February 13: Galatians 4:21-31

Galatians 4:21-31

Galatians 4:21-31 represents the final section of the probatio of the letter (chaps. 3-4), and also the final argument used by Paul in support of his central proposition (expressed in 2:15-21). By these arguments, Paul endeavors to ‘prove’ (thus, probatio) his proposition, regarding the relation of believers in Christ (Jewish and non-Jewish) to the Torah.

I have discussed this section previously, most notably as an article in the series “Paul’s View of the Law”. Here I will be focusing on the particular theme of the sonship of believers, contrasting this sonship with a condition of slavery. This is a theme which runs through chapters 3-4—and, indeed, through the entire letter. Are believers still in bondage to the regulations of the Torah (under the term no/mo$), thus continuing in a kind of slavery? or, as sons, who have now come of age, able to inherit everything that belongs to the Father, are we free of this guiding authority? Paul argues strenuously against the former, while affirming (just as vigorously) the latter. The allegorical illustration he uses in 4:21-31 represents his final argument (of the probatio) toward this goal. He frames the illustration with a pointed rhetorical question for his audience:

“Relate to me, (you) the (one)s wishing to be under the Law, would you not hear the Law?” (v. 21)

This rhetorical device is known as the interrogatio method, by which Paul questions his audience, prompting them and allowing them to bring forth a determination themselves. The question actually serves as a challenge to the Galatians, and cuts right to the heart of Paul’s message in the letter. It also alludes to the seemingly paradoxical character of Paul’s view of the Torah. In support of his argument that believers are no longer bound by the Torah’s authority, he appeals to the Torah’s authority.

There is actually a double-use of no/mo$ here, referring both to the Torah regulations (recorded in the Pentateuch) and, secondly, to the narratives of the Pentateuch. This is significant since Paul’s argument is based upon the interpretation of a specific Scriptural narrative (from the Torah/Pentateuch). The expression “hear the Law” also has a two-fold meaning: (1) to obey the Law, and (2) literally, to hear the words of the Law (i.e. of Scripture). The latter is what Paul means primarily here, but he may also be saying, “if you want to be under the Law, are you willing to obey the Law (i.e. the true Law of Christ)?”

In verses 22-23, Paul summarizes the Scriptural narrative found in Genesis 16:1-6; 21:8-14, citing Gen 16:15; 21:2-3, 9. That Hagar was a slave or “servant-girl” (paidi/skh) is indicated in the narrative (Gen 16:1ff; 21:10ff, also 25:12); the contrast of Sarah as a free woman can be inferred/implied naturally from the context. This establishes the contrast between slavery and freedom—a key theme which Paul introduced (2:4) and developed (3:23-29; 4:1-10) earlier in the letter (cf. the previous notes on 3:26 and 4:4-7). It also sets the stage for the specific emphasis on freedom in Christ to follow in 4:31/5:1ff.

The contrast, expressed through the figures of Hagar/Ishmael and Sarah/Isaac in the narrative, is also expressed grammatically by the me/nde/ (“on the one hand…on the other…”) construction in verse 23 (cf. also vv. 8-9) [Note: some manuscripts (Papyrus46 B f vg) omit me/n]. The contrast/conflict between freedom and slavery is also defined as being between the “promise” (e)paggeli/a) and the “flesh” (sa/rc):

“the (one born) of the servant-girl has come to be (born) according to (the) flesh,
but the (one born) of the free (woman) through (the) e)paggeli/a [i.e. promise]” (v. 23)

The promise is closely connected with the Spirit (Gal 3:14). Meanwhile, the expression “according to (the) flesh” (kata\ sa/rka) is used frequently elsewhere in Paul’s letters (Rom 1:3; 4:1; 8:4-5, 12-13; 9:3, 5; 1 Cor 1:26; 10:18; 2 Cor 1:17; 5:16; 10:2-3; 11:18), and a Spirit-Flesh dualism is an important aspect of Paul’s thought in both Galatians (Gal 3:3; 4:29; 5:16-17; 6:8) and Romans (Rom 8:1-17) [cf. also Phil 3:3].

The two kinds of sons thus symbolize this dualistic orientation of Paul’s theology. The symbolism is based on his interpretation of the Genesis story as an “allegory” (a)llhgori/a), that is, a description of one thing under the image of another. Familiar from Greco-Roman and Hellenistic-Jewish literature and philosophy, it is also similar to the creative midrash interpretive tradition in Judaism; for other examples in Paul’s letters, cf. 1 Cor 10:1-13; 2 Cor 3:7-18. The contrast/conflict between Hagar/Ishmael and Sarah/Isaac in the narrative is coordinated and aligned together (sustoixe/w, v. 25) as follows:

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

Flesh vs. Promise [v. 23]

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

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

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

As indicated in verse 24, Paul gives prominence and priority to the idea of two covenants—the Greek word rendered “covenant” (diaqh/kh) is literally something “set through” or “put in order”, often in the legal sense of a will or testament (as in Gal 3:15-17), but here corresponding to the Hebrew tyr!B= (“binding agreement”)—that is, the agreement (covenant) established between God and his people (Israel). The two covenants—old and new—are contrasted syntactically by way of another me\nde/ formulation (see above):

    • me/none (the old) from mount Sinai into/unto slavery [ei)$ doulei/an]… (vv. 24-25)
    • de/(the other), the Jerusalem above, (which) is free [e)leuqe/ra e)stin]… (vv. 26-27)

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

    • The Sinai covenant (the Law/Torah) leads to slavery [doulei/a] =>
    • Jerusalem is currently serving as a slave [douleu/ei]

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

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

This idea of a heavenly Jerusalem came to be well-established in early Christian thought (see Hebrews 12:22; 13:14; Revelation 3:12; 21:2-22:5), and generally builds on the (eschatological) Old Testament and Jewish tradition of a “new Jerusalem”—e.g. Isa 54:10ff; 60-66; Ezek 40-48; Tobit 13:9-18; Jubilees 4:26; 2/4 Esdras 7:26; 10:40ff; 2 Baruch 4:2-7; 32:2-23; 1 Enoch 90:28f; 2 Enoch 55:2. Another familiar, and related, Jewish tradition was Jerusalem/Zion as a mother (v. 26). As such, this image is parallel to that of the Jewish concept of freedom associated with the Law and Covenant; and, again, Paul reverses this traditional association, by way of citing Isaiah 54:1 (LXX), a passage which came to be used in Judaism in the context of the rebuilding of Jerusalem (see the Targum; Pesiqta Rabbati 32:2). The context of Paul’s citation (v. 27) rather suggests a correlative juxtaposition between physical barrenness and spiritual life.

In verses 28-31, Paul applies this interpretation to the identity of believers in Christ. These verses begin and end with statements of Christian identity, related to the parallel concepts of promise and freedom, and emphasizing again the theme of the sonship of believers

V. 28: “But you*, brothers, according to Isaac, are offspring of (the) promise
{* some manuscripts read “we”}

V. 31: “Therefore, brothers, we are not offspring of the (slave)-girl, but of the free (woman)”

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

    • V. 29: External—drawing upon Jewish tradition of conflict between Ishmael and Isaac (not indicated specifically in the Scripture narrative itself), see t. Sota 6:6; Genesis Rabbah 53 (34a), etc. This is interpreted by Paul according to two aspects:
      (1) Jewish hostility and persecution toward early Christians, attested to amply by Paul in his letters and in the book of Acts.
      (2) The dualism of kata\ sa/rka (“according to the flesh”) vs. kata\ pneu=ma (“according to the Spirit”). Here the conflict is still external—i.e. the issue being that regarding circumcision and actual observance of the Torah commands; for an internal expression of this dualism in the hearts/minds and lives of believers (before and after conversion), cf. Romans 7-8.
    • V. 30: Internal—quoting Gen 21:10 and applying it primarily in a religious-spiritual sense: believers are the heirs in Christ (Gal 3:29; 4:1, 7; see also Rom 4:13-14; 8:17), and should no longer wish to come under a yoke of slavery. That Paul may here be expressing the rejection of Jews is certainly possible (see 1 Thess 2:14-16; Rom 9-11), but I do not believe that this is his emphasis—it rather relates more properly to his exhortation to the Gentile Galatians that they “cast away” the yoke of bondage (i.e. observance of the Torah) which they are considering placing upon themselves.

