Saturday Series: Galatians 4:1-11

Probatio (Galatians 3:1-4:31)  

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

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

Section 4: Galatians 4:1-11

The fourth argument of the probatio (chaps 3-4) in Galatians is an illustration of slavery vs. sonship. It picks up where the third argument leaves off (3:29), identifying believers in Christ as heirs (“ones receiving the lot”, kl¢ronómoi)—the offspring (“seed”) of Abraham, inheriting the promise(s) God made to him.

Galatians 4:1-2—In these verses Paul establishes the basic illustration regarding the son (and heir):

“And I relate (to you that) upon as (much) time as the one receiving the lot [i.e. heir] is an infant [n¢¡pios], he carries through [i.e. differs] nothing (from) a slave, (despite) being lord of all (thing)s…”

The origin of the Greek word n¢¡pios is not entirely clear, with various derivations fundamentally indicating “without speech” = infant, infans [i.e. unable to speak], “without sense/understanding”, and “weak, without power”. The basic connotation would seem to be “young and/or immature”, and can specifically refer to a young child (here, a minor). The principal idea is that, until the child (a son) reaches the age of maturity, his status is practically (and functionally) similar to that of a slave, as explained in verse 2. Paul draws on the example of a son in a well-to-do family, a modification of the example given already in 3:23-25 (see my earlier note on these verses). The final qualifying phrase of 4:1 is interesting—the point Paul makes is that the heir legally is (or will be) the lord of the household, but, even so, until becoming an adult, he is very much like a slave. This could be understood in a “gnostic” sense—i.e., believers in Christ, even before coming to faith, are, by nature, already sons of God (cf. v. 6a), just without realizing it. The same construct could, however, just as easily be read in an ‘orthodox’ sense, according to the doctrine of Election (or something akin to it). Paul clarifies the point in verse 2:

“…but is under managers and house-administrators until the (time) set before(hand) by the father”

In 3:24-25, the image is of the child who is led out of the house (to school and back), being guarded, instructed and disciplined. Here a different household picture is offered, that of basic government within the house. An epítropos is essentially a person to whom someone/something has been “turned over” —in this domestic context, a legal trustee or guardian, someone to whom the child is given over for care and tutelage (a tutor). An oikonómos indicates a “household-administrator” and general supervisor. The child is “under” (hypó) these servants just as he is “under” (hypó) the paidagogos (3:24-25), both parallel, and largely synonymous, with being “under the Law” [hypó  nómon] and “under sin” [hypó hamartían]. The central point Paul makes is that this term of ‘enslavement’ (guardianship) lasts only until the time of the child’s maturity, indicated as being set by the father. This detail does not accord with general Roman practice, but it very much is appropriate to Paul’s illustration, whereby God (the Father) has established the time when enslavement under the Law (and sin) comes to an end.

Galatians 4:3-5—Here Paul applies the illustration to human beings (believers) on the religious-spiritual level. In verse 3, the term of infancy/immaturity (hóte ¢¡men n¢¡pioi, “when we were infants/children”) is specifically identified with slavery (¢¡metha dedoulœménoi, “we were ones enslaved”). The metaphor, previously relevant only to Israelites/Jews (those of/under the Torah), is here extended to Gentiles as well, with the expression “the stoicheia of the world” (to be discussed with verse 8, below). Jews and Gentiles are both “under” (hypó) the stoicheia (parallel to being “under the Law”).

The term of infancy/enslavement ends with the coming of Christ (v. 4): “but when the fullness of time came, God set out from him his son…” —which he qualifies with two participial phrases:

    • “coming to be [gegómenon] out of a woman”
    • “coming to be [gegómenon] under the Law”

The first phrase summarizes the human birth of Jesus (I discussed this in an earlier Christmas season note); the second summarizes the human condition of Jesus. While a sensitive matter, perhaps, with regard to orthodox Christology, Paul clearly places Jesus in the same situation as the rest of humanity, in several respects:

    • As a Jew, Jesus was obligated to observe the Torah (cf. Lk 2:22-24, 39; Matt 5:17-20)
    • With the rest of humanity, he came to be under the “curse” of the Law (Gal 3:10-14)
    • As such, he also came to be “under sin” (Rom 8:3, but note the careful phrasing)

For a similar statement regarding the incarnation of Christ, see Philippians 2:7f.

Paul concludes his sentence here in verse 5, with a pair of hína/purpose-clauses:

    • “(so) that [hína] he might purchase out [exagorás¢] the (one)s under the Law”
    • “(so) that [hína] we might receive from [apolábœmen] (the Father) placement as sons [huiothesían]”

The word huiothesía is typically translated as “adoption” in conventional English parlance, but it literally refers to being placed as a son (huios), and it is important to preserve this etymological connection. Jesus first is (and becomes) a son (cf. 1:16; 2:20), even as he becomes the “curse” in 3:13. A comparison with Gal 3:13ff is most useful:

Gal 3:10-14
  • “of/from the Law” and “under a curse” [hypó katáran], v. 10
  • Jesus “comes to be” [genómenos] a curse (under the Law), v. 13
  • he “purchases out” [ex¢górasen] those who are under the curse of the Law, v. 13
  • so that [hína] the blessing might come to those who trust in Christ, v. 14
Gal 4:1-5
    • “enslaved, serving as slaves” [dedoulœménoi] (under the Law), v. 3-4
    • Jesus (the Son) “comes to be” [genómenon] under the Law, v. 4
    • that he might “purchase out” [exagorás¢] those under the Law, v. 5a
    • so that [hína] we might receive sonship from God, v. 5b

Galatians 4:6-7—Verse 6 describes the adoption (being placed as sons)—note that there are two aspects to this:

    • What we (already) are, in God’s eyes— “but (in) that [i.e. since/because] you are [este] sons…”
    • What we become, through the Spirit— “…God set forth out of him the Spirit of his Son into our hearts…”

Though not specified here, Paul certainly would say that it is through trust/faith in Christ that we truly are God’s sons (or children), as he states clearly in 3:26. There is a subtle, but definite Christ/Spirit parallel presented in these verses:

    • “God set forth out of (him) [exapésteilen] his Son” (v. 4)
      • “so that we might receive from (him) placement as sons” (v. 5b)
    • “God set forth out of (him) [exapésteilen] the Spirit of his Son” (v. 6a)
      • “into our hearts, crying ‘Abba, Father!'” (v. 6b) {we are sons [v. 6a]}

It may not be entirely clear in context, but certainly “the Spirit of his Son” is synonymous with “the (Holy) Spirit”, especially as representing the abiding presence of Christ in (and with) the believer. We do not find precise Trinitarian terminology in Paul’s letters (nor in the New Testament as a whole); there is a good deal of ambiguity which later theologians and commentators sought to clarify.

Verse 7 reaffirms the distinction between son/heir and slave:

“So then [hœ¡ste] no longer [oukéti] are you a slave, but (rather) a son; and if a son, (then) also one receiving the lot [i.e. an heir] through God”

This declaration effectively combines two prior summarizing statements, in 3:24-25 and 29. In Gal 3:24-25 Paul uses a similar hœ¡steoukéti (“so then… no longer”) construction to state decisively that, with trust/faith in Christ, we are no longer under a paidagogos (that is, no longer under the Law); a declaration follows in v. 26: “for you all are sons of God through trust…” (cp. 4:6a). Gal 3:29 extends this essential statement:

    • No longer under a slave-guide (paidagogos, the Law)
    • Sons (of God) through trust in Christ
    • If of Christ, then heirs according to (God’s) promise (to Abraham)

This is almost precisely what we find in 4:7:

    • No longer a slave
    • A son (of God)
    • An heir through God (i.e. by and according to His promise)

A connection based on the theme of promise is certain, if somewhat subtle—in Gal 3:14, Paul uses the expression “the promise [epangelía] of the Spirit”; for other references to the Spirit as the promise of God, cf. Lk 24:49; Acts 1:4; 2:33, also Acts 2:39; 7:17; 13:32.

Galatians 4:8-11—Paul proceeds, in these verses, to offer a description of the nature of the slavery which believers were under (along with the rest of humanity) prior to faith in Christ. Whereas throughout most of Galatians, he has been focusing on the Jewish side (those under the Torah), here Paul moves to include non-Jews (Gentiles) within a larger viewpoint. This switch was already indicated in verse 3 with the introduction of the expression “under the stoicheia of the world”, which is clearly parallel to “under the Law”. One might be inclined to take these as indicating Gentiles and Jews, respectively; however, I believe it is more accurate to see the “stoicheia of the world” as the larger expression, encompassing both Jews and Gentiles.

I would divide this section into two portions:

    • Vv. 8-9—a men…de construction (i.e. “on the one hand… on the other…”), contrasting the believers’ condition before faith in Christ with that after faith (in terms of “not knowing / knowing”)
    • Vv. 10-11—a statement of concern/disappointment by Paul concerning the Galatians current behavior (or choice)

These two pieces are joined together by the question (real and rhetorical) Paul asks in v. 9b: “again as above [i.e. as before] do you wish to be slaves?”

Each of these sentences (vv. 8-9 and 10-11), with the joining question, have been discussed in more detail in earlier notes.

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

Saturday Series: Galatians 3:15-29

Probatio (Galatians 3:1-4:31)

In our studies, we are proceeding through the six main arguments that make up the probatio of the letter—that is, the proving (or demonstration) of the central proposition stated (and expounded) in 2:15-21. From the standpoint of this series, it is especially important to examine the rhetorical methods and lines of argument that Paul uses. There have been three lines of argument thus far, and we are now at the third of these:

    1. An appeal to the Galatians’ experience (3:1-6) [study]
    2. Scriptural argument: the blessing of Abraham comes by faith (3:7-14) [study]
      —contrasted with the curse of the Law (vv. 10-13)
    3. Scriptural argument: the promise to Abraham comes through Christ (3:15-29)

Section 3: Galatians 3:15-29

In Gal 3:7-14, Paul presented an initial argument from Scripture, based on the blessing of Abraham (to the nations); in this section, he offers a more extensive Scriptural argument from the wider context of the promise to Abraham. In so doing, Paul draws upon a range of passages in Genesis—principally Gen 12:2-3, 7; 13:15-16; 15:1-6; 17:1-11; 22:16-19; 24:7—summarizing them by a single concept: of God’s promise to Abraham regarding his offspring (“seed”, spérma in Greek), the blessing to the nations being just one benefit of the overall promise. The argument Paul develops in this section is framed by two main parts:

    • 3:15-18: An illustrative analogy based on the nature of a covenant/testament, by which the promise to Abraham is contrasted with the Law
    • 3:26-29: A declaration that the promise comes (to believers) through Christ

In between, there is a relatively extensive sub-section (3:19-25) which deals with the purpose of the Law. Since this represents one of Paul’s clearest statements regarding the Law (Torah), it will be discussed separately below. I will begin with the two framing portions, vv. 15-18 and 26-29.

