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Torah Observance

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

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

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

1. Did Paul continue to observe the Law?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

“And I came to be to the Jews as a Jew, (so) that I might gain Jews (for Christ), to the (one)s under (the) Law as (one) under (the) 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 – December 1

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

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

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

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

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

Now to put the elements together:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

1 and 2 Thessalonians

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

1 Corinthians

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 Corinthians

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

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

Philippians

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colossians

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

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

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

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

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

Note of the Day – November 13

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Romans 9:30-33

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note of the Day – October 24

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Romans 2:25-29

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

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

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

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

Verses 25-26

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verse 27

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

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

Verses 28-29

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

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

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

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

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

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

e)n sarki/
“in (the) flesh”

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

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

kardi/a$
“of (the) heart”

e)n pneu/mati
“in (the) Spirit”

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

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

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

Note of the Day – October 23

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

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

Romans 2:12-13

This declaration actually consists of two distinct, connected statements:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Romans 2:14-16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“when God judges… through Christ Jesus”

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

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

Note of the Day – October 16

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

Galatians 6:15

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

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

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

Gal 5:6

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

Gal 6:15

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

1 Cor 7:19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gal 5:6

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

Gal 6:15

kainh\ kti/si$
“(a) new formation”

1 Cor 7:19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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. 5-6)

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The bulk of chapters 5 and 6 (5:1-6:10) makes up the exhortatio—that is, the section where, according to classical (deliberative) rhetoric, the author/speaker exhorts his audience to action or to a decision; in a religious or philosophical context, as here, this may be accompanied by ethical-moral instruction (parenesis) as well.

Exhortatio (Galatians 5:1-6:10)

I divide and outline the exhortatio into three main sections, prefaced by a primary exhortation:

  • 5:1—Exhortation regarding freedom vs. slavery
  • 5:2-12—Exhortation/warning regarding the Law (circumcision)
    —vv. 2-6: The Law vs. Christ
    —vv. 7-12: Those who are influencing the Galatians to observe the Law
  • 5:13-25—Exhortation/warning regarding freedom in Christ, which specifically includes:
    —vv. 16-21: The works of the flesh
    —vv. 22-25: The fruit of the Spirit
  • 5:26-6:10—Instruction related to Christian freedom (“walking in the Spirit”)
    —5:26-6:6: Dealing with fellow believers—the “law of Christ”
    —6:7-10: Harvest illustration and concluding warning

Galatians 5:1

The main exhortation in this verse picks up with the previous freedom vs. slavery theme used throughout the arguments in chapter 4:

“To freedom (the) Anointed has set us free; therefore stand (firm) and do not again have held (down) on you a yoke of slavery”

The dative of th=| e)leuqeri/a| is best understood as a dative of goal or purpose, i.e. “to freedom” , “for freedom”, parallel to the expression e)p’ e)leuqeri/a| in verse 13. For Paul, there is a fundamental connection between freedom and the Spirit (cf. 2 Cor 3:17). The exhortation is expressed according to two verbs:

  • sthkete—”stand (firm)”, cf. 1 Thess 3:8; 2 Thess 2:15; 1 Cor 16:13; Phil 1:27; 4:1
  • e)ne/xesqe—”(do not) have held (down) on you”

The first is active, exhorting the Galatians to action (or continuation of action); the second is passive, implying something which is done to them by others, but which the Galatians may be allowing to happen. The image related to slavery is especially vivid—that of someone holding a yoke down upon their shoulders. This expression (“yoke of slavery”) is found in 1 Tim 6:1; a burdensome “yoke” is related to the Law in Acts 15:10 (Peter speaking), which may be contrasted with ‘yoke of Christ’ (Matt 11:29f)—cf. a possible parallel in the “Law of Christ” (Gal 6:2, to be discussed).

Galatians 5:2-12

This first section may be summarized as an exhortation (warning) regarding circumcision and Torah observance, which is, of course, the main reason (or cause) for Paul writing to the Galatians.

