March 7: Romans 9:6-8, 25-29

Romans 9:6-8, 25-29

Chapters 9-11 of Romans represent a kind of expository appendix to the probatio of the letter (1:18-8:39), in which Paul applies a number of key themes and arguments from those earlier chapters. The specific subject he addresses is the place of Israel in the new covenant between God and His people. All throughout Romans, Paul has held in view an overriding theme of the unity of Jewish and non-Jewish (Gentile) believers in Christ. For believers in Christ, there is no longer any religious distinction between Jew and Gentile—all are equal. Indeed, there is now an entirely new religious identity at work for believers, and the old categories and distinctions (including the important ethno-religious distinctions) no longer apply.

In chapters 9-11, Paul grapples with the reality that God’s people (in the ethno-religious sense)—that is, Israelites and Jews—have, on the whole, failed or refused to accept Jesus as the Messiah. Their lack of trust, and/or unwillingness to trust, have left them outside of this new religious identity—which defines God’s people now, in the new covenant, as believers in Christ. How can this be? Indeed, why would God allow it to be so? This is clearly a question, and a subject, that weighed heavily on Paul’s heart, as his introductory comments in 9:1-3ff attest. There are similar personal comments at the beginning chapters 10 and 11. In these provocative and challenging chapters, Paul presents and argues his belief regarding the ultimate place of Israel in God’s plan, and seeks to explain the current situation in light of this plan.

The guiding principle remains that God’s people are now defined by trust in Jesus, not by any ethno-religious status. In chapter 9, Paul deals with this principle on the basis of the Scriptural tradition which depicts the Israelite people as the “sons/children of God”, or, collectively, as the “son [singular] of God”. The main passages which express or reflect this tradition are: Exod 4:22-23; Deut 32:6, 19; Hos 1:10 [2:1]; 11:1; Isa 43:6; 64:8[7]; Jer 31:9.

In utilizing this sonship theme, Paul first draws upon a line of argument used in chapter 4 (and earlier in Galatians 3-4): believers in Christ are the true “sons [i.e. descendants] of Abraham”. Israelites and Jews consider themselves to be Abraham’s offspring (cf. Matt 3:9 par; Lk 13:16; 16:24; 19:9; Jn 8:33-39; Acts 7:2ff), but it is only those Israelites and Jews who trust in Christ who are his offspring in the true sense. This is one key way in which Paul sets the new religious identity of believers on a Scriptural basis. He does this in Galatians 3-4 (see esp. 3:7-9, 16-18, 26-29; 4:21-31), in Romans 4 (vv. 13-25), and again here in 9:6-12.

The expository principle, as applied, is stated quite clearly in verse 6:

“for not all of those out of Israel (are) Israel”

The emphasis in negation is on the adjective pa=$ (“all”)—not all those “out of Israel” (i.e., Israelites in the ethnic sense) are, in fact, Israel (i.e., the true Israel). In verse 7, this point is presented in terms of the tradition (expressed in the Scriptures) regarding Israelites as the descendants of Abraham:

“Nor (is it) that all (his) offspring are the seed of Abraham—rather, ‘in Yiƒhaq {Isaac} they shall be called (the) seed for you’.”

In the second half of this verse, Paul cites the declaration by YHWH in Gen 21:12, in a form that corresponds to the LXX: e)n Isaa\k klhqh/setai/ soi spe/rma, which I translate quite literally above. The significance of Isaac is that he is the child of the Divine promise to Abraham, and not simply a child born from Abraham’s flesh. This is the point Paul makes in verse 8:

“That is, (it is) not these offspring of the flesh (who are) the offspring of God, but the offspring of the promise [e)paggeli/a] are counted as (His) seed.”

As in Galatians 3-4, Paul here blends together the concepts of Israel as the “sons of Abraham” and, in the figurative sense, as the “sons/children of God”. In this instance, Paul uses the plural te/kna (“offspring,” i.e., “children”), but he can also use the plural ui(oi/ (“sons”) in a similar way. The line of argument is developed more fully in Galatians 3. Jesus is the true “seed” (spe/rma, singular) of Abraham, according to the promise, and everyone who trusts in him (i.e., believers) becomes part of this same “seed” —thus believers are the true sons/children of Abraham. But this means that believers in Christ are also the true Israel, and can be thus be considered as the “sons/children of God”. It is through trust in Christ (and union with him), that believers achieve the status as God’s sons—truly becoming His offspring.

Paul refers to this line of argument in a shorthand way here, summarizing again the context of the relevant Abrahamic traditions (from Scripture) in vv. 9-12. As Paul continues his discussion in chapter 9, he eventually frames his point in more theological terms, drawing upon a separate Scriptural tradition regarding the idea of a “remnant” (u(po/leimma) of Israel that is destined to by saved by God. This remnant-motif can be found throughout Scripture, going back to the Abraham tradition (involving Sodom and Gomorrah) in Gen 18:22-33 (cf. Paul’s allusion to this tradition in his citation of Isa 1:9, see below). It is most prominent in the Prophetic texts dealing with YHWH’s judgment on Israel and Judah—particularly the Isaian oracles and poems (e.g., 10:19-22; 11:11ff; 28:5; 37:4, 31-32; 46:3). The idea that a remnant will survive and return (from exile) is a seminal concept for the exilic (and post-exilic) theme of Israel’s restoration. The ‘new covenant’ prophecies (in Jer 31:31-34 and elsewhere, e.g., Ezek 37:26) are part of this restoration theology, and were readily applied and interpreted by early Christians.

Paul here gives us an example of how such Scriptures can be interpreted and applied to the context of believers in Christ (under the new covenant). In verses 25-29, he brings together a chain of three quotations: Hosea 1:10 [2:1] (joined to 2:23) [vv. 25-26], Isaiah 10:22-23 [vv. 27-28], and Isaiah 1:9 [v. 29]. The first reference deals with the motif of God’s people as His children (“sons of God”), the second features the “remnant” theme, while the third combines the offspring and remnant motifs. The application of the central Scripture (Isa 10:22-23) in v. 27 makes the point that, out of the children of Israel (i.e., ethnic Israelites), only a remnant of them will be saved. This refers to those Israelites (and Jews) who trust in Christthey are the “remnant” representing the true Israel.

In chapter 11, Paul proceeds to envision an eschatological situation in which “all Israel” will be saved. Commentators have long debated (and continue to debate) how this expression relates to the teaching in chapter 9—where it is clearly indicated that only a portion (remnant) of Israel (those trusting Jesus) will be saved. I have discussed this passage elsewhere (see the article and supplemental note in the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”), and will not address the matter here.

In the next daily note, in this series on the sonship-of-believers theme in the New Testament, we will turn to examine again the ethical aspect of this motif, as presented by Paul in Philippians 2:15 (comparing it with the Pauline instruction in Eph 5:1ff [v.8]).

 

May 4: Ephesians 2:13-18

Ephesians 2:13-18

The final passage from the Pauline letters to be examined in these notes is Ephesians 2:11-22, focusing specifically on the portion from verse 13 to v. 18. In the view of many commentators, Ephesians is pseudonymous. This is not the place to consider the various arguments for and against Pauline authorship; the main point to note is that even scholars who would maintain that the letter is pseudonymous recognize its Pauline character. That is to say, the author (if not Paul) was certainly influenced by Paul’s writings, and himself writes in a way that very much reflects the Pauline theology and manner of expression.

An important theme in Ephesians, especially in the first half of the letter, is the unity of believers in Christ—Jews and Gentiles alike. This was also a central theme for Paul in Romans, and relates to his distinctive (and controversial) view regarding the place of the Torah in the new covenant. His line of exhortational argument in 2:11-22 reflects the same religious and theological viewpoint, and could serve as a summary of Paul’s thoughts on the matter.

The key statement is in verse 13, where Paul (or the author) indicates that this unity—between Jewish and non-Jewish believers—was brought about through the death of Jesus:

“But now, in (the) Anointed Yeshua, you, the (one)s being in times (past) far off, (have) come to be near, in [i.e. by] the blood of the Anointed.”

The expressions “in (the) Anointed Yeshua” and “in the blood of the Anointed” are clearly parallel, and largely synonymous. They reflect the key Pauline themes of believers being “in Christ” and of ‘dying and rising with Christ’ —that is, of our participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. In the previous notes, we have seen how, in Paul’s view, this participation is realized for believers through the presence of the Spirit.

The main focus in this passage, however, is on how our shared participation in Jesus’ death means that there is no longer any separation or division between Jewish and non-Jewish (Gentile) believers. The old religious identity, with its distinctions and exclusivity, no longer applies for believers in Christ. This new reality is expressed here in terms of those who were “far away” (makra/n), i.e. Gentiles, coming to be identified (along with believing Jews) as God’s people—they now come to be “near” (e)ggu/$). As part of God’s people, Gentiles are able to come near to God, in a covenant bond of relation to Him (cf. below on v. 18). This is, of course, a new covenant, which supersedes the old covenant and its Torah (on the definite contrast, see esp. 2 Cor 3:6, 14, in context).

