminent expectation begins to disappear from early Christianity (cf. below).

The most extensive eschatological passages in 2 Timothy are the sections of (ethical) instruction in 3:1-9ff and 4:1-5. This parallels similar paraenetic passages in the other letters of Paul, only here the instruction is aimed at the minister (Timothy, in the letter), warning him that, as bad as things might be (in the world) at the moment, they will become even worse as the end draws closer (cf. above on Eph 6:12-13ff). Here is how the instruction begins in 3:1:

“And you must know this: that in (the) last days, moments (when things sink) lower will (soon) stand in (on us)…”

The increasing wickedness and lack of faith in the population at large—including among those claiming to be believers—serves as a clear sign that these are the “last days” and that the end-time is near. The description in vv. 2-5 echoes traditional Jewish and early Christian eschatological narratives (cf. Mark 13:5-13 par), which include the presence of divisions and incursions of false teaching among believers. As an instruction for ministers, this warning against false prophets and teachers is especially appropriate (vv. 6-9). So intense will this be, in the time that is soon coming (4:3f), that many in the congregations may no longer wish to listen to sound and reliable teaching, instead turning away to more superficially attractive or exciting words. In these sorts of warnings, with their eschatological context, the idea of the coming Judgment is never far away (4:1).

By comparison with 2 Timothy, there are few eschatological references in 1 Timothy and Titus, and, in those which do occur, there does not seem to be the same sense of urgency or imminence surrounding them. Compare, for example, 1 Timothy 4:1ff, which, on the surface, resembles 2 Tim 3:1ff—describing a time of increasing corruption and wickedness in the world. 2 Tim 3:1 begins “in the last days…”, implying that believers currently are living in the “last days”; in 1 Tim 4:1 the wording is different, referring to things that will happen “in (the) following moments”, i.e. later, sometime after the present moment. This gives to the instruction a somewhat different context; it is more generalized, relating to things the minister must deal with (false/deceptive teaching, etc), but without a specific eschatological context.

There are references to the end-time return of Jesus, in 1 Tim 6:14-15 and Titus 2:13; however, one may detect in both these passages a greater emphasis on believers living in the present Age, with a corresponding lack of emphasis on an imminent expectation of the end. Consider the way this is phrased in Tit 2:12-13:

“…(how) we should live in th(is) Age now, (while) (look)ing toward receiving the happy hope and the shining forth upon (earth) of the splendor of our great God and Savior Yeshua (the) Anointed”

Even more pronounced is the apparent lack of imminence in 1 Tim 6:14-15ff, especially in verses 17-19, which could be taken as implying that our life in the current Age will likely continue for some time. Even the specific reference to Jesus’ return seems to be located more generally at some unspecified future time:

“…you are to keep watch (over) th(is) duty placed on (you) to complete…until the shining forth upon (earth) of our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed, which (God) will show in (his) own moments/times (to come)…”

As in Titus 2:12-13, verse 17 has the same emphasis on “th(is) Age now”, i.e. present Age (and how we live in it), rather than on the Age to come. The promise of future reward (in heaven) is preserved (v. 19), but without the eschatological immediacy and urgency we find in similar passages elsewhere in the Pauline letters.

January 6: Galatians 3:27; 1 John 3:2

Believers as the “sons of God”, continued

In this short study on the “birth” of Believers as the sons/children of God, I have presented this in terms of Christian experience, as a process made up of four ‘stages’. The first two were discussed in the previous note, each with a representative Scripture verse; the last two will be examined today.

    1. Pre-existent sonship (predestination/election as sons)
    2. Sonship through trust/faith in Jesus
    3. Sonship recognized/symbolized in the ritual of Baptism
    4. Sonship realized through resurrection/exaltation
3. Sonship symbolized in Baptism (Galatians 3:26-27ff)

In the conceptual framework I have adopted, the baptism of believers corresponds, appropriately enough, with the baptism of Jesus (cf. the chiastic outline in the previous note). As Jesus was declared God’s Son at the Baptism, so the sonship of believers is recognized (and symbolized) in the ritual of baptism.

References to baptism are surprisingly rare in the New Testament, outside of the Gospels and Acts. Indeed, Paul is the only author to deal with subject (apart from 1 Peter 3:21), and he appears to have developed a distinctive interpretation of the ritual. Drawing upon a common early tradition, he has infused baptism with a deeper theological (and Christological) meaning. There were two factors which led to the association between baptism and the identity of believers as sons of God. The first of these, as noted above, is the Gospel tradition of Jesus’ own baptism. All four Gospels include the tradition of the heavenly voice (of God) declaring Jesus to be his Son. While there is some textual uncertainty regarding this declaration in John (1:34, v.l.), the Synoptic tradition is relatively fixed (Mark 1:11 par). As discussed in an earlier note, the heavenly declaration almost certainly alludes to Psalm 2:7 (in Luke 3:22 v.l. it is a direct citation), and, as such, has definite Messianic significance, though, as we have seen, Christians also came to understand the title “Son of God” (and the statement in Psalm 2:7 itself) in a deeper sense, in terms of the pre-existent deity of Christ.

The second factor involves the significance of the ritual act, as it developed among the earliest believers. From the original idea of cleansing (from sin), baptism came to represent the essential identity of the believer in Christ. This was patterned along the lines of the Lord’s Supper, as presented in the early (Gospel) tradition—as a participation in the death of Jesus, symbolically imitating his own sacrificial act. By going into the water, one dies (symbolically), participating in Jesus’ death; and, in emerging again from the water, our new life in Christ is symbolized—a “rebirth” effected by the same divine power (the Spirit) that raised Jesus from the dead. No one emphasized or expressed this participatory aspect more than Paul. It is clearly and powerfully stated in Romans 6:3-5:

“…are you without knowledge that we, as (many of us) as were dunked [i.e. baptized] into (the) Anointed Yeshua, we were dunked into his death? Then we were buried together with him through th(is) dunking into the death, (so) that, just as (the) Anointed (One) was raised out of the dead through the honor/splendor [do/ca] of the Father, (so) also we should walk about in newness of life. For if we have come to be planted together in the likeness of his death, (then) also will we be (in the likeness) of (his) standing up (out of the dead)…”

The same idea is expressed, more concisely, in Colossians 2:12, which better captures the essence of the ritual act:

“…(hav)ing been buried together with him in the dunking [i.e. baptism], in which also you rose together, through the trust (you have) of God’s working in (it), the (One hav)ing raised him out of the dead”

In Galatians, this participatory language also occurs at several points, not always in the context of baptism (see especially 2:19-21). The theme of baptism is introduced at 3:27, directly following the declaration in verse 26 regarding the identity of believers as sons of God (cf. the discussion in the previous note). The entirety of chapter 3 (indeed, all of chaps. 3-4) deals with this question of Christian identity—i.e., believers in Christ as the people of God, heirs to the covenantal promises originally given to Abraham (and Israel). The true identity of humankind as the sons of God comes through trust in Jesus, along with the presence of the Spirit—both of which are represented in the baptism ritual. Here is how Paul concludes his discussion in chapter 3:

“For all of you are sons of God through the trust (you have) in (the) Anointed Yeshua, for as (many) of you as were dunked [i.e. baptized] into (the) Anointed, you sunk yourselves into (the) Anointed (as a garment). (And) there is in (him) no Yehudean {Jew} and no Greek, there is in (him) no slave and no free (person), there is in (him) no male and female—for you all are one in (the) Anointed Yeshua! And if you are of the Anointed (One), then you are the seed of Abraham, (the one)s receiving (his) lot, according to (the) message [i.e. promise] (of God) upon (it).” (vv. 26-29)

This same sort of ritual language and imagery is used by Paul in 1 Cor 12:13 and Col 3:10-11 (cp. Eph 4:24). His use of the image of ‘putting on a garment’, with the verb e)ndu/w (literally “sink in”, i.e. into the garment), is even more widespread. It is typically used in the middle voice, that is, of believers reflexively putting on Christ (as a garment). The ‘garment’ signifies the participatory union we have with Jesus (the Son), but also the new life (and new way of life) that this union brings. It is the baptism ritual that symbolizes this new life, but it still must be realized by believers, in the present, each day. Thus, Paul uses the idiom in an ethical context, urging believers to live and walk in this newness of life, which means walking according to the guidance of the Spirit. For the verb e)ndu/w in this context, cf. 1 Thess 5:8; Romans 13:12-14; Col 3:9-12 (cp. 2:11-12); Eph 6:11, 14; and, for similar instruction specifically referring to the Spirit’s guidance, note Rom 8:4-5ff; Gal 5:16-18, 25; 6:8. That the baptismal ‘garment’ is essentially to be identified with the Spirit is clear from 1 Cor 12:13.

In 1 Cor 15:53f and 2 Cor 5:3 the verb e)ndu/w and image of putting on the (new) garment is used in an eschatological context, referring to the resurrection and future glory of believers. It is this (final) aspect of the sonship of believers that I discuss briefly below.

4. Sonship realized through Resurrection/Exaltation (1 John 3:2)

It is in Romans 8:18-25 that Paul addresses the identity of believers as the “sons of God”, as it is finally realized at the end-time, in the resurrection. I have discussed this passage earlier, as part of the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”, and will not repeat that study here. Instead, I turn to 1 John 3:1-3, for an expression of this eschatological aspect.

