The Ancient Israelite Festivals: Sukkot (Part 1)


This is the second installment of a period series examining the ancient Israelite (and Jewish) festivals—their origins, ancient practice, development within Jewish tradition, and their relation to early Christianity. The first set of articles (earlier this year) dealt with the festival of Passover (Part 1, 2, 3, 4). This current set will explore the festival of Sukkot, which is celebrated at this time of the year.

Name and Origin

The name Sukkot is a transliteration of the Hebrew toKs% (s¥kkô¾), a plural form of the noun hK*s%, from the root iks which has the fundamental meaning “block off, cover”. The noun refers simply to a covering, usually in the sense of a protective dwelling or shelter; the related noun Es) has essentially the same meaning, and may be viewed as a byform of the same word. The word hK*s%, in spite of being a common noun, is relatively rare in the Old Testament, at least when it is used in the general sense of a shelter—cf. Gen 33:17; 2 Sam 11:11; 22:12; 1 Ki 20:12, 16; Job 27:18; Isa 1:8; Jonah 4:5, etc. At least as often, it is used in the specific context of the festival under discussion here (Lev 23:34ff; 2 Chron 8:13, etc).

The name derives from the practice of families and individuals setting up temporary (and ceremonial) shelters (toKs%) to dwell in during the festival. In English, the Hebrew term is often translated loosely as “booths” (i.e., festival of Booths), though the more traditional rendering is the archaic (and rather inappropriate) “Tabernacles”.

Even though the name Sukkot (toKs%) came to be traditional designation for the festival among Israelites, the earliest (historical) tradition clearly indicates the festival’s origins. In the instructions (Torah) given in the book of Exodus, it is called the festival of “the gathering” ([ys!a*h*), Exod 23:16; 34:22. All of the three major pilgrimage festivals—Passover, Weeks, and Sukkot/Booths—were originally agricultural festivals, tied to specific points of the harvest season. This is quite clear from the instruction in Exod 23:13-16; 34:22-24.

The festival of Sukkot/Booths celebrates the “gathering”, in reference to the end of the harvest generally, but also specifically to the gathering of the grapes and olives which marks the end of the season (in the late summer/early fall). This occurred during the seventh month, Nissan, which corresponds to a period in September-October of our calendar. The festival was held over an eight-day period, 15-22 Nissan, following the harvest (Lev 23:33, 39; Deut 16:13; Num 29:12ff).

Ancient Practice and the Torah

The instruction for the festivals in the book of Leviticus (chapter 23) provides some basic information on how Sukkot/Booths is to be celebrated (vv. 33-43). The first and last days of the festival are marked by a “call to holy (observance)” (vd#q) ar*q=m!), which means that the time (and space) is to be kept pure and set apart, so that no ordinary labor is to be done (v. 35-36). This sets the boundaries and establishes the sacred character of the festival: its time belongs to YHWH (vv. 39, 41), and should be devoted to worship. In particular, a sacrificial offering (“[by] fire”) is to be presented to God on each day (v. 36).

The second component of the festival is described in verse 40. The people are to take leafy branches from various trees (lit. “tree[s] of splendor”), and use them in joyful acts (vb jm^c*) of celebration and worship “before YHWH”. The palm-tree and brook-willow are specifically mentioned as sources of these branches; they presumably they were to be waved about as part of the rejoicing.

The final component involved the construction of temporary shelters (toKs%), the significance of which is explained:

“In s¥kkô¾ [i.e., shelters] you shall sit [i.e. dwell] (for the) seven days; (all) th(ose) grown up in Yisrael [i.e. native Israelites] shall sit in the s¥kkô¾. (This is so that) as a result, (the) circles of your (descendants) may know that I made (the) sons of Yisrael to sit in s¥kkô¾ in my bringing them forth from (the) land of Egypt. I (am) YHWH your Mighty (One).” (vv. 42-43)

The shelters thus represent and symbolize God’s providential care for the people during their Exodus-journeying out of Egypt. The shelter-coverings, by the very meaning of the word hK*s% (cf. above), allude to protection, to the “blocking out” of the elements, etc. There may also be a bit of wordplay involved, since the homonym Sukkoth is also the name of first stopping-point on the Exodus journey (according to Exod 12:37).

An interesting final detail is that the eighth (final) day of the festival is specifically referred to by the term hr*x*u&, indicating that, as with the first day, the time was sacred (like the Sabbath) and that no ordinary work/labor was to be performed (v. 36). The precise meaning of hr*x*u& here, however, is uncertain. The basic meaning of the root rxu is something like “hold back, restrain, detain”. Probably the significance of the term in relation to the eighth day of the festival is that the people should refrain from doing work; however, it has also been suggested that the idea of the people being ‘detained’ for an additional (eighth) day was intended.

In Numbers 29:12-38, there is additional instruction given for the observance of Sukkot, devoted to descriptions of the prescribed sacrificial offerings for each day. The brief instruction in Deuteronomy 16:16-17 includes the detail that all adult males shall appear before YHWH (in Jerusalem) for the festival, along with the principle that each person shall give an offering as he is able, according to the extent to which God has blessed him and his family. In Deut 31:10-13, the festival of Sukkot is marked as the occasion when “this Instruction [Torah],” referring to the book of Deuteronomy itself, is to be read out before the people.

There is no specific indication of the festival of Sukkot being celebrated prior to the Kingdom-period (cf. the notice in Neh 8:17). According to 1 Kings 8:2ff, it was celebrated, in a grandiose manner, by Solomon, when it was utilized as the setting for the inauguration of the newly-built Temple in Jerusalem. As would be fitting for the importance of the occasion, an additional seven days were added to the prescribed seven for the festival, doubling its length to fourteen, after which the eighth/final day was celebrated (v. 65). In the separatist Northern kingdom, under Jeroboam, the Sukkot festival was celebrated in Bethel, rather than in Jerusalem, for obvious reasons (12:32).

Apart from brief notices or allusions to Sukkot in Hosea 12:9 and Lamentations 2:6-7, the only other Old Testament references come from the early post-Exilic period. Celebration of the festival is mentioned in Ezra 3:4, as part of a program of restoration and reform, which entailed both the rebuilding of the Temple (with its ritual/sacrificial apparatus) and a renewed adherence to observing the Torah. Once the Temple and its altar were rebuilt, the prescribed sacrifices for the festival (cf. above) could be offered (cp. 2 Chron 8:13). A more detailed description of the celebration of Sukkot is mentioned in Nehemiah 8:13-18, more or less following precisely the Levitical instruction regarding the festival (cf. above). Branches of olive, myrtle, and palm trees are specifically mentioned (cp. Lev 23:40). It is also noted that the shelters (toKs%) were constructed variously on the rooftops and in the courtyards of individual homes, but also in the courts of the Temple and in the public squares at two of the city gates, presumably to allow for additional access to the ceremonial shelters by the population (v. 16). Also, in accordance with the Deuteronomic directive (Deut 31:11-13), the author mentions that the “Book of the Instruction [Torah] of God” (i.e., Deuteronomy) was read out loud before the people during the festival.

