Saturday Series: Galatians 3:15-29

Probatio (Galatians 3:1-4:31)

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

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

Section 3: Galatians 3:15-29

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

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

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

Galatians 3:15-18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Galatians 3:26-29

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Saturday Series: Galatians 3:7-14

Probatio (Galatians 3:1-4:31)

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

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

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

Section 2: Galatians 3:7-14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In verse 14, Paul concludes the section by:

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

This promise will be the theme of the next section.

Saturday Series: Galatians 3:1-6

As we continue in our current Saturday Series studies, examining Paul’s letter to the Galatians from the standpoint of Rhetorical Criticism, it may be worth reviewing the outline of the letter as we have analyzed it thus far:

    • [Study 1] Opening Greeting (Epistolary Prescript)—1:1-5
    • [Study 2] Introduction, with direct address to the audience (Exordium)—1:6-10
    • [Study 3] Narration or statement of relevant facts and events (Narratio)—1:11-2:14
    • [Study 4] Statement and exposition of the case (Propositio)—2:15-21

Having stated his case in the propositio, Paul now proceeds to argue and ‘prove’ it in chapters 3-4. In the terminology of classical rhetoric, this section of a speech (or letter) is referred to as the probatio—that is, the detailed examination, demonstration, and proving of the case. As in a courtroom trial, the principal arguments are presented and the case is made. Sometimes the term confirmatio (‘confirmation’) is also used for this portion.

The proposition of Galatians is stated in 2:15-21 (see the discussion in the previous study and the associated exegetical notes), and the upshot of it may be summarized as follows: Believers in Christ have died to the Law (v. 19), and thus are no longer required to fulfill the Torah regulations; in particular, Gentile believers are not obligated to be circumcised or obey the dietary laws, etc. Paul was aware that the claims of his opponents, relating to this point, could be quite persuasive. After all, did not God establish the Torah regulations as binding for His people? And so, should not Christians also continue to uphold these regulations?

The challenges posed by the traditional religious viewpoint (as expressed by many Jewish Christians, including Paul’s opponents) made it necessary for Paul to mount a careful and thorough defense. He utilizes a variety of “proofs”, generally moving between arguments from Scripture, practical illustrations, and personal appeals, in an attempt to persuade and convince his audience. Having already stated his case in 2:15-21, and in these chapters he seeks to persuade the Galatians that his view of the Gospel, and of the nature of the Christian identity, is correct.

Probatio (Galatians 3:1-4:31)

I divide the probatio into six sections, each of which represents a specific line of argument used by Paul, and which will be discussed in turn:

    1. An appeal to the Galatians’ experience (3:1-6)
    2. Scriptural argument: the blessing of Abraham comes by faith (3:7-14) —contrasted with the curse of the Law (vv. 10-13)
    3. Scriptural argument: the promise to Abraham comes through Christ (3:15-29)
      Illustration: the nature of a testament/covenant, with a contrast between the Law and the promise (vv. 15-18)
      Statement(s) on the purpose of the Law (vv. 19-25)
      Statement on the promise that comes through Christ (vv. 23-25)
    4. Illustration: Slavery vs. Sonship (4:1-11)
    5. Appeal based on the example and person of Paul (4:12-20)
    6. An allegory from Scripture illustrating Slavery vs. Sonship (4:21-31)

Section 1: Galatians 3:1-6

Paul begins with an appeal to the Galatians’ experience, as believers who have come to Christ. He uses the rhetorical/dialogical technique of calling on his audience to bring forward the argument themselves (“this only I wish to learn from you…”, v. 2), by asking them a two-fold question, framed with a provocative accusation/insult (using the adjective anó¢tos, “mindless, unintelligent”, i.e. “foolish”):

    • “O senseless [anó¢toi] Galatians! who has exerted (this evil) influence on you?…” (v. 1)
      • Question: “did you receive the Spirit out of [i.e. from] works of Law or out of (the) hearing of trust/faith?” (v. 2)
    • “Are you thus (so) senseless [anó¢toi]?…” (v. 3-4)
      • Question: “the one supplying… and working… (is he/it) out of [i.e. from] works of Law or out of (the) hearing of trust/faith?” (v. 5)

In both questions Paul contrasts two parallel expressions:

ex érgœn nómou
“out of works of Law”
vs.
ex ako¢¡s písteœs
“out of (the) hearing of trust”

These are similar in form, with the preposition ek (“out of”) in the sense of “from, through, on the basis of”. The expression “works of (the) Law” was already used in 2:16 (see my recent note on this verse), there being contrasted with “trust of Jesus Christ”, which is generally synonymous with “trusting in(to) Jesus Christ” as indicated there in 2:16. Here “works of Law” is set against “hearing of trust”, which probably should be understood in the sense of “hearing (the Gospel) so as to trust in Jesus”. 

“Works of Law” is a shorthand for active observance of the commands and ordinances of the Old Testament Law (Torah or “Law of Moses”), particularly in its ritual/ceremonial aspect (for the similar expression in Hebrew expression, see the Qumran text 4QMMT). Here in Galatians the reference is primarily to circumcision, but would also include the sacrificial offerings, observance of holy days (Sabbath, Passover, etc), dietary regulations, and so forth—even extending to supererogatory acts of religious devotion which go beyond the letter of the law. By juxtaposing the parallel genitive expressions, Paul creates a contrasting distinction—Law vs. faith/trust (in Christ), and the Galatians are ultimately asked to choose between them.

The implicit correct answer to Paul’s two-fold question, as he has already stated, is “out of faith/trust.” But what is it that specifically comes out of faith/trust? In the first question (v. 2), it is the Galatians having received the Spirit; in the second (v. 5), Paul refers to:

“the One [i.e. God] —supplying the Spirit upon you and —working (work)s of power in/among you”

This indicates the two-sides of the religious/spiritual transformation: (a) the believer who receives the Spirit, and (b) the active work of God in giving the Spirit—both of these are seen as the result of a person hearing (and responding to) the Gospel in faith/trust. In verse 3, Paul also contrasts the Spirit with “the flesh [sárx]”, where the (second) question to the Galatians is specified:

“having begun in the Spirit, are you now being completed in/with flesh?”

