JUNE 11, 2018

Douglas Moo’s commentary on Galatians functions to not only expose the reader to the letter to the Galatians, but to also examine some to the differing views, interpretations, translations, and methods popular today in addition to traditional understandings for one of St. Paul’s most beloved letters. By breaking the work up into five sections, each with subsections, Moo can systematically approach each topic conceptually. This review will serve to highlight each of these sections and illuminate the strengths and weaknesses by segment and by the work as a whole.

The first section is the Introduction to Galatians and Introduction: The Cross and the New Age (Gal 1:1-10) addressing who wrote it, when and why. After an extended look at the possibilities, Moo concludes that Galatians “was probably written in AD 48 just before the Apostolic Conference of Acts 15. It is the earliest extant letter of Paul.” The reason for the letter is to address the situation in Galatia do to the agitators, who were claiming to be from Jerusalem, instructing them that salvation in Christ is best demonstrated through the keeping of the Law. The concept of how does one become righteous before God takes center stage as Paul argues for an understanding in light of the person and work of Jesus Christ. How are we to understand the works of Christ and is it applicable in the same way as the Torah? God has done A, so now we are to do B. The actions, attitudes, and responsibilities of the Christians in Galatia (and by extent our own) become the central focus for Paul.

As straightforward as this might seem, Moo introduces only two of the different ways scholars have approached this concept. The first is covenantal nomism, the idea “that Jewish soteriology was rooted in God’s covenant and that torah observance simply maintained covenant status” and that through Christ was extended to us by faith. The Second concept is what Moo refers to as the New Perspective. The idea is that “Paul sets faith in Christ and doing the torah against one another because only the former opens the way for full inclusion of Gentiles in the people of God and because the era in which torah observance was required of the people of God ended with the coming of the Messiah.” Furthermore, the idea extends to furthering the revelatory progression of God’s plan of salvation through Jesus Christ, namely by his faithfulness.

The theological themes outlined in the introduction engage in topics including, salvation history and apocalyptic, the Gospel, Christ, the Spirit, the Law, the Christian life, and the Faith of Christ. The latter topic seems to dominate much of the first half of the commentary but tapers off toward the end. I highlight this issue apart from the others since it becomes the identifying concept linked to the New Perspective. Almost ten pages of the introduction are dedicated to the Pauline expression πίστις [᾿Ιησοῦ] Χριστοῦ. Not only the idea of the wording for translation purposes of [Jesus] Christ faith/faithfulness, but the implications of what that wording means moves us into an area of tension within New Testament scholarship that will set the trajectory of interpretation for the rest of the letter seeing as it is a central theme.

Justification/Righteousness is the final theological theme and in my opinion the theme of Scripture as a whole. It is for this reason that the πίστις [᾿Ιησοῦ] Χριστοῦ debate has become so heated. Whether you are justified by the faithfulness of Christ or by your faith in Christ can push in the direction of the level of responsibility that humanity has. Almost fourteen pages are dedicated to the Justification/Righteousness understandings and theorized applications. The second part of the commentary entitled The Truth of the Gospel (Gal 1:11-2:21), is in two subsections, How Paul Received and defended the Gospel: Paul and the “Pillars” and The Truth of the Gospel Defined. Moo highlights that Paul is establishing the Gospel that he received has been agreed to by the apostles, or pillars, and that this same gospel is what has been preached that the Galatian churches have accepted. This gospel message then differs from what the agitators are proclaiming that the human merit required in the form of circumcision is essential for justification to be achieved, applied, and effectual. A curious note is that within this section the idea of being justified by Christ’s faithfulness is rejected or downplayed before it is eventually abandoned later in the commentary. It would seem that in Moo’s desire for human will and effort to be the deciding factor of justification (whether by faith in the torah or by faith in Christ) he either misses the implication of the New Perspective or perhaps a contrast was never there. The New Perspective is not developed enough to render a judgment here as to why it should be rejected. Only that it should.

The third section entitled The Defense of the Gospel (Gal 3:1-5:12) in four subsections, Rebuke and Reminder: Faith, Spirit, and Righteousness; Argument: Abraham’s Children through Incorporation into Christ by Faith; Appeal; and Exhortation and Warning: Faith, Spirit, and Righteousness. A section worth highlighting here is on the allegory of Sarah and Hagar. Starting with the understanding of the usage of the word allegory Moo stresses that “we should recognize that in Paul’s day this term ‘allegory’ did not have the technical sense often associated with the word in later centuries. It simply refers to an interpretation that would today be called ‘figurative’: a reading of a text or narrative in terms of some ‘other’ issue or reality.” A surprising example contrasting Sarah and Hagar is that the negative light is shown on the one through the human decision is looked to for justification as opposed to the promise of birth devoid of any human decision, by the Spirit alone. I found it interesting that this point is made but, in the commentary, there is no reference to be found on the New Perspective or a faithfulness of Christ understanding seeing as the thrust of Moo’s argument is that justification is by the power of human decision.

