Note of the Day


Note of the Day – July 31

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This note (on Matthew 12:5-8) is a supplement to my current article(s) on the “Sabbath Controversy” stories in the Gospels (part of the series on “Jesus and the Law”). In the episode of Jesus’ disciples plucking grain on the Sabbath (Mark 2:23-28; par Matthew 12:1-8; Luke 6:1-5), Jesus’ response to the Pharisees’ criticism has two parts:

  1. He cites the example of David and his men at the sanctuary of Nob (1 Sam 21:1-6)
  2. The saying: “the Son of Man is lord (even) of the Sabbath”

In between these, Mark has an additional saying of Jesus (Mk 2:27): “the Sabbath came to be for man, not man for the Sabbath”. Matthew, by contrast, includes three different sayings of Jesus which may (or may not) have been uttered on separate occasions and joined together by thematic (or “catchword”) bonding. Each of these will be discussed in turn:

Matthew 12:5

“Or have you not read in the Law that on the Sabbath (day)s the sacred officials [i.e. priests] in the sacred place [i.e. Temple] cross the threshold of [i.e. transgress/violate] the Sabbath and (yet) do not require an inquiry [i.e. are without fault/guilt]?”

The example from 1 Sam 21:1-6 does not relate directly to the question of violating the Sabbath law; the general example Jesus adds here increases the relevance. As a practical necessity, in order to maintain the Temple ritual, the priests (and other Temple officials) have to perform work, even on the Sabbath. There is an implicit underlying principle: those who perform work related to the sacred place (that is, the Temple) are exempt from the Sabbath restriction. But does Jesus mean to indicate that his disciples, in the simple action of plucking grain in the fields, are somehow to be compared with those who work in the Temple? The logic is extended by Jesus with the saying in verse 6.

Matthew 12:6

“But I say to you that (something/someone) more than the sacred place [i.e. Temple] is here”

The statement is concise and rather ambiguous: “but I say to you that more/greater [mei=zo/n] than the Temple is here”. It is generally thought that Jesus is referring to himself; this has to be inferred from the context, but it is a fair assumption. Critical scholars may doubt the authenticity of this saying; but, if it is authentic, then it is one of the clearest statements by Jesus to the effect that he surpasses the Law (especially in its ritual/ceremonial aspects) in his own person. The ‘Temple-saying’ in John 2:19 (cf. also Mark 14:58 par) also suggests that Jesus himself fulfills and, in a (spiritual/symbolic) sense, replaces, the Jerusalem Temple. What precisely is meant by the comparative/superlative adjective mei=zon (“more, greater”)? It is tempting to read in subsequent Christological considerations (with regard to incarnate Deity in the person of Christ), but it is better to keep to the context—what is involved in this passage? An outline of the sequence of the narrative may be helpful, with key themes and elements emphasized, presented as a chiasm:

  • The action on the Sabbath is in response to physical need (hunger), also emphasized in the Sabbath healing stories
    • It is the disciples—those following Jesus—who perform the action
      • The action is viewed by religious authorities as a violation of the Sabbath (though the claim is questionable at best)
    • The disciples (those in service to Jesus) are compared with those who serve in the Temple
  • Jesus declares his authority over the Sabbath, either to interpret the Sabbath law or to override/contravene it

According to this structure, the central religious claim (of the disciples violating the Sabbath) almost becomes irrelevant, whether or not the claim is accurate. For, surely, the argument in verses 5-8 would (or could) apply even to a more serious (and legitimate) violation of the Sabbath restriction. The implication is rather stunning: those engaged in ministry and service to God (and Christ), in the midst of such service, are not bound by the Sabbath law. Interestingly, the logical consequences of this idea do not seem to have been pursued elsewhere in Jesus’ teaching, nor even in the early Church, at least not for some years.

Matthew 12:7

“But/and if you had known what (this) is [i.e. what this means]—’I wish (for) mercy and not (for ritual) slaughter [i.e. sacrifice]’—you would not have brought down judgment against the (ones) requiring no inquiry [i.e. the guiltless]”

Perhaps even more striking is the use here of Hosea 6:6a, also cited in Matt 9:13. The context of the previous passage is the call of Matthew/Levi (cf. Mark 2:13-17 par), where certain Pharisees had similarly objected to Jesus eating with toll-collectors and “sinners”. There are two sayings of Jesus in Mark 2:17:

“The ones (who are) strong have no requirement for (one) who cures/heals, but the ones having illness (do)”
“I did not come to call the ones (who are) just/righteous, but sinners”

In Matthew, the saying with Hosea 6:6a is included between these. The original verse in Hosea is part of an exhortation for repentance and a return to YHWH; v. 6 echoes a familiar prophetic theme emphasizing ethical behavior and spiritual integrity over the ritual/ceremonial dimension of religion. The entire verse, rendered from the Hebrew, reads:

“For I desire(d) (faithful) kindness and not (ritual) slaughter [i.e. sacrifice],
and knowledge of the Mightiest One [i.e. God/Elohim] more than (the) rising of (burt offering)s”

This basic teaching is effectively summarized by the scribe in Mark 12:28-34, who responds to Jesus’ declaration of the two-fold “Great Commandment” (vv. 29-31):

“Upon truth [i.e. truly] you have said (it) beautifully, Teacher… to love Him out of (one’s) whole heart and out of (one’s) whole understanding and out of (one’s) whole strength—and to love (one’s) neighbor as himself—is over (and) above [i.e. far more than] all the whole burnt (offering)s and (ritual) slayings [i.e. sacrifices]” (vv. 32-33)

Jesus affirms the substance of the scribe’s comment by saying “you are not far from the kingdom of God” (v. 34).

The context in Matthew 12:1-8 even more dramatically emphasizes the distinction, as a juxtaposition between following Jesus and the Temple cultus (especially in verse 6, above). This would seem to involve a devaluing, or relativizing, of the sacrificial offerings associated with the Temple (and required according to the Torah). A proper treatment of this question is better reserved for a discussion of Jesus and the Temple (upcoming in the series on “Jesus and the Law”). However, the concluding saying of Jesus in verse 8 is certainly relevant:

Matthew 12:8

“For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath”

This is nearly identical with the parallel versions in Mark 2:28 / Lk 6:5; though the additional sayings and teachings in vv. 5-7 (above) have added depth and resonance to the Matthean form of the declaration. We are perhaps seeing the beginnings of a clear Christological dimension within the early Gospel tradition. This raises the question of the relationship between the Matthean and Markan/Lukan versions here; from an historical-critical and tradition-critical standpoint, there are two main possibilities:

  1. Matthew has added verses 5-7 to a simpler (earlier) form of the narrative, best represented by Luke 6:1-5
  2. Matthew preserves a more complete version of the (historical) narrative, which has been simplified/shortened in Mark and Luke

Critical scholars would, I think, almost universally opt for the first, while traditional-conservative commentators would tend to prefer the second. Much depends on one’s view of the way Gospel tradition has developed. A critical rule of thumb is that elements or details which increase or add to a heightened view of Jesus’ person and nature tend to be added to the Gospel (and textual) tradition, not removed. If Matt 12:5-7 were original to the historical tradition, it is hard to see why they would be removed from Mark/Luke (or their underlying sources), whereas a reason for their addition is easy to find—they help to explain the narrative and serve to join together vv. 4 and 8. This does not mean that vv. 5-7 are not authentic sayings of Jesus, but only that they may have been added to the context here. Be that as it may, it is necessary that we deal with the text of Matthew as it has come down to us; and the presence of vv. 5-7 has several interesting effects related to an understanding of verse 8:

  • The sayings involving the Temple in vv. 5-6 result in expanding the position and authority of the Son of Man: from the Sabbath law, in particular, to a larger view of the Law (as a whole), especially in its ritual/ceremonial aspects.
  • It is the particular ritual aspects of the Law—the sacrificial offerings and the Temple cultus—which are relativized or devalued in verses 6-7; by logical extension, back to verse 5 and ahead to verse 8, the Sabbath command would also appear to be relativized—following Jesus takes priority.
  • Though not clearly stated, the saying in verse 6, joined with that in verse 8, has a decided Christological ring to it—that which is greater than the Temple (and, it would seem, the Sabbath as well) is identified with Jesus’ own person. Even if one may question whether the historical Jesus held this self-identification precisely, there can be no real doubt that the Gospel writers (and most early Christians) understood the matter this way. I believe that, within Gospel tradition, the emphasis is more on the personal authority of Jesus, rather than his deity as such, but the latter is certainly present and would come to dominate early Christian tradition.