Paul often juxtaposes the Spirit and flesh in his letters, and does so here in Galatians (see the allegory in 4:21-31 and  throughout the exhortatio of 5:1-6:10). Clearly, the contrast Spirit/flesh is meant to be understood as directly parallel to faith/Law. The “works of Law” are effectively “works of flesh.” The implication is also clear that, in turning to observance of the Law (“in flesh”, esp. circumcision), the Galatians would be turning away from the Spirit.

This section concludes with a quotation from Genesis 15:6, regarding Abraham; its purpose is two-fold: (a) as a Scriptural illustration of the argument in 3:1-5, and (b) as a transition into the Scriptural arguments of 3:7-29, which center upon Abraham. Because of the importance of this citation (also used by Paul in Romans 4:3ff, 22; and again by James 2:23), it is worth comparing the versions of it side by side:

Genesis 15:6 
w®he°§min baYHWH wayyaµš®»eh¹ lœ ƒ®¼¹qâ
“and he [i.e. Abraham] relied firmly on [i.e. trusted in] YHWH and He counted/regarded it for him (as) righteousness”
Genesis 15:6 [LXX]
kai epísteusen Abram tœ¡ qeœ¡ kai e)logísth¢ autœ¡ eis dikaiosýn¢n
“and Abraham trusted (in) God and it was counted to/for him unto justice/righteousness”
Galatians 3:6
kathœ¡s Abraám epísteusen tœ¡ qeœ¡ kai elogísth¢ autœ¡ eis dikaiosýn¢n
“and {even as} Abraham trusted (in) God and it was counted to/for him unto justice/righteousness”

The citation in Galatians (like those in Romans and James) matches the LXX, which itself is a fairly literal rendering of the Hebrew, the only real difference being the use of the (divine) passive elogísth¢ (“was counted”) in Greek rather that the active “he [i.e. God] counted it” in the Hebrew. This verse, and, indeed, the entire Scriptural argument in 3:16-29, is dealt with more precisely in Romans 4. Paul presents it in rather a different context than we see in James 2:14-26; and I have discussed this difference in a separate note, which you may wish to consult. Suffice it to say, Paul gives more attention to the immediate Scriptural context in Gen 15:1-5, where God discloses to Abraham the promise of a son and heir for him. This theme of promise will be central to the arguments from Scripture in the remainder of Galatians 3 (and 4:21-31).

October 19: Galatians 2:19-20

This is the third of four daily notes on Galatians 2:15-21, today covering verses 19-20 which I would summarize as:

The Relation of the believer to the Law

It builds upon the prior verses, especially vv. 17-18 (a rhetorical argument to show the problem with applying the Law to [Gentile] believers), which I discussed in the previous day’s note.

Galatians 2:19-20

These two verses are comprised of a string of declaratory (doctrinal) statements, which will be examined in turn.

e)gw\ ga\r dia\ no/mou no/mw| a)pe/qanon i%na qew=| zh=sw
“For through (the) law I died (off) from (the) law, (so) that I might live to God”

The translation here is perhaps a bit misleading; a simpler rendering of the first clause would be: “through the law, I died to the law”. The expression “through (the) law” (dia\ no/mou) here means that Paul (in the first person, as an example of the ordinary believer) shares the common human condition of being “under the law”. The purpose (and result) of the Old Testament Law (and the force of it) was to “enclose all (things/people) under sin” (Gal 3:22). This establishes the very condition which makes justification by faith in Christ (and not by the Law) possible. Thus the paradoxical statement is realized: “through the Law, I died (off) from [i.e. died to] the Law”, followed by the result clause: “so that I might live to God” —life is possible only once a person has died to the Law.

Xristw=| sunestau/rwmai
“I have been put to the stake (together) with (the) Anointed”

Here this death is described in stark, graphic imagery—of the believer being crucified together with Jesus (see also Gal 5:24; 6:14). This is one of the more dramatic examples of Paul’s participatory language—i.e., of the believer living and dying with Jesus (see esp. Romans 6:1-10). It is also clear that “dying to the Law” is not simply a matter of ignoring or neglecting the Old Testament commandments; rather, it is the natural product (and result) of our “dying with Christ”. In a sense, it is also related to the idea of “dying to sin” (cf. Rom 6:1ff). Paul’s concept of the sacraments (esp. Baptism) is, to a large extent, based on this same language and imagery.

zw= de\ ou)ke/ti e)gw/, zh=| de\ e)n e)moi\ Xristo/$
“but yet I do not (now) live, but (rather) (the) Anointed (One) lives in me

With this statement, Paul’s mystical participatory language is at its most inspired and profound. This is both:

    1. An existential statement—how the believer should understand his/her own existence and identity in Christ, and
    2. A statement of spiritual unity—we confess and (to some extent) experience the reality of Christ living “in us” (through the Spirit), but this unity is, in turn, expressed by our life “in Christ”; this reciprocal relationship is grounded and ultimately defined by the phrase “in Christ”.

The emphatic “I” (e)gw) is the point of transition between the dying (to the law, sin etc) in verse 19 and the living (to Christ) in verse 20. In conventional theological terms, the emphasis is on self-mortification and self-denial—the believer is no longer driven by selfish and material/carnal desires, but walks “according to the Spirit”, following the will of God and the example of Christ.

o^ de\ nu=n zw= e)n sarki/ e)n pi/stei zw= th=| tou= ui(ou= tou= qeou=
“but the (life) which I live now in (the) flesh, I live in (the) trust (that is) of the son of God…”

Here Paul speaks of a different kind of “life”—the ‘ordinary’ daily life one leads—but still tied to the (eternal and spiritual) life the believer has in Christ. It builds upon the “new identity” expressed in v. 20a, and centers the believer’s daily life and existence “in trust/faith [e)n pi/stei]” and “in Christ” (i.e. in the faith/trust of the Son of God).

tou= a)gaph/santo/$ me kai\ parado/nto$ e(auto\n u(pe\r e)mou=
“… the (one) loving me and giving himself along over me [i.e. for me, on my behalf]”

The concluding phrase is a Christological declaration and piece of early kerygma; for a similar statement in the Pauline writings, see Ephesians 5:2. For the same idea of Christ’s self-sacrifice as giving himself over (u(per) elsewhere in Galatians, cf. 1:4; 3:13.

It would be hard to find a more precise and dramatic statement that the believer is dead to the Law—it is a clear shift from being under (or “in”) the Law (and, hence, under sin) and being “in Christ”. As Paul will go on to explain here in Galatians (and elsewhere), the believer in Christ is now guided by the Spirit and no longer is required to observe the commandments of the Old Testament Law. Religious and ethical behavior is maintained (entirely) by life in the Spirit and by following the example and teachings of Jesus. This point is discussed further in my series on “Paul’s View of the Law”.