Galatians 3:15-18

Each verse provides a distinct argument or point in the analogy:

Verse 15—Here Paul establishes the illustration based on the nature of a diath¢¡k¢, stating that he is relating this katá ánthrœpon (“according to man”, i.e. a human way of speaking), that is, as an analogy from ordinary daily life. The word diath¢¡k¢ in Greek literally means something “set through (in order)”, often in the technical sense of a will/testament; even in English idiom, someone planning for death might “set his/her affairs in order”, by preparing a last will, etc. It is in this sense that Paul uses the word here, along with three technical verbs: (1) kuróœ, “establish the authority (of something)”, i.e. “confirm, validate, ratify”; (2) athetéœ, “unset, set aside”, i.e. “invalidate, (dis)annul”; and (3) epidiatássomai, “arrange/set in order upon (something)”, i.e. “appoint or establish in addition, as a supplement”. A testament which has been validated, cannot simply be set aside or have additions made to it without proper authority. In other words, a valid agreement or contract remains intact and binding. The word diath¢¡k¢ can also mean an “agreement” in the more basic sense, and, as such is typically used to translate b®rî¾ (“binding [agreement]”, i.e. “covenant”) in Hebrew.

Verse 16—Paul engages in a bit of clever (and seemingly superficial) wordplay, as the word indicating Abraham’s offspring/descendants (plural) is, in both Hebrew and Greek, singular (“seed”, Grk spérma). The argument appears to be facetious, for clearly “seed” is a collective, referring to Abraham’s future descendants together, and yet Paul takes it hyper-literally, in order to make a particular point:

“…he does not say ‘and to (your) seeds‘, as upon many, but (rather) as upon one, ‘and to your seed‘, which is (the) Anointed {Christ}”

This is Paul’s way of demonstrating that the promise comes to all people (believers) through Christ. At the spiritual level, it is certainly true as well, in the sense that, as believers, we are a single people—Abraham’s (spiritual) descendants together—in union with Christ (cf. the declaration in 3:26-29, below).

Verse 17—Here he returns to the illustration of the testament (diath¢¡k¢) from v. 15, applying it to God’s promise to Abraham, as contrasted with the Law; it may be paraphrased thus:

The Law (Torah) cannot invalidate the Promise, which God made 430 years prior, so as to make it cease working or be of no effect.

This argument, while historically correct, generally contradicts the understanding of Jewish tradition, whereby Abraham and his descendants were already observing the the Torah commands (i.e. they were already in force) before the Torah was revealed to Moses and recorded by him—as variously explained in Jubilees 21:10; Philo On Abraham §275; Mekilta on Exod 20:18; Genesis Rabbah 44 (27d), 61 (38f); cf. Strack-Billerbeck 3.204-26 and Betz, Galatians, p. 158-9. Paul, of course, emphasizes that Abraham’s righteousness was not the result of observing the Law, but was due to his faith in God (concerning the promise). There are three strands to Paul’s argument:

    • The promise of God (and Abraham’s trust/faith in it) occurred prior to the Law
    • The Law cannot invalidate the promise
    • The Law does not add anything to the promise

In other words, the promise is entirely separate from the Law.

Verse 18—Paul introduces here the idea of inheritance (kl¢ronomía, specifically a “lot” which is partitioned out), tying it to the promise:

“For if the lot (one receives) is out of [i.e. from] (the) Law, it is no longer out of [i.e. from] a promise; but God granted (it) to Abraham as a favor through a promise.”

The separation between promise and Law extends to the very nature and character of a promise—it is given as a favor. The verb charízomai, used here, refers to giving/granting something as a favor, and is related to the noun cháris (“favor” or “gift, grace”). The theme of the grace of God is not as prominent in Galatians as in Romans (cf. Gal 1:6, 15; 2:9, 21; and esp. 5:4), but it is more or less implied in the idea of the blessing and promise given by God to Abraham. Inheritance is closely connected with sonship, and will be an important part of the arguments in chapter 4.

Galatians 3:26-29

This is Paul’s concluding declaration (to the Galatians) that the promise comes through Jesus Christ, and, in particular, through faith/trust in him. It can be divided as follows:

    • V. 26: Sonship through faith— “For you all are sons of God through trust in (the) Anointed Yeshua”
      • V. 27-28: Religious identity in Christ (oneness/unity of believers)—Baptismal formula
    • V. 29: Inheritance through promise— “And if you (are) of (the) Anointed, then you are Abraham’s seed, (one)s receiving the lot [i.e. heirs] according to (the) promise”

In typical Pauline fashion, a Christological statement is central, embedded within the theological/doctrinal declaration, verses 27-28 referring to baptism, and probably reflecting an early baptismal formula (see 1 Cor 12:13 and Col 3:11). The twin statements in vv. 26, 29 provide the conceptual framework:

Sonship–Faith–Jesus Christ (v. 26)
Inheritance–Promise–Seed of Abraham (v. 27)

In just a few short verses, Paul brings together all of the main strands of the arguments of chapter 3.

Galatians 3:19-25: The Purpose of the Law

In between the sections of 3:15-18 and 26-29, Paul includes a direct (and powerful) statement as to the purpose of the Law (“[For] what [purpose] then [is] the Law?…”, v. 19). Because these verses are among the clearest expressions of his view of the Law (the subject of these articles), and yet, at the same time, abound with interpretive difficulties, which I have treated more extensively in a series of earlier notes. Here it will suffice to give a brief outline, along with some basic observations; this section can be divided into two (or three) components:

    • Vv. 19-20: Statement of two-fold purpose:
      (1) for “transgressions”, and
      (2) to serve as a “mediator”
    • Vv. 21-25: More detailed explanation:
      (1) to enclose all things “under sin” (vv. 21-22)
      (2) to function as a paidagogos (vv. 23-25)

The second of these purposes is closer to the role of the Torah in Jewish tradition—i.e., as a mediator and guide—though the ultimate declaration in vv. 24-25 represents a decisive break with Judaism, as will be discussed. It is the first purpose Paul ascribes to the Law in vv. 19a, 21-22 which is, by far, his most original (and difficult) contribution—namely, that the primary purpose of the Law was to bring about transgression and enclose/enslave all people under sin (ideas he also expounds in Romans). This, indeed, is a most remarkable teaching! I am not aware of anything quite like it in Judaism, and many Jews (and Jewish Christians) doubtless would have found the notion shocking. Even today, many Jewish (and non-Jewish) believers are troubled by the language Paul uses, and would like to interpret it in less offensive or striking terms.

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

 

Sola Scriptura: Mark 10:17-22 par; Romans 13:8-10

Sola Scriptura

In order to have a proper understanding of the early Christian view of Scripture, it is necessary to pay close attention to the development of this view within the early Tradition, with its roots in the Gospel tradition, going back to the words of Jesus. The place of Scripture in early Christianity cannot be separated from the role of the Law (Torah) for early believers, since the Law represents one major division (i.e., the Pentateuch) of the Old Testament Scriptures. We have already examined certain aspects of the Law in Jesus’ teaching, and the influence of this teaching among early Christians. Let us now consider this influence further, illustrated through comparison of a key Gospel (Synoptic) tradition with a passage in Paul’s letter to the Romans.

Mark 10:17-22 par

The episode of the ‘Rich Young Ruler’ is found in all three Synoptic Gospels (Mark 10:17-22; Matthew 19:16-22; Luke 18:18-23), and, within the Synoptic narrative, it is one of the last episodes before Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (and the beginning of the Passion narrative). The authority of the Scriptures is quite clearly expressed by Jesus, and generally corresponds with his teaching in Matt 5:17-20 (discussed in an earlier study in this series). The young man asks Jesus: “What should I do (so) that I might receive the lot of [i.e. inherit] (the) life of the Ages [i.e. eternal life]?” (Mk 10:17; Lk 18:18 par). Jesus’ answer is simple and direct: “You have known the (thing)s (laid) on you to complete” —that is, “You know what is required of you to do”. The noun e)ntolh/, usually translated concisely (but flatly) as “commandment”, properly denotes a duty that someone is obligated to fulfill. Within Judaism, the noun (usually in the plural, e)ntolai/) refers specifically to the regulations in the Torah, recorded (in written form) in the Pentateuch.

Jesus’ unqualified reference to ‘the commandments’ is certainly meant in a general and comprehensive sense—that is, to all of the Torah regulations and requirements. However, the requirements that he specifically mentions are focused entirely on the ethical side of the Law, as represented by the second part of the ‘Ten Words’ (Ten Commandments, Decalogue). The five commandments cited (Lk 18:20 par) comprise most of the social-ethical side of the Decalogue (Exod 20:12-16; Deut 5:16-20), including the command to honor one’s parents. Matthew’s version (at 19:19b) also includes the command to love one’s neighbor (Lev 19:18b), which is telling from the standpoint of the early Christian view of the Law (cf. below). The lack of any mention of the ritual-ceremonial side of the Law is also most significant, and is typical of Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels. In only one instance (Mark 1:40-44 par Lk 5:12-14; Matt 8:1-4) does Jesus instruct a disciple (or potential disciple) to observe the ritual regulations of the Torah (a second ambiguous instance could also be cited, Matthew 17:24-27). For the most part, the ritual-ceremonial parts of the Torah are devalued or simply ignored in the early Christian Tradition; essentially, only the social-ethical commands are preserved as authoritative for early believers, and, in particular, those of the Ten Commandments. As the episode in Mk 10:17-22 makes clear, this emphasis can be traced back to the teachings of Jesus.

