Galatians 3:21-29

Chapter 3 continues:

21 Ὁ οὖν νόμος κατὰ τῶν ἐπαγγελιῶν [τοῦ θεοῦ]; μὴ γένοιτο: εἰ γὰρ ἐδόθη νόμος ὁ δυνάμενος ζῳοποιῆσαι, ὄντως ἐκ νόμου ἂν ἦν ἡ δικαιοσύνη.

So is the law contrary to the promise [ of God ]?  Let it not be!  For, if the law was given, the one able to make life, being of/from the law, this would be the justification.

ESV translation: Is the law then contrary to the promises of God?  May it never be! For if a law gad been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on the law.

 << κατὰ >> here is interesting.  It can, and often does, mean ‘according to’, in the sense of the Gospel << κατὰ Markon >>,according to Mark.’ But it can also mean ‘against’ in the sense of ‘contrary to’, or ‘opposed to’, and that’s how it’s to be taken here.  Not completely obvious, or immediately obvious, but it works and is not at all unusual.

My translation is deliberately clumsy to give a sense of the convoluted (in terms of English syntax ) nature of the Greek.  I don’t especially quibble with the standard translations, however.  I believe the meaning is fairly clear.  The point Paul is trying to make throughout is that, in his reading of Torah and history, the law does not provide the means to salvation.  I’m not sure if it ever did in Paul’s mind.  Is it the case that it did in the past, but the reality has now changed, or did it never provide the means to salvation?  It’s moot, and I’m sure it has been argued.  But the fact is that, now, because of Jesus’ life and, especially, his death, the law is no longer the appropriate means to being righteous and justified in the eyes of God.  Now, the criterion is faith.

Re-reading this, I talk about law as being or not being the means to salvation, but the words he uses are ‘righteousness’ and ‘life’. Extra points to anyone who a) caught this; and b) objected to the bait-and-switch.  In our world, in the Christian world those three terms are, or have become, to some degree, interchangeable.  The point of all this is to determine whether this was also true for Paul.

He doesn’t completely jettison the Law, as we’ll see, but it’s not the way to approach our lives any more.  The law has been superseded.

I love the word ‘superseded.’  Unlike ‘procede,’ or ‘succeed’, or ‘recede’, it doesn’t derive from the Latin “cedere”, which at root means ‘to march.’  Rather, it derives from the Latin “sedere”, which is ‘to sit.’  So, to supersede, means, literally, “to sit on top of.’  The things a Classics geek finds cool.

21 Lex ergo adversus promissa Dei? Absit. Si enim data esset lex, quae posset vivificare, vere ex lege esset iustitia.

22ἀλλὰ συνέκλεισεν ἡ γραφὴ τὰ πάντα ὑπὸ ἁμαρτίαν ἵνα ἡ ἐπαγγελία ἐκ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ δοθῇ τοῖς πιστεύουσιν.

But the scripture closed off (locked up) all the things under sin so that the promise from faith in Jesus Christ would be given to the faithful.

See comment to V-29

22 Sed conclusit Scriptura omnia sub peccato, ut promissio ex fide Iesu Christi daretur credentibus.

23Πρὸ τοῦ δὲ ἐλθεῖν τὴν πίστιν ὑπὸ νόμον ἐφρουρούμεθα συγκλειόμενοι εἰς τὴν μέλλουσαν πίστιν ἀποκαλυφθῆναι.

But before the coming of faith under the law, closed off we werw guarded towards preferring faith being revealed.

 (Or, more fluidly: Before the coming of faith, we were closed off under the law, guarded from the faith that would (lit = shall) be revealed.)

See comment to V-29

23 Prius autem quam veniret fides, sub lege custodiebamur conclusi in eam fidem, quae revelanda erat.

24ὥστε ὁ νόμος παιδαγωγὸς ἡμῶν γέγονεν εἰς Χριστόν, ἵνα ἐκ πίστεως δικαιωθῶμεν:

Thus the law was the pedagogue of us to (until) Christ, so that from faith we will be justified.

Note: a ‘pedagogue’ was the person (always a man; generally a slave) responsible for a young child (pretty much always a boy).  The duties generally included education, or at least basic education.  As the child got older, the pedagogue would escort him to ‘school’.  This would be the place where a teacher of some repute would instruct the sons of the wealthy, for a fee, of course.

See comment to V-29

24 Itaque lex paedagogus noster fuit in Christum, ut ex fide iustificemur;

25ἐλθούσης δὲ τῆς πίστεως οὐκέτι ὑπὸ παιδαγωγόν ἐσμεν.