Vv. 2-6The Law vs. Christ. Paul begins directly, with a solemn asseveration:

“See—I, Paulus, relate to you that if you should be circumcised…”

In other words, if the Galatians allow themselves to be circumcised, and persuaded to be bound by the Torah commands, then the following will be the result:

  • Christ will be of no value to you (“will benefit/profit you nothing”), v. 2
  • You will be obligated (“one in debt”) to keep (lit. “to do”) the whole Law, v. 3
  • You will be made inactive (i.e. useless) (and will be) away from Christ, v. 4a
  • You will fall out of favor (with God), [i.e. will fall from grace], v. 4b

The first two results (vv. 2-3) use the language of commerce and debt, from two vantage points—(a) losing the value/profit of Christ, and (b) becoming indebted to the Law. The second two results (v. 4) are parallel expressions of loss, falling (a) “away from Christ” [a)po\ Xristou=], and (b) “out of favor/grace” [{e)c} th=$ xa/rito$]. From a modern-day Christian (or secular) standpoint, one might be inclined to view observance of the Torah as a relative matter of indifference, and yet, for Paul, as vv. 2-4 indicate, the consequences for the Galatians in so doing would be dire indeed. Why should this be? Is Paul simply indulging in some rhetorical exaggeration to make his point? The answer, I think, can be glimpsed by what follows in verse 5:

“For we, in/through (the) Spirit [pneu/mati], out of trust [e)k pi/stew$], look to receive from (God) (the) hope of justice/righteousness [e)lpi/da dikaiosu/nh$]”

This is another powerful declaration of Christian identity, bringing together in compact form several of the key terms and expression Paul has been using in Galatians. In particular, it is another clear statement of the fundamental premise that righteousness comes only through the Spirit and faith (in Christ), and not by observing the Law (indeed, quite the opposite!). An even more decisive declaration against keeping the Law comes in verse 6:

“For in (the) Anointed Yeshua circumcision does not have any strength, (and) neither (does having) a foreskin, but (rather) trust working in (you) through love

The Law, especially in its ritual/ceremonial aspects (the foremost being circumcision), has no strength; in this regard, see the description of the “elements [stoicheia] of the world” as “weak and poor” (4:9), as well as the basic proposition that the Law is not able to make/declare people just before God (2:15-16, etc, cf. also Paul in Acts 13:38-39). For the first time in Galatians, faith/trust in Christ is connected with love, and this will become an important emphasis in the instruction throughout chaps. 5 and 6. Also, there can be little doubt that we have here an intentional and specific contrast between “works [e&rga] of the Law” and faith/trust (by the Spirit) “working in [e)nergoume/nh]” us. For other Pauline formulations parallel to v. 6, cf. my upcoming note on Gal 6:15.

Vv. 7-12The ones influencing the Galatians. Here Paul breaks off to engage in a direct attack against his Jewish-Christian opponents, that is, the ones who are influencing the Galatians to be circumcised and to observe the Torah (cf. also further on in 6:12-13). It must be admitted that such polemic as Paul uses here, while generally acceptable within the standards of ancient (Greco-Roman) rhetoric and ‘diatribe’, makes for rather uncomfortable reading today. The specific language and style ought to be treated with considerable caution by commentators and preachers.

In many ways, verses 7-10 parallel vv. 2-4 (cf. above); while the earlier passage laid out the consequences for the Galatians if they accepted circumcision, here Paul describes the character (and fate) of those who have been encouraging them to be circumcised (i.e. the so-called “Judaizers”)—they are said:

  • to be contrary to the truth (v. 7)
  • contrary to the one calling people to faith (i.e. God) (v. 8)
  • troubling the peace and unity of believers (v. 9-10)
  • they will come under the judgment of God (v. 10b)