In Part 2, I will examine the influence of Sukkot, both within the Old Testament, and in the subsequent early Jewish tradition. Particular attention will be focused on the important reference in Zechariah 14, and on the possible setting of the festival for a number of the Psalms (esp. Psalm 118).




Saturday Series: Galatians 6:11-18

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

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

Postscript (Galatians 6:11-18)

The Epistolary Postscript may be divided as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Concluding Notes

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

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

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

Saturday Series: Galatians 5:1-6:10

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

Exhortatio (Galatians 5:1-6:10)

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

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

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

Galatians 5:1

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

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

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

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

Galatians 5:2-12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Galatians 5:13-25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Galatians 5:26-6:10

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday Series: Galatians 3:15-29

Probatio (Galatians 3:1-4:31)

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

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

Section 3: Galatians 3:15-29

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

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

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

Galatians 3:15-18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Galatians 3:26-29

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday Series: Galatians 3:7-14

Probatio (Galatians 3:1-4:31)

In this series of studies, looking at Paul’s letter to the Galatians from the standpoint of Rhetorical Criticism, we are now proceeding through the probatio—that is, Paul’s demonstration, exposition, and proof of the central proposition in 2:15-21 (on which, see the earlier study and notes). His proposition given there, regarding the Torah, is so striking, running so contrary to the traditional religious view of Jews at the time (including many Jewish Christians), that it was necessary for him to offer a thorough and detailed treatment. In the probatio section (chapters 3-4), Paul makes use of a wide range of arguments and rhetorical devices. I divide the probatio according to six main lines of argument. The first of these (in 3:1-6) was discussed last week, and may be summarized as: an appeal to the Galatians’ experience—in particular, their experience of receiving the Holy Spirit.

This week, we turn to the second line of argument (3:7-14), which is an argument from Scripture. The substance of the argument may be summarized as follows:

    • the blessing of Abraham comes by faith
      —contrasted with the curse of the Law (vv. 10-13)

Section 2: Galatians 3:7-14

The second argument (Gal 3:7-14) of the probatio (chapters 3-4) builds on the first, the transition being the example of Abraham (citing Genesis 15:6) in 3:6— “Abraham trusted in God and it was counted for him unto justice/righteousness”. In verses 1-5 the emphasis is on the transformation/conversion which occurs for the believer through the work of God (giving the Spirit); here, the emphasis switches to the idea of justification, of a person being made (or declared) just by God. Sometimes this is understood as an initial stage in the process (or order) of salvation, but “justification” is more properly regarded as eschatological—the righteous person appears before the heavenly/divine tribunal at the end (or after death) and is admitted into the heavenly/eternal realm of God. In such a judicial process, a person is declared righteous, usually on the basis of his/her behavior and attitude, conforming, in a religious and ethical sense, to the justice/righteousness of God. For a good example of this in the New Testament, see the beatitudes and the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7; Lk 6:20-49). An important aspect of early Christian thought—and one which was shared in part by the ancient mystery religions—is that this end-time justification is applied in the present for the believer (or initiate), with the blessing and holiness of God understood as active and real in the life and soul/spirit of the individual (and, by extension, to the religious community). This is often referred to under the specialized term “realized eschatology”, but it was actually a fundamental aspect of early Christian identity. This realized justification/salvation not only offered hope for the future, it served as a point of exhortation and encouragement for believers to live and act in a manner corresponding to their real condition (cf. Gal 5:16, 25).

In tandem with the idea of justification (Abraham being declared just/righteous), this section emphasizes the blessing which God gave to Abraham. The blessing was part of the promise to Abraham; however, the theme of promise is not developed by Paul until the next section (3:15-29). Genesis 12:3 and 22:18 record this promised blessing (cf. also Gen 18:18), and Paul refers to this specifically in Gal 3:8-9. However, Paul blends together Genesis 12:3/22:18 with 15:6 (Gal 3:6), so that the blessing which will come to “all nations” through Abraham is identified being “counted just/righteous” by God (as Abraham was)—and this justification comes by faith/trust (ek písteœs). This is an extraordinary way of interpreting the blessing of Abraham to the nations, which traditionally would have been understood as a product of Israel’s faithfulness to God and obedience to the Torah, and by which various benefits (material, intellectual and religious-spiritual) would be spread, either directly or indirectly, to the Gentiles. Jewish tradition even held out the hope and expectation, based largely on the writings of the later Prophets (esp. so-called deutero/trito-Isaiah, Is 40-66), that at the end-time all nations would be drawn to Israel (to Judah and Jerusalem) and would come to know and serve faithfully the true God. This came to provide part of the background for the early Christian mission to the Gentiles. Paul has introduced an entirely different approach here by identifying this blessing directly with “justification by faith” —it effectively eliminates the mediating role of Israel and the Torah, making it depend entirely on a person’s trust in Christ. It is this thinking which underlies his shorthand declaration in Gal 3:7:

“Know, then, that the ones (who are) of trust/faith [ek písteœs]—these are (the) sons of Abraham”

There is here a slightly different nuance to the preposition ek (“out of”) in this expression than used earlier in the letter (2:16, also 3:2, 5). Previously, “out of” indicated “as a result of” or “through, because of”; here it means “from” in the more concrete sense “coming out of”, as according to the biological/genealogical metaphor—believers come “out of” Abraham as off-spring, but only to the extent that they specifically come out of his faith/trust (in this respect ek can also denote “belonging to”). In other words, they are not physical/biological but spiritual descendants; Paul clarifies this further throughout the remainder of chapters 3 and 4.

It is not just that the (positive) mediating role of the Law (Torah) is removed from the equation, for Paul actually attributes to the Law an entirely different purpose—one which is decidedly negative, though ultimately it has a positive effect. His remarkable (and original) view of the Law is expounded rather clearly in vv. 19-25; here in vv. 10-13 he focuses on just one aspect—the Law as curse, in contrast to the blessing which comes by faith. He begins in verse 10 with the statement:

“For as (many) as are out of [i.e from, ek] works of (the) Law, (these) are under a curse [katára]…”

The expression ex érgœn nómou (“out of works of Law”) is precisely parallel to ek písteœs (“out of trust/faith”) in verse 9, and the preposition ek has the same force. The roughness of Paul’s expression has caused translators to fill it out, glossing it as “those who depend/rely on works of Law”, and so forth. However, this is a highly interpretive rendering, and not necessarily accurate; it very much softens the expression, shifting the emphasis from the Law itself to a person’s attitude toward it. In my view, this is a basic (though well-intentioned) distortion of Paul’s meaning. It is important to maintain the juxtaposition of the literal expressions, while attempting to interpret them accordingly:

hoi ek písteœs
“the ones out of trust/faith”
—those persons who come from, and belong to, trust/faith
hoi ex érgœn nómou
“the ones out of works of Law”
—those persons who come from, and belong to, works of Law

In other words, two groups of people are described—Christian believers (those “of faith”) and all others (those “of [works of] Law”). The expression “works of Law” might lead one to conclude that Paul limits this distinction to observant Jews, but it is clear that Paul would include all human beings (all non-believers) in this category, there being a similar legal-religious dynamic at work for pagan Gentiles, parallel to that of Israelites and Jews. It is, therefore, not so much a question of how one regards the Law (“relying” on it, i.e. for salvation), but of a more fundamental religious identity—whether one belongs to faith (in Christ) or to works of Law.