But faith having come, no longer under a pedagogue are we.

See comment to V-29

25 at ubi venit fides, iam non sumus sub paedagogo.

26Πάντες γὰρ υἱοὶ θεοῦ ἐστε διὰ τῆς πίστεως ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ.

For you all are sons of God through / on account of faith in Christ Jesus

See comment to V-29

26 Omnes enim filii Dei estis per fidem in Christo Iesu.

27ὅσοι γὰρ εἰς Χριστὸν ἐβαπτίσθητε, Χριστὸν ἐνεδύσασθε:

For whoever is baptized into Christ, you have put on Christ

See comment to V-29

27 Quicumque enim in Christum baptizati estis, Christum induistis:

28οὐκ ἔνι Ἰουδαῖος οὐδὲ Ελλην, οὐκ ἔνι δοῦλος οὐδὲ ἐλεύθερος, οὐκ ἔνι ἄρσεν καὶ θῆλυ: πάντες γὰρ ὑμεῖς εἷς ἐστε ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ.

For there is neither Jew nor Greek, nor slave nor free, nor male nor female, for all are one in Hrist Jesus.

See comment to V-29

28 non est Iudaeus neque Graecus, non est servus neque liber, non est masculus et femina; omnes enim vos unus estis in Christo Iesu.

29εἰ δὲ ὑμεῖς Χριστοῦ, ἄρα τοῦ Ἀβραὰμ σπέρμα ἐστέ, κατ’ ἐπαγγελίαν κληρονόμοι.

If you are of Christ, you are therefore the seed of Abraham, according to the promise we are(of which) inheritors.

This is to sum up verses 22-29.

 This is an enormously important topic in the history of what would become Christianity.  One could argue, as the priest of my church did one Sunday, when discussing Mark 7:5-15, that this argument represents the sine qua non of Christianity.  Without this argument, without this switch from following The Law, to following The Faith, the teachings of Jesus may well have died out with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE.  Certainly, anything bearing the name ‘Christianity’ would look very, very different than what we know today.

 In this section, Paul continues and concludes his case that faith has superseded The Law as the means to a righteous life.  To some degree, these two paths are mutually exclusive.  To do this, he uses extended metaphors, mixed metaphors.

 Overall, I find the argument very impressive.  In fact, it’s brilliant.  Paul has shown a real insight into the situation of Abraham, and how that was analogous to the situation of the followers of Jesus.  To instruct Gentiles, Paul felt compelled to make a case against following the Jewish law; this would include dietary restrictions, but also a lot of the ritual cleansings, and the things that would come to be described as ‘keeping kosher’.

 The question becomes ‘why’?  Paul makes references to ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’, things that the James Gang wanted to take away from the non-Jewish assemblies of Jesus.  Now, is Paul tipping his hand here?  Did he, to some extent, want to get himself out from under the (oppressive) thumb of The Law?  Did he feel this way despite his boast of being known for his zealousness?  Possibly.  Was some of this a reaction, guilt about having been a persecutor of the followers of Jesus?  Sure, why not?

IMO, Paul experienced a sincere conversion experience.  Whether it included a “Road to Damascus” event is fun to debate, but, ultimately, beside the point.  Is it possible that the “blinding light” described in Acts was the sudden realization that Abraham, the real Father of the Jewish (and Arab) people, did not follow Jewish Law?  That Abraham had faith, to an incredible degree, and that was what made him worthy?  What made him righteous in God’s eyes?

Again, IMO, this seems entirely possible.  To make a convincing case, we would have to look at Paul’s letters—all of them, or all of the authentic letters—and see what sorts of arguments he finds convincing.  Let’s not forget this is the man who wrote ‘love is patient, love is kind, etc’ in 1 Corinthians, a piece that gets read at a lot of weddings.

To anticipate, Mark’s gospel has John the Baptist telling people << μετανοιετε >>, << repent >>.  Is this a reflection of what Paul was saying?  Change your attitude?  Don’t worry about the externals, but be concerned with the internals?  And an excellent demonstration of this would be to believe, rather than follow a bunch of rules.  Mark goes so far as to call them ‘the rules of men.’ (Mk 7:7).

 What we have here is another case of possible independent corroboration.  Paul said something to the Galatians.  Mark came up with something very similar 20 years later.  Galatia is in modern Turkey; the Gospel of Mark is generally considered to have been written in Rome, so the two traditions were separated by a pretty good chunk of real estate.  Now, trade and travel were widespread in the Roman Empire.  Goods and people moved easily from one end to the other all the time, so it’s entirely possible that Mark derived this idea from someone who got it from Paul.