Note of the Day – July 27

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Today’s note deals with Matthew 5:48, which concludes chapter 5 of the Sermon on the Mount (and the Antitheses in vv. 21-47); this note is supplemental to my article on the Antitheses (“Jesus and the Law”). In this note I will discuss the following, in turn:

  1. Exegesis of the saying in verse 48 (on its own)
  2. Comparison with the similar/parallel saying in Luke 6:36
  3. Its relation to the Antitheses in chapter 5

1. Matthew 5:48

e&sesqe ou@n u(mei=$ te/leioi w($ o( path\r u(mw=n o( ou)ran/io$ te/leio/$ e)stin
“therefore you shall be complete, as your heavenly Father is complete”

e&sesqee)stin—these two forms of the (existential) verb of being are emphatic, placed at the beginning and end of the verse. The future indicative form e&sesqe can be understood in the sense of a prediction/promise (“you will be…”) or an imperative (“be ye…”). The use of the form in Luke 6:35 is parallel to that of the aorist subjunctive (ge/nhsqe, “[that] you may come to be”); while the use further in Matt 6:5 suggests an imperative meaning. The closest formal parallel surely comes from the LXX of Leviticus 19:2 (also cited in 1 Peter 1:16):

a%gioi e&sesqe o%ti e)gw\ a%gio$ ku/rio$ o( qeo\$ u(mw=n
“you shall be holy, (in) that I (am) holy the Lord your God”

which is a close rendering of the Hebrew. The command of Lev 19:2 is very much in view in this saying of Jesus (but note the differences in the Lukan parallel, below). The imitation of God is stressed by the position of the two verbs of being—Jesus’ followers shall be as God the Father is.

te/leioi / te/leio$—the adjective te/leio$ (téleios) is typically translated as “perfect” in reference to God, and as “mature” (or the like) when referring to believers (or other human beings); however, more properly, it should be rendered “finished, complete”, being related to the noun te/lo$ (“end, limit, finish, completion”, or sometimes “goal”). God, of course, by any standard theological definition, is complete, and believers, by imitating God (and Christ) will become complete. For other use of the adjective in the New Testament, see Rom 12:2; 1 Cor 2:6; 13:10; 14:20; Phil 3:15; Eph 4:13; Col 1:28; 4:12; Heb 5:14; 9:11; James 1:4, 17, 25; 3:2; 1 Jn 4:18. In the Old Testament (LXX) it typically translates <ym!T*, most notably in the context of a whole (unblemished) sacrificial offering (Exod 12:5); for other usage, cf. Gen 6:9 (and Sir 44:17); Deut 18:13; Song 5:2; 6:9; and note also Wisdom 9:6. It is generally not used as a description of YHWH himself, though it does appear as an epithet for Zeus, Apollo, etc, in Greek literature (cf. references in TDNT VIII.86). As for the context here in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:17-47), note the following uses especially in relation to the Law:

  • Matt 19:21: in the Matthean version, Jesus tells the ‘rich young ruler’, ei) qe/lei$ te/leio$ ei@nai… (“if you wish to be complete…” it is necessary not only to observe the commandments (the fundamental precepts of the Decalogue are cited), but also to sell off possessions and follow Jesus.
  • James 1:25 has a reference to “the complete law of freedom”—this unusual expression (which also appears in 2:12) presumably relates to verse 8: “if you complete [telei=te] the royal law according to the Scripture… you do beautifully”. The “love-command” (citing Lev 19:18) is primarily in view, but the thought and language of the Sermon on the Mount otherwise pervades much of these chapters in James.

Both references appear to relate back to Jesus’ statement in Matt 5:17—as previously noted, I understand the use of the verb plhro/w in verse 17 (“[I have come] to fulfill [the Law and Prophets]”), in the sense that Jesus completes the Law (and the Prophets), by way of his teaching, his work, and (it may be said) in his own person. It is, of course, Jesus’ teaching that is prominent in the Sermon on the Mount.

o( path\r u(mw=n o( ou)ran/io$—God is referred to as “Father” some 250+ times in the New Testament, the majority of instances coming from the Gospels (by Jesus himself). The Gospel of John contains the most occurrences, with Jesus referring to God as “the Father” or “my Father”; with a high number also in the Gospel of Matthew. In the Synoptic Gospels (especially Matthew), Jesus often uses the qualified expression “the/my Father in Heaven (or the heavens [pl])” or, less frequently, “the/my heavenly Father”; for instances in the Sermon on the Mount itself, cf. Matt 5:16, 45; 6:1, 9, 14, 26, 32; 7:11, 21. Within the (polytheistic) religion of predominantly patriarchical societies, the main/high deity was typically thought of as Father (progenitor) of the gods and all creatures (including human beings); in Israelite monotheism, too, YHWH was the father of human beings (as Creator) and in his covenant relationship with Israel—of the many references, see specifically Deut 32:6; Psalm 89:26; Isa 63:16; 64:8; Jer 3:19; 31:9; Mal 2:10. In particular, Israel (and/or the king as divine representative) may be referred to as God’s son[s] (Exod 4:22; Deut 14:1; 2 Sam 7:14; Psalm 2:7; Hos 1:10; 11:1; Isa 1:2; Jer 31:9, etc); however, the expression “son[s] of God” in the Old Testament is usually applied to heavenly beings (Gen 6:2; Deut 32:8 [LXX and Qumran]; Psalm 29:1; 82:6; Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7; Dan 3:25). In the New Testament, the expression “sons of God” (i.e. “children of God”) is used of believers and/or the promise of their (future) destiny—Matt 5:9; Luke 20:36; Jn 1:12 (cf. also 11:52); Rom 8:14, 19; 9:8, 26; Gal 3:26; Phil 2:15; 1 John 3:1, 10; 5:2; note also Matt 5:45; 13:38; Luke 6:35; Gal 4:31; 1 Thess 5:5. At least two different concepts or metaphors are at work, neither of which captures the meaning completely: (a) adoption, by which believers share in the same rights and relationship as Christ the Son of God, and (b) imitation, i.e. the natural image of the child imitating everything he/she sees the parent doing (and saying). This latter concept better fits the situation in the Sermon on the Mount, especially in the moral-ethical sense—Jesus’ true follower is one who imitates (and so demonstrates) the character of God.

2. Luke 6:36

gi/nesqe oi)kti/rmone$ kaqw\$ [kai\] o( path\r u(mw=n oi)kti/rmwn e)stin
“(you shall) come to be compassionate, even as [also] your Father is compassionate”

This is a parallel form (or version) of the saying in Matt 5:48, with several differences, most notably the use of the adjective oi)kti/rmwn (“compassionate/merciful”) instead of te/leio$ (“complete”). The word oi)kti/rmwn is rare in the New Testament (otherwise occurring only in James 5:11), but somewhat more frequent in the LXX—in reference to God (YHWH) it is used most prominently in Exod 34:6 (cf. also Deut 4:31; Isa 63:15, etc). The related verb oi)kti/rw (“have pity/compassion [on]”) and noun oi)ktirmo/$ (“pity, compassion, mercy”) are more common. The Lukan saying better fits the immediate context of Matt 5:38-47 / Lk 6:27-35, with its emphasis on loving one’s enemies. The parallel teaching of Matt 5:45 / Lk 6:35 further makes the point that love and kindness towards “good” and “evil” people alike reflects the character of God Himself; following God’s own example, will lead to the (eschatological) promise of becoming like Him—”your payment [i.e. reward] will be much” and:

e&sesqe ui(oi\ u(yi/stou
“you shall be sons of (the) Highest (One)”
Matt 5:45a: o%pw$ ge/nhsqe ui(oi\ tou= patro\$ u(mw=n tou= e)n ou)ranoi=$
“how that you may come to be sons of your Father in (the) heavens”

This same idea is central to the Beatitudes, cf. especially Matt 5:7-9. The association of purity/completeness and mercy in this context (emphasizing the nature and character of God) may derive from Psalm 18:25 [MT/LXX 26]: “with the kind/merciful you show yourself (to be) kind/merciful, with the complete [i.e. blameless] you show yourself (to be) complete”. The Hebrew adjective <ym!T* is usually translated by te/leio$, as in Matt 5:48 (see above).

