Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Logic of Gal. 3.10-14

When feeling well enough I'm continuing to read through Steve Moyise Evoking Scripture. The section on Gal. 3.10-14 was most interesting. The four texts quoted/alluded to here are: Lev. 18.5, Dt. 21.23, 27.26, and Hab. 2.4.

10 All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law." [a] 11 Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because "the righteous will live by faith." [b] 12 The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, "Whoever does these things will live by them." [c] 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole." [d] 14 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. (TNIV).

a. Galatians 3:10 Deut. 27:26
b. Galatians 3:11 Hab. 2:4
c. Galatians 3:12 Lev. 18:5
d. Galatians 3:13 Deut. 21:23

Moyise schematizes Andrew Das' argument as follows:

1. Dt. 27.26 rightly threatens a curse to all who do not keep the law.
2. It is evident that no one keeps the law perfectly.
3. Hence, everyone is under a curse.

4. Lev. 18.5 promises life to those who keep the law.
5. It is evident that no one keeps the law perfectly.
6. Hence, no one receives life through the law.

The underlying premise here is did the law and subsequent Jewish interpreters believe that the law required perfect obedience? The fact of an atonement system in Judaism and Sanders' critique of Judaism as merit orientated have usually assumed to count a view of perfect obedience as being required for "salvation". What can we say?

First, I think we need to keep in mind Paul's two major universal premises which are (a) universal judgment, and (b) God's desire to bring Gentiles into the family of Abraham. Towards that end, Paul is engaging in a redemptive-historical argument so as to show that the Sinaitic covenant brings curses not life. As the learned Joel Willitts states: "In other words, to be related to the Sinai covenant is to be related to the age (or historical period) of unfaithfulness and judgment (covenantal curse). On the other hand, being related to the new eschaton signified in the terms pistis (3:23) means being related to the age of faithfulness and blessing (covenantal promise) through Christ’s redemption."

Second, whereas Paul’s cites Hab. 2.4 and Lev. 18.5 as evidence of the human inability to do the law, in CD 3.12-17 and Pss. Sol. 14.1-2 we find that Lev. 18.5 is quoted to the effect that keeping the law is indeed possible for Israel.

Third, Jewish authors could maintain a tension between one's ability and inability to fulfil the law. Contrast the following:

1 Enoch 82.4: ‘Blessed are all the righteous ones; blessed are those who walk in the street of righteousness and have no sin like the sinners in the computation of the days in which the sun goes its course in the sky’.

1 Enoch 81.5: ‘Make everything known to your son, Methuselah, and show to all your children that no one of the flesh can be just before the Lord, for they are merely his own creation.’

Fourth, Moyise points out (with reference to Francis Watson) that the Petateuchal promises of life had a conditional quality (e.g. Dt. 4.1 and Ezek. 20.11, 13). As Watson says elsewhere, Torah is both gift and demand. I would add that the system of atonement is only efficacious in the context of covenantal obedience.

Thus, I think that the line of interpretation represented by Das is essentially correct. But see further:

M.F. Bird, SROG, chapter 6.

Joel Willitts, “Context Matters: Paul’s Use of Leviticus 18:5 in Galatians 3:12,” TynBul 54 (2003): 105-22.

Preston Sprinkle, Law and Life (WUNT 2.241; Tuebingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 2008).


Steven Coxhead said...

Yes, in the OT, keeping the law means being committed to the Mosaic covenant, which was a gracious covenant in that atonement was built into the law. But experiencing the fullness of this grace was conditional upon covenant obedience. As contradictory as it may sound to Protestant ears that monotonously echo with the sound of absolute concepts of righteousness, the OT position is that to receive ultimately the grace that was offered in the law, you had to keep the law. This was not only necessary, but possible in the context of grace (see 1 Kgs 14:8; Ps 119:166-168). Hence, verses like Ps 103:17-18; 119:1-2, 153-155, from which can be derived the OT doctrine of obedience rather than sacrifice. The point of obedience rather than sacrifice is not to say that sacrifice is not necessary, but that covenant obedience is the condition for benefiting from the sacrificial atonement on offer. Because national Israel historically rebelled against the covenant, she forfeited the atonement that was on offer through the law. It is in this sense that no Israelite was able to be justified by the law. Israel proved time and time again unwilling to be faithful to their obligations under the Mosaic covenant, and this prevented the fullness of blessing from coming upon even the righteous in Israel. The exile was proof of the failure of the old covenant to bring about the fullness of the blessing of life to Israel (let alone the nations, who were by definition excluded from the Mosaic covenant). From my (Jewish) point of view, inserting absolute obedience into Paul's argument in Gal 3 just goes to show that the person so doing has failed to understand how the Mosaic covenant functioned both in the old covenant age and in salvation history, as the negative backdrop that would highlight the superabounding positive of greater grace in Christ Jesus.

Marc said...


The bottom line is what God commands regarding certain foods, certain acts, certain practices gives them signifigance because God commanded it. But God does not require a person's obedience to such commands if in observing them he replaces his love for God and neighbor with the act of obedience itself.

What Paul means is any deeds that might be done to aquit oneself before God or appease His wrath.

The Law can't appease God's wrath or aquit one before God, it never was 'designed' that way as a figure of speach.

There is alot of early 1st century Jewish literature(Mishna, atc) that supports this. One Rabbi said that we're doomed because all fall short of the mark.

We are saved apart from the Torah, foretold by the prophets. This is not against His Torah but in line with it.

But we have to remember that the commandments are significant because God(The Word) commanded them. It's a difference between observing them to appease God's wrath or aquitt yourself or faithfullness working with love. It's a shame that alot of believers tell me I'm being legalistic when they don't know my heart. Like I said observing can be legalistic and can also be faithfullness with LOVE.


Phil Gons said...

You should add RefTagger to your blog. It makes all your Bible references come alive. It takes just a couple of minutes to set up. Find out how in this post: Adding RefTagger to a Blogger Blog.