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A Comment ar y i n t he Wes l ey a n Tr adi t i on

A Comment ar y i n t he Wes l eyan Tr adi t i on
* N e w B e a c o n B i b l e C o m m e n t a r y
G e o r g e L y o n s
Copyright 2012
by Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City
ISBN 978-0-8341-2402-8
Printed in the United States of America
Cover Design: J.R. Caines
Interior Design: Sharon Page
Unless otherwise indicated all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, New International Version


Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.
American Standard Version (ASV).
King James Version (KJV).
The following copyrighted versions of the Bible are used by permission:
The Contemporary English Version (CEV). Copyright by the American Bible Society, 1991, 1992.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (ESV), copyright 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. All
rights reserved.
Good News Translation

(Todays English Version, Second Edition) (GNT). Copyright 1992 American Bible Society. All
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(GW). Copyright 1995 by Gods Word to the Nations. Used by permission of Baker Publishing Group.
All rights reserved.
Holman Christian Standard Bible

(HCSB). Copyright 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003 by Holman Bible Publishers. All rights
International Standard Version (ISV). Copyright 1996-2011 The ISV Foundation. All rights reserved internationally.
The New American Bible (NAB). Copyright 1970 by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, 3211 4th St. N.E., Washing-
ton, DC 20017-1194. All rights reserved.
The New American Standard Bible


), copyright The Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972,
1973, 1975, 1977, 1995.
The New Century Version (NCV). Copyright 1987, 1988, 1991 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. All rights reserved.
The New English Bible (NEB), the Delegates of the Oxford University Press and the Syndics of the Cambridge University
Press 1961, 1970.
The NET Bible

(NET), copyright 1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C., http://bible.org. Quoted by permission. All
rights reserved.
The Holy Bible, New International Version

(NIV 2011

). Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by

permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
The New Jerusalem Bible (NJB), copyright 1985 by Darton, Longman & Todd, Ltd., and Doubleday, a division of Bantam
Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. Reprinted by permission.
The New King James Version (NKJV). Copyright 1979, 1980, 1982 Thomas Nelson, Inc.
The Holy Bible, New Living Translation (NLT), copyright 1996, 2004. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.,
Carol Stream, IL 60188. All rights reserved.
The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the Na-
tional Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA. All rights reserved.
The Revised English Bible (REB). Copyright 1989 by Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press.
The Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the Bible, copyright 1946, 1952, 1971 by the Division of Christian Education of the
National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA. All rights reserved.
The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language (TM), copyright 2002 by Eugene Peterson. All rights reserved.
Holy Bible, Todays New International Version


). Copyright 2001, 2005 by Biblica. All rights reserved worldwide.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Lyons, George.
Galatians / George Lyons.
p. cm. (New Beacon Bible commentary)
Includes bibliographical references.
ISBN 978-0-8341-2402-8 (pbk.)
1. Bible. N.T. GalatiansCommentaries. I. Title.
BS2685.53.L96 2012
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
For Terre
General Editors
Alex Varughese
Ph.D., Drew University
Professor of Biblical Literature
Mount Vernon Nazarene University
Mount Vernon, Ohio
Roger Hahn
Ph.D., Duke University
Dean of the Faculty
Professor of New Testament
Nazarene Theological Seminary
Kansas City, Missouri
George Lyons
Ph.D., Emory University
Professor of New Testament
Northwest Nazarene University
Nampa, Idaho
Joseph Coleson
Ph.D., Brandeis University
Professor of Old Testament
Nazarene Theological Seminary
Kansas City, Missouri
Robert Branson
Ph.D., Boston University
Professor of Biblical Literature
Olivet Nazarene University
Bourbonnais, Illinois
Alex Varughese
Ph.D., Drew University
Professor of Biblical Literature
Mount Vernon Nazarene University
Mount Vernon, Ohio
Jim Edlin
Ph.D., Southern Baptist Theological
Professor of Biblical Literature and
Chair, Division of Religion and
MidAmerica Nazarene University
Olathe, Kansas
Kent Brower
Ph.D., The University of Manchester
Vice Principal
Senior Lecturer in Biblical Studies
Nazarene Theological College
Manchester, England
George Lyons
Ph.D., Emory University
Professor of New Testament
Northwest Nazarene University
Nampa, Idaho
Section Editors
General Editors Preface 9
Authors Preface 11
Abbreviations 13
Bibliography 19
Table of Sidebars 33
A. Author 35
B. Addressees 35
C. Date 37
D. Occasion 37
1. Paul 38
2. The Galatians 39
3. The Agitators 40
E. Purpose 43
F. Organization 44
G. Argumentative Logic 45
I. Letter Opening: Galatians 1:1-9 47
A. Prescript (1:1-5) 47
1. Senders (vv 1-2a) 49
2. Recipients (v 2b) 51
3. Greetings (vv 3-5) 52
B. Epistolary Rebuke (1:6-9) 58
II. Body of the Letter: Galatians 1:106:10 67
A. Autobiographical Narrative (1:102:21) 67
1. Thesis: Pauls Divine Gospel (1:10-12) 67
2. Proof (1:132:21) 76
a. Pauls Conversion-Call (1:13-17) 77
i. Before: Pauls Former Life in Judaism (1:13-14) 77
ii. After: Christ Revealed to Paul (1:15-17) 81
b. Pauls Limited Contacts with Jerusalem (1:182:10) 90
i. A Brief Visit with Peter (1:18-20) 90
ii. Absence from Jerusalem (1:21-24) 94
iii. Jerusalem Recognized Pauls Gospel (2:1-10) 100
c. Pauls Opposition to Peter in Antioch (2:11-21) 128
i. The Incident (2:11-14) 128
ii. The Implications (2:15-21) 141
B. Life in the Spirit vs. Law (3:16:10) 169
1. The Promise of the Spirit Fullled (3:1-18) 170
a. The Evidence of Personal Experience (3:1-5) 170
b. Proof by Appeal to Scripture: The Example of Abraham (3:6-14) 180
c. Proof by Appeal to Human Analogy (3:15-18) 200
2. The Purpose of the Law (3:19-29) 207
a. The Temporary Role of the Law (3:19-22) 209
b. The Law as Guardian (3:23-25) 217
c. Application (3:26-29) 224
3. God Sent His Son That We Might Become His Children (4:1-20) 236
a. Pauls Argument (4:1-7) 239
b. Application to the Galatians (4:8-20) 250
i. Past, Present, and Uncertain Future (4:8-11) 250
ii. Pleading for a Christian Future (4:12-20) 261
4. Scriptural Appeal: Abrahams Wives and Sons (4:215:1) 278
5. Moral Guidance (5:16:10) 299
a. Freedom from Circumcision (5:1-12) 300
i. Neither Circumcision Nor Uncircumcision (5:1-6) 301
ii. The Agitators Are Mistaken (5:7-12) 312
b. Life in the Spirit (5:13-26) 324
i. Freedom to Love (5:13-15) 325
ii. Live by the Spirit (5:16-26) 334
(a) Either Spirit or Flesh (5:16-18) 335
(b) Works of the Flesh vs. Fruit of the Spirit (5:19-23) 340
(c) Crucifying the Flesh to Keep in Step with the Spirit (5:24-26) 356
c. More Advice (5:266:10) 360
i. Fullling the Law of Christ (5:26 6:5) 361
ii. Do Good to All (6:6-10) 373
III. Autographical Peroration: Galatians 6:11-18 383
The purpose of the New Beacon Bible Commentary is to make available
to pastors and students in the twenty-rst century a biblical commentary that
reects the best scholarship in the Wesleyan theological tradition. The com-
mentary project aims to make this scholarship accessible to a wider audience
to assist them in their understanding and proclamation of Scripture as Gods
Writers of the volumes in this series not only are scholars within the
Wesleyan theological tradition and experts in their eld but also have special
interest in the books assigned to them. Their task is to communicate clearly
the critical consensus and the full range of other credible voices who have
commented on the Scriptures. Though scholarship and scholarly contribu-
tion to the understanding of the Scriptures are key concerns of this series,
it is not intended as an academic dialogue within the scholarly community.
Commentators of this series constantly aim to demonstrate in their work the
signicance of the Bible as the churchs book and the contemporary relevance
and application of the biblical message. The projects overall goal is to make
available to the church and for her service the fruits of the labors of scholars
who are committed to their Christian faith.
The New International Version (NIV) is the reference version of the Bible
used in this series; however, the focus of exegetical study and comments is the
biblical text in its original language. When the commentary uses the NIV, it is
printed in bold. The text printed in bold italics is the translation of the author.
Commentators also refer to other translations where the text may be difcult
or ambiguous.
The structure and organization of the commentaries in this series seeks
to facilitate the study of the biblical text in a systematic and methodical way.
Study of each biblical book begins with an Introduction section that gives an
overview of authorship, date, provenance, audience, occasion, purpose, socio-
logical/cultural issues, textual history, literary features, hermeneutical issues,
and theological themes necessary to understand the book. This section also
includes a brief outline of the book and a list of general works and standard
The commentary section for each biblical book follows the outline of
the book presented in the introduction. In some volumes, readers will nd
section overviews of large portions of scripture with general comments on
their overall literary structure and other literary features. A consistent feature
of the commentary is the paragraph-by-paragraph study of biblical texts. This
section has three parts: Behind the Text, In the Text, and From the Text.
The goal of the Behind the Text section is to provide the reader with all
the relevant information necessary to understand the text. This includes spe-
cic historical situations reected in the text, the literary context of the text,
sociological and cultural issues, and literary features of the text.
In the Text explores what the text says, following its verse-by-verse
structure. This section includes a discussion of grammatical details, word
studies, and the connectedness of the text to other biblical books/passages or
other parts of the book being studied (the canonical relationship). This section
provides transliterations of key words in Hebrew and Greek and their literal
meanings. The goal here is to explain what the author would have meant and/
or what the audience would have understood as the meaning of the text. This
is the largest section of the commentary.
The From the Text section examines the text in relation to the following
areas: theological signicance, intertextuality, the history of interpretation,
use of the Old Testament scriptures in the New Testament, interpretation in
later church history, actualization, and application.
The commentary provides sidebars on topics of interest that are impor-
tant but not necessarily part of an explanation of the biblical text. These topics
are informational items and may cover archaeological, historical, literary, cul-
tural, and theological matters that have relevance to the biblical text. Occa-
sionally, longer detailed discussions of special topics are included as excurses.
We offer this series with our hope and prayer that readers will nd it a
valuable resource for their understanding of Gods Word and an indispensable
tool for their critical engagement with the biblical texts.
Roger Hahn, Centennial Initiative General Editor
Alex Varughese, General Editor (Old Testament)
George Lyons, General Editor (New Testament)
I have lived with Galatians for over thirty-ve years. I began working in
earnest to understand this passionate letter with research on my doctoral dis-
sertation and have been unable to escape its fascination. My basic understanding
has remained unchanged since I nished the dissertation in 1982. But parts of
Galatians continued to puzzle me until the assignment of writing this volume
for the New Beacon Bible Commentary fell my lot in 2003. As a senior scholar
it was exhilarating to experience regularly ashes of insight: Oh, now I get it!
The process has not been without hiccups. After getting only a good start
on ch 1 of Galatians, I agreed to serve as section editor for the Pauline Epistles
and soon thereafter as general editor for the NT volumes of the NBBC. The rst
volume calling for my editorial attention was Romans. The nished project, a
happy collaboration, delayed my work on Galatians.
While working on the NBBC, I maintained my day job as professor of
New Testament at Northwest Nazarene University. I would be remiss not to
thank my colleagues in the School of Theology and Christian Ministries, who
gave me the exibility I needed to devote more time to the commentary; my
school dean (Mark Maddix) and vice presidents for academic affairs (Sam Dunn
and Burton Webb), who allowed me to buy out part of my teaching load
for the past two years; and to NNUs Riley Library staff, who pursued numer-
ous interlibrary loan requests; and my students, who endured being repeatedly
pointed to Galatians as illustrative of the issues in biblical interpretation. Spe-
cial thanks must go to a dozen friends who took the time to read carefully and
critique a late draft of the commentary. Three offered detailed suggestions for
improving itFrank Carver, Don Dunnington, and Terry Harman. Of course, I
accept full responsibility for whatever inadequacies remain.
The real hero throughout the entire process of researching and writing the
commentary has been my long-suffering wife, Terre. To nd the time I needed
for the commentary meant countless hours of self-exile in my study, making her
a virtual widow. Thanks, Terre, for your patience and support.
George Lyons
July 4, 2011 S
With a few exceptions, these abbreviations follow those in The SBL Handbook of
Style (Alexander 1999).
see the commentary at
A.D. anno Domini
B.C. before Christ
B.C.E. before the Common Era
C.E. Common Era
ca. circa, around
cf. compare
ch chapter
chs chapters
e.g. exempli gratia, for example
esp. especially
etc. et cetera, and the rest
f(f). and the following one(s)
i.e. id est, that is
ktl kai ta loipa (Greek: etc.)
lit. literally
LXX Septuagint
MS manuscript
MSS manuscripts
MT Masoretic Text (of the OT)
n. note
n.d. no date
n.p. no place; no publisher; no page
nn. notes
NT New Testament
OT Old Testament
Q Qumran
s.v. sub verbo, under the word
v verse
vs. versus
vv verses
Modern English Versions
ASV American Standard Version
CEV Contemporary English Version
ESV English Standard Version
GNT Good News Translation
GW Gods Word Translation
HCSB Holman Christian Standard Bible
ISV International Standard Version
KJV King James Version
NAB New American Bible
NASB New American Standard Bible
NCV New Century Version
NEB New English Bible
NET New English Translation
NIV New International Version (1984 ed.)
NIV 2011 New International Version (2011 ed.)
NJB New Jerusalem Bible
NKJV New King James Version
NLT New Living Translation
NRSV New Revised Standard Version
REB Revised English Bible
RSV Revised Standard Version
TM The Message
TNIV Todays New International Version
Bar Baruch
Add Dan Additions to Daniel
Pr Azar Prayer of Azariah
Bel Bel and the Dragon
Sg Three Song of the Three Young Men
Sus Susanna
12 Esd 12 Esdras
Add Esth Additions to Esther
Ep Jer Epistle of Jeremiah
Jdt Judith
12 Macc 12 Maccabees
34 Macc 34 Maccabees
Pr Man Prayer of Manasseh
Ps 151 Psalm 151
Sir Sirach/Ecclesiasticus
Tob Tobit
Wis Wisdom of Solomon
OT Pseudepigrapha
Apoc. Ab. Apocalypse of Abraham
Apoc. Mos. Apocalypse of Moses
As. Mos. Assumption of Moses
2 Bar. 2 Baruch (Syriac Apocalypse)
4 Bar. 4 Baruch (Paraleipomena Jeremiou)
Old Testament
Gen Genesis
Exod Exodus
Lev Leviticus
Num Numbers
Deut Deuteronomy
Josh Joshua
Judg Judges
Ruth Ruth
12 Sam 12 Samuel
12 Kgs 12 Kings
12 Chr 12 Chronicles
Ezra Ezra
Neh Nehemiah
Esth Esther
Job Job
Ps/Pss Psalm/Psalms
Prov Proverbs
Eccl Ecclesiastes
Song Song of Songs /
Song of Solomon
Isa Isaiah
Jer Jeremiah
Lam Lamentations
Ezek Ezekiel
Dan Daniel
Hos Hosea
Joel Joel
Amos Amos
Obad Obadiah
Jonah Jonah
Mic Micah
Nah Nahum
Hab Habakkuk
Zeph Zephaniah
Hag Haggai
Zech Zechariah
Mal Malachi
(Note: Chapter and
verse numbering in the
MT and LXX often
differ compared to
those in English Bibles.
To avoid confusion, all
biblical references follow
the chapter and verse
numbering in English
translations, even when the
text in the MT and LXX is
under discussion.)
New Testament
Matt Matthew
Mark Mark
Luke Luke
John John
Acts Acts
Rom Romans
12 Cor 12
Gal Galatians
Eph Ephesians
Phil Philippians
Col Colossians
12 Thess 12
12 Tim 12 Timothy
Titus Titus
Phlm Philemon
Heb Hebrews
Jas James
12 Pet 12 Peter
123 John 123 John
Jude Jude
Rev Revelation
Print Conventions for Translations
Bold font NIV (bold without quotation marks in the passage under study; elsewhere
in the regular font, with quotation marks and no further identication)
Bold italic font Authors translation (without quotation marks)
Behind the Text: Literary or historical background information average readers might not know
from reading the biblical text alone
In the Text: Comments on the biblical text, words, phrases, grammar, and so forth
From the Text: The use of the text by later interpreters, contemporary relevance, theological and
ethical implications of the text, with particular emphasis on Wesleyan concerns
1 En. 1 Enoch (Ethiopic Apocalypse)
2 En. 2 Enoch (Slavonic Apocalypse)
4 Ezra 4 Ezra
Jos. Asen. Joseph and Aseneth
Jub. Jubilees
Let. Aris. Letter of Aristeas
Pss. Sol. Psalms of Solomon
Sib. Or. Sibylline Oracles
T. 12 Patr. Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs
T. Ash. Testament of Asher
T. Jos. Testament of Joseph
T. Jud. Testament of Judah
T. Levi Testament of Levi
T. Sim. Testament of Simeon
T. Job Testament of Job
T. Mos. Testament of Moses
Dead Sea Scrolls
1QH Thanksgiving Hymns
1QM War Scroll
1QpHab Pesher on Habbakuk
1QS Rule of the Community
4Q164 Pesher on Isaiah (fragment 4)
4Q169 Pesher on Nahum
4Q174 Florilegium/Midrash on Eschatology
Isaiah Scroll (fragment 4)
11Q19 Temple Scroll
11QT Temple Scroll
CD Damascus Document
Abr. De Abrahamo
Alleg. Interp. Allegorical Interpretation
Contempl. Life On the Contemplative Life
Det. Quod deterius potiori insidari soleat
Dreams On Dreams
Drunkenness On Drunkenness
Embassy On the Embassy to Gaius
L.A.B. Liber antiquitatum biblicarum (Pseudo-Philo)
Moses On the Life of Moses
Praem. De praemiis et poenis
Sacrices On the Sacrices of Cain and Abel
Sobriety On Sobriety
Ag. Ap. Against Apion
Ant. Jewish Antiquities
J.W. Jewish War
Life The Life
Vita Vita
Rabbinic Literature
b. Babylonian Talmud
)Abot )Abot
Ber. Berakot
Midr. Cant. Midrash on Canticles (Song of Songs)
Tg. Yer. I Targum Yerus ] almi I
Tg. Yer. II Targum Yerus ] almi II
y. Jerusalem Talmud
New Testament Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha
Acts Barn. Acts of Barnabas
Ep. Apos. Epistle to the Apostles
Gos. Heb. Gospel of the Hebrews
Gos. Thom. Gospel of Thomas (Nag Hammadi)
Hom. Homilies
Prot. Jas. Protevangelium of James
Ps.-Clem. Pseudo-Clementines
Recog. Recognitions
Apostolic Fathers
Barn. Barnabas
12 Clem. 12 Clement
Did. Didache
Diogn. Diognetus
Herm. Mand. Shepherd of Hermas, Mandate
Herm. Sim. Shepherd of Hermas, Similitude
Herm. Vis. Shepherd of Hermas, Vision
Ign. Eph. Ignatius, To the Ephesians
Ign. Magn. Ignatius, To the Magnesians
Ign. Smyrn. Ignatius, To the Smyrnaeans
Ign. Phld. Ignatius, To the Philadelphians
Ign. Rom. Ignatius, To the Romans
Ign. Pol. Ignatius, To Polycarp
Ign. Trall. Ignatius, To the Trallians
Mart. Pol. Martyrdom of Polycarp
Pol. Phil. Polycarp, To the Philippians
Other Church Fathers
Apol. Tertullian, Apology
Carn. Chr. Tertullian, The Flesh of Christ
Dial. Justin, Dialogue with Trypho
Haer. Irenaeus, Against Heresies
Hist. eccl. Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History
Inst. Lactantius, The Divine Institutes
Marc. Tertullian, Against Marcion
Paed. Clement of Alexandria, Christ the Educator
Pan. Epiphanius, Refutation of All Heresies
Trad. ap. Hippolytus, The Apostolic Tradition
Vir. ill. Jerome, De viris illustribus
Other Greek and Latin Works
Anab. Xenophon, Anabasis
Diatr. Epictetus, Diatribai (Dissertationes)
Ep. Seneca (the Younger), Epistulae morales
Eth. nic. Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics
Inst. Quintilian, Institutio oratoria
Inv. Cicero, De inventione rhetorica
Mar. Plutarch, Marius
Mor. Plutarch, Moralia
Phaedr. Plato, Phaedrus
Pol. Aristotle, Politica
Quaest. conv. Plutarch, Quaestionum convivialum libri IX
Quaest. rom. Plutarch, Quaestiones romanae et graecae
Rhet. Aristotle, Rhetorica
Modern Journals and Reference Works
ABD Anchor Bible Dictionary (see Freedman)
ANF Ante-Nicene Fathers
APOT The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament (see Charles)
BDAG Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature
(see Bauer)
BDF Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (see
CBQ Catholic Biblical Quarterly
DPL Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (see Hawthorne)
EDNT Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (see Balz and Schneider)
HBD HarperCollins Bible Dictionary (see Achtemeier)
HTR Harvard Theological Review
JBL Journal of Biblical Literature
JSNT Journal for the Study of the New Testament
LSJ Greek-English Lexicon (see Liddell)
NBBC New Beacon Bible Commentary
NBD New Bible Dictionary
NIDB New Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible (see Sackenfeld)
NIDNTT New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (see Brown)
NovT Novum Testamentum
NTA New Testament Apocrypha (see Hennecke)
NTS New Testament Studies
OTP Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (see Charlesworth)
TDNT Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (see Kittel and Friedrich)
WesTJ Wesleyan Theological Journal
WUNT Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament
ZNW Zeitschrift fr die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde der Alteren Kirche
Greek Transliteration Hebrew Consonant Transliteration
Greek Letter English
a alpha a
b beta b
g gamma g
g gamma nasal n (before g, k,
j, x)
d delta d
e epsilon e
z zeta z
h eta e
u theta th
i iota i
k kappa k
l lambda l
m mu m
n nu n
j xi x
o omicron o
p pi p
r rho r
r initial rho rh
s/ sigma s
t tau t
y upsilon y
y upsilon u (in
au, eu, eu, ou,
w phi ph
x chi ch
c psi ps
v omega o
rough h (before initial
breathing vowels or
Hebrew/ Letter English
) alef )
b bet b
g gimel g
d dalet d
h he h
w vav v or w
z zayin z
x khet h

+ tet t

y yod y
K/k kaf k
l lamed l
M/m mem m
N/n nun n
s samek s
( ayin (
P/p pe p; f (spirant)
C/c tsade s

q qof q
r resh r
#& sin s
#$ shin s^
t tav t; th (spirant)

Achtemeier, Paul J. 1985. Harpers Bible Dictionary. 1st ed. San Francisco: Harper & Row.
Aland, Barbara, Kurt Aland, Matthew Black, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger, and Allen Wikgren, eds.
1993. The Greek New Testament. 4th ed. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft.
Aland, Barbara, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, and Bruce M. Metzger, eds. 2004.
Novum Testamentum Graece Post Eberhard et Erwin Nestle. 27th ed. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesell-
Allison, Dale C. 1992. Peter and Cephas: One and the Same. JBL 111:489-95.
Amiot, Franois. 1946. Saint Paul. Eptre aux Galates. Eptre aux Thessaloniciens. Verbum Salutis, 14. Paris:
Annen, Franz. 1990. thaumazo3 . Pages 134-35 in vol. 2 of EDNT.
Arichea, Daniel C., Jr., and Eugene Albert Nida. 1976. A Handbook on Pauls Letter to the Galatians. Helps
for Translators. New York: United Bible Societies.
Arnold, Clinton C. 1996. Returning to the Domain of the Powers: Stoicheia as Evil Spirits in Galatians
4:3, 9. NovT 38:55-76.
Auln, Gustav. 2003. Christus Victor: An Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of Atonement.
Trans. A. G. Herbert. Eugene, Ore.: Wipf & Stock.
Bachmann, Michael. 1998. 4QMMT und Galaterbrief, mtzshi hchorh und ERGA NOMOU. ZNW 89:91-113.
________. 2000. HIEROSOLYMA und IEROUSALHM im Galaterbrief. ZNW 91:288-89.
Bacon, B. W. 1929. Pauls Triumph at Antioch. Journal of Religion 9:204-23.
Baird, William. 1957. What Is the Kerygma? A Study of 1 Cor. 15:3-8 and Gal. 1:11-17. JBL 76:181-91.
Balz, Horst Robert. 1990a. kosmos. Pages 309-12 in vol. 2 of EDNT.
________. 1990b. Syria. Pages 311-12 in vol. 3 of EDNT.
________. 1990c. tarasso3 . Pages 335-36 in vol. 3 of EDNT.
Balz, Horst Robert, and Gerhard Schneider, eds. 1990a. Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament. 10 vols.
Translated by Virgil P. Howard and James W. Thompson. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
________. 1990b. ko3mos. Page 333 in vol. 2 of EDNT.
Bammel, Ernst. 1968. pto3chos, ktl. Pages 884-915 in vol. 6 of TDNT.
Banks, Robert. 1980. Pauls Idea of Community: The Early House Churches in Their Historical Setting. Green-
wood, S.C.: Attic Press.
Barclay, John M. G. 1987. Mirror Reading a Polemical Letter: Galatians as a Test Case. JSNT 31:73-93.
________. 1988. Obeying the Truth: A Study of Pauls Ethics in Galatians. Studies of the New Testament and
Its World. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.
Barclay, William. 1962. Flesh and Spirit: An Examination of Galatians 5:19-23. New York: SCM Press.
Barr, James. 1961. The Semantics of Biblical Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Barrett, C. K. 1963. Reading Through Romans. London: Epworth.
________. 1970. The Signs of an Apostle. London: Epworth.
________. 1976. The Allegory of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar in the Argument of Galatians. Pages 1-16 in
Rechtfertigung: Festschrift fr Ernst Ksemann zum 70 Geburtstag. Edited by Johannes Friedrick, Wolf-
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Sidebars Location
Godfearers Introduction
Further Reading on Apocalyptic 1:1-5
Further Reading: First-Century Slavery 1:10
Pleasing People 1:10
Conversion vs. Vocation 1:12
The Spelling of Jerusalem 1:17
Map of Ancient Arabia 1:17
Pauline Chronology 1:17
Cephas = Peter 1:18
James Outside the NT 1:19
Map of Asia Minor, Syria and Cilicia, and Cyprus 1:21
Barnabas 2:1
Titus 2:1
Why Circumcision Mattered 2:3
The Rest of the Story 2:4
Freedom in Galatians 2:4
John 2:9
The Apostolic Conference: A Historical Reconstruction 2:10
Why Didnt Paul Criticize James? 2:12
Did Pauls Position Prevail in Antioch? 2:14
Law in Galatians 2:16
Flesh 2:16
Cruciformity 2:19
He Gave Himself 2:20
The Evil Eye 3:1
Suffering and Early Christianity 3:4
The Gift of the Spirit 3:5
Abraham in Romans 4 3:6
Gentiles as Ethnophaulism 3:8
Did Paul Consider Perfect Obedience to the Law Possible? 3:11
Faith vs. Works in Romans 4 3:12
Redemption 3:13
Salvation as Interchange 3:13
Promise 3:14
Gnostic Excesses 3:20
Under Law 3:23
Further Reading: First-Century Attitudes Toward Women 3:26-29
The Language of Baptism in the New Testament 3:27
Clothed with Christ 3:27
Light from 1 Corinthians 3:28
Speculating About Pauls Illness 4:13
Paul as Parent 4:19
Table of Contrasts: Two Covenants 4:25
Heavenly, Future, Invisible Jerusalem 4:26
Victory in Heaven, Suffering on Earth 4:27
The Disputed Interpretation of Galatians 4:30 4:30
The Translation of Sarx 5:13
The Spirit and the Kingdom of God 5:21
Love in Pauls Letters 5:22
Test Everything 6:4
This introduction summarizes the essential behind-the-text
information necessary for making sense of the ancient letter we
call Galatians. On the essentials most interpreters agree. More in-
depth commentaries and introductions may be consulted for de-
tails (see Nanos 2010). Some hotly debated issues have little effect
on the interpretation of the letter.
Limited internal information as to what prompted Paul to
write has made Galatians the victim of highly speculative recon-
structions. These depend more on the imagination of scholars than
on the textual data. I call attention to major disagreements among
interpreters and indicate when I depart from the scholarly consen-
sus. See the commentary () for exegetical evidence supporting
the conclusions stated briey here.
A. Author
The letter claims the apostle Paul wrote it ( 1:1; 5:2). No
serious contemporary scholar questions that claim (see Burton
1920, lxv; Betz 1979, 1). In fact, most appeal to Galatians to as-
sess the authenticity of the other Pauline letters. It remains uncer-
tain what inuence Pauls anonymous co-senders ( 1:2) and the
amanuensis responsible for writing the letter ( 6:11) may also
have had on the letters composition.
B. Addressees
Paul addressed an original audience consisting of his former-
ly pagan converts ( 4:8). These so-called Gentile Christians (
2:2) apparently met in household gatherings in unnamed urban
centers in Galatia ( 1:2; 3:1-5; 4:12-16). During Roman times
Galatia referred to a province in central Anatoliaa wide stripe
down the middle of Asia Minor stretching from the Black Sea
in the north to the Mediterranean in the south ( 1:21). It was
named for the Gallic tribes who migrated there from Western Europe early in
the third century B.C. (see Mitchell 1993; Kahl 2010, 31-75). When it became
a Roman province late in the rst century B.C., the southern regions of Pisidia,
Pamphilia, Lycaonia, and Phrygia were attached to the old Celtic kingdoms
territory in the north.
Scholars have for over a century debated inconclusively whether the
communities Paul addressed were in north (territorial) or south (provincial)
Galatia. The north was populated primarily by ethnic Galatians, descendants
of the Gauls. Its major cities included Ankyra, Pessinus, and Tavium. During
the mid-rst century, there were few (Betz 1979, 5) or no (Martyn 1997, 16)
Jewish communities in northern Galatia. The more densely populated south
included descendants of a variety of tribes and ethnic groups, including Jews.
Its major cities were Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and Pisidian Antioch.
Acts reports Pauls travels in both parts of the province (13:14, 51; 14:6;
16:6; 18:23; 20:4). But it never mentions churches in the north, nor that he
wrote letters. (So much for the argument from silence!) Since Paul did not iden-
tify his addressees specically and known literary and archaeological data have
not resolved the debate, certainty is impossible. Fortunately, ones decision on
the dispute has little effect on the interpretation of the letter (Schreiner 2010,
Pauls founding visit to Galatia was not on his missionary agenda. Appar-
ently recovering from injuries received from persecution for preaching else-
where, the Galatians assisted him in his recovery. They warmly welcomed
and befriended him, and joyfully accepted the gospel he preached ( 3:1-5;
Modern readers should be aware of two socioreligious realities of central
Anatolia in the second half of the rst century A.D., regardless of the location
of Pauls churches there. They are the native cult of the mountain mother god-
desses, whose devotees practiced self-castration (see Elliott 1999 and 2008),
and the omnipresent cult of the Roman emperor (see Winter 1994, 125-43;
Hardin 2008; Kahl 2010).
That a Jewish Christian itinerate preacher like Paul had made friends
and Christian converts in the unfriendly world of Greco-Roman paganism
was nothing short of a miracle ( 3:1-5; 4:12-20). After all he had invested
in them, he was not prepared simply to abandon them to preachers of a false
gospel ( 1:6-9).
Modern readers of Galatians must always keep in mind that they are
reading anothers mail. The original audience of Pauls circular letter to his
churches in Galatia did not have the luxury of studying it as we may. They
lived in a scribal culture where illiteracy [was] the rule rather than the excep-
tion (Mitternacht 2007, 53).
Many of the detailed nuances of the text that occupy commentaries (in-
cluding this one) probably went unnoticed by those who rst listened to the
apostles emissary read the letter in their hearing. Mitternacht surveys what
the aural audience would have remembered based on situational pertinence,
epistolary formulas, rhetorical features, strategic maneuvers, and scriptural
proofs. He concludes:
Having heard the letter from beginning to end, the listeners in Gala-
tia were left with a lasting impression that Pauls concern for the Gala-
tian addressees was that they should share his passion for the passion of
Christ. His request Become as I meant no less than Participate with
me in the imitatio Christi crucixi. (Mitternacht 2007, 91)
Throughout the commentary, I refer to this dominant concern of the letter
with the term cruciformity ( 2:19 sidebar).
C. Date
The date of the letter remains as uncertain as its destination. If Paul
wrote to churches in the southern part of the province (Acts 1314), Gala-
tians could be his earliest letter, as early as A.D. 48 (Carson, Moo, and Morris
1992, 294). This assumes that Pauls Jerusalem visit reported in Acts 11:28-
30 is the same as that in Gal 2:1-10. But if the Jerusalem meetings reported
in Acts 15 and Gal 2:1-10 recount the same event (as seems likely, 1:17;
2:10), the letter must have been written sometime after A.D. 47-51, whether
addressed to churches in the north or south.
The word rst in 4:13 () need not imply that Paul made more than
one visit to Galatia before writing the letter. Depending on the force of the
word quickly in 1:6 (), he may have written soon after his visit. Certainty
is impossible. But the striking similarities between Galatians and Romans
commend a date nearer that of the latter. We can date Romans condently
ca. A.D. 57 (see Greathouse and Lyons 2008a, 23). This would suggest a date
for Galatians ca. A.D. 54 or 55. When Paul wrote, his circumstances prevented
him from revisiting Galatia ( 4:20), perhaps during his ministry in Macedo-
nia or Ephesus (Kmmel 1975, 303-4).
D. Occasion
Paul never explained why he wrote the letter. His rst readers almost
certainly knew well enough. But this lack of information puts those who can
only eavesdrop on his side of the conversation at a distinct disadvantage.
Paul did not indicate the letters occasion (what prompted him to write)
or its purpose (what he expected the Galatians to do in response). This de-
ciency of data has opened the door to a variety of theories. Most of these are
plausible enough. But they often reveal more about the assumptions of their
scholarly sponsors than about Galatians.
Those who take seriously the canonical authority of the biblical text
must acknowledge when we move from exegesis to speculation. My insistence
on the priority of Galatians itself over imaginative reconstructions of its oc-
casion puts me in a minority of commentators. Readers may decide for them-
selves whether my alternative approach succeeds in making sense of what we
can know with some certainty.
I distinguish clearly what Paul explicitly wrote from what scholars have
proposed to ll in the gaps. I focus on the information from three perspec-
tivesthat of Paul, the Galatians, and the Agitatorsthe anonymous antago-
nists lurking in the background.
We should admit from the outset that all we know about each of these
three depends entirely on what Paul saw t to mention in the letter. We can be
certain that the Galatians and the Agitators would have presented themselves
somewhat differently. And we should admit that Paul did not claim to play
fair. He was not trying to be objective and failed. He was writing to winto
persuade the Galatians that the Agitators were wrong and to get them to reaf-
rm his understanding of the gospel.
1. Paul
Sometime after the apostles departure from Galatia, his converts there
were thrown into confusion ( 5:10) by unnamed preachers who persuaded
( 5:8) them of the plausibility of a different gospel ( 1:6-10). He consid-
ered this message a perversion of the true gospel of Christ and really no gos-
pel at all ( 1:7; 2:5, 14). Paul was astonished ( 1:6), incensed ( 1:8-9;
5:12), mystied ( 2:14; 4:9, 15), fearful, exasperated ( 4:11), conciliatory,
perplexed ( 4:20), concerned ( 5:2-4), and overwhelmed ( 6:17) by
the turn of events. But nothing in the letter indicates that he was put on the
defensive (against Schreiner 2010, 33-34).
Paul did not say how he learned of the threatened defection of the Ga-
latians or how much he knew about those responsible. Were his informants
friends or foes? Did he know of specic problems in one community and as-
sume that similar problems existed in all the Christian households scattered
in several cities ( 1:2)? Did he send the same circular letter to them all
because the threat was endemic and of such epidemic proportions that it re-
quired a shotgun approach to attack it? Or, did he offer a one-size-ts-all
solution simply because he did not know the details? We would like to know
more than we do about how many churches Paul addressed, how far apart they
were, and how these churches networked.
All we can know depends upon Pauls letter. We are uninformed as
to how the Galatians or the Agitators saw the situation he addressed. The
churchs canonization of Galatians assigns the apostles perspective a privi-
leged standing. He claimed to speak for God ( 1:1, 11) and made no attempt
to be open-minded or even-handed in his response to the developments in
Galatia. He was not concerned to put the best possible interpretation on the
motives of the opposition or the response of the Galatians to them. His singu-
lar goal was to persuade the Galatians to his point of view ( 5:10).
2. The Galatians
Paul characterized the consequences of the Galatians openness to the
persuasion of the opposing preachers as desertion, apostasy ( 1:6; 4:9),
confusion ( 1:7; 5:10), folly, deception ( 3:1, 3), alienation from Christ,
falling from grace ( 5:4), tripped up, disobedience to the truth ( 5:7),
inuenced by evil ( 5:9), and self-destructive factionalism ( 5:15). Their
friendship with the Agitators threatened to render their previous experienc-
es as Christians for nothing ( 3:4). They had treated Paul, their former
friend, as an enemy ( 4:16), so that he feared his efforts on their behalf were
wasted ( 4:11).
But Paul was not prepared to give up on the Galatians. He was con-
dent in the Lord that they would accept his point of view ( 5:10). From the
outset of the letter, his conditional curse on those aligned with the false gospel
( 1:8-9) urged his audience to reject the Agitators. He reminded them of the
undeniable reality of their conversion ( 3:1-5). Their reception of the Spirit
was proof sufcient that they were already the children of Abraham ( 3:14,
26-29; 4:6-7).
Paul insisted that no mark in the Galatians esh could perfect what
the Spirit had already done ( 3:2-4). Christ had freed them from their old
lives of slavery ( 4:45:1). Circumcision would mean the surrender of that
freedom. They did not need to become Jews to gain full standing as children of
Abraham. They needed to resist the overtures of the Agitators to get circum-
cised, to stand rm in their Christ-won freedom ( 5:1, 13), and to keep in
step with the Spirit (5:25).
We can only speculate what made the circumcision-gospel appealing
to the Galatians. Were those rst persuaded of the necessity of circumcision
anxious to perfect their standing as Abrahams children ( ch 3)? Or, were
they convinced on more pragmatic grounds? For example, did they hope that
as Jewish converts they would be exempt from participation in the Imperial
cult? or, that circumcision would spare them from persecution by civil au-
thorities for their noncompliance ( 4:10; 6:12-13)?
Whatever the appeal from whatever the ultimate and secondary sources,
it seems obvious that the issue of circumcision caused internal division within
the Galatian Christian communities. Did the early adopters urge their fellow
Gentile Christians to join them in accepting the rite, thus becoming or joining
ranks with the Agitators? (Does misery love company?) The sociological reali-
ties of ancient household churches suggest that they probably would all either
have accepted circumcision or rejected it. Did the community send delegates
to Paul to resolve the internal dispute ( 1:2)? The letter answers none of
these questions.
There are reasons to challenge the typical scholarly assumption that the
majority of the Galatians were anxious to get circumcised. Widespread ac-
ceptance of Jewish circumcision among Gentiles is not attested except in in-
stances of military compulsion. Unless the Galatian situation is a phenomenon
unique to the Greco-Roman world, the Galatian churches were not looking
forward to circumcision (Martin 1996, 114-15).
It seems entirely possible that the majority in the Galatian communities
resisted the urging of the Agitators to get circumcised. It is even possible that
some were so repulsed by circumcision that they were prepared to abandon
Christianity and return to paganism rather than accept it (Martin 1995). But
there are other possibilities:
They may only have inquired of Paul as to whether or not the Agitators
were correct about the necessity or advisability of circumcision.
They may have asked him whether he considered them no better than
Godfearers. Or,
They may have communicated their reluctant willingness to get circum-
cised, if that was required for them to become children of Abraham.
Of course, these are only guesses. But would these alternative scenarios have
required a different letter than Paul wrote?
Godf earers
Contemporary scholars debate whether there existed a class of Gentiles
who were partial converts to Judaismsemi-proselytes or Jewish sympathizers.
New Testament scholars have long referred to Godfearers, citing references
to two remarkable centurions (Luke 7:1-10; Acts 10:2, 22, 35, 45; and 11:14; and
parallels in 13:16, 26, 43, 50; 16:14; 17:4, 17; 18:7).
Feldman (1986) appeals to extensive references in nearly contemporary
pagan literature, Philo and Josephus, rabbinic writings, and early Christian writers
supporting the existence of Godfearers. MacLennan and Kraabel (1986), how-
ever, emphasize that minimal archaeological evidence exists to support the claim
that there were Gentile half-Jews. They explain the alleged literary references as
allusions to Jews, Christians, and political (vs. religious) sympathizers with Jews.
3. The Agitators
Because of the disturbances they created in the Galatian churches (from
Pauls perspective), the anonymous advocates of the contrary gospel have
sometimes been called Agitators ( 1:7; 5:10, 12). The traditional designation
Judaizers ( 2:14) has fallen out of favor. Other labels, whether as neutral
as inuencers (Nanos 2002b) or as tendentious as the teachers (Martyn
1997), have failed to win broad support. (For a brief history of scholarship on
the Galatian troublemakers, see Longenecker 1990, lxxxviii-xcvi.)
Whatever we call them, Paul considered the Agitators departure from
the true gospel so serious that he was ready to consign them to eternal dam-
nation ( 1:8-9; 5:10). The confusion they fostered ( 1:7; 5:10) led him
consistently to malign their message, their methods, and their motives.
Paul explicitly claimed that the Agitators had duped the Galatians
( 3:1), insincerely attering them and pretending to be their friends only
to alienate them from Paul ( 4:17-18). They had thwarted the Galatians
Christian progress by keeping them from obeying the truth ( 5:7) and by
coercing them to be circumcised ( 2:3; 6:12). They had urged circumcision
for purely selsh reasons: to impress others, avoid persecution, and earn brag-
ging rights for their persuasion ( 6:12-13).
Paul usually referred to the Agitators in the third person, distinguish-
ing them from his Galatian audience. Sometimes he referred to them in the
plural ( 1:7; 5:12); sometimes, in the singular ( 5:10). It is unclear how
formidable was the opposition. There is a studied vagueness in this and other
references to the agitators (Rendall 1903, 152).
In 4:21 (), Paul addressed the Galatians in terms we might have ex-
pected applied to the Agitators (Martin 1995): you who want to be under the
law. Were those disturbing the tranquillity of the Galatian Christian commu-
nities insiders? Did Paul use the third person merely for rhetorical reasons
to marginalize those in the community he considered troublemakers? This
would cohere with the apostles warning in 5:15If you keep on biting and
devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. But
this is not the majority view.
Pauls nal explicit accusation against the Agitators in Galatians was
that they failed to obey the law ( 6:13). Most interpreters assume this was
merely ironic rhetoricaccusing the legalists of antinomianism ( 2:11-14).
But if the Agitators within the communities were new converts to Judaism
or curious inquirers, Paul may well have considered them slackers compared
to his pre-Christian rigor as a law-observant Jew (see 2 Cor 11:21b-33 ; Phil
3:2-6). This may also explain his insistence in Gal 5:3: I declare to every man
who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. As
amateurs, the Agitators may not have realized the full implications of the cir-
cumcision covenant. But, of course, the consensus view may be correctthat
they knew full well, and conveniently failed to mention the ne print in the
contract to the community ( 5:3).
Most interpreters assume that the Agitators had some Jewish connec-
tion, although Paul does not say. Were they:
non-Christian Jews,
Jewish Christians,
non-Christian Gentile proselytes to Judaism, or
Gentile Christian proselytes?
We cannot be certain the Agitators were Jews, much less whether they
came from Judea, or Jerusalem specically, as many scholars presume (e.g.,
Betz 1979, 7, 90 n. 302, 92, 101, 104, 111). Perhaps the Galatian problem was
entirely homegrown.
One widely held scholarly assumption is that the Agitators in Galatia
(1:7-9), the false brothers in Jerusalem (2:4), the men . . . from James (v
12), and those who belonged to the circumcision group (v 12) all represent
the same position in Pauls mind (e.g., Betz 1979, 7, 92, 104, 107). This as-
sumption often spawns another, equally suspect hypothesisthat what Paul
said about his opponents in another setting applied equally to the Galatian
Agitators (e.g., Betz 1979, 90, 92).
The Antioch incident ( 2:11-14) may illustrate how unwarranted the
assumption is that James delegates visit to Antioch illustrates what must have
happened in Galatia. After they arrived, Peter returned to Jewish ways he had
previously abandoned. By his bad example other Jewish Christians did like-
wise. This made Gentile Christians in the community feel compelled to adopt
Jewish rites and culture.
Paul claimed that Peters hypocritical change of practice was motivated
by fear. But he did not say that Peter feared James or his representatives. He
feared those of the circumcision (2:12). Are these two simply to be equated? If
Paul knew that those who belonged to the circumcision group (v 12) were of
the same ilk as the false brothers he had resisted in Jerusalem ( v 4), much
less the same as the Galatian Agitators, his failure to offer any condemnation
of their activity in Antioch seems inexplicable. He confronted only Peter and
the other Jewish Christians who followed his lead. It is more than curious that
the Jerusalem visitors gave Peter reason to be afraid, but not Paul. Why?
Beyond Pauls explicit claims about the troublemakers in Galatia, any-
thing we may say about the Agitators is merely conjectural. Since knowledge
about them comes only through Pauls highly polemical, and often indirect
references to them, it is only possible to make educated guesses concern-
ing their identity and their teaching of the Galatians (Eastman 2007, 52).
Speculation and reconstruction are probably inevitable when we are reading
anothers mail. But all that favors the consensus views is scholarly inertia, not
conclusive evidence.
It is possible, as the consensus insists, that Pharisaic Christians had per-
suaded some Galatian Christians that Gentiles had to be circumcised to be
saved (Acts 15:1, 5; Gal 2:1-10). Or, that without circumcision they were
only Godfearers, lacking the essential eshly prerequisite for full standing
as Abrahams children ( 3:1-5)? But what would have prevented Pauls con-
verts from concluding entirely on their own that circumcision was expected
of them? All they would need to have done was to read Gods instructions to
Abraham in Gen 17:14Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circum-
cised in the esh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant
(see Munck 1959, 87-134; Richardson 1969, 90-97).
E. Purpose
One clear goal of Pauls letter was to eliminate the inuence of the Agi-
tators from the Christian communities in Galatia ( 1:8-9; 4:30; 5:10, 12).
Another was to embolden them to resist the Agitators so-called gospel (
1:7). Some interpreters assume that his reference to Gen 21:10 in Gal 4:30
( Get rid of the slave woman and her son) functioned as did Exod 12:15-16
in 1 Cor 5:7 (Get rid of the old yeast). That is, it gave scriptural warrant for
excommunicating the Agitators from the community.
But this ignores the rst explicit exhortation in the letter: I plead with
you, brothers, become like me, for I became like you (Gal 4:12). In 4:8-20
() Paul applied everything he had written up to this point in the letter to
the Galatians. All that follows are consequences that should arise from their
positive response to his central appeal (Mitternacht 2007, 75). The apostle
invited his straying converts to follow his example. His repetitions throughout
the letter would surely have led them to take this to invite them to side with
God as opposed to people, with the Spirit vs. the esh, with Christ vs. the
Law, with freedom vs. slavery, with the cross vs. circumcision.
Rhetorical Genre. Since the appearance of Betzs 1979 commentary on
Galatians, scholars have often attempted to identify the purpose of the letter
by appeal to its alleged rhetorical species (Kern 1998, 120-66). In fact, Betz
merely added a layer of sophisticated plausibility to the longstanding assump-
tion that Galatians was an apologetic letter. Paul allegedly wrote to defend the
divine source of his gospel and apostleship against the false accusations of his
This is not the place to give a full account of ancient rhetorical theo-
ry and practice or its application to Galatians (see Kennedy 1984 and Kern
1998). But we must say enough to make clear what is at issue. Education in
the predominantly aural culture of antiquity consisted largely in the study
of rhetoricpersuasive speech. There were three basic species, less distin-
guished by form than functionthat is, by the purpose, positive or negative,
each pursued.
Judicial / forensic rhetoric originated in the courts of law. It pursued the
still familiar goals of prosecuting or defending those accused of wrongdoing.
Focusing on past events, it sought to accuse or excuse defendants. Betz (1979)
assumed that Galatians was Pauls apologetic defense of his gospel and apos-
tleship. He has been followed in this to some extent by Beker (1980, 273-78),
Brinsmead (1982, 41-55), Ldemann (1984), Smiles (1998), and others.
Deliberative rhetoric originated in the legislature. It pursued the goals of
advising or dissuading an audience as to benets or disadvantages of a future
course of action, frequently by appeal to examples. My 1982 dissertation ar-
gued that Galatians used deliberative rhetoric to persuade the Galatians to
abandon their plans to get circumcised and to return to his gospel of jus-
tication by faith alone (Lyons 1985, 173-74). Others have (independently
or building on my proposal) defended a similar reading of the letter, includ-
ing Kennedy (1984, 36-38, 148-50), Cosgrove (1988), Smit (1989), Matera
(1992), Witherington (1998a), and others. I do not assume that Paul self-con-
sciously followed the rhetorical handbooks, but that his goal was essentially
deliberative (see Kerns [1998, 141-46] critique of this approach).
Some interpreters identify Galatians as an amalgam of the judicial and
deliberative rhetorical species (e.g., Hansen 1989 and 2010; Longenecker
1990). They assume that the theological argument of the opening chapters
serves a defensive function; and the practical application, a hortatory purpose.
Epideictic / demonstrative rhetoric was at home in the ancient classroom
and in memorial settings. It focused on the present, praising the existing val-
ues and practices of a sympathetic audience. Or, negatively, it heaped blame on
the enemies or vices rejected by its audience. Few interpreters have identied
epideictic as the species of Galatians (but see White 1993, 159-60; and Hester
1991, 294-95).
Kern concludes that Galatians does not t any of the three species of
rhetoric as described in the handbooks (1998, 166; see 256-61). But this is
irrelevant to the question of whether rhetorical categories assist us in identify-
ing the purpose Paul hoped to accomplish in writing the letter (see Mitchell
2000; Nanos 2010, 466).
Mirror-Reading. Those who read Galatians as an apologetic letter imag-
ine they can reconstruct the accusations of the Agitators by simply reversing
Pauls denials and assertions. But no interpreter consistently reverses all of his
antithetical constructions. To do so would result in totally implausible and
contradictory claims by these reconstructed opponents. No interpreter has
shown persuasively how to decide which of the letters denials and statements
should be mirror-read and which should not (see the attempt by Barclay 1987;
see Lyons 1985, 82-105, for evidence to the contrary). I consider mirror-read-
ing a misguided interpretive method, methodologically prone to interpretive
abuse. In practice it allows historical conjectures to take precedence over the
text itself.
F. Organization
Most interpreters of Galatians since Betz (1979) essentially agree as to
its basic structural organization (see Kern 1998, 91-92; Russell 1993a and
1993b). Differences are largely matters of minor details and labels.
Everyone agrees that 1:1-5 is the epistolary prescript / salutation; and
6:11-18, the epistolary postscript / subscription / peroratio / conclusio /
epilogue / amplicatio.
There are marked differences as to whether the rebuke / exordium /
prooemium / proem / theme / proposition / prologue is to be identied
as 1:6-9, 6-10, 6-11, or 6-12.
This difference affects the identifcation of the beginning of the auto-
biographical narrative / narratio / proofs / probatio, whether 1:10, 11,
12, or 13. Scholars also disagree as to its conclusion, whether 2:14 or
More marked differences are to be found in the various analyses of
the body of the letter / propositio and probatio / peroratio and refutatio
/ conrmatio and conclusio / experiential argument. Does it begin with
2:15 or 3:1? And does it conclude with 4:11; 4:31; 5:1; or 5:12?
These differences, in turn, affect defnitions of the limits of the moral
guidance section / exhortatio / refutatio / injunctions / causal argu-
ment. It clearly ends with 6:10. But does is begin with 4:12; 5:1; or
G. Argumentative Logic
Paul identied himself as the primary sender of the letter, emphasizing
the divine origin of his apostolic ofce (1:1). His salutation mentions both the
death and resurrection of Christ (vv 1-5). Departing from standard epistolary
practice, he strongly rebuked the Galatians for departing from the gospel he
had preached and they had received, pronouncing a conditional curse on those
responsible for leading them astray (vv 6-9).
He insisted that his gospel was of divine origin (vv 10-12), offering
evidence supporting this claim by way of selected anecdotes reporting his
encounters with the other human leaders of the church (1:132:15). He
stressed the contrast between his life before and after his encounter with the
risen Christ. He insisted that he had remained faithful to his divine calling to
preach the truth of the gospel to non-Jews. This meant resisting any attempt
to compel non-Jews to adopt Jewish customs and practices, particularly food
laws and circumcision. He did not hesitate to point out the failures of other
leaders to remain as steadfast.
Paul reminded the Galatians of their conversions, effected by the Spirit,
not feeble human efforts. This made incongruous their misguided efforts to
improve on what God had begun in their human strength (3:1-5).
Paul appealed to the scriptural example of Abraham to reinforce his
conviction that God put him in right relationship with himself on the ba-
sis of faith alone. Abraham received Gods promise that the Gentiles would
be blessed through him and his great descendant, Christ. God fullled that
promise by allowing Christ to experience the curse of crucixion so that those
who have faith might be blessed with the freedom given those who receive the
Spirit (vv 6-14).
Paul insisted that Gods later gift of the Law did not affect the terms
of the promise (vv 15-18). The Law was merely a temporary measure to pre-
serve Abrahams descendants until Christs coming. It was never intended as a
means of salvation (vv 19-24). Christ brought an end to the ethnic, economic,
and gender differences that separated people. Consequently, all who believe
may have a share in the promised gift of the Spirit (vv 26-29). Paul used the
analogy of a minor child coming to majority to illustrate that with the coming
of Christ all that had prevented Jews and non-Jews from enjoying the heritage
God had promised was a thing of the past (4:1-7).
Paul reminded the Galatians of their pagan past and urged them not to
return to the bad old days as virtual slaves to nongods. Renewed slavery would
be the net effect, if they turned to Law or returned to paganism (vv 8-11).
He urged them to follow his example as they had when they rst became
friends (vv 12-20). This would require them to prefer pleasing God to pleas-
ing people, becoming the free persons God had called them to be, embracing
the cross of Christ, and accepting the suffering it might bring as Christ was
formed within their communities.
Paul appealed to an allegorical reading of the story of Abrahams two
wives and sons to urge them to rejoice in their status as believers in Christ. As
the free children of Abraham, they were to accept the inevitability of persecu-
tion and resist anything that might compromise the salvation-freedom Christ
had given them (vv 215:1).
He urged them in particular to refuse the efforts of the Agitators to
have them circumcised, even if doing so meant persecution. The covenant of
circumcision would strap them with an obligation to fulll the whole Law. In-
stead, they were to allow their faith to express their freedom in loving service
to one another. By this means they would achieve what the Law command-
ed and avoid the self-destruction their current inghting over circumcision
would bring (5:2-15).
To this end, Paul urged them to allow the Spirit to transform them into
a community that would express the virtues consistent with their status as
followers of Christ. To depend on their own self-centered human resources
would make their lives miserable both for them and for all those around them
(vv 16-25).
Paul urged those who were genuinely spiritual to restore any who fell
into transgression, to put aside competitive comparisons, and to remain faith-
ful themselves (6:1-5). He asked them to be generous with all their assets,
sharing with those who needed their assistance (vv 6-10).
Paul closed the letter in his own handwriting. He urged the Galatians
to reject the overtures of the Agitators to have them circumcised. He insisted
that the Agitators were selshly motivated to avoid persecution. As followers
of his example, the Galatians were to embrace the cross and to treat the old
order as if they were dead to one another. All that really mattered was the new
creation Christ was bringing to reality (vv 11-18).
A. Prescript (1:1-5)
Galatians begins, as do all ancient Greco-Roman letters,
with a three-part prescript: senders, recipients, and greetings (see
White 1986). Paul expands and adapts these, anticipating con-
cerns to be further developed in each letter. Here he claimed that
his call to be an apostle was
not from men nor by man,
but by Jesus Christ and God the Father.
Paul used similar antithetical constructions (not x, but y) through-
out Galatians ( 1:12, 17; 2:6-7; 4:7, 8-9, 14, 31; 5:6, 13; 6:13,
15). Such formulations reect Jewish inuences on his rhetoric.
Speculation about supposed charges by his opponents is unhelpful
(Witherington 1998a, 6 n. 6; Matera 1992, 41; Introduction).
Pauls older Jewish contemporary Philo credits Moses with a
similar claim: I did not of my own free will choose to superintend
and preside over public affairs, nor did I receive the ofce through
appointment by some other of humankind, but when God by clear
oracles . . . made evident his will to me . . . (Virtues 63; translation
by Witherington 1998a, 73; for Hellenistic parallels: see Boring,
Berger, and Colpe 1995, 460).
Acts (7:58; 8:1, 3; 9:1, 4; 13:9; 22:7, 13; 26:14) indicates that Pauls
name in Hebrew was Saul. As a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37; 22:25-28), Paul
(Paulos: little or small) probably had a three-part name (praenomen, nomen,
and cognomen). If Paul was not his nickname, it was likely his family name
(cognomen). We are never told his full name (Witherington 1998a, 72). He
may have borne both Greek and Hebrew names from birth.
Paul identied himself as an apostle. In Judaism after his time the He-
brew equivalent, shaliach, applied to a temporary envoy, who represented
in his own person the person and rights of the one who commissioned him
(Rengstorf 1964a, 415). Pauls use of apostle for a permanent, divinely ap-
pointed missionary may be its earliest instance in Greek (Witherington 1998a,
It remains uncertain precisely where in Galatia the churches Paul ad-
dressed were situated ( Introduction). Knowing the ethnic and geographic
identities would not signicantly affect our interpretation. Stereotypes being
what they are, not all Gauls were foolish ( 3:1), nor all Cretans liars (Titus
Pauls familiar Christian greetingGrace and peace (Gal 1:2)co-opts
and changes both Greco-Roman and Jewish conventions. Only a slight spell-
ing difference distinguishes the customary Greco-Roman Greetings from
Pauls Grace. But he invested the Greek word with a theological force it had
acquired only in the LXX. In secular Greek it referred to the graciousness
and charm of a beautiful woman as well as to the disposition to goodwill and
generosity (Spicq 1994, 3:500).
Jesus Christ is the centerpiece of Pauls theology. The formulation Lord
Jesus Christ presumes the early Christian confession, Jesus is Lord (Rom
10:9; 1 Cor 12:3; Phil 2:11). In Greco-Roman practice, the title kyrios, Lord,
was a term of respect for human masters, as well as a designation for divine
beings. Paul and other early Christians consistently read kyrios in the LXX (in
which it replaced Yahwehthe divine name of Israels God) as references to
Jesus (see Matt 3:3; 21:9; Mark 1:3; 11:9; Luke 1:17, 76; 3:4; John 1:23; Acts
2:21; 15:17; Rom 10:13; 15:11).
Paul described the salvation Christ brought as rescue . . . from the pres-
ent evil age (Gal 1:4) based on assumptions adapted from the two-age doc-
trine of Jewish apocalyptic (see 2 Esd [= 4 Ezra] 6:7-10; 2 Bar. 15:7-8). This
worldview contrasted the fading, present evil world-order with the new righ-
teous order God was bringing (see Rom 8:38; 1 Cor 3:22).
Fur t her Readi ng on Apocal ypt i c
Collins, John Joseph. 1998. The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to Jewish Apoc-
alyptic Literature. Rev. ed. Biblical Resource Series. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Hanson, Paul D. 1979. The Dawn of Apocalyptic: The Historical and Sociological Roots
of Jewish Apocalyptic Eschatology. Rev. ed. Philadelphia: Fortress.

Reddish, Mitchell G., ed. 1990. Apocalyptic Literature: A Reader. Nashville: Abing-
Rowland, Christopher. 1982. The Open Heaven: A Study of Apocalyptic in Judaism
and Early Christianity. New York: Crossroad.
Russell, D. S. 1964. The Method and Message of Jewish Apocalyptic: 200 BCAD
100. Philadelphia: Westminster.
1. Senders (vv 1-2a)
L 1-2a Ancient letters always placed the name of their senders rstthe op-
posite of modern convention. Eight of Pauls letters mention co-senders (1
Corinthians; 2 Corinthians; Galatians; Philippians; Colossians; 1 Thessalo-
nians; 2 Thessalonians; Philemon). In Galatians, they remain anonymous,
called only all the brothers with me. In Phil 4:21-22, Paul distinguished the
brothers who are with me from the other believers in the city from which
he wrote. In Philippians he probably referred to missionary colleagues (e.g.,
Ellicott 1863, 3) as opposed to nearby Christians in general. And this may also
have been the case in Galatians (Betz 1979, 40). But it is possible that Paul
referred to delegates from Galatia who had come to him and were being sent
back with the letter (Stirewalt 2003, 94-97).
We cannot know to what extent Pauls co-senders played any role in the
letters actual composition. In Galatians, he wrote almost entirely in the rst
person singular (I). In 1 Thessalonians, which names Silas and Timothy as
co-senders (1:1), the rst person plural (we) dominates. But this does not
seem to indicate co-authorship (see 1 Thess 2:173:5).
In Gal 6:11-18, Paul mentioned writing in his own hand. In antiquity,
professional scribes took dictation. Perhaps, one of the unnamed brothers
served as Pauls amanuensis, much as Tertius did in Romans (see 16:22). Un-
doubtedly, Paul discussed the problems in Galatia with his colleagues, even if
he alone put their consensus into words.
In the prescript of most Pauline letters (except Philippians, 1 and 2
Thessalonians, and Philemon), Paul further identied himself as an apostle
(see Rengstorf 1964a; Lightfoot 1874, 92-101). The verbal noun apostle refers
to one sent to represent another. Pauls mission was taking the gospel to Gen-
tiles (1:15-16; 2:8; Rom 11:13; 2 Cor 5:19; 1 Thess 2:4-9).
Paul claimed to have become an apostle through the call of the risen
Christ (Gal 1:12, 16; 1 Cor 9:1; 15:9). Acts generally restricts the title to the
Twelve (1:21-26; but see 14:4, 14). But Pauls broader denition allowed him
to apply the title not only to himself but also to others not among the Twelve,
Andronicus and Junia (Rom 16:7),
Barnabas (1 Cor 9:1-6),
James ( Gal 1:19; see 1 Cor 15:7), and
perhaps others (see Phillips 2009, 146 n. 51).
At his call, Paul received the essential content of his gospel (Gal 1:12-13)
and the obligation to preach it (1 Cor 9:16). Like an OT prophet (see Isa 6:8;
61:1), an apostle spoke in behalf of God (see Bhner 1990, 143-44), as an
ambassador (2 Cor 5:18-20) representing the foreign policy of God.
Paul claimed that God called (see Gal 1:15; Rom 1:1) and sent him. If
his use of the term apostle was unprecedented, it almost certainly called for
clarication. He needed to explain that he was not merely the representative
of the church in Antioch (Acts 13:2-3; Witherington 1998a, 71) or any other
merely human agency. He represented only the Highest Authority.
Many commentators think Pauls claim was controversial. They assume
Pauls antithetically formulated assertions defend his right to the title apostle
against contrary claims by his opponents. Others question this reading: Why
did he nowhere else in the letter explicitly apply the title apostle to himself?
(Contrast Rom 1:1, 5; 11:13; 1 Cor 1:1, 17; 4:9; 9:1, 2, 5; 15:9.) And why in
Gal 1:17, 19 and 2:8 () did he not assert his apostolic status explicitly when
he had the opportunity? Instead, he omitted the term, when asserting it might
have strengthened his claim, had he needed it.
Perhaps, like Philos Moses, Paul described his ofce both negatively and
positively in the interests of clarity (see Bullinger 1898, 405). His repetitive
style merely appropriated the parallelism common in the OT.
On either reading, Paul claimed his calling to be an apostle came neither
from nor by any human, but by divine authorization. Grammatically, Pauls
antithetical repetition is an example of rhetorical pleonasmredundancy in
the interests of clarity (explainedand illustrated!). That is, he repeats his
single point positively and negatively to be sure he was understood, and not
misunderstood. If Paul made a single point, the variation between the plural
men and singular man has no particular signicance (so Arichea and Nida
1976, 4). He forcefully disallowed any human source for his apostolic call
direct or indirect.
Pauls specic style of antithesis (enantiosis) is a kind of pleonasm that
makes an afrmation by contraries involving opposites (Bullinger 1898,
718). That is, his point was in the positive halfhis claim to a divine calling
(see Rom 1:1). He frequently insisted upon the divine character of his apos-
tolate and message (see Rom 15:15-19; 1 Cor 2:4, 13; 1 Thess 1:5; 2:4, 13).
The human vs. divine antithesis is hardly unique to Galatians (see Rom 2:29;
3:4; 14:18; 1 Cor 1:25; 3:5; 13:1-3; 14:2; 15:47; 2 Cor 4:2; 5:11, 13; 8:21; Phil
2:5-7; 3:3; Col 2:7, 22; 3:23; 1 Thess 2:15; 4:8).
It is unnecessary to assume that Pauls antithetical formulation implied,
as those who read Galatians apologetically presume, that he denied everything
his opponents afrmed, and afrmed everything they denied. There is no evi-
dence that his Galatian detractors tried to diminish his authority by claiming
his apostleship was of merely human origin, apart from the assumptions of
mirror-reading ( Introduction).
Pauls letters frequently refer to God as Father, especially in epistolary
prescripts, praise, and prayer (see Gal 1:3, 4; Rom 1:7; 15:6; 1 Cor 1:3; 8:6;
15:24; 2 Cor 1:2, 3; 11:31; Eph 1:2, 3; 4:6; 5:20; 6:23; Phil 1:2; 2:11; 4:20;
Col 1:2, 3; 3:17; 1 Thess 1:1, 3; 3:11, 13; 2 Thess 1:1, 2; 2:16; 1 Tim 1:2; 2
Tim 1:2; Titus 1:4; Phlm 3). Here he emphasized the Father-Son relationship
between God and Christ.
In Gal 1:3 Paul emphasized that God is also our Father. His concern
was not biological parentage in either v 1 or v 3. The title Father emphasized
Gods sovereign power as Creator, Ruler, and Redeemer. This usage reects
widespread Christian confessional and liturgical practice and the example of
Jesus (see Michel 1990; Schrenk 1967; Gal 4:6).
Appeal to the Father of Jesus Christ is always an occasion for the expo-
sition of salvation and blessing (Schrenk 1967, 1008) in Pauls letters. That
God the Father . . . raised Christ from the dead reects widely attested early
Christian confessions (see Acts 3:15; 4:10; 13:30; Rom 4:24; 6:4, 9; 7:4; 8:11;
10:9; 1 Cor 6:14; 15:12, 13, 15, 16, 20; 2 Cor 4:14; Eph 1:20; Col 2:12; 1
Thess 1:10; 2 Tim 2:8; 1 Pet 1:21; Pol. Phil. 2.1, 2; 12.2). His resurrection is
central to Christian faith.
This is the only mention Paul made of resurrection in Galatians. Else-
where, he focused on the cross, which occasioned its necessity. Letter pre-
scripts often (like rhetorical exordia) introduce central points of the corre-
spondence. So we must ask why Paul brought up resurrection here. It is not a
standard xture of his letter openings (only in Rom 1:4; 2 Cor 1:9; Eph 1:20;
1 Thess 1:10). References to the second coming are as common (1 Cor 1:7;
Phil 1:6; Col 1:12-13; 2 Thess 1:9-10).
Pauls mention of resurrection emphasizes that the end times had
dawned, giving urgency to the present. The new creation had begun ( Gal
6:15). The resurrection conrmed that the crucied one was the long-awaited
Messiah. The age of waiting until (3:19, 23; 4:2, 19) was over; the time had
fully come (4:4). God had sent the promised Spirit to his people (3:5; 4:6).
The time for Law was past. They were free!
2. Recipients (v 2b)
L 2b Pauls letter addresses the churches in Galatia. His other community
letters address a Christian community in a designated city (Rom 1:7; 1 Cor
1:2; 2 Cor 1:1; Phil 1:1; Col 1:2; 1 Thess 1:1; 2 Thess 1:1). He greeted as a
church only the communities in Corinth and Thessalonica (contrast Rom
1:7; [Eph 1:1bthe city name is textually suspect;] Phil 1:1b; Col 1:2). Ga-
latians alone explicitly refers to churches in a geographical region (see 1 Cor
16:1; 2 Tim 4:10; 1 Pet 1:1).
Paul shows no interest in the etymological derivation of ekkle3sia, church.
The term never means called out ones (see Barr 1961, 119-29), but an as-
sembly of people (see Acts 19:32, 39 for secular uses), specically a Christian
congregation, the gathered people of God (see Roloff 1990).
Elsewhere in Galatians, Pauls only other reference to churches refers to
the Christian communities in Judea ( 1:13 and 22). The nature or mission of
the church is never discussed. But he addressed what it meant to be the people
of God (see Martin 2007) as fully here as in 1 and 2 Corinthians, where the
term church appears frequently. Galatians draws from a different repertoire
of images than that of the body of Christ or the bride of Christ, which domi-
nate Ephesians (see Lyons 2007).
3. Greetings (vv 3-5)
L 3 The greeting Grace and peace, with only minor variations, appears in
all of Pauls community letters (Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:3; 2 Cor 1:2; Eph 1:2; Phil
1:2; Col 1:2; 1 Thess 1:1; 2 Thess 1:2). A slight spelling change allowed Paul
to adapt the customary Greco-Roman Greetings, chairein, used in everyday
encounters and in letters (see 1 Macc 12:6; Acts 15:23; 23:26; Jas 1:1), creat-
ing a distinctively Christian blessing, Grace, charis ( Gal 1:6, 15; 2:9, 21;
5:4; 6:18).
For Paul, the abstract noun grace comprehends all of Gods gifts freely
provided in Christ (see 1:6; 2:21). This implicit prayer is that God in Christ
may deal favorably with his audience (Betz 1979, 40; Winger 1999, 153).
To grace Paul added a translation of the customary Jewish greeting, Shalom,
peace (see Judg 19:20; 1 Sam 25:5-6; Dan 4:1; 10:19; Tob 12:17; Greek: eire3 ne3 ;
Gal 5:22; 6:16). Precedents occur in Num 6:24-26; 2 Macc 1:1; 2 Bar. 78.2;
parallels in 1 Pet 1:2; 2 Pet 1:2; 2 John 3; Rev 1:4). Christian experience could be
characterized as peace with the God of peace (see Rom 5:1; 8:6; 15:33; 16:20; 1
Cor 7:15; 14:33; 2 Cor 13:11; Phil 4:7, 9; 1 Thess 5:23).
God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ were the source of both Grace
and peace, as they were of Pauls apostleship (Gal 1:1). The possessive pro-
noun our in vv 3 and 4 includes all Christians. Gentile believers could also
claim God as their Father (Jervis 1999, 33-34).
Whenever Paul identied God as our Father, he always mentioned Jesus
Christ as Lord (Schrenk 1967, 1007). The prepositions varyby and from
in vv 1 and 3, probably for stylistic reasons. But their meaning is identical. By
joining God and Christ as objects of the same preposition, Paul emphasized
the essential equality of Father and Son.
Lord identies Jesus with the unutterable name of Israels God (Yah-
weh, in Phil 2:9-11 and Rom 14:9-11, both echoing Isa 45:23). The Greek
OT facilitated the churchs high Christology, but it did not initiate it. The
Aramaic prayer, Marana tha, Come, O Lord! (1 Cor 16:22), suggests that
Jesus was rst addressed as Lord among Jewish Christians. The title implies
that the exalted Jesus is on a par with Yahweh, yet not identied with him
(Fitzmyer 1990, 330).
That Jesus is Lord entailed more than a theological afrmation. It had
ethical implications, conceding his right to rule and our obligation to obey
him. But it also implicitly denied the political claims of lesser allegiances, like
those made for Caesar in Roman emperor worship (see 1 Cor 8:5-6).
L 4 Paul elaborated on Christ (v 3), adding that he gave himself for our sins
(see Mark 10:45; John 3:16; Rom 4:25; 8:32; Eph 5:2, 25; 1 Tim 2:6; Titus
2:14). This implicit reference to the crucixion becomes explicit and personal
in Gal 2:20 (with an intensied form of the Greek verb gave; 2:20).
Pauls language in both 1:4 and 2:20 emphasizes that Christs death for
our sins (see 1 Cor 15:3; Rom 4:25; 5:6, 8, 10; 8:34; 2 Cor 5:14) was volun-
tary and gracious ( 2:21). Christ was not coerced by the Father. And we
were wholly undeserving of his gift. Paul took for granted that all humans are
sinners (defended in Rom 1:183:23; 5:8), not only Gentiles (Gal 2:15, 17;
see Mark 14:41).
Paul attached no particular theological signicance to the preposition
hyper, for, here ( 3:13). It cannot support the doctrine of the vicarious, sub-
stitutionary atonement (demonstrated persuasively by Powers 2001, 54-58,
71-79; against Boice 1976, 427). This would seem to require the preposition
anti, instead of (see Lightfoot 1874, 73). Rather, hyper describes Christs death
as both for our sins (v 4) and for me (2:20; Rom 4:25 uses the preposition
dia). He died because we sinned.
Christs death rescued us according to the will of our God and Father.
Paul insisted that God chose to rescue us; but he did not explain why God re-
quired such an atoning act for human sins in order that fallen humanity could
be saved (Witherington 1998a, 76).
The plural form of sins is uncharacteristic of Paul. The Greek hamartia
appears sixty-four times in his letters, but only twelve times in the plural. Of
these, two are in OT quotations (Rom 4:7; 11:27); one quotes a Christian con-
fession (1 Cor 15:3); and ve appear in letters of disputed Pauline authorship
(Eph 2:1; Col 1:14; 1 Tim 5:22, 24; 2 Tim 3:6). That leaves Rom 7:5; 1 Cor
15:17; Gal 1:4; and 1 Thess 2:16.
Paul preferred to speak of Sin as a personied, almost demonic power
(Grundmann 1964, 311). He treated Sin as more than a failure to achieve
a standard or even than becoming and being guilty before God and ones
peers (Fiedler 1990, 66). Not only are sins bad choices, but they also identify
humans as hopelessly trapped victims in a fallen worldas slaves to Sin.
The purpose for which Christ died was to rescue us from the present
evil age. Only here in the NT is the expression translated present . . . age
implicitly contrasted with the coming age (e.g., Matt 12:32; Mark 10:30; Eph
1:21). Thus, it has much the same force as this age (1 Cor 1:20) or this
world (Rom 12:2).
By the gift of the Spirit, Christians already breathe the fresh air of the
new age of fulllment (see Gal 3:14; 4:4-6; 5:5, 16-25; Col 1:13). But the
evil age continues as a present reality. With the new creation (Gal 6:15),
Christ brought the powers of the coming age (Heb 6:5) into this world. The
kingdom of God as righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit already
exists (Rom 14:17). The last days, inaugurated by the death and resurrection
of Jesus, are now visible in the transformed lives of believers (Witherington
1998a, 77).
Pauls reference to the present age as evil refers to this secular human
way of living, in which sin has made a home (Theodoret, cited in Edwards
1999, 4). Thus, rescue does not mean escape from the material world, but
deliverance from domination by the ungodly world system (Louw and Nida
1989, 1:507 41.38; compare 1 Pet 1:18; John 17:13-19).
Christs mission of rescue was undertaken in order that he might set
us free. Paul personied the Present Age as a sinister slave master holding
humanity hostage. For now, the perverse world system persists, awaiting its
end. But it no longer holds sway over believers. Thus, he could claim: Through
the cross of Christ, the world has been crucied to me, and I to the world
(Gal 6:14).
The verb exaireo3, rescue, appears only here in Pauls letters (150 times in
the LXX; in the NT only in Acts 7:10, 34; 12:11; 23:27; 26:17). Christ volun-
tarily died to save us. But his death was according to the will of our God and
Father. It was neither suicidal nor accidental. It was a well-contrived Trinitar-
ian conspiracy to salvage humanity at great personal cost to God. The prepo-
sition kata indicates that Christs self-gift was in conformity with (BDAG,
512, s.v. B.5) what the Father wanted.
The conjunction and between the nouns God and Father does not dis-
tinguish them. Rather in this explicative use, it means that is (BDAG, 495,
s.v. 1.c). God is our Father (emphasis added), not simply the Father of our
Lord Jesus Christ ( Gal 1:1 and 3; compare Rom 15:6; 1 Cor 15:24; 2 Cor
1:3; 11:31; Eph 1:3; 4:6; 5:20; Phil 4:20; 1 Thess 1:3; 3:11, 13).
L 5 The prescript closes with a doxological relative clauseto whom be glory
for ever and ever. Amen (see Rom 16:27; Phil 4:20; 2 Tim 4:18; Heb 13:21; 1
Pet 4:11). The verb be is unexpressed but clearly assumed. The antecedent of
whom is God (Gal 1:3).
The word doxa, glory, in the LXX translates the Hebrew kabod), which
metaphorically describes God as radiant and weighty. Glory refers to his obvi-
ous perfection in goodness, saving grace (Rom 1:23; 3:7, 23), and power (6:4).
To give glory to God is not to bestow on him something he lacks. Glory is in-
nately his by the reality of his presence. To give God glory is to acknowledge
his existence and lordship (see Isa 1:3; 2 Bar. 48.40; 82.3-9).
English speakers still use the imagery of glory, although seldom the term
itself outside religious settings. An unusually intelligent person is bright,
even brilliant. A job well done is a shining performance. Celebrities are
stars. A student leader is a big man on campus. To wield power and inu-
ence is to throw ones weight around. Glory expresses the language of honor
and recognition. In honor-shame societies, like the ancient Mediterranean
world, those who were important possessed glory and deserved honor. To fail
to recognize this was to shame them (see Kittel 1964c, 232-55).
The expression forever translates a Greek idiom meaning (lit.) to the
ages of the ages. The proximity of the word age in Gal 1:4 may hint that Paul
urged his audience to praise God in this present evil age. They were not to
wait for future rescue but were to acknowledge what God had already done.
The Amen at this early point in the letter is surprising (see 6:18). Within
the worship setting in which it was rst read, this was an invitation to the as-
sembled Galatian congregations to give verbal afrmation: May it be so! Paul
would provoke their consternation soon enough.
Conventions. Back in the good old days, people actually wrote letters,
instead of sending email, updating their Facebook status, or dispatching text
messages. Everyone understood the conventions of letter-writing. We ad-
dressed total strangers as Dear but never closed business letters with Love.
A good deal of Gal 1:1-5 reects conventions of Pauls day. So, how seri-
ously should we take what he wrote here. How much of what Paul said merely
conformed to social expectations?
Because we have other letters from Paul, we know that they have simi-
lar beginnings. Convention dictated the basic three-part opening. But careful
examination reveals subtle differences between them. For example, Galatians,
like most of Pauls community letters, mentions co-senders. But only in Philip-
pians do Paul and his co-sender share the same title, servants of Christ (1:1).
Not surprisingly, Philippians emphasizes equality and servanthood. What
should the unique features of Galatians lead us to expect?
The differences between Pauls letters and those of his contemporaries
are also enlightening. Because we have read the rest of the NT, the greeting
Grace and peace does not strike us as unexpected. But the Galatians had no
NT. They would have noticed the unexpected variations from typical secular
Pastoral Care. Paul considered himself a missionary, a church planter
(Rom 15:20). But he gave pastoral care. Surprisingly, he wrote letters to con-
gregations he had founded after he had moved on. Galatians shows that Paul
was not interested in simply making converts. The obvious passion and pain
he communicated suggest that he did not espouse a doctrine of once-saved-
always-saved ( 5:4). But neither did he give up easily on his wavering con-
verts (see 4:19; 6:1-5).
Inspiration and Canonization. If it is remarkable that Paul wrote letters,
it is even more so that the church saw t to preserve and canonize them. The
literary genres in the OT include books of law, narrative, poetry, wisdom, and
prophecy. But no letters. Within a century after Paul wrote to churches in
particular places, churches throughout the Roman Empire were reading them
as they gathered for worship. By this repeated practice, the church came early
to recognize them as Scripture alongside the OT, not merely as letters of Paul.
Pauls readers across the centuries share his certainty that his message
was not simply a clever human invention. Wesleyans have always insisted that
the inspiration of Scripture is twofold. God inspired writers. But just as surely,
the Spirit inspires readers to recognize this inspiration.
Theological Subtleties. Pauls original audience probably heard rather than
read the letter. Would they have noticed Pauls subtle use of prepositions that
implied that God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ were equally divine?
For an audience of former pagans, narrowing the scope of the divine from
many to just two gods would not have been a challenge. But for a Jewish
monotheist like Paul to hint that Christ was divine, if they caught it, must
have been surprising.
For those of us closely reading the letter this side of Nicea and the ecu-
menical creeds, the problem is the reverse. We may be troubled by Pauls ap-
parent binitarianism. Where is the third person of the Trinity?
It took the church more than four centuries to reach the consensus we
now recognize as Christian orthodoxy. Galatians is a preorthodox composi-
tion. Paul never imagined his letter would be scrutinized for Trinitarian preci-
sion. Trinity? Whats that? Nonetheless, Galatians provided proto-orthodox
believers with some of the data that compelled them to struggle to make sense
of their apparently paradoxical convictions: God was one. But God had re-
vealed himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Reading Anothers Mail. As we read Pauls impassioned letter, we cannot
escape the awareness that we are reading anothers mail. And if he makes us
squirm at times by the vigor with which he presses his case, we can only guess
what it must have been like to have been among those rst stunned and stung
and stirred and silenced as they heard the letter read.
The opening lines of the letter, however, give few clues as to the tone the
apostle will shortly take. It begins as most ancient letters do. It is tempting to
skip over such preliminaries to get to the real meat. But if we do, we will miss
the central point Paul wanted to impress upon his audience.
Apostolic Authority. From at least the second century, as the church be-
came increasingly institutionalized, interpreters wrestled with the implica-
tions of Pauls claims to unmediated apostolic authority. Interest was piqued
again as the Reformers appealed to the apostle in their struggle with hierarchy
of the Roman Catholic Church (see Riches 2008, 71-75).
Even if Pauls more generous (compared to Lukes) views of the quali-
cations necessary for apostleship are accepted, there are no living apostles
today. Those with a divine call to preach the gospel, even to plant churches
where Christ has not been proclaimed before, lack one essential qualication:
a personal encounter with the risen Lord (1 Cor 9:1). Paul claimed these had
ended (15:3-7).
Protestants generally consider the Bible (particularly the NT, the re-
pository of the apostolic witness) to embody the authority that belonged to
apostles before the biblical canon was settled. Catholics vest that authority in
the Magisterium, the consensus teaching of the church across the ages. Protes-
tants, reluctant to assign such authority to tradition, concede that early creeds
and fathers of the church provide essential guidance as to how to resolve the
ambiguities of Scripture in an orthodox manner.
A so-called high view of Scripture is often thought to emphasize words
like inerrancy and infallibility. But these are claims the Bible never makes
for itself. Those who take seriously Galatians as an apostolic letter will submit
to its authority. Wesleyans appropriately acknowledge the role of tradition, ex-
perience, and reason in the formulation and validation of Christian doctrine.
But Scripture remains normative for Christian faith and practice.
Nonetheless, even apostles speaking for God must be interpreted. Paul
acknowledged in 1 Cor 5:9-13 that what he had written the Corinthians in
an earlier letter (now lost?) had been misunderstood. If his contemporaries
needed assistance, our interpretations cannot claim infallibility. We must not
presume that our reading of Paul speaks for God.
Speaking for God. Galatians is an apostolic letter. Paul spoke not for him-
self, but in behalf of the God who had called him to his mission. He spoke
not to outsiders, but to those who knew that the story of the cross (Gal 1:4)
preceded the wonder of the resurrection (v 1), despite the order in which he
mentioned them. He could use terms like grace and peace, sins and rescue,
and glory and Amen, condent that his readers knew what he meant. Are
members of our churches as well instructed (see 6:6)?
Most preachers could learn from Paul to speak with greater clarity. Mak-
ing the same point both positively and negatively helped assure that his aural
audience would not misunderstand him. Rhetorical repetition can be over-
done, of course. But who could miss the apostles emphasis here?
Some contemporary preachers would do well to be more cautious about
claiming to speak for God. If 1 Cor 15:8 is taken seriously, we must admit
that no one since the rst century speaks with anything like apostolic author-
ity. All claims of latter-day revelations must be tested by their faithfulness to
Scripture and to Christ (see 1 Thess 5:19-22; 1 Cor 12:1-3).
Overcoming Evil. Pauls description of salvation as rescue . . . from the
present evil age (1:4) gave an unfortunate foothold within Christian theol-
ogy to various forms of dualism. Proto-orthodox voices successfully resisted
1: 6-9
gnostic explanations of evil. The ecumenical creeds begin by confessing God
as the Creator in direct challenge to gnostic claims that creation was the un-
fortunate work of a misguided, if not evil, lesser deity. The churchs efforts
to resist dualism continued from the patristic period into the modern era (see
Riches 2008, 77-82).
Dispensational premillennialism is perhaps the most virulent and in-
sidious form of dualism threatening contemporary evangelical Christianity. Its
novel eschatology rst appeared in the mid-nineteenth century. Early Chris-
tians expected the kingdom of God to invade and renew the present evil age.
Dispensationalists, instead, hope for a secret rapture that will spirit believers
out of this world (see MacPherson 2000).
Gospel Diplomacy. Paul knew that what he planned to write next would
be difcult to take. So he attempted to get his audience to afrm the truth of
his message from the outset. Imagine with me. Pauls designated reader in the
various churches of Galatia has just intoned the familiar words, to whom be
glory for ever and ever. Almost spontaneously, his Greek-speaking congrega-
tions must have found themselves repeating one of the few Hebrew words
they knew: Amen. How long did it take for their Amen to become ouch?
Before Paul turned to the difcult task of calling his agitated audience
back to the truth of the gospel (2:5, 14), he afrmed their Christian stand-
ing. He reminded them of what they shared. God was our Father (1:3, 4).
Christ died for our sins to rescue us (v 4). Later in the letter, we and you
will seem to stand at odds. But that is not where the letter begins or ends.
Before Paul pronounced a curse on anyone giving or receiving a false
so-called gospel in 1:6-9, he pronounced a conditional blessing on those who
would receive it: Grace and peace to you (v 3). And he would do much the
same before he closed the letter ( 6:16-18).
Most contemporary Christians seem oblivious to the power of such
prayers. These are just words. But Paul and his rst audience knew that
words did things. Some words resonate deep within us and empower us to
be and do what we otherwise could not. And some words leave deep wounds.
What could we learn from Pauls gospel diplomacy?
B. Epistolary Rebuke (1: 6-9)
Following the opening salutation in every other Pauline community let-
ter appears a thanksgiving / blessing. Its absence here would have been noticed
by the letters rst hearers. Epistolary thanksgivings in ancient letters typically
served as rhetorical exordia, introducing and anticipating key concerns of the
letter. This anti-thanksgiving serves the same function.
Paul expressed astonishment at unfortunate changes that had occurred
in the Galatian churches. He left these understated at rst, presuming his
1: 6

