Galatians 1:10-2:19 – Paul’s Freedom

At the beginning of the letter to the Galatians, Paul must clarify his relationship with the Jerusalem church. Polhill wonders why Paul thought he had to spend so much effort at the beginning of this letter to prove his independence of his Apostolic office (Paul and his Letters, 146). The usual answer, he comments, is that his opponents, the Judaizers, are attacking him as an illegitimate apostle, forcing him to defend his calling.

There is another possibility for this autobiographical section, according to Polhill. He may be offering his life as a model for the Galatians. Paul was converted to a gospel of freedom on the road to Damascus, just as the Galatians were when Paul preached that gospel to them. Just as Paul did not go back to Jerusalem and place himself under the authority of the old order, now the Galatians ought to resist “returning to Jerusalem” by keeping the Law.

PaulThe bottom line is that if Paul is under the authority of Jerusalem, then it is at least possible that the “men from James” could claim that Paul has not been authorized to preach a gospel to the Gentiles which frees them from the Law. These Judaizers may have styled themselves as the real followers of Jesus and Paul as the aberration. Paul therefore stresses that his calling is from the resurrected Jesus himself and that his gospel came directly from the Lord.

At issue here is not the Gospel that Christ died for our sins, was buried, and that he was raised on the third day, according to the scriptures (1 Cor 15:3-5). Paul clearly states that this gospel was passed along to him as the primary core of the gospel. It is also clear that the preaching of Christ Crucified can be found in the apostolic preaching form the beginning. What Paul is going to argue in the next two chapters is that his Gospel is Christ Crucified, but when the death and resurrection of Christ is applied to the gentiles, they are not under the Law. They are not converts to Judaism by rather adopted children of God and therefore free from the law.

Was Paul really as “independent” as he claims in these verses?

Galatians 1:6 – I Am Astonished!

One of the first thing the reader of Galatians must realize is that Paul is very upset that some people in his churches are considering keeping the Law as a part of their salvation.  Why is Paul so harsh on those that are preaching that Gentile sought to keep the law?

F. F. Bruce suggests that Paul knows that law-keeping for salvation is a “snare and a delusion” from his own personal experience. He had kept the law as perfectly as anyone, yet he had not been pleasing to God. But he clearly sees that now. In addition to the simple self-deception of law-keeping legalism, Paul knows that there are dangerous implications for those gentiles that try to keep the Law, they risk not really being saved.

I am shocked, shocked!

I am shocked, shocked!

This is possible, but it does not really take into account recent studies on Paul and Judaism. For example, the Pharisees did not really think that keeping the law made one right with God. The Jew is right with God by election (God chose Israel), and the Jew stays right with God by keeping the Law as best as he can.

Not all Jews had to be Pharisees, but all Jews keep the “Works of the Law:” Sabbath, Food Laws and Circumcision were the principle boundary markers which defined “a Jew. ” I think that Paul means that if the Galatian Gentiles keep the boundary markers, they will be not really different than Gentile god-fearers. These people worship in the synagogue and try to keep the law as best they can as non-proselyte Gentiles.

To acknowledge Jesus is to acknowledge that the Law has been fulfilled in him as the Messiah and the believer is under no obligation to keep the law.

The fact remains that Paul’s gospel is that God sent Christ into the world to rescue those who were condemned in this evil age. Gentiles are not converting to Judaism, they are saved apart from the Law. If they are converting to Judaism, then they are not really saved, since the Jew also needs to accept the Gospel.

The harshness we detect is perhaps more of a product of our modern, western multiculturalism. Paul declares boldly that there is only one Gospel, his Gospel. The others are wrong, with the result that a person cannot be right with God apart from Paul’s gospel.

Post #1000 on Reading Acts

1000 CandlesThis month Reading Acts celebrated its fifth anniversary. When I started, I was averaging about 4 hits a day for the first few months. This blog now gets about 500 hits a day and it is fast approaching 500,000 hits since 2008. On September 1, 2008 Reading Acts published its first post, “Why Acts?” I originally set up this blog as a supplement to my preaching through the Book of Acts at Rush Creek Bible Church. My plan was to offer a few thoughts before and after I preached on a particular text in Acts. After the series concluded, I kept the blog going, expanding to Pauline Theology and other New Testament topics.

