Friday, November 12, 2010

Exegetical notes on Galatians 2:11-21

Text:

11 Ὅτε δὲ ἦλθεν Κηφᾶς εἰς Ἀντιόχειαν, κατὰ πρόσωπον αὐτῷ ἀντέστην, ὅτι κατεγνωσμένος ἦν. 12 πρὸ τοῦ γὰρ ἐλθεῖν τινας ἀπὸ Ἰακώβου μετὰ τῶν ἐθνῶν συνήσθιεν• ὅτε δὲ ἦλθον, ὑπέστελλεν καὶ ἀφώριζεν ἑαυτὸν φοβούμενος τοὺς ἐκ περιτομῆς. 13 καὶ συνυπεκρίθησαν αὐτῷ [καὶ] οἱ λοιποὶ Ἰουδαῖοι, ὥστε καὶ Βαρναβᾶς συναπήχθη αὐτῶν τῇ ὑποκρίσει. 14 ἀλλʼ ὅτε εἶδον ὅτι οὐκ ὀρθοποδοῦσιν πρὸς τὴν ἀλήθειαν τοῦ εὐαγγελίου, εἶπον τῷ Κηφᾷ ἔμπροσθεν πάντων• εἰ σὺ Ἰουδαῖος ὑπάρχων ἐθνικῶς καὶ οὐχὶ Ἰουδαϊκῶς ζῇς, πῶς τὰ ἔθνη ἀναγκάζεις ἰουδαΐζειν; 15 Ἡμεῖς φύσει Ἰουδαῖοι καὶ οὐκ ἐξ ἐθνῶν ἁμαρτωλοί• 16 εἰδότες [δὲ] ὅτι οὐ δικαιοῦται ἄνθρωπος ἐξ ἔργων νόμου ἐὰν μὴ διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, καὶ ἡμεῖς εἰς Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν ἐπιστεύσαμεν, ἵνα δικαιωθῶμεν ἐκ πίστεως Χριστοῦ καὶ οὐκ ἐξ ἔργων νόμου, ὅτι ἐξ ἔργων νόμου οὐ δικαιωθήσεται πᾶσα σάρξ. 17 εἰ δὲ ζητοῦντες δικαιωθῆναι ἐν Χριστῷ εὑρέθημεν καὶ αὐτοὶ ἁμαρτωλοί, ἆρα Χριστὸς ἁμαρτίας διάκονος; μὴ γένοιτο. 18 εἰ γὰρ ἃ κατέλυσα ταῦτα πάλιν οἰκοδομῶ, παραβάτην ἐμαυτὸν συνιστάνω. 19 ἐγὼ γὰρ διὰ νόμου νόμῳ ἀπέθανον, ἵνα θεῷ ζήσω. Χριστῷ συνεσταύρωμαι• 20 ζῶ δὲ οὐκέτι ἐγώ, ζῇ δὲ ἐν ἐμοὶ Χριστός• ὃ δὲ νῦν ζῶ ἐν σαρκί, ἐν πίστει ζῶ τῇ τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ἀγαπήσαντός με καὶ παραδόντος ἑαυτὸν ὑπὲρ ἐμοῦ. 21 Οὐκ ἀθετῶ τὴν χάριν τοῦ θεοῦ• εἰ γὰρ διὰ νόμου δικαιοσύνη, ἄρα Χριστὸς δωρεὰν ἀπέθανεν.

Variants:

12 τινας ; τινα – the manuscript support for the former is strong and diverse, and the former reading is more logical in the context.

12 ἦλθον ; ἦλθεν – the manuscript support is slightly more even on this variation, but the former reading is preferable, matching the τινας of the preceding.

