Introduction. Because of the situation behind this letter, Commentaries on Galatians are at the forefront of the discussion in the New Perspective on Paul. Like Romans, the main theological context of Galatians is salvation by grace through faith in Jesus. But what “justified by faith” means is a central point in the New Perspective discussion (see here on the pistis christou issue). A major implication of understanding Judaism in the Second Temple Period better is that the so-Called Judaizers may not be the proto-Pelagians they are often made out to be.
Another impact the New Perspective has made on the study of Galatians is the proper understanding of the phrase “works of the Law.” Until recently, this phrase was taken to mean “The Law,” or complete Torah observance. In the light of the publication of 4QMMT and the work of Dunn and Wright, many now take the phrase to mean “boundary markers” which set Judaism apart from other worldviews. These boundary markers are circumcision, food laws, Sabbath observance and monotheism.
An additional complication is placing the letter into a chronology of Paul and the book of Acts. One problem is the relationship of Paul’s own testimony of his visits to Jerusalem and Luke’s reporting in Acts. Is the meeting Paul describes in Galatians 2 the same meeting Luke describes in Acts 15? Where does the so-called Antioch Incident fit into the chronology of Acts? A commentary usually will begin with a lengthy (and sometimes dry) discussion of the South vs. North Galatia theories. While this may seem to the layman to be a rather obscure point, it really is important with respect to the chronology of Paul’s mission, and will effect how the scholar approaches the opponent in Galatia.
Richard N. Longenecker, Galatians (WBC; Dallas: Word, 1990). The introduction is excellent on the various suggestions for understanding the Judaizers, perhaps this essay should be read to orient one’s thinking. Like all commentaries in the WBC, the exegetical sections are based onthe Greek text without any transliteration, all citations are in-text. Longenecker includes several excellent excursuses, “Antioch on the Orontes,” “Abraham’s Faith and Faithfulness in Jewish Writings and in Paul,” and “The Hagar-Sarah Story in Jewish Writings and in Paul” are all particularly good. The last is rich with Jewish sources and very helpful for understanding that difficult passage.
Ben Witherington III, Grace in Galatia (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1998). This commentary is almost worth the price for the introduction alone. (It happens that I agree with much of what he says, so that may color my perceptions just a bit!) I find Witherington’s view of the agitators to be well-written and clear, informed by a dialogue with James Dunn yet not he is not simply parroting “new perspective” ideas. However, the emphasis on Paul’s rhetorical style is less helpful (to me), although it seems as though Witherington makes good use of the Greco-Roman rhetorical styles for interpreting the text. A real highlight in this commentary (and others in the Socio-Rhetorical series) is the section entitled “Bridging the Horizons.” Here Witherington attempts to apply his exegesis of Galatians to contemporary theological issues – how does tihs book really apply to the church today?
Ronald Y. K. Fung, The Epistle to the Galatians (NICNT; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1988). This commentary replaces the venerable NICNT by Herman Ridderbos (1953). That volume was written from a thoroughly traditional perspective, Fung’s approach is biblical-theological, following his teacher, F. F. Bruce. His introduction to the book is excellent, dating the book before Acts 15, written to southern Galatia. He deals with major arguments for and against this view, creating an efficient and readable argument. Like most of the NICNT series, Greek is relegated to footnotes, permitting the layman or busy pastor to use the commentary without too much difficulty. In fact, some of his footnotes interact with other views in such detail it is hard to imagine why the material was placed there instead of the main text! I particularly enjoy his “additional comments,” brief excursuses on topics that go a bit beyond the text. I find these brief yet extremely helpful. Fung has written a major Galatians commentary in Chinese, something which I see as extremely promising.
Timothy George, Galatians (NAC; Nashville: Broandman & Holman, 1994). This commentary is a bit different than others in the NAC series in that George is a professor of Theology and Church History. As such, his commentary is a “work of theological exposition” (p. 13). This does not mean that there is no exegesis in the commentary. On the contrary, George’s theological reflections are solidly based on the text of Galatians. Even so, the commentary is rich with observations from classic Reformation and Puritan writers.
Mark Nanos, The Galatians Debate (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2002). Similar to The Romans Debate edited by K. P. Donfried, Nanos’s collection of essays are drawn from a wide variety of journals and collections. Unlike that previous volume, these articles are collected thematically, illustrating various approaches to Galatians: Rhetorical, Epistolary, Autobiographical, and Socio-Historical. Eight essays are devoted to the “Galatian Situation.” I personally have found the four essays under the heading of Socio-Historical approaches to be the most helpful for my own research in the book of Galatians, especially Dunn’s classic essay on the Incident at Antioch (which was revised for Beginning at Jerusalem) and Nanos’s own article on Eating with the Gentiles.
Conclusion. There are a few books I left off this list to keep it to five. (What! No F. F. Bruce?! Where’s J. Louis Martyn ?) I would have liked to include Martinus C. de Boer’s recent commentary from Westminster/John Knox, but I have only recently purchased a copy and have yet to really read enough to make comments. (James Dunn reviewed the book for RBL). Doug Moo has a commentary coming out in the BECNT series which should be good. I know a few classics are missing, but that is why I stuck to five – this give you (the reader) a chance to let me know what you have found useful in your preaching and teaching.
Index for the Top Five Commentary Series
Matthew Mark Luke John Acts
Romans 1 Corinthians 2 Corinthians
Galatians Ephesians Philippians Colossians
1-2 Thessalonians Pastoral Epistles Philemon
Hebrews James 1 Peter 2 Peter & Jude
Letters of John Revelation