Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Comments on Galatians 2:15-16

I agree with your comments on Galatians 2:15-16, Timotheos. I would add only one observation. There is a reasonable question that we ought to raise concerning how 2:15-16 fit within the context. For the purpose of this brief discussion, here is my translation of 2:11-21.

But when Cephas came up to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the entrance of some men from James he was accustomed to eating with the Gentiles, but when they came, he began to pull back and hold himself separate, fearing those of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews joined him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with them into hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not behaving consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, "If you being a Jew, live as the Gentiles and no longer live as the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to Judaize?

We, by nature Jews and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a human of the deeds required by the Law is not justified except through Jesus Christ’s faithfulness, we also believed in Christ Jesus in order that we might be justified from Christ’s faithfulness and not from the deeds required by the law, because no flesh shall be justified from the deeds required by the law.

If while we seek to be justified in Christ we are found also to be sinners, then is Christ the servant of sin? No way! For if I build again what I destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, in order that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh, I live by the faithfulness that belongs to the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself on my behalf. I do not nullify God’s grace. For if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died gratuitously."

The question concerns where the closing quotation marks should be placed. Is verse 15 the only portion that should be regarded as Paul's direct response to Peter's wayward behavior? Or, should we view verses 16ff to be integral to his response to Peter? If it is the former, then Paul must be expounding the core of his reasoning that incited the question he poses in verse 15, even if he did not speak these words or words similar to them to Peter at the time. On the other hand, is it not likely that verses 16-21 represent an accurate accounting of the fullness of what Paul had said to Peter on the occasion? The fact that the verses sustain Paul's manner of speech begun in verse 15 (e.g., "we Jews" and "Gentile sinners") suggests that verses 16-21 should be regarded as the continuation of what Paul spoke publicly to Peter before the congregation at Antioch.


Use of the expression, "Gentile sinners," underscores the likelihood of my suggestion. It would have been a fitting stinging expression for Paul to use in his public rebuke of Peter in the presence of Jews and Gentiles alike in Antioch. Paul's use of the expression lays bare the implicit posture that Peter exhibited toward the Gentiles who were present as he withdrew from them to eat with Jews alone.
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Also, it seems to me that we need to have a deep sense of the power of intimidation that was at work so as to seduce Peter away from his heavenly-vision-transformed-posture toward Gentiles who believe in Jesus Christ (see
Acts 10).

Does it make a difference whether we read verses 16-21 as the continuation of Paul's public speech to Peter in the church at Antioch? I think it does. I think that it enhances our understanding of the text. It seems to me that it sharpens the point that Paul is making. The issue at stake is not works righteousness; the issue is the end of the Mosaic Law's jurisdiction as covenant that defines God's people, the justified people, the seed of Abraham. Who are the justified people? Who are the people who are properly identified as Abraham's seed? The faithfulness of Jesus Christ is the all-essential feature that at once brings the Law of Moses to its terminus and inaugurates the new identifying feature of Abraham's seed because the faithfulness of Jesus Christ is the warrant, the ground, the basis upon which the justified people stand acquitted and declared righteous before God. It is not the Law Covenant (from the deeds required by the Law) that anyone stands justified before God. Rather, it is from the faithfulness of Jesus Christ that we find ourselves justified before God. Must we do anything to be justified? Yes. We must believe in Christ Jesus in order that we might be justified from Christ's faithfulness.

Ponder for a moment a segment of verse 16.

We, by nature Jews and not sinners of the Gentiles, know that a human of the deeds required by the Law is not justified except through Jesus Christ’s faithfulness. We also believed in Christ Jesus in order that we might be justified from Christ’s faithfulness and not from the deeds required by the law, because no flesh shall be justified from the deeds required by the law.

In particular, let's consider the force of Paul's words "we know that ἄνθρωπος ἐξ ἔργων νόμου is not justifed ἐὰν μὴ through the faithfulness of Christ Jesus." Concerning ἄνθρωπος ἐξ ἔργων νόμου, most translations separate ἄνθρωπος from its genitive modifier ἐξ ἔργων νόμου and read something like this: "We know that a man is not justified from the deeds required by the law." As such, the genitive, ἐξ ἔργων νόμου, is taken to modify the negated verb, "not justified." It seems to me that ἄνθρωπος should be viewed as modified by the genitive ἐξ ἔργων νόμου with the sense that the phrase--"a man of the works required by the Law"--is descriptive of any Jew, who by birth, is subject to the Law. Concerning ἐὰν μὴ, I would take it in its normal sense and force as "except" or "unless." Thus, the translation would be, "We know that a man of the deeds required by the Law is not justified except through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ." In other words, no Jew is justified before God in any way other than the same way that the Gentiles are justified.

Paul's argument has a force similar to the argument that Peter makes before the Council in Jerusalem when he contends:

Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will” (Acts 15:10-11).

The point of reference, in both Paul's and Peter's arguments, shifts to the Gentiles. As Peter makes his argument, notice how he shifts the point of reference to the Gentiles when he says, "On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they [the Gentiles] will." As Paul makes his argument, observe how he shifts the point of reference to the Gentiles when he says, "We [Jews] . . . knowing that a man of the deeds required by the Law is not justified except through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, we also believed in Christ Jesus in order that we might be justified from Christ’s faithfulness and not from the deeds required by the law, because no flesh shall be justified from the deeds required by the law." The Law of Moses offers absolutely nothing to a man's right standing before God. Whether one is of the deeds required by the Law (i.e., a Jew whose whole life is circumscribed by the Law of Moses) or one is a sinner of the Gentiles, what counts with regard to justification before God is the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.

