Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Martyn on Galatians (1)

J.L. Martyn gives makes two interesting points on Galatians:

"In short, Paul is concerned in letter form to repreach the gospel in place of its counterfeit. Rhetorically, the body of the letter is a sermon centred on factual and thus indicative answers to two questions, 'What time is it?' and 'In what cosmos do we actually live?'" (p. 23)

For the most part, I agree here. Paul is gospelizing his congregation in light of the proselytizing intruders. Paul is set apart from many of his Jewish contemporaries by believing that the cogs of the eschatological clock had indeed turned over thus creating a whole host of significant corollaries about the law, salvation, and gentiles. I would say, more specifically, that Paul is asking about what "symbolic universe" the Galatians think they are living in with God's invasion of the world through his Son.

"With the advent of christ, then, the antinomy between apocalypse and religion has been enacted by God once for all Moreover, this antinomy is central to the way in which Paul does theology in Galatians, not least in connection with one of its major themes, rectification. As the antidote to what is wrong in the world does not lie in religion - religion being one of the major components of the wrong - so the point of departure from which there can be movement to set things right cannot be found in religion; as though, provided with a good religious foundation for a good religious ladder, one could ascend from the wrong to the right. Things are the other way around. God has elected to invade the realm of the wrong - 'the present evil age' (1:4) by sending his Son and the Spirit of his Son into it from outside it. This apocalyptic invasion thus shows that to take the Sinaitic Law to the Gentiles - as the Teachers are doing - is to engage in a mission that is marked at its centre by the impotence of religion" (p. 39).

I think the apocalyptic framework is definitely the way to go, yet, I hesistate somewhat at Martyn's denunciation of "religion" (see Peter Bolt's fine book, The Cross at a Distance for a similar deconstruction of "religion") since the ancient world did not denigrate "religion" in favour of spirituality, relationships, or reason the way that (post)moderns often do. Religion is simply an expression of devotion and piety towards the gods or in their name (see the end of James 1) and not a synedoche for climbing a ladder to God as some make it. You cannot play off an areligious Christianity against the religion of Judaism. In fact, I suspect that the Galatian intruders may have been no less apocalyptic than Paul in many respects. I also think that salvation-history indicates alot more continuity between the God-in-Son event and Abraham-Sinai as well, otherwise the argument in Galatians 3-4 evaporates in force.


Rodrigo said...

Let all the people say "Amen!" The apocalyptic/salvation history dichotomy is one that drastically needs to be laid to rest.

Rodrigo said...

Err, I meant "desperately needs to be." Not quite awake yet.

Matt said...

Peter Bolt's book "The Cross from a Distance" is a 'fine book'. Hmmmm. It certainly was interesting. Not sure about the 'fineness' of it. His exegesis of Mark 13 seemed weird, esoteric, and cobbled-together. But then again, I'm not one of these clever NT fellows like our beloved Mr Bird!

p.s. If you've ever met Peter Bolt, you'll know he has the BEST moustache in the world. Very bushy, yet disciplined.

Michael F. Bird said...


I did a review of Bolt's book in JETS that was critical but favourable overall. I did note, however, his almost quasi-marcionite views of "religion" and his odd interpretation of Mark 13. But in terms of elucidating the atonement theology of Mark (compared to some spastic liberal interpretations of Mk. 10.45 in order to avoid it), it is a great book.

Peter was the second examiner for my Ph.D thesis and he looks like a master at arms for an outlaw motor cycle gang! But he's a great guy all the same.