October 18: Galatians 2:17-18

This is the second of four daily notes dealing with Galatians 2:15-21. Yesterday’s note covered verses 15 and 16, summarized as a basic proposition regarding justification and the Jew/Gentile distinction. Today’s note will examine verses 17-18, which I have summarized as:

A Rhetorical argument to show the problem with applying the Law to (Gentile) believers

Galatians 2:17-18

In verse 17, Paul begins by posing a question (best understood as a rhetorical question), the first conditional clause of which contains two parts:

(a) “But if, seeking to be declared just in [e)n] (the) Anointed (One)…”

This can be understood one of two ways:

(i) True condition—A Gentile who seeks (correctly) to be justified/saved by faith in Christ (instrumental use of the preposition e)n)
(ii) False condition—A believer (Jew or Gentile) already “in Christ” seeks (incorrectly) to be justified by observance of Jewish law

The second part of the clause is:

(b) “…(we our)selves are also found to be sinful ones [i.e. ‘sinners’]…”

This clause also can be understood either as a:

(i) True condition—Converts are shown to be sinful (by the Law) and thus can only be justified through faith in Christ
(ii) False condition—Believers “in Christ” who do not observe the Law are considered to be “sinners” (from the strict Jewish Christian perspective)

The overall polemic, and the specific use of a(martwloi (“sinners”) in verse 15, strongly indicate that the second portion (b) is a false condition—that, according to the Jewish Christian viewpoint, Gentile believers who do not observe the Jewish Law are effectively “sinners”. However, Paul may also be playing on the idea of the true condition as well—i.e., if his (Jewish Christian) opponents are correct, then believers (already justified by faith in Christ) are truly sinful, having transgressed the religious law.

The sense of the first portion (a) of the clause is even more difficult to determine: perhaps it is intended as a true condition, emphasizing those (Gentiles) who seek to be justified/saved by faith in Christ, but the false condition is at least possible as well.  The upshot of the question, however, is that the Jewish Christian emphasis on observing the Law results in (Gentile) believers effectively being reckoned as “sinners”. This is made clear in the concluding clause:

“…then is (the) Anointed (One) an attendant [i.e. servant] of sin? May it not come to be (so)!”

The notion Paul frames within this question, drawn from the implicit logic of his (Jewish Christian) opponents, is that a believer who trusts in Christ for justification (being declared just/righteous) ends up becoming a “sinner”. This, in turn, implies that Christ serves to bring about sinfulness (transgression) for the believer (under the Law)—clearly an absurd notion!—and yet one which Paul effectively regards as true if it is necessary (as his ‘opponents’ claim) for believers to continue observing the Old Testament Law.

The conditional statement in verse 18, brings greater clarity to the complex rhetorical question of v. 17:

“For, if the (things) which I loosed down [i.e. dissolved/destroyed], these (things) I build (up) again, I make myself stand together (with) one (who) ‘steps over’ [i.e. violates/transgresses]”

As Paul will expound in the argument:

    • by trusting in Christ one effectively dies to the Law (dissolving it)
    • to continue observing the Law—or claiming that one needs to do so—re-establishes it (builds it up again)
    • but the purpose of the Law was to make sin (transgression) known (Rom 4:15, etc) to all people
    • therefore, if taken seriously, the believer (attempting to observe the Law) again comes to be under sin (a transgressor)

It is powerful line of reasoning, and, I suspect, one which many Jewish Christians would not have considered (and which many still do not realize today). The uniqueness of Paul’s viewpoint comes largely from the third premise above—his extraordinary teaching that the fundamental purpose of the Law was to make sin known (effectively to establish humankind’s bondage under sin, Gal 3:22). There is hardly a Jew at the time (or since)—including, I am sure, many Jewish Christians—who would accept this remarkable Pauline doctrine. The stark implication of it is that, to (re-)establish the requirement of Torah observance for believers who have died to the Law (Torah), serves ultimately to undo the very work of Christ! This will be discussed further, in the next daily note on vv. 19-20.

Justification by Faith: James 2:18-19, 24; Eph 2:8-9

This study supplements and completes the discussion from the prior study on James 2:14-26, in relation to the doctrine (and Reformation principle) of “Justification by Faith”. The previous discussion will be supplemented by a study covering the following three areas:

    • The short rhetorical dialogue (vv. 18-19) that comes between the two arguments of the treatise
    • The specific declaration on “faith and works” in verse 24, with its seemingly direct contradiction of the Pauline doctrine, and
    • A consideration of Ephesians 2:8-9, as a broad statement of the Pauline doctrine, which is more relevant to James (and to the Protestant teaching) than Paul’s specific line of argument in Galatians and Romans.
James  2:18-19

In between the two (parallel) arguments of the treatise (vv. 14-17, 20-26), the author includes a brief rhetorical exchange, which serves the literary purpose of transitioning between the two arguments. However, it also is pivotal for an understanding of the author’s view on the relation between “faith and works”.

“But some(one) will speak (like this): ‘You hold trust, and I hold works’; show me your trust apart from works, and I will show you the trust (from) out of my works.” (v. 18)

The author of the letter suddenly introduces a second ‘speaker’ who functions as an opponent for debate. The hypothetical (rhetorical) nature of this person is clear from the wording used to introduce him: “but some(one) [ti$] will speak…”. This figure is a type, representing a conventional way of thinking, but reflecting a person who does not really understand the truth of the situation. We might paraphrase the author’s wording as “someone will surely say (this)…”. What the responder says (lit. “speaks/utters”) is: “you hold trust and I hold works”. What is meant by this?

Commentators offer several avenues for interpretation, but, since the author is the one who is advocating for the importance of “works” as a demonstration of a person’s “trust” (faith), the statement is perhaps best understood as a characterization of the author’s position. In other words, the speaker acts as a foil who misrepresents (or misunderstands) the author’s own position. There are people who might think that the author is making a facile contrast: you hold “trust”, but I hold works. The main point of contrast, however, is that such a separation of “trust” and “works” is not possible, either conceptually, or in reality. Yet, that is precisely what someone espousing the position of ‘justification by faith alone’ might imply: i.e., you try to gain salvation through works, but I rely on trust alone.

