Galatians 3:11-20

And we continue in Chapter 3.

11ὅτι δὲ ἐν νόμῳ οὐδεὶς δικαιοῦται παρὰ τῷ θεῷ δῆλον, ὅτι Ὁ δίκαιος ἐκ πίστεως ζήσεται:

But that no one is made just beside (i.e. aside from) God is evident, that ‘He who is just from faith will live.’

This is ends with a quote from Habakkuk*.  If you say “who?”, that’s kind of the point.  Habakkuk was late, decidedly minor prophet, but one who shows up fairly often in NT quotes.  What this indicates, I believe, is that some of these ideas were floating around in Judea in the last 1-2 centuries BCE.  As such, they’re not necessarily Paul’s inventions, or his original thought.  What Paul did was popularize them and expand their scope.

 *The Wikipedia entry states that he lived before Jeremiah; however, I’m extremely skeptical about this.  Dating him to the time of Jeremiah, or before, is squarely in the worst traditions of taking the chronology of the OT as basically accurate, and finding reasons to verify what it says.  This tendency, or trait, unfortunately, has dominated Biblical Scholarship pretty much since its inception.  Only in the last 1-2 decades has it been called into question.  There is reason to believe that the OT was not truly created until the Babylonian Exile in the early 6th century BCE.  So dating the book of Habakkuk to the 7th century BCE is doubtless very wrong.

 The reason for dating it so early is that it has prophecies about the rise of the Babylonians,  However, using an ancient setting to teach a contemporary lesson is a common literary device.  It’s why we got M*A*S*H, set in the Korean War, during the Vietnam War.

 Recall Paul was a Pharisee; he was very well versed in his Scripture.  He found what he needed in Habakkuk, and not from Elijah, or Jeremiah.  This indicates that Paul is not a mainstream thinker.  The question becomes, did Paul see Jesus through the lens of Habakkuk? Or, like a good lawyer, did he find Habakkuk and use him as a precedent to argue for his interpretation of Jesus.?  I suspect the latter.

NIV, KJV, NASB & ESV render this: He who is just will live by faith.  The basic meaning of << ἐκ >> is ‘from,’ so I would argue that my translation is more faithful to the original.  It’s the just from faith will live vs will live by faith, are two somewhat different concepts.  Both work, but the cause and effect are somewhat interchanged between the two translations. 

11 Quoniam autem in lege nemo iustificatur apud Deum manifestum est, quia iustus ex fide vivet;

12ὁ δὲ νόμος οὐκ ἔστιν ἐκ πίστεως, ἀλλ’ Ὁ ποιήσας αὐτὰ ζήσεται ἐν αὐτοῖς.

For the law is not from faith, but “He doing these things will live in them.”

Here’s what I mean about  << ἐκ >>.  In this context, ‘by’ simply doesn’t work. I guess one has to decide whether Paul repeated the same preposition for rhetorical purposes, or whether he used the same word because he meant the same thing.

This quote is from Leviticus.  IMO, the sentence, as it stands, doesn’t quite make sense.  Doing what things?  The things of faith?  Presumably, if that’s how he shall live.  But it seems like it could apply to the things of the law, too.  And the KJV, ESV, and NASB all basically agree with my translation.  The NIV, however, adds an “on the contrary” in the middle to, ahem, ‘clarify’ the meaning.  Granted, given the context, this addition seems perfectly reasonable, but it’s still the sort of intrusion and distortion that we’re looking to identify.

12 lex autem non est ex fide; sed, qui fecerit ea, vivet in illis.

13Χριστὸς ἡμᾶς ἐξηγόρασεν ἐκ τῆς κατάρας τοῦ νόμου γενόμενος ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν κατάρα, ὅτι γέγραπται, Ἐπικατάρατος πᾶς ὁ κρεμάμενος ἐπὶ ξύλου,

Christ bought us out of the curse of the law, becoming for (lit = over) us cursed, that it was written, “Accursed are all having been hung/hanged from upon a tree.”