The people who are (or who remain) “of the Law” are under a curse (hypó katáran). The word katára literally means a “wish (or prayer) against (someone/something)”, in other words, a “curse”, though the term imprecation is perhaps more appropriate. In modern society, the magical-dynamic force and significance of imprecatory language has been almost entirely lost, “cursing” having been reduced to empty profanity, so it can be difficult for us today to appreciate exactly what Paul is describing. He turns to the books of the Law (Pentateuch), and draws two examples of “curses”:

    • Deut 27:26: “a curse upon [i.e. cursed] every (one) who does not remain in the (thing)s written in the book [lit. paper-scroll] of the Law, to do them”—this version Paul cites (in v. 10b) differs slightly from the LXX (“…who does not remain in all the words of this Law…”) which is generally an accurate rendering of the Hebrew.
    • Deut 21:23: “a curse upon [i.e. cursed] every (one) hanging upon (a piece of) wood [i.e. a tree]”—Paul’s citation (v. 13b) is modified to match the formula in Deut 27:26.

Deuteronomy 27 records a ceremony in which the people of Israel publicly accept the agreement (covenant) YHWH has established with them, the statutes and commands of the Law (Torah) serving as the basic terms of the covenant which Israel agrees to follow. In verses 15-26 the people together announce a curse on all who violate the commands—vv. 15-25 specify specific kinds of violation, while v. 26 is a general declaration related to the Torah as a whole. The actual curses themselves are stated in 28:15-68, parallel to the (much shorter) statement of blessings (28:1-14). Deuteronomy 21:23 is not a curse as such, but rather a statement that a person executed by hanging is the “curse [q®l¹lâ] of God”. The verb qll has the basic meaning “to make small, weak, of no account”, etc, and refers to the uttering of the curse (that is, the words). In the Deuteronomic injunction, the corpse of the hanged person must not be left on the tree (and unburied) through the night, or it will defile the land—i.e., the dead body serves as the curse-vehicle, the means by which the effect of the curse comes upon the land. “Cursed” in Deut 27 translates a different verb (°rr), which, based on the cognate (arâru) in Akkadian, appears to have had an original meaning “to bind” —i.e., to bind a person by a magic formula, the words being efficacious to produce what they describe. In the context of Israelite monotheism, it is God who brings it about, according to the words of the curse-formula. A person cursed is thus bound—the punishments or detrimental consequences laid out in the curse-formula will surely come to pass upon him (or her).

Paul use of these two passages is interesting. First, the application of Deut 21:23 to Jesus’ death is relatively straightforward, especially since the punishment of crucifixion (being “put to the stake”) may be referred to as hanging “upon a tree” (cf. Acts 5:30; 10:39). His use of Deut 27:26 is more difficult. Gal 3:10 is often understood in the sense that no one is able to obey and fulfill the Law completely, the transgression of a single command or regulation being enough to violate the entire covenant. However, Paul never quite says this; it could, perhaps, be inferred from Gal 5:3, but otherwise has to be understood on the basis of statements regarding the general sinfulness of all human beings, etc. I will discuss this question in more detail in a separate note, but I would say that the immediate context of Galatians 3-4 is a better guide to what Paul intends here; and, in 3:19-25, he clearly states that a primary purpose of the Law was to bring about (and increase) transgression. By a profound paradox, which Paul never entirely explains (either here or in Romans), even the person who appears blameless according to the Law (cf. Phil 3:6) ultimately ends up violating the very thing that he/she wishes to uphold. The underlying argument is somewhat complex, but the line of reasoning here in Gal 3:10-13 would seem to be as follows:

    • The one who is (or feels) bound and obligated to the “works of Law” ends up violating the Law/Torah
      • and is thus under the curse of God (acc. to Deut 27:26)
        • Jesus frees (redeems) us from the curse (slavery metaphor)
      • becoming the curse of God by his death (acc. to Deut 21:23)
    • Jesus, in his own person (and by his death), fulfills/completes the Law (cf. Rom 10:4)

In a technical sense, one might find problems with Paul’s reasoning here, but it has a definite logic, and believers will recognize the theological (and Christological) truth of it. The logical framework relates primarily to verses 10 and 13, but in vv. 11-12 we find embedded a smaller core argument which likewise draws upon two Scripture passages:

    • “No one is made right [dikaioútai] in [i.e. by] the Law alongside [i.e. before] God” (v. 11a)
      • The just (person) will live out of trust [ek písteœs]” {Hab 2:4} (v. 11b)
    • “The Law is not of trust/faith [ek písteœs]” (v. 12a)
      • The (one) doing [poi¢¡sas] them will live in [i.e. by] them” {Lev 18:5} (v. 12b)

The two Scripture references are set to confirm the pair of statements regarding the Law, which affirms that a person is declared just by God according to faith/trust (and not by observing the Law). Vv. 11-12 are intimately connected with the central proposition of vv. 10-13that Jesus frees (redeems) us from the curse—and can be regarded as virtually synonymous with it.

The association with the Torah as a curse is striking, and certainly a very un-Jewish thing to say—it appears to be virtually unique and original to Paul. We ought also to understand precisely what this signifies: the “curse of the Law” refers primarily to the Torah as the vehicle or means by which the binding (enslaving) curse comes upon people. Paul realized that this could easily be misinterpreted, and attempts to clarify his meaning with the exposition in vv. 19-25.

In verse 14, Paul concludes the section by:

    1. Re-iterating that the blessing of Abraham has indeed come to the Gentiles—by faith (in Christ), and
    2. Introducing the wider context of the promise to Abraham—identifying it with the (Holy) Spirit

This promise will be the theme of the next section.

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

Sola Scriptura

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

Mark 10:17-22 par

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

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

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

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

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

Romans 13:8-10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 50 (Part 2)

Psalm 50, continued

The Oracle, Part 2 (vv. 16-23)

In the second part of the prophetic oracle that forms the core of Psalm 50 (cf. the previous study for discussion of the introduction and Part 1), YHWH turns His address to those among the people who are the cause for Him bringing this accusation and charge against Israel. The principal accusation is that many people perform the requirements of the covenant (as outlined in the Torah), fulfilling the letter of the Law, even though their thoughts and actions are otherwise wicked.