original audience knew well enough. He characterized them negatively, with

emotionally charged language and imagery of desertion, conversion, confu-
sion, perversion, and curses ( Introduction).
Desertion applied to the Galatians might reect military imagery. But
in Greek literature, it more often refers to changing sides politically (Poly-
bius 24.9.6) or philosophically (Diogenes Laertius 7.1.37; 4.166). Complete
religious desertion involved apostasy (2 Macc 4:46; 7:24; 11:24; Sir 6:9; Jose-
phus, Ant. 20.38; Life 195; see BDAG, 642; Dunn 1993, 39-40).
Paul was astonished by what the Galatians were doing. But he directed
his anger toward the Agitators who were provoking their desertion. His double
curse called upon God to bring judgment on them. Something that is anathema
is cursed. The LXX uses the term to translate the Hebrew haremsomething
dedicated to God for destruction (Lev 27:28-29; Deut 7:26; 13:17; Josh 6:17-
18; 7:1; Behm 1964a, 354-55).
The entire body of the letter is bracketed by the conditional curse
that introduces it (in 1:8-9; Betz 1979, 50) and the conditional blessing that
concludes it (in Gal 6:16; Betz 1979, 321). Paul framed the central argument
of the letter on this premise: The Galatians would be cursed or blessed de-
pending on their future choices. Would they remain faithful to the gospel
Paul preached or pursue the perversion some people (v 7) were urging them
to accept? This kind of decision was called for in deliberative rhetoric (
Curses were implicit prayers that God (or the gods) might visit disaster
on certain enemies. By stating his twofold curse conditionally, Paul did not
name names. The Galatians were free to choose whether to side with those
subject to the curse or to align with Paul and his understanding of the Chris-
tian faith.
Paul prayed that those who were creating chaos in his Galatian churches
would be punished for their wrongdoing. Paul believed that God was a just
Judge who maintained moral order in the universe. Those who were destroy-
ing his churches would be destroyed (see 2 Thess 1:5-10; Ksemann 1969).
L 6 Thaumazo3, I am astonished, Pauls rst word in Greek conveyed amaze-
ment, bewilderment, or disappointment at an unexpected sight (Annen 1990,
134). Ancient letters used it to reprove negligence, misunderstanding, and
inappropriate, uncharacteristic, or foolish behavior (Dahl 1973, 14-18, 31).
Rhetoric recommended an expression of amazement . . . as a means of regain-
ing favor with ones audience . . . won over by the opposition (Witherington
[1998a, 81], citing Cicero, Inv. 1.17.25; see LXX Lev 19:15; Deut 10:17; Job
22:8; Pss. Sol. 2:18; T. Mos. 5:5; and Jude 16).
Paul was amazed that the Galatians were so quickly deserting and turn-
ing. The adverb quickly could refer to how soon after their conversion (e.g.,
1: 6
Burton 1920, 19; Arichea and Nida 1976, 11) or after Pauls departure from
Galatia (e.g., Dunn 1993, 40) their desertion was occurring. It could refer to
how easily (TM) they were being led astray (see Gal 1:7; e.g., Dunn 1993, 40).
The modier so does not emphasize that their desertion was extremely
soon or easy. Rather, it describes the manner of their desertionquickly or
easily. The word quickly may echo OT passages (Exod 32:8; Deut 9:16) that
charge Israel with breaking their covenant with God even before it was rati-
ed (Mussner 1977, 53; Wilson 2004). Paul compared the Galatians to trai-
tors. They were abandoning their former allegiance for another. They were in
danger of apostasy.
Paul addressed his audience using a second person pluralyou are . . .
deserting. He addressed them all similarly in Gal 1:6; 3:1-5; and 5:7 suggest-
ing that the problem was pervasive (Jewett 1970, 209). Everyone was at risk.
The present tense are . . . deserting indicates that their desertion was as yet
only in process (Burton 1920, 19; see Longenecker 1990, 14).
The verb describing the Galatians defection, metatithesthe, implies that
the change underway was a reverse conversion, although they had not yet be-
come apostate (despite Mauer 1972, 161). But Paul considered this a real
possibility ( 5:4). They were in danger, not merely of failing to live out their
faith, but of abandoning it entirely.
The present tenses in 1:7; 3:2; 4:16-18; and 6:12-13 conrms that the
Galatians were seriously at-risk believers. They were headed the wrong way,
but they were not hopeless (e.g., Jewett 1970, 209; Betz 1979, 45 and nn. 19
and 47). Evidence of this may be found in:
Pauls uncertainty as to the outcome of the situation expressed in 3:3-
5 and 4:8-11
the conditional nature of his blessing in 6:16 and curse in 1:8-9
his expectation that his letter would encourage the intransigent trou-
blemakers to leave (1:8-9; 4:30; 5:10, 12), restoring the unity (4:19-
20, 30; 5:1, 10, 12; 6:1)
You are turning from the one who called you . . . to another gospel. The
preposition from indicates who the Galatians had abandoned; and to, what
they were embracing. Paul initially described their reverse conversion as from
a person (the one who called you) to a message (a different gospel). But he
corrected himself in v 7. Some people were responsible for perverting the
gospel of Christ. Thus, he acknowledged that both sides involved substan-
tially different persons and messages.
Paul did not say what the Galatians were doing nor how he knew (
Introduction). But he was bewildered: Why are you converting from the one
who called you by the grace of Christ?
Based on Pauls normal usage (see Rom 8:30; 1 Cor 1:9; Gal 1:5; 1 Thess
2:12; 4:7; 5:24; 2 Thess 2:14), most interpreters assume the one refers to God.
In six other Galatian passages, God is not named in Greek, but identied only
1: 6-7
by what he has done (1:15 [twice]; 2:8; 3:5 [twice]; 5:8; Martyn 1997, 202).
But the one who called the Galatians in 1:6 indirectly refers also to Paul. He
was the preacher through whom Gods call was mediated (see 3:1-5; 4:14;
5:7-12; see Dahl 1973, 47-48). Some people (v 7) were leading them astray
from him, his gospel, and God.
Paul used the OT language of divine vocation (Isa 41:8-9; 42:6; 43:1;
45:3-4; 49:1; 51:2) as a reminder that God always takes the initiative in salva-
tion (see Rom 1:7; 9:11-12; 1 Cor 1:26-31; 7:18; Col 3:15; 1 Thess 1:4-5; 2
Thess 2:13-15). He summons to conversion in the preaching of the gospel, the
portrayal of Jesus Christ crucied (Gal 1:16; 2:2, 7, 16, 20-21; 3:1-5, 22-24;
4:13; see Rom 10:9-17). Gods call is the indispensable means by which the
process of salvation begins.
Galatians makes clear that salvation is all by . . . grace, regardless of the
precise meaning here:
the means or basis of Gods callby . . . grace (e.g., Dunn 1993, 40),
the purpose for Gods call: to live in grace (Burton 1920, 21),
the manner in which God called: graciously (BDAG, 1080, s.v. charis
3.b), or
the reason why God called: because of his wonderful kindness (CEV).
Grace is both the doorway into the Christian life (Rom 5:1-2) and Gods
empowering presence, enabling humans to be and do what they could not
alone. The human response of faith to the preaching of the gospel (Gal 1:7)
is merely receptivity to Christs gift of the Spirit, experienced as justication.
The gospel is the good news of Gods saving intervention in human his-
tory in Christ. It is Gods saving power (Rom 1:16). The articulation of the
story does not save. The events are saving; preaching merely witnesses to these
events. But when the gospel is proclaimed in the power of the Spirit, God is
powerfully at work (1 Thess 1:4-5; 2:13; see Rom 10:9-15).
L 7 Paul self-corrected his description of the Galatians reverse conversion to
a different [heteron] gospel in v 6. Did Hellenistic Greek maintain the clas-
sical distinction between the terms allos and heteros (see Rendall 1903, 151;
Robertson 1919, 747; BDF, 160-61)? If so, the rst correction insisted that the
Galatians were turning to another [heteros] gospel of a different kind (v 6),
because there is really not another [allo] gospel of the same kind (v 7).
Pauls second self-correction is introduced with ei me3, which means ex-
cept that (BDF, 191 376; Louw and Nida 1989, 1:794 89.131) or but
(BDAG, 278, s.v. ei 6.i.b), not Evidently. The Galatians defected not simply
to a different message, but to different personalities. There are some people
who are confusing you.
The verb tarasso3 (throwing . . . into confusion) means cause inward tur-
moil, stir up, disturb, unsettle (BDAG, 990; see Matt 2:3; 14:26; Mark 6:50;
Luke 1:12; 24:38; John 5:7; 11:33; 12:27; 13:21; 14:1, 27; 15:24; 17:8, 13; 1
Pet 3:14). The Agitators were terrifying the Galatians (Balz 1990c, 3:335-
36). Did Paul not know who they were (Mussner 1977, 57)? Or, did he merely
diminish their importance by leaving them anonymous (Betz 1979, 49 n. 65)?
Several suggestions about what was the Agitators agenda can be ad-
vanced. Had they, like the Pharisaic believers in Jerusalem, insisted that Gen-
tile Christians must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses
(Acts 15:5)? Had they warned the Galatians, as Judean Christians did Gen-
tiles in Antioch: Unless you are circumcised . . . you cannot be saved (v 1)?
Were they intimidating the Galatians with threats of eternal damnation if
they did not get circumcised (so Martyn 1997, 112; 5:2-4)? Paul did not say.
Paul also characterized them as Perverters. They want to pervert the
gospel of Christ (1:7). This could mean that they were trying, but not suc-
ceeding, to alter the Christian proclamation (so Jerome, cited in Edwards
1999, 7). But it could mean that their misrepresentation of the gospel was by
deliberate design.
The present participle translated are trying is literally wanting. Paul did
not hesitate (see 4:9, 17, 21; 5:17; and 6:12-13) to assign motives to the Agi-
tators and to the Galatians they may not have identied themselves. Pauls
language is of course biased (Betz 1979, 49). The goal of his rhetoric was not
to be fair, but persuasive.
Here (as in Rom [1:3, 9;] 15:19; 1 Cor 9:12; 2 Cor 2:12; [4:4;] 9:13;
10:14; Phil 1:27; 1 Thess 3:2[; 2 Thess 1:8]), Paul characterized his message
as the gospel of Christ. What force did the genitive of Christ have here?
Objective: Christ was its central content. The gospel was all about
Christ (see Rom 1:1-3).
Subjective: Christ was its source. The gospel was the good news Christ
revealed to Paul (see Gal 1:12).
Perhaps, it is both objective and subjective (Betz 1979, 50 n. 69). Elsewhere,
Paul referred to his message as simply the gospel (see 1:8, 9, 11, 16; 2:2, 5,
14; 4:13) or the gospel of God (in Rom 1:1; 15:16; 1 Thess 2:2, 8, 9). In Gal
2:7 (), he would call it remarkably the gospel of the foreskin.
As in v 6, Paul referred to an unfortunate changea turning of the
Gospel into its opposite (Bertram 1971, 729). In Gal 4:8-9, he described
the Galatians response to this perversion with the same verb. They were ef-
fectively turning back from the knowledge of God to idolatry (see Martin
L 8-9 Paul issued a twofold conditional curse, stated rst hypothetically (in
the subjunctive mood in v 8) and then concretely (in the indicative mood in v
9). The grammar is complex but can be summarized as follows:
Hypothetical Curse: Paul never seriously imagined that he and his asso-
ciates or an angel from God would actually preach another gospel (see
1:11-12, 18; 2:1-10). But for the sake of the argument, he prayed that
God would put anyone under a curse if they ever preached another
gospel than the one rst preached to the Galatians (1:8). The truth
1: 8-9
of his message was not simply a matter of who were the preachers
(Dunn 1993, 44).
Concrete Curse: There actually were preachers of a perverted so-called
gospel in Galatia (vv 6-7). Paul prayed that Gods curse would fall
upon those preaching a gospel different from the one the Galatians
rst accepted (v 9).
The textual variants in the ancient manuscripts suggest that scribes struggled
with Pauls grammar in these verses as much as modern readers.
Unlike vv 6 and 7, Paul did not use the noun euangelion, gospel, in vv
8 and 9. Instead, he used a cognate verb, euangelizo3, evangelize. Thus, the
translations should preach a gospel (v 8) and is preaching . . . a gospel (v 9)
are paraphrases.
Pauls we could refer to him and his missionary colleagues in Galatia
(Lightfoot 1874, 77; Dunn 1993, 44) and the co-senders of the letter (Betz
1979, 51). But we probably referred to him alone (see Lyons 1985, 10-16; Ari-
chea and Nida 1976, 13). This explains the shift from the plural to the singular
in v 9: we have already said, so now I say again.
The noun angelos can mean simply messenger (see Luke 7:24; 9:52; Jas
2:25). But the clause from heaven clearly identies it as an angel. This was no
fallen angel (2 Pet 2:4; Jude 6), but one of the host of supernatural beings in
the service of God (see 3:19; Kittel 1964b; Broer 1990).
The words other than mean in contradistinction to (BDF, 123; 236)
or contrary to (Boice 1976, 430). This other gospel was a replacement for
(Porter 1999, 167) the gospel Paul preached on his founding visit (see Gal
4:12-16). Neither he (we) nor an angel from heaven was likely to preach
against the gospel he rst preached (1:8). But some people (v 7; someone, v
9; see 5:7, 10) actually were preaching against it. Thus, we might paraphrase
v 8: But even if I or a heavenly angel were preaching a substitute gospel to
you, may such a preacher be cursed by God. Verse 9 might be paraphrased:
Let me repeat: If anyone is preaching a substitute gospel to you, may such a
preacher be cursed by God.
The verb in the conclusion (apodosis) clause in both curses is in the third
person singular imperative. Koine Greek used the imperative mood for pro-
nouncing curses (see Mark 11:14; Acts 8:20; 1 Cor 16:22; see Robertson 1919,
939; BDF, 194, 384). English has no equivalent to third person commands.
Let him be cursed! (see Rom 9:3; 1 Cor 16:22) must sufce.
By including himself in Gal 1:8, Paul potentially pronounced a self-
curse. Paul did not directly curse the Agitators.
He probably prayed that God would do so: let them be under Gods
curse! (NIV 2011).
He offered a moral evaluation as to what should or would happen: he
is to be accursed (NASB).
1: 8-9
His curse functioned as a ban or excommunication (Betz 1979, 54).
That is, Paul may have urged the Galatians to expel the Agitators from
their churches ( 4:30; see 1 Cor 5:3-5; Ziesler 1992, 5). But if ex-
clusion from the Christian community entailed exclusion from salva-
tion (Betz 1979, 251), the threat of excommunication meant eternal
damnation ( Gal 5:7 and 12).
Paul described the Galatians reverse conversion as still in progress. Their de-
fection was occasioned by Agitators, who preached a perverted gospel. Ac-
cepting it would make them subject to the curse of destruction.
While the word hell never appears in Pauls letters, this conditional
curse has the colloquial force: may he be condemned to hell! (GNT). This
shocking wish was occasioned by the seriousness of the Agitators crime. They
had perverted the gospel, preached a substitute nongospel, confused his con-
verts, and led them to consider turning away from Christ (1:6-8; compare
Matt 18:6 || Mark 9:42 || Luke 17:2).
L 8 Pauls strong adversative conjunction made it obvious that the gospel of
Christ he preached (v 7) was antithetical to the message of the Agitators.
And this was regardless of what the Galatians thought (Burton 1920, 25; Lon-
genecker 1990, 16).
It is striking how comparatively nonchalant Paul was about rival preach-
ers later in Philippians. They preached for the wrong reasons (Phil 1:15, 17)
and for hurtful ends (v 18). But he was unwilling to write off preachers be-
cause they did not like him. He was almost indifferent to their hypocrisy (see
v 18). Why such a different response compared to Galatians?
Did the Galatian Agitators perverted gospel not have Christ as its
central message?
Were they calling the Galatians to non-Christian Judaism?
Did their gospel proclaim a false understanding of Christ (compare
2 Cor 11:2-4)?
Or, did Paul simply mellow with time and become more tolerant of
false teachers as he grew older?
L 9 Paul repeated himself: As we have already said, so now I say again. Some
think his double curse in vv 8-9 repeated an oral warning made while he was
still in Galatia (e.g., Rendall 1903, 152; BDAG, 704; Betz 1979, 53). It seems
more likely that he merely reiterated what he had just written in v 8 (so von
Campenhausen 1969, 37; Bruce 1982, 84). Whatever his specic meaning
here, repetition enforced the seriousness of the matter.
He put those terrifying the Galatians on notice: Beware of divine judg-
ment. And he warned the Galatians that surrender to the Agitators meant plac-
ing themselves under the curse (Betz 1979, 250). Perhaps this implicit threat
would embolden the Galatians to resist the Agitators so-called gospel (1:7).
1: 6-9
Intolerance. Paul assumed that his converts would persevere as Chris-
tians. The gospel was just that good! Thus, he wrote with shock, dismay, con-
sternation, and righteous indignation at what was happening in Galatia. Cir-
cumstances prevented him from addressing the matter in person (see 4:20).
But he believed that the Christian future of his audience was in danger (see
3:4; 4:11; 5:2-3, 7). This explains why he prayed that divine judgment might
be visited on the Agitators.
Modern Western people are put off by both the language and the men-
tality of curses in the ancient world (see Betz 1979, 50-52). Some Christians
are put off by Pauls calls for eternal damnation. Is such vindictiveness con-
sistent with the love of God emphasized in the teaching of gentle Jesus, meek
and mild? But this reads the Gospels selectively, through tinted glasses. The
Synoptic Gospels (especially Matthew) mention hell and always place it on the
lips of Jesus, far more than the rest of the Bible combined.
But how could Paul be so condent he was right and the Agitators wrong?
Christians who emphasize tolerance of diversity and inclusive communities
may be troubled by the intensity of Pauls alarm. Why was he so exercised
about petty theological differences? Why cant we just get along? Why consign
those who disagree to hell? Postmodern relativism has led some to dismiss
the claim that there is just one gospel. Paul was intolerant of such tolerance.
But Paul was especially intolerant of Christians, however well-meaning,
who were so convinced that theirs was the only way that they shook the faith
of simple believers. Some evangelists seem to take pride in their ability to ter-
rify people into coming to the altar. Would Pauls conditional curse apply to
Calvinists afrm Pauls insistence that salvation is by invitation only. But
so do Wesleyans. Apart from Gods gracious gift of salvation, no one can be
saved. Nothing anyone can do earns salvation. Faith is simply receptivity to
Gods gift. We cannot save ourselves. Wesleyans misunderstand the biblical
doctrine of election if they imagine we simply volunteer to become believers.
God always takes the initiative. We are called . . . by the grace of Christ (v 6).
Those who also think the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints
means once saved always saved have difculty explaining Pauls concern.
Can genuinely converted Christians actually lose their salvation? Paul thinks
so. Believers can surrender their salvation by deserting the God who called
them. Perseverance is not simply Gods doing. We must cooperate with Gods
saving purposes. That salvation was by grace alone did not make human faith-
fulness a matter of indifference.
How do we negotiate theological differences among Christians? Several
well-known Christians (Augustine, John Wesley, P. F. Bresee) have been cred-
ited with the saying, In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things,
1: 6-9
charity. How do we separate matters of indifference from the indispensable?
Why is one version of the gospel true and another false? Paul holds up the
christological testthe gospel of Christ (v 7) with the grace of Christ (v
6) at its center.
Inspiration. Paul was condent enough to insist, at the risk of pronounc-
ing a curse on himself, that the gospel he preached (v 8) and the Galatians
accepted was the only true gospel. The churchs canonization of Pauls letter
to the Galatians reminds us that believers for nearly two millennia have sensed
the conrming witness of the Spirit that this letter was more than a timely
response to a crisis long ago and far away. It is Gods timeless gift of the good
and gracious message of the cross of Christ Paul emphasized in this letter.
This authority applies to the rest of the canon as well. To listen to Ga-
latians alone creates the potential to distort the truth. Faith in the plenary
inspiration of Scripture means that biblical authority is to be found in the
wholeness of the canonical witness, not in our favorite books alone.
The diversity of Scripture is not simply the result of the difcult politi-
cal task of reaching ecumenical compromise. The canon denes the limits of
Christian orthodoxy. Emphasizing any of the diverse strands within the ca-
nonical collection to the neglect of the rest risks heretical extremes.
There are times when a church threatened by legalistic excess needs to
breathe deep from the fresh breeze of freedom blowing briskly throughout
Galatians. But a morally complacent church must listen carefully and repen-
tantly to James reminder that faith without works is dead (McKnight 1995,
34-46, 52-60).
Identication of the body of this letter is essentially a matter
of subtractionremoving the conventional letter opening (1:1-9)
and letter closing (6:11-18) ( Introduction).
A. Autobiographical Narrative
(1:102: 21)
Paul emphasized from the outset that his apostleship was of
divine origin. His gospel was inextricably connected to his own
person and divine calling. Thus, he reported selected excerpts
from his life story to demonstrate the divine character of his gospel
on the basis of his personal experience.
1. Thesis: Pauls Divine Gospel (1:10-12)
Before vs. After. The whole of Pauls autobiographical narra-
tive in 1:102:21 is organized around the temporal contrast be-
tween formerly and now introduced in 1:10. At its conclusion
in 2:20, no longer contrasts Pauls former egocentric existence
under law and his present christocentric life of faith: I died to the
law . . . I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. . . . [now] I live by
faith in the Son of God (2:19-20).
Human vs. Divine. Crucial to the formerly-now temporal
contrast is Pauls emphasis upon his earlier dependence on hu-
mans, and his present dependence on Christ / God alone. This
contrast prepares for the antitheses in the balance of the letter:
Flesh vs. Spirit, Law vs. Grace, Slavery vs. Freedom.

Transition. Most interpreters understand 1:10 as the conclusion of the

epistolary prescript. Others take it as the introduction to the autobiographical
narrative (e.g., Cole 1989, 81). Others take v 11 or v 12 as the conclusion of
the letter prescript (see Lyons 1985, 131-32 n. 25). Betz identies vv 10-11 as
transitional, with v 12 as the thesis introducing the autobiographical narrative
in 1:132:14 (1979, 46, 59-62, 66).
If 1:10-12 are transitional, they conclude the letters introduction and in-
troduce the autobiographical narrative in 1:132:21. Like a door hinge, these
verses facilitate the movement from the letter frame into the ow of Pauls
argument concerning the divine source of his gospel.
L 10 Paul transitions to the body of the letter with two rhetorical questions.
Both refer back to the preceding double curse. The conjunction For connects
1:6-9 and vv 10-12. English translations (except the NASB) generally omit this
(BDAG, 152, s.v. 1.f). For explains the tone rather than the content of the
preceding verses (Denniston 1959, 62): Why was Paul willing to condemn
preachers of another gospel (Meyer 1873, 20; Lightfoot 1874, 78-79; Burton
1920, 31)?
The adverb now in both 1:9 and 10 provides another connection. In
Pauls letters (see 1 Cor 4:8-13in v 11: this very [arti: now]; in v 13: this
[arti: now]; 1 Cor 8:7: still [arti: now]; 13:12-13; 2 Thess 2:7), now (wheth-
er arti or nyn) usually indicates a temporal contrast between the present and
the past or future (Oepke 1973, 26). The repeated now links Gal 1:10 with
vv 8-9.
Commentators disagree as to whether Pauls or and Or had a disjunctive
(i.e., rather than) or additive (and) force (BDF, 231, 446). He normally used
or disjunctively in questions (see Rom 4:10; 6:16) joining antonyms (against
Betz 1979, 54 n. 103). Thus, the rst or means rather than (Rendall 1903,
153). But the second Or is additive in force. The two questions in Gal 1:10 are
essentially synonymous (Betz 1979, 54-55, 56 n. 46).
Paul denied using attery to coerce anyonehuman or divine. But it was
always right to try to please God (see Rom 12:1, 2; 14:18; 2 Cor 5:9; Eph 5:10;
Phil 4:18; Col 3:20). As a servant of Christ, divine approval always trumped
human approval (see Rom 1:1; Rengstorf 1964b, 277).
Pauls point in Gal 1:10 was no more than that he wants to please God
rather than men (Bultmann 1968a, 2). Both persuading and pleasing peo-
ple have negative connotationsbeing subservient to them, obeying them
(BDAG, 792, s.v. peitho3 s.v. 3.b; Moulton and Milligan 1930, 75). People-
pleasing is incompatible with Christ-serving (Foerster 1964, 455).
Paul refused to accommodate his message to win over an audience. His
self-identity was intimately connected to his call to be a servant of Jesus
Christ (Rom 1:1; see Phil 1:1). This was not feigned humility, but a pledge of
ultimate allegiance. Paul was completely at his masters disposal. To serve as
Gods slave was a high honor. It placed him among the OT gures Abraham
(Gen 26:24; Ps 105:6, 42), Moses (Num 12:7-8), David (2 Sam 7:5, 8), and
the prophets (Isa 20:3; Jer 7:25; Amos 3:7).
Fur t her Readi ng : Fi rst - Cent ur y Sl aver y
In addition to the older sources cited in Betz (1979, 192 n. 90), see the fol-
lowing more recent treatments:
Bartchy, S. Scott. 1992. Slavery (New Testament). Pages 6573 in vol. 6 of The
Anchor Bible Dictionary. Edited by David Noel Freedman. New York: Dou-
Bradley, Keith. 1994. Slavery and Society at Rome. Key Themes in Ancient History.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Harrill, J. Albert. 2000. Slavery. In the Dictionary of New Testament Background: A
Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship. Edited by Craig A. Evans
and Stanley E. Porter. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity.
________. 2005. Slaves in the New Testament: Literary, Social, and Moral Dimensions.
Minneapolis: Fortress.
Harris, J. Murray. 2001. Slave of Christ: A New Testament Metaphor for Total Devo-
tion to Christ. New Studies in Biblical Theology 8. Downers Grove, Ill.:
Lyall, Francis. 1984. Slaves, Citizens, Sons: Legal Metaphors in the Epistles. Grand
Rapids: Academie Books.
Martin, Dale B. 1990. Slavery as Salvation. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University
Tsang, Sam. 2005. From Slaves to Sons: A New Rhetoric Analysis on Pauls Slave Meta-
phors. Studies in Biblical Literature 81. New York: Peter Lang Publishing.
Paul denitely wanted to please God and serve Christ. But loyalty to
God meant refusing to try to satisfy his audiences by adjusting his message to
suit their tastes. He refused to resort to manipulative attery as a missionary
strategy (see Gal 1:6-9; 2:3; 4:17; 5:2-12; 6:12-15). Paul was not opposed to
pleasing people as a matter of principle, so long as it did not compromise his
primary allegiance to God (see 4:17-20). As a servant of Christ, the truth of
the gospel mattered more than being persuasive (2:5, 14; 4:16).
Paul had undoubtedly shocked his readers by omitting the expected
thanksgiving and replacing it with a rebuke (1:6-7) and a curse (vv 8-9). His
rhetorical questions in v 10 invited the Galatians to judge from this: Was he a
attering people-pleaser? Did he ultimately serve God or people?
In v 10 Paul spelled out the practical implications of his afrmation in
v 1. Since his apostolic commission was of divine and not human origin, he
was beholden to no one but God / Christ. In vv 11-12 he would add a further
implication. Like his calling, his message was of divine and not human origin.
Pl easi ng Peopl e
If Paul denied persuading people here, was he inconsistent with his claim in 2
Cor 5:11b: we try to persuade people (so Richardson 1980)? It appears that the
tension between pleasing oneself vs. pleasing others vs. pleasing God was a care-
fully considered and fundamental motif in Pauline thought (Ksemann 1980,
381). If Paul had to choose between pleasing himself and pleasing others, pleasing
people was to be preferred. But pleasing people as a means of pleasing oneself, as
in attery and manipulation, was always unacceptable. Pleasing people was only for
saving ends. If he had to choose between pleasing people and pleasing God, God
always won out (see Rom 14:18-19; 15:1-3; 1 Cor 8:1; 10:24, 33; 11:1; 2 Cor 5:11; 1
Thess 2:3-12; compare Acts 18:4; 19:8; 28:23; Bultmann 1964, 2).
Pauls primary loyalty to God allowed no rival (Gal 1:10). The Agitators
had resorted to manipulative rhetoric and attery (see 4:16-20) to alienate
the Galatians from Paul and the gospel he represented (see 1:6-7). He did not
want the issue to devolve into choosing between humans. Rather, would they
side with God or with humans? Pauls conditional curse clearly put him on the
side of God. And it consigned the Agitators to destruction, or at least exclu-
sion from the Christian community.
The adverb still indicates a contrast between Pauls past and present
behavior (BDAG, 400, s.v. eti 1.a.a). Paul is conscious of having pleased men
in some fashion or other in the past. But he had since changed his behavior
in some way (Richardson 1980, 359; see Betz 1979, 56). He did not say how.
But his rhetorical questions imply that his pre-Christian existence curried hu-
man approval at the expense of Gods.
Galatians 1:13 and 14 refer to Pauls complicity in the Jewish persecu-
tion of Christians (see 1:23; so Williams 1921, 9; Boers 1976, 50; and Betz
1979, 67 n. 110) as one example. His pre-Christian (formerly in vv 13 and
14) competitiveness and self-exalting comparisons with his Jewish contempo-
raries stood in marked contrast (v 15) to his present lack of concern for what
people thought (v 16; 2:6). Perhaps the compromising hypocrisy of Peter and
other Jewish Christians at Antioch in 2:11-14 reminded Paul of the one-time
people-pleasing conduct he had abandoned (Boers 1976, 4 and 52).
Paul had once considered his zealous persecution of Christians a claim
to fame (1:13-14). No longer. Now, to the praise of God (v 24), he preached
the faith he once tried to destroy (v 23).
In contrast to Pauls present practice, in 6:12 he accused the Agitators
of urging circumcision to win human approval and avoid persecution. As evi-
dence that he no longer urged circumcision, he cited his present experience of
still being persecuted (5:11). He had never deliberately put winning human
favor before pleasing God (1:14-16; Phil 3:6). But in retrospect he saw his
excessive zeal for his ancestral traditions as wrongly motivated, worthless, and
misguided (1:13-14; see Rom 9:3010:4; Phil 3:4-11). Paul the persecutor
had been a people-pleaser.
L 11-12 Paul continued to reinforce the human vs. divine contrast introduced
in his self-description in 1:1. This contrast is obvious in v 10. But vv 11-12
mark a new stage in Pauls argument.
Most English translations ignore the repeated conjunction gar, for, con-
necting vv 10, 11, 12, and 13. The clauses are not parallel (Denniston 1959,
68). So they do not offer a threefold substantiation of Pauls claim in v 10 that
he did not please people. Nor does each substantiate the preceding inference.
Manuscript variants reect the difculties gar has always presented interpret-
ers (see also Longenecker 1990, 22).
The disclosure formula (see Mullins 1964) in v 11 probably supports
the implicit conclusion of v 10: As a servant of Christ, Paul was subservient
to no human authority. Accordingly, his gospel was also divine in nature and
This formula was a common feature of Pauls letters (see Rom 1:13; 1
Cor 10:1; 12:1, 3; 15:1; 2 Cor 8:1; 1 Thess 4:13). Letter writers used it to
move to the crucial issue at hand (Dahl 1973, 40; Gaventa 1986a, 22-23). I
make known discloses relevant information from the apostles autobiography.
Typically in Pauls letters, disclosures reminded readers of information they
already knew (BDAG, 203, s.v. gno3rizo3 1; Rendall 1903, 153; Betz 1979, 56,
59-60). The anecdotes he selected from his autobiography were chosen for
their relevance to his main theme (Bruce 1975, 22).
Paul addressed his readers as adelphoi, brothers and sisters (NIV 2011)
for the rst time in v 11, but not the last (see Lyons and Malas 2007). This
ctive-family language appears increasingly as the letter moves toward its con-
clusion (in 3:15; 4:12, 28, 31; 5:11, 13; 6:1, 18). Despite the angry tone of its
letter opening, Galatians uses this friendly address more frequently than any
of Pauls other community letters except Thessalonians.
However foolish the Galatians were (3:1), whatever they had done and
were contemplating, however close they were to falling from grace (5:2-3),
Paul refused to write them off. He cherished these converts as his family
siblings, even children (4:19). He was condent that the power of gospel
persuasion would change their minds (5:10).
Pauls disclosure begins negatively. The gospel [ 1:6-9] I preached is
not of human origin (v 11 NIV 2011). The nal phrase is literally according to
a human (see 3:15; Rom 3:5; 1 Cor 3:3; 9:8; 15:32). It is roughly synonymous
with according to the esh, in Rom 8:4-5, 12-13; 1 Cor 1:26; 2 Cor 1:17;
10:2. Paul contrasted the sphere of the merely human and those deeds and
standards that belong to the new life available in Christ (Gaventa 1986a, 23).
L 12 Paul explained the meaning of his claim that his gospel was not of hu-
man origin (Gal 1:11 NIV 2011). For I neither received it from a human nor
was I taught it by a human. The use of the explicit pronoun I emphasized Paul
in contrast to others. Perhaps he suggested that, unlike his Galatian readers
(and the Agitators?), he did not receive his gospel from any human source, but
directly from Jesus Christ.
Pauls claim to an unmediated gospel in v 12 supercially contradicts his
claim in 1 Cor 15:1-7 (see also 1 Cor 11:2, 23; 1 Thess 2:13). There he claimed
to have received the formulation of the gospel he received by tradition. Here
he claimed, I did not receive my gospel.
If Paul was ignorant of the Christian story before his encounter with
the risen Christ ( Gal 1:15-17), there is no explanation for his persecution
of Christians. He was well enough acquainted with the gospel to reject it
violently (see 2 Cor 5:16; see Cullmann 1956, 60-69; Baird 1957, 185-91; and
Schtz 1975, 54-58).
But facts and formulas are not the gospel, which Paul insisted he re-
ceived through Gods gracious revelation of his Son. This unmediated revela-
tion communicated to him both more and less than historical information
about Jesus. It revealed that what he had considered a blasphemous Christian
claimthat the crucied Jesus was the Messiah of Israelwas actually true.
Jesus was alive and reigning as Lord in the presence of God. This revelation
marked the decisive moment in his conversion to Christianity. In it he re-
ceived his vocation to preach Christ to the Gentiles (Gal 1:16). The divine
initiative validates the claim that his gospel was not human in origin or char-
acter (vv 11, 15-16).
Conversi on vs. Vocat i on
A number of NT scholars, notably Krister Stendahl (1976, 7-23) and J.
Christiian Beker (1980, 3-9), are reluctant to apply the word conversion to
Pauls encounter with the risen Christ. He did not, after all, change gods or reli-
gions. Christianity was considered a sect of Judaism. He merely received a calling
to a new mission from the God he already worshipped.
F. F. Bruce (1977, 15-16, 69-75, 87, 188) and Seyoon Kim (1981), however,
make strong cases for conversion by integrating Pauls rsthand accounts with
the narratives of Acts 9; 22; and 26 (an approach Stendahl and Beker reject).
Pauls own references to his conversion are brief and few. Unlike Acts, he
offered no narration of a miraculous event, no light, no voices, no companions,
no blindness (Gaventa 1986a, 37). Nonetheless,
Paul draws on prophetic imagery in vv. 15-17 in order to convey the radi-
cal impact of the revelation. While this may imply that he views himself as
standing within the prophetic tradition, it does not mean that what has
occurred to Paul may be subsumed under the category of call. (Gaventa
1986a, 28)
Pauls decisive shifts of values, orientation, and commitment [are] of a
kind more appropriately associated with a conversion than a call (Donald-
son 1989, 681). Isaiah was not called to an about-face as dramatic as that which
changed Paul from persecutor to apostle (Gal 1:13-16). Jeremiah did not trans-
value his past as Paul did in Phil 3:4-8. Paul the persecutor of Christians consid-
ered Law and Christ as incompatible as did Paul the apostle to the Gentiles. Only
conversion accounts for his changing sides (Kim 1997).
Greco-Roman culture looked with suspicion at claims of conversions. It
valued stable and constant character. Radical changes were neither expected nor
appreciated (Witherington 1998b, 108). Jewsthen and nowregard his rever-
sal as apostasy (Segal 1990). From a Christian perspective, it seems best to refer
to the life-transforming event in Pauls story using the hyphenated conversion-
call (see Witherington 1998a, 107-15).
Pauls claim to an unmediated gospel is not challenged by Acts report
of the involvement of a divinely sent human messenger, Ananias of Damascus,
in Pauls conversion. God sent him to Paul through a vision (Acts 9:10). Nei-
ther in Acts nor elsewhere in his letters did he describe his encounter with the
risen Christ (see Rom 7; 1 Cor 9:1-2; 15:8-11; 2 Cor 4:6; 12:1-4; Phil 3:2-16;
Gaventa 1986a) as a revelationonly in Gal 1:12 and 16. Acts 26:19 calls
it a vision from heaven. Ananias merely conrmed Pauls revelation as from
the Lord Jesus with words of assurance, a prayer for restoration of his sight,
and the administration of baptism (see Acts 9:10-19). Acts fails to mention
Ananias in its third account of Pauls conversion-call (26:4-23 vs. 9:1-19 and
22:3-21). Pauls failure to mention his role did not misrepresent the truth
(Phillips 2009, esp. 42-47).
Paul emphasized that he did not receive the gospel in the same way his
converts had. They received (accepted) it through his preaching (Gal 1:9;
see 4:13), even if they received it, as not merely a human word, but actually
as the word of God (see 4:14; 1 Thess 2:13). Apparently, preaching counted
as human mediation. The verb received frequently describes the human re-
sponse of faith to Christian preaching (see 1 Cor 15:1; Phil 4:9; Col 2:6) or
the transmission of tradition (1 Cor 15:3; 1 Thess 4:1; 2 Thess 3:6).
In Gal 1:11 Paul claimed negatively that his gospel was not of human
origin (NIV 2011). Rather, the gospel came to him unmediated, by revela-
tion, directly from Jesus Christ (v 12c; see 1 Cor 11:23; but see 1 Cor 15:3).
Paul contrasted a hypothetical human gospel with the true gospel, which
came by divine revelation.
The assertion that Pauls gospel came through a revelation of Jesus
Christ (emphasis added) could be taken in two ways. Either Christ revealed
the gospel to him (subjective genitive; e.g., Lightfoot 1874, 80; Longenecker
1990, 23-24; see Pilch 1973), or Pauls gospel originated in Gods revelation
of Jesus Christ to him (objective genitive; e.g., Burton 1920, 41; Dunn 1993,
The second option is supported by Gal 1:15-16: God . . . was pleased
to reveal his Son in me. He claimed that with the revelation of the crucied
one as Son of God the gospel itself [was] disclosed to him (Holtz 1990, 131).
In 3:23 Paul referred to this as faith being revealed. Here he pointed to
Gods act in Christ . . . as seen from the perspective of the human recipient
(3:24; Holtz 1990, 131).
In the NT, the word revelation (apokalypsis) usually has associations with
the end times. (See 3:23; Rom 2:5; 8:18, 19; 1 Cor 1:7; 3:13. Galatians 2:2
is a notable exception.) Paul considered his encounter with the risen Christ
and his call to be an apostle to the Gentiles to be end-time events (see 1 Cor
15:8; Dunn 1993, 53-54). God had intervened in history to make possible
human salvation through the creation of an eschatological community. The
future revelation at the Parousia of Christ would only complete what God has
already begun.
The autobiographical narrative in Gal 1:132:21 supports Pauls disclo-
sure in 1:11-12. The gospel he preached and the Galatians accepted is of divine
origin. The autobiography conrms this. The gospel announced Gods apoca-
lyptic intervention in human history in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
But it also participated in the revelatory event it proclaimed. God revealed
himself in the crucied Christ, who is graphically portrayed in the preaching
of the gospel (see 3:1).
Paul believed that he, as the messenger of the gospel, incarnated the
message he proclaimed. Like his message, the apostle represented God. He
spoke the word of God as one approved by God to be entrusted with the
gospel. Thus, he tried to please God, not people (1 Thess 2:13, 4-5).
Pleasing People. Born and raised in a conservative evangelical Christian
family, I learned early how to play the game. The approval of my parents, my
pastor, and my church family came with saying and doing the expected things.
But at school, approval called for another set of behaviors. Unwilling to be the
proverbial chameleon, I generally avoided hypocrisy, only to fall into the trap
of legalism.
During four years at a Christian college, I struggled to make sense of
classmates raised in other families and from other parts of the world. At rst,
I was persuaded they could not possibly be real Christians and be so differ-
ent from me. Over time, I reasoned: They were simply immature Christians.
When they became as mature as me, they would be just like me. I was mostly
oblivious to my own faults and inconsistencies. After all, I had set the rules of
comparison in this legalistic competition.
During seminary, while researching an assignment in a Parables of Jesus
class, I discovered that the story did not end with the joyous return of the
younger brother from the far country. As I read on, God helped me to see
myself in Jesus unattering depiction of the judgmental elder brother. Like
him I had stayed at home, grudgingly doing my duty. But I had failed truly to
experience the Fathers approval. It was liberating to learn that his pleasure
mattered more than human approval.
Divine Revelation. Paul claimed to be the last one privileged to have ex-
perienced a personal encounter with the resurrected Christ (1 Cor 15:3-8).
Granting this, our reception of the gospel was more like the Galatians than
his. We received the gospel through preaching. Pauls letter to the Galatians
gets us as close to unmediated access to the divinely revealed gospel as possible
two millennia later (McKnight 1995, 67-70).
Our willingness to take Pauls word for it will determine the functional
authority of the gospel in our lives. Is it just another opinion about God? Only
as we take the gospel as not of human origin (v 11 NIV 2011) can we stake our
lives that it the denitive revelation from Jesus Christ (v 12).
Postmodern people have difculty believing God has denitively re-
vealed himself to human beings. Many are scandalized by the particularity
and exclusivity of orthodox Christian claims that God has acted uniquely in
Christ. It seems far too intolerant to insist that there is only one way to know
God. Witherington (1998a, 86-87) raises some important questions:
Does the church still believe in divine revelation?
Will we accept Pauls claims that there is only one gospel or dismiss
them as the ravings of a religious fanatic? (86)
What would it mean for the church once again to take seriously its
commitment to a denite Gospel message centered on the denitive
saving work of Christ? (86)
Do we really believe that God singles out individuals for specifc
tasks, or in fact that God calls all human beings both to conversion
and to follow a divinely directed vocation? (87)
Conversion-Call. Paul considered his conversion-call unique. Not all
Christians experience the same dramatic, 180-degree reversal he did. This
has always been true for those born and raised in Christian homes. But it is
also true of those who rst become a part of a believing community and only
later discover how much they have been transformed by their new allegiances.
For some, conversion is far from dramatic and instantaneous. Do we still share
Pauls conviction:
that God is willing and able to change all without exception into the
persons he created them to be?
that conversion inevitably brings with it a new sense of vocationa
call to serve God and others (Witherington 1998a, 87)?
But postmodern critics correctly challenge modern assertions of certain-
ty and objectivity. Paul was not the only biblical author who claimed to speak
for God. By placing his witness alongside that of Moses, David, Isaiah, Jer-
emiah, Matthew, James, and others, the church at once acknowledged Pauls
letters as divinely inspired and that he was not the only one who spoke for
God. Each canonical voice makes its own unique contribution to the whole.
The gospel may be one; but divine revelation has come to us in a multitude of
expressions, from a dizzying variety of perspectives, across well over a thou-
sand years. It should come as no surprise that there is obvious diversity within
scriptural unity.
2. Proof (1:132:21)
No other NT author offered glimpses of his life story as Paul did. In my
1982 doctoral dissertation I concluded
that Paul offers his autobiographical narrative in 1:132:21 as substan-
tiation of his claim in 1:11-12 . . . [and] that he considers himself in some
sense a representative or even an embodiment of that gospel. . . . The
consistency between his anastprophe3, conduct, and praxeis, deeds,
and his logoi, words, demonstrates the truth of his philosophy, the gos-
pel of Jesus Christ. He is a paradigm of the gospel he preaches among
the Gentiles. (Lyons 1985, 171)
Within the narrative But when (in 1:15) marks the rst signicant tran-
sition. This divides Pauls life into two partsformerly (vv 13-14) and now
(v 152:21). The decisive transitional moment came with Pauls conversion-
call, occasioned by Gods revelation of Christ to him (1:15-17).
Then (in 1:18, 21; and 2:1) marks off three successive events subsequent
to Pauls conversion-call:
his frst trip to Jerusalem (1:18-20),
his mission in Syria and Cilicia (1:21-24), and
his second trip to Jerusalem (2:1-10).
But when (in 2:11) marks the second signicant transition. This involves
Pauls confrontation with Peter and other Jewish Christians (vv 11-21) in An-
tioch. It has two parts: The incident (vv 11-14) and Pauls discourse on its
implications (vv 15-21).
The narrative may be organized as follows:
1:132:21 Autobiographical narrative
1:13-17 Pauls conversion-call
1:13-14 Before: Pauls former life in Judaism
1:15-17 After: Christ revealed to Paul
1:182:10 Pauls contacts with Jerusalem
1:18-20 (then) Pauls rst brief visit to Jerusalem
1:21-24 (then) Pauls absence from Jerusalem
2:1-10 (then) Jerusalems recognition of Pauls gospel
2:11-21 Pauls condemnation of hypocrisy at Antioch
2:11-14 The incident
2:15-21 The implications
Paul used these personal details to support the thesis that his gospel was
of divine origin and that he was unconcerned to please people (1:10-12). As
proof he offered the evidence of:
His conversion-call, which unexpectedly changed him from a perse-
cutor (vv 13-14) to a preacher (vv 15-17),
His limited contacts with the leaders of the church in Jerusalem and
others who were Christians before him (vv 18-24),
The recognition of his gospel and divinely graced ministry to the Gen-
tiles by the leaders of the Jerusalem church (2:1-10), and
His courageous condemnation of the hypocrisy of church leaders in
Antioch (vv 11-21).
Pauls letter to the Galatians has all the marks of deliberative rhetoric (
Introduction). He wrote to persuade the Galatians to follow his example and
accept his divinely revealed gospel of grace and freedom from circumcision
and to reject the Agitators anti-gospel of Law and slavery. Ancient theorists
considered personal examples most appropriate in deliberative rhetoric (for
the ancient evidence, see Witherington 1998a, 93).
a. Pauls Conversion-Call (1:13-17)
i. Before: Pauls Former Life in Judaism (1:13-14)
Galatians 1:13-14 represents the formerly counterpoint to the now
of vv 15-17. Paul formulated his autobiographical remarks in terms of before
vs. after and human vs. divine. This enabled them to serve a paradigmatic
function, to contrast [his] conversion from Judaism to Christianity with the
Galatians inverted conversion (Lyons 1985, 150).
L 13 The conjunction gar, For, introduces Pauls claims in vv 11-12, which
in turn substantiates v 10 and explains the harsh tone of vv 6-9. He directly
addressed the readers: you have heard. Paul used this second person plural ad-
dress earlier, in the rebuke and curse (vv 6, 9), and again in 3:2. He assumed
that his audience was already somewhat familiar with his pre-Christian activi-
ties ( 1:11; see Jervell 1972, 19-39).
These remarks properly begin with reference to Pauls former way of
life [anastrophe3n] in Judaism. Anastrophe3 (see Eph 4:22; 1 Tim 4:12; 2 Cor
1:12) was a technical term in ancient autobiographies (Lyons 1985, 27-29).
The term was particularly apropos for rst-century Judaism, which was more
a way of life than a set of doctrines. In Tob 4:14 and 2 Macc 6:23 anastrophe3
specically describes the proper Jewish way of life (Gaventa 1986a, 24).
Unlike most ancient lives, Pauls account of his youthful upbringing does not
describe his personal choices deciding his character and profession. Instead,
Gods revelation of Christ determined his vocation as a preacher to the Gen-
tiles (Gal 1:15-17).
Judaism refers to the religion and lifestyle of Jews (only here and v 14
in the NT). It was rst used in conict-settings in opposition to Hellenism
Greek language and lifestyleduring the second century B.C. (2 Macc 2:21;
8:1; 14:38; 4 Macc 4:26). By the second century A.D., Ignatius of Antioch used
it in contrast with Christianity (Ign. Magn. 10:3; Ign. Phld. 6:1).
As Paul used it, Judaism means both political and genetic association
with the Jewish nation and exclusive belief in the one God of Israel, together
with observance of the Torah given by him (Hengel 1974, 1:1-2). It does not
denote the Jewish religion as opposed to Christianity, since the two were not
yet entirely distinct. It indicated the adoption of Jewish habits, language, or
policy . . . Jewish partisanship (Rendall 1903, 153). Paul claimed prowess not
in piety but in sectarian prejudice and persecuting zeal (Rendall 1903, 154).
Did Pauls reference to his former way of life in Judaism indicate that
he considered himself a former Jew (so, e.g., Oepke 1973, 30; Guthrie 1969,
67; Witherington 1998a, 98)? Or, did this merely acknowledge an internal
dispute within Judaism (so, e.g., Dunn 1993, 57)? After all, he did not refer to
his life as a former Jew. His way of life changed, not his faith.
Nevertheless, Paul considered Christ-believing Jews and Gentiles to be
the Israel of God ( 6:16). Galatians presents the Christian church as the
assembly of God, not merely in continuity with the assembly of God. Paul
distinguished the church from unbelieving Judaism. The heritage of Israel is
seen by Paul as being claimed by and fullled in the Christian assembly and
not elsewhere (Witherington 1998a, 98-99).
Certainly, the denitive parting of the ways of synagogue and church
lay decades in the future. And this parting developed at different paces in
different places. In Pauls day, Christians were generally considered a sect of
Judaism, alongside Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and others. But Pauls con-
version was not merely from one Jewish movement, the Pharisees, to an-
other, the Christians (against Dunn 1993, 57). It was more radical than that.
He considered the church to be continuous with the Biblical heritage, espe-
cially as manifested in Abraham. But he did not see it as continuous with the
synagogue, or with contemporary Judaism, apparently unlike the Jerusalem
church (Witherington 1998a, 98 n. 26).
Paul mentioned two characteristic and related aspects of his pre-Chris-
tian lifestyle: persecution of the church and progress in Judaism. The iterative
imperfect tense describes his characteristic and repeated past conduct: I was
persecuting the church of God (see Acts 9:21; 1 Cor 15:9; Phil 3:6).
Acts reports Pauls persecuting activity to have included physical vio-
lence against believersthreats of arrest, imprisonment, and execution (Acts
8:1-3; 9:1-2, 13-14, 21; 22:4-8; 26:9-11, 14-15). Historical evidence suggests
that Jewish persecution of Christians typically involved subtle, psychologi-
cal methods such as social marginalization and economic sanctions (Hare
1967, 59-60, 77-79). If the Agitators persecuted his Galatian converts ( Gal
4:29), this involved verbal abuse and social pressuretroubling, threatening,
hindering, harassing, excluding, unsettling, and coercion to recant their faith
(see 1:7; 4:17; 5:7, 10, 12, 15; 6:12).
The phrase how intensely (see Rom 7:13; 1 Cor 12:31; 2 Cor 1:8; 4:17)
describes Pauls persecuting activity as to an extraordinary degree, beyond mea-
sure (BDAG, 1032). Certainly this could imply physical violence (see RSV:
violently; and NEB: savagely). In 5:11, Paul claimed to have become the vic-
tim of Jewish persecution himself (see 1 Thess 2:14-16), without specifying
the form it took. In 6:17, he wrote, I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. Of
course, this may be gurative speech ( 6:17).
Paul persecuted the church of God. Scholars debate whether the word
ekkle3sia, translated church throughout the NT, had any religious connota-
tions before Christians appropriated it as a self-designation. Pauls letters
preserve the earliest surviving literary evidence for the Christian use of the
term. But he was almost certainly not the rst to apply the term to a gathered
Christian community.
Jews well before Pauls day preferred the Greek term synago3ge3, syn-
agogue, for their gatherings, even in Aramaic. In early Christian usage,
church (ekkle3sia) in the singular usually identies a particular local assem-
bly or gathering of believers. Most interpreters consider the universal use
of the term to refer to all Christian believers everywhere a later development
(Schmidt 1965, 501-36; but see Lyons 2007, 238-39).
Paul explicitly applied the expression church of God to churches in Ju-
dea (1 Thess 2:14) and Corinth (1 Cor 1:2; 2 Cor 1:1). He used churches of
God (in 1 Cor 11:16 and 2 Thess 1:4) to refer to all of the Christian commu-
nities collectively. He may have used the singular church in Gal 1:13 (as in 1
Cor 10:32; 12:28; 15:9; and Phil 3:6) with this more universal application (so
Burton 1920, 45, 417-20; Lincoln 2002, 67).
If Paul used church here in the local sense, he did not say which church
he persecuted. Acts mentions Christian assemblies in Jerusalem (8:1; 9:1-2,
13; 22:4; 26:10) and foreign cities (26:11), but offers no further details apart
from Damascus (v 12).
Paul used another imperfect verb to continue the account of his persecu-
tion of the church in Gal 1:13, I was destroying it (see v 23; Acts 9:21). The
verb portheo3 means to attack and cause complete destruction, . . . annihilate
(BDAG, 853). Nearly contemporary Jewish writers used the term to refer to
the sacking of a city (Josephus, J.W. 4.534; 1 Macc 2:47) or the violent de-
struction of apostate Jews (1 Macc 3:5). Since Paul did not succeed in bring-
ing the church to a premature end, this must be understood as a tendential
imperfect, I was trying to destroy it (Hultgren 1976, 110). Retrospectively,
Paul was ashamed of his persecuting past (see 1 Cor 15:9; Phil 3:6). But nei-
ther Paul nor Acts implies that an uneasy conscience drove him to Christ
(Witherington 1998a, 100).
L 14 Pauls pre-Christian activities arose from his extraordinary zeal for God
(see Acts 22:3-4). The verb here is also imperfect, but with an iterative force:
I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age.
The verb advancing was a navigational metaphor that came to refer to
different varieties of progress (Schenk 1990, 157), much like succeed. In
Gal 1:14, advancing describes Pauls increasing success as an observant Jew. In
Luke 2:52, the term characterizes Jesus youthful intellectual, physical, and
spiritual maturation. Paul described the increasing faith and joy of the Philip-
pian congregation as such progress (Phil 1:25). The cognate noun in Phil
1:12 describes the increasing number of converts to Christ as the advance-
ment of the gospel.
Paul compared himself to his Jewish contemporaries (see Rom 9:3; 16:7,
21). Then, he had treated religion as a competition. Now he recognized how
destructive such comparisons were to community life ( Gal 5:15). Religious
competition inevitably spawned conceit (by the successful) and envy (by the
failures; 5:26). Competition with his contemporaries (1:13) motivated the in-
tensity of his efforts to persecute the church. As an aspiring super-Jew, he did
not turn to Christianity because he was a failure at Judaism (Betz 1979, 68).
As tangible evidence, Paul offered his far greater zeal for his ancestral
traditions compared to his age-mates. These traditions refer to Israels oral
law, handed down from generation to generation with an authoritative de-
mand for compliance (Popkes 1990a, 21). The teachings and practices devel-
oped in the Pharisaic schools of Second Temple Judaism were not codied in
written form as the Talmud until ca. A.D. 500 (Longenecker 1990, 30). The
Talmud functions within Judaism much as the NT does for Christiansas the
interpretive grid for understanding the Hebrew Bible.
As a zealot, Pauls dedication to the regulations of Israel was intense,
passionate, all-consuming, overwhelming (see Acts 21:20). His commitment
was admirable (see 1 Kgs 19:10, 14; 1 Macc 2:23-28, 49-50, 58; 2 Macc 4:1-
2). But it became perverted and misdirected into violent persecution of per-
ceived violators of the Law (see Phil 3:6). He defended Jewish traditions by
hating his neighbors ( Gal 5:14). He justied his persecution of Christians
as Jewish renegades, compromisers, and apostates. In this he emulated earlier
zealots such as Phineas, Elijah, and the Maccabees (see Lightfoot 1874, 81-82;
Wright 1996).
Pauls well-intentioned but delusional zeal took the form of ethnocen-
trism and intolerance of diversity. Everything Jesus encouraged, Paul opposed.
He protected Jewish uniqueness and prerogatives by the violent exclusion or
elimination of others. In the name of God and right, he aligned himself with
those who had crucied Jesus as a threat to Judaism. The conviction that Jesus
was justly executed by the guardians of the faith of Israel only inamed Pauls
zealot passions.