At the same time, Jesus confirms that being his disciple requires something even more than fulfilling the (ethical) demands of the Torah (cp. Matt 5:20):

“One (thing) is lacking for you: Lead yourself under [i.e. go away], sell as many (thing)s as you hold and give (the money) to [the] poor, and you will hold treasure in heaven, and (then) come follow me!” (Mk 10:21 par)

This has important implications for believers, as it may be said to represent the beginning of the early Christian tendency to place being a disciple of Jesus above fulfilling the Torah regulations. The Torah (and the Pentateuch Scriptures containing it) may continue to be authoritative for early Christians, but only in a qualified sense, and only in relation to the greater duty of following the teaching and example of Jesus himself. For more on the subject of the Jesus’ view of the Torah, cf. the articles in my earlier series, which includes a convenient survey of the relevant Gospel passages.

Romans 13:8-10

Paul’s brief discussion regarding the Law in Romans 13:8-10 well illustrates the early Christian tendency mentioned above, and also shows something of the way that the Christian view of the Law (Torah and Pentateuch) developed from the Gospel Tradition (sayings/teaching of Jesus). The extent of this development can be seen clearly enough from Paul’s words in verse 8:

“Owe nothing to no one, if not to love each other; for the (one) loving the other (person) has fulfilled the Law.”

On the surface, this could simply mean believers should fulfill the command of Leviticus 19:18b (included in Matthew’s version of the ‘Rich Young Ruler’ episode, cf. above), as if it were simply one of the many Torah regulations we are required to observe. However, Paul clearly has something else in mind—namely that the ‘love command’ serves to represent in itself all of the Torah regulations, and effectively replaces them for believers. Note what Paul says in verse 9:

“For the (requirement) ‘you shall not commit adultery,’ ‘you shall not murder,’ ‘you shall not steal,’ ‘you shall not set your (heart) on (anything belonging to your neighbor),’ and if (there is) any other thing (laid) on (you) to complete [e)ntolh/], it is gathered up (under one) head: ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.'”

For believers, there is essentially just one command—the greatest command, the love-command—that we are required to obey. All other commands and regulations (from the Torah) are contained and comprehended within this single duty (e)ntolh/) to love. This view is hardly unique to Paul, but is part of a much wider teaching throughout early Christianity. It goes back to Jesus’ own teaching (esp. Mark 12:28-34; cf. also Matt 5:43-44ff par; 7:12 par), is referenced on more than one occasion by Paul (cf. below), is expounded clearly in the letter of James (2:8-13), and can be found prominently in the Johannine tradition (Jn 13:34-35; 14:15ff; 15:9-10, 12-13ff; 17:26; 1 Jn 2:5, 10, 15; 3:10-11ff, 17-18, 23; 4:7-12ff, 20-21; 5:1-3; 2 Jn 5-6).

To be clear, the essential early Christian teaching in this regard, as it developed, was that the entire Law is fulfilled when one obeys the ‘love command’ :

“Love does not work ill for the neighbor; therefore love is (the) fulfilling [plh/rwma] of the Law.” (v. 10)

By this, Paul means that, since one who loves others will do nothing bad against them, all of the social-ethical requirements of the Torah will automatically be fulfilled, and thus are no longer necessary. This means that the authority of the Torah (and thus also the Scriptures that contain it) is no longer the same for believers in Christ. The Law/Pentateuch continues to be authoritative for early Christians, but its authority is no longer primary. In place of the Law, there are two higher sources of authority—(1) the ‘love command’ as embodied by the teaching and example of Jesus, and (2) the guiding presence of the Holy Spirit. Paul does not specifically mention the Spirit here, but he certainly understands it as the source of the  Divine love that guides our thoughts and actions (5:5). He brings out the role of the Spirit much more clearly and strongly in Galatians, where his similar discussion of the ‘love command’ (as replacing/fulfilling the Torah, Gal 5:6, 13-14) is connected with the guiding presence of the Spirit (vv. 16-26). These two sources of authority—love and the Spirit—are primary over the Torah (and the Scriptures).

Even so, it must be emphasized that, for early Christians of the first-century, the Old Testament Scriptures continued to be authoritative, if only in a secondary and supplemental way. This can be illustrated from dozens of passages and references in the New Testament, but perhaps the best examples are found in the ‘Scripture-chains’ that early missionaries and Church leaders utilized in their preaching and teaching. We will examine one such chain (catena) of Scripture—perhaps the most famous in the New Testament—in our next study, continuing in Paul’s letter to the Romans. At the same time, mention will be made of the other chains in the New Testament, and of parallels in contemporary Jewish writings.

 

October 20: Galatians 2:21

This is the last of four daily notes on Galatians 2:15-21 (for the first three notes see #1, 2, 3). Today’s concluding note is on verse 21, which I have summarized as a concluding argument regarding justice/righteousness.

Galatians 2:21

The sentence in this verse is made up of two statements or clauses, the first by way of a bold declaration:

ou)k a)qetw= th\n xa/rin tou= qeou=
“I do not displace [i.e. set aside] the favor of God”

From a rhetorical standpoint, this is a refutation (refutatio) by Paul of a charge (real or hypothetical). The verb a)qete/w, “unset, displace, set aside”, is often used in a legal context, i.e., of “setting aside” (invalidating, nullifying) an agreement; it can also be used in the more general sense of “disregard, deny, repudiate”, even to “act unfaithfully, be disloyal”, etc. For other occurrences of the verb, cf. Gal 3:15; 1 Cor 1:19; 1 Thess 4:8; 1 Tim 5:12. Here Paul probably has the legal sense in mind, related to the Israelite/Jewish covenant (agreement) with God. Paul’s Jewish (and Jewish Christian) opponents might well have accused him of annulling the Covenant by his particular view of the Old Testament Law, as expressed here in Galatians (on this, cf. the previous note). According to the basic Jewish view, salvation (and the establishment of the Covenant) is the result of God’s gracious election of Israel; and observing the commands, ordinances and precepts of God, as revealed in the Torah (Law of Moses), represents the terms whereby Israel fulfills (and adheres) to the agreement. By effectively abrogating the Law, Paul invalidates the Covenant, and, in turn, disregards the favor (grace, xa/ri$) of God. This last is the argument that Paul refutes. It is actually a clever bit of substitution—he does not frame the charge in terms of setting aside the covenant, but rather of setting aside the favor/grace of God. This is important to his rhetorical argument as a whole, as we shall see in the second clause that follows:

ei) ga\r dia\ no/mou dikaiosu/nh, a&ra Xristo\$ dwrea\n a)pe/qanen
“for if justice/righteousness (is) through (the) Law, then (the) Anointed (One) died away dwrea\n

The word dwrea/n (dœreán), which I left untranslated above, properly means “(as) a gift”, and so Paul uses it in a similar context in Romans 3:24; however, this translation can be misleading in English, since often the emphasis is rather on being “free of charge” or “without payment”, either in a positive (2 Cor 11:7) or negative (2 Thess 3:8) sense. It can even carry the harsher connotation of “in vain, for no purpose”; the English expression “for nothing” captures this ambiguity—it can mean something done “for free, as a gift” or “for no purpose”. It is this latter sense that Paul plays on here, juxtaposing xa/ri$ and dwrea/n, as he does in Rom 3:24; there the parallelism is synonymous (both words can mean “[as a] gift”), here it is rather antithetical (or better, ironical). I will return to this in a moment.

The key portion of this conditional statement is the unreal or false (indicative) clause: “if justice/righteousness (is, or comes) through the Law…” Paul has already stated that this is false in verse 16, effectively as a (rhetorical) point of agreement with his (Jewish Christian) opponents, implying however that their viewpoint and behavior actually (if unintentionally) contradicts the ‘agreed-upon’ doctrine in v. 16. Now, he goes on to say that, if they are correct, and one is justified by observing the Law, then this “sets aside” the very work of Christ on the cross! The final irony is that the false/hypothetical charge (against Paul) in v. 21a turns into a real charge against Paul’s opponents—by requiring believers to observe the Old Testament Law, they set aside the grace of God. Usually when Paul speaks of something being “in vain”, he uses the adverb ei)kh= or the expression ei)$ keno\n, as in Gal 2:2; 3:4; 4:11; so the use of dwrea/n here is most distinctive (and intentional), reflecting a powerful irony—by disregarding the central teaching that salvation/justification is entirely by trust (or faith) as a free gift from God (i.e. “for nothing”), Paul’s opponents have made Christ’s sacrificial death to be “for nothing”. Ultimately, of course, this entire argument is intended as a warning and exhortation for the Galatian believers (see Gal 1:6ff; 5:2-4ff; 6:12ff).

It also demonstrates again how important the mystical, participatory language and symbolism of dying with Christ was for Paul. Salvation “by grace” was not simply a matter of God overlooking or forgiving human sinfulness, it was centered in the idea of God “giving” his Son (and Christ “giving himself”) as a sacrificial offering for us. Our faith/trust is “into” Christ and places us “in” Him; this entry is focused—spirtually and sacramentally—upon our participation in His Death and Resurrection.

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.

Sola Scriptura: Matthew 5:17-20

Sola Scriptura

The studies this Fall in the “Reformation Fridays” series examine the Reformation principle of Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”). Following our introduction and a short study of the key Scripture-declaration in 2 Tim 3:15-17 (cf. the previous study), we now turn to consider Jesus’ view and treatment of the Scriptures.

The term “(sacred) Writing(s)” (grafh/, plur. grafai/) occurs 14 times in the Gospel sayings of Jesus, almost always in a context that points to the fulfillment of Scripture (prophecy) in the person of Jesus. This is also the specific emphasis where the word is used elsewhere by the Gospel writer (Luke 4:27, 32, 45; John 19:24, 28, 36-37; 20:9). Jesus’ use of the term “Writing” (i.e. Scripture), as for nearly all Jews of the period, was more or less synonymous with the expression “the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 5:17; 7:12; 11:13 [par Lk 16:16]; 22:40; Luke 24:44)—meaning the Pentateuch (Genesis–Deuteronomy) and the Prophetic books (Isaiah–Malachi), including the Psalms. It is not entirely certain, based purely on the Gospel evidence, to what extent the other Old Testament books were similarly included under the label of Scripture.

Indeed, our study on Jesus’ view of the (Old Testament) Scriptures can be divided between the Law (Pentateuch) and the Prophets (including the Psalms).