Verse 16

“And to the wicked (the) Mightiest says:
What (use is it) for you to recount my engraved (law)s,
and (that) you take up my agreement upon your mouth?”

The people whom YHWH is addressing are characterized as “wicked” (uv*r*). We do not know what percentage of the population fits this description, and/or to what extent it applies to the Israelite people as a whole. The judicial setting of the Psalm makes clear that YHWH has called the entire people into judgment; at the same time, v. 15 would seem to establish a contrast between righteous and wicked persons. In the Old Testament Scriptures, one often cannot draw a definite line between the individual and the wider community—the action of the individual affects the community as a whole.

The “engraved (law)s” (<yQ!j%) are essentially identical with the regulations and statutes of the Torah, in a comprehensive sense—beginning with the “ten words” (Decalogue) which, according to the traditional narrative, were actually engraved in stone. A person who “recounts” them (vb rp^s*) knows them well enough to quote or recite them, and thus has the terms of the binding agreement (tyr!B=, or ‘covenant’) “upon” (lu^) his mouth. YHWH declares that there is little value in the wicked person knowing the Torah and fulfilling its requirements (esp. in terms of the sacrificial offering)— “what (good is it) for you…?”

Verse 17

“Indeed, you have hated (my) instruction,
and threw down my words behind you!”

The initial w-conjunction, if original, should be understood as emphatic—i.e., “indeed, you have…”. Even though the wicked may recite the Torah, such a person actually hates (vb an@v*) the instruction from YHWH. The verbal noun rs*Wm is used (from the root rs^y`), emphasizing the idea of corrective education and discipline, but is more or less synonymous with hr*oT (Torah, the “Instruction”). In reality, the wicked person “throws down” (or “throws away,” vb El^v*) God’s words in back of him, thus disregarding them completely, even as he may fulfill certain of the requirements accurately enough.

Verse 18

“When you see a thief, even (so) you are pleased with him,
and with (those) committing adultery, you would (have) a part.”

The way in which the wicked “throws away” the words and instruction of YHWH is described here in v. 18. The irregular 4+3 rhythm creates a certain kind of poetic tension that is appropriate to the moment. The wicked person does not necessarily commit the crimes mentioned here (theft, adultery); indeed, the wording in v. 17 suggests that the person may actually avoid such crimes in practice, but in his heart he is pleased by them, indicating that he would perhaps be willing to do the same. There is thus wickedness in one’s heart and intention, even if the regulations of the Torah are being fulfilled.

The opening particle (<a!) is usually translated in a conditional sense, “if…”, but here “when…” is more appropriate to the context.

Verse 19

“You mouth casts (forms) in evil,
and your tongue joins together deceit.”

In addition to the condition of his heart, the wicked person demonstrates his true nature through evil speaking. This couplet (returning to the 3+3 meter) actually builds upon the prior (v. 18), by indicating how through speech (mouth and tongue) a person can give shape to the evil in the heart. The verb jl^v* means “send (out)”, but Dahood (p. 309) notes a separate root, attested (albeit rarely) in Ugaritic, meaning “forge, cast (in metal)”. I have tentatively adopted his suggestion, based on the idea that seems to be expressed here, viz. of giving shape to evil.

The verb in the second line, dm^x* (“join, bind”) fits with this same line of imagery, even to a possible allusion to metal-working (forming a necklace or bracelet, etc). The sense would be that, through speaking, a person “joins (welds?) together” pieces of evil, giving them a distinct and insidious form. The deception (hm*r=m!) brought about by the wicked person could be taken as including the deceptive and hypocritical way that he fulfills the Torah regulations, all the while his heart is full of evil.

Verse 20

“You sit with your brother (and) speak (evil),
with (the) son of your mother you give (out) blame.”

In the first line of the MT (supported by the Qumran MS 4QPsc), there are two verbs: “you sit…(and) speak”. This perhaps captures the sense of deception and hypocrisy of the wicked person, who sits with his neighbor (apparently as a friend) and yet speaks evil to and/or about him. The evil nature of the speaking has to be implied from the context, since the verb is simply rb^D* (“speak”). It has been suggested (e.g., by Kraus, p. 487-8) that MT bvt (bv@T@, “you sit”) is a corruption (through reversal of letters) of original tvb (tv#B), “shame, shameful thing”); this is certainly possible, and, if correct, results in a more precise parallelism for the couplet:

“Shame(fully) with your brother do you speak,
with (the) son of your mother you give (out) blame.”

The parallelism of “brother…son of mother” may be intended to include both one’s neighbor (“brother” in a generic sense) and actual blood-relative.

Verse 21

“These (thing)s you did, and should I keep silent?
You imagine (in your) fallen (way)s (that) I am like you,
but I will prove you (wrong) and lay (it) out before your eyes!”

This tricolon, with loose 3-beat (3+3+3) meter in the MT, is fraught with certain difficulties, though the general meaning is clear enough. The second line, in particular, is problematic, with the odd construction hy#h=a# toyh$ at the center. Possibly it is intended as an instance of the cognate infinitive + imperfect used in an emphatic sense; the meaning would thus be something like:

“(Do) you imagine (that) I am at all like you?”

The use of a construct infinitive to achieve this would be curious. Dahood (p. 310) offers the intriguing suggestion that toyh should be read as toYh^ (rather than MT toyh$), as an orthographic variant of toWh^, plural of hW`h^ (“desire”, a byform of hw`a*), cf. Job 6:2; it would thus mean “(evil) desires”. However, the noun hW`h^ more properly denotes a “falling”, i.e., falling into an evil condition, etc. Perhaps the clearest parallel is in Ps 52:11[9], where the idea of wicked/evil heart is in view; such wicked persons have fallen into evil ways and are on the path to destruction (on hW`h^ in this sense, as characteristic of the wicked, cf. also Prov 10:3; 11:6; Mic 7:3).

In the final line, the judicial setting of the Psalm comes more into focus, as YHWH indicates that He will prove his case against the wicked, laying out (vb Er^u*) all the facts right in front of them (“before your eyes”).

Verse 22

“Discern this, you (who are) forgetting (the) Mightiest,
lest I tear you off (and there) be none snatching (you back)!”

The harshness of this couplet is expressed, in part, by its irregular (and rather awkward) 4+3 meter. The wording/phrasing also is cumbersome, giving to the whole verse a kind of poetic tension that reflects the coming judgment. The implication is that YHWH has now made His case (cf. the last line of v. 21), and the judgment against the people (the wicked, in particular) awaits.

