was successfully added to your cart.



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

By | Exegetical/Study Series | No Comments

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

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

1. Did Paul continue to observe the Law?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

“And I came to be to the Jews as a Jew, (so) that I might gain Jews (for Christ), to the (one)s under (the) Law as (one) under (the) Lawnot being under (the) Law (my)self—(so) that I might gain the (one)s under (the) Law (for Christ)”

Here he clearly states that:

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

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

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

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

Note of the Day – October 28

By | Note of the Day | No Comments

Romans 3:31

Today’s note is on Rom 3:31, which concludes the introductory section (3:21-31) of this main division (3:21-5:21) of the probatio of Romans (1:18-8:39). Rom 3:21-31 provides the main theme—an announcement of the justice/righteousness of God, apart from the Law. This is stated by way of a long opening declaration (vv. 21-26), followed by a re-affirmation of two key, related themes in vv. 27-30: (1) that human beings are made (or declared) just/right (“justified”) before God through faith/trust in Christ, and (2) that this applies equally to Jews and Gentiles. For more on verses 21-26, and the expression “the justice/righteousness of God”, see the two previous daily notes.

Paul adds, in verse 31, a pointed and significant rhetorical question, along with his response:

“Do we then make the Law inactive through th(is) trust? May it not come to be (so)! (but) rather, we make the Law stand!”

Up to this point in Romans (and all through Galatians) Paul has argued and asserted that human beings (believers) are made/declared just/right by God through trust (faith) in Christ, and not by observing the commands and regulations of the Old Testament Law (Torah). This teaching effectively undercuts the significance of the Law, from a traditional Israel/Jewish religious (and cultural) point of view. It may have begun with the question of whether Gentile converts ought to be circumcised and observe the Torah, but Paul’s line of argument ultimately goes far beyond this, to the fundamental question of Christian identity (for Jews and Gentiles alike) in relation to the Law. Paul not only declares believers in Christ to be free from the Law (an especially important theme in Galatians, cf. Gal 2:4-5, 19-20; 3:13-14, 23-26; 4:1-2, 21-31; 5:1ff, 13; 6:15), but goes so far as to declare that the primary function and purpose of the Law is to put (all) people in bondage under sin (Gal 3:19, 22-23). This point is clarified and developed in Romans—Rom 3:20, and further in 5:12-21; 7:7ff and 11:32—and must be regarded as one of the most remarkable and extraordinary early Christian teachings. It is a view of the Law (Torah) unlike anything in Jewish thought—I am not aware of any examples remotely similar prior to Paul, and few (if any) instances in later Judaism. Instead of the Law as a protective fence around Israel, preserving faith and ritual/moral purity, it functions more like a prison wall, holding people in bondage under sin.

It is understandable that devout Jews (and Jewish Christians) would object strongly to such a teaching. That many did oppose Paul’s view of the Law is clear enough from Galatians, as well as several key passages in the book of Acts (most notably, Acts 21:17-26); opposition continued in Jewish Christianity subsequently, as preserved in tradition and writings such as the (Pseudo-)Clementine literature. Paul anticipates the fundamental objection with the question (and answer) he gives in Rom 3:31 (and earlier in Gal 2:21, cf. also 1:17). The question is: “do we then, by this (teaching regarding) faith/trust in Christ, make the Law inactive/ineffective [katargou=men]?” His answer is definite, using the popular asseverative (negative) phrase “may it not come to be (so) [mh\ ge/noito]!”, sometimes rendered in English idiom as “God/heaven forbid!”, followed by the declaration: “but (rather) we make the Law stand [i(sta/nomen]!” It is important to examine the two relevant verbs used in this verse:

  • katarge/w—which means to make (or render) something inactive (or ineffective, useless, idle, etc), literally to make it cease working. As a technical legal term, it means to “invalidate, nullify, make void,” etc. Paul uses the verb frequently—25 of the 27 NT occurrences come from the Pauline letters, including 9 in Romans and Galatians. In Galatians, it serves an effective rhetorical purpose, with Paul’s claim that his opponents effectively would “make ineffective” Christ’s work (Gal 5:4, 11); earlier, he uses it in the technical legal sense, arguing that the Law (Torah) can not “invalidate” the promise God made to Abraham (cf. also in Rom 4:14). A similar legal usage is found in Rom 7:2, 6, which Paul connects with the idea of release from the Law through death, applied specifically to believers (in Christ) dying to the power of sin, and thus rendering it ineffective (Rom 6:6). In Rom 3:3, Paul uses the verb in a rhetorical question similar to that in v. 31: “if some did not trust, does their lack of trust make inactive/ineffective the trust(worthiness) of God? May it not come to be (so)! But God is true…”
  • i%sthmi—a fairly common verb (“stand [up]”); the transitive meaning (“make stand”) can be used in a technical legal sense, similar to that of katarge/w (above)—indeed, it indicates virtually the opposite, i.e., “uphold, establish, confirm, validate”, etc. It often applies to a (legal) agreement or “covenant”, either its establishment or confirmation, or both. Paul uses it somewhat less frequently than katarge/w, but it occurs six times in Romans (the same number as katarge/w). In Rom 14:4, it (twice) is used of an individual person’s status or fate; the meaning is somewhat similar in Rom 11:20, and also Rom 5:2, but there the perfect form relates to an abiding (permanent) condition, of believers standing in God’s favor (and in His presence). Rom 10:3 describes a dynamic virtually the opposite of what Paul asserts in 3:31—of human beings seeking to establish a justice/righteousness that is their own, and not God’s.

It is interesting to compare Romans 3:31 with Jesus’ saying in Matthew 5:17:

“Do not regard (as proper/customary) that I came to loose down [i.e. dissolve] the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to loose (it) down, but (rather) to fill (it) up [i.e. fulfill it]!”