The principal thrust of First John has to do with the identity of those who are true believers in Christ. This is defined by the great dual-command of (a) trust in Jesus and (b) love for one’s fellow believers, according to Jesus’ own example (3:23-24). For the author of the letter, sin is understood primarily as violating the dual-command. The section 2:28-3:10 deals with the relationship between sin and the believer; no true believer can sin in the sense of transgressing the dual-command, only false believers will sin this way. He warns of the false believers who do not have a proper trust or belief in Jesus as the Son of God, and also do not show love (since they have separated from the Community of believers). And, in common with the Johannine theology, the true believers are identified as children of God, using the verb genna/w (“come to be [born]”), i.e. “the ones having come to be born out of God”. This is the language used in 2:29 (also 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18), while the plural noun te/kna (“offspring, children”) occurs in 3:1-2, 10; 5:2; in the Gospel, note 1:12-13; 3:3-8. In the Johannine writings, te/kna is preferred over ui(oi/ (“sons”, except Jn 12:36 “sons of light”), with the noun ui(o/$ reserved for Jesus as the only “Son”.

The section 2:28-3:10 is given an eschatological setting, referring to the end-time coming of Jesus, in 2:28. The author clearly believed that he and his readers were living in the last days (“last hour”, 2:18), and would likely live to see the return of Jesus. The false view of Jesus is called antichrist (a)nti/xristo$, “against the Anointed”) and is a sure indication that the end is near. Thus, in 3:1-3, the identity of believers as sons/children of God has both a present and future aspect, with the future soon to be realized:

“You must see what (sort of) love the Father has given to us, that we would be called (the) offspring of God [te/kna qeou=], and (so) we are. Through [i.e. because of] this, the world does not know us, (in) that [i.e. because] it did not know Him. Loved (one)s, we are now (the) offspring of God, and yet it has not been made to shine forth what we will be. We have seen that, when it should (indeed) be made to shine forth, we will be like Him, (in) that we will look with (open) eyes (seeing) Him even as He is. And (so) every (one) holding this hope upon him makes himself pure, even as that (one) is pure.”

The key eschatological statement is verse 2 (in bold). There are four different dimensions to the believers’ identity as the “offspring of God”, and they generally correspond with the four ‘stages’ outlined in this study:

    • “we would be called” —the love and intention God has for us [Election/Predestination]
    • “we are” —our essential identity and reality as believers [Trust in Jesus]
    • “we are now” —our identity in the present, realized in the Christian life [Symbolized by Baptism, etc]
    • “we will be” —our identity fulfilled at the end-time coming of Jesus [Resurrection/Exaltation]

The syntax of vv. 1-3 poses certain problems, as the referent for the 3rd person singular verbal subject and pronoun is not always clear. Does “he/him” refer to God the Father (the immediate subject in v. 1) or to Jesus (his return, the subject in 2:28). Moreover, the verb fanerwqh=| is unclear—is the subject “what we will be”, or does it refer to the appearance of Jesus? The former is to be preferred as more natural to the syntax, and also to the point the author is making; it should be read “when it should be made to shine forth…”. As to the identity of “he/him”, in my view, it is God the Father in vv. 1-2, but then switches (back) to Jesus in v. 3. The hope of believers is “upon him”, that is, upon the return of Jesus (2:28), and the demonstrative pronoun e)kei=no$ (“that one”) refers back to Jesus. In between, 2:29-3:2, the focus is on God the Father, and our (believers’) relation to Him as His offspring. Admittedly, the syntax is a bit confusing; it requires careful attention to the nuance of the author’s line of argument.

This eschatological dimension of sonship is not that unusual; it relates to the traditional Jewish idea of the righteous as “sons of God”, an identity that will only be fully realized in the blessed afterlife, after having passed through the Judgment—e.g., Wisdom 5:5; Philo On the Confusion of Tongues §147; cp. Matt 5:9; 2 Cor 6:18. We also have the eschatological image of the faithful ones being gathered together, at the end-time, as “sons of God” (Psalms of Solomon 17:28-30; cp. John 11:52). The blessed future life for the righteous involves the vision of God, i.e. seeing God Himself, and it is this experience which fully transforms the righteous (believers) into sons/children of God who resemble their Father (cf. Matt 5:8; 1 Cor 13:12; 2 Cor 3:18; in Jewish tradition, e.g., Philo On Abraham §§57-59; Pesiqta Rabbati 46b [11.7]; Midrash on Psalm 149 [270a]). Cf. R. E. Brown, The Epistles of John, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 30 (1982), p. 425, and the discussion throughout pp. 378-435.

Ultimately, however, for believers, this transformation is based on our union with Jesus (the Son), through the Spirit. This builds on the familiar idea that our identity as God’s sons/children stems from Jesus’ own Sonship. Paul recognizes this throughout his discussions on the resurrection (1 Cor 15:20-23ff, 45-49; 2 Cor 4:14; Phil 3:20-21, etc), but most notably in Romans 8:18-25ff, and the climactic statement in verse 29:

“…that the (one)s whom He knew before(hand) He also marked out before(hand) together in (the) shape of the image of His Son, unto his being (the) first-produced [i.e. firstborn] among many brothers

Thus, we are to become truly God’s sons, brothers to Jesus as His Son. Much the same idea is to be found in Hebrews 2:10:

“For it was fitting for Him, through whom all (thing)s (have their purpose), and through whom all (thing)s (came to be), (in) leading many sons into honor/splendor [do/ca], (was) to make complete the chief leader of their salvation through sufferings.”

In 1 John 3:1-3, this relationship is indicated by the outer references to Jesus (2:28, 3:3) which frame the inner references to God the Father. Our sonship derives from Jesus’ own sonship, and our exaltation is similarly based on Jesus’ own exaltation. When he returns, this final aspect of our identity as sons of God will be realized.

January 5: Ephesians 1:5; Galatians 3:26

Believers as the “Sons of God”

Having examined the development of the early Christian belief regarding Jesus as the Son of God (and his “birth” as the Son), it is now time, in these Christmas season notes, to consider the second part of the paradigm—the identity of believers as the sons (or children) of God. If the first part was studied in terms of the Gospel message, the second part will be explored in terms of Christian experience. That is to say, how do we, as believers, come to experience our identity as children of God? Even as the Christology of the New Testament developed, progressively, through revelation and contemplation, so the experience of the believer in Christ is also a process. This process may be defined in four ‘stages’, which mirror those of the Christological development:

    • Jesus as the Son of God through his resurrection and exaltation
      • Recognized as Son from the point of his Baptism
        • Called the Son of God from the very time of his Birth
          • His pre-existent deity as the eternal Son
          • Our predestination/election as Sons of God
        • Our spiritual birth as God’s Children, through trust in Jesus
      • The symbolic recognition of this Sonship in the Baptism ritual
    • The final realization as Sons of God in our resurrection (and exaltation)

It is in the Johannine Writings (the Gospel and 1 John) that the central themes (the innermost pair above) of Jesus’ pre-existent deity and the pre-existent election of believers is most prominent. This was already discussed in the previous note, in considering John 1:12-14, where both themes are combined, using the same image of birth/sonship. However, in the Johannine writings, only Jesus is ever called “Son” (ui(o/$); for believers, the plural te/kna (“offspring, children”) is used instead—1:12; 11:52; 1 Jn 3:1, 10; 5:2. The plural ui(oi/ (“sons”) is used in Jn 12:36, in the specific expression “sons of light” (ui(oi\ fwto/$, also Lk 16:8, and by Paul in 1 Thess 5:5). That particular expression draws on the earlier ethical-religious idea of the righteous—i.e., the faithful ones of Israel—as God’s sons. This language is part of Israelite and Jewish wisdom traditions (e.g., Wisdom 2:13, 18; 5:5; Sirach 4:10), and is used by Jesus in his teaching (Matt 5:9, 45 [par Lk 6:35]; 13:38; Luke 16:8, etc).

Outside of the Johannine writings, it is Paul who makes most use of the birth/sonship theme, applying it to believers on numerous occasions. He also is influenced by Old Testament tradition, for example, in the way he cites Hosea 1:10 in Rom 9:26, i.e., of faithful Israelites as “sons of the living God” —he applies this specifically to the “remnant” of Israel that has trusted in Jesus (v. 27). Thus, the divine sonship of believers is tied directly to faith in Jesus (the Son). This is very much the emphasis in the Gospel and letters of John as well—believers are called the “children” (te/kna) of God, and are identified as ones “having come to be born” (perfect participle of genna/w) out of God, because they/we trust in Jesus as God’s Son. This will be discussed further below.

If we keep in mind the four ‘stages’ indicated above, the first two will be dealt with in this note, focusing on two representative verses:

    1. Pre-existent sonship (predestination/election as sons)
    2. Sonship through trust/faith in Jesus
    3. Sonship recognized/symbolized in the ritual of Baptism
    4. Sonship realized through resurrection/exaltation
1. Pre-existent Sonship (Ephesians 1:5)

The idea of believers’ pre-existent sonship—that is, of our election/predestination as the sons/children of God—is most clearly stated in Ephesians 1:4-5:

“…even as He gathered us out in him [i.e. in Christ] before the casting down [i.e. founding] of the world, (for) us to be holy and without flaw (there) in His sight, in love, (hav)ing marked us out before(hand) unto (our) placement as sons [ui(oqesi/a], through Yeshua (the) Anointed, unto Him, according to the good consideration of His will.”