To conceive of a separation between trust and works reflects a faulty reasoninga point made clear by the author’s response in v. 18b: “show me your trust apart from works, and I will show you the trust (from) out of my works”. The contrast is expressed by the prepositions xwri/$ (“apart from, separate from”) and e)k (“out of”, i.e. coming from). The author challenges his ‘opponent’ to demonstrate his “trust” apart from any works. Such a demonstration is not possible, since, from the author’s viewpoint, there can be no true trust (faith) in Christ that is “apart” from works. This is the main argument in verses 14ff (and again in 20ff). By contrast, since true faith is manifested by a person’s “works”, one can readily demonstrate such trust through (or “from”, e)k) those works.

In verse 19, the author goes on to make a rather pointed (even harsh) criticism of the person who imagines that one can have any real or meaningful trust apart from works:

“You trust that ‘God is One’; you do well, and (yet even) the daimons trust (the same way) and shudder!”

By defining trust in the most general terms (for Jews and Christians), as a monotheistic declaration that “God is One”, the author makes the point most vividly: even the demons have that level of faith. He could have framed he example more in Christian termsviz., you trust that “Jesus is the Son of God”, fine enough, but even the demons will make such a confession (cf. Mark 3:11; 5:7 par, etc). The point is that such a “trust” in Jesus, if it is not manifest in “works” and, especially, by sacrificial acts of love toward fellow believersis empty, and without much meaning.

James 2:24

The declaration in verse 24, following directly upon the Abraham example (as an illustration of a person’s trust demonstrated by “works”), is the portion of the treatise that would appear most directly to contradict the Pauline teaching on “faith and works”. This is all the more striking when one considers the importance of the example of Abraham in Paul’s line of argument (in Romans and Galatians), and the fact that he uses the very same Scripture (Gen 15:6), but uses it to make the opposite point (cf. Rom 3:27-28)!

Here is the author’s conclusion, which he draws from the example of Abraham:

“You see that a man is made/declared right [dikaiou=tai] out of [i.e. by] works, and not out of trust alone.”

Compare this with Paul’s statement in Romans 3:28:

“For we consider a man to be made/declared right [dikaiou=sqai] by trust, apart from [xwri/$] works”

The two statements would appear to be contradictory. Paul even uses the very expression, “apart from works” (xwri\$ e&rga), that the James treatise categorically refutes. The Pauline expression in the translation above, however, is incomplete; for the full phrase is “…apart from works of the law [no/mou]”. Paul’s teaching in Galatians and Romans is that the regulations of the Torah (the Old Testament Law [of Moses]) are no longer binding for believers in Christ (and especially for Gentile believers). In the Pauline idiom “works” is a shorthand for “works of the Law” meaning performance or fulfillment of the Torah regulations.

In the James treatise, “works” does not have this specialized meaning. This is clear from the context of 2:14-26, where “works” primarily refers to acts of love (care and compassion) shown to fellow believers in their time of need. Paul would affirm the importance of this as well, though almost certainly he would not have expressed it the way our author has. It is also quite possible that the author’s view of the Lawthat is, the believer’s relationship to the Torah regulationswas not all that different from Paul’s. Though he does not treat the matter as forcefully (or as distinctively) as Paul does in Galatians and Romans, etc., there is no sense in the letter that the author views the Torah regulations as in any way binding on believers. Indeed, he shares with Paul (and with other early Christians) the view that the Torah is effectively summarized (and/or replaced) for believers by the “love command”, reflected in the teaching and example of Jesus. For more the Law (Torah) in the Letter of James, see my recent article and notes in the series “The Law and the New Testament” (and esp. the note on James 2:8).

The Pauline doctrine of “justification by faith” is well summarized by the statement in Rom 3:28 (cf. above). A person is “made right” (vb dikaio/w) in God’s eyes through trust alone—that is, through trust in the person and work of Jesus, his sacrificial death and resurrection (as God’s Son). The verb dikaio/w can also be understood in terms of being declared right (i.e., righteous, innocent), in a forensic or judicial sense. This aspect better fits the eschatological context of the coming end-time Judgment—of believers being saved from God’s Judgment on humankind. However, it is probably better to retain the more general meaning of the verb. Things are “made right” between human beings and God, and as believers we are “made right” (by God), through our faith in Christ.

In James 2:24, the verb dikaio/w perhaps should be understood in the sense of “being recognized as right(eous)” by God. That would certainly fit the context of the Abraham example, and of the wider principle that a person’s trust, if it is genuine, will be demonstrated by his/her actions. God recognizes the right(eous)ness that is reflected by such behavior. However, the author is also not unaware of the eschatological Judgment-aspect, and he surely would affirm that believers are saved from the coming Judgment by their faith—a faith that is manifested in works.

If the author of the letter was aware of Paul’s teaching, and is responding to it in some way, as seems likely, then it is possible his main concern is that the Pauline doctrine could be (or has been) carelessly reduced to a general “faith without works” slogan. Without the context of Paul’s arguments regarding the Torah, and a proper understanding of his use of the term “works” (e&rga) as a shorthand for “works of the Law” (e&rga no/mou), a person might mistakenly infer that no “works” of any kind were necessary for believers. The author clearly affirms that acts of love and care toward fellow believers, and similar “good works”, are necessary, at least in the sense that they will be present in the life of anyone who has true faith.

Whether or not there is a deeper opposition to Paul’s teaching in the letter of James (the treatise in 2:14-26) is difficult to say. The fact the author uses the same Abraham example (and Scripture, Gen 15:6) as Paul, only to make virtually the opposite point, does seem to suggest a more fundamental difference in outlook. If ‘James’ was aware of Paul’s writings, then the contradictory use of the Abraham example, etc, would have to be regarded as intentional, meant as a contrast to Paul’s teaching. But is there a real contradiction, at the theological and doctrinal level, between James and Paul? To give an answer to this question, we must briefly examine another important Pauline statement on “faith and works”, in Ephesians 2:8-9.

Ephesians 2:8-9

“For by (the) favor (of God) you are (one)s having been saved, through trustand this (does) not (come) out of you, (but is) the gift of God(and) not out of works, (so) that one should not boast (of it).”