In some ways, vv. 11-12 serve as a parallel to the declaration in verse 6 (above); there Paul stated the unimportance of circumcision compared with faith/trust in Christ, here he contrasts proclaiming circumcision (and the Torah) with proclaiming the Gospel (especially the cross, i.e. the death of Christ). The exact logic and context of verse 11 is a bit difficult to determine; it may be that Paul’s opponents accused him of inconsistency, of advocating for circumcision even while denying its requirement for Gentiles (cf. Acts 16:3). In Gal 6:12-13, he also alludes to the fact that some (Jewish) Christians were embracing circumcision and the Torah so as to avoid persecution; here, however, he makes clear that the persecution he (and his fellow missionaries) have endured is because of the Gospel (the “cross of Christ”). After experiencing the transformative revelation of the Gospel message in Christ, through faith and the Spirit, to turn again to the Law (and circumcision) would effectively rob Christ’s death of its power and significance, as stated previously in Gal 2:21. Verse 12 concludes with a terse bit of darkly ironic wordplay, a kind of “bloody joke”:

“I owe [i.e. I wish] (it to them that) they will even cut themselves off, the ones stirring you up!”

Commentators are generally agreed that here the verb a)poko/ptw, “cut (away) from”, i.e. “cut off” is used in the sense of (self)-mutilation or amputation—i.e., castration. The ones troubling (“stirring up, upturning”) the Galatians are doing so by encouraging them to be circumcised, that is, to have the foreskin cut off; in more vulgar modern idiom, we might translate verse 12 as: “the ones (who are) unsettling you, I wish that they would cut off their {blank}!” Take Paul’s expression for what it is worth in context, it certainly is another example of how seriously he takes the issue.

Galatians 5:13-25

If vv. 2-12 was an exhortation (and warning) against observing the Torah, this section provides rather the opposite: regarding the freedom (i.e. freedom from the Law) which believers have in Christ. Verse 13 states the primary exhortation, similar to that in verse 1:

V. 13: “For you have been called out (to be) upon [i.e. for] freedom, brothers! only (do) not (let) the freedom (be) unto a rushing (away) from (God) to the flesh, but (rather) be a slave to one another through love.”

The word a)formh/ literally refers to a movement or sudden/violent impulse away from something (or someone) and toward something else. More abstractly, it can also indicate a tendency or opportunity to move/act in a particular direction. There is, perhaps, a modern tendency to think of the “flesh” as personal (carnal) sin, but the immediate context (and also the list of “works of the flesh” in vv. 19-21), rather emphasizes self-centered (and/or violent) behavior against others (that is, other believers). Such fleshy action and attitude disrupts and destroys the peace and unity of the body of Christ (believers as a whole). In this respect, it is indeed striking that Paul introduces the idea of true and proper slavery for believers—of serving one another through love. This prepares the way for the similarly surprising idea of Christians following the “Law”, but in a special, qualified sense.

Verses 14-15—After spending all of the first four chapters of Galatians setting Torah observance (“works of Law”) in contrast to the Spirit and faith in Christ, treating it in terms of slavery, Paul now turns to describe the way in which Christians are still under Law. This is done in a manner common, it would seem, in many parts of the early Church, by bringing together the entire Law under a single command:

“For all the Law is filled up [i.e. fulfilled] in one word, in the ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself'” (v. 14)

The quotation is from Lev 19:18 (LXX), a verse established in early Christian tradition through the teaching of Jesus, as part of the two-fold “greatest commandment” (Mark 12:31 par; Matt 5:43; 19:19)—also related to the so-called “golden rule” (Matt 7:12; Luke 6:31)—as a ‘summary’ of the Law. Paul offers a more precise contextual statement in Rom 13:8-10; for other instances in early Christian writings, see James 2:8; Didache 1:2; Barnabas 19:5; and Justin, Dialogue with Trypho 93:2. It is sometimes referred to as the “love command”, under the influence of similar language in the Gospel and letters of John (Jn 13:34-35; 14:15-24; 15:10-17; 1 Jn 2:7-11; 3:23; 4:21; 5:1-3). It is likely that this particular teaching and use of Lev 19:18 is not original with Jesus, but may have been part of contemporary Jewish tradition, as associated with first/second-century Rabbis Hillel and Aqiba (cf. b. Shabbat 31a; Genesis Rabbah 24:7, etc). Paul actually does not refer to this as a command, nor as something which is to be “done”, but as something fulfilled (cf. Jesus’ words in Matt 5:17). Such love is identified by Paul, paradoxically, as slavery (that is, labor and service), but he does not refer to it in terms of “work” (as the observance of the Torah commands would be, “works”); any work that is done, in Paul’s thought, surely would be ascribed to Christ and the Spirit, cf. vv. 5-6, and the famous statement that Christ is the “end/completion of the Law” (Rom 10:4). In verse 15, Paul indicates what is opposite, i.e. behavior which violates the love-command—namely, antagonistic behavior toward one another, described in crude, “beastly” terms of biting, tearing, eating, etc.