Zeal for Jewish self-preservation made Paul narrow-minded and near-

sighted. Preoccupied with all that distinguished Jews from Gentiles (esp., cir-
cumcision and food laws), he lost sight of the truly central concerns of Israels
Law and mission to the nations. Siding with human traditions, he put himself
at odds with God. He persecuted Christians who proclaimed a crucied blas-
phemer the Messiah of Israel.
Perhaps, the essential difference between Paul the zealot before and af-
ter his conversion-call was that he changed sides in the boundary dispute. The
Christian Paul continued to consider the Law and Christ as fundamentally
opposed. The incompatibility of Christ and Torah was the constant element
in the syllogism that on the one side of the conversion experience led to per-
secution of the church, and on the other resulted in erce resistance to the
Judaizers (Donaldson 1989, 656). Before he came to the conviction . . . that
salvation is through Christ, he had already become convinced that Christ and
Torah represented mutually exclusive ways of describing the community and
sphere of salvation (Donaldson 1989, 668). Paul the Christian did not oppose
Law as such, but considered it a vestige of the old age, antiquated by the com-
ing of the new age.
ii. After: Christ Revealed to Paul (1:15-17)
Pauls point in mentioning his increasing success as a zealous Jew (1:13-
14) was to emphasize that he did not become a Christian for the human reason
that he had failed in his former way of life. Quite the contrary!
He made much the same point in different terms in Phil 3:4b-21. Paul
did not come to Christ as a self-conscious rebel against God, plagued by guilt,
despairing of his failure to please God, deeply conscious of his own sin, and
desperately seeking salvation. On the contrary, it took the revelation of the
crucied Jesus as the Christ of God to bring a self-righteous zealot for the Law
(Gal 1:13-14) to understand himself and Jesus (2 Cor 5:16-21) and Gentiles
in an entirely new light.
L 15-17 These verses comprise a single sentence in Greek. It begins with a
time marker and a contrastive conjunction: But when (Arichea and Nida 1976,
21). His encounter with Christ marked the decisive break with his former
way of life in Judaism as a zealous persecutor of Christians (v 13) and his new
way of life as an apostle of Jesus Christ (see v 23).
L 15 The subject of Pauls narrative shifts from what I did in 1:13-14 to what
God did in vv 15-16 (Boice 1976, 433).
Each of the three main verbs in vv 15-17 has Pauls I as its grammati-
cal subject.
The words ho Theos, God, are missing in some important early manu-
scripts. (Compare 1:6; 2:8; 5:8; Rom 4:5; 8:11; Phil 1:6; 1 Thess 5:24,
where God is not explicit in Greek, but clearly implied. Gal 1:5)
Nevertheless, that God is the prime mover in the events of vv 15-16 is dem-
onstrated by the words emphasizing the sole agency of God as distinct from
his own efforts (Lightfoot 1874, 82). The when clause, which begins the sen-
tence, describes the circumstances that prompted everything Paul did and did
not do subsequently. God is described in terms of his prior activitysetting
Paul apart and calling him.
First, God is the one who set me apart from my mothers womb. To set
. . . apart is from the same cognate family as Pharisee (pharisaios). Perhaps
the wordplay was self-conscious: God had planned to make Paul a fullled
Pharisee from his birth.
The Greek word translated womb, koilia, refers to the abdominal cav-
ity housing the stomach, intestines, uterus, and so forth, and to any of these
particular organs. An event from ones mothers womb is congenital, existing
from birth (see Matt 19:12; Luke 1:15; Acts 3:2; 14:8; BDAG, 550). The
LXX describes Gods choice of Samson (Judg 16:17) and the Servant of the
Lord (Isa 49:1; see Munck 1959, 11-35) in these terms.
But the strongest OT echoes come from prophetic call narratives (e.g., Isa
6:1-13; 49:1, 6; Ezek 1), particularly Jeremiahs: Before I formed you in the
womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a
prophet to the nations (Jer 1:5). Pauls choice of words placed him within the
prophetic tradition (Eastman 2007, 68; Sandnes 1991, 5-13, 15-18, 62-65).
Pauls calling went unfullled until his encounter with the risen Christ.
Hindsight allowed him to see his previous way of life (Gal 1:13) as contrary
to Gods intentions for him. Hence his present role was not so much a change
as simply a return to where he originally should have been. . . . Thus he was
not an opportunist, a ckle person, or a atterer! Since God was the agent of
change, Paul saw his new way of life as ordained by God and highly honor-
able (Malina and Neyrey 1996, 40).
Second, God . . . called Paul through his grace ( 1:5). In Rom 1:1, Paul
referred to himself with the same verbal roots as here, but in reverse order. His
claim in Rom 1:5 to have received grace and apostleship means that he was
given the undeserved privilege of being a spokesman for Christ. Paul often
associates grace with his own apostolic mission (e.g., 1 Cor. 3:10; 15:10; Gal.
2:9) (Gaventa 1986a, 27).
God took the initiative in selecting and preparing Paul for his mission,
intervening in his personal history at the time and in the way he saw twhen
he was pleased (Lgasse 1990). Paul was no volunteer; he was drafted (1 Cor
9:17-18). He was the work of God (see Pss 44:3; 68:16; 85:1; 147:11; 149:4;
Dunn 1993, 62). Human salvation and vocation originate in the delight of
God, not in the decisions of humans. This is the basis for the biblical doctrine
of predestination (see Greathouse and Lyons 2008a, 269-80).
L 16 The content of Gods good pleasure was to reveal his Son to Paul. Gods
revelation of Jesus Christ ( 1:12) led him to change his mind about Jesus,
the church, and the Law.
Second Temple Judaism expected the resurrection of the dead to mark
the beginning of the messianic age. In his conversion-call, Paul learned that
Jesus had been raised from the dead (1:1). Thus, he was the Messiah. This rev-
elation was an end-times event. The resurrection was not just about the good
fortune of one dead man; the last days had begun.
Gods Son (see 2:20; 4:4, 6) appears as a signicant messianic title
throughout the NT (in Paul: Rom 1:3-4, 9; 5:10; 8:3, 29, 32; 1 Cor 1:9; 15:28;
2 Cor 1:19; 1 Thess 1:10). Jesus sonship denes his relationship with the Fa-
ther as the revealer of God, his appointment as Savior, and his divine being. In
rst-century Palestinian Judaism, Son of God became a messianic title (see
4Q174 [on 2 Sam 7:14]; 2 Esd [= 4 Ezra] 7:28-29; 13:32; 14:9). These whis-
pers were amplied by Hellenistic assumptions assigning divine origin to
extraordinary persons. The primitive confession of Jesus as the Son of God
became the basis for later metaphysical and ontological Christian confessional
claims (Hahn 1990, 383; Hengel 1976).
In Gal 1:16; Rom 1:4; and 1 Thess 1:10 Jesus status as Gods Son is
closely associated with his resurrection from the dead. The aorist tense of
reveal seems to point to a dening event, not to an ongoing experience. That
is, Paul referred to his christophany, the unexpected appearance of the resur-
rected Christ to him (1 Cor 15:8; 9:1).
How are we to understand the adverbial prepositional phrase to reveal
his Son en emoi?
The translation in me suggests that Paul referred to a private, merely
inward, visionary, subjective experience (so, e.g., Rendall 1903, 154;
Burton 1920, 50-51).
The translation to me (e.g., NRSV) lends support for understanding
Christs appearance to Paul as an objective, corporeal manifestation of
the risen Jesus.
The translation through me (Lightfoot 1874, 83) suggests that Pauls
point was that God enabled him to reveal his Son to others (see Gal
1:24; 2 Cor 13:3; 1 Tim 1:16).
Perhaps, Paul did not distinguish between two forms of visions (ex-
ternal and internal) (Betz 1979, 71). If the outward vision and the inward
illumination coincided, then Jesus, whom he persecuted, was revealed as the
Son of God, and the revelation was the act of God himself (Bruce 1982, 93;
see Kim 1981, 100-233). In 1 Cor 15:8 Paul claimed that Christ appeared
to me, just as he had to the earlier apostles (1 Cor 15:5-7). How are we to
understand the character of Christs resurrection appearances to them (see
Pannenberg 1968, 88-106)?
Paul identied the purpose of his encounter with the risen Christ: so
that I might preach him among the Gentiles. Christ was central to his gospel
( Gal 1:6, 7, 8, 9, 11). He became an advocate for faith in the one whose
church he had once tried to destroy (vv 13, 23). And his ministry was to be
among non-Jews. His Pharisaic upbringing had required him to stay clear of
such unclean pagans, derisively called the uncircumcised (lit., foreskin in 2:7;
5:6; 6:15) to distinguish them from the circumcised (2:7, 8, 9, 12; 5:6, 11;
6:15)Jewish males marked from birth as members of the covenant people
of God.
Pauls calling was to preach Christ among the Gentiles, not simply to
the Gentiles. His missionary calling was to serve in Gentile territory, outside
the land of Israel, not merely to minister to individual Gentiles (Longenecker
1990, 32; Burend 2004). This may imply that the subsequent agreement
between Peter and Paul ( 2:7-9) called for a territorial, not an ethnic divi-
sion of labor.
Paul emphasized Gods revelation of Christ as the basis for his vocation
as an apostle ( 1:12). He outlined his response. In terms of grammar, four
rst person singular (I) verbs are the leading verbs in the sentence. They are
crafted in the form of a notnorbutand antithetical construction (com-
pare 1:1; 4:14; 5:6; 6:15). This amplies and claries how he immediately (v
16) responded to Gods call (Lyons 1985, 107-12).
The adverb immediately precedes the negative part of the sentence.
Thus, we might translate: immediately I did not consult with esh and blood
(Betz 1979, 72; Longenecker 1990, 33). Many interpreters, however, apply it
to the positive part: I went immediately into Arabia (v 17; e.g., Burton 1920,
53-54; Bruce 1982, 94). Plausible grammatical arguments support both inter-
The Greek verb translated consult (prosanetheme3n) in v 16 appears again
in 2:6 (prosanethento: added . . . to), its only other NT appearance. There,
Paul acknowledged that fourteen years after his conversion he submitted his
gospel to scrutiny by the leaders of the Jerusalem church (vv 1-2). This admis-
sion makes it seem farfetched that accusations to the contrary motivated his
negative formulation here (against Betz 1979, 73). Paul consistently insisted
that humans added nothing to [his] message (v 6). God was the sole source
of his gospel.
The idiom esh and blood follows Jewish precedent (see Sir 14:18;
17:31; 1 En. 15:4) as a reference to human beings in contrast to God (see
Matt 16:17; John 1:13; 1 Cor 15:50; Eph 6:12; Heb 2:14; Gal 2:16 sidebar,
Flesh). Paul sought no human counsel as to what he should preach, to whom,
or where.
L 17 In the second part of the antithetic construction, Paul added: nor did I
go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before I was. God had called
Paul to preach Christ to unbelieving Gentiles. He was given his assignment,
his message, and his audience. Why should he go to up Jerusalem to Jew-
ish Christians? (See Burton 1920, 63; Lietzmann 1932, 9; Duncan 1934, 33;
Fitzmyer 1968a, 2:239.)
The Spel l i ng of J erusal em
Paul spelled Jerusalem using the Semitic transliteration Hierosolyma in
Gal 1:17, 18, and 2:1. But in 4:25-26 and elsewhere (Rom 15:19, 25-31; 1 Cor 16:3)
he used the standard Greek transliteration, Ierousale3m. This standard spelling
was used in the LXX and by Jewish writers translating biblical texts into Greek
for Jews.
The Semitic spelling was used by Jewish authors writing for a Gentile
audience, and . . . by pagan writers (Murphy-OConnor 1999, 281). Was Pauls
uncharacteristic spelling in response to the Agitators usage (Murphy-OConnor
1999, 281)? Or, did his spelling in Gal 12 follow the wording of the Jerusalem
decree? In apparently citing it, contrary to his normal practice, Paul referred to
Peter by his Greek nickname rather than Cephas, its Semitic form ( 2:7-8;
Bachmann 2000).
Map of Anci ent Ar abi a


0 100
200 400 600 km.
200 300 400 500 mi.
Paul acknowledged the historically prior (before me; see Matt 5:12;
John 5:7; 10:8; Rom 16:7; Gal 1:17) apostolic status of the Jerusalem apostles,
while insisting upon his own claim to the ofce. Why were those commis-
sioned to take the gospel to the ends of the earth (Matt 28:19; Acts 1:8) still
in Jerusalem years later, at the time of Pauls conversion? Acts suggests that
it was only the persecution Paul helped launch that scattered members of
the earliest church, except the apostles (8:1) beyond Jerusalem. There they
preached the word wherever they went (v 4). Even before his conversion,
Paul unwittingly helped precipitate the churchs fulllment of its mission.
The third part of the antithetic construction states positively what
Paul did rst in response to his divine call: But I went away into Arabia. He
probably referred to Nabatea, an area occupied by todays Syria and Jordan
(Murphy-OConnor 1993). In the rst century, Arabia was the geographical
territory west of Mesopotamia, east and south of Syria and Palestine, to the
isthmus of Suez. During the rst century, independent kingdoms south of Da-
mascus were called simply Arabia (for the ancient sources, see BDAG, 127).
In 4:24-25, Paul would refer again to Arabia, now as the location of
Mount Sinai. Unlike most modern scholars, he and his Jewish contemporaries
did not associate it with the Sinai Peninsula. They located Sinai on the east
side of the Dead Sea in Arabia, to the south of the Nabataean kingdom in
Hagra (Hegra) (Hengel and Schwemer 1997, 113; see 113-14 for the ancient
sources). While in Arabia, Paul probably learned the local Jewish legend iden-
tifying Hagar with Hegra, Saudi Arabia (Hengel and Schwemer 1997, 114).
Interpreters, ancient and modern, have speculated about Pauls activities
in Arabia. Imagining it a desolate, unpopulated region, older commentators
assumed Pauls failure to confer immediately meant that his stay in Arabia (vv
16-17) was for reection and meditation (e.g., Lightfoot 1874, 87-90; Knox
1950, 77). There, some speculate, he privately reformulated his theology in
the seminary of the desert in light of the revelation that Jesus was the Mes-
siah (e.g., Boice 1976, 434).
But this is unlikely. Betz argues that although Paul does not say why he
went to Arabia, we can assume that he did so for the purpose of mission (1979,
74; denied by Wright 1996, 687). Both archaeology and ancient records indicate
that the territory nearby Damascus, known as Arabia in his day, was anything
but devoid of human population. Strabo (Geography 16.4) offers rst-century
eyewitness information. The sizable Nabatean cities of Bostra, Petra, Gerasa,
and Philadelphia were located there. Near where Paul was converted and called,
there were concentrations of Gentiles to whom he could preach Christ.
This seems more probable. It was the view of the church fathers Ambro-
siaster and Augustine (cited in Edwards 1999, 12, 14; and Hengel and Schwe-
mer 1997, 110). The necessity for Pauls impromptu escape from Damascus
(Acts 9:23-25; 2 Cor 11:32-33) may be plausibly explained by hostility against
his evangelistic efforts in Arabia. But Paul never reported what aroused the
Nabatean ethnarch Aretas IV (ruled ca. 8 B.C.-A.D. 40) to seek his arrest (see
Hengel and Schwemer 1997, 106-32).
The rule of Aretas IV in Arabia may provide one of the few datable
events in Pauls autobiographical narrative. He was the father-in-law of Herod
Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee during the ministry of Jesus (Luke 3:1). Herod
divorced Aretas daughter to marry his half-brother Herod Philips wife Hero-
dias (Mark 6:17-18). This made war inevitable.
During this era Philip controlled Damascus until A.D. 34.
Aretas defeated the forces of Herod Antipas in A.D. 36.
Herod Agrippa I reclaimed control of Damascus in A.D. 37.
Aretas only briey controlled Damascusin A.D. 36-37 (see Graf 1992, 374-
76; and Campbell 2002). Paul must have returned to Damascus sometime
during this era (Gal 1:17).
That Acts fails to mention Pauls preaching in Arabia is not surprising.
Its account of his travels is not comprehensive. It does not, for example, men-
tion Pauls preaching in Illyricum, known from Rom 15:19. Its secondhand
version of Pauls early movements after his conversion-call (see Acts 9; 22; 26)
must defer to the apostles rsthand account (see Knox 1950), regardless of his
reasons for writing (Phillips 2009).
Paul i ne Chronol og y
Biblical scholarship is almost hopelessly divided on how best to date the
events of Pauls lifebased solely on his letters or by appeal also to Acts (see
Phillips 2009, 50-82). Every attempt to assign precise dates to Paul and other NT
persons and events must appeal to secular sources for relative dates. These dates
must be correlated with the dates of politically prominent persons and cata-
strophic events. These, in turn, may be determined by associations with datable
astronomical phenomena. Doing this is complicated by two additional realities:
Paul and the events of his life were of no consequence to the social elites
who wrote secular histories.
Neither Paul nor Acts (nor any ancient historian, for that matter) wrote
as modern historiansinterested in brute facts for their own sake.
Precise dates in the life of Paul are usually no more than educated guesses
Paul mentions few externally datable events in his letters, especially Ga-
Acts, which includes more datable material, never mentions that Paul
wrote letters.
Nevertheless, given the two millennia that separate us from the events, there is
remarkable consensus on some dates. Differences of more than a few years arise
from uncertainty as to:
the precise date of Jesus crucixion (A.D. 30 / 33),
how long Paul persecuted Christians before his conversion-call, and
how to calculate the time spans separating Pauls visits to Jerusalem (
Gal 1:18 and 2:1).
Most of the dates proposed by NT scholars for the events in Pauls life
relevant to Galatians fall within these limits:
Conversion-call A.D. 31-36
Escape from Damascus A.D. 36-37
First Jerusalem visit A.D. 36-38
The Apostolic Council A.D. 47-51
Suggested dates for Pauls letter to the Galatians, however, differ signicantly
because scholars disagree as to how the data in Pauls letters and Acts are to be
correlated ( Introduction).
For brief, accessible introductions to the complexities of chronological re-
search in standard reference works, see: Fitzmyer 1968b; Jewett 1985; Donfried
1992b; Hoehner 1996; and Downs 2009. For more thorough treatments, see the
sources cited in their bibliographies, particularly: Knox 1950; Ogg 1968; Jewett
1979; and Ldemann 1984.
In the fourth part of the antithesis Paul added: and again I returned to
Damascus. Pauls brief account failed to mention that his conversion occurred
on the road from Jerusalem near Damascus (Acts 9:3; 22:6; 26:12). But the
again and returned implies that Damascus was his point of departure to Arabia.
This account should be evidence enough that Pauls autobiographical
narrative was not historically motivated. He never claimed it was exhaustive
or objective. Argumentative goals dictated the events he reported and how he
reported them. For example, Paul mentioned being persecuted for no longer
practicing circumcision in Gal 5:11 (see 6:12, 17). Surely some of the suffering
he recounted in 2 Cor 11:21-29 occurred before he wrote Galatians. His hasty
over-the-wall-ina-basket escape from Damascus reported in vv 32-33 must
belong to the same timeframe as that described in Gal 1:17 and Acts 9:23-25.
But none of these incidents is mentioned in Galatians.
Paul obviously gave special attention to his visits to and absences from
Jerusalem. Did he report all his visits there? If his contacts with Jerusalem
alone were at issue, why did he narrate the Antioch incident in 2:11-21?
What his two reported visits to Jerusalem and the Antioch incident all
have in common are Pauls encounters with the Jewish Christian leaders Pe-
ter and James. Perhaps, these determine the events he narrated, rather than
That Gal 1 and 2 do not provide sufcient detail to reconstruct the
apostles entire career does not impugn his veracity. This merely takes seri-
ously that his objectives were not historical, but rhetorical. The entire au-
tobiographical narrative in 1:132:21 serves, in large part, to substantiate
Pauls claims in 1:10-12 that his gospel was of divine rather than human origin,
something history alone could not verify.
Patristic, medieval, reformation, and modern interpreters reecting on
this passage have been preoccupied with Pauls relationship to Judaism and his
conversion to Christianity (see Riches 2008, 87-95). Certainly, the apostles
experience is, in many respects, unique. Obviously, few Christians since Paul
have been converted and called in the same moment. Nevertheless, his appeal
in 4:12, become like me, for I became like you, suggests that he considered
his conversion, in some respects, paradigmatic.
It is premature, at this stage in our study, to attempt to state exhaustively
what Paul wanted the Galatians to imitate from his experience. Certainly, he
emphasized that he had allowed God to redirect his life. Gods grace had freed
him from the chains of family tradition to become the person God had intended
him to be all along. Paul insisted that only divine intervention could account for
the about-face that had occurred. No human explanation was sufcient.
What were the Galatians to learn from Pauls example? He would soon
urge them to reect on their own conversions to determine the direction God
had set for them from that experience (see 3:1-5). And he would urge them
to reject the misguided human voices of the Agitators, who were preventing
them from obeying the truthdiverting them from the path God had called
them to pursue (see 5:2-12).
Pauls conversion did not empty him of his pre-Christian zeal. It merely
redirected his passion for the Law toward the preaching of Christ. It is prob-
ably equally true that God does not waste the prior experiences and personal
assets of ordinary converts. Like Paul, Christians should not expect conversion
to transform them into anything other than the kinds of persons God had in
mind for them to be before they were born.
We should also highlight what Paul apparently did not have in mind as
Being a persecutor of Christians was not a prerequisite of conversion.
Evangelicals seem to delight in hero sinnersconverts with night-
and-day type conversions. The darker their pre-Christian story, the
brighter the glow of their conversion! Unfortunately, this has commu-
nicated to those raised in the church that their less dramatic conver-
sions are somehow decient.
Generally, the advice and counsel of more mature believers is not a
bad thing. After all, Paul was offering just that to his troubled Gala-
tian converts. He did not consult with the Jerusalem apostles at rst
because God urged him to begin fullling his long delayed vocation
immediately. Few converts are as uniquely equipped to begin fullling
their callings as was Paul. And, we should note: later, he was willing
to submit his divinely revealed gospel to the scrutiny of Jerusalem in
response to a revelation (2:2).

It is unnecessary to go to Arabia to fulfll ones calling. Paul never said

God sent him to Arabia. He went there in response to his calling to
preach Christ among the Gentiles. Arabia was the nearest center of a
non-Jewish population at the time. Those who profess a call to cross-
cultural ministry might learn from Paul to begin fullling it where
they are. Globalization has meant that it is seldom necessary today to
cross an ocean to nd opportunities for missionary service.
b. Pauls Limited Contacts with Jerusalem (1:182:10)
i. A Brief Visit with Peter (1:18-20)
According to Hengel and Schwemer (1997, 133-56), Gal 1:18-20 can be
reconciled with Acts 9:26-30 and 22:17-21. They suggest that most Greek-
speaking Christians had been forced to emigrate from the city of Jerusalem
because of the persecution Paul had participated in before his conversion-call
(Acts 7:598:3; 12:19-20).
Thus, when Paul came to Jerusalem from Damascus three years later
(Gal 1:18-20), the church there consisted almost entirely of Aramaic-speaking
Jewish Christians. His visit was probably kept secret and his contacts limited
to two Christian leaders for two good reasons: to protect him from retaliation
by his onetime persecuting associates and, to protect the community from
repercussions for associating with the turncoat.
Pauls brief time with Peter and James was enough to allow them to
cultivate the trust needed to facilitate a favorable outcome of the Apostolic
Council a decade later (2:1-10). Whatever other issues Paul had with the Jew-
ish Christian leaders of the Jerusalem church, he afrmed that on the christo-
logical center of the gospel, they were in agreement (1 Cor 15:1-11).
Hengel and Schwemer speculate that Pauls zeal for evangelizing Gen-
tiles may well have been contagious. His time with Peter may have motivated
the apostle to the Jews to visit Joppa and opened his mind to the possibility of
evangelizing Godfearing Gentiles (Acts 1011).
L 18 Then, in 1:18, 21; and 2:1 marks off three events subsequent to Pauls
his trip to Jerusalem to meet Peter (vv 18-20),
his mission in Syria and Cilicia (vv 21-24), and
his trip to Jerusalem for the Apostolic Council (2:1-10).
In 1:18, Paul dated his earlier trip up to Jerusalem as after three years.
This event after three years probably dates from Pauls conversion-call
(e.g., Burton 1920, 58-59; Arichea and Nida 1976, 24). Dating from his return
to Damascus would be impossible, since he gave no indication how much time
he spent in Arabia.
Because the counting of years in antiquity was inclusive, any part of a
year might count as a year. Thus, if the conversion-call came late in the rst
year and the trip to Jerusalem, early in the third year, the total time elapsed
might be closer to one year than three.
Paul was obviously not writing a comprehensive chronological account
to assist the reconstruction efforts of twenty-rst-century historians. His con-
cern was to demonstrate that his gospel was of divine origin. Thus, his au-
tobiographical narrative attempted to demonstrate how comparatively late,
infrequent, and brief were his contacts with Jerusalem.
But why this effort to distance himself from Jerusalem? Simply this:
he denied that any human supplied, supplemented, or supplanted the gospel
he had received directly from God. We need not assume Paul had to defend
himself against charges that he was dependent on Jerusalem for his gospel. He
focused on Jerusalem, because it was, after all, the home of those who were
apostles before him. As eyewitnesses of the life, ministry, and resurrection of
Jesus, they were the only humans who might have been qualied to modify
his gospel.
Paul acknowledged his later contacts with the Jerusalem apostles, speci-
fying on what terms they metin response to a revelation (2:2). Here, he
insisted his stay in Jerusalem was comparatively brieffteen daysand that
its sole purpose was to get acquainted with Cephas. We know Cephas better
as Peter.
Paul did not say what he learned from Peter about Jesus and the gospel.
But Pauls admission of their two-week discussion undermines the presump-
tion that his autobiographical narrative was motivated by a concern to defend
himself against charges of dependence on Jerusalem (Witherington 1998a,
119-20). A fortnight with Peter would have been evidence enough to chal-
lenge Pauls claim to independence, if that was at issue.
Paul always referred to Peter using the Aramaic equivalent of his name,
Cephas, with the exception of 2:7-8 (see 2:9, 11, 14; 1 Cor 1:12; 3:22; 9:5;
15:5; correctly distinguished in the NIV 2011). The name was changed to Peter
in some ancient manuscripts, probably for the same reason it was in the 1984
NIVto avoid confusing readers.
Cephas = Pet er
A few scholars have challenged the assumption that Pauls Cephas is to be
equated with Simon Peter of the Gospels (Riddle 1940; Ehrman 1990). But the
equation seems unassailable (Allison 1992). It is less clear why Paul preferred the
Aramaic Cephas to the Greek Peter, and why he departed from this otherwise
uniform practice in Gal 2:7 and 8 ( 2:7-8).
From Paul we learn that Cephas:
was the rst man granted a resurrection appearance by the risen Jesus
(1 Cor 15:5; Luke 24:34),
was an apostle (in Gal 1:18-19), specically an apostle to the Jews
unlike Paul (1 Cor 7), was married (Mark 1:29-31; 1 Cor 9:5),
was one of the pillars of the Jerusalem church (Gal 2:9), although
his leading role in the Jerusalem church (Acts 1:13, 15; 2:14-36; 3:12-
26; 4:8-12; 5:29-32; 8:14-25; 10:34-43; 11:1-18; 15:7-11) was eclipsed by
James (note the sequence in Gal 2:9; Acts 15:13-21; 21:17-25),
was inuential even in Corinth (1 Cor 1:12; 3:22), and
played the hypocrite at Antioch, from Pauls perspective, resulting in a
public confrontation over table manners ( Gal 2:11-21).
Other NT and early Christian witnesses add that:
Both the Aramaic (Cephas) and Greek (Peter) names mean Rock (see
Matt 16:13-20), a nickname given Simonson of Jonah / John, brother
of Andrew, and one of the Twelve (see Matt 10:2; Mark 3:16; Luke 6:14;
Acts 1:13)by Jesus (Mark 3:16; Luke 6:14; John 1:42).
Before Jesus called him, Peter was a sherman (Mark 1:16) from Beth-
saida (John 1:44; 12:21).
Peter owned a home in the nearby village of Capernaum (Mark 1:21, 29),
on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee.
He died a martyrs death (see John 21:18-19; 1 Pet 5:1; 2 Pet 1:13; 1 Clem.
5:1-7), by crucixion upside-down according to the apocryphal Acts of
Peters name is associated with two NT books.
In Christian tradition, Peter came to represent orthodoxy in its battle with
Gnosticism. Thus, the strong anti-Peter sentiments of much of the NT apocrypha
is not surprising. The anti-Pauline pseudo-Clementine literature identies Peter
and James as Pauls main opponents (Betz 1979, 76-77; Donfried 1992a; Phillips
2009, 126-30, 141-42, 152-54; Gal 2:4).
L 19 While Paul was in Jerusalem, he saw none of the other apostles besides
Peter, although they all apparently resided there (see v 17; Acts 8:1). He did
not explain why. He added one qualicationexcept James, the brother of
the Lord. How is it possible that, in a two-week visit to Jerusalem, Paul would
have met no other human beings than Peter and James? ( BEHIND THE
TEXT, for Hengel and Schwemers [1997, 133-56] educated guess.)
This James was not one of the Twelve, nor an apostle in the narrow sense
of Acts ( Gal 1:1). Although qualied on Pauls criteria (see 1 Cor 15:7; so Je-
rome, cited in Edwards 1999, 14). Paul did not designate him an apostle. Some
(e.g., Lightfoot 1874, 84-85) think his Greek words made this implicit (see Bur-
ton 1920, 60); others think not (Rendall 1903, 156). Regardless, James was a
signicant leader in the Jerusalem church (see 2:9, 12), and Paul acknowledged
that he saw him and Peter during his two-week stay in the holy city.
This James was the Lords brother (see Matt 13:55; Mark 6:3). Apparent-
ly, none of them believed in Jesus prior to his resurrection (see Mark 3:21; John
7:1-5; 19:25-27). If so, James was the only other reported unbeliever (besides
Paul) privileged with a resurrection appearance (1 Cor 15:7; see Acts 1:14). By
the time of the so-called Apostolic Council reported in Acts 15, James was the
acknowledged leader of the church there (see Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18).
J ames Out si de t he NT
The rst-century Jewish historian Josephus (Ant. 20.200) reported James
execution by stoning, ordered by the Jewish high priest Annas (son of the An-
nas mentioned in Luke 3:2; John 18:13, 24; Acts 4:6), between the terms of two
Roman proconsuls (ca. A.D. 62). Eusebiuss church history (Hist. eccl. 2.23.20-24)
cited Josephuss account, supplemented with lengthy quotations from the (now
lost; see ANF, 8:762-65) second-century history of Hegessipus (Hist. eccl. 2.23.4-
19). Hegessipus apparently depended on a (now lost) Ebionite Acts of the Apostles
(Gilman 1992, 621), partially preserved in the pseudo-Clementine Recognitions
and Homilies (see NTA, 2:532-70; ANF, 8:69-346) and the Coptic Gos. Thom. 12).
Several late NT apocryphal works claim to be the works of James (see NTA,
1:333-34). Among them, the Protoevangelium of James preserves what is probably
the earliest source of the dogma of the perpetual virginity of Mary. The inuence
of such beliefs meant that James and the other siblings of Jesus early came to be
considered as differently related to him than biological half-brothers (see Prot. Jas.
78; Theodoret and Jerome, cited in Edwards 1999, 15).
For detailed analyses of early evidence concerning James, see The Breth-
ren of the Lord in Lightfoot (1874, 252-91). For a wide range of recent opinion
and critical evaluation, see Chilton and Evans 1999 and Phillips 2009 (130-33,
142-46, 154-56).
L 20 Paul offered an implicit oath vouching for the truth of his claims in vv
18-19: What I am writing to you, behold, before God, I am not lying. It was
not uncommon for Paul to appeal to God as his witness (see Rom 9:1; 2 Cor
1:23; 2:17; 11:31; 12:19; Phil 1:8; 1 Thess 2:5, 10; 1 Tim 2:7) in oathlike fash-
ion (despite Jesus call for no oaths in Matt 5:33-37; Jas 5:12; see Augustines
explanation, cited in Edwards 1999, 15). The claims he made under oath were
impossible to validate: Only God knew the truth. It mattered to Paul that
when he nally went to Jerusalem, it was not to confer nor to preach (Gal
1:16), but only to visit Cephas (v 18; Holmberg 1978, 17). His oath (v 20) at-
tested to the veracity of his purpose for visiting Cephas and the brevity of his
stay (Sampley 1977).
Perhaps Paul had to challenge a story circulating in Galatia, which paint-
ed a quite different picture of his Jerusalem contacts (e.g., Martyn 1997, 174).
If so, we can only guess what the story alleged. Sampley (1977) demonstrates
that a conicting version of the report need not have been at issue.
Paul asserted that he had been a Christian missionary for several years
before his rst contact with the Jerusalem leadership of the church. His sub-
sequent contacts were informal, friendly, few, and eeting.
Pauls autobiographical remarks throughout 1:132:21 served to sup-
port his argumentative claims in 1:10-12. Why did Paul consider it necessary
to distance himself from Jerusalem and its leaders? One mirror-reading ap-
proach presumes that he challenged the charge that he was too dependent on
Jerusalem for his gospel. Another presumes that he had been too independent
of the true gospel originating in Jerusalem. Can both be correct? What beyond
mirror-reading supports either hypothesis ( Introduction)?
The focus shifts from Jerusalem to Antioch in 2:11-21. The visitors who
were the catalysts for Peters hypocrisy are identied only as certain men
. . . from James. They are mentioned alongside those who belonged to the
circumcision group, whoever they are ( 2:12). Although we presume they
were from Jerusalem, Paul never said so.
The common element in 1:18-20; 2:1-10; and 2:11-21 is the role of Paul,
Peter, and James. In 1:13-17, and 21-24, neither Jerusalem nor Peter nor James
plays a signicant part. Perhaps, the church of God in 1:13-14 locates Pauls
persecuting activities in Jerusalem, but this is not explicit. And vv 15-17 stress
Pauls absence from Jerusalem. His claim in vv 21-24that he was unknown
to the Judean churchesmakes a similar point.
ii. Absence from Jerusalem (1:21-24)
Paul succinctly summarized his activities during the years between his
visit to Jerusalem reported in 1:18-20 and his visit reported in 2:1-10. Acts
offers a comparatively expanded account of this period in his life. The precise
limits of the relevant Acts passages depends on:
how one dates the letter to the Galatians ( Introduction) and
whether Gal 2:1-10 is to be equated with the account of the so-called
Apostolic Council reported in Acts 15:4-29 or with the so-called
Famine Visit reported in Acts 11:27-30.
Acts 9:2615:3 offers the only supplemental information we have of
the intervening years reported here in cursory fashion.
Paul returned to his hometown of Tarsus (Acts 9:30; see 9:11; 11:25;
21:39; 22:3) in the Roman province of Syria and Cilicia.
Paul joined Barnabas in Antioch (also in Syria and Cilicia), where they
ministered with other prophets and teachers, in a thriving multiethnic
Christian church (11:19-26; 13:1).
Did Paul make one or two intermediate visits to Jerusalem (see 11:27-
30 and 12:24-25)?

Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark were set apart as missionaries by the
church in Antioch (13:1-3).
Pauls missionary travels took him through Cyprus (13:4-12), Pam-
phylia (13:13-14a; 14:24-28), Pisidia (13:14b-51; 14:21-23), and Lyca-
onia (13:5114:20).
The cities of Perga (13:13), Pisidian Antioch (13:14), Lystra, Der-
be, and Attalia (14:6) were technically located within the southern
boundaries of the Roman province of Galatia. Acts, however, seems
to reserve that designation for the northern part of the province (see
16:6; 18:23).
During his time in Cyprus, Paul abandoned his Jewish name, Saul
Non-Christian Jewish opponents repeatedly badgered the missionar-
ies, stirring up persecution against them (13:44-51; 14:2, 4-5, 19-20).
The church in Antioch experienced dissension and debate occasioned
by the visit of certain individuals . . . from Judea who taught: Unless
you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be
saved (15:1 NRSV).
Paul, Barnabas, and others were sent by the church at Antioch to Jeru-
salem to resolve the matter (15:2-3).
L 21 In Greek, the verse begins as do 1:18 and 2:1 with Then (Epeita, so NIV
2011). This marks the transition to the second in a series of three chronologi-
cally ordered events. Paul went into the region of Syria and of Cilicia (see
Acts 15:41; see Rendall 1903, 157; Witherington 1998a, 124). Paul included
the secondhand report that he was preaching the faith he once tried to de-
stroy (Gal 1:23). That is, he was fullling his divine calling to preach Christ
among the Gentiles.
During Pauls era Syria referred to the geographical region between the
Euphrates River in the east and the Mediterranean Sea in the west, between
the Taurus Mountains in the north and Palestine to the south. This would
have included parts of modern Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey.
When the Romans assumed control of the Middle East in 64 B.C., Syria
became a Roman province. This also comprised eastern Cilicia, Galilee, Sa-
maria, Judea, and Idumea. Major cities included Antioch, Syrias capital, and
Damascus, both important urban centers of Hellenistic Judaism.
The NT normally uses Syria to refer to the region, rather than the prov-
ince (except Luke 2:2; Balz 1990b, 311-12). Cilicia was the southeastern re-
gion of Asia Minor (modern Turkey), which included its capital, the important
university city of Tarsus, Pauls birthplace (Acts 9:11, 30; 11:25; 21:39; 22:3).
Martyn overemphasizes what Paul did not mention in v 21: Syrian An-
tioch, Galatia, and Barnabas (1997, 182-86, 217). He appeals to the argument
from silence to support his supposition that Paul founded the churches of Ga-
latia after the Apostolic Council (2:1-10) and the Antioch incident (vv 11-21).
But Pauls account of his rst visit to Galatia (4:13-15) does not mention his
later partners, Silvanus / Silas and Timothy (Martyn 1997, 185 n. 242). Thus,
it is difcult to date Pauls mission to Galatia on the basis of what he failed to
say here or elsewhere.
Map of Asi a Mi nor, Syri a and Ci l i ci a, and Cyprus
0 50 100 150 200 mi.
0 100 200 300 km.
L 22 Mentioning only that he was elsewhere, Paul reported what was happen-
ing back in Judea in the meantime: I was becoming unknown personally to
the Christian churches of Judea. If Paul persecuted the Jerusalem church, he
could not have been entirely unknown to Judean Christians. After all, Jeru-
salem was in Judea.
The Greek idiom translated personally unknown is literally unknown
to the face (see 2 Cor 8:24 [lit.: . . . to prove to the face of the churches];
1 Thess 2:17). The Judean church had no direct contact with Paul after his
conversion (Hultgren 1976, 105-6; Berger 1990a, 181). They knew him only
by reputation. They had not seen him since he became a Christian preacher.
Fullling his calling among the Gentiles for more than a decade was making
him increasingly a stranger in Judea (Rendall 1903, 157).
What did Paul mean by describing the churches of Judea as in Christ?
Did he assume that, apart from the added phrase, Judean assemblies were
indistinguishable from synagoguesa word Paul never used in his letters?
He also never used the word Christian, which is probably the effective force
of the expression in Christ here. In 1 Thess 2:14, he referred to the churches
of God, which are in Judea in Christ Jesus.
Of course, Paul knew nothing of the later architectural, institutional,
denominational, and dogmatic baggage surrounding our uses of the word
churches. The Greek terms we translate church and synagogue both meant
assembly. Without modication, both Greek terms could just as easily refer
to civic gatherings as to congregations of religious adherents. Scholars debate
whether either term referred to the buildings that housed such gatherings
during the rst century. Pauls churches met in private houses and tenements
(see Banks 1980; Meeks 2003). And it is not clear that he would have dened
Christianity as a religion distinct from Judaism.
L 23 Paul reported on the only news circulating among the Judean church-
es about him: The one who formerly [see v 13] was persecuting us now is
preaching the faith he formerly was trying to destroy.
The formerly-now contrast introduced in v 10 reemerges here. The
quotation reiterated Pauls account of his former life as a persecutor of Chris-
tians (v 13) and his divine calling to preach Christ (v 15), mostly in the same
words and verb tenses. The report the Judean Christians heard probably origi-
nated from Jerusalem, following Pauls brief rst visit there (vv 18-20).
There are two curious changes from what he wrote earlier, both involv-
ing the faith.
Paul referred to preaching the gos-
pel, the gospel of Christ, or Gods
Son in vv 7, 8, 9, and 16.
But the Judean Christians quoted
in v 23 referred to his preaching the
Paul earlier referred to trying to
destroy the church of God (v 13).
The quotation spoke of his trying to
destroy the faith.
This use of the faith is unprecedented in Pauls early letters. In the rst
instance, the faith is the des quae creditor, the content of faith itself, the Chris-
tian religion (compare Acts 6:7; Eph 4:5; 1 Tim 1:19; 2:7; 3:9; 4:1, 6; 6:21;
Titus 1:1; 2 Pet 1:1; Jude 3, 20; Barth 1990, 94; Betz 1979, 80 n. 235). In the
second, the faith refers to the living body of believers (Rendall 1903, 157).
Paul did not persecute Christians because of their lax attitude toward
the Law or because the church taught salvation apart from the Law. Rather it
was the faith, the positive Christian proclamation of the church, the message
of Jesus as Messiah crucied and risen, which evoked Pauls response as a per-
secutor (Hultgren 1976, 102). He considered this Jewish sect, which believed
that a crucied (and therefore cursed; Gal 3:10; Deut 21:23) man was
Israels Messiah, a dangerous national apostasy (Hultgren 1976, 103). And
the claim that he was risen from the dead must have seemed patently absurd.
L 24 The Judean believers responded with awe upon learning of the unex-
pectedly radical transformation of Paul from persecutor to preacher. Such a
change must have been the work of God. Thus, Paul added: And they were
glorifying God because of me.
They praised the Source of renewal for Paul and relief for them. The
verb praised was literally gave glory, in the sense of recognizing and praising
one who possesses glory ( Gal 1:5). The imperfect tense emphasizes that
their praise was an ongoing expression of gratitude to God for the conversion-
call of Paul. Again, the God / humanity contrast emerges as a major theme of
the letter ( 1:1, 10-12, 15-16).
In v 15 Paul described his call in terms of Isaiahs prophetic vocation:
The LORD called me before I was born, while I was in my mothers womb he
named me (Isa 49:1b NRSV). Here, he may echo Isa 49:3: And he said to me,
You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be gloried (NRSV; Lightfoot 1874,
86; see Harmon [2010, esp. 249-65], who argues that Pauls reading of Isa
4055 signicantly shapes his theological reections throughout Galatians).
The prepositional phrase en emoi, because of me, appears elsewhere in
Galatians with an apparently different force. In 1:16 Paul described Gods
revelation of his risen Son as in me or to me. The same Greek phrase appears
again in 2:20.
We can only guess what the meeting was like between Peter, the one-
time sherman from Galilee and most prominent disciple of Jesus, and Paul,
the former persecutor of Christians and recent convert. Paul did not say.
Two weeks was more than ample time to get acquainted. What moti-
vated Pauls visit? Was he after reconciliation between the former enemies?
Or, was he seeking more detailed informationparticulars about the life and
teaching of Jesus? Paul did not say. And what did Peter learn about Paul? And
where did James t into this meeting? We can only wonder. Paul collapsed
two momentous weeks into twenty-eight Greek words (vv 18-19) and leaves
us guessing.
Then, after all his lack of specics, what motivated Paul to swear before
God that his report of the meeting was accurate? The wild speculations of
scholars more than compensate for Pauls studied silence. If Paul wrote to
quell rumors about his fractious relationship with the leaders of the Jerusalem
church, as mirror-reading interpreters presume ( Introduction), this totally
uninformative summary would only have added fuel to the re. Scholars who
imagine Paul needed to insist upon his independence from Jerusalem can nd
ammunition here. Likewise, those who insist that Paul needed to defend him-
self against charges that he had not been dependent enough on Jerusalem can
offer this as further evidence for their theory.
Is there a lesson here about the danger of all conspiracy theories? Theo-
rists always bring more to the table than the evidence can possibly bear. A
sympathetic reader gives an author the advantage of the doubt.
Before we presume Paul was up to something else, we should recall what
he claimed motivated his autobiographical remarks in vv 10-12:
The gospel he preached was not a human creation. He received it by
divine revelation from Christ. As a servant of Christ, he was not after
human approval.
His conversion from a persecutor of Christians into preacher of Christ
proved it (v 13). Changing sides almost certainly did not enhance his
reputation with his contemporaries (v 14; see 5:11).
In response to Gods call to preach Christ to the Gentiles, he went
immediately into Gentile territory and nally began to do what God
had been preparing him for since his birth (1:15-17).
He delayed consulting with any of his new Christian colleagues in
Jerusalem for three years (vv 17-18).
Throughout vv 18-24 Paul continued to offer proof of his thesis: His of-
ce and his gospel were of divine, not human origin. He divulged none of the
details about his meeting with his fellow apostles in Jerusalem probably be-
cause they were irrelevant to the situation in Galatia. Besides, he was not out
to win human approval. He was not eager to impress his audience with who
he knew or what they had said or done. Only God could vouch for his private
actions and inner motives (v 20).
Did a similar reticence to parade his missionary triumphs in Syria and
Cilicia before the Galatians account for the dearth of details about his activi-
ties there (v 21)? Acts is not so silent. Paul is obviously its human hero.
While Paul was far away from Judea and unknown, he was doing what
God had called him to dopreaching the faith he once tried to destroy (v
23). And those who heard the story praised Godnot Paul (v 24). Again,
Paul proved his thesis: He was not concerned to please people, but to serve
Could we learn from Paul to be more discrete in the way we tell our
Christian stories? Are the accounts of our faith journeys designed to bring
praise to God or to bring reected glory to ourselves? In our conversations, do
we drop names of important people and mention entertaining details from
our chats with them to impress our audience of our importance?
It is sometimes difcult to discern when silence is golden and when it
is cowardly yellow. As we will see soon enough, especially in 2:11-21, Paul
was certainly not afraid to offer relevant details about his relations with other
people, when loyalty to God was at stake.

iii. Jerusalem Recognized Pauls Gospel (2:1-10)

The third section of Pauls autobiographical narrative explains how the
leaders of the Jewish Christian church in Jerusalem came to recognize the
divine origin of his gospel. Despite the tense relations between Paul and these
so-called pillars, they agreed that pagans did not have to become Jews to be
considered fully Christian. Pauls fear that the divisive issue of circumcision
might render his ministry among the Gentiles in vain was relieved. His pa-
gan converts were not required to be circumcised.
Considering its length, there are twice as many references to circumci-
sion, circumcise, and uncircumcision (2:3, 7, 8, 9, 12; 5:2, 3, 6, 11; 6:12, 13,
15) in Galatians as in any of the other nine NT books that use these terms
(Luke; John; Acts; Romans; 1 Corinthians; Ephesians; Philippians; Colos-
sians; Titus). Paul argued that circumcision was not a badge of honor worn
by Gods special people. At best, it was no more than a matter of indifference
(5:6; 6:15). Thus, he urged the Galatians to reject the Agitators exaggerated
claims. Instead, they were to embrace the shame of the cross as the path to the
honor God alone could givethe status of children of God and of Abraham
(Russell 1991, 113-18; Witherington 1998a, 175).
Most scholars assume that Gal 2:1-10 and Acts 15 narrate the same event
from different perspectives. At the so-called Apostolic Council, leaders of the
churches in Antioch and Jerusalem agreed that non-Jews were not required
to become Jews to become Christians. This agreement marginalized rigor-
ous defenders of circumcision, whom Paul considered pseudo-Christians (
Gal 2:4). They probably regarded Pauls uncircumcised converts as decient
Christians at best (see Acts 15:1, 5).
The concord reached at the Apostolic Council decisively set the fu-
ture course of the Christian movement. Had matters turned out differently,
Christs followers might have remained little more than a sect of Judaism. Like
the other Jewish sects, apart from the Pharisees, they may have disappeared by
the end of rst century. The Judaism that emerged following the tragic events
of A.D. 66-73 (especially the destruction of the temple), might have been quite
different had it not been for the parting of the ways of Christianity and Juda-
ism (see Dunn 2006).
In addition to its debated relationship with Acts 15, Gal 2:1-10 is com-
plicated by grammatical problems: long, convoluted sentences; broken con-
structions (anacolutha); and apparent parentheses (see Martyn 1997, 195).
L 1 As in 1:18 and 21, Paul introduced this event in his selective autobiography
with the same Greek word, Epeita, Then (NIV 2011). After fourteen years
Paul went up again to Jerusalem (see 1:9, 17). The beginning of this time period
probably refers to Pauls conversion-call (vv 15-17; so Ogg 1968, 56-57; George
1994, 135; Longenecker 1990, 45; Martyn 1997, 182). But again could refer in-
stead to the time since his rst trip to Jerusalem and mission to Syria and Cilicia
(vv 18-24; so Lightfoot 1874, 102; Burton 1920, 66; Jewett 1979, 52-54; Dunn
1993, 87; Witherington 1998a, 126-27).
Paul dated the so-called Apostolic Council as either fourteen or seventeen
(three + fourteen) years after his conversion. Given imprecise ancient methods
of counting inclusive years ( v 18), from twelve to seventeen years separated
his conversion-call and the council ( v 17 sidebar, Pauline Chronology).
Pauls account of his trip to Jerusalem employs the typical verb to de-
scribe the ascent required of visitors to Jerusalem. His atypical Semitic spell-
ing of the name of Jerusalem continues ( v 17 sidebar, The Spelling of Jeru-
salem). Of course, his real destination was not the city; he used Jerusalem as
a metonym for the church there (Martyn 1997, 191).
The sparse details throughout Pauls autobiographical narrative suf-
ciently explain his neglect to mention that his journey to Jerusalem began
from Antioch-on-the-Orontes in Syria. Martyn, however, considers Pauls
silence about that church in his travelogue, and specically his failing to men-
tion his Antioch attachment at the outset of 1:21 noteworthy (1997, 183). He
assumes Paul failed to win the day in the painful Antioch incident ( 2:11-
21). From this, Martyn speculates that Paul completely broke with the church
there and inaugurated his own work (in his own circle) as an independent
apostle to the Gentiles (1997, 182).
Paul included only those details he considered crucial to his argument
outlined in 1:10-11. If Martyn were correct, why did Paul bother mentioning
that he traveled with Barnabas? Was it only to place his onetime partner in an
entirely negative light later ( 2:13)?
Pauls claim to have visited Jerusalem with Barnabas does not indicate
that he misrepresented himself as the leader of the missionary team (against,
e.g., Burton 1920, 69; Longenecker 1990, 46). The identication of the junior
vs. senior partner would be no clearer had Paul written: After fourteen years
Barnabas went to Jerusalem with me or Barnabas and I went up to Jerusa-
lem (the wording Martyn [1997, 189] would have preferred). His wording
merely suggests they were partners.
Acts identies Barnabas as follows:
This is the nickname (Son of Consolation) of Joseph, a Diaspora Jew,
specically a wealthy Levite from Cyprus (4:36). His generous gift of
land to the early Jerusalem community provides the counterpoint to the
deception of Ananias and Sapphira (5:1-10).
He introduced the recently converted Saul to the apostles on his rst
visit to Jerusalem (9:26-27).
He was the emissary of the Jerusalem church to Antioch, charged with
investigating its recent outreach to Greeks (11:22).
He brought Saul from Tarsus to serve with him in Antioch (v 25).
He (with Saul) delivered famine relief for the Jerusalem church from
Antioch (vv 27-30; 12:25).
He was one of the prominent prophets and teachers in the church at
Antioch, appointed with Saul to embark on a mission to the Gentile world
He was part of the missionary team of Barnabas and Saul / Paul (11:30;
12:25; 13:7; 14:12, 14; 15:12, 25) or Paul and Barnabas (13:42, 43, 46,
50; 14:1, 3, 20, 23; 15:2, 22, 35) until they parted company over a sharp
disagreement concerning John Mark (15:39).
Both he and Paul were appointed (15:2) to represent the church at
Antioch at the Apostolic Council in Jerusalem.
The Pauline letters add little new information to this:
Barnabas was the uncle (BDAG, 167, s.v. Barnabas) or cousin (BDAG,
78, s.v. anepsios) of John Mark (Col 4:10).
Paul was disappointed over Barnabass hypocrisy at Antioch (Gal 2:13).
Nevertheless, Paul remained friends or reconciled with Barnabas, whom
he considered a fellow apostle (Acts 14:14; 1 Cor 9:1-6; Phillips 2009,
134-35, 138-41, 150-51).
The information about Barnabas in various noncanonical sources reects
legends of uncertain historical value:
He preached in Rome during Jesus lifetime and introduced Clement of
Rome to Christianity (Ps.-Clem. Recogn. 1.7-13) (Daniels 1992, 611).
He was one of the seventy (Luke 10:1) sent out by Jesus (Clement of
Alexandria Str. 2.20) (Daniels 1992, 611).
He died as a martyr in Cyprus (Acts Barn.).
Clement of Alexandria considered him the author of the Epistle of
Barnabas, now among the Apostolic Fathers. It was included alongside
NT books in the fourth century Alexandrian Codex Sinaiticus (Daniels
1992, 611).
Tertullian attributed the anonymous canonical book of Hebrews to
Barnabas (Spencer 2009, 359).
The Decretum Gelasianum lists Barnabas as the author of a gospel
(Daniels 1992, 611).
Pauls description of Titus clearly casts him in the role of an assistant (BDAG,
958, s.v. synparalambano3 ). And I also took along Titus. Titus is never mentioned
in Acts. So his name does not assist in correlating this account with Acts.
Ti t us
Galatians indicates that Titus was an uncircumcised Gentile Christian (Gal
2:1, 3). Other Pauline letters add the following information:
Titus apparently became a Christian through Pauls inuence. He was
Pauls true son in our common faith (Titus 1:4).
Titus was Pauls envoy to Corinth after his humiliating visit, effecting
reconciliation between the intransigent church and the apostle (2 Cor
1:122:13; 7:5-16).
He nalized arrangements for the collection for Jerusalem in Corinth
(2:13; 7:6, 13-14; 8:6, 16, 23; 12:18).
Paul referred to this longtime traveling companion as:
my brother (2:13),
my partner and fellow worker (8:23), and
perhaps one among the apostles of the churches (8:23; so Phillips
2009, 135-36).
Titus traveled to Dalmatia in Pauls behalf (2 Tim 4:10).
He served as Pauls agent in Crete, lling the episcopal function of super-
vising churches there (Titus 1:4-5).
L 2 Unlike the visit to Jerusalem Paul reported in 1:18-20, he made a point of
saying that this visit was according to revelation. This repeats the Greek root
he used to describe Gods revealing of his risen Son to him in 1:16 (). God
used that revelation completely to alter the direction of his life and fundamen-
tally impact the future of the Jesus movement.
Pauls terminology identies this trip to Jerusalem as an obedient re-
sponse to divine intervention. It was not undertaken at his own initiative nor
in response to any merely human decision. I went there because God revealed
to me that I should go (NLT). The divine-human contrast begun in 1:10 con-
tinues to dominate Pauls autobiographical remarks.
Interpreters who hesitate to identify this Jerusalem visit with the one
reported in Acts 15 call attention to Acts failure to mention revelation as
the precipitating cause (see Lightfoot 1874, 123-28). Acts 15:2 refers to the
appointment of Paul and Barnabas to take the question about circumcision
being disputed in Antioch to Jerusalem. The passive voice of the verb leaves
unstated who appointed them.
Acts 11:27-28 reports that Pauls famine visit to Jerusalem was initi-
ated by Spirit-inspired prophets from Jerusalem. This might be considered a
revelation, but Acts does not call it that. Only the silence of Acts 11 and 12 as
to what conspired in Jerusalem during this visit allows it to be equated with
the visit Paul described in Gal 2:1-10.
Paul described what he did in Jerusalem: I set before them the gospel
[ 1:6, 7, 11] that I am preaching among the Gentiles ( 1:16). The verb
anatithe3mi here means to lay someth[ing] before someone for consideration
. . . w[ith the] connotation of request for a persons opinion (BDAG, 73, s.v.;
see Acts 25:14; and the cognate prosanatithe3mi in Gal 1:16 and 2:5). Did Paul
not preach the gospel in Jerusalem (see Rom 15:19), but only explain the gos-
pel he was preaching in pagan lands, soliciting an evaluation from unnamed
Paul set before them the gospel he preached. By providing no anteced-
ent for the pronoun them, Paul gave his Galatian audience no clue as to whose
opinion he sought. Did he refer to the entire church, its leaders, or both? If he
sought the approval of the inuential leaders in Jerusalem (so Schlier 1965,
66, 68 n. 3), he undermined his thesis in Gal 1:10-12that he did not seek
human approval.
Did Paul make only a private presentation (so Bruce 1982, 109; George
1994, 137) or both public and private presentations (e.g., Burton 1920, 71;
Betz 1979, 86; Longenecker 1990, 48; Martyn 1997, 187-88, 191)? If the con-
junction de in 2:2c has an adversative force (but), he contrasted public and
private meetings.
According to v 2, Paul presented his gospel to the leaders of the Jerusa-
lem church privately (see Matt 14:13, 23; 17:1, 19; 20:17; 24:3; Mark 4:34;
6:31-32; 7:33; 9:2, 28; 13:3; Luke 9:10; 10:23; Acts 23:19). But Acts 15 seems
to assume a well-attended public meeting. If Paul made presentations in both
settings, them could refer to all the members of the church present, including
the pillars (v 9). Martyn (1997, 187) interpretively translates: And I com-
municated the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles; then I did the same
thing in a private setting with those who were the acknowledged leaders.
Pauls condential meeting was with the leadersthose who seem to be.
The Greek expression referred idiomatically to people with impressive reputa-
tions (BDAG, 255, s.v. dokeo3 2ab). But Paul clearly used it with a measure of
disdain. We might compare this with our expression big shots. Paul at once
acknowledged their power and position but gave them no particular respect:
whatever they were makes no difference to me (v 6). Not until v 9 would he
mention them by name as James and Cephas and John (see Holmberg 1978,
23 n. 57 and 25 n. 66).
Only here and in 1 Thess 2:9 did Paul use the verb ke3rysso3, preach, with
euangelion, gospel, as its direct object. The content of his preaching was good
news (compare euangelizo3 with euangelion in Gal 1:11; 1 Cor 9:18; 15:1; 2 Cor
11:7; and simply euangelizo3 in Gal 1:8, 9, 16, 23; 4:13; Rom 1:15; 10:15; 15:20;
1 Cor 1:17; 9:16; 15:2; 2 Cor 10:16; Eph 2:17; 3:8; 1 Thess 3:6).
Paul explained why he made a private presentation in Gal 2:2d: so that
I may not be running or had not run for nothing (BDAG, 539, s.v. kenos 3).
Despite his divine revelation, he was apprehensive about the possible outcome
of his meetings (Rendall 1903, 158).
The imagery of a footrace highlights Pauls strenuous exertion (see Rom
9:16; 1 Cor 9:24-27; Phil 2:16; 2 Thess 3:1; see Ptzner 1967, 99-101; Bauern-
feind 1972, 231-32). Running was a metaphor for his apostolic workpreach-
ing to pagans, establishing Christian communities among them, offering pas-
toral care through letters, and so forth.
The expression me3 po3s, so that not, indicates a negative perspective ex-
pressing misgiving (see Gal 4:11; 1 Cor 9:27; 2 Cor 2:7; 9:4; 1 Thess 3:5;
BDAG, 901, s.v. po3s 2; see BDF, 188 370(2); Betz 1979, 87-88 and notes).
Paul admitted his apprehensions by stating the negative purpose of his meet-
ing with the Jerusalem leaders. What he most feared was that they might not
recognize God as the source of his gospel.
Paul never thought his gospel was invalid or might be invalidated (against
Schlier 1965, 67-69; Wengst 1972; Pilch 1973, 99-100; Mussner 1977, 102-3)
or that he might forfeit his own salvation (against Bauernfeind 1972, 231).
He was not uncertain as to whether his message was of divine origin. But he
feared others might not recognize it as such.
The anti-Pauline Kerygmata Petrou (Ps.-Clem.; Hom. 11.35.4; Recog.
4.34-35) would later insist that no apostle, teacher, or prophet is to be admit-
ted, unless he has submitted his kerygma to James the . . . brother of the Lord,
to whom the congregation of the Hebrews in Jerusalem is entrusted (Betz
1979, 87 n. 282). Paul never feared that James (or any other human) could
invalidate his divinely revealed message. So why did he seek the recognition
of Jerusalem?
Without it, Paul feared his ministry might have been wasted effort (see
Gal 3:4; 4:11). There was a real, but unthinkable, possibility that the Jerusa-
lem leaders might dismiss his missionary undertakings and fail to recognize
them as the work of God (Holtz 1974, 126; Holmberg 1978, 26-27).
Pauls divine calling had set him to work establishing Christian church-
es, communities of believers, which demonstrated the truth of the gospel (v
5; see Ptzner 1967, 99-108; Eckert 1971, 211; Schtz 1975, 139). The good
news was that God was powerfully pursuing the salvation of both believing
Jews and Gentiles (see Rom 1:16; 3:21-26). Pauls assignment in Gods grand
design was to proclaim Christ among the Gentiles (Gal 1:16). His labors would
have been for nothing (Burton 1920, 72-73; Bonnard 1953, 37-38; Bornkamm
1971, 37; Mussner 1977, 103), if on judgment day he were not accompanied
by the host of believers whom it was his task to win (Bauernfeind 1972, 231).
What if Jerusalem denied his Gentile converts fellowship and full
Christian standing alongside Jewish believers? What if they failed to perceive
something that was to Paul an absolute certainty: Gods powerful work in his
own preaching to Gentiles (Martyn 1997, 193)? Pauls worst fear was that the
pillars might side with those requiring circumcision as a condition for Gentile
participation in the church (2:3). This would scuttle his vision of one church
composed of both Jewish and Gentile believers, united by a single gospel (see
Rom 1:16-17; 1415). For if the Gentiles were circumcised, they would cease
to be converted pagans and simply be Jews.
Many interpreters assume Pauls greatest apprehension was that the
church would be divided into Jewish and Gentile factions. Certainly, Paul
placed great store in a unied church (see Haenchen 1971, 465; Conzelmann
1973, 84-87; Schlier 1965, 65-66). But comprehensive church unity never
existed before or after the conference (Betz 1979, 99 n. 399).
Paul sought to preserve the diversity of the church, unied by its shared
faith in Christ, not cultural uniformity. This called for the difcult task of
contextualizing the gospel, which began with Jesus, a Palestinian Jew, within
the world of Greco-Roman paganism (see Flemming 2005).
The compromise between the delegates from Antioch and Jerusalem
came at the expense of a group of ultraconservative Jewish Christians. Acts
15:5 calls them believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees. They
obviously considered Pauls notions of contextualization an unconscionable
concession to paganism. In Gal 2:4, Paul called them false brothers.
If church unity was Pauls concern, the Jerusalem agreement failed to
preserve or create it. Instead, it meant there would be two separate-but-equal
missionsone for Peter to the Jews; another for Paul to the Gentiles (vv 7-9).
This resulted in coexistence, not integration.
Furthermore, the agreement effectively marginalized conservative Jew-
ish Christ-believers. They were not considered part of the church as Paul con-
ceived it. They were pseudo-Christians. Did they share the same assessment
of him and his pagan converts? And how were the leaders of the Jerusalem
church, who found themselves in the middle, to navigate these troubled wa-
ters? The later confrontation at Antioch (vv 11-21) demonstrates that the de-
cision of the Apostolic Council was hardly the nal solution to the problems
created by the clash of cultures and worldviews.
That Paul acknowledged his fears prior to the private meeting with the
Jerusalem leaders contradicts notions that he wrote Galatians to defend him-
self. If this was his purpose, his admission was an unnecessary concession
(Dahl 1973, 46).
L 3 The sentence that begins here continues through v 5. A formally equiva-
lent translation of this long, complicated Greek sentence would be unintelligi-
ble in contemporary English. Beyond its grammatical difculties, the sentence
has other historical problems. Paul wrote to readers who knew rsthand the
situation to which he responded. Readers removed by two millennia can make
only educated guesses.
The introductory adversative particle alla, But (Yet) reports what did
not happen as a result of the private meeting between Paul and the Jerusalem
leaders. This dispelled Pauls worst fears: But not even Titus . . . was forced to
be circumcised.
Paul left unnamed those who urged the circumcision of Pauls Gentile
companion. That it was the ultraconservative Jewish Christian minority prob-
ably explains why he considered them false brothers (v 4). They pressed
hard for compliance, but their position did not prevail. The pillars sided with
As the test case ( v 1), Titus established the essential point of Pauls
gospel: Gentiles were not required to become Jews to be Christians (see Betz
1979, 88; Longenecker 1990, 49). Thus, Pauls missionary efforts were not in
vain (v 2).
Why Ci rcumci si on Mat t ered
Circumcision was a traditional Jewish practice, a religiously motivated rite
performed on all Jewish baby boys when they were a week old. The rite involved
the surgical removal of the foreskin of the penis. Adult male converts to Judaism
were required to be circumcised (see Meyer 1968).
Non-Jews in the Greco-Roman world were revulsed by circumcision,
which they considered a mutilation of the body. This involved far more than the
distaste some older people feel for the recent resurgence of body-art in popular
culture. The results of circumcision were almost universally considered morally
reprehensible, because it gave the impression that the male was perpetually sexu-
ally aroused (see Martin 2007, 222-24).
Consequently, most full converts to Judaism were women. Gentile men,
otherwise attracted to the worship of the God of Israel and the ethic of Ju-
daism, usually declined becoming full converts. They were content to remain
Jewish sympathizers ( Introduction sidebar, Godfearers). The few who were
circumcised were considered morally indecent. They were ridiculed and shamed
as sexual deviants by their pagan contemporaries (Martin 2007, 224-25).
Pauls original audience understood what was at stake in the issue of cir-
cumcision. Resistance to it mattered not only at the Apostolic Council in Jerusa-
lem, but in the churches of Galatia, as we will see (5:2-12; 6:12-16).
The earliest Christians were all Jews, so male Jewish converts were already
circumcised. But as Christians began to evangelize non-Jews, the question of the
necessity of circumcision was bound to arise (see Acts 1011).
Modern Gentile readers nd the connection between Pauls private pre-
sentation of his gospel and Tituss noncircumcision mystifying. In the United
States, this is partly due to the long and widespread practice of infant circumci-
sion as a routine medical procedure (Glick 2005, 4-11). This demonstrates how
little like the earliest Christians we have become in two millennia. We cannot
imagine how anyone could possibly consider such a procedure a prerequisite for
Christian standing.
The implications of circumcision went beyond the surgery to what it sym-
bolized. Some early Jewish Christian believers considered it necessary for Gen-
tiles to convert to Judaism and to receive this distinctive sign of the Abrahamic
covenant to become a part of the Christian church (see Gal 2:7-9, 12; 5:2-3, 6, 11;
6:12-13, 15; see Meyer 1968, 80).
The OT traces the practice of circumcision to the time of Abraham (see
Gen 17). But circumcision did not become a signicant boundary marker separat-
ing Jews and Gentiles until the second century B.C. On the contrary, many other
Semitic groups in Palestine practiced circumcision. Circumcision allowed Israel to
t into their cultural context. But this situation totally reversed when Greeks, a
non-Semitic group that did not practice the rite, invaded the region and became
the dominant cultural force (see Martin 2007).
Emphasis upon circumcision as an essential sign of Israels covenant with
Yahweh began in earnest during the second century B.C. The Hellenizing efforts
of Antiochus IV Epiphanes threatened the survival of the Jews as Gods holy
people (see 1 Macc 1:60-61; Hanson 2001, 291-381). In response, circumcision
became an essential expression of the national religion, and one worth dying
for (Meyer 1968, 77). Following the Maccabean victory over the Hellenizers, As
a basic Jewish law, circumcision was in the Hell[enistic] Roman period one of the
presuppositions without which intimate dealings with the Jews were not conceiv-
able (see Acts 10:28; 11:2-3; Meyer 1968, 78).
Because Greeks and Romans were revulsed by the practice, they derided
Jews as the circumcision. Circumcision became a crude metonym for Jews.
In return, Jews maligned Gentiles as the uncircumcision (akrobystia, lit. fore-
skins; see Gal 2:7-9, 12; Acts 10:45; 11:2-3; Rom 3:30; 4:9, 12; 15:8 [the Jews
= lit., of the circumcision]; Eph 2:11; Col 3:11; 4:11 [the only Jews = lit., from
the circumcision]; Titus 1:10). In Gal 5:6 and 6:15, however, akrobystia refers to
uncircumcision as a state of being (as in Rom 2:25, 26, 27; 4:10, 11, 12; Col
2:13; BDAG, 39)to the status of Gentiles.
Perhaps the closest modern analogy to such demeaning racial epithets
might be found in the increasing mutual contempt and misunderstanding between
devout Muslims and non-Muslims since 2001. Compare the impolite and intoler-
ant trading of vulgar insults: towelheads vs. indels.
The importance of literal circumcision as a condition for salvation grew
among Jews during the rst and second centuries A.D. By making circumcision a
capital crime during the second century A.D., Emperor Hadrian contributed to
the parting of the ways of Judaism and increasingly Gentile Christianity.
Insistence upon the necessity of circumcision for salvation was the issue
that precipitated the Apostolic Council according to Acts (15:1-5). It was the cen-
tral issue in Pauls second visit to Jerusalem reported in Gal 2:1-10. Acts failure to
mention Titus does not challenge the likelihood that the two reports refer to the
same event. It seems reasonable to assume he was one of the other believers
sent along with the two named leaders, Paul and Barnabas. Titus was not the
issue; he only symbolized it.
Pauls approach to circumcision was complex, but not inconsistent. On the
one hand, he vigorously resisted efforts to have Gentile converts circumcised
in Jerusalem (or Antioch; see vv 3-4) and in Galatia (see 5:2-3, 11; 6:12-13). On
the other, he twice insisted that neither circumcision nor uncircumcision really
mattered (5:6; 6:15; see 1 Cor 7:19). He apparently had no objection to Jewish
Christians remaining circumcised (1 Cor 7:18-19) or for them to have their sons
circumcised (see the false charges in Acts 21:21).
Remarkably, Paul was able to spiritualize circumcision (following OT prec-
edents), so as to consider uncircumcised Gentile Christians secret / spiritual Jews
(Rom 2:26; see vv 25-29; see Greathouse and Lyons 2008a, 101). In Phil 3:2-3,
he could call Christians the circumcision [he3 peritome3], and cast Jews as instead
mutilators of the esh [te3n katatome3n].
Troy Martin (2007, 225) helps explain Pauls complex treatment of circum-
The verb peritemnein (to circumcise) and the noun peritome3 (circumcision)
[may] refer either to an act, or a state, or a practice. [As an] act, circumci-
sion relates to the physical operation itself. Following this surgery, a person
lives in a state of circumcision. Even though circumcised persons have no
choice but to live in a circumcised state, they must decide if they will practice
the distinctions associated with the covenant of circumcision (Gen 17:14).
These connotations expressed in the cultural repertoire of circumcision are
relevant for understanding the perceptions and positions of the participants
in the Galatian controversy about the holiness of Gods people.
As a Greek, Titus was a non-Jew. The concessive translation, even
though he was a Greek (emphasis added), is required by the contradictory
assumptions: Greek males are uncircumcised; Jews require male converts to
be circumcised.
L 4-5 Paul wrote (lit.): Because of sneaked in false brothers, who sneaked
in to spy out our freedom, which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to enslave
us, to whom we did not yield in subjection for an hour, in order that the
truth of the gospel might remain with you. Any reading of vv 4 and 5 remains
controversial because v 4 is an anacoluthonan incomplete, grammatically
incorrect sentence fragment. Every interpretation must conjecturally ll in the
blanks (contrast Longenecker 1990, 50; Bruce 1982, 106; Nock 1938, 106;
Rendall 1903, 159). The uncertainty as to what Paul omitted is affected by
when and where interpreters suppose the false brothers slipped in: Was it in
Antioch prior to the Apostolic Council? Was it in Jerusalem during the public
meeting? Pauls grammar allows for either.
Most interpreters assume Paul referred to an event that occurred in Jeru-
salem (see, e.g., Witherington 1998a, 135). Rendall (1903, 158-59), however,
thinks the parenthetical reference to Titus in vv 3-5 refers back to an earlier
incident in Antioch. Acts 15:1-5 indicates that controversy over circumcision
there occasioned the Apostolic Council in Jerusalem.
The aorist verbs in Gal 2:3-5 may function as English pluperfects: But
even Titus . . . had not been compelled to be circumcised. But it was because
of sneaked in false brothers, who had come in . . . , that I went up to Jerusa-
lem. We had not given in to them (see Moulton and Turner 1963, 86 7). Paul
described past events that had continuing consequences in the past. If Pauls
parenthesis refers to an earlier event in Antioch, it resolves some of the dif-
culties in vv 3-5. But this interpretation may import too much from Acts 15.
Most modern translations assume that Paul did not have Titus circum-
cised ( Gal 2:4). But textual variants in the manuscript tradition indicate
that this is uncertain. Early scribes were apparently as perplexed as modern
interpreters by the apostles grammar.
Wherever the false brothers stirred up controversy in Antioch or Jerusa-
lem, we must take into consideration Pauls apparently conicting claims: His
meeting with the Jerusalem leaders was in private (v 2), but false brothers
were brought in secretly and in order to spy on the freedom we have in Christ
Jesus (v 4).
Two explanations are possible: (1) Pharisaic spies had entered the mixed
community in Antioch with sinister intentions. This called for a private meet-
ing between leaders of the churches in Antioch and Jerusalem ( v 2). (2)
There were two meetings in Jerusalem, the rst public and the second private
( v 2). The private meeting was required because spies had entered the
public meeting.
L 4 Wherever and whenever the false brothers called for Tituss circumcision,
that Paul brought him to Jerusalem (v 1) at all was provocative (compare the
latter case of the Gentile Trophimus in Acts 21). Paul aunted Titus as a test
Most sympathetic readers of Pauls narrative presume that Titus was not
circumcised (e.g., Lightfoot 1874, 104; Burton 1920, 76-77; Betz 1979, 89;
Bruce 1982, 111; Longenecker 1990, 50; Martyn 1997, 194 n. 7, 197). Despite
Pauls insistence that Titus was not compelled to be circumcised (Gal 2:3),
some interpreters argue that Paul voluntarily had him submit to the opera-
tion anyway (so, e.g., Schweitzer 1968, 157; Smith 1957, 118; Conzelmann
1973, 85; Richardson 1980, 359; see Bruce [1985, 58-61] for arguments to
the contrary).
Verse 4 seems incomprehensible apart from the assumption that Titus
was not circumcised, despite those who insisted upon it. The compulsion for
his circumcision did not come from the Jerusalem leadership, but because
of secretly sneaked in false brothers (pseudadelphos elsewhere only in 2 Cor
11:26). These so-called Christians were not really who they pretended to be
(BDAG, 1096).
The adjective pareisaktos, secretly, presumes that the pseudo-Christians
entered the Christian gathering surreptitiouslywhether in Antioch or Jeru-
salem, whether in a public or private setting ( Gal 2:2). This is the imagery
of a military or political conspiracy and espionage (see Polybius 1.18.3 and
2.7.8; Diodorus Siculus 12.41.4; Plutarch, Mor. 261B).
The passive voice, referring to false brothers being smuggled in secretly,
might suggest that insiders encouraged them. But the passive sense can[not]
be insisted upon in Hellenistic Greek (Burton 1920, 78). The intruders had
their own agenda and probably needed no encouragement. The false brothers
came of their own initiative. They sneaked in (see 2 Sam 10:3 and 2 Pet 2:1;
BDAG, 774)infltrated our ranks. The idea of surreptitiousness is not em-
phasized (Burton 1920, 78). The spies did not go unnoticed. Only their sin-
ister designs and traitorous allegiances were unsuspected before this incident.
If Paul referred to an incident that occurred in a private meeting with
the Jerusalem leaders, he could not have implied that the pillars were com-
plicitous. Under such circumstances, an atmosphere of mutual distrust would
have rendered any agreement between the parties impossible or meaningless.
And uninvited spies could not have sneaked into an intimate meeting. The
covert character of their presence presumes an all-church gathering, not a
private setting.
The Rest of t he St or y
We must guard against being taken in by the power of Pauls rhetoric. We
do not have the false brothers side of the story. They probably considered
themselves true believers. In their view, Paul and his circumcision-free gospel
were the problems. The church at Antioch was compromising the legal purity
of the church. If nonobservant Gentiles are brought in, the community is itself
polluted and subject to judgment. As a daughter church of the Jerusalem com-
munity, the threat potentially endangered the mother church (Martyn 1997, 196;
see n. 13).
Pauls side of the story has been canonized as sacred Scripture. But we
must recognize that he made no attempt to be objective. Paul does not pause
in order to assess the False Brothers motives in a charitable way (Martyn 1997,
196). Did he know their inner motives? Or, did he in the interests of persuasion
project upon them entirely sinister motives? The reality was undoubtedly more
complicated than Pauls rhetoric allowed.
The closest we can come to the rest of the story survives in the so-
called Pseudo-Clementine literature. In this ultraconservative Jewish Christian
prop aganda, Paul is cast in a villains role. James and Peter, who opposed Paul, are
its heroes. The historical reality of the early days of the Christian movement was
complex (as are the various traditions comprising the Pseudo-Clementines; see
Jones 1992; Hennecke and Schneemelcher 1965, 2:352-70).
Not only Pauls attitude toward circumcision, but his exalted Christology
and his view of justication by faith are attacked in the Pseudo-Clementines. Of
course, we cannot know how closely the views of the false brothers resembled
these later traditions. But if they did, this excerpt may indicate why Paul consid-
ered their position intolerable:
There is no salvation in believing in teachers and calling them lords. There-
fore is Jesus concealed from the Hebrews who have received Moses as
their teacher, and Moses hidden from those who believe in Jesus. For since
through both one and the same teaching becomes known, God accepts
those who believe in one of them. . . . Thus the Hebrews are not con-
demned because they did not know Jesus . . . provided only they act ac-
cording to the instruction of Moses and do not injure him whom they did
not know. And again the offspring of the Gentiles are not judged, who . . .
have not known Moses, provided only they act according to the words of
Jesus and thus not injure him whom they did not know. . . . In all circum-
stances good works are needed; but if a man has been considered worthy
to know both teachers as heralds of a single doctrine, then that man is
counted rich in God. (Ps.-Clem. Hom. 8:5.47.5 NTA)
Paul rst identied those who pressed for circumcision as false brothers.
Then he detailed what they did that earned them this disparaging anonymity.
They sneaked in so as to spy out our freedom. The English personal pronoun
They translates the Greek indenite relative pronoun hoitines, whoever. This
only adds to the intentional anonymity Paul assigned these pseudo-Christians.
The verb sneaked in in v 4b is related to the adjective sneaked in in v
4a. The repetition reinforced Pauls insistence that they had no right to attend
the meeting. They came in secretly, under false pretenses, and for sinister
A complementary innitive denes the purpose of the false brothers
stealthy entrance: to spy out our freedom. They were not neutral, much less
sympathetic observers. They distrusted the Christian community and came
only to nd grounds for their misgivings. The imagery of espionage treats the
behavior of the false brothers as a military intrusion. These supposed brothers
were actually enemies in disguise (see Fuchs 1971, 417). If these false broth-
ers were not the Pharisaic emissaries who stirred up strife at Antioch (Acts
15:1-5; Rendall 1903, 159), they certainly resemble them.
The word freedom in Gal 2:4 is the rst of eleven occurrences of words
from the eleuther- (free-) cognate family in Galatians (see 3:28; 4:22, 23, 26,
30, 31; 5:1 [three times], 13). These represent over 40 percent of its uses in the
Pauline letters (elsewhere only in Romans [seven times]; 1 Corinthians [seven
times]; 2 Corinthians; Ephesians; and Colossians). This demonstrates its the-
matic importance in Galatians. Here, freedom entailed the release of Gentiles
from the requirement of being circumcised. But it symbolized much more.
Freedom i n Gal at i ans
Freedom has its classical legal and social force vs. slavery in 3:28 and 4:22.
In everyday contexts, the Greek word for freedom meant no restraint or com-
pulsion from external control. Cynic and Stoic philosophers claimed inner free-
dom, escape from menacing external existence through self-control by retreat
into inwardness (Schlier 1964, 496).
Paul claimed that humans were not slaves because they could not control
external or internal forces, but because they could not control themselves. And
when they tried, they merely lost themselves. The only way to nd themselves was
to surrender to the rule of God, under the lordship of Christ, by the power of the
Spirit (Schlier 1964, 496). Christian freedom was one way of characterizing pres-
ent salvation, perhaps appealing to the OT analogy of the Exodus (Wilson 2004).
Christian freedom exists only in Christ Jesus. The expression in Christ
or in Christ Jesus appears six more times in Galatians (1:22; 2:17; 3:14, 26,
28; 5:6). Our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus clearly excludes autonomy
and licentiousness (5:1-15). Even Christians are to fulll the law of Christ
Freedom could exist only in an intimate mutual relationship in Christ
Jesus (BDAG, 327, s.v. en 4.c). His death and resurrection made freedom (5:1)
available to all who are justied by faith in Christ and not by observing the
law (2:16). All who seek to be justied in Christ (v 17) have died to the
law so that [they] might live for God. When we identify with his crucixion,
Christ lives in [us] (vv 19-20). The freedom he won by the gift of himself is
ours only as we participate in cruciform existence ( 2:19 sidebar, Crucifor-
mity). Christ freed us from the curse of the law . . . so that by faith we might
receive the promise of the Spirit (3:13-14). Spirit-lled believers already par-
ticipate in the eschatological blessing of freedom Christ offers.
The coming of the Messiah inaugurated the promised age of fulll-
mentthe new creation (6:15) and ended the temporary role of the Law
(3:19-29). Believers are no longer held prisoners by the law, because the
Christian faith has nally been revealed (v 23; 1:12, 16). Circumcision,
which perpetuated the distinction between Jews and non-Jews and males and
females, had been rendered inconsequential ( 3:26-28; 5:6; 6:15). Christ
brought freedom where there was slavery.
In v 4c Paul claimed that the sinister goal of the false brothers deception
and espionage was in order to enslave us completely. That is, they entered
the Christian gathering to eliminate the freedom Christ made possible. They
professed to be Christians, but they did not live as if the new age had already
dawned in Christ. Thus, they insisted upon the continuing necessity of Gen-
tile circumcision. They sought to bring under subordination to a legalistic
belief in God what was to them an intolerable freedom (Fuchs 1971, 417).
L 5 In response to such efforts Paul insisted, We did not yield to them [i.e.,
the false brothers] in submission for even a moment. Despite textual vari-
ants, all of the earliest MSS, versions, and church fathers indicate that Paul
emphatically did not give in even momentarily to the false brothers demands
(Metzger 1994, 522).
Pauls We seems to indicate that he was not the only one who resisted
the false brothers. Barnabas (Lightfoot 1874, 107), the rest of the Antioch del-
egation (see Acts 15:2), and perhaps even the Jerusalem leaders also resisted.
Not to yield to the spies meant refusing to accept their coercive measures
2: 5
and compelling arguments (see BDAG, 281, s.v. eiko3). The spies tried to force
Tituss circumcision. But the church leaders from Antioch and Jerusalem re-
fused to cave in under pressure.
Titus was merely a test case; and circumcision, only a symbol of a larger
demand. What the false brothers were really after was submissiveness, subjec-
tion, subordination (BDAG, 1041, s.v. hypotage3) to their antiquated interpreta-
tion of the Law. Paul apparently considered their low view of the decisiveness
and nality of Christ evidence that they were false brothers. To Pauls way
of thinking, it was necessary to choose either the side of God or humanity
Christ or Moses ( Gal 2:4).
Verse 5 concludes with Pauls statement of the purpose or result of his
refusal to budge, despite the full court press by the false brothers. It was so
that the truth [ see 3:1; 5:7] of the gospel might remain with the Galatians
(see Rendall 1903, 159). Compromise with the advocates of circumcision
would have meant bad news for the Galatians.
In 2:2, Paul acknowledged his apprehensions about what might have
gone wrong in Jerusalem. To preempt disaster, he refused to capitulate to the
false brothers. Now, it was the Galatians turn similarly to resist the Agitators.
His resistance of the false brothers was relevant to them (for you, v 5, NIV
2011). There was an analogy between the situation in Antioch and in Galatia
(Witherington 1998a, 136-37), but not identity.
The truth of the gospel can mean the true gospel versus the false
gospel (cf. 1:6-9) or the real consequences of the gospel, or the integrity of
the gospel (Betz 1979, 92). The truth of the gospel is not a thing (Martyn
1997, 198). This expression (only here and in 2:14; see Col 1:5) appears to
be a compound verbal genitive. Since both truth and gospel are verbal nouns,
they are mutually interpretive (see Winger 1999).
Only one message may legitimately be called the gospel (see 1:6-7)the
good news about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul did not imply
that only part of it was true and the rest false (as in a partitive genitive). He
meant the truth about the gospel or the gospel truth: Christ alone provides
salvation to all who will trust this message as true (see 2:14-16), both Jews and
Gentiles. To have denied the freedom of Titus to remain a Greek Christian,
by compelling him to be circumcised (v 3), would have betrayed the truth
about the gospel (see 5:7).
Paul wrote in Greek, but his meaning was inuenced by LXX usage.
The most common Hebrew word for truth, )e5met, is the end-time event of
Gods redemption (see 1:8-9; 5:10; Martyn 1997, 198). In the LXX, ale3theia,
truth, translates Hebrew words referring to Gods faithful revelation. In Gala-
tians it is the true content of the divine message (Hbner 1990a, 59).
Had the church leaders given in to the false brothers, the gospel would
have been compromised and the Galatians end-times salvation put in jeop-
ardy. The Agitators gospel had a decient Christology, an exclusively futur-
2: 5-6
istic eschatology, and a legalistic soteriology. If Gentiles had to become Jews
to be saved, as they maintained:
Christ died for nothing (Gal 2:21).
He had not inaugurated the new age and fulflled the prophetic prom-
ise of the Spirit.
The Law continued to make demands it gave no power to obey (3:21).
Because Paul was convinced the gospel was true, he refused to give in. The
truth was worth ghting for, even if it meant alienating some professed Chris-
tians who saw things differently.
L 6 With But, Paul turned abruptly from his discussion of the false broth-
ers to the Jerusalem leaders, those who seem to be something ( v 2). If the
present tense is signicant (Lightfoot 1874, 107), his concern was not who the
leaders seemed to be in the past, but how the Agitators and the Galatians re-
garded them in the present. This is implied by his shift to the imperfect tense:
whatever they were makes no difference to me.
This parenthesis apparently interrupted Pauls train of thought. He
again failed to nish the sentence he began ( vv 4-5; see BDF, 244 467;
Robertson 1919, 130, 434, 437-38). He had apparently intended to describe
what he had received from the Jerusalem leaders, but left the sentence unn-
ished: But from those who seem to be something. Did his amanuensis tran-
scribe his dictation word-for-word ( 6:11)? Did Paul send the letter without
proofreading? Or, did he deliberately abandon the sentence, perhaps to avoid
Was Paul about to say that he received nothing from the supposed some-
bodies? Were the Jerusalem big shots ( 2:2) not as important as some
thought? Whatever they once were matters nothing to me (v 6b). Was he
underwhelmed by the rsums of James, Cephas, and John (see v 9)? They
were only humans.
This reading coheres with Pauls rhetorical purpose: to demonstrate that
his gospel was of divine rather than human origin and to highlight the contrast
between formerly and now ( 1:10-12 BEHIND THE TEXT). His object
was not to insult the Jerusalem leaders. But no humanno matter how appar-
ently impressive, important, and inuentialcompetes with God.
Pauls second parenthetical sentence (v 6c) explained why the Jerusa-
lem leaders failed to impress him: God does not receive the face of humans.
Paraphrases clearly communicate his meaning (see Luke 20:21; Barn. 19:4;
Did. 4:3): God does not judge by external appearance, God does not show
favoritism (NIV 2011), or God shows no partiality (NRSV). But they obscure
his repetition of the divine-human antithesis (see 1:1, 10, 11, 12, 15-16). The
face is a metonym for the entire person. To receive someones face is to make
distinctions based on personal differences, to show favoritism (BDAG, 888,
s.v. 1ba; LXX Deut 10:17; Sir 4:22; 35:14-16; T. Job 43:13; Acts 10:34; 11:12;
15:9; Rom 2:11; Eph 6:9; Col 3:25; Jas 2:1; Barn. 19:4; Did. 4:3; Gal 1:6).
2: 6-7
Within honor-shame societies, individuals of high status, ascribed or
achieved, expected to be treated with deference. But God refused to evalu-
ate human beings on the basis of their face (Witherington 1998a, 140).
Gods people were not to show partiality (Lev 19:15; Deut 1:17; 16:19; 2 Chr
19:7; Job 13:10; Ps 82:2; Prov 18:5; Mal 2:9). To do so was to pervert justice
by preferring human status to the truth (Deut 10:17-18; 2 Chr 19:7; 1 Esd
4:37-38; Matt 22:16; Mark 12:14). This explains the logic connecting Pauls
insistence upon the truth of the gospel in Gal 2:5 and his repudiation of
partiality in v 6.
In v 6d Paul reformulated the thought he began in 6a but left incom-
plete after his double parenthesis: For those who seemed to be something
added [prosanethento] nothing to me. The only other NT appearance of the
verb prosanatithe3mi is in 1:16. There he insisted that immediately after his
conversion-call he did not consult with (prosanetheme3n) esh and blood
with human beings ( 2:2 on anetheme3n).
Interpreters generally assume Paul denied that the big shots in Jeru-
salem added further requirements to his gospel or restrictions to his mission
eld (see v 8). But his parenthesis on partiality suggests another possibility.
Perhaps Paul insisted that acquaintance with the leaders added nothing to his
status (Witherington 1998a, 140). They did not seek his opinion about their
Jewish-oriented gospel (Behm 1964a, 353). Neither he nor they cared about
human opinions.
L 7 Paul claried what the Jerusalem leaders did positively (see BDF, 232-33
448). Verse 6 reports a nonevent, the rhetorical counterpoint to the positive
statement in v 9b. But rst, he explained what motivated the leaders favorable
response in vv 7-9a.
The Jerusalem leaders responded favorably to Pauls presentation prob-
ably because of what they saw or when they saw (NRSV; Longenecker 1990,
54) that he had been entrusted with the gospel of the uncircumcised. Of
course, they literally witnessed nothing. While Paul evangelized in Arabia,
Syria, and Cilicia, they were in Jerusalem. Metaphorical insight allowed them
to realize what God was doing.
The perfect tense of the verb pepisteumai, I had been entrusted, refers
to a past event that resulted in a present state. The passive voice indicates
that God was responsible for Pauls successful evangelism. The pillars (v 9)
recognized the divine source of Pauls gospel and apostolate. They conrmed
the thesis that motivated his autobiographical account (1:10-12): God had
entrusted Paul with his mission to the Gentiles.
This is the rst of four signicant occurrences of the verb pisteuo3, believe
/ trust, in Galatians (see also 2:16; 3:6, 22). It is the only instance of the verb
in the passive voice, with God as the implied actor. Here Paul used the verb
to describe his call ( 1:15) from Gods perspective. God entrusted him with
the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles. His past conversion-call made
him at present an apostle.
Jarringly, Paul described his sacred trust as (lit.) the gospel of the fore-
skinthe only occurrence of this expression in his letters. Here, foreskin is
a metonym for uncircumcised non-Jews (see Rom 3:30; 4:9; Eph 2:11; Col
3:11; BDAG, 39, s.v. akrobystia 3). Typically, Paul avoided this impolite epi-
thet, preferring the term Gentiles (ethne3) in Gal 2:8, 9, and 12 ( 3:8 sidebar,
Gentiles as Ethnophaulism). The NIV disguises Pauls offensive language.
This terminology probably reects the wording of the agreement of the Apos-
tolic Council, not Pauls normal practice. The verbal noun gospel refers to the
preaching of Christ ( 1:6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 15-16; 2:2, 5). The genitive modier,
of the foreskin, functions as an indirect object within an event clause: Paul
preached the gospel to uncircumcised pagans ( 1:16; 2:2).
The Jerusalem leaders recognized Pauls divine trust as comparable to
Peters. Paul wrote economically, intentionally omitting part of what he meant
to say: as Peter of the circumcision. He trusted his Galatian audience to ll
out the ellipsed words by analogy to what he had written about himself: as
Peter [had been entrusted with preaching the gospel] to Jews. Here circum-
cision is a metonym for the Jewish people ( 2:8, 9, 12; Acts 10:45; 11:2;
Rom 3:30; 4:9, 12; 15:8; Eph 2:11; Col 3:11; 4:11; Titus 1:10; BDAG, 807,
s.v. peritome3 2).
The Jerusalem pact did not require Paul to compromise his conviction
that there was only one gospel (Gal 1:7). The same gospel was preached to
both Jews and Gentiles, only the cultural contexts and the preachers differed
(see 1 Cor 15:3-11; Gal 1:11; Lightfoot 1874, 109; Dunn 1993, 105; George
1994, 160-61).
Only in Gal 2:7 and 8 in Pauls letters did he identify Peter using the
Greek form of his name, Petros. Elsewhere, he referred to him as Cephas (
1:18; 2:9). This and other departures from his customary practice in these
verses have led scholars to presume that Paul cited the terms of the agreement
reached at the Apostolic Council (see, e.g., Bruce 1982, 120-21).
L 8 Paul explained that God was the source of both missionshis and Peters.
An overly literal translation of vv 7 and 8 highlights the ellipsed words and the
chiastic structure of the agreement:
They realized that
A I have been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised
B as Peter to the circumcised.
B' The One who energized Peter to his apostleship to the cir-
A' also energized me to the Gentiles.
The word God does not appear in the Greek of v 8. He is the One who worked
effectively in both apostles ( 1:5).
2: 8-9
The abstract noun apostleship (Rom 1:5; 1 Cor 9:2) identies Peters
ministry assignment or ofce as an apostle ( Gal 1:1). The preposition to
identies those for whom the apostles were sent (see BDAG, 288, s.v. eis 1). The
same powerful God who worked effectively in Peter also empowered Paul to
the Gentiles. Neither apostle could claim that the success of his ministry was to
his credit. God worked effectively through them both (BDAG, 335).
As in v 7, Pauls economy of words resulted in the omission of the term
apostleship in the second line. The ellipsis presumes Paul enjoyed a God-
empowered apostleship like Peters. But he (or the words of the Apostolic
Council agreement) assigned only Peters Jewish mission this explicit designa-
tion. Paul failed to give his mission any specic title (see Betz 1979, 96-98).
Such ellipses are perfectly normal grammatical phenomena. But Pauls omis-
sion lends no support to the supposition that his autobiographical narrative
was apologetically motivated ( Introduction). If Paul wanted to defend him-
self against the charges of his opponents, he missed a golden opportunity (see
Walker 2004).
Pauls reference to Peters apostleship of the circumcision is without
parallel, like his reference to his apostleship of the uncircumcision (but com-
pare Rom 1:5; 11:13). These unique formulations support the supposition that
Pauls terminology was inuenced by the formal agreement of the Apostolic
L 9 The second adverbial participle phrase (see v 7) explains the Jerusalem
churchs favorable response to Pauls presentation of his gospel. He offered a
second reason why they recognized his mission as from God: Because they
knew the grace which was given me. Their initial theological observation (v 7)
became a settled conviction. They perceived, understood, and acknowledged
(Schmithals 1990, 248) the grace God gave Paul (see 2 Cor 8:9).
Grace is an abstract noun Paul used to refer to a variety of Gods gifts
( Gal 1:3, 6, 15; 2:21; 5:4; 6:18). Gods grace freely empowers weak human
beings to be and do what would otherwise be impossible. It was the divine
medium for his conversion-call to preach Christ among the Gentiles (1:15).
In fact, his entire apostolic ministry was a gracious gift (Rom 1:5; 12:3; and
15:15)the undeserved privilege of representing Christ (see 1 Cor 15:9-10).
The term pillars literally designates the supporting columns of buildings.
But it was widely used metaphorically in the ancient world, by both Greek and
Jewish authors. Early Christians perhaps thought James, Cephas, and John
played roles in the church comparable to those of the patriarchs Abraham,
Isaac, and Jacob in Israel. Similar architectural imagery probably stands be-
hind Jesus renaming Simon Peter / Cephas, the rock, in the Gospels (Matt
16:18; see Lightfoot 1874, 109; Betz 1979, 99 n. 404; Longenecker 1990, 57).
Paul did not identify the anonymous triumvirate of Jerusalem leaders at
the Apostolic Council until now. The orderJames and Cephas and John
is probably signicant. He had mentioned the rst two earlier in his autobio-
graphical narrative ( Gal 1:19, 18; 2:7-8). But this is his rst mention of
John. Paul said nothing about them individually. They were part of a leader-
ship team identied as those who seemed to be pillars (see 1 Clem. 5:2; Gal
2:2 and 6). The title probably honored their crucial supporting role within the
Jerusalem church, the new temple of God.
J ohn
John, the son of Zebedee and brother of another James, is named in all of
the NT lists of the Twelve (Matt 10:1-4; Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:12-16; Acts 1:13).
Along with his brother James and Peter, the Synoptic Gospels describe John as
a part of an inner circle of Jesus condants within the Twelve (Mark 1:29; 5:37;
9:2-8; 13:3; 14:32-42; Luke 8:51; 22:8).
In the early chapters of Acts, John frequently appears as Peters silent part-
ner (Acts 3:1-16; 4:13-22; 8:14-25). He is never credited with saying anything.
The Gospels report him speaking independently just once, only to be rebuked by
Jesus (Mark 9:38-49; Luke 9:49-50). With his brother James, he sought special
status within Jesus kingdom, occasioning the resentment of the other disciples
(Mark 10:35-45). Both brothers were rebuked by Jesus for urging him to call
down re upon a Samaritan village (Luke 9:54). Jesus seemed to predict a mar-
tyrs death for both brothers (Matt 20:23 || Mark 10:39). The NT reports the
execution of James (Acts 12:2) and vaguely hints that John had died before the
Fourth Gospel was published (John 21:22-24).
Early Christian tradition assigned the authorship of the Fourth Gospel to
this John as the disciple Jesus loved (see John 13:23; 19:26; 21:20-24). But the
gospel is anonymous; and John is never mentioned in it (see only 21:2: the sons
of Zebedee). The early church debated whether the apostle John was also the
prophet who authored Revelation (see Rev 1:1). Galatians conrms Johns leader-
ship role in the earliest Christian community, but adds nothing to our knowledge
of him (see Thyen 1990a; Collins 1992; and Culpepper 2000).
Only at the conclusion of v 9 did Paul nally report what the pillars of
the Jerusalem church did to recognize his ministry (see v 7). They gave me
and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship. Scholars debate the signicance of
this gesture.
That the pillars extended their hands to Paul and Barnabas (not vice
versa) may indicate their superior position in the existing social structure of
the church (Witherington 1998a, 143, citing Josephus, Ant. 18.328-29; see
also 2 Kgs 10:15; Ezra 10:19; Ezek 17:18; 1 Macc 6:58; 11:50, 62, 66). But
some OT passages (1 Chr 29:24; 2 Chr 30:8; Lam 5:6) suggest that extending
the right hand implied submission (Burton 1920, 95).
The respective parties to the agreement may have understood the ges-
ture differently. It is possible that the Jerusalem leaders took their handshake
to endorse a separate-and-inferior mission to the Gentiles. They may have
considered Jerusalem to be the mother church, whose approval Paul and Barn-
abas required (so Schlier 1965, 68 n. 3; Stuhlmacher 1968, 87, 282).
Whatever the pillars understood, Paul claimed that the handshake sym-
bolized koino3nia, mutual partnership (see Phil 1:5). In Roman legal practice,
this referred to an agreement involving consensual societas (see Xenophon,
Anab. 1.6.6; 2.5.3). If this was the force here, the handshake expressed the
equality of the two missions, with only a division of labor (Sampley 1980,
25-30 and 50 n. 50; see Catchpole 1977). Thus, Pauls mission enjoyed parity
with Peters (Holmberg 1978, 28; Haenchen 1971, 465-66).
Paul stated the substance of the agreement: that we should go to the
Gentiles, and they to the Jews. His language is economical. The clause has no
verb; should go is conjecturally supplied (see KJV, ASV, RSV, NRSV, GNT). God
worked in the ministries of both apostles, sending Peter and Paul out to the
circumcision and to (eis) the uncircumcision respectively. Thus, the ellipsed
verb may be sent out. God had commissioned Paul and Barnabas to evange-
lize Gentiles, just as he had commissioned the pillars to evangelize Jews.
This mutually agreed upon division of labor did not specify its precise
terms. The terms of the agreement in Gal 2:7 and 8 refer to persons rather
than places (Longenecker 1990, 59). Scholars debate whether it was con-
ceived along ethnic (see Martyn 1997, 213-16) or geographic (see Betz 1979,
100) lines. Neither view is without its problems:
A geographic division calls for an explanation for Peters presence in
Antioch in 2:11-21.
If the Antioch incident happened after the Apostolic Conference,
why was Peter outside the land of Israel?
Why are the canonical letters bearing Peters name both addressed
to Gentile Christians of Asia Minor?
An ethnic division calls for an explanation for Pauls repeated presence
in synagogues (Acts 13:5, 14, 42-43; 14:1; 17:1, 10, 17; 18:4, 19; 19:8).
Was he engaging in corporate worship? evangelizing Gentile God-
fearers or unbelieving Jews as well?
Paul claimed he became a Jew to win Jews (1 Cor 9:20).
His acceptance of synagogue discipline (2 Cor 11:24) suggests that
he preached in synagogues.
He claimed to have preached the gospel from Jerusalem all the way
around to Illyricum (Rom 15:19). If the agreement was geographi-
cal, why did he preach in Jerusalem?
Antioch presented a particular problem on either view.
It was located geographically near Judea.
The church there was ethnically mixed.
The terms of the agreement were unworkable on either view (Wither-
ington 1998a, 141). There were Jewish population centers in all the major
cities of the Roman Empire. Peters and Pauls missions necessarily overlapped
in the Diaspora (see Gal 2:11-14; Rom 15:14-29; 1 Cor 1:12; 3:22).
Paul certainly preferred to preach the gospel where Christ was not
known, so that [he] would not be building on someone elses foundation (Rom
15:20). But he explained this principle as he prepared to make an exception to
it to visit Rome on his real mission to unevangelized Spain (vv 22-29).
Galatians 2:11-21 indicates that Paul thought Peter violated the spirit
of their agreement by his wafing behavior in the mixed congregation in An-
tioch. Only speculation supports the assumption that Paul was irritated with
the Agitators because they claimed to represent the pillars, in violation of
their agreement (Witherington 1998a, 141).
Despite the NIV translation referring to Gentiles and Jews, in v 9 Paul
actually referred to Gentiles and the circumcision. He did not use the Greek
term Ioudaioi for Jews until 2:13, 14, and 15 and again in 3:28 (1:13-14 refers
to the religion Judaism; 1:22 to the land of Judea). He typically referred to
Jews as the circumcision (see 2:7, 8, 9, 12; 5:6, 11; 6:15). He once impolitely
referred to Gentiles as the foreskin ( 2:7). But he typically referred to them
as ta ethne3, the nations (1:16; 2:2, 8, 9, 12, 14, 15; 3:8, 14).
L 10 The right hand of fellowship (v 9) symbolized more than the agree-
ment resulting in a division of labor by the two missions. It also represented
the only further expectation of Paul and the representatives of Antioch (Betz
1979, 101): that we should continue to remember the poor.
The poor may refer simply to economically disadvantaged Jewish Chris-
tians in Israel (BDAG, 896, s.v. pto3chos 1). The motivation may have been
merely to alleviate the widespread suffering in the primitive church (see
Acts 11:27-30; Bammel 1968, 909). Chrysostom and Jerome explained the
need in the Jerusalem church as due to persecution and the failure of the ex-
periment of community property (see Acts 2:44-45; 4:32; cited in Edwards
1999, 24). The rapid growth of the earliest church, led largely by unemployed
Galileans, and severe famine in A.D. 46-48 may have contributed to the need
(Dunn 1993, 112).
In Rom 15:26, Pauls reference to the poor among the saints in Jerusa-
lem may not single out an impoverished Christian subgroup, but may iden-
tify the community as a wholethe poor Jerusalem saints (Jeremias 1969,
116-18; Betz 1979, 102). The primitive Christian community in Jerusalem
evidently called itself the poor (see Pss 69:32; 72:2-4; Jas 2:5; Bammel 1968,
909; Merklein 1990, 195). Later, heretical Jewish Christians were called Ebi-
onites, from the Hebrew term for the poor (see Longenecker 1990, 59-60).
The present tense of the verb remember indicates that Paul was already
committed to what the Jerusalem leaders requested. Although the mission
was divided into two branches, fraternal ties were to be preserved. Perhaps
the Jerusalem leaders requested no more than prayer (see 1 Macc 12:11; Col
4:18; BDAG, 656, s.v. mne3moneuo3 1). But they more likely implicitly requested
economic support (see Heb 13:7), using a euphemism.
Paul took this agreement as binding not merely on Jerusalems daughter
church in Antioch. He promised to collect money in his Gentile congrega-
tions for the Jerusalem mother church (Leivestad 1990, 436). The pillars may
have considered this expectation a reasonable compromise, a voluntary tax
in exchange for their concession on circumcision. First-century Jews gener-
ally understood almsgiving as a crucial expression of covenant righteousness
(Dan 4:27; Sir 3:30; 29:12; 40:24; Tob 4:10; 12:9; 14:11; Dunn 1993, 112).
For Paul, the collection meant more than compassionate relief for the
Jerusalem poor. He considered his delivery of the collection a fulllment of
end-times expectations decisive for the salvation of Israel and the nations (see
Munck 1959, 282-308). The wealth of the Gentiles was to ow into Jerusalem
(e.g., Isa 45:14; 60:5-17; 61:6; Mic 4:13; Hag 2:6-9; Tob 13:11; 1QM 12.13-
15; see Merklein 1990, 195).
The collection for Paul was a gesture symbolizing church solidarity,
not merely charitable service. His Gentile churches in Achaia (Corinth and
Cenchrea), Macedonia (Philippi and Thessalonica), Galatia, and Asia even-
tually all contributed (see Acts 20:4-5; 24:17; Rom 15:25-27; 1 Cor 16:1-4;
2 Cor 8:1-7; 9:1-5, 12-13). Beyond its canonical status, this provides good
reason to think his letter to the Galatians was successful. Sadly, Acts (11:29;
24:1628:31) implies that the hoped-for results in Jerusalem were not (see
Rom 15:30-32; Acts 2128; Betz 1979, 103).
There is ample evidence that Paul was, as he claimed, conscientious-
ly committed (BDAG, 939, s.v. spoudazo3) to the collection (see Rom 12:13;
15:20, 25-27; 1 Cor 16:1-3, 15; 2 Cor 89 [esp. 8:4; 9:1-2, 12]; 12:16-18;
see Nickle 1966; Holmberg 1978, 35-43; Georgi 1992; Carver 2009, 248-74).
After mentioning the pillars request for aid, he immediately added: the very
thing I was eager to do. The change from the rst person plural (we) to the
singular (I) may reect the reality of the split separating Paul and Barnabas
after the Antioch incident (see Gal 2:11-13; Acts 15:36-40; so Boice 1976,
444). Or, it may be merely another indication of Pauls singular authorship of
the letter ( 1:1).
The Apost ol i c Conf erence : A Hi st ori cal Reconst ruct i on
Pauls account of his second visit to Jerusalem is brief and to the point. It
was not historically motivated. His goal throughout the autobiographical narra-
tive was to demonstrate the divine origin of his gospelthat no human being
contributed anything to his message. This explains why Paul was neither as clear
nor as complete here as historians would like.
This reconstruction of the events leading to and conspiring during the Ap-
ostolic Conference presumes that Acts 15 and Gal 2:1-10 report the same event
(so Theodoret, cited in Edwards 1999, 18).
The ethnically mixed church in Antioch did not require Gentile converts
to be circumcised or observe other legal regulations imposed on Law-
observant Jews.
Pharisaic Christians from Jerusalem visiting Antioch insisted that Gen-
tiles had to become Jews in order to become Christians (Acts 15:1, 5).
However, these visitors represented themselves in Antioch, James in-
sisted, they went out from us without our authorization (v 24).
What these intruders said disturbed (see Gal 1:7; 5:10) and troubled
the Gentile believers in Antioch (Acts 15:24).
Paul and Barnabas resisted the efforts of the Agitators. But the contro-
versy stirred up unrest and division in the ethnically mixed Christian
community in Antioch.
The community sent two of its leaders, Paul and Barnabas, and oth-
ers, including Titus, to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about
whether Gentile Christ-believers had to be circumcised and obey the
law of Moses (vv 2, 5).
Paul, in response to divine revelation, visited Jerusalem to present the
gospel he had been preaching in Antioch and elsewhere to the Jewish
Christian community there.
Paul and the leaders in Jerusalem agreed that salvation for all was by
faith . . . through the grace of [the] Lord Jesus (vv 9, 11), evidenced by
their reception of the Holy Spirit (v 8).
Paul presented his gospel to an all-church assembly in Jerusalem. His re-
port must have included an account of how he and Barnabas had risked
their lives (v 26) and how Gentiles had been converted (vv 3-4, 19).
Pharisaic members of the Jerusalem Christian community objected to
Pauls gospel, particularly his practice of not requiring Gentile converts
to be circumcised (vv 1, 5). They questioned the Christian standing of his
uncircumcised Greek convert, Titus (in Antioch or in Jerusalem?).
Paul considered their objections evidence that they were not truly
Christians, but instead spies, intent on undermining the freedom Christ
had brought.
In the interests of compromise, the leaders from Antioch met privately
with the Jerusalem leaders.
Pauls account of his gospel and his evangelism among Gentiles persuad-
ed the Jerusalem leaders that God had indeed called him to preach the
gospel to Gentiles and that Gods blessing alone accounted for Pauls
The leaders of the two communities reached an agreement, sealed with
handshakes all around.
Titus, and the Gentile converts he represented, were not required to
be circumcised. The evidence that he was a Spirit-lled Christian was
The two churches agreed to form a mutually benecial partnership. Pe-
ter would lead the Christian mission to Jews; and Paul, the mission to
evangelize Gentiles.
The Jerusalem leaders also asked Paul and Barnabas (and the Antioch
community they represented) to continue collecting nancial support
for the Jerusalem church, which they gladly agreed to do.
The most serious objection to equating the two narratives as of the same
event is Pauls failure to mention the apostolic decree reported in vv 20-21, 28-29
within his account in Galatians (see Walker 1985; Wedderburn 1993). Several
explanations are possible:
Paul considered it irrelevant to the Galatians (see v 23).
The formulation reported in Acts represents a later revision of the basic
agreement reecting Jerusalems attempt to address the unanticipated
problems of applying it within mixed communities (21:25; Gal 2:11-21).
The least likely explanation is that the accounts in Gal 2:1-10 and Acts 15
refer to different events.
Despite differences in details, Gal 2:1-10 and Acts 15 seem to most con-
temporary commentators to describe the same event. Patristic commentators
Chrysostom and Augustine ignored the issue. Calvin thought the Antioch
incident in Gal 2:11-21 occurred before the Jerusalem visit in vv 1-10 (1841,
40), which he identied with the famine visit in Acts 12:25. He assumed
Pauls position won the day in Antioch and that Peter learned from Pauls call
for consistency (Calvin 1841, 25-26).
During the rst ve centuries, Christian leaders found it necessary in
opposition to Jewish proselytism to continue Pauls crusade against Gentile
circumcision (see Glick 2005, 39-54). But the enduring legacy in the his-
tory of interpretation of Gal 2:1-10 has concerned the place of the Law in the
Christian life (see Riches 2008, 100-104).
Unity and Diversity. All the evidence indicates that James lived as a strict,
Law-observant Jew to the end of his life. That he was a party to the Jerusalem
agreement is a credit to his ability to embrace the necessity of contextualiza-
tion. We would not be surprised if the implications of Pauls Law-free gospel
made him squeamish (see 2:12; see Dunn 1993, 106).
The church must be a big tent. Personal and cultural differences and
political realities within the church call for accommodation and sanctied di-
plomacy. It is never easy to live out the gospel in contentious situations. Some
difcult issues may require private discussions behind closed doors.
But there must be some limits as to how far the tent pegs can be stretched
from the center. To preserve the truth of the gospel, the apostles courageously
resisted the pressures of those calling for the Jewish status quo. Paul stubborn-
ly refused to compromise the newness of the freedom we have in Christ in the
interests of unity. God had called him to evangelize pagansto bring them
to faith in Christ, not to turn them into Jews. And the evidence that God was
powerfully at work in his ministry convinced even James. Those unwilling to
accept what God was doing earned the label false brothers.
Our issues are different today. But the church must still make hard de-
cisions. It remains difcult to separate personal and social biases from our
commitment to the gospel truth. Will we heed the concerned voices calling
us to preserve our identity by returning to the past or those emerging voices
urging us to reach out to the future in culturally relevant ways? Tradition is
not always wrong, and the new is not always better.
On some divisive issues, we must ght to preserve what Christians have
believed and practiced always and everywhere. On others, we must, out of
Christian principle, ght for change to serve the present age and to preserve
the truth for the next. It is never entirely possible to distinguish sociological
and theological considerations. To decide whether compromise or standing
rm is called for is no easier today than it was in the rst century. There is
always the risk that we may learn that our own unassailable convictions were
actually just stubborn opinions, and that we, not our opponents, were the false
brothers and sisters.
Could we learn from the council how to nd peace in the worship
wars? Can we agree that our preferences for hymns vs. contemporary mu-
sic probably says more about our age than about the truth? How willing are
wehow willing should we beto live with some uncomfortable diversity in
our churches? Are we trying to force Gentiles to live like Jews? Or, are we
actually preserving the truth of the gospel? Do we expect all Christians to
be alikefrom the clothes they wear to the translations they carry, from the
schools they attend to the stores they patronize, from the political views they
embrace to the kinds of cars they buy (McKnight 1995, 95)?
We should not imagine that the Apostolic Council provides a timeless
pattern for conict management in the church. Perhaps some issues do not
lend themselves to a public (or private) Christian conference. Could the shrill
voices on opposite extremes in the homosexuality debate sit around the same
table and engage in civil discourse? The battle has already split some Christian
communions. Are we ready for more casualties?
Are some issues merely matters of partisan politicsperhaps, abortion,
immigration policy, health care, poverty, environmental stewardship? Should
we avoid dividing the church over such things? By not discussing controversial
contemporary issues, do we risk allowing confusion to erupt into chaos? Do
we risk losing our credibility by preferring unity to truth?
If the Apostolic Council may be exemplary for resolving some modern
church dilemmas, we must:
Have a clear sense of who we are as a community of Christians and
what is central to our Christian faith, and thus nonnegotiable.
Talk frankly with one another about the pressing issues, publicly and
privately, as the situation demands. None of us wants our efforts in
Gods behalf to be in vain (v 2). Are we courageous enough to risk
learning what others think of our gospel?
See and recognize what God is up to in our world (vv 7 and 9) and
follow his lead. Do we believe that God is still able to reveal himself
and his intentions (v 2)? God, unexpectedly and contrary to Peters
religious scruples (Acts 10:28), used him to bring about the conver-
sion of the Gentile Cornelius and his family (chs 1011). Afterward,
Peter asked: Who was I to think that I could oppose God? (11:17).
Find a reasonable compromise, even if it means agreeing to disagree.
We can afrm the different ministries of both Peter and Paul without
requiring them to minister to the same audiences in the same ways
(Gal 2:8).
Be willing to sacrifce artifcial unity so that the truth of the gospel
might remain for future generations of Christians (v 5). Apparently,
some principles are worth risking a church split to defend.
Theology and Anthropology. Paul did not seem to operate out of a fully
developed systematic theologya thoroughly modern enterprise. Neverthe-
less, his theological convictions profoundly impacted his self-understanding
and served as rationales for the conduct of his ministry.
Divine Justice. Pauls certainty that God did not show partiality based on
personal differences justied his unconcern for human honor or approval (v 6;
see 1:10). Apostles and ordinary believers, Jews and Gentiles, men and wom-
en were all alike in Gods eyes. This theological insight explained Pauls lack
of deference for human prestige, power, and position. His attempt to please
God supremely meant that he was not easily impressed by human credentials.
Within a society in which respect called for preferential treatment, Paul
was as dangerous as the little boy in Hans Christian Andersens tale The
Emperors New Clothes. Did his commitment to the truth embolden the Ga-
latians to reconsider their assessment of the Agitators? Could it motivate us to
look beyond celebrity, even religious celebrity, to substance?
Omnipotence and Synergism. Referring to God as the One at work (v
8) identies him as all-powerful. He can do whatever he chooses (see 1 Cor
12:4-6, 11; Eph 1:11, 20-22; Phil 2:13). By his all-embracing activity, God
acts in the apostles and works dynameis [miracles] in the Church (see 3:5;
Paulsen 1990, 453).
Reformed and Wesleyan-Arminian theologians sometimes create the
impression that we must choose between divine sovereignty and human agen-
cy. Galatians 2:1-10 indicates that this is a false dichotomy. Gods grace is not
merely about his capacity to justify sinners who believe. God works through
God empowers those who respond obediently to his call to be change
agents in whatever sphere he chooses. Do we appreciate Gods sense of hu-
mor? Why would he choose a zealot for the Jewish law and a violent perse-
cutor of Christ-believers to be his agent to take the good news of Christ to
pagans? God is sovereign, omnipotent, and synergistically works cooperatively
through human agents to accomplish his purposes as he sees t.
Scriptural Inerrancy? Every theory about the nature of biblical inspira-
tion must confront the Bible we actually have, not speculate about an ideal
Bible of pious imagination. The grammatical chaos throughout vv 1-10 and the
historical tensions as compared to Acts must be taken seriously.
The manuscript tradition suggests that the scribes who preserved the
sacred text were willing to tweak it because the original autographs
were hopelessly plagued with grammatical aws. Do these count as
Regardless of the parallel interpreters settle on as the Acts equivalent
to the events reported in Gal 2:1-10, they are obliged to acknowledge
the obvious differences between the two perspectives. Do omissions
and markedly different emphases count as errors?
I am sympathetic with the opening words of Karl Barths (1972, 1) Pref-
ace to the rst edition of his epochal commentary on Romans:
The historical-critical method of Biblical investigation has its rightful
place. . . . But, were I driven to choose between it and the venerable doc-
trine of Inspiration, I should without hesitation adopt the latter, which
has a broader, deeper, more important justication. . . . Fortunately, I am
not compelled to choose between the two.
No human is perfect. Still children who love their parents have no nit-
picking interest in pointing out their obvious shortcomings. Nor do those who
have come to know Christ through Holy Scripture delight in calling attention
to its errors. Christian parents give us biological life and nurture that life. Just
so, the Scriptures pointed us to Christ and continue to be useful for teaching,
for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone
who belongs to God may be procient, equipped for every good work (2 Tim
3:16-17 NRSV).
I am comfortable with my denominations Article of Faith on The
Holy Scriptures, which traces its roots to Wesleys revision of the Thirty-
Nine Articles of the Church of England. Nevertheless, honesty compels me
to acknowledge that a close reading of the Bible, here and elsewhere, makes it
impossible to endorse the extravagant claims of some evangelical brothers and
sisters. Divine inspiration may be inerrant, but human reception never is. And
even if it were, because awed and biased human beings must interpret the
text, theoretical inerrancy is inconsequential.
c. Pauls Opposition to Peter in Antioch (2:11-21)
i. The Incident (2:11-14)
Organization. Verse 11 sets the scene for the Antioch incident, briey
summarizing the entire story. Most of the events reported in 2:1-10 occurred
in private (1:2). Here, Paul made a point that this incident took place in public.
Verse 12 describes the dramatic reversal in Peters behavior after repre-
sentatives of James visited the church in Antioch. Verse 13 characterizes the
unfortunate consequences of Peters about-face on the other Jewish Christians
at Antioch. And v 14 reports Pauls public rebuke of Peter for his behavior that
pressured Gentiles to behave like Jews. The behavior of the Jewish Christians
was not . . . in line with the truth of the gospel. But in Jerusalem, Paul had
refused to compromise so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you
(v 5).
Table Manners. What triggered Pauls explosive public reprimand of Pe-
ter in Antioch was his bad table manners. This was not about using the right
cutlery, chewing with his mouth closed, or anything we might associate with
meal etiquette (see Ryken, Wilhoit, and Longman 1998, 544, s.v. Meal). Jews
did not eat with Gentiles because doing so exposed them to the liability of
eating food forbidden by the O.T. law of clean and unclean food (see Acts
10:28; Lev 11; Burton 1920, 103).
Apparently, in contrast to his previous practice, while in Antioch Peter
adopted the liberal eating practices of the mixed community there. He joined
other Jewish Christians in shared meals with Gentile Christians. This was not
what prompted Pauls reprimand. It was Peters breaking off this practice after
certain men came from James (Gal 2:12).
Reason to Fear. Peters change of eating practices began, Paul said, be-
cause he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision party (v 12).
Why was he afraid? What was he afraid of? The mid-forties witnessed a re-
vival of militancy among Jewish freedom ghters and Roman repressive ac-
tion against the insurgents (Bruce 1982, 130). Josephus (J.W. 2.224-27; Ant.
20.112) reported a massacre of thousands of Jews during Passover of A.D. 49 as
a result of an uprising instigated by Zealots (see Witherington 1998a, 155-56).
This was probably at about the time Peter was in Antioch ( 1:17 sidebar,
Pauline Chronology).
Like Paul before his conversion-call (v 13), Jewish zealots threatened
violence on Jews who failed to comply with the laws maintaining the boundar-
ies between Jews and non-Jews, such as circumcision and kosher laws. Perhaps
the notorious reign of terror by the Taliban in Afghanistan in the years follow-
ing 1996 provides a contemporary analogy. Their threats coerced moderate
Muslims, fearful for their lives, to accept rigid compliance with the Talibans
strict interpretation of Sharia law.
Jerusalem. Jerusalem played a signicant role in Pauls narrative up to
this point, both for his presence and absence from there. But it plays no ex-
plicit role in 2:11-21, which conspires in Antioch of Syria. Signicantly, even
the catalysts for Peters unfortunate reversal of positions and its fallout are not
identied as certain men from Jerusalem, but from James (v 12). And, it is
noteworthy that Paul condemned not their actions, but Peters.
It appears that, as in the other place-names in Pauls autobiographical
narrativeArabia, Damascus, Syria and Cilicia, Judea, and AntiochJeru-
salem had a purely geographical signicance ( 1:21 sidebar, Conversion vs.
Vocation). Jerusalem has only an allegorical role in 4:21-31. There it is spelled
differently ( 1:17 sidebar, The Spelling of Jerusalem). And it seems to refer
to non-Christian Judaism, not to the center of Jewish Christianity.
All Pauls dealings with Jerusalem reported in his autobiographical nar-
rative involve Jewish Christians (except the false brothers in 2:4). The most
viable explanation for the prominence of Jerusalem in Pauls autobiographical
account is that Peter was there. Otherwise, there is no plausible explanation
for reporting the Antioch incident (vv 11-21).
Contrastive Comparison. The argumentative concern of Pauls remarks
in 1:132:21 is to substantiate the divinely revealed character of his gospel
as illustrated by his own paradigmatic embodiment of that gospel (1:10-12).
Why did he do so at Peters expense? Did he intend to suggest that Jewish or
Petrine Christianity was inferior to Gentile or Pauline Christianity?
If so, how is this to be reconciled with what Paul wrote in 2:7-9?
If not, why did Peter come off so badly in the comparison of the two
And why was there no comparable depreciation of the other infuen-
tial Jewish Christians?
Jameswhom, like Peter, Paul met during both visits to Jerusalem
(1:19; 2:9, 12)is given an obviously less prominent role.
John, though mentioned (v 9), plays no individual role.
Barnabas plays a supporting role alongside Paul in one instance (vv
1, 9) and over against Paul in the other (v 13).
Only Peter occupies a role that compares with Pauls in prominence.
The repeated prominence of Cephas-Peter in Pauls narrative (1:18; 2:7,
8, 9, 11-14) emerges in the contrastive parallelism between the two, especially
emphasized in 2:11-21. In v 7, Paul emphasized that Peter had been divinely
entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised. But in vv 11-14, he implied that
in Antioch he lived like a Gentile and not like a Jew, as exemplied by Peters
failure to observe Jewish dietary laws (v 12). But this is not why Cephas stood
self-condemned (v 11 NRSV). The stated reasons are cowardice (v 12), his
hypocritical bad example (v 13), not acting in line with the truth of the gospel
(v 14), and indirectly coercing Gentiles to follow Jewish customs (v 14).
Peters Negative Role Model. Is Peters prominence in Pauls autobiograph-
ical narrative purely an accident of history? Or, did Paul deliberately select
these incidents to serve his rhetorical purposes?
Among the standard features of biographical and autobiographical narra-
tives from antiquity is comparison. It was customary to compare and contrast
ones life with that of other exemplary persons (see Burgess 1900, 117-42).
The classic ancient example is Plutarchs famous Parallel Lives.
The points of similarity and difference between the apostles Peter and
Paul, in terms of the formerly-now and human-divine antitheses, suggest
that Paul self-consciously picked Peter for argumentative purposes. Paul dis-
missed certain aspects of their respective biographies as of no importance (see
v 6). He selected Peter, not some obscure personality, for his comparison, be-
cause they were in most respects alike and exemplary (see vv 7-8), but not in
their faithfulness to the gospel (see 1:6, 8-9, 13-15; 2:6). Paul refused to yield
to pressure on the issue of circumcision (2:3) from false brothers in order
to preserve the truth of the gospel (2:5). Peter abandoned the truth of the
gospel (2:14) for fear of those who belonged to the circumcision group (2:12).
Why, in Pauls account, did Peter come off so badly and Paul so well?
The simple answer might be that Peter was only being Peter; and Paul was
telling the story.
Did Paul report the incident merely to diminish Peter in the minds of
his audience?
Or, did the story illustrate how easy it was to set aside the grace of
God and pervert the gospel? After all, even Barnabas did (v 13; Sam-
pley 1980, 38-39)!
Pauls autobiographical narrative rhetorically illustrates, demonstrates,
and substantiates 1:10-12. He did not explain historically how the Galatians
came to be in danger of deserting God and returning to their former existence
as pagans (4:8-20). The letter offers no etiology of the crisis in Galatia. Paul
was perplexed as to how his adherence to the truth of the gospel had alien-
ated the Galatians (v 20; see v 16).
Perhaps Paul narrated the Antioch incident as a literary precedent for
recent events in Galatia. But there is no reason to assume that it was also the
historical occasion of the later events in Galatia or that the same participants
were involved. Of course, this is possible. But where is the evidence?
Pauls Galatian Opponents? Nothing in Pauls account supports the as-
sumption that Peters reverse-conversion (vv 11-14) was one of the precondi-
tions for the Galatians own plans to shift (cf. 1:6-7). No evidence supports
the speculation that the Agitators in Galatia (1:7-9) were the same Jewish
Christian missionaries from Jerusalem, who opposed Paul in Jerusalem and
Antioch (against Betz 1979, 107 [quote]; see 112).