3. The relation to the Antitheses in Matthew 5

Jesus’ saying in Matt 5:48 relates most directly to the sixth Antithesis (on loving one’s enemies, vv. 43-47) just prior, as the parallel saying in Luke 6:36 makes clear. However, there can be little doubt that the saying (in Matthew at least) is meant to summarize the teaching of the Antitheses as a whole—and probably also the entirety of chapter 5. Even if Matt 5 was not uttered together as a unit by Jesus on a single occasion, the literary structure of the text as we have it can be taken as a whole:

  • The Beatitudes (vv. 3-12) promise eschatological blessedness/happiness to those so characterized—that is, those who pursue justice/righteousness (v. 6, 10), following the teaching (and example) of Jesus. The original background of the Beatitude form had to do with the (righteous) person being admitted to share in the blessed life (of the gods) after death. In Jesus’ Beatitudes we also find prominent the idea of being (and becoming) like God (esp. vv. 8-9) and of belonging to His Kingdom (v. 3, 10).
  • The sayings in vv. 13-16, especially those comparing Jesus’ followers to light, likewise suggest that they (should) reflect something of the exemplary character of God.
  • The central sayings of vv. 17-20 introduce the theme of fulfilling the Law (Torah) (v. 17), and, in turn, of fulfilling the righteousness/justice of God (v. 20).
  • The six Antitheses of vv. 21-47, each demonstrate (in different ways) that following Jesus involves going beyond what is written in the Law—not in the sense of transgressing the Torah commands, but by touching upon the deeper purpose and intent of the Lawgiver himself (God the Father), as newly revealed in Jesus’ teaching.
  • The concluding saying of v. 48 summarizes the themes and specific teachings in each of these section with beautiful symmetry (see above). Ultimately, it is not so much a question of completing (that is, fulfilling) the Torah as it is of becoming complete [te/leio$] oneself, just as God the Father is perfect and complete.

Note of the Day – July 26

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The previous two daily notes treated Jesus’ saying in Matthew 5:17, as a supplement to my article on the Antitheses (Matt 5:21-47) [part of a series on “Jesus and the Law”]. Today’s note will look briefly at the saying in verse 19, while tomorrow’s note will examine the saying in verse 48 which concludes the Antitheses (and chapter 5 of the Sermon on the Mount). By way of review, here are the four sayings in Matt 5:17-20:

Verse 17—”Do not regard (as proper), (that) ‘I have come to loose down [i.e. dissolve] the Law or the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets]’; I did not come to loose down but to fill (up).”

Verse 18—”For, amen, I say to you: ‘until the heaven and the earth should go along [i.e. pass away], one yod or a single horn will not go along from the Law, until all things should come to be’.”

Verse 19—”Therefore if (there is one) who [i.e. whoever] should loose (a single) one of these littlest things upon (you to) complete and should teach men thus, he will be called ‘littlest’ in the kingdom of the heavens; but (one) who should do and teach (correctly), this one will be called ‘great’ in the kingdom of the heavens.”

Verse 20—”For I say/relate to you that if your justice/righteousness should not be over (and above much) more than (that) of the Writers [i.e. Scribes] and Pharisees, no, you will not go into the Kingdom of the heavens.”

I have also discussed these verses together in an earlier note.

Matthew 5:19

o^$ e)a\n ou@n lu/sh| mi/an tw=n e)ntolw=n tou/twn e)laxi/stwn kai\ dida/ch| ou%tw$ tou\$ a)nqrw/pou$, e)la/xisto$ klhqh/setai e)n th=| basilei/a| tw=n ou)ranw=n: o^$ d’ a*n poih/sh| kai\ dida/ch|, ou!to$ me/ga$ klhqh/setai e)n th=| basilei/a| tw=n ou)ranw=n
“Therefore if (there is one) who [i.e. whoever] should loose (a single) one of these littlest things upon (you to) complete and should teach men thus, he will be called ‘littlest’ in the kingdom of the heavens; but (one) who should do and teach (correctly), this one will be called ‘great’ in the kingdom of the heavens.”
[in more conventional translation:] “Therefore, whoever looses (a single) one of these littlest commandments and teaches men (to do) thus, he will be called ‘littlest’ in the Kingdom of Heaven; but (the one) who does and teaches (correctly), this one will be called ‘great’ in the Kingdom of Heaven”

The noun e)ntolh/ (entol¢¡) is literally “something (placed) upon (one) to complete”—i.e., “charge, injunction”, or, more commonly, “command[ment]”. The verb lu/w is a simple form related to the compound katalu/w in verse 17. The first generally means “loose[n]”, while the second is more intensive and forceful, “loose down [i.e. dissolve/destroy]”. In verse 17, the sense is “to destroy or abolish the authority of the Law” (and Prophets). Here the sense is rather “to remove or lessen the requirement of a commandment”. The main interpretive question in the verse regards the nature of the commandments; there are three possibilities:

  1. They are the commands and regulations of the (written) Torah
  2. They are the Torah commands, as interpreted by Jesus (in the Sermon on the Mount, and elsewhere)
  3. They are Jesus’ own commands (in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere)

The immediate context of verse 17 and 18 would suggest the first view—that he is referring to the written Torah. It must be kept in mind, however, that the Sermon on the Mount likely represents a collection of Jesus’ teaching—the sayings themselves were not necessarily all uttered on the same occasion (and in the same order) as we have them preserved in the Gospel. More to the point, it is difficult to find another (similar) saying in the Gospels which indicates that the written Law remains fully binding for Jesus’ followers; what few sayings are preserved relating directly to the Law could be taken to suggest the opposite; in any case, the evidence is ambiguous. If Jesus had made such an apparently decisive statement regarding the Jewish Law, one might expect even greater controversy and opposition toward Paul’s teaching that Gentiles should be accepted as Christian believers without requiring specific observance/performance of the Law.

For these reasons (and others), many commentators hold that Jesus’ own commands are what is meant here. Certainly Jesus’ teaching, from the very beginning, would have had an authoritative character and quality, and regarded as such by his devoted followers. Jesus gives many commands and precepts throughout the Gospels, but, as far as I am aware, in the early Church no clear attempt was made to collect them into a definitive corpus—perhaps the closest we have is in the Sermon on the Mount itself (and the Lukan parallel ‘Sermon on the Plain’). The early Christian usage of the phrase and concept of the “command[s] of Christ” will be discussed in some detail at a later point in the series on “The Law and the New Testament”. Where the idea of the commandments required for a Christian is spelled out most clearly (as in the “Two Ways” section of the Didache chs. 1-6), it goes little beyond the Sermon on the Mount, adding to it specifically the dual “Great Commandment” and the Ten Commandments themselves (in a manner similar to that summarized by Jesus in Mk 10:18-19 par). See the Epistle of James (esp. 2:8-13) for a similar epitome and exposition of early Christian “commandments” in the New Testament itself.

If Jesus is referring to his own commands, which ones precisely? And how would this relate to the distinction of the “least/littlest” of these commandments? This particular distinction perhaps makes more sense in relation to the written Torah, and could be seen as an argument in favor of view #1 above. There are several possibilities:

(a) Jesus is distinguishing between his own commandments—if so, this has been largely lost to us.
(b) He is distinguishing between greater and lesser commands in the Torah (perhaps similar to later Rabbinic teaching)
(c) He makes a distinction between the external/ceremonial detail and the broader concepts of righteousness/justice, mercy, love, etc. (see Matt 23:23-24).
(d) The force of the expression is rhetorical and not meant to be taken literally (and also facilitates the wordplay later in v. 19).

In my view, the last option most likely correct: “the least of these commandments” would be another way of saying “any of these commandments”. However, option (c) should not be entirely disregarded; the expression “least of these commandments” could be taken to mean “even the smallest detail of the commandments”.

View #2—that it is the Torah commands, as interpreted by Jesus that are meant—perhaps best fits the context of the Sermon on the Mount, and especially the Antitheses which follow in Matt 5:21-47. As previously discussed, in the Antitheses, Jesus deals with specific Torah regulations (and how they are customarily understood), providing his own (authoritative) instruction and interpretation for his followers. In many ways, the collection of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount is truly formative for Christian instruction—the Scriptures (the Law and the Prophets), and especially the Torah, provide the baseline and foundation upon which Jesus builds. As mentioned in the previous discussion on verse 17, Jesus “fulfills” the Law by completing it—giving to it a new (and deeper) revelatory and religious-ethical dimension. In this sense, Jesus’ own commands cannot entirely be separated from the commands of the written Law, even if the Torah commands themselves come to apply less and less to the new Christian situation and spiritual ethic.

