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.

Paul’s View of the Law: The Remaining Letters (Part 1)

Having gone through Paul’s View of the Law in Galatians and Romans in considerable detail, it now remains to examine the relevant passages and references in the remaining Letters. This will be done in three parts:

    1. Specific passages which refer directly to the Old Testament Law, or which are especially relevant, examined in order for 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Philemon and Colossians
    2. A summary treatment of:
      a. Instances of language, concepts and imagery similar to that used by Paul in reference to the Law (in Galatians, Romans, etc)
      b. References which imply or suggest a symbolic or spiritual application of elements of the Law
      c. Verses where Paul indicates a source of religious and ethical authority for Christians similar to that of the Law
    3. The relevant passages in Ephesians and the Pastoral Letters (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus); as there remains legitimate doubt, even among traditional-conservative commentators, as to whether these letters are authentically Pauline or pseudonymous, they are dealt with separately.

Part 1—Passages which refer specifically to the Old Testament Law

1 and 2 Thessalonians

There is no mention of the Law in either letter. The word a)nomi/a does appear (twice) in 2 Thess 2:3, 8, along with the related adjective a&nomo$ (used as a substantive, “the lawless [one]”). The privative prefix a)- indicates a lack of no/mo$ (“law”), i.e. “without law, lawless(ness)”. In 1 Cor 9:21, Paul uses the adjective a&nomo$ (“without [the] Law, lawless”) as a general reference to non-Jews (Gentiles), those who do not have the Old Testament/Jewish Law (Torah) as a source of religious and ethical guidance and authority. However, in Rom 4:7; 6:19, a)nomi/a (“lawlessness”) is used as a general term synonymous with sin and wickedness, as also in 2 Cor 6:14 (and note in the Pastorals, Tit 2:14). Here in 2 Thessalonians, both terms are used in this latter sense, as indicated by the context, a)nomi/a being set parallel with a)postasi/a (“standing away from [God]”, i.e. “falling away”) and a)pw/leia (“[coming to] destruction, ruin”); in fact, in verse 3, some manuscripts read a(marti/a (“sin”) instead of a)nomi/a, further indicating the general equivalence.

1 Corinthians

1 Cor 6:12; 10:23—In both verses we find the declaration pa/nta moi e&cestin, which is sometimes translated “all things are lawful for me”; however, e&cestin literally indicates something coming “out of (that which) is”, i.e. that which is in a person’s power to do, or that which he/she is authorized and/or free to do. Even though Paul does not specifically mention the Law (no/mo$), it is likely that this statement relates directly to his view of the Law (as expressed in Galatians and Romans) and the idea of the freedom believers have in Christ; indeed, the statement might be paraphrased as “I am free to do all things”. Commentators are generally agreed that this reflects a declaration (or “slogan”) by certain Corinthians believers, and one that Paul affirms, but only with qualification and careful explanation. Note how he proceeds:

    • ‘all things are (in) my (power to do)’, but not all things bring (themselves) together (for good);
    • ‘all things are (in) my (power to do)’, but I will not be (brought) under (the power) of any (thing)

He thus qualifies the declaration in two ways: (1) some things are not beneficial, esp. for the body of Christ as a whole, and (2) some things can come to dominate a person’s thinking and behavior, which likewise is not beneficial. The first of these points relates more directly to 1 Cor 10:23ff, where he is dealing with the question of eating food that has been sacrificed to pagan deities; the emphasis is on a concern for the conscience of one’s fellow believer. The second of these points, it would seem, is more relevant to the context of 1 Cor 6:12-20, which is a primarily a warning against engaging in prostitution and sexual immorality. In both Galatians and Romans, Paul’s teaching on Christians’ freedom from the Law is connected with: (a) a warning against immorality and “works of the flesh” (Gal 5:16-25; Rom 8:1-11f), as well as (b) demonstrating love and concern for others (Gal 5:13-15; 6:1-5; Rom 12:1-15:7).

1 Cor 7:18-19—As part of Paul’s instruction on marriage among believers in chapter 7, Paul introduces the idea of circumcision in verse 18. Circumcision played a major role in his discussion of the Law in Galatians, where he argues repeatedly, and in various ways, that believers (especially Gentile believers) are not obligated to be circumcised nor required to observe the other commands of the Torah. In this regard circumcision serves to symbolize the entire Torah, especially in its ritual and ceremonial aspects. Similarly, in Romans, Paul makes it clear that actual physical circumcision is irrelevant; true circumcision is of the heart, according to the Spirit (cf. Rom 2:25-29). Here in 2 Corinthians, circumcision is introduced to further demonstrate his basic rule of thumb that a person should remain in the state he/she was before becoming a believer—i.e., if a person was married, he/she should remain married; if single, then he/she ought to stay single. By extension, a Gentile believer should not be circumcised, and a Jewish believer should not try to cover up his circumcision. Paul then adds a decisive declaration in v. 19:

“Circumcision is nothing, and (having a) foreskin is (also) nothing, but (keeping) watch of the things of God (that are) set on (us to do) [i.e. the commands of God] (is something)…”

This is very similar to the statements in Gal 5:6; 6:15, which I have examined together in an earlier note. Here the “commands of God” should be understood either in a general sense, or in terms of the “Law of God” in 1 Cor 9:21 (cf. below), rather than as the commands of the Torah specifically.