The Law of Moses (Torah/Pentateuch)

A summary of Jesus’ recorded sayings and teachings clearly shows that he considered the Torah regulations (recorded in the Pentateuch) as authoritative for Israelites and Jews—and for his disciples as well. And yet, Jesus’ view of the Law, according to the Gospel evidence, is rather more complicated and nuanced. A proper study of it goes far beyond the scope of this article, but I have earlier provided and extensive treatment of the subject in the series “The Law and the New Testament” (articles on “Jesus and the Law”). In Part 2 of that series, I present a detailed survey of the Gospel passages, divided into three main categories:

    1. Traditions where Jesus advocates Torah observance, but where following him may involve going beyond it
    2. Traditions where Jesus appears to relativize Torah observance:
      1. By spiritualizing the commandment, or, more commonly:
      2. By emphasizing or indicating that his own person (and following him) supersedes the Torah regulations
    3. Traditions which suggest that, in some way, the Torah regulations are limited temporally or in religious scope. In many ways this aspect cannot be separated from #2; certainly, in early Christian thought, the person and work of Jesus inaugurated an (eschatological) “new age”, in which the old religious forms and patterns either passed away or were given new meaning.

Jesus addresses the authority of the Law in a number of key traditions (sayings and episodes) in the Gospels, but perhaps the most important collection of teaching is to be found in the so-called Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7, par Luke 6:20-49). A careful study of this Sermon-collection demonstrates that it is Jesus’ interpretation (and application) of the Torah regulations that is most important for his disciples (and for us as believers). For an exegesis of key sections of the Sermon, cf. Part 3 of the aforementioned series “Jesus and the Law”.

While the teaching and example of Jesus may take priority over (and surpass) the written text of the Torah, the written Torah (that is, the Scripture) certainly was considered authoritative by Jesus himself. We can see this, for example, by the way that the written text (of Deuteronomy, 6:13, 16; 8:3) is quoted in the famous Temptation episode (Matt 4:4, 7, 10 par).

Matthew 5:17-20    

Nowhere does Jesus offer such a clear example of his view of the Old Testament Law (Torah) as in Matthew 5:17-20, which also serves as the introduction to two key blocks of teaching: (1) the six so-called “Antitheses” [Matt. 5:21-48], and (2) instruction on specific religious behavior (almsgiving, prayer, and fasting) for his followers [Matt. 6:1-18]. They are also among the most difficult of Jesus’ sayings, especially for (Protestant) Christians accustomed to the idea of a “Law-free” Gospel.

To begin with, it is important to consider these four verses in the context of the Sermon on the Mount (for a critical introduction to the Sermon on the Mount and the Lukan ‘Sermon on the Plain’, see the introductory notes of my series on the Beatitudes). Matt. 5:17-20 follows the Beatitudes (Matt 5:3-12) and several additional sayings illustrating the character of Jesus’ faithful followers (Matt 5:13-16). The sayings in vv. 17-20 need not have been uttered by Jesus at the same time—the “Sermon” is better understood as a literary and didactic arrangement or collection of Jesus’ teaching, rather than as a single discourse delivered on a particular occasion. Instead these four sayings are thematically related, representing, as it were, principles governing Jesus’ own interpretation of the Torah for his followers. They will each be examined in turn.

1. Matthew 5:17

Mh\ nomi/shte o%ti h@lqon katalu=sai to\n no/mon h* tou\$ profh/ta$: ou)k h@lqon katalu=sai a)lla\ plhrw=sai
“Do not regard (as proper), (that) ‘I have come to loose down [i.e. dissolve] the Law and the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets]’; I did not come to loose down but to fill (up).”

The verb nomi/zw (nomízœ) is related to the noun no/mo$ (nómos), here translated conventionally as “Law”; however, no/mo$ would more accurately be rendered as “that which is proper/binding”, “binding custom”, or something similar, and the verb nomi/zw, “regard as proper, consider proper/customary”, etc. Both of these terms carry a technical meaning here: no/mo$ refers specifically to the hr*oT (tôrâ), while nomi/zw indicates proper religious belief. Similarly the opposing verbs katalu/w (katalúœ, “loose down”, cf. lu/w, “loose[n]”) and plhro/w (pl¢róœ, “fill up, fulfill”) have a very specific meaning in this context: as a legal term, katalu/w can mean “abolish, annul, render invalid,” etc., while plhro/w has the sense of “establish, complete, supply the full (force of)”, etc. Several points can be made:

    1. The juxtaposition of “Law and Prophets” here indicates hrwt/no/mo$ primarily as Scripture, rather than as the law-code or commandments per se. That is, no/mo$ here refers to the Pentateuch (books of Moses, Genesis-Deuteronomy), and the “Foretellers” the Prophetic books (see above). The conjunction h* means that Jesus is effectively saying: “I have not come to dissolve (the authority of) either the Law or the Prophets”. The Pentateuch is the principal expression of the Torah of God, but the Prophetic books also expound and support the instruction—the two forming the corpus of Sacred Writings for Jews (and Christians) of the time.
    2. The ‘incorrect’ statement (or something very like it), governed by mh\ nomi/shte, is actually attested in early Christian writings. For example, in the “Gospel of the Ebionites” (according to Epiphanius’ Panarion 30.16.5), h@lqon katalu=sai ta\$ qusi/a$ (“I have come to dissolve the sacrifices”), and a similar Gnostic formulation in the “Gospel of the Egyptians” (Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 3.63). According to the Dialogue of Adamantius (ch. 15), certain Marcionites claimed that Jesus actually said the opposite of Matt 5:17: “I have not come to fulfill the Law, but to dissolve (it)”. Cf. Betz, Sermon, pp. 174-176. It may seem strange that Jesus himself would already (in his own lifetime) be safeguarding his teaching against ‘misrepresentations’ of this sort—or does this rather reflect early disputes regarding his teaching? In Romans 3:31 Paul delivers an apologetic statement very similar to that of Jesus’ here: “Do we then bring down the Law (for it to be) inactive through faith? May it not be! But (rather) we make the Law stand!”
    3. The verb katalu/w can be used in the sense of “dissolve/destroy” a building, etc., and so it appears in the charge that Jesus said he would “dissolve” the Temple (Mark 14:58; 15:29 par.; Acts 6:14; also cf. Mark 13:2 par.). This is a significant association in terms of Judaism and the Law within early Christianity—cf. the highly Christological version of the Temple-saying in John 2:19ff. Similarly, the contrasting verb plhro/w, can be given a theological and Christological nuance here: that Jesus himself completes or fills up the Law. Paul’s famous statement in Rom 10:4 comes to mind: “For Christ is the completion [te/lo$] of the Law…”

For a more detailed study on v. 17, see my earlier note.

2. Matthew 5:18

a)mh\n ga\r le/gw u(mi=n: e%w$ a*n pare/lqh| o( ou)rano\$ kai\ h( gh=, i)w=ta e^n h* mi/a kerai/a ou) mh\ pare/lqh| a)po\ tou= no/mou, e%w$ a*n pa/nta ge/nhtai
“For, amen, I say to you: ‘until the heaven and the earth should go along [i.e. pass away], one yod or a single horn will not go along from the Law, until all things should come to be’.”

There is an interesting chiastic form and parallelism to this saying:

    • “Until heaven and earth should pass along”
      • “One yod or a single horn will not pass along from the Law”
    • “Until all (things) should come to be”

The first and last phrases are both temporal expressions: the first in concrete terms, according to the ancient worldview (“heaven and earth” represents the universe as understood at the time); the second more abstractly, as the coming-to-be of all things. In between these two expressions is a statement regarding the (relative) permanence of the Law. The “yod” is traditionally the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet (and of the Greek as well); it is not as clear precisely what kerai/a (lit. “horn”, or possibly “hook”) signifies here, but presumably it indicates a small ornamental mark in the script. The force of the expression is rhetorical rather than literal, i.e. “not even the smallest letter or mark will pass away from the Law”.

Noteworthy is the fact that the reference is specifically to a written text. It is not certain to what extent there was a distinction between written and oral Torah in Jesus’ time; but overall Jesus appears to have had a negative view of traditions added to the primary sense of the written text. Indeed, it can be argued that a fundamental purpose of his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (and elsewhere) was to restore the true meaning and significance of the original (written) Torah. In any event, it is clear enough that here Torah means primarily sacred Writing (Scripture, as in v. 17); but it probably also refers to the Torah as (written) Law-code—i.e., the collection of commandments, statutes, etc., contained in the Pentateuch.

The saying as a whole seems to limit the force and validity of the Law to the current world-order, as opposed to subsequent Jewish ideas which often emphasized the eternality of the Torah. There is an eschatological aspect at work here, as in much of the Sermon on the Mount—Jesus’ followers were to be aware of the (imminent) end-time appearance of the Kingdom of God (with its accompanying Judgment). The Law would only serve as a governing (religious) authority for believers during the present Age. Paul expresses a rather different view of the temporal limitation of the Law (see, for example, in Galatians 3:26-4:7).

3. Matthew 5:19

o^$ e)a\n ou@n lu/sh| mi/an tw=n e)ntolw=n tou/twn e)laxi/stwn kai\ dida/ch| ou%tw$ tou\$ a)nqrw/pou$, e)la/xisto$ klhqh/setai e)n th=| basilei/a| tw=n ou)ranw=n: o^$ d’ a*n poih/sh| kai\ dida/ch|, ou!to$ me/ga$ klhqh/setai e)n th=| basilei/a| tw=n ou)ranw=n
“Therefore if (there is one) who [i.e. whoever] should loose (a single) one of these littlest things upon (you to) complete and should teach men thus, he will be called ‘littlest’ in the kingdom of the heavens; but (one) who should do and teach (correctly), this one will be called ‘great’ in the kingdom of the heavens.”
[in more conventional translation:]
“Therefore, whoever looses (a single) one of these littlest commandments and teaches men (to do) thus, he will be called ‘littlest’ in the Kingdom of Heaven; but (the one) who does and teaches (correctly), this one will be called ‘great’ in the Kingdom of Heaven”

The noun e)ntolh/ (entol¢¡) is literally “something (placed) upon (one) to complete”—i.e., “charge, injunction”, or, more commonly, “command[ment]”. There are a number of important questions within this verse, which I will discuss briefly in sequence.