The thematic structure of these verses may be outlined as follows:

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

Significantly, these verses, which conclude the probatio, also prepare for the ethical instruction that follows in the exhortatio (“exhortation”) section, 5:1-6:10. Indeed, here Paul begins to turn his readers’ attention to the implications and consequences of what it means to be “sons/children of God”.

One primary implication has been the main focus of the letter, up to this point: believers are no longer under the binding authority of the Torah regulations (such as circumcision, the dietary and purity laws, etc), and are not obligated to observe them. This is emphasized by the ‘outer’ verses (vv. 28, 31) of the outline above.

The second implication (cf. the ‘inner’ verses 29-30), which is just as important, comes to be the focus in 5:1-6:10. Now that believers are freed from the Torah regulations, how is our life and behavior to be regulated? This is defined principally by the conflict between flesh and the Spirit. The impulses of the flesh (toward sin) still need to be curbed. However, this is no longer achieved through the external authority of the Torah regulations, but through the internal guidance of the Spirit. Even what remains of the Torah regulations—namely, the command/duty to love one another (5:13-15; 6:2ff)—is interpreted in light of the new reality that believers now live and act according to the Spirit. Paul expounds this quite clearly in 5:13-24, a passage which lies at the very heart of his instruction in 5:1-6:10.

This message may be summarized by the principle that: the sonship of believers is defined by the presence and work of the Spirit. In the next daily note, will begin examining this principle further, as Paul develops and explains it, in Romans.

February 12: Galatians 4:4-7

Galatians 4:4-7

Paul’s argument in Gal 4:1-7 builds on the illustration made in 3:23-25ff, comparing believers in Christ with the son who is an heir. This illustration, which draws upon Roman legal custom and practice, here involves the “guardianship of a minor” (tutela impuberis). The father (or head of the family, paterfamilias) appoints a guardian (one or more) over the child who is to inherit the property. During the time while he is a minor, even though the son may have legal status as the heir, he does not yet have access to the property; rather, the inheritance is entrusted to adult ‘guardians’, who will oversee and administer it until the child comes of age. For more on this background, cf. Betz, pp. 202-5.

Here is how Paul describes the situation, utilizing this illustration:

“upon as (much) time as the (one) receiving the lot is a speechless (child), (in) nothing does he carry through (differently) than a slave, (even while) being (the) lord of all; but he is under (those to whom it has been) turned over, and house-managers, until the (time) set before(hand) by the father.” (vv. 1-2)

A nh/pio$ denotes a “speechless” child, or infans (“infant”), but here the word is used figuratively for a minor (underage) child; in English idiom, we might approximate the sense with the expression “he does not yet have a say in the matter”. He is virtually like a household slave (dou=lo$) in this regard, even though he may be heir to all his father’s property (“being lord of all”). Indeed, the child himself is under the tutelage of household slaves and servants, like the paidagwgo/$ (“leader/guide of a child”) of the illustration in 3:23-25. The inheritance is “turned over” (e)pitre/pw, noun e)pi/tropo$) to the control of servants who act as administrators, and to “house-managers” (oi)kono/moi) who conduct business and make distributions as needed. The noun oi)kono/mo$ can actually designate a supervisor of the household slaves (Betz, p. 204), which gives added resonance to the comparison of the minor child with a slave.

As in 3:23-25, the upshot of this illustration is that the believer, before coming to faith in Christ, is like the minor child who is under the guiding control of household servants. In the earlier illustration, the servant (or slave) fulfilling this role was the Torah (or “law”, no/mo$, cp. oi)kono/mo$, which could be rendered “household law”). Paul still has the Torah regulations in mind here in 4:1-7, however the scope of its significance has broadened:

“So also we, when we were speechless (children) [nh/pioi], we were (one)s enslaved under the arrangements [stoixei=a] of the world;” (v. 3)

The noun stoi=xo$ essentially means a row or line of items, while the related stoixei=on, used here, refers to the specific items that are so arranged. In more abstract terms, we might render the plural of stoixei=on as “elements” or “(guiding) points”. Similarly, the noun no/mo$ essentially means something that is laid out (as an allotment). Believers were subject to the various ‘guiding principles’ of the world, including the regulations of the Torah; the latter specifically applies to Israelites and Jews (before they became believers), while the broader terminology of stoixei=a applies to all people. The noun stoixei=on is used in much the same way (by Paul) in Col 2:8, 20; by contrast, in 2 Peter (3:10, 12), stoixei=a refers to the material “elements” of the cosmos.

The chief point of the illustration is that, with the coming of Jesus Christ, the period of guardianship is over. Believers in Christ are no longer under the “guiding points/principles” of the world, which means that we are also no longer under the authority of the Torah regulations. For more on this point, see the articles in the series “Paul’s View of the Law” (esp. the various articles on Galatians).

Here in verse 4, there is special focus on the continuing theme of the sonship of believers (from chap. 3, cf. the previous note), which continues to be understood in relation to the unique Sonship of Jesus:

“but, when the fullness of the time had come, God sent out from (Him) His Son, (hav)ing come to be (born) out of a woman, (hav)ing come to be under (the) Law”

The ability of human beings to become the “sons” of God is dependent upon God’s own Son becoming a human being. Much the same point is made, though more indirectly, in the Johannine Prologue (see vv. 12-13 [previously discussed] in connection with verse 14 [discussed at length in a recent series]). The humanity and earthly life of Jesus is here described according to two aspects, given by way of parallel expressions:

    • “(hav)ing come to be out of a woman”
    • “(hav)ing come to be under (the) law”

In the first expression (and aspect), the verb of becoming (gi/nomai) means “come to be born”, referring to the birth of Jesus. This may refer to the “stoixei=a of the world” in the same physical/material sense of the term stoixei=a used in 2 Pet 3:10, 12 (cf. above). In the second expression (and aspect), the ethical-religious sense of stoixei=a is in view—viz., specifically, the guiding/ruling principles of the Torah. Jesus came to be “under” the control and influence of these stoixei=a, just like all other human beings, but for the purpose of freeing us from the stoixei=a:

“…(so) that he might purchase out (from bondage) the (one)s under the Law, that we might receive from (God) the placement as a son [ui(oqesi/a].” (v. 5)

The verb a)gora/zw denotes buying something (from the marketplace, a)gora/), while the compound e)kagora/zw is used specifically for the idea purchasing someone “out of” (e)k) a particular condition (of slavery/servitude). Having been “enslaved” under the Law, we are now freed from that bondage; there is no longer any need for the Torah (no/mo$) as a “household supervisor” (oi)kono/mo$) or “guide for the child” (paidagwgo/$). The believer has come of age, and can now inherit, as the Father’s son, what belongs to the Father. Paul states this unequivocally in verse 6:

“And, (in) that you are sons, God has sent out from (Him) the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba, Father!'”

It must be pointed out that, fundamentally, there is only one son—Jesus, the Son. This was true in chapter 3, where the reference was to Jesus as the son and heir of the promises to Abraham, and is equally so here in chapter 4, where the emphasis is on Divine sonship. Believers become the “sons” (or children) of God in a special way, which Paul describes, however briefly, here in verses 5-6. There are two stages to this dynamic of becoming the sons of God:

    • Verse 5—Having been freed from the period of enslavement, we are given the legal status as sons. Paul uses the term ui(oqesi/a (“placement as a son”), taken from the practice of adoption in the Greco-Roman world. This usage of the term may be unique to Paul, as ui(oqesi/a occurs in the New Testament only in the Pauline letters (Rom 8:15, 23; 9:4; Eph 1:5).
    • Verse 6—Having been given the legal status of sonship, we are then truly made the sons of God by receiving the Spirit of God’s own Son within us.