1 Cor 9:19-21—In chapter 9, which is part of the larger discussion in chs. 8-10 of the question regarding eating food that has been sacrificed to idols, Paul emphasized how he has given up the freedom and rights he has an as apostle for the sake of others. Here in verse 19, he begins: “being free from all (people/things), I made myself a slave to all, so that I might gain the many [i.e. the more/most]”. In verses 20-21, he treats in parallel, his outreach to Jews and Gentiles, respectively—Jews are “the ones under the Law [u(po\ no/mon]”, while Gentiles are “the ones without (the) Law [a&nomo$]”. Paul came to be like each group—”as (one who is) under the Law” and “as (one who is) without (the) Law”; but note how he qualifies each of these identifications:

    • “…not being (my)self under the Law” (mh\ w&n au)to\$ u(po\ no/mon)
    • “…not being without the Law of God” (mh\ w&n a&nomo$ qeou=)

The first phrase indicates that Paul himself, as a believer in Christ, is not under the Old Testament Law (any longer); while the second states that he (as a believer) is still under “the Law of God”, which is not the Torah, as the identification which follows makes clear:

“…not being without the Law of God, but (rather) in the Law [e&nnomo$] of Christ

Note the wordplay between “without the Law” (a&nomo$, ánomos) and “in the Law” (e&nnomo$, énnomos). Here “in the Law of Christ” should be be understood in relation to the expressions “in Christ” (e)n Xristw=|) and “the Law of Christ” (o( no/mo$ Xristou=); in Gal 6:3, the “Law of Christ” is generally synonymous with the law/principle of love (Gal 5:14 etc, cf. Lev 19:18).

It should be noted that in verse 20, a good number of witnesses, especially Western and later MSS, are lacking the phrase “not being myself under the Law”; however, it is present in many of the “earliest and best” MSS (including [Ë46] a A B C D*), as well as a wide range of versions (incl. Latin, Syriac, Coptic, Armenian and Gothic), and is almost certainly original. It may have fell out by accident (through parablepsis), though it is also possible that it was omitted intentionally—Paul’s admission that he was “not under the Law” could be viewed as problematic from a certain religious standpoint. Even today, many commentators are uncomfortable with the blanket declaration that Christians are “not under the Law”, and are reluctant to accept the statement in its plain sense.

1 Cor 15:56—At the conclusion of Paul’s famous (eschatological) treatment of the resurrection in chapter 15, we find the following declaration:

“…and the poking/pricking [i.e. sharp point] of death is sin, and the power of sin is the Law

This uniquely Pauline understanding of the interrelationship between the Law, sin and death was developed extensively (and dramatically) in Romans, especially in chapters 5-7. For more on this, see the articles in this series on 3:21-5:21, 6:1-7:25, and the supplementary studies on 5:12-21 and 7:7-25.

2 Corinthians

2 Cor 3:1-18—This passage represents Paul’s most extensive and significant treatment of the Law (outside of Galatians and Romans); because of its importance and complexity, I discuss it in detail in a series of daily notes.

2 Cor 6:14-7:1—In verse 14, the word a)nomi/a (“lawlessness”) is used, presumably with the same general meaning of “sin, wickedness, injustice”, etc., as in 2 Thess 2:3-8 (cf. above). However, some commentators hold that it should be understood here in the strict sense of “being without Law”, i.e. without the Torah (or refusing to observe its commands). In 1 Cor 9:21, Paul uses the related adjective a&nomo$ to describe Gentiles who live without the Torah; though, in this particular context, he is clearly referring to Gentiles prior to faith in Christ—once they come to faith, they are under “the Law of God” (synonymous with the “Law of Christ”), but not the Old Testament Law as such. Does the usage of a)nomi/a in 2 Cor 6:14 refer to the wickedness of unbelievers (non-Christians) or to Gentiles (even Gentile believers) who do not keep the Law? Most commentators accept the former interpretation, but, as I have already indicated, a minority hold the latter view. Much depends on the wider question of the origin and authorship of the entire passage 2 Cor 6:14-7:1, which I will be discussing in a separate article.

Philippians

Phil 3:2-3—In Gal 5:6; 6:15 and 1 Cor 7:19, Paul declared decisively that the (physical) rite of circumcision (Greek peritomh/, “cutting around”) is of no account and has no bearing on believers in Christ whatsoever. Here he takes the next step, giving a spiritual interpretation to the rite and applying it to believers, much as he does in Romans 2:28-29. In verse 2, he appears to warn against certain Jewish Christian (“Judaizing”) opponents, referring to them in unusually crass and derisive terms (note the pun using katatomh/ “cutting down”, i.e. mutilation, instead of peritomh/, “cutting around, i.e. circumcision). His declaration in verse 3 is clear and forceful:

“For we [i.e. believers] are the circumcision—the (one)s doing (religious) service in (the) Spirit [of God] and boasting/exulting in (the) Anointed Yeshua—and not having confidence/assurance in the flesh”

Note here: (1) Paul’s regular contrast between the Spirit and the flesh, and (2) that circumcision is identified with being “in the Spirit” and “in Christ”—clearly this no longer has anything to do with a religious rite (but note the interesting association with baptism, cf. below). For a parallel with the idea of (true) worship taking place “in the Spirit”, see John 4:23-24.

Phil 3:4-8ff—In these verses, Paul continues the line of argument from vv. 2-3 (above), developing the contrast between his old religious life “in the flesh” and the new identity in Christ (and the Spirit). The old religious identity in this case was Jewish, including a strict observance of the Old Testament/Jewish Law (Torah). Paul affirms that he was a devout Pharisee (v. 5), and that in terms of ‘righteousness’ (dikaiosu/nh)—understood from a traditional religious standpoint, i.e. observing and fulfilling the commands and regulations of the Torah—he was “without fault” (a&mempto$) (v. 6). The traditional Jewish view would have held such religious devotion as gain or profit (ke/rdo$) for Paul; and yet, he states that he has come to regard it actually as loss (zhmi/a, something damaged or ruined). This new understanding is qualified by the expression “through the Anointed” (dia\ to\n Xristo/n); this may be understood as: (a) through the work of Christ, (b) through the presence of Christ in the Spirit, (c) on behalf of Christ, (d) for the sake of Christ, or perhaps some combination of these senses. In any event, it is clear that the new identity in Christ has rendered the old religious identity (which involved observance of the Law) of little or no value.