    • How does the verb lu/w here relate to katalu/w in verse 17? The first generally means “loose[n]”, while the second is more intensive and forceful, “loose down [i.e. dissolve/destroy]”. In verse 17, the sense is “to destroy or abolish the authority of the Law” (and Prophets). Here the sense is rather “to remove or lessen the requirement of a commandment”.
    • What exactly is meant by “these commandments”? Are these the commandments of the written Torah, or are they the commandments of Jesus? Arguments can be made for both views. The context of verses 17 and 18 would indicate that the written Torah is meant—if so, then the saying would imply that the written Law is fully binding for Jesus’ followers. However, many commentators would hold that Jesus’ commands are what is meant here; such commands would include Jesus’ (authoritative) interpretation of the Law, but would not be synonymous with the commandments of the written Torah itself.
    • What is meant by the “least/littlest” of these commandments? There are several possibilities:
      (a) Jesus is distinguishing between his own commandments—if so, this has been largely lost to us.
      (b) He is distinguishing between greater and lesser commands in the Torah (perhaps similar to later Rabbinic teaching)
      (c) He makes a distinction between the external/ceremonial detail and the broader concepts of righteousness/justice, mercy, love, etc. (see Matt 23:23-24).
      (d) The force of the expression is rhetorical and not meant to be taken literally (and also facilitates the wordplay later in v. 19).
      In my view, the last option most likely correct: “the least of these commandments” would be another way of saying “any of these commandments”. However, option (c) should not be entirely disregarded; the expression “least of these commandments” could be taken to mean “even the smallest detail of the commandments”.
    • How should the juxtaposition of “least/littlest” and “great(est)” in the kingdom of Heaven be understood? It is possible that degrees of reward or position in Heaven for believers is meant; at the very least, Jesus seems to be drawing upon this idea. However, it seems quite strange that those who disregard (and teach others to disregard) the commandments (especially if Jesus’ own commandments are involved) would receive any place in the Kingdom. I prefer to consider the use of the terms “littlest” and “great” here as rhetorical—a colorful and dramatic way of contrasting the fates of the obedient and disobedient. The question of whether the disobedient followers are ultimately “saved” is interesting, but probably out of place here.

The most significant question remains whether “these commandments” are those of Jesus, of the written Torah, or both? I don’t know that it is possible to give a decisive answer here. Subsequent Christian tradition tended to identify “the commandments” with “the commandments of Christ”, but is this the same as what Jesus means in the saying of verse 19? It is probably best to understand the phrase here in the qualified sense of “the commandments of the written Torah… as interpreted by Jesus”. Admittedly, we almost certainly do not have all of Jesus’ teachings related to the Law. The Gospels themselves contain, I am sure, only a portion of them; even here in the Sermon on the Mount, the Antitheses of Matt 5:21-48 and the instruction in 6:1-18 are only representative of the teaching Jesus gave to his followers. For this reason, in particular, the phrase “commandment[s] of Christ” requires a more thorough and systematic treatment.

4. Matthew 5:20

Le/gw ga\r u(mi=n o%ti e)a\n mh\ perissu/sh| u(mw=n h( dikaiosu/nh plei=on tw=n grammate/wn kai\ Farisai/wn, ou) mh\ ei)se/lqhte ei)$ th\n basilei/an tw=n ou)ranw=n
“For I say/relate to you that if your justice/righteousness should not be over (and above much) more than (that) of the Writers [i.e. Scribes] and Pharisees, no, you will not go into the Kingdom of the heavens.”

This is probably the simplest, and yet, in some ways, the most difficult of the four sayings. It does not deal directly with the Law; rather it offers a challenging point of comparison for Jesus’ followers. The “Scribes and Pharisees” is a stock phrase and schematic expression in the Gospels, often related to those who question or dispute with Jesus, involving some point of legal or religious observance. They are typically mentioned only in the setting of the narrative, or in reaction to something Jesus says or does. The Pharisees have been given a superficially bad reputation by Christians, often as the result of careless reading of the Gospels. Of the major Jewish groups known from the time, the Pharisees probably had the most in common with Jesus himself. He doubtless had many interactions with them, of which only traces have been preserved in the Gospels; on the whole, they appear to have been thoroughly devout and scrupulous in religious matters, though not as strict as the Community of the Qumran texts (usually identified as Essenes). The Scribes [lit. Writers] were legal experts, largely synonymous with the “Teachers of the Law”, and certainly many Scribes were also Pharisees. Jesus’ disputes with the “Scribes and Pharisees” (and other religious leaders) will be discussed in some detail in an upcoming article in this series.

It is important to understand the sense of dikaiosu/nh (dikaiosún¢, “justice/righteousness”) here. As throughout the Sermon of the Mount, and much of early Gospel tradition, the term signifies obedience and conformity to the will of God as expressed in the Torah and the Old Testament Scriptures as a whole. In this respect, it is comparable (and compatible) with the traditional Jewish sense of righteousness, and should not be confused with subsequent Christian (esp. Pauline) theological and soteriological use of the word. Presumably, for the first followers of Jesus, and early Jewish Christians, the point of the comparison with the righteousness of the “Scribes and Pharisees” would have been more readily apparent. Today, we can only speculate as to what precisely was meant. There are several possibilities:

    1. The Scribes and Pharisees did not go far enough in observing the Torah—that is, they did not penetrate to its deeper meaning and significance, as indicated by Jesus in his teaching. This would seem to be implied by the Antitheses of Matt 5:21-48.
    2. Their approach to Torah observance and religious behavior was fundamentally flawed, and not the product of a pure heart. This seems to be the thrust of Matt 6:1-18, as well as the Beatitudes. Cf. also the association of Pharisees with “hypocrisy” at numerous points in the Gospels (esp. in Matt 23).
    3. The religious leaders who failed to follow Jesus were (all) missing the teaching and revelation which fulfills and completes the Law (and Righteousness). As such the righteousness of Jesus’ followers would (and should) by its very nature far surpass theirs.
    4. The comparison is primarily rhetorical and exhortative: a call to follow and obey Jesus’ authoritative instruction and interpretation of the Law.

I think there is merit in each of these four views, which can be supported by further detailed study of the Sermon on Mount itself.

The Law in the Letter of James (Part 2)

James 2:14-26

This is the famous treatise of James on “faith and works”, which I have discussed at length in a recent study (on the Reformation-principle of justification by faith). Commentators continue to debate the relationship between James’ view on “faith and works” and that of Paul. As was discussed in the aforementioned study, Paul, especially in Galatians and Romans, consistently uses the term “works” (e&rga) as a shorthand for “works of the Law” (e&rga no/mou; for the corresponding expression in Hebrew, cf. the Qumran text 4QMMT). By this is expression is meant the dutiful performance or observance of the regulations laid out in the Torah. In the James treatise, however, it is clear that the author does not use the term e&rga in this Pauline sense.

The context of 2:14-26 demonstrates that “works” refer primarily to charitable acts on behalf of God’s people (believers) in their time of need (vv. 15-16, 25). Thus e&rga here does not refer to the Old Testament Law (Torah), except insofar as such acts of care and compassion represent a fulfillment of the “love command”. While it is not certain that the treatise depends on the previous section (vv. 1-13), there is reason to think that the reference to the “love command” in verse 8 informs the discussion in vv. 14-26 as well.

In other words, by acting with love toward believers (“brothers” and “sisters”) in need, we are fulfilling the Law, as it is embodied in the (single) “love command”. James does seem to share—with Paul and the Johannine writings—the understanding that the Law, for believers, is effectively summarized (and embodied) by the command to love. For more on this, cf. the special note on the expression “the royal law” in 2:8.

James 3:13-17

Following the instruction on ‘taming the tongue’ in 3:1-12, the author turns from the tongue (speech) to the heart—that is, the underlying intention (and impulse) that leads to the things we say and do. In this regard, it is worth considering how James views the means by which one controls the tongue (i.e., how one speaks). The motifs of the bit/bridle used to control a horse, or the rudder that steers a ship, are traditional, and can be found in a wide range of Greco-Roman philosophical and wisdom texts. It is especially common in Stoic authors, and is perhaps best exemplified by Philo of Alexandria (a Jewish contemporary of James); see, for example, his lengthy statement in On the Special Laws III.223ff (for other references, cf. Dibelius-Greeven, pp. 186-190).

According to this line of philosophical argument, it is the mind, or reason, the highest part of the soul, that is able to curb the lower passions and base impulses. For James, and from the early Christian standpoint, it is the soul (and mind) that is conformed to the Divine Wisdom, as represented especially by the teaching and example of Jesus. In verses 13ff, the author contrasts the Wisdom “from above” (a&nwqen) with the ‘wisdom’ that is earthly (“upon the earth,” e)pi/geio$). The heavenly, spiritual Wisdom is characterized by gentleness and humility (prau+/th$, etc), and the speech and conduct of believers should demonstrate such Wisdom. A person’s “works” (actions) will come naturally out of a habitual behavior that is imbued with the Wisdom of God. The term for this ‘habitual behavior’ is a)nastrofh/, which literally means “turn up,” i.e., turn/move about. The true believer will live and move in accordance with God’s wisdom.

The main point, in terms of our study here, is that the guidance is internal (coming from within the person), rather than governed through external means (i.e., laws/regulations that are imposed from without). Though the Spirit is not specifically mentioned in this context, there are general parallels with the contrast, between heavenly and earthly wisdom in vv. 13-17, and Paul’s famous treatment of the “fruit of the Spirit” (vs. the “works of the flesh”) in Gal 5:16-24. For James, the locus of this ethical conflict is in the heart (v. 14), though there is certainly still a place for external teaching (especially that which reflects Jesus’ teaching) in helping Christians develop a pattern habitual thought and behavior that is guided by Wisdom.

James 4:7-10

The author’s ethical instruction continues, along much the same lines, in the next section (4:1-12). The righteous (believers) are contrasted with those who remain rooted in the world and follow the worldly passions. The key verb is e)piqume/w, which means to have one’s impulse (qu/mo$) upon (e)pi/) something; in English idiom, we would say, ‘have one’s heart set upon’ something. The worldly (= ‘earthly,’ cf. above) impulses are directed toward various kinds of sensual pleasure (h(donh/), which, when unchecked, ultimately leads to sinful and violent behavior.

Again, the source of this conflict is within the person. Here, instead of the term “heart” (kardi/a), the word pneu=ma (“spirit”) is used (v. 5). This is not a specific reference to the Holy Spirit, but to the traditional philosophical idea of the ‘higher part’ of the soul; or, framed in more dualistic terms, it is the good part (the “good spirit”) that is in conflict with the “evil spirit”. It was instilled by God as pure and good, but is attacked, and can be corrupted, by the impulse toward sin and evil.