In fact, Paul never claimed the men from James opposed him in An-
tioch. On the contrary, whoever they were, whatever they said, or whatever
they did, they lled Peter with fear for those of the circumcision. This caused
him to depart from his true convictions (vv 11-14). If the unnamed represen-
tatives of James condemned Peter for aunting Jewish dietary laws in violation
of the terms of the Jerusalem agreement (Betz 1979, 108), Paul did not say so.
He did not say Peter feared James or his representatives. He feared those of the
circumcision. There are reasons to believe they were not simply to be equated.
L 11 The change of scenes from the previous incident is introduced by But
when, as in the account of Pauls conversion-call in 1:15-17. Here it begins
a report of Peters reverse-conversion. Both accounts are set outside Jerusa-
lem. Whereas God took the initiative in Pauls conversion, humans played the
leading roles throughout this incident. The divine-human and formerly-now
antitheses throughout the narrative continue.
Interpreters (Calvin 1841, 40; Munck 1959, 74-75; Ldemann 1984, 56-
58) have argued (for a variety of reasons) that the Antioch incident in 2:11-21
occurred before the Apostolic Council in vv 1-10. The aorist verb e3lthen in v
11 could be translated with a pluperfect force (see Moulton and Turner 1963,
86 7): When Peter had come to Antioch . . . So this reading is not impossible.
But in antiquity, narratives were presumed to be in their natural his-
torical sequence unless the narrator gave explicit indications to the contrary.
Interpreters who rearrange the order may not be guilty of special pleading
(Witherington 1998a, 118), but they certainly must bear the burden of proof.
The incident began with Peters visit to Antioch. Paul offered reasons for
both his visits to Jerusalem (in 1:18-20 and 2:1-10). But he never explained
why Peter visited Antioch ( 2:9). Here, as always in his letters (except vv
7-8), Paul used Peters Semitic name, Cephas.
Although Antioch of Syria has not been previously mentioned in the
narrative, there is no reason to doubt Acts account of the origins of the church
or Pauls shared leadership role within it. Pauls second visit to Jerusalem prob-
ably brought him from Antioch ( vv 1-10). This church sponsored the early
missionary travels of Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:1-3; 14:24-28; 15:1, 22-23,
30, 35; Gal 1:21 for a map of Syria; see Norris 1992; Betz 1979, 104-5; and
Longenecker 1990, 65-71, about Antioch).
Before Paul described anything Cephas specically said or did in An-
tioch, he anticipated the outcome of the entire incident with his opening sum-
mary generalization: When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face,
because he stood self-condemned. What happens face-to-face is clear, open,
direct, and public (Berger 1990a, 181). This sets up an implicit contrast be-
tween this incident and what happened privately in Jerusalem (2:2).
Paul took a stand against Peter. That is, he publicly accused him of mis-
conduct, because it had become obvious that he was clearly in the wrong. Paul
claimed Peter had convicted himself by his inappropriate behavior. Sociologi-
cally, such a public confrontation during a church gathering would have been
more awkward in the rst century than in the twenty-rst. Paul was prepared
to shame Peter publicly. One or the other was bound to lose face. If Peter
failed to respond, he would lose face, unless the church at Antioch consid-
ered Paul Peters inferior. If so, Peter could ignore the challenge and shame
Paul. But if Peter responded negatively, and his fellow Jewish Christians ap-
proved, Paul would also lose face in Antioch. This action on Pauls part was a
gamble in any case (Witherington 1998a, 151).
L 12 Paul introduced the evidence of Peters transparent guilt (v 11). Peters
wafing behavior was a reverse-conversion. He changed positions because he
feared the opinions of others. The familiar before-after and divine-human an-
titheses continue ( 1:10):
For before certain people came from James, Peter customarily ate to-
gether [see Luke 15:2; Acts 10:41; 11:3; 1 Cor 5:11] with the Gentiles.
But when they came, he gradually began to withdraw and separate
himself, because he was afraid of those of the circumcision.
The before clause refers to a one-time event. Its implicit subject is an
anonymous group, certain people. Given the patriarchal culture of the time,
the unnamed representatives of James who came to Antioch were undoubt-
edly males. That these men were from James suggests that the Lords broth-
er (1:19) had sent them to Antioch with his commendation (contrast Acts
15:24). Paul did not explain why they came or what they said or did there.
Their coming merely marked the change in Peters behavior. Only speculation
suggests that they demanded Peter to end his table fellowship with Gentiles
(so Betz 1979, 108).
The imperfect tense of the verb were eating together suggests that Pe-
ters practice of sharing meals at the same table with Gentiles had become cus-
tomary and continued for some time (see Acts 10:27-29; 11:2; Gal 2:12). Acts
11:18 reports that Peter justied his practice by appeal to divine revelation.
Why would the appearance of unnamed representatives of the putative leader
of the Jerusalem church in Antioch challenge Peters God-given convictions
and change his practice.
Paul never dened the nature of the meals at issue. It seems likely, how-
ever, that the meals Peter enjoyed with Gentile Christians were not simply
casual, haphazard events intended only to satisfy his hunger. They were prob-
ably quasi-religious ceremonial meals, set in the context of worship. Eating to-
gether dramatized and actualized the covenantal unity of the church as a sur-
rogate family. Shared meals demonstrated mutual trust, loyalty, and solidarity
(see Jude 12; see Luke 14:12-14; Acts 2:46; 6:1-2; Ign. Smyrn. 7-8; Ep. Apos.
15; Hippolytus, Trad. ap. 25-27; Did. 9-10; Diogn. 5; Tertullian, Apol. 39.16-
18; Clement of Alexandria, Paed. 2.1.4-9). The love feast was a fellowship
meal which was a principle occasion for charity to the poorer members of the
church (Ferguson 1992, 90).
Peters presence in Antioch seems puzzling, given the Jerusalem agree-
ment (Gal 2:9). But he was the apostle to the Jews (vv 7-9); and there was a
sizable Jewish population in the cityperhaps the fourth largest in the Roman
Empire at the time (Schrer 1890, 4:221-22). So he may have come to the
city to evangelize Jews and, naturally, participated in the communal life of the
mixed congregation there.
But James proxy-presence in Antioch is inexplicable. And if he was rep-
resented by believers advocating the circumcision of Gentilesthose from
the circumcision (2:12), it seems totally unexpected in light of the Apostolic
Council ( 2:1-10).
Paul offered no explanation for any of these unexpected visitors to An-
tioch. Unfortunately, the relation of the Jerusalem agreement . . . to the An-
tioch incident is less than clear (Dunn 1993, 122). It is unclear whether Peter
altered his eating habits because of the presence of the unnamed men from
James or because of their overt criticism of his behavior. Paul did not say.
And he did not identify the delegation beyond that they were from James.
Speculations differ widely as to why James sent them (see Lightfoot 1874, 112;
Rendall 1903, 162; Munck 1959, 106 n. 5; Betz 1979, 108; Bruce 1982, 130;
Longenecker 1990, 73; Dunn 1993, 119, 121; Martyn 1997, 233).
Peters reversal of his customary practice in Antioch coincided with the
visit of James emissaries there. But Paul credited Peters inconsistency to an-
other causefear: because he was afraid of those from the circumcision.
Who were these people? And are they to be identied with or distinguished
from James delegates?
In 2:7, 8, and 9 Paul used the circumcision as an ethnic designation for
Jews in contrast to Gentilesthe uncircumcision. But the designation
those from the circumcision seems to have a narrower reference here. After
all, both Paul and Peter were circumcised Jews (v 15). Peter had been divinely
empowered to preach to Jews (v 7) and recognized as an apostle to the Jews
(v 8). Why would eating meals with Gentiles make him fearful of fellow Jews
or Jewish Christians in Antioch or elsewhere?
Acts reports Peters successful justication of his practice of eating with
Gentiles in response to the criticism of those from the circumcision in Jeru-
salem on an earlier occasion (11:1-18). In v 2, the expression identies not
simply Jews, but Jewish Christians (i.e., circumcised believers).
Acts 15:1 refers to certain men who came down from Judea to Antioch.
They must be the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees at
the Apostolic Council (v 5). Not only were they circumcised, but they advo-
cated the circumcision of Gentile believers (v 1). James letter to the Gentile
believers in Antioch (v 23) insisted that those who had demanded their cir-
cumcision went out from us without our authorization (v 24). If Acts may be
trusted, the certain people who came down from James in Gal 2:12 must
be distinguished from the certain people (tines) of Acts 15:1. Instead, the
false brothers of Gal 2:4 must be those who advocated the circumcision of
Gentile believers in Acts 15:1 and 5 (Bruce 1982, 130).
Did James authorize the unnamed men who came from James men-
tioned in Gal 2:12? Or, did they merely appeal to James authority to enhance
their own? Are the men from James to be identied with those from the cir-
cumcision in v 12? Most interpreters simply assume the two designations refer
to the same people. Martyn (1997, 236-40) is one of the few who attempts to
offer evidence supporting the assumption.
But it seems more likely that Paul distinguished the two groups. Is it
plausible that James envoys were the Pharisaic Jewish Christians from Jerusa-
lem, the false brothers who tried to have Titus circumcised ( Gal 2:3-4)?
If so, how did this group, marginalized by the decision of the Apostolic Coun-
cil, come to represent James? Had they changed their minds, or had James
changed his?
Regardless, why did Paul offer no criticism of James or his emissar-
ies (see Schmithals 1965, 68)? Would it have been less serious for James to
change positions than for Peter to do so? If James changed sides, why did Paul
reserve his criticism solely for Peter and the Jewish Christians who joined him
in abandoning table fellowship with Gentile Christians?
Why did Paul not criticize James? Was it that James and his envoys acted
out of personal conviction (albeit mistaken in Pauls view), whereas Peter and
the other Jewish Christians acted out of convenience and compromise? Were
the former attempting to please God and the latter concerned only to please
people? What did James envoys say or do that caused Peter to be fearful
enough to reverse himself? We can only guess.
Why Di dn t Paul Cri t i ci ze J ames ?
Some interpreters hypothesize that Paul failed to criticize James and his
delegates because he was out of the city, evangelizing in Galatia, when they ar-
rived in Antioch. When he returned, Peter and the other Jewish Christians had
already broken fellowship with the Gentiles. Otherwise, Paul would have con-
fronted them all before the crisis got out of hand (Burton 1920, 109-10; Wither-
ington 1998a, 150, 155).
Most assume that those from the circumcision are the same people iden-
tied as James Jewish Christian representatives in Antioch. But a few dissent-
ers (e.g., Bruce 1982, 130-31; Longenecker 1990, 74-75; McKnight 1995, 104;
Witherington 1998a, 155) suggest instead that James agents made Peter fearful
of another group of non-Christian Jewish militants (Bruce 1982, 131). It was
not James demands that terried Peter, as Betz speculates (1979, 108), but the
warning they delivered.
It is possible that James people warned Peter that his fraternizing with un-
circumcised Gentiles put him and them (i.e., Jewish Christians in Judea) in danger
from zealous Jewish advocates of circumcision (see 5:11; 6:12; Bruce 1982, 130;
see Schmithals 1965, 66-68; Jewett 1970). Peter was not afraid that his careless
disregard for kosher laws in Antioch would result in a tongue-lashing from James
on his return to Jerusalem. Rather, he feared for his life and the survival of Jewish
Christianity due to threats from Jewish insurgents.
This interpretation, speculative though it is, spares James from guilt for
changing positions or otherwise violating the terms of the agreement reached at
the Apostolic Council. And it explains why Paul did not criticize him. But like the
majority view, it is only a plausible guess. Paul never said what prompted Peters
panic attack that led to his hypocrisy (v 13).
Peters about-face in Antioch did not happen overnight. The imperfect
tense of the two verbs describing his changed behavior suggests it was progres-
sive. Over a period of time, he gradually began to withdraw and separate
himself. His presence at communal meals with Gentile believers became in-
creasingly infrequent, until he nally stopped attending.
The LXX of Hab 2:4 uses the rst verb, hypostello3, draw back, as the an-
tithesis of faith. In Gal 3:11, Hab 2:4 features prominently in Pauls exposition
of justication by faith (see Rom 1:17; Heb 10:38). In secular Greek, the verb
referred to tactical military retreats or pragmatic political maneuvers (BDAG,
1041). Peters convictions remained unchanged, but he found it politically ex-
pedient to hide them (Betz 1979, 108).
The second verb, aphorizo3, separate, is a Jewish technical term describ-
ing cultic separation from the unclean (see 2 Cor 6:14; Betz 1979, 108). It is
from the same cognate family as the proper noun Pharisees ( 1:15; see Acts
15:5; Dunn 1993, 122; Kellermann 1990a, 184).
Peter chose a course of action strategically designed to relieve his fears.
He retreated to the safety of his former Jewish lifestyle, adhering to Israels
dietary and purity regulations. As Paul saw it, he did this for all the wrong
reasons: Was he more concerned to please people than God (Gal 1:10)? Was
he avoiding persecution (see 5:11; 6:12) by resorting to the self-serving pre-
tense he had during the trial of Jesus (Matt 26:69-75 || Mark 14:66-72 || Luke
22:54-62 || John 18:15-27)?
L 13 Paul used the term Jews for the rst time in the letter. All the members
the groups mentioned in vv 12 and 13 were of Jewish ethnicity. (1) The rest
of the Jews here distinguishes Jewish Christians in Antioch from (2) the Jew-
ish Christian envoys from James and (3) from those from the circumcision
(whether Christian or non-Christian) ( v 12).
Peters gradual abandoning of communal meals with Gentile believers
led the other Jewish-Christians in Antioch immediately to do the same. As
Paul saw it, the change meant that they had joined Peter in his hypocrisy. He
implied that neither Peter nor the other Jewish Christians acted sincerely.
They did not really consider it inappropriate to share meals with Gentiles.
They quit doing so, not out of conviction, but because they were intimidated,
whether by James representatives or the circumcision group ( v 12).
Paul indirectly charged the Jewish Christians of Antioch with being
more concerned about what humans thought than what God thought. They
only feigned allegiance to legal regulations maintaining the boundaries sepa-
rating Jews and Gentiles. But they did so out of self-interest.
Paul seemed less than surprised by Peters vacillation on the issue. Per-
haps he had learned of Cephass history of failure as a disciple during their
two weeks together in Jerusalem years earlier (1:18-20). Peters reputation as
leader of the Jewish-Christian mission (2:7-9) may explain why the others fol-
lowed his lead. But it is possible that whatever gave Peter cold feet about eating
with Gentiles sent chills up their spines as well. In any event, they joined him
in backing off from Antiochs open stance toward Jewish-Gentile relations.
Paul seemed genuinely astonished by just one result of Peters backslid-
ing. It was that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. Barnabas
irrational accommodation to his former Jewish lifestyle conveyed a message of
pretentious superiority. He was not manipulated like the other Jewish Chris-
tians; he was misled by his emotions (Betz 1979, 110). His withdrawal implied
that Jews were better than Gentiles (v 14).
In the LXX, hypocrisy (see Job 34:30; 36:13) refers to conduct that is
not determined by God and is thus godless. If Paul used the word with this
connotation in mind, it is no wonder he considered the insincere withdrawal
of Jewish Christians from table fellowship with Gentile Christians a betrayal
of the gospel (v. 14) and thus an expression of unbelief (cf. also vv. 15-17)
(Giesen 1990). Those faithful to the gospel prefer Gods approval to human
approval (Gal 1:10).
L 14 Paul contrasted the behavior of Peter and the other Jewish Christians
(vv 11-13) and what Paul did when he saw their outrageous behavior. What
Peter and the other Jewish Christians did was more serious than hypocrisy
(v 13): they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel (v 14). These
Jewish Christians had strayed from the right path. They had abandoned the
truth of the gospel by effectively surrendering Christian freedom. Unlike Paul
in Jerusalem, they gave in to the forces of slavery ( 2:4-5; 5:7).
Obviously, neither the truth nor the gospel is merely a matter of words.
Pauls concern was not merely orthodoxy (Betz 1979, 110), but orthopraxis.
The Christian message has practical implications that call for a way of liv-
ing consistent with that message (Schlier 1965, 85-86). The gospel was the
truth. But he emphasized not only the true understanding, but the practice of
the gospel. Peter and the other Jewish Christians had violated this by treat-
ing Gentiles as second-class Christians. Whatever their beliefs, their practice
implied that pagans had to become Jews and follow Jewish ways to be fully
When Paul realized ( 2:7) the potential fallout that could result from
Jewish Christians abandoning table fellowship with Gentile Christians, he
spoke up. So far as he reported, he said nothing to James representatives nor
to the other Jewish Christians who had merely followed Peters bad example.
Peter alone was singled out as the target of Pauls scathing rhetoric.
Paul framed his response to Peter as a rhetorical question within a con-
ditional sentence: If you, although you are a Jew, are living like a Gentile
and not like a Jew, how can you try to compel Gentiles to live like Jews?
Rhetorical questions do not call for answers. This one is an implicit accusation,
in effect: You cant be a good Jew and do that! He addressed Cephas directly,
using the emphatic second person singular pronoun you. For an observant Jew
to eat with Gentiles was a agrant violation of the call to holiness. He was not
observing the expected boundary markers. Paul took this as evidence enough
that Peter did not live like a Jew but like a Gentile.
The protasis (if-clause) stated the obvious: Cephas had abandoned his
former Jewish way of life in Antioch. Thus, Pauls If actually meant Since. Ce-
phas concealed his identity as one born and bred a Jew (Lightfoot 1874, 114).
The adverbial participle, existing as a Jew, has a concessive force. It points out
the inconsistency between Peters ethnicity and lifestyle: although you are a
Jew, you are living like a Gentile.
The apodosis (conclusion) clause poses a rhetorical question about the
incongruity of Peters behavior: How is it that you are trying to compel Gen-
tiles to live like Jews? In questions denoting disapproval or rejection, po3s
[How] challenges, How dare you? (BDAG, 901, s.v. 1ag).
By regularly eating with Gentiles, Cephas gave no indication that he
considered himself obliged to observe Jewish purity laws requiring separation
from them. In this respect, at least, he was not living like an observant Jew,
but like a pagan. His table fellowship was only the external symbol of Cephas
total emancipation from Judaism (Betz 1979, 112).
So what was to be made of his return to Jewish customs? When he and
the other Jewish Christians in Antioch failed to observe the Torah, they lived
like pagans (vv 14-15). But they did not forfeit their salvation. Their practice
conceded that Christians are not justied by observing the law (v 16). Re-
turning to Law could not eliminate that concession. Instead, it implied that
Gentiles must become partakers of the Torah covenant (Betz 1979, 112).
Cephas had assumed the role of the false brothers at Jerusalem (vv
3-5). They had unsuccessfully tried to compel Titus to be circumcised (v 3).
Cephas was effectively compelling Gentiles to Judaize by the social pres-
sure of his bad example. Paul believed that if Jewish dietary laws were still
in force, one was obliged to keep the whole Law (see 5:3). Ironically, . . . by
attempting to preserve the integrity of the Jewish Christians as Jews, Cephas
was destroying the integrity of the Gentile Christians as believers in Christ,
forcing them to follow Jewish customs (Betz 1979, 112).
Paul almost certainly paraphrased his actual rebuke of Peter to make
it more applicable to the Galatian situation. What he said at the time may
have been something like: what your actions say to Gentiles is that Jewish
food laws are important and that they should adopt them too (Westerholm
2003, 367). We can only speculate as to whether, by calling public attention
to Peters inconsistency, Paul succeeded in persuading him to change his mind.
Paul did not say.
Di d Paul s Posi t i on Prevai l i n Ant i och?
Did Pauls challenging question prevent matters from getting worse in An-
tioch? There is no indication that Peters hypocrisy succeeded in forcing the Gen-
tile Christians of Antioch to live like Jews as Paul feared. But did it bring an end to
the shared table? Did segregated Jewish and Gentile Christian churches replace
the mixed community? Was Paul the only Jewish Christian who saw the negative
implications of Peters reversal? If so, it is difcult to claim that Pauls position
won the day (see the bibliography in Matera 1992, 91-92).
F. C. Baur (2003 [1845], 1:127-51) and the nineteenth-century Tbingen
School rst proposed the question (see Weiss 1959 [1917], 1:273-76; Bacon
1929). Today, perhaps a majority of scholars argue that Pauls silence about the
success of his challenge in Antioch indicates that he failed (e.g., Nock 1938, 110;
Bruce 1982, 79; Dunn 1993, 130; Witherington 1998a, 159). But why would Paul
need to gloat over his victory? He may have taken his own advice about gently
restoring a brother caught in a fault (Gal 6:1; George 1994, 181). Given what
we know of Peter from the Gospels, that he wavered in his understanding of
the Christian faith on this occasion is not surprising. Perhaps Pauls one public
rebuke of Peter was enough eventually to bring him around (Howard 2004, 43).
The abrupt end of the scene in Antioch (whether with 2:14 or v 21) allows
Peter no response to Pauls logic. Rhetorically Peter is rendered silent. . . . Con-
sequently, even if Paul lost at Antioch, . . . his argument on behalf of the gospel is
irrefutable (Matera 1992, 90).
And, even if Paul lost the debate, there is no reason to think, as do some
scholars, that he was forced to leave Antioch in disgrace and to strike out on an
independent mission. Betz correctly notes that the high regard for Paul in Acts
and in the letters of Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch, is difcult to understand, if
Paul was expelled from the Antioch church (Betz 1979, 111). Admittedly, these
authors were Gentile Christians. The reception history of Paul in later Jewish
Christianity is far less positive ( v 4 sidebar, The Rest of the Story).
Paul offered no excuses for Peters changed behavior in Antioch. His
role in the agreement reached at the Apostolic Council (see 2:1-10) makes it
entirely unlikely that Peter consciously intended to lead Gentile Christians
to adopt circumcision. We cannot know whether or not his intentions were
noble. Cephas may have been concerned only to avoid offending and further
alienating conservative Jewish Christians (as Paul advised in Rom 14). Or, his
motives may have been entirely self-servingto be spared the pain of criti-
cism from James / the ultraconservative faction of the Jerusalem church / of
the reprisals of Jewish zealots. Or, his motives may have been mixedcon-
cerned not only to save his own skin but also to spare the Jewish Christian
community in Judea from zealot reprisals.
Paul did not imply that Peter quit eating with Gentile Christians be-
cause he considered them unclean paganscontaminated, and despicable,
and abominable, as did some Jews (Jub. 22:16 OTP). Regardless of Peters
intentions, Paul considered the implications of his reversal for non-Jewish be-
lievers unconscionable. In Gal 2:15-21, he would explain why.
Reception History. From the earliest days of the church, Christian inter-
preters have struggled with the Antioch incident. Why did the Apostle Peter
behave so inconsistently? And why did the Apostle Paul rebuke him so sharply
and publicly? Were Pauls quarrelsome and vitriolic words properly Christlike
(see Matt 18:15-17)? Did he follow his own counsel about how to restore an
erring fellow believer (Gal 6:1; Longenecker 1990, 79)?
The early church fathers were forced to defend their leading apostles
against the attacks of both heretics and unbelievers. And they did so in dis-
ingenuous ways (Lightfoot 1874, 129). This controversy between the two
apostles was so painfully unedifying to some later fathers of the church that
they tried to remove the offence which it presented (Bruce 1982, 133). The
earliest efforts attempted to exonerate Peter:
Clement of Alexandria spared Peter by distinguishing him from Ce-
phas (Lightfoot 1874, 129-30; Riches 2008, 106).
Origen proposed that the dispute was entirely a ruse staged by the
apostles to condemn the Judaizers (Lightfoot 1874, 130; Riches 2008,
Origen was followed by Chrysostom, Jerome, and others.
Augustine and Jerome exchanged a series of unbecoming public
letters, in which Augustine sharply took issue with Jerome, the
churchs senior biblical scholar at the time. He insisted that for
apostles to conspire to deceive was far more serious than Peters
moral cowardice and inconsistency. Later, Jerome quietly adopted
Augustines view (Lightfoot 1874, 131; Riches 2008, 107).
The interpretation of the Reformers Luther and Calvin reects their
own battles with the Roman Catholic Church and the papacy. Their major
concern was to exonerate Paul. Both charge Peter with a mortal sin and worse,
a heresy that if left uncorrected would have harmed the entire church (George
1994, 183-86; Riches 2008, 108-11).
Leaders Fail. We must acknowledge that even church leaders fail. We
do not need to engage in exegetical ingenuity to excuse either apostle for his
weaknesses or excesses. They were merely human. So were Jerome and Au-
Pauls reminder that even Barnabas failed may have been encouraging
to the Galatians. The Galatians were not the only ones to have been misled.
For him it took only the powerful but unfortunately bad example of Peter. For
them it took pressure from the Agitators. And perhaps Barnabas should serve
as a warning to us: If Barnabas can fail, any one of us can.
Consistency Is Difcult. Peters character, as presented in the Gospels,
Acts, and Galatians, is remarkably consistent: He could be depended upon to
be inconsistent. This may explain why he found it so easy to accommodate to
a pagan culture and to revert to his former way of life equally easily. It takes
courage to live by the Spirit. There is a certain comfort that comes from liv-
ing strictly by the book. Peter wafed between the two ways. So do we (see
McKnight 1995, 112).
If Peter was inconsistent, so was Paul. His response to the errors of oth-
ers did not always and obviously reect the love he so eloquently hymned in 1
Cor 13. Consistency of theory and practice is difcult. Of course, we do not
know what he said to Cephas privately before confronting him publicly.
Hypocrisy vs. Reality. Ralph Waldo Emerson described foolish consis-
tency as the hobgoblin of little minds. But consistency is preferable to hy-
pocrisy. Our real creed is measured by our conduct. Do we practice what we
preach? (See Witherington 1998a, 165.)
Cultural Prejudice vs. the Truth of the Gospel. Peter and the Jewish Chris-
tians in Antioch found it easier to maintain their culturally ingrained prejudic-
es than to live out the truth of the gospel. The teaching of Jesus and the work
of the Spirit did not instantaneously overcome the habitual religious mind-set
these early Christians had acquired over a lifetime.
As the church has entered new missionary settings, it has repeatedly
been forced to address and redress cultural practices that are not theologically
indifferent. William Carey challenged the caste system in India in faithfulness
to Christ. Martin Luther King challenged American Christians to consider
the racial injustice on their own doorstep. And yet, half a century later, 11:00
A.M. Sunday morning remains the most segregated hour of the week in the
U.S. (see George 1994, 183).
There is no question that Western missionaries have sometimes been
guilty of wrongly imposing a veneer of Western culture on new converts in
the name of the gospel. Sorting out the difference between essentials and
nonessentials is no easier here and now than it was there and then in Antioch
(see Flemming 2005). Missionaries appropriately struggle to help converts in
male-dominated cultures see the injustice of sexism in the church. And yet
in the U.S., my female students divinely called to ministry must be at least
twice as good as their male counterparts to be seriously considered as pastoral
candidates. Who has the courage to confront us: How can you do that?
Peer Pressure. This is not just a problem for teenagers. The Jewish Chris-
tians of Antioch caved in under the pressure of Peters compelling reversal.
Adult Christians still struggle to deal with the freedom that has enabled some
believers to cross difcult social and cultural boundaries.
A former student and friend affectionately calls me his church-boy.
His pre-Christian experience gives him ready rapport with prison inmates and
drug addicts that my squeaky-clean background does not. His tattoos and long
hair frighten most Christians like me, until they get to know him. The Ameri-
can evangelical Christian subculture seems to think that all true believers will
think and talk and look like us.
Would pioneer missionary Hudson Taylor have accomplished all he did
in China had he not adopted the Chinese way of life? What about Harmon
Schmelzenbach in Africa or E. Stanley Jones in India? Before we pray that
Gods Spirit may grant us the same freedom that allowed them to distinguish
what was essentially Christian from what was culturally indifferent, recall: All
these modern examples faced severe criticism from their contemporaries for
their dangerous experiments in Christian freedom (see McKnight 1995, 113).
ii. The Implications (2:15-21)
This passage is one of the more dense and debated passages in the entire
letter. Paul seems frequently to have used words and phrases as succinct sum-
maries of complex theological reections. There is always the danger that a
commentary on such a passage may require a commentary to make sense of it.
Where Does the Quotation End? Pauls address to Peter seems to continue
uninterrupted from 2:14 through 21 (Bruce 1982, 136). There are no quota-
tion marks in the Greek text. Some translations (like the NIV, NASB, and NRSV)
and commentatorsearly (Ellicott [1863, 36] citing Chrysostom, Theodoret,
and Jerome) and recent (e.g., Dunn 1993, 131-54; George 1994, 187-202)
close the quote only after v 21. But most (e.g., ESV, GNT, GW, HCSB, ISV, NAB, NCV,
NET, NJB, REB, TM; Betz 1979, 113-14; Longenecker 1990, 76-81)conclude
Pauls challenge to Peter after v 14.
Betz (1979, 113-14) overcondently (see Porter 1997, 541-47) identies
vv 15-21 as the rhetorical proposition of the letter. That is, he claims that it
summarizes Pauls argument to this point and introduces his arguments yet to
come. Regardless, there are sound reasons for treating vv 15-21 as a discrete
unit. It provides a smooth transition from the narrative background to the
central theological message of the letter.
To Whom Do the Pronouns Refer? Some scholars consider Pauls shifting
pronouns an important clue to the interpretation of the passage and the letter
as a whole (e.g., Kennedy 1984, 150; Witherington 1998a, 199). But it is de-
batable whether he used pronouns so consistently. The evidence of the entire
letter suggests that their specic antecedents must be determined contextu-
ally, on a case-by-case basis. The burden of proof would seem to rest on those
who assume he used pronouns uniformly.
In v 14 Paul directly addressed Cephas using the second person singu-
lar, you.
In vv 15-17 this gave way to his frst person plural, we confession.
This we could be limited to Peter and Paul (Dunn 1993, 132) or
include all Jewish Christians (Longenecker 1990, 83). But the im-
mediate context points to the Jewish Christians in Antioch who had
followed Peters hypocritical example.
But we could also include Pauls Gentile converts in Galatia (Gaston
1987, 70; Malina and Pilch 2006, 200).
It sometimes seems to refer exclusively to Paul alone. That is, it
means I.
It is sometimes used inclusively, with different additional ante-
cedents besides himself:

his colleagues in ministry and not others

other Jews or Jewish Christians and not Gentiles or Gentile


all Christians, including Gentiles

First person singular (I) testimony dominates vv 18-21, but with vary-
ing forces.
In v 18, it appears that Paul used I rather than you to avoid directly
accusing Peter of transgression.
In vv 19-21 he may have spoken personally, referring to his unique,
mystical participation in Christs crucixion (on Christ-mysticism,
see Schweitzer 1968, esp. 3, 125, 188-89, 205-26).
But more likely his I, as in 1 Cor 13, was used universally to inter-
pret the experience of every Christian.
The second person plural (you all) dominates chs 3 and 4.
In chs 5 and 6, Paul used the frst person plural, we, to unite himself
and his Galatian audience (Kennedy 1984, 150).
To Whom Is Paul Speaking in 2:15-21? Peter seems already to have left
the stage, as it were. Retrospectively, after reading the entire letter, vv 15-21
may seem an apt summary of its entire message (Boice 1976, 448). But would
those hearing the letter read for the rst time have realized they were being
addressed until 3:1 explicitly mentioned them (see Mitternacht 2007)?
Even in 2:14, Paul formulated the summary of his challenge to Cephas
How can you compel Gentiles to act like Jews?for the benet of the
Galatians. This would surely have been his challenge to the Agitators who

