Monday, March 17, 2008

Two new books on Galatians

A couple of interesting new monographs on Galatians have recently been published by Mohr Siebeck:

First is Justin K. Hardin's Galatians and the imperial cult: a critical analysis of the First-Century social context of Paul's letter. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008.

I'm no Galatians expert but my favourite Galatians commentary is probably Jimmy Dunn's brilliant effort in the Black's NT Commentaries series. On the other hand, I'm not a big fan of J. Louis Martyn's Anchor Bible commentary, so I was glad to see Hardin propose an exegetical approach to Gal. 4:1-11 that rejects the notion that Paul was rebuffing any idea of 'salvation history'. In my view he rightly argues:

'[T]here is no inherent dichotomy between Paul's apocalyptic thought and his concern for the reversal of Israel's plight under the (curse of the ) Law and the inclusion of the Gentiles as Gods people. Far from salvation history beginning from the time of God's eschatological invasion in human history through Christ, as Martyn asserts, the incarnation rather was the pinnacle (dare I say climax?) of God's saving activity in the world' (154).

As is clear from the book title, of course, a major focus of Hardin's little monograph concerns the whole 'imperial cult' debate. He argues that this cultic background needs to be taken seriously in reading Galatians, and offers 'a plausible way forward for understanding the crisis in Galatia' (155).

Second is Todd A. Wilson's The curse of the law and the crisis in Galatia: reassessing the purpose of Galatians. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2007.

In a quick flyover, in Part 1 he argues that the rhetoric of cursing is of greater importance in Galatians than is usually assumed, and even played a key part in the Agitators appeal for circumcision. In Part 2, he examines the four references to the Law in 5:13 to 6:10 and argues that Paul's appeal to the law was intended to maintain that it is fulfilled, and the curse thereby avoided, by serving and loving one another. The curse of the law is thus only avoided by fulfilling the law.

'While Christ has redeemed us from the Law's curse (3.13), he has done so neither by eradicating any possible threat of a curse nor by circumventing the Law altogether. Instead, his death has allowed, as Paul says, the sending of the Spirit ..., who in turn enables believers to fulfil the Law and thereby avoid the Law's curse' (116).

Without looking into the book in any depth, which in point of argument reminds me somehow of Hafemann's work in 2 Corinthians, my initial feeling is that his approach may leave much unexplained in Galatians – but this is only a very uninformed initial thought. Is not the very concept of 'law' transformed by Paul when he speaks of it positively, such that the continued extension of Israel's Law and its curse today for all outside Christ's ethical empowering is questionable? The curse of 1 Cor. 16:22 is not on those who do not obey the law, but on those who have no love for Christ. Anyway, I won't carry on until I've actually read Wilson's contribution! Some thought-provoking stuff here.


At 3/18/2008 1:04 AM, Anonymous K.Fever said...


You say: "Without looking into the book in any depth, which in point of argument reminds me somehow of Hafemann's work in 2 Corinthians."

I am curious: does this thought reflect your perspective about Hafemann's work with 2 Corinthians (i.e. you don't think he really looked at 2 Corinthians in depth), or does it reflect your desire to return to Hafemann's work and look at it in more depth?

Kyle Fever

At 3/18/2008 4:33 AM, Anonymous dan said...

I'm excited to read Hardin's book on Galatians. This is a letter that is almost always neglected in political readings of Paul, so I'll be very interested to see what Hardin does with it.

By the way, there's an interesting interview with him (you can find it online), wherein he comments on the debate between Barclay and Wright on the topic of political readings of Paul.

At 3/18/2008 8:24 AM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Hi Kyle,
Yea, some of my sentences in that post could have been rephrased!
I meant that a) I have not read Wilson's book, juts skimmed over it. And b) what I did read in Wilson's book reminded me of Hafemann's work on 2 Cor ("Paul, Moses and the History of Israel") which I have read.

Hi Dan, a real bonus, in my view, is that both book are short. They say what they want to say economically. Thanks for the tip about the Hardin interview - I'll dig that up right now.

At 3/18/2008 3:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


If you take Hardin's point that the incarnation was the pinnacle or climax of God's redemptive activity in Gal 4, how do you view that with regard to Dunn's rejection of such a view in Galatians (or Paul more generally)?

At 3/18/2008 5:00 PM, Anonymous Angie Van De Merwe said...

The intent of the law was ethical. So, reason would leave one with an understanding of ethical duty to one's neighbor (being a good citizen, being a person of good character, etc.). On the other hand, revelation is understood within the context of incarnation..."Christ in the flesh"...which is not a message of theology alone, but of practicality. We are all representatives of "God" in this sense to one another...the question really is: what kind of God do we represent?

At 3/19/2008 11:49 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

AH CRAP. I wrote a response to you all, and it some home got lost in the web after I pressed "publish comment". I'll get back to you tomorrow!

At 3/19/2008 11:52 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Hi Anon, I'm writing a doctorate on why I think Dunn is wrong on this, but I am also challenging the playing ground on which the debate is often fought

At 3/19/2008 11:56 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

OOoooo I hadn't seen that. Thanks for the heads up!

Angie, thanks for your comment. I hear you. But I wonder if some of Paul'S statements could be taken to subvert a simple understanding of "The intent of the law was ethical" - It is a guardian, to imprison until Christ. It was given for transgressions. etc.


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