At this moment, the prophetic oracle urges the people to repent, indicating that there is still time to experience a reprieve from the sentence of judgment that is about to be handed down. There is hope that the wicked (“[those] forgetting the Mightiest”) will come to understand (vb /yB!, “discern”) what YHWH Himself has presented to them, and act appropriately, repenting of their evil ways. If they do not repent, then God will “tear them off” (vb [r^f*); possibly the allusion is to being “torn apart” by a wild animal, etc, but I think the primary motif is being ripped out, like a flower or plant plucked out of the ground. There is a bit of conceptual wordplay involved here with the verb lx^n`, which has a similar denotation (“pull out, snatch [away]”), but here (as often) in the sense of “rescue”. If YHWH “tears out” the wicked soul, there will be no one who can then “pull out” the condemned person from His hand. The judgment (and punishment) is irrevocable, and results in the ultimate death/destruction of the soul of the wicked.

Verse 23

“(The one) slaughtering (with) a declaration will be honored by me,
and (the one) <complete> (in the) path I will make him drink
from (the) salvation of (the) Mightiest!”

These concluding lines of the Psalm return to the theme from the first part (discussed in the previous study)—how the performance of the sacrificial offerings is of no value if the ritual is not accompanied by a pure and upright heart. This is a relatively common theme in the Prophets, the most noteworthy example being in Isa 1:12-15, but even more striking as a message of judgment is the harsh polemic in Jeremiah 7 (v. 11 is alluded to by Jesus in the Synoptic version of the Temple ‘cleansing’ scene, Mk 11:17 par).

Here in Part 2 of the oracle the focus was on the Torah regulations in general, but we can fairly assume that observance of the ritual offerings is primarily in view. This is also the emphasis in Jeremiah: the sacrificial offerings will not be accepted by YHWH while the land is full of wickedness and injustice. Even though the wicked will face their own (individual) judgment, their behavior also corrupts (and brings judgment upon) the community as a whole.

In verse 14, YHWH made clear that the kind of sacrifice (lit. “[ritual] slaughter”, vb jb^z`) He truly wants is not the slaughtering of animals in blind observance of the ritual, but rather a declaration (hd*oT) of faith and devotion that comes from the heart. The same wording is repeated here. Only the person who fulfills the Torah obligations with a pure heart (and right intention) has truly been faithful to the covenant and will be accepted by God. I follow Dahood (p. 310) in reading ynndbky as a passive (Pual) verb form: “…will be honored by me”. The faithful and loyal vassal is honored by his Sovereign.

This show of honor includes the traditional imagery of feasting at the Lord’s table. I tentatively follow Dahood also in pointing wnara as a (Hiphil) imperfect from the rare root ary II (= hry), “pour, water” —i.e., WNa#r=a), “I will give (to) drink” (cf. Prov 11:25). The idea of drinking from God’s salvation is quite appropriate given the idiom of the “cup of salvation” in Ps 116:13 (cp. Isa 12:3). The feasting-motif also plays on the concept of the sacrificial offerings as something that God would consume.

There is a two-fold significance to the honor shown by YHWH to his faithful/loyal servants. On the one hand, the covenant blessings apply to this life (cf. Deut 28:1-14, etc), and include fruitfulness and plenty (food and drink, etc); at the same time, feasting at YHWH’s table certainly alludes to the blessed afterlife. The later tradition of the eschatological (and Messianic) banquet simply shifts the focus of the blessed feasting from the afterlife (in heaven) to the end of the current Age.

One final textual note: the first two words in the MT (confirmed by 4QPsc) read Er#D# <c*w+, apparently to be understood as “and (he who) sets (his) path (in order?)”. The wording is rather awkward, and it has been suggested that the text should be emended to Er#D# <t*w+, “and (the one) complete (in the) path” (cf. Kraus, p. 488). This seems preferable, given the Wisdom parallels in Job 4:6; Prov 13:6, etc, with the expression as characteristic of the righteous and denoting those who are faithful to the covenant with YHWH. The term <T* also connotes purity, integrity, and blamelessness, and is used (along with the related verb <m^T*) rather frequently in the Psalms.

By all accounts, the last two words of v. 23 do not fit the metrical pattern. It has been suggested that the final <yh!l)a$ is secondary and should be omitted (cf. Kraus, p. 488). To be sure, the excessive length of the final line would be alleviated if a reading “…my salvation” were adopted in place of “…(the) salvation of (the) Mightiest [i.e. God]”. However, this would still leave an irregular and cumbersome 3+4 couplet. It is perhaps best to treat the final two words as a short (2-beat) supplemental line (to the 3+3 couplet), which, while it disrupts the rhythm of the couplet, serves to punctuate the Psalm, bringing it to a close, with the recognition that all salvation and blessing comes from God (YHWH).

References above marked “Dahood” are to Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB], vol. 16 (1965).
Those marked “Kraus” are to Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalmen, 1. Teilband, Psalmen 1-59, 5th ed., Biblischer Kommentar series (Neukirchener Verlag: 1978); English translation in Psalms 1-59, A Continental Commentary (Fortress Press: 1993).

March 22: Hosea 6:6; Matthew 9:13; 12:7

Hosea 6:6

This note is included as part of the current series “The Old Testament in the Gospel Tradition”. The statement in Hosea 6:6 is of considerable significance, even if it plays only a minor role in the Gospel Tradition. It represents a marked trend in early Christianity—one which, it may be said, goes back to the teaching of Jesus.

The saying (or sayings) of Jesus that quotes part of Hosea 6:6 is found only in the Gospel of Matthew, where it occurs twice (9:13 and 12:7). There is every reason to think that it originally circulated as a separate saying, which was then added by the Gospel writer to the two Synoptic episodes, being generally appropriate to the context in each case. For some reason, this saying, with its citation of Hos 6:6, was only preserved in a line of tradition inherited by Matthew (so-called “M” material). Here are the two versions of the Matthean saying:

But (as) you are traveling, learn what (this) is: ‘I wish (for) mercy, and not (ritual) slaughter’ —for I did not come to call just (person)s, but sinful (one)s.” (9:13)

But if you had known what (this) is— ‘I wish (for) mercy, and not (ritual) slaughter’ —you would not have sought justice against (one)s (who are) without (any cause) to be questioned.” (12:7)

The core saying (in bold above) has been adapted slightly to the context in each episode. While it is certainly possible that this reflects Jesus’ actual usage of the Scripture in the historical setting, the lack of any such citation in the parallel Synoptic versions makes it much more likely that an independent saying of Jesus has been added (by the Gospel writer) to the scene in each case. There is, however, no a priori reason to doubt the authenticity of the saying (with its citation of Hos 6:6).