Verse 6 makes clear that we are dealing with something more than ‘adoption’ in a strictly legal sense. Rather, there is a fundamental transformation of identity that takes place, from within. Paul’s wording here is sometimes overlooked in this regard. It is worth considering each phrase in sequence:

    • “in that you are sons” —that is, already possessing the legal status of sons through ‘adoption’ (ui(oqesi/a)
    • “God has sent out from (Himself)” —the same wording used in v. 4 (cf. below), indicating a Divine source and power
    • “the Spirit of His Son” —that is, the presence and power of His own Son, realized through the Spirit
    • “into our hearts” —i.e., within us, into our very being, so that there is both an essential identification and a transformative effect
      Note that some textual witnesses read “your hearts” instead of “our hearts”, but this is almost certainly a correction made to agree with the use of the second person earlier in the verse; Paul includes himself and other ministers (“our”) along with the Galatians (“you”) as believers
    • “crying ‘Abba, Father!'” —the essential (new) identity (of believers as God’s sons) is confirmed by the Spirit’s own declaration within us

There is a precise formal parallel of expression, between verses 4 and 6, which is important to note, as it relates to the idea that believers are truly God’s sons, just as Jesus Christ is His Son:

    • “God sent out from (Him) His Son”
      e)cape/steilen o( qeo/$ to\n ui(o\n au)tou=
    • “God sent out from (Him) the Spirit of His Son”
      e)cape/steilen o( qeo/$ to\ pneu=ma tou= ui(ou= au)tou=

The point should be emphasized: believers are not merely God’s sons in the legal sense of being ‘adopted’, and thus obtaining the status of sonship; rather, they/we are also transformed, by receiving the Spirit of His Son, to become truly His sons. This is an essential identity, though one which is dependent upon our union with Christ. And, with Jesus Christ himself, we also are heirs who inherit (and receive) that which belongs to the Father:

“So then, no longer are you a slave, but a son; and if a son, (then) also (one) who receives the lot [i.e. an heir] through God.” (v. 7)

This sonship occurs “through God” (dia\ qeou=) being entirely the work of God and a gift from Him.

Most likely Paul understands the second phase of the believer’s sonship—becoming truly God’s son through receiving the Spirit—as occurring in association with the baptism ritual. This would be in accordance with early Christian tradition (as evidenced in the New Testament), and seems to be confirmed by the earlier reference to baptism in 3:26-29. Note how the baptism reference (v. 27f) is bracketed by two declarations regarding the sonship of believers:

    • “sons of God” / through trust in Christ Jesus (v. 26, the theme of chap. 4)
    • “the seed of Abraham (and heirs to the promise)” / belonging to Christ Jesus (v. 29, the theme of chap. 3)

In the next note, we will look ahead to examine how Paul develops this sonship-of-believers theme in the final argument of the Galatians probatio, the allegorical illustration from Scripture in 4:21-31.

References above marked “Betz” are to Hans Dieter Betz, Galatians, Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 1979).

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]).

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).

Supplemental Note on James 2:8 (“The Royal Law”)

The previous note examined the expression “the Law of freedom” in James 1:25; 2:12; today I will be looking at a second key expression involving the Law— “the royal Law” (no/mo$ basiliko/$) in James 2:8.

2. “The royal Law” (no/mo$ basiliko/$)—James 2:8

In the recent article (on the Law in the letter of James), I outlined the basic context of this passage (2:1-13); it may be divided into two parts—(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). The expression under examination here comes from the opening statement of the second section:

“If indeed you complete (the) royal Law according to the Writing— ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself’ —you do well…”

Verses 8-9 together form a me/n…de/ construction (here me/ntoide/), i.e., “on the one hand… but on the other hand…”:

    • if, indeed (on the one hand [me/ntoi]), you fulfill the royal Law…you do well
    • but if (on the other hand [de/]) you take/receive the face [i.e. show partiality], (then) you work sin

Showing partiality/favoritism to the rich and powerful is declared to be a violation of the “royal Law”, and those who so transgress are “(themselves) being condemned under the Law [u(po\ no/mon] as (one)s stepping alongside [i.e. over the bounds of the Law and the right path]”. How should we understand the Law (no/mo$) here? In discussing the use of the word in James 1:25 (cf. the previous note), I argued that it carries a comprehensive meaning involving: (a) the Gospel message, (b) the teachings of Jesus, and (c) authoritative Christian instruction as a whole. Here in 2:8ff, however, specific commands seem to be intended—in particular, Lev 19:18 (“you shall love your neighbor as yourself”). Of course, this command, along with Deut 6:4-5, makes up the twin “greatest commandment” in Jesus’ teaching (Mark 12:28-34 par), and came to represent for early Christians a virtual epitome of the Law and of essential ethical instruction for believers (cf. Gal 5:14; Rom 13:8-10). Elsewhere in early tradition, the “love command” is nearly synonymous with the command(s) of God and Christ (Gal 6:2; John 13:34-35; 14:15ff; 15:9-17; 1 John 3:10ff; 4:7-20; 5:2-3; also 1 Thess 4:9; 1 Cor 13; 16:14; 2 Cor 5:14; 1 Tim 1:5; Jude 21).

What of the specific designation basiliko/$ (“of the king, kingly, royal”). There are several ways this might be interpreted:

    • As the chief, ruling (or leading) Law—i.e., the “great commandment” of Lev 19:18
    • As an honorific adjective emphasizing the nobility/greatness of the Law as a whole (the Torah and/or the teaching of Jesus)
    • Indicating that the Law (whether Lev 19:18 or the “Law” as a whole) has been given specifically by the King—God as King and/or Jesus Christ as Lord
    • It is the Law that the King (and those of the Kingdom) follow
    • It pertains generally to the King and the Kingdom (of God)

Before attempting a more definite interpretation, it is important to note the line of logic that stems from the expression “the royal Law”:

    • It is first identified with a specific commandment: “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18) (v. 8)
    • The one who violates this command (by showing favoritism to the rich) is condemned under the Law as a transgressor (v. 9)
    • One who fails to keep the Law at just one point (i.e. a single command) is guilty of violating the entire Law (v. 10-11, cf. Gal 5:2)—more precisely, in its original (ancient) context, this means that the agreement (the covenant) between God and his people is broken, as the Law represents the effective terms of the covenant (see esp. Deut 27-28, and Paul’s reference to the curse that results from violating the covenant in Gal 3:10ff).
    • Believers must speak and act in a similar manner (v. 12a)—cf. the exhortation in James 1:21ff, where believers are called to be people who do the Word (lo/go$), just as Israelites and Jews were obligated to do the Law
    • Just as Israelites and Jews are judged under the Law (the Torah), so believers are, in a sense, judged under “the Law of freedom” (v. 12b)

From this we may conclude that “the royal Law” has a two-fold denotation in this passage:

    1. It is identified with a specific command—Jesus’ “great command” (Lev 19:18), as taught and exemplified by him
    2. It is also parallel with the expression “the Law of freedom”, representing the entire Law for believers—the Gospel and teaching of Jesus, and the Christian (ethical) instruction which derives from it, i.e. the Word/Logos of 1:21-25

This Law is described as kingly/royal (basiliko/$) likewise in a two-fold sense:

    • It expresses the will of God (as King) and of Christ (as Lord)
    • It is the Law followed by the King and those of the Kingdom

In the previous note, I explored the way that the expression “the Law of freedom” and the use of lo/go$ (in 1:21ff) may draw in part from Greek philosophical language, as preserved and transmitted in Judaism. This appears to be confirmed by the parallel use here of “the royal Law”. For example, note several key references in the writings of Philo of Alexandria, such as On the Life of Moses II.4: “(on the one hand) the king is an ensouled [i.e. living] Law, and (on the other hand) the Law is (also) a just king”. Reason (lo/go$) is the “royal road” which the wise and just person follows (On the Special Laws IV.168, On the Posterity and Exile of Cain §101, On the Giants §64). One should also consider 4 Maccabees 14:2, where reason (lo/go$) is associated with both royalty and freedom, as here in James. This sort of language and imagery continued on in the writings of early Christians, such as Clement of Alexandria, who were likewise influenced by Greek philosophical expression (cf. Stromateis 6.162.2, 7.73.5). [On these and other references, see esp. M. Dibelius’ commentary on James in the Hermeneia series, Fortress Press (1975), pp. 142-144.]