Many critical commentators would question or dispute the Pauline authorship of Ephesians, but this passage very much reflects Paul’s genuine thought. In particular, he utilizes the key word ui(oqesi/a, meaning the placing (from the verb ti/qhmi) of someone as a son (ui(o/$); indeed, he is the only New Testament author to use this noun (Rom 8:15, 23; 9:4; Gal 4:5). In English, it is typically translated “adoption”, but this obscures the important etymological tie with the word son (ui(o/$). A comparison with Romans 8:14-16 is instructive:

“For as (many) as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God [ui(oi\ qeou=]. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery again, into fear, but (rather) you received the Spirit of placement as sons [ui(oqesi/a], in which we cry out: ‘Abba, Father!’ For the Spirit it(self) gives witness together with our spirit that we are children of God [te/kna qeou=].”

Paul’s syntax here indicates that he has in mind the sonship of believers primarily in terms of our receiving the Spirit, and that this occurred at the point when we came to trust in Jesus (cf. below). However, as he makes clear in vv. 29-30, this is part of a process which begins with the election/predestination of believers:

“(For it is) that the (ones) whom He knew before(hand), He also marked out before(hand) (in the) shape together of the image of His Son, unto his [i.e. Jesus’] being the first-formed among many brothers…”

Thus, clearly, believers are predestined by God to be His sons, though this is defined entirely in terms of Jesus’ own Sonship. On the application of the verbs proginw/skw (“know before[hand]”) and proori/zw (“mark out before[hand]”) to believers, cf. also 1 Cor 2:7; Rom 11:2; Eph 1:5, 11.

The language and imagery Paul uses in Gal 4:4-6 is similar to that of Rom 8:14-16:

“But when the fullness of time came, God sent out from (Him) His Son…(so) that he would purchase out the (one)s under the Law, (so) that we would receive from (Him) the placement as sons [ui(oqesi/a]. And, (in) that [i.e. because] you are sons, God sent out from (Him) the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba, Father!'”

It is by the Spirit that we receive sonship, and yet, even before this, believers already have the identity as sons (“because we are sons…”). This confirms again that, for Paul, the sonship of believers is comprehensive, and part of a process that is prior even to our coming to faith.

2. Sonship through trust/faith in Jesus (Gal 3:26)

It hardly needs to be pointed out the centrality of trust in Jesus for the identity of believers (as sons/children of God). This is clear enough from the passages we have already considered (above), but it is worth noting several verses where this association is made explicit. I begin with Galatians 3:26:

“For you all are sons of God through the trust in (the) Anointed Yeshua.”

It is hard to imagine a more concise and direct statement. One might, however, clarify something of the context for this statement—it has to do, again, with the traditional idea of Israel (esp. the faithful Israelites) as the sons/children of God. Fundamentally, this is based on the ancient covenant concept, as applied within the Israelite religious setting. In both Galatians and Romans, Paul radically re-interprets the covenant idea; actually this reflects a process of interpretation that goes back to Jesus’ own teaching, but Paul develops it in a unique way, making the religious identity of God’s people depend entirely on trust in Jesus. This necessitated a complete break from the earlier covenant, introduced in the time of Abraham, and for which the Law (Torah) represented the binding terms. Through Jesus there is a new agreement, and the Torah is no longer binding for believers; instead, it is trust in Jesus, along with the presence of the Spirit, which binds people to God (as His sons/children).

This explains the parallel between Gal 3:26 and the earlier statement in verse 7: “Therefore you must know that the (one)s (who are born) out of trust [i.e. in Jesus], these are the sons of Abraham”. I have filled in the expression oi( e)k pi/stew$ (“the [one]s out of trust”) with the idea of being born, as this relates to being a “son”. The proper point of reference is verse 2, where the focus is on receiving the Spirit—Paul asks the Galatians whether they received it “out of works of the Law” (i.e., by observing the Torah) or “out of the hearing of trust” (i.e., trusting in the Gospel message they heard). These two themes—receiving the Spirit and being born (as sons)—are combined most effectively in the Gospel of John, especially in the famous discourse with Nicodemus, 3:3-8. That coming to be born “out of the Spirit” is also defined in terms of trust in Jesus is clear enough from what follows in vv. 11-15ff. It is also expressed definitively in the prologue (1:12-13), as we saw in the previous note. It is worth comparing Jn 1:12 with Rom 8:14 (cf. above):

“But as (many) as received him, to them, to the (one)s trusting in his name, he gave the ability to become the children of God” (Jn 1:12)
“For as (many) as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God” (Rom 8:14)

December 29: Galatians 4:4

Jesus as the Son of God: His Human Birth

In the previous notes, we saw how the earliest Christian belief in Jesus as the Son of God was related directly to his resurrection (and exaltation to heaven), as the moment when he was “born” as God’s Son (cf. Acts 13:33, citing Psalm 2:7; cp. Heb 5:5). With the development of the early Gospel tradition, Christians were able to give expression to the growing awareness that Jesus must have been God’s Son even before the resurrection—that is, all during the period of his earthly ministry, beginning with his baptism (Mk 1:11; Lk 3:22 par, again drawing upon Psalm 2:7). It followed naturally that this belief would be extended to the entire period of Jesus’ earthly life, beginning with his physical/biological birth as a human being. The tradition of the supernatural (virginal) conception, recorded clearly enough in the Matthean and Lukan Infancy Narratives (Matt 1-2, Luke 1-2), effectively testifies to Jesus’ character as the Son of God. The Infancy narratives, while drawing on earlier historical traditions, etc, were almost certainly the last portion of the Gospel narrative to be developed. In this regard, it is noteworthy that the birth of Jesus is scarcely mentioned at all anywhere else in the New Testament. There are two allusions in Paul’s letters, both of which are earlier in time than the Gospels of Matthew and Luke (and their Infancy narratives).

Galatians 4:4

The clearest Pauline reference is in Galatians 4:4:

“…but when the fullness of time came, God set (forth) out from (Himself) [i.e. sent out] His Son, coming to be out of a woman, coming to be under (the) Law”

The key phrase in italics is geno/menon e)k gunaiko/$, “coming to be out of a woman”; it is similar to the phrase in Rom 1:3 (cf. the prior note on v. 4):

“…the (one) coming to be out of (the) seed of David according to (the) flesh”

The participial phrase “coming to be out of the seed of David” is generally equivalent with “coming to be out of a woman”. In some manuscripts (and ancient versions) of both passages, it is the participle gennw/menon (from genna/w) instead of geno/menon (from gi/nomai). The verbs gi/nomai and genna/w are related, and both essentially mean “come to be, become”; each can also mean specifically “come to be born“, but this is more commonly denoted by genna/w rather than gi/nomai. The participle gennw/menon thus may be intended to make more clear that it is the birth of Jesus (a real human birth) that is being referenced.

Both in Rom 1:3 and here in Gal 4:4, Paul’s wording suggests that Jesus was God’s Son prior to his birth. Even if Rom 1:3-4 represents an older Christological formula adopted by Paul (as many commentators think), the opening words of v. 3, leading into the formula, likely are Paul’s own: “about His Son…”. In Galatians 4:4, the theological orientation is more clearly expressed: “God sent out His Son…”; a more literal rendering of the verb e)cape/steilen would be “set (forth) out from”, i.e. out from Himself, or out from where He is. At the very least, this suggests a heavenly origin for Jesus as God’s Son, much as we see in the Christ-hymn of Philippians 2:6-11. The same sort of wording occurs in Romans 8:3:

“For the (thing that it was) without power for the Law (to do), in which it was without strength through the flesh, God (did by) sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and, about [i.e. regarding] sin, He brought down judgment on sin in the flesh.”

A different verb is used—the more common pe/mpw (“send”)—but the idea is essentially the same: God sent His Son to be born as a human being. If we combine the key phrasing of Rom 1:3, Gal 4:4, and Rom 8:3 together, it results in a snapshot of Pauline theology (and Christology):

    • “coming to be out of the seed of David” (Rom 1:3)—Jesus as the Messiah
    • “coming to be out of a woman” (Gal 4:4)—the human birth of Jesus
    • “coming to be under the Law” (Gal 4:4)—joining with humankind under bondage to the Law
    • “…in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom 8:3)—sharing in humankind’s bondage under the power of sin

The last point is potentially problematic for orthodox Christology; Paul was no doubt aware of this (in his own way), and he states he matter carefully (compare with 2 Cor 5:21). His emphasis is not on Jesus’ relation to sin as a human being, but on the fact that, as a result of his life and work on earth (as a human being), the ruling power of sin in the flesh is condemned. The verb katakri/nw literally means “bring down judgment” or “judge against”, a legal term indicating the passing of a sentence against crime, etc, including the idea of punishment and of rendering a person unable to pursue evil. The influence of sin in the “flesh” is not entirely removed for human beings (believers), but its ruling power is ended.

Galatians 4:4ff and Romans 8:3ff also share the important theme that Jesus’ Sonship, and his saving work as a human being, is the basis for the sonship of believers—our own identity as sons/children of God. In particular, Rom 8:12-17 is very close in thought to Gal 4:4-7; this will be touched on further in an upcoming note in this Christmas series.

The many similarities in subject matter and thought, between Galatians and Romans, suggests that they were written at roughly the same time, perhaps no more than a few years apart—according to the best estimates, during a period c. 54-58 A.D. Indeed, these allusions to Jesus’ birth would seem to derive from an earlier time than that of the Infancy narratives (c. 70-80?). To judge from the surviving material, there was little interest in the details of Jesus’ birth in the earliest period (c. 30-60 A.D.); indeed, his human birth and childhood does not appear to have been part of the early Gospel preaching at all (compared with his baptism, ministry, death and resurrection). This is also confirmed by the way the Gospel narratives themselves developed, with no Infancy narrative in either the core Synoptic Tradition (as represented by Mark) or the Johannine.