Translation:

11 But when Kephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was condemned. 12 for before the coming certain men from Jacob he ate together with the Gentiles; but when they came, he drew back and separated himself, fearing those of the Circumcision. 13 and the remaining Jews joined him in hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was lead astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that they were not dealing straight in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Kephas before all, “If you, being a Jew, do not live in a Jewish manner, why do you compel the nations to Judaise? 15 We by nature are Jews and not sinners of the Nations; 16 but knowing that a human being is not justified by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by the works of the law all flesh will not be justified. 17 But if we are found to be seeking to be justified in Christ and are ourselves sinners, then is Christ a servant of sin? Not so! 18 For I, through the law, died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been co-crucified with Christ; 20 and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me; what I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God that loved me and gave himself on my behalf. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God: for if through the law came righteousness, then Christ died vainly.

Comments:

In verse 11 we have both the continuations of Paul’s temporally marked biographical defence, but also the introduction of a new sequence. Peter comes to Antioch, and there is a division between Peter and Paul, which Paul goes on to relate. Paul gives the reason for his strong opposition – Peter ‘was condemned’. This may be understood as ‘Peter stood condemned’ by his actions. Paul then explains the basis for Peter’s condemnation in verse 12. His former practice was to share table-fellowship, to eat, with the Gentile believes (with ‘the nations’), an action that Paul understands as being in line with the Gospel message. And, indeed, Peter does too, based upon Acts at least. Yet a new party comes to Antioch, ‘certain men from Jacob (James)’. While Peter and James certainly represent a Christianity more deeply embedded in Jewish cultural practices, it is a mistake to overread this diversity. Debate continues about how we should understand the relationship between these men and James himself. Are they authorised? Do they represent James and James’ position? Acts 15 suggests not. On this basis, I am inclined to see the party as a group associated with James’ more Jewish Christian practice, but more conservative than James himself, and not an authorised delegation by any means. They have some association with James and represent themselves as coming from him.

Paul makes Peter’s very separation a gospel-issue. That is the basis of Paul’s condemnation of Peter. Not that eating with Jews, or eating according to Jewish food laws, is wrong. But that to do so in a context that separates oneself from Gentile believers carries a communication: that they do not have genuine fellowship together.

So much so, that verse 13 introduces the language of hypocrisy. Peter’s actions are out of line with his own beliefs. No doubt that if questioned, Peter’s response would be some kind of accommodation-line. The point here is that in seeking not to offend the Jewish faction, Peter is in fact undermining the gospel message by cutting off the Gentile believers.

So Paul confronts Peter in v14, as he observes that there practice does not align with ‘the truth of the Gospel’. His question highlights Peter’s hypocrisy: since Peter is a Jew, and is free from the Law and so regularly eats and lives like a Gentile, how can he in fact force Gentiles to live in a Jewish manner? This is the outcome of Peter’s withdrawal – it sends the message that Gentile believers will need to ‘Judaise’ in order to have full insider-status in the new Christian movement. Even though Peter himself makes no move to ‘compel’ the Gentiles, his actions are tantamount to the same.

It is unclear when the speech of Paul shifts from historical recollection of conversation with Peter to epistolary discourse with the Galatians, but it is certainly not before v15. The ‘we’ of v15 follows (or establishes, if you prefer), the distinct referents of we vs. you in the letter. We, referring at least to Paul and Peter, but by implication other Jewish-background believers, is used to distinguish Peter and Paul from ‘Gentile sinners’. Paul asserts this as a statement of who they are ‘by nature’. They were born as Jews and so were not unclean Gentiles. And yet, even being such Jews, Paul adds the participial phrase of v16, ‘knowing that a human being is not justified by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ’. Paul here states the key theological principle that drives both his rebuke of Peter, and his argument within Galatians. He draws upon Psalm 143:2, with a shift from πᾶς ζῶν to πᾶσα σάρξ, but more importantly adds ἐξ ἔργων νόμου. The future tense δικαιωθήσεται may refer to a decisively eschatological justification, rather than a generic one. This will have important theological implications.

Immediately then we enter into two significant debates. The first is concerning the phrase ἐξ ἔργων νόμου works of the Law. For my part I am unpersuaded by the arguments of the NPP to understand this as something like ‘Jewish boundary markers of ethno-religious identity’. It certainly fails to function that way in Galatians. Neither should it be pushed to a generic ‘legalism.’ Rather, it expresses Torah-obedience within a Mosaic covenant context, which appears to be what the Judaising-teachers in Galatia are pushing for.