What of the juxtaposition between “least/littlest” and “great(est)” in the kingdom of Heaven in verse 19b—how should this be understood? It is possible that degrees of reward or position in Heaven for believers is meant; at the very least, Jesus seems to be drawing upon this idea. However, it seems quite strange that those who disregard (and teach others to disregard) the commandments (especially if Jesus’ own commandments are involved) would receive any place in the Kingdom. I prefer to consider the use of the terms “littlest” and “great” here as rhetorical—a colorful and dramatic way of contrasting the fates of the obedient and disobedient. The question of whether the disobedient followers are ultimately “saved” is interesting, but probably out of place here. In any event, Jesus clearly speaks against those who relax (or disregard) the commandments (and teach others to do so). It must be admitted that this is truly a difficult statement (for Christians) if Jesus is referring to the Torah regulations; however, let us consider for a moment how this may apply to the Antitheses of Matt 5:21-48 (as well as the religious instruction which follows in 6:1-18):

  • A person may fulfill and observe a command while being mistaken or ignorant regarding its true meaning and intent. This is partly what Jesus’ teaching addresses—pointing the way to the true precepts underlying the Torah regulations, along with the mind and character of the God who revealed them.
  • Similarly, Jesus emphasizes the heart and intention of the person, rather than the validity of the Law as such.
  • As I argued in the prior note, the practical result of following Jesus’ teachings will be that much of the Law effectively becomes obsolete. For example, by dealing properly with the root of anger and lust, the commands against murder and adultery are made irrelevant, and so forth. This is quite a different matter than flagrantly violating or transgressing the Law.
  • If one may summarize: going beyond what the Law requires (from an ethical standpoint), and emphasizing the inward dimension of it, does not result in “loosing” the commandment—far from it! In every meaningful sense, it reflects a more stringent standard of religious and ethical behavior.

There would come a time, of course in early Christianity when the validity of specific laws and ordinances—such as circumcision, Sabbath observance, the dietary regulations, and so forth—would have to be addressed; however, this goes beyond the scope and purpose of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. It is perhaps better dealt with under the heading of New Testament Theology, along with the doctrine of progressive revelation. I will also be discussing these matters at the appropriate junctures in my series on “The Law and the New Testament”.


Note of the Day – July 25

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This note follows up on that of the previous day (on Matthew 5:17), and also serves as a supplement to my survey and discussion of the Antitheses (Matthew 5:21-47) of the Sermon on the Mount in the series on “Jesus and the Law”.

As previously discussed, the two key terms in Matt 5:17 are the verbs katalu/w (katalu¡œ, “loose down, dissolve”) and plhro/w (pl¢róœ, “fill up, fulfill”); Jesus’ declaration is “I have not come to loose down [i.e. dissolve/destroy] (the Law or the Prophets), but to fill up [i.e. fulfill]”. In the prior note, I looked at other (similar) instances of katalu/w in the New Testament, including references related to the destruction of the Temple; here, before proceeding, it is worth looking at other occurrences of the verb plhro/w.

  • In the Gospels especially, it is frequently used in reference to the fulfillment of prophecy (i.e. that which was uttered by the Prophets, etc)—that is, the words and message came to be realized in the person and work of Jesus (Matt 1:22; 2:15, et al). Similarly, it was used for predictions made by Jesus (Jn 18:9, 32).
  • Drawing upon the literal sense of “filling up” (a vessel, etc, cf. Matt 13:48; Jn 12:3), it is often used figuratively (in a religious-ethical sense)—for a person being “filled” in a negative (with wickedness, etc, Matt 23:32; Acts 5:3) or positive sense (with joy, peace, etc., Lk 2:40; John 3:29; 15:11; Rom 15:13). It can also be used in reference to the Spirit (Eph 5:18), though the related verb plh/qw is more common (Lk 1:41, 67; Acts 2:4; 4:8, etc). Similarly God (or Christ) can be said to “fill” all things (Eph 1:23; 4:10).
  • It can be used in the temporal-figurative sense of time being (ful)filled—i.e., the appointed day (or time) has come, or the allotted time has passed (Mk 1:15; Lk 1:20; 21:24; Acts 7:23; 9:23, etc); the verb plh/qw can also be used in this sense (Lk 2:21-22, etc).
  • It is also used in the sense of: (a) completing a purpose or intended course of action—cf. Lk 9:31; Acts 12:25; 13:25; 14:26; Rom 15:19; Col 4:17; 2 Thess 1:11; also Rev 3:2; or (b) similarly in reference to making a condition, situation, or goal complete—Matt 23:32; Lk 22:16; John 16:24; Rom 15:14; 2 Cor 10:16; Phil 2:2; Col 1:25; also Rev 6:11.

There are four references which seem to be close in context to Jesus’ saying in Matt 5:17:

  • Matt 3:15—”for thus it is proper/fitting for us to fulfill [plhrw=sai] all justice/righteousness” (response to John’ objection regarding baptizing Jesus)
  • Rom 8:4—”that the justice/righteousness of the Law might be fulfilled [plhrwqh=|] in us, the (ones who) walk about not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit”
  • Rom 13:8—”for the (one) loving the other (person) has fulfilled [peplh/rwken] the Law”
  • Gal 5:14—”for all the Law is fulfilled [peplh/rwtai] in one word: ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself'”

The last three reference involve “fulfilling” the Law, primarily in the sense of 4a above (completing a purpose or intended course of action)—that is, believers, by walking according to the Spirit and loving one’s neighbor (Lev 19:18), effectively observe and complete the demands and requirements of the Law (without necessarily completing the specific commandments). This could also be understood in the sense of 4b (making a condition, situation, or goal complete), though this latter sense perhaps better fits the reference in Matthew 3:15 to “fulfilling all justice/righteousness”. Jesus’ use of dikaiosu/nh (“justice, just-ness, righteousness”) very much follows the traditional Jewish usage—i.e., observing and obeying the will of God as revealed in the Law (and Prophets); though he evidently extends the usage to baptism by John (toward repentance and forgiveness of sin) and his own teaching (in the Sermon on the Mount, etc).

Now it is time to look at how the Antitheses in Matt 5:21-47 (see the previous discussion) relate to Jesus’ saying in Matt 5:17. The Antitheses follow the pattern in v. 17 of a customary (but incorrect or insufficient) saying which is ‘corrected’ by Jesus’ teaching; in v. 17, as previously noted, it is:

  • Customary/incorrect saying: “I have come to dissolve the Law and/or the Prophets”
    Correct saying by Jesus: “I have not come to dissolve (the Law or the Prophets), but to fulfill (them)”

Similarly, in each of the Antitheses, there is a customary saying (“you have heard it uttered…”), followed by Jesus’ own saying/teaching (“but I say to you…”). Each customary saying relates in some way to the commands or regulations in the Torah; the nature of the command/regulation, and Jesus’ interpretive argument, proceeds along three distinct lines or patterns, which can be seen by grouping the six Antitheses into three pairs:

Antitheses 1 & 2 (on murder/anger and adultery/lust), 5:21-30—Jesus in no way opposes the commandments against murder/manslaughter and adultery (Exod 20:13-14), which, in any case, are fundamental socio-ethical commands accepted, even taken for granted, by nearly every culture. Rather, Jesus extends the command to the underlying human tendency or inclination which provides the seed for transgression: just as anger directed toward another person may lead to murder/manslaughter, looking with desire upon another person may lead to adultery/fornication. The standard of moral behavior for Jesus’ followers goes beyond the written Law (cf. verse 20).