One should also note here the profound identification of the Law (“the royal Law”) with mercy (e&leo$), as the concluding statement in verse 13 makes clear. Actually this emphasis on mercy runs throughout the passage—the warning against showing favoritism to the rich and powerful in the world derives fundamentally from the concern and care one ought to show toward the poor and lowly. James emphasizes this at several points, especially in 1:27 where care for orphans and widows is defined as an essential component of true religious behavior and worship before God. It is also an important theme throughout Jesus’ teaching. In the Christmas season (soon approaching this year), which, at its finest moments, beautifully reflects this same exhortation to show love and care for the poor, and to be at peace with our neighbors, careful study and reflection on James 2:1-13 is altogether appropriate and worthwhile.

Supplemental Note on James 1:25 (“The Law of Freedom”)

This note is supplemental to the article on the Law in the letter of James (part of the series “The Law and the New Testament”). There are two primary references to the Law (o( no/mo$) in James, involving two particular expressions, which will be discussed in turn.

1. “The Law of freedom” (no/mo$ [th=$] e)leuqeri/a$)—James 1:25; 2:12

In James 1:25, the expression is actually “the complete Law of freedom”, including the adjective te/leio$ (“complete, finished”):

“but the (one) bending alongside (to look) into the complete Law th(at is) of freedom and remaining alongside…this (one) will be happy/blessed in his doing”

As discussed in the recent article, the context of verse 25 identifies the Law with the account (or “word”, lo/go$) which is planted in (e&mfuto$) believers. I take lo/go$ (lógos) here in a comprehensive sense, as the Gospel message and the teachings of Jesus, as well as (authoritative) Christian instruction generally. However, the author may also be drawing upon Hellenistic Jewish language and imagery (influenced by Greek philosophy) in the use of lo/go$ (cf. below). For the idea of Jesus’ word(s) as a seed, or involving other planting images, see the previous article. There are a number of references in Scripture to God’s word being within a person (i.e. in the heart), cf. Deut 30:14; Psalm 119:11, and especially in the New Testament (Matt 13:19 par; John 5:38; 8:37; 1 Thess 2:13; Col 3:16; 1 John 1:10; 2:14, etc), where the “word of God” is virtually interchangeable with the “word(s) of Christ”.

In what sense is this Law the “Law of freedom” (no/mo$ th=$ e)leuqeri/a$)? There are three possibilities:

    • Following the Law leads to freedom—This is attested for the Torah in Jewish tradition (e.g., m. Abot 3:5; 6:2; Baba Kamma 8:6; b. Baba Metzia 85b, cf. Davids, p. 99*); in other words, the Law gives freedom to those who faithfully observe its commands. Paul, of course, says virtually the opposite, often declaring that in Christ believers are freed from bondage under the Law (Gal 2:16; 3:10-14, 19-26; 4:4-5, 21-31; 5:1-6; Rom 3:20; 5:20-21; 7:1-6, 7ff; 8:2ff; 1 Cor 9:19; 2 Cor 3:17; note also Acts 13:38-39). Jesus in the Gospel of John promises freedom to his followers, those who hear (and keep) his word (Jn 8:32-36).
    • We follow the Law freely, not out of obligation or compulsion—As I have discussed previously, Paul appears to have held such a view for Jewish believers (himself included) with regard to the Torah: they may continue to observe its commands and regulations voluntarily, on the basis of the freedom they now have in Christ, no longer as a binding requirement. With regard to the Gospel and the teachings of Christ, the so-called letter of Barnabas (2:6) expresses the point clearly: “the new Law of our Lord Jesus Christ, being without the yoke of necessity [a&neu zugou= a)na/gkh$]”. Jesus himself refers to the “yoke” of his teaching (and example) as easy and light (Matt 11:29-30), while criticizing the ‘burdensome’ teaching and tradition of the Pharisees (Matt 23:2ff). The Old Testament Law is described as a burdensome yoke in Acts 15:10, and by Paul as a “yoke of slavery” in Gal 5:1.
    • The Law is a product of the freedom we have in Christ—According to Paul, believers are guided principally by the Spirit, which is the Spirit of Christ (and God) and represents the freedom we have in him (2 Cor 3:17; Gal 5:1, 13ff; Rom 8:2ff, 21); by way of this guidance, we naturally fulfill the “Law of Christ” (Gal 6:2; 1 Cor 9:21), which is no longer the commands of the Torah per se. Note the general similarity between James 2:8-12 and Gal 5:14; Rom 13:8-10.

The first interpretation best characterizes the expression here in James, especially when one considers the additional adjective te/leio$ (“the complete Law of freedom”). In Jewish tradition, the Law would have been regarded, generally speaking, as “perfect” and complete (Psalm 19:7, cf. also the Epistle of Aristeas §31, etc). In the New Testament, however, the adjective te/leio$ is used more precisely of the will (and character) of God, and of believers who conform themselves to it (Matt 5:48; Rom 12:2; 1 Cor 14:20; Col 4:12). In Matt 19:21 it is specifically tied to following Jesus—his teaching and example—as also in Phil 3:15 (and Eph 4:13); while in Col 1:28 believers are complete in terms of their union with Christ. All of this reinforces the view, expressed above, that the Law (no/mo$) here is not simply the Old Testament Law (Torah), but the Gospel and teaching of Jesus as transmitted to believers through Christian instruction and tradition. That this teaching still relates to the fundamental ethical commands of the Torah, is clear from the second use of the expression “Law of freedom” in James 2:12 (to be discussed further in the next note).

Even though the letter of James says nothing directly about the Spirit, it is possible that the “implanted word” (o( e&mfuto$ lo/go$) indicates something deeper and more abiding than simply the content of the Gospel message and teaching of Jesus which believers have received and assimilated. Within Hellenistic Judaism, under the influence of Greek (especially Stoic) philosophical terminology and concepts, the lo/go$ (logos) was used in reference to the indwelling reason, which the wise and just person followed, as a guiding principle or Law. Following the “law” of reason—the same Reason/Lo/go$ which orders and governs the universe—brings both freedom and completion/perfection to the wise person (cf. Epictetus Diss. 4.1; M. Aurelius 7.9; 10.33, etc). Seneca (On the blessed life 15.7) even states this principle in theological terms that nearly echo Judeo-Christian teaching (deo parere libertas est, “to obey God is freedom”). Philo of Alexandria, whose writings are roughly contemporary with the letter of James, brings Stoic teaching into line with Old Testament/Jewish tradition—of many references, cf. On the Creation of the World §3, The Life of Moses II.48-52, On the Decalogue §1ff [throughout], and, especially the treatise Every Good Man Is Free (e.g. §45) [cf. Dibelius/Greeven, pp. 116-118*].