James goes no further than this traditional idiom, and no systematic treatment of the soul, the effect of sin, and what is changed for believers in Christ, is offered here. Even the exhortation that follows in verses 7-10 is traditional in orientation, and is framed in general religious terms that would be accepted by Jews and Christians alike. Two verbal imperatives introduce the instruction in verse 7: u(pota/ssw (“be under order”) and a)nqi/sthmi (“stand against”). The first verb indicates the believer’s relationship to God: to be (or put onself) under order to God—which may be explained as the order of things as God has arranged it. The second verb refers to the opposite: the believer’s relationship to the Devil. This exhortation to “stand against” the Devil is also found in 1 Peter 5:5.

For Israelites and Jews, the primary way that one puts himself/herself under order to God (vb u(pota/ssw) is by faithfully observing all that God commanded in the regulations, etc, of the Torah. James, like many early Christians, has clearly generalized and internalized (or spiritualized) this dynamic. One is to “come near” to God, and thereby cleanse (vb kaqari/zw) and make oneself holy (i.e. pure, vb a(gni/zw). The wording in verse 8b likely alludes to Psalm 24:4, combining the idea of clean hands (action/behavior) and a pure heart (intention/thought/desire).

The adjective “two-souled” (di/yuxo$) is parallel with “sinner” (a(martw/lo$), and characterizes the wicked worldly ones as those whose own (good) spirit is influenced (and corrupted by) the evil spirit. This also suggests a person who is of “two minds”, with a tendency to upright, but also to sinful, thought and behavior. In the Testament of Asher (3:1) this is described as “having the face of goodness and the face of wickedness”; the terminology is part of a traditional Jewish ethical instruction that was inherited by early Christians (cf. Dibelius-Greeven, pp. 226-7).

James 4:11-12

The answer for Christians, with regard to how they/we are to respond in the face of such ethical conflict, again has an inward focus. This begins in verse 9 with the exhortation to mourn and weep, suggesting an attitude of repentance. The wording is similar to Jesus’ Woe in the Lukan Beatitudes (6:21, 25), in which case it derives from an original message of judgment (against the wicked). But this simply reflects the ‘reversal of fortune’ motif in such ethical instruction: i.e., the one who mourns now will rejoice in the end (and vice versa). In other words, the righteous person who mourns for his/her sin and suffering now will not come to mourn in the final Judgment.

Along with this attitude of repentance, the believer should have a spirit (and mind) of lowness (tapeino/$) and humility “in the sight of the Lord”. The teaching in verse 10 is proverbial, and may reflect the saying of Jesus in Matt 23:12 par.

A more direct command is given in verses 11-12, along with a shift back to the theme of the tongue (i.e., our speech/speaking). Clearly, the tendency to speak evil reflects a conflict (and corruption) in the heart. The specific verb used here is katalale/w, “speak against,” or “speak down (on)”. While the proper meaning is general—that is, speaking evil against someone (in any manner)—it can also have the more technical sense of slandering someone. It is typically included as part of traditional sin/vice lists (cf. 1 Peter 2:1-2, 12), and is especially significant as being representative of the (non-violent) evil that can be directed against another person.

It is this representative character of “speaking evil” that explains the author’s comments that follow in vv. 11-12. James treats this sin as a particularly egregious attack against the Law itself. Let us see how he phrases the matter:

“You must not speak against one another, brothers. The (one) speaking against a brother, and (thus) judging his brother, speaks against (the) Law and judges (the) Law; but if you judge (the) Law, you are not a doer of (the) Law, but a judge.” (verse 11)

By speaking against another person, one speaks against the Law, which essentially means that such a person brings judgment against the Law, putting himself/herself in the role of a judge. But since God is the source of the Law, such a person essentially puts himself/herself as judge in place of God—which would be the height of wickedness. While this certainly involves a bit of rhetorical hyperbole by the author, the basic point is clear enough, and generally follows the early Christian tendency to epitomize the entire Law in the command to love one’s neighbor (Lev 19:18). We see a similar general principle expressed in the Testament of Gad 4:1f, where sin against another person (summarized as “hatred”) is especially egregious, since

“…it works lawlessness even against the Lord Himself. For it will not hear the words of His commandments concerning the loving of one’s neighbour, and it sins against God.” (Dibelius-Greeven, pp. 228-9; transl. Charles)

The fact that this situation described by James involves speaking evil against another believer (“brother”) strongly indicates that the term “law” (no/mo$) here refers specifically (and especially) to the “love command” —that is, the Law as it now applies to believers in Christ (cf. the earlier note on 2:8). The final warning in verse 12 reinforces how serious a matter such “evil speaking” is.

James 4:17

One final verse should be considered, at least briefly, in our study. It is the maxim given by the author in 4:17:

“Therefore (the one) having seen (what is) fine [i.e. good] to do, and (yet) does not do (it), it is sin for him.”

It ties the idea of sin to the failure to perform certain actions. This could well be seen as reflecting a traditional Jewish understanding of the Torah regulations as binding (obligatory) requirements. A failure to perform (or observe) any of these requirements represented a fundamental sin, and a violation of the covenant that had to be rectified (through ritual means). As we have seen, such a view of the Torah does not appear to be in view for the James (and the Jewish Christians to whom he is writing). However, is it possible that he still has in mind a certain set of obligatory commands, involving things that must be done?

Most of the ‘commands’ and exhortations provided by the author are framed as negative prohibitions (“do not…,” “you must not…”), and these tend to relate in some way to teachings of Jesus, such as those recorded in the Sermon on the Mount (on the parallels between James and the Sermon on the Mount, cf. the list in Part 1). A good example of this is the prohibition against swearing oaths in 5:12, which almost certainly represents a version of Jesus’ saying in Matt 5:34ff, also recorded separately in other early Christian writings (e.g., Justin, First Apology 16.5).

As far as positive actions are concerned, these are more or less subsumed under the “love command”, called the “royal law” in 2:8, and properly represents the Law of Christ, the perfect “law of freedom” (1:25). As I have noted, the letter of James shares with other early Christians the emphasis on the “love command” as an embodiment (for believers) of the entire Old Testament Law. While this effectively reduces the Torah regulations to a single command, it involves a principle that relates to virtually every area of the believer’s life.

Where James differs from other New Testament authors, is in his tendency to preserve the context of the love-principle, within the teaching of Jesus—which he frequently quotes or makes allusion to (without necessarily stating that it comes from Jesus), in a manner that Paul, for example, does not. He essentially treats these as authoritative teachings, but as part of a wider ethical and religious instruction that is to be internalized, until it becomes an integral and habitual part of one’s thought and action. While James (and his audience) may have possessed an authoritative collection of sayings, similar to the Sermon on the Mount (of which there are numerous parallels and allusions in the letter), there is no indication that these were thought of as anything like a law-code that would take the place of the Torah. The work known as the “Teaching [of the Twelve Apostles]” (Didache), in its early chapters, comes closer to that kind of treatment of Jesus’ teachings, but I do not find it present in the letter of James.

References marked “Dibelius-Greeven” above are to Martin Dibelius, A Commentary on the Epistle of James, revised by Heinrich Greeven, translated by Michael A. Williams. Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 1975).

The Law in the Letter of James (Part 1)

The Law in the Letter of James

Introduction

By tradition, the “James” of the letter—who describes himself in the text simply as “a slave/servant of God and of (the) Lord Jesus Christ” —is James the brother of Jesus, the leading figure (after Peter) of the early Jerusalem Church (Acts 12:17; 15; 21:18ff; Gal 2:9, 12; 1 Cor 15:7). This identification is almost certainly correct; the only real issue is whether the letter is authentically by James or is pseudonymous. On this question, scholarly opinion is divided; as also is the dating of the letter, which ranges widely—from very early (40s A.D.) to very late (90-100 A.D.). On the basis of a careful and unbiased study of the letter, I find little that points to a date beyond 60-70 A.D.; the similarity of subject matter and terminology with Paul’s letters (Galatians/Romans), as well as 1 Peter, suggests a comparable milieu—somewhere between 50-60 A.D. The lack of any developed Christology is perhaps the strongest argument in favor of an early date.

If we take James 1:1 literally, then the letter was addressed to Jews of the Diaspora/Dispersion, “to the twelve tribes th(at are) in the scattering-throughout [diaspora/]”. We find similar Jewish imagery applied (symbolically) to Christians generally in 1 Peter, but here in James it seems certain that Jews (or Jewish Christians) are intended. The work is undoubtedly Christian, despite the relatively scant references to Christ or specific Christian doctrine (James 1:1, 18ff; 2:1; 5:7, 14, etc). The strongest evidence for this are the many allusions to Jesus’ teaching throughout the letter, in particular to the Sermon on the Mount/Plain (Matt 5-7; Luke 6:20-49). In the repeated contrast between the rich/mighty and poor/lowly (1:9-11; 2:1-7, 15-17; 3:6-10; 5:1-5), James would seem to have more in common with the Lukan presentation of Jesus’ teaching, but he does not appear to be directly citing any written Gospel. This indicates a time when Jesus’ sayings and teachings were widely known and transmitted, but had not yet taken a definitive written form (such as in the Sermon on the Mount/Plain and the so-called Q source). Like many early Christians of the period, Jesus’ teachings were authoritative, but not as a written Law to replace the Torah. The similarities between James and the Sermon on the Mount/Plain can be demonstrated as follows:

    • James 1:2—Matt 5:11-12 / Lk 6:23
    • James 1:4—Matt 5:48
    • James 1:5—Matt 7:7 (also Lk 11:9)
    • James 1:17—Matt 7:11 (also Lk 11:13)
    • James 1:20—Matt 5:22
    • James 1:22-23—Matt 7:24-26 / Lk 6:46-49
    • James 2:5—Matt 5:3-5 / Lk 6:20
    • James 2:10-11—Matt 5:19, 21-22
    • James 2:13—Matt 5:7
    • James 2:15—Matt 6:25
    • James 3:12—Matt 7:16 / Lk 6:44-45
    • James 3:18—Matt 5:9
    • James 4:2-3—Matt 7:7-8
    • James 4:4—Matt 6:24 (also Lk 16:13)
    • James 4:8—Matt 6:22
    • James 4:9—Matt 5:4 / Lk 6:25
    • James 4:11-12—Matt 7:1
    • James 4:13-14—Matt 6:34
    • James 5:1—Lk 6:24-25
    • James 5:2, 6—Matt 6:19-20; Lk 6:37
    • James 5:9—Matt 5:22; 7:1
    • James 5:10—Matt 5:11-12; Lk 6:23
    • James 5:12—Matt 5:34-37

And, for other similarities/parallels with Jesus’ teaching:

    • James 1:6—Matt 21:21; Mk 11:23-24
    • James 1:9-10—Matt 18:4; Lk14:11; note also Matt 6:29-30
    • James 1:12—Matt 10:22
    • James 1:21—Lk 8:8
    • James 2:6—Lk 18:3
    • James 2:8—Matt 22:39-40
    • James 2:14-16—Matt 25:31-46
    • James 3:1-12—Matt 12:36-37
    • James 3:13-18—Matt 11:19
    • James 4:10—Matt 23:12; Lk 14:11; 18:14
    • James 4:17—Lk 12:47
    • James 5:5—Lk 16:19
    • James 5:7—Mk 4:26-29
    • James 5:8—Matt 24:3, 27, 39
    • James 5:17—Lk 4:25
    • James 5:19—Matt 18:15; Lk 17:3

Cf. the commentaries by J. B. Mayor (1913) and Peter H. Davids (NIGTC, Eerdmans:1982, pp. 47-48); also W. D. Davies, The Setting of the Sermon on the Mount (1964, pp. 402-403).