Eventually, however, historical and literary traditions regarding Jesus’ birth were included as part of the Gospel. By at least 80 A.D. (if not earlier) the Matthean and Lukan Infancy narratives had been composed. The major differences between these narratives, along with the fact that they share certain core (historical) traditions, suggests that a period of development in the tradition was involved, spanning a number of years (c. 50-70 A.D.?). It is also worth noting that nearly all of the themes from the earlier Gospel tradition are present, in some form, in the Infancy narratives, including the fundamental belief in Jesus as the Son of God. It is important to consider how this is expressed in the Matthean and Lukan narratives; this we will do in the next daily note.

Justification by Faith: Galatians 3:6ff; Romans 4:3ff

Justification by Faith (Genesis 15:6)

This is the second study dealing with the Reformation doctrine “Justification by Faith”. Previously, we looked at Paul’s use of Habakkuk 2:4 in Romans 1:17; today we will examine his treatment of Genesis 15:6. Paul cites and expounds this verse on two different occasions in his letters—in Galatians 3 and Romans 4. I will deal with the Galatians passage first. This Reformation-oriented series is intended to demonstrate some of the ways in which Biblical criticism relates to theology (and the history of doctrine). The Reformers were heavily indebted to Paul’s rigorous treatment of the subject of faith and “justification”, as presented in Romans and Galatians, examining the words and phrases, the line of argument, very carefully, including a study of the text in Greek. At the same time, Paul himself was working from the Old Testament Scriptures, studying and interpreting those texts with at least as much care. For most Christians—and for committed Protestant believers, in particular—theology and doctrine cannot be separated from a (critical) examination of Scripture.

Galatians 3:6ff

The fact that Paul draws on the example of Abraham, and the declaration in Gen 15:6, on two different occasions, shows how important this tradition was for him. Abraham, of course, was a central figure in Jewish thought, a paragon of faith and obedience, for Israelites and Jews in every age. The deutero-canonical book of Sirach (44:19-21) provides a good (early) summary of this belief; see also the book of Jubilees 23:10. Gen 15:6 is part of a complex of ancient Abraham traditions given distinct narrative shape in chapters 14 and 15ff of Genesis, and which were highly influential in shaping this belief. Chapter 15 is the great covenant-vision scene set around the divine promise of an heir (male child) for Abraham, in spite of his old age and the barrenness of his wife Sarah. In vv. 4-5, God announces to Abraham that, not only will he indeed have a child of his own, but that his descendants will come to be a vast multitude of people, like the stars in the sky. Here it is said of Abraham in verse 6:

“And he had firm (trust) in YHWH, and He reckoned (it) for him (as) ƒ®d¹qâ.”

The Hebrew word ƒ®d¹qâ (hq*d*x=) has a relatively wide range of meaning. It is usually translated “righteousness”, but may also denote “truthfulness”, “loyalty”, as well as the legal sense of “justice”. The fundamental meaning of the ƒqd root appears to be something like “straight”, or perhaps “clear”. Abraham’s trust in God shows him to be a true and faithful friend (or vassal in the context of the covenant), and so God considers him to be a right follower. Paul, in citing Gen 15:6, generally follows the Septuagint (LXX) Greek, which is also a reasonably accurate rendering of the Hebrew:

“Abraham trusted in God, and (this) was counted for him unto dikaiosýn¢” (Gal 3:6)

As noted in the previous study, the verb dikaióœ (dikaio/w) means “make right”, and the noun dikaiosýn¢ (dikaiosu/nh) something like “right-ness” or “just-ness”, usually rendered in English as either “righteousness” or “justice”, both of which can be rather misleading in modern English. The dik– word-group is notoriously difficult to translate, especially as used repeatedly by Paul in his letters. It is clear, however, that Paul is using dikaiosýn¢ here is a somewhat different sense than the Hebrew ƒ®d¹qâ of the original Hebrew. For Paul, the word relates to a person’s standing before God—as one who needs to be “made right”. This legal sense, I would argue, is rather different from the covenant-language in Genesis 15 (on this see above, and also the earlier Saturday Series study on the covenant scene of Gen 15). And yet, Paul certainly has the context of covenant in mind, as can be seen from the remainder of chapter 3.

Paul is attempting to reconcile two basic truths, which relate to the new religious identity he sought to define for believers in Christ:

    • Truth #1: Salvation comes through trusting in Jesus—this is the essential Gospel message, which was accepted by at least as many non-Jews as Jews
    • Truth #2: Israelites (i.e. the descendants of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob) represent the people of God

These can only be reconciled by positing that those who trust in Jesus and the descendants of Abraham, are, somehow, one and the same. The declaration in Gen 15:6 provided a solution. It allowed one to identify faith/trust in God with Abraham and his descendants. That this association was immediately (and primarily) in Paul’s mind is clear from the interpretation he gives in Gal 3:7:

“Then you must know that the (one)s (born) out of trust—these are the sons of Abraham”

This results in a powerful reinterpretation of Israelite religious identity, now being applied to believers: those who trust in Jesus are the true descendants of Abraham. The line of argument which follows in vv. 8-14 (and on through the rest of chapters 3 and 4) is quite complex, and is meant to address the fundamental message of Galatians: that it is not necessary for (Gentile) believers to observe the regulations and commands of the Torah. I discuss this at length in the series of articles on Galatians in “Paul’s View of the Law” (part of the series “The Law and the New Testament”). The main issue involved circumcision—in many ways the central command related to Israelite/Jewish religious identity. But, as Paul makes clear, circumcision was instituted for Abraham (and his descendants) prior to the Torah, being the sign of an earlier covenant established between God and Abraham. This covenant was not based on anything Abraham did, but was God’s own initiative, being predicated upon Abraham’s demonstration of trust. This is the significance of Gen 15:6 (and its context) for Paul. Believers—Gentile believers, in particular—are saved and “made right” before God through faith in Jesus; as a result, they are shown to be Abraham’s very descendants (his true, spiritual descendants). One is not saved through the observance of the Torah (much less circumcision itself), but through trust in Jesus. Paul affirms and argues this over and over again throughout Galatians (and again in Romans, as we shall see).

Romans 4:3ff

In Romans 4, Paul repeats the argument from Galatians, using the same example of Abraham (along with Gen 15:6), but accompanied by a more thorough exposition. The polemical tone of Galatians has been replaced by a carefully structured theological treatment of the theme, in which Jewish and Gentile believers are shown to be united, related to one another as true equals in Christ. Several times Paul asks, essentially, “what does the Jewish (believer) have over and above the Gentile?” The line of argument throughout chapters 2-11 of Romans is especially complex. In various ways, Paul seeks to retain the position of the covenant God established with his people Israel (i.e. Abraham, in chap. 4), once again reinterpreting it so that believers in Christ become the true (and complete) fulfillment of the covenant—Jewish and Gentile believers both as the people of God. The increasingly larger percentage of non-Jewish believers created a difficulty for Paul in this regard, and he addresses it particularly in chaps. 9-11. The illustration of Abraham is made to apply more generally to the Gentile believer by the repeated emphasis that righteousness (or right-ness) is something given by God (as a favor), rather than something earned by the person’s own work (vv. 4-5). This would come to be the emphasis that dominated the Reformers’ thought (see below).

Paul deals with the (Greek) text of Gen 15:6 in more detail here than he does in Galatians, especially the phrase “and it was counted for him unto justice/righteousness” (kai elogisth¢ autœ eis diakosyn¢). The verb logízomai (logi/zomai) is related to the noun lógos (“account”), and refers to giving an accounting (of something), used essentially as a bookkeeping term. The passive sense (“it was counted…”) here is an example of the so-called “divine passive”, where God is the implied actor. Quite literally, God records something in the ledger (the book, or account) on behalf of the person. This draws upon the traditional image of the (heavenly) book in which a person’s deeds are recorded, and which will be opened on the great day of Judgment. A similar idea is the “book/roll of life”, on which the names of the elect (i.e. citizens of heaven) are recorded. The corresponding verb in the Hebrew (µ¹ša»), has a rather different sense, and is also in active form (“he considered”). Fundamentally, it refers to the work of the mind (thought, thinking), sometimes in the specific sense of creative/artistic work, imagination, planning, and so forth. In Gen 15:6 it is best rendered as “consider”, or somewhat more forcefully, “reckon”—God considered Abraham to be a true and faithful friend.

Protestant commentators tended to emphasize the legal, forensic aspect of the Greek verb logízomai even more than Paul did, though he points in that direction himself in vv. 5-8. There, in good Rabbinic fashion, Paul finds a Scripture with similar wording to Gen 15:6 [LXX], bringing in the point of similarity as a way of explaining the earlier passage. He turns to the Greek of Psalm 32:1-2:

“Happy (are the one)s for whom the (deed)s without law [i.e. lawless deeds] were released, and for whom the sins were covered over! Happy the man for whom the Lord does not make an accounting of sin!” (vv. 7-8)

The “accounting unto righteousness” is parallel with “no accounting of sin”. In other words, God leaves the reference(s) to sins out of the ledger completely, ignoring them or “covering them over”. The idea of a forensic “declaration” or “imputation” of righteousness was certainly influenced by this line of thought in Romans. For Paul, however, it was the idea of the last Judgment that was largely in mind with this sort of language. Believers will escape the coming anger of God (1:18ff) and will be able to stand before God in the Judgment, because of the sacrificial work of Jesus on our behalf, and the trust/faith we have in him. All of this is given freely to us by God, as a favor (cháris, xa/ri$). Paul states this clearly in verse 4, and it is given an even more succinct, axiomatic formulation in Eph 2:8. Yet, it is insufficient to view this “righteousness” (dikaiosýn¢) simply in the negative sense of the absence/covering of any record of sin. We must keep in mind the foundational statement in 1:17 (see the previous study), in which the positive aspect is emphasized—the righteousness of God Himself, which brings life to us, through our trust in Jesus.