In this regard, it may be instructive to look at the other places where lo/go$ is used in the letter:

    • James 1:18, where the expression is “the account/word of truth” (lo/go$ a)lhqei/a$)—here it is stated that “willing (it), he [i.e. God] was swollen with us [i.e. was pregnant/gave birth to us] in/by the word of truth“. The lo/go$ then is the power (or means) by which believers are given birth as the offspring of God. The word a)parxh/ (“beginning from [i.e. of the harvest]”, often rendered “first fruits”), is used by Paul in a similar sense, both of believers (Rom 8:23; 11:16; 16:5; 1 Cor 16:15; 2 Thess 2:13) and of Christ himself (1 Cor 15:20, 23).
    • James 1:21-22, part of the current passage (rel. to the reference in v. 25)—the author makes a distinction between simply hearing the word and doing the word as well. The lo/go$ then clearly represents something which a person does, similar to the way in which one does (that is observes/fulfills) the Law.
    • James 3:2—here lo/go$ is used in the simple, conventional sense of the word[s] a person says or speaks; interestingly, James also uses the adjective te/leio$ (“complete”) together with lo/go$ in this verse:
      “If any (person) does not trip/fall in (giving) account [i.e. in word/speech], this (person) is a complete man…”

The second expression involving the Law (“the royal Law” no/mo$ basiliko/$, James 2:8) will be discussed in the next note.

* References marked “Dibelius/Greeven” above are to Martin Dibelius, A Commentary on the Epistle of James (Hermeneia, rev. Heinrich Greeven, transl. Michael A. Williams; Fortress Press [1975]); those marked “Davids” are to Peter H. Davids, The Epistle of James (New International Greek Testament Commentary [NIGTC], Eerdmans / Paternoster Press [1982]).

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.

Paul’s View of the Law: Acts vs. the Letters

The articles in this series of Paul’s View of the Law (part of “The Law and the New Testament”) conclude with a short comparative study of the Pauline letters and the book of Acts. Commentators frequently note a number of differences and/or apparent discrepancies between the narratives (involving Paul) in the book of Acts and what he himself relates in the (undisputed) letters—in matters of chronology, the itinerary of the missionary journeys, and so forth. In such instances, critical scholars tend to give priority to the letters, regarding the information in the book of Acts as less reliable; traditional-conservative commentators, on the other hand, generally consider both Acts and the letters as authentic (and reliable), seeking to harmonize the two as far as possible. Perhaps the most well-known (and often-discussed) historical-critical issue involves the relationship between the so-called Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 and Paul’s narrative in Galatians 2. However, important differences have also been pointed out regarding the portrait of Paul painted in Acts, as compared with what he states himself in the letters, and especially in regard to his view of the Law (the subject of these articles). This may summarized by two related questions:

    1. Did Paul himself continue to observe the Old Testament/Jewish Law following his conversion? and
    2. Did he consider that Jewish believers were still obligated to observe the commands and regulations of the Law?

1. Did Paul continue to observe the Law?

Paul states on several occasions in his letters that, prior to coming to faith in Christ, he was most devout and scrupulous in matters of religion, including strict observance of the (written) Law, the Torah (Gal 1:13-14; Phil 3:4b-6, and Acts 22:3; 26:5). Did he continue to observe it so after his conversion? Many scholars today would say yes, and simply take for granted that he did. However, it must be observed that there is very little actual evidence of this in the letters; in fact, he never makes such a statement about himself, but it could be understood from two passages: 1 Cor 9:20 and Rom 3:31.

    • 1 Cor 9:20—”to the ones under the Law, (I came to be) as one under the Law”. This indicates that Paul voluntarily continued to observe the Law, at least when among his fellow Jews, in order to win them to Christ (cf. below).
    • Rom 3:31—”then do we make inactive/invalid the Law through th(is) trust (in Christ)? May it not come to be (so)! but (rather) we make the Law stand!” Many commentators today read this as if Paul is saying that he and his Jewish Christian co-workers continue to observe the Law. However, there is nothing in the context of the passage to indicate this; the emphasis in Romans 3, especially in vv. 21-31, is the declaration that Jews and Gentiles both are justified through faith, and not by works of the Law (i.e. observing the Law). For more on this passage, see the earlier note and discussion in this series.

By contrast, the following passages indicate that Paul, along with all believers, is free from the Law: 1 Cor 9:20-21; 2 Cor 3:6; Gal 5:11; 6:14; Rom 6:15; 7:6; Phil 3:3, 7-9.

In the book of Acts, there is somewhat more evidence that Paul continued to observe the Law. First, we have his statements generally to this effect, in Acts 24:14, 17-18 and 28:17 (?). We also see:

    • His presence in the Temple (Acts 21:26-27; 22:17-18; 24:17-18); along with other early believers in Jerusalem (Lk 24:53; Acts 2:46; 3:1ff; 5:21ff, 42; 21:22-27), Paul continued to frequent the Temple. However, it is not clear to what extent he participated in the sacrificial ritual; on only one occasion is he seen involved in ritual activity (21:26-27, cf. below).
    • His traveling to Jerusalem for the feasts, at least on several occasions (Acts 18:21 v.l.; 20:16); but note that Acts 20:6 indicates that Passover would have been observed away from Jerusalem.
    • Acts 18:18 refers to a vow (Nazirite?) he had taken, which presumably was done according to the regulations in the Law.

In none of these instances is it recorded that Paul was under obligation, or felt required, to observe the Torah. The most relevant passage is Acts 21:21-26 (cf. below); but even here, his involvement in the Temple ritual was done voluntarily, at the recommendation of James.

2. Did he consider that Jewish believers were still obligated to observe the Law?

Again, a good many commentators today would answer in the affirmative—while Gentiles were not required to observe the Old Testament Law, Jewish believers were still bound to do so. I find not the slightest indication of this in the letters, not even in the most positive references to the Law (Rom 3:1-2; 7:12-14 [cf. also 1 Tim 1:8]; Col 4:11, and, possibly, Rom 4:12; 1 Cor 7:19). As mentioned above, some commentators would read Rom 3:31 as though Paul believed that the Law continued to be binding (for Jewish believers), but I consider this a serious misunderstanding of the passage. The overwhelming number of references, indicating that the Law is no longer in force for believers in Christ, would seem to speak decisively against it—cf. 2 Cor 3:7-18; Gal 2:11-14ff, 19; the illustrations in Gal 3-4 (esp. 3:25, 28; 4:2, 5, 31); 5:1, 6, 13-14, 18; 6:15; Rom 2:28-29; 3:21ff; 6:14-15; 7:1-6; 8:2f; 10:4; Phil 3:3; Col 2:16-17; 3:11; Eph 2:15. There are, however, three passages in the book of Acts, which could suggest that Paul held the Torah to be binding for Jewish believers; each of these will be discussed in turn:

Acts 16:3—Paul had the half-Jewish Timothy circumcised, prior to his joining the mission effort. This has often been seen as contradicting Paul’s own teaching regarding circumcision in the letters (Gal 2:3; 5:2-3, 6, 11; 6:12-15; 1 Cor 7:18-19; Rom 2:28-29, also Phil 3:3; Col 2:11; 3:11; Eph 2:11), causing some critical scholars to question the historicity of the detail in Acts 16:3. Much depends on the reason why Timothy was circumcised; there are several possibilities:

    • Jews, including Jewish believers, were obligated to observe the Law, with circumcision being a central covenant obligation; according to later Jewish tradition (m. Kidd. 3:12), children from mixed marriages were still regarded as Jewish.
    • It was a practical measure, to avoid unnecessary hostility and opposition among Jews to the mission.
    • It is an example (and extension) of Paul’s missionary principle expressed in 1 Cor 9:19-23—of becoming like one under the Law in order to reach those who are under the Law.

There is nothing in the context of 16:1ff itself to indicate that Timothy was circumcised because he was required to do so, as would be suggested in the first view. The only reason given in the passage is that he was circumcised “through [i.e. because of] the Jews that were in those places”, which would seem to fit the second interpretation above. However, it is also possible that Paul was generally following the principle he would later express in 1 Cor 9:19-23; for more on this, see the conclusion below. One would like to think that Timothy willingly (and voluntarily) agreed to circumcision, though this is not indicated in the text.