The emphasis on unity between Jew and Gentile is expressed powerfully in verse 14, stressing again how this unity was achieved through Jesus’ death—and of our participation, as believers, in his death (“in his flesh” [e)n th=| sarki\ au)tou=]). Such unity could only be achieved by abolishing the old religious differences (which were ethnically and culturally defined). The Torah regulations represent the terms of the old covenant, which were binding for God’s people. Now, with the coming of Christ—and, specifically, through his sacrificial death (on the cross, cf. Gal 2:19ff; Col 2:14)—these regulations of the old covenant are no longer binding for believers in Christ.

This is the essence of Paul’s view of the Law, expressed (as I see it) in unmistakable terms, throughout Galatians, Romans, and in 2 Corinthians 3. It is also expressed quite clearly here in verse 15. Following the thought in v. 14, where it is stated that Jesus’ death ‘dissolved’ (vb lu/w) the “middle wall of the fence” that previously separated Jew from non-Jew. This “wall” is further identified, in verse 15, as “the law [no/mo$] of e)ntolai/ e)n do/gmasin.” This particular qualifying expression is difficult to translate. The noun e)ntolh/ fundamentally refers to a charge or duty that is placed on a person, which he/she is obligated to complete. In context, it clearly refers to the regulations and requirements in the Torah, and is typically translated flatly as “command(ment)s”. The word do/gma essentially means an (authoritative) opinion, often in the sense of a view that is presented as a guiding principle; in a governmental or legal context, it can refer to an official ordinance or decree. Here, the expression e)n do/gmasin refers to the specific Torah regulations/requirements in their written (legally binding) form.

Jesus’ death literally made these binding regulations “cease working”; that is the fundamental meaning of the verb katarge/w, which Paul uses repeatedly to express the idea that the Torah regulations are no longer binding for believers in Christ. It occurs 4 times in 2 Corinthians 3 (vv. 7, 11, 13-14) and twice in Rom 7:1-6 (vv. 2, 6); Paul also uses it, in the same context, but in the reverse sense—viz., that continuing to live under the old covenant effectively invalidates the Gospel and faith in Christ! (cf. Rom 4:14; Gal 5:4, 11). Paul was fully aware how controversial this view of the Torah was, especially for Jewish Christians. In Rom 3:31—a verse that can easily be misunderstood—he declares that his view of the Torah does not nullify/invalidate (same verb, katarge/w) the Law. God’s Law continues to be upheld, but through the Spirit and by following the example of Jesus (esp. the ‘love command’), rather than by continuing to treat the Torah regulations as legally binding.

The thought in vv. 14-15 is developed and restated in vv. 16-17, emphasizing again how the unity of believers was achieved through Jesus’ sacrificial death. In the climactic verse 18, Paul (or the author) ties this unity directly to the presence of the Spirit:

“(for it is) that, through him, we hold the way leading toward (God)—the both (of us) in one Spirit—toward the Father!”

The death of Jesus gives believers direct access to God the Father. The noun used is prosagwgh/, which essentially refers to the way “leading toward” something (or someone); it can also have the more active (verbal) meaning of bringing someone forward. In any case, believers are brought (or allowed to come) “toward” (pro/$) God (the Father). This coming toward God is made possible through our participation in Jesus’ death (“through him”), but it is realized “in the Spirit” (e)n pneu/mati). The exact expression, e)n e(ni\ pneu/mati (“in one Spirit”), could conceivably refer more generically to a ‘spirit of unity’ between human beings. While this would be valid, any ‘spirit’ of unity among believers is realized through the presence of the Spirit. The concluding use of the word pneu=ma in verse 22, makes absolutely clear that the focus is on the Spirit of God (and Christ). From the Pauline theological standpoint, as we have seen, it is through the presence of the Spirit that the life-giving power of Jesus’ death (and resurrection) is communicated to us. I have no doubt that the author of Ephesians—if that person is not Paul himself—shares this same Pauline perspective.

In the next daily note, our final note in this series, we will look at the statement in Hebrews 9:14, which is one of the very few passages in the New Testament indicating a role for the Spirit in Jesus’ actual death.

Sola Scriptura: Romans 3:10-20; 9:24-29; 15:7-13

Sola Scriptura

Romans 3:10-20; 9:24-29; 15:7-13

As we have discussed in the previous studies in this series (on the Reformation principle of Sola Scriptura), the Old Testament Scriptures continued to be authoritative for early Christians, but only in a secondary (not primary) sense. The principal purpose of the Scriptures was to support the Gospel preaching and the identification of Jesus as the Messiah. This was especially important within the context of the earliest mission. In order to convince their fellow Israelites and Jews of the Gospel, it was necessary for the early missionaries to demonstrate, from the Scriptures, that Jesus is the promised Messiah. In particular, the fact of Jesus’ suffering and death was so unusual and problematic for the Messianic identification, that it had to be explained. Moreover, Jesus departed to heaven without ever fulfilling many of things expected of the Messiah. Thus, for the purpose of the mission, it was vital to find every relevant Scripture that would support the Christian view. We can see this as a key point of emphasis throughout the book of Acts (3:18ff; 5:42; 8:26-40; 9:22; 17:2-3, 11; 18:5, 28; 24:14; 26:22ff; 28:23); and, according to the Gospel of Luke (24:25, 27, 32, 44-45ff), the process of locating the relevant Scriptures began with Jesus himself. It is fair to assume that the early missionaries had access to (written) collections of these Scripture references, for use in their preaching and teaching; it is possible that the ‘parchments’ mentioned in 2 Tim 4:13 functioned as a notebook, containing this kind of information.

We have already seen this use of Scripture by early Christians in the context of the apostolic preaching (the sermon-speeches) in the book of Acts (cf. the earlier study, and throughout the series “The Speeches of Acts”). In the longer speeches (i.e., Peter’s Pentecost speech [2:14-41], and Paul’s speech at Antioch [13:16-52]), we find a sequence of Scripture citations applied in support of the Gospel proclamation (kerygma). In several New Testament Writings, these sequences take a more precise and compact form—in a homiletical and literary genre known as a Scripture “chain” (catena), sometimes also referred to as the testimonia (testimonies) genre. In this format, Scripture verses are strung together, according to a common theme, or (more commonly), by way of “catchword-bonding”—that is, associations of verses, which may otherwise be entirely unrelated, based on the presence of shared words or phrases.

The Scripture-chain (Catena), as used in the New Testament, is a distinctly Jewish genre; and it is no coincidence that the two books in which Scripture-chains features most prominently—Romans and Hebrews (cf. also 1 Peter)—were written to Jewish Christians. The congregations at Rome seem to have included both Gentile and Jewish believers (cf. below), certainly much more so than the other Pauline churches in Greece, Macedonia, and Asia Minor to which he wrote. For Israelites and Jews, the Old Testament Scriptures had primary authority, and thus, in writing to Jewish believers, it was reasonable to make frequent use of the Scriptures, citing them even in a shorthand fashion.

An earlier contemporary example is known from Qumran—specifically, the “Testimonia” text from cave 4 (4Q175, also referred to as 4QTest[imonia]). We only have fragments of what presumably was a larger text; but what survives contains a series of Scripture quotations from passages that were given a Messianic interpretation—most notably, Deut 18:18-19 and Num 24:15-17, along with Deut 5:28-29; 33:8-11, and an interpretive expansion based on Josh 6:26.  The surviving portions of the “Florilegium” text (4Q174) have a similar character. Though more in the nature of a Midrashic commentary, 4Q174 contains a sequence of Scripture citations, interpreted in a Messianic (and eschatological) context. The earliest Christian Scripture-chains would have been used for much the same purpose—to show that Jesus was, in fact, the Messiah promised by God, and that the things currently taking place among believers marked the beginning of the New (Messianic) Age.

However, in Romans, Paul’s use of the Scripture-chain device has a somewhat different focus. What the chains demonstrate, we may say, is Paul’s view of the implications of the Gospel for humankind. In particular, they relate to the important theme of Jewish-Gentile unity in Romans. The three Scripture-chains span the lengthy body of the letter and evince something of Paul’s development of his theme. We may summarize this as follows:

    • 3:9-20—Jews and Gentiles are equally in bondage to the power of sin (prior to receiving the Gospel)
    • 9:24-29—Through trust in Jesus, many Gentiles have come to be part of the new People of God, along a faithful remnant from Israel (with promise of a more widespread conversion)
    • 15:7-13—In Christ, Gentile and Jewish believers are united as the People of God

Let us examine briefly each of these Scripture chains.