were troubling the Galatians, if he could have been with them in person (Betz
1979, 62).
Pauls Example. In vv 15-21 Paul continued his presentation of negative
and positive paradigms begun in vv 11-14. He compared and contrasted his
behavior with that of Peter and the Jewish Christians (see Lyons 1985, 135).
His concern was not to defend himself against the alleged charges of the Agita-
tors, but to clarify how he experienced and embodied the gospel he preached
as a model for the Galatians to imitate.
Pauls autobiographical remarks in vv 19-21 and 1:13-16a resemble the
pattern of Phil 3:4-22. In both instances he contrasted his Jewish past with
his Christian renunciation of all privileges for the sake of Christ (Lyons 1985,
147). The dramatic change in his life came as a result of his realization of the
signicance of the cross of Christ.
The Cross. No book in the NT mentions the cross or crucify even half as
often as Galatians (2:19; 3:1; 5:11, 24; 6:12, 14; only once in Romans [6:6]).
Crucixion and circumcision are antitheses in the letter. As the Galatians
embraced the shame of the cross rather than circumcision, they achieved the
honor God alone could bestowthe status of children of God and children of
Abraham (Russell 1991, 113-18; Witherington 1998a, 175).
Gentile Stereotypes. Pauls reference to Gentiles as sinners . . . by nature
in Gal 2:15 reects conventional Jewish stereotypes. Pagans were not simply
notoriously guilty of sin. They were born outside the Torah covenant, ignorant
of the Law (see Rom 3:1-2), and unable to obey it or achieve righteousness
through it (see Phil 3:5-6). They were sinners by default and by denition
(see 1 Sam 15:18; Ps 9:17; 1 Macc 1:34; Tob 13:6; Jub. 23:23-24; Pss. Sol. 1:1;
2:1; Burton 1920, 119; Betz 1979, 115 n. 25). And so they were destined for
destruction (Pss 1:1, 5; 37:34-36; 58:10; Prov 12:12-13; 24:20; Sir 7:16; 9:11;
41:5-11; Dunn 1993, 133).
Jews bore their name as a badge of cultural and religious superiority (see
Rom 2:17). They were not like the rest of humanity (see 3:7). God gave them
the Law to distinguish between righteous Jews and Gentile sinners. Of course,
Jews sinned when they transgressed the Law. But the Law provided ways and
means for them to be forgiven (Betz 1979, 115). Gentiles were hopeless sin-
ners, because they did not have the Law.
L 15 We here has an exclusive force. It refers to Paul, Peter, and other Jewish
Christians, not to Paul and his Gentile audience in Galatia, nor to Paul and the
Agitators (Walker 2003; against Martyn 1997, 248). We are Jews by nature
[ 4:8] and not from the Gentiles, sinners. Jewish Christians were Jews by
birth, by ethnic descent, not proselytesnot Gentile converts to Judaism.
The antithetical contrast (Jews . . . not . . . Gentiles) presumes that Gen-
tiles are sinners by denition. This is the assumption underlying many Gospel
sayings referring to sinners (see Matt 5:46-47; 11:19; 26:45; Mark 2:15-17;
9:31; 14:41; Luke 6:32-34; 7:34; 15:1-2; 18:11; 24:7). Paul parted company
with Jewish tradition by insisting that the Law demonstrated Jewish solidar-
ity in sin along with the rest of humanity. Both needed justication through
Christ (Gal 2:16; see Rom 1:183:20).
Gentiles were not sinners simply because they were outside the cov-
enant of grace. They were sinners because they sinned. And they sinned be-
cause they did not know or acknowledge God (Gal 4:8-9; see Rom 1:18-32; 1
Cor 6:9-11; 1 Thess 1:9-10; 4:5). But Gentiles were not the only ones guilty
of sinning (see Rom 2:13:20; 1 Thess 2:14-16). It is what all humanity does
when left to human resources alone (Gal 5:19-21).
L 16 The implicit subject of the adverbial participle, knowing, here is cer-
tainly We (v 15). Its perfect tense stresses a present state that exists because
of a past event. We came to know that a human being is not justied by God
by works of Law. The presumed ethnic advantages of Jewswhether their
status as children of Abraham, the privileges of covenant, or the gift of Law
had left them no better off than Gentiles (see Rom 3:1-9). Paul claimed all
Jewish Christians shared the conviction that no one could become righteous
by works of Law (but see Scott 2007).
Law i n Gal at i ans
Of the 195 occurrences of nomos, law, in the NT, 121 appear in the Pau-
line letters and always in the singular. Over 100 of these occur in Romans and
Galatians alone (74 in Romans; 9 in 1 Corinthians; 32 in Galatians; 1 in Ephesians;
3 in Philippians; 2 in 1 Timothy). Considering its length, nomos appears more fre-
quently in Galatians than in Romans. There is no letter where the Law is a more
crucial or central subject than Galatians (Witherington 1998a, 341).
It is impossible adequately to summarize Pauls view of the Law in brief
scope. At least a dozen signicant books have been published on the subject in
the past thirty years (see Sanders 1983, Risnen 1983, Hbner 1984, Wester-
holm 1988, Dunn 1990, Wright 1991, Thielmann 1994, Dunn 1996, Gundry 1996,
Schreiner 1998, Das 2001, Kosperski 2001).
Some interpreters classify what Paul meant by the law under major head-
ings. Bultmann (1970, 1:259-71) delineates ve uses in Paul: the OT law, the whole
OT, the Pentateuch, a general norm or principle, and a compulsion or constraint.
Esser (1976, 444-45) lists seven Pauline uses: Scripture as a whole, the Pentateuch,
the Mosaic law, the Decalogue, specic laws, a metaphorical sense, and a personi-
ed use. But even such well-intentioned attempts are an oversimplication.
In Galatians Paul most frequently used the word law to refer to the so-
called Law of Mosesthat is, the Torah, the books of the Pentateuch, Genesis
Deuteronomy (see Gal 3:10: the Book of the Law). He particularly emphasized
the Law as the source of Pharisaic Judaisms 613 commandments demanding un-
swerving obedience. Circumcision stands as a symbolic representative for the de-
mand of the Law as a whole (5:3; see Cousar 1982, 49; Wallace 1990; Lhrmann
1992, 46).
Under Law. In 4:21 Paul invited those who wanted to be under the law to
listen to the law (NRSV). In the rst instance, he referred to those who would
let themselves be circumcised (5:2-3). The second referred to the story of the
troubled relationship between Sarah and her Egyptian maid Hagar (4:21-31), re-
ported in Gen 1617 and 21. Five times the expression under Law (hypo nomon)
in Galatians (3:23-25; 4:4, 5, 21; 5:18) describes the pre-Christian obligation of
Jews to observe the demands of the Law of Moses.
Works of Law. The expression works of Law never appears in the OT or
LXX nor in any other NT author. (See 1QS 5.21; 6.18; 2 Bar. 57:2. Nonetheless,
Marcus [2001] speculates that Pauls usage arose in response to the Agitators ap-
peal to Exod 19:17 || Deut 4:11.) But by works of Law (ex ergo3n nomou) appears
six times in Galatians:
Three times in 2:16 Paul emphasized that no one is justied by works of
In 3:2 and 5 he insisted that the Galatians did not receive the Spirit by
works of Law.
In 5:18 he added that those who are led by the Spirit are not under Law.
In 3:10 Paul claimed that those who tried to live by works of Law were
under a curse. The two expressions translated by the Law in 3:11, 17,
21; and 5:4 are probably abbreviated versions of the fuller expression.
Paul insisted that justicationright standing with God (and all that in-
volves)could not be achieved by human efforts to obey the Law of Moses. In
Galatians and Romans, works of Law refer to the adoption by Gentiles of se-
lected commandments understood as prerequisites for salvation (Gaston 1987,
69). In each instance, circumcision seems to be the specic law Paul had in mind.
For further reading in recent studies on works of Law, see:
Bonneau, Normand. 1997. The Logic of Pauls Argument on the Curse of
the Law in Galatians 3:10-14. NovT 39:60-80.
Catchpole, David. 2006. Galatians 3:10-13: Crucixion Curse and Resur-
rection Freedom. Pages 377-85 in Interpreting the New Testament
Text: Introduction to the Art and Science of Exegesis. Edited by Darrell
L. Bock and Buist M. Fanning. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books.
Cranford. 1994.
Evans, Craig A. 2005. Paul and Works of the Law Language in Late Antiq-
uity. Pages 201-26 in Paul and His Opponents. Pauline Studies 2. Edited
by Stanley E. Porter. Leiden: Brill.
Garlington, Don. 1997. Role Reversal and Pauls Use of Scripture in Gala-
tians 3.10-13. JSNT 65:85-121.
Grindheim, Sigurd. 2007. Apostate Turned Prophet: Pauls Prophetic Self-
Understanding and Prophetic Hermeneutic with Special Reference
to Galatians 3.10-12. NTS 53:545-65.
Hong, In-Gyu. 1994. Does Paul Misrepresent the Jewish Law? Law and
Covenant in Gal. 3:1-14. NovT 36:164-82.
Lambrecht, Jan. 1994. Curse and Blessing: A Study of Galatians 3,10-
14. Pages 271-98 in Pauline Studies: Collected Essays. Bibliotheca
Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium 115. Leuven: Leuven
University Press.
Schreiner, Thomas R. 1984. Is Perfect Obedience to the Law Possible? A
Re-Examination of Galatians 3:10. Journal of the Evangelical Theologi-
cal Society 27:151-60.
________. 1991. Works of Law in Paul. NovT 33:217-44.
Scott, James M. 1992. For as Many as Are of Works of the Law Are Under
a Curse (Galatians 3.10). Pages 187-221 in Paul and the Scriptures of
Israel. JSNT Supplement 83. Edited by James A. Sanders and Craig A.
Evans. Studies in Scripture in Early Judaism and Christianity 1. Shef-
eld: JSOT Press.
Smiles, Vincent M. 2008. The Blessing of Israel and the Curse of the Law:
A Study of Galatians 3:10-14. Studies in Christian-Jewish Relations 3:1-17.
Stanley 1990.
Waters, Guy. 2006. The End of Deuteronomy in the Epistles of Paul. WUNT 2
/ 221. Tbingen: Mohr-Siebeck.
Wright 1991. 137-56.
Young 1998.
Law vs. Christ. Paul considered being under Law and being in Christ to be
as incompatible as the old and new ages they represent (Gal 3:24-25; 4:4-5). By
rejecting works of Law, Paul denied that actions performed in obedience to
the Mosaic Law, or more specically acts performed in response to any and all
commandments of the Law had any saving efcacy for Gentiles (Witherington
1998a, 177). Far from contributing positively to the spiritual well-being of pagans,
circumcision had a toxic effect (5:2-3).
Through Law. Paul used the expression dia nomou in 2:19 to describe the
Law as an instrument of his metaphorical death: through the Law I died to the
Law. In v 21 he maintained that justication does not come through Law. The
Law of Moses cannot give life. It has no justifying power (Thielmann 1994, 139).
Only Christ justies (2:16, citing Ps 143:2).
Fullling the Law. During Pauls day, the question of the fulllability of the law
[was] not a primary question in Judaism (Lhrmann 1992, 47; see Cranford 1994).
For him, the antithesis was not Faith vs. Law, but faith in Jesus Christ vs. the Law.
The real theme of his statements on justication is thus Christology (Lhrmann
1992, 47).
The Laws inability to save was not a negative reection on God or the Law.
God never intended the Law as a means of salvation (3:21). It was intended to
regulate the way people lived. And it was a strict disciplinarian. The Law requires
perfect and exhaustive obedience (3:10, 11; 5:3; 6:13), which no human could
satisfy unaided by divine grace. Salvation comes only as Gods gift, which unde-
serving humans may freely receive by faith in God (3:11; 5:4; see Witherington
1998a, 343).
Law Obsolete in Christ. Christ came not merely to tweak the Law, but to
make it obsolete. Paul took issue with the so-called Holiness Code of Leviticus
(chs 1726), which dened the aim of Law as separation from all that is unclean,
whether thingsincluding food and placesor people (Witherington 1998a,
352). He rejected the requirement of circumcision and kosher laws because they
separated Jews and Gentiles. But his uniform use of the word nomos in the singu-
lar suggests that his quarrel was with the whole law (Gal 5:3), the entire law
(v 14), not just circumcision.
Paul was convinced that every man who lets himself be circumcised . . . is
obligated to obey the whole law (v 3). The Mosaic law as a whole, not particular
laws, was the problem. In other words Paul connects the ritual Law, including
the distinctive boundary rituals to the rest of the Law and says that one entails
the other. . . . He is not simply concerned with specic laws, nor with the social
function and effect of the Law of separating Jews from Gentiles (Witherington
1998a, 175; against Dunn 1990, 213 n. 11).
By rejecting works of Law, Paul attacked not merely legalismhuman at-
tempts at self-salvation (Dunn 1990, 238; Moo 1983). Nor did he merely reject
the boundary dening rituals and identity markers that separated Jews from
non-Jews (Witherington 1998a, 354).
Pauls most basic problem with the Law is that it is obsolete and therefore
following it is no longer appropriate. It is not the rule of the eschatological
age and it is not to be imposed in the new creation which is already com-
ing to be. . . . The Law had an important function and role to play in the
divine economy, but the rule of the Mosaic Law has had its day and ceased
to be. . . . Keeping the Law implies in Pauls mind that Christs death did
not accomplish what in fact he believes it did. (Witherington 1998a, 354)
In Rom 7:12 Paul afrmed that the law is holy, and the commandment is
holy, righteous and good. It was a good gift from God. But it was limited from
the outset.
It was designed for planned obsolescencefor the old age until the
coming of Christ (Gal 3:19). The Law was merely one expression of the
weak and miserable principles (4:9) of the old order ( 4:3 and 8).
It had a limited intentto point out sin, not cure it (3:19-22). It made
virtual slaves of its charges in order to protect them from the dangers of
sin ( 3:23-25).
And it had a restricted audienceJews and Jewish proselytes (see With-
erington 1998a, 355).
Spirit-Empowered Obedience. Despite all that Paul said negatively about Law
in Galatians, he never suggested that obedience to God did not matter for Chris-
tians. But only the Spirit makes this possible; and the Spirit is Gods gift received
by faith. The coming of the Messiah and the age of the Spirit meant that the nal
age had already dawned (see Thielmann 1994, 140).
The law the Agitators made most crucial in GalatiacircumcisionPaul
considered inconsequential ( 5:6; 6:15). Thus, the Apostolic Councils refusal
to require circumcision of Gentiles implied that Christians enjoyed total free-
dom from the Law (2:4; see vv 1-10). To accept circumcision not only would
mean the loss of Christian freedom but also would deny the saving sufciency of
Christ and to assume the obligation to obey the whole law (5:3).
Nevertheless, Paul claimed that Christian freedom should not be con-
fused with licentiousness or antinomianism (5:1, 13). The command of Lev
19:18You shall love your neighbor as yourself (NRSV)is still binding on
Christians. This one command sums up the entire law (Gal 5:14). Those who
live by the Spirit and are led by the Spirit . . . are not under law (5:16, 18). In
fact, there is no law against the virtues the Spirit inspires (5:23).
In 6:2 Paul urged Spirit-lled Galatians to fulll the law of Christ by bear-
ing one anothers burdens. By this, he did not refer simply to Christs reinterpre-
tation of the Law. He called Christians to the cruciform existence modeled by Je-
sus and empowered by the Spirit ( 2:20-21; 6:12-16; Witherington 1998a, 344;
Gorman 2001). The law of Christ denes what Christ expects of those already
living as new creatures in the new age as the old age lingers. What he expects the
Spirit empowers. Those who have faith in Christ express that faith through love
(5:6). Freed from slavery to Law, they are free to serve one another in love
(5:13), free to love their neighbors as themselves (5:14), and free to carry each
others burdens (6:2).
The force of the adverbial participle in 2:16 is ambiguous. It could be
as attendant circumstance: And we came to know that a person is
not justied by works of Law, but only by the faith of Jesus Christ
(Longenecker 1990, 83; Betz 1979, 115);
concessively: Yet we know that . . . (NCV, NLT, NRSV);
causally: because we came to know (Burton 1920, 119); or
temporally: when / after we came to know.
The context favors the causal reading: Jewish Christians realized that they too
were sinners because they experienced justication through what Christ did,
not because they had been Law-observant Jews.
The verb justify appears here for the rst time in Galatians. Words in its
cognate family appear fourteen times in the letter (2:16 [three times], 17, 21;
3:6, 8, 11 [twice], 21, 24; 5:4, 5 [twice]). The verbs are all in the passive voice,
except in 3:8, in which God is the subject. Humans receive justication; God
justies. Paul did not deny justication by works of Law to any one particular
person (NRSV; ESV; GNT). He insisted that humanity is not justied by this
means (see Rom 3:20; echoing Ps 143:2).
The verb dikaioo3, justify, is derived from the adjective dikaios, righteous
/ just (Gal 3:11). Virtually all such omicron contract-verbs convey a causative
force. Thus, the verb justify means cause to be righteous (see Robinson 1991,
140). Every NT use of dikaioo3 has a forensic / juridical stamp: justication
and vindication result from judgment (Kertelge 1990, 331). In an act of di-
vine judgment anticipating the nal judgment, God pronounces on the faith-
ful a verdict of righteous already in the present age. The opposite of justica-
tion is condemnation (see Matt 12:37).
God vindicates the faithful, not only counting, but actually making them
righteous. God does not consider people to be what they actually are not. On
the contrary, by virtue of justication, he empowers them to become what
they previously had not been (against Rendall 1903, 164).
The phrase by works of Law has been variously understood. Interpre-
tive translationssuch as by observing the law (NIV), by doing what the
Law requires (GNT), by practising the Law (NJB), or by obeying the Law
(NLT)present problems. How are they to be reconciled with Pauls claim in
Rom 2:13: Those who do the law . . . will be justied?
We should not assume Paul totally changed his mind on the subject by
the time he wrote Romans. He essentially repeated what he wrote in Gal 2:16
in Rom 3:20: Therefore, by works of Law all esh will not be justied before
God, for through Law comes knowledge of sin. Both passages echo Ps 143:2.
So, was Paul simply inconsistent? Did he adjust what he said about the Law to
suit the perceived needs of his different audiences (so Risnen 1983)?
Works of Law cannot be easily limited to the ritual and ceremonial as-
pects of the Mosaic law, such as circumcision and food laws (see Rom 2:14-
29). Nothing humans attempt to do as a means of self-justication succeeds.
Romans 2:13 does not contradict what Paul wrote elsewhere about the inad-
equacy of Law to save. It anticipates his claim in 8:1-4 that God in Christ has
done what the Law was incapable of doing, so that the Laws just requirement
might be fullled in Spirit-lled believers.
The Faith of Christ. Paul used the phrases ex ergo3n nomou (Rom 3:20; Gal
2:16 [three times]; 3:2, 5, 10) and ergo3n nomou, works of Law (Rom 3:28),
ex ergo3n, by works (4:2; 9:32), and ek nomou, by Law (4:16; see v 13) inter-
changeably. In Gal 2:16 the faith of Jesus Christ (see Rom 3:26) serves as the
antithesis of works of Law. But in 2 Esd (4 Ezra) 7:34-35; 1 Macc 2:51-52;
and Jas 2:14-26, faith and works are complementary (Heiligenthal 1990, 50;
see Schreiner 1991).
Paul claimed that Jewish Christians realized that justication could
not be achieved by human effort, but only through the faith of Jesus Christ
(Dunn 1990, 212 n. 9; BDAG, 267, s.v. ean 1cb; BDF, 191 376). Only Christ
justies, not Law (Burton 1920, 121; Longenecker 1990, 84).
All the Greek church fathers take pistis Christou (faith of Christ) to
mean faith in Christ (Harrisville 1994). Protestants likewise typically consid-
er the faith of Jesus Christ as an objective genitive, that is, the faith Christians
place in Jesus Christ (Dunn 1993, 138-39). If they are correct, it appears
that immediately following his reference to the faith of Jesus Christ, Paul re-
peated himself: Even we placed our faith in Christ Jesus (eis Christon Ie3soun).
The traditional reading does not adequately take into consideration the divine-
human antithesis that features prominently throughout the autobiographical
narrative. Why would Paul contrast one thing humans do (works of Law) with
another thing they do (believe in Christ)?
Such challenges to the traditional reading have persuaded some recent
interpreters that the faith of Jesus Christ is a subjective genitive. That is, it
refers to the faithfulness shown by Jesus Christ (Hays 1983; Hooker 1989;
Longenecker 1990, 87-89; Witherington 1994, 268-71; Jervis 1999, 69). Jesus
demonstrated his faithfulness to God by giving himself for our sins to rescue
us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father (Gal
1:4). Thus, the faith of Jesus Christ refers to the faithfulness Jesus Christ
demonstrated on the cross. Advocates of this position argue that it makes
more sense linguistically to avoid the redundancy of asserting the necessity
of human faith twice (see Matlock 2007, 174-77; see Dunns [1993, 138-39]
objections to the subjective reading and Witheringtons point-by-point rebut-
tal [1998a, 179-83]).
The alternative translationthrough the faithfulness of Jesus Christ,
even we put our faith in Christ Jesusresults in a natural Pauline combina-
tion of divine initiative and human response. The universal scope of human sin
and the inadequacy of Law make obvious the universal need for justication
from a source other than human effort.
There can be no objection to translating the Greek word pistis faith-
fulness. Elsewhere Paul explicitly traced human justication to the death of
Christ (2:21; see Rom 5:19). In favor of the traditional Protestant reading is
Pauls normal use of pistis referring to human trust in God / Christ.
The question remains: If Paul referred to human faith in the rst phrase,
why would he repeat the point that even we believed in Christ Jesus in the
next? Traditional Protestant interpreters answer: to highlight the universal
availability of Gods righteousness. Righteousness is accessible only through
faith in Christbut it is offered freely to anyone who has faith in Christ.
The subjective readingthe faithfulness of Jesus Christattempts
to overcome the shortcomings of overly individualized, intellectualized, and
dogmatized conceptions of faith. Faith in early Christianity had a social di-
mension. By faith believers came to participate in the community of the con-
verted or entered into the spiritual fellowship of believers (Jewett 2008,
276 and 277). Even if the traditional objective genitive reading, faith in Christ,
is correct, faith has no power apart from its object. Faith merely receives the
gift of Gods righteousness through Christ (see 1 Cor 1:30-31).
Faith may refer to both the faithfulness of Christ and the human re-
sponse of faith. If Law as the system of salvation by human achievement is re-
jected as the means of being made righteous, faith as the system of trusting the
crucied Christ alone for salvation includes both aspects. The traditional Prot-
estant reading of the passage does not imply that faith is something humans do
to earn salvation, despite the failure of law-keeping as a means. The faithful-
ness of Christ alone made justication possible. But because righteousness is
by faith, it remains a gift pure and simple (Rom 3:21-26).
Not only Gentiles, whom Jews universally considered sinners, needed to
be justied by the faith of Jesus Christ. Even Jewish Christians (Arichea and
Nida 1976, 46), like Peter and Paul, had recognized the inability of works of
Law to justify. We too believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justied
by the faithfulness of Christ and not by works of Law.
The change in the order of the names, from Jesus Christ to Christ Je-
sus (the more common sequence in Paul), is of no signicance (Bruce 1982,
139). God justies those who trust in Christ alone, however he is identied,
for salvation. Divine justication is the reason for or purpose of faith [BDAG,
476] in Christ.
The rare aorist tense of the verbs believed and justied suggests that
Paul referred to the experience of conversion: So we, too, have put our faith
in Christ Jesus, that we might be made right with God (NCV). The human
act of embracing the faith (Rendall 1903, 164) was followed by the divine
act of justifying believers.
The faithfulness of Christ is the divine prerequisite for humans to be
made righteous. Its antithesis is human effort, doing works of Law. Humans
must place their trust in what Christ has done in order to be put right with
God. The objective means of justication is Christs death on the cross, not
the Law, and the subjective means of appropriating justication or right stand-
ing with God is faith in the faithfulness of Christ, not works of the Law
(Witherington 1998a, 182).
Universal Sin. The nal clause in v 16 explains what precedes by para-
phrasing it: because all esh will not be justied by deeds of Law. There
are two differences: the future tense of the verb and the substitution of esh
for humanity. Gods Law was not irrelevant for salvation. It simply could not
make people righteous. It could reveal what was wrong with humanity. Law
diagnosed the human problem; it could not cure it (Rom 4:15).
Jewish Christians had come to the realization that the Jewish law [had]
not fundamentally altered the human condition (Westerholm 2003, 371).
Only by faith in Jesus Christ had they been made righteous before God. Since
they were justied in the same way as were Gentiles, they too were found to
be sinners (Gal 2:17a). There were not two ways of salvationChrist and
Law, one for Gentiles and one for Jews. All humanity faced the same di-
lemma posed by human sins and their pending judgment, by human partici-
pation in an evil age and its pending dissolution, by human alignment with
supernatural powers whose day had passed and whose doom was imminent
(Westerholm 2003, 269).
This was not the diagnosis of Christians alone. Even many non-Chris-
tian Jewish writings of Pauls day numbered the majority of their Jewish
contemporaries . . . with the Gentile wicked. . . . What was new with Paul and
his like-minded Christians was the conviction that life under the Jewish law,
however interpreted, was subject to the same condemnation that threatened
the Gentile world (Westerholm 2003, 369-70).
Allboth Jews and Gentilesare doomed sinners in need of justica-
tion. Paul validated this claim by appeal to Ps 143:2. In the MT of Ps 143:2
the psalmist insisted that no one living is righteous in Gods estimate. But,
perhaps under the inuence of 1 En. 81:5no esh is righteous in the sight
of the Lord (APOT), Paul wrote: no esh will be justied by works of Law.
The future tense of the verb might refer to the nal judgment (Betz 1979,
119). But with the negative, it might refer to the moral impossibility of some-
thing that neither can nor will ever happen (Ellicott 1863, 39).
Flesh refers literally to the muscle and skin that covers the bones of
humans and animals. But Paul used it in a wide variety of gurative ways,
particularly in Romans and Galatians. Here he used esh as a synecdoche
for human persons as a whole. Thus, esh is simply a synonym for humanity
(anthro3pos). As a result, Gal 2:16a and 16b say much the same thing.
Fl esh
The word sarx, esh, appears ninety-one times in the Pauline letters.
Twenty-six of these are in Romans; eleven each in 1 and 2 Corinthians; eighteen
in Galatians; nine each in Ephesians and Colossians; ve in Philippians; and one
each in 1 Timothy and Philemon. Considering the relative lengths of the two let-
ters, sarx appears twice as often in Galatians as in Romans.
Paul distinctively used Flesh as the personied antithesis of Spirit, con-
trasting weak human beings with the powerful, personal presence of God (in
Gal 3:3; 5:13, 16, 17, 19, 24; 6:8; see Rom 8:3). Paul used Flesh guratively to
mean more than humanity in rebellion against God. Flesh appeared as a demonic-
like power that dominates human life apart from God. Perhaps Paul conceived
of Flesh as a collective abstraction comparable to modern expressions such as
peer pressure or mob mentality. If so, Flesh vs. Spirit is a subtype of the re-
peated human-divine antithesis in Galatians.
Paul did not assume that humans were innately and incurably sinful in con-
trast to a holy God. They were merely weak and dependent beings. Problems
came when humans attempted to live autonomously. This understanding is co-
herent with the other ways Paul used sarx in Galatians.
In 1:16, esh and blood together refer to humanity as opposed to God.
In 2:20 to live in the esh refers to bodily existence as a human being.
In 4:13 a weakness of the esh and in 4:14 a trial in my esh appar-
ently refer to bodily illness.
In 4:23 and 29 a birth according to the esh is a natural birth.
In 6:12 a good showing in the esh is an outward human demonstration.
In 6:13 your esh simply means you as a human being.
Before the publication of the NIV in 1973, all standard translations of the
English Bible rendered the Greek word sarx literally and consistently as esh.
The NIVs distinctive, and always mistaken, translation of sarx as sinful nature
was not really a translation but a theologically biased commentary on the text.
It presumed a Reformed interpretation of esh as the material component of
human nature. The antithesis of matter vs. spirit depends more on Greek philo-
sophical assumptions than on a biblical understanding of human nature. Happily,
the 2011 update of the NIV restores the traditional reading the esh.
Flesh is not inherently sinful. It is weak (as in the Hebrew equivalent
basar; see Rom 8:3). To be the persons God created humans to be calls for the
resident, indwelling power of the Spirit of God. The human problem is not esh
but Sin. Only God can liberate humans from the alien power of Sins usurped
control (Rom 8:8-9; Gal 5:16-26).
Merely deprived of Gods presence, human sarx is neutral. Flesh may de-
scribe ones total human nature before or apart from Christs grace and the
liberating power of the Spirit. This is the sense of Rom 7:18I know that noth-
ing good lives in me, that is, in my esh. But esh becomes a negative real-
itydepraved sinful natureas a consequence of sinful choicesby abandoning
neutrality and becoming an enemy of God. Romans 5:12 insists: death came to
all people, because all sinned (NIV 2011).
The point of Pauls repetition becomes clear in Gal 2:19. The two pur-
pose-clauses in vv 16 and 19 seem to be parallel and mutually interpretive.
Humans are not justied by works of Law
through the faith of Jesus Christ
We believed in Jesus Christ
so that
we might be justied by the faith of Christ
not by works of Law
all esh will not be justied by works of Law.
In v 16, the verb dikaioo3, justify, appears in the aorist, present, and fu-
ture tenses, but always in the passive voice. Justicationright standing be-
fore God (past, present, and future)is always a gift of God (see Rom 3:20).
L 17 The meaning of Gal 2:17 remains controversial. It is formulated as a con-
ditional interrogative sentence. The verb in the protasis (conditional clause)
is modied by an adverbial participle phrase, describing the circumstances
under which the condition exists as a possibility.
Condition: (protasis) If we ourselves were also found to
be sinners,
Circumstance: while we were seeking to be to be
justied in Christ,
Consequence: (apodosis) is Christ then the servant of Sin?
The sentence is a rst class conditional sentence, which grammatically
assumes all of the protasis to be true (Longenecker 1990, 89). Obviously,
we seek to be justied in Christ, and our seeking makes it evident that we
ourselves are sinners. In the NT, the verb were found indicates not merely
the existence of a thing, but the manifestation or acknowledgment of that
existence (see Matt 1:18; Ellicott 1863, 40). The quest of Jewish Christians
for justication did not change their status; it merely made obvious what was
already truethat they were sinners as surely as were Gentiles.
The logical syllogism Paul took for granted seems to be:
Christ justies sinners.
We seek to be justied by Christ.
Therefore, we are sinners.
The conclusion of this logic serves as the protasis (conditional clause). The
false conclusion is that Christ promotes sin. Why did Paul pose a rhetorical
question with such an absurd conclusion?
Paul certainly found it unthinkable that Christ was responsible for uni-
versal human sinfulness. The coming of Christ did not turn Jews into sinners,
it merely exposed them for what they already were. Thus, Paul answered his
own question, Is Christ then the servant of Sin? with an emphatic denial,
Absolutely not! (elsewhere only in 3:21; Rom 3:4, 6, 31; 6:2, 15; 7:7, 13; 9:14;
11:1, 11; 1 Cor 6:15). Paul consistently used the expression to deny an im-
proper conclusion drawn from a true (fullled) premise (Smiles 1998, 373).
This was a standard xture of diatribe style.
In Christ. All would-be Christians, regardless of their ethnicity, seek
to be justifed in Christ. Nowhere else in Pauls letters is seeking associated
with justication (but see Matt 6:33 and the antithesis in Rom 10:3). Here
he referred to the human quest for the assurance of right standing with God.
This is not automatic, simply because of what Christ has done. Human faith is
necessary to receive the freely offered gift.
In its only other NT occurrence, the aorist passive innitive dikaio3the3nai,
to be justifed, is equated with the forgiveness of sins Jesus alone offers. One
could not be justied from [sins] by the law of Moses (Acts 13:39). A similar
explicit equation of justication and forgiveness appears in Rom 4:6-8.
The justication believers seek is en Christo3i. The preposition en has a
remarkable range of nuances (see BDAG, 326-30). Translating the expres-
sion in Christ suggests that being made right with God means that believers
somehow reside within Christ. Paul never explains how this occurs. In what
sense do Christians live in Christ and Christ in them? What is the nature of
the fellowship that exists between Christ and believers?
Are we to think of this as Christ-mysticism ( Gal 2:20)?
Are we to think of metaphorical space? Do justifed believers spiri-
tually reside in heaven, and heaven in them? But what would this
Do they enjoy the eschatological (end times) benefts of the life of the
future already in the present?
Do they live in a historical situation fundamentally altered by the
events of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ?
Do they live in Christlike ways, doing what he would do?
Figurative explanations of Pauls participation-language seem more plau-
sible than do the literal. But their meanings are far from transparent. We use
metaphors because literal explanations are inadequate. We must sometimes be
content to live in the metaphor.
New life in Christ is lived in a new sphere of inuence, invisible to the
naked eye. But the new quality of life believers enjoy in Christ visibly shapes
and inuences their present lives as surely as relationships of love mutually
bind them to loved ones. We thrive in an atmosphere charged with the power
of mutual commitments. Love lives where it is given and received. Love re-
quires love in response (see 2 Cor 5:14-15; 2:20).
Christs death for me proves he loves meactually, all of us ( Gal
2:20). Because Christ is who he is, mutual relations with him are necessarily
characterized by love. In vv 19-21, Paul claried what it meant to be justi-
ed in Christ with other metaphors: dying to the Law, being crucied with
Christ, dying yet living, Christ living in me, living by faith, being loved, re-
ceiving grace.
Non-Christian Jews regarded Gentiles as sinners (v 15) by denition,
largely because they do not have the law (Rom 2:14). Jewish Christians rec-
ognized Christ as the Gentiles only hope of justication. But they also came
to realize that they were not justied by works of Law but by the faithful-
ness of Jesus Christ. So they too have believed in Christ to be justied (Gal
2:16; see Rom 3:21-26). Christ is also the Jews only hope of justication.
Only those who are righteous do not need God to make them righteous. But,
in Rom 3:10 Paul proved from Scripture (Ps 14:1-3 = 53:1-3) that there is
no one righteous, not even one. Thus, speaking for himself, Peter, and other
Jewish Christians, Paul confessed: we ourselves are also found to be sinners.
The verb heurisko3 means to discover intellectually through refection,
observation, examination, or investigation (BDAG, 412, s.v. 2). Its passive
form indicates that this is not self-discovery, found on ones own. Rather, Paul
implied that Christ exposed Jews for what they already weresinners. The
words justied and found (in Gal 2:17) and prove (in v 18) are forensic
terms, the language of trials and courtrooms. Thus, Christ is the judge who
pronounces the verdict: sinners all!
Jews customarily reserved the term sinners for Gentiles and for particu-
larly notorious nonobservant Jewsprostitutes, tax collectors, and their ilk.
But if all Jews must also be justied, they are no different from Gentile sin-
ners (v 15). This is the case Paul would make at length in Rom 1:183:20.
Jews have no advantage over Gentiles with respect to sin (3:9). All are not
only sinners but also helpless slaves of Sin (vv 22b-24).
If such assumptions were already at work in Pauls thinking when he
wrote Galatians, the question in the apodosis (result clause) of 2:17 makes
perfect sense, is Christ then the servant of Sin? That is, is Christ responsible
for turning Jews into sinners who are no better off than lawless Gentiles? Paul
seemed to use Sin as a personied ruling power as he does in Romans (see
Greathouse and Lyons 2008a, 110-11; Winger 1999, 168-74).
Pauls question was not simply whether Christ promotes sin, but wheth-
er he is also a victim of Sins sinister power. Of course, the answer to both
questions is No. Paul would argue in 3:22 that the truth is quite the contrary.
Christ is the solution to the problem of Sin, not its source. He is not Sins
servant, but its Master.
The Law was incapable of giving life (3:21). It could not empower peo-
ple to fulll its demands. By his death, as an apparent victim of Sin, Christ
offers freely the life and grace needed (2:19-21) to liberate enslaved humanity
to love one another (5:1-6, 13-15), and fulll the law of Christ (6:2).
Apart from the divine provision made in the death of Christ, all human
beingsincluding those under the lawlive effectively in the service,
not of God, but of sin. Their need is not for the forgiveness of incidental
sins, but for an (apocalyptic!) transformation of the conditions of human
existence: their life in sins service must end. (Westerholm 2003, 373)
In 2:19 and 20 Paul used the universal Christian I to insist that, for
believers in Christ, this has already happened. They have died to the law;
they have been crucied with Christ. Thus, it is unthinkable to return to the
old life under Law, which is Pauls point in v 18.
L 18 Here Paul provided the evidence for his emphatic denial in v 17 that
Christ was responsible for turning Jewish Christians into sinners. Both vv 17
and 18 are constructed as conditional sentences. The former poses a rhetorical
question, which the latter answers. How are Jewish Christians found to be
sinners? By being proven lawbreakers.
With v 18, Paul shifted from the rst person plural we (in vv 15-17)
perspective to the singular I. The conditional (ei as in v 17, not the expected
ean) suggests this is a real case. But it did not apply to Paul (BDF, 147 281),
or he would have written, If I were to rebuild what I tore down, I would make
myself a lawbreaker.
Here, Paul used I when he actually meant you. This allowed him dip-
lomatically to apply this to St. Peter personally (Ellicott 1863, 41). In vv
19-21 Pauls I clearly applied not only to Paul, although it certainly included
him. The Greco-Roman rhetorical literary device of proso3popeiaa speech
in character, allowed an imaginary person or type . . . to speak in the rst
person in order to make an emotionally effective argument (Jewett 2008,
443; see 441-45).
The I in here undoubtedly referred to anyone under similar circum-
stances (BDF, 147 281; Bruce 1982, 142). It described the situation of all
Jewish Christians (perhaps of all Christians, if Paul used law in the broad
sense of Rom 2:12-29). Romans 7:7-25 seems to be a further development of
this use of I (see Greathouse and Lyons 2008a, 213-24).
First Corinthians 13:1-3 uses I in this typical sense. It was not simply
Paul who would be nothing should he exercise the various spiritual gifts with-
out love. This was true of anyone and everyone. Numerous parallels exist for
this universal I in Greco-Roman literature, in the Psalms, and elsewhere in
Pauls letters (see e.g., Rom 7; 1 Cor 8:13; 10:29-30; 13:1-3, 11-12).
Paul spoke for his fellow Jewish Christians in Antioch who hypocriti-
cally abandoned the table fellowship they had previously enjoyed with Gen-
tile believers. By practicing again the kosher laws they had abandoned (Gal
2:12-14), they rebuilt what they tore down. Paul used the form of a true (rst
class) condition, not a hypothetical (second class, contrary to fact) condition,
because the rebuilding had actually occurred (Longenecker 1990, 90).
The imagery of building demolition and reconstruction controls v 18. If
I am building again what I once tore down, I am bringing evidence against
myself that I am a transgressor. All who abandoned the Jewish way of life
only to return to it proved they were wrongdoerswhether by leaving or by
Perhaps Paul presupposed the legal principle he cited in Rom 4:15b:
where there is no law there is no transgression (so Betz 1979, 120). If so,
their transgression did not consist in returning to their former way of life. This
only showed what was true before (BDAG, 973, s.v. syniste3mi 3). They were
lawbreakers already, as their rebuilding proved.
Paul publicly condemned Peter because he had already condemned him-
self (Gal 2:11). In Rom 14:23 Paul argued that the man who has doubts is
condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything
that does not come from faith is sin. Peters transgression did not consist in a
bad-faith abandonment of Jewish ways. He had abandoned his former lifestyle
out of sincere conviction. His about-face return to Jewish separatism was cow-
ardly, hypocritical, and a bad example (Gal 2:12-13).
By no longer eating with Gentiles, Peter acted insincerely. His return to
Jewish ways did not make him a transgressor of the law (see Rom 2:25, 27;
Jas 2:9, 11); it merely proved it. Peters backsliding to Jewish separatism only
demonstrated that he already was a lawbreaker.
Peter condemned himself ( Gal 2:11) by abandoning table fellowship
with Gentiles contrary to his true convictions, motivated only by fear of the
circumcision ( v 13). Not only Peter, but the other Jewish Christians who
followed his hypocritical example, had deserted the true gospel (v 14).
Paul confronted only Cephas (v 11) with the charge of compelling the
Gentiles to Judaize (v 14). But his universal I in v 18 applied equally to
them all. Since all were lawbreakers, all were sinners (v 17; BDAG, 759, s.v.
L 19 Paul claried and explained what he meant in vv 17-18. His main asser-
tion, I died to the law (emphasis added), was obviously intended guratively.
Dead men do not write letters. What is the reality Pauls metaphor represents?
and why did he use the imagery of death to describe it?
The explicit rst person singular pronoun, ego3, I, is noteworthy. That
it is repeated in v 20 is even more remarkable. Greek verbs do not require
explicit pronominal subjects, since these are clearly indicated by the changed
forms of the verbs. In this context, the verb apethanon would be translated I
died even without the pronoun ego3. Greek subject pronouns are usually em-
phatic. Orally, such an I should be stressed or translated I myself. In print, a
bolded, italicized, or underlined font is called for.
The aorist tense of I died may point to some prior event, perhaps conver-
sion, as the moment of the metaphorical death of the ego3. Romans 7:9 may
shed some light on Pauls meaning here: Once I [ego3] was alive apart from
law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I [ego3] died.
Before the commandment came, the power of Sin was already there. Law only
gave it the opportunity it needed. Paul summarized the process in Rom 7:10:
I [ego3] discovered that the very commandment . . . intended to bring life
actually brought death.
In Gal 3:21 Paul claimed that Law was never able to make alive (NRSV).
Law could diagnose Sin, show it for what it was. But it was always incapable
of curing it. At its best, Law pointed to the Physician (see vv 23-29). Only
the crucied and risen Christ could give life and righteousness by the gift of
himself (see vv 20-21).
With the coming of Christ, the role of Law came to an end ( vv 19-
20). Thus, believers in Christ can say that for all practical purposes, I died
to the law (v 19). Paul implied that Jewish Christian advocates of circumci-
sion assume that the Jewish covenant and laws still provided the framework
within which Gods people must live (Westerholm 2003, 368).
What did Paul mean by his claim, I died to law? As a dative of refer-
ence, his point might have been, I died so far as Law is concerned. But other
options are possible. He only complicated matters by adding through the law.
This might indicate the efcient cause of his death: I died to law because
of Law (BDAG, 224, s.v. dia 3.d). The imagery of death refers to his conver-
sion-call, which came through his encounter with the risen Lord, not the
instrumentality of Law (Rendall 1903, 165). Union with Christ annihilated
the authority of Law in his life (see Rom 2:27 and 4:11).
Paul extended, expanded, and explained the metaphor of death in Gal
2:20-21. But rst, he explicated the purpose or result of the death of the ego3:
so that I might live for God (see 4 Macc 7:19; 16:25). The antithetical contrast
between life and death employs biological imagery to identify the same reality
described in forensic imagery in Gal 2:17 and 21. That is, to be justied in
Christ (v 17) is to live for God (v 19).
In Rom 6:17:6 Paul shifted back and forth between the imagery of
death vs. life (6:1-13, 237:6) and the sociopolitical imagery of slavery vs.
freedom (6:14-22; see 2 Cor 4:10; Phil 3:10). Both images contrasted the old
pre-Christian vs. the new Christian existence. As in other ancient religions,
life is used to characterize salvation (Schottroff 1990a, 106). Death refers
to the former existence in sin.
The aorist tense of the verb live points to a particular moment when
Christians may be said guratively to have come to life. This might refer to their
conversion (see Gal 3:1-5), their baptism (vv 24-27; see Rom 6:3-5), or their
sanctication (see Rom 8:13). Baptism dramatizes the spiritual reality of ap-
propriating the life-giving benets of Christs saving death (Gal 2:20; see Rom
3:21-26; 2 Cor 5:14-15). It has associations with his burial and resurrection
(Rom 6:1-4) and with the inlling with the Holy Spirit (see, e.g., Acts 2:38).
Romans presents the end of the egocentric life as marking the beginning
of the life lived for God, particularly life in the Spirit (Rom 8:12-17). Through
justication, the compulsive power of sin is decisively broken. I die to live no
longer for myself, but for God (Gal 2:19; see Rom 6:7). Through sanctica-
tion, I freely offer my new life in service to God (Rom 6:157:6).
Unlike Romans, Galatians never uses the explicit language of sanctica-
tion / holiness. Nevertheless, it can be argued that in substance, Galatians is
not about justication by faith, as Luther and his followers through the cen-
turies have believed. It is about sanctication by faith. It is not about how one
gets sins forgiven. It is about how one is to live when that initial forgiveness has
been received (Ramsay 1994, 425).
This is not the claim of a Wesleyan partisan, but of a retired professor
of religion at Bethel University, the Cumberland Presbyterian Univer-
Ramsay refers to sanctifcation, not in the distinctively Wesleyan-Ho-
liness sense of a second work of grace, but as progressive growth in
holiness. Most Christian traditions agree that there can be no glorica-
tion unless justication is followed by sanctication (Donfried 1976).
As with the dative expression died to Law, the dative live to God is am-
biguous. It could mean he was made alive:
for God (dative of advantage),
so far as God is concerned (dative of reference),
in God (dative of metaphorical space), or
by God (dative of means).
Regardless of the precise meaning, the antithesis of death vs. life calls
attention to another antithesis: law vs. God.
I died to Law
so that
I might live to God.
The Law of God was intended to bring life, but it actually brought death
(Rom 7:10). The reason no one is justied before God by the law is because,
The righteous will live by faith (Gal 3:11). Paul had to quit being a law
man so that [he] could be Gods man (2:19 TM, emphasis added). The paral-
lels between vv 16 and 19
suggest that faith and death to the law are parallel to each other, as
are justied and live with respect to God. Faith, then, is a death to
the law that enables life to God. Furthermore, the language of crucied
with Christ (v. 20a), as does the phrase live with respect to God (v.
19) have a parallel in the phrase Christ lives in me (v. 20a). (Gorman
2001, 138)
Faith entails an end to human life as I have known it and the beginning of
the divine life. Faith means that life based on reliance on Law and what I can
do comes to an end. It means that my life depends entirely on the work of God
in Christ for a right relationship with God. By faith I identify with the cross
of Christ, so that by participating in the death of Christ, I may experience the
risen life of Christ (Gorman 2001, 138).
Despite traditional English verse divisions, the Greek text (and a few
recent English translations, e.g., GNT, HCSB, ISV, NAB, NJB, and NRSV) includes the
phrase I have been crucied with Christ (see Rom 6:4) at the end of v 19.
Paul expanded on the metaphor of death, specifying it as a violent death by
hanging on the cross along with Christ (see Grundmann 1971, 7:786-94 on
with Christ).
In what sense does Pauls gure of speech intersect with the reality it
represents? The verb systauroo3 is used literally in Matt 27:44; Mark 15:32;
and John 19:32 (and Gos. Pet. 4:14), referring to the thieves literally crucied
alongside Jesus of Nazareth on Golgotha. Paul never systematically explained
his understanding of the profound personal implications of Christ crucied.
He apparently took for granted that his audience adequately understood his
meaning (Dunn 1998, 211-12).
Of course, the apostle had not literally been crucied with Jesus (so 1
Cor 1:13). His point was to bring out the very radical nature of the personal
transformation effected by Pauls encounter with the risen Christ (Dunn
1993, 145). His life as an apostle was somehow cruciform. He embodied the
message he preached ( Gal 6:14-17; see 1 Thess 1:4-7; 2:1-8; Lyons 1985,
189-201, 218-21, 226-27). He shared the shame and suffering of his crucied
Lord. His apostolic call left him condemned to die, a spectacle to the whole
universe, a fool for Christ, weak, dishonored, brutally treated, home-
less, cursed, persecuted, slandered, the scum of the earth, the refuse of
the world (1 Cor 4:9-13).
Pauls message of a crucied Messiah seemed foolish, despised, even
scandalous, to unbelievers (see 1 Cor 1:17-31). But his identity was inextrica-
bly tied to Jesus Christ and him crucied (1 Cor 2:2; see Phil 3:4-21). The
very thought of changing his message to avoid persecution would abolish the
offense of the cross (Gal 5:11; see 6:13, 14, 17).
Cruci f ormi t y
He did not coin the term, but Michael J. Gorman is responsible for the
recent emphasis on cruciformity as an apt description of Pauls spirituality and
ethics. Cruciformity is what Paul means by conformity to the crucied Christ. . . .
This conformity is a dynamic correspondence in daily life to the strange story of
Christ crucied as the primary way of experiencing the love and grace of God
(Gorman 2001, 5).
Pauls experience of God was transformed by his encounter with the cru-
ciedand exaltedChrist (Gorman 2001, 15). If God the Father was like
his Son, he was a God of self-sacricing and self-giving love whose power and
wisdom are found in the weakness and folly of the cross. This view of God was
previously unknown in antiquity (Gorman 2001, 16). As a result, Paul was dead
tounplugged from, so to speakhis former self and life, and thereby alive to
and for God (Gorman 2001, 14).
In Philippians, Paul described cruciform existence as a call to downward
mobility (Phil 2:3) in imitation of the seless example of Christ (vv 4-11). The
apostle presented Timothy (2:19-24), Epaphroditus (2:25-30), and himself as sec-
ondary examples of cruciformity (3:3, 7, 10-11; see Flemming 2009, 105-6). For a
Christian to live otherwise was to live as enemies of the cross of Christ (3:18).
Paul commended the life of suffering and weakness for the sake of Christ
as his paradoxical source of strength (2 Cor 12:9-10). Followers of the Crucied
One should expect suffering in the present age (Rom 8:17, 18). The destiny of
believers is contingent on their union with the crucied and risen Lord (v 29). As
Christs path to resurrection and glory was through obedient suffering, so is ours.
Our heritage in Christ will be ours only if we suffer with him. This gives us the
condent hope of sharing also his glory (v 17).
Pauls letters indicate that to be crucied with Christ entails participating
in the mission of Christ to save the world through redemptive suffering. This is not
a masochistic pursuit of pain, but an unselsh willingness to love others as Christ
did, by giving his life so they might live (2 Cor 5:14-21). The apostle employs dozens
of syn-compound words, some freshly coined, to emphasize Christian communal-
ity in Christ (Jewett 2008, 398). Baptism ritually reenacts our incorporation into
Christs death (see Rom 6:4). Thus, it marks the beginning of communal crucifor-
mity, initiation into the body of Christ, the cruciform people of God.
L 20 Paul continued to use the emphatic I to stress his point: I myself no
longer live. This is the point he made from the opposite perspective in v 19:
I myself died. So far as the Law is concerned, Christians are as good as dead.
Egocentric existence has come to an end. Preoccupation with self is over.
The death into which we are baptized as Christians is at once Christs
and ours in his. Our old life comes to an end so we may enjoy a new quality of
life (Rom 6:4; see 2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15). God brings the power of the future
resurrection to bear on this present age as he gives believers a quality of life
that anticipates the nal age.
Paul personalized the central afrmation of the Christian faith (see 1
Cor 15:3-11) as crucixion and resurrection. The crucied Christ is now risen
and living: But Christ is living in me. In Gal 1:16 Paul described the occa-
sion of his conversion-call as Gods revelation of his Son to me (en emoi). And
in v 24 he reported that, upon hearing of Pauls new life, Judean Christians
praised God because of me [en emoi]. These translations of the prepositional
phrase en emoi do not t 2:20. Christ is not alive because of me or by means
of me. Christians are not responsible for the resurrection of Christ.
Albert Schweitzer famously interpreted Pauls language of being in
Christ (v 17) and Christ . . . in me (v 20; see Rom 8:10; 2 Cor 13:5; Eph 3:17;
Col 1:27) as Christ-mysticism. He considered it the unifying center of Pau-
line theology: The doctrine of righteousness by faith is . . . a subsidiary crater,
which has formed within the rim of the main craterthe mystical doctrine of
redemption through the being-in-Christ (1968, 225; see 212).
Being united with Christ may be described as a mystical experience in
the sense that it transcends rational explanation: direct, intimate communion
with God in Christ cannot be fully described (Hansen 2010, 75-76). But this
is not an account of a mystical experience (Cole 1989, 125) in the sense of
the so-called Hellenistic mystery religions of Pauls day or that of Eastern reli-
gions in ours (Hansen 2010, 76; see Longenecker 1990, 92-93).
If Christ living in me has a locative force, Paul referred to metaphorical
space. Christ does not literally reside inside the bodies of believers. Christ in
me is not a personality invasion. Becoming a Christian does not mean becom-
ing a zombiemindless, lifeless puppets animated by an invisible inward pres-
ence. The Christian life is neither automatic nor magic.
The crucied Christ is the risen Lord, who rules the lives of Christians.
He offers us the grace of God (v 21), enabling us to live as he directs. In this
way the ascended and invisible Christ continues to be visible and active in the
lives of Christians. He lives in me as I live no longer for myself but for him and
for others. Jesus Christ lives in me as I reect his cruciform way of life.
Paradoxically, after asserting, I no longer live (emphasis added), Paul in-
sisted, I now live. This is apparently a variation on the formerly-now antith-
esis prominent throughout the autobiographical narrative ( 1:1-10). Only
the phrase Christ lives in me, which separates the paradoxical claims, explains
how both could be true. This seems to be a metaphorical depiction of justi-
cation (Shauf 2006, 101).
Paul partially explained his paradoxical metaphor: his bodily existence
depended entirely on the risen Christ. The word translated the life in Greek
is actually the accusative neuter relative pronoun ho, what. The problem with
the traditional translation (the life, e.g., KJV, RSV, NRSV, NASB; Burton 1920,
138) is that there is no obvious antecedent to the relative pronoun. It assumes
an unspecied referent (Porter 1999, 251 [15, 3.2]). This might be the life.
But this Greek noun is feminine in gender and occurs only in 6:8. The lack of
gender agreement and antecedent suggest that Paul referred to the following
phrase: I now live by the faith of the Son of God.
Paul explained the paradoxical metaphor about dying to live as the
meaning of the living by the faith of the Son of God. This way of living is in
the esh ( 2:16), I live in the body. Becoming a Christian did not bring a
literal end to his bodily existence. But his encounter with the risen Christ (
1:15) transformed his entire life. It split his life in twoformerly-now. He
was not literally dead or crucied. Christ did not literally replace his ego3. He
had not yet been resurrected (see Phil 3:4-21). But his life as a Christian was
radically different because of the faith of the Son of God.
As in Gal 2:16 (), most translations take the faith of the Son of God to
refer to Pauls trust in Christ (genitive objective). But it could denote Christs
faithfulness to Paul (subjective). Longenecker (1990, 93-94), who reads the
construction in v 16 subjectively, takes v 20 objectively. The differences be-
tween the two passages are noteworthy:
In v 20, the genitive is the Son of God; in v 16, Jesus Christ.
Several early manuscripts have instead God and Christ (Metzger
1994, 593). They almost certainly took this to refer to human faith,
not divine faithfulness.
In v 20, faith is preceded by the preposition en, by; in v 16 dia, through,
precedes it: I live by faith.
If en has its usual instrumental force, Paul emphasized that he lived
by means of what the Son of God had done for him (Witherington
1998a, 191). But did he also live by means of [en] the esh?
If the preposition en referred to metaphorical space (see BDAG, 326-
30), Pauls point was that he lived simultaneously in the physical and
moral realms (Burton 1920, 138).
Similarly, en could refer to the orientation of Pauls life for faith in the
Son of God (Dunn 1993, 146). But did he live for the esh?
Despite v 19, life and death are not usually treated as antitheses in
Pauls letters (but see Eph 2:1-6). They were paradoxically complementary as
here in v 20 (see Rom 6:2-14). Likewise, esh and faith are not opposites.
The faithfulness of the Son of God alone enables creatures of esh to live.
Believers do not cease to be alive or human beings. As a Christian, I truly live
only because (NET) the crucied and risen Son of God . . . loved me and gave
himself for me. Thus, the two instances of en would seem to have different
Pauls letters seldom refer to Christ explicitly as the Son of God (else-
where only in Rom 1:4; 2 Cor 1:19; Eph 4:13). But when God was under dis-
cussion, Paul often referred to his Son or the Son with the same force (Gal
1:16 []; 4:4, 6; Rom 1:3, 9; 5:10; 8:3, 29, 32; 1 Cor 1:9; 15:28; Col 1:13; 1
Thess 1:10). And references to God the Father often take Christs divine son-
ship for granted. But the infrequency is noteworthy compared to nearly four
hundred references to Jesus as Christ and three hundred as Lord.
A survey of the Pauline references to Son of God suggests that he did not
use the title to emphasize a particular aspect of Christs person. It was merely
an alternative christological designation. It allowed him to emphasize the kin-
ship relationship believers enjoy with Christ as Gods children (see Gal 3:7,
26; 4:6; Rom 8:14, 19, 29; 9:26; 2 Cor 6:18; and Gal 4:28, 31; Rom 8:16, 17,
21; 9:8; Eph 5:1; Phil 2:15). This probably explains his choice of christological
titles here.
As with Gal 2:16b, the traditional translation, I live by faith in the Son
of God (see, e.g., GNT, NAB, NASB, NCV, NJB, NRSV), should be reconsidered. The
KJV translates the Greek phrase literally: by the faith of the Son of God.
Most modern translations presume an objective genitive reading, with Christ
as the object of human faith. This was clearly Pauls point in v 16c, we, too,
have put our faith in Christ Jesus.
But the present context favors a subjective genitive reading, reected in
the ISV: I live by the faithfulness of the Son of God, and the NET: I live
because of the faithfulness of the Son of God. Christ is the subject who acts
in faithfulness to God. This would explain why Paul added who loved me and
gave himself for me (see Eph 5:2, 25; 1 Tim 2:6; Titus 2:14). These identify
what the Sons faithfulness to the will of the Father entailed ( Gal 1:3-4).
Most interpreters take the Son of God as the implied subject of the par-
ticiple loved (e.g., Betz 1979, 125). But Paul was often ambiguous enough to
allow either God or Christ to be considered the source of divine love directed
toward humanity (Rom 8:32, 37, 39; 2 Cor 5:14; 13:11, 14; Eph 2:4; 5:2, 25;
1 Thess 1:4; 2 Thess 2:13, 16; 3:5; Bruce 1982, 145).
The aorist tense of the participles loving and giving suggests that they
refer to the crucixion of Christ. As important as the incarnation, life, and
ministry of Christ may be, these were not Pauls concern here. The event of
the cross was the dening moment in Gods demonstration of love for sinful
humanity (see Rom 5:8-10).
He Gave Hi msel f
The word translated gave in v 20 is from an intensied form of give
(paradido3mi)Christ surrendered himself to death (Popkes 1990b, 18; compare
1 Cor 13:3). In Rom 4:25 Paul used this same verb when he wrote that Jesus our
Lord was delivered over to death for our sins.
Here, as elsewhere in early Christian usage paredothe3, he was handed
over, may refer both to Judas betrayal of Jesus and to Gods allowing Jesus to fall
into the hands of his enemies (see Mark 9:31; 10:33, 45; 14:1-2, 10, 21, 41; 15:1;
Matt 10:4 and Acts 2:23; 3:13; Rom 8:32; 1 Cor 11:23b). This usage echoes the
language of Isa 53:6, 12, which inuenced Christian reection on the passion of
Jesus and martyrdom (see 2 Cor 4:11; see Harmon 2010, 91-102).
In order to rescue us from the present evil age (Gal 1:4), Christ ac-
cepted death on the cross (see 1:1; 2:19-21). His willingness to die for us dem-
onstrated the grace of God (v 21). His death made righteousness before God
possible, something works of Law were unable to do (2:16, 21; 3:10-29). His
given life is the source of our new life and right standing with God.
Christs death on the cross was at once an act of faithfulness toward God
and of self-giving love for me (Gorman 2001, 162; see 175). My new life de-
pends entirely on his faithfulness to God, not on my ability to believe that he
is the Son of God, to perform works of Law, or anything else I can do. This,
of course, does not make my response of faith to Christs faithfulness unneces-
sary. On the contrary, his faithfulness invites me to respond in kind.
Verse 16 refers both to Christs faithfulness and to our faith in Christ.
But the faithfulness of Jesus Christ denes what faith looks like. It is clearly
not intellectual assent to a creed. It is not an achievement that replaces works
of Law as the means of right standing before God. It is a willingness to entrust
myself to God, love others as Christ did, and to give myself in their behalf,
even if it costs me my life, as it did him. It is no accident that Paul dened
the Christian life in 5:6 as faith expressing itself through love (see Gorman
2001, 139). Jesus death is not simply vicarious (hyper emou, for me) but also
exemplary (en emoi, in me).
The participle translated loved in v 20 is the rst of ve occurrences of
the agap- cognate family in Galatians (see 5:6, 13, 14, 22). Despite its com-
parative infrequency, it gures signicantly in the letter. Love:
defnes why the death of Christ matters (2:20);
is the only thing that has ultimate meaning in the Christians ethical
life ( 5:6);
is the ultimate reason why Christians have been given freedom ( v
for our neighbor sums up the entire law ( v 14); and
is the frst fruit of the Spirit ( v 22), which demonstrate that those
who belong to Christ Jesus have crucied the esh together with its
passions and desires (v 25).
L 21 A contextual denition of the grace of God ( 1:3, 6; 2:9) must recog-
nize its intimate association in Pauls thinking with the saving death of Christ.
This was the seless gift of his life and the tangible demonstration of his love
for me. As a subjective genitive, God is the implicit subject of the verbal noun
grace, which describes his freely given expression of love. The grace of God
means that God gave the unprecedented gift of his divine life in exchange for
my mortal human life. By receiving Gods gift with gratitude, I renounce every
human scheme of self-salvation and accept Gods love in Christ.
Not only did Christ give his life for me, but Paul implied that his death
provided the righteousness before God (see v 17), which works of Law could
not ( v 16). Paul experiences the grace of God in Christs death as a fully
divine and fully human action. In Christs death, God is faithful to us, and
Christ is faithful to God. Christs faithful act . . . becomes the prototype of
humanitys appropriate . . . posture before this faithful God (Gorman 2001,
120). God justies those who share in the faithfulness of Jesus (Rom 3:26).
Thus, faith may be dened as being crucied with Christ (Gal 2:19) or as
continuing to live by the faithfulness of the Son of God (v 20).
Why did Paul insist, I am not invalidating the grace of God? Mirror-
reading interpreters assume his denial refuted a charge made against him by
the Agitators (e.g., Burton 1920, 140; Betz 1979, 126; Longenecker 1990, 94).
But the assumption that advocates of circumcision would have asserted the
reverse of this denial seems patently implausible. If Paul denied accusations,
it seems more likely that the Agitators would have claimed he presumed on
Gods grace, not that he set aside the grace of God.
In the context of the Antioch incident ( 2:11-16), Pauls denial may
have implied that Peters hypocritical reversal on table fellowship with Gen-
tiles effectively nullied what the saving death of Christ had accomplished.
Thus, his point may have been: I do not abandon Gods gift as Cephas did.
The LXX sometimes used atheto 3, set aside, to translate OT passages (e.g.,
Deut 21:14; Judg 9:23; 2 Kgs 18:7, 20; Isa 24:16; 1 Macc 11:36; 2 Macc 13:25;
see Gal 3:15; 1 Cor 1:19; 1 Tim 5:12) referring to the betrayal or nullication
of an existing covenant relationship (Limbeck 1990, 35). Peter betrayed the
spirit of the agreement reached at the Apostolic Council ( Gal 2:1-10).
Because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, all people can become
sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus (3:26). Paul refused to live as
if God had not fullled his covenant promises in Christ, bringing an end to
merely human divisions based on ethnicity, social status, and gender ( 3:28).
A conditional sentence substantiated Pauls claim not to set aside the
grace of God: For if righteousness [is] through Law, then Christ died to no
purpose. The protasis (conditional clause) has no explicit verb. In such situa-
tions, Greek usually assumes an implied form of the verb to be.
The abstract noun righteousness is from the same cognate family as the
three verbs translated justied in vv 16 and 17 (and 3:8, 11, 24; 5:4). The
noun form appears again in 3:6, 21; and 5:5. The substantive adjective, the
just, occurs in 3:11. In the LXX, righteousness was an ethical term, identify-
ing what ought to be done.
Accordingly, the righteous were those who did the right thing. Righ-
teousness before God meant faithfulness to the covenant and the demands
of its Law (Witherington 1998a, 174). If this was the basic meaning in the
OT and other early Jewish literature, it changed in Paul. He insisted that God
justies the unrighteous (Rom 3:9-26). God treated sinners as innocent, when
they were guilty (Westerholm 2004, 253; see Westerholm 2003, 261-83).
Traditionally, Protestants of the Reformed tradition emphasize righ-
teousness as merely forensic. God pronounces sinners righteous, but they
remain sinners. But, for Paul, justication was not merely a matter of an un-
deserved gracious verdict. Justication is relational, but it does not leave be-
lievers unchanged. More than Gods opinion of sinners is altered. Paul used
the terms justication and righteousness with behavioral nuances (Wester-
holm 2004, 256). Both relationships and lifestyles change: Paul joined the
forensic (legal) and ethical categories of righteousness (Longenecker 1990, 95;
Ziesler 1972, 172-85). Those God pronounces righteous, he makes righteous.
Paul presented righteousness . . . through the law (see 2:19; Rom 2:12;
3:20, 27; 4:13; 7:5, 7) as the foil for righteousness in Christ (Gal 2:17),
graciously given by God (v 21). He set in opposition two competing means of
justication in chiastic order (Arichea and Nida 1976, 51):
by works of Law (three times in v 16) vs. through the faithfulness of
Jesus Christ (v 16)
because of the faithfulness of the Son of God (v 20) vs. through the
law (v 21)
The faith-works antithesis appears to be a variation on the divine-human
tension Paul had stressed from the beginning of the letter. It contrasts a righ-
teousness humans imagine they can achieve and one God alone can give
grace. Paul called attention to the irreconcilable tension between the two be-
cause of Peters hypocrisy (v 13). He knew there was no justication by works
of Law, but only by faith (v 16). Yet he betrayed the truth of the gospel (v
14) by rebuilding the walls of Law separating Jews from non-Jews. This act of
bad-faith proved him to be a lawbreaker (v 18; vv 11-19).
Pauls larger concern was to challenge those Galatians, who want to
be under the law (4:21), who are trying to be justied by law (5:4). He
warned: All who seek righteousness by works of Law are under a curse
(3:10). It is evident that no one is being justied before God by Law, be-
cause the righteous by faith will live (v 11). By his death on the cross, Christ
redeemed us from the curse of the law . . . so that by faith we might receive the
promise of the Spirit (vv 13-14). The Law was intended as only a temporary,
stop-gap measure until the coming of Christ (vv 19-25).
In Pauls mind, the grace of God ( 5:4), the divine gift of righteous-
ness before God ( 2:16-17; 5:5), the life Christ gives believers (2:20;
3:11, 21), life in the Spirit ( 3:1, 3, 5, 14; 4:6; 5:5, 16-18), the gift of free-
dom (1:3-4; 4:8-9; 5:1, 13), and the life of self-giving love ( 5:5-6, 13) were
experientially indistinguishable and inseparable. These are all possibilities of
grace, benets of Christs saving death. No wonder Paul was horried by the
thought that Christ died for nothing (2:21).
Law could not empower humans to achieve its central commandto
love ones neighbor as oneself (5:14). Pauls ultimate concern in narrating the
love of Christ [was] to interpret his own life as a manifestation of that kind
of love . . . and to urge his communities to embody it as well (Gorman 2001,
177). He reduced his own biography to the gospel, not the gospel to his own
experience (Lhrmann 1992, 50).
Paul closed the introduction to the body of his letter with a conditional
statement and this unthinkable conclusion: if righteousness could be gained
through the law, then Christ died for nothing. Obviously (see v 16), he did
not think Christ died for nothing. But to force Gentile Christians to keep the
Mosaic law like Jews, as Peter had done in Antioch, would nullify the grace
of God.
Despite the form of Pauls condition (see BDF, 182 360; Witherington
1998a, 192), what he clearly meant was: If it were possible to be made righ-
teous by obeying the Law (and it is not), then Christ would have died for
nothing (and he certainly did not). This prepares the way for Pauls claim in
3:1-5 that it would be folly for the Galatians through human effort to attempt
to complete what God had begun in their lives through the Spirit.
Charles Wesleys evangelical conversion came just days before John Wes-
leys own heart-warming experience. In his Journal, Charles mentions the
inuence of Luthers commentary on Gal 2:20-21: I laboured, waited, and
prayed to feel who loved me and gave himself for me (cited in Bruce 1982,
Universal Sinfulness. Paul profoundly shaped the Christian conscious-
ness that every human being was a sinner. Therefore, no one can be put right
with God on the basis of being Law-abiding. Paul shared the early Christian
conviction that only the sinless Christ could justify sinners. His Absolutely
not! demonstrates his revulsion at the very suggestion that Christ was a min-
ister of sin (v 17). Recently, new perspectives on Paul have demonstrated that
many of his Jewish contemporaries did not claim to be naturally sinless. They
recognized their covenantal relationship with God as a gracious gift. But this
did not prevent them from imagining there was no room in the covenant for
pagans who did not rst become Jews by conversion (Dunn 2005, 220-21).
Death to the Old Life. Paul described his realization as a zealous, obser-
vant Jew that he was a sinner in need of justication. To do so, he employed
the imagery of being crucied with Christ. The person he imagined he was
had to die, guratively speaking, before the person God had always intended
him to be could truly live ( 1:15). We cannot be certain how realistically
Paul conceived his crucixion with Christ. And we dare not read this passage
based on our level of comfort or discomfort with mystical experiences.
The Place of Law. Unlike most of his converts, Pauls former life was not
marked by the stereotypical sins associated with pagans (see Rom 1:18-32).
In fact, in Phil 3:6, he claimed that he was blameless according to the righ-
teousness of the Law. He did not come to Christ out of a guilty conscience or
a sense of failure. On the contrary, his success at Law-keeping was his undo-
ing (see Greathouse and Lyons 2008a, 214-22). His zeal for the Law and the
traditions of Israel drove him to persecute the people of God. Only retrospec-
tively did he come to see the failure of Law as a means of justication before
God and his former life as needing to come to an end. He had to die to Law so
he could live to God (2:19).
Paul claimed to share with all Jewish Christians the conviction that right
standing with God could not be achieved by human efforts to obey the law
of Moses. He was convinced that it was necessary to choose either Law or
Christ. The Law had served its divinely appointed purpose. It had never been
intended as a means of salvation. Nothing humans attempt to do as a means of
self-justication succeeds. But with the coming of the new age, the Law had
become obsolete.
This did not imply that obedience to God no longer mattered for Chris-
tians. But only the Spirit makes obedience possible; and the Spirit is Gods gift
received by faith. The coming of the Messiah and the age of the Spirit meant
that the nal age had already dawned.
Did Paul think the Law became obsolete at a particular date on the cal-
endar, such as April 7, A.D. 30the likely date of Jesus crucixion? Did he
think in terms of a more personal and variable date, such as the age of account-
ability, which differs from person to person? or, Does every pre-Christian
have a B.C. relationship with Law before coming to faith in Christ?
Faith of Christ. It remains a matter of dispute whether the recent empha-
sis on the faithfulness of Jesus Christ correctly interprets the genitive con-
struction traditionally translated faith in Jesus Christ. Regardless, the debate
serves as an important reminder that human faith alone is no more saving than
obedience to the Law. What Christ did alone is essential. Had he not freely
chosen to act in faithful obedience to the Father and in faithfulness to fallen
humanity, human faith would be meaningless. Human faith begins with open-
ness to his gift and continues with a refusal to receive the grace of God in vain.
B. Life in the Spirit vs. Law (3:16:10)
Paul transitioned smoothly from the narrative background (chs 12) to
the argument itself (chs 36). He urged the Galatians to choose their future
based on this historical and theological background. The narrative prepared
them to think in terms of pairs of opposites: God vs. humanity, freedom vs.
slavery, faith vs. works of Law, Christ vs. Law. So far as Paul was concerned,
their choice was obvious (see Chrysostoms Homily on Gal 2:21 cited in Ed-
wards 1999, 34). Their Christian past was to serve as the basis for their Chris-
tian future.
1. The Promise of the Spirit Fullled (3:1-18)
Preoccupation with the gift of the Spirit gives coherence to the rst ar-
gument of the letter body in three subsections:
The rst (vv 1-5) consists of a series of rhetorical questions challeng-
ing the Galatians to consider the evidence of their own experience. Only the
Spirit they received when they began their Christian lives could bring them to
nal salvation. Works of Law would count for nothing.
The second (vv 6-14) appeals to the example of Abraham epitomized
in the citation from Gen 15:6 (see Rom 4:3). Abraham was put right with
God on the basis of faith, not Law. As believers, they shared in the blessing
of Abrahamthe promise of the Spirit, because Christs crucixion brought
redemption from the curse of the Law.
The third (vv 15-18) appeals to binding human agreements as an anal-
ogy to Gods covenant with Abraham. Paul was emphatic on two points:
Gods promise to Abraham was fulflled in Christ.
The Law, given later than the promise, did not alter or annul the con-
tent or the gift character of the promise.
a. The Evidence of Personal Experience (3:1-5)
As Paul presented his argument, the Galatians future choice was clear:
deciding for God or humans. They could remain faithful to the freedom
Christ made possible through his death on the cross or return to their for-
mer slavery to pleasing people. Pauls autobiography modeled the choice they
should make. The false brothers, Peter, Barnabas, and the hypocritical Jewish
Christians of Antioch provided negative examples. Pauls embodiment of the
true gospel had called him to cruciformity ( 2:19). He invited the Galatians
to reect on their past and to choose among their possible futures the only
one that would be benecial. This was deliberative rhetoric ( Introduction).
The goal of deliberative rhetoric was to provide persuasive arguments
for pursuing a future course of action. It appealed to examples, positive and
negative, to illustrate the kind of behavior called for. Positively, Paul hoped to
persuade the Galatians that the future course he proposed would be bene-
cial and constructive. Negatively, he wanted to demonstrate that the future