Phil 3:9—Verses 2-8 find their climax in this verse, where Paul states his ultimate goal is that “he should be found [eu(reqw=] in him [e)n au)tw=|, i.e. in Christ]”; this religious identity and realization is defined according to the term dikaiosu/nh (“just-ness, right-ness”, i.e. “justice, righteousness”). Throughout Galatians and Romans, Paul repeatedly emphasizes the fundamental contrast between justice/righteousness which comes from the Law (that is, from performing/observing its commands, i.e. “works of the Law”), and the justice/righteousness which comes through trust/faith in Christ (cf. Gal 2:16-21; 3:2, 5-6, 10-14, 21-24; 5:4-5; Rom 1:17; 3:19-20, 21-31; 4:4-5, 13-16; 6:14-15, etc). In this verse, he establishes three parallel contrasts:

  • my (own) [e)mo/$] righteousness
  • righteousness comes out of (observance of) the Law [e)k no/mou]
  • righteousness based upon works of the Law (implied)
    • righteousness that is from [lit. out of] God [e)k qeou=]
    • righteousness that comes through trust of Christ [dia\ pi/stew$ Xristou=]
    • righteousness based upon th(is) trust (in Christ) [e)pi\ th=| pi/stei]

This reflects a personalized version of what Paul declares more objectively in Romans 10:2-4ff.

Colossians

Col 2:11ff—As in Phil 3:2-3 (above) and Rom 2:28-29, circumcision is spiritualized and applied to believers. Throughout Col 2:6ff, the expression “in Christ” (or “in him”) is used repeatedly—in vv. 6, 7, 9, 10. In verse 10, believers are identified as “the (ones who have been) filled up” (peplhrwme/noi) in him, this filling/fullness (plh/rwma) being understood on a cosmic scale. Verse 11 continues:

“…in whom [i.e. in Christ] you were circumcised [perietmh/qhte] with a circumcision [peritomh=|] made without hands, in the sinking out away from [i.e. the shedding off of] the body of the flesh, in the circumcision of (the) Anointed”

This “circumcision of Christ” is to be understood in terms of Christ’s death, as is clear from vv. 12ff. For the identification of believers with, and participation in, the death (and the resurrection) of Christ, see especially Romans 6:1-11 (also Rom 8:1-11; Gal 2:19-21); and note the association between circumcision and the death of Christ in Gal 6:14-15. In particular, this is realized symbolically in the rite of baptism, where believers put off the old and put on (lit. sink into [a garment]) Christ—the old self is removed just as the foreskin is removed in the rite of circumcision. In Col 3:5ff, this “old self” is connected with immoral/idolatrous behavior (i.e. “works of the flesh”), so there is clearly a practical ethical component to the instruction here. However, “circumcision” itself is understood entirely in spiritual terms, as something “made/done without hands” (a)xeiropoi/hto$). Elsewhere, this adjective is used, in a similar context (2 Cor 5:1), for a “heavenly dwelling” (the future glory reserved for the believer, perhaps tied to the idea of a “spiritual body” [1 Cor 15:42ff]). This motif itself reflects a spiritual interpretation and application of the Temple in early Christianity, as seen especially in Acts 7:35-53 (Stephen’s speech), where the earthly Temple and pagan idols are both described as things “made with hands” (vv. 41, 43, 48, and note v. 50); see a similar association in Acts 17:24; 19:26-27. There may be a connection back to the Temple sayings of Jesus (Mark 13:2; 14:58 par; John 2:19; Acts 6:13-14); the terms xeiropoi/hto$ (“made with hands”) and a)xeiropoi/hto$ (“made without hands”) appear in the version of the saying reported in Mark 14:58. At the very least, with regard to this saying, early Christians associated the Temple with Jesus’ own body (Jn 2:21-22)—this, in turn, helped to facilitate a  spiritual interpretation of the Temple itself (in the Pauline letters, cf. 1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19; 2 Cor 5:1ff; 6:16; Eph 2:21).

Col 2:14—In this verse, the Law is described as “the handwriting [xeiro/grafon]…which was under (and) against us”. Occasionally, Paul refers to the Old Testament Law specifically as a written work—using the term gra/mma (“written [word or letter]”), in Rom 2:27, 29; 7:6; 2 Cor 3:6-7, where the old covenant of the (written) Law is contrasted with the new covenant of the Spirit. Here the word is xeiro/grafon, i.e. something “written by hand”; there is likely an echo of circumcision as something “made/done by hands” (in v. 11, cf. above). The reference is best understood of the Law in a particular aspect—that of a written decree or judgment—as indicated by the use of do/gmata. In its fundamental sense, do/gma refers to something thought or considered to be true, proper, etc., but was regularly used in the specific (and technical) sense of an authoritative decision, esp. in the form of an official decree, judgment, ordinance, and so forth. The word never appears in the undisputed Pauline letters, only in Eph 2:15 where it is used (as here, in the plural) specifically of the Old Testament Law. The basic idea in context, however, is very much Pauline, as can be seen from Gal 2:19; 3:10-13; Rom 6:1-11; 7:4-6, where, by way of Christ’s sacrificial death, believers are said to die to the curse/judgment of the Law and to the Law itself.

Col 2:16-23—In this passage, there is a stress on the unimportance of ceremonial/ritual observances, especially the observance of holy days and dietary restrictions. This relates to portions of the Torah, as is clear from verse 16 (new moon, feasts, Sabbath), but almost certainly extends beyond this to external ritual and observance in general, as indicated by the parallel discussion in Gal 4:1-11 (where Gentiles are primarily in view). Paul seems to identify the Law—at least in its ritual/ceremonial aspects—in some way with the “elements [stoixei=a] of the world” (Col 2:8, 20; Gal 4:3). The observation of special days and dietary restrictions are also singled out in Rom 14:1-8; Paul regards them as matters of indifference, to be observed (or not) according to the conscience of each person. In this regard, note how Rom 14:14 would seem (decisively) to abolish dietary and purity laws for believers in Christ. Col 2:16-23 does not go this far, nor does it target the Torah commands directly (apart from v. 16), but the same principle applies. In Christ, believers have died to these “elements of the world” (v. 20) just as we have died to the Law.