The second is debate over the meaning of ‘righteousness’ and ‘justify’ language. Again, I find the NPP unpersuasive. That, a la Wright, justification should be redefined in largely covenant-inclusion terms seems to make a nonsense of justification language at all. I stand with a traditional stream that sees ‘to justify’ to have legal connotations, and to include the idea of declaring and so performatively making right. More on this to come.

v16 then expresses Paul’s conviction, from the scriptures, that a human being is not (and cannot) be right before God through obedience to the Law, but can be so justified, can be so right, through faith in Jesus Christ. (In some instances, I suppose one might take ‘faith of Jesus Christ’ to refer to Jesus’ faithfulness, but I find this position also unconvincing). The fact that Peter and Paul both know this, is why they, as Jews, trusted in Christ – there was no salvation for them through the (works of the) Law. Paul is tripley emphatic here: he first declares what ‘we’ (Jewish believers) know [justification through faith not works of law], then declares that they believed in Christ so that [justification through faith not works of law], because [justification through faith not works of law]. Peter and Paul are in agreement that one has to stop ‘doing’ the Law.

In v17 Paul raises the question: if as believers in Christ and no longer Law-observers, we are ‘sinners’, in that same old covenant sense that Paul raises back in v15, does this in fact make the Messiah a servant or minister of sin? Paul’s emphatic μὴ γένοιτο not only rules this out, but is an expression of its absurdity. v18 gives the reason. ‘sinner’ in the ‘Gentile sinner’ sense is an empty term – it’s been robbed of its meaning by the coming of the new covenantal reality. Rather, to go back to the Law, to the old covenantal reality, would in fact make Paul a transgressor. In reestablishing the Law as a principle for life and obedience before God, the inevitable outcome is sin by the standard of the Law, and so condemnation by the Law. Implicit in Paul’s argument is that Peter’s choice to withdraw from Gentile company and meals, is based on an observance of the Law not only not necessary any more, but in fact a return to it undoes and undermines the Gospel freedom that faith in Christ brings.

The final three verses shift to a very personal note as Paul relates his own salvific existential reality. The Law was the means of Paul’s death insofar as he was condemned by the Law, because the Law is a mechanism of death. The Law produces neither righteousness or life with respect to God. It isn’t designed to do so. And yet, Paul’s death to Law through Law iis the means for life – only through dying to the Law can the Jewish Paul live unto God. Paul immediately links such Law-death to the crucifixion. Paul’s co-crucifixion with Christ is his objective union and participation in Christ precisely and predominately in the Cross event which is the ground of justification. There is no justification without union with Christ. This union and identification is so complete that Paul in verse 20 can state that it is no longer the “I” that lives. There is a kind of ego-death for the Christian, which I believe Paul generalises in 5:17. Who then lives in Paul? None other than the Messiah. And yet Paul does not deny that there is a ‘Paul’ who carries out an existence, ‘life in the flesh’, but that life is entirely by faith, nor is it any generic faith, but a very specific faith in the Son of God (royal-messianic language) who loved Paul even to the point of substitionary death. Paul is caught up in the overwhelming experience of his own reception of grace: the King loved me and died for me: the new life is the life united to the rised Christ. All this to say that Paul’s gospel does not nullify God’s grace, even the gracious gift of the Law. Paul would in fact be nullifying the grace of God if he demanded Torah-observance. And yet, if Torah-observance could in fact bring righteousness, if the Law was a mechanism for righteousness and life, then Christ and his death was pointless, unneccesary. And so Paul prepares to move into the third chapter, wherein he will go head to head with the Judaising teachers about their vain gospel which renders Christ’s death useless.

Some recent blog posts on the debate over 2:16 faith in Christ/Christ's faithfulness. I am in substantial agreement.

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