Verses 16-25—Here Paul embeds within his exhortation and basic teaching (vv. 16-18, 23b-25) what is often described as a list (or catalog) of “vices and virtues” (vv. 19-23a). Such lists were traditional and basic to Christian instruction; Paul did not create these, but rather adapted them, drawing upon the traditional language and terminology, in his letters (lists of “vices” being much more common)—cf. Rom 1:19-31; 13:13; 1 Cor 5:10-11; 6:9-10; 2 Cor 12:20-21; Col 3:5, 8; also Eph 4:31; 5:3-4; 1 Tim 1:9-10; 2 Tim 3:2-5; Titus 3:3. For other examples in the New Testament and early Christian literature, see Mark 7:21-22f par; 1 Pet 2:1; 4:3, 15; Rev 21:8; 22:14; Didache 2:1-5:2; Barnabas 18-20; the letter of Polycarp 2:2; 4:3; Hermas, Commandments 5.2.4, 6.2, 8.3-5; Similitudes 6; 9.15, etc. Of the many examples in Greco-Roman literature and philosophy, one of the earliest is in Plato’s Gorgias 524-525. Instances can also be cited from Hellenistic Judaism (works of Philo, etc) and the texts of the Qumran community, most famously the treatise of the “Two Spirits” in the Community Rule (1QS 4:3-11). For more on the subject, see the excursus in Betz, Galatians, pp. 281-3.

The list of ‘vices’ (vv. 19-21) are referred to specifically as “works of (the) flesh” (e&rga th=$ sarko/$), an expression clearly intended as parallel to “works of (the) Law” (e&rga tou= no/mou), Gal 2:16; 3:3, 5, 10. These are all generally actions, reflecting sinful, selfish and immoral behavior; and, even though the Law would appear to guard and regulate against such things, according to Paul it actually serves to make manifest and increase the very sinfulness expressed by this list (as discussed previously). This is not to be taken as an exhaustive catalog (or checklist), but one that fairly comprehensively represents human wickedness. As might be expected, Paul does not use the corresponding term “works of the Spirit” for the opposite list in vv. 22-23, but rather “fruit [karpo/$] of the Spirit”—for it is the Spirit that does the working (vv. 5-6), and, indeed, the items in the list are not actions, but rather personal characteristics, attitudes, and (one might say) modes of behavior, generally corresponding to the term virtue (a)reth/) in Greek philosophical and ethical thought. Commentators have noted a formal difference in the lists—the “works of the flesh” show little clear order, perhaps intentionally reflecting the inherent disorder of carnal behavior and lifestyle; the “fruit of the Spirit”, on the other hand, can be grouped neatly into three sets of three (cf. the similar famous triad in 1 Cor 13:4-6). To see how these two lists fit in the overall structure of this section, I would suggest the following (chiastic) outline:

  • Exhortation: “walk [peripate/w] in the Spirit” (v. 16)
    • Conflict for believers: “flesh against the Spirit” and “Spirit against flesh” (v. 17)
      • Affirmation for believers: “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under Law” (v. 18)
        • Works of the flesh (vv. 19-21)
        • Fruit of the Spirit (vv. 22-23a)
      • Affirmation for believers: If the fruit of the Spirit is present, “there is no Law” (v. 23b)
    • Resolution of conflict: the flesh has been crucified (with Christ) (v. 24)
  • Exhortation: “walk [stoixe/w] in the Spirit” (v. 25)

Because of the importance of verses 17-18 and 23b-25, these will be discussed in more detail in separate notes.