August 3: Romans 9:30-33

Romans 9:30-33

Today’s note is on Romans 9:30-33, supplemental to the series on Paul’s View of the Law (in Romans). Verses 30-33 represent the last of three rhetorical questions in chapter 9 (vv. 14ff, 19ff, 30ff); it begins, as in v. 14: ti/ ou@n e)rou=men; “What then shall we declare (i.e. say about this?)” The answer to the first question in v. 14 was decisively negative: “there is not injustice alongside God (is there)?”—answer: “may it not come to be (so)!” (mh\ ge/noito). The question in vv. 30-31 has two parts:

    1. “that the nations, the (one)s not pursuing justice/righteousness, took down [i.e. took hold of] justice/righteousness?” (v. 30)
    2. “but (that) Israel, pursuing (the) Law of justice/righteousness, did not reach/arrive (first) unto (this) Law?” (v. 31)

Based on previous such questions, one might expect another negative response; however, Paul here responds with an implicit affirmation. The verbs used are worth considering:

    • diw/kw “set in motion”, especially in the sense of “set out after”, i.e. pursue after. It is often used in a negative sense—to pursue with hostile intent, sometimes translated as “persecute”. Here Paul means it in a positive sense, as in Rom 12:13; 14:19; 1 Cor 14:1; Phil 3:12, 14; 1 Thess 5:15—seeking after something (of value) with the hope of obtaining it.
    • katalamba/nw, lit. “take down”, generally meaning “take hold of”, “seize, grasp”, etc., but also “overtake”; it can also mean “apprehend” or “comprehend” in a metaphorical/intellectual sense. Elsewhere (1 Cor 9:24; Phil 3:12-13), Paul’s uses it in the context of a race, where the runner seeks to overtake his opponent and obtain the prize.
    • fqa/nw, “to be (or do) first”, i.e. to arrive at or reach a goal before someone else, again in the context of a race.

The idea seems to be that Israel, following the Law (Torah), should have reached the goal (that is, the end of the “race”) before the Gentiles. According to Paul, Christ is the end (te/lo$) of the race, and the goal to which the Law pointed, cf. Rom 10:4; and yet, Gentiles have reached (and taken hold) of the prize ahead of many Israelites. The goal was reached by responding to the Gospel that was proclaimed to them, and trusting in Christ. Paul discusses Israel’s response to the Gospel specifically in chapter 10. Many of the Gentiles who came to faith in Christ were “sinners” (1 Cor 6:11), and, as such, were not “pursuing justice and righteousness”—certainly not in the traditional religious or moral sense of the term. Through trust (faith), they obtained the justice/righteousness (of God) that is made manifest in Christ (cf. Rom 3:21ff; 1 Cor 1:30, etc). This Paul explains in vv. 32-33 (dia\ ti/ “through what [i.e. why]?”):

“…(in) that [i.e. because] (it was) not out of trust [e)k pi/stew$], but as out of works [e)c e&rgwn]”

Paul here, yet again, contrasts trust in Christ with observance of the Law (Torah), understood specifically as deeds, doing, i.e. “works”. The use of the particle w($ (“how, as, as if”) is interesting; he is perhaps emphasizing the mode or manner of pursuit. The (failed) result of Israel’s pursuit Paul expounds figuratively: “they struck against the stone of striking-against [i.e. the stone that one strikes against]”. The verb prosko/ptw means to strike [lit. cut] toward [i.e. against] something, often with the image of striking one’s foot against a rock (so as to fall); the noun pro/skomma is often used in sense of something which causes one to stumble and fall, either literally or figuratively. Paul’s use of these two words here anticipates his citation of Isa 28:16 (combined with Isa 8:14), a passage quoted also in 1 Peter 2:6-8 (and cf. Matt 21:42; Luke 20:17; Eph 2:20). This very application of Isa 28:16 says something significant about the early Christian view of the Law: the foundation or cornerstone of the Temple site is Jesus Christ and the Gospel message about him. This is one of several key examples in the New Testament where Jesus himself is seen as taking the place of the forms and elements of the old covenant.

July 27: Romans 2:25-29

Romans 2:25-29

This note will examine Romans 2:25-29 as related to Paul’s view of the Law in Romans (see the article on Rom 1:18-3:20). Throughout chapter 2, Paul has been laying the groundwork for the teaching that all human beings (Jew and Gentile alike) face the judgment of God equally, on the the basis of deeds done according to the Law. This egalitarian doctrine would have faced objections on two fronts:

    1. Jews ought not to be considered on the same grounds as Gentiles (“sinners”)—a religious-ethical objection
    2. Gentiles are, in fact, not under the Law (that is, the Torah)—a question of definition and cultural-religious identity

Both points are dealt with in this chapter—the first, by way of the polemic of vv. 1-5, 17-24; the second, by way of the argument in vv. 6-10, 11-16. Then, Paul brilliantly sums up both under the idea of circumcision, which, of course, is the main marker of Jewish religious and cultural identity. The question of circumcision (whether Gentile Christians ought to be circumcised) was central to Paul’s entire line of argument in Galatians; indeed, circumcision functioned rhetorically as a kind of shorthand for observance of the Old Testament/Jewish Law (Torah)—the wider question being whether believers in Christ are required to observe the Torah commands. Paul returns to this same issue here in Romans; it is framed rather differently, but many of the points made in Galatians still apply. One may outline these verses as follows:

    • Vv. 25-26: The proper meaning of circumcision as a mark of religious identity—its relationship to the Torah
    • V. 27: Deeds matter more than having circumcision in the time of judgment
    • Vv. 28-29: The unimportance of (physical) circumcision—the true meaning of circumcision is spiritual

Verses 25-26

Paul explains the proper meaning of circumcision, as a mark of religious identity, with a pair of statements, the second of which takes the form of a rhetorical question:

V. 25: “For (on the one hand) circumcision profits (you) if you should practice the Law; but (on the other hand) if you should be (one) stepping-over the Law, (then) your circumcision has become (a) foreskin”
V. 26: “Then if the (one having a) foreskin guards the just things [dikaiw/mata] of the Law, will not his foreskin be counted unto circumcision?”