Antitheses 3 & 4 (on divorce the the swearing of oaths), 5:31-37—Here the situation is different; instead of fundamental commands, we are dealing with instruction regulating certain social and legal-religious aspects of society—for divorce cf. Deut 24:1-4, for the swearing of oaths, cf. Exod 20:16; Deut 5:20; Lev 19:12; Deut 23:21-23. Divorce and the use of oaths are practical realities (if not a practical necessity) in most societies; so, too, the Torah provides instruction regarding them: (i) circumstances (not clearly spelled out) where divorce may be permitted, and (ii) commands against false/vain oaths and emphasizing the importance of fulfilling oaths/vows made to God (or by his Name). With regard to oaths (vv. 33-37), Jesus’ teaching to his followers is simply to speak and behave in an honest and trustworthy manner, without the use of any oath. His teaching on divorce here (vv. 31-32) specifies the only circumstance (adultery or other illicit sexual behavior) where divorce should be considered. Very likely, vv. 31-32 serves as a shorthand for his longer discussion on divorce in Matt 19:3-9; in the parallel Markan account (Mk 10:1-12), Jesus appears to forbid divorce outright, but in Matthew there is the porneia-exception. It can be said that divorce and the use of oaths are accommodations to human weakness and wickedness—if people were all faithful to the marriage bond, a provision for divorce would not be necessary; similarly, if people were all true to their word and faithful in social and religious matters, there would be no need for oaths. Jesus’ followers should be honest and faithful (“pure of heart”) and render unnecessary these parts of the Law.

Anitheses 5 & 6 (on retaliation and love/hate for one’s enemies), 5:38-47—Again, Jesus’ approach here is different: in each of these Antitheses, he is dealing with an incorrect or flawed interpretation of the Torah. The first is the talio-principle (“an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”, cf. Exod 21:23-25; Lev 24:20; Deut 19:21), meant to provide just compensation and regulate punishment for a crime resulting in personal injury, but which can easily be distorted and used as justification for retaliation and personal vengeance. The second is the command to love one’s neighbor (as oneself, Lev. 19:18); one might naturally assume the opposite to be true—one should hate one’s enemies. Jesus’ teaching corrects (and turns on its head) these mistaken interpretations: not only should Jesus’ followers not retaliate (when facing injury or oppression), but actually must show love to their opponents and enemies, even praying to God on behalf of their enemies (and persecutors).

Does Jesus actually invalidate or oppose the Torah outright in any of these Antitheses, as v. 17a might suggest? Perhaps the closest he comes is in Antitheses #4 and 5. With regard to oaths (#4) the emphasis in the Torah is on the command forbidding false oaths (perjury), but overall oaths and vows made to God (by his Name) are viewed in a positive light, and are nowhere prohibited. Yet, for his followers (at least), Jesus’ rejects the use of oaths outright. The situation regarding Antithesis #5 is more ambiguous, as the lex talionis is not so much a command as a legal principle; however, it is a principle that Jesus appears to oppose (again, at least for his followers).

It is, I think, better to view Jesus’ teaching in the Antitheses as going beyond the written Law itself (but not opposing it as such). If we return to the saying in verse 17, it may be possible to formulate a more accurate interpretation regarding the use of the verbs katalu/w (“loose/dissolve/destroy”) and plhro/w (“fill up/fulfill”):

  • “I have not come to loose/dissolve (the Law or the Prophets)”—I take this to mean that Jesus’ purpose (in his teaching, work and personal example) is not to abolish or invalidate the Torah (or Scripture) as a whole. To be fair, there is little in the Sermon on the Mount (or elsewhere in his teaching) which indicates that he is expressly invalidating the Law (or transgressing specific regulations). However, in at least two respects his teaching can be seen as (ultimately) pointing in this direction: (a) by pointing to a ‘deeper’ meaning to the Torah commands (centered on a person’s heart/intention), and (b) by emphasizing the authority of his own person and teaching. The accusation of abolishing/invalidating the Law better fits Paul’s argument in Galatians and Romans, his protestation to the contrary in Rom 3:31 notwithstanding (this will be discussed in its proper place).
  • “(I have come) to fill/fulfill (the Law and the Prophets)”—I do not take this to mean observance of the specific Torah regulations, though most likely Jesus and his disciples were observant; rather, the use of plhro/w should be understood principally according to sense 4b above (making a condition, situation, or goal complete). In other words, Jesus is completing the Law (and Prophets) through his own teaching and work (and in his own person). In the main Gospel tradition, this does not (yet) take on the idea of Jesus replacing the Torah, though eventually in early Christianity it will reach that point. Rather, here we should understand Jesus as giving a new (and deeper) meaning to the Torah regulations.

It must be admitted, however, that there is a sense in which, by following Jesus’ teachings, much of the Law does become obsolete. As suggested above, this is clear enough by a careful study of the Antitheses. If one deals properly with the roots of anger and lust, the commands against murder and adultery become irrelevant. Similarly, if one is faithful to the bond of marriage, and completely trustworthy in speech and action, the regulations regarding divorce and oaths are totally unnecessary. And finally, if a person loves even his/her enemies, it should be a small matter indeed to show proper love to one’s neighbors. As for the talio-principle, if one never retaliates or seeks compensation for injury, then the principle becomes entirely meaningless. If we were to extend this logic, for the “pure/clean of heart” there is no need for the Law, much as Paul teaches for those who walk and live “according to the Spirit” (Rom 8:4; Gal 5:16-24)—ultimately this is the goal (and ideal) to be realized for Jesus’ followers (see the Beatitudes).


Note of the Day – July 24

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Today’s note on Jesus’ saying in Matthew 5:17 is supplemental to an article on the “Antitheses” (Matt 5:21-47) in the Sermon on the Mount, part of a continuing series on “The Law and the New Testament” (“Jesus and the Law”). I have also discussed Matt 5:17-20 in an earlier note.

Matthew 5:17

Mh\ nomi/shte o%ti h@lqon katalu=sai to\n no/mon h* tou\$ profh/ta$: ou)k h@lqon katalu=sai a)lla\ plhrw=sai
“Do not regard (as proper), (that) ‘I have come to loose down [i.e. dissolve] the Law or the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets]’; I did not come to loose down but to fill (up).”

Because of the importance of this saying, both with regard to the teaching which follows (in vv. 21ff) and for Jesus’ view of the Law as a whole, each element will be examined closely.

mh\ nomi/shte—The verb nomi/zw (nomízœ) is related to the noun no/mo$ (nómos), here translated conventionally as “Law”; however, no/mo$ would more accurately be rendered as “that which is proper/binding”, “binding custom”, or something similar, and the verb nomi/zw, “regard as proper, consider proper/customary”, etc. Both of these terms carry a technical meaning here: no/mo$ refers specifically to the hr*oT (tôrâ), while nomi/zw indicates proper religious belief. However, the verb also generally can indicate a customary way of thinking (according to appearance), or a common assumption, which (often) in some way proves to be incorrect, as the usage in Matt 20:10; Lk 2:44; 3:23; Acts 7:25; 14:19; 16:27; 21:29. In Acts 8:20; 17:29; 1 Tim 6:5, it is an incorrect thinking regarding religious matters. The aorist subjunctive form here in Matt 5:17, along with the negative particle mh, has the force of an imperative—i.e., “do not think (incorrectly) in the customary way (concerning this)”; the same expression in found in Matt 10:34.

o%ti (“that”)—the conjunction here may indicate a quotation, i.e. “do not regard as proper/correct (the following statement)”.

h@lqon katalu=sai to\n no/mon h* tou\$ profh/ta$—this is the (false or incorrect) saying of Jesus: “I have come to loose down the Law and/or the Foretellers”.

katalu=sai—as a legal term, katalu/w (katalúœ, “loose down”, cf. lu/w, “loose[n]”) can mean “abolish, annul, render invalid,” etc. The verb is used by Jesus (or in a saying attributed to him) in reference to the destruction of the Temple—Mark 13:2; 14:58; 15:29 (par Matt 24:2; 26:61; 27:40; Lk 21:6); Acts 6:14; cf. also John 2:19; 2 Cor 5:1. For a similar use of the verb in a context related to the Law, see Galatians 2:18, possibly also in Lk 19:7 (Jesus going in to associate with a “sinner”); and note Paul’s use of it as warning in Rom 14:20 not to “destroy” the work of God.