Acts 16:4—In the next verse, we read that Paul delivered the decisions (do/gmata) from the ‘Jerusalem Council’ (Acts 15:19-31) to the believers in the cities of Pisidia and Lycaonia (i.e. Lystra, Derbe, Iconium, etc) in SE Asia Minor, which had been evangelized during the first Missionary journary (Acts 13-14). The letter from Jerusalem (15:23-29) is addressed to Antioch, Syria and Cilicia; Paul is extending it northward and westward in the region. There are two major critical issues involved here:

    1. Paul’s knowledge (and support) of the Jerusalem decrees. He never once refers to these in his letters, even on occasions when the decisions would have been relevant (1 Cor 8-10; Gal 2:11-14, etc; Rom 14; Col 2:16ff). In particular, the decisions appear to be directly on point with the very question Paul addresses in 1 Cor 8-10; if he knew of the decisions, and considered them to be authoritative (and binding) for Gentiles, it is rather strange that he does not refer to them. Many critical scholars consider the detail of Acts 16:4 to be inaccurate—e.g., note how in Acts 21:25 Paul appears to learn of the decrees then for the first time. More to the point, commentators have argued that the Paul of the letters would not have supported the decrees, especially with regard to the dietary restrictions placed on Gentiles (cf. issue #2).
    2. The relation of the decrees to the Torah. In Acts 15:21, James (the speaker) clearly connects the decisions of the Council with the fact that Moses (i.e. the Old Testament Law) is proclaimed and read in cities throughout the region, and followed by devout Jews (including Jewish believers). I have discussed this aspect of the Jerusalem decrees in some detail in a previous article. It is possible, but by no means certain, that, in observing the decrees, Gentile believers are thereby expected to follow the Torah in a limited sense. The emphasis is squarely on the idolatrous and immoral aspects of the pagan culture in which the Gentiles live—things which would also offend the religious and moral sensibilities of Jewish believers everywhere. I believe that the primary focus of the decrees is twofold: (1) as an authoritative exhortation for Gentiles to abstain from things associated with idolatry, and (2) as a way to ensure fellowship and unity between Jewish and Gentile believers.

The apparent discrepancy between Acts 16:4 and Paul’s failure to mention the Jerusalem decrees even once in the letters, can be explained one of several ways:

    • Paul was not aware of the decrees when he wrote his letters (contrary to Acts 16:4)
    • He did not consider (or would not have considered) the decrees authoritative and/or binding on Gentiles (again contrary to Acts 16:4)
    • The decrees had only a limited (regional) scope—the areas in Syria and Asia Minor surrounding Antioch—and were not considered binding for Gentile believers in territories further away
    • The decrees had only a limited scope, insofar as they related to places with large Jewish populations (such as the regions around Antioch)—in support of healthy relations between Jewish and Gentile believers—but were not necessarily binding on Gentile believers en masse.
    • The decrees were only binding for a time, eventually being abolished or superseded as circumstances dictated, or through “progressive revelation”; at the time of Paul’s writing, the decrees were no longer in force.

According to a strict, traditional-conservative (harmonistic) reading of the New Testament, only the 3rd and 4th interpretations above are viable options. A consistent and thorough analysis of Paul’s letters, taken by themselves, would, I think, lead one to adopt the 2nd interpretation. Overall, the last view is perhaps the simplest and most practical solution, but it is nowhere so stated in the New Testament, and would have to be assumed.

Acts 21:21-26—This is almost certainly the most direct (and controversial) passage in Acts related to Paul’s view of the Law. It must be examined in some detail:

  • The Context—At the conclusion of his (third) major missionary journey (18:23-21:16), Paul travels to Jerusalem, and is greeted by the believers there (vv. 17-19), including James and other leaders (elders) in the Church. Presumably he presented the collection of funds for the needy in the Jerusalem Church, which he had laboriously organized and gathered from the congregations in Greece and Macedonia (1 Cor 16:1-4; 2 Cor 8-9; Rom 15:25-28), and which is mentioned (it would seem) in Acts 24:17, but not here in chap. 21.
  • The Issue—James’ address to Paul is recorded in vv. 20b-25, in which the following points are made:
    • In Jerusalem there are many Jewish believers, who continue to be zealous in observing the Torah (v. 20b)
    • It is reported that Paul instructs Jews to forsake the Torah, and not to be circumcised, etc (v. 21)
    • It is assumed that: (a) this cannot be true, and (b) Paul himself continues to observe the Torah (v. 24b)
    • To prove this, James recommends that Paul take part in a purification ceremony (in the Temple) (v. 23-24a)
    • The Jerusalem decrees are also mentioned, indicating, at the very least, that Gentile believers honor and respect the customs of (observant) Jewish believers (v. 25)
  • Summary exposition—James effectively summarizes the controversies between Paul and Jewish believers, regarding his view of the Old Testament Law (as expressed in Galatians and Romans). Admittedly, nowhere in the letters does Paul say anything quite like the claim in verse 21, though the teaching that believers in Christ (Jew and Gentile alike) are “free” from the Law (cf. above) certainly could be characterized this way. It is perhaps such a (mis)representation that Paul combats, or attempts to avoid, in passages such as Gal 3:21ff; Rom 3:31; 7:7ff. Above, I have examined evidence regarding the extent to which Paul continued to observe the Law himself after coming to faith in Christ, such as James assumes here in v. 24b; the evidence is hardly conclusive, as I shall discuss again below. However, Paul does go along with James’ recommendation and participates in the purification ritual (vv. 26-27), at considerable personal expense it would seem, giving at least a general affirmation of his support for the position of observant Jewish believers. But based on what we have studied thus far in the letters, can we truly say, with James, that “all that of which was sounded down [i.e. reported] to them about you [i.e. Paul] is nothing”? What of the many potentially controversial passages regarding the Law, such as 2 Cor 3:7-18; Gal 2:11-14ff, 19; 3:25, 28; 4:2, 5, 31; 5:1, 6, 13-14, 18; 6:15; Rom 2:28-29; 3:21ff; 6:14-15; 7:1-6; 8:2f; 10:4; Phil 3:3; Col 2:16-17; 3:11, et al.?

Conclusion

A fair and unbiased view of the evidence, from both the letters and Acts, would have to affirm that Paul did continue to observe the Law, but only in a special and qualified sense. Ultimately, the clearest declaration of his own view of the matter comes from 1 Cor 9:20:

“And I came to be to the Jews as a Jew, (so) that I might gain Jews (for Christ), to the (one)s under (the) Law as (one) under (the) Law—not being under (the) Law (my)self—(so) that I might gain the (one)s under (the) Law (for Christ)”

Here he clearly states that:

    1. He observes the Law (i.e. is “under the Law”, u(po\ no/mon) for the purpose of winning Jews to Christ, and not because he is still obligated to observe it—indeed:
    2. He himself is not under the Law. It should be noted, that some manuscripts omit the phrase mh\ w*n au)to\$ u(po\ no/mon (“not being under the Law myself”), but it is present in a wide range of witnesses (including many of the “earliest and best” MSS), and is almost certainly original. While some commentators might dispute it, I regard this as a decisive statement that, along with all other believers in Christ (Jew and Gentile alike), Paul is no longer required to observe the commands and regulations of the Old Testament Law. Note also, in v. 21, that:
    3. He is not without the “Law of God” (cf. also Rom 7:22, 25), and identifies himself as now being under (lit. “in”) the “Law of Christ”. This (being “in Christ”) is an altogether new covenant, as he makes clear in 2 Cor 3:1-18.