Romans 3:9-20

This first chain marks the climax of the first major section of the letter (1:18-3:20), containing the opening lines of argument that prove the central proposition in 1:16-17. The upshot of this entire line of argument is summarized in 3:9, with Paul having made the claim for:

“both Yehudeans {Jews} and Greeks [i.e. Gentiles], all (of them), to be under sin”

The expression “under sin” (u(f’ a(marti/an) is a shorthand for “under the power of sin” (i.e., in bondage to sin), and refers to the condition of Jews and Gentiles—that is, all humankind—prior to receiving the Gospel of Christ. Paul’s arguments in chapters 2-4 are specifically directed to Israelites and Jews, making the principal point that a person is not made right (in God’s eyes) through obeying the regulations of the Law (Torah), but only through trust in Jesus. This relates to Paul’s view of the Torah that he expresses vigorously (and with more polemic) in Galatians. He repeats much of this same line of argument in Romans, but giving to it a wider scope and more expansive treatment. In particular, there is a profound theological development of the Pauline view in chapters 5-7. It is notable, however, that this first section in Romans closes with a pointed statement regarding the Law that matches what we find in Galatians:

“…since out of [i.e. by] works of (the) Law all flesh shall not be made right in His sight, for through (the) Law (comes) knowledge about sin.” (3:20)

Paul’s view of the main purpose of the Torah regulations runs contrary to the traditional Jewish view. Rather than leading to people being made right with God, what the Torah regulations ultimately do is to show that people are in bondage to sin. Paradoxically, the more faithfully and devoutly one attempts to fulfill the Torah regulations, the more vividly it is revealed that one is in bondage to sin (cf. Paul’s provocative discussion in chapter 7).

This fact is itself proved by the whole testimony of the Scriptures, and Paul draws upon the authority of the (Old Testament) Scriptures to make his point—which he does through the chain of references in vv. 10-18, beginning with the declaration “Just as it has been written…” (v. 10). With one or two exceptions, all the Scriptures Paul cites in the three chains come from the “Prophets” (i.e., the Psalms and Prophetic books).

The first Scripture citation apparently comes from Ecclesiastes 7:20, which is unusual, and suggests that the authoritative/inspired Scriptures for first-century Christians may have included the Wisdom books (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job), in addition to the Pentateuch and Prophets/Psalms. If Paul is citing Ecclesiastes here in v. 10, he does so loosely, as a simple declaration of his theme:

“There is not (anyone) right(eous), not even one”
ou)k e&stin di/kaio$ ou)de\ ei!$

The LXX, which more or less accurately renders the Hebrew, reads:

“there is not a right(eous) man on the earth, who will do good and will not sin”

Assuming it is a citation, Paul omits a&nqrwpo$ (“man”) and adds the phrase ou)de\ ei!$ (“not even one”). The Scriptures that follow essentially expound and flesh out this keynote verse:

    • Verse 11Psalm 14:2 (cf 53:1). Again the LXX accurately translates the Hebrew, and Paul’s wording represents an adaptation:
      “…to see if there is (one) putting things together [i.e. understanding] and seeking out God” (LXX)
      “there is not (any one) putting things together and seeking out God” (Paul)
    • Verse 12Psalm 14:3, a continuation of the same citation, here following the LXX more precisely
    • Verse 13Psalm 5:10, along with 140:4, again corresponding to the LXX
    • Verse 14Psalm 10:7 [LXX 9:28], Paul’s wording represents an abridgment, though essentially using the same words as the LXX
    • Verses 15-17Isaiah 59:7-8. It is possible that v. 15 could also allude to Prov 1:16, which would count as another citation from the Wisdom books (cf. above); more likely, however, the Isaiah passage is in view throughout. Again, Paul’s words represent a simplification or abridgment. Verse 16 quotes Isa 59:7b according to the LXX, as also v. 17 (of Isa 59:8), with only a slight difference.
    • Verse 18Psalm 36:2b, exactly according to the LXX. In many ways, this blunt declaration (“there is not [any] fear of God in front of their eyes”) provides an effective bookend to the initial statement in v. 10, and showing how the bondage to sin (of all humankind) leads to a more extreme and thorough kind of wickedness.
Romans 9:24-29

The second Scripture-chain is part of Paul’s discussion in chapters 9-11, regarding the relationship between Gentiles and Jews, in terms of the overall plan of God, as it is realized (from an eschatological standpoint) in the context of the early Christian mission. These chapters, in particular, are laced throughout with Scripture quotations and allusions; in every section one finds multiple references. The main reason for this lies, I think, in the nature of Paul’s subject matter. He addresses a complex and difficult question which must have burdened every thoughtful Jewish believer: why have so many (the vast majority) of Israelites and Jews (God’s people) rejected or been unwilling to accept the Gospel of Christ? In his three-part treatise here in chaps. 9-11, Paul attempts to provide an answer, one in keeping with his overall theme of Gentile-Jewish unity in Christ.

According to Paul’s line of argument, expounded in chapters 9-10, God has allowed the hearts of Israelites and Jews to be hardened (so as to be unable/unwilling to trust in Jesus) for the express purpose of facilitating the mission to the Gentiles. The Jewish rejection of the Gospel has opened the door for the message to be proclaimed to Gentiles throughout the Roman world—which just happens to be the focus of Paul’s own missionary work (as an ‘apostle to the Gentiles’). Once this mission to the Gentiles is complete, then Paul foresees a time ahead (relatively soon), at the return of Jesus (or just prior), when the hearts of Israelites and Jews (collectively) would finally turn to accept the truth of Christ. Paul discusses this eschatological process (and event) in chapter 11. For more this aspect of chaps. 9-11, cf. my earlier article in the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”.

Paul’s overall theme of the unity between Jewish and Gentile believers is expressed well in 9:24, a statement that leads into his Scripture chain:

“(so) even (for) us whom He (has) called—not only out of (the) Yehudeans {Jews}, but also out of the nations [i.e. Gentiles]”

God has called Gentiles to join with that ‘faithful remnant’ of Israelites and Jews who have accepted the Gospel and trusted in Jesus. Paul cites a chain of four Scriptures (from the Prophets) in support of this statement: (1) Hosea 2:25 (v. 25), (2) Hosea 2:1 (v. 26), (3) Isaiah 10:22-23 [conflated with a form of Isa 28:22b] (vv. 27-28), and (4) Isaiah 1:9 (v. 29). Paul generally cites these Scriptures according to the text of the LXX, though the conflation of Isa 10:23 and 28:22 in v. 28 produces a notable difference. Also Isa 10:22 has been abridged and modified slightly, under the influence of the previously cited Hos 2:1. Similarly, the quotation of Hos 2:25 also diverges, due to the influence from the wording in Hos 1:9.

Paul applies the Hosea passages, which originally referred to the Israelite people, to the Gentiles and the context of the Gentile mission. Those who are not the people of God (“not my people”, i.e. the Gentiles) have now become His people. This is instructive for a proper understanding of the early Christian view of the authority of Scripture, and how it is subordinated to the higher revelation of the Gospel. There are many instances where the New Testament authors (and speakers) quote the Scripture quite out of context, even altering and modifying the text in various ways, in order to bring out the prophetic connection with the Gospel and the life-situation of early believers.

Interestingly, the setting here in chapters 9-11, would certainly allow for an interpretation of Hos 2:25, etc, in its original context—viz., as a promise of the future restoration of Israel, when they would return to faithfulness (according to the covenant) and become God’s people once again. Though there may currently be only a ‘remnant’ who trust in Jesus (the Isaian prophecies in vv. 27-29), Paul envisions a time in the not-too-distant future, before the end, when there would be a (miraculous) widespread conversion and acceptance of the Gospel (chap. 11).

Romans 15:7-13

The final Scripture chain comes at the close of the body of the letter, and at the end of the practical instruction and exhortation in 12:1-15:13. It is thus a fitting moment for Paul to re-emphasize his important theme of unity in Christ for all believers, Jews and Gentiles alike. He expresses this in a joyous manner, in vv. 7-9, as he leads into the Scripture citations (vv. 9-12). Again he emphasizes how the Gentiles’ acceptance of the Gospel has been prophesied beforehand in the Scriptures. The passages he cites are:

    • Verse 9Psalm 18:50 [= 2 Sam 22:50], corresponding to the LXX, which more or less accurately represents the Hebrew. The idea of the Psalmist acknowledging (and confessing) the greatness of God among the nations is certainly fitting as a prophetic foreshadowing of the missionary work of apostles like Paul himself, proclaiming the Gospel among the Gentiles.
    • Verses 10-11Deut 32:43, combined with Psalm 117:1. The Psalms reference largely matches the LXX, while the quotation from Deuteronomy differs from both the LXX and the Hebrew original. In some ways, Paul’s version is a conflation of the Hebrew and LXX (which reflects a variant Hebrew text, cf. 4QDeutq):
      “Cry out (for joy), O nations, with (regard to) His people…” (MT)
      “Rejoice, O heavens together with Him, and let all the sons of God give homage/worship to Him” (LXX)
      In Paul’s version, the nations praise God together with His people (Israel), thus making the passage a prophecy of Jewish and Gentile unity in Christ.
    • Verse 12Isaiah 11:10, in an abridged form of the LXX. This passage is a key Messianic prophecy recognized by Jews (and early Christians) in the first century. The idea of the Messiah’s rule over the nations, of course, takes on an entirely new significance in a Christian context.