The portion of Hos 6:6 cited (in Greek) by Jesus in the Gospel is identical to the LXX translation:

e&leo$ qe/lw kai\ ou) qusi/an
“I wish (for) mercy/compassion, not (ritual) slaughter”

In the original Hebrew this is:

jb^z` al)w+ yT!x=p^j* ds#j# yK!
“For I delight (in) ds#j#, and not (ritual) slaughter”

The Greek emphasizes the will (wish) of YHWH, while the original Hebrew properly involves that which pleases or delights Him (vb Jp^j*); it is a subtle, but significant difference. On the other hand, the Greek noun qusi/a corresponds precisely in meaning with Hebrew jb^z#—literally, “slaughter”, but often in the technical sense of ritual slaughter (that is, of a sacrificial animal for an offering). An altar is literally the “place of slaughter” (j^B@z+m!), though it came to be used in a general sense for any altar, even when there was no slaughtered animal involved. Here, the noun jb^z# stands as a shorthand reference for the entire sacrificial ritual—the cultic system of offerings made at the Temple (and earlier shrines).

I have left the noun ds*j* temporarily untranslated above. It is the key word in the passage (6:4-6). In order to understand the verse properly, we must view it within the context of this passage:

“What shall I do to you, Eprayim?
What shall I do to you, Yehudah?
(For) your ds#j#, like a cloud (at) day-break,
and like (the) dew (fall)ing in the (early morn),
is (always) going (away).
Upon this [i.e. for this reason] I cut (them) with (my) spokesmen,
I (have) slain them with (the) utterances of my mouth—
my judgment goes forth like (the) light (of the sun)!
For I delight in ds#j#, and not (ritual) slaughter,
and knowledge of (the) Mightiest, (far) from (the) rising (smoke of) offerings!”

YHWH is speaking here; and, if vv. 4-6 is to be associated directly with the prior vv. 1-3, then God is responding to the declared intention of the people that they will “turn back to YHWH” (v. 1) and will “pursue the knowledge of YHWH” (v. 3). Here, he addresses both the northern kingdom (Ephraim) and the southern kingdom (Judah)–i.e., the people of Israel as a whole. In spite of their words (in vv. 1-3), history has demonstrated that their ds#j# is like a passing cloud or the morning dew, which only stays for a brief time and then goes away.

The word ds#j# covers a relatively wide semantic range, and is rather difficult to translate consistently in English. The fundamental meaning is something like “goodness, kindness”; however, quite often in the Old Testament, the word relates specifically to the binding agreement (covenant) between YHWH and Israel. In such a context, it connotes “faithfulness, loyalty, devotion”; in keeping with the basic meaning, we might capture this nuance by translating ds#j# as “good (faith)”. For the sake of a smooth translation here, and yet one which accurately interprets the sense of the passage, let us insert “loyalty” for ds#j# above. Verse 4 then would read:

“What shall I do to you, Eprayim?
What shall I do to you, Yehudah?
(For) your loyalty, like a cloud (at) day-break,
and like (the) dew (fall)ing in the (early morn),
is (always) going (away).”

In other words, His complaint is that the people’s loyalty—to Him and to the covenant—is only passing; it tends not to last. And it has been their lack of loyalty, their violations of the covenant, that has led YHWH to bring judgment upon them, at various times throughout their history. Often this judgment was announced through His chosen spokespersons (<ya!yb!n+, i.e., “prophets”); such messages “cut” the people, but was only a precursor to the actual killing blow when the judgment truly struck. The bright and shining character of God’s judgment, “like (the) light” of the sun, goes out in truth and justice to all people, seeing (and revealing) all things. No wickedness can be hidden from the light of YHWH.

This brings us to the climactic lines of verse 6. Again, substituting “loyalty” for ds#j#, these read as follows:

“For I delight in loyalty, and not (ritual) slaughter,
and knowledge of (the) Mightiest, (far) from (the) rising (smoke of offering)s!”

Loyalty to YHWH, along with “knowledge of God”, is here contrasted with the slaughter (jb^z#) of sacrificial animals, and the smoke that rises (hl*u*) when they are offered up on the altar. In other words, loyalty to God takes priority over performing the sacrificial ritual. The force of this contrast is captured by the prefixed preposition /m! in the second line. I have rendered the preposition quite literally above, as “(far) from”. This can be understood in a negative sense (i.e., “instead of, rather than”), or a comparative sense (“more than”). In the first instance, we would give a conventional translation of the line as “and knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings”; in the second instance, it would be “and knowledge of God more than burnt offerings”. The negative aspect is to be preferred.

This verse is part of a long line of prophetic messages that emphasize the importance of a person’s intention and overall behavior, rather that the simple matter of whether they fulfilled the required ritual. Performing the ritual (e.g., offering the sacrificial animal) could be done, according to the letter of the Law, without any real faithfulness or devotion to YHWH. This was all the more striking—and worthy of condemnation—when the same person who fulfilled the ritual requirement engaged in unethical, immoral, or impious behavior in other matters. Such superficial (and hypocritical) observance of the Torah was condemned by the Prophets in the harshest terms. Among the more notable passages are Isa 1:11-15; Jer 6:19-20; 7:8-11ff; Amos 5:22-24ff.

It is possible that Hos 6:6 may be echoing one of the earliest examples of this prophetic theme: the oracle of Samuel (addressed to Saul) in 1 Sam 15:22-23, which begins:

“Is there delight for YHWH in (the) rising (smoke of) offerings and slaughtered (animal)s, as much as (in) hearing (the) voice of YHWH?”

Then comes the key declaration:

“Hearing (is far) from (ritual) slaughter (in being) good [i.e. hearing/obedience is better than sacrifice]…”

Loyalty (ds#j#) to YHWH and His covenant could well be summarized as “hearing [i.e. listening to] the voice of YHWH”.

Returning the LXX translation, it is notable that ds#j# is typically rendered as e&leo$ (“mercy, compassion”), even though this does not seem to represent the fundamental meaning of the Hebrew. In any case, it is the aspect of mercy/compassion that Jesus emphasizes in his use of the verse.

As the saying is applied in the first Synoptic passage (the call of Levi, Matt 9:9-13 = Mk 2:13-17; Lk 5:27-32), it relates to the objections that some Jews had to Jesus dining with “toll-collectors and sinners”, which could be seen as a violation of the purity/holiness standards of the Torah. The Synoptic narrative concludes with the double-saying of Jesus in Mk 2:17 par:

“The (one)s being strong have no business with [i.e. no need for] a healer, but (only) the (one)s having (an) ill(ness); (so) I did not come to call just (person)s, but sinful (one)s.”

The “just/right” ones (dikai/oi), from a traditional religious standpoint, are those who faithfully observe the Torah; while the “sinners” are those who ignore or fail to observe the Law. In socio-religious terms, this latter category covered a wide range of persons, including many from the lower (and poorer) segments of society, as well as members of certain professions (like toll-collectors), and virtually all Gentiles (non-Jews). Jesus’ declaration makes clear that his mission is aimed at all peopleespecially those who fit into this broad category of “sinners”.

It is in this context that Matthew inserts the saying-quotation of Hos 6:6, at 9:13a, in between v. 12 and 13b. The addition of this saying has the effect of broading the scope of Jesus’ teaching, making the point that Jesus’ mission takes priority over observance of the Torah.