<< ἐξηγόρασεν >>: this word only occurs in the NT in Paul.  It is a very uncommon word.  The unabridged Liddell & Scott cites a single Classical usage, by Plutarch,  There, it means to “buy from”.

Since Plutarch was about 10 when Galatians was written, this means that Paul made the word up.  As such, we really have no idea what he meant exactly.  The base is  << ἀγοραζω >> “to participate in the agora = the marketplace”; hence, this is a standard word for  “to buy.”

 But Paul added the prefix << εκ >>.  Paul was, after all, fond of sticking prepositional prefixes to verbs.  In this case, the preposition can mean “out of”, or simply “from”.   So the word can simply mean ‘buy from’, as it did for Plutarch.

 Also cited by L&S are two usages by later writers, who wrote several hundred years after Paul.  There, the word is translated as “to redeem”.  This is important because the Vulgate chooses to translate this as <<redemit >>,the root of our word “redeem.”  

 This would indicate that several hundred years after Paul wrote, the word had come to mean ‘redeem’, in Greek, and so it becomes <<redemit >>  in Latin. 

But ‘redeem’ and ‘buy from’ are not exact synonyms.  So ‘redeem’—think, redeem something from the pawn shop—adds a layer of meaning that may—or may not—have been present in Paul’s mind when he chose the word.  So no matter how you translate this, you are imposing a theological implication, of which you cannot be certain that it is what Paul intended.

 So, we have what is a word, the meaning of which is hard to pin down, which means the theology is also questionable.  Norman  Cantnor’s fabulous Mediaeval History (especially the first edition) has one of the best discussions for non-specialists of the theological debate that took place among the church fathers about how to interpret Jesus’ death on the cross.  Was it a ransom?  Or a redemption?  The meaning of this word has a role in that debate.

 Now, it’s also easy to say that, given the trend of the word after Paul, we can take this as the way the word developed.  After all, who are we to argue with Liddell and Scott?  Or with St Jerome, who originally chose to translate this as <<redemit >>?  Answer, this argument has weight, and seems to make a strong case, but it still comes down to ‘post hoc ergo propter hoc.’  Just because that’s what the word came to mean, this does not necessarily prove this is how Paul intended the word.

 Update: on a second (maybe twenty-second) reading, the syntax of the sentence does lean towards the ‘redeemed’ sense.  The << εκ >> is repeated; as a prefix, then again as a preposition.  Given that we are bought “out of the law”, adding the prefix to << ἀγοραζω >>, it could be argued, must have been done to change the meaning.  Otherwise, why wouldn’t Paul have just used the base verb without a prefix?  And let’s not forget that Paul was a craftsman, which means a merchant, which means he was likely an active participant in the agora.  Does this mean he had a deeper understanding of commercial words?  That he knew the addition of the preposition changed the meaning, in some way, of the word?

 Against this, let’s remember that Plutarch was writing later than Paul, which may mean he captured the word as it was used after Paul.  To claim the word evolved from “redeemed” (in Paul) and then into “buy from” in Plutarch, then went back to “redeemed” seems a bit of a stretch.  More likely the later authors (e.g. Cassius Dio) and Jerome, who were closer in time to each other than to Paul or Plutarch, understood the word in the same way because they were close contemporaries, while Paul and Plutarch  similar time in which they all lived.

 So it may be logical to assume Paul meant to change the meaning of the word, but Repeating the << εκ >> could be done for emphasis, which is not an uncommon usage for Greek.  So, we keep going ‘round and ‘round the cobbler’s bench….

 Bottom line?  It probably means ‘redeemed,’ but there is a definite chunk of ambiguity there. 

 The point is that, IMO, there is definitely room for questioning what this word means in this context.   It is, I believe, a good example of how a word or idea gets encrusted with interpretation, which makes it very difficult to get past the accretions to what is underneath.   And, coming as it does after a verse in which the NIV simply adds a phrase that is not there, we really can appreciate the level of danger for messing with what the text actually says vs what “everyone knows” it says.