Paul’s theme of Jewish-Gentile unity in Romans is informed, at least in part, by his project of collecting relief money (from the congregations in Greece and Macedonia) to bring to the poor and oppressed believers in Judea. This project (his ‘collection for the saints’) has just recently been completed, and he anticipates journeying to Jerusalem to deliver the money (vv. 25-29). This was a momentous occasion for Paul, and he viewed the collection as an important symbol of the unity (in Christ) between Jews and Gentiles.

Saturday Series: Galatians 2:15-21

Propositio (Galatians 2:15-21)

The propositio is the primary statement of the case (distinct from the statement introducing the narratio, see the previous study), along with an initial exposition, whereby points of agreement and disagreement are laid out. It can also be referred to as partitio or divisio, particularly when there is more than one main point to be established. The classical form is discussed by Quintilian (4.4-4.5) and Cicero (De inventione, 1.22.31-23.33); the Rhetoric for Herennius describes it as follows:

“the division of the cause falls into two parts. When the statement of facts has been brought to an end, we ought first to make clear what we and our opponents agree upon, if there is agreement on the points useful to us, and what remains contested…” (1.10.17, Betz, p. 114)

Paul makes his point, over seven verses (2:15-21), in a rather complex fashion. A careful examination of these seven verses is vital to an understanding of Paul’s overall argument in Galatians. I have discussed them in some detail in a series of notes, and, as such, it is not necessary to repeat that analysis here. The notes proceed according to the following outline of the section:

    • Note 1 (vv. 15-16)—Basic proposition regarding justification and the Jew/Gentile distinction
    • Note 2 (vv. 17-18)—Rhetorical argument to show the problem with applying the Law to (Gentile) believers
    • Note 3 (vv. 19-20)—Relation of the believer to the Law
    • Note 4 (v. 21)—Concluding argument regarding justice/righteousness

In considering how Paul adapts the classical rhetorical techniques to his purpose, here in the propositio, we may note the established method of beginning with the points on which the author/speaker and his opponent(s) agree. Paul does this in verses 15-16 (see the recent note for a detailed discussion). The approach is actually quite clever, in that he combines two points of agreement which are actually contradictory, from the standpoint of his line of argument, and this serves to undercut the position of his opponents. We may summarize the two points of agreement as follows:

    • According to the traditional religious-cultural distinction between Jew and Gentile (based largely on the Torah regulations), Gentiles are regarded as ‘sinners’ [v. 15]
    • Jewish and Gentile believers both are made right (‘justified’) before God, not by “works of the Law” (observing the Torah regulations), but through trust (faith) in Christ [v. 16]

Most Jewish Christians (like Peter) would agree that one is justified or saved by faith in Jesus, rather than by fulfilling the Torah regulations. Those who might believe along the lines of the declaration in Acts 15:1 were probably a small (though perhaps vocal) minority. In the episode at Antioch, described by Paul in vv. 11-14, there is not the slightest suggestion that Jewish Christians were saying that Gentiles had to be circumcised (and observe the Torah regulations) in order to be saved. Rather, Peter’s behavior in withdrawing from contact and fellowship with Gentile believers (v. 12) is what Paul specifically points out (and condemns). The first verb used in this regard is hypostéllœ, which literally means “set oneself under”, and implies the action of retreating to a safe or ‘covered’ spot. The second verb is aphorízœ, which basically denotes marking off one space (or thing) from another; when used reflexively (here with the pronoun heautón, “himself”), it refers to Peter “separating himself” from his Gentile brothers.

Paul says that Peter acted this way because he “feared those of the circumcision,” referring specifically to certain prominent Jewish Christian representatives from Jerusalem. Prior to their arrival, according to Paul, Peter apparently disregarded the Jewish dietary and purity regulations in order to have contact and table fellowship with Gentile believers. But when these prominent Jews arrived, Peter changed his conduct, presumably because of the way it might have looked to Jewish Christians who were strictly observant, and possibly to avoid giving offense. For Paul, this change in behavior gave a not-so-subtle message that there really was a fundamental distinction between Jewish and Gentile believers—something that persisted, in spite of their common faith in Christ.

The basis of this distinction was the Jewish obligation to obey the regulations of the Torah. Thus, for Paul, to require believers in Christ to accept this distinction, reaffirms the traditional religious-cultural designation of Gentile believers as impure ‘sinners’ (the point in v. 15). That unacceptable contradiction leads Paul to his rhetorical argument in vv. 17-18, intended to show the problem involved with applying the Law to (Gentile) believers. For more on this, see the discussion in the recent note.

Even more striking is his point that follows in vv. 19-20 (note), regarding the relation between believers and the Law. His argument is that the Torah regulations cannot be regarded as obligatory for believers. This is true for both Gentile and Jewish believers—and Paul, a Jewish believer, certainly includes himself in the declaration:

“For I, through the Law, died off to the Law, (so) that I might live to God. I have been put to the stake [i.e. cross] together with (the) Anointed (One), and it is no longer I (who) lives, but (the) Anointed (One) lives in me; and the (life) which I now live in (the) flesh I live in (the) trust th(at is) of the Son of God, the (one) loving me and giving himself along over me.” (vv. 19-20)

The key part of the declaration is the statement “I died to the Law”. This means, unequivocally, that believers in Christ (like Paul)—all believers—have died to the Law, and are no longer required to fulfill the Torah regulations (circumcision, dietary laws, et al). It is, of course, just this point that marks the major disagreement between Paul and his opponents. There are even many Christians today who would not (and do not) accept the implications of this Pauline teaching. Paul’s argument is not simply that a person is not required to obey the Torah in order to be saved, but that believers (and especially Gentile believers) are no longer required to observe the regulations (such as circumcision) at all. He and his opponents were already in agreement on the former point; it was the latter, more extreme, point where there was serious disagreement.

In verse 21, Paul presents a concluding argument regarding justice/righteousness (note). It is best to understand the noun dikaiosýn¢ in the fundamental sense of “rightness” —i.e., of a person being made right with God. His claim that “I do not set aside [vb athetéœ] the favor of God” carries the implication that his opponents do set it aside. Thus he clearly enough, through verses 17-21 of the propositio, establishes the main point of difference (and disagreement) between he and his opponents. If his opponents are correct, then the favor (or grace) of God is effectively nullified, and the entire Gospel is rendered meaningless:

“if right(eous)ness (comes) through the Law, then (the) Anointed (One) died away for nothing.”

The expression “through the Law” is shorthand for “through observing/fulfilling the Law” (i.e., obeying the Torah regulations). This rhetorical argument by Paul may seem extreme, and certainly he indulges in a bit of pointed exaggeration; yet for him the matter is serious enough to warrant such language, for it cuts to the very heart of the Christian identity—what it means to be a believer in Christ.

The overall statement in vv. 15-21 is further expounded by Paul in chapters 3-4 (the probatio) with a series of (six) arguments illustrating and proving its validity, with the purpose, of course, of convincing and persuading the Galatians. Each of these arguments is important for Paul’s view of the Law and must be examined carefully; this will be the focus of the next study.

References above marked “Betz” are to Hans Dieter Betz, A Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Churches in Galatia, ed. by Helmut Koester, Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 1979).

October 19: Galatians 2:19-20

This is the third of four daily notes on Galatians 2:15-21, today covering verses 19-20 which I would summarize as:

The Relation of the believer to the Law

It builds upon the prior verses, especially vv. 17-18 (a rhetorical argument to show the problem with applying the Law to [Gentile] believers), which I discussed in the previous day’s note.

Galatians 2:19-20

These two verses are comprised of a string of declaratory (doctrinal) statements, which will be examined in turn.

e)gw\ ga\r dia\ no/mou no/mw| a)pe/qanon i%na qew=| zh=sw
“For through (the) law I died (off) from (the) law, (so) that I might live to God”

The translation here is perhaps a bit misleading; a simpler rendering of the first clause would be: “through the law, I died to the law”. The expression “through (the) law” (dia\ no/mou) here means that Paul (in the first person, as an example of the ordinary believer) shares the common human condition of being “under the law”. The purpose (and result) of the Old Testament Law (and the force of it) was to “enclose all (things/people) under sin” (Gal 3:22). This establishes the very condition which makes justification by faith in Christ (and not by the Law) possible. Thus the paradoxical statement is realized: “through the Law, I died (off) from [i.e. died to] the Law”, followed by the result clause: “so that I might live to God” —life is possible only once a person has died to the Law.