The declaration reads like a theological expansion of the Pauline teaching on “justification by faith” (see on Rom 3:28, above). The core Pauline doctrine is certainly contained at the heart of Eph 2:8-9: “…having been saved (= “made right”/justified) through trust…and not out of works”. The exact relationship to the Pauline teaching, however, depends on one’s view regarding the authorship of Ephesians. For many critical commentators, it is pseudonymous, though still a product of the Pauline Tradition, representing a (secondary) development of Paul’s teaching. For commentators who maintain the traditional-conservative view (that the letter is genuinely written by Paul), Ephesians still shows important signs of development in Paul’s thought and manner of expression, suggesting that it was written some time after Galatians and Romans, etc.

The points of development can be seen in the elements that have been added to the core doctrine, forming the expanded statement of Eph 2:8-9:

    • The emphasis on the favor (xa/ri$) shown to us by God. While the term xa/ri$, used in this soteriological sense, is very much part of the Pauline vocabulary (cf. Rom 3:24; 11:5-6 etc), its close pairing here with pi/sti$ (“trust, faith”) is clearly intended to give a deeper (and clearer) theological formulation to the Pauline doctrine. One is saved/justified by faith, but only insofar as we were first shown favor by God; the idea of favor (or ‘grace’) is primary.
    • The same point of emphasis is seen in the parenthetical clause that follows the expression “by trust”. As if to reinforce the idea that our salvation derives primarily from God’s favor shown to us, rather than simply by virtue of our trust, Paul (or the author) declares unequivocally: “this is (does) not (come) out of [i.e. from] you, (but is) the gift [dw=ron] of God.”
    • The final purpose/result clause also reinforces the idea of our entire dependence on God (and his favor) for our salvation. Since it does not come from (“out of”) ourselves, by our own effort and intention, we certainly cannot rightly “boast” of it. The wording suggests that this is part of God’s very purpose in arranging things this way: “…so that one should not boast (of it)”.
    • Another minor sign of development is the use of the perfect participle (of the verb sw/zw, “save”) to characterize believers as “(one)s having been saved” (sesw|sme/noi). In contrast with comparable statements by Paul in Galatians, Romans, (and 1 Corinthians), Ephesians never uses the verb dikaio/w; instead, the verb sw/zw occurs here, and in something of a specialized sense.

Perhaps most significant of all, in the context of Eph 2:8-9, the noun e&rgon (pl. e&rga, “works”) does not necessary refer to “works of the Law,” as the term consistently does in Galatians and Romans. While Ephesians clearly affirms Paul’s view regarding the Torah (2:15), this is not given much emphasis in the letter. Rather, the meaning of “works” here appears to be more generalized, referring to any action taken by a person. The parenthetical statement “and this (does) not (come) out of you” would seem to confirm this point. Our salvation (having been saved by God) does not depend on anything we do (i.e. our “works”), but comes about as a result of the favor God has shown to us.

This more general formulation of the Pauline doctrine is closer to the Reformation principle of “justification by faith” than are Paul’s arguments that deal with the Torah (in Galatians and Romans). In its generalized formulation, the doctrine is adapted to mean: we are saved by trust (faith), and not by any effort of our own (“works”). But this adaptation, it may be argued, also places the doctrine more squarely in contradiction with the letter of James. As we have seen, in the James treatise, “works” does not refer specifically to “works of the Law”, but to other kinds of “good works” especially, acts of love and charity to fellow believers who are in need. Moreover, the wording in verses 14 and 24 suggests that such works will save a person and “make them right” (i.e., justify them) before God.

A proper understanding of the James treatise would recognize that the faith and works of a believer go hand-in-hand and function together (“work together with [each other]”, v. 22)they cannot be separated. Works are required, in the sense that they will be present in the life of a true believer, and will effectively demonstrate the living reality of a person’s faith. It is in this light that one can speak of works “saving” a person; in truth, it is the reality of believers’ faith, manifest in their actions, that saves them. Such, at least, is the view expressed in the James treatise. It is not necessarily incompatible with Paul’s viewpoint, though doubtless Paul would have expressed himself differently on the matter, using different imagery and lines of argument to make a comparable point.

 

 

 

Justification by Faith: Galatians 2:15-21

This article represents a re-start of Reformation Fridays as a regular feature on this site. I introduced this feature some time ago, and the commemoration this weekend of the Festival of the Reformation (Oct. 31) seemed like a fitting moment to begin posting articles for it again. The purpose of the feature is to examine the Scriptural basis for a number of the key principles and tenets of the Protestant Reformation. It is intended at least as much as an opportunity for critical exegesis of the relevant Scripture passages, as it is an evaluation of Reformation beliefs. I begin with the doctrine of justification by faith (and the principle of sola fide), having initially posting studies on Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:6ff/Romans 4:3ff, with Paul’s treatment of the underlying Old Testament passages Hab 2:4 and Gen 15:6; and will continue the same subject here.

One of the main differences between the Pauline and Reformation views of “justification by faith” is that Paul was working from within a distinctive Jewish religious (and cultural) framework regarding the role of the Torah; thus, for him, the contrast between faith and “works” was oriented toward the binding obligation of Israelites and Jews to observe the regulations of the Torah, and how this relates to the religious identity of believers in Christ. The Reformers and early Protestants tended to understand “works” more broadly and generally, as any attempt by human beings to achieve (or regain) a right standing with God. This generalizing was a natural byproduct of the application of Paul’s teaching to the Reformers’ own situation in the early 16th century, responding to the wide range of binding traditions, legalism, and dependence upon ecclesiastical institutions, which, over the centuries, had come to be firmly established and widespread within the (Roman) Catholic Church.

While Paul would not necessarily have disagreed with this Protestant broadening of the doctrine (see esp. the Pauline teaching in Eph 2:8-9), his main concern was the relationship between Jewish tradition and the new religious identity of believers. For this reason, his use of the term e&rga (“works”) has a technical meaning, as a shorthand for “observing the regulations of the Torah”, with the implication that there is a binding obligation (i.e., requirement) to do so. Paul writes on this subject extensively in the letters to the Galatians and Romans; I have discussed the matter in considerable detail in the articles on “Paul’s View of the Law” (in the series “The Law and the New Testament”). Perhaps the best way to encapsulate this here in a short space is with a brief study on Galatians 2:15-21, which represents the beginning of his main line of argument in Galatians, and is thus his oldest surviving piece of writing on the subject.