Book reviews have become a major part of the life of Reading Acts. I enjoy reading and need to stay current in the literature of Biblical studies, so I relish the opportunity to review books regularly for the blog. I have also started posted some of my book reviews to Academia.edu.

1000 Candles 2But this post represents another milestone as well – this is post #1000. For some bloggers, a thousand posts is a couple of months of work, but for me, this is a big deal. Bloggers seem to use 1000 posts as an indication of some level of success. After a thousand posts, most of which are substantial attempts at writing on the New Testament, I think that I can call Reading Acts a “success.”  Well, it survived into a fifth year, and that alone is special in the blogging world.

I want to use post #1000 to comment on blogging in general, and more specifically Biblio-blogging.  I agree with Michael Hyatt’s observation that blogging helps clarify one’s thinking. It is harder to writer 500 words on a topic that 5000.  Most of my posts are 500 to 750 words, so that represents quite a bit of work (even though I have re-posted a few times!) But most of what I have done on this blog has helped me to express a thought or idea better in a lecture for class or in a Bible study or sermon at my church. Some bloggers write therapeutically, but I can’t do that.

For me, this blog is something of a scratch pad for ideas that might develop into a longer article or book at some point in the future. While I understand a blog as “published,” it is still (in my mind) less substantial than a book. IO have had students ask me how to cite my blog in their paper. That is a bit intimidating since I am not sure I want to stand behind my research on a blog post the same as I might a full length book. And I am fully aware of the many students use this site for their homework since I see Google searches that are obviously cut and pasted from assignments! I hope that what is offered here is a first step in research and encourages readers to dig a little deeper (and I do not mean wikipedia!)

I am looking forward to another great year on Reading Acts, thanks to everyone who regularly reads the blog.  I do appreciate your interest and comments. And now for the next 1000 posts…

Book Review: Joseph Blenkinsopp, David Remembered

Blenkinsopp, Joseph. David Remembered: Kingship and National Identity in Ancient Israel. Grand Rapids, Mich. Eerdmans, 2013. 219 pp. Pb; $26.00.  Link to Eerdmans

In 2009 Blenkinsopp wrote a short introduction to what he called “early Judiasm” in which he argued that origins of Judaism are to be found in Ezra and Nehemiah. This short book described the return from exile as the real beginning of the Judaism we encounter in the New Testament even if that origin stands on a foundation of earlier stories about pre-exilic Israel.  In his earlier work, Blenkinsopp mainly focused on the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, supplemented by 1 Esdras and Josephus.

Blenkinsopp David RememberedBlenkinsopp’s new book studies the same period, but he focuses solely on how the earliest writers of the Second Temple period “remembered David.”  He does not really enter into the discussion of a historical David” nor is he concerned with biblical archaeology for the early monarchy. His task in this book is to trace how the failed dynasty of David was transformed by the post-exilic prophets into a hope for an eschatological restoration of a kingdom to Jews.

After an introductory chapter in which he traces the fall of Judah and the end of David’s dynasty according to 2 Kings and Jeremiah, Blenkinsopp traces the remnants of that line in the early exile (ch. 2-3). In these chapters he argues that while it is possible that the demise of the Davidic line led to interest in a revived Benjamin-Saul dynasty in the early years of the exile, there is very little evidence to support the assertion. The pro-Jeremiah family of Shaphan seems to have had some influence, even to the point as serving as governor until Gedeliah was assassinated, but they fell short of reviving a Davidic kingdom.

Turning to the prophets, Blenkinsopp discusses Deutero-Isaiah’s view of David (ch. 4). There is only one reference to David in Isaiah 40-66, at the conclusion of chapters 40-55 the prophet refers to “tokens of love showed to David.” There are some translation issues with this line, but Blenkinsopp takes this as an allusion to the perpetual covenant offered to the Davidic line in 2 Sam 7. Since the line has come to an effective end, there was a need for re-thinking this “perpetual covenant” in the early post exilic period.  Cyrus, rather than David, will be God’s anointed one.