Jesus appears to be dealing with a similar sort of objection to his teaching as does Paul; more properly, the reference may be to a (possible) false version of his saying, i.e. “do not think it proper that (I said) ‘I came to dissolve the Law…'” In its context within the so-called Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7), we have a number of relatively clear examples of how Jesus (and his early followers) would have interpreted and expounded this saying. Jesus, through his teaching and personal example, shows his followers the way to an understanding and realization of the true meaning and intent of the Torah. For more on this, see my previous notes on Matt 5:17-20 and the articles on the Antitheses (Matt 5:21-48).

Paul’s opponents and critics might well have said that his teaching nullified the Law in its traditional role as a way and path to life, and by removing its significance as a fulfillment of the (old) covenant God made with Israel (at Sinai, cf. Gal 4:21-31). Indeed, the verb katarge/w would seem very much to apply to Paul’s view of the Law if we compare his usage in Rom 7:1-3, for example, with the argument in Gal 3:19-29; 4:1-11 and 2 Cor 3:7-14. These passages clearly present the idea that the binding force of the Law terminates with the coming of Christ (cf. Rom 10:4). However, Paul may be using the verb in Rom 3:31 in the basic sense of “making ineffective”—i.e., the Law fulfills and accomplishes the purpose of God, though Paul’s understanding of this purpose (e.g. in Rom 11:32) is quite different from the traditional Jewish view. His claim that (the message of) trust in Christ “makes the Law stand”, i.e. confirms or establishes it, probably should be interpreted in a slightly different way—that Christ, in his person and work, fulfills (and completes) the Law. In this regard, Paul’s claim is indeed similar to Jesus’ saying in Matt 5:17 (above); what is unique in Paul’s teaching is the emphasis that Christ fulfills the Law on behalf of human beings (believers), and that those who trust in him share and participate—spiritually and symbolically—in the righteousness (of God) that Christ embodies.

Paul’s View of the Law: Romans (1:18-3:20)

By | Exegetical/Study Series | No Comments

Romans 1:18-3:20

According to my outline (see the Introduction), I divide this first section of the probatio (Rom 1:18-8:39) as follows:

  • Rom 1:18-3:20: Announcement of God’s (impending) judgment (v. 18), according to the Law (of God):
    —1:19-32: Judgment against human wickedness/injustice as represented by (pagan) idolatry and immorality
    —2:1-16: Jews are judged (along with Gentiles) according to evil/wicked deeds that are against the Law
    —2:17-29: Jewish identity (circumcision) is meaningless if the Law is violated
    —3:1-8: God’s judgment against Jew and Gentile alike is just
    —3:9-20: Declaration (with proof from Scripture) that all human beings (Jews and Gentiles) are “under sin”

My discussion here will generally be limited to the verses and passages which are relevant to Paul’s view of the Law; these will be discussed below under six headings, beginning with 1:18 and followed by the five sections that make up 1:9-3:20. Certain verses will be dealt with in more detail in separate daily notes.

Romans 1:18

This announcement of judgment is formulated parallel to the statement in v. 17, as can be seen by comparison:

Verse 17:

dikaiosu/nh ga\r qeou= e)n au)tw=| a)pokalu/ptetai
“for the justice/righteousness of God is uncovered in it [i.e. the Gospel]…”

e)k pi/stew$ ei)$ pi/stin
“…out of trust (and) into trust”

Verse 18:

a)pokalu/ptetai ga\r o)rgh\ qeou= a)p’ ou)ranou=
“for the passion/anger of God is uncovered from heaven…”

e)pi\ pa=san a)se/beian kai\ a)diki/an
“…upon all lack of (proper) fear [i.e. impiety] and injustice/unrighteousness”

The two key (parallel) terms in v. 18b are a)sebei/a and a)diki/a—these define the origin and nature of human wickedness, as represented by (pagan) idolatry and immorality, and as described by Paul in vv. 19-32.

Romans 1:19-32

The term a)sebei/a indicates the lack (a)-) of proper fear or reverence (vb. se/bomai), i.e. toward God, and is sometimes translated as “impiety”. This is described vividly by Paul in vv. 19-23, a kind of early Christian explanation for the religious phenomenon of (pagan) polytheism and image-worship. The second term in v. 18 is a)diki/a, which likewise indicates the lack of justice (di/kh); but the negative partice (a)-) can also indicate that which is opposite, that which is unjust, i.e., injustice. The word di/kh is closely related to dikaio- wordgroup (“just-/right[eous]-“) used so frequently by Paul in Romans. This injustice/unrighteousness is similarly described (in considerable detail) by Paul in vv. 24-32, with an explanation of how it leads to immorality in human beings, according to three sections:

  1. Immorality directly connected to the worship of (human/creaturely) images, vv. 24-25
  2. Immorality as represented by unnatural passion and (homo)sexual intercourse, vv. 26-27
  3. Immorality summarized as general depravity and wickedness (list of vices), vv. 28-31

Verse 18b adds an interesting qualifying detail to the impiety and injustice, that it is “…of men, the (one)s holding down the truth in injustice”. This “holding down” of the truth characterizes the idolatry and immorality of vv. 19-32, but especially of vv. 28-32 and the concluding verse 32.

Romans 2:1-16

In this section, Paul shifts from the idolatrous and immoral (pagan) world, to the one who would offer religious and moral judgment against such people (v. 1)—”O man, every one th(at) [i.e. whoever] is judging…”. Commentators are generally agreed that the rhetorical figure Paul addresses here is Jewish (confirmed by vv. 12-16), one who, traditionally, and naturally, would tend to regard the (pagan/heathen) Gentiles as “sinners”—idolatry and immorality being associated as stock characteristics of the Gentile world. As Paul makes clear, this was often a superficial and hypocritical viewpoint, and that many Jews behaved as badly and wickedly as Gentiles (at times, even worse). Condemnation of self-righteous religiosity was a common feature in Judaism going back to the Old Testament Prophets, and was prominent in Jesus’ teaching (cf. in the Sermon on the Mount, and the series of “Woes” in Matt 23). Paul’s declaration in vv. 3-5 very much echoes the tone and language of John the Baptist (Lk 3:7ff par). Judgment is the theme and keynote of this passage, in particular, the (impending) end-time judgment (kri/ma) of God on humankind (cf. Rom 1:18, etc). An important word occurs in verse 5: dikaiokrisi/a (“just judgment”, i.e. a just or correct judicial sentence), an extremely rare compound term—cf. reference to God as a “just judge” (dikaiokri/th$) in 2 Macc 12:41. The term, however, blends together two major themes of Romans: God’s judgment, and his justice/righteousness. Both the justice and (end-time) judgment of God on human beings are based on their deeds (or “works” [e&rga]), vv. 6-11, which God will judge fairly and impartially (v. 11). It is important to keep in mind the ancient religious world-view that underlies this thinking—for more on this, and Paul’s use of the dikaio- wordgroup, see the article on Justification.