The basic principle of freedom in Christ, which Paul consistently teaches (cf. Gal 2:4; 3:25, 28; 4:21-31; 5:1ff, 13; 1 Cor 9:19ff; 2 Cor 3:17; Rom 6:7ff; 7:2-6; 8:2ff, 21, etc), also means that believers—certainly Jewish believers—may continue to observe the Torah, and other Jewish customs, either voluntarily, or as a matter of personal conscience. There is a world of difference between “may observe” and “must observe”—I believe Paul would affirm the former, but definitely not the latter. All of the passages in the book of Acts examined above can be understood and interpreted as voluntary observance. In this sense, the claims reported about Paul (according to James) in Acts 21:21 are false; but there are actually two erroneous claims which ought to be rejected:

    • He teaches that Jewish believers must, or should, cease observing the Old Testament Law—false
    • He teaches that Jewish believers must continue (strict) observance of the Old Testament Law—likewise false

When it comes to Gentile believers, the situation is somewhat different; Paul, especially in Galatians, takes the more forceful position, that they should not observe the Torah, and speaks in the harshest terms regarding those who would influence them to do so. However, this must be understood in the historical (and rhetorical) context of the letter, and not turned into any sort of absolute rule to follow. Early Christianity was dominated by Jewish traditions and patterns of thought, and initial Gentile converts could easily be compelled to adopt Jewish religious practices as well. For the most part, this dynamic has long since disappeared from the Church, and there is little inherent danger in (Gentile) Christians today voluntarily adopting customs and practices set forth in the Torah. I will discuss this point again at the very conclusion of this series on The Law and the New Testament.

August 11 (2): Ephesians 2:15b

Ephesians 2:14-16

The primary theme of Eph 2:11-22 is the unity of Jews and Gentiles in Christ, which is expressed most clearly in the central verse 15, especially in the second half of the verse (15b; on 15a see previous note). Before proceeding, it may be helpful to see again the context in the sentence of vv. 14-16:

“For he [i.e. Christ] is our peace, the (person) making the pair (of them) one and loosing [i.e. dissolving] the middle wall of the fence, th(at is) enmity/hostility, in his flesh, making inactive/ineffective the Law of the ‘injunctions’ in ‘decrees’, (so) that he might form in him(self) the two into one new man, making peace, and might make (things completely) different between the pair (of them), in one body to God, through the stake, killing off the enmity/hostility in him(self).”

The above is an extremely literal (glossed) rendering; here it is in more conventional translation:

“For he is our peace, who made them both one, dissolving the barrier in the middle, the hostility, in his flesh, and nullifying the Law (with its) commands in (written) decrees, so that he might in himself make the two into one new man, making peace, and might reconcile them both to God in one body, through (his death on) the cross, killing off the hostility in his (own body).”

For the structure and syntax of this passage, see the earlier note.

Ephesians 2:15b

“…so that he might produce [i.e. form/create] in him(self) the two into one new man, making peace”
i%na tou\$ du/o kti/sh| e)n au)tw=| ei)$ e%na kaino\n a&nqrwpon poiw=n ei)rh/nhn

In Eph 2:14-16, Christ’s work (his sacrificial death) is understood specifically in terms of its effect on Jews and Gentiles, and the religious-cultural differences that exist between them. The effect is negative (what it removes or negates), as well as positive (what it makes or creates):

    • Negative—it removes or negates:
      —the middle wall (i.e. barrier, fence) that stands between Jews and Gentiles
      —the commands, etc. of the Old Testament Law which separates Jews and Gentiles
      —the enmity/hostility that exists between Jews and Gentiles
    • Positive—it creates or makes:
      —unity: the two become one
      —peace/reconciliation

It is striking that Paul (or the author of the letter) specifically associates the Old Testament Law with the barrier (and the enmity) which exists between Jews and Gentiles. Unfortunately, apart from the mention of circumcision in verse 11, there is little in the passage which would indicate just how the Law separated them; this must be inferred from elsewhere in Paul’s writings, or from general considerations:

Clearly, it is not simply one portion of the Law that separates Jew and Gentile, but the divisiveness is fundamental to the Law and the old covenant as a whole. If we adopt here the Pauline teaching that the Law serves to increase awareness of sin and brings people (further) into bondage to it, this may help to explain the reference to “enmity/hostility” (e&xqra) twice in vv. 14-16. Just as human beings are at enmity with God, requiring reconciliation (Rom 5:10-11; 2 Cor 5:18-20), so we are enemies to each other and need to be reconciled. This reflects the two sides of the so-called Great commandment—love of God and love of neighbor (Deut 6:4-5; Lev 19:18; Mk 12:28-34 par). In Col 1:20-22 we read that Christ’s death actually reconciles “all things” (ta\ pa/nta).

More to the point, Paul, in his writings, frequently emphasizes that Jews and Gentiles are equal before God—both equally enslaved under sin, and both saved/delivered only through Christ (Rom 1:16, and chapters 2-3; cf. also throughout Galatians). This is all the more true for Jews and Gentiles who have come to faith (1 Cor 1:24; Rom 9:24; 15:16ff; Gal 2:14b, 15ff). There are several passages, in particular, which suggest that, in Christ, the distinction between Jew and Gentile has been effaced or eliminated:

Gal 3:28: “in (Christ there is) not Jew and not Greek, (there is) not slave and not free (person), (there is) not male and female—for you all are one in Christ Jesus”

Virtually the same statement is made in Col 3:11:

“…where in (Christ there is) not Greek and Jew, circumcision and foreskin [i.e. uncircumcised], … slave (and) free, but (rather) Christ is all (thing)s and in all (thing)s”

The context of both passages is the ritual symbolism of baptism (putting on Christ), as also in 1 Cor 12:13:

“for in one Spirit we all were dipped/dunked [i.e. baptized], into one body—even if Jews (or) if Greeks, if slaves (or) if free (person)s—and (we) all were made to drink one Spirit”

Eph 2:14-15ff, like 1 Cor 12:13 mentions both one body and one Spirit—certainly the same basic thought informs all of these passages. With regard to the reference to circumcision in verse 11, we should also note Rom 2:28-29; Phil 3:3; Col 3:11, along with Gal 5:6; 6:15; 1 Cor 7:19, where Paul clearly states that the Jewish religious distinctiveness marked by circumcision no longer applies to believers in Christ.

How exactly should we understand the nature of this unity (between Jews and Gentiles) in Christ? Eph 2:15b summarizes the dynamic at work: Christ, by his death on the cross, made the Law to cease working, the purpose (and result) being—

“…so that he might produce/form [kti/sh|] in him(self) the two into one new man

Is this “new man” (kaino/$ a&nqrwpo$) symbolic or is to be taken in a concrete sense? Paul only rarely uses the adjective kaino/$ (“new”), and in two distinct expressions:

    • kainh/ diaqh/kh (“new testament/covenant”)—in 2 Cor 3:6 the “new covenant” replaces the old covenant, which has come to its end (and fulfillment) in Christ (cf. also 1 Cor 11:25).
    • kainh/ kti/si$ (“new production/formation”, often rendered “new creation”)—in 2 Cor 5:17, every person in Christ is a “new creation”, likewise replacing what was previously there (the old/original nature), the old having passed along (i.e. passed away); in Gal 6:15, the “new creation” in Christ is contrasted specifically with the old Jewish/Gentile religious distinction, marked by circumcision.