Chapter 5 focuses on Zerubbabel as the “new David” in the early post-exilic world.  In order to do this, he collects all of the prophetic texts which refer to Zerubbabel in Haggai and Zechariah.  There are quite a few texts that seem to imply that Zerubbabel was seen by these prophets as a kind of “heir to the throne” who was used by the Persians to keep Judea loyal during a particularly stormy period in Persian history.  In fact, it is possible that Zech 6:9-15 is a reference to a secret coronation of Zerubbabel as a new King of Judah.

Beginning in chapter 6, Blenkinsopp connects the post-exilic dream of a restored kingdom to the original stories of David. Beginning as far back as Amos, Blenkinsopp shows that prophetic texts read and reread the story of David in new contexts, finding in David the model for what would become the Messianism of the second half of Zechariah. Whether that represents one or two later prophets is not particularly meaningful to Blenkinsopp’s argument since they both would be among the latest texts in the Hebrew Bible.

In chapter 7, He points out that even the canonical shape of the twelve minor prophets can be seen as implicitly eschatological, looking forward to a reunification of the twelve tribes of Israel. By ending the collection with Malachi’s prediction of the return of Elijah to turn the children back to the fathers, the twelve-book collection anticipates a turning of Israel back to the land and to their first king.

Chapter 8 finishes the post-exilic survey by examining the later Zechariah traditions (Zechariah 10-14). These rather complex chapters are among the latest material in the prophets and consequently have the most detailed messianic hope in the Hebrew Bible. This chapter was the most stimulating for me since Blenkinsopp is doing something of an “intertextual study.” He uses this language several times (p. 154, especially), although there is no effort to define what he means by the term. Essentially, Zechariah finds earlier texts (or traditions) and reuses them in a new context. For this study, these intertextual connections take older texts like the Exodus and Jeremiah and apply them to the current political and religious situation of Judea in the Second Temple period. Since this is a brief study rather than a detailed commentary, Blenkinsopp does not always clearly signal what his intertextual connections are, and when he does, there is no explanation of why he thinks Zechariah used a particular text. For the most part, he may omit this detailed methodological step because of the nature of the book, or because the links are “obvious.”

Blenkinsopp’s final chapter brings his story of David Remembered into the Judaism of the first century as a “resistance movement” to imperial power. When reading the chapter title, I expected to find to sorts of anti-imperial observations that one finds in studies on Revelation or Paul, but that is not the case. He sticks to the texts and avoids the sort of sociological or political agenda that usually plagues anti-imperial studies.

He this chapter begins with a very brief survey of various Second Temple documents, including the Qumran literature and Psalms of Solomon. While there is some allusion to a revival of the Davidic dynasty, it is not as prominent as might be expected and in Qumran it the coming king messiah is subjugated to the coming priestly messiah. After simply observing this as a fact, Blenkinsopp does not every ask why this is the case. Why did most strands of Judaism in the second temple avoid the language of a Davidic messiah or a revived Davidic kingdom?

The second section of the chapter surveys the presentation of the Maccabean revolt and the various messianic pretenders in Josephus.  While there is nothing new in the material, Blenkinsopp does observe that it is remarkable that there is no Davidic monarchy at all in the Maccabean revolt, the Hasmonean dynasty or any of the messianic pretenders. In fact, it is only in the New Testament’s presentation of Jesus that there a revival of David’s kingdom is particularly prominent. Again I am left wondered why Jewish Christianity developed a Davidic messiah while other forms of early Judaism did not.

Conclusions. I found Blenkinsopp’s book fascinating, especially since I have an interest in how later writers use and reuse earlier traditions.  I think the survey might have been improved with more attention to Davidic Messianism in the Psalms. While there is a short section on David’s relationship with the worship of the Second Temple, it seems to me that the final form of the Psalter provides another line of evidence for the development of the idea of the return of the Davidic kingdom.  I also notice that there is little in this book on Joel, arguably the last of the prophets.  I suspect this has to do with the lack of specific mention of David in that prophet, but as a late prophetic voice, I expected to see more from that prophet. Most New Testament readers will find his few pages on Jesus disappointing – the book feels like it building up to a grand conclusion in Jesus the son of David, but the gospels are dispatched in a few pages.