Xristw=| sunestau/rwmai
“I have been put to the stake (together) with (the) Anointed”

Here this death is described in stark, graphic imagery—of the believer being crucified together with Jesus (see also Gal 5:24; 6:14). This is one of the more dramatic examples of Paul’s participatory language—i.e., of the believer living and dying with Jesus (see esp. Romans 6:1-10). It is also clear that “dying to the Law” is not simply a matter of ignoring or neglecting the Old Testament commandments; rather, it is the natural product (and result) of our “dying with Christ”. In a sense, it is also related to the idea of “dying to sin” (cf. Rom 6:1ff). Paul’s concept of the sacraments (esp. Baptism) is, to a large extent, based on this same language and imagery.

zw= de\ ou)ke/ti e)gw/, zh=| de\ e)n e)moi\ Xristo/$
“but yet I do not (now) live, but (rather) (the) Anointed (One) lives in me

With this statement, Paul’s mystical participatory language is at its most inspired and profound. This is both:

    1. An existential statement—how the believer should understand his/her own existence and identity in Christ, and
    2. A statement of spiritual unity—we confess and (to some extent) experience the reality of Christ living “in us” (through the Spirit), but this unity is, in turn, expressed by our life “in Christ”; this reciprocal relationship is grounded and ultimately defined by the phrase “in Christ”.

The emphatic “I” (e)gw) is the point of transition between the dying (to the law, sin etc) in verse 19 and the living (to Christ) in verse 20. In conventional theological terms, the emphasis is on self-mortification and self-denial—the believer is no longer driven by selfish and material/carnal desires, but walks “according to the Spirit”, following the will of God and the example of Christ.

o^ de\ nu=n zw= e)n sarki/ e)n pi/stei zw= th=| tou= ui(ou= tou= qeou=
“but the (life) which I live now in (the) flesh, I live in (the) trust (that is) of the son of God…”

Here Paul speaks of a different kind of “life”—the ‘ordinary’ daily life one leads—but still tied to the (eternal and spiritual) life the believer has in Christ. It builds upon the “new identity” expressed in v. 20a, and centers the believer’s daily life and existence “in trust/faith [e)n pi/stei]” and “in Christ” (i.e. in the faith/trust of the Son of God).

tou= a)gaph/santo/$ me kai\ parado/nto$ e(auto\n u(pe\r e)mou=
“… the (one) loving me and giving himself along over me [i.e. for me, on my behalf]”

The concluding phrase is a Christological declaration and piece of early kerygma; for a similar statement in the Pauline writings, see Ephesians 5:2. For the same idea of Christ’s self-sacrifice as giving himself over (u(per) elsewhere in Galatians, cf. 1:4; 3:13.

It would be hard to find a more precise and dramatic statement that the believer is dead to the Law—it is a clear shift from being under (or “in”) the Law (and, hence, under sin) and being “in Christ”. As Paul will go on to explain here in Galatians (and elsewhere), the believer in Christ is now guided by the Spirit and no longer is required to observe the commandments of the Old Testament Law. Religious and ethical behavior is maintained (entirely) by life in the Spirit and by following the example and teachings of Jesus. This point is discussed further in my series on “Paul’s View of the Law”.

October 18: Galatians 2:17-18

This is the second of four daily notes dealing with Galatians 2:15-21. Yesterday’s note covered verses 15 and 16, summarized as a basic proposition regarding justification and the Jew/Gentile distinction. Today’s note will examine verses 17-18, which I have summarized as:

A Rhetorical argument to show the problem with applying the Law to (Gentile) believers

Galatians 2:17-18

In verse 17, Paul begins by posing a question (best understood as a rhetorical question), the first conditional clause of which contains two parts:

(a) “But if, seeking to be declared just in [e)n] (the) Anointed (One)…”

This can be understood one of two ways:

(i) True condition—A Gentile who seeks (correctly) to be justified/saved by faith in Christ (instrumental use of the preposition e)n)
(ii) False condition—A believer (Jew or Gentile) already “in Christ” seeks (incorrectly) to be justified by observance of Jewish law

The second part of the clause is:

(b) “…(we our)selves are also found to be sinful ones [i.e. ‘sinners’]…”

This clause also can be understood either as a:

(i) True condition—Converts are shown to be sinful (by the Law) and thus can only be justified through faith in Christ
(ii) False condition—Believers “in Christ” who do not observe the Law are considered to be “sinners” (from the strict Jewish Christian perspective)

The overall polemic, and the specific use of a(martwloi (“sinners”) in verse 15, strongly indicate that the second portion (b) is a false condition—that, according to the Jewish Christian viewpoint, Gentile believers who do not observe the Jewish Law are effectively “sinners”. However, Paul may also be playing on the idea of the true condition as well—i.e., if his (Jewish Christian) opponents are correct, then believers (already justified by faith in Christ) are truly sinful, having transgressed the religious law.

The sense of the first portion (a) of the clause is even more difficult to determine: perhaps it is intended as a true condition, emphasizing those (Gentiles) who seek to be justified/saved by faith in Christ, but the false condition is at least possible as well.  The upshot of the question, however, is that the Jewish Christian emphasis on observing the Law results in (Gentile) believers effectively being reckoned as “sinners”. This is made clear in the concluding clause:

“…then is (the) Anointed (One) an attendant [i.e. servant] of sin? May it not come to be (so)!”

The notion Paul frames within this question, drawn from the implicit logic of his (Jewish Christian) opponents, is that a believer who trusts in Christ for justification (being declared just/righteous) ends up becoming a “sinner”. This, in turn, implies that Christ serves to bring about sinfulness (transgression) for the believer (under the Law)—clearly an absurd notion!—and yet one which Paul effectively regards as true if it is necessary (as his ‘opponents’ claim) for believers to continue observing the Old Testament Law.

The conditional statement in verse 18, brings greater clarity to the complex rhetorical question of v. 17:

“For, if the (things) which I loosed down [i.e. dissolved/destroyed], these (things) I build (up) again, I make myself stand together (with) one (who) ‘steps over’ [i.e. violates/transgresses]”

As Paul will expound in the argument:

    • by trusting in Christ one effectively dies to the Law (dissolving it)
    • to continue observing the Law—or claiming that one needs to do so—re-establishes it (builds it up again)
    • but the purpose of the Law was to make sin (transgression) known (Rom 4:15, etc) to all people
    • therefore, if taken seriously, the believer (attempting to observe the Law) again comes to be under sin (a transgressor)

It is powerful line of reasoning, and, I suspect, one which many Jewish Christians would not have considered (and which many still do not realize today). The uniqueness of Paul’s viewpoint comes largely from the third premise above—his extraordinary teaching that the fundamental purpose of the Law was to make sin known (effectively to establish humankind’s bondage under sin, Gal 3:22). There is hardly a Jew at the time (or since)—including, I am sure, many Jewish Christians—who would accept this remarkable Pauline doctrine. The stark implication of it is that, to (re-)establish the requirement of Torah observance for believers who have died to the Law (Torah), serves ultimately to undo the very work of Christ! This will be discussed further, in the next daily note on vv. 19-20.

October 17: Galatians 2:15-16

Galatians 2:15-21

For the daily notes this week, I will be reproducing, in modified form, an earlier set on Galatians 2:15-21. These verses comprise the central proposition (propositio) of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, and a detailed treatment of them is necessary as a supplement to the current series of studies (in the Saturday Series feature) on Galatians, examining the letter from the standpoint of rhetorical criticism.

Before proceeding, you may wish to consult an earlier note in which I discussed the prior episode at Antioch as narrated by Paul in Galatians 2:11-14 (the final section of the narratio, 1:11-2:14). Paul’s statement in verse 14b leads into the famous passage in vv. 15-21, which serves to establish the basic issue at the heart of the letter—the propositio, according to classical rhetorical categories. The series of notes on these verses tracks along with the following division of the propositio:

    • Note 1 (vv. 15-16) [below]—Basic proposition regarding justification and the Jew/Gentile distinction
    • Note 2 (vv. 17-18)—Rhetorical argument to show the problem with applying the Law to (Gentile) believers
    • Note 3 (vv. 19-20)—Relation of the believer to the Law
    • Note 4 (v. 21)—Concluding argument regarding justice/righteousness

Galatians 2:15-16

It is often debated whether Paul’s words to Peter end with verse 14 or continue on into vv. 15ff. From a literary (epistolary) and rhetorical standpoint, I believe the direct address to Peter ends with v. 14 (along with the narration [narratio] of vv. 1-14); Paul deftly (and seamlessly) makes the shift from Peter to the Galatian audience of the letter here in vv. 15-16. This becomes clear when we look closely at the two statements which make up this verse pair:

V. 15: “We (who are) by nature Yehudeans [i.e. Jews], and not sinful ones [i.e. sinners] out of the Nations [i.e. Gentiles]…”

He draws a distinction, entirely from a traditional Jewish point of view, between Israelites/Jews who live according to the Covenant established by God and the Law (of Moses), and non-Jews (Gentiles) who live apart from the Law and Covenant. According to this religious distinction, faithful and observant Jews are considered “righteous”, while non-Jews (and faithless/disobedient Jews) are considered to be “sinners”. Paul admits this distinction (from a religious standpoint) and uses it as the starting point for his argument; it also serves as a point both ‘sides’ can agree upon—Paul, on the one side, and Jewish Christians (who believe all Christians should be circumcised and observe the Law), on the other. The emphatic use of the first person plural pronoun (h(mei=$, “we”) immediately establishes the common ground—Paul associates himself here with another Jewish Christian (i.e. Peter, implied).