The first statement (v. 25) makes the point that the religious identity (covenant) associated with the ritual of circumcision is invalidated and rendered false or meaningless if the terms of the covenant (observing the Torah commands) are not followed. Elsewhere, Paul refers to Torah observance with the expression “works of (the) Law”; here, he describes it as habitual performance (pra/ssw, “to practice”). In other words, the covenant (indicated by circumcision) requires that the Torah commands and regulations be observed (in their entirety, cf. Gal 5:3). The ritual of circumcision itself is not enough (a point which contrasts somewhat with traditional Jewish belief, as  expressed in Rabbinic writings).

The question in verse 26 makes the opposite point: an uncircumcised non-Jew (Gentile), otherwise unfamiliar with the Torah, who observes all the just/right things in it, is counted as if he were circumcised. This doubtless would have been a controversial, even offensive, idea to many Jews; not because they denied the possible existence of devout and upright Gentiles, but because of the overall religious implications. Consider the two points Paul is making:

    1. Right behavior (i.e. the Torah, esp. in its moral/ethical aspects) is more important than the religious-cultural identity associated with circumcision itself
    2. The specific (physical) rite of circumcision is relatively unimportant

The second of these points would have been especially problematic, and Paul has already stated it more definitely in Galatians 5:6; 6:15; and 1 Cor 7:19. The last of these references is particularly close to the claim he makes here:

“Circumcision is nothing and (having) a foreskin (also) is nothing, but watching the commands of God (is something)”

As I have discussed previously, the expression “commands [e)ntolw=n] of God” probably should be understood in terms of the “Law of God” (Rom 7:22, 25; 1 Cor 9:21) and the “Law of Christ” (Gal 6:2; 1 Cor 9:21), rather than precisely synonymous with the Torah. The same would be true, I think, of the expression “just things [dikaiw/mata] of the Law” in Rom 2:26 (cf. Rom 1:32; 5:16, 18; 8:4)—the Law (or justice/righteousness) of God, as expressed in the Torah. Paul explained more clearly in vv. 12-16 in what sense Gentiles are “under Law” and may be said to keep the Law.

Verse 27

The hypothetical reversal of roles—transgressing Jew vs. righteous/observant Gentile—is extended to the time of judgment before God. The basic message is similar to that proclaimed by Jesus in Luke 11:32 par. The transgressing Jew is characterized by the significant expression “through the written (word/letter) [dia\ gra/mmato$]”—i.e., one who has been circumcised according to the letter of the Law, but who violates the true meaning and spirit of the Law. Though it might seem that Paul is giving moral, devout Gentiles the advantage over Jews, this is not the case; rather, by way of paradoxical illustration, he is making a two-fold claim:

    • Ultimately there is no significance to the “natural” (ethnic-cultural) status of Israelites or Jews (as indicated by circumcision)
    • All human beings—Jew and Gentile alike, in their own way—are equally “under the Law” and will be judged accordingly

Verses 28-29

Paul here establishes an even more important juxtaposition between the true and false meaning of circumcision, using dualistic language and imagery:

Vv. 28-29a: “For the (one) in the (outward) appearance is not a Jew, and circumcision (also is) not in the (outward) appearance in (the) flesh; but (rather) the (one) in the hidden (reality) is a Jew, and circumcision (is) of the heart—in (the) Spirit, not in (the) written (word)…”

The comparison true vs. false is indicated by similar formulations—one negative, the other positive:

    • V. 28 (negative): not e)n tw=| fanerw=|—”in the open, in the (outward) appearance (lit. shining-forth)”
    • V. 29 (positive): e)n tw=| kruptw=|—”in the hidden/secret (reality)”

For a similar use of the expression e)n tw=| kruptw=|, see Matthew 6:2, 4, 18. Note the words which further qualify and define this dualistic contrast:

e)n tw=| fanerw=|
“in the (outward) appearance”

e)n sarki/
“in (the) flesh”

–e)n— gra/mmati
“in (the) written (word)”

e)n tw=| kruptw=|
“in the hidden (reality)

kardi/a$
“of (the) heart”

e)n pneu/mati
“in (the) Spirit”

There is some question, perhaps, whether pneu=ma in v. 29 is “spirit” generally or the (Holy) “Spirit” specifically; the context, as well as similar passages elsewhere in Paul’s writings, strongly suggest the latter. For the contrast between the visible (letter, i.e. written word) and the hidden (Spirit), see also Rom 7:6, and especially 2 Cor 3:6.

The idea of true circumcision being “of the heart” was inherited by Paul as an already familiar Old Testament and Jewish theme—Lev 26:41; Deut 10:16; 30:6; Jer 4:4; 9:24-25; Ezek 44:7-9; cf. also Jubilees 1:23; 1QpHab 11:13; Philo, On the Special Laws I.305, On the Migration of Abraham §92; and note, especially, the important Prophetic passages in Jer 31:31-34 and Ezek 36:27. Paul connects this traditional motif with the Spirit (of God and Christ)—i.e. believers effectively fulfill the Law (of God and Christ) through the Spirit, not by observing the commands and rites of the Torah.

A final, significant emphasis is made in verse 29b, that judgment (and acceptance, “justification”) comes from God, and is not realized by human (religious and ethical) standards. This is very much the same point made by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 6:1-18).