Throughout Galatians and Romans, Paul is dealing primarily with the question of religious identity, which, for Israelites and Jews, involved circumcision and the observance of the Torah (as the terms of the covenant). Paul fully realized that this could no longer serve as the basis for the identity of believers in Christ, and he argued repeatedly that faith in Jesus took place entirely apart from (chœris) observing the regulations of the Torah. He states this in no uncertain terms in vv. 13ff, and even more absolutely in the famous declaration of 10:4: “For (the) Anointed One [i.e. Christ] is the completion [télos] of the Law, unto justice/righteousness [dikaiosýn¢] for every one trusting (in him)”.

Protestants, however, tended to turn this into a more general religious principle. Instead of referring specifically to Torah observance, “works” (érga) meant any sort of human effort or work in addition to faith in Jesus. Paul himself introduced this generalization at a number of points, such as here in verse 4:

“for the (one) working, the wage is not counted according to favor, but (rather) according to what (is) owed

This sort of illustration supplies the basis for the sweeping idea that salvation/justification comes by “grace and faith” alone, not from any human effort (Eph 2:8). Protestants were well aware of the religious tendency to emphasize the importance of certain actions—both ethical and ritual—and to rely on these for one’s identity. At the time of the Reformation, Roman Catholic tradition was filled many authoritative laws, customs, and so forth, considered to be binding upon believers. The Reformers and early Protestants fought against the bulk of this tradition, symbolized most vividly by Luther in his public burning of the corpus of Canon (Church) Law. The doctrine of sola fide—salvation by faith alone—was a most radical solution to the religious problem. At a single stroke, it effectively eliminated vast swaths of Christian tradition—and Christianity in the West has been grappling with the impact of this ever since.

July 25 (2): Galatians 6:16

This note is supplemental to the concluding article on “Paul’s View of the Law in Galatians”; it deals with Gal 6:16, and, in particular, with the unusual expression “the Israel of God”.

Galatians 6:16

“And, as (many) as walk in line by this (measuring) rod, peace upon them, and also mercy upon the Yisrael of God”

I discussed the first clause in the aforementioned article (above); the “(measuring) rod [i.e. rule]” (kanw/n) being the statement in verse 15 (on this, see the previous note), though Paul doubtless would have applied it as well to the teaching and line of argument in the letter as a whole. The second half of the verse is a benediction offered by Paul, one which is similar to the “blessing of peace” (Birkat ha-Shalom) of the Shemoneh Esreh (“Eighteen Benedictions”) in Jewish tradition: “…and mercy upon us and upon all Israel, your people” (cf.  Betz, Galatians, p. 321-22)—the two-fold reference “us… and Israel” indicates an extension from the local congregation to all Israelites and Jews. Paul’s juxtaposition is similar, though slightly different:

“upon them (i.e. those who walk by this rule)…and upon the Israel of God

The main difficulty interpreting Paul’s statement is to identify just what he means by the unusual expression “the Israel of God” (o(  )Israh\l tou= qeou=). There are three possibilities, that it refers to: (a) Israel (Jews/Judaism) in the normal ethnic-religious sense, (b) Jewish believers, or (c) believers in general. The first of these is to be excluded for two reasons: (1) it would seem to contradict the entire thrust and message of the letter, and (2) the qualifying term “of God” strongly suggests that believers specifically are intended (cf. below). This leaves the last two possibilities, either: (i) Jewish believers in particular, or (ii) all believers (Jew and Gentile alike). Many commentators today, influenced by a scholarly (and modern pluralistic) emphasis on the Judaism of Paul, assume that he means the former (i); on the other hand, the overall context of Galatians, strongly suggests the latter (ii). However, it may be possible to combine aspects of both interpretations and thereby achieve a more accurate sense of Paul’s thought. A comparative analysis of similar phrases and expressions, in Galatians as well as other of Paul’s letters, I believe, points in this direction. There are two points of comparison:

    1. Expressions involving “Israel”
    2. Expressions involving “of God”

1. “Israel” ( )Israh/l). In several instances, Paul refers to “Israel” in the traditional ethnic-religious sense to refer to himself (or others) as an Israelite (2 Cor 11:22; Phil 3:5). Otherwise, there are several significant passages (apart from Gal 6:16):

    • Romans 9-11—Paul refers to Israel 14 times in these chapters, which provide perhaps his most detailed and extensive discussion of the relationship between Jews and Gentiles (from an eschatological viewpoint); these chapters will be examined in more detail during the study of Paul’s View of the Law in Romans. As I will be discussing there, the key verse to an understanding of Paul’s thought is Rom 9:6: “for the ones out of Israel [e)c  )Israh/l], these are not all Israel”—in other words, not all of those belonging to Israel (in the normal ethnic-religious sense) are the true Israel. According to Paul’s teaching in Romans (and elsewhere), some Israelites fell away and have not believed (i.e. have not trusted in Christ), while Gentiles who believed in Christ have become part of (the true) Israel. Paul’s difficult, challenging eschatological statement “all Israel will be saved” (Rom 11:26) will be discussed (along with the modern “Two Covenants” approach to Rom 9-11) in a later note.
    • 1 Corinthians 10:18—Here Paul uses the expression “Israel according to the flesh” (o(  )Israh\l kata\ sa/rka), which can be understood two ways: (a) in an ordinary ethnic-religious sense, (b) or “according to the flesh” (kata\ sa/rka) in contrast with “according to the Spirit” (kata\ pneu=ma). His frequent use of kata\ sa/rka in this specialized, latter sense, indicates that he may intend this here as well. The overall thrust of his illustration in 1 Cor 10:1-18ff matches the message of Rom 9:6: that many Israelites have fallen away, in spite of being born into the covenant and participating the religious and spiritual blessings provided them by God—i.e. they are not part of the ‘true Israel’.
    • 2 Corinthians 3:7ff—Paul uses a similar manner of illustration in 2 Cor 3:7-18, but applied directly to the (written) Law of Moses. Israelites (Jews) possess the Torah, being taught/instructed by it and hearing it proclaimed constantly, and yet many of them are veiled from the truth of it (in Christ).
    • Romans 2:28-29—Paul distinguishes between one who is a Jew (i.e. Israelite) outwardly (from birth, circumcision and observing the Torah), with one who is a Jew inwardly (by the Spirit), i.e. believers in Christ. This would clearly indicate that there is a true Israel “according to the Spirit” as compared with Israel “according to the flesh”—cf. Galatians 4:21-31 (esp. v. 29).

2. “of God” (tou= qeou=). Paul’s use of this qualifying term indicates a very definite connotation, one associated specifically with believers (in Christ). To begin with, he is certainly drawing upon traditional Old Testament and Jewish language, with phrases such as “fear of God”, “glory of God”, “judgment/wrath of God”, “kingdom of God”, et al, in a manner shared by Judaism and early Christianity. But at times, certain idioms seem to be applied within a specific Christian (Gospel) context, to indicate that which is true, or truly comes from God. A few important examples may be noted:

    • “the justice/righteousness of God” (dikaiosu/nh tou= qeou=), especially as contrasted with the justice/righteousness that come through observing the Law (i.e. “works of the Law”)—Romans 3:5, 21-22; 2 Cor 5:21
    • “promise(s) of God” (e)paggeli/a tou= qeou=), esp. as fulfilled truly in Christ (and in the Holy Spirit) unto believers—Rom 4:20; 2 Cor 1:20; Gal 3:16-22ff;
    • “knowledge of God” (gnw=si$ qeou=) and “wisdom of God” (sofi/a tou= qeou=), esp. contrasted with false/human knowledge and wisdom—Rom 11:33; 1 Cor 1:17-24, 30; 2:6ff; 15:34; 2 Cor 10:5; Col 1:10; Eph 3:10.
    • “assembly [i.e. the people called out] of God” (h( e)kklhsi/a tou= qeou=), which likely has the specific nuance of the “true congregation”, i.e. of believers in Christ—cf. especially Gal 1:13; 1 Cor 10:32; 11:22; 15:9 (note the references to Paul’s persecution of believers).
    • “temple/shrine of God” (o( nao/$ [tou=] qeou=)—Paul uses this expression in 1 Cor 3:16-17; 2 Cor 6:16 (cf. also 1 Cor 6:19 and Eph 2:21), referring to believers themselves as the (true) temple (properly, shrine/sanctuary) of God, as opposed to the earthly Temple (which Paul otherwise rarely mentions, 1 Cor 9:13; 2 Thess 2:4).
    • “the Law of God” (o( no/mo$ tou= qeou=)—this expression occurs in Romans 7:22, 25 and 1 Cor 9:21; in Romans, Paul seems to use it broadly in the sense of the “will of God”, and as contrasted both with the Law of Moses, and, more particularly, to the “Law of sin”. In 1 Cor 9:21, Paul defines it specifically as being “in the Law of Christ” (e&nnomo$ Xristrou=).
    • “the commands of God” (e)ntolw=n qeou=)—I discussed this expression (1 Cor 7:19) in the previous note; the examples above, and the comparative context in Paul’s letters, suggest that he means this in the sense of the true commands (reflecting the Law or will “of God”), more or less synonymous with the Law/command of Christ (Gal 6:2; 1 Cor 9:21).