The Life of the Gospel (Gal 5:13-6:10) is the fourth section of this commentary made up of these four subsections, The Basic Pattern of the New Life: Serving One Another is Love; Implementing the New Life: Walking by the Spirit; Some Specific Parameters of the New Life; and The Urgency of Living the New Life. In the first of these subsections, Moo presents us with an argument for the original intent of mankind achieved through the work of Jesus Christ as articulated in chapter 5:1-13. “The freedom that Christ has won for us (v. 1) and to which we have been called by God (v. 13) is a freedom to be what God originally made us to be. And as Paul will explain, God has called his people to live in loving, sacrificial service with one another.” The fulfillment has already taken place in the believer, and now the question becomes one of orthopraxy. Moo has worded this nicely in answering, not what, but by whom is it fulfilled? “The implied agent of the passive verb is Jesus Christ, who ‘fulfills’ the whole law in his teaching by highlighting love for the neighbor as the true and ultimate completion, or ‘filling up,’ of the law -- and in his life by going to the cross as the ultimate embodiment and pattern of sacrificial love.” With this understanding, Paul is stating that being in Christ means that you are observing the law through service to others rather than service through yourself (i.e., circumcision or uncircumcision). The only mark visible that Paul argues for is “faith (in Christ) is the fundamental and transforming mark of God’s new covenant people.”

The final section Closing: Cross and New Creation is a stand-alone section of the commonly overlooked section of Paul’s letters. Galatians 6:11-18 is the section where Paul himself has written to the Galatian churches and has summarized his arguments one last time. The focus on the why of circumcision, if not for reasons of justification, opens the door to potential hazards or stumbling blocks of the time. Evangelizing would be difficult if your credibility is tarnished by something as trivial (in the grand scheme of salvation) as removing a piece of flesh from your body. The Zealots of the time may see this as another Gentile intrusion likened to that of the Maccabean revolt which resulted in forcible circumcision (1 Macc. 2:46). The point Paul wants to make is by doing this you’re allowing yourself into a system of laws that not even those who are circumcised can keep. Therefore, they can only boast in your flesh and not in Christ. Paul also points out that before you start to think that resistance to circumcision is what will justify someone, you too will miss the point of Christ as well. “Significantly, it is not only circumcision that has no value in this new ‘world,’ but uncircumcision as well. All ‘simply human’ factors become meaningless in the face of God’s world-transforming work in his Son Jesus Christ. The old state of affairs is ended.”

Moo ends his commentary with a discussion of what, if anything, the physical marks of Christ would look like. “I bear the marks of Jesus on my body” (Gal 6:17) could take on a range of meaning. Mystical claims of stigmata indicating identification with Christ’s crucifixion or the mark that a master would make on a slave have been postulated. I like Moo’s conclusion here, “Paul probably intends these physical scars to stand in contrast to the physical mark of circumcision. As Eastman (2007: 109) paraphrases Paul’s point, ‘You want something to brag about? You want identity markers? I’ll give you identity markers! You see these scars? I’m branded for Jesus. Become like me!’” Douglas Moo’s commentary on the letter to the Galatians is a good primer for anyone wanting an exposure to the differing views scholars have. Some aspects are well thought out and presented in a thought-provoking way. Unfortunately, it also falls short in a few areas. The inclusion of what is called the New Perspective is useful when engaged with but it tends to fall off the radar about half-way through the commentary with a few misrepresentative digs about why the faithfulness argument doesn’t work for a passage it wasn’t meant for in the first place.

An example of this is within the commentary section of Galatians 3:23-26 where Moo admits “this opening clause in verse 23 constitutes perhaps the strongest single exegetical point in favor of this interpretation” then misapplies this understanding within verse 26 stating, “The reference is again to the faith of the Galatians rather than to the faith, or faithfulness of Christ” even though Christ’s faithfulness, established in verse 23, produces an active faith. Paul is reiterating the Galatians 2:16 formula of the faithfulness of Christ meriting us a forensically declared justification (Rom 4:5) by which we are able to have a faith in Christ for his sake, or better said, by his faithfulness. To imply that πίστις [᾿Ιησοῦ] Χριστοῦ must be interpreted faithfulness of Christ in every instance is to mischaracterize the scholarly work done in this area when admitting in the footnotes that none of the translations that favor this approach attempt to translate verse 26 as faithfulness of Christ.

Two more areas of concern jump out at me. The first is the lack of Dispensational representation within the commentary; even if it’s indefensible, it should still be acknowledged and quickly addressed. The second would be the confusion on what exactly the agitators were guilty of teaching. Was it the Galatians supplementing their faith in Christ with torah observance that was the problem? If so, then why state that what “the agitators are teaching is not an interesting and inconsequential option to, or addition to, Paul’s gospel...they are teaching something that will...lead themselves to hell” (emphasis mine). The “Jerusalem apostles essentially endorsed Paul’s version of the law-free gospel for the Gentiles” leads me to think that what was being practiced or had been, was what Paul was presently addressing. To imply condemnation for this is to put too much emphasis on proper doctrinal understanding that leads to justification which is the antithesis of what Paul is saying in his letter.

The main focus for Paul is that salvation as a whole is by Christ, in Christ, and through Christ. Anything else, including trust in the torah, circumcision or lack thereof, reliance on our faith, or doctrinal articulation, is ineffective for justification, but that is not to say that nothing matters when it comes to the health of the Church and sanctification. This quote from Moo bares repeating, “All ‘simply human’ factors become meaningless in the face of God’s world-transforming work in his Son Jesus Christ. The old state of affairs is ended.”