to\n no/mon h* tou\$ profh/ta$—here no/mo$ is the Old Testament / Jewish hr*oT (tôrâ) or “Law” (lit. “instruction”), specifically as Scripture—that is, as the divinely-revealed Instruction written down and preserved in the five books of Moses (Pentateuch). Similarly the “Prophets” are the writings, the books which record the Prophets’ words. It became commonplace to refer to these in tandem as “the Law and [kai] the Prophets” (cf. Matt 7:12; 11:13; 22:40; Luke 16:16; John 1:45; Acts 13:15; 24:14; 28:23; Rom 3:21); here, however, Jesus uses the disjunctive conjunction h&, i.e. “(either) the Law or the Prophets”. The difference perhaps is slight, but a distinction is being made: the Pentateuch is the principal expression of the Torah of God, but the Prophetic books also expound and support the instruction—the two forming the corpus of Sacred Writings for Jews (and Christians) of the time. Jesus is effectively saying: “I have not come to dissolve (the authority of) either the Law or the Prophets”

ou)k h@lqon katalu=sai a)lla\ plhrw=sai—This is the “correct” saying: “I have not come to loose down (the Law or the Prophets), but to fill (them up)”. The verb plhro/w (pl¢róœ, “fill up, fulfill”), like the corresponding verb katalu/w, can be used in the legal sense of “establish, complete, supply the full (force of)”, etc. How precisely should we understand katalu/w and plhro/w here? There are several possibilities:

katalu/w, “loose, dissolve”, in the sense of:

  • relax the strictness of the Torah regulations, either for his followers or for all (Jewish) people
  • teach that his followers need not observe the regulations
  • declare that the Torah is no longer valid or in force (for anyone)

plhro/w, “fill up, fulfill”, in the sense that:

  • Jesus and his followers faithfully observe the Torah regulations
  • in his teaching (and by his example), Jesus restores the original meaning and purpose of the (written) Torah
  • through his teaching (and example), Jesus points to a deeper meaning and significance for his followers
  • Jesus, in his person and through his teaching, completes the Torah, either in the sense of: (a) giving it a new meaning, or (b) effectively replacing it

This question will be discussed further in the next daily note.

It is interesting to note that the ‘incorrect’ statement of v. 17a (or something very like it), governed by mh\ nomi/shte, is actually attested in early Christian writings. For example, in the “Gospel of the Ebionites” (according to Epiphanius’ Panarion 30.16.5), h@lqon katalu=sai ta\$ qusi/a$ (“I have come to dissolve the sacrifices”), and a similar Gnostic formulation in the “Gospel of the Egyptians” (Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 3.63), “I have come to dissolve the works of female-ness” (this unusual phrase refers to all the elements of the current world-order, including conventional religious forms). According to the Dialogue of Adamantius (ch. 15), certain Marcionites claimed that Jesus actually said the opposite of Matt 5:17: “I have not come to fulfill the Law, but to dissolve (it)”. Cf. Betz, Sermon, pp. 174-176.

It may seem strange that Jesus himself would already (in his own lifetime) be safeguarding his teaching against ‘misrepresentations’ of this sort—or does this rather reflect early disputes regarding his teaching? In Romans 3:31 Paul delivers an apologetic statement very similar to that of Jesus’ here: “Do we then bring down the Law (to be) inactive through faith? May it not be! But (rather) we make the Law stand!”

As indicated above, the verb katalu/w can be used in the sense of “dissolve/destroy” a building, etc., and so it appears in the charge that Jesus said he would “dissolve” the Temple (Mark 14:58; 15:29 par.; Acts 6:14; also cf. Mark 13:2 par.). This is a significant association in terms of Judaism and the Law within early Christianity—cf. the highly Christological version of the Temple-saying in John 2:19ff. Similarly, the contrasting verb plhro/w, can be given a theological and Christological nuance here: that Jesus himself completes or fills up the Law (see above). Paul’s famous statement in Rom 10:4 comes to mind: “For Christ is the completion [te/lo$] of the Law…”


Note of the Day – July 7

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This is the last of four daily notes on Galatians 2:15-21 (for the first three notes see #1, 2, 3). Today’s concluding note is on verse 21, which I have summarized as a concluding argument regarding justice/righteousness.

Galatians 2:21

The sentence in this verse is made up of two statements or clauses, the first by way of a bold declaration:

ou)k a)qetw= th\n xa/rin tou= qeou=
“I do not displace [i.e. set aside] the favor of God”

From a rhetorical standpoint, this a refutation (refutatio) by Paul of a charge (real or hypothetical). The verb a)qete/w, “unset, displace, set aside”, is often used in a legal context, i.e., of “setting aside” (invalidating, nullifying) an agreement; it can also be used in the more general sense of “disregard, deny, repudiate”, even to “act unfaithfully, be disloyal”, etc. For other occurrences of the verb, cf. Gal 3:15; 1 Cor 1:19; 1 Thess 4:8; 1 Tim 5:12. Here Paul probably has the legal sense in mind, related to the Israelist/Jewish covenant (agreement) with God. Paul’s Jewish (and Jewish Christian) opponents might well have accused him of annulling the Covenant by his particular view of the Old Testament Law, as expressed here in Galatians (on this, cf. the previous note). According to the basic Jewish view, salvation (and the establishment of the Covenant) is the result of God’s gracious election of Israel; and observing the commands, ordinances and precepts of God, as revealed in the Torah (Law of Moses), represents the terms whereby Israel fulfills (and adheres) to the agreement. By effectively abrogating the Law, Paul invalidates the Covenant, and, in turn, disregards the favor (grace, xa/ri$) of God. This last is the argument that Paul refutes. It is actually a clever bit of substitution—he does not frame the charge in terms of setting aside the covenant, but rather of setting aside the favor/grace of God. This is important to his rhetorical argument as a whole, as we shall see in the second clause that follows:

ei) ga\r dia\ no/mou dikaiosu/nh, a&ra Xristo\$ dwrea\n a)pe/qanen
“for if justice/righteousness (is) through (the) Law, then (the) Anointed (One) died away dwrea\n

The word dwrea/n (dœreán), which I left untranslated above, properly means “(as) a gift”, and so Paul uses it in a similar context in Romans 3:24; however, this translation can be misleading in English, since often the emphasis is rather on being “free of charge” or “without payment”, either in a positive (2 Cor 11:7) or negative (2 Thess 3:8) sense. It can even carry the harsher connotation of “in vain, for no purpose”; the English expression “for nothing” captures this ambiguity—it can mean something done “for free, as a gift” or “for no purpose”. It is this latter sense that Paul plays on here, juxtaposing xa/ri$ and dwrea/n, as he does in Rom 3:24—there the parallelism is synonymous (both words can mean “[as a] gift”), here it is rather antithetical (or better, ironical). I will return to this in a moment.

The key portion of this conditional statement is the unreal or false (indicative) clause: “if justice/righteousness (is, or comes) through the Law…” Paul has already stated that this is false in verse 16, effectively as a (rhetorical) point of agreement with his (Jewish Christian) opponents, implying however that their viewpoint and behavior actually (if unintentionally) contradicts the ‘agreed-upon’ doctrine in v. 16. Now, he goes on to say that, if they are correct, and one is justified by observing the Law, then this “sets aside” the very work of Christ on the cross! The final irony is that the false/hypothetical charge (against Paul) in v. 21a turns into a real charge against Paul’s opponents—by requiring believers to observe the Old Testament Law, they set aside the grace of God. Usually when Paul speaks of something being “in vain”, he uses the adverb ei)kh= or the expression ei)$ keno\n, as in Gal 2:2; 3:4; 4:11; so the use of dwrea/n here is most distinctive (and intentional), reflecting a powerful irony—by disregarding the central teaching that salvation/justification is entirely by trust (or faith) as a free gift from God (i.e. “for nothing”), Paul’s opponents have made Christ’s sacrificial death to be “for nothing”. Ultimately, of course, this entire argument is intended as a warning and exhortation for the Galatian believers (see Gal 1:6ff; 5:2-4ff; 6:12ff).

It also demonstrates again how important the mystical, participatory language and symbolism of dying with Christ was for Paul. Salvation “by grace” was not simply a matter of God overlooking or forgiving human sinfulness, it was centered in the idea of God “giving” his Son (and Christ “giving himself”) as a sacrificial offering for us. Our faith/trust is “into” Christ and places us “in” Him; this entry is focused—spirtually and sacramentally—upon our participation in His Death and Resurrection.


Note of the Day – July 6

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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 by life in the Spirit and by following the example and teachings of Jesus.



Note of the Day – July 5

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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, drawing 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 somewhat 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. 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 (or most) 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.