All of this strongly indicates that “the Israel of God” refers to the true Israel, and thus to (all) true believers in Christ. However, it is possible that the apparent distinction between them (those following the ‘rule’ of Gal 6:15) and the Israel of God, may be Paul’s way of moving from the Gentile (Galatian) believers to include the Jewish believers as well. If so, then this could represent a simpler, summary statement of what he expounds in far greater detail in Romans 9-11.

July 25 (1): Galatians 6:15

This note (on Galatians 6:15) is supplemental to the concluding article dealing with “Paul’s View of the Law in Galatians”.

Galatians 6:15

This verse represents Paul’s final doctrinal statement in the letter, as he returns with a decisive declaration on the main issue involved—whether Gentile believers ought to be circumcised and observe the Old Testament/Jewish Law (Torah). Circumcision is, in many ways, representative of the entire Torah, the covenant between God and Israel—it preceded the Sinai covenant, and is the fundamental mark of Jewish identity. It is understandable why Jewish believers felt that circumcision should be a requirement for Gentile converts, since early Christianity was born within a Jewish cultural-religious matrix. Paul, in Galatians, is among the very first Christians to argue for a distinctively Christian religious identity—something entirely new, and separate from traditional Judaism. In the conclusion (peroratio) of Galatians, vv. 12-17 of chapter 6, for one last time, Paul contrasts the Gospel message as he understands (and proclaims) it, with that of his Jewish-Christian opponents; the polemic is sharp in vv. 12-14, with circumcision set against the cross of Christ (cf. Gal 2:19-21). The declaration in verse 15 follows:

“For neither circumcision is any(thing), nor (is having) a foreskin, but (rather)—a new formation [kainh\ kti/si$]”

This is the second of three similar statements in Paul’s letters dealing with circumcision, the first occurring in Gal 5:6, and the third in 1 Cor 7:19 (assuming Galatians was written prior to 1 Corinthians); they may be compared side-by-side (in translation):

Gal 5:6

“For in (the) Anointed Yeshua neither circumcision has any strength, nor (does having) a foreskin, but (rather)—trust working in (you) through love”

Gal 6:15

“For neither circumcision is any(thing), nor (is having) a foreskin, but (rather)—a new formation”

1 Cor 7:19

“(For) circumcision is nothing, and (having) a foreskin is (also) nothing, but a guard of [i.e. guarding] the commands of God (is)”

Each statement begins with a declaration that circumcision is unimportant/irrelevant for believers; it is helpful to compare these:

Gal 5:6
ou&te peritomh/ ti i)sxu/ei ou&te a)krobusti/a
“neither circumcision has any strength, nor (does having) a foreskin”

Gal 6:15
ou&te peritomh/ ti e)stin ou&te a)krobusti/a
“neither circumcision is any(thing), nor (is having) a foreskin”

1 Cor 7:19
h( peritomh/ ou)de/n e)stin kai\ h( a)krobusti/a oude/n e)stin
“circumcision is nothing and (also having) a foreskin is nothing”

The two clauses in Galatians are nearly identical; the formulation is a bit different in 1 Cor 7:19, but all three say essentially the same thing—”has no strength”, “is not any(thing)”, “is nothing”. Gal 5:6 qualifies the statement by the expression “in Christ Jesus”, which, of course, is to be assumed in all three forms. That religious, cultural, and ethnic distinctions between Jews and non-Jews (Gentiles) are eliminated for believers “in Christ”—this is an important theme and doctrine in Galatians (see esp. Gal 3:26-28). The use of the verb i)sxu/w, “to have (or use) strength”, in Gal 5:6 is significant; it can be understood two ways: (a) that circumcision has no effect (or power) in the life of a believer (before God), and also (b) that it has no binding force, i.e. believers are not obligated to observe the command. The same is true of being uncircumcised, as the context of 1 Cor 7:19 makes especially clear (see “Did you know…?” below).

The question naturally comes to mind: if circumcision (and uncircumcision) have no power or significance for the believer, than what does have? Interestingly, in these three statements, Paul gives three different answers, here presented side-by-side for comparison:

Gal 5:6

pi/sti$ di’ a)ga/ph$ e)nergoume/nh
“trust through love working in (you)”

Gal 6:15

kainh\ kti/si$
“(a) new formation”

1 Cor 7:19

th/rhsi$ e)ntolw=n qeou=
a guard of [i.e. guarding] (the) “commands” of God

Each of the statements, is, in some way, important and distinctive with regard to Paul’s teaching:

Gal 5:6: pi/sti$ di’ a)ga/ph$ e)nergoume/nh “trust working in (you) through love”—This formula brings together three elements fundamental to the teaching and line of argument throughout Galatians:

pi/sti$ (“trust/faith”), i.e. trust in Christ (cf. Gal 2:16, 20; 3:2, 5, 7-9, 11-12, 14, 22-26); a key premise of the letter is that people (believers) are made/declared just (righteous) before God by trust in Christ, and not by observing the Law. This a dominant theme through the first four chapters (esp. chap 3).

a)ga/ph (“love”)—love is an important motif in the exhortation section of the letter (Gal 5:1-6:10), with its emphasis on believers demonstrating (sacrificial) love to each other; the so-called “love command” (Lev 19:18; Mark 12:28-33 par) represents the only “Law” that believers are obligated to observe (Gal 5:13-14, cf. Rom 13:8-10), presumably to be identified with the “Law of Christ” in Gal 6:2.

e)nerge/w (“work in”)—the term “work” is important in Galatians; Paul repeatedly refers to “works [e&rga] of the Law” (i.e. doing/observing the Law/Torah), Gal 2:16; 3:2, 5, 10, as contrasted with trust in Christ and the Gospel; note also the parallel expression “works of the flesh” (Gal 5:19). For the believer, it is God and the Spirit which works (Gal 2:8; 3:5).

Gal 6:15: kainh\ kti/si$ “a new formation”—The noun kti/si$ is derived from the verb kti/zw, “to form, found”, as with a city/settlement or building, etc.; more generally, it can have the sense of “produce, make”, etc., i.e. “create”, in reference to God’s creative power. Often the expression here is translated “new creation”, sometimes influenced by the idea of regeneration or “new birth”; however, for Paul, I believe the emphasis is rather on a new identity for the believer in Christ. The expression is also used in 2 Cor 5:17:

“So then, if any (one is) in (the) Anointed [e)n Xristw=|] he is a new creation/formation [kainh\ kti/si$]…”

The dualism of old vs. new is an important aspect of Paul’s theology and anthropology, cf. Rom 6:6; 7:6; 1 Cor 5:7-8; 2 Cor 3:6, 14; 5:17; Col 3:9-10; Eph 2:15; 4:22, etc.

1 Cor 7:19: th/rhsi$ e)ntolw=n qeou=—The noun th/rhsi$ is related to the verb thre/w, “(keep) watch, guard”, and so primarily means a “guard”, i.e. as in a prison; however, it can also have the more general, abstract meaning of “keeping, holding”, etc. The noun e)ntolh/ literally refers to something laid on someone to complete, i.e., an order, charge, duty, etc.; it is often translated “command(ment)”, and, in the plural, in a Jewish context, typically refers to the commands and regulations of the Torah. At first glance, this seems to be an entirely different emphasis than in Galatians; the idea of “keeping the commands” (of the Torah) is altogether opposite of what Paul teaches for believers there. Since, in 1 Cor 7:19, he has just stated that “circumcision is nothing”, it is most unlikely that the “commands of God” here are synonymous with the Torah commands. More plausibly, it could refer to the moral/ethical commands, especially of the Decalogue (cf. Mark 10:19 par; James 2:11; Rom 13:9). However the qualification “of God” for Paul probably carries the sense of the true commands (cf. the parallel expression “the Law of God” in Rom 7:22, 25); the overall context of Paul’s teaching—especially in Romans and Galatians—would identify the true command(s) with the so-called “love command” (cf. “the Law of Christ”, Gal 6:2), in which, according to the teaching and example of Christ, the entire Law is summarized and fulfilled (Gal 5:14; Rom 13:8-10). The problem with the context in 1 Corinthians, is that Paul brings up the question of circumcision only in passing; it is not central to the teaching and argument of chapter 7, which involves practical instruction and advice regarding marriage and marital status among believers.

It is interesting that in Gal 5:6; 6:15; 1 Cor 7:19 Paul does not simply say that “circumcision is nothing”, etc.; instead, he adds that “(having) a foreskin [a)krobusti/a] is (also) nothing”, etc. The statement in Gal 5:6, that “(having) a foreskin has no strength” (just as circumcision “has no strength”) is especially unusual from our vantage point today. However, as Christianity spread throughout the Gentile (Greco-Roman) world, instead of Jewish pressure on Gentile believers to be circumcised, there would be the opposite cultural pressure on Jewish believers to hide their circumcision. Paul would have been aware of this dynamic, especially in a Greek city such as Corinth. In 1 Cor 7:18, Paul urges that those who have been circumcised (i.e. Jewish believers) ought not to “pull (a foreskin) upon” (e)pispasa/omai) them. In the Greco-Roman world, operations were available for Jewish men to ‘restore’ the foreskin (epispasm) or otherwise hide the effects of circumcision.

Paul’s View of the Law: Galatians (Conclusion)

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:

    • Verse 11—Introductory notice
    • Verses 12-17—The conclusion (peroratio)
    • Verse 18—Benediction

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 (cf. Betz, Galatians, pp. 312-3). Since Paul recapitulates much of what he has already stated—and which has already been discussed in the previous articles and notes in this series—I will treat the relevant statements in vv. 12-17 rather briefly, before proceeding to several concluding points regarding Paul’s “View of the Law in Galatians”.