In verses 12-16, Paul introduces the “the Law” (o( no/mo$) as the basis for judgment. This is the first major passage dealing with the Law in Romans, and will be treated in a separate note.

Romans 2:17-29

In verses 17-24, Paul cites certain representative examples of ways that Jews transgress the Law. These are somewhat problematic, for they are instances of rather blatant violations—stealing, adultery, “robbing temples”—and there certainly are many devout, pious Jews who would not do such things. There are two possibilities: (1) Paul is using gross crimes to represent what is contrary to proper spiritual/ethical conduct, or (2) they serve as an extreme and dramatic representation of transgression and wickedness in general (much as what is described in 1:18-32). The verb i(erosule/w means to strip bare or plunder a sacred place (i.e. a temple), but can also be used in the general sense of religious transgression or sacrilege. Theft, adultery and idolatry (or religious misconduct) are often closely connected in Old Testament and Jewish thought—of many examples, see Hos 4:1-3; Jer 7:8ff; Mal 3:5ff; Testament of Levi 14:5; Philo, On the Confusion of Tongues §163. Such wicked deeds, as committed by Israelites and Jews, are especially significant, since one purpose of the covenant to which they were called was to be a “light” to the nations, and so to instruct people in the truth and knowledge of God (vv. 19-20, cf. Isa 42:6-7; 49:6). By transgressing the Law, they cause God’s name to be slandered (blasfhmei=tai) among the Gentiles, as Paul states in v. 24, by citation of Isa 52:5 (LXX). The violation of the covenant is expressed specifically in terms of circumcision (vv. 25-29), the main aspect of the Old Testament/Jewish Law which Paul dealt with in Galatians. Because of the importance of these verses, as a fundamental declaration of Christian identity, they will be discussed in a separate note.

Romans 3:1-8

Paul begins this section where the last left off, with the theme of circumcision as an essential symbol of religious identity. He asks a fundamental question, which serves to connect together, by way of comparison, Jews and Gentiles:

“What then (is) the (thing) about the Yehudean {Jew} (that) is over (and above)? or what (is) the profit [i.e. benefit] of circumcision?”

His answer seems to confirm the traditional Jewish view in this regard: “much according to every turn [i.e. in every way]!” However, in actuality, he is simply reiterating the message of the prior sections, emphasizing the failure of Israel to live up to the special agreement (covenant) God established with them (esp. with regard to the Law). Note Paul’s clever use of wordplay:

  • The (gathered) words/sayings [logi/a] of God (i.e. the Torah and the Scriptures as a whole) were entrusted [e)pistqeu/qhsan] to them (v. 2)
  • A certain portion of Israel did not trust [h)pi/sthsan] (v. 3a)
  • Yet their lack of trust (or mistrust) [a)pisti/a] does not bring down (i.e. render useless) the trust(worthiness) [pi/sti$] of God (v. 3b)

Underlying this, and a number of other passages in Romans, is a reality with which Paul seems to have struggled greatly—that a good number of his fellow Jews have refused to trust in Christ, sometimes even responding to his missionary work with open hostility. How is one to make sense of this? Here, Paul limits the discussion to the basic failure of at least some Jews to believe, and uses it to launch into an argument regarding the justice (and judgment) of God, vv. 4-8. This is important, for it lays the groundwork for an even more fundamental argument: that all human beings (Jews and Gentiles alike) are “under sin” (3:9ff). We have here wordplay that juxtaposes human lack of justice (or just-ness), a)diki/a, with the justice/righteousness (dikaiosu/nh) of God. Paul’s teaching regarding the freedom of believers from the Law, along with his unique view on the purpose of the Law (cf. the studies on Galatians, and here in Romans), could easily be misunderstood as tolerating, or even advocating, “lawless” and immoral behavior; verses 5-8 speak out against such a mistaken idea, and serve to reinforce the doctrine of divine justice.

Romans 3:9-20

In verse 9, Paul offers a clever parallel with verse 1; note the two questions side by side:

Verse 1

“What then [ti/ ou@n] (is) the (thing) about the Jew (that) is over (and above)…?”

“Much in every [kata\ pa/nta] way”

Verse 9

“What then [ti/ ou@n]? Do we hold ourselves before [i.e. are we ahead] (of Gentiles)…?”

“Not at all [pa/ntw$]”

The remainder of verse 9, along with verse 10a, presents a powerful double declaration that is absolutely fundamental to Paul’s entire line of argument in these chapters:

V. 9b: “Jews and Greeks all are under sin [u(f’ a(marti/an]”
V. 10a: “There is no just (person), not even one

The first statement comes from Paul’s teaching and preaching of the Gospel (“we dealt with the question [i.e. presented the charge] before”); the second comes from Scripture (“as it is written”), summarizing the chain of citations in vv. 10-18, beginning with Psalm 14:1-3; 53:1-3. He has moved from examples of wicked behavior (Gentiles in chap. 1, Jews in chap. 2) to a sweeping indictment that all human beings, however ‘good’ they may appear, presumably, are “under sin” (u(f’ a(marti/an). This expression implies being under the power of someone or something, i.e. in bondage or slavery. It was used in Gal 3:22, parallel, and largely synonymous, with several other expressions in Galatians:

  • “under (the) Law” [u(po\ no/mon], Gal 3:23; 4:4-5, 21; 5:18
  • “under (the) curse” [u(po\ kata/ran], Gal 3:10
  • “under a ‘childhood (slave)-guide'” [u(po\ paidagwgo/n], Gal 3:25 (cf. also 4:2)
  • “under the ‘elements’ of the world” [u(po\ ta\ stoixei=a tou= ko/smou], Gal 4:3

It will not be possible here to examine the various Scripture references Paul strings together in vv. 10-18. Suffice it to say that, in typical Pauline (and early Christian) fashion, a number of passages are taken somewhat out of their original context; however, they still possess an interpretive logic of their own, when bonded together (by keyword and motif), and the result is a powerful (and creative) expression of truth.