Verse 16 is more complex, and, in rendering it, I would break it down into outline form—it begins “[but] seeing/knowing that…”:

    • “a man is not declared just out of [i.e. by/from] works of (the) law
      • if not through trust of Yeshua (the) Anointed
      • and we (indeed) trusted in (the) Anointed Yeshua
    • (so) that we might be declared just out of [i.e. by/from] trust of (the) Anointed (One)
      • and not out of works of (the) law
      • (in) that out of works of (the) law
    • all flesh will not be declared just”

Note the way that the three ‘outer’ clauses or phrases emphasize justification (being “declared just/righteous”), whereas the ‘inner’ pairs of clauses/phrases juxtapose trust (or faith) “of/into Jesus” and works “of the law”. The ‘outer’ portions themselves form a guiding chiasm:

    • A man (i.e. individual person)—not declared just (from works of law)
      • We (i.e. believers) might be declared just (by faith/trust in Jesus)
    • All flesh (i.e. all persons, collectively)—not declared just (from works of law [implicit])

The participle that begins this verse (ei&dote$, “having seen/known [that…]”) joins it to v. 15, and implies that, this too, is a proposition both ‘sides’ can agree on. Indeed, many (if not most) early Jewish Christians, like Peter, would have granted that ultimately it is by faith in Jesus, and not by observing the Law, that believers are “justified” and “saved”. Almost certainly, Jewish Christians who might make statements such as that in Acts 15:1 were a relatively small (if vocal) minority. The difference is that Paul regarded the less extreme view and behavior of Peter (and other Jewish Christians in Antioch) as essentially leading to a denial of this fundamental proposition—the denial being that faith/trust in Jesus ultimately was not sufficient to establish a right religious standing before God.

In the episode at Antioch (vv. 11-14), according to Paul’s account, there is no suggestion that Peter (or any other Jewish Christian) was claiming that Gentile believers had to be circumcised or follow the Torah regulations (dietary laws, etc) in order to be saved. Rather, by shying away from contact with the Gentile believers, in the presence of important Jewish Christians from Jerusalem, Peter was, in a subtle way (and no doubt unintentionally), indicating that there was something different between Jewish and Gentile believers. Any hesitation for a Jewish believer to be in fellowship and contact with an uncircumcised (and ritually impure) Gentile believer was a tacit admission that there was not a complete and unfettered bond of unity between them. Indeed, such religious scruples violated and effectively disrupted the unity of believers. Paul saw the matter as most serious, as his argument indicates, and his powerful statements regarding the place of the Law (Torah) in the New Covenant have enormous consequences for the entire concept of Christian identity.

Before proceeding, however, it is important to mention the difficulty in rendering the verb dikaio/w (dikaióœ), as well as the related noun dikaiosu/nh (dikaiosy¡n¢) and adjective di/kaio$ (díkaios). Translators are generally torn between “just/justice” and “right/righteous(ness)” The basic idea underlying the dik– word group is conformity with what has been established (in society, i.e. custom, tradition) or with (moral/religious/legal) direction. Overall, “just/justice” best captures the social and legal aspects in English, whereas “righteous(ness)”, in particular, is almost entirely limited to a specific religious sense.

The main problem is the verb dikaio/w, as there is nothing really corresponding to it in English. Literally, it would be “make right/just”, but this is somewhat awkward and potentially misleading; “declare just” perhaps better fits the legal sense, but this too can be misleading when used in a spiritual or theological context. Typically, “justify” is used to translate, but in modern English this verb has virtually lost its proper legal sense, and necessitates special technical usage in the New Testament (esp. in Paul’s letters). Needless to say, the subject is immense, and requires careful study of all the relevant passages.

Two additional points of translation (and interpretation) are worth mentioning:

    • The genitive construct used in verse 16— “the trust/faith of Jesus” —is best understood as an objective genitive, i.e. “faith in Jesus”. The parallel and synonymous Greek expression is “faith ei)$ [lit. into] Jesus”. This primarily refers to faith/trust directed toward Jesus, but one should not ignore the dynamic, participatory aspect implied by the literal rendering “into”.
    • The expression “works of (the) law”, now also found in the Qumran texts (4QMMT line c27, hrwfh ycum), is distinctive to Paul’s thought. By it, he means active observance of the commands and ordinances of the Old Testament Law (Torah or “Law of Moses”), particularly in its ritual/ceremonial aspect. Here in Galatians the reference is primarily to circumcision, but would also include the sacrificial offerings, observance of holy days (Sabbath, Passover, etc), dietary regulations, and so forth—even extending to supererogatory acts of religious devotion which go beyond the letter of the law.
      By juxtaposing the parallel genitive expressions “works of law” and “trust of Jesus”, Paul creates a contrasting distinction, highlighted by: (a) “trust/faith” vs. “work/act”, and (b) the use of the preposition ei)$ (trust into/unto Jesus) which Paul takes rather literally—Jews may be “in” (e)n) the Law or Christians “in” Christ, but by trust/faith one moves “into” (ei)$) Christ; in other words, faith in Jesus brings about a dynamic change of religious, existential, and spiritual situation for the person.

Saturday Series: Galatians 1:11-2:14

Narratio (Galatians 1:11-2:14)

Following the introduction (exordium) to the letter (1:6-10, see last week’s study), Paul proceeds with the narratio in 1:11-2:14. In classical rhetoric, the narratio (Greek di¢¡g¢sis) refers to a statement (narration) of the facts of a case, along with related events, by the author/speaker; it also sets the stage for the principal arguments (or proofs) which follow. Cicero defines it as “an exposition of events that have occurred or are supposed to have occurred” (De inventione 1.19.27; see Quintilian 4.2.2ff, and Betz, pp. 58-9).

In Paul’s letters, the narratio tends to be autobiographical in character, since the issues dealt with in the letter are typically related in a fundamental way to Paul’s missionary work. That is certainly the case here in Galatians, and all the more so, since the rhetorical thrust of the letter has a strong apologetic character, in which Paul defends the legitimacy of his apostolic ministry.

Verses 11-12 make up the propositio, or opening statement, intended to influence the audience. This is indicated by Paul’s use of gnœrízœ gár hymín (“For I make known to you…”) at the start. This sort of opening is relatively common, positioning and presenting the speaker/author’s arguments as something the audience is already familiar with (“You are certainly aware of…,” “You are not unaware of the fact…,” “You must remember…,” etc). Verses 11-12 are transitional, joining the exordium to the narratio that follows; note the significance of this central proposition:

“For I make known to you, brothers, the good message [euangélion] being brought as a good news [euangelisthén] by me, that it is not according to man, for not even did I receive it along from a man, nor was I taught (it), but (it came) through an uncovering of [i.e. revelation by] Yeshua (the) Anointed.”

Here Paul begins to develop themes and lines of argument which were introduced in the letter opening (vv. 1, 4) and the exordium (vv. 6-9). Two key themes, which are interrelated in Paul’s argument, are presented in the proposition: (1) his apostolic commission came as the result of a direct revelation from Jesus himself, and (2) the Gospel (euangélion, “good message, good news”) as proclaimed by him is part of this same revelatory commission. The central point was made back in verse 1—namely, that the Gospel Paul proclaims was not taught to him by other human beings, but came to him directly by revelation from Jesus Christ. This fact is intimately connected with his role as a representative and emissary (apostle) of Christ, both aspects—Gospel message and apostolic authority—being central to his exposition.

The exposition/narration that follows in 1:13-2:14 does more than simply present the facts of the case; rather, Paul uses this rhetorical opportunity to develop these two key lines of argument. This is done by three narrative stages—that is, in three sections of the narratio. Indeed, as noted above, the narratio itself is autobiographical, and can be divided into three parts:

    • Paul’s early career—the call to be an Apostle (1:13-24)
    • The meeting in Jerusalem—confirmation of Paul’s role as Apostle to the Gentiles (2:1-10)
    • The incident at Antioch—questions regarding the Gospel as proclaimed to the Gentiles, concerning Jewish-Gentile relations and the Law (2:11-14)

Let us examine briefly how Paul uses the rhetorical and epistolary form of the narratio to develop the argument by which he hopes to persuade the Galatians.