Update: Readers, please observe some modifications and additions to this last entry.

9 comments:

N.P. Strom said...

Hello Paulos and Timotheos,

I have recently been digging into Galatians 3:9-10 and how the passage really makes a case for the continuity of the OT(Abrahamic Covenant) and NT(Covenant of Christ). I was sitting in my most recent class and we were working on trying to represent the argument that Paul is making in First Order Logic. Most of my classmates were content with settling for the typical Faith=blessing and reliance on the law=death/curse interpretation. I made the case however that their was a lot more going on then just that. Paul was making a radical claim that the true way to become a son of Abraham was faith. I feel like this is extremely obvious in Paul's use of the word gospel. Let me know what both of you think. God bless.

Daniel said...

What do you think "righteousness" in v. 21 means?

A right covenant status with God?

God's own saving redemptive action?

His faithfulness to His promises to Abraham?

A second question is "How do you determine which one is the correct answer?"

A. B. Caneday said...

Daniel,

Tim may offer a different response to your question than what I will propose, though I rather expect that his reply would be much like the one I am about to give.

I take your question to be about Galatians 2:21 and the meaning of righteousness in that verse.

I believe that there is no doubt that the word righteousness in Galatians 2:21 refers to a right standing before God.

On what basis do I determine the sense or meaning of righteousness wherever it appears in the text? I would say that the way we will understand its meaning is contextual usage. Galatians 2:21 is not speaking of God's character as righteous. It is speaking of righteousness that comes to us. Such righteousness, it seems to me, is clearly a right standing before God, given the whole context.

Nicholas P. Mitchell said...

Ardel,

I was thinking about picking up Wright's Paul for Everyone: Galatians. I am by no means a scholar and I know he is into the NPP but is this still a good little study. Or will it be too dangerous for a 'rookie'?

A. B. Caneday said...

Nicholas,

I think that you should go ahead and secure of copy of Wright's Paul for Everyone: Galatians. If you regard yourself a "rookie," I think the way to advance from rookie status is to engage Wright and others to understand the NPP first-hand and for yourself. I would encourage you not to depend upon others to interpret Wright's NPP for you. Too many fail to understand him and thus misrepresent him, sometimes even very badly.

Nicholas P. Mitchell said...

Thanks for the encouragement!

Nicholas P. Mitchell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
A. B. Caneday said...

Nicholas,

I trust that you and all readers will recognize that my responses to your queries reflect my own biases and inclinations with regard to my interaction with N. T. Wright. Thus, I may offer you what others would view as misguidance concerning Wright's views.

Generally, Wright's for Everyone commentary series is helpful at getting the larger scope of the text of each portion of the NT on which he comments. What many would regard as his quirkiness does not exhibit itself in large ways in these commentaries.

In What Saint Paul Really Said, as in many of his essays and other books on Paul, I think that Wright is asking some rather crucial and pertinent questions that others tend not to ask. Aspects of his answers to these questions have legitimate appeal, but other aspects, in my opinion, are less helpful.

For example, with regard to Paul's expression "the righteousness of God" in Romans 1:17, I think that Wright is headed in the right direction in his discussion, but I fear that he tends to abort the discussion by tending to reduce the expression, "the righteousness of God," to mean "God's covenant faithfulness." It seems to me that "the righteousness of God" is an expression that is larger than that, that it is about God's character in the largest possible sense. God manifests his righteousness by being faithful to his covenant (Rom 3:1-8), but he also manifests his righteousness in the atoning sacrifice of Christ (Rom 3:25ff). If one reads Wright carefully, he acknowledges these things. However, he also tends to exaggerate God's righteousness as God's covenant faithfulness. This, in my estimation, injures his cause. Those who are suspicious of him hear his exaggeration and then respond in their own exaggerated way. They tend to read "the righteousness of God" in a very fluid and equivocating way, so that the expression means both "God's righteousness" and "a righteousness from God" at the same time. This, in my estimation, is a quite impossible reading of the expression. I believe that Wright is correct to understand it as "God's righteousness." I think, however, that, practically speaking, he has reduced it unnecessarily and unwarrantedly to mean "God's covenant faithfulness."

As for Wright's interpretation of Jesus' parables, such as the Parable of the Prodigal Son, he may be rather novel. Yet, it seems to me that if we reject his understanding, we need to do good exegesis to demonstrate the weakness of his view and the strength of a contrary view. Usually, what I find is that such demonstration is not often forthcoming.

I think, for example, that Wright's understanding of "remove this mountain" in Mark 11 is almost surely correctly referring to the Temple Mount. Contextually, it makes good sense.

Though Wright claims to reject the "imputation of Christ's righteousness," it seems to me that he is rejecting the expression much more than the concept. I think that he actually embraces the concept by necessity, given other theological expressions he employs, particularly in his commentary on Romans. Lamentably, I think that much of the conflict and sparring that takes place between Wright and his opponents reduces to squabbles over words rather than concepts. I may be wrong on this, but this is how it comes off to me.

I hope that these comments may be of help to you and to other readers. Keep in mind, however, my introductory cautions.

Nicholas P. Mitchell said...

Ardel,

I have been reading through Mark with Wright and listening to his lectures. I am so glad that I began to get aquainted with his works because they are brilliant. This is coming from a guy who thought Wright was in the 'don't go there' camp. The funny thing is that that prodigal son parable seems to be the one that gets pointed out by his critics the most. I am actually more convinced that he is right about that one but scratch my head about the sower! Thanks Ardel. You helped me a lot! Write some books!