This shows, I think, how fundamentally the author has assimilated Jesus’ teaching, and that it has become the basis for Christian ethical instruction. We see this throughout the New Testament and early Christian tradition—to the extent that the ethical commands and precepts of the Law remain in view for believers, they have been filtered and interpreted through the teachings of Jesus. It is important to keep this in mind when examining James’ view of the Law.

It is now time to look at the most relevant passages in James with regard to the Law.

James 1:21-25

The theme of this passage is the account (or “word”, lo/go$) which is planted in (adj. e&mfuto$) believers. In using lo/go$ here, the author probably means it in a comprehensive sense, including:

    • The Gospel message, centered on the account of Jesus’ death and resurrection, along with a proclamation of deliverance/salvation and new life in Christ
    • The teachings of Jesus (as in the Sermon on the Mount, cf. above) preserved and transmitted by apostles, missionaries and teachers such as “James”
    • Authoritative early Christian instruction and teaching, delivered principally by the apostles and fellow-missionaries

Paul uses lo/go$ with a similar range of meaning. Jesus also refers to his word (identified with the word of God) in the context of being planted (cf. Mark 4:4-8, 26-27, 31 par; Matt 7:17-19; 12:33; 13:24ff; 15:13; John 8:37; 15:1-7). In the Gospel of John, the lo/go$ is identified more directly with the person of Christ, and he (in/through the Spirit) himself is the living, eternal seed in the believer (cf. John 5:38; 6:53; 12:23-24; 14:17, 20; 15:4; 17:21; 1 John 2:14; 3:9). James does not go quite that far—his description of this lo/go$ as “the (thing) having power to save your souls” is reminiscent of Paul’s famous declaration regarding the Gospel in Rom 1:16. That this “word/account” serves much the same role for believers as the Old Testament Law previously did for Israel—this is indicated in several ways in the passage:

    • James exhorts people to become ones who do (poihtai/, “doers” of) the word (v. 22); this parallels closely the idea of “doing” the Law (i.e. observance of the Torah commands), cf. Gal 3:10-12; Rom 2:13, etc. The context makes clear that “doing” the lo/go$ involves (normative) ethical behavior and performance of good deeds.
    • There is also a normative, governing quality of the lo/go$ indicated by the metaphor of the mirror in vv. 23-24 (cf. Sirach 12:11; Wisdom 7:26). In Old Testament/Jewish tradition, the Torah also allows a person to see clearly, though more often the image is of light or a lamp (Psalm 119:105; Isa 51:4, etc).
    • A connection with the Law (o( no/mo$) is made specific in verse 25—one looks into the Word (lo/go$), one looks into the Law (no/mo$). Note the following details here that seem to echo both Paul and Jesus’ teaching:
      —This Law is called “complete” (te/leio$, cf. also vv. 4, 15; 3:2); note the important usage of this adjective in Matt 5:48; Rom 12:2; 1 Cor 2:6; 13:10; Phil 3:15; Col 1:28; Eph 4:13, as well as the related verb tele/w (“[make] complete”, sometimes in the context of fulfilling the Law, e.g. Luke 2:39; Matt 17:24; Rom 2:27; James 2:8), and the noun te/lo$ (“completion, end”, note esp. Rom 10:4).
      —It is also called the Law of freedom (e)leuqeri/a$); in this context, it is impossible to ignore Paul’s references to the freedom of believers with regard to the Law (cf. Gal 2:4; 4:21-31; 5:1, 13ff; 1 Cor 9:19; 2 Cor 3:17; Rom 7:1-6; 8:2ff, etc).
      —Doing this Law is referred to as “work” (e&rgon); again, one is immediately reminded of Paul’s regular expression “works [of the Law]” (e&rga [no/mou]), cf. Gal 2:16; 3:2, 5, 10; Rom 3:20, 27-28; 4:2, 6; 9:11, 32; 11:6; also Eph 2:9.
      —Doing this Law leads to beatitude (maka/rio$, “happy, blessed”); the famous beatitudes in Jesus’ teaching (Matt 5:3-12, etc) are closely tied to the justice/righteousness (dikaiosu/nh) of God. For the Pauline teaching on the relationship between the Law and the justice/righteousness of God, see Rom 1:17; 2:13; 3:21ff; 4:3-13; 7:12ff; 8:3-4; 9:30-31; 10:3-6, et al.

The expression “the complete Law of freedom” is discussed in a separate daily note.

James 1:27

In this verse the author declares what is “qrhskei/a clean and without stain/soil alongside [i.e. before] God”. The original meaning and derivation of the word qrhskei/a is uncertain, but it generally refers to religious worship and practice, and is often translated simply as “religion”; elsewhere in the New Testament it is only used in Acts 26:5 and Col 2:18. In other words, James is defining what true and proper religion is before God: “to look upon (those) bereft (of parents) [i.e. orphans] and widows in their distress, (and) to keep oneself without spot from the world”. This definition is significant for a number of reasons, not least of which being that there is no mention of observing the Law, either generally or in its ceremonial sense. Instead we find a two-fold injunction which fairly summarizes much of the ethical teaching shared by Jews and Christians both, which ultimately derives from the Old Testament Scriptures (including the Torah): (1) to care for the poor and needy (esp. widows and orphans), and (2) to avoid the sinful/defiling influences of the world.

James 2:1-13

This passage can be divided into two sections: (a) a prohibition against showing partiality/favoritism to the rich and prominent in the world (vv. 1-7), and (b) a warning that such partiality is a sin and violation of the Law (vv. 8-13). Overall the emphasis is on care for the poor (cf. above on 1:27) and acts of mercy. It is in this context that the author of the letter makes his most prominent direct reference to the Law (o( no/mo$). Two principal points are made:

    1. Anyone who fails to fulfill the Law in one detail is guilty of violating all of it (v. 10; Paul makes much the same point in Gal 5:3). The verb ptai/w, rare in the New Testament (Rom 11:11; James 3:2; 2 Pet 1:10), refers to tripping and falling, used often in a metaphorical sense of failure.
    2. Showing partiality to the rich and mighty, which in turns shows lack of proper care for the poor and lowly, is a sin and a violation of the Law (v. 9)—indeed, it violates the “royal Law” (no/mo$ basiliko/$) (v. 8).

Because of the importance of this passage, it will be discussed in more detail—along with the expressions “royal Law” (v. 8) and “Law of freedom” (no/mo$ e)leuqeri/a$, v. 12)—in a separate note.

SS Christmas Studies: Luke 2:21-38

Luke 2:21-38

This episode is the last of six in the Lukan Infancy narrative. It is essentially parallel with 1:57-79, representing the Jesus-scene corresponding to the John-scene of that earlier episode. There is a strong structural parallelism that runs throughout the passages, even if the individual scenes may differ substantially in form or length:

Birth of John (1:57-58)

    • The surrounding people hear the news and rejoice (v. 58)
Birth of Jesus (2:1-7)

    • The Shepherds in the surrounding fields hear the news, etc (2:8-20)
Circumcision and naming of John (1:59-63) Circumcision and naming of Jesus (2:21)
Scene with Zechariah (1:64-66), and his inspiration (v. 67)

    • Song of Zechariah prophesying John’s future destiny (vv. 68-79)
Scene with Simeon, who is inspired by the Spirit (2:22-28)

    • Song of Simeon prophesying Jesus’ future destiny (vv. 29-32ff)

There is little to note in this passage from a text-critical standpoint. And much of the source- and historical-criticism that would relate to it has more or less been discussed in the prior studies. One of the main historical-critical issues involves the author’s treatment of the Torah regulations (in vv. 22-24); in particular: (a) whether he accurately understands the detail of the regulations, and (b) whether the presence of Joseph and Mary (with Jesus) in the Temple precincts is historically reliable on this basis, or simply represents a literary device. The latter question is impossible to answer on purely objective grounds. The Torah regulations certainly function within the narrative as a ‘literary device’, establishing the reason why they would be in the Temple precincts at that particular time. However, the detail could be historically reliable and still function as a literary device.

As far as the Torah regulations themselves are concerned, they have a thematic significance within the narrative that goes beyond any question of historicity. If we include the reference to the circumcision in verse 21, then there are three specific regulations and traditions in the Old Testament Law (of Moses), which the Gospel (of Luke) narrates together in just four verses (Luke 2:21-24). These are as follows:

    1. The Circumcision of Jesus
    2. The Purification of Mary
    3. The Presentation/Redemption of the firstborn Jesus

I have examined these in some detail in an earlier article, and will here summarize the matter more briefly.

1. The Circumcision of Jesus (Luke 2:21)

“And when (the) eight days were filled up for his being cut-around [i.e. circumcised], (then) also his name was called Yeshua {Jesus}, the (name) called under [i.e. by] the Messenger before his being received together [i.e. conceived] in the womb”.

In more conventional English, the verse would be:

“and when (a period of) eight days were completed, he was circumcised and he was given the name ‘Jesus’, the name given by the Angel before he was conceived in the womb”.

