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.

May 18: Nehemiah 9:20, 30

Nehemiah 9:20, 30

In the previous note, we examined the emphasis on the spirit (j^Wr) of God in passages of the exilic Prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel, dealing with the future restoration of Israel/Judah. This restoration was defined in terms of a return from exile, and a re-establishment of the covenant bond between YHWH and His people. Faithfulness to the covenant would now be ensured by the action of God Himself, giving the people a “new heart” and a “new spirit” through the presence of His own Spirit (“my spirit” [yj!Wr]). As the Torah (hr*oT, the instruction of YHWH) represented the terms of the covenant, it would be of central importance to any faithful Community of God’s people in this ideal/future time of restoration. And, indeed, we can see the ideal acted out in the Judean Community of the early post-exilic period, as recorded in the books of Ezra-Nehemiah.

Ezra and Nehemiah were important leaders of the post-exilic Community in Jerusalem, each, in his own way, working toward the restoration-ideal of the Prophets. The customary chronology dates Ezra’s arrival in Jerusalem to 458 B.C., with Nehemiah arriving some 13 years later (445 B.C.). As governor of Judah, Nehemiah had greater authority, and appears to have sought to carry through the religious and cultural reforms introduced by Ezra (cf. the references to Ezra in Neh 8-10).

The hr*oT (tôrâ, Instruction, or “Law”) of God features prominently in Ezra-Nehemiah, central to the re-establishment of the Israelite/Jewish religious identity (see esp. Ezra 10:3). In Ezr 3:2; 7:6 and Neh 8:1 it is specifically called the “hr*oT of Moses” (i.e. ‘Law of Moses’), and clearly refers to a written work, since Ezra is said to be a literary expert (scribe) regarding this Torah (7:6, 21, etc); cf. also Neh 10:34, 36. Moreover, in Neh 8:1 we read of a “book of the Torah” (lit. “account of the Instruction”, hr*oT rp#s@), also occurring in vv. 3, 18, and 9:3 (cf. below). This expression is relatively rare in the Old Testament, occurring not once in the Psalms, Prophets, or Wisdom literature, etc, but only in Deuteronomy, and the historical books of Joshua, Kings, Chronicles, and Nehemiah. It is difficult to know for certain was is being referred to by the expression. Many commentators feel that it refers to some version of the book of Deuteronomy itself. However the Pentateuch contains other “law codes”, in written form—most notably those in Exodus 20:23-23:19, the “Holiness code” of Lev 17-26, as well as the other collection of laws and priestly regulations in Exod 25-31, 35-40, Numbers 1-10, and throughout the remainder of Leviticus.

In Neh 8:1ff, Ezra is asked to bring out this “account of the Torah”, so that it can be read before all the people. The words in v. 3 indicate a glimmer of fulfillment to the prophecies of restoration in Jer 31:31-34, etc: “…and the ears of all the people (were) to the account of the Instruction” (i.e., they were paying attention to it). Religious life was re-established through celebration of the festival of Sukkot (Booths/Tabernacles), and Ezra read from the Torah every day during the festival (vv. 13-18). Again, this written account of the Torah was read publicly, for several hours, on a day later in the same month, during a time of fasting and repentance (9:1-3ff). In this context, a great prayer is recorded (vv. 6-37), and through which is woven a history of Israel, from the call of Abraham to the present. The emphasis is on the repeated sins and failure of the people to live up to their covenant-bond with YHWH. As we have seen, this was very much part of the Prophetic message, related to the Exile and also the future restoration of Israel.

In this penitential survey of history, the Torah is alluded to in verse 20, in terms of the presence and activity of God’s spirit (j^Wr):

“And you gave your good spirit [j^Wr] to give them understanding [i.e. to instruct them]”

This arguably is the earliest reference to what we might call the inspiration of Scripture—that is, the spirit-inspired character of the written account of the Torah. To be sure, from the standpoint of the historical survey, it more properly refers to the inspiration of Moses as ayb!n`, or spokesperson of YHWH for the people. Just as God gave the people food to eat from heaven (the manna), so He gave them the Instruction (Torah) through Moses as a divinely-inspired intermediary (cf. the prior note on Numbers 11:10-30). Now, centuries after Moses, it is the written record of this Torah that serves to give guidance for the people.

Equally important, however, is the people’s response to that Instruction, during their history, after the settlement in their land. It is characterized ultimately as one of failure and disobedience (vv. 26-28). In verses 29-30, we can see how the role of the Prophets (<ya!yb!n+) is understood primarily in terms of exhorting Israel to restore them to faithfulness to the Torah. Just as Moses was a spirit-inspired spokesperson (ayb!n`), so too were the other chosen Prophets throughout Israel’s history:

“and you drew (out) upon them [i.e. remained patient with them] many years, and repeatedly gave (witness) among them by your spirit [j^Wr], by the hand of your <ya!yb!n+ [i.e. Prophets], and they [i.e. the people] would not give ear [i.e. listen] (to it)” (v. 30)

There are thus here allusions to the spirit-inspired character of both the Torah and the Prophets—representing the beginnings of the traditional pairing of “the Law and the Prophets”, as authoritative Scripture. The centrality of the Torah, however, is clear; the Prophets main role is to bring people back to the Torah when they have turned away from it (v. 29). It is an emphasis that is distinctly Jewish, and remains absolutely fundamental to the Jewish religious (and cultural) identity to the present day. Christians, of course, have always maintained the unique divine inspiration of the Torah as well, according to varying definitions. However, the place of the Torah in Christianity is not at all the same as it is in Judaism, and, sadly, many Christians have a poor understanding of the New Testament teaching (by Jesus, Paul, and others) in this regard. I discuss the matter at great length in the series “The Law and the New Testament”.

In the next daily note, we will turn to the book of Zechariah, for a different post-exilic treatment of the restoration-theme of God’s spirit at work among His people.

 

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

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

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

1. Did Paul continue to observe the Law?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

Here he clearly states that:

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

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

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

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

August 11 (1): Ephesians 2:15a

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

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

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

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

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

Now to put the elements together:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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