Nevertheless, David Remembered provides a good survey of the development of the Davidic Messiah from the exile to the first century. It is good to see a kind of thematic biblical theology that extends into inter-canonical literature. While the book focuses more on the earliest days of the Second Temple period than the first century, it provides an excellent introduction to the Messianism of the Second Temple period.

Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Key Themes in Galatians

The main problem Paul addresses in the book of Galatians is the status of Gentiles in the current stage of salvation history. Are Gentiles converting to Judaism? The immediate occasion for the letter is a problem with Gentiles being forced to keep the Law by some persons coming from Jerusalem claiming to have authority from James. This Jewish party accepted Christ, but they held to a keeping of the Law in addition to faith in Jesus. Paul calls this a “new gospel” that is not really a gospel.

GalatiansA secondary issue is Paul’s authority to declare that Gentiles are free from the Law. The Judaizers are likely questioning Paul’s right to teach that gentile converts do not have to keep the law. Who is Paul? Where did he get his authority? The first two chapters address this issue. Note that this is a theme that is found from the very first lines of the letter – Paul is an apostle by the authority of Jesus Christ and the Father himself!

A third issue in the book concerns the status of the Law in the new age. If Paul has authority because he is called by Jesus personally to be the Apostle to the Gentiles, and if the Gentiles are really set free from the restrictions of the Law, what was the point of the Law in the first place? This is covered in the third and fourth chapters of the letter. What is missing from this letter is the status of the Law for Jewish Christians. Should a Jewish Christian continue to keep the Law? They appear to have done so, but that is not really the issue that Paul treats in this letter.

Finally, if Gentiles are freed from the Law, what is their motivation to behave in a moral and ethical way? Has Paul cut off the gentile from the Law so that they can live any way that they choose to? It appears that there were some believers in Paul’s churches who did in fact “sin that grace may abound,” or at the very least continued in some Gentile practices that were offensive to God. Rather than keep part of the Law (the so-called “moral law,” for example, or the Ten Commandments), Paul tells his readers that they are “in Christ” and that they ought to live like it. They are to “live by the Spirit” rather than the flesh. Paul covers this issue in the last two chapters of the letter.

If Paul was allowing the Gentiles freedom from the Law, this might have implied to some law-keeping Jews that they were free entirely from moral restraints. Perhaps Paul is teaching that Gentiles can accept Jesus as the Messiah and live the way that they have always lived. To a Jew, things like circumcision and food laws were very important, but true ethical living was more important.

Paul must defuse this criticism of his Gentile mission by showing that the Gentile is free from the Law, but now he lives by a new law, a Law of Christ. This new law is a law of love, a law that is guided by the Holy Spirit. The “sin list” in chapter five makes it clear that Paul is not advocating an anarchist libertine freedom, but rather a life that is led by the Spirit of God and manifest in the “fruit of the Spirit.”

“Mirror Reading” Galatians

As Thomas Schreiner points out in his recent commentary on Galatians, when he wrote this letter, Paul did not need to explain the situation and background to his readers (p.31). They knew what the situation since it concerned them. We are therefore at a great disadvantage when we pick up the letter to the Galatians because we have to infer the situation from what Paul says in the letter itself.

Mirror ReadingThis process of inferring a background for a letter like Galatians is known as “mirror reading.” We only have access to one side of the story. It would be ideal if we were able to read documents written by the opponents of Paul, or a letter from the Galatian churches explaining what the problem was and asking Paul for advice. In the case of Galatians, we have only Paul’s side of the story as he describes it in Galatians.

I think that there are a few other “resources” for reading the situation in Galatia that resulted in the letter Paul wrote to his churches. The book of Acts is an obvious candidate for a source, although sometimes Luke’s theological agenda forces scholars to wonder about his accuracy. In the case of Galatians, for example, there are some chronological problems, but Luke and Paul generally agree on how the Galatian churches got there and what the opponents were teaching in Paul’s churches.