Galatians 2:15-21

In the preceding verses 10-14, Paul is narrating an episode that occurred at Antioch, involving a conflict between he and Simon Peter. The conflict centered on the observance of the Torah purity laws and the traditional Jewish views regarding certain kinds of contact (eating and drinking, etc) with non-Jews (Gentiles). According to Paul, Peter backed away from eating with Gentiles publicly, when certain Jewish Christian representatives from Jerusalem (“some [people] from James”) arrived. While Peter may simply have done this out of polite respect for the Jewish Christian visitors, Paul viewed such separation as a fundamental violation of Christian principles. He states it this way:

“I saw that he [i.e. Peter] did not set (his) foot straight toward the truth of the good message [i.e. Gospel]”

By separating from Gentile believers when Jewish believers were present, the implication, according to Paul, was that, in order for the Gentile believers to maintain full fellowship with the Jewish believers, they would have to become Jewish, taking on the obligation to observe the Torah, including the dietary and purity laws, etc. This was a subtler form of the same issue involving circumcision—i.e., whether (Gentile) believers in Christ were obligated to be circumcised—which was at the heart of the conflict in Galatians. In both instances, it involves what Paul calls “making it necessary [vb a)nagka/zw] (for the) nations [i.e. Gentiles] to (live) as Jews” (v. 14).

It is not entirely clear how far the quotation of Paul’s words to Peter extends; in any case, vv. 15ff certainly continues the same line of argument. Verse 16 provides a lengthy statement of Paul’s teaching on ‘justification by faith’, along with the implications of this doctrine:

“seeing that a man is not made just/right out of works of (the) law, if not through trust of [i.e. in] Yeshua (the) Anointed, even we [i.e. who are Jews] trusted in (the) Anointed Yeshua, (so) that we might be made just/right out of trust of [i.e. in] (the) Anointed (One), and not out of works of (the) law, (for it is) that out of works of (the) law all flesh will not be made just/right [i.e. no person will be made right]”

Here, the “works” are specified as “works of (the) law” (e&rga no/mou), where the “law” (no/mo$) refers to the regulations, statutes, and precepts of the Torah. The verb dikaio/w, as previously noted, has the basic meaning “make right, make just”, sometimes in the judicial sense of “establish justice, declare (a person or situation to be) just”. The religious connotation of Paul’s use of the verb is of a person being in “right standing” with God.

Paul’s line of argument in vv. 15-18 is complex and clever, and can be a bit difficult to follow on a casual reading. He starts from the premise that Gentiles are “sinners” (v. 15), in the traditional religious (and cultural) sense that they are outside of the covenant between God and Israel, and thus do not observe the Torah. This is the basis for the religious-cultural division between Jews and non-Jews. The remainder of the line of argument can be paraphrased and interpreted as follows:

    • Believers in Christ are “made right” through their trust in Jesus (as the Anointed One), and not through fulfilling the terms of the covenant and observing the Torah (v. 16); Paul treats this as something all Christians (even Jewish Christians) would agree upon =>
      • Given that this is the case, to treat Gentile believers as though they were essentially still ‘sinners’, in the traditional religious-cultural sense (separate from Israel and the covenant), means that, in spite of being “made right” through trust in Christ, believers are still marked as “sinners”; Jewish believers who live in a similar manner, associating freely with Gentiles, would be “sinners” as well (v. 17) =>
        • This effectively would make Jesus Christ a “servant of sin”, which of course would be impossible, and is itself a horrifying thought (“may it n[ever] come to be [so]!”) =>
          • Moreover, Christ’s sacrifice dissolved (vb katalu/w) the Law (Torah) and the old covenant, and its binding force was removed for us, as believers, by trust in Jesus (v. 18a); thus, if we maintain or keep in place the requirement of observing the Torah, we re-create (“build again”) the religious-cultural distinction (of Gentiles, etc) as “sinners” =>
            • Such a person re-establishes sinfulness by keeping in force the idea of sin as transgression (“stepping over”) the Torah regulations (v. 18b), and so becomes a transgressor himself

This line of argument explains the consequences of the false premise that believers—and Gentile believers, in particular—are still required to obey/observe the Torah (“works”), whether it be the requirement of circumcision, the dietary laws, associating with people deemed ‘unclean’, or any other regulation. In verses 19-21, Paul proceeds to expound the true premise: that believers are freed from the binding force of the old covenant, and are “made right” with God through trust in Jesus. To illustrate this, Paul uses the motif of a person who dies, and is thus set free from any binding obligations during his earthly life. The illustration is given with more precision in Romans 7:1-6, but the same idea is clearly expressed here in Galatians as well. Through trust in Jesus, the believer participates in the death of Christ, and so dies with him. The person dies to the Law (Torah) and to the power of sin which the Law makes manifest (through its regulations); according to Paul’s unique understanding of the role of the Law in keeping humankind bound under sin’s power, the Law plays an active role in leading believers to salvation (3:22; Rom 5:20-21; 7:7-13). Thus, Paul can say, paradoxically, that he dies to the law through [dia/] the law, expressed vividly and strikingly by the image of the piercing nails of crucifixion (cp. Col 2:14). While we die to the law, we live in Christ, participating in his resurrection just as we participate in his death. And this life comes from the power of Christ himself (his Spirit, the Spirit of God) living in us. This inner power of the Spirit of Christ replaces the outward force of the Torah regulations (cf. 2 Cor 3).

Clearly, Paul used the term “works” (e&rga), both here and elsewhere in his letters, in a very distinctive sense, as a shorthand for the expression “works of the Law” (e&rga no/mou), by which he meant observing the regulations and requirements of the Torah [For more on the background of this expression, cf. the Qumran text 4QMMT]. However, there are other passages in the New Testament were “works” are understood in a somewhat different way, and these, too, have a bearing on the concept of “justification by faith”. The two most notable of these are James 2:14-26 and Ephesians 2:1-10 (esp. verses 8-9), and we will consider both passages in the next article.

For more detailed commentary on Gal 2:15-21, see my earlier note-set, along with the article in the series “The Law and the New Testament”.

4QMMT (“Halakhic Letter”)

The Qumran text 4QMMT, sometimes referred to as “Halakhic Letter”, has an especially interesting (and important) connection to the New Testament—the letters of Paul in particular. It is represented by 6 manuscripts (4Q394-99), all quite fragmentary; scholars would seem to be correct in assigning them to a single document, which has been reconstructed, as far as possible. The critical edition was produced by E. Qimron and J. Strugnell in volume 10 of the Discoveries in the Judean Desert (DJD) series, pp. 3-40, plates I-VIII.