Note of the Day – July 4

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In the last three daily notes, I explored the relationship between Peter and Paul in the New Testament and Christian tradition, in commemoration of the feast of Peter and Paul (June 29/30). Yesterday’s note discussed the episode at Antioch as narrated by Paul in Galatians 2:11-14. Paul’s statement in verse 14b leads into the famous passage in vv. 15-21, which serves to establish the basic issue at the heart of the letter—the propositio, according to classical rhetorical categories. I felt it well worth devoting a short series of notes on these verses, along the following division:

  • Note 1 (vv. 15-16)—Basic proposition regarding justification and the Jew/Gentile distinction
  • Note 2 (vv. 17-18)—Rhetorical argument to show the problem with applying the Law to (Gentile) believers
  • Note 3 (vv. 19-20)—Relation of the believer to the Law
  • Note 4 (v. 21)—Concluding argument regarding justice/righteousness

Galatians 2:15-16

It is often debated whether Paul’s words to Peter end with verse 14 or continue on into vv. 15ff. From a literary (epistolary) and rhetorical standpoint, I believe the direct address to Peter ends with v. 14 (along with the narration [narratio] of vv. 1-14); Paul deftly (and seamlessly) makes the shift from Peter to the Galatian audience of the letter here in vv. 15-16. This becomes clear when we look closely at the two statements which make up this verse pair:

V. 15: “We (who are) by nature Yehudeans [i.e. Jews], and not sinful ones [i.e. sinners] out of the Nations [i.e. Gentiles]…”

He draws a distinction, entirely from a traditional Jewish point of view, between Israelites/Jews who live according to the Covenant established by God and the Law (of Moses), and non-Jews (Gentiles) who live apart from the Law and Covenant. According to this religious distinction, faithful and observant Jews are considered “righteous”, while non-Jews (and faithless/disobedient Jews) are considered to be “sinners”. Paul admits this distinction (from a religious standpoint) and uses it as the starting point for his argument; it also serves as a point both ‘sides’ can agree upon—Paul, on the one side, and Jewish Christians (who believe all Christians should be circumcised and observe the Law), on the other. The emphatic use of the first person plural pronoun (h(mei=$, “we”) immediately establishes the common ground—Paul associates himself here with another Jewish Christian (i.e. Peter, implied).

Verse 16 is more complex, and, in rendering it, I would break it down into outline form—it begins “[but] seeing/knowing that…”:

  • “A man is not declared just out of [i.e. by/from] works of (the) law
    • if not through trust of Yeshua (the) Anointed
    • and we (indeed) trusted into (the) Anointed Yeshua
  • (so) that we might be declared just out of [i.e. by/from] trust of (the) Anointed (One)
    • and not out of works of (the) law
    • (in) that out of works of (the) law
  • all flesh will not be declared just”

Note the way that the three ‘outer’ clauses or phrases emphasize justification (being “declared just/righteous”), whereas the ‘inner’ pairs of clauses/phrases juxtapose trust (or faith) “of/into Jesus” and works “of the law”. The ‘outer’ portions themselves form a guiding chiasm:

  • A man (i.e. individual person)—not declared just (from works of law)
    • We (i.e. believers) might be declared just (by faith/trust in Jesus)
  • All flesh (i.e. all persons, collectively)—not declared just (from works of law [implicit])

The participle that begins this verse (ei&dote$, “having seen/known [that…]”) joins it to v. 15, and implies that, this too, is a proposition both ‘sides’ can agree on. Indeed, many (if not most) early Jewish Christians, like Peter, would have granted that ultimately it is by faith in Jesus, and not by observing the Law, that believers are “justified” and “saved”. Almost certainly, Jewish Christians who might make statements such as that in Acts 15:1 were a relatively small (if vocal) minority. The difference is that Paul regarded the less extreme view and behavior of Peter (and other Jewish Christians in Antioch) as essentially leading to a denial of this fundamental proposition—that faith/trust in Jesus ultimately was not sufficient to establish a right religious standing before God.

Before proceeding, however, it is important to mention the difficulty in rendering the verb dikaio/w (dikaióœ), as well as the related noun dikaiosu/nh (dikaiosy¡n¢) and adjective di/kaio$ (díkaios). Translators are generally torn between “just/justice” and “right/righteous(ness)” The basic idea underlying the dik- word group is conformity with what has been established (in society, i.e. custom, tradition) or with (moral/religious/legal) direction. Overall, “just/justice” best captures the social and legal aspects in English, whereas “righteous(ness)”, in particular, is almost entirely limited to a specific religious sense. The main problem is the verb dikaio/w, as there is nothing really corresponding to it in English. Literally, it would be “make right/just”, but this is somewhat awkward and potentially misleading; “declare just” perhaps better fits the legal sense, but this too can be misleading when used in a spiritual or theological context. Typically, “justify” is used to translate, but in modern English this verb has virtually lost its proper legal sense, and requires special technical usage in the New Testament (esp. in Paul’s letters). Needless to say, the subject is immense, and requires careful study of all the relevant passages.

Two additional points of translation (and interpretation) are worth mentioning:

  • The genitive construct used in verse 16—”the trust/faith of Jesus”—is best understood as an objective genitive, i.e. “faith in Jesus”. The parallel and synonymous Greek expression is “faith ei)$ (into) Jesus”. This primarily refers to faith/trust directed toward Jesus, but one should not ignore the dynamic, participatory aspect implied by the literal rendering “into”.
  • The expression “works of (the) law”, now also found in the Qumran texts (4QMMT line c27, hrwfh ycum), is distinctive to Paul’s thought. By it, he means active observance of the commands and ordinances of the Old Testament Law (Torah or “Law of Moses”), particularly in its ritual/ceremonial aspect. 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 “works of law” and “trust of Jesus”, Paul creates a contrasting distinction, highlighted by: (a) “trust/faith” vs. “work/act”, and (b) the use of the preposition ei)$ (trust into/unto Jesus) which Paul takes rather literally—Jews may be “in” (e)n) the Law or Christians “in” Christ, but by trust/faith one moves “into” (ei)$) Christ; in other words, faith in Jesus brings about a dynamic change of religious, existential, and spiritual situation for the person.

Note of the Day – July 3

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In the previous two daily notes, I surveyed some of the New Testament passages, and other references in early Christian tradition, which mention Peter and Paul together. Today, I will look a little more closely at the primary New Testament reference—Paul’s narrative of the episode at Antioch in Galatians 2:11-14.

By all accounts, the Antioch episode with Peter took place some time after the meeting in Jerusalem (between Paul & Barnabas and the “pillars”) described in Gal 2:1-10. Most scholars would hold that Gal 2:1-10 generally refers to the same events as Acts 15:1-19, though some would question this. More difficult is the relationship between the account in Acts 15:1-19 and the letter from James in vv. 20-29—some commentators believe that these occurred at different times, but have been combined/conflated by the author of Acts. In spite of what may be implied in Acts 15:30ff, there is no indication by Paul in any of his epistles that he knew of this letter (Paul may have first become aware of it later on, as suggested by Acts 21:25). Interestingly, however, Acts 15:1-19 and Gal 2:1-10 deal primarily with the question of circumcision, while Acts 15:20-29 and Gal 2:11-14 both seem to refer more specifically to dietary regulations.

Unfortunately, the brevity of Paul’s narrative in Gal 2:11-14, and the rhetorical force of it, makes it difficult to know for certain what took place between Peter and Paul. There are three main interpretative issues:

  1. The exact nature of the dispute
  2. The identity and role of the “men from James” (v. 12a)
  3. The force and significance of Paul’s statement in v. 14b

Paul frames the dispute with two expressions in verse 11:

  • “I stood against [a)nte/sthn] him according to (the) face [kata\ pro/swpon, i.e. face-to-face]”
  • “(in) that [i.e. because] he was known/recognized (to be at fault) by (his conduct) [kategnwsme/no$]”

The first verb (anqi/sthmi, “stand against”) is often used in a military or political context (i.e. “oppose, resist, withstand”); but it can also refer specifically to opposing/exposing an imposter (as Peter withstood Simon Magus in tradition [see below]; cf. also Acts 13:8; 2 Tim 3:8). The second verb katagi–g—nw/skw literally means “know against/concerning (someone)”, in the sense of forming an opinion or judgment against a person; as a technical legal term, it can mean “bring a charge against”, “decide a case against”, i.e. “judge, condemn”; it can also carry the nuance of “find fault with/against”, “think poorly of”, “despise”, etc. Here the sense of the perfect passive of the verb is probably something like “clearly in the wrong or at fault”, though perhaps catching a bit of a legal connotation as well, i.e. “recognized or judged to be at fault”, perhaps even “(already) judged/condemned”.