This becomes even clearer when we consider the use of the Hos 6:6 saying in the second Synoptic passage: the Sabbath controversy episode of Mark 2:23-28; Lk 6:1-5. In Matthew, this is found at 12:1-8. Again, the citation-saying is inserted into the middle of the traditional episode, before the climactic declaration: “So also the Son of Man is Lord even of the Shabbat” (Mk 2:28 par). This is a striking statement, with a two-fold meaning: (a) a human being (son of man) is lord over the Sabbath (and not the other way around), and (b) Jesus, specifically, as the Son of Man, is Lord over the Sabbath. In other words, Jesus has authority over the Sabbath (and its regulations), with the implication that following him (and his mission) takes precedence over observing the Sabbath regulations.

Matthew’s version adds an additional illustration involving the service of priests in the Temple (v. 5). In their role as priests, such persons are able to do things (work) which would otherwise be considered as a violation of the Sabbath regulations. In that regard, their Temple service takes precedence over the Sabbath laws. How much more, then, does service to Jesus take precedence; as he declares in v. 6: “(one) greater than the Temple is here”.

These examples from Matthew’s Gospel illustrate how Hosea 6:6, interpreted in the context of Jesus and his ministry, became part of an early Christian tendency to relativize the importance of observing the Torah regulations—especially those involving the sacrificial (Temple) ritual. I discuss the entire subject at considerable length in the series “The Law and the New Testament”. Special attention should be given to the articles on “Jesus and the Law”; in the introductory article of this set, you will find, I think, the critical question of Jesus’ relationship to the Torah well summarized.

September 3: Leviticus 20:7, 26

For a better idea of what the declaration in Leviticus 19:2 (discussed in the previous note) entails, in the context of the Levitical “Holiness Code” (chapters 17-26, especially chaps. 19-22), it will be helpful to look at several instances where the principle of 19:2 is restated. One of these comes in 20:7:

Leviticus 20:7

“And you shall make yourselves holy, and (so) you shall be holy—for I (am) YHWH your Mighty (One) [i.e. God].”

As previously noted, the regulations in chapter 19 seem to parallel the commands of the Decalogue, and thus function as a kind of exposition on the Ten Commandments. For example, the command against making/worship of images (#2, v. 4), maintaining sacredness of the Sabbath (#4, v. 3b), showing honor to one’s parents (#5, v. 3a), the prohibitions against stealing (#8, vv. 11a, 13, 15) and false oaths (#3, v. 12), as well as a general declaration on YHWH as the (only) God the people are to acknowledge (#1, v. 36). These regulations/requirements are woven around the central command for the people to be set apart as holy to God (v. 2).

Similarly in chapter 20, we have a number of laws and requirements built around the declaration in verse 7, which clarifies to some extent what was meant by the injunction “you shall be holy” (Wyh=T! <yv!d)q=), which might better be rendered as “you shall be (one)s set apart (as holy to me)”. The same phrase occurs in 20:7, but following a reflexive form of the verb vd^q*; the sequence reads as follows:

“and you shall make yourselves holy [<T#v=D!q^t=h!], and (so) you shall be holy [<yv!d)q= <t#yy]h=]”

The second verb follows as a result of the first, as indicated by the emphases (in italics), repeated from the translation above:

“and you shall make yourselves holy, and (so) you shall be holy”

The process of “making oneself holy” is explained in verse 8:

“And you shall guard my inscribed (decree)s, and you shall do them—I (am) YHWH, (the One) establishing you as holy.”

By careful preservation and fulfillment of all that YHWH has decreed for them (through the words spoken to Moses)—that is, the regulations/requirements of the Torah—the people “make themselves holy”. However, this merely fulfills what has already been established by YHWH Himself, by way of the binding agreement (the covenant bond, cf. below). He has declared that Israel is a people set apart as holy, belonging entirely to Him; and now, the people must act this out in practice, on a daily basis. Paul states much the same thing for believers in Christ, though realized through the power and presence of the Spirit, rather than observance of the Torah regulations:

“If we live by the Spirit, we must walk in line by the Spirit” (Gal 5:25)

The type pattern for this, in the old covenant, involved the Instruction (Torah) recorded in writings of the Pentateuch, such as the “Holiness Code” of Lev 17-26. We cannot properly understand the dynamic of the new covenant, as described in the New Testament, without understanding its precursors in the old covenant. The regulations in chapter 20, which surround the declaration in verse 7, are of two kinds: (a) Religious—prohibition against worshiping any deities other than YHWH (vv. 1-6); and (b) Ethical—prohibition against adultery and other aberrant sexual behavior (vv. 9-21). The regulations regarding ritual purity (and dietary/hygiene laws) earlier in chapter 11 were similarly followed by a summary declaration on holiness equivalent to that in 20:7:

“For I (am) YHWH your Mighty (One) [i.e. God], and you shall make yourselves holy, and (so) you shall be holy, for I (am) holy…” (11:44)

The additional declaration of God’s own holiness is parallel to primary statement in 19:2, and helps us to understand the idea that He “establishes” the people “as holy” (vb vdq in the Piel stem). Israel’s holiness, their status as a people set apart as holy to YHWH, is rooted in (and depends upon) His own character and nature as the true God and Creator of all. This is given further explanation in another declaration later on in chapter 20:

“And you shall be holy (one)s to me, for I, YHWH, (am) holy, and I have separated [vb ld^B*] you from the peoples, to be(long) to me.” (v. 26)

It is possible to outline this statement as a chiasm:

    • “you shall be [vb hyh] holy to me [yl!]
      • I am holy (I am YHWH, the Creator and true God)
      • I set you apart as holy, separate from all other peoples
    • “(you are) to be [vb hyh] (i.e. belong) to me [yl!]

The idea that the Israelites were set apart, separate from all other nations, as a people belonging to YHWH (and thus holy), is central to the early tradition regarding the religious and cultural identity of Israel. A good example of this is found in the opening section of the Sinai covenant narrative in Exodus 19ff, the key statement of identity coming in verses 5-6:

“And now, if hearing, you shall hear [i.e. if you shall truly hear] my voice, and (if) you shall guard my binding (agreement with you), then you shall be for me a (prized) possession from [i.e. out of] all the peoples. For all the earth (belongs) to me, and (yet) you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

This will be discussed further in Part 3 of the article on “Israel as God’s People” (in the series “The People of God”).


June 23: Galatians 3:2-5, 14

Galatians 3:2-5, 14

Paul’s references to the Spirit in Galatians follow those in 2 Corinthians 3:1-18 (discussed in the last two notes), in the context of his pointed contrast between the old and new covenants. This is to be expected, given that the central theme of Galatians involves the relation of believers to the Law (Torah). I have discussed the subject at length in the series “The Law and the New Testament” —cf. especially the articles on Galatians in “Paul’s View of the Law”. The very point and reason for his writing to the Galatians is to assure (and convince) them that it is not necessary for them, or any other believers, to observe the regulations of the Torah (such as circumcision or the dietary laws). Even though the question relates specifically to non-Jewish (Gentile) believers, the arguments Paul uses would apply equally well (and even more so) to Jewish Christians.