Galatians 5:26-6:10

This section properly presents specific religious and ethical instruction (parenesis), making up a very small (but significant) portion of the letter.

5:26-6:6—Here Paul offers basic direction and encouragement in terms of dealing with fellow believers. It is here that Christian “Law” (that is, the ‘love-command’) is most clearly expressed. Verse 26 describes behavior which is opposite of that governed by the love-principle, in a manner similar to that of verse 15. Gal 6:1, by contrast, gives more positive instruction in how believers (according to the fruit of the Spirit) deal with such negative, sinful behavior, the goal being to restore/repair (katarti/zw) the life of the offender, and, in so doing, restore the body of believers (the body of Christ) as a whole. This is stated more generally in verse 2 as bearing each others’ burdens, and is also another way of stating the love-command (or principle), cf. 5:14 above. The expression “the Law of Christ” is significant, and will be discussed in a separate note. Verses 4-6 give practical advice and encouragement along these lines, in more conventional ethical terms, as can be found in other of Paul’s letters—for v. 4, cf. 1 Cor 11:28; 2 Cor 10:13, 15; 13:3, 5; for v. 5, cf. 1 Thess 4:11; 1 Cor 3:8; 7:7; Rom 14:5, 12; for v. 6, cf. 1 Thess 5:12-13; Rom 12:13; 15:27; 1 Cor 9:11; 2 Cor 9:12-14; Phil 4:15-17.

6:7-10—Paul concludes his exhortation with a proverbial illustration (vv. 7-9) involving the harvest, returning to the contrast and conflict between flesh and the Spirit—the warning is ultimately eschatological: however a person sows, whether “into the flesh” or “into the Spirit”, so he or she will reap in the end (i.e. the Judgment before God). This serves as a serious ethical warning. Freedom from a set of religious regulations and commands, means that it is absolutely necessary for believers to be guided by the Spirit, and, most importantly, to be willing to walk according to this guidance. It certainly may be tempting to resort to a set of (written) regulations to help in this regard, but, to do so will effectively cut off our reliance upon the Spirit of Christ. Paul was well aware of this, but believers throughout the centuries, it must be said, have generally been reluctant to accept his “antinomian” teaching.

In the final verse, Paul at least introduces a positive sense of “work” for Christians, in terms of doing good—that is, showing and demonstrating love and concern—for all human beings, but especially, and particular, toward fellow believers. This is the essence of the “love command” as taught by Christ in the Gospel of John (cf. throughout the discourses in chaps. 13-17).

 

Antinomianism

By | Definition and Explanation of Terms | No Comments

The term antinomian is derived from the Greek a)ntinomi/a (antinomía), literally “against the law”, though the Greek word itself can actually have the technical sense of facing a difficulty or ambiguity in the law. While rarely, if ever, used in ordinary English today, “antinomianism” continues to serve as a technical (and polemic) term in religious and ethical studies. Christians have been especially sensitive to the term in relation to Paul’s teaching regarding the Old Testament/Jewish Law (Torah) in Galatians and Romans. Many simply take for granted that Paul’s teaching is not, and could not be, “antinomian”. However, this attitude, I believe, very much reflects a confusion of terminology and definition. It is helpful to distinguish the primary ways the term may be understood, in relation to the Old Testament Law (Torah)—i.e., “against the Law”, in the sense of:

  1. Teaching that Christians are no longer obligated or required to observe the commands and regulations of the Torah
  2. Attitude and/or behavior which is hostile and/or opposed to the precepts of the Law (Torah)
  3. Immorality and licentiousness, i.e. behavior which contradicts the ethical demands and precepts of the Torah, esp. as represented in the second table of the Ten Commandments—i.e. the “moral law”
  4. A partisan term (“Antinomians”) for historical persons or groups who espoused or exemplified views similar to any or all of the previous three, whether “Gnostics” from the early centuries or the related to the so-called “Antinomian Controversies” among Protestants (Lutherans) in the mid-late 16th century