The number of surviving manuscripts, spanning, it would seem, a period of more than 100 years (c. 75 B.C. – 50 A.D.), is an indication of its popularity and importance for the Community of the Qumran texts. Most likely it was viewed as an authoritative work, and one which represented the Community’s religious identity and principles in significant ways.

The designation “MMT” is an abbreviation of the Hebrew phrase hr*oTh^ yc@u&m^ tx*q=m!, miqƒ¹¾ ma±¦´ê hatôrâ (for more on this, cf. below), which occurs in an important section (C 25-32) now regarded by most commentators as the epilogue of the work. In some ways the title “Halakhic Letter” is more appropriate, though a bit anachronistic in terminology; for, indeed, the work appears to be a letter, of sorts, and contains what would come to be known as halakah. This term, referring to the way by which a person must walk, was used in a technical sense for the interpretation of the regulations and requirements of the Torah, and how they are to be applied in detail. A vast body of traditional teaching in this regard was preserved and given authoritative form in the Mishnah and Talmud; but it is found in the midrashim (commentaries) and other writings as well. The bulk of 4QMMT, or what survives of it, involves an interpretation of various regulations in the Torah; we can fairly assume that this halakah represents the views of the Community, and that they regarded it as an authoritative interpretation. It would seem that the purpose of the work (as a letter) was to convince other individuals or groups that those who did not adhere to the Community’s interpretation were dangerously in error. The letter may well have originally been written to a specific individual, presumably a leading/ruling figure (note the mention of David in C 25); a clear statement of the purpose of writing follows:

“Remember David…he, too, [was] freed from many afflictions and was forgiven. And also we have written to you miqƒ¹¾ ma±¦´ê hatôrâ which we think are good for you and for your people, for we s[a]w that you have intellect and knowledge of the Instruction. Reflect on all these matters and seek from Him that He may support your counsel and keep you far from the evil scheming[s] and the counsel of Belial, so that at the end of time, you may rejoice in finding that some of our words are true. And it shall be reckoned to you as justice when you do what is upright and good before Him, for your good and that of Israel.” (C 25-32, 4Q398 frag. 14-17 col. ii. 1-8).

The phrase miqƒ¹¾ ma±¦´ê hatôrâ is a bit difficult to render clearly into English. A literal translation would be something like “from the ends of the (thing)s made/done of the Instruction”. The “Instruction” (hr*oT, tôrâ), of course, means the Instruction given to the people of Israel, by God, through Moses (and written/preserved in the books of the Pentateuch)—i.e. the Torah or “Law” of Moses. In context, the word tx*q=m! (miqƒ¹¾), “from the ends (of)”, refers to some specific examples, or certain details, in the Torah. The word yc@u&m^ (ma±¦´ê) is a construct plural form of the noun hc#u&m^ (ma±¦´eh), from the root hcu, and meaning “something made or done”; here, however, it probably denotes “something that is to be done“. Thus, the basic sense of the phrase is “some specific things in the Instruction (Torah) which are to be done”.

The surviving portions of 4QMMT present some details and examples of these “things which are to be done”. It is not necessarily to go over them in detail, but a summary of some of the contents may be helpful (cf. R. A. Kugler, “Rewriting Rubrics: Sacrifice and the Religion of Qumran”, in Religion in the Dead Sea Scrolls, eds. John J. Collins and Robert A. Kugler [Eerdmans: 200]):

    • B 11-13—on the care that needs to be taken by the priests in performing their duties (Lev 22:16; Num 18:1)
    • B 9-13—on when the common meal portion of sacrificial offerings is to be eaten (Lev 7:15; 19:6)
    • B 13-17—details related to the purification ritual involving the ashes of the red cow (Num 19:1-10)
    • B 27-35—where the ritual slaughter is to take place, and how this is to be interpreted/applied (Lev 17:3-4)
    • B 36-38—the regulation against sacrificing a parent animal with its offspring (Lev 22:28)
    • B 39-54—regulations regarding who may be allowed to enter the sanctuary (Deut 23:2-4; also 18:13; Lev 21:17)
    • B 62-64—on the dedication of the produce and tithe of the herd/flock as “holy to the Lord” (Lev 19:23-24; 27:32)
    • B 75-82—regulations regarding priestly marriages (Lev 21:7, 14; also 19:19; Deut 22:9)

Generally, the halakhic interpretation by the Qumran Community would seem to be stricter than that observed by other Jews at the time, an attitude reflected in many other Qumran texts. The Community felt that it possessed an inspired, authoritative interpretation of the Torah (and of Scriptural prophecy, etc), which was the result of special revelation and guidance. The eschatological warning indicated in the epilogue (cf. above) shows the importance of following the Community’s inspired halakah (and the danger of disregarding it). Column i of the same fragment cited above presents this even more clearly:

“…concerning these things…we [have written that you must understand the bo]ok of Moses [and the books of the prophets and David…]…[it is writ]ten that you [shall stray from the path and evil will encounter] you. And it is written: and it shall happen when [all] these [things shall befa]ll you at the en[d] of days, the blessing [and the] curse, [then you shall take it] to your he[art] and will turn to Him with all your heart [and with al]l [your] soul [at the en]d [of time]…”

Paul and 4QMMT

When the text 4QMMT was made known, scholars were immediately struck by the similarity between the expression hr*oTh^ yc@u&m^ (ma±¦´ê hatôrâ) and the Greek e&rga no/mou used by Paul. It is the closest Hebrew parallel thus far found, and one that, at least in the latest copies of 4QMMT, would have been roughly contemporary with Paul’s letters. The Greek expression simply means “works of (the) law”, and generally corresponds with the Hebrew, though not without important loss of nuance. As indicated above, the Hebrew hr*oTh^ yc@u&m^, in the context of 4QMMT, should be translated “things (which are to be) done of the Instruction [i.e. Torah]”. If this Hebrew expression, and its use, truly underlies Paul’s Greek wording, then it has significant implication for the latter’s meaning. It is worth touching on this briefly, as it relates to the current discussion on “Paul’s View of the Law” (in Galatians and Romans).

