Monday, December 11, 2006

Galatians 2.15-16

It is a bit strange to begin our treatment of Galatians right in the middle of the letter. This is not to say that what proceeds is of no importance. Rather, this beginning point reflects more my recent research, and thus for expediency we are going to begin here. Also, we are going to begin here because it is in 2.16, where Paul makes a move similar to that in Romans 1.16-17, which is to state an enigmatic thesis statement and then unpack it in the verses which follow it. So below, I will offer my translation again, and focus on the verses.

Galatians 2.15-16

15 We are Jews by nature and not Gentile sinners, 16 yet we know that no one is justified on the basis of the deeds required by Torah but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified on the basis of the faithfulness of Christ and not on the basis of the deeds required by Torah, because on the basis of the deeds required by Torah no one will be justified.

After Paul discusses his confrontation with Cephas, he states that he like Cephas is a Jew by nature and not a Gentile sinner. Yet (probably the better interpretation of the participle εἰδότες; eidotes 'to know') knowing that no one (not even the Jew) is justified by God on the basis of the deeds required by Torah. Rather, the basis of justification is the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. Right away in v. 16 there are some interpretations here that need to be spelled out. First, what does Paul mean by ἔργων νόμου, ergōn nomou 'works of law'? The NIV translates this phrase as 'observing the law'. This rendering highlights the active sense of ergōn translating the noun 'works' as 'doing'. This would fit the predominate understanding that in Galatians Paul is contrasting faith in Christ and doing the law (i.e., legalism) as a basis for one's justification by God. But there are many ways in which this Pauline phrase has been interpreted. Here are the more dominate interpretations:

Deeds preformed in obedience to the law (objective genitive).

Shorthand for legalism (qualitative genitive)

Works which the law performs (subjective genitive)

Deeds the law prescribes (genitive of definition)

My translation of ergōn nomou 'Deeds required by Torah' follows from the evidence that frequently ergōn is followed by the genitive of the one who assigns the work or the task (See Westerholm, Israel's Law and the Church's Faith). This relationship can be seen in John 6.28 and 8.41. This makes sense, it seems to me, because Paul sees Torah as a power, no just a list of rules (Gal 3.24). Thus, right away, we see that I am not seeing Paul as contrasting legalism and faith in Christ. Rather, Paul is contrasting two covenants. One covenant is represented by Paul as 'Deeds required by Torah' and the other covenant is 'Christ's faithfulness' (But this needs to be shown in the remainder of Galatians 2-3, which is what I will attempt to do).

Again, picking up, Paul stresses that one, whether Jew or Gentile, is justified only on the basis of Jesus' faithfulness. Instead of being justified by deeds demanded by Torah, the only way one is justified is by Jesus' faithfulness. Here we have another interpretive decision. Modern translations typically translate πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, pisteōs Iēsou Christou, as 'faith in Jesus Christ'. For reasons which I will go on to show (especially Galatians 3.29), I see Paul talking about Jesus' faithfulness as the basis of the believer's justification, and not the believer's faith as the basis of justification (This was also argued in our interpretation of Romans 3.21-16). Paul's phrase, "Jesus' faithfulness" I think specifically refers to Jesus' obedience unto death, even death on a cross. Or more specifically to Galatians, his becoming a curse for those who believe by dying hung on a tree (Gal 3.13).

Thus, Paul in an enigmatic way in v. 16 is stating that those who believe on Jesus (whether Jew or Gentile) are justified by God not by belonging to Torah (the Mosaic covenant), but by Jesus' faithfulness in becoming a curse for us by dying on a tree.

From here Paul is going to go on and argue this point, and I will attempt to follow along.

What do you think, Paulos? Am I following Paul? Any corrections, additions, affirmations?

Blessings to you!

Timotheos

2 comments:

Nick said...

Let's get started, boys!

bjr2000 said...

I've always wanted to understand Galations. Thanks for this ministry!