offered by the Agitators was counterproductive and foolish (see 2:18; 5:2, 15,
20-21). Unless the Galatians were prepared to renounce their own experi-
ences of God, they [had to] listen to Pauls arguments (Witherington 1998a,
The transition from chs 1 and 2 to chs 36 is natural enough. Paul had
just written of the consequences of his co-crucixion with Christ in 2:19-21.
This had terminated his onetime relationship with Law. In 3:1-5, he turned to
the unexpectedly opposite experience of the Galatians. They had heard the
message of the cross placarded before their eyes. But the interference of the
Agitators had led them inexplicably to consider abandoning the cross in favor
of the Law. No wonder Paul addressed them as foolish!
Pauls address to Peter at Antioch concludes ch 2. Its indirect and im-
plicit aside to his Galatian auditors in 2:15-21 becomes direct confrontation in
3:1-5. The new section in 3:1 begins with an insulting address: foolish Gala-
tians! This is followed by a series of rhetorically challenging questions. All but
the rst are antithetically framed either-or alternatives. Each alternative pair
contrasts the divine and human.
Chapters 1 and 2 provide the background for Pauls arguments against
circumcision in the balance of the letter. Galatians 3:1-5 introduce the rst
argument in the letter body. Here Paul reminded the Galatians that the Spirit
was the basis for their shared experience as Christians. Gods Spirit was re-
sponsible for beginning and sustaining their life of faith. The Agitators could
offer only inadequate human assistance.
Within the Greco-Roman cultural world, words in the chore3g- cognate
family were associated with the generosity of wealthy patrons (BDAG, 386).
In 3:5, the intensied form of this verb, rare in Pauls letters, emphasizes the
extravagant liberality of Gods gift of the Spirit. Paul pointed out the folly of
forfeiting their God-given heritage for the poverty of human benefactors.
Did Pauls Gentile audience grasp the signicance of his emphasis upon
the Spirit as the distinguishing mark of Christian standing in these verses (
3:14; 4:6)? In Jewish end-times expectation, the future age would not only be
distinguished by the coming of the Messiah, but by the universal outpouring
of the Spirit on all humanity (Isa 32:15; 44:3; 59:21; Ezek 11:19; 36:22-32;
37:1-14; 39:29; Joel 2:28-29).
L 1 Paul began with the Greek interjection o3 (as in Rom 2:1, 3; 9:20; 1 Tim
6:20). This clearly identies the words foolish Galatians as personal address.
What is not clear is the precise nuance of both words.
Paul did not suggest that his audience was literally dim-witted or stupid.
Here (and in v 3) foolish translates a Greek term different from the ones Jesus
forbade his followers to use as a term of insult (rhaka and mo3ros in Matt 5:22).
The Galatians were not unwise (see Rom 1:22; 1 Cor 1:20, 27; 3:18; 4:10) nor
incapable of understanding. They were merely not exercising good judgment
(Louw and Nida 1989, 1:385). Did Paul consider them intellectually (Rom
1:14) or spiritually (Titus 3:3) foolish? Was his description intended to be
sympatheticOh, you poor, silly people! (see Luke 24:25)or insulting
How dumb can you get?
The precise meaning of the term Galatians is equally uncertain. It might
refer to the descendants of the Gauls, the Celtic tribes who migrated into
north-central Asia Minor during the third century B.C. But it also applied to
residents of the Roman province, which extended south into parts of the re-
gions of Lycaonia, Pamphylia, Isauria, Cilicia, and Paphlagonia (Schille 1990;
Introduction and 1:21 sidebar, Map of Asia Minor, Syria and Cilicia, and
Following the less than complimentary personal address, Paul posed a
series of questions. First, Who has bewitched you? On the literal level, the lan-
guage refers to bringing someone under the inuence of the evil eye (BDAG,
171). Elsewhere in the letter the metaphorical language of enslavement refers
to bondage to personied powers such as Sin (3:22), Law (3:23-25; 4:5), or
the basic principles of the world (4:3, 9) rather than to some evil enchant-
ress. Jerome considered this a colloquial expression, which should not be
taken as a literal reference to witchcraft (cited in Edwards 1999, 35). We
might compare our use of the word fascination with no awareness of its
origins in witchcraft (see Lightfoot 1874, 133). Luther, however, took Paul
literally, considering his reference to sorcery among the works of the esh in
5:20 as evidence that witchcraft exists (1953, 163).
The Evi l Eye
Superstitions about the evil eye were widely espoused in antiquity (and
still are in central Turkey, the home of the Galatians). The OT demonstrates an
awareness of the belief (see Deut 28:54; Sir 14:6, 8; Wis 4:12). Certain animals,
persons, demons, or gods were considered able to bring disaster on others by
simply looking at them with envy (see Elliott 1990; Eastman 2001). The evil eye
was closely connected with notions about envy, jealousy, greed, [and] stingi-
ness (Witherington 1998a, 202, citing Plutarch, Quaest. conv. 680C683B).
The verb baskaino3, used in v 2, means bewitch; baskania means envy
(BDAG, 171). In rst-century society there was great fear of the evil eye, and
there were various practices, such as curses, the use of amulets, spitting, that
were thought to ward off or neutralize the effects of the evil eye (Witherington
1998a, 202; 4:15). Spells cast by the evil eye were just one variety of sorcery /
the occult arts in the Greco-Roman world.
Paul may have thought someone had cast a spell on the Galatians. And
the Galatians may have taken him literally, regardless of his intent. Or he may
have exploited the fear of the evil eye in his day to demonize the Agitators
(Witherington 1998a, 203). But it seems more likely that he and they took it
metaphorically. The other instances of graphic imagery in v 1 (eyes and por-
trayed) lend support to this gurative reading.
The aorist tense of the verb bewitched may refer to a particular inci-
dent in which the Agitators easily took advantage of the Galatians gullibility,
robbing them of their critical faculties. That they had been duped was an ac-
complished fact. They had been entrapped by charming suitors (see 4:17-18).
Pauls interrogative pronoun, Who, suggests that one man was solely re-
sponsible for bewitching the Galatians. Was he unaware of the mans name?
Or was he well informed of the situation? Was his question merely a rhetorical
reminder that some human, not God, was to blame for their present situation?
Paul directly addressed his readers as you (hymas). This marks the rst
appearance of the second person plural pronoun since 2:5. He referred to all
the members of the churches of Galatia collectively. Contemporary readers
need to remember that we are reading anothers mail. Not everything Paul said
to them about their unique historical situation can be generalized to apply to
us. For example, Paul did not personally preach to us.
Some interpreters place more weight on Pauls use of personal pronouns
than (I think) the evidence will bear. Pauls use of the rst person plural pro-
noun we and of the second person plural you is not entirely consistent (
2:15-21 BEHIND THE TEXT). It seems unlikely that the Jewish apostle to
the Gentiles made a point of using we to refer only to himself and other Jews
or Jewish Christians. He did not use we in its various inected forms (us,
our) always to the exclusion of his Gentile audience. And his you (and
your) does not always refer only to the Galatians, to the exclusion of Jews
and Jewish Christians. Although it is possible to make sense of Pauls argu-
ment in places with such distinctions in mind, it seems a stretch to make it
work throughout the letter.
Contemporary English translations might appear to indicate that Paul
followed his rst question with a statement. But the third sentence in v 1Be-
fore your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as cruciedis a Greek
relative clause. It is a part of the question, which modies the plural pronoun
you. By metonymy, eyes represented whole persons. Thus, Before your very
eyes meant To you. The imagery of the evil eye probably explains the use of
this gure of speech.
The passive form of the verb (was . . . portrayed) leaves the preacher
anonymous. Both Paul and the Galatians knew it was he who clearly portrayed
Christ crucied to them (see 4:13). Why did he fail to mention his role in
their conversions? Did he highlight again the divine-human antithesis ( 1:1,
6-9) and assign full responsibility for their conversions to God?
Rather than the expected verbs ke3rysso3 (proclaim aloud; BDAG,
543) or euangelizo3 (proclaim the gospel; BDAG, 402), Paul used prographo3
(show forth / portray publicly, proclaim or placard in public; also in Rom
15:4 and Eph 3:3; BDAG, 867) to describe his preaching. His Spirit-inspired
account of the crucixion painted a graphic and memorable word picture. Paul
would characterize the content of his preaching as Christ . . . crucifed (see 1
Cor 1:13, 23; 2:2) even more starkly in Gal 5:11 as the offense of the cross
(see 6:12, 14).
This is the second of six times that the verb stauroo3, crucify, appears
in Galatians ( 2:20; 5:11, 24; 6:12, 14). It appears only thirteen times else-
where in all Pauls letters. Six of these are in 1 Corinthians, a letter nearly
three times the length of Galatians. Twice in the salutation of Galatians (1:1,
4) and twice in the report of his speech to Peter (2:20, 21), he referred to the
death of Christ, without mentioning its violent mode. Obviously, the para-
doxically shameful yet redeeming death of Christ occupies a central place in
L 2 Paul introduced his second question with the ironic words, I would like to
learn just one thing from you. Irony seems implicit in Pauls choice of verbs.
Mathein, to learn, is from the same cognate family as the noun describing Jesus
followers as disciplesmathe3tai. Was Paul actually to be taught by his foolish
Nowhere else in the Pauline letters is the expected teacher-disciple hier-
archy similarly reversed (see Rom 16:17; 1 Cor 4:6; 14:31, 35; Eph 4:20; Phil
4:9, 11; Col 1:7; 1 Tim 2:11; 5:4, 13; 2 Tim 3:7, 14; Titus 3:14). Surely the Ga-
latians did not imagine they could turn the apostle into their disciple. Perhaps
his irony reects his consternation that they would even consider circumcision
an improvement on his gospel. Were they trying to persuade him that their
circumcision might spare them unnecessary suffering ( 5:11; 6:12)?
In the Greek question, the words works of Law stand rst in the sen-
tence, giving them special emphasis. Paul posed a simple either-or question to
the Galatians. Was the source of their experience of the Spiritfrom works
of Law or hearing of faith? He treated receiving the Spirit as an adequate
description of the experiential content of becoming a Christian. He was per-
suaded that every Christian had the Spirit of Christ (see Rom 8:9). Having
the Spirit was the irrefutable evidence that one had been justied ( Gal
The logically passive verb you receive presumes that God was the unex-
pressed giver of the Spirit (see Gal 3:14; Rom 8:15; 1 Cor 2:12; 2 Cor 11:4). In
Gal 3:5 from works of Law again serves as the negative foil for the gift of the
Spirit. There again Paul referred indirectly to God as the One who continues
to give you the Spirit.
The aorist tense of the verb you receive points to the Galatians conver-
sion / baptism. At this moment they rst received the gift of the Spirit. Paul
asked them to validate the source of their Christian existence based on their
own experience: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believ-
ing what you heard?
The Spirit, unmentioned until now, plays a signicant role throughout
the balance of the letter (see Lull 1980). A measure of the importance of
Pauls appeals to the Spirit may be seen in its antithetical opposites (With-
erington 1998a, 211). Each represents one aspect of the human side of the
divine-human antithesis stressed from the beginning of the letter:
works of Law (3:1-2)
Law (4:5-6; 5:18)
desires of the fesh (vv 16-17, 24-25)
works of the fesh (vv 19-23)
fesh (3:3; 6:8; Lull 1980, 27)
The rst alternative to faith in the gospel as the basis for the Galatians
experience of the Spirit is by observing the law (lit., by works of Law;
2:16). Even a foolish hearer of the letter must have realized this was incorrect
in Pauls view. Nothing humans could do would bring them into a right rela-
tionship with God. In case they missed it, he asserted in 3:10 that all who rely
on works of Law are under a curse.
In 3:2, the preposition ek (by) identies the potential origin, cause, [or]
reason why God gave the Spirit to the Galatians. The object of the preposi-
tion, works, refers to the things people do. The genitive noun, of Law, modi-
fying works, identies the legally binding deeds humans must do (an objective
or descriptive genitive; 2:16 sidebar, Law in Galatians). Beyond the four
Galatian references already noted, Paul used the expression ex ergo3n nomou
only in Rom 3:20. At the crucial conclusion of his case for the universal scope
of human sinfulness in Rom 1:183:20, he insisted that no one will be de-
clared righteous in Gods sight by works of Law; rather, through Law we
become conscious of Sin.
Paul considered the second alternative in Gal 3:2 correct. The Greek
phrase by hearing of faith is interpretively translated by believing what you
heard (e.g., NIV, NRSV, ISV, NET). No one becomes a Christian without rst hear-
ing and obediently responding to the preaching of the good news about Christ
(see Rom 10:14-18). Hays (1983, 143-45) summarizes ve ways in which ex
akoe3s pisteo3s has been translated:
from faithful hearing (hearing with faith [NASB and ESV])
from hearing (that is, from faith)
from hearing the faith
from the message that calls for faith
from the message about the faith
For obvious reasons, the biblical tradition frequently associates hearing
(akouo3) with heeding (hypakouo3; see 1 Kgs 22:19-23; Isa 6; Jer 1:11-16; Ezek 1;
Amos 7:1-9; 8:1-3; 9:1-4; Mark 4:9; Kittel 1964a). To hear the gospel appro-
priately was to respond to the divine message in obedience. Thus, the hearing
of faith here may be the equivalent of the obedience of faith in Rom 1:5 (see
15:18; Greathouse and Lyons 2008a, 44). The essential difference between
observing the law and faithful hearing is the content of the message. The gos-
pel of the crucied Christ did not authorize anarchy or licentiousness.
L 3 Paul introduced his third question in Gal 3:3 with the preparatory ques-
tion, Are you so foolish? The word translated foolish is the same one as in v 1.
The word so did not invite the Galatians to evaluate to what degree they were
or were not foolish. Rather, Paul wanted them to consider how (i.e., in what
way) their folly expressed itself.
So, he asked: Are you proving your folly in this way: When you began
your Christian life by the Spirit, are you now trying to complete it by the
esh? The aorist participle translated beginning invited the Galatians to recall
their conversions / baptisms as Christians (see 2 Cor 8:6; Phil 1:6).
The dative noun pneumati, with the Spirit, indicates how the Galatians
began as Christians. The Holy Spirit was the divine agent who launched them
on their Christian journey. Thus, it was foolish for them now to attempt to
reach their destination sarki, by the esh. The NIVs by human effort cor-
rectly captures the force of this dative of agency. Throughout Galatians the
contrast between Spirit and esh functions as a subtype of the divine-human
antithesis central to Pauls argumentative strategy from the beginning (
2:16 sidebar, Flesh). Here, esh may be a metonym for circumcision, the
entrance ritual for the Mosaic covenant (see Gen 17:13; Sir 44:20; Wither-
ington 1998a, 214).
Another repeated antithesis throughout Galatians involves the temporal
adverb now:
in 1:23 in contrast with formerly
in 2:20 as the polar opposite of no longer
in 4:9 and 29 opposed to Formerly and at that time
in 4:25, contrasting the present [nyn] Jerusalem and the Jerusalem
that is above (v 26)
Only Gal 3:3 lacks an explicit counterpart to now. But the contrast between
the way the Galatians began their lives as Christians in the past and the way
they were attempting to continue them in the present is clearly in view.
The aorist participle beginning describes what once was true of Pauls
audience in spite of the action stated in the main verb. Thus, the adverbial
participle might be translated as a concessive: Although you began with the
Spirit . . . (NET). But the implicit formerly-now contrast lends support for a
temporal translation: When you began by the Spirit . . . (see ESV, HCSB, ISV, NAB,
The present tense of the main verb, you are nishing, might suggest that
the Galatians succeeded in perfecting their Christian lives through their own
efforts. But Paul obviously assumed this was impossible. Thus, the verb must
be a tendential present. They attempted to improve on the Spirits work, but
could not: . . . are you now trying to complete it by the esh? (BDAG, 383).
L 4 Pauls fourth question makes his negative assessment of the proposed
changes the Agitators had in mind for the Galatians perfectly obvious. If they
were to turn from faith in Christ alone to works of Law (v 2) or from depend-
ing on the Spirit to the esh (v 3), the truth of the gospel (1:6-9; 2:5, 14)
would be lost. But something even more serious was at stake.
Twice in 3:4 Paul used the adverb eike3i, for nothing, to describe the Ga-
latians Christian experiences. In 4:11, he expressed his fear that the changes
they were making could mean that his labors in their behalf would be wasted
(eike3i). In 1 Cor 15:2, he wrote of the dangerous possibility of believing in
vain (eike3i), and forfeiting the prospect of future salvation, by failing to hold
rmly to the word [he] preached.
Paul made a similar point in Gal 5:2, cautioning that Christ will be of
no value to Gentile Christians who let themselves be circumcised. In 5:4 he
warned that those who try to be justied by law have been alienated from
Christ; . . . fallen away from grace.
Pauls fourth question is: Have you suffered so much for nothingif it
really was for nothing? The Greek verb translated suffered here expresses
the passive idea corresponding to the active idea of did. That is, it refers to
everything that befalls a person, whether good or illwhat people experi-
ence as opposed to what they do. Thus, BDAG translates v 4a: have you had
such remarkable experiences in vain? (785). A number of recent English trans-
lations prefer instead the neutral term experience (see GNT, NAB, NCV, NLT,
NRSV, RSV, TNIV) here.
In most NT passages (e.g., Luke 22:15; 24:46; Acts 1:3; 3:18; 17:3; Heb
2:18; 5:8; 1 Pet 2:20) the verb had a largely negative nuancea painful expe-
rience, the endurance of suffering (BDAG, 785; in Pauls letters: 1 Cor 12:26;
Phil 1:29; 1 Thess 2:14; 2 Thess 1:5; 2 Tim 1:12). But does it in Gal 3:4? Like
the verbs beginning and end in v 3, learn (in v 2) and experience (v 3) often
appear as a pair in Greek literature (Betz 1979, 134 n. 67). This would sup-
port taking the verb in the neutral rather than a negative sense.
This reading is also supported by the grammatical antecedents of so
many things (BDAG, 1012) here. The most obvious antecedents would be
the prior events Paul reported in the present literary context, specically the
hearing his graphic account of the Crucifxion,
being persuaded by what they heard,
becoming Christians,
receiving the Spirit, and
witnessing miracles in their midst.
To defend the translation suffered, interpreters must make a speculative
reconstruction of events in the world behind the text. Two passages within the
letter hint that the Galatians suffered for their faith (see Rendall 1903, 167):
Pauls mention that the illness, which frst brought him to Galatia, was
a trial to them ( 4:14), and
The conclusion of his allegory of Abrahams two wives: At that time
the son born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the pow-
er of the Spirit. It is the same now ( 4:29).
If the Agitators were persecuting the Galatians, why would they nd
their gospel attractive? Paul suggests that the Agitators attered the Gala-
tians (vv 17-18). Would they have recognized the Agitators deceptive per-
suasive tactics as persecution apart from Pauls allegations of their sinister
intentions ( 5:7-8; 6:11)? Galatians 6:11 might imply that the appeal of the
circumcision gospel was that it was persecution-free.
Suf f eri ng and Earl y Chri st i ani t y
Paul suffered for preaching the gospel of Christ (see 1 Cor 4:8-13; 15:30-
32; 2 Cor 1:3-11; 4:7-12, 16-18; 6:3-10; 11:22-29; 12:7-10; Gal 4:19; 6:17; Phil 1:12-
17; 1 Thess 1:6; 2:2, 15). Did he suffer vicariously in behalf of the church to spare
it from suffering (see Col 1:24; 1 Thess 2:9)? Or was suffering the typical experi-
ence of ordinary believers (see Rom 5:3; 8:17-18)? Did believers suffer because
they were believers, or despite the fact that they were believers? That is, was
suffering the normal human experience believers shared with unbelievers because
they continued to live in the present evil age (Gal 1:4; see Rom 8:19-25, 31-39)?
What did Paul mean when he claimed that his converts participated in his
sufferings (2 Cor 1:7; 4:12; 11:4, 9; Eph 3:13; Phil 1:30; 4:14) and in the sufferings
of Christ (Phil 1:29; 3:10)? Did their shared suffering consist only in a deeply felt
empathy (see Rom 12:15)? Or were they victims of the same kinds of suffering the
apostle experienced (1 Thess 1:6; 2:2, 14-16)?
Paul had persecuted Jewish Christians before he became a Christian (1 Cor
15:9; Gal 1:13, 23; Phil 3:6). Explicit statements in his letters indicate that some
of his churches experienced suffering, painful trials, opposition, and persecution
because of their faith (see 2 Cor 8:1-2; Phil 1:27-30; 1 Thess 1:6; 2:14; 3:3-4, 7;
2 Thess 1:4-7). But was this true of all his churches? Regardless, it would seem
from Pauls advice in 1 Thess 4:11-12 that he did not consider persecution some-
thing his converts should actively seek.
Paul identied some of the suffering of his converts as self-inicted. That
is, it was a result of their sinful choices: church discipline (2 Cor 2:5-11) or divine
judgment (1 Cor 10:11-14; 11:29-32, 34). And he apparently thought of some
Christian suffering as the result of illness (Gal 4:13; Phil 2:25-30). That is, some
things Christians suffered were not because they are believers, but simply because
they were human. It was a negative experience to which all mortals were subject.
Suffering does not seem to have been the routine or universal experience
of all Pauls churches (see 1 Cor 4:8-13 [appreciating the irony]; 1 Thess 4:11-
12) or all early Christians (see 1 Cor 11:27-34). Therefore, it might be better to
translate the word epathete in Gal 3:4 in the neutral sense of experience rather
than suffer.
In v Gal 3:4b, Paul added a disclaimer to his fourth question: Did you
experience so much for nothing?if it really was for nothing (NRSV). Despite
the changes the Galatians had already made or were considering making, he
seemed to assume that they were not beyond recovery.
This should not be taken as evidence for some kind of once saved always
saved eternal security. His hope that their previous experiences were not
wasted did not depend on the assumption that God would save them single-
handedly, in spite of their rebellion. It was because he was condent that his
letter would succeed in persuading them to see the error of their ways and to
return to the truth of the gospel.
L 5 Pauls fth question essentially repeats his second. But it shifts the per-
spective from the Galatians receiving of the Spirit (v 2) to Gods giving of the
Spirit. Besides giving the Spirit, Paul refers to Gods working miracles among
them. But his reference to God is not explicit in Greek (despite the NIV).
Pauls Greek indicates that his nal question summarized the implica-
tions of the entire series: Therefore, does the One who offers [epichore3go3n]
you all the Spirit and who works [energo3n] deeds of power among you all do
so by works of Law or by hearing of faith?
God is the implied subject of both Greek verbs ( 1:5). The rst is rare
in Pauls letters (elsewhere only in 2 Cor 9:10; Col 2:19). In Phil 1:19 the cog-
nate noun epichore3 gia, help, is associated with the Spirit. Although the verb
in Gal 3:5 might be translated gives, the translation offers or provides (NASB)
seems preferable. Its present tense emphasizes the ongoing availability of the
Spirit, not a particular moment when believers receive the Spirit ( 3:2).
The cultural connotations of Pauls word choice almost certainly impressed his
rst readers with the generosity of Gods extravagant gift of the Spirit ( 3:1-5
The Gi f t of t he Spi ri t
Normally, Paul used some form of the verb dido3mi, give (see Rom 5:5; 1
Cor 12:7, 8; 2 Cor 1:22; 5:5; Eph 1:17; 1 Thess 4:8; 2 Tim 1:7) to refer to Gods
gift of the Holy Spirit. In Gal 4:6, he referred to Gods sending (from apostelo3) of
the Spirit. As a result, the Spirit dwells (from oikeo3; see Rom 8:9, 11; 1 Cor 3:16;
2 Tim 1:14) within the church, and lls (from ple3roo3) it with Gods empowering
presence (Eph 5:18). Thus, all believers have (from echo3; see Rom 8:9, 23; 1 Cor
6:19; 7:40; 2 Cor 4:13) the Spirit. They are led (from ago3) by (Rom 8:14), walk
(from peripateo3) by (Gal 5:16), made alive (from zao3) by and keep in step (stoi-
cheo3) with (v 25) the Spirit.
We can only guess what kinds of miracles God may have worked among
the Galatians. The word translated miracles, dynamis, has a great range of
meaning in the NT (Friedrich 1990a, 358). It probably refers to miraculous
powers in Pauls list of spiritual gifts in 1 Cor 12:10 (see Matt 14:2; Mark
3: 6-14
6:14). But it can refer to more ordinary, God-facilitated activities (see Eph
1:18-20; 3:20; Col 1:29).
The Greek participle in Gal 3:5 is an intensive form of the verb work.
The English word energy is derived from it. In Rom 7:5 and 1 Cor 4:12 it
clearly refers to an invisible, internal activity, not an external and obvious,
awe-inspiring event, which might call for the translation miracle. In Gal 2:8
Paul referred to Gods activity that empowered (energe3sas) Peter to his minis-
try with Jews; and, Paul to his ministry with Gentiles. In 5:6 he claimed that
the only thing that matters is faith expressing [energoumene3] itself through
Thus, Pauls point in 3:5 may have been simply that God did things
in their lives they could never have done for themselves (see TM). This ts
the context better than the consensus of English translations, which refers to
miracles. The Spirit sometimes empowers believers to live courageously, obe-
diently, and effectively in the quiet miracle of transformed lives (see Friedrich
1990a, 357-58).
Pauls fth question asked the Galatians to choose between the same
two alternatives as in v 2: Did God powerfully work in your lives by works of
Law or because you believe what you heard? The differences between the
options in vv 2 and 5 exist only in English translations ( v 2).
Paul assumed that God gives the Spirit only to those who believe the
gospel of Christ. And in the next section of the letter, he attempted to prove
it by appeal to the Scriptures.
b. Proof by Appeal to Scripture: The Example of Abraham
Chrysostom plausibly construes the argumentative logic connecting Gal
3:1-5 and 6-14: Faith was the basis for Gods effective working among the
Galatians, apart from the Law. It was equally powerful in the life of Abraham,
before the Law was given. Paul assured them that faith, not Law, was the basis
for their kinship to Abraham (cited by Edwards 1999, 38).
Abrahams justication proved the apostles case that right standing with
God was entirely Gods doing, not a result of human effort. As he would later
in Rom 4, Paul appealed to the example of Abraham in Gen 1217. Was ap-
pealing to Abraham Pauls idea? Or, did the Agitators make this necessary?
The position occupied by Abraham in Jewish tradition seems to provide
the framework for Pauls exposition of Gen 1217. Here Abraham was not
simply one biblical gure among many, or even a particularly suitable choice.
He was the prototypical Jew. The choices Abraham made and the promises he
received were believed to be representative of the future of the entire nation.
It was impossible to dene Israel without dening Abraham and what it
3: 6-14
meant to be his offspring (Gal 3:15-18). This may explain why Paul claimed
Abraham for the Christian faith, to show that believers, not observers of the
Law, are the offspring of Abraham and heirs of the promise he received (see
Gen 12:1-3).
Paul had to achieve two things in his scriptural recasting of Abraham.
First, he had to show that Scripture presented Abraham primarily as a person
of faith. He was made right with God on the basis of faith alone. Second, he
had to demonstrate that it was on the basis of righteousness by faith, apart from
the Law, that Abraham received for himself and his descendants the blessings
of salvation contained in Gods threefold promise (3:6-14). Although the ter-
minology of promise (v 14) is not explicit in Genesis, Gods words to Abraham
were understood by Paul and his contemporaries in these terms.
Blessing: The sequence of events in Gen 1217 is crucial to Pauls argu-
ment. The biblical account of Abraham begins with Gods call and promise
of sevenfold blessing in 12:1-3. Paul focused his attention particularly on the
seventh: all peoples of earth will be blessed through you (Gen 12:3; see Gal
3:8). This same promise is repeated in slightly different words in Gen 18:18
(following Abrahams entertaining of the three divine guests) and in 22:18
(following his obedient but aborted attempt to offer Isaac).
Despite Abrahams obedient response, he remained childless. And one
potential heir after another was disqualiedLot (Gen 13), Eliezer (Gen 15),
and Ishmael (Gen 1617). In response to Abrahams complaint about his
childlessness (Gen 15:2-3), God made two additional promises to Abraham:
progeny and land.
God promised Abraham that he would have a son and progeny as nu-
merous as the stars of heaven (Gen 15:4-5). To this specic promise he re-
sponded in faith (15:6a). And Scripture comments: God credited it to him as
righteousness (15:6b; Gal 3:6). After a lengthy covenant-making ceremony
(Gen 15:7-20), God promised Abraham that his descendants would inherit
the land of Canaan on which he stood (Gen 12:7; 13:15; 17:8; 24:7). Notably,
the land promise follows the gift of righteousness by faith and the progeny
Noncanonical Jewish tradition equated the land promise with the
promise that Abraham would bless all peoples on earth (see Gen 12:3). Ca-
naan came to represent the entire world (see Sir 44:21; Jub. 17:3; 22:14; 32:19;
1 En. 5:7; 4 Ezra 6:59). In an eschatological and transcendent sense, it was un-
derstood to comprehend even the world to come and the blessings of salvation
(see Matt 5:5; Heb 1:2). To be at Abrahams side came to be equated with
apocalyptic notions of paradise, the heavenly banquet, the intermediate state,
and even the consummated kingdom of God (see Luke 13:28-29; 16:22).
At stake in the discussion concerning Abraham in Gal 3:6-29 is nothing
less than the denition of Gods eschatological people: Who are the progeny
of Abraham? Who may have a share in the world to come, and upon what
3: 6-14
terms? Paul appealed to Scripture to establish a place for uncircumcised be-
lievers within the community of salvation.
Contemporary Judaism (see Jas 2:18-24) considered Abraham the ar-
chetypical Jew. His exemplary faithfulness to the covenant involved observing
the Law before it was given. And it was on this basis that he was counted as
righteous. Jewish apocryphal writings claim that Abraham did not need grace,
because he perfectly observed the unwritten law of God (e.g., Jub. 16:28;
17:15-18; 18:16; 19:8; 24:11; 2 Bar. 57:1-2). Paul takes a 180-degree different
view of Abraham and the Law in Gal 3:19-29.
Had Paul appealed to the story of Abraham in his preaching on his visit
to Galatia? If so, he must have depended mostly on Gen 15:6, arguing, much
as he did in Galatians and Romans, that Abraham was the father of all believ-
ers, Jews and Gentiles. He almost certainly did not mention Gen 17, especially
vv 9-14. This passage insists that Gods covenant with Abraham required all
his male offspring to be circumcised. If they were not, they would be cut off
from his people (v 14).
Had the Agitators appealed to Gen 17 to urge circumcision upon the
Galatians? Or did the Galatians reach the conclusion that they needed to be
circumcised entirely on their own, by simply continuing to read Genesis be-
yond ch 15 ( Introduction)? We can only speculate. All we know with cer-
tainty about the situation depends on what Paul disclosed in his letter.
In some Jewish documents from Pauls day, we learn how and to what
extent he parted company with the rabbis on Abraham.
Some believed Abraham was reckoned as righteous because he proved
his faithfulness by offering Isaac (1 Macc 2:52; Sir 44:21; see Heb
11:8-12). His faithfulness in this test was meritorious for Abraham
and his descendants (see Longenecker 1990, 110-11).
Others considered Abraham the model Jew, who proved his faithful-
ness to God by observing the Law, particularly circumcision, centuries
before it was commanded (1 Macc 2:52; Sir 44:19-21; 2 Bar. 57:1-2;
Jub. 16:28; 17:15-18; 18:16; 19:824:11; esp. 23:10; CD 3:2; Philo,
Abr. 262-74 and Praem. 27; see Barrett 1963, 25-26).
Pauls Jewish contemporaries agreed that Abraham was justied by works of
Law! (contrast Gal 3:5).
Did the Agitators presume the traditional Jewish reading of the story
of Abraham in opposition to Pauls alternative view? Or, did Paul develop
his view of Abraham in response to the confusion created by the Agitators
interjection of the rabbinic understanding into the churches of Galatia? We
cannot be certain who set the exegetical agenda. Some scholars argue that
Pauls choice of texts and exegetical method was determined by the Agitators
(so Barrett 1976 / 1982). Others insist that, if Paul knew their arguments,
he could not simply have ignored the passages to which they most likely ap-
pealedGen 17:9-14 and Lev 12:3 (Witherington 1998a, 218).
3: 6

L 6 Paul began his exposition of the Abraham story with an abbreviated
Scripture-citation formula (see Betz 1979, 140 n. 13; Rom 1:17; 2:24; 3:4,
10; 4:17; 8:36; 9:13, 29, 33; 10:15; 11:8, 26; 15:3, 9, 21; 1 Cor 1:31; 2:9;
10:7; 2 Cor 8:15; 9:9; compare 2 Cor 6:16). Pauls failure to identify Gen
15:6 explicitly as Scripture is probably not signicant ( Gal 3:8). In Rom
4:2 he introduces his quotation of Gen 15:6 with the words, What does the
Scripture say?
Paul quoted the LXX of Gen 15:6 with three minor changes:
He omitted the initial conjunction And.
He replaced Genesis Abram with Abraham, a change that does not
occur until Gen 17:5.
He moved the name Abraham to the rst position in the sentence.
The aorist tense of the verb believed has an ingressive force, emphasizing
the beginning of Abrahams walk of faith ( Gal 2:16). Abraham began to
believe in God. Genesis emphasizes that Abraham believed Gods promise of
innumerable offspring (15:5). The second clause of the quotation identies
the result of the rst: Because Abraham trusted God, it was credited to him
as righteousness (Gal 3:6b).
God justied Abraham simply because he trusted Gods word (2:16, 17;
3:8, 11, 24; and 5:4). The verb was credited, accounted (KJV) or reckoned
(NASB, NRSV, RSV), is an accounting term meaning to set down on the credit
side. Paul used it metaphorically (as in Mal 3:16, which refers to Gods re-
cord book of human deeds [see Exod 32:32; Pss 56:8; 69:28; Isa 65:6; Dan
7:10; 12:1; Mal 3:16; Phil 4:3; Rev 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15; Sanday and
Headlam 1929, 100]). The unstated actor in the transaction is obviously God.
Because Abraham trusted God, God gave him credit for something he had not
Abr aham i n Romans 4
Pauls later utilization of the Abraham story in Rom 4 elaborates on the
meaning of the verb reckoned in the midrash style of Jewish rabbis. He employed
their method to undermine their assumptions about Abraham. Following rabbinic
precedents, he appealed to Ps 32:1, in which the same verb appears. The method
assumed that such passages were mutually interpretive. Thus, to be counted righ-
teous was to be forgiven. Abraham was a justied sinner. Justication was not a
divine stamp of approval on a life of awless obedience, for God justies the
wicked (Rom 4:5). Despite their obvious similarities, the two passages approach
Abraham differently. And it is inappropriate to explain Galatians by appeal to
Pauls later letter to the Romans.
L 7 Pauls quotation of Gen 15:6 led to an immediate application. The verb
gino3skete could be construed as a commandUnderstandor a conclusion
you see (NRSV). In either case, his point was to introduce an inference. Since
God credited Abraham with righteousness, because he believed God, you
may be sure, then (BDAG, 127, s.v. ara) that people of faith are Abrahams
Paul moved easily from the verb form pisteuo3, believe, in v 6 to the relat-
ed noun form, pistis, faith, in v 7. What is obvious in Greek is less so in English.
Those who believe is literally the ones from faith. The contrast between faith
and works of Law introduced in 2:16 () continues in 3:2 and 5. Did God
give the Galatians the Spirit because they heard with faith or because they did
works of Law? The ones from faith; these are sons of Abraham.
The antithetical framing of Pauls argument implies that the descen-
dants of Abraham (NRSV; see Lightfoot 1874, 156-59; and Burton 1920, 156-
59) are dened on the basis of faith, not on the basis of works of Law. The
mention of Gentiles in v 8 suggests that ones ethnicitynatural descentis
not a factor. But neither is ones gender ( 3:26-29). There is no reason to
think Pauls masculine plural noun, huioi (lit., sons), referred only to Abra-
hams male descendants. Thus, the translation children (KJV, NIV) is appropri-
ate. This gender-neutral rendering may be traced back to Tyndales sixteenth-
century chyldren. Galatians clearly addressed both males and females.
This becomes explicit in 3:26-29: You are all sons of God through
faith in Christ Jesus (v 26). Gender distinctions are inconsequential,
for you are all one in Christ Jesus (v 28).
It is also implicit in his use of the gender-neutral term tekna, chil-
dren, in 4:19, 25, 27, 28, and 31.
In the patriarchal culture of the rst century A.D., Pauls inclusion of
women among Abrahams sons may have elevated their status to equality. In
our gender-conscious culture, however, it may communicate the unintended
suggestion that women are excluded from the family of Gods chosen people.
Thus, children is the most appropriate translation. Of course, Paul used nei-
ther sons nor children in a literal biological sense. Their descent from Abra-
ham was dened by faith, not Law observance or ethnicity. To identify believ-
ers metaphorically as children emphasized the kinship-like relationship they
enjoyed with Abraham.
In Matt 5:45 and Luke 6:35 Jesus identied Gods children based on their
love, which was as all-inclusive as that of their heavenly Father. Similarly, John
8:31-47 denes paternity in terms of deeds, not natural descent. Gods children
relate to others as God does to them. Just so, Abrahams children follow his
example. Since Abraham believed God, so do his children. To be Abrahams
children in this NT sense means sharing his faith, not his genes. In Gal 3:15-18,
Paul would employ rabbinic exegesis to demonstrate the absurdity of the notion
that ones status as Abrahams children could be dened by the Law.
3: 8
L 8 Verse 8 provides the scriptural evidence for Pauls conclusion in v 7. Paul
quoted the LXX of Gen 12:3 (compare 18:18 and 22:18) as prophetic. Using
personication, Paul claimed that the Scripture foresaw what God would do
in the future. What was future for Abraham, Paul identied as the present age
of fulllment in which he and his readers lived.
Paul always cited the OT as the Scripture (singular) when it was the
subject of a sentence (in the nominative case, as in Rom 4:3; 9:17; 10:11; 11:2;
Gal 3:8, 22; 4:30; 1 Tim 5:18; 2 Tim 3:16). In the oblique cases, he referred
to it as the Scriptures (plural, as in Rom 1:2; 15:4; 16:26; 1 Cor 15:3, 4).
Before citing the scriptural quotation, Paul explained its implications
with the clause: that God would justify the Gentiles by faith. In Greek, the
means of justicationby faith (see Gal 2:16; 3:2, 5, 6)stands in the em-
phatic rst position.
In 3:6 and 7, Paul treated (the verb) believe and having (the noun)
faith as equivalent. Similarly, he treated being credited with righteousness
(the abstract noun dikaiosyne3 in v 6) as equivalent to God justifying (the verb
dikaioi in v 8) someone (see Winger 1999). In both instances, the Greek verbs
and nouns belong to the same cognate families, which would have been obvi-
ous to his Greek-speaking audience. Unfortunately, English convention em-
ploys two different cognate families for the nouns and the verbs, obscuring
this connection.
Paul typically used the passive voice of the verb dikaioo3 to refer to the
act of being made righteous / justied. This allowed him to bring the recipi-
ents into the foreground of Gods activity. Of its twenty-seven appearances in
Pauls letters, v 8 is one of just six instances (Rom 3:26, 30; 4:5; 8:30 [twice],
33) in which he used the verb in the active voice. Only here is God explicitly
and emphatically identied as the grammatical subject of the verb: God justi-
The Greek term ethne3 appears twice in v 8. It is translated Gentiles in
its rst instance (as in Gal 1:16; 2:2, 8, 9, 12, 14, 15; and 3:14); and, nations
in its second. For English readers, this obscures the obvious relevance of the
quotation to the apostles argument.
Some NT authors used the singular form, ethnos, with the neutral mean-
ing nation, applying it to the people of Israel as well as to foreigners (see, e.g.,
Matt 24:7; Mark 13:8; Luke 7:5; 21:10; 23:2; John 11:48, 50, 51, 52; 18:35;
Acts 2:5; 10:22, 35; 17:26; 24:2; 26:4; 28:19; Rev 5:9; 7:9; 14:6). But Paul
never used the term in the singular, following standard OT and Jewish usage.
He reserved the term ethne3 for non-Jews. During the NT period, Jews in gen-
eral distinguished the Hebrew terms (am, referring to the Jews as the people
of God, and go=yim, the non-Israelite peoples, that is, Gentiles.
3: 8
Gent i l es as Et hnophaul i sm
Jews consistently associated a negative value judgment with the term Gen-
tiles. The term was intended as an ethnophaulisman ethnic slur. Jews consis-
tently stereotyped non-Jews as different from them using unattering terms (see
Matt 5:47; 6:7, 32; 8:11; Mark 10:42; Luke 12:30). Pauls letters reect some such
standard cultural assumptions: Gentiles do not know God (1 Thess 4:5). They
are sinners by nature (Gal 2:15; see 1 Cor 5:1; 12:2).
The Gospels often call attention to uncharacteristic exceptions to the
rule. Jesus recognized some Gentiles as more responsive to his message than
his Jewish contemporaries (e.g., Matt 3:9; 8:5-13; 11:20-24; 12:41-42; Mark 7:25-
30; Luke 17:12-19). Early Hellenistic Christians were willing to include Gentiles
without demanding that they adopt the customary Jewish boundary markers,
particularly circumcision. This liberal stance is apparently what led Paul in his
pre-Christian days to persecute Christians (Gal 1:13, 23).
After his encounter with the risen Christ, Paul became the churchs chief
defender of the Gentile mission. In Romans he insisted that Jews were no less
natural-born sinners than Gentiles (Rom 2:13:20, 23). Since there is only one
God, Paul concluded that he is equally the God of Gentiles and Jews (3:29). Paul
identied himself as called by God to be an apostle to the Gentiles (Gal 1:15-16;
2:2, 7-9; Rom 1:5; 15:6-18; 16:26; Eph 3:1-10; Col 1:27; 1 Tim 2:7; 2 Tim 4:17).
Because of his ministry among the Gentiles, Paul himself became a victim of
Jewish persecution (1 Thess 2:16; see Acts 17:5-15; 18:12-17; 20:3; 21:19-22, 27-
28). In Gal 5:11, he hinted that he was persecuted because he no longer preached
circumcision. In 6:12 he alleged that those who agitated the Galatians to become
circumcised did so only to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ.
Unlike most of Pauls Jewish contemporaries and some Jewish Christians,
he refused to dismiss the go=yim, Gentiles, as those who are far from God, even
enemies of God, or at least not elect by God (Walter 1990a, 382). He perhaps
used the term Gentile reluctantly. Both ethne3 and akrobysia were, after all,
intended as ethnic slurs. In Gal 3:28 he used the term Helle3n, Greek, as the
counterpart to Ioudaios, Jew (so also Rom 1:14, 16; 2:9, 10; 3:9; 10:12; 1 Cor
1:22, 24; 10:32; 12:13; Gal 2:3; Col 3:11).
Before citing Gen 12:3, Paul again interpretively characterized its im-
port: the Scripture . . . announced the gospel in advance to Abraham. This
includes the only NT appearance of the verb proeue3ngelisato. The compound
prexes the preposition before to the familiar verb preach the gospel (twenty-
one times in Pauls letters; thirty-one times elsewhere in the NT). Paul nor-
mally reserved this verb to describe the Christian message about Jesus Christ,
particularly his death and resurrection (1 Thess 3:6 is the only exception).
What Paul identied as good news here predated the coming of Christ
by nearly two millennia. And he did not focus on Christ, the divine benefactor
who made the good news possible, but on the unexpected beneciaries. The
3: 8-10
gospel was anticipated in Gods promise of blessing to Abraham, which Paul
adapted from Gen 12:3All nations will be blessed through you. Instead of
All nations the LXX has all tribes on earth.
Pauls quotation does not exactly follow any of Genesis repetitions of
this promise.
In 17:4-6, God tells Abraham, You will be the father of many na-
tions. . . . for I have made you a father of many nations. . . . I will make
nations of you. But it fails to mention the blessing.
In 18:18, God reports his promise: All nations on earth will be blessed
through him. It uses the third person (him rather than you) and
adds on earth.
In 22:18, God promises Abraham: All nations on earth will be
blessed. But he does not say through you, rather through your off-
spring. And he adds the rationale, because you have obeyed me.
Gods repetition of the promise to Isaac in 26:4-5 would have been
even more problematic for Pauls purposes: Through your offspring
all nations on earth will be blessed, because Abraham obeyed me and
kept my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws.
Paul understood the promised blessing to have been based entirely on faith
and to have had the nature of proto-gospel.
L 9 Paul offered the contemporary consequences of the exegetical connec-
tion between Gen 15:6 and 12:3: So people of faith are blessed with faithful
Abraham. In Greek, those who have faith exactly repeats the words translated
those who believe in Gal 3:7. But in his application, Paul replaced the twice
repeated preposition en, through, with syn, along with. He emphasized not
Abrahams mediation of the blessing, but his sharing of it with all believers.
Thus, for the Gentiles to be blessed with Abraham meant to be blessed
in the same way he was. That is, they were counted as righteous without be-
ing circumcised or observing the Law. Like Abraham, they had only faith to
commend them to God; they had done nothing to merit Gods blessing: The
covenant sign of circumcision was not given until Gen 17. The offering of Isaac
was not mentioned until Gen 22. And the Law would not be given until cen-
turies later (Gal 3:17).
The apostle did not here specify the nature of the blessing to be be-
stowed on the nations. Only as his argument moved forward did it become
clear that the blessing consisted in the experience of the Spirit and the status
of justication. These were for Paul inconceivable apart from each other.
Each implies the other. Those persons upon whom God bestows the Spirit are
justied; the persons whom God reckons righteous have the Spirit poured out
upon them (Williams 1987, 97).
L 10 Genesis 22:18 and 26:5 suggest that Gods blessing upon the Gentiles
was a reward for Abrahams strict obedience to the Law. This might imply that
Gentile believers were to follow his example of Law observance, particularly
the covenant requirement of circumcision (Gen 17:9-14). But Paul reached
the opposite conclusion: For as many as are of the works of the Law are under
a curse (Gal 3:10 NASB). That is, God would execute the disaster threatened
in the pronouncement of the curse.
In Galatians, the expression by works of Law (see 2:16; 3:2, 5) always
serves as the antithesis of by faith. Faith was the only condition for sharing
Abrahams blessing. Believers were blessed with Abraham. But who were the
cursed unbelieversthose who are of the works of Law ( 2:16 sidebar, Law
in Galatians)?
Did Paul refer to legalists? Were his sights fxed on anyone who at-
tempted to enter into or sustain a right relationship with God on the
basis of strict obedience to the Jewish law (see 3:2-5, 6, 11)? Did he
use the expression as an equivalent describing those who attempted to
live the Christian life in the eshby human effort rather than by
dependence on God (see v 3)?
Did Paul refer to the Agitators? Are those who are of the works of
Law to be identied with those so concerned about making a good im-
pression in the esh that they were trying to compel [the Galatians]
to be circumcised (6:12)?
Did he refer to those from the circumcision (2:12; see v 16), whether
or not they were complicating matters in his Galatian churches? If so,
Did he refer only to non-Christian Jews?
Or, did he include false brothers (v 4)ultraconservative Jewish
Christians who required Gentile Christians to accept circumcision
and other Jewish customs (v 14)?
A curse ( 3:13) was the logical antithesis of the divine blessing believ-
ers shared with Abraham (see vv 8-9, 14). To insist on works of Law (see
2:16; 3:2, 5, 11, 12) entailed turning from the grace of Christ . . . to a differ-
ent gospelwhich is really no gospel at all (1:6-7). It was to bring upon one-
self the eternal condemnation of the conditional curse pronounced in vv 8-9.
Thus, Paul warned: You who are trying to be justied by law have been
alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace (5:4). The curse con-
sisted in severing ones relationship with Christ and the consequent loss of
nal salvation. To rely on the Law (as represented by circumcision) instead of
Christ invalidated the blessing promised Abraham on the condition of faith
alone ( 5:2-6; see Harmon 2010, 205).
Paul supported his claim that All who rely on observing the law are un-
der a curse by appeal to Deut 27:26 (LXX). Here, as thirty times elsewhere
in his letters, he introduced the scriptural quotation with it is written (only in
Romans; 1 and 2 Corinthians; and Gal 3:13; 4:22, 27).
With minor variations, the quotation follows the LXX. The most sig-
nicant departure is in the underlined words in this fairly literal translation:
Cursed is everyone who does not remain in all the things written in the
book of the Law to do them. The LXX refers to the words of this Law. Paul
generalized the application of the curse to include the entire Torah, consistent
with his warning in 5:3: Every man who lets himself be circumcised . . .
is obligated to obey the whole law. Those who are of works of Law must
scrupulously comply with every last demand of the Law. As a norm for life, it
requires absolute and entire observance. Any failure to do so will meet with
the certain disaster threatened by the curse.
Paul did not object to particular laws. Nor did he malign human moral
activity in general ( chs 56). His problem was with the Law itself. With
the coming of Christ, it had outlived its usefulness ( 3:19). Anyone who
chooses to abide by the Jewish Torah in order to secure participation in Abra-
hams blessing is placed in a situation where he or she is threatened instead
with a curse since the Law itself pronounces a curse on anyone who fails to
live up to every single one of its requirements (Stanley 1990, 500).
The Galatians risked putting themselves under a divine curse, if they
surrendered to the Agitators. Deliberative rhetoric called for more than posi-
tive reasons for future choices. Effective persuasion appealed to negative,
emotional arguments for avoiding their opposite (Aristotle, Rhet. 2.5.2, 9).
Warnings of the fearful consequences of abandoning the gospel were undoubt-
edly persuasive to an ancient audience that took seriously the power of bless-
ings and curses (Stanley 1990, 501; Witherington 1998a, 233).
L 11 Paul claimed: It is obvious that by Law no one is justied in the sight of
God! Why so? It is uncertain what Paul assumed comprehensive and constant
obedience to the Law demanded (v 10). Was it possible by conscientious at-
tention to the Laws demands for humans to avoid becoming subject to Gods
Di d Paul Consi der Per f ect Obedi ence
t o t he Law Possi bl e ?
The question . . . cannot be answered with complete certainty (Cranford
1994, 257). Pauls retrospective testimony in Phil 3:6-9 indicates that before he
became a Christian he considered his own righteousness by Law blameless. It
was not the personal experience of moral failure that led him to see the impos-
sibility of being justied by law as clear (GNT, NAB, NCV, NLT), evident (ESV, KJV,
NASB, NRSV), and obvious (ISV, NJB, TM; Gal 3:11). It was his life-changing encounter
with the risen Christ that did.
This event split his life in two. After it, he saw all he had previously consid-
ered assets, including his own righteousness by Law, as decits, even worthless
crap (skybala, a comparably coarse term; BDAG, 932). His earlier assump-
tions were mistaken (Phil 3:6-9). If Rom 7 is even remotely autobiographical, Paul
came to realize that even his best pre-Christian intentions achieved regrettable
results. Thinking he was pleasing God by persecuting heretics, he discovered
them to be the true people of God.
In Rom 3:9-19 Paul presented a catena of scriptural proofs for his conten-
tion that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin (v 9). This, in turn, is the
basis for his conclusion: Therefore no one will be declared righteous in [Gods]
sight by observing the law [ex ergo3n nomou] (3:20a). The similarity to Gal 3:11a
is unmistakable: Clearly no one is justied before God by the law. The
difference is that only in Romans did Paul present the evidence he considered
obvious when he wrote Galatians. But was it as obvious to the Galatians and
the Agitators as it was to him?
Both passages insist that God alone is qualied to judge who is right and
who is wrong. To be justied before God is to be made righteous in his sight
(BDAG, 757, s.v. para). It is not that God merely considers the unrighteous to
be righteous despite all the evidence to the contrary. Gods future declaration
that one is righteous will not be a miscarriage of justice. God makes people right
with him and empowers them by the gift of his Spirit actually to do right (see
Rom 8:1-4).
Only in Romans would Paul clarify why Law can diagnose the human prob-
lem, but is powerless to cure it (3:20b). Law can reveal what is wrong with us;
but it cannot make us righteous. Law effects, not Gods righteousness, but Gods
wrath (4:15). It is unable to justify because of its own victimization by Sin (ch 7).
In Galatians, the rst biblical rationale Paul offered in defense of the
self-evident impossibility of justication by the Law is Hab 2:4. The righ-
teous will live by faith. Pauls citation is not identical to any surviving manu-
script of the LXX nor to the standard MT of the Hebrew OT. All of these use
personal pronouns Paul omits (here and in Rom 1:17). Some manuscripts of
the LXX refer to my righteous one (emphasis added), as does Heb 10:38.
The MT has his faith (emphasis added). Most LXX manuscripts have my
faith (emphasis added).
The future tense verb will live is a logical, not a predictive future. It
refers to the end-times salvation already available to believers in Christ (see
Hab 3:18-19; Gal 3:11). The phrase by faith indicates how the righteous will
receive salvation, that is, how they will be justied in Gods sight (Hays 1983,
151). The Greek words translated righteous (dikaios) and justify (dikaioo3) be-
long to the same cognate family, despite the English differences. Two ques-
tions are crucial to any interpretation of the passage:
First, who is the righteous one? Interpreters typically take the righteous
to refer to all who are justied by faith (e.g., Longenecker 1990, 119). In Acts
3:14; 7:52; 22:14; 1 Pet 3:18; and 1 John 2:1 (following Isa 53:10-12) the righ-
teous one seems to refer to the Messiah (Hays 1983, 151-54).
Second, by whose faith will the righteous one live? Faith translates the
Hebrew emunah, faithfulness. Its Greek equivalent, pistis, may mean both
faithfulness and faith. Hays contends that Paul omitted the pronouns in his
quotation of Hab 2:4 to make the point that salvation life came because of
Gods faithfulness, the faithfulness of the Messiah, and the faith Gods people
place in him. Paul held all of these understandings at once (Hays 1983, 156-
57; see Longenecker 1990, 119, and Witherington 1998a, 234-35, for an alter-
native explanation).
Pauls gospel is founded upon the story of a Messiah who is vindi-
cated (= justied) by God through faith. This Messiah (Jesus Christ)
is not, however, a solitary individual whose triumph accrues only to his
own benet; he is a representative gure in whom the destiny of all
Gods elect is embodied. Thus, all are justied through his faith. Their
response to him, however, is also one of faith. (Hays 1983, 156-57)
In the light Christ sheds upon the prophets statement, Paul took Habak-
kuk to speak about justication by faith (Gal 3:8). God promised the Spirit to
Abraham and to his offspring Jesus Christ and to all who by faith participate
in him. Salvation depends entirely on what God has done in Christ. Noth-
ing humans can do, including works of Law, can justify them. In v 12, Paul
explained why by comparing Hab 2:4 with Lev 18:5 (see Rendall 1903, 169).
L 12 The law is not based on faith (ek pisteo3s). This Greek expression appears
at least twenty times in Romans and Galatians (Rom 1:17 [twice]; 3:26, 30;
4:16 [twice]; 5:1; 9:30, 32; 10:6; 14:23 [twice]; Gal 2:16; 3:7, 8, 9, 11, 12,
22; 5:5 [see 3:2, 5]), but never in any of Pauls other letters (and only in Heb
10:38 [quoting Hab 2:4] and Jas 2:24 elsewhere in the NT).
The preposition ek may indicate origin, cause, or reason (BDAG, 296,
s.v. ek 3). The Law did not come from faith, nor was it caused by faith, nor did
its existence depend on faith. The Law did not call for faith, but for absolute
obedience. Paul considered faith and Law opposites. He quoted an excerpt
from Lev 18:5 (LXX) to prove his claim: The [one] who does these things
will live by them.
The rabbinic principle of gezerah shawah) (equal category) encouraged
the interpretation of one passage by comparison with another based on their
common terminology (Bruce 1975, 115). The shared verbs ze3setai, will live,
connect the quotations of Lev 18:5 (in Gal 3:12) with that of Hab 2:4 (in
Gal 3:11). The promise of salvation life by faith stands in stark contrast to
life based on doing what the Law requires (Lev 18:4-5). Law does not call for
faith, but for compliancenot for believing, but for doing.
Paul took for granted that those who confessed Jesus as Lord obeyed him
(Rom 1:5; 16:26). But his concern here was to clarify how one entered into
the experience of salvation life (i.e., justication / righteousness before God).
He insisted that the entrance to this life was by believing, not doing.
Those who have been justied by faith receive the Spirit, who enables
them to live renewed lives of love (Gal 5:6). The obedience of the justied was
not dened by the traditional boundary markers separating Jews and Gentiles,
such as circumcision. The relational nature of justication called for not only
a right relationship with God but also a restored relationship between Jews
and the Gentiles.
Pauls doctrine of justication was not simply a rejection of either con-
temporary Judaism or the OT, as many Protestant interpreters of Pauls gos-
pel mistakenly assumed in the past. They wrongly pitted Christianity against
Judaism, which they unfairly maligned as a degenerate, legalistic religion. E.
P. Sanders opened the possibility of a new perspective on Paul (see Sanders
1983 and Dunn 2005). He insists that Judaism was a religion of grace. Human
obedience was always understood as a response to that grace. The covenant
was given by Gods initiative. The Law provided instruction as to how to re-
main within the covenant, not the means of entering it. He labeled this new
understanding covenantal nomism.
The entire Pauline corpus of letters suggests that grace is always prior to
human effort. Human doing is in response to Gods initiative (Phil 2:12-13).
Good works are the fruit, not the root, of salvation (Eph 2:8-10; Gal 5:6, 13-
15, 22-25). The justied receive nal acceptance with God, so long as they
continue in the faith and obedience grace makes possible (Col 1:21-23). Paul
should not be read as an opponent of messianic Judaism. Jews as well as non-
Jews needed to take seriously that the new age had dawned with the coming of
Jesus as the Jewish Messiah. The old order has gone; a new order has already
begun (2 Cor 5:17b REB). All this has been the work of God (2 Cor 5:18a
REB). This new reality had dramatic implications for the Law.
The dawning of the new age was not a human achievement. It was inau-
gurated by Gods apocalyptic intervention in Christ. Pauls point in Gal 3:12
was not to undermine the Jewish law as Torah, divine instruction. Gods gift
of the Messiah had already made its necessity a matter of accomplished his-
tory. Paul insisted on maintaining the antithesis between human achievement
and divine gift, between works and grace.
Paul distinguished between the law as a power that demands righteous-
ness that humans cannot achieve and law as Scripture that afrms righteous-
ness through faith. Salvation was not a matter of observing a Law that de-
mands good works but produces only the awareness of sin (see Rom 3:20;
Jewett 2008, 297).
Fai t h vs. Works i n Romans 4
In Rom 4 Paul developed his understanding of the relationship between
believing and doing beyond what he wrote in Gal 3. He insisted that the new thing
God had done in Christ did not undo all he had done in the past. On the contrary,
the Law as Scripture is fullled in Christ (Rom 3:31; 8:1-4). Abraham was the
parade example that God had always put people right with himself on the basis of
faith, not works (4:2; 3:27).
Believing is not something people do instead of obeying the Law as a new
means of winning Gods approval. In Pauls view, faith is not a work at all. People
are not justied by their faith, but by God. Otherwise they would have some-
thing to boast aboutbut not before God (4:2). Faith is openness to receiving
Gods gift of righteousness. It relies on the divine benefactor, not on human
achievement. Thus, faith and grace are complementary; faith and works
are competitors.
Faith is not a human achievement. Instead, faith means trusting Gods word
and work so completely that we despair of human work as a means of gain-
ing Gods favor. Faith is grateful receptivity to Gods gift. Justication by grace
through faith is wholly apart from any trace of human merit (vv 4-5). Christian
faith, like Abrahams, is not a good work. It trusts the reliability of Gods promise
alone and places no condence in human achievement.
But Christian faith is not passive. It is active surrender, the abandonment
of schemes of self-salvation. It follows the example of Jesus, who acted upon
the conviction that those who save their own lives lose them. Christian faith is
a trusting response to Gods gracious offer of redemption in Christ. Christian
faith is the realization that if we are ever to be saved, God will have to do it; we
cannot save ourselves.
L 13 Paul returned to the discussion of the curse of the law raised by the in-
troduction of the scriptural quotation in v 10. The rabbinic principle of gezerah
shawah) ( v 12) allowed him to interpret Deut 27:26 (quoted in Gal 3:10) in
light of Deut 21:23 (quoted in Gal 3:13).
The solution to the problem of Law was not exegetical, but eschato-
logical. That is, Pauls end-time convictions about what the coming of Christ
implied, not obvious interpretive necessity, determined his conclusions. His
exegetical conclusions depended on his prior assumptions.
In the NT the rare verb redeemed (exe3gorasen) describes the saving work
of Christ only here and in 4:5 (used differently in Eph 5:16; Col 4:5). Re-
demption involves buying back in the sense of setting captives or slaves free
(BDAG, 343; 4:215:1 BEHIND THE TEXT).
Redempt i on
In everyday economic transactions we still use redemption for the pro-
cess of getting a pawned item out of hock or claiming a discount code for an
Internet purchase. But the NT has no interest in the pawn dealer whom Christ
paid to free us from slavery. Nor does it focus on the reduced cost to the buyer.
Paul emphasized the extravagant price God paid to liberate usthe voluntary
death of his Son ( 5:1 BEHIND THE TEXT).
In 1 Cor 6:20a and 7:23a Paul used the same root as here (agorazo3) to
describe the redemption purchase of Christians: You were bought at a price
by God. This verb was often used in antiquity to refer to the purchase of slaves
(Martin 1990, 63). The essential point is that believers now belong to God, not
to whom was the price paid (Sanday and Headlam 1929, 85-86)? If Paul thought
about the question, he never answered it in his letters. They certainly give no
basis for later notions, rst associated with the third-century church father Ori-
gen, about a ransom to Satan (see Auln [2003] on theories of the atonement).
Another common synonym for redemption in the NT is apolytro3sis (see
Luke 21:28; Eph 1:7, 14; 4:30; Col 1:14; Heb 9:15; 11:35). Paul used it in Rom 3:24
to refer to the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. In 8:23 he described the
future resurrection as the redemption of our bodies. Alongside righteous-
ness and holiness in 1 Cor 1:30, it refers to the comprehensive saving work of
Christ. Words in the lytr- cognate family, ransom, appear eighty-ve times in the
NT, sometimes as a synonym of exagorazo3 / redeem (e.g., Mark 10:45 || Matt
20:28; Acts 20:28; 1 Cor 6:20; 7:23; 1 Pet 1:18; 2 Pet 2:1; Rev 5:9).
Regardless of the terminology, redemption serves as a metaphor describ-
ing the consequences of the saving work of Christ. Pauls concern was not with
the details of the purchase or with what once held humanity in its death grip. It
was with the freedom it effected. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free
( 5:1a; see 5:13).
In 3:13, Paul implies that the most revealing synonym of justify is re-
deem from slavery (Martyn 1997, 388). The point of redemption language is
that the saving death of Christ sets people free. Christ liberates, releases, and
delivers them from whatever held them captive. Humanitys personied Cap-
tors included our sins and the present evil age (1:4). Redemption involved
a rescue operation ( 1:4), which cost Christ his life (1:4; see 2:20). By
his death on the cross, he set us free from the curse of the law. This shameful
death meant that Christ became a curse for us.
The genitive construction, the curse of the law, calls for clarication. The
word curse describes the results of pronouncing words threatening disaster
and destruction due to divine retribution ( 1:6-9 BEHIND THE TEXT).
The personied Law utters a curse (subjective genitive) on those who fail to
obey it fully. This succinctly expresses what Paul would argue at length in
Rom 1:183:20. All of us stand guilty before God (see 5:18) as responsible
sinners (see 3:23), deserving divine judgment.
But we are blessed because Christ was cursed. Paul frequently described
salvation brought in terms of the logic of role reversal. A variety of images
throughout his letters express the recurrent theme that salvation is a divine
interchange, in which the assets of Christ are given in exchange for human
decits. See Rom 8:3-4; 1 Cor 1:21-23; 2 Cor 5:14-21; 8:9; Gal 2:19; 4:4-5;
Phil 2:6-9; 3:20-21; 1 Thess 5:10; 2 Tim 2:11.
Sal vat i on as I nt erchange
The second-century church father Irenaeus recognized this theme in his
doctrine of recapitulation: Christ became what we are, in order that we might be-
come what he is (Haer. 5 preface). More recently, Hooker aptly referred to this
as the interchange God effected between believers and Christ (1971 and 1978).
This interchange of experience is not a simple exchange. . . . [Christ] enters
into our experience, and we then enter into his, by sharing in his resurrection
(Hooker 1971, 352). Gods resurrection of Jesus signied Gods acceptance of
the outsider, the cursed law-breaker, the Gentile sinner (Dunn 1993, 178). In
his life and death, Christ acts as the representative of humanity, not its substitute
(Hooker 1971, 358).
In Gal 3:13 Paul declared that Christ freed us from the curse of the law
by becoming a curse for us. To become a curse is to become accursed (Jer
24:9; 42:18; Zech 8:13; Mussner 1977, 233). On the cross, Christ endured the
supreme penalty for Lawbreakers, death under the curse of God, which was
rightfully ours (Matera 1992, 124). God sent his Son, born . . . under law . . .
to redeem (Gal 4:4-5). He endured the curse of the law, not because he was
a Lawbreaker, but to redeem us Lawbreakers.
Paul applied the LXX of Deut 21:23 to Christ. Cursed is everyone who
is hung on a tree. But he omitted the phrase hypo tou Theou, cursed by God,
from his quotation. Christ suffered the consequences of the curse pronounced
on the crucied. Read alongside Gal 1:4, this suggests that Christs shameful
death rescued us from ultimate shamethe penalty of death for our failure
to render the obedience the Law demandedfor our sins. The one who is
hanged is thus regarded as accursed in the sense that, as a publicly exposed
example of the pitiless severity of the Law, he stands under the very curse
which the Law brings on those who transgress it (Bchsel 1964, 450).
What did it mean for Christ to become a curse for us? And how did the
cursed Christ become the source of blessing for us? Hooker claims the answer
lies in the characteristic Pauline formula in Christ: in him old distinctions
are done away, and all are one (see 3:28). God turned the curse into a source
of blessing by setting people free. In the resurrection of Christ, God over-
ruled the judgment of the Law. Christ has brought blessing to the Gentiles
because he himself has become a blessing. Blessing has thus proved more pow-
erful than the curse (Hooker 1971, 351).
Crucixion was not the mode of punishment envisioned by the rst
readers of Deuteronomy. They almost certainly thought of the public expo-
sure of the impaled corpse of an executed criminalinsult added to fatal in-
jury. Such shaming served to deter others who might be tempted to follow the
bad example.
But Paul was not the only rst-century Jew to take Deut 21:23 as a refer-
ence to crucixion (see the Qumran texts 11QT
64:6-13; 4Q169 pNah 1:17-
18; Kuhn 1975, 36-37; Wilcox 1977; OBrien 2006). John 19:31 reports that
the Jewish leaders asked that the body of the crucied Jesus be removed from
the cross and buried before sundown, in compliance with Deut 21:23aYou
must not leave his body on the tree overnight.
Who is us for whom Christ became accursed? That is, whom did Paul
have in mind as the recipients of Christs redeeming work in Gal 3:13? Is this
an exclusive or inclusive we? Did it exclude or include Pauls Galatian audi-
ence? Did Christ die to redeem Jews only or to redeem all?
In v 13 the frst person plural (= we, us, our) appears for the frst time
since 2:15-16. There Pauls report of the Antioch incident used we
to refer to himself and his fellow Jewish Christians in contrast to the
Gentile members of the community. Does what he said about us here
apply only to Jewish Christians (exclusive)? or,
Does it apply equally to his Gentile-Christian (inclusive) audience
(see Dabelstein 1990, 1)?
A plausible case can be made for the inclusive readingthat redemption
was for all. Galatians 3:13 refers to the Laws curse (Deut 27:26; 21:23) as the
revelation of Gods will; thus, God enforces the curse. Romans indicates that
all humanity, not just Jews, stands under Gods wrath (1:19-32) and judgment
(5:18; see Bchsel 1964, 450).
But perhaps a stronger case can be made for an exclusive reading of Pauls
rst person pluralthat redemption here applies to Jews only.
Galatians 4:5 identifes the redeemed as those under law. In 1 Cor
9:20 those under the law refers to Jews (see Donaldson 1986;
Witherington 1998a, 236-37).
Because the Jews had repeatedly failed to obey the Law God had given
them, they alone were under the Laws curse and in need of redemp-
tion (Wright 1991, 145-47).
The narrative fow of the argument from 3:10 through 4:7 (see Don-
aldson 1986, 95) suggests that Christ became a curse for the Jews to
free them from the Laws curse so that all believers, Jews and Gentiles
alike, might share in the blessings of their redemption (Witherington
1998a, 236-37).
The emphatic placement of us in 3:13 and of the Gentiles in 3:14 sug-
gests a possible intended contrast between the two groups (Wither-
ington 1998a, 237; see Donaldson 1986, 102).
L 14 The words He redeemed us have no basis in Greek. They summarize the
central point of v 13. Pauls Greek sentence (vv 13 and 14) is too long to make
good English sense, so translators break it into multiple sentences.
Verse 14 consists of two purpose or result clauses. It is impossible to be
certain whether Paul explained why Christ redeemed us or the consequences
of his saving death. Did he offer two parallel purposes / results (Rendall 1903,
170)? Or, does the second clause state a further purpose / result of the rst? If
he used us exclusively in v 13, his point was that Christ endured the curse of
the Law to redeem Jews so that the blessings of Abraham might be extended
to the Gentiles (Witherington 1998a, 239).
If this was his point, it was particularly relevant to the Antioch inci-
dent. The death of Christ freed Jewish Christians from the requirements of
the Law that forbade them from associating with Gentiles, such as circumci-
sion and kosher laws. This made it possible for Gentiles as Gentiles to share
in the blessing of being included as Abrahams children alongside his Jewish
offspring. This fullled the promise that all the Gentiles would be blessed
through Abraham (v 8). This, in turn, made it possible for Jews to enjoy the
fulllment of the eschatological promise of the age of the Spirit. No longer
would external coercion to obey the Law be necessary. God would write his
laws on their hearts so they could truly obey him.
But was Pauls point so complicated? Perhaps he merely offered an alter-
native expression of the gospel: Christ Jesus died to provide salvation for all
who believe. Christ died in shame, apparently under the curse of God. He ac-
cepted the death threatened transgressors of the Law. This undeserved curse
opened the way for the blessing promised believing Gentiles.
By the blessing of Abraham Paul undoubtedly referred back to vv 6-9.
The blessing Abraham received was the gift of justication by faith (v 6).
All who share Abrahams faith are his children, including Gentiles (v 7). All
who believe receive the gift of justication by faith, even Gentiles (v 8). Paul
referred not only to the forensic content of justication as a right relationship
with God but also to faith in the crucied Christ (v 1), which also opened the
way for the subjective-experiential content of justicationreceiving the gift
of the Spirit (vv 2-5).
This reading of v 14 presumes that the promise of the Spirit is an epex-
egetical genitive. That is, the promise consists of the Spirit. It was not some-
thing unstated that the Spirit promised (as if it were a subjective genitive).
What God promised was the Spirit.
Promi se
The rst of the nine appearances of the noun epangelia, promise, in
Galatians is in 3:14 (see also 3:16, 17, 18 [twice], 21, 22, 29; 4:23, 29).
The verbal form (epangellomai, promise) of the same cognate family
appears once in 3:19.
The cognate root -angel- merely has a different prepositional prex in
Pauls favorite term for the message he preachedthe gospel (1:6, 7,
8 [twice], 9, 11 [twice], 16, 23; 2:2, 7; 3:8; 4:13).
-angel- is also obviously the root of the English term angel (messenger;
1:8; 3:19; 4:14).
The terminology of promise is not explicit in the OT. But Gods future
assurances to AbrahamI will . . .were understood by Paul and his contem-
poraries as promises. Gods covenant commitments to Abraham and the other
ancestors of Israel were essential to its faith and identity as Gods people (see
Exod 32:13; 1 Chr 16:14-18; Neh 9:7-8; Ps 105:6-11; Sir 44:21; Wis 12:21). But
the term epangelia, however, rst appears in Jewish tradition within the pseude-
pigraphal literature of Hellenistic Judaism (3 Macc 2:10-11; Pss. Sol. 12:6; T. Jos.
3: 6-14
The expression by faith we might receive (3:14) obviously points back-
ward to the same verb in Pauls question in v 2: Did you receive the Spirit
by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? By v 14, the Galatians
surely knew the correct answer, if they did not before.
Abrahamic Faith. Paul argued that Christian faith had its origin in the
OT Scriptures, particularly in Gods covenantal promises to Abraham. This
led the arch-heretic Marcion to omit Gal 3:6-9 from his text (Riches 2008,
157). Proto-orthodox church fathers, like Chrysostom, however, found in
Pauls appeal to Abraham proof that one could be justied by faith before
Law existed. Thus, Christians could be justied by faith, when Law no longer
existed, thanks to Christ. Faith, not race or ritual, made one a child of Abra-
ham. Such views made sense in a context in which the Christian church still
saw itself as competing with Jews for the allegiance of their members (Riches
2008, 158). But what of the situation after the parting of the ways, when
Christianity and Judaism became two distinct religions?
Facing Catholic and Anabaptist rivals, Luther understood Pauls appeal
to Abrahams faith to oppose legalism (Riches 2008, 159-61). Calvin empha-
sized that Abraham-like faith justied because it embraced the transforming
grace of God (Riches 2008, 161-62). Contemporary Wesleyans must not al-
low memories of legalistic excesses in our tradition to give license to an antino-
mian distortion of justication by faith alone. Freedom from Law is not free-
dom to do whatever one chooses (Gal 5). Wesley frequently dened holiness
of heart and life in terms of Gal 5:6, as faith expressing itself through love.
Modern interpreters tend to limit justication to the realm of personal
salvation, ignoring its cosmic scope. Can we, after two millennia, still em-
brace Pauls eschatological conviction that the coming of Christ fullled Gods
promise to Abraham with world-transforming implicationsnothing less
than a new creation (6:15)?
Law and Christ: Curse and Blessing. Luther considers Pauls quotation of
Deut 27:26 in Gal 3:10 a classic damned if you do; damned if you dont situ-
ation. On the one hand, Paul says, Whoever shall do the works of the Law is
accursed; on the other, Moses says, Whosoever shall not do the works of the
Law, is accursed. Luther resolves the dilemma by appealing to the blessing
given to Abraham . . . through Christ. This is the new kind of life believers are
privileged to live by the gift of the Spirit (v 14). The cursed-but-innocent Christ
won human salvation by overcoming the curse of the law (v 13) for us (Riches
2008, 176). Calvin claims that the new life of believers allows them to be doers
of the Law, but not as people striving to meet the impossible demands of the
Law, but as those who are renewed by the Spirit and so perform good works as
naturally as a healthy tree brings forth fruit (Riches 2008, 180).
3: 6-14
Paul treats Christ and Law as antithetical throughout Galatians. But lat-
er Pauline letters suggest that Christ did not bring an end to the Law in its en-
tirety, only certain ordinances within it. Ephesians 2:11-19 identies circumci-
sion as one specic example. Abolishing this boundary marker destroyed the
barrier, the dividing wall of hostility (v 14) separating Jews and Gentiles. In
addition to circumcision, Col 2:14-23 mentions kosher laws, festival obser-
vances, and Sabbath regulations as outmoded requirements in the Law.
Did Paul throw out the baby with the bathwater in Galatians only to re-
trieve it later? That is, did his rhetoric lead him to overstate his case for Christ
alone? Even in Gal 5 and 6 (), he would make clear that freedom from the
Law did not authorize licentiousness. Nevertheless, he was convinced that the
gift of the Spirit more than compensated for the diminished role of the Law.
Circumcision is not a live religious issue in any known Western Christian
community. McKnight suggests that those who add demands on top of the
gospel in order to be accepted by God offer a contemporary analogy to those
Paul opposed who relied on the works of Law (1995, 160). But what kinds of
add-ons to the good news of Christ might be comparable to circumcision? (
5:7-12 FROM THE TEXT.)
Is the imposition of a conservative code of Christian conduct as a sec-
ondary requirement for being recognized as fully Christian analogous? What
about assuming that everyone must experience Gods justifying grace in the
same way? Must everyone kneel at an altar? Must everyone experience the
same emotional response? Do we replace circumcision with the expectation
that believers adopt an evangelical Wesleyan theological understanding of
Christianity? Theology should not make coming to faith more difcult. How
much theology does one need to understand to be fully Christian?
It is always difcult to sort out what is essential from what is simply
culturally conditioned. Our culture has become increasingly relaxed about ap-
propriate clothing for attending church. This bothers some older Christians,
who assume wearing ones best to church is an essential sign of respect for
God. Can an expected dress code function much like circumcision?
The Promise of the Spirit. Paul identied the gift of the Spirit as the dis-
tinguishing mark of present Christian existence (3:14-18). His letters offer
no support for the popular distinction between only converted and Spirit-
lled Christians (see Rom 8:9-11 and Greathouse and Lyons 2008a, 238-
46). Gods empowering presence is not given piecemeal. A Christian without
the Spirit was unthinkable for Paul (see Witherington 1998a, 247). But con-
version and the accompanying gift of the Spirit are only the beginning (Gal
3:2) of the Christian life. We must press on to the goal (v 4).
The Spirit is essential at every stage in the Christian journey. He is the
divine agent drawing sinners to faith in Christ. He effects our justication,
sanctication, and glorication. Only as we continue to live by the Spirit (
5:16), to be led by the Spirit ( 5:18), and to keep in step with the Spirit
( 5:25) may we experience sanctication (see Rom 8:12-17) and future res-
urrectionthe fullness of Gods gift of salvation.
c. Proof by Appeal to Human Analogy (3:15-18)
Conforming to sound rhetorical advice (Quintilian, Inst. 5.12.14), Pauls
appeal began with irrefutable evidence: the divinely inspired personal expe-
riences of his audience in Gal 3:1-5 and the divinely authorized Scriptures
in vv 6-14. Thus, his strongest arguments appear in vv 1-14. In vv 15-18, he
appealed to the weaker argument of example (Quintilian, Inst. 5.11.22), spe-
cically the analogy of human covenants and divine covenants (Witherington
1998a, 240).
Paul compared the scriptural account of Gods covenant promises to
Abraham to the constraints of a human last will and testament. Gods prior
promises to Abrahams offspring were not revoked by the giving of the Law at
a later date. The primary beneciary of the promise to Abraham was Christ,
his great offspring (vv 15-18). In vv 19-22, he would argue that those who
shared in the blessing of Abraham were those who had faith in Christ.
Paul insisted that Abrahams offspring primarily refers to Christ in vv
16-19. But he also presumed that Abrahams offspring was a collective noun
(v 29; as in Rom 4:16, 18; 9:7-8, 29; 11:1; 2 Cor 11:22). Thus, Abrahams chil-
dren include all who by faith participate in Christ, not just Jews.
Paul apparently understood the land promise to Abraham, as did most
of his Jewish contemporaries. They assumed that he would be heir of the
world (Rom 4:13). But unlike them, Paul did not understand this in terms
of Israel gaining worldwide political dominance (see Acts 1:7). Instead, he
expected all nations to share in the promise of the righteousness that comes
by faith (Rom 4:13).
God did not give the Law to invalidate his earlier promises or to restrict
their scope (Gal 3:17). Nonetheless, Paul explained in Rom 4:14: if those
who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless. In
Rom 4 those who live by law are unbelieving Jews (the circumcised in vv 9,
12). In Gal 3:10, did Paul similarly assume that all who rely on observing the
law are not Christians? If so, the Galatians were not among those who relied
on the Law, for he considered them Christians ( v 15).
In v 17 Paul insisted that Law did not nullify (katarge3sai) Gods ear-
lier promise. But those who try to be justied by Law nullify (kate3rge3the3te)
their relationship with Christ (5:4). If one could be justied through the Law,
Christ died for nothing (2:21). Participation in Christs crucixion brings an
end to (katarge3the3) the power of sin (Rom 6:6). Terminating (kate3rge3the3men)
our slavery to the Law makes it possible for us to live the new life in the Spirit
(7:6). But preaching circumcision nullies (kate3rge3tai) the offense of the cross