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” [e)n sarki/]
      • They want to avoid being persecuted for the true Gospel (“for the cross of Christ”)
      • They want to be able to “boast” [kauxa/omai] “in the flesh” [e)n th=| sarki/] 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” (sa/rc) 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. Because of its importance, it will be discussed—along with the parallel formulations in Gal 5:6 and 1 Cor 7:19—in a separate note.

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

    • o%soi tw=| kano/ni tou/tw| stoixh/sousin, “as (many) as walk in line by this (measuring) rod”—Paul uses the same verb (stoixe/w) as in Gal 5:25 (“walk in line in/by the Spirit”); the noun kanw/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.
    • e)pi\ to\n  )Israh\l tou= qeou=, “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. It will be discussed, in some detail, in a separate 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 (cf. 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 sti/gma (stígma, pl. 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 esp. 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 study of Paul’s View of the Law in Galatians, it may be helpful to summarize the key points of emphasis and arguments made in the letter:

  • 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.
  • 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.

July 24: Galatians 6:2

Today’s note is supplemental to the series on “Paul’s View of the Law in Galatians” (on Gal 5:1-6:10); in particular, I will be discussing the interesting expression “the Law of Christ” in 6:2.

Galatians 6:2

“Bear one another’s burdens—and so you will fill up [i.e. fulfill] (completely) the ‘Law of Christ'”

It is noteworthy that, throughout the first five chapters of Galatians (focused in chs. 3-4), Paul has been arguing that believers in Christ are freed from the Law (that is, of the obligation to observe the commands and regulations of the Old Testament/Jewish Torah). Now, suddenly, he re-introduces the idea of believers fulfilling the Law, but defined specifically as “the Law of Christ” (o( no/mo$ tou= Xristou=). Two questions naturally come to mind: (1) what exactly does Paul mean by this expression? and (2) what is the relationship (if any) between the “Law of Christ” and the Old Testament/Jewish Law (Torah)? I hope to address both questions in the process of examining this verse.

First, let us consider the overall context of his statement in v. 2:

Throughout the first four chapters of Galatians, and especially in chapters 3-4, Paul has been arguing rather extensively (and forcefully) two main points:

    • That it is through faith in Christ, and not by observing the Torah (“works of Law”), that a person is made (or declared) just/righteous before God
    • That with the coming Christ, and, especially, as a result of his sacrificial death, believers (those who trust in him) are no longer “under the Law” and are freed from its obligations and commands (and, in turn, freed from the enslaving power of sin as well).

However, in chapters 5 and 6 (5:1-6:10), Paul has moved from argument to exhortation and religious-ethical instruction (parenesis). Since believers have freedom in Christ, and are free from the Law, how is one to live and act?—what is the basis for governing and regulating attitudes and behavior? Paul makes two points clear in this section:

    • Attitude and behavior is (to be) governed by the Holy Spirit, which involves believers accepting to be led/guided (to “walk”) by the Spirit
    • Even though believers are free from the Law, being led by the Spirit will (and must) result in a moral and upright life, in spite of (and/or because of) the natural conflict between the Spirit and “flesh”

In Gal 5:26-6:10, we find the only section of practical instruction in the letter, in particular, 5:26-6:6:

    • 5:26 describes behavior contrary to “walking in the Spirit” (cf. also v. 15)
    • 6:1-2 urges faithful believers to exhibit the “fruit of the Spirit” in helping to restore an offender, and to “bear each others‘ burdens”
    • 6:3-4 counsels self-examination for believers, emphasizing the importance of humility and personal integrity, emphasizing rather that each person must “bear his/her own burden”

In vv. 3-4, the believer turns inward, focusing on his/her own life and affairs, while in vv. 1-2, the believer turns outward, in order to aid and assist other believers in time of trouble. Paul’s statement in v. 2 is part of this second emphasis.

Verse 2a—”bear each other’s burdens…” (a)llh/lwn ta\ ba/rh basta/zete). It is this exhortation which defines the statement in 2b, and must be kept in mind when analyzing the expression “the Law of Christ”. It is also closely parallel to the exhortation in 5:13, as we shall see.

Verse 2b—”…and thus you will fill up (completely) the ‘Law of Christ'” (kai\ ou%tw$ a)naplhrw/sete to\n no/mon tou= Xristou=). “and thus” (kai\ ou%tw$) relates back to 2a, which serves as a conditional phrase—if you bear each other’s burden, then, in so doing, you will fill up the “Law of Christ”. The verb Paul uses (a)naplhro/w) is a compound form of plhro/w (plhróœ, “fill [up], fulfill”); the prefixed particle a)na (ana) indicating “up”, but essentially serving as an intensive element, i.e. “fill up completely“. The verb plhro/w can be used in the sense of observing or completing commands/regulations, i.e., of the Law (Torah), cf. Matt 5:17. However, in Galatians, Paul speaks in terms of the Torah commands being “done” (i.e. as “works”) rather than being “fulfilled”.

With regard to the expression “the Law of Christ”, it should be examined according to: (1) parallels in Galatians, (2) parallels in the other Pauline letters, and, finally, by way of brief comparison, (3) with any other relevant parallels in the New Testament.

(1) Parallels in Galatians—the main passage is 5:13-15, which I have discussed previously; the parallel between 5:13-14 and 6:2 is striking:

5:13-14

“be slaves to each other [a)llh/loi$] through love”

“for all the Law is filled (up) [peplh/rwtai] in one word”

6:2

” bear each others’ [a)llh/lwn] burdens”

“and thus you will fill up [a)naplhrw/sete] the Law of Christ”

The “one word” in 5:14 is Lev 19:18 (“you shall love your neighbor as yourself”), well-established in early Christian tradition as a central command (or principle), 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 part of the two-fold “Great Commandment” in Jesus’ teaching (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 reasonable to relate this to the “Law of Christ” in Gal 6:2; I would suggest that the connection should be understood in the following terms:

    1. The ‘love command’ (Lev 19:18) is no longer associated with the Torah in early Christian tradition, but rather more directly with the teaching (and example) of Christ.
    2. In Paul’s thought, Christ, in his own person and by his work, represents (and brings) the end/completion/fulfillment of the entire Law (cf. Rom 10:4), just as the ‘love command’ effectively summarizes and fulfills (and thereby takes the place of) the entire Law.
    3. The new covenant (of faith and the Spirit) is defined as believers being “in Christ”, belonging to Christ, etc., just as the old covenant (at Sinai) was defined by inclusion of Israel according to the terms of the Law (Torah).

(2) Parallels in the other Pauline letters—Here I will focus on formal parallels, where Paul uses a phrase or expression similar to “the Law of Christ”.

  • 1 Corinthians 9:21—”in [i.e. under] the Law of Christ” (e&nnomo$ Xristou=). This expression is nearly identical, with the context in 1 Corinthians being significant. In v. 20, Paul speaks of becoming like one who is “under the Law” in order to reach those “under the Law” (i.e., Israelites/Jews); similarly, to those who are “without (the) Law” (a&nomo$), i.e. Gentiles, he became as one who is “without (the) Law” (cf. Gal 2:12, 14). However, Paul is clearly uncomfortable referring to himself (and, presumably, any believer) as being “without Law”, so he parenthetically comments: “not (indeed) being without the Law of God, but in the law of Christ”. It is doubtless the use of the word a&nomo$ (“without law”) that prompts him to use (or to coin) the term e&nnomo$ (“in [the] law”).
  • Romans 7:22, 25 (cf. also 8:7; 1 Cor 9:21)—”the Law of God” (o( no/mo$ tou= qeou=). In Romans (and also 1 Cor 9:21), Paul uses this expression in a wider sense than “the Law” (o( no/mo$), the latter almost always referring specifically to the Old Testament/Jewish Law (Torah). In Rom 7:22ff, the “Law of God” is contrasted with the “Law of sin” as two principles fighting against each other, as a dynamic taking place in the life/heart/mind of a person prior to faith in Christ (note also the similar dynamic for believers in Gal 5:17). It would be fair, I think, to identify the expression “the Law of God” generally with the will of God, which, of course, is also communicated by way of the Torah commands.
  • Romans 3:27—”the Law of faith/trust” (no/mo$ pi/stew$). This expresses the basic Pauline teaching that people are made/declared just (“justified”) before God through trust/faith (pi/sti$) in Christ, in direct contrast with the “law of works (e&rga)” (i.e., “works of the Law”).
  • Romans 8:2—”the Law of the Spirit of life” (o( no/mo$ tou= pneu/mato$ th=$ zwh=$). This characterizes the principle, expressed repeatedly in Galatians (esp. Gal 5:1ff), that believers are free from the Law—not only specific commands preserved in the Torah, but also the “curse” of the Law and the power of sin, here phrased as “the Law of sin and death”. This freedom—the Law of the Spirit of life—is qualified and centered by the familiar expression “in Christ” (e)n Xristw=|). Since the Holy Spirit is understood largely in terms of the Spirit of Christ, of his live-giving presence and power at work in the believer, the “Law of the Spirit of life” can be considered, to some extent, as synonymous with the “Law of Christ”.
  • Romans 16:26 is also worth noting, where Paul speaks of “the charge/injunction [e)pitagh/] of God of-the-Ages”, in reference to God’s ordering of the proclamation and spread of the Gospel to the nations. In 1 Cor 7:19 we also find the expression “(the) commands/charges [e)ntolai] of God”, which could generally mean the commands of the Torah, but as Paul has just stated that “circumcision is nothing”, this is unlikely; possibly it refers to the ethical commands of the Torah (e.g. in the Decalogue), but it is probably better to consider the meaning as similar to the “command[s] of Christ” (cf. below).