The final two verses (vv. 19-20), which speak directly of Paul’s view regarding the function and purpose of the Law, will be examined in a separate note.

Paul’s View of the Law: Romans (Introduction)

By | Exegetical/Study Series | No Comments

Having gone through Paul’s View of the Law in Galatians, it is now time to turn to his letter to the Christians in Rome. As Romans is a much larger and more complex letter than Galatians, it will not be possible to go through it in quite the same detail. Attention will be paid to the most relevant verses and passages, with a number given separate treatment in daily notes. Many of the themes and arguments Paul presented in Galatians with regard to the Law are echoed in Romans, often with additional exposition and elaboration. The passages in chapters 1-8 are also integrated within a relatively broad and systematic theological framework, unlike the pointed rhetorical structure of Galatians. It will be necessary to discuss the different theological context and emphasis in Romans when examining the sections similar to those in Galatians.


The subscriptions in a number of manuscripts indicate that Paul wrote the letter from Corinth, presumably en route to Jerusalem (Acts 20:1-3), and this is very likely correct. If so, then Romans may have been written early in 58 A.D., with 1 and 2 Corinthians probably written during 57, and Galatians at least several years earlier. There are several factors which help explain the particular character of the letter, as compared with that of Galatians or 1-2 Corinthians:

  • It was not written to believers that Paul had visited, nor had he any direct role in the original preaching and foundation of congregations in Rome and its environs. There is thus no immediate reason (causa) for his writing, no urgent issue to address; this apparently offers Paul the freedom to present a more objective, ‘systematic’ summary and exposition of the Gospel. As commentators have noted, it has the character of a “letter-essay” or “teaching letter” (lehrbrief, in German).
  • Rome provided a unique situation regarding the relationship between Jews and Gentiles. The original believers in Rome were almost certainly Jewish, but following the expulsion of Jews during the reign of Claudius (c. 49 A.D., cf. Seutonius, Life of Claudius 25), gradually Gentile (non-Jewish) believers came to be more numerous. By the time of Paul’s writing, the congregations were likely mixed, but with Gentiles dominating. This gave Paul the opportunity to provide a more developed treatment of the relation between Jews and Gentiles in the Church, and in terms of Christian (and Jewish) identity. It is clearly a subject to which Paul had given a great deal of thought.
  • It is possible to sense throughout the letter Paul’s preparation for the journey to Jerusalem, during which he planned to present the collection (gathered from the churches in the Gentile world) for the poor and suffering (Jewish) believers in Jerusalem. He seems to have felt there was important symbolism involved, regarding the unity of Jews and Gentiles in Christ—a theme certainly dear to his heart, as movingly and powerfully expressed especially in Romans 9-11. It is also a theme that, in one way or another, colors the entire epistle.
  • Rome was, of course, the center of the Empire, and this would have been enough to give the believers there a certain prominence (as clearly evident from subsequent Church history as well). Paul is laying the groundwork for a visit to the imperial city, with a presentation of the Gospel that he previously has not had the opportunity to preach to them. Rome would be, in many ways, the pinnacle and climax of Paul’s missionary work and calling (Acts 9:15; 13:47). The book of Acts ends with Paul preaching and teaching (under house arrest) in Rome (Acts 28:11-31), where, according to tradition, he was put to death as a witness (martyr) for Christ.

The complex character of Romans is such that it does not possess the same sort of simple and straightforward rhetorical organization as does Galatians. However, the letter may still be divided into a relatively clear framework (see, for example, B. Witherington, Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, Eerdmans:2004, pp. vii-ix, 21-22); for the moment, I limit the outline to chapters 1-8:

  • Epistolary prescript (Greeting), Rom 1:1-7
  • Exordium (Introduction, w/prayer) and brief narratio, (vv. 11-15), Rom 1:8-15
  • Propositio (main statement), Rom 1:16-17
  • Probatio (presentation of arguments), Rom 1:18-8:39

The probatio is the main theological/doctrinal section of the letter, as in Galatians (chs. 3-4), where arguments and evidence in support of the proposition is presented. Commentators have divided ch. 1:18-8:39 various ways; here is the basic division I am using:

  • Rom 1:18-3:20: Announcement of God’s (impending) judgment (v. 18), according to the Law (of God):
    —1:19-32: Judgment against human wickedness/injustice as represented by (pagan) idolatry and immorality
    —2:1-16: Jews are judged (along with Gentiles) according to evil/wicked deeds that are against the Law
    —2:17-29: Jewish identity (circumcision) is meaningless if the Law is violated
    —3:1-8: God’s judgment against Jew and Gentile alike is just
    —3:9-20: Declaration (with proof from Scripture) that all human beings (Jews and Gentiles) are “under sin”
  • Rom 3:21-5:21: Announcement of God’s justice/righteousness (in Christ), apart from the Law (Torah)
    —4:1-25: Argument from Scripture: The blessing/promise to Abraham (by trust/faith)
    —5:1-11: The effect/result of being made/declared just: salvation from the coming judgment
    —5:12-21: Argument/Illustration from Scripture: Sin and Salvation (Adam/Christ)
  • Rom 6:1-7:25: Announcement of Freedom from the Law and Sin
    —6:1-14: Argument 1: Believers are dead to sin by participation in the death of Christ, along with an exhortation not to sin (vv. 12-14)
    —6:15-23: Argument 2: Believers are free from slavery to sin (and are now slaves of righteousness)
    —7:1-6: Argument 3: Believers are released from the bond of the Law (and sin): Illustration from the marriage bond
    —7:7-25: Theological excursus: The relationship between the Law and Sin
  • Rom 8:1-30: Announcement of Life in the Spirit (Exhortation)
    —8:1-11: The conflict (for believers) between the Spirit and the Flesh
    —8:12-17: Believers are sons (of God) and heirs (with Christ) through the Spirit
    —8:18-25: Believers have the hope of future glory (new creation) through the Spirit
    —8:26-30: Believers experience the work of salvation through the Spirit
  • Rom 8:31-39: Doxology: The Love of God (in Christ)

