The Jewish Paul: A Running Commentary on Galatians (Part 4)

As I indicated in the previous blogs, this running commentary on Galatians is designed to help demonstrate that Paul remained an observant Jew throughout his life. He neither advocated the abandonment of Judaism or Torah for himself nor for any Jew, whether they believed that Jesus was the Messiah or not.

This section of Galatians can be quite dense and requires our full attention to how Paul used the tools of Greco-Roman rhetoric and always remained focused on his intended readers, that is, Gentiles. This section of the letter should leave no doubt that Paul was writing exclusively to Gentiles.

3:16 Now the promises [3:8] were spoken to Abraham and to his seed [Gen. 17:8]. Scripture does not say, “and to the seeds,” referring to many [nations], but “and to your seed,” referring to one [Christ], who is Christ [Some think that Paul is saying that only through Christ may one become an heir to the promises, i.e., excluding Jews. That is nonsense. Paul said the exact opposite earlier. He is making the point here that the promises concerning the nations are not made to the inhabitants of the nations individually or to their leaders but to one Jewish gatekeeper for the nations: Jesus Christ.]. 17 What I am saying is this: The law that came 430 years later does not cancel a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to invalidate the promise [Get what Paul is saying? One covenant does not invalidate a previous one.]. 18 For if the inheritance is based on the law, it is no longer based on the promise, but God graciously gave it to Abraham through the promise [Inheriting the benefits of the promise to Abraham concerning the nations does not require Gentiles to get circumcised and become Jews nor is it earned through Judaizing. It is a matter of grace (unearned blessing by God). Paul is not saying that Jews have been disinherited.].

3:19 Why then the law? [Paul begins using the rhetorical technique called the diatribe, an invented conversation between the author and an imaginary interlocutor. The questioner, a Gentile, asks: If inheritance is by the promise, why was the law necessary?] It was added [a covenant made after the one with Abraham] because of transgressions [i.e., human sinfulness], until the arrival of the seed to whom the promise had been made [the seed = Christ. Remember, Paul was writing to Gentiles about their salvation. He was not writing to Jews. Christian interpreters should not keep reading Paul as if he were making universal pronouncements.]. It [the law] was administered through angels by an intermediary [Exodus 3:2 makes it clear that Moses heard God’s voice through an angel. Many Jews believed that no one could come into immediate contact with God. Instead, one would encounter the Angel of the Lord or some other representative of God.]. 20 Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one [Paul made this hair-splitting distinction to assure his Galatian Gentiles that, whatever the angel’s intent was, God is fully capable of making the Torah apply however God chooses, whether it is to Jews or Gentiles.]. 21 Is the law therefore opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! [That is why Paul clarifies that the law is not antithetical to the promises: both Jew and Gentile must remain obedient. But the new covenant will write the law on the hearts (minds) of God’s people. They will obey as the Spirit directs.]. For if a law had been given that was able to give life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law [obedience to the law alone does not result in righteousness. Faith and obedience are both necessary ingredients. Gentiles who tried to pursue one without the other failed.]. 22 But the scripture imprisoned everything under sin [the law demonstrated how the world itself was under the power of evil forces (Sin). This is the standard apocalyptic view held by both Jesus and Paul.] so that the promise [Paul is specifically referring to the promise that included the nations] could be given [to redeem Gentiles from their enslavement to Sin] —because of the faithfulness of Jesus Christ—to those [Gentiles] who believe.

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The Passion of…Barabbas?

The springtime buds of Easter usually include a temporary bloom of articles and blog posts about the events of Passion Week. Television programs and movies recreate the story in dramatic fashion. And, despite the overwhelming number of retellings and analyses, I would like to add one of my own, from a somewhat different point of view.

Readers may find my reconstruction of the motivations behind the events surrounding the arrest, trial, and execution of Jesus to be somewhat speculative. But my hope is that it will stretch your minds as we imagine what took place during that fateful week. Before I begin my reconstruction of events, I want to lay out, from a historical perspective, which events from the gospel stories I consider historically likely and which I do not. These decisions are based on historical criteria that are well-established in New Testament research (the definitions for each appear at the end of this blog post).

It is a near certainty that Jesus was crucified (criterion of multiple attestation). Equally historical is the prefecture of Pontius Pilate (c. m. a.). He was ultimately responsible for sentencing Jesus to death. Likewise, Caiaphas was surely the sitting high priest (c. m. a.). I consider it probable that Jesus was crucified around one of the three pilgrimage festivals in Jerusalem since those were the only times Pilate would normally be present; otherwise he resided at Caesarea on the coast. I think it incredible, however, that Jesus was crucified either on the day of Passover (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) or even the day before (John) (criterion of contextual credibility). Pilate was shrewd as well as brutal. It is inconceivable that he would risk provoking a riot among the tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Jewish pilgrims gathered in Jerusalem by ordering a bloody execution of a number of Jewish men on a nationalistic, high holy day. If Jesus was crucified around the time of Passover, it is more likely that Pilate waited to do so until after the week-long Feast of Unleavened Bread when the pilgrims would be departing and he himself was preparing to leave Jerusalem.

I consider it quite likely that a disciple of Jesus was involved in the conspiracy that led to Jesus’s arrest (criterion of dissimilarity). I also consider it likely that Peter, who was possibly detained for resisting the arresting party, was nevertheless released after feigning ignorance of Jesus (c. o. d.). It is highly unlikely that any convocation of the Sanhedrin occurred or that Jesus received any hearing before them of the type described in Matthew, Mark, and Luke (c. c. c.). The description of what happened in these gospels violates everything we know about the Sanhedrin and how it operated. Even the high priest would have been sequestered away for weeks to assure his ritual purity to be able to properly officiate at the Passover sacrifices. Caiaphas would hardly have risked coming into contact with a “blasphemer” (Mark 14:64; Matthew 26:65) as the gospels indicate. I do, however, consider likely some involvement by the high priest and some of other the chief priests in the plot to arrest Jesus (c. m. a.). Some scholars object to this notion but my reasons for accepting a modicum of involvement will become clear as we proceed. It also seems likely that Jesus was crucified along with some other Jews (c. m. a.) – how many is irrelevant although I consider the total number of three victims to be symbolic. Finally, although the evidence can go either way, I do consider the presence of the criminal (from the Roman point of view) Barabbas to be historical. Let’s consider that in more detail.

Continue reading “The Passion of…Barabbas?”