(Gal 5:11). And yet, faith does not terminate (katargoumen) the Law-as-Scrip-
ture (Rom 3:31). Thus, we must shift our focus from the counterproductive
demands of the Law to Gods promises.
When God made his promise, Abraham was an uncircumcised Gen-
tile. So how could Jews be his only legitimate heirs? If the promise were
restricted to those who conform to the Torah, it would no longer be valid for
the ungodly ([Rom] 4:5) (Jewett 2008, 327). If long after the promise was
given, it had been made conditional on obedience to the Law, the whole basis
of the promise as promise would have been rendered meaningless. And God
would have been unfaithful to his promise. Paul considered this unthinkable.
Thus, he made the point that no additional conditions were mentioned at the
time of the original promise, nor was it undermined by the addition of later
Gods promise assured blessings that are received by those who have
faith in the truth of the gospel. The Law did not promise blessings on those
who observed it. Rather it invoked a curse on those who violated it (Gal 3:10).
In view of the universal scope of sin, curse is more prominent than blessing in
the Law. Thus, in Romans, Paul insisted that Law produces (katergazetai; see
7:8, 13, 15, 17, 18, 20) Gods wrath (Rom 4:15a; see 1:18; 2:5, 8; 3:5).
L 15 Paul addressed his audience as Brothers and sisters (NRSV), as he did
last in 1:11. He increasingly used this ctive kinship-terminology as he moved
toward the conclusion of the letter (see 4:12, 28, 31; 5:11, 13; 6:1, 18). This
address indicates that, despite their foolish irting with another gospel (1:6-
9), he still considered them friends and fellow Christians (Matera 1992, 126;
Arichea and Nida 1976, 68).
Let me take an example from everyday life is a paraphrase of the same
expression rendered I am using a human argument in Rom 3:5. In Gal 1:11,
Paul described his gospel as not a human invention, because he received it by
revelation from Jesus Christ (v 12). In 3:15-18 he contrasted the divine au-
thority of Israels Scriptures (vv 6-14) and the supernatural origin of the Gala-
tians conversion (vv 1-5) with arguments based on a human example (ESV).
Paul failed to conclude the comparison he began, Just as no one invali-
dates or adds a codicil to a ratied human will. The NIV adds, so it is in
this case, to complete the sense of the analogy. It is implausible (despite Muss-
ner 1977, 241) that Pauls opponents had asserted the opposite (Betz 1979,
159 n. 56). But this is precisely what a consistent mirror-reading approach to
Pauls denials would require ( Introduction).
The point of the analogy would have been obvious to Pauls rst read-
ers because of the dual use of the term diathe3ke3n. In secular legal practice, it
referred to a persons last will and testament (see Heb 9:17). But it was also
used in the LXX to translate the Hebrew b
r|<t, covenant. Thus, it applied to
Gods unique relationship with his people. Of course, no one assumed the
provisions set by the immortal divine testator were contingent on his death
(BDAG, 228).
Scholars debate (see Longenecker 1990, 128-30) whether any irrevo-
cable human covenant existed in Pauls day. Irreversible property dispositions
were not labeled diathe3che3. Other known human covenants seem always to
have been alterable (Witherington 1998a, 243). Certainly, no third party
could alter a will, although the testator could. But surely God was not so capri-
cious (Longenecker 1990, 130).
Paul could have written of a purely hypothetical human covenant that
was irrevocable. But why bother with a meaningless analogy? Perhaps, his
point was simply that the terms of one covenant had no effect on another.
Gods covenants with Abraham and with Moses were separate and distinct.
Stipulations added 430 years later in the latter could not undermine the terms
of the earlier agreement in the former (Witherington 1998a, 242).
Pauls concern was not to prove that some human covenants were per-
manent. The essential point of his a fortiori (how much more) argument
(McKnight 1995, 166) was that divine covenants were inviolable. By previ-
ously established Paul described Gods covenant with Abraham as ratied
and legally binding (BDAG, 579). Such covenants could not be invalidated,
nullied, ignored, modied, or supplemented (BDAG, 24, 370). God could be
counted on to keep his promises.
In Rom 9:4 Paul used both covenants and promises in his list of Is-
raels unique benets. Ephesians 2:12, however, refers to the covenants of the
promise, essentially equating the two. The word covenant (diathe3ke3) appears
just nine times in the Pauline letters (also Rom 11:27; 1 Cor 11:25; 2 Cor 3:6,
14; Gal 3:17; and 4:24). But promise (epangelia) appears twenty-six times,
usually referring to Gods covenant with the patriarchs of Israel (see, e.g., Gal
3:14, 16, 17, 18, 21, 22, 29; 4:23, 28). The two are used interchangeably in
3:14-29. But in 4:21-31, Paul limited the term promise to what he elsewhere
called the new covenant (2 Cor 3:6-18; 1 Cor 11:25; see Gal 3:24).
L 16 Gods promises concerning the gift of the land of Canaan in Gen 12:7
To your offspring I will give this landis repeated in virtually identical terms
in LXX 13:15; 15:18; 17:8; and 24:7 (compare 26:3, 4; 28:4, 13; 35:12; 48:4;
3:6-14 BEHIND THE TEXT). As in later Jewish tradition (Sir 44:21; Jub.
17:3; 22:14; 32:19; 1 En. 5:7; 4 Ezra 6:59), Gen 22:18 and 28:14 associate
this land-promise with the promise that Abraham would bless all peoples on
earth (Gen 12:3; see Rendall 1903, 170).
Unlike English, Greek word order is not grammatically signicant. The
variable order allows authors to emphasize a word by placing it at the begin-
ning or end of a sentence. The rst signicant word in the rst Greek sentence
is Abraham, the beneciary of Gods promises. The co-recipient of the prom-
ise, his seed, is equally prominent at its end.
Like its English cognate, the Greek word sperma, seed, refers to the male
semen (see LXX Gen 38:9). But in Gal 3:16, as generally in the LXX and NT,
it is used by metonymy to refer to the product of insemination, posterity,
descendants (BDAG, 937), that is, his offspring (NRSV).
Most interpreters consider the shift from the singular promise in v 14
to the plural promises here (see v 21; Rom 9:4) of no signicance (e.g., Bur-
ton 1920, 181). Perhaps, promises referred to the threefold promise of land,
progeny, and blessing in Gen 17:1-9 (Schlier 1965, 143) or the eight distinct
promises of 12:2-3 and 17:1-8 (McComiskey 1985, 59-93). Or, perhaps, Paul
used the plural because the promise in 12:7 was repeated often (Lightfoot
1874, 142). Regardless, his concern was not the plural promises, but the sin-
gular seed.
Paul made a particular point of emphasizing that the word seed was in
the singular: The Scripture does not say and to seeds, meaning many people,
but and to your seed, meaning one person. Scripture has no basis in Greek.
In the absence of an explicit noun subject, the antecedent could be God
Nevertheless, Paul was aware that the word seed was often used as a
collective noungrammatically singular but conceptually plural (compare
crowd, audience, multitude, the press, the legislature, the faculty, etc.). He himself
used the term in this sense in Gal 3:29 (see also Rom 11:1; 2 Cor 11:22). His
concern was not really to defend a singular understanding of seed as the intent
of Genesis. It was to challenge the ethnocentric assumptions of his Jewish
contemporaries, who limited the seed of Abraham to the people of Israel (see
Luke 1:55; John 8:33, 37; Acts 7:5-6; Rom 4:16; 9:7; 2 Cor 11:22). Thus, he
stressed that Abrahams seed, the one person to whom Gods promise point-
ed, is Christ. There is no known rabbinic parallel for this messianic interpreta-
tion of Abrahams seed (Kellermann 1990b, 264; Matera 1992, 127), a view
Paul shared with other early Christians (Acts 3:25).
Paul saw no need to limit Abrahams seed to Christ alone, so long as it
was clear that the broader, collective application referred only to children of
the promise (see Rom 9:6-9; Gal 4:23, 28). Abrahams offspring were de-
ned by their faith in Christ, not by their ethnicity (Rom 4:13-15; 911; Gal
3:29). Paul would argue at length in Rom 9 that Abrahams offspring are both
narrower and broader than ethnic Israel (see Greathouse and Lyons 2008b,
L 17 Paul introduced the explicit application of his analogy with the attention-
grabbing words (Betz 1979, 157), What I mean is this (see 1 Cor 7:6). It is a bit
convoluted: The covenant previously ratied by Godthe 430-years-later-
appearing Lawdoes not make void so as to invalidate the promise. But his
meaning is clear: The covenant with Abraham God had ratied centuries earlier
remains in force. If human covenants could be inviolable (Gal 3:15), how much
more Gods! The Mosaic law did not replace or amend the Abrahamic covenant.
Its purpose was not to abolish (BDAG, 525, s.v. katargeo3 ) Gods earlier prom-
ises to Abraham (v 16), that is, the Abrahamic covenant ( v 15).
Pauls assumptions are clear: The two covenantsthe promise to Abra-
ham and his seed and the Law given to Moses and Israelwere discrete and
distinct. The earlier covenant was the better of the two and took precedence
over the latter. Gods promises to Abraham reached their fulllment in Christ.
Thus, the Law established through Moses was no longer needed. Demonstrat-
ing these assumptions was the point of vv 19-25.
L 18 Paul explained (For) his reasoning in v 17 with a contrary-to-fact condi-
tional sentence. He rejected the option of compromise, the thought that Law
and promise might coexist. This was a case of either-or. For if the inheritance
is based on the Law, it is no longer based on the promise. But God had
graced Abraham through a promise.
This is the rst of six occurrences of the kle3 ronom- cognate family in Ga-
latians (see also 3:29; 4:1, 7, 30; 5:21). The OT uses inheritance (kle3 ronomia;
Hebrew: nah9
la< , permanent possession) to refer to Gods gift of the land to Is-
rael (see Exod 32:13; Num 26:52-56). Paul makes this explicit in Rom 4:13: It
was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise
that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes
by faith.
Originally, Gods promises to Abraham and to his seed (Gal 3:16)
concerned the gift of the promised land of Canaan (Gen 12:7; 13:15; 15:18;
and 24:7). But later OT passages (see Ps 2:2; Isa 60:21; Ezek 47; Dan 12:13)
and early Judaism expanded these promises in an eschatological direction
(Friedrich 1990b, 298).
Paul adopted existing Jewish tradition that presumed the land included
the entire world and resurrection life in the world to come (see Sir 44:21; Jub.
17:3; 22:14; 32:19; 1 En. 5:7; 39:8; 40:9; 71:16; 4 Ezra 6:59; Matt 5:5 [echo-
ing Ps 37:9, 11]; 25:34; Titus 3:7; Heb 1:2; Jas 2:5). Thus, the inheritance
identies the end-times content of the promisethat is, all the benets of
Gods work of salvation (Betz 1979, 159). For the present, salvation consisted
in the gift of the Spirit (see Gal 3:14; Cole 1989, 148). The inheritance is the
Paul shared the conviction of the author of Heb 1:2 that Christ was
the heir of all things. Thus, believers as children of God are co-heirs with
Christ (Rom 8:17). Paul assured the Corinthians that as Gods end-times
people, All things are yours, whether . . . the world or life or death or the
present or the futureall are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of
God (1 Cor 3:21b-23).
Thus, the inheritance promised Abraham referred to the content of the
still-future hope of believers. In 1 Cor 15:50, to inherit the kingdom of God
is to be resurrected from the dead. That the unrighteous will not inherit the
kingdom of God (Gal 5:21; see 1 Cor 6:10) means they will not be resurrect-
ed. Paul cherished a tangible and material future hope, not a merely spiritual,
ethereal, or heavenly expectation.
The gift of the Spirit was associated with the future hope in Jewish
thought. But Paul and other early Christians were convinced that the Spirit
had already been given to believers as the present experience of the end-times
promise (see 3:2-5; 4:1-7). The promised Holy Spirit . . . is a deposit guar-
anteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are Gods posses-
sion (Eph 1:13-14; Rom 8:23). Since God fullls his promise through the
operation of the Spirit, the promise . . . is, at the same time, the promise of
the Spiritthat is, the promise of the means by which sons of Abraham would
be created out of the people who have been enslaved (Williams 1988, 716).
The future inheritance of Abrahams seed did not originate in the Law
(see Rom 4:14). Paul had made a similar point about the present privileges of
believers in Gal 2:16-20 and 3:2-5. Justication, salvation life, and the gift of the
Spirit are not received by works of Law. They are all given by grace. The Laws
demands for doing (see 3:10-12) lacked the unconditioned and entirely gracious
character of promise. Pauls logic was similar in Rom 4:3-8. There he would
insist that righteousness was credited to Abraham as a grace-gift (charin). It was
not earned by his works and paid by God as a debt.
In Gal 3:18, Paul used the perfect tense of the verb charizomai, from the
same cognate family as the noun grace (charis; in 1:3, 6, 15; 2:9, 21; 5:4; and
6:18). This comparatively rare verb in Pauls letters (sixteen times; see, e.g.,
Rom 8:22; 1 Cor 2:12; 2 Cor 2:7, 10 [three times], 13) occurs only here in
Galatians. It emphasizes that God conveyed the promise to Abraham as a gift,
free and undeserved. Far more common is the verb dido3mi, give (seventy-two
times in Pauls letters). Charizomai was used in legal depositions as a technical
term for inheritances granted as a favor (Berger 1990b, 456).
The Purpose and Limits of the Law. Verses 15-18 only begin to explain
the implications of Pauls claim in vv 1-14 that the Christian life of faith is
based on the gift of the Spirit and is wholly distinct from a life based on the
works of the Law (Riches 2008, 188). Paul held rmly to the continuity of
the old and new covenants by focusing on Gods covenant with Abraham, not
that with Moses.
One of Pauls most ardent early admirers, Marcion of Pontus, took such
statements of Paul on the Law and the failures of Israel as justication for his
rejection of the OT and its vengeful God. His radical views were challenged by
proto-orthodox church fathers like Tertullian and Chrysostom. Later Catho-
lic theologians like Augustine and Thomas Aquinas built upon their efforts to
hold together both testaments.
Analogies. Can twenty-rst-century Christians even imagine an inviolable
human covenant (3:15)? More than half of all marriages in the United States
end in divorce. So much for solemn vows! Disingenuous campaign promises
feed widespread public cynicism about politics. Corporate greed has made con-
tracts and assurances of retirement benets worthless. Even if the Galatians
knew of irrevocable human covenants and binding promises, we do not.
Only the faithfulness of God allows us to imagine covenant promises
that will be kept, even if he had to die to keep them. And perhaps that was
Pauls point. Despite human failure and rebellion, God can be trusted. He is
adaptable and responsive to changing circumstances. But he is not ckle or
Methods and Conclusions. Like most rabbinic interpreters of his day,
Paul did not hesitate to resort to strained interpretations. Rabbinic exegesis
routinely resembles what we would call eisegesis. Operating deductively, its
apparent conclusions actually validate the interpreters prior assumptions. We
may not imitate Pauls methodology, but we can share his christological con-
victions and motives.
Twenty-rst-century Western students of the Bible cannot use the
same exegetical methods as rst-century Jewish Christians. Paul used meth-
ods he knew and his audience considered persuasive. We cannot imitate his
hermeneutics, if we are to be persuasive with our quite different audience and
context. But we can wholeheartedly accept his conclusions. These reect as-
sumptions and convictions based on life-changing encounters with the risen
ChristPauls and others, not the results of inductive study of the OT. A
Christian reading of the OT is fundamentally shaped by christological and
eschatological assumptions not shared with Judaism (Witherington 1998a,
We may not be persuaded by the exegetical logic Paul used to defend his
conviction that Gods promises to Abraham found their singular fulllment
in Christ (v 16). But as Christians, we nd the theo-logic of his covenantal
interpretation convincing. Almost certainly, Paul would nd our individual-
istic Western assumptions as strange and inappropriate as we nd some of his
interpretive moves.
Responsible interpreters attend to the timely as well as the timeless di-
mensions of Scripture. We must realize that the letter to the Galatians was
not written to us. And there are sixty-ve other books in the canon we must
take with equal seriousness as Scripture. The enduring message of a text and
of the canonical collection in its wholeness must capture our attention. And
yet, we cannot ignore the world BEHIND THE TEXT and rush too quickly to
the afterlife of the textwhat arises FROM THE TEXT. We must learn from
the apostle where to focus our attention.
In the present text, we may learn to concentrate on the dependable char-
acter of God revealed throughout the Bible and the central role Christ plays as
the denitive revelation of God. The clear connection between Pauls Chris-
tology and his eschatology emphasized here, perhaps, nds fullest expression
in 2 Cor 1:18-22. Simply put, in Christ every one of Gods promises is a Yes
(1:20 NRSV).
2. The Purpose of the Law (3:19-29)
Paul had argued that the Christian life was to be lived out of the power-
ful resources of the divine Spirit, not weak human esh. Only Gods sancti-
fying Spirit, not the Law, could empower the Galatians to continue toward
their goal of nal salvation (3:3-5). To prove his point, Paul appealed to the
Galatians experience of the Spirit (3:1-5), to Gods promise to Abraham pre-
served in Scripture (3:6-14), and to the analogy between divine and human
covenants (3:15-18).
Pursuing the way of Law, specically circumcision, was not the way for-
ward. On the contrary, the Galatians efforts to do what the Law required
would bring them disastercurse, not the blessing promised Abraham, the
promise of the Spirit (3:10-14). Trusting in Christ, not doing works of the
Law, was the way for Gentiles to share fully in Gods gracious promises to
Abraham (3:15-18).
This line of reasoning raised an obvious question: Why did God bother
giving the Law, if it had no effect on his earlier covenant promises to Abra-
ham and his descendants? This is the challenge motivating Pauls argument
in 3:194:7. Pauls answer, simply put, was that the Law was intended to be
only a temporary, stopgap measure until the coming of Christ.
The social consequence of the Law was to separate Gods people from
the nations (Witherington 1998a, 256). As a result, Abrahams descendants
failed to be a means of conveying Gods blessing to the nations. Instead, they
repeatedly yielded to the temptation to pursue foreign gods and their ways.
Such sin, the endemic rebellion of Gods people, made the Law necessary.
Apart from the Law, there may well have been no heirs to receive the fulll-
ment of Gods promise to Abraham.
Paul parted company with his Jewish contemporaries in his views on
the Law in several signicant respects. It is one of the principle doctrines of
Judaism that God gave the Torah for the purpose of providing a way for Israel
into eternal life (Betz 1979, 174; see Lev 18:5; Deut 6:24; 30:15-20; 32:47;
Prov 3:1-2; 6:23; Sir 17:11; Bar. 3:9; 4:1; Pss. Sol. 14:2; )Abot 2.8; 6.1-3; Matt
5:17-20; 7:13-14; Mark 10:17-20; see Bultmann 1964, 855-62). Against such
views, Paul insisted that God never intended the Law to serve as a means of
imparting life (Gal 3:21).
Another Jewish tradition trumped any suggestion that the Law might
offer salvation life. In the Bible, the verb zo3opoieo3, make alive (v 21), almost
always describes a work exclusive to God (2 Kgs 5:7; Neh 9:6; Job 36:6; Ps
71:20; Jos. Asen. 8:3, 9; 12:1; 20:7; Let. Aris. 16; John 5:21; Rom 4:17; 1 Cor
15:22) or Gods Spirit (John 6:63; Rom 8:11; 1 Cor 15:45; 2 Cor 3:6; 1 Pet
3:18; Dunn 1993, 192-93). Law could not make alive.
Pauls view that the Law served only a temporary role in the divine econ-
omy (Gal 3:19) was not shared by his fellow Jews. They considered the Law
both preexistent and eternal (see Wis 18:4; Sir 24:9; 2 Esd 9:37; 2 Bar. 4:1;
1 En. 99:2; Jub. 1:27; 3:31; As. Mos. 1:11-18; Philo, Moses 2:14; Josephus, Ag.
Ap. 2.277; compare Matt 5:17-19).
Paul did, however, adopt the standard Jewish view of the double media-
tion of the Law. But the implications he drew from this were the very opposite
of theirs:
(1) The angelic mediation of the Law was a widely held Jewish tradi-
tion (see Jub. 1:27; 2:1; 6:22; 15:25-35; 30:11-12, 21; 50:6, 13; Philo, Dreams
1.133-45; Josephus, Ant. 15.136) based on the LXX of Deut 33:2 (a view
challenged by Gaston 1987, 35-44). The MT refers to the LORDs appearance
on Mount Sinai with myriads of holy ones. But the LXX refers to angels
with him. This understanding is favorably cited in Acts 7:38, 53, and Heb 2:2.
For most Jews, the involvement of angels in the giving of the Law enhanced
its authority.
For Paul, however, the tradition served as evidence that the Law was of
diminished authority and limited duration, compared to the eternity of the
promise. He did not go so far as to appeal to the angelic mediation of the Law
to deny its divine origin (so Drane 1975, 34, 113) or to assert its demonic ori-
gin (so Hbner 1984, 24-36) as did later Gnosticism.
Perhaps, in Pauls thought, another widely held Jewish tradition took
precedence over the generally accepted signicance of the role of angels. It
asserted that whereas God has appointed angels to direct other nations, he
has chosen Israel for himself (e.g., Deut 32:8-9; Sir 17:17; Jub. 15:31-32; 1
En. 20:5; Dunn 1993, 192). That the Law was mediated through angels chal-
lenged Jewish particularism: Israel was no different from the other nations.
Paul may have further reasoned that its Law served as a kind of guardian
angel, equivalent to the elemental forces ([Gal] 4:3) which ruled over the
(other) nations (Dunn 1993, 192).
(2) In the present passage, Paul only indirectly referred to Moses role
as the mediator of the Law to Israel (Exod 32:15, 19; 34:4, 29). He did not
even mention Moses by name, although he did elsewhere (see Rom 5:14; 9:15;
10:5, 19; 1 Cor 9:9; 10:2; 2 Cor 3:7, 13, 15; 2 Tim 3:8). Paul simply took for
granted the Jewish understanding of Moses exalted role as the mediator of the
rst covenant (Philo, Moses 2.166; Dreams 1.143). But this detracted from the
Law in Pauls estimate, since (unlike the promise to Abraham) it did not come
directly from God, but involved human intervention. God does not need an
intermediary (Dunn 1993, 191). In 2 Cor 3:7-18 Paul similarly unfavorably
compared the fading glory of the old covenant and the Mosaic law with the
surpassing glory of his new covenant ministry of the Spirit.

a. The Temporary Role of the Law (3:19-22)

In vv 19-22, as frequently in Romans, Paul adopted the ancient diatribe
style to address the question, Why then the Law? (White 1999, 81-82). The
Galatians were to imagine him face-to-face with critics who interrupted his
argument with objections. This tactic allowed Paul to anticipate potential ob-
jections based on his years of experience as a missionary preacher. We should
hesitate to reconstruct the situation in the churches of Galatia based on such
objections. Objections to diatribe arguments probably give us a clearer glimpse
of the kinds of challenges Paul had faced elsewhere than specically in Galatia.
L 19 Paul has insisted that the Galatians became and remain Christians by
the divine activity of the Spirit, not by human works of Law. Could he really
have meant that Law cannot make people right with God? That, instead, it
brings a curse? If so, Pauls imaginary interlocutor asks, Why then the Law?
Pauls answer suggests that the question inquires about the purpose of the law.
Paul replied, It was added to the promise because of transgressions. The
Galatians must have puzzled over this. They did not have the advantage of
being able to consult Romans for clarication, as we do. The considerable va-
riety of textual variants in the manuscript tradition suggest that some ancient
scribes must have been unsure how to make sense of Pauls words (see Metzger
1994, 525).
In Romans, Paul clearly claimed that before the Law was revealed, hu-
manity sinned in blissful ignorance. Romans 4:15 explains that Law made
such sinners conscious of their true condition. They were unable to recognize
their wrongs as transgressions, that is, as acts of rebellion against the will of
God, until the Law was given (Rom 5:13).
The term transgressions refers to acts willfully violating an existing
law (Arichea and Nida 1976, 74), consciously crossing forbidden boundar-
ies. Sin may exist in the absence of Law, but it takes a specic command-
ment to crystallize wrongdoing into a transgression (see Rom 5:13, 20; 7:7-
13; see Wright 1991, 160-62). In 5:20 Paul claimed that the law was added
so that the trespass [transgression] might increase. It is not that more sins
were committed because of the Law, but that responsibility for sins increased
(Witherington 1998a, 256)people knew better. The purpose of Law was to
show how utterly sinful (7:13) Sin is. Law reveals wicked behaviors for what
they aretransgressions of Gods law. Once recognized, transgressions justly
earn Gods wrath.
Dunn properly cautions against reading charin prosetethe3, because of
transgressions, in light of the later Romans (1993, 189). He translates: Law
was added to provide a . . . remedy for transgressions, referring to the sac-
ricial system (1993, 189-90). He thinks this makes better sense of the next
clause, until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. That is, sac-
rices were provided as an interim measure for dealing with transgressions
until the nal solution was provided by Christ (Dunn 1993, 190).
But this reading is difcult to reconcile with Pauls claim in Gal 3:21
that the Law was not intended to impart life or righteousness. He found it
unthinkable that Law might be the basis for the promise. The gracious prom-
ise God made to Abraham belonged to an order of reality entirely different
from Law. And the fulllment of the promise came through Jesus Christ,
who was delivered over to death for our sins [transgressions] (Rom 4:25;
see 5:15-20). Law was never intended to solve the problem of transgressions.
It could not impart life (Gal 3:21). It could only point out the need for a
solution to the problem. The Law not only had a limited purpose but also was
designed for planned obsolescenceit had a built-in expiration date.
The preposition achris, until (see also 4:1), is a function word used to
indicate an interval between two points (BDAG, 160). Here, the interval be-
gan when God gave the Law to Israel. It was to remain in force until the time
when Christ would come (BDAG, 160, s.v. achri). Paul referred to Christ indi-
rectly as the Seed to whom the promise referred. This builds on his exegetical
reasoning in 3:16-18, explaining why he argued for the singular reference of
Abrahams seed in 3:16.
Thus, the Law served as merely an important parenthesis between
the Abrahamic covenant and the fulllment of the promises to Abraham in
Christ, . . . a temporary means of dealing with the chosen people (Wither-
ington 1998a, 254; following Hong 1993, 149-56). The Laws temporary role
is clear from the analogies Paul used to describe it ( paidago3gos in 3:24;
epitropous and oikomomous in 4:2; and ta stoicheia tou kosmou in 4:3).
Paul claimed that Law was added to the promise until the Seed . . . had
come (3:19b). This resembles the references to interim solutions mentioned
in Ezra 2:63 (until there should be a priest [NRSV]); Neh 7:65 (until there
should be a priest); 1 Macc 4:46 (until a prophet should come [NRSV]); and
14:41 (until a trustworthy prophet should arise [NRSV]).
The NIV paraphrase obscures the passive formulation: until the seed
would come to whom the promise had been made (Gal 3:19 NASB). But just
as surely as was promised in 3:22 has God as its implicit actor, God gave the
Law (a divine passive; 2:7, 17, 21; 3:6, 8, 11, 21, 22, 23, 24; 4:19; 5:4, 5,
13). With the arrival of the age of fulllment, Gods temporary purpose for
the Law had been served.
Did Paul think of the expiration date as a precise historical moment
(say) 6 B.C., when Christ was born; or, A.D. 30, when he died and was resur-
rected three days later? Of course, the fulllment of the promise required the
historical Christ event. But it seems clear enough that the purpose for Christs
coming is not complete until it becomes an existential reality in ones personal
experience (see Bultmann 1970, 269).
The age of Law (see Rom 5:12-14) came to an end to make way for the
age of the Spirit (see Gal 3:10-29). What became a potential reality in the his-
torical events of Christs life does not become effective for believers until we
participate in them. Thus, for example, Paul was unaware of any problem with
Law until after he found Christ its solution. Paul did not come to Christ as a
self-conscious rebel against God, plagued by guilt, deeply conscious of his own
sin, and desperately seeking salvation. On the contrary, it was the revelation of
the crucied Jesus as the Christ of God that caused a self-righteous zealot for
the Law (Gal 1:13-14; see Phil 3:2-11) to understand himself as a sinner and
Jesus as the only means of salvation (Gal 2:15-17; 2 Cor 5:16-21).
Paul concluded Gal 3:19 with a description of the manner in which the
Law was added. It was ordered through angels by means of a mediator (see
Lev 26:46; Ps 68:18). The church fathers Ambrosiaster and Theodoret took
angelo3n to refer not only to heavenly angels but also to Gods earthly messen-
gers (cited in Edwards 1999, 64). The verb diatasso3, put into effect, refers to
the manner in which the Law was introduced. Paul did not explicitly state that
God organized the event, but the passive certainly implies as much (see Rom
13:2; see Belleville 1986, 55-56).
L 20 A mediator, however, is not one; but God is one. Between God and the
people of Israel stood two mediators: angelic and human (Moses). But Gods
promise to Abraham was given directly, without the assistance of mediators.
Gnost i c Excesses
Later gnostic Christians pushed Pauls views on Law to extremes that
mainstream Christianity could not tolerate. Marcion urged Christians to abandon
the OT entirely. The proto-orthodox church fathers uniformly rejected Mar-
cions views as heretical. We know his views only secondhand, from the writings
of those who opposed him. But we possess a transcript of a second-century
letter written by a less extreme proto-heretical approach similar to Marcions in
Ptolemaeus Letter to Flora. Ptolemaeus hoped to inuence this Christian lady
to adopt his Valentinian gnostic persuasion, which he offered as a moderating
position. His letter, preserved in full in Epiphanius fourth-century Refutation of
All Heresies (Pan. 33.3.1-33.7.10; this may be read in full at http://www.gnosis.org/
library/ora.htm). Some contemporary Christian interpreters repeat his error,
effectively marginalizing and minimizing portions of the OT.
Paul considered the Mosaic law of only temporary relevanceuntil the
coming of Christ. But he did not deny the Laws divine origin nor diminish
its crucial, albeit eeting, signicance in salvation history. The Laws function
was limited, but not evil. He still believed that Christians were obliged to
fulll the law of Christ (Gal 6:3).
In 3:19 Paul claimed that the law of Moses served only a temporary role
because it was put into effect . . . by a mediator. The meaning of his explana-
tion of this in v 20 has been disputed by interpreters since the second century.
A go-between implies the existence of more than one party. Not only God
and Israel, but angels and Moses were involved in the Sinai covenant. Media-
tion inevitably called for compromise. The presence of an intermediary would
prevent attainment, without any impediment, of the purpose of the heis Theos
[one God] in giving the law (BDAG, 634, s.v. mesite3s). The involvement of
others introduced a measure of contingency. What if Israel, Moses, or the an-
gels were unfaithful to the covenant?
Pauls Jewish contemporaries thought the involvement of angels and Mo-
ses only enhanced its authority. Paul, consistent with his divine-human an-
tithesis throughout the letter, implied the reverse. The promise was superior
to the Law because it came directly from God (Arichea and Nida 1976, 76).
Is there a connection between Pauls use of henos, one, in 3:16 and 20
(so Brawley 2002)? In v 16 Paul insisted that Gods promise to Abrahams seed
applied to one person, who is Christ. In v 21, Pauls imaginary interlocutor
treats the Law and the promise of God as mutually opposed. But Paul insisted
that Gods law and Gods promises were not antithetical. After all, the same
God gave both. God is not at odds with God.
In v 20, Paul afrmed the central monotheistic credo of Israel: God is
one (Deut 6:4). There are not two or more gods (see also Rom 3:30; 1 Cor
8:4, 6; Eph 4:6; 1 Tim 2:5). Scholars debate the relevance of this argument.
Hundreds of different explanations have been proposed (see Lightfoot 1874,
146; Burton 1920, 191-92; Hendricksen 1968, 143; Bruce 1982, 178-79).
This explanation seems most plausible to me: The fulllment of Gods
covenant with Israel was contingent on its obedience, whereas Gods promise
to Abraham was unilateral and unconditional. Whether the mediators role
was limited to Moses or included angels, the mediator represented two par-
tiesGod and Israel. The Sinai covenant failed because Israel did not do
what was demanded and broke the stipulations of the covenant (Schreiner
2010, 243). By acting directly and independently in his promise to Abraham
(Arichea and Nida 1976, 76), God could assure its fulllment: God is one and
God keeps his promises.
L 21-22 The concluding verses of this subsection of Pauls argument seem to
serve a transitional function. They simultaneously serve as the thesis state-
ment for 3:234:11 ( 3:23-29 BEHIND THE TEXT; 1:10-12; 5:1).
L 21a The interlocutor raised another objection, Is the law, therefore, opposed
to the promises of God? ( v 14). Pauls immediate response to the question,
Absolutely not! forcefully denied the perverse logic that would lead to such a
misguided conclusion. Law and promise are not opposites. The Greek phrase
me3 genoito, common in Pauls diatribe-style argumentation in Romans, is usu-
ally translated, By no means! (Rom 3:4, 6, 31; 6:2, 15; 7:7, 13; 9:14; 11:1;
Gal 2:17; 6:14; see 1 Cor 6:15).
In Rom 3:31, Pauls imaginary dialogue-partner raised a similar ques-
tion: Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? And just as emphatically he
answered, Not at all! He was insistent in both passages that the new thing
God has done in Christ was not the undoing of all he has done in the past.
In Galatians Paul argued that the interlocutor fundamentally misunderstood
the purpose of the Law. In Gal 3:21b-25, Paul would insist that God never
intended the Law as a means of salvation. Law was intended only to keep Israel
safe until the coming of Christ.
L 21b The evidence against the interlocutors assumption takes the form of a
second class contrary-to-fact (unreal) conditional sentence. Both the condition
and its consequence are mistaken (BDAG, 56-57). The protasis (condition)
explains why Paul considered the interlocutors assumption that the apostle
considered the Law and promises opposites mistaken: God did not give a law
. . . that could impart life.
Of course, God gave the Law. Paul did not deny the divine origin of the
Law. He only insisted that God did not endow it with the ability to save. The
verb impart life refers back to the words of Hab 2:4, quoted in 3:11The
righteous will live by faith. This verb is used in the NT in an exclusively
soteriological sense (Schottroff 1990b).
Only the Creator was able to bring salvation life into existence. This side
of the ecumenical creeds, we might say that only the Triune Godthe Father
(John 5:21; Rom 4:17; 8:11) or Christ the Son (John 5:21; 6:63; 1 Cor 15:22,
45) and the Holy Spirit (John 6:63; Rom 8:11; 1 Cor 15:45; 2 Cor 3:6; 1 Pet
3:18)had the power to raise the dead to life. No law could give salvation life,
whether life refers to a right relationship with God in the present or the future
life of the resurrection.
Law was powerless to offer justication before God. Paul had once be-
lieved the Law promised life (Rom 7:10). But he found it unable to deliver on
its promise apart from the redemption Christ made possible ( Gal 3:13-14;
see 2 Cor 3:6). Only the Spirit of God gave salvation life and empowered be-
lievers to live in obedience to God ( Gal 5:25; see Rom 8:2-17).
Paul rejected as impossible the conclusion of this unreal conditional con-
struction: then righteousness would certainly have come by the law ( Gal
3:6, 8; see 2:16-20; 3:2-5, 18; and Rom 4:14). Pauls quotation of Gen 15:6 in
Gal 3:6 makes the opposite claim: God credited Abraham with righteousness
on the basis of his faith alone. And in 3:11 he insisted: Clearly no one is justi-
ed before God by the law (see Sloan 1991).
L 22 Contrary to the assumptions of his interlocutor, Paul maintained that
the Law was incapable of putting people right with God. Its place in Gods
scheme of human salvation was entirely preparatory for what was achieved by
Christ alone.
As in v 8, Paul personied the Scripture. When he used the singular
Scripture, Paul typically referred to a particular OT passage (Ridderbos 1953,
141 n. 28). Thus, some interpreters speculate that he referred to Deut 27:26
( Gal 3:10; so Lightfoot 1874, 147; Burton 1920, 195; Longenecker 1990,
144) or Ps 143:2 ( Gal 2:16; so Lightfoot 1874, 147). But he may have had
the testimony of the Scriptures as a whole is in view (Schreiner 2010, 244).
Others (e.g., Cosgrove 1978-79, 160; Bruce 1982, 180; Jervis 1999, 100;
George 1994, 261) suggest that Scripture here was a metonym for God him-
self (as in Gal 3:8; 4:30; Rom 4:3; 10:11; 11:2; 1 Tim 5:18).
The 1984 NIV freely paraphrases Gal 3:22a: But the Scripture declares
that the whole world is a prisoner of sin. The 2011 NIV translates literally:
Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin (see BDAG, 952,
s.v. synkleio3; see Exod 14:3). Since Paul explicitly assigned the role of jailer
to the law in Gal 3:23, Scripture and Law here seem to be synonymous.
In Luke 5:6, the verb synkleio3 describes a shing net catching sh. But the
verb may have a positive sense, to put in safekeeping (see Moulton and Mil-
ligan 1930, 609, s.v. synkleio3). Law was a severe jailer, as Pauls analogy in Gal
3:234:7 indicates. But it served Gods ultimate saving purposes: to keep
Jews in protective custody until the coming of the Savior (see Rom 11:32, the
only other NT passage in which synkleio3 appears).
Some commentators interpret Law in Gal 3:22-25 in completely negative
terms. The Law incites people to sin and then condemns them for sinning. The
typical Reformed view highlights the bankruptcy of human effort and in so do-
ing shuts men up to the grace of God as their only hope (Belleville 1986, 58;
citing Burton 1920, 196-201; and Bruce 1982, 181-83). This reading equates
the Scripture (v 22) and the Law (vv 23-25); and it assigns the Guardian in
Pauls analogy (vv 24-25) a wholly negative role (Belleville 1986, 58).
The whole world that Scripture imprisoned in v 22 cannot be restricted
to the Jews, since they alone were under Law (so Burton 1920, 196). It must
include all people (NRSV), everything (NIV 2011). Sins sinister inuence
extended beyond the human inhabitants of the world. In Rom 8:19-22 Paul
personied the consequences of Sin on the nonhuman created order in terms
of suffering, frustration, futility, bondage to decay, and groaning for redemp-
tion. Such is the reality of the unredeemed in the present evil age (Gal 1:4).
What did Paul mean by claiming that everything [was] under the con-
trol of sin (NIV 2011)? Romans 3:9-20 may offer his own commentary on
imprisonment under sin. In Rom 1:183:20 he argued that all humans are
sinners (see 3:23). He made his case for universal human sinfulness (v 9) with
a catena of scriptural quotations from each of the three sections of the Hebrew
canon (in Rom 3:10-18). He concluded: Therefore no one will be declared
righteous in [Gods] sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we
become conscious of sin (Rom 3:20).
Galatians 3:22a may mean that Scripture identies every human being
as a sinner (so Mussner 1977, 252-57). There is ample scriptural evidence that
all humanity is hopelessly enslaved to Sin (so Cosgrove 1978-79, 162-63). Ev-
erything in this present age has been victimized by its sinister power.
Law was powerless to break Sins stranglehold on this present world.
But Scripture recognized that the bondage Sin imposed, nonetheless, served
a divinely ordained purpose: so that the promise . . . might be given to those
who believe ( 3:14, 16, 17, 18, and 21, 29; 4:23, 28 on promise). God is the
unexpressed actor presumed by the passive verb.
The promise here refers back to Gods words to Abraham, All nations
will be blessed through you (3:8). Its fulllment was to come through his
seed . . . who is Christ (3:16; 3:18; see Dunn 1993, 195). Thus, we might
paraphrase v 22: Gods will as expressed in the Scripture (BDAG, 952, s.v.
synkleio3) imprisoned all humans under Sin, so that God might give what he
had promised Abraham . . . to those who believe.
Ellipsed in the above translation of v 22 is the prepositional phrase (lit.),
by the faith of Jesus Christ. Similar expressions, through the faith of Jesus
Christ and by the faith of Christ, appear in 2:16 (). These may be read as
objective genitives. That is, those imprisoned under Sin receive the promise
by their faith in Jesus Christ (e.g., Bruce 1982, 181; Dunn 1993, 195). But this
traditional Protestant reading is not without its problems.
First, most English translations treat the phrase as adjectival. That is,
it further describes the nature of the promise: The Scripture imprisoned all
things under Sin, so that the promise, which is given by faith in Jesus Christ,
might be given to those who believe (e.g., ESV, GNT, KJV, NASB, NRSV, RSV). But
most prepositional phrases in the NT have an adverbial function. That is, they
usually modify verbs, not nouns. If so, by the faith of Jesus Christ claries
how God kept his promise, not the kind of promise God kept. This calls for
the translation: The Scripture imprisoned all things under Sin, so that the
promise might be given by the faith of Jesus Christ to those who believe (e.g.,
Second, the usual translation of the two phrases, by faith in Jesus Christ
and to those who believe, seems to be needlessly repetitive (see Matlock
2007). Both emphasize the necessity of human faith as a condition for receiv-
ing Gods promise. The NIV translation well illustrates this apparent tautol-
ogy: being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who
For such reasons, some recent interpreters (e.g., Hays 1983, 124, 157-67;
Howard 2004, 58, 65; Hooker 1990, 170-75; Longenecker 1990, 145) propose
reading the faith of Jesus Christ as a subjective genitive, referring to the faith-
fulness shown by Jesus Christ ( 2:16). Paul could presume the Galatians
were familiar with the story of Jesus faithfulness.
Jesus demonstrated his faithfulness to God by giving himself for our
sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our
God and Father (1:4; see 2:20).
Paul characterized his preaching as Jesus Christ . . . crucifed (3:1;
see 1 Cor 2:2).
By believing this message the Galatians were justifed by faith (Gal
3:8) and given the gift of the Spirit (vv 2-4).
On the cross Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becom-
ing a curse for us (v 13).
He was crucifed in order that the blessing given to Abraham might
come to the Gentiles (v 14).
The Galatians could have understood the faith of Jesus Christ to mean
the faithfulness shown by Jesus Christ on the cross. This reading avoids the
pleonastic emphasis on human faith implicit in the traditional translation.
And it explains how God fullled his promise to Abraham: The Scripture
imprisoned all things under Sin, so that by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ
the promise might be given to those who believe (compare NET). This non-
traditional interpretation results in a natural Pauline combination of divine
initiative and human response.
The traditional Protestant reading correctly recognizes that in most Pau-
line passages pistis refers to the faith exercised by ordinary people. Believers
trust in God / Christ, as the means of justication. But the traditional transla-
tion of v 22 is plausible only if the prepositional phrase is understood adjec-
tivally: The Scripture imprisoned all things under Sin, so that the promise,
which is by faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. An
objective genitive seems ill-suited to an adverbial understanding, as the awk-
ward NIV translation illustrates.
Why Did God Give the Law? The second-century arch-heretic Marcion
answered that God didnt. The inept and inferior creator-god gave the Law
to cause humans to sin (see Riches 2008, 189). In response, proto-orthodox
church fathers, like Chrysostom, focused on the historical rationale for the
Law. They insisted that God added the Law to curb transgressions, to make
the people of Israel aware of their sins and to preserve them until the Savior
arrived (Riches 2008, 190). Augustine added that not only is the Law tem-
porary, it is also restricted to the Jews (Riches 2008, 191).
Luthers answer to the question made Law applicable to all humanity,
not just Jews. First, Law was to bring all people to such an awareness of their
sins that they might despair of any hope of righteousness through their own
efforts. Second, paradoxically, the Law was to drive us to Christ. Luthers suc-
cessor, Melanchthon, added a third use of the Law: its teaching role in the
church (Riches 2008, 193). Calvin particularly emphasized the so-called
third use of the Law to inform and dene Christian ethical teaching. Cal-
vins experience with the excesses of the Radical Reformation caused him to
lack condence in the sufciency of the Spirit as guide (Riches 2008, 196).
John Wesleys sermon The Original, Nature, Property, and Use of the
Law reects the Protestant tradition of the three continuing uses of the Law
(1979, 5:442-45). He was convinced that believers had no need for the Jew-
ish ceremonial law, or the entire Mosaic dispensation, or the moral law, as a
means of procuring our justication (1979, 5:444).
b. The Law as Guardian (3:23-25)
In Gal 3:21 Paul strongly denied that the Law was opposed to Gods
promises. In 3:104:11, he closely associated the human experience of be-
ing under (hypo) the control of six external inuences: a curse (3:10); Sin
(3:22); Law (3:23); a Guardian (3:25), guardians and trustees (4:2), and
ta stoicheia tou kosmou ( 4:3). To be under others was to be subservient to a
superior power. But Paul did not simply equate these overlords.
In 3:234:11 Paul substantiated his twofold claim in 3:21-22. (1) Gods
law and promises are not antithetical. (2) Scripture declares that all things
are under Sin so that the promise is a gift to believers. He argued that there
is a marked contrast between what Christians are in the present and what
they were in the past. They are now sons of God and Abrahams seed (vv
26-29). They once were imprisoned under Law (v 23) and enslaved under
ta stoicheia tou kosmou ( 4:3; see v 9). The Guardian (3:24, 25) and the
guardians and trustees (4:2) are analogies to describe the function of the
Law before the coming of Christ.
In 3:23 Paul appealed to the imagery of the Greco-Roman paidago3gos
to explain what being held in custody by the Law entailed. Those under Law
are compared to minor children under the authority of a paidago3gos. His anal-
ogy was so familiar in the rst century that the term was used as a loanword
in rabbinic literature (Young 1987, 150, 155 n. 69, 156 n. 71). Paul was not
the rst Jew to compare the Law to the paidago3gos (see Philo, Embassy 115;
Sacrices 15; Det. 145).
By etymology a paidago3gos was one who led (ago3) children (paides)a
guardian, leader, [or] guide (BDAG, 748). The term designates in the
world of the NT that manusually of the slave class . . . who was in charge of
the external education (conduct, courtesy, table manners, and general deport-
ment) of boys of about six to sixteen years of age (Schneider 1990, 2). The
pedagogues rst task . . . was preventive and protective, . . . to take care on all
occasions that the children suffer no harm (Young 1987, 158). He was to be a
moral guide and was to be obeyed (Young 1987, 159). He accompanied them
to and from school and supervised their daily activities 24/7, inculcating

right and rebuking and punishing wrong behavior (Belleville 1986, 59; see 74
nn. 28-34 for ancient sources; see also Young 1987 and Brawley 2002, 107-8).
Despite the English cognate pedagogue, the paidago3gos was not a teacher
as much as a disciplinarian (NRSV). Thus, a modern counterpart might com-
bine the job descriptions of a bodyguard, school bus driver, crossing guard,
safety ofcer, vice principal, nanny, and chaperone.
In antiquity, children were not regarded as innocent and impression-
able. They were considered wild, intractable, incorrigible, and insolent beasts
(see Plato, Laws 7.808D-809B). They needed to be restrained and denied
the freedom they would abuse to their own self-destruction (see Plato, Laws
The paidago3gos played a role in ancient childrearing that was preven-
tive and protective. It was neither parental nor permanent (see Young 1987,
168-69, 174-75). It was neither entirely positive (against MacGorman 1975)
nor negative (against Betz 1979, 177). Like the Law, the paidago3gos had an es-
sential, but transitional and transient role. He assured that children survived
their childhood to become responsible adults.
L 23-25 Verses 23-25 are a single sentence in Greek. It seems to contrast
life before and after the coming of Christ. The contrast is not simply between
historical existence in the B.C. and A.D. eras, but between our lives before and
after we became believers.
L 23 The long sentence in vv 23-25 begins with the prepositional phrase:
Before the Faith came. Then, Law held us in custody. Faith is personied only
here and in v 25 much as Rom 10:5-9 personies righteousness (Barth 1990,
95). Since the Faith is not really a person, what did Paul have in mind by his
gurative language? What occurred that might be described as the coming of
the Faith? Scholars offer three possibilities: the coming of Christianity, Con-
version, or Christ.
Christianity. Perhaps Paul referred to the appearance on the world scene
of the new faith system we call Christianity (Rendall 1903, 173). He seldom
used faith in the sense of des quae creditur, the content of faith itself, the
Christian religion (Barth 1990, 94). But he did so in Gal 1:23 (). And this
usage is not uncommon elsewhere in the NT (e.g., Acts 6:7; Rom 12:6; Eph
4:5; 1 Tim 1:4, 19; 2:7; 3:9; 4:1, 6; 6:21; Titus 1:1; 2 Pet 1:1; Jude 20).
Conversion. Perhaps the coming of the Faith referred to ones personal
embracing of faith in Christ. Your faith in several of Pauls letters (Rom 1:8;
1 Cor 2:5; 2 Cor 1:24; Phil 2:17; 1 Thess 1:8; 3:2-10; Phlm 5) suggests that he
referred not simply to a unique historical event, but to the turning of anyone
from unbelief to faith in Christ. The subjective actualization of the faith by
individual believers (Schlier 1965, 94-95, 167) occurs across time, not just
at one time. Galatians 3:22 mentions what was promised, being given . . . to
those who believe. In one sense, the gift existed, in potential, from the time
of Christs coming. But in another, the Spirit is received by each believer only
as he or she exercises faith in the gospel message. That is, the claim that by
faith we . . . receive the promise of the Spirit (in v 14) is fully realized only
when we believe. Paul had earlier associated the terms believing and receiv-
ing the Spirit in his description of the Galatians conversion (in 3:1-5).
Christ. Perhaps, by the coming of the Faith Paul referred to the divinely
orchestrated historical Christ event (see 4:4)his coming and crucixion.
Believers trust in him as the ground of faith. The articular noun the Faith
(emphasis added) apparently refers to the faith of Jesus Christ, the pattern
of faithfulness revealed in Jesus (Hays 1983, 231-32; see Longenecker 1990,
145; 3:22). The historical coming of Jesus Christ demonstrated his faith-
fulness to God.
The parallel between the coming of the Seed . . . who is Christ (3:16)
and the coming of the Faith here, suggests that both refer to Christ (Wither-
ington 1998a, 268). Perhaps Paul used this personication to contrast both
Law vs. Christ and Law vs. Faith.
The main clause of the sentence (in vv 23-25) describes our lives before
we received the Spirit promised those who believe in Jesus Christ (v 12): we
were held prisoners by the law (v 23). Pauls verb was the same he used to
describe his experience in Damascus (in 2 Cor 11:32): King Aretas kept the
city gates under surveillance in an attempt to arrest Paul (Betz 1979, 175, and
Longenecker 1990, 145). Paul used the verb favorably in Phil 4:7And the
peace of God . . . will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. In
this positive sense, to be under Law was to be under moral supervision. Law
restrained those prone to sin from doing so and provided the power needed to
resist its appeal (Belleville 1986, 57).
Non-Christian, Greek-speaking Jews used the same verb Paul did here
to speak favorably of the Torah. Law served as a protective fence surround-
ing Israel (Let. Aris. 139; see also 130-33; 142; 3 Macc 3:3-7; see Betz 1979,
165 n. 31). Law protected Israel from the evil inuences of paganism (Duncan
1934, 118-21). It kept Israel in protective custody and provided, through its
sacricial system, a temporary solution to the problem of Sin (Dunn 1993,
197-98). Taking seriously Pauls claim that Gods law and Gods promises
were not opposed to one another (Gal 3:21), allows for the translation in v 23:
we were protected by the Law (see BDAG, 1067, s.v. phroureo3).
Interpreters may not arbitrarily choose a reading for the verb phroureo3 in
v 23 that is inconsistent with their reading of the verb synkleio3 in vv 22 and 23.
To refer negatively to imprisonment under Sin (v 22) and positively to being
kept in protective custody under Law (vv 23-25) destroys the structural par-
allelism and results in contextual inconsistency (Belleville 1986, 57). It seems
unlikely that the same verb should have opposite senses in such proximity.
The NIV consistently paraphrases both negatively: the whole world is a
prisoner of sin in v 22; and we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until
faith should be revealed in v 23. Betz (1979, 161) prefers a neutral translation
for both: Scripture has conned everything under sin; and we were kept in
custody under [the] Law, conned until the coming faith was to be revealed.
The same preposition, hypo, precedes Sin in v 22 and Law in v 23. In
both instances, under is a better translation than of and by used in the NIV.
Before coming to faith in Christ, we were closely supervised by two personi-
ed powers: we lived under Sin and under Law. Scholars disagree as to the
precise meaning of the phrase hypo nomon. It occurs eleven times in just three
of Pauls lettersRomans, 1 Corinthians, and Galatiansand nowhere else
in the Greek Bible, OT or NT. To determine what Paul means by the phrase
hypo nomon is to penetrate to the heart of the Pauline concept of law (Belle-
ville 1986, 54).
Under Law
The expression under Law appears in Pauls letters only in Rom 6:14, 15;
1 Cor 9:20; Gal 3:23; 4:4, 21; 5:18. In Gal 4:21, he addressed readers who were
considering becoming circumcised (see 5:2) as you who want to be under the
law. In 5:4, he explained that those trying to be justied by law have been alien-
ated from Christ, . . . fallen away from grace.
In Romans Paul contrasted those under law with those under grace.
Christians are not under Law precisely because they are led by the Spirit (Gal
5:18; see Rom 8:1-4). Paul denitely did not evaluate life under grace negatively.
In fact, Law vs. Grace marks the contrast of pre- and post-Christian existence.
To be under Law or Grace was to live in subjection to the lordship of one or the
other of these personied spheres of power. To be under a power was to be its
subject; to be reigned by it, to be under its mastery (BDAG, 1036, s.v. hypo B.2).
First Corinthians 9:20 uses under the law to dene what it meant to be
a Jew. Despite his Jewish ancestry, Paul maintained, I myself am not under the
law. But he qualied this in v 21: I am not free from Gods law but am under
Christs law. Throughout Gal 5, he emphasized that Christian freedom was not
to be misunderstood as personal autonomy or licentiousness ( vv 1, 6, 13-
23). In 6:2 he referred favorably to fullling the law of Christ (compare Rom
8:2the law of the Spirit of life).
The apparent complicity of Sin and Law in the enslavement of pre-
Christian humanity is taken for granted in both Galatians and Romans. In
Rom 7 Paul exonerated the Law of culpability, identifying it as at once an
unwitting agent and a pathetic victim (along with powerless humanity) of
the deceptive power of Sin (see Greathouse and Lyons 2008a, 199-224). The
coming of the Faith solved the problems of powerful Sin and impotent Law.
The participle locked up immediately follows the main clause (we were
held prisoners). It is from the same verb translated imprisoned in v 22. But a
more neutral translationconned and kept in custodymight be justied
in both instances.
Pauls metaphorical imagery in 3:19-22 and 23-25 assumes the existence
of three roles: (1) A Conner, who held the Conned in custody; (2) the Con-
ned, who were held; and (3) the Connementthe reality that restrained
them. In v 22:
The Confner was the Scripture (see v 8 and Rom 9:17), apparently
representing the revealed will of God. Thus, God is the Conner.
The Confned were all things (the whole world)all humanity and
the entire created order.
And the metaphorical Confnement that restrained everything was
In Gal 3:23, some of the realities standing behind the picture-world
The passive voice leaves the Confner unidentifed. Assuming this is
a divine-passive, God is the anonymous actor, the source of both the
Law and the Scripture. God held us in protective custody under Law.
The Confned are more narrowly identifed as we.
o This might be an exclusive we, referring only to Jews, like Paul (e.g.,
Betz 1979, 176; Dunn 1993, 198).
o It probably has the same reference as in v 13, where its antecedent it
disputed ().
o If the scope of redemption is universal, it refers to the pre-Christian
existence of all humanity, including Paul, his fellow Jews, and his
Gentile audience in Galatia (Bruce 1982, 182).
The metaphorical Confnement in v 23 is identifed as the Law.
Christs redemptive act overcame both Sin and Law.
The nal prepositional phrase of v 23until faith should be revealed
identies the divinely ordained termination point of human connement. A few
older commentaries took the phrase to indicate the purpose of our connement
(e.g., Lightfoot 1874, 148: guarded, that we might be ready; Burton 1920, 199:
shut up for the obtaining of the faith). But most modern translations and com-
mentaries take it to refer to the time of our connement, as in v 19: until the Seed
. . . had come.
Paul identied no beginning point for our connement. Nor did he ex-
plain why humanity was held captive under Sin and Law. In Rom 5:12-21, he
appealed to the story of Adams fall. Here, he emphasized the divine means of
ending human captivity under Sin and Law through Christ. This gives Pauls
point a chiastic (X-shaped) structure. The rst and nal lines emphasize B.C.
existence. The middle lines characterize that era using synonymous parallelism:
Before the Faith came,
we were guarded [by God] under Law.
We were locked up together [by God],
until the coming Faith was about to be revealed [by God].
Personied Faith at the beginning and end of the sentence refers to the same
event, whether the revelation of the Christian faith, the conversion of those
who have faith, or Gods revelation of the faithful Christ.
Paul had identied Gods end-times revelation of Jesus Christ as the
source of his gospel (1:12) and the occasion of his conversion-call (v 16). He
was well aware of the eschatological connotations of his choice of wordsre-
vealed and revelation. He took for granted that Gods disclosure of Jesus as
the faithful Son of God marked the dawning of the last days. Jesus fullled
Gods ancient promises, launching the messianic era and the age of the out-
poured Spirit.
Paul was aware that Jesus had disappointed typical Jewish messianic ex-
pectations. The old age lingered even after the new age had appeared. The
expected cosmic dimensions of the apocalypse were delayed indenitely. It
required a personal revelation of Gods Son for Paul to turn from his persecu-
tion of Christians and accept Jesus as Gods Messiah (1:13-17). Thus again,
the Faith might plausibly refer to the coming of the Christian faith, personal
conversion, and Christ.
The ambiguous terminology of 3:23 (Betz 1979, 175) allows for nega-
tive, neutral, and positive understandings of Law. Interpreters views of Law
are largely determined by the role they assign the Guardian in vv 24-25 and
by their interpretation of 4:1-11 (Belleville 1986, 59). Both passages depend
on analogies to ancient practices unfamiliar to modern readers of the letter.
L 24a Paul called upon a fresh metaphor to explain what being held in cus-
tody by the Law entailed. He drew upon the familiar imagery of the Greco-
Roman paidago3gos ( BEHIND THE TEXT). The 1984 NIV avoided any
English equivalent, simply explaining the ancient role, which has no exact
contemporary equivalent. It paraphrased: So the law was put in charge. The
2011 NIV has So the law was our guardian.
Negative characterization of the paidago3gos by modern commentators
is unjustied by the ancient evidence. Nor is it consistent with Pauls own
synonyms, guardians and trustees ( 4:2). Distaste for the role is due more
to differences between ancient and modern tastes in childrearing than to
Pauls attitude toward Law. But a positive characterization fails to appreci-
ate his claim in 3:25-29 that mature Christians no longer need the Law as a
The world behind the text calls for a free translation of v 24a: Therefore,
the Law became our guardian to protect and restrain us until the coming of
Christ. Pauls image bridges the apparent opposition between promise and
law by synthesizing them into a coherent whole. The law is not opposed to
Gods promises (3,21) because it is a part of a process that moves toward
Christ (Brawley 2002, 108). Pauls main point . . . in the metaphor was that
the Law restricted Israels freedom as a paidago3gos imposed limited the free-
dom of a child (Young 1987, 171). But the time of maturity had arrived with
the coming of Christ and the gift of the Spirit (4:1-6). As adults, Christians
no longer need the Law as their heavy-handed babysitter.
As in 3:19 and 23, the preposition eis means until (NRSV) not to. Do-
ing works of Law could never lead to Christ. Coming to Christ was not like
the natural promotion to the next grade in school. Paul did not think the Law
was given for the purpose of leading us to Christ (against Burton 1920, 200).
Christ had to intervene in the history of Israel and redeem Gods people, not
only from Sin, but from Law (Witherington 1998a, 266).
The immature religious restrictions Paul considered no longer appli-
cable since the coming of Christ included that one must be circumcised and
thus become a Jew in order to be acceptable to God (5:6; 6:15); that free as-
sociation of Jew and Gentile was a sin (2:17); and that ritual days must be kept
(4:8). Both Jews and Pagans had been under such religious taboos (Young
1987, 172). The virtual equation of the experience of Jews under Law and pa-
gans under ta stoicheia tou kosmou ( 4:3 and 9) in 4:8-10 demonstrates that
Paul considered the ritualism and particularism of Judaism just as idolatrous
as Paganism (Young 1987, 173).
The rst person plural (us in 3:14 [] and 24 and we in 3:23 and
25) does not seem to limit what Paul wrote in 3:15-29 about redemption from
Sin and Law to Jewish believers alone (against Witherington 1998a, 266). His
universal language in 3:22the whole worldpoints to its relevance for
Gentiles as well. Galatians 4:1-11 suggests that Paul considered the experi-
ence of Jews and pagans analogous. Even if one were to limit the rst person
plurals in Gal. 3:23-25 to Israel, Pauls conclusion in vv. 26-29 (which shifts
to the second person plural) demonstrates this universalistic concern (Young
1987, 175).
L 24b The ultimate purpose of the Laws interim role was in order that we
might be justied by faith ( 2:16-17; 3:2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 11, 12, 22; 5:4). Law
and Faith are not irreconcilably opposed, despite the tension between them
(stressed in 2:16, 21; 3:2, 11, and 12). Each has its role to play in the divine
economy. Law keeps us from self-destruction until God can make us right on
the basis of faith in what Christ has done.
L 25 The conclusion to Pauls long sentence succinctly summarized the impli-
cations of what he had already said. Because the Faith came, we are no longer
under a guardian. As in v 23, the Faith is personied. It succinctly refers to
the coming of the Christian faith, the conversion of believers, and the faithful
mission of Christ. His death brought the Christian faith into existence. Those
who place their faith in him are set free from the need for the Law as a guard-
ian or supervisor.
The preposition under, which dened our relationship to Sin (v 22) and
Law (v 23), here denes our temporary relationship to a Guardian. The word
law does not appear in v 25, despite the NIV translation. It replaces the meta-
phorical term paidago3gon with the law it represents to ensure that readers will
correctly grasp Pauls analogy. With the coming of Christ, the temporary role
of the Law has been played. Now, believers can move on into adult responsi-
bility. In 4:1-3 Paul would exploit the rest of the metaphor, in which coming
to the age of majority is comparable to the coming of Christ. But his meaning
is clear enough already. Having fullled its divinely ordained purpose, the
supervisory role of the Law is no longer needed.
The redemption Christ brought occurred at a unique and unrepeatable
moment in history. But Paul did not experience that redemption until his
conversion-call some years later. Similarly, believers of every age and cultural
background have come to faith in Christ out of their own unique B.C. exis-
Some may have been raised in a Christian church. But only when they
made the faith of their parents their own did the Christian life cease to be a
smothering, legalistic burden imposed from the outside. The Spirit enabled
them to fulll the law of Christ (6:2) as a spontaneous expression of their
newfound freedom in Christ. But the B.C. experience of others may have been
the exact opposite.
By the prevenient grace of God, as total strangers to the community
of faith, they heard and embraced the good news of Christ. When they did,
they recognized their licentious past for the enslaving addiction to unworthy
masters it was. As Christians, for the rst time they breathed the fresh air of
real freedom in the Spirit.
c. Application (3:26-29)
Shifting Pronouns. Nothing should be made of the shift from the rst per-
son plural (we) in 2:153:25 to the second person plural (you) here. There
is no reason to assume Paul had concluded his discussion of the situation of
Jewish Christians and turned to that of Gentile Christians here (against, e.g.,
Betz 1979, 185; Dunn 1993, 201). The absence of an emphatic hymeis, we,
undermines such assumptions. Instead, Pantes, all, is emphatic (Burton 1920,
202). Those addressed as you in v 26 are identical with those indicated by
the inclusive we in vv 23-25: Gentile and Jewish believers are together in
view (Bruce 1982, 183). Likewise, in ch 4, Paul would move from we to
you language with no discernible difference in meaning (George 1994, 274).
Shifting Imagery. In 3:26-29 Paul applied the preceding analogy of the
Guardian and the Law in 3:21-25. His language and imagery seems designed
to remind the Galatians again (as in 3:1-5) of their conversions. Their baptism
afrmed that they were all one in Christ Jesus (v 28). The change of cloth-
ing accompanying the ritual reminded them that they were clothed . . . with
Christ (v 27).
The clothing imagery may also have evoked the customary change of
garments that were part of the rite of passage from childhood to full maturity
in Roman society (Rendall 1903, 174-75; Boice 1976, 471; George 1994, 280).
If so, this anticipated Pauls argument in 4:1-7. There he compared the guard-
ians and trustees of children before they became adults to the role of the Law
before the coming of Christ. He resumed the imagery of 3:21-25, expanded
upon it, and offered further application.
Shifting Boundaries. Whatever else Paul meant by announcing the end of
the three pairs of oppositesJew vs. Greek, slave vs. free, male vs. female in
v 28, he certainly challenged the cultural assumptions of most of his contem-
poraries, Jewish and Greco-Roman. From his perspective, grace trumped the
circumstances of ones birth.
Betz cites considerable evidence for the ancient utopian aspirations for
an end to the ethnic and religious divide separating Jews and Greeks (1979,
191-92, nn. 82-87) and for the abolition of the institution of slavery (1979,
192 nn. 94-107). But he acknowledges that General abolition of sexual dif-
ferences, understood in whatever way, is not found in Greco-Roman sources
(1979, 197).
Did Paul intend his claimyou are all one in Christ Jesusto have far-
reaching, even revolutionary social and political implications? And did his once
pagan audience take him to suggest that the old and decisive ideals and hopes
of the ancient world have come true in the Christian community? Betz (1979,
190) answers: There can be no doubt (see n. 71 for the ancient evidence).
Martyn (1997, 376) maintains that to pronounce the nonexistence of these op-
posites is to announce nothing less than the end of the cosmos ( 6:15).
In the new order, you are all one in Christ Jesus (3:28). Through Christ
and his cross, Paul afrmed: the world has been crucied to me, and I to the
world (6:14). The social, religious, and cultural distinctions characteristic
of the old world-order are inconsequential to Christians (Betz 1979, 190).
Perhaps Paul shared the view of many Hellenistic Jews and Stoicism that the
unity of [humankind] corresponds to the oneness of God (Betz 1979, 192;
n. 88 cites ancient sources). Christ fullled the highest aspirations not only of
Jews but of Gentiles as well.
Several ancient GreeksThales, Socrates, and Platowere credited
with expressing gratitude that I was born a human being and not a beast,
next a man and not a woman, thirdly, a Greek and not a barbarian (Diogenes

Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers 1.33; Plutarch, Mar. 46:1; Lactantius,

Inst. 3.19.17; cited in Witherington 1998a, 270).
Jewish morning prayers traditionally began by blessing God that He did
not make me a Gentile; . . . a slave (or ignorant peasant); . . . [or] a woman
(Rabbi Meir, y. Ber. 13b; Rabbi Judah ben Elai, b. Ber. 7.18; cited by Wither-
ington 1998a, 271). Josephus wrote, Woman is inferior to man in every way
(Ag. Ap. 2.24; 1:10 sidebar, First-Century Slavery).
Fur t her Readi ng : Fi rst - Cent ur y At t i t udes Toward Women
In addition to the older sources cited in Betz (1979, 197 n. 124), see the
following recent studies:
Cohick, Lynn H. 2009. Women in the World of the Earliest Christians: Illuminating
Ancient Ways of Life. Grand Rapids: Baker.
Dixon, Suzanne. 2003. Reading Roman Women: Sources, Genres, and Real Life. Lon-
don: Duckworth.
Gardner, Jane F. 1986. Women in Roman Law and Society. Bloomington, Ind.: Indi-
ana University Press.
Hemelrijk, Emily A. 1999. Matrona Docta: Educated Women in the Roman lite from
Cornelia to Julia Domna. New York: Routledge.
Kraemer, Ross Shepard. 1994. Her Share of the Blessings: Womens Religions among
Jews, Pagans, and Christians in the Greco-Roman World. New York: Oxford
University Press.
L 26-29 Paul offered three reasons why the Galatians were no longer under
the supervision of the Law in vv 26, 27, and 28. Curiously, Pauls logic moved
from the three premises that the Galatians are all sons of God (v 26), bap-
tized into Christ (v 27), and all one in Christ Jesus (v 28) to the conclusion
that they are Abrahams seed and heirs (v 29).
L 26 The Greek term huioi (lit., sons) has been translated children by most
English translations since the fourteenth-century Wycliffe Bible. During
the sixteenth century Tyndale translated it sonnes; but the KJV followed
Wycliffe. That the 1984 NIV translated the same word children in 3:7 makes
it inexplicable why it prefers sons here ( v 7).
Obviously, the NT also uses the singular Son of God as a christologi-
cal title, uniquely applicable to Jesus ( Gal 1:16; 2:20; 4:4-6; see Matt 2:15
[citing Hos 11:1]; 3:17; 4:3, 6; 11:27; 14:33; Mark 1:1, 11; 5:7; 9:7; 14:61;
Luke 1:35; 3:22; John 3:17; Acts 8:37; 9:20; 13:33; Rom 8:3-4; 1 John 4:9).
The title reects his special relationship with God (see Luke 10:22), whom he
called Father (Abba; see Gal 4:6; Rom 8:15); and his exceptional endowment
with the Holy Spirit (see Luke 3:22; 4:1, 14, 18). But it also depended on the
OT use of the title Gods son as a designation for the Davidic king (2 Sam
7:14; Pss 2:7; 89:27-28; Isa 9:6), and thus for the Messiah (see Matt 26:63;
Mark 14:61-62; Luke 1:32-33).
The OT occasionally refers to Israel collectively as Gods sons / son
(e.g., Exod 4:22; Deut 14:1; 32:19 [and daughters]; Isa 1:2; 30:9; 43:6 [and
my daughters]; 45:11; Hos 1:10; 11:1). They were children of the LORD (Deut
14:1) because they were a people holy to the LORD (14:2). Israels wisdom
tradition limited the designation sons of God to the righteous (e.g., Ps 103:13;
Prov 3:11-12; Sir 4:10; Wis 2:13, 18; 5:5; 12:21; 16:10). Apocalyptic Judaism
transposed the promise of divine sonship to the last days (see, e.g., Jub. 1:22-
25; Pss. Sol. 17:26-30; 1 En. 62:11; T. Mos. 10:3; T. Jud. 24:3; compare Luke
6:35; 20:36; 2 Cor 6:18; Rev 21:7). Thus, Pauls contemporaries believed that
even Jews would not receive the status of sons of God until the Last Judgment
(Betz 1979, 186). The NT generally holds out the possibility that believers may
be Gods children in the present (see Matt 5:9, 45; Rom 8:14, 16, 19; 2 Cor
6:18; Heb 2:10; see Hahn 1990, 386). Because Christ is the Son of God, those
who are his are likewise Gods children (see Rom 8:12-17).
By identifying his Galatian audience as children of God, Paul afrmed
that they were Gods people already: You are all sons of God. They were ob-
viously not of Jewish descent. And they were only considering adopting the
distinctive boundary markers that would have made them Jewish proselytes.
But race and ritual were not what was required to become children of God.
Because they shared Abrahams faith, they shared the intimate relationship
with God he enjoyed (see Gal 3:7; Dunn 1993, 202).
According to v 26, the Galatians (and all other believers, Gentiles and
Jews) became sons of God through their faith in Christ Jesus ( 2:16). The
faithfulness of Christ calls for the human response of faith in the sufciency of
Christ for salvation. Verse 27 of ch 3 implies that those who believe in Christ
demonstrate it by also being baptized into Christ.
The phrase in Christ Jesus in v 26 is repeated in v 28. This may argue
for a different punctuation of v 26: for you are all sons of God, through the
faith, in Christ Jesus (Hendricksen 1968, 148; Betz 1979, 185). Thus, Paul
did not emphasize Christ as the object of their faith but their incorporation
into the Christian community ( 1:22; 2:4, 17; 3:13-14). The twofold basis
for their status as Gods children was the coming of this faith ( v 23) and
their solidarity in Christ, dramatized in their baptisms (v 27).
Curiously, Paul had already claimed in 3:7: those who believe are chil-
dren of Abraham. Why did he emphasize the intermediate steps of becoming
Gods children (v 26), being clothed . . . with Christ (v 27), being one in
Christ (v 28), and belong[ing] to Christ en route to the same afrmation in
v 29that you [Galatians] are Abrahams seed, and heirs?
L 27 The verse begins exactly as did v 10, comparing two groupsthe bap-
tized and the unbaptized. Paul described what is (or should be) true of all be-
lievers. The parallels in 1 Cor 12:13 and Rom 6:3 suggest that his concern was
not to enjoin water baptism as a ritual act superior to circumcision (Burton
1920, 205). Instead, he used the imagery of baptism to describe what hap-
pened in conversion (Dunn 1993, 203). Paul did not conceive of baptism as a
magical, converting sacrament (Witherington 1998a, 276).
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed your-
selves with Christ (Gal 3:27). Pauls explanation indicates that what follows
claries and explains his earlier remarks. Scholars debate whether he offered
an inference on faith in Christ Jesus in v 26 (Longenecker 1990, 154) or a
second explanation as to why the Galatians were no longer under Law in vv
Paul closely associated Christian baptism (v 27), faith in Christ (v 26;
see Acts 18:8), and receiving the Holy Spirit (Gal 2:1-4). His terms and im-
ages reect a widely shared early Christian understanding of baptism. Perhaps
he alluded in 3:27 and 28 to early Christian baptismal liturgy (Schlier 1965,
174-75; Martyn 1997, 374-75, 378-83).
The Language of Bapt i sm i n t he New Test ament
What signicance should we attach to the preposition into in v 27bap-
tized into [eis] Christ? The NT does not consistently refer to Christian bap-
tism. Some NT authors used the preposition en to describe the mode or place
of baptism (e.g., Matt 3:11; Mark 1:4). Mark 1:8 contrasts baptism with water
[dative case] and with [en] the Holy Spirit. But v 9 reports Jesus baptism
in [eis] the Jordan. Elsewhere the preposition eis describes the purpose of
baptismfor [eis] repentance (Matt 3:11) or for [eis] the forgiveness of sins
(Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3; similarly Acts 2:38). But a baptism of repentance [genitive
case] conveys the same meaning in Mark 1:4 (see Luke 3:3; Acts 13:24; 18:25).
Perhaps Paul abbreviated the early Christian formula of baptism into the
name of Christ. That Paul knew this formula is clear from his denial of baptizing
anyone into [eis] my name (1 Cor 1:15). But what did it mean to be baptized
into [eis] the name of the Lord Jesus (Acts 8:16; 19:5) or in [eis] the name of
the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matt 28:19)? Perhaps, Chris-
tians borrowed the expression into the name of from the language of account-
ing. Thus, baptism formally transferred believers from the lordship of Sin and Law
to that of Christ (Bietenhard 1967, 245).
In 1 Cor 10:2, he anachronistically described Israels deliverance from
Egypt as being baptized into [eis] Moses in [en] the cloud and in [en] the sea.
Acts 19:3 reports Pauls question posed to disciples in Ephesus who had not
received the Holy Spirit when they believed: Into [eis] what then were you bap-
tized? They answered, Into [eis] Johns [genitive] baptism (NRSV; compare Mark
11:30; Luke 7:29; 20:4; Acts 1:22; 10:37). This apparently meant that people were
baptized by [hyp] him (Mark 1:5; Matt 3:6; Luke 3:7).
Christian baptism signies that believers accept the obligations of obe-
dient discipleship to Jesus. They pledge to follow in the same path as their
crucied and risen Messiah. But it also serves as a mark of community solidar-
ity with him and other believers. In Rom 6:1-4, Paul explained baptism as a
symbolic reenactment of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. It marks
the end of the old way of life of sin and a public resolve to live a new kind of life
in obedience to Jesus, in the power of the Spirit. Baptism ritualizes the confes-
sion that Jesus is Lord (Rom 10:9). By submitting to baptism, believers enter
dramatically into the reality that is Christ and visibly into the community of
those who likewise have submitted to his sovereignty (Rom 6:5-14).
Paul wrote that all of us who were baptized into [eis] Christ Jesus were
baptized into [eis] his death (Rom 6:3; in Col 2:12: buried with him [auto3i]
in [en] baptism). The drama of baptism reenacts the story of redemption.
The one baptized vicariously enters into the experience of Christ, but not as
an isolated Christian individual. In 1 Cor 12:13 Paul insisted, We were all
baptized by [en] one Spirit into [eis] one body.
To be baptized into Christ involved simultaneously entering into an in-
timate personal relationship with Christ and into the Christian community.
Paul could describe this in forensic imagery as being justied in Christ (Gal
2:17, 16) or justied by faith (3:24). But he also described it as a symbolic
sharing in the crucixion of Christ (2:20; 6:14). The new life of faith is the
work of the Spirit (3:2-5, 14; 5:24), not the water.
Water baptism is a tangible expression of Christian faith. But it is more.
Symbolic burial beneath the baptismal waters creates a bond of unity with
Christ. Baptism reenacts the burial and resurrection of Christ, allowing be-
lievers to participate in the drama of salvation with him. Baptism dramatizes
the spiritual reality of appropriating the life-giving benets of Christs atoning
death (see 3:21-26; 2 Cor 5:14; Gal 2:20).
The imagery of putting off old and putting on new clothing presumed in
3:27 may reect the actual early Christian practice of baptism and baptismal
instruction (see Moule 1961, 52-53; George 1994, 279-82). The new cloth-
ing Christians put on was not a disguise, but reected the new persons they
had become as believers in Christ. The Galatians may also have connected
this with the Roman practice of ritually exchanging the clothing of childhood
for that of adulthood (George 1994, 280). This may explain Pauls analogy of
entering into adulthood in 4:1-7.
Cl ot hed wi t h Chri st
The close association of baptism and the reception of the Holy Spirit is
reected throughout the NT. John the Baptist predicted that the Coming One
would baptize . . . with the Holy Spirit (Luke 3:16). The risen Christ assured his
disciples, You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5). Verse 8 prom-
ises: You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you. The parallel
promise in Luke 24:49 uses clothing imagery: Stay in the city until you have been
clothed with power from on high.
Paul encouraged the Thessalonians as children of light to clothe themselves
with faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet (1
Thess 5:8; compare Eph 6:10-17). In view of the approaching dawning last days,
Paul exhorted the Romans, Let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on
the armor of light. . . . Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 13:12,
14). Similarly, Eph 4:22-24 urges: Put off your old self . . . to be made new in
the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in
true righteousness and holiness (compare Col 3:5-14; see Wis 5:18, where the
metaphor refers to putting on virtue). Thus, being clothed with Christ is putting
on Christs character, which is that of righteousness (Jervis 1999, 106).
Faith in Christ is more than a cognitive acceptance that Jesus is the Mes-
siah. It incorporates believers into the experience of Christ and into the Chris-
tian community, the body of Christ (see Rom 12:5; 1 Cor 10:16; 12:12, 27;
Eph 4:12; 5:23; Col 1:24; 3:15). This reality is created by the gift of the Spirit
(Gal 3:2-5), who is the Spirit of Christ (4:6). The Spirit conrms our status
as children of God (4:6; see 3:26). Baptism merely dramatizes this reality; it
does not effect it.
L 28 Paul spelled out the implications of his afrmations in v 26 (You are
all sons of God) and v 27 (You were all baptized into Christ). Believers are
dened by their faith in Christ Jesus (v 26) and their shared experience of
being clothed with Christ (v 27). Thus, individual differences based on the
circumstances of their births were inconsequential.
Paul insisted: you all are one in Christ Jesus. The plural personal pro-
noun you is emphatic. But why? Did Paul deny this unity to others? Did he
afrm their unity against the claims of others who limited this to a more select
group(say) the circumcised? This is the third time in vv 26-28 that Paul
emphasized the application of his comments to all the Galatians.
At the least, by insisting that the Galatians were all one in Christ Je-
sus, Paul denied the continuing relevance of three widely assumed human
distinctionsethnic, socioeconomic, and gender. His antithetical formulation
repeats the identical construction three times, with one minor variation. It
may be represented in the following overly literal translation:
There is [eni] neither [ouk] Jew nor [oude] Greek;
there is [eni] neither [ouk] slave nor [oude] free;
there is [eni] not [ouk] male and [kai] female;
By using Helle3n, Greek, rather than ethne3, Gentile, Paul avoided its pe-
jorative overtones ( 2:15), while acknowledging the Jewish division of hu-
manity into Jews and non-Jews (see 2 Macc 4:36; 11:2; Acts 19:10; 20:21;
Rom 1:16; 2:9-10; 3:9; 10:12; 1 Cor 1:24; Wanke 1990, 436). But he noted
the separation only to deny its continuing relevance for Christians. The end
of religious prerogatives and cultural distinctions opened the way for unity
and mutual relations between the two. This conviction explains why Paul so
vehemently condemned Cephas breach of table fellowship in Antioch ( Gal
Using different terminology, in 5:6 and 6:15 Paul again denied any con-
sequence to the distinction between Jews and non-Jews in Christ Jesus: nei-
ther circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value / means anything. Similar
antitheses appear in Col 3:11 and 1 Cor 12:13. In 1 Cor 10:32, Pauls reference
to Jews, Greeks [and] the church of God may have anticipated the later
threefold Christian division of humanity into Jews, Greeks, and Christians
(Wanke 1990, 436). Christians were not to be dened by ethnic, national, or
cultural distinctions. Differences continued to exist in the old order, but they
did not matter in Christ Jesus.
Paul also denied any relevance to a second distinction, based on socio-
economic and legal realities: There is neither slave nor free. Paul was power-
less to bring an end to an institution that dened between one- to two-thirds
of the population (Jewett 2008, 416) as the property of others. Slavery was
simply taken for granted in the ancient world. Although Paul often used slav-
ery metaphorically (see, e.g., Rom 6), here he referred to that class of human-
ity whowhether by birth, conquest, or self-salewere by denition denied
self-determination. Within the church, however, Paul insisted that the dis-
tinction between the not-free and free was abolished.
Li ght f rom 1 Cori nt hi ans
In 1 Cor 7:17-24 Paul appealed to a rule he enforced in all his churches:
Each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to
which God has called him (v 17; repeated in vv 20 and 24). By this status-quo
principle, he seemed to insist that believers should retain whatever human situa-
tion they had when they became Christians. Such social conservatism is remark-
able in light of the radical changes Paul took for granted elsewhere (e.g., 6:9-11).
His celebration of their total transformationof a new creationhardly seems
compatible with the status quo.
Paul applied the status-quo principle only to social and cultural spheres,
which he regarded as totally indifferent to the Christian life. He mentioned two
such obsolete distinctions: the religious-ethnic status of Jew vs. Gentile (see 12:13)
and the social status of slavery vs. freedom. He insisted that only obedience to God
really mattered (7:19, 23).
Within ch 7, Pauls major point was to urge his hearers not to change their
marital status. This was totally irrelevant to their relationship with God. The
distinction between married people and single people had no relevance in this
sphere. God couldnt care less!
Nevertheless, Paul by no means considered the status-quo principle an
ironclad rule (v 17). He ordered the uncircumcised not to become circumcised
and vice versa. But he urged slaves who were offered their freedom to take it (vv
18 and 21). His point was not that Christians must not, but that they need not,
change their social status. The only absolute rule was obedience to the com-
mands of God (v 19; compare Gal 5:6; 6:15).
Paul was well aware of the continuing reality of slavery within the Ro-
man Empire. He simply refused to allow the distinctions that prevailed in the
general culture to challenge the new order God had already inaugurated in the
church of Christ. The God who honored a shamed crucied man by raising
him from death placed no stock in human opinions.
Because there had been a resurrection (an eschatological event), Paul
was convinced that he lived on the brink of the last days. As he explained the
present crisis to the Corinthians: The time is short. . . . This world in its pres-
ent form is passing away (1 Cor 7:29, 31).
Paul did not call for a revolution to bring a violent end to an evil institu-
tion. Given the size of the Christian movement in his day, this would have
been a suicidal act at best, and certainly would have failed. But Paul refused
to countenance communities in which ones social, economic, or legal status
dened a person. In Christ Jesus the distinction made no difference.
The exact counterpart to slavery in the ancient world was freedom. The
eleuther- (= free-) cognate family appears eleven times in Galatians, most of-
ten with slavery as its foil ( 2:4 sidebar, Freedom in Galatians). Remarkably,
Paul did not merely claim that slavery was inconsequential; so was freedom.
Within the Christian community the antitheses that dened human reality
elsewhere were obliterated.
Believers were all one in Christ Jesus. But one what? What unexpressed
noun does the substantive adjective heis, one, modify? Before we address this
question, we must consider the third antithesis Paul described as defunct in
There is not male and female. Paul denied the relevance of the gender
distinction the Creator instituted in the beginning (see Gen 1:27). No longer
two, you are all one in Christ Jesus. Oddly enough, the adjectives arsen, male,
and the3ly, female, are both neuter in gender. Paul did not refer to husbands
and wives. His terminology might indicate that not only the social differences
between man and woman (roles) are involved but the biological distinctions
(Betz 1979, 195). This was a truly radical afrmation, not of gender equality,
but of gender unity (Martyn 1997, 377).
But what did this mean and what did it entail? How was this to come
to expression in the life of the Christian community? Gnostic Christians at-
tempted to remove the biological sex distinctions within their communities
(Betz 1979, 196 nn. 118-21; see Meeks 1974). The revulsion of proto-ortho-
dox Christians for gnostic excesses in this realm may account for the churchs
reluctance to practice the social emancipation of women.
Just as with the other inconsequential distinctions, Paul did not imagine
that the differences between the sexes ceased to exist. Becoming Christians
did not render persons biologically neuter or androgynous. If he claimed that
culturally dened gender stereotypes no longer operated within the church,
his differing advice to men and women in 1 Cor 1114 indicates that even he
had difculty consistently putting this into practice.
The technical terms arsen, male, and the3ly, female, appear elsewhere
in Paul only in Rom 1:26-27 in his euphemistic descriptions of homosexual
behavior. Far more common are the terms ane3r, man / husband (fty-nine
times in Pauls letters), and gyne3, woman / wife (sixty-four times). The ge-
neric term for a human being, anthro3pos, appears twice as often as either
gender-specic term (126 times).
Why did Paul formulate the third antithetical pair differently, using the
conjunction and rather than nor? One explanation may be the inuence of
the LXX of Gen 1:27, which mentions Gods creation of humankind as male
and female.
Is this difference interpretively signicant? Was Pauls concern to pre-
serve the unity of male and female Christians threatened by the adoption of
circumcision? For the Galatians to take up the Law would, in Pauls eyes,
make Christian women second-class citizens (Witherington 1998a, 279).
That male circumcision was at issue in Galatia may explain why he mentioned
the male-female pair, while the other Pauline parallels do not (see Betz 1979,
196-201 otherwise):
1 Cor 12:13 Col 3:11
For we were all baptized by one
Spirit into one body
whether Jews or Greeks,
slave or free
and we were all given the one Spirit
to drink.
Here there is
no Greek or Jew,
circumcised or uncircumcised,
barbarian, Scythian,
slave or free,
but Christ is all, and is in all.
Since Paul moved from premise to conclusion in Gal 3:26-29, he ex-
plained what he meant by existence in Christ Jesus in the protasis (if-clause)
of v 29. To be in Christ was to belong to Christ (lit., of Christ)to be his
people, to be a community identied by shared allegiance to Christ as Lord.
Thus, Pauls claimyou are all one in Christ Jesusprobably meant
that you are all one person (see v 16). Your faith in Christ (v 26), your bap-
tism into Christ, and your Christ clothing (v 27) has transformed your diver-
sity into unity. Your differences do not dene you; Christ does. Christ is seen
here as an incorporative personality into which various people can be joined
(Witherington 1998a, 280). In Galatians, Paul did not explicitly refer to the
church as the one body in Christ as in Romans (12:4-5) and 1 Corinthians
(10:17; 12:4-31), but he seems to presuppose it (Betz 1979, 201).
L 29 Paul built on the preceding premises in Gal 3:26-28. The protasis (if-
clause) of his conditional sentenceIf you belong to Christrestated what it
meant to be one in Christ Jesus (v 28). The apodosis (then-clause) stated the
conclusion of his entire argument from 3:6-28: then you are Abrahams seed,
and heirs according to the promise. This If-clause was no mere hypothesis. It
was true and certain . . . an actual fact (Arichea and Nida 1976, 85).
In 3:15-18 Paul spilled considerable exegetical ink arguing that Gods
promise to Abrahams seed (Gen 12:7; 13:15; 15:18; 24:7) referred exclu-
sively to one person, who is Christ (Gal 3:16). There he ignored the collec-
tive character of seed. He narrowed the meaning of seed to remove any
impression that it applied only to Abrahams biological descendantsto Jews
only. But here, he expanded the meaning of seed to include all those who are
Abrahams children because they shared his faith (3:7). Thus, he emphasized
here the collective character of the noun.
In Pauls analogy in 3:15-18, he dened the inheritance as the fulll-
ment of Gods promise to Abraham and to his seed (3:16). He explained
that the stipulations for receiving the inheritance depended not on the Law,
but on Gods promise. Thus, here the heirs according to the promise are those
who receive what God promised. The children of faithful Abraham are people
of faith, who like Abraham are justied before God (3:6-9). They are blessed
along with Abraham (3:9).
The blessing, the promise, and the inheritance all consist in the one
gift: the Spirit (3:14). In Rom 8:9b Paul insisted that if anyone does not have
the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. The gift of the Spirit is
universally given to the sons and daughters of Abraham in the new age Christ
Having introduced the notion of inheritance and the rightful heirs of
the promise God gave to Abraham, Paul could expand on his example from
everyday life (Gal 3:15; see vv 15-18), from the perspective of the heir in
4:1-7. He concluded his analogy in 3:30 with a reference to those who will
never share in the inheritance. Here, however, his concern was to identify his
Galatian Christian audience as Abrahams seed, and heirs.
If vv 27-28 appeal to an early Christian baptismal liturgy, as some con-
tend, Paul used it to remind the Galatians again (as in 3:1-5) of what they
experienced when they were converted. They became children of Abraham
by sharing his faithtrusting the same God he did, as he did. This status was
adequately conrmed by their baptism into Christ. Christ had abolished the
differences that separated them from Gods historic people. That they had
received the Spirit when they believed was proof enough that they were now
children of God and children of Abraham. They did not need circumcision.
Whereas the Law divided humanity on the basis of ethnic, national, cul-
tural, and gender differences, Paul insisted that the gospel of Christ made
such differences inconsequential. The few references to v 28 in the rst four
Christian centuries do not treat it as an egalitarian manifesto (Hogan 2008).
Augustines fth-century commentary on Galatians acknowledged that Pauls
idealistic vision of oneness in Christ had not yet been fully achieved within
the church. Difference of race or condition or sex is indeed taken away by the
unity of faith, but it remains embedded in our mortal interactions (cited in
Edwards 1999, 51).
Luther always thought in terms of the antithesis between the kingdom
of the world and the kingdom of Christ, within which Christians simultane-
ously participate. Thus, he claimed that in the world, the differences be-
tween persons must be diligently observed. In Christ, all such differences are
overcome, and all are equal in receiving the promise of eternal life (Riches
2008, 206). Calvin believed that Christ made all Gods elect one solely on the
basis of grace. Thus, there are, or should be, no distinctions or hierarchies
within the ranks of believers (Riches 2008, 207). In our day, v 28 still gures
prominently in debates about slavery, race, womens ordination, and homo-
sexual rights (see Riches 2008, 209-13).
During the nineteenth century, Methodists on both sides of the Atlan-
tic justied their roles in the antislavery movement and in behalf of womens
suffrage by appealing to the unity of all believers made possible by the shared
gift of the Holy Spirit (see Smith 2004; Dayton 1988; Harrill 2000). Unlike
the mainline denominations, John Wesley allowed women preachers. Accord-
ingly, most churches within the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition have always or-
dained women (see Laird 1993).
Catherine Booth, cofounder of the Salvation Army, published her pam-
phlet Womans Right to Preach the Gospel in 1859. In it she appealed to
Gal 3:28: If this passage does not teach that in the privileges, duties, and
responsibilities of Christs kingdom, all differences of nation, caste, and sex
are abolished, we should like to know what it does teach, and wherefore it was
written (cited in Eason 2003, 107; for the opposing view, see George 1994,
The record of the twentieth- and twenty-rst-century successors of
Wesley has not always been exemplary. In vv 26-29, Paul articulates a vision
of humankind and human unity that still challenges us today (Witherington
1998a, 281).
3. God Sent His Son That We Might Become His
Children (4:1-20)
Organization. In vv 1-2 Paul made two mutually interpretive claims
about the heir (see 3:29):
He is no different from a slave (v 1).
He is subject to guardians and trustees (v 2).
Both claims identify the timeframe during which these conditions prevailed:
as long as the heir is a child (v 1)
when we were children (v 3)
Verse 3 applies the analogy of childhood to our pre-Christian predica-
ment in slavery under the basic principles of the world. Verses 4-6 describe
how God changed our status:
by sending his Son . . . to redeem . . . when the time had fully come
by sending the Spirit of his Son into our hearts
Verse 5b describes our present situation as adopted children of God,
in possession of the full rights of sons as a result of Gods twofold end-times
Verses 6 and 7 explain the relevance of the analogy for you who are sons:
Because you are sons (of Abraham? See 3:29)
So you are . . . a son (of God?)
and since you are a son
Verses 8-20 continue to use the second person plural, applying the argu-
ment specically to the Galatians.
Uncertainty as to the intended references of we and you complicates the
identication of those for whom this before-after status appliesto all believ-
ers or to Jewish (we) vs. Gentile (you) believers. It seems impossible neatly
to separate what was true of the pre-Christian existence of Jews in vv 1-5 as
opposed to what was true of Gentiles in vv 6-11 (despite Belleville 1986, 61).
Paul views the status both of Jews under the Law and of Gentiles outside of
the Law as the same . . . in . . . that they both needed redemption and adoption
as sons, neither had this as a birthright (Witherington 1998a, 283).
Analogies. In vv 1-5 Paul attempted to illustrate the relationship be-
tween Law and Promise to contemporary inheritance laws (see Hester 1968),
the practice in Roman law called tutela impuberis (guardian for a mi-
nor) or more specically tutela testamentaria (guardian established by
testament). According to tutela impuberis, a child under the legal age of
majority (ne3pios) at the time of his fathers death became a ward of the
court, and the court appointed a legal guardian (epitropos) to manage
the childs nancial affairs until he reached majority (e3likia). By tutela
testamentaria the father could, however, designate in his will whom he
desired to function as legal guardian. Hence, as Paul states in 4.1, al-
though a son is theoretically heir and lord of his fathers estate, in reality
while a ne3pios he has no more rights than a slave. (Belleville 1986, 61;
see also Burton 1920, 211-15)
In 4:2 Paul explicitly referred no longer to the paidago3gos of 3:24-25, but
to epitropous and oikonomousguardians and trustees. Ancient papyri indicate
that their functions overlapped. Together they had effective control of the
person, property, and nances of a minor (Belleville 1986, 63).
A minor heir exercised no authority over his estate until the time set by
his father. The age of majority was not a precise number of years. Roman law
mentioned ages 14-25 (Belleville 1986, 62; see also 74-75 n. 38). But fathers
retained discretionary rights to determine other ages.
Pauls reference to adoption in 4:5 introduced yet another analogy based
on everyday practice in antiquity. It is difcult to be certain whether it was Ro-
man (Lyall 1969; Burke 2006) or Jewish (Scott 1992). Paul probably adapted
the illustration to suit his point (Betz 1979, 202-4).
Wilson (2004, esp. 559-63) proposes yet another analogy to explain
Pauls terminologyIsraels experience in the wilderness and their plans to
return to slavery in Egypt:
The Galatians Exodus-like experience of rescue (1.4) and redemp-
tion (3.13; 4.5) was a thing of the past: God sent forth his Son (4.4)
and the Galatians were redeemed and received the adoption as sons
(4.5; cf. 3.13-14, 23-29). They have also received the Spirit (4.6; cf.
3.1-5, and have become heirs of the inheritance promised to Abra-
ham (4.6-7; cf. 3.29). They still await, however, entrance into the king-
dom of God (5.21b; cf. 5.5; 6.7-9). They are no longer in Egypt; they
are not, however, yet in Canaan. (2004, 551-52)
Slavery Under the Stoicheia. In Gal 4:3 and 9, Paul referred to ta stoi-
cheia tou kosmou. Scholars debate what he meant by this expression. Stoicheia
was applied to a wide variety of basic components in antiquity. Four major
views have vied for acceptance as applied to these verses:
(1) The basic physical elements underlying the natural world. In antiq-
uity these were believed to be earth, air, water, and re (see Wis 7:17; 19:18;
4 Macc 12:13; 2 Pet 3:10, 12). Pagans, of course, referred to them by proper
names and revered them as divine: Demeter, Hera, Poseidon, and Hephaestus
respectively. This was the most common meaning of the term stoicheia in
Pauls time (Martyn 1997, 394; see 394-96; see Schweizer 1988).
These foundational elements always existed as pairs of opposites:
dry vs. wet
air vs. earth
hot vs. cold
re vs. water
What was true of these pairs of the intangible vs. the tangible, the light vs. the
heavy, was universally applicable (Martyn 1997, 403-4). This way of under-
standing reality may explain Pauls binary pairs in Gal 3:28. Were the ethnic
pairs of Jew vs. Greek, the social pairs of slave vs. free, and the creational
pairs of male vs. female, part of the stoicheia tou kosmou? Did Paul extend
this to include binary religious pairs, such as circumcision vs. uncircumcision.
Certainly, he insisted that all these cosmic oppositions had come to an end in
Christ (see 6:14-15; Martyn 1997, 405-6). Did he also assume that the op-
position of human and divine, Flesh and Spirit had been overcome in Christ?
Paul did not claim that these basic elements, the stoicheia, ceased to ex-
ist, only that the elemental pairs of opposites ceased to exist. The world of
nature had not been dissolved, but the foundational teaching (see explanation
4) about how the world operated had been destroyed by Gods end-times in-
tervention in Christ (Witherington 1998a, 285-86).
(2) The heavenly bodies comprised of these basic physical elements.
Stoicheia identied the basic components of celestial constellations, includ-
ing the signs of the zodiac. This may explain the Galatians concern about
special days and months and seasons and years (4:10), associated with the
predictable movements of celestial bodies (Betz 1979, 205).
Astrological superstitions were as common in popular Judaism as in
Greco-Roman paganism. Amos (5:25-27) accused unfaithful Israelites of
worshipping astral deities during the eighth century B.C. (Acts 7:42-43). The
apocryphal Book of the Heavenly Luminaries (1 En. 7282) illustrates Jew-
ish fascination with astrological speculation during the rst century B.C. (see
also 1 En. 43:1-2; 60:11-12; 80:6; and Jub. 2:2). The rst century A.D. Jewish
historian Josephus description of the veil and furnishing of Herods temple
suggests obvious astrological associations (J.W. 5.5.4-5 212-18). The mosaic
oor of the sixth-century Bet Alpha Synagogue at the foot of Mount Gilboa
(see Hawthorne, Martin, and Reid 1993)associates the zodiac and Israels
twelve tribes.
(3) The elementary spirits of the universegods, demons, spirits, an-
gels. In antiquity, people believed that supernatural beingsbenecent or ma-
levolentstood behind the heavenly bodies. The prophet John attempted to
worship angels (Rev 19:10 and 22:8). So this overlaps considerably with the
second view (see Wis 13:2; 1 Cor 10:20; BDAG, 946; Betz 1979, 205). But
there is no literary evidence that astral bodies were called stoicheia or associ-
ated with divine, angelic, or demonic forces before the late second century A.D.
(Belleville 1986, 65-67; Carr 1981, 72-74; but see Arnold 1996).
(4) Elementary educationthe foundational principles or teachings.
The term stoicheia applied to the fundamental principles involved in learn-
ing a wide variety of subjectsthe letters of the alphabet, elementary truths
(Heb 5:12), musical notes, basic moral regulations (so Burton 1920, 510-18;
Ridderbos 1953, 153 n. 5; BDAG, 946).