July 26: Romans 2:12-16

This note will discuss Romans 2:12-16, which can be divided into two portions:

    • Vv. 12-13—a declaration that all human beings (Jews and Gentiles both) will be judged according to the Law
    • Vv. 14-16—an argument that the Gentiles are under the Law, and thus will be judged on that basis (along with Jews)

Romans 2:12-13

This declaration actually consists of two distinct, connected statements:

V. 12: “For as (many) as sinned without (the) Law [a)no/mw$] also will perish away (themselves) without (the) Law; and as (many) as sinned in (the) Law [e)n no/mw|] will be judged through (the) Law”

At first glance, Paul seems to be affirming a traditional Jewish viewpoint, by referring to Gentiles as those “without (the) Law” (a&nomo$), which can also be rendered “lawless”. Here the word no/mo$ (“law”) is used specifically in the sense of the Old Testament/Jewish Law (Torah), just as it is throughout Galatians. However, Paul is subtly laying the groundwork for the argument in vv. 14-15—that Gentiles are actually under the Law and will be judged accordingly.

V. 13: “For (it is) not the (one)s hearing (the) Law (who are) just [dikai/oi] alongside [i.e. before] God, but (rather) the (one)s doing the Law will be made/declared just [dikaiwqh/sontai]”

Paul continues to use “Law” in the sense of the Torah, alluding to Leviticus 18:5—”you shall guard my statutes and my judgments, (of) which the man (who) does them will also live in them”—a verse he also alludes to, in a similar context, in Gal 3:12. The distinction between hearing the Law and actually doing (i.e., performing or observing) it was a common point of teaching and exhortation in Judaism and early Christianity (cf. Matt 7:24ff; Luke 8:21; 11:28; Jn 12:47; James 1:22-25). For Paul, in this context, “hearing the Law” is a shorthand way to refer to Israelites and Jews generally—i.e. those who have inherited the Law and hear it proclaimed and taught (cf. 2 Cor 3:12-16).

There would seem to be problem in v.13b, where Paul states (along with Lev 18:5) that those doing the Law will be made/declared just (dikaiwqh/sontai) by God, since this contradicts what he has declared elsewhere (and often) in Romans and Galatians (Rom 3:20; Gal 2:16; 3:11, etc). There are two possibilities:

    1. The verb dikaio/w is used here in a slightly different sense than elsewhere in Romans (and Galatians)
    2. Paul is playing on a traditional Jewish line of argument, which he will modify and qualify

The second option seems to fit better the rhetorical context, as Paul is in the process of addressing a hypothetical/imaginary Jew. He does much the same thing in Gal 2:15ff, drawing upon traditional Jewish understanding of Gentiles as lawless “sinners”, in contrast to Jews who live under the Law. And yet, according to his argument in Galatians, “works of the Law” only result in placing Jews under a curse. Gentiles, of course, are effectively under the same curse, as Paul will argue in Romans 3 (see also Gal 4:1-11), but here in Rom 2:12ff, he is specifically building his argument that God’s judgment on human beings is based on the Law. For more on the verb dikaio/w and the ancient background for Paul’s use of the dikaio- wordgroup, see the article on Justification.

Romans 2:14-16

In these verses, Paul suddenly modifies the scope of no/mo$ (“law”), applying it directly to Gentiles:

V. 14: “For when (the) nations, the (one)s not holding (the) Law, by nature do the (thing)s of the Law, these (people) not holding (the) Law are (the) Law in/unto themselves…”

The verb e&xw can be understood generally as “to have”, but more concretely it means “to hold”; so there is a slight ambiguity to its use here—Paul may be saying that they do not know the Law (Torah), or that they do not observe it, or both. Actually, as he makes clear, many Gentiles do observe the “things of the Law” (i.e., the things prescribed or commanded in the Law), even if they are unfamiliar with the Torah. This primarily means the ethical and moral aspects of the Torah, since it would not be possible for Gentiles to observe many of the specific ritual/ceremonial laws. In this regard, though they are not specifically under the Torah, they are still under the Law (of God). Paul’s way of phrasing this here “they are Law in/unto themselves [e(autoi=$, dative of advantage]”, strongly suggests that some sort of internal guidance is involved (such as the “conscience”). This contrasts with Rom 1:18ff, where people respond to the evidence of God in the natural world, or Gal 4:1-11, where Paul speaks of Gentiles as being “under the ‘elements’ [stoixei=a] of the world” (a kind of parallel to being “under the Law”). The meaning is clarified in verse 15:

V. 15a: “…the (one)s that show forth the work of the Law written in their hearts…”

The expression “the work of the Law” [to\ e&rgon tou= no/mou] is carefully chosen to echo “works of the Law” [e&rga tou= no/mou] (Rom 3:20, 28; Gal 2:16; 3:2, 5, 10, cf. also Rom 4:2, 6; 9:12, 32; 11:6), as a collective which epitomizes the deeds prescribed by Law (the Torah and wider “Law of God”). The idea of the Law “written in the heart” seems to echo the famous passage in Jer 31:31-34; however, while this may foreshadow the Christian understanding, it is not what Paul is referring to here—rather, he is describing something akin to the human conscience, for which the corresponding Greek word is sunei/dhsi$, used by Paul in the second half of the verse:

V. 15b: “…their seeing (things) together [i.e. awareness/consciousness] (is) witnessing together, and between (each) other their reckoning/reasoning [pl.] is speaking openly against (them) or even giving account for (them)…”

Paul’s phrasing is difficult to render accurately, in a literal manner. The word sunei/dhsi$ means “seeing (things) together”, i.e. seeing/knowing things clearly, especially in the sense of being aware, or conscious of things. Often this means from a moral or ethical standpoint, i.e. awareness/consciousness of what is right and proper—in other words, a conscience, and so it is commonly translated in English. The verb summarture/w means “witness together (or, jointly)”; the prefixed particle sun- (“with, together”) probably should be understood in a sense parallel to its use in sunei/dhsi$, i.e. of a full, clear witness. There is no precise English equivalent for the plural of the noun logismo/$ (“counting, reckoning, reasoning”), it is often rendered simply as “thoughts”, which relate and discuss “between each other” (metacu\ a)llh/lwn)—alternately speaking out against the person and offering a defense on their behalf.