In verse 12, Paul states that (prior to the arrival of “men from James”), Peter was “eating with” (sunh/sqien) the Gentiles (presumably Gentile believers of Antioch); the imperfect form of the verb sunesqi/w (“eat [together] with”) suggests repeated, or habitual, action. Peter apparently was willing to forego the Jewish dietary regulations in order to have fellowship with Gentile believers, or similarly to disregard other religious scruples about associating with non-Jews. Paul’s statement in verse 14, that Peter had “begun (to live) under [i.e. according to the manner] of the nations [i.e. of the Gentiles]”, would suggest a significant shift away from strict observance of the Law (including the dietary regulations, etc). An association of Peter with such issues surrounding Jew-Gentile relations (and the Law) in early Christian tradition is confirmed by:

  • The Cornelius episode in Acts 10-11, a key narrative in the book as it sets the stage for the early mission to the Gentiles (Peter refers to it again in Acts 15:7-8). The vision of Acts 10:9-16 effectively abolished the dietary requirements established in the Old Testament Law; while it is nowhere specified that Peter ceased to observe the regulations, it is clearly allowed (even required) for Jewish Christians to do so for the purpose of missionary work among Gentiles. Acts 11:1-18 shows that Peter had to defend or explain his actions in this regard to other Jewish believers.
  • At several points in the so-called Pseudo-Clementine literature (prob. early 3rd century), writings which preserve certain kinds of Jewish-Christian tradition, Peter is depicted as defending himself against “false” claims that he taught the abolishment of the Law of Moses (on this, see my earlier note). Many critical scholars see “Simon (Magus)” in the Clementine writings as a cipher for Paul (and his teachings). Indeed, Gal 2:11 is alluded to in the Clementine Homilies XVII.19.4, effectively reversing Peter’s position in relation to Simon (Paul).

Following the arrival of “men from James”, Peter’s response (and shift in behavior) is described by three terms:

(a) he “withdrew” (u(pe/stellen, literally, “he set/placed [himself] under”), in a concrete sense he “pulled back”
(b) he “separated himself” (a)fw/rizen e(auto/n) i.e. from the Gentiles; the verb a)fori/zw fundamentally means “to mark (someone or something) from (another)”, that is, to create a distinction or boundary; here the idea is that Peter marked himself off (in some way) as a Jewish believer, apart from the Gentile believers with whom he had been associating.
(c) he was “in fear” (fobou/meno$) of the ones “of the circumcision” (e)k peritomh=$); this latter expression could simply mean “other Jewish Christians”, but Paul may also be identifying them (in part) with the “false brethren” of Gal 2:4, who had, it would seem, argued that Gentile converts should be circumcised (v. 3, cf. Acts 15:1).

In what sense did Peter “fear”? It is likely that Paul is framing the issue in the sharpest possible terms—Peter’s ‘fear’ may have been nothing more than the result of his feeling social pressure, touching upon his older religious habits and practice. His behavior among the Gentiles might suddenly seem problematic when viewed by (observant) Jewish Christians. Even Paul, in his letters, cautions against believers in the exercise of their Christian freedom, lest they trip up “weaker” brethren (i.e. those who still feel bound by certain religious scruples). At any rate, Paul saw the matter as serious enough to take bold action, “standing against” Peter “face to face”. This probably implies two things: (i) he expressed his objection directly to Peter, and (ii) it took place publicly, likely in whatever leadership/council setting was current among believers in Antioch (see v. 14). Such a meeting may be summarized by Paul in verse 13, where he describes how the rest of the Jews (i.e. Jewish Christians of Antioch)—and even Barnabas—were swayed by Peter and/or the “men from James / of the circumcision”; the summary is governed by two, related, verbal expressions:

  • sunupekri/qhsan au)tw=|—the verb sunupokri/nomai is a compound derived from u(pokri/nomai (“to judge/discern under[neath]”), which had the basic meaning of “answer, explain, interpret” (similar to the related verb a)pokri/nomai). The derived noun u(pokrith/$, “interpreter” came to be used widely in the technical sense of an “actor” (i.e. one who interprets an author/poet’s work); similarly, u(po/krisi$ (“explanation/interpretation”) came to have the meaning “play-acting”, and the verb u(pokri/nomai, in turn, to mean “play a role”, i.e. “pretend”—our English word “hypocrisy” is a morally-tinged transliteration of u(po/krisi$. The prefixed particle sun means “(together) with”; so the expression Paul uses means that the rest of the Jewish Christians “played the part together with him [i.e. with Peter]”; some translations fill in the meaning further—”(they) acted hypocritically, joined in the hypocrisy”, etc.
  • sunaph/xqh au)tw=n th=| u(pokri/sei—Paul states that even Barnabas was “led away (together) with their play-acting [i.e. ‘hypocrisy’]” (the noun u(po/krisi$, cf. above). In modern English, we might say, “he was carried away (by it) and joined in their pretense”. The idea seems to be that (nearly) all of the Jewish Christians living and working (among the Gentiles) in Antioch were swayed by Peter and “the men from James”.

But who exactly are these “some [i.e. certain men] from James” (tina$ a)po\  )Iakw/bou)? At the time, James was the leading figure of the Jerusalem Church (as indicated in Acts 15, 21), and one of the three “pillars” (along with Peter and John) mentioned by Paul in Galatians 2. There are two possibilities here: (a) that they were genuinely sent by James, or (b) they only claimed to have been sent by James. For commentators eager to harmonize Acts 15 and Galatians 2, the latter is generally assumed; however, the former is actually much more likely, considering the influence they seem to have had over Peter. In any case, they certainly would have been prominent representatives of the Jerusalem church, known by Peter and probably many other leaders of the Antioch church as well. It is extremely unlikely that they are the same as the “false brethren” of Gal 2:4. There the issue was the circumcision of Gentile converts, and observance of the Law of Moses; here there is no sense that anyone is requiring Gentiles to conform to the Law, rather the pressure is on Jewish Christians to maintain their religious identity while working among Gentiles. No doubt observance of dietary regulations was a key point, but Peter’s “withdrawal” and “separation” implies something more than that. Paul appears to have recognized this; as he states in verse 14:

“But when I saw that they did not set foot [i.e. walk] straight/right toward the truth of the Good Message [i.e. Gospel], I said to Kefa’ [i.e. Peter] in front of (them) all…”

He identifies their Jewish religious observance as “not walking right” according to “the truth of the Gospel”—a striking statement, which may well have taken them by surprise! Like many Jewish Christians throughout history, they may have seen no conflict between preserving their Jewish identity (by conduct and association) while at the same time accepting Gentile believers as true Christians. However, in this situation, at least, Paul saw a different implication, as he goes on to say:

“If you, a Yehudean [i.e. Judean/Jew], are beginning (to live) under (the manner) of the Nations [i.e. of Gentiles], and not (in the manner) of Yehudeans, how do you constrain [i.e. make it necessary for] the Nations to become Yehudean [i.e. live as Jews]?”

The logic of this statement in verse 14b is somewhat hard to follow, but I would interpret it according to the following line:

  • Previously, Peter was willing to associate and eat with the Gentiles (disregarding the dietary restrictions and other legal/religious scruples); in so doing, he was effectively living as a Gentile and not a Jew.
  • Now, since the arrival of important Jewish Christians from Jerusalem, he is reluctant to associate with Gentiles in the same way; in so doing, he (perhaps without fully realizing it) is re-affirming a specific Jewish identity.
  • The practical result is: in order for Gentile believers to continue associating again (fully) with Peter, they would need to adopt the same (Jewish) religious practices; effectively they would have to become Jews.

It is altogether possible that Peter did not see this last implication, or did not draw the connection as strongly as Paul. The specifics of the incident between Peter and Paul at Antioch are largely lost to us; what remains, and follows in Galatians 2:15-21, is one of the most extraordinary, and yet underappreciated, passages in all of the New Testament. It is to this passage that I will turn for the next series of daily notes, according to the following division:

  • Vv. 15-16—Basic proposition regarding justification and the Jew/Gentile distinction
  • Vv. 17-18—Rhetorical argument to show the problem with applying the Law to (Gentile) believers
  • Vv. 19-20—Relation of the believer to the Law
  • V. 21—Concluding argument regarding justice/righteousness