The expression “new man” is used again in Eph 4:24, also with the verb kti/zw:

“and you sunk in(to) [i.e. put on] the new man th(at) is produced/formed according to [i.e. by] God in justice/righteousness and in holiness/purity of the truth [i.e. in true holiness]”

The baptismal context that is evident here would indicate primarily a symbolic significance to the expression “new man”; but, on the other hand, the unity is unquestionably real—if the old covenant and old created human nature were tangible, so too is the new covenant and new creation. The only difference is that the new covenant/creation is spiritual, realized in and by the Spirit. This is clear from the context of what follows in Eph 2:17-22:

V. 18—”through him [i.e. Christ] we hold—the pair (of us) in one Spirit—the way leading toward the Father” (cf. Rom 5:2)
V. 22—”in whom [i.e. Christ] you also were put together as a house, into a house set down for [lit. of] God, in (the) Spirit

Verses 18-22 draw heavily on religious imagery and terminology related to the Temple:

    • The Temple with its apparatus (sacred space and objects, priesthood, sacrificial offerings) provided the ritual means of access to God (v. 18)
    • The Temple was often referred to as the “house [oi@ko$] of God”, and believers become intimate members of the “household [oi)kei=o$] of God” (v. 19)
    • This house is built upon [e)poikodome/w] a sacred (and sure) foundation—upon the Prophets (of the old covenant) and the Apostles (of the new covenant), with Christ himself as the main cornerstone (v. 20)
    • The entire house-building [oi)kodomh/] is fit together precisely (and entirely) in Christ (v. 21a)
    • This building in Christ comes to be (lit. grows into) a (new) Temple-shrine (nao/$) (v. 21b)
    • We (all believers) are built together as a house [sunoikodome/w] and become a house laid down [katoikth/rion] for God—i.e. a new Temple building (v. 22)
    • This new Temple/house is spiritual (e)n pneu/mati, “in/by [the] Spirit”) (v. 22)

August 11 (1): Ephesians 2:15a

Ephesians 2:14-16 [cf. vv. 11-22]

In the previous daily note, I examined the structure of Eph 2:14-16 and the context of verses 11-22; today, I will be looking specifically at two important interpretive questions. The first involves the two elements making up verse 15a, namely:

    1. The expression o( no/mo$ tw=n e)ntolw=n e)n do/gmasin, and
    2. The force of the verb katarge/w
Ephesians 2:15a

o( no/mo$ tw=n e)ntolw=n e)n do/gmasin—This unusual compound expression needs to be examined in detail:

    • o( no/mo$ (“the Law”)—In the Pauline letters, the word no/mo$ nearly always refers to the Old Testament Law (Torah), and so it should be understood generally here. However, Paul does occasionally use the word in a slightly different sense, as in the expression “the Law of God” (o( no/mo$ tou= qeou=), which I believe (contrary to the view of many commentators) has a somewhat wider meaning, synonymous with the will of God, as indicated by the context of Rom 7:22, 25; 1 Cor 9:21. In Paul’s mind, of course, the “Law of God” is expressed and embodied in the Old Testament Law (cf. below).
    • tw=n e)ntolw=n—The word e)ntolh/ is usually translated “command(ment)”, though it literally means “something (i.e. a duty, charge) laid on (someone) to complete”; the rendering “injunction” is perhaps better, indicating something which a person is enjoined to do. In the New Testament, the term often refers to the commands of the Old Testament Law (esp. the fundamental ethical commands of the Decalogue), corresponding to the Hebrew hw`x=m!. The plural of e)ntolh/ signifies the commands of the Law collectively; subsequent Jewish tradition came to enumerate 613 specific commands.
    • e)n do/gmasin—The term do/gma is somewhat difficult to render consistently in English; fundamentally, it means “what one thinks or considers” about something, but often in the specific (or technical) sense of an authoritative opinion or decision. For example, the opinion/decision of high-court judges typically comes to have a legally binding status, so also the decisions (or “decrees”) of rulers, and so forth. It is used in this latter sense in the New Testament of imperial decrees (Lk 2:1; Acts 17:7), and of the (authoritative) decision of the ‘council’ of Jerusalem (Acts 16:4). The word appears only once elsewhere in the Pauline corpus, in Col 2:14, where it refers to the written form of the Law—”the handwriting [xeiro/grafon] of the decisions/decrees [toi=$ do/gmasin] which was over (and) against us”, i.e. the Law in its condemning aspect (see esp. on the “curse of the Law”, Gal 3:10-14).

Now to put the elements together:

o( no/mo$ tw=n e)ntolw=n (“the Law of the injunctions”)—This is best understood as a subjective and/or qualitative genitive, i.e. “the injunctions which comprise the Law”. Such genitive constructs are frequent (and occasionally elaborate) in Ephesians, contributing greatly to the exalted style (typical of prayer/praise language) that pervades the letter. Some might prefer to see the “injunctions” as only part, or one component, of the Law, but I believer that this is incorrect—the phrase is meant to qualify and define more precisely the entire Law.

o( no/mo$ tw=n e)ntolw=n e)n do/gmasin (“the Law of the injunctions in [written] decrees”)—The added prepositional phrase “in decisions/decrees” (e)n do/gmasin) is also meant to localize the commands/injunctions which make up the Law. As indicated above, the closest parallel is Col 2:14, where written decrees specifically are meant. Elsewhere, Paul clearly understands the Old Testament Law primarily as something written (i.e. in Scripture), cf. Rom 2:27, 29; 7:6; 10:5; 1 Cor 9:9; 14:21; 2 Cor 3:7; Gal 3:10, 22, and note the basic metaphor in Rom 2:15; 2 Cor 3:6. It is noteworthy, that he also seems to identify the written form of the Law as that which imprisons or “kills” (2 Cor 3:6-7ff; Gal 3:10; Rom 7:6; Col 2:14). For Paul’s unique view of the purpose of the Law in this regard, cf. Gal 3:19-26; Rom 5:20-21; 7:7-25; 11:32, and the previous articles on Galatians and Romans.

In my view, with this compound (and admittedly awkward) expression, Paul (or the author of the letter) spells out clearly what is otherwise assumed in the simple use of o( no/mo$ (“the Law”). We might establish and parse the equation as follows:

    • The Law—that is, the “Law of God” = the will of God
      • as expressed in the injunctions—the commands, regulations, precepts, etc.—of the Old Testament Law
        • in their authoritative written form, as binding decrees

The force of the verb katarge/w—This verb (katarge/w) is distinctively Pauline (23 of the 27 NT occurrences are in the undisputed letters). Fundamentally, it means “make (something) cease working”, that is, render it inactive or ineffective, often in the technical (legal) sense of “nullify, invalidate, make void”. Paul uses it in the context of the (Old Testament) Law in Rom 3:31; 4:14; 7:2, 6; 2 Cor 3:7, 11, 13-14; Gal 3:17; 5:4, 11. The verses in underlined italics specifically teach that, with the coming of Christ (and his sacrificial death), the Old Testament Law has been “nullified” or rendered inactive, i.e. it has ceased to work, meaning that it no longer has binding authority for believers—we are no longer “under the Law” (u(po\ no/mon, Rom 6:14-15; 7:6; 1 Cor 9:20; Gal 3:23; 4:4-5, etc). And this clearly is the context of Eph 2:14-15 as well:

“(Christ is the one) making inactive [katargh/sa$] the Law of injunctions in (written) decrees…”

However, it should be noted that in Rom 3:31, Paul appears to make nearly the opposite claim:

“Then do we make inactive [katargou=men] the Law through th(is) trust (in Christ)? May it not come to be (so)!—but (rather) we make (the) Law stand!”

A fair number of modern commentators understand Paul here to be saying that he continues to observe the Torah and/or considers it still to be binding for Jewish believers, and then proceed to qualify what is said in Eph 2:14-15, etc. on this basis. I consider this to be a serious misunderstanding of Paul’s view of the Old Testament Law, as well as a mistaken interpretation of Rom 3:31. This will be discussed in more detail in the next (concluding) article on Paul’s view of the Law; see also the earlier note on Rom 3:31. It should be mentioned that in Rom 7:2, 6; 2 Cor 3:7, 11, 13-14, the nullifying is the result of God’s work in Christ; in Rom 3:31, Paul uses the first person (“we do not nullify…”) and specifies “through th(is) trust”. That is to say, our trust in Christ and proclamation of the Gospel message does not invalidate the Law as such; quite the opposite—Christ himself completes and fulfills the Law (Gal 2:19-20; 3:10-14; 4:4-5; Rom 3:21-26; 8:2-4; 9:30-33; 10:3-4), bringing it to an end. We now fulfill the Law (of God) through our trust in Christ.

In the next note, I will explore the idea of unity between Jews and Gentiles expressed by the phrase “into one new man” (ei)$ e%na kainon a&nqrwpon) in verse 15b.