I have already discussed how the Lukan narrative develops the theme of continuity between the Old and New Covenant, and how Jesus represents the fulfillment of the Old Covenant, even as he ushers in the New. Circumcision is the sign of the Covenant between God and His people Israel, and thus the circumcision of Jesus is of genuine significance here and is not merely an incidental detail. We may further define the the birth and coming of Jesus (prefigured by that of John) as representing a three-fold fulfillment, of:

(a) the Old Testament law
(b) the promises of God to His people
(c) the (Messianic) hopes and expectations of Israel

We can see this presented in the thematic structure of the narrative:

    • Fulfillment of the Law by Jesus’ parents—v. [21], 22-24, 27
      cf. also the same faithfulness prefigured in John’s parents (1:6, 59, etc)

      • Simeon—was (v. 25-26)
        (a) just and took good care [to observe the law, etc]
        (b) [looking] toward receiving the ‘comfort’ [parakl¢sis] of Israel

        • The song of Simeon (vv. 29-32) reflecting the promise of salvation (and revelation) to Israel (and the nations)
          —uttered as he held the child Jesus in his arms (as fulfillment of the promise, v. 28)
        • A prophecy of Simeon for the child in relation to Israel (vv. 33-35)
      • Anna—was (vv. 36-38)
        (a) in the Temple precincts, worshiping, praying and praising God day and night
        (b) [was with those looking] toward receiving the ‘redemption’ [lutrœsis] of Jerusalem
    • Fulfillment of the Law by Jesus’ parents—v. 39

2. The Purification of Mary &
3. The Presentation/Redemption of the Firstborn (Luke 2:22-24)

“And when the days of their cleansing were filled up according to the Law of Moses, they led him up into Jerusalem” (verse 22)

Note the similar formula as in verse 21. Then follows a pair of phrases governed by infinitives of purpose, after each of which is a citation from Scripture:

    • to stand (him) alongside the Lord” (parast¢¡sai tœ kyríœ)
      • “even as it is written in the Law of the Lord…”
    • “and to give sacrifice” (kai tou doúnai thysían)
      • “according to what has been said in the Law of the Lord…”

There are several difficulties in the passage, most notably:

  • The plural pronoun (“their cleansing”), which is the best reading. There are three possible interpretations:
      • The purification applies to both parents (Joseph and Mary), contrary to the regulation, which applies only to the mother; however, this seems to be the most straightforward (and best) sense of the phrase.
      • The purification applies to Mary and Jesus; this, again, is contrary to the regulation, and results in extremely confusing syntax, since the subsequent they clearly refers to Mary and Joseph.
      • The pronoun functions as a subject—i.e., their (his parents) bringing the child for cleansing, etc. This seems most unlikely.

The best explanation is that the author simply anticipates the main clause “they (Joseph and Mary) led him up…”, and by attraction, the plural extends to the earlier phrase—in other words, the presence of the plural pronoun is literary-grammatical rather than historical.

  • While the initial religious concept underlying the law of the ‘redemption’ of the firstborn did involve offering the child to God, it was acted out in practice by purchasing the child back (symbolically) with a payment to the Sanctuary. There is no indication that the child had to be brought to the sanctuary, and this certainly does not seem to have been a normal practice. Also, though the Scripture passage refers to the ‘redemption’, no mention is made of any payment at the Temple. It is sometimes been thought that the author here is confused on the details of the Law.

The two regulations involved are: Leviticus 12:1-8 and Exodus 13:1-2, 11-12 (see also Numbers 18:15-16). It is this latter law which is at issue in Luke 2:22-24. I suggest that there are likely three strands at work in the narrative:

    1. Fulfillment of the ‘redemption’ regulation by Joseph and Mary (historical); this would not need to have taken place at the Temple.
    2. Interpretation of the ‘redemption’ regulation in terms of the (original) idea of consecration of the firstborn to God; this would occur at the level of tradition and/or the author of the Gospel, but may also be connected with a (historical) visit to the Temple (more or less as narrated in 2:22ff).
    3. Application of this sort of interpretation in light of the birth/childhood narratives of Samuel—see 1 Sam 1:21-28; given the many echoes of 1 Sam 1-2 in the Lukan Infancy narrative, it is likely that the author has it in mind here as well. The child Samuel was offered by his mother (Hannah) to serve God always in the Temple.

There are additional theological and literary reasons why the infant Jesus should be in the Temple, apart from historical considerations in the narrative:

    • The Temple is the setting for the encounters with Simeon and Anna which follow; there is every reason for the author to keep Jesus (and his parents) there, combining together what may have been separate events as though they all took place at the same time.
    • The Infancy Narrative concludes with the story of the boy Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:41-51), climaxing with the famous words: “did you not know that it is necessary for me to be in/among the (things) of my Father?” This ties back powerfully to the earlier ‘presentation’ to the Lord in verse 22, and to the idea that the child is dedicated (consecrated) entirely to God.

The Scene with Simeon (2:25-28ff)

Verses 25-26 introduce the Simeon episode, following vv. 22-24 and also continuing the important Temple-setting of the Lukan narrative. With regard to the figure of Simeon, there is a definite parallel with Zechariah, as there is between the hymn of Zechariah (Benedictus, 1:67-79) and the Song of Simeon (Nunc Dimittis, 2:29-32). Here are the main points in common:

    • Devout, aged men who serve in the Temple or frequent it (1:8-9ff; 2:25-27)
    • Each is specifically referred to as “just/righteous” (díkaios) (1:6; 2:25)
    • Each man is touched/filled by the Spirit and utters an inspired oracle (1:67; 2:27)
    • Each oracle includes a prophecy regarding the destiny of the respective child (John/Jesus) and the role he will play in God’s deliverance of His people (1:76-79; 2:30ff, 34-35)
    • In the narrative, each man is associated with a corresponding female figure (Elizabeth/Anna) who also is inspired or functions as a prophet (1:5, 41ff; 2:36ff)
    • Linguistically, their names have a similar meaning:
      • Z§½aryâ[hû]— “Yah(weh) has remembered”
      • Šim®±ôn, presumably shortened for Š§ma±-°E~l or Š§ma±-Yah— “El/Yah has heard”

Indeed, both pairs of aged figures—Zechariah/Elizabeth and Simeon/Anna—represent faithful Israel of the Old Covenant (1:6; 2:25, 37), those who are waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promises (see above). Looking more closely at verse 25, we find three significant characteristics of Simeon:

    • “just/righteous [díkaios] and taking good (care) [eulab¢¡s] (i.e. in religious matters)”
    • “(look)ing toward receiving the parákl¢sis of Israel”
    • “the holy Spirit was upon him”

These three phrases may be further explained or summarized:

    • Faithfulness to the Torah and the religion of Israel—the Old Covenant
    • Expectation of the coming Anointed One (Messiah) and the restoration of Israel—the Messianic Age
    • Foreshadowing of the new Age of the Spirit—the New Covenant in Christ

These are then three aspects—past, present and future—of God’s saving work and relationship with his people. Simeon stands at a transition point between the old (Torah) and new (Christ), a meeting which takes places as he holds the child Jesus in his arms, in the precincts of the Temple.

The word parákl¢sis, which literally means “calling [someone] alongside”, is parallel to the word lýtrœsis in v. 38; note how this fills out the Simeon/Anna parallel (cp. with Zechariah/Elizabeth):

    • V. 25—Simeon was “(look)ing toward receiving the parákl¢sis of Israel”
    • V. 38—Anna was “(look)ing toward receiving the lýtrœsis of Jerusalem”

Both terms refer to a belief in God’s coming (future/end-time) deliverance of his people—parákl¢sis meaning “help, aid, assistance” more generally, and lýtrœsis specifically as the “redemption” (payment, etc) made to free his people from debt/bondage (the word literally refers to a “loosing” from bondage). Both expressions stem from portions of (Deutero-)Isaiah—40:1; 52:9; 61:2; 66:12-13—which came to be interpreted in a Messianic sense in Jewish and early Christian tradition. The Song of Simeon likewise makes use of several such passages from Isaiah. Simeon and Anna essentially function like the Isaian herald, announcing the good news for God’s people (cf. Isa 40:9; 41:27; 52:7).

The Messianic context of the scene here in Luke comes clearly into view in verse 26:

“And the matter was made (known) to him, under the holy Spirit, (that he was) not to see death until he should see the Anointed of the Lord.”

This is the second occurrence in Luke of the title “Anointed (One)” (Christós), the first being in the Angel’s annunciation to the shepherds in 2:11 (cf. the note on 2:10-14). Each word of that brief declaration carries Messianic significance, especially the names and titles involved. The titles “Anointed One” and “Lord” are combined also here in v. 26, but in the more traditional genitive/construct expression “Anointed (One) of the Lord” (Christos [tou] Kyriou). As previously discussed, early Christians could use the title Kýrios (“Lord”) equally of God the Father (Yahweh) and Jesus. Such usage, in and of itself, does not necessarily indicate a specific view of Jesus’ deity, which was understood by early Christians in a variety of ways. In the early preaching of Acts (2:36), for example, the titles Christós and Kýrios are applied to Jesus in terms of his resurrection and exaltation to the right hand of God. Eventually, both titles virtually became second names of Jesus (Acts 11:17; 15:26; 20:21; 28:31, et al), reflecting both his identity as the Messiah (Christ) and his (divine) nature and status as the Son of God.

The use of Christós here in Lk 2:26 should be understood strictly in the sense of the expected ruler (from the line of David) who would deliver God’s people and bring about the restoration of Israel. Many Jews at the time would have viewed this in terms of a socio-political and cultural restoration (cf. Acts 1:6; Ps Sol 17-18), much as we see expressed in the hymn of Zechariah. There the Messiah (to be identified with Jesus) is referred to as a “horn of salvation” raised up by God, by which God has “made redemption [lýtrœsis, see above]” for his people (vv. 68-69). This deliverance is described first in terms of rescue from human enemies (vv. 71ff), but, by the end of the hymn, this has shifted to the idea of salvation from sin (vv. 77ff).

Based on the Zechariah-Simeon parallel, I am inclined to see the Song of Simeon (2:29-32) as corresponding generally with the last strophe (vv. 76-79) of the Benedictus. In particular, verses 78-79 have a good deal in common with 2:30-32. The Song of Simeon will be examined in the next study.