(3) Parallels in the remainder of the New Testament

  • James 1:25; 2:12—”the Law of freedom” (no/mo$ e)leuqeri/a$). This sounds like an expression which could have come from Galatians, with its emphasis on freedom in Christ. And, indeed, the overall context of James 1:22-2:13 is generally similar to Paul’s exhortation and instruction in Gal 5:1-6:10, in the sense that both passages emphasize: (a) the need for moral/ethical behavior among believers, and (b) that faith in Christ will (and should) result in sacrificial acts of mercy and service to those (believers) who are in difficulty. The main difference is that James speaks of all this in terms of “works” (e&rga) and “doing” (i.e. the “Law”) which Paul generally does not apply in Galatians. In James 1:25, the “Law of freedom” is characterized as “complete” (te/leio$), which possibly relates to the Pauline idea of the Law (Torah) being completed in the person and work of Christ (Rom 10:4, etc).
  • James 2:8—”the kingly/royal Law” (no/mo$ basiliko/$). Here the thought is even closer to the “Law of Christ” in Gal 6:2, and also with Gal 5:13-14. This “royal Law” is identified with the so-called love-command (Lev 19:18), as in Gal 5:14; similarly, the implication in James 2:10 is that violation of this command means violating the entire Law. In all likelihood, the “Law of freedom” and the “royal Law” are basically synonymous, and could fairly be identified with the “Law of Christ”.
  • The Gospel and letters of John, for the most part, do not use the word no/mo$ (“law”), preferring rather the word e)ntolh/, either in the singular or plural.  )Entolh/ literally signifies a charge or duty, etc, which is placed on someone, typically translated as “command(ment)”. The “commandments” (pl.) can be referred to as Christ’s, that is, coming from Christ (“his commandments”), cf. John 14:21 (cf. also 15:14); 1 John 2:3-4, or as God’s (the Father’s), 1 John 3:22-24; 5:2-3; 2 John 5-6, or both (Jn 12:49-50; 14:21, 31; 15:10)—with little (if any) distinction between the two. This accords with Johannine theology, especially as expressed by Jesus in the Gospel: that the Son only does and says what he sees/hears the Father doing and saying; in other words, Christ’s commands are the same as God’s (Jn 12:49; 14:31; 15:10). It is never specified just what these commandments are; rather, they seem to be identical with the “commandment” (sg.) of God (and Christ)—Jn 12:49-50; 15:12; 1 Jn 3:23; 4:21; 2 Jn 6. This (single) commandment is: (1) characterized as “new” (Jn 13:34; 1 Jn 2:8), and (2) defined in terms of love toward God and fellow believers (i.e. the two-fold “great commandment”) (Jn 13:34; 15:12, 17; 1 Jn 4:21; 5:2-3; 2 Jn 5-6; cf. also Jn 14:15, 21; 15:10; 1 Jn 2:5). Interestingly, in 1 Jn 2:7-8 and 2 Jn 5, the author explains that, in a sense, this is not actually a new commandment, but one already familiar from Scripture, the teaching of Jesus, and direct instruction by the Spirit. This may be a way of saying, along with Paul, that this “love command” summarizes and fulfills/completes the entire Law.

July 23: Galatians 5:18, 23b

In the last two daily notes, I discussed the first two pairs of statements which bracket vv. 16-25 (see the chiastic outline in the earlier notes). As previously indicated, these pairs may be summarized:

    • Exhortation (vv. 16, 25)
    • Conflict—Flesh vs. Spirit (vv. 17, 24)
    • Affirmation regarding freedom (vv. 18, 23b)

Today’s note will examine the third and final pair.

Affirmation for believers (regarding Freedom)—Gal 5:18, 23b

Here, again, Paul makes specific reference to freedom from the Law, which is the primary theme running throughout the letter. The two verses, looked at in tandem, are:

V. 18: “But if you are (being) led in the Spirit, you are not under (the) Law
V. 23b: “…(but) against these (thing)s [i.e. the fruit of the Spirit] there is no Law

A casual reading of vv. 16-25 might easily miss the connection between these statements, the parallel being as much conceptual as it is formal. A close examination, however, demonstrates that Paul is making very similar claims; we can best see this by dividing each verse into two parts—the first presenting a conditional clause or phrase involving the Spirit, and the second being a conclusive affirmation regarding believers and the Law.

Part 1: Conditional

V. 18: ei) pneu/mati a&gesqe (“{but} if you are led in the Spirit…”)
V. 23: kata\ tw=n toiou/twn (“against these things…”)

Technically, only verse 18 properly contains a conditional clause, as indicated by the particle ei), “if” (I have left out the coordinating particle de/ [“but”] to better show the condition). The expression pneu/mati (“in/by the Spirit”) has been discussed in the prior two notes. The verb a&gw essentially means “lead”, but often specifically in the sense of “lead away, carry off, ” etc. Some commentators have thought that Paul’s use here may indicate a charismatic or “mantic” experience, i.e. being “carried away” by the Spirit. This is possible, but the overall context of Galatians strongly suggests that the basic sense of being led (i.e. directed/guided) better applies here. If so, then it fits with the similar language and symbolism Paul uses throughout regarding believers and the Spirit:

    • walk about in the Spirit” (v. 16)
    • walk in line in the Spirit” (v. 25)
    • “sow (seed) into the Spirit” (6:8)

Believers act in (and by) the power of the Spirit, being guided (willingly) by the Spirit; note in this regard:

    • Believers, through faith in Christ, receive Spirit from God and begin “in the Spirit” (3:2-3, 14; 4:6)
    • God works in believers through the Spirit (3:5; 4:6)
    • We live in the Spirit (5:25)

There is a close formal parallel between v. 18a and 25a:

ei) pneu/mati a&gesqe, “if we are led in the Spirit, (then)…” (v. 18a)
ei) zw=men pneu/mati, “if we live in the Spirit, (then)…” (v. 25a)

Both, I believe, represent actual conditions, reflecting the reality of the Spirit in the lives of believers. In this regard, let us turn to verse 23, which, as I indicated, is not precisely a conditional clause. In fact, it is dependent upon vv. 22-23a, the list of “fruit of the Spirit” (karpo\$ tou= pneu/mato$)—the demonstrative pronoun toiou=to$, “these (thing)s”, refers to the nine items representing the “fruit”. Effectively, Paul is establishing a condition—i.e., if you exhibit the “fruit” of the Spirit, if the Spirit is working and you allow yourself to be led and guided by it, then know that “against these things…” The use of the preposition kata (“against”) is significant, as it reflects the conflict for believers described in vv. 17 and 24. Throughout Galatians, Paul has mentioned three related forces related to this conflict: (1) the flesh, (2) the Law,  and (3) the power of sin.

Part 2: Affirmation

V. 18: ou)k e)ste\ u(po\ no/mon (“…you are not under Law”)
V. 23: ou)k e)stin no/mo$ (“…there is no Law”)

This is, for Paul, perhaps the fundamental message he wishes to deliver to the Galatians, an affirmation of Christian identity, stated simply, and by way of negation. In verse 18, this relates back to the condition, “if you are led in the Spirit…”, and indicates the result: “…(then) you are not under the Law”. It is hard to imagine a simpler, more definite statement that believers are no longer bound and obligated to observe the commands of the Old Testament/Jewish Law (Torah). This is especially so when one considers the normal view of Torah precisely as (authoritative) instruction, a set of rules and precepts by which one is led and guided in the way of truth and to fulfill the will of God. For believers, it is rather the Spirit which provides the guidance traditionally ascribed to the Torah.

The statement in verse 23 is especially interesting by comparison, as it has to be understood in the context of vv. 22-23, providing a conclusion to the list of the “fruit of the Spirit”—”against these things [i.e. the fruit] there is no Law”. At first glance, it is not entirely clear what Paul means by this statement. Contextually, and upon examination, one may consider it according to the following aspects:

    1. There is no law against the fruit of the Spirit since they are all good and holy and, practically speaking, there is no law against doing good.
    2. The Law is principally about doing, i.e. “works” (cf. Gal 2:16; 3:2, 5, 10-13), but the fruit of the Spirit are not works (as contrasted with “works of the flesh”).
    3. For believers the conflict is now between the Spirit and the flesh (cf. throughout Gal 5:1-6:10)—we are dead to the Law (2:19-20) and freed from its commands (2:4; 3:13, 23-25; 4:1-7, 21-31; 5:1ff), so it no longer applies.
    4. The guidance believers receive (from the Spirit) in governing or regulating attitudes and behavior in ethical (and religious) matters is not “Law” in the sense that the Torah commands are considered “Law”

Arguments can be made in favor of each of these viewpoints, however, I would say that the last two best capture Paul’s meaning and intent. While the context of vv. 22-23 is primary, I believe it is also appropriate, in this instance, to take the clause ‘out of context’, as a separate, independent statement (as I have essentially done above). This yields an especially clear and decisive statement that, for believers (those who are in Christ and in the Spirit), there is no Law. While such a conclusion, in one respect, accurately represents (and punctuates) Paul’s teaching about believers and the Torah, it is not the end of the story. Further on, in Gal 6:2, Paul does refer to a “Law” for believers: “the Law of Christ” (o( no/mo$ tou= Xristou=); and it is this expression which I will be discussing in the next daily note.