13 Christus nos redemit de maledicto legis factus pro nobis maledictum, quia scriptum est: “ Maledictus omnis, qui pendet in ligno ”,

14ἵνα εἰς τὰ ἔθνη ἡ εὐλογία τοῦ Ἀβραὰμ γένηται ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ, ἵνα τὴν ἐπαγγελίαν τοῦ πνεύματος λάβωμεν διὰ τῆς πίστεως.

So that to the peoples the blessing of Abraham would be in Christ Jesus, so that the promise of the spirit we receive (is) through faith.

Very simply, Jesus the Christ died to grant the promise of the spirit made to Abraham to all peoples.  IOW, this was planned from the beginning.  An implication of Predestination, given that God foreknew what would happen when he made the original promise to Abraham.  Technically, this probably doesn’t count as Predestination, but foreknowledge is a very big chunk of the concept.

14 ut in gentes benedictio Abrahae fieret in Christo Iesu, ut promissionem Spiritus accipiamus per fidem.

15Ἀδελφοί, κατὰ ἄνθρωπον λέγω: ὅμως ἀνθρώπου κεκυρωμένην διαθήκην οὐδεὶς ἀθετεῖ ἢ ἐπιδιατάσσεται.

Brothers, I speak according to men ( = I speak as a man): In this way when the will/testament of a man having been confirmed, and no one may delete or add to it.

Interesting: all of my crib translations have this as something like, “though it’s only a man’s covenant / even if it be but a man’s covenant…”  Now, if someone more versed in Greek can point out where the ‘but’ or ‘though’ is, please feel free to do so.  There isn’t even a << καὶ >> or a << δὲ >> in here.

15 Fratres, secundum hominem dico, tamen hominis confirmatum testamentum nemo irritum facit aut superordinat.

16τῷ δὲ Ἀβραὰμ ἐρρέθησαν αἱ ἐπαγγελίαι καὶ τῷ σπέρματι αὐτοῦ. οὐ λέγει, Καὶ τοῖς σπέρμασιν, ὡς ἐπὶ πολλῶν, ἀλλ’ ὡς ἐφ’ ἑνός, Καὶ τῷ σπέρματί σου, ὅς ἐστιν Χριστός.

But to Abraham the promises were spoken, and that to his progeny.  He ( = God) did not say, “To your seeds (plural), as if to many, but as if to one, and to his progeny,who is Christ.

 OK, Paul may be playing this a bit fast and loose.  Generally, ‘seed’ ( etymologically the root of ‘sperm’), can be an aggragate, or plural, as well as singular noun.  So to read it purposely as a singular when it could just as easily been an aggragate or a plural feels, on the face of it, like a bit of verbal legerdemain.

 Situations like this are where Strong’s taxonomy is invaluable, as set out at the Great Tresures website is invaluable.  It allows you to scan all the uses of a given word in the NT.  Looking at other uses, it is almost always used in the singular form, except for a few instances when the plural is used, and is plainly indicated.  For example, the mustard seed is smallest of all the seeds, and the Greek is plural.  In most, if not all, when singular ‘seed’ is used for ‘progeny’, the Greek term is every bit as ambiguous as ‘progeny.’  When we use the latter term, our first sense may be singular, but it could easily be plural.

 So, IMO, Paul stretched the point a bit here to make his case.

16 Abrahae autem dictae sunt promissiones et semini eius. Non dicit: “ Et seminibus ”, quasi in multis, sed quasi in uno: “Et semini tuo”, qui est Christus.

17τοῦτο δὲ λέγω: διαθήκην προκεκυρωμένην ὑπὸ τοῦ θεοῦ ὁ μετὰ τετρακόσια καὶ τριάκοντα ἔτη γεγονὼς νόμος οὐκ ἀκυροῖ, εἰς τὸ καταργῆσαι τὴν ἐπαγγελίαν.

I say this: a testament having been confirmed by God, the one beyond four hundred and thirty years having become the law is not without authority, into the invalidating the promise.

