Book Review: Galatians and Christian Theology

GalatianschristiantheologyTitle: Galatians and Christian Theology: Justification, the Gospel, and Ethics in Paul’s Letter

Editors: N. T. Wright, Mark W. Elliott, Scott J. Hafemann, John Frederick

Bibliographic info: 400 pp.

Publisher: Baker Academic, 2014.

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With thanks to Baker Academic for the review copy.

Galatians and Christian Theology is the published proceedings of the Galatians and Christian Theology Conference hosted at the University of St. Andrews in 2012. I was excited to see this volume coming out because not only did I enjoy the previous volumes from St. Andrews’ triennial Scripture and Theology conference (Hebrews and Christian Theology, published in 2009; and Genesis and Christian Theology, published in 2012), but Galatians is also my favorite piece of Pauline writing.

There are twenty-three studies in this volume:

Part 1: Justification
1. Messiahship in Galatians? [N. T. Wright]
2. Paul’s Former Occupation in Ioudaismos [Matthew V. Novenson]
3. Galatians in the Early Church: Five Case Studies [Karla Pollmann and Mark W. Elliott]
4. Justification and Participation: Ecumenical Dimensions of Galatians [Thomas Söding]
5. Arguing with Scripture in Galatia: Galatians 3:10-14 as a Series of Ad Hoc Arguments [Timothy G. Gombis]
6. Martin Luther on Galatians 3:6-14: Justification by Curses and Blessings [Timothy Wengert]
7. Yaein: Yes and No to Luther’s Reading of Galatians 3:6-14 [Scott Hafemann]
8. “Not an Idle Quality or an Empty Husk in the Heart”: A Critique of Tuomo Mannermaa on Luther and Galatians [Javier A. Garcia]
9. Judaism, Reformation Theology, and Justification [Mark W. Elliott]
10. Can We Still Speak of “Justification by Faith”? An In-House Debate with Apocalyptic Readings of Paul [Bruce McCormack]

Part 2: Gospel
11. The Singularity of the Gospel Revisited [Beverly Roberts Gaventa]
12. Apocalyptic Poiēsis in Galatians: Paternity, Passion, and Participation [Richard B. Hays]
13. “Now and Above; Then and Now” (Gal. 4:21-31): Platonizing and Apocalyptic Polarities in Paul’s Eschatology [Michael B. Cover]
14. Christ in Paul’s Narrative: Salvation History, Apocalyptic Invasion, and Supralapsarian Theology [Edwin Chr. van Driel]
15. “In the Fullness of Time” (Gal. 4:4): Chronology and Theology in Galatians [Todd D. Still]
16. Karl Barth and “The Fullness of Time”: Eternity and Divine Intent in the Epistle to the Galatians [Darren O. Sumner]
17. “Heirs through God”: Galatians 4:4-7 and the Doctrine of the Trinity [Scott R. Swain]

Part 3: Ethics
18. Flesh and Spirit [Oliver O’Donovan]
19. “Indicative and Imperative” as the Substructure of Paul’s Theology-and-Ethics in Galatians?: A Discussion of Divine and Human Agency in Paul [Volker Rabens]
20. Grace and the Countercultural Reckoning of Worth: Community Construction in Galatians 5-6 [John M. G. Barclay]
21. Paul’s Exhortations in Galatians 5:16-25: From the Apostle’s Techniques to His Theology [Jean-Noël Aletti]
22. The Drama of Agency: Affective Augustinianism and Galatians [Simeon Zahl]
23. Life in the Spirit and Life in Wisdom: Reading Galatians and James as a Dialogue [Mariam J. Kamell]

I won’t go into detail for every chapter, but will give an overview of what I consider to be some highlights of the volume.

N.T. Wright leads the way with a study that includes statistics regarding Paul’s usage of the term Χριστός. Wright argues that Χριστός does indeed mean “Messiah” in Galatians (as opposed to simply being Jesus’ last name), and that the word is “at the heart of Paul’s incorporative ecclesiology in Galatians,” with the first point explaining the second. I think Wright makes an interesting case for Χριστός being the vehicle for Paul’s participatory vision of the Church/God’s people. The primary text Wright discusses in this regard is Gal. 3:16, where Paul notes that the promise to Abraham did not say “to your families”, but “to your family, which is Χριστός (hos estin Christos).” A key reason Wright says this theme has been ignored in Galatians is due to the epistle being primarily seen as having soteriology as its focus, rather than ecclesiology.

The next chapter, by Matthew Novenson, also provides a lexical study, this time on the term Ιουδαϊσμος. This word appears twice in the New Testament, both times in Galatians 1, and is usually translated as “Judaism.” Novenson, however, contends that it really derives from ιουδαϊζω (i.e. to judaize or to act like a Jew), designating a sectarian activity rather than an entire religious system. Thus, in Gal. 2:14 where Paul rebukes Peter for making Gentile Christians ιουδαϊζειν, the point is that Peter is trying to make the Gentiles judaize. Novenson sees the verbal form, ιουδαϊζειν, as referring to non-Jews adopting Jewish rituals, while the noun ιουδαϊσμος refers to Jews who advocate for the taking up of Judaism, so “the judaization movement” is  a better gloss for the noun form (rather than “Judaism”).

Beverly Roberts Gaventa’s contribution on the singularity of the gospel was quite good. She makes the case that the singularity of the gospel isn’t primarily about the fact that there is only one gospel, but because of the gospel’s “singular, all-encompassing action in the lives of human beings. The gospel claims all that a human is; the gospel becomes the locus of human identity; the gospel replaces the old cosmos.”  Another interesting chapter was Scott Swain’s study on Gal. 4:4-7. By looking at the grammar of divine agency in this passage, he attempts to show how it can be used as a “seat of doctrine” for the Trinity.

One interesting observation on this volume as a whole is that it doesn’t revolve around the New Perspective on Paul. In actuality, there was more of a focus on the participationistic and apocalyptic schools of thought in Pauline studies. The studies range from tackling issues in systematic theology (Sumner’s contribution on Karl Barth), to regular biblical studies, and historical theology (e.g. the essays on Luther). So whether you are involved in biblical studies or theological studies, this volume will surely have something you can enjoy. It is a fantastic read for anyone interested in current issues swirling about regarding Galatians.

2 responses

  1. Pingback: BA Books & Authors on the Web – April 10, 2015

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