It can be argued strongly that Rom 1:18-8:39 represents the first Christian work on salvation (soteriology), and the only thing like a systematic treatment in the New Testament. Note again, according to my outline, the four soteriological “announcements” Paul makes in these chapters:

  • Judgment against sin/injustice, according to the Law (of God), Rom 1:18-3:20
  • Justice/Righteousness (in Christ), apart from the Law (Torah), Rom 3:21-5:21
  • Freedom from the Law and Sin, Rom 6:1-7:25
  • Life in the Spirit, Rom 8:1-30

The Propositio (Romans 1:16-17)

These two verses represent Paul’s fundamental statement (or proposition) in the letter—it is actually a two-fold statement, each of which begins with the conjunctive (explanatory) particle ga/r (“for”). The first begins with a personal declaration “I do not feel shame/disgrace upon [i.e. about] the good message [i.e. the Gospel]…”, and then the statement follows:

“…it is the power of God unto salvation to every (one) th(at) is trusting—to (the) Yehudean {Jew} first and (also) to the Greek”

The second statement is in v. 17a:

“For the justice of God is uncovered in it—out of trust (and) into trust…”

Clearly the emphasis in these two statements is on trust (or “faith”), pi/sti$ (vb. pisteu/w). V. 17b concludes with a declaration (citation) from Scripture (Hab 2:4, also cited in Gal 3:11):

“…as it is written (accordingly), ‘but the just (person) will live out of trust [e)c pi/stew$]”

The four clauses of vv. 16-17 can be arranged in a chiasm:

  • Declaration (personal): “I am not ashamed of the Gospel” (v. 16a)
    • Statement: It is the power of God unto salvation to every one that trusts (v. 16b)
    • Statement: It reveals the justice/righteousness of God—out of and into trust (v. 17a)
  • Declaration (from Scripture): “the just will live out of [i.e. by] trust” (v. 17b)

A comparison with the propositio of Galatians (Gal 2:15-16ff) shows how, in that letter, the message of the Gospel is defined specifically in relation to the Law; in Romans, it is the message of the Gospel itself that Paul is expounding. As we shall see, his use of the word translated as “law” (no/mo$) also has a wider scope of meaning in Romans; whereas in Galatians, apart from Gal 6:2 (“the Law of Christ”), it always refers to the Old Testament/Jewish Law (Torah or “Law of Moses”). This will be important to keep in mind as we proceed through the key passages of Romans.

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

By | Exegetical/Study Series | No Comments

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

Postscript (Galatians 6:11-18)

The Epistolary Postscript may be divided as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

o%soi tw=| kano/ni tou/tw| stoixh/sousin, “as (many) as walk in line by this (measuring) rod”—Paul uses the same verb (stoixe/w) as in Gal 5:25 (“walk in line in/by the Spirit”); the noun kanw/n (used only by Paul in the New Testament, here and in 2 Cor 10:13-16), indicates a (straight) measuring line or rod (“reed”), or, more abstractly, a boundary, rule, and the like. The “rule” he refers to is the statement in verse 15, though doubtless Paul would apply it to the entire teaching and line of argument in the letter as well.

e)pi\ to\n  )Israh\l tou= qeou=, “upon the Yisrael {Israel} of God”—this expression has proven most difficult for commentators, representing a crux interpretum, especially with regard to the relationship between Christian and Jewish identity in Paul’s writings. It will be discussed, in some detail, in a separate note.

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

Concluding Notes

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

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

Paul’s View of the Law: Galatians (Chaps. 3-4, Argument 5)

By | Exegetical/Study Series | No Comments

Section 5: Galatians 4:12-20

In this section, Paul appeals to the Galatians on the basis of his own person and example, having begun this transition already with the rhetorical question (expressing self-doubt, dubitatio) in verse 11. There he expresses concern that his missionary work to the Galatians may have been in vain. In his commentary on Galatians (pp. 220-1), Betz refers to this as an “argument from friendship“, and cites numerous examples from Greco-Roman literature, including works “on friendship” (peri\ fili/a$). The general parallel is accurate, in at least two respects:

  • The argument involves reciprocity between Paul and the Galatians
  • His (true) friendship with the Galatians is contrasted with the false friendship of his Jewish-Christian opponents

I would outline the section as follows:

  • V. 12—the “friendship” theme is established: imitation and reciprocity
  • Vv. 13-15—an appeal to the Galatians’ past response to Paul (their friendship)
  • V. 16—contrast with the present situation: has Paul become their enemy?
  • Vv. 17-19—contrast between Paul and his opponents (true and false friendship)
  • V. 20—concluding statement of Paul’s concern (parallel with v. 11)

Since this section does not deal directly with the Law, I will discuss it only briefly, before moving to the sixth argument (4:21-31).