( I say this: the law, which having come into being four hundred and 30 years after (the covenant) does not make the covenant confirmed by God without authority to the point that the promise is nullified. )

( I say this: the law, having come into being 430 years after the covenant, does not make the covenant confirmed by God invalid, to the point that the promise is nullified. )

Trying to get the Greek and English to match up on this is a bit rough.  But, it’s a good example of the flexibility of Greek, and how concepts can be put together syntactically without being sequential, as English requires.

 The theological point is that the law did not invalidate  the promise to Abraham.  And note that he can cite the time lapse between Abraham and the law of Moses.

17 Hoc autem dico: Testamentum confirmatum a Deo, quae post quadringentos et triginta annos facta est lex, non irritum facit ad evacuandam promissionem.

18εἰ γὰρ ἐκ νόμου ἡ κληρονομία, οὐκέτι ἐξ ἐπαγγελίας: τῷ δὲ Ἀβραὰμ δι’ ἐπαγγελίας κεχάρισται ὁ θεός.

For if the law is the inheritance, no longer (is it—i.e. the law ) of the promise; to Abraham through the promises God granted the gift ( gave as free ).

 KJV: For if the inheritance be of the law,it is no more of (the) promise, but God gave it toAbraham by promise.

 ESV: For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise, but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.

Another sentence that’s rather difficult to get across in English.  However, unlike the situation in V-15, the eventual meaning of the Greek is fairly clear.

 The idea is that God gave Abraham a promise, not the Law.  So the Law cannot be, and was not, part of of the promise. The Promise and The Law are separate and distinct.  The former,which came first, was based on faith; the latter was based on acts.

18 Nam si ex lege hereditas, iam non ex promissione; Abrahae autem per promissionem donavit Deus.

19Τί οὖν ὁ νόμος; τῶν παραβάσεων χάριν προσετέθη, ἄχρις ἁν ἔλθῃ τὸ σπέρμα ᾧ ἐπήγγελται, διαταγεὶς δι’ ἀγγέλων ἐν χειρὶ μεσίτου.

For what is the law?  It was established because of sin, until came the offspring (the seed) who had been promised, arranged through the angels into the hands of a mediator.

 KJV: Τί οὖν ὁ νόμος = Wherefore then serveth the law?

 ESV: Τί οὖν ὁ νόμος = Why then the law?

 NIV: Τί οὖν ὁ νόμος = Why then was the law given at all?

OK, this is a doozy.  First of, the text is corrupt in the sense that there are several divergent readings.  Text traditions disagree, so, right off the bat, you have a consensus opinion governing the words chosen, which necessarily affects the theology.

 Second, the NIV tries to render the first clause “why is there a law?”  Translating << Τί >> as ‘why’ is, while technically possible, not the ‘normal’ meaning.  This is especially true if you note that the Latin is “quid,” which any standard translation would render as ‘what’, not ‘why.’  Note that te KJV, which is consistently the translation closest to the Greek, doesn’ t translate this as ‘why’.  Granted, ‘why’ does make sense here, but it’s just that it wasn’t my first choice.  Nor was it St Jerome’s, nor the KJV’s first choice.

 Along with this, the word << χάριν >> is interesting.  This word did not exist in Classical Greek.  By the time Paul and Plutarch wrote, however, it has come to mean ‘because of.’  The route it took to get there is a bit circuitous.  At root, it’s the accusative case of << χάρις >>, which becomes ‘grace.’ 

 Finally, the last clause: the hands of a mediator?  What the hell does that mean?  Seriously.  I am by no means versed enough to be able to suggest an alternate word to replace a possibly corrupt text.  OTOH, the very bizarre nature of the word may speak to its authenticity.  Why would someone insert that meaning?

19 Quid igitur lex? Propter transgressiones apposita est, donec veniret semen, cui promissum est, ordinata per angelos in manu mediatoris.

20ὁ δὲ μεσίτης ἑνὸς οὐκ ἔστιν, ὁ δὲ θεὸς εἷς ἐστιν.

For the mediator is not one; but God is one.

Granted, this makes sense in that this is grammatical, but not much, IMO, beyond that.  Who is the mediator?  Jesus?  And who said the mediator was ‘one’, in the sense, I suppose, of a unity?