Colossians 2:8 and 20 contrast submission to Christ to ta stoicheia tou

kosmou and to human tradition (2:8), the worlds rules and regulations (v
20; BDAG, 254, s.v. dogmatizo3). If this helps explain Gal 4:3 and 9, it suggests
pedagogical overtones should be heard in this phrase (Witherington 1998a,
286). That ta stoicheia were weak and miserable (v 9) seems to equate basic
rules, which, like the Law, cannot impart life (3:21). The further reference
to those things that by nature are not gods (v. 8) in conjunction with closely
following days, months, and years (v. 10) points . . . to elementary, regulatory
teachings that were closely tied to an astrological calendar (Belleville 1986,
The meaning of ta stoicheia tou kosmou must make sense within the
context of both 3:23-29 and 4:1-11. Paul compared the Law not only to a
pedagogue, but to the stoicheia (Dunn 1993, 210; Witherington 1998a, 285).
Whatever precisely Paul meant by the universal human plight under the enig-
matic stoicheia tou kosmou, he was convinced Christ was the solution.
Redemption in Christ. The aorist verb in the expression God sent his
Son in v 4 refers to the past, once-for-all fact of the incarnation (Lambrecht
1990, 3). The similarities between Gal 4:4-5; Rom 8:3-4; John 3:16-17; and 1
John 4:9 suggest that both John and Paul depended on a still earlier Christian
proclamation. They share:
a sending formula, identifying God as the One who sent his Son and
a purpose clause, explaining what the sending was to accomplish.
The sending formula presumes a Christology, in which the heavenly, preex-
istent Son of God becomes man (see John 1:1-18; Rom 8:3; 1 Cor 8:6; 2 Cor
8:9; Phil 2:6-11; Col 1:15-20). If this is correct, the two parallel and equal
purpose clauses of 4:5 express the soteriology of Paul (Lambrecht 1990, 3).
This is the good news of how God is saving the world.
a. Pauls Argument (4:1-7)
L 1 As in 3:17, Paul interjected himself into his argument. He explained the
point of his resumed example from everyday life (see 3:15, 23-25) dropped
in vv 26-29. His claim in v 29 that the Galatians were heirs according to the
promise occasioned his appeal in 4:1 to the analogy of a minor heir and a slave
(Young 1987, 174). The adverbial participle here must have a concessive force
(Longenecker 1990, 162): The heir is no different from a slave, although he is
master of everything in the household (emphasis added).
Paul sometimes used the term ne3pios to refer to immature Christians (1
Cor 3:1; 13:11; Eph 4:14; 1 Thess 2:7; see Heb 5:13). But here, child has its
secular sense as a technical term for one who is not yet of legal age, minor.
In Greek literature it applied to children ranging in age from fetal status to
puberty (BDAG, 671).
The paradoxical situation of the heir-as-slave persisted only as long
as the heir is a child (see BDAG, 729). Under Roman law (tutela impuberis,
guardianship for a minor; Betz 1979, 202), the estates of minor heirs appar-
ent were held in trust until they reached the age of majority. They could not
control their assets or dispose of anything until they became adults. Pauls de-
scription was hyperbolic, for the sake of the illustration (Longenecker 1990,
137). Beyond supercial similarities, the only likeness between slaves and mi-
nor heirs was their lack of self-determination (Betz 1979, 202-3).
The reality behind Pauls analogy was that Gods children were virtual
slaves during the period following Gods promises to Abraham until the com-
ing of Christ (see 3:15-25; 4:4-6). Their status changed when the fullness of
time had come (v 4 NRSV).
L 2 Paul elaborated on the situation of the minor heir: He is subject to [hypo,
under] guardians and trustees. The repetition of the preposition hypo almost
certainly refers back to his description of pre-Christian existence under Sin
and under Law ( 3:22-23), which he compared to life under a pedagogue
( 3:25). It also anticipated 4:3, which describes pre-Christian existence as
under the basic principles of the world.
The main clauses in vv 1 and 2 are essentially parallel. To be no way dif-
ferent than a slave and to be under guardians and administrators are mutu-
ally explanatory. Thus, the adversative conjunction alla, but (left untranslated
in the NIV), which begins v 2 contrasts the concessive participial concluding
v 1 and the main clause of v 2. That is, the minor heir owns the whole estate,
but he remains under supervision.
Pauls rst readers probably equated legal guardians and trustees in v
2 with the Guardian (paidago3gos) in 3:24-25. Despite the different Greek
terms, all three gures symbolized a lack of freedom during ones minority
(Belleville 1986, 62).
This situation persisted until [achri] the time set by his father. This re-
ferred to The day when a son reaches his majoritya point of time set
in advance (BDAG, 869). The analogy cannot support notions of divinely
micromanaged predestination. Pauls simple point was that the father decided
when it was the right time, not his heir.
L 3-5 Martyn (1997, 388) calls this section the good news of Pauls letter to
the Galatians and the theological center of the entire letter. He maintains
that it contains nearly all of the letters major motifs, and it relates them to
one another. It recounts the story of how God invaded this fallen world in
these last days to rescue enslaved humanity by sending his Son as a human
slave to liberate slaves and make them Gods children.
L 3 If Paul used an exclusive we, he applied the extended analogy primarily
to himself and other Jewish Christians (Bruce 1982, 193; Longenecker 1990,
164). But if, as most commentators conclude (e.g., Burton 1920, 215; Betz
1979, 204), it referred to all believers, the inclusive we included the Gentile
Galatians as well.
The apostle correlated the situations of the minor child (v 1) and our
pre-Christian status: So also, when we were children. The imagery of the anal-
ogy is sustained in the application. Paul did not refer to the actual childhood of
adult Christians. He referred instead to the situation that universally prevailed
before the coming of Christ (see vv 4-5).
This pre-Christian period must not refer simply to the historical era
before A.D. 30. It refers instead to the status of all humanity before they come
to faith in Christ. This universal application presumes that Paul used the in-
clusive rst person pluralall of us. Paul painted the pre-Christian era in dark
hues. We had been enslaved under [hypo] the stoicheia tou kosmou. This past
state of affairs existed until God sent his Son (v 4), but now only an unpleas-
ant memory.
The object of the preposition hypo, under, identies the dominating
power ( 3:10, 22, 23, 25; 4:2, 4, 5, 21; 5:18). Both the translation and the
reference of the enslaving reality have been hotly debated since at least the
fourth century (see Edwards 1999, 53-54). The NIV translates ta stoicheia
tou kosmou the basic principles of the world. The NRSV translates it as the
elemental spirits of the world. What are these basic principles / elemental
The cognate verb stoicheo3 means to line up or conform to a basic stan-
dard of conduct. Paul used it in his exhortation in Gal 5:25Since we live
by the Spirit, let us keep in step with [stoicho3men] the Spirit. It also ap-
pears in his blessing in 6:16Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule
[stoiche3sousin] (see also Acts 21:24; Rom 4:12; Phil 3:16).
All of the various understandings of ta stoicheia tou kosmou in antiquity
( BEHIND THE TEXT above) remind us that we are reading anothers
mail. It is a daunting task to try to think Pauls thoughts after him when he
took for granted such alien ideas and ways of thinking. The explanation of
stoicheia in Gal 4:3 that seems least problematic is the last.
The view that stoicheia tou kosmou referred to universal elementary teach-
ing may be traced back to Jerome (fth century; cited in Lightfoot 1874, 167).
Law provided the elementary education of Jews. Pagans were under another
form of teaching. Both were enslaved. Thus, Pauls point in 4:9 was that: For
a Gentile Christian to submit to the Mosaic Law would be like going back un-
der the elementary pagan teachings of the world, which they left behind when
they became Christians (Witherington 1998a, 286; see Matera 1992, 155-56).
What the Law and the elementary principles of the world have in common is
that they regulate and legislate in accordance with rules and standards that are
suitable only for a period of spiritual minority (Belleville 1986, 68).
L 4 As in 1:15, 2:11 and 12, But when marks a before-after contrast. The be-
fore era was when we were children (v 3). The after era began when the
time had fully come (v 4). The transitional event (as in 3:13-14, 19, 22-25) was
the coming of Christ. Here Paul described it in terms of divine activity: God
sent his Son ( 1:16; 2:20; 4:6; see also Rom 1:3, 4, 9; 5:10; 8:3, 29, 32; 1 Cor
1:9; 15:28; 2 Cor 1:19; Eph 4:13; Col 1:13; 1 Thess 1:10).
What did Paul mean by the fullness of time (see Eph 1:10). We should
not make more of the differences between the Greek synonyms for time than
the evidence can sustain (see Mark 1:15; 1 Cor 10:11; 1 Thess 5:1-3; Heb
1:2). Chronos normally refers to the duration of time (Hbner 1990b, 488), to
a dened period of linear time. Kairos refers to a particularly decisive moment
within time (Baumgarten 1990, 232-33). But here, chronos has the usual force
of kairos (Hbner 1990b, 488; Baumgarten 1990, 233).
In the exhortations in Gal 6:9 and 10, kairos has its typical forceat
the proper time and opportunity. In 4:10, however, the plural seasons
(kairous) seems to be essentially synonymous with chronos (Baumgarten 1990,
233). The time (chronou) in v 4 refers to a past momentwhen God sent
Christas the dawning of the last days. His coming marked the end of history
as its goal, not its termination (Eph 1:10).
In Galatians the abstract noun ple3ro3ma, fullness (NRSV), appears only in
4:4. But it is used eleven times in other Pauline letters (Rom 11:12, 25; 13:10;
15:29; 1 Cor 10:26; Eph 1:10, 23; 3:19; 4:13; Col 1:19; 2:9). Its meaning
varies considerably with its context. Here the fullness of time (NRSV) must
be synonymous with the time set by the Father in Gal 4:2. The temporary
mission of the Law had been accomplished. The old era of close supervision
of the minor children had expired. It was the right time for Gods people to
be granted the freedom reserved for the new age. They had reached the age of
majority. This was the time of fulllment, the full realization of Gods predes-
tined plans revealed in the Scripture (Lim 1993, 320).
The turn of the agesfrom before to aftercame when God sent his
Son. This is missional language; the mission of God explains Gods redemp-
tive purposes. The verb sent here (see BDAG, 345, s.v. exapostello3) appears
only in vv 4 and 6 in Pauls letters. It describes the once-for-all divine mission
of the Son and of the Spirit respectively. The closest NT parallel in Acts 13:26
announces, This message of salvation has been sent, referring indirectly to
Christs mission. In some manuscripts of Luke 24:49, the verb appears in
Christs promise to send the Holy Spirit.
The sending of Gods Son (Gal 4:4-5) became the objective basis for
redemption. His sending of the Spirit of his Son (v 6) made possible the sub-
jective experience of redemption (see Schlier 1965, 197). The sending of the
Spirit fullled the promise of the fth century B.C. prophets (see Jer 31:31-34;
Ezek 36:26-27) that he would free stubborn human hearts to become respon-
sive to Gods call to obedience (Martyn 1997, 391-92).
The chiastic (X-shaped) organization of the clauses in Gal 4:4-5 high-
lights Pauls redemptive logic (see Betz 1979, 208).
a God sent his Son,
b born of a woman, born under Law,
b' in order to redeem those under Law,
a' in order that we might receive adoption as sons.
That Jesus was born of a woman simply emphasizes his humanity. He
was an ordinary human being, born in the normal way (see Job 14:1; Matt
11:11 || Luke 7:28; Josephus, Ant. 7.21; 16.382). This phrase provides no clue
of itself whether . . . Paul believed in, or even knew of, Jesus virginal concep-
tion (see Matt 1 and Luke 1; Longenecker 1990, 171). That the preexistent
Son of God became human follows the same pattern of saving interchange
found in Gal 3:13-14 (). The Son of God was born of a woman that those
born of women might become children of God (Hooker 1990, 16).
That the Son of God was born under law emphasizes that Jesus was a
Jew. To be under law ( 3:23-25) meant that he was subject to the Laws
authority. Christ became accursed for us to redeem us from the curse of the
law ( 3:13). In a saving interchange, Christ became subject to Law, that
we might be freed from subjection to Law (compare Rom 15:8-9).
L 5 Paul explained why God sent his Son (v 4; Longenecker 1990, 172) with
two parallel purpose clauses ( 2:16; 3:14, 22-24). The mission of the Son of
God was, rst, to redeem those under law. Second, it was so that we might
receive adoption as children (NRSV).
The redeemed are identied in the third person plural (those). The verb
redeem is from the same Greek root used in 3:13 ()Christ redeemed us.
There Paul used the rst person pluralusto refer to the redeemed. The
verb exagorazo3, redeem, is not used elsewhere in the NT with reference to
the work of Christ. But other words convey much the same concept in 1:4
Christ gave himself . . . to rescue [exele3tai] usand 5:1Christ has set us
free [e3leuthero3sen] ( 3:13).
According to 3:13, Christs crucixion was the divine means of human
redemption, freeing us from slavery to the death-producing curse of the
Law (Dabelstein 1990, 1). But 4:5 does not mention the cross. Nor does it
offer any explanation as to how God freed those under law, only that he did.
Scholars debate from what redemption freed people. Were they freed
from the Law (so, e.g., Arichea and Nida 1976, 90; Rogers 1989, 116-17)?
Or, were they released from only the curse associated with the Law (3:13; so
Bruce 1982, 196; Hendricksen 1968, 159-60)? Was Pauls concern freedom
from Law or from legalismabuse of the Law to support false notions about
self-salvation (so Burton 1920, 217-18)?
Those under law must refer in the rst instance to Jews (so, e.g., Betz
1979, 208; Dunn 1993, 216). But Law dictated how Jews related to Gentiles.
So they too, though in a different way from Jews, . . . [were] subject to the
law (Ridderbos 1953, 156; see George 1994, 304). The oscillation between
pronounsthey, we, and you (singular and plural) in 4:3-7attests the in-
4: 5-6
clusive emphasis of Pauls wording and argument (as in 3:23-26) ( 3:23
sidebar, Under Law; Bruce 1982, 196).
In 4:3 and 8-10, Paul experientially equated the enslavement of Jews
under Law to that of Gentiles under the oppressive dominion of false gods.
Did Paul omit the denite articleunder law, not under the Lawso as not
to refer exclusively to the Jewish Law (compare Rom 2:14, 15, 18, 20, 26, 27;
3:19, 21; 4:15, 16; 7:1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 12, 14, 16, 21, 22; 8:3, 4, 7; [10:5])?
The rst purpose of Christs mission was to redeem those under law.
The second was that we might be adopted as Gods children. If this has uni-
versal application, not only to Jews (so Betz 1979, 208; Dabelstein 1990, 1),
both purposes in v 5 must refer to all humanity (Burton 1920, 219; Schlier
1965, 196-97; Hendricksen 1968, 160; Bruce 1982, 197; George 1994, 304).
The redeeming work of Gods Son allows both Jews and non-Jews to
receive the full rights of sons (huiothesian, adoption) of God (see Eph 1:5).
The aorist tense of the verb receive probably associates conversion / baptism
with the adoption of believers. If the presence of the Spirit in the lives of the
Galatians was evidence enough that they were already sons of God, obviously
they did not need to be circumcised (Rogers 1989, 117).
The Greek word huiothesia (lit., son-effecting) was a technical term
within Roman law for adoption as children (NRSV), whether male or female
(BDAG, 1024). Adoption was rare in Jewish practice. Nevertheless, behind
Pauls use of the term stands a broad and ancient Jewish tradition of Israel
as children of God (see George 1994, 305), especially eschatological Israel
(Byrne 1996, 250; see Jewett 2008, 398).
In Rom 9:4 Paul mentioned adoption as among the privileges of eth-
nic Israel, treated as Gods metaphorical children. In Christ, both Jewish and
Gentile believers receive the Spirit of adoption. That is, the Spirit makes peo-
ple Gods children. Adoption allows Christiansboth Jews and Gentilesto
enjoy the lial privileges of the end-times people of God already in this pres-
ent age (see Rom 8:15; Gal 1:4).
L 6 Paul apparently used we (4:3-5) and you (vv 6-20) interchangeably.
If he used these pronouns consistently, it seems inexplicable why our divine
adoption (v 5) implies that you are sons of God, but that God sent the Spirit of
his Son into our hearts (v 6; emphasis added). Some noteworthy early manu-
scripts read your hearts (KJV, NCV, NKJV, NLT) rather than our hearts. This
change was probably introduced by copyists attempting to impose a unifor-
mity on Pauls pronouns that he did not. Perhaps, his inconsistency deliber-
ately emphasized that differences between Jews and Gentiles were irrelevant
in Christ (3:28).
In 3:2 and 14 Paul referred to the Spirit from the perspective of believers
who receive the Holy Spirit. Although God remains unnamed, he is obvi-
ously the One who gives you the Spirit in 3:4. In 4:4-5, that God sent his
Son provides the objective basis for Christian existence. But in v 6, that God
4: 6
sent the Spirit of his Son provides the subjective basis for Christian experience
(Schlier 1965, 197). Not everyone became a Christian simply because Christ
Perhaps Paul intended the Hoti beginning v 6 to explain why God sent
his Spirit to the GalatiansBecause (compare KJV, NASB, NRSV; see Schlier
1965, 197 n. 3; Betz 1979, 209). But his point was more likely that the proof
they were children of God was that (see CEV, GNT, REB; Dunn 1993, 219; Rog-
ers 1989, 117) God sent them the Spirit.
Deciding between the alternatives is probably unnecessary. Both empha-
size that possession of the Spirit is the distinguishing mark of Gods children.
Becoming children of God and receiving the Spirit are coterminous (Dunn
1993, 219). Paul is not setting out the stages in the Christian life, whether
logical or chronological. Rather his emphasis is on the reciprocal relation or
correlational nature of sonship and the reception of the Spirit (Longenecker
1990, 173).
Nevertheless, Paul was not entirely disinterested in the ordo salutis (Lat-
in: order of salvation). He stressed that:
God sent the Spirit of his Son into our heartsaorist tense.
Consequently, you are sonspresent tense, and
The Spirit . . . calls outpresent tense, Abba, Father.
The two present tenses indicate a permanent situation and a possibility for
Christians. The aorist notes what occurred when we were converted / bap-
tized (Lambrecht 1990, 3). The aorist probably points to the adoption of be-
lievers as the past moment when God sent the Spirit (see 2 Cor 1:22), rather
than to the once-for-all rst Christian Pentecost, when the Spirit was made
universally available to all believers.
There are striking parallels between Rom 8:14-15 and Gal 4:5-6 in
Greek. In both, a Spirit-inspired believer cries out the words Abba, Father.
Both refer to adoption and identify Gods children as heirs, as opposed to
Paul obviously did not consider his male hearers biological sons of God.
In Rom 8:16 he referred to Gods children (neuter). The masculine noun
sons was widely used of those who are bound to [God] by close, non-material
ties; . . . the devout, believers, . . . people of special status and privilege of
either gender (BDAG, 1024-25). If Pauls original audience included females,
the gender should not be taken literally.
Pauls terminology may actually reinforce his point in 3:28 that you are
all one in Christ. The old division between male and female no longer mat-
ters. Female believers are Gods sons [hyioi] or children [ne3pioi; 4:3] as surely
as male believers. And Gentile believers are Gods children (v 6 NRSV) as
truly as Jewish believers. Gender and ethnic differences are inconsequential
in Christ (3:28).
4: 6
Clearly, Paul considered the Spirit evidence of the sonship of all believ-
ers, regardless of their race or gender. That God sent the Spirit (emphasis
added) is evidence that Christian unity is not a human creation. In 3:3 Paul
described the Galatians conversion as beginning with the Spirit. The Spirit
is the promised gift of God, received by believing the gospel, not by works of
Law (3:2, 5).
Paul referred to our hearts as the Spirits destination, mentioning none
of the cosmic events accompanying the dawning of the new age of the Spirit
at Pentecost noted in Acts 2. Paul shared with the Galatians (3:2, 5) a com-
mon Christian experience of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Galatians 4:6 is the
only instance of heart (kardia) in this letter. The word appears more than fty
times in the other letters (note esp. Rom 5:5; 2 Cor 1:22).
Non-Christian Greek authors thought of the heart as an organ in the
physiological sense and the location of mental and spiritual feeling (Sand
1990b, 250; see Behm 1964b, 608-9). Following OT and Jewish precedents,
Paul, however, generally used heart to refer to the total person, particularly to
the inner person, the seat of understanding, knowledge, and will, . . . the place
of the person in which the encounter with God is realized (Sand 1990b,
250). The plural hearts identies Spirit-inlling as a personal, not merely a
corporate experience.
Not surprisingly, Paul identied the Spirit here as the Spirit of his [i.e.,
Gods] Son. In Rom 8:9 the Spirit of Christ stands in parallel with the
Spirit of God. In Phil 1:19, he is the Spirit of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit
is the divine agent of adoption. By sending the Spirit to believers, God enables
them to receive the full rights of sons (Gal 4:5). Only those led by the
Spirit of God are sons of God (Rom 8:14), because the Spirit adopts them
into Gods family (v 15). The Spirit frees Christians from sin and death (v
2) and progressively transforms the community into the likeness of Christ (2
Cor 3:17-18).
The life-giving Spirit (see Rom 8:6, 10, 11, 13; and 2 Cor 3:6) fullls
the righteous requirements of the law within those who walk . . . according
to the Spirit (Rom 8:4 NRSV). That is, he enables believers to follow his lead
and live as adopted children of God (vv 12-17; Gal 5:16, 18, 25). Those who
do not have the Spirit of Christ (Rom 8:9) do not belong to Christ. That is,
they are not Christians at all. Believers may live Christlike lives by following
the pattern of the Son, . . . following the Law of Christ. This is what it means
to clothe oneself with Christ ([Gal] 3:27; Witherington 1998a, 290).
Early Christians closely associated the Son and the Spirit. The title
Christ, Anointed One, speaks of Gods Son as the Spirit-anointed Messiah
of Israel (see John 1:33-34). The Holy Spirit was the divine agent effecting
the resurrection of the Son of God with power (Rom 1:4). His death and
resurrection made Christ a life-giving spirit (1 Cor 15:45).
4: 6
Paul distinguished God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But he virtually
identied the subjective experience of Gods Spirit with that of the indwelling
Christ. This precludes any nonmoral, half-magical conception of the super-
natural in human experience.
In Gal 4:6, Paul described the Spirits activity in the church gathered for
worship. He is the Spirit who calls out, Abba, Father. Here, the Spirit afrms
our status as sons of God. In Rom 8:15, by the Spirit we cry, Abba, Father
(emphasis added). The Spirit is the source of our acclamation of lial stand-
ing; we are his agents. These Spirit-inspired words witness that we are Gods
children (v 16), probably in our communal prayers. The Spirit gives us the
status of divine sonship and attests to it by impelling us to confession. This
is clearly not to be understood as a reference to glossolalia (F. Mussner, Gal
[HTKNT] 275) or to an ecstatic cry (O. Kuss, Rom 550f., 603f.) (Fendrich
1990, 314).
Elsewhere in the NT, the verb krazo3 (crying [NRSV]) is reserved for
loud, vehement, and emotionally intense cries (BDAG, 563). The present
tense emphasizes the ongoing character of the Spirits witness to our status as
Gods children. The witness is not a one-time experience.
The Spirit gives believers the condence to make bold to say, Our
Father (Jeremias 1964, 5). The transliterated word Abba was the familiar
Aramaic term for Father. Comparable to our Daddy, it was the affectionate
term used by children, juvenile or adult, to address their fathers. This was not
childish, but the colloquial language of intimacy (Vermes 1981, 210-13). This
was almost certainly the way Jesus addressed God (e.g., Matt 6:9-13; 11:26;
26:39, 42; Mark 14:36; Luke 11:2; 22:42; 23:34, 46; John 11:41; 12:27, 28;
17:1, 5, 11, 21) and taught his disciples to pray. And it was the language of the
earliest church in Jerusalem.
It is remarkable that Paul should have used the term Abba in Greek let-
ters written to Gentile audiences (Gal 4:6 and Rom 8:15). Paul mentioned the
term even in Romans, writing to a community he did not found. This hints at
the lasting impact the memory of Jesus intimate (but, by no means, unique)
address of God had on early Christians (see Mark 14:36). It may also reect
the practice of the earliest Aramaic-speaking Palestinian church (Betz 1979,
Perhaps, Paul used the term to remind his readers of their great privilege
of praying in such intimate terms. But, perhaps he referred to a particular
prayerthe Lords Prayer (Betz [1979, 211] rejects this view, but notes oth-
ers who defend it [in n. 93]). In Eastern Orthodox churches, in the so-called
Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, . . . the priest prays, at the introduction of
the Lords Prayer, And make us worthy, O Lord, that we may joyously and
without presumption make bold to invoke Thee, the heavenly God, as Father,
and to say: Our Father (Jeremias 1964, 4-5).
L 7 Paul concluded this section of the letter with the inference: So you are
no longer a slave, but a son ( 3:28; 4:8, 9, 24, 25; 5:1, 13). English conceals
his shift from the second person plural (you) in 4:6 to the singular (you) here.
This explains the singular terms slave, son, and heir. But why the change? Was
he concerned to individualize and personalize his point? Each of you is no
longer a slave, but a son (e.g., Burton 1920, 224; Arichea and Nida 1976, 93;
Longenecker 1990, 175).
Beyond the Galatians lial status, Paul added, since you are a son, God
has made you also an heir. This paraphrases what he literally concluded: you
are also an heir through God. The expression through God appears nowhere
else in the NT. Not surprisingly, surviving Greek manuscripts have eight other
variant readings (Metzger 1994, 526-27). The point of all is the same: The
Galatians new status as Gods children was entirely gracious. It was Gods
doing, not theirs ( 1:2; 2:21; 3:18; see Lightfoot 1874, 170; Burton 1920,
225; Betz 1979, 212).
The conditional conjunction ei, translated since here, can mean if. Had
Paul followed the strict rules of Greek grammar, this would be an unreal rst-
class condition (see Winger 1986). But Paul was convinced the Galatians were
Gods sons and heirs of his promise (see, e.g., Longenecker 1990, 175; Wither-
ington 1998a, 292). Thus, the NIV translation is appropriate.
In v 1 Paul insisted that the minor heir is no different from a slave. In
vv 2-6, he claimed that because God sent Christ and the gift of the Spirit, the
Galatians were no longer (see 2:20; 3:18, 25) minors. Since the time had fully
come (v 4), they had come of age. The point of Pauls formerly-now contrast
was that they enjoyed the full rights of sons in the present (v 5). God had
already granted them the heritage promised the children of Abraham. Cir-
cumcision was not required of Abrahams children ( 3:18, 29; 4:1, 30; 5:21).
Adoption and inheritance comprehended all the end-times blessings
promised Israel, including the one designating Abraham the heir of the world
(Rom 4:13). In Rom 8:17 Paul identied all believers as heirs of God and fel-
low heirs with Christ. The Galatians enjoyed the blessings of the new age.
The lial status of Christians leads naturally to the conclusion that each
is also an heir. Abraham was heir of the world, because God justied him
by faith, rather than by works of the Law (Rom 4:13-14). Whether Jews or
Gentiles by birth, faith in Christ was the basis for sharing in Abrahams heri-
tage (Rom 4:9-17; see Gal 3:64:7) as heirs of God (Rom 8:17). Adoption,
granting nonchildren the legal status of children, gave them the full privileges
of inheritance. Thus, every promise and possession once granted to Israel [is]
now granted in a new and symbolic sense to each and every believer and to
each believing community (Jewett 2008, 501).
Pauls similar point in Romans adds a further emphasis, not mentioned
explicitly here. Since Christ is uniquely Gods Son (Rom 8:3), Gods children
are co-heirs with Christ (v 17; see Gal 4:4). And because Christ was the
Crucied and Risen One, our status as Gods children is contingent upon shar-
ing in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory (Rom 8:17;
see 2 Cor 4:10; Phil 3:10).
We Are Helpless to Save Ourselves. Simply translating ta stoicheia tou kos-
mou into English does not make the ancient worldview the words reect intel-
ligible to modern or postmodern readers. We would feel more at home with a
discussion of how heredity and environment inuence our destinies than with
speculations about cosmic alignments. We understand congenital conditions
and generational poverty far better than elemental spirits. Addictions, un-
controllable compulsions, social dysfunctions, and emotional disorderswe
understand, not slavery under the basic principles of the world (v 3).
We are obviously reading anothers mail. But Pauls meaning is clear
enough: Just in time, God invaded our malfunctioning world as one of us.
His Son entered our slavery to free us and sent his Spirit to empower us to
be Gods children (see Col 1:13; Gal 1:3 [God our Father]; 3:26; 4:4-7)
because we were powerless to save ourselves.
Trinitarian Precision. The parallel sending of Gods Son (4:4) and the
Spirit of his Son (v 7) may be relevant to the so-called Filioque (Latin: and
from the Son, added to the 381 Creed of Constantinople) debate. For more
than a millennium the churches of the East and West have been divided over
the procession of the Spirit. The Greek-speaking Eastern Orthodox confes-
sions insist that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone (John 15:26).
The Latin-speaking Western Church (Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and most
Protestant churches) says the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.
Traditionally, Trinitarian language refers to the Father sending the Son, who
in turn sends the Holy Spirit. Few Christians appreciate the complexities of
Trinitarian language, but all can take comfort in the triune conspiracy of re-
Children of God. Whether we prefer to speak of believers as sons of
God or children of God, it is important to appreciate that gender neutral-
ity is not the issue. Paul emphasized that the Holy Spirit inspires all believers,
regardless of gender or language, to experience intimacy with God within the
context of a vital Christian community.
Some Christians seem unduly alarmed that the very denition of fam-
ily is changing today. But our sense of what has always been is shortsight-
ed. The so-called traditional, nuclear family would have been entirely alien
to Pauls rst readers. Their multigenerational, extended families included
grandparents, parents, children, uncles, aunts, cousins, and slaves all in the
same household.
Neither Jesus nor Paul was married. But both considered the commu-
nities of believers they helped create surrogate families. The church should
4: 8-11
model what real families are like, not our culture or ancient Mediterranean
culture. Intimacy with God makes us at home in his family wherever we are.
From the earliest days of the church, the Lords Prayer was a constitu-
ent part of the celebration of the Lords Supper. Both were reserved only
for baptized believers (Jeremias 1964, 2). Spirit-empowered children of God
may still experience the reverent ecstasy of intimacy with God as we gather
for corporate worship. We are privileged to share the same table and the same
prayer with Christian believers around the world and across two millennia.
The familiar words of the Lords Prayer need not be an empty ritual. May the
Spirit inspire us to pray with the expectancy of a child, Abba, Father.
Diversity of Languages. Reverence for the Bible and unwitting ethnocen-
trism have led a variety of Christian groups to try to make their translation the
only authoritative version. Greek Orthodox Christians preferred the LXX;
Roman Catholics, the Latin Vulgate; older English-speaking Protestants, the
KJV; and recently, conservative evangelicals, the 1984 NIV.
The same Spirit who enabled cross-linguistic communication on the rst
Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-12) still inspires believers to acclaim their intimacy
with God in their own language, Abba, Father (v 6). Shouting louder in
English does not enable a (say) Spanish-only speaker to understand us better.
Christians in Gods global church speak nearly 3,000 different languages. All
need the Bible in their own heart-language.
All languages change over time. Most English speakers today would nd
the 1611 KJV nearly impossible to understand. The KJV still in use (the 1769
revision) is challenging enough. We must continue to encourage competent
and committed translators to communicate the changeless message of Scrip-
ture in every language (see George 1994, 307-8).
b. Application to the Galatians (4:8-20)
i. Past, Present, and Uncertain Future (4:8-11)
Application. With 4:8, Paul shifted abruptly from theological argument
to practical application. The transition is marked by a formerly-now contrast
(see vv 8 and 9a), directly addressing the Galatians. Paul presented them with
two possible futures: First, the one he feared, involving a return to their for-
mer slavery (vv 9b-10), would render his ministry among them a waste of time
(v 11). Second, the one he recommended would require them to resume their
earlier friendship with him and to break off their friendship with the Agitators
(vv 12-20).
The Galatians were futilely trying to live simultaneously in two funda-
mentally incompatible modes of existence. In vv 8-20, Paul contrasted three
different eras in their experience:
Past: Formerly, when you did not know God (v 8)
4: 8-11
Present: now that you know Godor rather are known by God (v 9)
Two Possible Futures:
Feared: return to the past again (vv 9c-11)
under the basic principles of the world (v 3)
under Law (v 5)
turning back again to those weak and miserable principles (v 9b)
to be enslaved . . . again (v 9c)
Recommended: return to Christ again (vv 12-20)
become like me (v 12)
I rst preached the gospel to you (v 13)
you welcomed me (v 14)
I am again in pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you (v
Translations and commentaries disagree as to whether vv 8-10 belong
with what precedes, vv 1-7 (e.g., GW, NASB, REB; Betz 1979, 181-219; Dunn
1993, 209-30), or with what follows, vv 12-20 (e.g., GNT, NIV, NRSV; Martyn
1997, 409; Witherington 1998a, 295). The correct answer seems to be both;
the two sections overlap ( 1:10-12; 3:21-22). Verses 8-11 provide a smooth
transition within Pauls argument. He continued to refer to the stoicheia (4:3
and 9), which had formerly enslaved the Galatians in their pre-Christian exis-
tence. He warned them that the future the Agitators offered would mean only
a return trip to slavery.
Calendar Concerns. Pauls brief comment on the Galatians plans to ob-
serve special days and months and seasons and years in v 10 has puzzled
interpreters since the fourth century. Ambrosiaster thought he referred to a
pagan time-keeping scheme; Jerome, to the Jewish scheme (Edwards 1999,
60). Beyond the apostles obvious concern (see v 11), we cannot be certain
precisely what he meant. This is the rst and last time he said anything about
the calendar in Galatians.
Pauls list of calendar references in 4:10 can be either pagan or Jewish,
only its context in Galatians can determine the issue (Martin 1996, 112).
Lightfoot (1874, 191-92) has persuaded most subsequent interpreters that
v 10 and Col 2:16 are parallel and that both reect a Jewish time-keeping
scheme (Martin 1996). But there is considerable evidence to the contrary.
Martin makes a plausible case for concluding that the immediate context (Gal
4:8-10) reects a pagan temporal system. But, as he admits, The argument
against the Judaizers in the broader context of Galatians, however, leads many
commentators to the opposite conclusion (1996, 113).
(1) Jewish. Paul emphatically rejected the Jewish rite of circumcision
for Gentile Christians. But did he similarly reject the Gentile observance of
the Jewish calendar? Paul himself observed and assumed his converts were
familiar with the Sabbath (1 Cor 16:2) and Jewish festivals (at least Pentecost
[1 Cor 16:8]; and perhaps Passover [5:7-8]). Acts (13:14, 44; 17:2; 20:6-7,
4: 8-11
16) reports that Paul and other early Christians adopted the Jewish practice
that marked time by festivals and Sabbaths (Martin 1996, 109), perhaps to
avoid the idolatrous systems of the pagans around them (Martin 1996, 110).
(2) Syncretistic. Perhaps the Galatians were blending astrological ele-
ments from Greco-Roman paganism with Jewish calendar-piety (so, e.g.,
Schmithals 1972, 43-46; Jervis 1999, 115). Pauls association of stoicheia (Gal
4:9) with the calendar (v 10) may suggest that they had conceded too much
signicance to the heavenly bodies that marked time ( v 3).
Even Jews were sometimes guilty of such syncretism. Isaiah had accused
Israel of paganizing its festivals centuries earlier (e.g., 1:13-14; 47:13). During
the second century B.C., Jubilees urged Jews not to yield to the temptation to
follow pagan calendars: lest they forget the feasts of the covenant and walk
in the feasts of the gentiles, after their errors and after their ignorance (6:35;
see 6:32-38; OTP 2:68).
It should be emphasized that Gal 4:9 suggests only that being under
the Law and being under the rudimentary principles of the world [were]
similar experiences with similar results (Belleville 1986, 69; see Ziesler 1992,
59; Matera 1992, 155). Paul did not equate pagan idolatry and life under the
stoicheia with submission to the Law and scrupulous calendar observance. He
did no more than suggest that the parallels were unmistakableboth were
(3) Pagan. Many of the difculties interpreting Gal 4:10 can be re-
solved if we assume that the Galatians are accused here not of Judaizing, but,
on the contrary, of resubmitting themselves to the civic obligations of public
and especially imperial religion (Kahl 2010, 225). During the second half of
the rst century, government ofcials and law-abiding citizens pressured most
residents of Asia Minor to observe public holidays largely set aside to honor
the Roman Imperial cult. The calendar coerced nearly everyone to demon-
strate their allegiance to the empire by participating in the public worship of
the deied emperor (Mitchell 1993, 10; Winter 1994, 125-43; Nanos 2002b,
260-69; Hardin 2008, 116-47; Kahl 2010, 218-27 and 353-55 nn. 45-70).
Perhaps few of the emperors, much less ordinary inhabitants of the Ro-
man Empire, took seriously the Imperial propaganda that living emperors
were divine. And claims that they became divine at their deaths meant little
more then than popular claims today that everybody goes to heaven when
they die. Emperor worship might easily have been considered no more than
a pragmatic necessityan oath of loyalty, a refusal to promote anarchy.
Political realities had to be taken seriously. The compulsory worship of
the emperor may have seemed no more compromising to most people in the
Roman Empire than the pledge of allegiance does to Americans today. Given
the reality of Imperial power, to have refused must have seemed suicidal folly.
Imperial claims were largely political posturing designed to maintain state au-
4: 8-9

thority. Survival instincts, not conviction, led many to celebrate state holidays,
even if reluctantly.
Julius Caesar set the precedent for subsequent Roman emperors by ex-
empting Jews from such expressions of civic piety as the worship of gods
other than their own throughout the empire, including Asia Minor (Jose-
phus, Ant. 14.185-267; Nanos 2002b, 260). Evidence of Jewish loyalty to the
emperor was demonstrated by daily sacrices, funded by the temple tax, of-
fered in the Jerusalem temple for his well-being (Smallwood 2001, 124-43;
Nanos 2002b, 262-63 n. 109).
As non-Jews, the uncircumcised Galatian Christians were apparently
faced with two choices: either return to what the outside world considered
proper behavior by complying with at least the minimal requirements of pub-
lic religionthat is, be properly Gentileor become fully Jewish (Kahl
2010, 225; see Nanos 2002b, 265). Paul rejected both (Nanos 2002b, 271).
L 8-9 The sentence begins with three Greek words, marking a new direction
in Pauls letter.
But marks the contrast between the Galatians Christian (3:6-7) and
pagan status (v 8).
Formerly identies the time before their conversions (Betz 1979, 213;
Rogers 1989, 122), when they did not know God, with the present.
The third, on the one hand, omitted in English translations, antici-
pates v 9: But now that you know God.
Paul contrasted the Galatians pre-Christian existencenot knowing
God (v 8), with their present knowing God (v 9). By doing so, he treated two
different Greek verbs (oida and gino3sko3) as synonyms. He ignored the classical
distinction between theoretical knowledge based on abstract observation and
the acquisition of practical knowledge based on personal experience (Horst-
mann 1990, 493). His concern was not that the Galatians lacked the right kind
of knowledge of God. Knowing God personally was not more essential than
knowing about God. He preferred to describe conversion as God coming to
know us (v 9).
Israels privileged knowledge of God was more than an awareness that
God existed. It experienced the revelation of his character, faithfulness, and
covenant love in their national history. It called upon him in prayer and ac-
knowledged him by obedience (Deut 4:39; Judg 2:10; 1 Sam 3:7; Pss 9:10;
46:10; Prov 2:5; 9:10; Isa 1:3; 43:10; Jer 22:16; 31:34; Hos 4:6; 6:6; 8:2; Mic
6:5; Wis 2:13). Gentiles did not know God in this sense (Ps 79:6; Jer 10:25;
Jdt 9:7; 2 Macc 1:27; Wis 12:27).
Paul used traditional Jewish terminology distinguishing pagans and Jews
(1 Cor 1:21; 1 Thess 4:5; 2 Thess 1:8) to describe the change from paganism
to Christ . . . in terms of knowledge (George 1994, 313). If he had misgiv-
4: 8-9
ings about the adequacy of coming to know God as descriptive of conversion,
it was not due to the later abuse of knowledge in gnostic circles referring to
esoteric revelation.
The phrase or rather in v 9 introduces a thought that supplements and
so corrects what has just been said (see Rom 8:34; 1 Cor 14:1, 5; Longenecker
1990, 180). Paul preferred to speak of coming to be known by God (v 9). The
aorist tense emphasizes the beginning of this experience in their conversion,
not to a now past reality (Longenecker 1990, 180; see 1 Cor 1:21 and 13:12 vs.
Gal 2:9). Pauls correction . . . underscores his recognition that any relation of
acceptance by God is of divine initiative (Dunn 1993, 225).
As omniscient, God does not need information about us. Paul under-
stood Gods knowing in the sense of the Hebrew verb ya3da(, referring to mu-
tual personal and experiential intimacy involving the total self, not merely
the mind or thought processes (George 1994, 313). For him, to be known
by God means to be elected, loved, and accepted by God (Schmithals 1990,
250; see Gen 18:19; Ps 1:6; Hos 5:3; 13:5; Amos 3:2; Nah 1:7; Matt 7:23;
Rom 8:29; 11:2; 1 Cor 8:3; Phil 3:12; 2 Tim 2:19; see BDAG, 200, s.v. gino3sko3
7). Divine adoption and the gift of the Spirit enable believers to respond to
Gods initiative by acknowledging that they are his children (Gal 4:5-6).
In v 8 Paul described the Galatians former lives when they did not know
God: you were slaves to those who by nature were not gods (see 4:1, 3, 7). This
reects widely shared Jewish assumptions about Gentile idolatry (2 Chr 13:9;
Isa 37:19; Jer 16:20; Ep Jer 23, 29, 51-52, 64-65, 69, 72).
Pauls reference to the Galatians former idolatry conceded a reality to the
objects of their worship, while insisting that they were by nature . . . not gods
(v 8). He gave no clues as to what his converts former religions may have been
specically. Had they worshipped the old Celtic gods, or were they adherents
of one of the new cults? Or had they been merely nominal participants in the
expected civic cult of the deied emperor (Winter 1994, 125-43)? His point
was not to insist that the so-called gods they had worshipped were not real
(CEV, NCV) or did not even exist (NLT; see 1 Cor 8:4-6). But they were not gods.
Hellenistic Judaism, well before Pauls time, had adapted the ancient
theory of religion called Euhemerism to distinguish deities that were physei
(in reality) as opposed to thesei (by human convention) . . . to criticize
Greek mythology and religion (Betz 1979, 214). The apostles Greek philo-
sophical categories demoted the traditional supposed-gods of paganism (Dunn
1993, 224) and dismissed the absurd divine claims of the Roman emperor
(Kahl 2010, 138-67). These undeniably powerful (1 Cor 12:2) beings were
in their essential character (Arichea and Nida 1976, 95; see Burton 1920,
227-28) not divine, but demonic (Bruce 1982, 201; Rogers 1989, 121). This
interpretation is consistent with the conclusion of Pauls lengthy excursus on
food sacriced to idols in 1 Cor 810 (see esp. 1 Cor 8:1-8; 10:19-21).
4: 8-9
Pauls brief account of the Galatians pre-Christian lives in contrast to
their lives as Christians in vv 8-9b prepared the way for his questions in v
9cd: how is it that . . . ? and, Do you wish . . . ? Despite the interrogative for-
mulation, Paul was not seeking answers. His rhetorical questions negatively
assessed the Galatians future plans as incomprehensible. As with his question
to Cephas in 2:14, he was puzzled: How could you possibly do such a thing?
His rhetoric challenged the Agitators assumptions, rejecting their persuasion
(BDAG, 901, s.v. po3s).
In rhetorical questions, the interrogative adverb how characterized their
plans as shocking (Hendricksen 1968, 165), absurd (Burton 1920, 230), even
irrational (Rogers 1989, 122). Paul posed two questions: First, why would you
turn back to worthless nongods? Second, why would you want to be enslaved
again? This is certainly not what they thought they were doing.
First, how can you be turning back [epistrephete] again to those weak
and worthless elemental spirits [stoicheia]? (v 9c). The verb epistrepho3 was a
semi-technical term for a religious or moral conversion in Hellenistic-Jewish
and Christian circles (Bertram 1971, 722-29). It usually had a positive sense
a change for the better (see, e.g., Deut 30:10; 1 Kgs 7:3; 2 Chr 3:16; Isa 6:10;
55:7; Jer 3:14; Sir 48:10; Josephus, Ant. 10.53; Matt 13:15; Mark 4:12; Luke
1:16-17; 22:32; John 12:40; Acts 3:19; 9:35; 11:21; 14:15; 15:19; Jas 5:19-
20; 1 Pet 2:25; Barn. 2:33; 1 Clem. 7:5; 8:3; 18:13; 2 Clem. 16:1; 17:2; 19:2;
Herm. Mand. 6.1.5; Herm. Sim. 9.26.3; Pol. Phil. 7:2). The LXX normally
used a different word (apostrepho3) when the underlying Hebrew word (s]u3b) re-
ferred to turning away from God, to apostasy (e.g., Num 14:43; 1 Sam 15:11;
1 Kgs 9:6; Ps 78:41; Jer 3:19).
But Paul rarely used the verb epistrepho3 in a favorable sense (only 2 Cor
3:16; 1 Thess 1:9). Here he characterized the Galatians prospective change as
for the worse (see Num 14:43; 1 Sam 15:11; 1 Kgs 9:6; Ps 78:41 [LXX]; Prov
26:11; Jer 3:19; 2 Pet 2:21-22; Barn. 4:8; Herm. Sim. 8.7.5). His language had
an ironic edge. They were on the verge of committing apostasy, of reversing
their conversion and returning to paganism. Such a change was unthinkable.
For a post-Christian existence Paul leaves open only atheism or superstition
(Betz 1979, 216).
If the traditional understanding of the situation prompting Pauls letter
to the Galatians is correct, they certainly did not think they were returning to
paganism. They were, rather, considering a switch from Pauline Christianity
to a form of Jewish Christianity which required circumcision and obedience
to the Torah (Betz 1979, 216). Pauls assessment of their plans as apostasy to
paganism makes sense only if he equated being under Law with being under
the elementary principles. They were treating the Law just like another false
god (Dunn 1993, 226).
The present tense of the verb epistrephete suggests that the Galatians
apostasy was still in progress or only contemplated; it was not yet complete.
4: 8-9
Paul similarly used the present tense in his rebuke of the Galatians in 1:6: I
am astonished that you are so quickly deserting [metatithesthe] the one who
called you by the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel. Apparently
the males in the Galatian churches were only considering circumcision. Most
had not yet undergone the surgical procedure.
Why did Paul describe the stoicheia ( 4:3) as weak [asthene3] and miser-
able [pto3cha]? The adjective asthene3s in the NT regularly describes one suf-
fering from a debilitating illness (see Matt 25:43-44; Luke 9:2; Acts 5:15-16;
1 Cor 11:30) or some other physical incapacity or limitation (Matt 26:41;
2 Cor 10:10; 1 Pet 3:7). It also describes something as ineffective or rela-
tively unimportant (1 Cor 1:25, 27; 4:10; 12:22; Heb 7:18; BDAG, 142, s.v.
asthene3s). Such a claim about supposed supernatural powers considerably de-
moted their presumed status. But Paul often turned the tables on human es-
timates of power and weakness (see, e.g., 1 Cor 1:182:5; 2 Cor 1012).
The adjective pto3chos normally described poor people, whose econom-
ic disadvantages reduced them to begging for survival (see, e.g., Matt 26:11;
Luke 14:13, 21; 16:20-22; Gal 2:10). The traditional understanding of beg-
garly (KJV, NKJV, NRSV, RSV) today calls for the translation bankrupt (HCSB,
ISV, NJB) or worthless (ESV, NASB, NET). The elementary principles to which
the Galatians were returning were powerless and impoverished.
And yet in their pre-Christian existence, the Galatians were enslaved by
these bogus gods (4:8)! They had worshipped spirit beings that [could] do
nothing (BDAG, 142). Yet these gods demanded sacricial offerings from
them. This explains why Paul characterized the gospel of the one true God he
preached in terms of freedom (see 2:4) and truth (2:5 and 14)!
Pauls rhetorical question made it seem totally incongruous that the Ga-
latians should trade the freedom Christ offered for a yoke of slavery (5:1).
How absurd to prefer the illusion of idolatry to the truth of the gospel! And
yet the warnings found in early Christian writings suggest that some Chris-
tians continued to nd Judaism attractive (Dunn 1993, 226, citing Ign. Magn.
8:1; 10:3; Barn. 3:6; Justin, Dial. 47:4).
Second, Pauls rhetorical question in v 9d asked: Do you wish to be en-
slaved by them all over again [palin ano3then]? Palin appears also in Gal 1:9, 17;
2:1, 18; 4:19; 5:1, 3. But ano3then appears only here in Pauls letters. These two
Greek adverbs are essentially synonymous, (lit.) again again.
The innitive to be enslaved repeats the letters familiar imagery of slav-
ery. But the main verb, Do you want, asked, in effect: What kind of future do
you Galatians desire?
We cannot be certain precisely what the Agitators wanted from the Ga-
latians. Paul consistently put a negative spin on both their wishes and motives:
In 1:7, they want to pervert the gospel of Christ (NRSV).
In 4:17, they want to exclude you (NRSV).
4: 8-10
In 6:12, they want to make a good showing in the fesh . . . only that
they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ (NRSV).
And in 6:13, they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast
about your esh (NRSV).
Paul also wanted something from the Galatians:
In 3:2 he claimed: The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did
you receive the Spirit by doing the works of law or by believing what
you heard? (NRSV).
In 4:20 he would write: I wish I were present with you now and could
change my tone, for I am perplexed about you (NRSV).
But what did the Galatians themselves want? In 4:21 Paul suggested that
some of them want to be under the law. He insisted that they had to take
sides as a community and decide what they really wanted. They needed to de-
cide between serving the esh and serving the Spirit, or they would never be
able to do what they wanted (6:12). Here Paul asked, Having tasted the free-
dom of the gospel, do you really want to return to your former life of slavery?
In 4:9 Paul characterized the Galatians future plans as a return to pa-
ganism. Was this all rhetoric? Did he malign circumcision and Jewish calendar
observance as comparable to pagan practices? Or, should we take Paul literally?
The incongruity of the traditional scholarly assumptions about the Ga-
latians plans as Judaizing leads Martin to challenge the consensus reading of
the behind-the-text situation of Galatians. He agrees that the Agitators had
insisted that Gentiles had to be circumcised to be fully Christian. But he dis-
agrees that Pauls converts were considering circumcision. On the contrary, he
assumes they had decided to abandon Christianity to avoid it (Martin 1995;
L 10 You are observing special days and months and seasons and years!
seems less a comment than an accusation. The present tense of the verb sug-
gests that the Galatians were already guilty. But in Greek, Pauls statement
could be a question: Are you observing special days . . . ? (so Bruce 1982,
205). The oldest (ca. 200) surviving manuscript of Galatians, p
, treats v 10
as a continuation of the question in v 9c: Do you wish to be enslaved by them
all over again, by scrupulously observing days . . . ? Perhaps, they were only
considering the calendar-observances to which Paul objected.
We have already noted ( BEHIND THE TEXT above) that it is un-
clear precisely what the Galatians were doing or considering that troubled
Paul. A rejection of Sabbath observance might seem to be coherent with Pauls
rejection of circumcision elsewhere in the letter. The two were the leading
marks of Jewish identity during the rst century (see Josephus, Ant. 11.346;
Jub. 2:17-33). But what disturbed Paul about the Galatians time-keeping
scheme cannot have been that the holidays they proposed to observe were
of Jewish origin. He made no attempt to identify their proposed calendar as
distinctively Jewish.
He referred to days (he3meras), not to Sabbaths, as in Col 2:16. In
Rom 14:5-6a, he treated observing or not observing the Sabbath day
as indifferent.
If Paul referred to the Jewish calendar, the observance of months
(me3nas) could refer to the extra Sabbaths associated with the new
moon festival (Num 28:11-15; 1 Chr 23:31; Isa 66:23). But he did not
mention neome3nias, New Moon celebration, as in Col 2:16.
In the LXX (Exod 23:14, 17; Lev 23:4) seasons (kairous; lit., times)
referred to Jewish festivals of longer duration. But Paul said nothing of
a religious festival (heorte3s), as in Col 2:16.
In combination with seasons, years (eniautous) may have alluded to the
sabbatical years outlined in Lev 25.
Many of Pauls generic calendar terms appear in Jewish texts (e.g., Gen
1:14; Jub. 2:9; 1 En. 75:3; 79:2; and 82:7). But they better conform to the cat-
egories characteristic of a pagan time-keeping system than to Jewish practice
(Martin 1996, 112). Pagans typically grouped the calendar into these catego-
three sets of ten days,
comprising twelve months of thirty days each, and
three months made up one of four seasons,
which together formed years.
If Paul referred to a pagan calendar, we may still ask, Which one? Honoring of
seasons and cycles of the year was part of Celtic religion (Jervis 1999, 115; see
Mitchell 1993). But it also characterized the Priene Calendar (9 B.C.), which
established the Roman Imperial cult in Asia Minor. By the second half of
the rst century, this dominated every aspect of Galatian public life (Winter
1994, 129-31; Kahl 2010, 118-289, esp. 124, 225-26, 255).
If the Galatians were inappropriately syncretizing Jewish and pagan
time-keeping schemes, would Pauls brief comment here have been enough
for them to know what they were to do differently and why? Both he and
they knew what they were considering; we can only speculate. We are reading
anothers mail.
Pauls other letters and Acts give us no reason to believe he would have
opposed the Galatians adopting the Jewish calendar. But he clearly considered
participation in pagan cultic activities out of the question for Christians (see
1 Cor 10:14-22). This would have included the civic obligations towards the
imperial cult (Winter 1994, 133). To observe days and months and seasons
and years by worshipping the deied emperor and his family and by partici-
pating in the accompanying pagan revelry would have meant apostasy from
the One true God. But what did a calendar have to do with circumcision?
Agitators in Pauls Galatian churches were undoubtedly pressuring his
Gentile converts to get circumcised. But why? And why did Paul so adamantly
oppose it? After all, he conceded that circumcision vs. uncircumcision was
ultimately a matter of indifference ( Gal 5:6; 6:15). But he also insisted that
Christ would be of no benet to Gentile Christians who were circumcised
(5:2 NRSV). To accept the Agitators circumcision gospel would be tantamount
to apostasy ( 1:6-9; 3:4; 4:11; 5:4).
Why did Paul repeatedly assess the Agitators motives as suspect and
self-serving ( 1:7; 4:8-9, 17; 6:12-13)? Had they recommended circumcision
as merely a pragmatic means of sparing themselves from persecution ( 6:12-
13)? If the males in the Gentile Christian communities of Galatia were cir-
cumcised, they would appear to government ofcials to be Jewish. This would
afford them the same exemption from participation in the Imperial cult Jews
enjoyed (Nanos 2002b, 260, 267). But more importantly, Jewish Christian
communities would not be suspected of being an illicit new religion, and thus
avoid persecution (Winter 1994, 133, 137; Hardin 2008, 24-81).
Paul rejected strategic compromises on either calendar issues or the mat-
ter of circumcision. So, what were the Galatians to do? If they were to act
consistently with the truth of the gospel (2:5, 14), they needed to embrace
the offense of the cross of Christ (5:11; 2:19-21; 6:12-14). Compromise
in the interests of comfort was not an option.
L 11 Paul expressed despair over the developments in Galatia: I am fearful
for you that I may perhaps have toiled for you for nothing. Were his ministry
efforts (see Rom 16:6, 12; 1 Cor 15:10; 16:16; Phil 2:16; Col 1:29; 1 Thess
5:12) in their behalf to be wasted ( Gal 3:4)? They seemed determined to
return to an enslaved existence like that from which they had been delivered.
Pauls fear was for the Galatians, not himself. They were in danger of
falling from grace and being alienated from Christ ( 5:4). The apostle cher-
ished no doctrine of the eternal security of believers. He faced the possibility
that his ministry might not have enduring results ( 2:2; see 1 Thess 3:5).
Nevertheless, the present tense of the verb fear indicates that Paul did
not consider the Galatians fall nal (Longenecker 1990, 183). By the time he
reached 5:10 (), he was able to express optimism that they would take his
side and reject the claims of the Agitators: I am condent in the Lord that you
will take no other view.
Conversion. Paul did not limit his account of Christian conversion to
a single formula. He described the conversions of the Galatians in 3:1-5 as
marked by receiving the Spirit through faith in the message of Christ cruci-
ed. In 4:8-9, the antitheses of Formerly, when you did not know God and
now that you know Godor rather are known by God dened their conver-
sions. Through conversion they gained freedom from slavery to false gods (v 8;
see 5:1). Pauls conversion-call in ch 1 sets as antitheses his previous way of
life in Judaism (in 1:13-14) and his life after God revealed the risen Christ to
him (in 1:15-16; see v 10).
4: 8-11
Pauls descriptions of the conversions of other Gentile Christian com-
munities emphasize different contrasts. The Thessalonians turned to God
from idols to serve the living and true God (1 Thess 1:9) by receiving the
word of God in faith and becoming imitators of Christ and the apostles (vv 3,
5, 6, 8; 2:13, 14). The Corinthians, previously chosen by God, responded in
faith to Pauls preaching of the cross of Christ. He became for them righteous-
ness, holiness, and redemption (1 Cor 1:262:5). The Romans used to be
slaves to sin, but were set free from sin when they wholeheartedly obeyed
what they were taught (Rom 6:17-18).
We would do well to imitate Pauls example and not restrict our vocabu-
lary of conversion to getting saved, forgiven, or born again. To imitate Paul
requires us to appreciate that his descriptions of conversion depend heavily
on gurative language. We dare not close any of the many biblical windows
into the divine-human interchange we call conversion. The one we ignore may
be the one that sheds the light of God into the darkness of some still in need
of hearing and appropriating the good news of Christ and the transforming,
spiritual renewal he can effect in all who will believe.
Apostasy. Paul apparently believed it was possible for genuinely convert-
ed believers to be lost. The Galatians plans to abandon Christian freedom and
return to slavery caused him to fear that they might forfeit their nal salvation
(see Gal 4:9, 11; 5:1-5, 13; see 1 Thess 3:5). Did they not realize that both
their would-be circumcision and calendar observance equally threatened their
future well-being? Was this all a serious miscalculation? Or, were they pre-
pared self-consciously to abandon the future Pauls gospel promised in favor
of another gospel (1:6-9)? Would they embrace circumcision and the Law or
return to their former paganism? Or, would they remain faithful to the cross
of Christ and reject both other alternatives?
Calendars. Why did Paul object to the Galatians fascination with time?
His own practice suggests that he paid attention to the calendar and the recur-
ring cycles of Jewish festivals. Did he consider it inappropriate for Gentiles to
do so? Was the Galatians scrupulous observance excessive and obsessive? Had
they adopted a pagan time-keeping scheme that was compromised by idolatry?
Had they associated astrological determinism with their calendar interests?
Were they guilty of inappropriately syncretizing Jewish and pagan calendars?
Or, were they considering the safe course of political expediency? Paul told us
too little to be certain, even if his rst readers knew what he meant.
Ambrosiaster concluded that the problem with scrupulous calendar ob-
servances was the superstitions they fostered (see Edwards 1999, 60). This
would certainly speak against notions associating bad luck with days like Fri-
day the 13th. But was this all that concerned Paul?
There seems little danger that contemporary Christians might soon re-
turn to the bygone legalism of Sunday Sabbatarianism. But would Paul caution
against the resurgence of Christian interest in Jewish festivals, particularly
Passover and the Seder meal? Is there a danger that Christians might inappro-
priately xate on rituals and miss the reality of Christ as our Pascal Lamb and
Eucharist as the Christian Passover?
What would Paul say about our calendar observances? Every name for
the days of the week and most of the names of our months are derived from
the names of pagan deities. Some Christians have serious misgivings about cel-
ebrating holidaysnot just Halloween, but Christmas and Easter, and seasons
such as Lentthat have pagan antecedents. Has the Christianization of the
calendar thoroughly purged these ancient festivals of their pagan connections
and converted them into Christ-honoring alternatives? Is Christian con-
sumerism contributing more to the repaganization of (say) Christmas than its
forgotten connections with the winter solstice or the birthday of the Persian
sun god Mithras?
Many politically conservative Christians in the United States seem
oblivious to the dangers inherent in the American civil religion that weds piety
and patriotism. They think nothing of confessing at once the lordship of Jesus
and pledging allegiance to the ag. In fact, they tend to fault Jehovahs Wit-
nesses less for their aberrant theology than for their refusal to salute the ag.
If 4:9 and 10 are mutually interpretive, it appears that Paul was con-
cerned that the Galatians compulsive time-keeping had the potential to en-
slave them. Despite growing interest in the occult, the more serious Western
preoccupation with time has nothing to do with ancient astrological supersti-
tions, idolatrous worship, or politicized religion.
We face a more urgent problem. Many Christians are slaves to the clock
and the calendar. Our overly full and inexible schedules have left us little
time or freedom to serve one another in love (5:13) or do good to all people
(6:10), much less for intimacy with Godknowing him and being known
by him (4:8-9). Do we imagine that all our frenzied activity will justify our
existence and somehow earn Gods favor? Have we so lled even our church
calendars with events that we have programmed God out of our lives?
ii. Pleading for a Christian Future (4:12-20)
Following the conventions of deliberative rhetoric, in 4:12-20 Paul pled
with the Galatians to consider the advantages of the better future his gospel
offered. He urged them to resume their former friendship and return their
exclusive allegiance to him and his gospel (vv 12-17). This would entail fol-
lowing his example (v 12a) and accepting him as their true friend (v 12b), who
remained deeply concerned for their Christian progress (vv 19-20). It would
also mean parting company with the Agitators, who were merely false friends
and atterers (vv 17-18).

Paul was perplexed about the Galatians (v 20). He was gravely con-
cerned and uncertain as to what to do next. Beyond persuasion, what could
he do? They apparently imagined they had two alternatives: circumcision or
compromise on the calendar. He offered another option.
Paul warned thatdespite Gods faithfulness and saving intentions for
the Galatians, his ministry among them, and their experience of the Spirit
Gods investment in them might be entirely wast