There are other resources that help us to accurately mirror read is the literature of the Second Temple period. Some of these are Jewish, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls or the Psalms of Solomon. There are hundreds of documents that collect Second Temple Jewish literature to help us understand the Jewish world view reflected by Paul’s letters. While Josephus may not always be accurate (especially when talking about himself), his Jewish War and Antiquities of the Jews are essential reading for understanding this period in history. I might recommend Paul Maier’s Josephus: The Essential Writings (Kregel, 1988) as a good entry point for students wanting to know more about Josephus.

Other resources are Greco-Roman. These might be less helpful, since they often reflect popular misconceptions of how Judaism was practiced in the first century. There are several excellent collections of this kind of material that save the student from having to sift through the hundreds of Loeb volumes looking for good background material. My favorite is Jewish Life and Thought among Greeks and Romans edited by Feldman and Reinhold (Fortress, 1996). Fortress also recently published Documents and Images for the Study of Paul edited by Elliott and Reasoner (2011). I have also enjoyed Robert Louis Wilken’s The Christians as the Romans Saw Them (Yale, 2003).

While it would be ideal for a reader of Galatians (or a student of Pauline theology) to have letters from the opponents, I think that there is sufficient data to support Paul’s description of the situation in Galatia as accurate.

Is it “fair” to include Acts as background to Galatians? Should we use other Jewish writings as supplementary materials for understanding this letter? What are the dangers of this approach?

Questioning Boundary Markers

When did the earliest believers begin to question the “boundary markers” of Judaism? By “boundary markers” I mean primarily circumcision, food laws and keeping Sabbath. It is not really possible to describe Peter and John as preaching to Jews in the Temple that what Jesus did on the cross freed them from the Law. One reason for this is that there were few Jews who saw the Law as a slave master from which they longed to be free. For the men worshiping in the Temple, and likely for those in the Greek-Speaking Synagogue of the Freedmen, keeping the law was a privilege given to them by God. There were likely few Jews if any who would have relished the chance to throw off the constraints of the Law. In fact, the Maccabean Revolt indicates that the majority of Jews were willing to fight in order to be allowed to keep the Law!

boundariesFor me, this indicates that the Jewish believers in Jerusalem continued to practice Judaism in every way. The question “should we continue to circumcise our children” or “should we eat prohibited foods” simply would never have come up in the early years. Jesus is Messiah and Savior, but he did nothing to cancel the Jewish believer’s commitment to the Law. Another indication of this is that many Pharisees and other “zealous” Jews joined the Jerusalem church (Acts 15:5, 21:20-21). If Peter, John, Stephen or Philip urged Jews to defect from the Law, the reaction to Paul is unintelligible.

The boundary markers only became and issue after a significant number of Gentiles joined the church, likely in Antioch first, but certainly in Paul’s first churches in Galatia. Acts 11:20 indicates that the church at Antioch limited their evangelism to Jews until men from Cyprus came and evangelized the Hellenists. The noun Eλληνιστής refers to Greek speaking Jews (BDAG), not Greeks. The ESV footnote says that the word refers to Greek speaking non-Jews, but this explanation is not correct and misses the point Luke is trying to make. The Christians at Antioch are targeting both Hebrew/Aramaic speaking and Greek speaking Jews just like what was happening in Jerusalem until the persecution scattered the believers.

Even if these Hellenists are Gentiles, it is likely that the Gentiles who were joining the church in Antioch were doing so as God-fearers. This was the recognized practice in the synagogues anyway. There was no compulsion for these God-fearing Gentiles to submit to circumcision, although it appears that in every other respect they kept the Law and traditions of the Jewish people. The fact that the apostolic representative Barnabas was pleased with the progress in Antioch indicates that the Law is still respected and kept in these Christian synagogues.

So there is really no “questioning of the boundary markers” until the first Pauline mission, when the gospel is preached outside of the synagogue and Gentiles who were not already God-fearers accepted Jesus as savior. If the story ended in Acts 11, then Christianity would have been a sect of Judaism.