Verse 12—Paul’s personal appeal to the Galatians is here expressed in terms of imitation (“come to be as I [am]”) and reciprocity (“even as I [am as] you [are]”). The motif of following Paul’s own example appears frequently as a point of exhortation in his letters (1 Thess 2:14; 1 Cor 4:16; 11:1; Phil 3:17; also 1 Cor 7, 8, 40; 10:33). Similarly, the idea of mutual care and concern among believers is a primary ethical (and theological/spiritual) teaching, and, as such, may be connected with the so-called “love command” (Gal 5:13-14; 6:2). In a way, this basic formulation expresses the only sense in which believers are any more “under Law”—we are obligated to love one another, and to share each others’ burdens. Equally important is the way Paul makes this appeal based on his own person and authority. As previously noted, this was a key theme and point of emphasis throughout the first two chapters of Galatians—his role and authority as an apostle (to the Gentiles), which he received directly (by revelation) from Christ. Therefore, his personal authority becomes a valid (and vital) argument in support of the Gospel he has been proclaiming, including his teaching regarding the Law.

Verses 13-15—Several words and phrases are particularly worth noting:

  • eu)hggelisa/men (“I proclaimed the good message”), v. 13—note the contrast between the “good message” (Gospel) and his own human weakness.
  • e)de/casqe/ me (“you received me”), v. 14—receiving (de/xomai) one sent to proclaim the Gospel is effectively the same as receiving the Gospel itself (Acts 8:14; 11:1; 17:11; 1 Thess 1:6; 2:13; 2 Cor 6:1; 11:4), as well as receiving the one who sends (cf. Jesus’ saying in Matt 10:40 par).
  • w($ a&ggelon qeou= w($ Xristo\n  )Ihsou=n (“as a Messenger of God… as [the] Anointed Yeshua”)—this is an important principle: that the apostle is one sent by God (and Christ) and acts as Jesus’ own representative; in accepting Paul (and the Gospel he proclaimed) they were accepting God the Father and Jesus Christ (whose representative Paul is).
  • The description of sacrificial friendship in v. 15 draws upon similar exemplary imagery in Greco-Roman literature and philosophy, as most notably narrated in the Toxaris (40-41) of Lucian (cf. Betz, Galatians, pp. 227-8).

Verse 16—The Galatians’ prior friendship (vv. 13-15) is contrasted with the current situation. By turning to “another Gospel” (1:6ff), they are essentially rejecting Paul; therefore he asks the (rhetorical) question: “so have I become your enemy [e)xqro/$], (in) telling the truth to you?”

Verses 17-19—Here Paul creates a subtle contrast between himself and those Jewish Christians who are influencing the Galatians to accept the Law. Vv. 17-18a make use of wordplay involving the verb zhlo/w, with its dual meaning of “to be zealous/jealous”, and the adjective kalo/$ (“beautiful”, “fine, good, exemplary”). The implication is that Paul’s zeal (for the Galatians) is fine/good, but the ‘zeal’/jealousy of his Jewish-Christian opponents is not. Note also how a kind of false reciprocity is expressed in v. 17, parallel to that of v. 12. The verb zhlo/w can carry the sense of “longing” for someone/something, especially in the context of friendship and (erotic) romance; thus we might paraphrase verse 17—”their longing for you is not good; rather, they wish to close you off so that you should long for them!” In verse 18b-19, Paul expresses his own longing for the Galatians; indeed, his own friendship for them goes even beyond a lover, and is actually more like a parent (a mother) who is giving birth to a child! His ‘labor pains’ (on their behalf) continue, as he expresses it marvellously, “until (the time in) which (the) Anointed {Christ} should be formed/fashioned in you”.

Verse 20—This is another example of the rhetorical device of dubitatio (expressing self-doubt), similar to that in verse 11. The expression “I fear for you” at the start of v. 11 is parallel to “I am at a loss in (dealing with) you” at the close of v. 20. The verb a)pore/w means “without a way through (a situation)”; in English idiom, we might say “I just don’t know how to deal with you” or “I am at my wits’ end with you!” In the rhetorical context, Paul is here playing a role—he has tried all these different ways to convince the Galatians, he is now left with expolitio, i.e. modulating the voice for the purpose of persuading the audience (cf. Betz, Galatians, p. 236). If only he were there with the Galatians in person, they could really hear what he was saying! This demonstrates just how important Paul regarded the matter.

One final argument remains in the probatio (chapters 3-4), namely, the famous allegory of 4:21-31; this will be discussed in the next article.

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

By | Exegetical/Study Series | No Comments

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= (“agreement, 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.

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

By | Exegetical/Study Series | No Comments

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.

Paul’s View of the Law: Galatians (Chaps. 3-4, Argument 1)

By | Exegetical/Study Series | No Comments

Galatians 3-4 constitutes the probatio, according to the terminology of classical rhetoric—that is, where the principal arguments are presented and the case made. Paul uses a variety of “proofs”, generally moving between arguments from Scripture, practical illustrations, and personal appeals, in an attempt to persuade and convince his audience. He has already stated the case in 2:15-21 (see the previous discussion), and in these chapters he seeks to persuade the Galatians.

Probatio (Galatians 3:1-4:31)

I divide the probatio into six sections, and will discuss each 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 a)no/hto$, “mindless, unintelligent”, i.e. “foolish”):

  • “O senseless [a)no/htoi] 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 [a)no/htoi]?…” (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:

e)c e&rgwn no/mou
“out of works of Law”
e)c a)koh=$ pi/stew$
“out of (the) hearing of trust”

These are similar in form, with the preposition e)k (“out of”) in the sense of “from, through, on the basis of”. The expression “works of (the) Law” was already used in 2:16 (cf. my 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. 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 [sa/rc]”, 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 (cf. 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

hq*d*x= oL h*b#v=j=Y~w~ hw`hyB^ /m!a$h#w+
“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\ e)pi/steusen Abram tw=| qew=| kai\ e)logi/sqh au)tw=| ei)$ dikaiosu/nhn
“and Abraham trusted (in) God and it was counted to/for him unto justice/righteousness”

Galatians 3:6

kaqw\$  )Abraa\m e)pi/steusen tw=| qew=| kai\ e)logi/sqh au)tw=| ei)$ dikaiosu/nhn
“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 e)logi/sqh (“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 (a passage which will be discussed extensively at the proper point in this series). Paul presents it in rather a different context than we see in James 2:14-26; and this difference will be discussed in a separate note. 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).