Chapters 3-4 make up the heart of the letter—the probatio, in which arguments are presented in support of the main proposition (propositio, 2:15-21). The first argument (3:1-5) is based on the Galatians’ own experience as believers—the fact that they received the Spirit. Paul treats this as self-evident proof, in light of his fundamental contrast between the Spirit (pneu=ma) and the flesh (sa/rc). The logic of the argument runs as follows:

    • as believers, they received the Spirit
      • the flesh is opposed to the Spirit
        • => they should not wish to be involved with things of the flesh

Paul is more caustic and biting in his presentation of this argument, as we can see in verse 3:

“Are you thus without a (sound) mind? (Hav)ing begun in (the) Spirit, you are now (to be) made complete (relying) upon (the) flesh?”

The implication here, of course, is that observance of the Torah regulations is part of the “flesh”, in the sense that it involves work and effort (i.e., Paul’s frequent expression “works [e&rga] of the Law”). More than this, however, in Galatians (as subsequently in Romans) Paul connects the Torah with the bondage experienced by humankind (to the power of sin) in the current Age. This association with sin helps to explain how Paul can characterize the Torah as “the flesh”. The entire created order is in bondage to the power of sin, and the Torah is part of that old order of things that passes away in the New Age—i.e., the new arrangement of things (diaqh/kh, “covenant”).

Paul deprecates the Torah observance for believers by contrasting it with their experience of receiving the Spirit at the beginning—i.e., at the time of baptism, after they first came to trust in Jesus:

“This only do I wish to learn from you: (was it) out of works of (the) Law (that) you received the Spirit, or out of (the) hearing of trust?” (v. 2)

The point is clear: they received the Spirit through trust in Jesus (in response to the proclamation of the Gospel), and not by observing the Torah. The Torah is part of the old covenant, and has nothing whatever to do with the new, and believers are under no obligation to observe its various regulations. Thus the barb in verse 3 is stinging indeed: having begun with the Spirit (the new covenant), would you now go away from this (back to the old covenant)? His wording in verse 4 suggests how misguided and confused this is: “Did you suffer so many (thing)s with(out any) purpose [ei)kh=, i.e. rashly, randomly]?” The further suggestion in verse 5 is that this turning toward the old covenant (Torah) is contrary to the will and purpose of God Himself (and His Spirit):

“(So) then, the (One) leading the Spirit upon you, and working powerful (deed)s among you, (is it) out of works of (the) Law or out of (the) hearing of trust?”

The second argument (3:6-14) of the probatio draws upon the example of Abraham from Scripture—a line of argument that Paul would repeat in Romans 4. His use of Abraham is interesting in the way that it takes the argument back to a time before the establishment of the Sinai covenant (and the Torah); indeed, this fact is central to Paul’s point. Not only does the new covenant of the Spirit supersede that of Moses and the Torah, it is actually the fulfillment of the original blessing promised to Abraham, the father of the Israelite people. The argument here develops the basis for this claim, stating it clearly enough in the concluding verse:

“(It was so) that unto the nations the (words of) good account [eu)logi/a, i.e. blessing] of Abraham might come to be, in (the) Anointed Yeshua, (and so) that we might receive (the fulfillment of) th(is) message about the Spirit, through the trust (in Yeshua).” (v. 14)

For more detail on the Abraham argument, see the earlier articles on Gal 3:6-14 and Romans 4 in the series “Paul’s View of the Law”.

Paul turns again to the Abraham traditions in the midrashic argument in 4:21-31, expounding the flesh/Spirit contrast in terms of Abraham’s two sons, Ishmael and Isaac. This follows the same old vs. new covenant dualism (v. 24), but with a stronger association of the old covenant with slavery and bondage (Hagar being a slave). A particular interpretation of the tradition—i.e. that Ishmael ‘persecuted’ Isaac—also leads Paul to emphasize how the old covenant (of the flesh) persecutes the new covenant (of the Spirit):

“But just as then [i.e. at that time] the (one) coming to be (born) according to (the) flesh pursued the (one born) according to (the) Spirit, so also now.” (v. 29)

This relates to Jewish persecution of the early Christians, well-documented in the book of Acts and in Paul’s letters, but also to the issue at hand in Galatians—of Jewish Christians pressuring Gentile believers to observe the Torah regulations (circumcision, dietary laws, etc). Paul’s words against these proponents of the need for Torah-observance are extremely harsh (1:7-8; 2:4; 3:10; 4:17; 5:10-12; 6:12-13).

Thus, if we are to summarize how Paul’s line of argument in Galatians relates to a development in the early Christian understanding of the Spirit, it rests in his sharp contrast between the old and new covenant. The old covenant is part of the old order of things (in the current Age), while the new covenant marks the beginning of a new Age. The people of God (Israelites and Jews) in the old covenant were governed by the regulations of the Torah (which represented the terms of the covenant); by contrast, in the new covenant, the people of God (believers in Christ, both Jewish and non-Jewish) are governed by the indwelling presence of God’s own Spirit. For believers in Christ, the old covenant has passed away, and they/we are free from its binding terms (i.e. the Torah).

This is a uniquely Christian development of the Prophetic tradition regarding the role of the Spirit in the New Age of Israel’s restoration. As we have discussed in earlier notes, the sixth-century prophets—particularly Jeremiah and Ezekiel—express the promise of a coming time when the people of Israel and Judah, upon their return to the Land, would be given a “new heart” and the “new spirit” so that they will be able to remain faithful to YHWH. This inward transformation of the heart/spirit is achieved by the action of God’s own Spirit being “poured out” upon them (cf. the notes on Isa 44:3 and Joel 2:28-29). The key passages on this in Ezekiel are 11:19ff; 18:31; 36:26-27, and 37:14 (cf. notes). The great “new covenant” prophecy, of course, is Jeremiah 31:31-34, in which God promises to write His Law (hr*oT, Torah) upon the hearts of the people (v. 33). Though the Spirit is not directly mentioned in this passage, it is to be inferred as the means of writing (on the writing of the Torah, and the general equivalence between the “finger of God” and the Spirit of God, cf. the prior note).

The main difference between Paul and this Prophetic line of tradition is that the Prophets clearly assume the continued binding authority of the Torah, while Paul states repeatedly (and unequivocally) that this is no longer so for believers, who are freed from the old covenant. For the Prophets, the writing of the Torah on the heart simply means that the people will be willing and able to observe it faithfully. Paul understands this idea quite differently, though, in his own way, he upholds a comparable premise—that believers effectively fulfill the Law, even without being bound to observe its specific regulations. The Law is similarly written on the hearts of believers, through the presence of the Spirit. This will be discussed further in the next daily note.