OK, in the interim I checked the other translations.  The idea is that the mediator is not a unity because a mediator implies (this word is used in ESV & NIV) more than one party.  So the Greek, taken that way, works.  However, take note that this introduces a concept that was simply not there in the Greek.  Even the KJV feels the need to insert “not a mediator of one

20 Mediator autem unius non est, Deus autem unus est.


About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on October 13, 2012, in epistles, Galatians, Paul's Letters and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. The 430 years between Abraham and Moses is a clue to Paul’s source material. A great place to check any number used in the Bible – such as years, number of men killed in battle, etc. – is the Loeb Classical Library edition of Josephus’ Jewish Antiquities. The translators (Thackeray died before it was completed) have done a lot of work comparing Josephus’ text to the Septuagint and the Hebrew Torah. In J.Antiq. Book II, 204, Josephus says of the Israelites in Egypt “for a full four hundred years they endured these hardships”. Thackeray notes:

    “A round number, found also in Gen. xv. 13, but inconsistent with other statements of Josephus. In Ex. xii. 40, where the sojourn in Egypt is reckoned as 430 years, Josephus, following the LXX (Septuagint), includes in that period the previous sojourn in Canaan and reduces the stay in Egypt by one-half (to 215 years).”

    This would indicate that Paul is using the Septuagint to get a time of 430 years from Abraham to Moses.

    • Interesting. It’s often helpful to know whether the author was working from a Hebrew Torah, or from the Septuagint. It matters. Matthew’s virgin birth comes from the Septuagint, for example. So, if Paul is working from the Septuagint, that may provide a clue to his ability to read and write Greek. I suspect it means he was more adept than I might have supposed.

      As for the numbers, they sometimes carry significance and meaning aside from their strict numerical value. Numerology was a big thing, numbers carried significance.

      OTOH, and to contradict myself, they are often meaningless. 430 may be a stock number for “a long time”. If I had grad students at my disposal, that would be something I could have them look into. The Loeb sounds like a good start.

      • Speaking of numerology, would 430 have been written out in Greek words like “four hundred and thirty” or did it use the Greek letter-numbers? And did those letter-numbers spell anything? It strikes me as similar to the Chinese art borrowing on the Chinese pun where the characters for the “three goldfish” is the same for “good luck”, or something like that.

        A further point about the Loeb “Jewish Antiquities”. Throughout the Loeb edition, for every number, the translator gives the corresponding value in the Torah and the Septuagint. It is quite common for Josephus to agree with neither value. Some of them may have been scribal errors of copying, some of them were values that Josephus gets from attempting to make divergent text sources agree (Kings vs Chronicles vs Hiram texts of Phoenicia) in his role as historian of the Jews. Josephus has no problem changing the history when he thinks the OT is in error or open to misinterpretation. If the Jews were accused of something that would make them seem primitive or coarse, Josephus would drop that part of the story. He also draws on sources that no longer exist, such as the Hiram texts of Phoenicia. Were there other forms of the OT besides the Hebrew Torah and the Septuagint for Paul to draw upon? Did the scribes who copied the Septuagint use the same level of error-checking as the Hebrew Torah scribes?

  2. The number 430 is written as four hundred thirty. This is true in both Greek and Latin.

    As for actual numerical values in ancient texts, these are the source for endless Ph.D. dissertations. No two authors agree, and the numbers are almost always hopelessly inflation. Like Xerxes having 100,000 soldiers on his invasion of Greece. About all one can do is get a sense of how big the number is, and then divide by 2. Or 5. Or 10, and figure that, maybe, that will put you in the ballpark of reality, It’s just a completely thorny issue.

    Chances are, both Josephus and his sources were both wrong. From the little I’ve read about him, his numbers are very unreliable.

    Honestly, couldn’t tell you what sources Paul had. Various text traditions, as they were available. And I would tend to suspect that the Septuagint underwent something like the scrutiny that the Hebrew versions got. It was, after all, essentially the same sorts of people working with both texts. But error is pretty much inevitable in a work as large as the OT. Or even the NT. (Or even a blog post, as it seems!)

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