Paul’s View of the Law: Galatians (Chaps. 1-2)

By | Exegetical/Study Series | No Comments

For a proper study of Paul’s treatment of the Law in Galatians, I believe it is important to keep the overall line and structure of his argument in view throughout. For this reason, I will be looking at the relevant verses and passages according to the divisions of the letter as established by the best rhetorical analysis.

In analyzing the structure and rhetorical framework of Galatians, I am generally following the outline of Hans Dieter Betz (Galatians, in the Hermeneia series, Fortress Press [1979]). This landmark critical work was among the first to apply modern rhetorical analysis extensively to Paul’s epistles; for a more traditional-conservative approach along the same lines (and using the same basic outline), see B. Witherington, Grace in Galatia: A Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians (T & T Clark / Eerdmans: 1998).

The outline is as follows:

  • Opening Greeting (Epistolary Prescript)—1:1-5
  • Introduction, with direct address to the audience (Exordium)—1:6-10
  • Narration or statement of relevant facts and events (Narratio)—1:11-2:14
  • Statement and exposition of the case (Propositio)—2:15-21
  • Presentation of arguments and proofs (Probatio)—3:1-4:31
  • Exhortation and ethical instruction (Exhortatio)—5:1-6:10
  • Conclusion and Farewell/Benediction (Epistolary Postscript)—6:11-18

Epistolary Prescript (Gal 1:1-5)

This includes the standard elements indicating author and addressee (vv. 1-2), greeting (vv. 3-4) and doxology (v. 5). There are two aspects especially worthy of note: (1) Paul’s self-identification as an apostle (a)po/stolo$), v. 1, and (2) the Gospel summary in v. 4. These are both common features of Pauline opening greetings, but they have a particular significance here in Galatians:

  • Paul as an apostle, that is, one who is set forth as a special emissary and representative (of Christ). This will be a central theme in establishing the argument of the letter—Paul’s role and authority as an apostle to the Gentiles. Note how he qualifies the term “apostle” in verse 1—”not from men and not through a man, but through Yeshua (the) Anointed and God (the) Father”. In other words, his apostolic authority comes directly from Jesus Christ and God the Father. Consider also how his apostleship is connected to the Gospel message here in v. 1 with the concluding formula “…the (One) raising him [i.e. Jesus] out of the dead”.
  • Verse 4 applies to Jesus a more extensive Gospel formula: “the (One) giving himself over our sins, that he might take us out of the standing evil Age, according to the will of our God and Father”. A proper definition and understanding of the Gospel (“good message”) is likewise central to the argument of Galatians, as we will see.

Exordium (Gal 1:6-10)

This represents the introduction of the letter and the beginning of Paul’s direct address to his audience. Verses 6 and 7 provide the causa, that is, Paul’s reason for writing. He begins, “I wonder/marvel [qauma/zw] that…”, a deliberative rhetorical technique that draws attention to the course of action being taken (or about to be taken) by his audience; similarly, his use of the adverb taxe/w$ (“[so] soon/quickly”). Note the two parallel verbs in vv. 6-7:

  • metati/qhmi (“set [something] after”, i.e. change the place of)—metati/qesqe “you have moved (yourselves) away from [a)po\]”
    • The transfer is away from the one calling the Galatians to faith and salvation, i.e. God (but in a secondary sense, also Paul as apostle), and toward (“unto”, ei)$) “another Gospel” (e%teron eu)agge/lion)
  • metastre/fw (“turn after/across”, i.e. turn to a different place or condition)
    • Paul’s opponents (the ones “troubling” [tara/ssonte$] the Galatians) wish “to change/pervert/distort” [metastre/yai] “the Gospel of Christ” [to\ eu)agge/lion tou= Xristou=]

On the one hand, Paul accuses the Galatians of changing over to “another” Gospel, on the other, he accuses certain people of wishing to change/alter the Gospel. Though he does not state it here, it soon becomes clear that this “other Gospel” is represented by the views of the Jewish Christians who would require (or urge) that Galatian believers become circumcised and observe the regulations of the Law (Torah). Paul effectively marginalizes this Jewish-Christian (“Judaizing”) position with his aside regarding this “other” Gospel—o^ ou)k e&stin a&llo (“[of] which there is no other”). That is to say, in Paul’s mind, there is only one Gospel, and it corresponds with the Gospel which he has been proclaiming. As will become clear throughout the first chapters of the letter, this question of the Gentile believers being (or feeling) compelled to observe the Old Testament/Jewish Law is no small matter of indifference or preference, but rather cuts to the very heart of the Christian message. The seriousness with which Paul views the matter is indicated by the double curse (anathema) he gives in verses 8-9. Implied within the curse is an affirmation of Paul’s own apostolic authority—this will be the main focus of the narration in vv. 11ff. Paul’s position and authority as an apostle (representative of Christ) is also indicated in verse 10, which serves as the transitus, or transition, between the exordium and the narratio.

Narratio (Gal 1:11-2:14)

In classical rhetoric, the narratio refers to a statement (narration) of the facts of a case, along with related events, by the author/speaker; it also sets the stage for the principal arguments (or proofs) which follow. Verses 11-12 make up the propositio, or opening statement, intended to influence the audience. This is indicated by Paul’s use of gnwri/zw ga\r u(mi=n (“For I make known to you…”) at the start.

I am not sure why Betz, in his outline of Galatians, treats verse 11 as part of the transitus; his own analysis on pp. 59-60 shows that it is better regarded as the opening of the narratio (part of the propositio).