The last of these is especially unhelpful; it would be better if “Antinomian(s)” were eliminated as a historical label. Most Christians today probably would understand the term in sense #3 above, as more or less synonymous with licentiousness and immorality. This often is related to the general belief (or assumption) that, while the ritual/ceremonial aspects of the Torah (sacrifical ritual, the holy/feast days, dietary regulations, et al) no longer apply to believers, most of the ethical-moral precepts and injunctions remain in force (on this, see below). Sense #2 generally corresponds with the term a)nomi/a (“lawlessness”) in the New Testament, and is largely synonymous with the concepts of sin, wickedness and rebellion against the will of God. Sense #1 is a rather blunt way of characterizing Paul’s teaching regarding the Law in Galatians and Romans; some scholars and commentators are indeed willing to describe it as “antinomian”, though many others are unwilling or reluctant to do so. Some would dispute that #1 accurately characterizes Paul’s teaching, but it would be difficult to read his arguments in Galatians and Romans fairly and come up with a different conclusion. I am in the process of discussing Paul’s View of the Law (in Galatians, Romans, etc) as part of a series on “The Law and the New Testament”.

The problem with understanding “antinomianism” in senses #2 and 3 above is that it confuses religious and ethical attitudes and behavior with the specific commands of the Torah. While it is true that the second (ethical) side of the Decalogue continues to be emphasized by Jesus (Mark 10:18-29 par) and in early Christian instruction (James 2:11; Rom 13:9; Didache 2:1-3, etc), it was very quickly disassociated from the Torah, and connected almost entirely with the teaching of Jesus (e.g. in the Sermon on the Mount). In the New Testament itself, this can be divided into two stages of tradition:

  • Jesus’ preserved teaching regarding the “Great Commandment” (esp. Lev 19:18) and the “Golden Rule”—Mark 12:28-34 par; Matt 7:12 par
  • The resultant tendency to subsume the entire Law under a single command (or principle), related to Lev 19:18: the so-called “love command”—cf. James 2:8; Gal 5:14; Rom 13:8-10; Didache 1:2, and also Jn 13:34-35; 14:15-24; 15:10-17; 1 Jn 2:7-11; 3:23; 4:21; 5:1-3

As a practical result, virtually of the specific Torah commands are effectively eliminated. Indeed, apart from the two-fold “Great commandment” (Deut 6:4-5 / Lev 19:18) and the five (ethical) commands of the Decalogue, it is difficult to find much, if any, evidence that any other Torah command or regulation was considered still to be in force in the early Church. There were, of course, Jewish Christians who advocated (and/or demanded) observance of circumcision, the dietary laws, et al, even for Gentile believers, as indicated in Acts 15 and throughout Galatians; however, by the end of the New Testament period (c. 90-100 A.D.) this was an extreme minority view overall.

Clearly, Paul and all other (legitimate) early Christian teachers argued strenuously against immorality and wickedness (sense #2 and 3), but was the basis for this the continued need for believers (whether Jew or Gentile) to follow the Torah? In Galatians, Paul says exactly the opposite of this, arguing that believers are free from the Law and are no longer under obligation to observe it (i.e. no longer “under Law”). The only Law which continues to remain in force, as is clear from Gal 5:14 and 6:2, is the so-called “love-command (or principle)”. What then, is the basis of morality and proper religious behavior?—clearly, it is the work, guidance, and fruit of the Spirit (Gal 4:6; 5:5-6, 16-18, 22-23, 25). This, however, does require a willingness of the believer to be so guided by the Spirit, i.e. to “walk” according to the Spirit (5:16, 25; cf. also 6:8). This is the reason for Paul’s forceful exhortation (and warning) in 5:16-25 (also 6:7-9)—freedom in Christ certainly does not mean freedom to act wickedly, but Christian behavior is regulated by the Spirit, and not by the Law of the Old Testament. Paul’s line of argument in Romans is a bit more complex and nuanced than that in Galatians, but, I would not hesitate to say that his view of the Law in both letters can be fully described as “antinomian” in the best sense of definition #1 above.