The statement concludes, with a return to theme of judgment in verse 16:

V. 16: “…in (the) day when God judges the hidden (thing)s of men, according to my good message [i.e. the Gospel I proclaim], through (the) Anointed Yeshua.”

In other words, the thoughts and conscience of Gentiles will be the basis for judgment, just as Jews will be judged according the Torah (which represents the terms of their covenant with God). So, both Jews and Gentiles alike will be judged according to the Law, and on the basis of their deeds (“work[s]”). It is something of a complex argument, not always easy to follow, in part because Paul is working from traditional Jewish language and patterns of thought to forge a new (and decisive) Christian understanding of things. He begins with the idea of the judgment of human beings before God according to their deeds, and places it alongside of the (new) Gospel message of the justice of God which is found and realized through trust in Christ. This is summarized here in verse 16—

“when God judges… through Christ Jesus”

and will be expanded and expounded upon in the chapters which follow.

This note is part of the series on “Paul’s View of the Law in Romans”

July 25 (1): Galatians 6:15

This note (on Galatians 6:15) is supplemental to the concluding article dealing with “Paul’s View of the Law in Galatians”.

Galatians 6:15

This verse represents Paul’s final doctrinal statement in the letter, as he returns with a decisive declaration on the main issue involved—whether Gentile believers ought to be circumcised and observe the Old Testament/Jewish Law (Torah). Circumcision is, in many ways, representative of the entire Torah, the covenant between God and Israel—it preceded the Sinai covenant, and is the fundamental mark of Jewish identity. It is understandable why Jewish believers felt that circumcision should be a requirement for Gentile converts, since early Christianity was born within a Jewish cultural-religious matrix. Paul, in Galatians, is among the very first Christians to argue for a distinctively Christian religious identity—something entirely new, and separate from traditional Judaism. In the conclusion (peroratio) of Galatians, vv. 12-17 of chapter 6, for one last time, Paul contrasts the Gospel message as he understands (and proclaims) it, with that of his Jewish-Christian opponents; the polemic is sharp in vv. 12-14, with circumcision set against the cross of Christ (cf. Gal 2:19-21). The declaration in verse 15 follows:

“For neither circumcision is any(thing), nor (is having) a foreskin, but (rather)—a new formation [kainh\ kti/si$]”

This is the second of three similar statements in Paul’s letters dealing with circumcision, the first occurring in Gal 5:6, and the third in 1 Cor 7:19 (assuming Galatians was written prior to 1 Corinthians); they may be compared side-by-side (in translation):

Gal 5:6

“For in (the) Anointed Yeshua neither circumcision has any strength, nor (does having) a foreskin, but (rather)—trust working in (you) through love”

Gal 6:15

“For neither circumcision is any(thing), nor (is having) a foreskin, but (rather)—a new formation”

1 Cor 7:19

“(For) circumcision is nothing, and (having) a foreskin is (also) nothing, but a guard of [i.e. guarding] the commands of God (is)”

Each statement begins with a declaration that circumcision is unimportant/irrelevant for believers; it is helpful to compare these:

Gal 5:6
ou&te peritomh/ ti i)sxu/ei ou&te a)krobusti/a
“neither circumcision has any strength, nor (does having) a foreskin”

Gal 6:15
ou&te peritomh/ ti e)stin ou&te a)krobusti/a
“neither circumcision is any(thing), nor (is having) a foreskin”

1 Cor 7:19
h( peritomh/ ou)de/n e)stin kai\ h( a)krobusti/a oude/n e)stin
“circumcision is nothing and (also having) a foreskin is nothing”

The two clauses in Galatians are nearly identical; the formulation is a bit different in 1 Cor 7:19, but all three say essentially the same thing—”has no strength”, “is not any(thing)”, “is nothing”. Gal 5:6 qualifies the statement by the expression “in Christ Jesus”, which, of course, is to be assumed in all three forms. That religious, cultural, and ethnic distinctions between Jews and non-Jews (Gentiles) are eliminated for believers “in Christ”—this is an important theme and doctrine in Galatians (see esp. Gal 3:26-28). The use of the verb i)sxu/w, “to have (or use) strength”, in Gal 5:6 is significant; it can be understood two ways: (a) that circumcision has no effect (or power) in the life of a believer (before God), and also (b) that it has no binding force, i.e. believers are not obligated to observe the command. The same is true of being uncircumcised, as the context of 1 Cor 7:19 makes especially clear (see “Did you know…?” below).

The question naturally comes to mind: if circumcision (and uncircumcision) have no power or significance for the believer, than what does have? Interestingly, in these three statements, Paul gives three different answers, here presented side-by-side for comparison:

Gal 5:6

pi/sti$ di’ a)ga/ph$ e)nergoume/nh
“trust through love working in (you)”

Gal 6:15

kainh\ kti/si$
“(a) new formation”

1 Cor 7:19

th/rhsi$ e)ntolw=n qeou=
a guard of [i.e. guarding] (the) “commands” of God

Each of the statements, is, in some way, important and distinctive with regard to Paul’s teaching:

Gal 5:6: pi/sti$ di’ a)ga/ph$ e)nergoume/nh “trust working in (you) through love”—This formula brings together three elements fundamental to the teaching and line of argument throughout Galatians:

pi/sti$ (“trust/faith”), i.e. trust in Christ (cf. Gal 2:16, 20; 3:2, 5, 7-9, 11-12, 14, 22-26); a key premise of the letter is that people (believers) are made/declared just (righteous) before God by trust in Christ, and not by observing the Law. This a dominant theme through the first four chapters (esp. chap 3).