Here Paul expands upon the point made back in verse 1—that the Gospel he proclaims was not taught to him by other human beings, but came to him directly by revelation from Jesus Christ himself. This fact is intimately connected with his role as a representative and emissary (apostle) of Christ, both aspects—Gospel message and apostolic authority—being central to his exposition. The narratio itself is autobiographical, and can be divided into three parts:

  • Paul’s early career—the call to be an Apostle (1:13-24)
  • The meeting in Jerusalem—confirmation of Paul’s role as Apostle to the Gentiles (2:1-10)
  • The incident at Antioch—questions regarding the Gospel as proclaimed to the Gentiles, concerning Jewish-Gentile relations and the Law (2:1-14)

Paul’s early career (1:13-24)—From the standpoint of this study, three basic themes or points can be isolated:

  • His religious devotion and zeal—that is, his Jewish identity (vv. 13-14)
    The “traditions [lit. things given along, passed down] of the Fathers” certainly includes legal (i.e. commands and regulations of the Torah) as well as extra-legal religious matters. His devotion extended even to persecuting the early Christians in Jerusalem and Judea, which corresponds to the scenario described in Acts 8:1-3; 9:1-2ff. Note also how here he effectively contrasts Judaism with the Gospel (presented in v. 15), but not as either competing or complementary religions; rather, the revelation of Jesus Christ to him represents something entirely new.
  • His call and commission as Apostle (to the Gentiles)—it came directly from God and Christ (vv. 15-17)
    This is indicated by two aspects of the narrative:
    (1) He was set apart by God (even before he was born), being called by the favor of God and through the (personal) revelation of Christ (vv. 15-16a)
    (2) He did not consult at first with other Christian leaders (in Jerusalem), i.e. his instruction and earliest ministry work was directly under the guidance of God and Christ (vv. 16b-17)
  • His ministry work becoming accepted within the wider early Christian community—including contact with the apostles in Jerusalem (vv. 18-24)

The meeting in Jerusalem (2:1-10)—I have discussed this passage in some detail in relation to the so-called ‘Jerusalem Council’ of Acts 15. I would generally follow the majority of commentators in their view that Acts 15 and Galatians 2 refer to the same underlying historical event[s], though this identification is not without difficulties. However one chooses to interpret the relation between these passages at the historical level, here we must focus exclusively on what Paul writes in his letter. The following points should be noted:

  • Paul’s attendance in Jerusalem is also the result of a revelation (vv. 1-2, cp. Acts 15:2f)
  • At issue is the Gospel Paul has been proclaiming to the Gentiles (v. 2)
  • There were some (Jewish Christians) in Jerusalem who would require/compel Gentile believers to be circumcised (and, presumably, to observe other Torah regulations as well) (v. 3; this is more prominent in Acts 15:1-11ff)
  • Paul characterizes these Jewish Christians (“Judaizers”) as “false brothers”, indicating that they have come in surreptitiously (infiltrating/spying), and with false/improper motives (v. 4); note the introduction here of a motif (slavery vs. freedom) which will appear throughout the epistle.
  • Paul clearly contrasts this Jewish-Christian view with the “truth of the Gospel”—as such, Paul feels compelled to oppose it (v. 5)
  • The authority and importance of the (apostolic) leaders in Jerusalem, judged in human terms, is devalued by Paul (v. 6, 9)
  • And yet, Paul’s role as apostle to the Gentiles is confirmed—along with his missionary approach and the Gospel he proclaims—by the leaders in Jerusalem (James, Cephas/Peter, and John) (vv. 7-9)

We can detect how many of the important themes and motifs of the epistle, to be expounded by Paul, are introduced and interwoven throughout this narrative. The points of controversy and conflict are brought forward, and already Paul has begun the polemical (and vituperative) treatment of his opponents which will increase markedly in the climactic sections of the letter.

The incident at Antioch (2:11-14)—For a detailed treatment of this section, see my earlier discussion (daily note for July 3), and also on the Peter/Paul controversy in Christian tradition (note for June 30). It also may be worth consulting my notes on the so-called Apostolic Decree from Acts 15. Here we have a narrative snippet from a minor, but significant, event in early Church history, which shows the cultural and religious difficulties in incorporating Gentile (non-Jewish) believers within a largely Jewish-Christian matrix. The incident at Antioch, by all accounts, did not involve Jewish Christians urging or compelling Gentiles to observe the Torah; rather, it had to do with the behavior of the Jewish believers. Should Jews (as believers in Christ) continue faithfully to observe the Torah regulations and/or their religious traditions if it meant separating themselves from fellowship with Gentiles? The issue may even have gone deeper, for Paul speaks of Peter as starting to be in a Gentile manner of living (e)qnikw=$); this perhaps indicates that Peter has ceased to observe certain Torah regulations (such as the dietary restrictions, cf. Acts 10:9-16), at least when living and eating among Gentile believers. Social pressure (from prominent Jewish believers) apparently caused Peter to return to his prior religious scruples. Paul saw and sensed in this a great danger, as it seemed to place Jewish distinctiveness ahead of Jewish-Gentile unity in Christ. This is an important observation directed at those commentators who would view Paul’s arguments regarding the Law in Galatians as being limited to what is necessary for salvation—the incident at Antioch shows that Paul’s argument goes beyond this, for it relates to the very notion of Christian identity. Galatians is first surviving Christian writing (however one dates it exactly) to address this issue head-on.

Propositio (Gal 2:15-21)

The propositio is the primary statement of the case (distinct from the statement introducing the narratio, cf. above), along with an initial exposition, whereby points of agreement and disagreement are laid out. Each of these seven verses is vital to an understanding of Paul’s view of the Law in Galatians. I have discussed and examined them in some detail in a series of notes, and, as such, it is not necessary to repeat that analysis here. The notes proceed according to the following outline of the section:

  • 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

The overall statement in vv. 15-21 is further expounded by Paul in chapters 3-4 (the probatio) with a series of arguments illustrating and proving its validity, with the purpose, of course, of convincing and persuading the Galatians. Each of these arguments is important for Paul’s view of the Law and must be examined carefully; this will be the focus of the next article in this series.