Friday, February 29, 2008

Nanos on “Living like a Gentile” in Galatians 2:14

One more post on the issue of "living like a Gentile" in Galatians 2:14.
Mark Nanos has a novel interpretation of the clause which deserves attention. He proposes that the traditional reading of the phrase “living like a Gentile” should not be understood as a critique of Peter’s behavior—be it related to dietary laws (e.g. Longenecher) or Noachide commands (Dunn), but rather a statement of identity. Paul, therefore, asserts that Peter continues to recognize the fact that both Jews and Gentiles are made righteous before God in the same way. Nanos’ offers this equation: “living” = justification/legitimation; he states: “Paul’s challenge assumes that Peter still understands his righteous standing (“living” = justification/legitimation) to be based in Christ” (2002:314). His proposal is based primarily on two interrelated observations: (1) the present tense of the verb “living” needs to have its temporal force and (2) the point of the argument in 2:15-21 should be read back into 2:14 such that the issue for which Paul was concerned was not one of practice, but of identity.

With respect to the former, Nanos thinks that interpreters have not noticed the temporal force of the tense of zoā (“to live”). According to Nanos, with the present tense-form Paul is not addressing Peter’s past actions, but how he is presently acting. Paul would have known that at the time of his confrontation, Peter was no longer acting in the way that characterized “Gentiles”, but Paul nevertheless regards Peter as in some sense continuing to live as a Gentile: “Peter is no longer living like a Gentile in the sense of his dietary practice: he is surely eating Jewishly at this point” (2002:313). Nanos thinks this underappreciated observation is the key to understanding Paul’s accusation. Taking the point of the tense-form temporally Paul is asserting that Peter continues to live Gentilely and Nanos attempts to explain how is can be and what is its force. Nanos interprets the verb “to live” as not expressing a manner of conduct of life, but as a figure of speech to express a state-of-being, that is a justified life before God:

The only sense in which Peter is still living in the same way as or like a Gentile when living separate from this Gentile table is in the sense of identity in Christ, which is, as Paul so clearly puts the case in vv. 15-16, but being justified in the same way as are these Gentiles, by faith in/of Christ” (2002:314).

Thus, his interpretation of “to live” is inextricably linked to his view that the theme of 2:15-21 continues what was here the issue: identity in Christ. He comments: “although Paul’s theme of how Jew and Gentile are justified—live before God and with each other in Christ—is often noted by interpreters as the theme of vv. 16-21, I am simply suggesting that this same theme is present in v. 14 when Paul writes of how Peter ‘lives’” (2002:315). In 2:15-21 Nanos observes that Paul employs the language of living to challenge the implication that arises for these Gentiles from the discriminatory behavior of Peter and the other Jews who join him.

Nanos’ interpretation of Galatians 2:14 is not only fresh but more fully to integrates the narrative of the incident (2:11-14) with Paul’s discourse of 2:15-21 than perhaps previous attempts have been able to do. I am convinced by the assertion that Paul’s point in both sections is related to identity and not simply to practice. Nevertheless, I remain unconvinced by two aspects of his interpretation.

(1) Given that tense-form primarily communicates aspect and not time, one would have to have solid pointers in the context to suggest that the time of action and not kind of action is in view when the present tense-form is used. In other words, noticing that a verb form is in the present tense does not, in Greek at least, mean that one should introduce the issue of time. While it is true that an author will most often use the present-tense form in a present temporal context, these are not one and the same. New Testament authors can and do use a present-tense form in a past temporal setting to communicate a continuous action. One might suggest that the imperfect tense-from would have been then the better choice if Paul was wishing to express Peter’s continuous action in the past. Yet, given the rhetorical nature of the conditional statement in the context of a past remembrance, it is just as likely if not more so that Paul’s used of the present-tense form is for emphasis: “Peter you continuously lived like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you continuously compel Gentiles to live like Jews?” What’s more, Paul’s point in the statement comes in the apodosis and the present tense of the protasis creates rhetorical symmetry. Even if this does not convince, I don’t think the present-tense form can bear the weight of the argument itself since I don’t see compelling contextual markers that highlight the temporal sense of the tense-form.

It is difficult then for me to agree with Nanos that Paul’s use of “living” in 2:14 is not primarily directed toward Peter’s practice or halakah described in the immediate context, although it is not in my view addressing dietary halakah. I do not, however, think that identity and practice here are unrelated. Thus, the issue of identity that Paul does then take up is appropriate because the identity of the Gentile, along with the Jew, has been redefined in light of Christ. Furthermore, that new identity had implications for intimate association between Jews and Gentiles which Peter because of fear of the circumcised stopped living out.

(2) Taking the verb “to live” as a figure of speech expressing state-of-being does make sense as Nanos argues, but the problem I have is that “living like a Gentile” is parallel with “living like a Jew”. And in view of this, his interpretation seems less useful. If we take Nanos’ reading of the former, what do we make of the latter? What is the state-of-being that is Jewishly that is in contrast? I don’t think that taking the “living as a Gentile” defined as “right standing before God” makes sense of the meaning of its parallel, but opposite partner, “living Jewishly”. For me, it just makes more sense that Paul is focusing on a manner of conduct characteristic of these two groups, namely the kind of associations characteristic of them.

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