Ever since Luther and the Reformation, Protestant Christians have been accustomed to thinking of Paul’s “works of the Law” in terms of a contrast of “faith vs. works”, in which “works” refers primarily to human effort as the basis of the contrast—i.e. human effort to achieve a right status with God, rather than relying on faith in Christ. While Paul doubtless would agree with this contrast (cf. the Pauline statement in Eph 2:9), a careful reading of Galatians and Romans—the only letters where the expression “works of the Law” is used—shows that Paul is actually making a very different sort of argument, and one which may be confirmed (decisively) by the expression in 4QMMT.

When dealing with fundamental religious issues like circumcision or the dietary regulations, the question involved is not about trying to gain righteousness through work/deeds, but on whether believers in Christ (and Gentile believers, in particular) are required to fulfill these regulations in the Torah. This is exactly the sense of the Hebrew expression in 4QMMT, i.e. things in the Torah which people are required to do, as I discussed above. Thus, issue lies not in the limitations of human effort (in regard to obtaining righteousness), but in the nature of the Torah itself, and its place (or lack thereof) in the new arrangement (covenant) believers now observe in Christ. Paul discusses this at length in Galatians and Romans, and I similarly have been presenting his arguments in detail in the current series (on “Paul’s View of the Law”). His teaching on the Torah is so unique (and controversial) among Jews (and Jewish Christians) of the time, that it must be studied carefully. Even today, many Christians are unable to recognize, and/or reluctant to admit, the consequences and implications of his line of argument. I recommend that you read these articles and notes on the key passages in Galatians and Romans. For reference, it may be useful to summarize the locations where the expression “works of the Law” (or its shorthand, “works”) occur:

  • The full expression e&rga no/mou (“works of the Law”):
    Gal 2:16 (3 x); 3:2, 5, 10; Rom 3:20, 28; in all but the last of these, the phrase is “out of [i.e. from, by] works of the Law” (e)c e&rgwn no/mou); in Rom 3:28, we have the opposite, “apart from [xwri/$] works of the Law”.
  • The shorthand e&rga (“works”) or e)c e&rgwn (“out of [i.e. from, by] works”):
    Rom 3:27; 4:2, 6; 9:11, 32; 11:6
  • We might also note, that, when Paul speaks of the “works of the Law” in relation to the Gentiles, on one occasion (Rom 2:15), he uses the singular “work [e&rgon] of the Law”; the distinction presumably reflects the idea that Gentiles have not had the specific regulations (“works”) of the Torah to follow, but are “under the Law” in a different manner (comp. with how he expresses this in Gal 4:1-11).

This special use of the word e&rga (“works”) appears to be unique to Paul in the New Testament, and its use is limited to Galatians and Romans. While other believers at the time may have used the word in a similar way (whether or not influenced by Paul), there is little or no trace of it in the New Testament. Elsewhere, “works” refer to things done (deeds), in a more general religious (and ethical) sense, either in terms of “good works” or the contrary, “evil deeds”. Even in the “deutero-Pauline” letters—that is, those where Pauline authorship is often disputed or considered pseudonymouse&rga is used almost entirely in terms of “good works”, and even the statements in Eph 2:9 and 2 Tim 1:9, which seem to echo Paul’s teaching on believers’ relationship to the Torah, likely refer to “works” in the more general sense of (good) deeds. The reference to “dead works” in Hebrews 6:1; 9:14 could also reflect Paul’s teaching, but may just as easily be the result of traditional ethical instruction.

The use of e&rga (“works”) in the letter of James is more difficult to judge. On the one hand, the author, throughout 2:14-26 (where the word occurs 12 times), seems to be speaking more generally of “good works”, i.e. acts of charity to others. On the other hand, the reference to Abraham, with a citation of Gen 15:6, almost certainly draws upon the traditional image of Abraham as one who faithfully followed God’s commands (i.e. the regulations of the Torah). However, the overall context of the letter suggests that, if the author has any “commands” in mind in using the word e&rga, it should be understood in terms of the single “Love-command” (2:8ff); in this regard, the author is fully in accord with Paul as to the relationship between believers and the “Law” (Gal 5:6, 13-15; 6:2; Rom 12:9ff; 13:8-10). Cf. my recent article for more on the use of Gen 15:6 by Paul and James.

Translations of 4QMMT above are taken, with some modification, from The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition, ed. by Florentino García Martínez and Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar (Brill / Eerdmans: 1997-8).

Paul’s View of the Law: Galatians (Chaps. 3-4, Argument 3)

Section 3: Galatians 3:15-29

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

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

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

Galatians 3:15-18—Each verse provides a distinct argument or point in the analogy:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verse 18—Paul introduces here the idea of inheritance (klhronomi/a, spec. a “lot” which is partitioned out), tying it to the promise:

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

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

Galatians 3:26-29—This is Paul’s concluding declaration (to the Galatians) that the promise comes through Jesus Christ, and, in particular, through faith/trust in him. It can be divided as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul’s View of the Law: Galatians (Chaps. 3-4, Argument 2)

Section 2: Galatians 3:7-14

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

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

“Know, then, that the ones (who are) of trust/faith [e)k pi/stew$]—these are (the) sons of Abraham”

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

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

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

The expression e)c e&rgwn no/mou (“out of works of Law”) is precisely parallel to e)k pi/stew$ (“out of trust/faith”) in verse 9, and the preposition e)k has the same force. The roughness of Paul’s expression has caused translators to fill it out, glossing it as “those who depend/rely on works of Law”, and so forth. However, this is a highly interpretive rendering, and not necessarily accurate; it very much softens the expression, shifting the emphasis from the Law itself to a person’s attitude toward it. As I will argue throughout these notes, I believe that this is a basic (though well-intentioned) distortion of Paul’s meaning. It is important to maintain the juxtaposition of the literal expressions, while attempting to interpret them accordingly:

oi( e)k pi/stew$
“the ones out of trust/faith”
—those persons who come from, and belong to, trust/faith
oi( e)c e&rgwn no/mou
“the ones out of works of Law”
—those persons who come from, and belong to, works of Law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    • “No one is made/declared just [dikaiou=tai] in [i.e. by] the Law alongside [i.e. before] God” (v. 11a)
      • The just (person) will live out of trust [e)k pi/stew$]” {Hab 2:4} (v. 11b)
    • “The Law is not of trust/faith [e)k pi/stew$]” (v. 12a)
      • The (one) doing [poih/sa$] them will live in [i.e. by] them” {Lev 18:5} (v. 12b)

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

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

In verse 14, Paul concludes the section by:

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

This promise will be the theme of the next section.