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.

3:23 Now before faith came [to Gentiles; Jews already had faith through Abraham] we [i.e., Gentiles. Paul is using the rhetorical technique known as the social plural (pluralis societatis) to identify with his readers. Paul was not waiting for faith to come. He already had faith as a faithful Jew.] were held in custody under the law, being kept as prisoners [the law revealed Gentiles to be “sinners” condemned for their unfaithfulness to God and the law; despite their attempts to obey parts of it, they remained condemned] until the coming faith [in Christ; again, for Gentiles. Jews long ago began sharing in the faith of Abraham] would be revealed. 24 Thus the law had become our [Gentile] guardian [A harsh schoolmaster revealing to the nations what God wanted from his people. But even though some Gentiles tried to obey certain of its provisions (“works”) they could not acquire righteousness by doing so.] until Christ, so that we [Gentiles] could be declared righteous by faith. 25 But now that faith [in Christ] has come, we are no longer under a guardian [Guardians are for school children. Paul’s baptized Gentiles have graduated and received their diploma, as it were, and are no longer cursed by the law. But this does not mean that Gentiles do not have to obey any aspect of Torah. This is a complete misunderstanding of Paul which will be demonstrated below. The Spirit will instruct faithful Gentiles as to what aspects of Torah they need to obey – obedience in faith will result in righteousness. Selective obedience to various “works” without faith will not. That is the new covenant (Jer. 31:31, 33; 2 Cor. 3:6): the laws of God will be written on the hearts (minds) of all of God’s people enabling them to obey Torah in the manner God wills, completely for Jews, partially for Gentiles but sufficiently for both.].

3:26 For in Christ Jesus you [Gentiles] are all sons of God [like Jews] through faith. 27 For all of you [Gentiles] who were baptized into Christ [Christ’s death – Rom. 6:3] have clothed yourselves with Christ [Rom. 13:14]. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male and female [Of course there were. These distinctions remained in society. What Paul was claiming was that equal status in righteousness before God can be achieved by all.] — for all of you [Gentiles, remember Paul’s readers] are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed [like Jews. Paul knows that Jews like himself have all along been Abraham’s seed (2 Cor. 11:22). But no covenant is made between God and Gentiles. They are between God and representatives of his chosen people. Abraham was just such a representative and remained so for Jews ever since. Jesus Christ had become the Jewish representative for this new covenant, according to Paul. The new covenant affects Gentiles in terms of how they are to know how to be obedient to the will of God.] heirs according to the promise [Gentiles become heirs to the promises through Abraham’s seed: Christ. Note Paul’s imprecision about the “seed.” First, he claims that the “seed” is singular and refers to Christ. Then he calls his baptized Gentiles the “seed.” He knows that Jews are the original seed and heirs of Abraham but he needs to demonstrate that baptized Gentiles (through Christ) are also seed and heirs].

4:1 Now I mean that the heir, as long as he is a minor, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything [Paul is referring exclusively to Gentiles here differentiating between Gentile heirs through faith in Christ and unredeemed Gentile slaves to sin.]. 2 But he [the Gentile] is under guardians and managers [this could refer to both the law (guardian) and angels (managers) thought by some Jews to have been in charge of each nation] until the date set by his father [God]. 3 So also we [Gentile believers (pluralis societatis), not Paul], when we were minors [before redemption], were enslaved to the elementals of the cosmos [Before they came to faith in Christ, Gentiles were idolators worshiping “gods which were not gods (see below),” that is, evil supernatural forces. Again, see how Paul is talking to and about Gentiles, not Jews.]. 4 But when the appropriate time had come, God sent out his Son, coming to be from a woman, coming to be under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we may be adopted as sons with full rights [Paul uses the phrase “under the law” (húpo nomos) only when he speaks of the law’s curse on Gentiles. He never describes Jews as being “under” the law but “in” (en) the law (though many translators miss this all-important distinction and use the English “in” and “under” interchangeably. Paul is very specific about his usage.). Only this reference to Christ as being “under” the law breaks the pattern. But Paul has already indicated above what he means by this. Christ came under the curse of the law by being hung on a tree. According to Paul’s interpretation, Christ temporarily fell outside of the law and stood condemned just like any Gentile sinner. That is why “born under the law” is the wrong translation here when one understands Paul’s argument. Paul clearly states that Christ came to save those “under” the law, that is, Gentiles. If you doubt this, refer to Romans 5:6: “Christ died for the ungodly.” Those without God are by definition Gentiles. Jews already serve God. Jews were already sons of God (Exod. 4:22, etc.). Now the Gentiles can become so, too.]. 6 And because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts [Again this is the new covenant: it is the Spirit writing the law of God on the hearts (minds) of Gentiles enabling them to appropriately obey God’s Torah.], who calls “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave [to sin, to the evil powers] but a son, and if you are a son, then you are also an heir through God [just like Jews who Paul never described as slaves.].

4:8 Formerly when you did not know God [What additional proof does anyone need that Paul is speaking to Gentiles? Gentiles did not “know” the God of Israel before Paul brought his gospel message to them. Jews have known God since Abraham], you were enslaved to beings that by nature are not gods at all [He means idols. He is writing to Gentiles!]. 9 But now that you have come to know God (or rather to be known by God), how can you turn back again to the weak and impoverished elemental forces. [These Christ-believing Gentiles were once idolators but seem to be going back to honoring the idols again]? Do you want to be enslaved to them all over again [“All over again.” They were once idolatrous Gentiles and are becoming so again]? 10 You are observing religious days and months and seasons and years [These could be Jewish feast days, as many claim. Paul does argue against Gentiles “working the law” to acquire righteousness. But he also accuses them of returning to idolatry (turning back to evil, supernatural beings). It seems reasonable, therefore, to suggest that the opposing teachers in Galatia were advocating the combining of Jewish and pagan rites with their Christ-faith. Scholars call this syncretism. Paul rejects this. It is a total misread to suggest that Paul’s opponents were Jews. Why would Jews encourage anyone to worship idols? The “religious days” could also simply be pagan festivals.]. 11 I fear for you that my work for you may have been in vain. 12 I beg you, brothers and sisters, be as I am [How should they “be like” Paul? Faithful and obedient, that’s how. More on that below.], because I too am as you are [How is Paul like the Galatians? Has he become a pagan? Has he rejected the Torah? Has he rejected Judaism? These are the claims of many traditional interpreters. The more likely reading, which is supported by what Paul will discuss further below, is that he continues to be persecuted for the way he teaches Gentile redemption just as they are being persecuted for following his gospel. See below.] You have done me no wrong!

4:16 So then, have I become your enemy by telling you the truth? 17 They [Paul is referring to those Galatians who were espousing the syncretistic approach discussed above. Below he will write as if there is one individual behind this entire effort.] court you eagerly, but for no good purpose; they want to exclude you [from their community and worship services, whatever form those took], so that you would seek them eagerly [By ostracizing those who have not yet ceded to the syncretists’ form of worship, the syncretists hope to make them jealous.].

4:20 I wish I could be with you now and change my tone of voice, because I am perplexed about you. 21 Tell me, you who want to be under the law [Here is that phrase again, used to indicate the curse pronounced by the law on “sinners” (Gentiles who are under the law) despite their vain attempts to selectively follow certain aspects of Torah (in this case, circumcision) without sharing in the tradition of faith (via Abraham or Christ)], do you not understand the law [As an observant Jew, Paul appeals to the law/Torah. It holds no condemnation for him.]?

Be here next time when we examine Paul’s frequently-misinterpreted allegory based on Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar as somehow disparaging to Judaism and Jerusalem. Nothing could be further from the truth.

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