a)ga/ph (“love”)—love is an important motif in the exhortation section of the letter (Gal 5:1-6:10), with its emphasis on believers demonstrating (sacrificial) love to each other; the so-called “love command” (Lev 19:18; Mark 12:28-33 par) represents the only “Law” that believers are obligated to observe (Gal 5:13-14, cf. Rom 13:8-10), presumably to be identified with the “Law of Christ” in Gal 6:2.

e)nerge/w (“work in”)—the term “work” is important in Galatians; Paul repeatedly refers to “works [e&rga] of the Law” (i.e. doing/observing the Law/Torah), Gal 2:16; 3:2, 5, 10, as contrasted with trust in Christ and the Gospel; note also the parallel expression “works of the flesh” (Gal 5:19). For the believer, it is God and the Spirit which works (Gal 2:8; 3:5).

Gal 6:15: kainh\ kti/si$ “a new formation”—The noun kti/si$ is derived from the verb kti/zw, “to form, found”, as with a city/settlement or building, etc.; more generally, it can have the sense of “produce, make”, etc., i.e. “create”, in reference to God’s creative power. Often the expression here is translated “new creation”, sometimes influenced by the idea of regeneration or “new birth”; however, for Paul, I believe the emphasis is rather on a new identity for the believer in Christ. The expression is also used in 2 Cor 5:17:

“So then, if any (one is) in (the) Anointed [e)n Xristw=|] he is a new creation/formation [kainh\ kti/si$]…”

The dualism of old vs. new is an important aspect of Paul’s theology and anthropology, cf. Rom 6:6; 7:6; 1 Cor 5:7-8; 2 Cor 3:6, 14; 5:17; Col 3:9-10; Eph 2:15; 4:22, etc.

1 Cor 7:19: th/rhsi$ e)ntolw=n qeou=—The noun th/rhsi$ is related to the verb thre/w, “(keep) watch, guard”, and so primarily means a “guard”, i.e. as in a prison; however, it can also have the more general, abstract meaning of “keeping, holding”, etc. The noun e)ntolh/ literally refers to something laid on someone to complete, i.e., an order, charge, duty, etc.; it is often translated “command(ment)”, and, in the plural, in a Jewish context, typically refers to the commands and regulations of the Torah. At first glance, this seems to be an entirely different emphasis than in Galatians; the idea of “keeping the commands” (of the Torah) is altogether opposite of what Paul teaches for believers there. Since, in 1 Cor 7:19, he has just stated that “circumcision is nothing”, it is most unlikely that the “commands of God” here are synonymous with the Torah commands. More plausibly, it could refer to the moral/ethical commands, especially of the Decalogue (cf. Mark 10:19 par; James 2:11; Rom 13:9). However the qualification “of God” for Paul probably carries the sense of the true commands (cf. the parallel expression “the Law of God” in Rom 7:22, 25); the overall context of Paul’s teaching—especially in Romans and Galatians—would identify the true command(s) with the so-called “love command” (cf. “the Law of Christ”, Gal 6:2), in which, according to the teaching and example of Christ, the entire Law is summarized and fulfilled (Gal 5:14; Rom 13:8-10). The problem with the context in 1 Corinthians, is that Paul brings up the question of circumcision only in passing; it is not central to the teaching and argument of chapter 7, which involves practical instruction and advice regarding marriage and marital status among believers.

It is interesting that in Gal 5:6; 6:15; 1 Cor 7:19 Paul does not simply say that “circumcision is nothing”, etc.; instead, he adds that “(having) a foreskin [a)krobusti/a] is (also) nothing”, etc. The statement in Gal 5:6, that “(having) a foreskin has no strength” (just as circumcision “has no strength”) is especially unusual from our vantage point today. However, as Christianity spread throughout the Gentile (Greco-Roman) world, instead of Jewish pressure on Gentile believers to be circumcised, there would be the opposite cultural pressure on Jewish believers to hide their circumcision. Paul would have been aware of this dynamic, especially in a Greek city such as Corinth. In 1 Cor 7:18, Paul urges that those who have been circumcised (i.e. Jewish believers) ought not to “pull (a foreskin) upon” (e)pispasa/omai) them. In the Greco-Roman world, operations were available for Jewish men to ‘restore’ the foreskin (epispasm) or otherwise hide the effects of circumcision.

Paul’s View of the Law: Galatians (Conclusion)

Galatians 6:11-18 represents the conclusion of the letter (the Epistolary Postscript), originally in Paul’s own handwriting (v. 11).

Postscript (Galatians 6:11-18)

The Epistolary Postscript may be divided as follows:

    • Verse 11—Introductory notice
    • Verses 12-17—The conclusion (peroratio)
    • Verse 18—Benediction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    • o%soi tw=| kano/ni tou/tw| stoixh/sousin, “as (many) as walk in line by this (measuring) rod”—Paul uses the same verb (stoixe/w) as in Gal 5:25 (“walk in line in/by the Spirit”); the noun kanw/n (used only by Paul in the New Testament, here and in 2 Cor 10:13-16), indicates a (straight) measuring line or rod (“reed”), or, more abstractly, a boundary, rule, and the like. The “rule” he refers to is the statement in verse 15, though doubtless Paul would apply it to the entire teaching and line of argument in the letter as well.
    • e)pi\ to\n  )Israh\l tou= qeou=, “upon the Yisrael {Israel} of God”—this expression has proven most difficult for commentators, representing a crux interpretum, especially with regard to the relationship between Christian and Jewish identity in Paul’s writings. It will be discussed, in some detail, in a separate note.

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

Concluding Notes

Having concluded this study of Paul’s View of the Law in Galatians, it may be helpful to summarize the key points of emphasis and arguments made in the letter:

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