Paul’s early career (1:13-24)—From the standpoint of this study, three basic themes or points can be isolated:

    • His religious devotion and zeal—that is, his Jewish identity (vv. 13-14). The “traditions [lit. things given along, passed down] of the Fathers” certainly includes legal (i.e. commands and regulations of the Torah) as well as extra-legal religious matters. His devotion extended even to persecuting the early Christians in Jerusalem and Judea, which corresponds to the scenario described in Acts 8:1-3; 9:1-2ff. Note also how here he effectively contrasts Judaism with the Gospel (presented in v. 15), but not as either competing or complementary religions; rather, the revelation of Jesus Christ to him represents something entirely new.
    • His call and commission as Apostle (to the Gentiles)—it came directly from God and Christ (vv. 15-17) This is indicated by two aspects of the narrative:
      (1) He was set apart (vb aphorízœ) by God (even before he was born), being called by the favor of God and through the (personal) revelation of Christ (vv. 15-16a)
      (2) He did not consult at first with other Christian leaders (in Jerusalem), i.e. his instruction and earliest ministry work was directly under the guidance of God and Christ (vv. 16b-17)
    • His ministry work becoming accepted within the wider early Christian community—including contact with the apostles in Jerusalem (vv. 18-24)

The meeting in Jerusalem (2:1-10)—I have discussed this passage in some detail in relation to the so-called ‘Jerusalem Council’ of Acts 15. I would generally follow the majority of commentators in their view that Acts 15 and Galatians 2 refer to the same underlying historical event[s], though this identification is not without difficulties. However one chooses to interpret the relation between these passages at the historical level, here we must focus exclusively on what Paul writes in his letter. The following points should be noted:

    • Paul’s attendance in Jerusalem is also the result of a revelation (vv. 1-2, cp. Acts 15:2f)
    • At issue is the Gospel Paul has been proclaiming to the Gentiles (v. 2)
    • There were some (Jewish Christians) in Jerusalem who would require/compel Gentile believers to be circumcised [and, presumably, to observe other Torah regulations as well] (v. 3; this is more prominent in Acts 15:1-11ff)
    • Paul characterizes these Jewish Christians (“Judaizers”) as “false brothers” (pseudádelphoi), indicating that they have come in surreptitiously (infiltrating/spying), and with false/improper motives (v. 4); note the introduction here of a motif (slavery vs. freedom) which will appear throughout the epistle.
    • Paul clearly contrasts this Jewish-Christian view with the “truth of the Gospel” (al¢¡theia tou euangelíou)—as such, Paul feels compelled to oppose it (v. 5)
    • The authority and importance of the (apostolic) leaders in Jerusalem, judged in human terms, is devalued by Paul (v. 6, 9)
    • And yet, Paul’s role as apostle to the Gentiles is confirmed—along with his missionary approach and the Gospel he proclaims—by the leaders in Jerusalem (James, Cephas/Peter, and John) (vv. 7-9)

We can detect how many of the important themes and motifs of the epistle, to be expounded by Paul, are introduced and interwoven throughout this narrative. The points of controversy and conflict are brought forward, and already Paul has begun the polemical (and vituperative) treatment of his opponents which will increase markedly in the climactic sections of the letter.

The incident at Antioch (2:11-14)—For a detailed treatment of this section, see my earlier discussion, and also on the Peter/Paul controversy in Christian tradition. It also may be worth consulting my notes on the so-called Apostolic Decree from Acts 15. Here we have a narrative snippet from a minor, but significant, event in early Church history, which shows the cultural and religious difficulties in incorporating Gentile (non-Jewish) believers within a largely Jewish-Christian matrix.

The incident at Antioch, by all accounts, did not involve Jewish Christians urging or compelling Gentiles to observe the Torah; rather, it had to do with the behavior of the Jewish believers. Should Jews (as believers in Christ) continue faithfully to observe the Torah regulations and/or their religious traditions if it meant separating themselves from fellowship with Gentiles? The issue may even have gone deeper, for Paul speaks of Peter as starting to be in a Gentile manner of living (ethnikœ¡s); this perhaps indicates that Peter has ceased to observe certain Torah regulations (such as the dietary restrictions, cf. Acts 10:9-16), at least when living and eating among Gentile believers. Social pressure (from prominent Jewish believers) apparently caused Peter to return to his prior religious scruples.

Paul saw and sensed in this a great danger, as it seemed to place Jewish distinctiveness ahead of Jewish-Gentile unity in Christ. This is an important observation directed at those commentators who would view Paul’s arguments regarding the Law in Galatians as being limited to what is necessary for salvation. The incident at Antioch shows that Paul’s argument goes well beyond this, for it relates to the very notion of Christian identity. Galatians is first surviving Christian writing (however one dates it exactly) to address this issue head-on.

Through this relatively lengthy narration (narratio), Paul has moved from a defense of his apostleship (section 1) to a defense of his view of the Gospel and what it means to be a Christian (section 3). He has effectively laid out the groundwork for his lines of argument in chapters 3-4. However, before Paul begins with his “proofs” in chaps. 3-4, he first must present the central proposition (propositio) which he seeks to prove. This is done formally in 2:15-21, which we will examine in next week’s study. The issue is stated, in practical terms, at the close of the narratio, which the question (posed to Peter, but, by extension, to all Jewish Christians):

“how can you make it necessary (for) the nations [i.e. Gentiles] to live as Jews?”

Paul’s view of the Gospel is that it is not necessary at all for believers (esp. Gentile believers) to “live as Jews” (vb Ioudaï¡zœ), by which is meant accepting the binding authority of the Torah regulations. He will expound this proposition in vv. 15-21, and then go on to prove it (probatio) through six lines of argument in chaps. 3-4.

References above marked “Betz” are to Hans Dieter Betz, A Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Churches in Galatia, ed. by Helmut Koester, Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 1979).

July 6: Acts 28:25

Acts 28:25

In the concluding episode of the book of Acts (28:17-31), Paul is in Rome, under house arrest (v. 16), but given a limited freedom to receive visitors, etc., presumably because the Roman authorities did not consider him a threat to public order (Fitzmyer, p. 788). In this episode, leading members of the Jewish community in Rome come to see Paul (vv. 17-22), and eventually arrange for a second meeting with him for further conversations. The author summarizes this second meeting in vv. 23-28[f], which can also serve as a summary for the book of Acts as a whole:

“…he laid out (the message), giving witness throughout (regarding) the kingdom of God, and persuading (them) about Yeshua, both from the Law of Moshe and the Foretellers, from early (morning) until evening. And (on the one hand), (some of) the(m) were persuaded by the (thing)s being related to them, but (on the other hand), (some of) the(m) were without trust. And being without a voice together [i.e. in agreement] toward each other, they loosed themselves [i.e. departed] from (the gathering), (with) Paul (hav)ing said one (last) thing (to them): ‘The holy Spirit spoke well through Yesha’yah the Foreteller to your fathers, saying…’ {citation from Isa 6:9-10} So let it be known to you that to the nations was se(n)t forth this salvation of God—and they will hear it!”

Here we have a veritable compendium of key themes and motifs of Acts, all of which are closely connected with the Spirit-theme. As a way of concluding this series of notes, it is worth highlighting and discussing the most prominent of these themes.

The Kingdom of God. It should be emphasized once again regarding the keynote statement in 1:8, the declaration of Jesus to his disciples, in which the realization of the Kingdom of God (in this New Age) is explained by the two-fold theme of: (1) the presence and work of the Spirit, and (2) the proclamation of the Gospel (into all the nations). It is fitting that, also at the end of the book, this same two-fold realization of the Kingdom is again brought into view.

Prophecy. Just as the Spirit of God was the source of genuine prophecy in the Old Covenant, so it is also in the New Covenant. When the Spirit came upon the first believers in Jerusalem, they all prophesied, in fulfillment (as stated in the Pentecost speech by Peter) of the oracle in Joel 2:28-32. The inspiration and empowerment by the Spirit relates both to the general aspect of prophecy as communication of the word and will of God, and also to the more specific early Christian context of proclaiming the Gospel to the nations.

The fact that the Spirit-inspired Prophets of Israel foretold the events surrounding Jesus and the early believers gives added confirmation to the inspired character of the early Christian preaching—and thus legitimizing (especially for Israelites and Jews) the truth of the Gospel. Here, the reference to the Spirit (v. 25) specifically refers to the inspiration of Isaiah’s prophecy (6:9-10), even as the same is said of David (in 1:16 and 4:25 [Ps 69:25 / 109:8 & 2:1-2]).