 Or, it’s possible that they both got it, independently, from Jesus.

 However, given the adamant—as Paul describes it—insistence of James that Gentiles had to follow the Law, maybe not so much.  The tradition of the early church—when it became the church—is that “Mark”, or whoever wrote the gospel with this name, was part of Peter’s group after Peter went to Rome.  And let’s recall that Peter was present at the “Synod of Jerusalem”, at the discussion between Paul and James that led to the official sanction of Paul’s gospel to the Gentiles.  And, in Rome, Peter was probably most concerned with gaining non-Jewish adherents.  So, it’s hardly a stretch that Peter would use theses ideas of Paul to appeal to non-Jews.  IOW, that it was Paul, not Jesus, who came up with this notion of faith vs the Law.

 The implication of this is that “Christianity” could, in some ways, be described more accurately as “Paulism.”  Or something.

 Regardless, these chapters of Galatians had enormous repercussions for the future development of Christianity.  In fact, without the events, and the ideas, described here, it’s possible that we wouldn’t be talking about Christianity at all.

 Now, those teachings that can be traced to Jesus is a very important topic.  It’s something that we will continue to follow as we move along here.

 29 Si autem vos Christi, ergo Abrahae semen estis, secundum promissionem heredes.


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 14, 2012, in epistles, Galatians, Paul's Letters and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Wow – understanding the full meaning of “pedagogue” makes the transition that Paul is outlining, from Jewish Law to Christian Faith, seem so natural that it is hard to use Jewish heresy against him by anybody but the most dedicated Pharisees. He makes the Torah seem like rules for children who didn’t have the capacity for faith until they are shown how to be an adult by Christ – by believing and demonstrating it through baptism – one of many rites of passage in life. By no means is this message lost on Gentiles, the primary audience, who might have had reservations about Paul if the respected, local Jews called him a rabble rouser and heretic. It undercuts the heresy argument and made Paul look reasonable in respect to the Pharisees, who may have appeared extreme to Hellenistic culture – especially the circumcision.

    • Paul was a lot of things, being a self-proponent was one of them. He has a fair gift for smooth rhetoric and a good analogy. The pedagogue analogy carries a lot of weight, especially for pagans, while, at the same time, making him seem reasonable–to those same pagans–as you pointed out.

  2. Your idea that Paul’s conversion episode was actually the flash of insight may be quite true and very interesting to pursue. There is no reason to believe that all of it happened all at once, either, and may have needed to be fleshed out with explanation of the finer points before the Jerusalem Synod, supposedly years later.

    Einstein’s insight into relativity is based on some pillars he took to be true, such as the constancy of the speed of light. What are the pillars that led to Paul’s insight? Were early martyrs before Paul intending to die for their faith in imitation of Christ or were they the result of mob action like Paul’s beatings in the synagogues of Asia Minor? Did he already accept the resurrection of Christ from the many witnesses? Did he first have the insight that Jesus was showing the way to conquering death through faith and then connected that to history, from Abraham to Daniel, through the insight of pedagogical transition to faith, or was it that the insight was that faith was the deux ex machina for conquering death? Or was his insight seen by him as a mechanism to explain things in a way that was more attractive to his followers in the Gentile community. These don’t have to be mutually-exclusive.

    • You ask penetrating questions. What were Paul’s pillars?

      Let’s put ourselves in his place. He was a zealous Pharisee, truly offended by the followers of a man who seemingly made a mockery of Pharisees. So you despise them as wrong, and as dangerous. But–you can’t help but admire their courage in the face of death.

      So, any man of conscience–and I think we can all describe Paul as such–has to be torn by this apparent contradiction. They’re wrong, but they sure have conviction. This is a moral dilemma. So you try to find a way out. Then it hits you: Jesus did not destroy the promise to Abraham, he was the final fulfillment.

      and Shazam! It all makes sense. Both sides are right! What a blinding flash of insight!

      And let’s face it: “conversion” is a metaphor. “Blinding flash of insight” is a metaphor. And from this latter, a “blinding flash of light from the sky” is a short step. The author of Acts was something of a novelist, with a novelist’s sensibilities for drama. We know about the blinding flash of insight. Why not translate that into an image of the flash coming from the sky?

      It’s a dramatic effect, rather than a theological perception. IMO, anyway.

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