Opposition to the Gospel. A recurring theme that is developed throughout the Acts narratives, and a significant aspect of the Spirit-theme, is the Jewish opposition to the early Christian mission. Such opposition and persecution toward believers begins in the early chapters of Acts (chaps. 4-7) and continues on through the narratives of Paul’s missionary journeys. Implied throughout is the idea that opposition to the Spirit-inspired Gospel preaching is essentially the same as opposing the Spirit of God itself. This equivalence is more or less stated directly in Stephen’s speech (7:51), but is very much present in other passages as well (see esp. the warning by Gamaliel to his fellow Jews in 5:39). Jewish opposition to the Gospel is highlighted here in the closing episode, though defined more in terms of an unwillingness (or inability) to accept the message.

Mission to the Gentiles. This episode also re-states the important theme of the early Christian mission to the Gentiles. There are two key aspects of the argument, within the Acts narrative, that legitimizes the inclusion of non-Jewish (Gentile) converts into the early Christian Community, a point central to the overall theme and message of Luke-Acts: (1) the missionary shift to the Gentiles is the result of Jewish opposition to the Gospel (cf. above); (2) the inclusion of Gentile believers into the People of God is occurring under the superintending guidance of the Spirit, and is thus part of God’s sovereign plan and purpose for His people.

Unity of Believers. The key theme in Acts of the unity of early believers is presented again here in the closing episode, partly by way of contrast with the lack of unity among Jews in responding to the Gospel. Consider how this is expressed in vv. 24-25a:

“And (on the one hand), (some of) the(m) were persuaded by the (thing)s being related to them, but (on the other hand), (some of) the(m) were without trust. And being without a voice together [i.e. in agreement] toward each other, they loosed themselves [i.e. departed] from (the gathering)…”

Verse 24 involves a me\nde/ construction, which typically indicates a pointed contrast, and can be translated in English as “one one hand…but on the other hand…”. In this case, the idea is that some Jews trusted (lit. “were persuaded”), but others did not (remaining “without trust”, vb a)piste/w). Even as they leave their meeting with Paul, it is emphasized that these Roman Jews are divided with regard to the Gospel; the phrase the author uses is “being without a voice together toward each other”. This lack of agreement is expressed by the adjective a)su/mfono$, which I translate literally as “without a voice together” (i.e., with no common voice, without agreement).

The point of contrast is confirmed again, subtly, in v. 25b, where the lack of agreement (i.e., many different opinions) by the Jews is contrasted with the one (ei!$, neuter e%n) thing Paul says to them as they depart. This “one thing” takes the form of a mini-sermon, with a Scripture citation (Isa 6:9-10) that is expounded and applied to the current time, related to the proclamation (kerygma) of the Gospel. This sense of unity continues in the final verses (vv. 30-31), stating how Paul continued to preach the Gospel, with boldness and without any real hindrance, even while under house arrest in Rome.

Early Christians were cognizant of the difficulty surrounding the lack of acceptance of the Gospel by many Israelites and Jews. How could it be that the people of God (under the Old Covenant) would, in many (if not most) instances, be unwilling or unable to accept the Gospel of Christ? The words of Isaiah in 6:9-10 provided an explanation for this. It was clearly a popular Scripture for early Christians to apply as an answer to the troublesome question, since we find it cited in a number of different places in the New Testament, beginning with the Gospel tradition (saying of Jesus) in Mark 4:12 par (Lk 8:10, cf. also Mk 8:17-18), and again in John 12:39-40, by Paul in Rom 11:8, and here in vv. 26-27. The reference in Rom 11:8 is, of course, part of Paul’s extensive treatment of the question in chapters 9-11 of Romans. There he gives a theological exposition of the same point that is implied in the book of Acts: namely, that the failure of Jews to accept the Gospel was part of the wider purpose of God in bringing the good news to Gentiles throughout the Roman Empire.

(For the background of the original Isaian prophecy in Isa 6, cf. my earlier study on the subject.)

References above marked “Fitzmyer” are to Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Acts of the Apostles, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 31 (Doubleday / Yale: 1998).

 

 

June 29: Acts 13:52; 15:28

Acts 13:52; 15:28

In the previous notes we examined the role of the Spirit in guiding and empowering the early Christian mission. A key aspect of the Spirit-theme in Luke-Acts is also how the Spirit is manifested in the effect (and result) of the mission. The proclamation of the Gospel leads to individuals coming to trust in Jesus, and to be baptized, and thus to their receiving (and being filled with) the Holy Spirit. In addition, however, there is the broader effect of the mission on the Community of believers. We see this, for example, in the various expressions of unity among believers, which is closely connected with the presence of the Spirit. An especially significant instance is the scene of the prayer-speech in 4:23-31, which climaxes with a powerful manifestation of the Spirit within the Community.

In the middle of the narrative of Paul’s first missionary journey, at the conclusion of his great sermon-speech at Pisidian Antioch, there is another important reference to the Spirit. This episode (13:13-52) is the keystone section of the missionary narrative, and embodies the shift—so important to the Acts narrative—from a mission aimed at Jews to one aimed at non-Jews (Gentiles) in the Greco-Roman world. Within the drama of the narrative, this shift is expressed in vv. 44-51 (with the citation of Isa 49:6). It builds upon the earlier episodes of Jewish opposition and persecution, as well as the key Cornelius episode in chap. 10 (conversion of a pro-Jewish ‘God-fearer’), which is echoed here in v. 43.

Jewish opposition forced Paul and Barnabas out of Pisidian Antioch (vv. 50-51), but the ultimate result of their missionary work there is the continued spread of the Gospel and conversion of both Jews and Gentiles. It is worth considering how this is framed in the narrative:

    • The response of Gentile believers (v. 48-49):
      (a) rejoicing [vb xai/rw]
      (b) acceptance of the Gospel and conversion [trust, vb pisteu/w]

      • The response of (Jewish) opponents (v. 50)
      • The response of Paul and Barnabas to this opposition (v. 51)
    • The response of [Jewish] believers (v. 52)
      (a) rejoicing [“were filled with joy”, e)plhrou=nto xara=$]
      (b) the presence of the Spirit [“(filled) with the holy Spirit”]

It is best to understand the “learners” (i.e., disciples, maqhtai/) in v. 52 as followers of Paul and Barnabas’ mission-work—primarily Jewish believers and converts. It is comparable to the reaction of Jewish believers to the conversion of Cornelius and his household (10:45ff and throughout chap. 11). Common to the response of the Gentile and Jewish believers is joy/rejoicing (xara/ / xai/rw), which is the first aspect (a) in the outline above. The second aspect (b) properly summarizes the early Christian mission itself (cf. Jesus’ declaration in 1:8): (i) the proclamation of the Gospel, and (ii) the presence (and power) of the Spirit. On the connection between the Spirit and joy/rejoicing, cf. especially Luke 10:21.

The essential point of this section in the narrative is that the wider Community is blessed and strengthened by the inclusion of the Gentile converts. As is expressed by the concluding words, the Jewish believers were “filled with the holy Spirit” by this success of the mission and the inclusion of Gentile believers.

The theme of Jewish-Gentile unity within early Christianity reaches its dramatic climax in chapter 15 and the council held in Jerusalem to address the issue of the Gentile converts (the result of Paul/Barnabas’ mission-work). Support for the mission is expressed through the twin speeches by Peter (15:7-11) and James (vv. 13-21). The manner of expression in each of these speeches differs, but the basic message is the same, recognizing that the conversion of the Gentiles is part of God’s ordained plan for His people.

On this point, cf. the wording in 13:48, where the Gentile converts are characterized as those “having been arranged [i.e., appointed, by God] unto (the) life (of the) Ages [i.e. eternal life]”. Similarly, this predetermination of the Gentile believers’ salvation is implied by Peter in 15:7-8 (cf. also 10:34-35). Peter emphasizes again, in v. 8, that the legitimacy of the Gentile conversions was confirmed by the coming of the Spirit upon the household of Cornelius (10:44ff). The testimony of Paul and Barnabas (15:12) regarding their mission to the Gentiles gives further witness to Peter’s message.

The definitive statement of the Jerusalem Church on this matter is summarized in vv. 22-29, presented as a letter intended for the new (predominantly Gentile) congregations in Syria and nearby Asia (Cilicia, Pisidia). This section begins with the words:

“Then it seemed (good) to the (one)s sent forth [i.e. apostles] and the elders, together with the whole called out (Community) [e)kklhsi/a]…to send…” (v. 22)

This emphasizes that the decision is a unified response by the entire Community of believers—that is, an expression of Christian unity. Further on in the letter itself (v. 28), the unity of their response is said also to include the presence of the Spirit:

“For it seemed (good) to the holy Spirit and us…”

Beyond the association of the Spirit with the unity of believers, this verse also re-affirms the presence of the Spirit among Gentile believers and converts.