Thursday, December 27, 2007

Galatians 3:10 and Works of the Law (Part 3)

Galatians 3:10

{Osoi ga.r evx e;rgwn no,mou eivsi,n( u`po. kata,ran eivsi,n\ ge,graptai ga.r o[ti evpikata,ratoj pa/j o]j ouvk evmme,nei pa/sin toi/j gegramme,noij evn tw/| bibli,w| tou/ no,mou tou/ poih/sai auvta,Å

For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse, for it has been written that, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in everything that has been written in the Book of the Law to do them.”

It seems best to set forth the meaning of this passage and then to interact with those who depart from the meaning of this text. In other words, we will lay out the Old Perspective on this text and then move to an interaction and critique of proponents of the New Perspective.

After arguing for justification through faith in Galatians 3:7-9, Paul now turns to a negative argument for justification through faith. After showing positive proof for justification through faith, Paul strengthens his case by a negative argument taken from the impossibility of sustaining its opposite—justification through works of the law. Paul does this by employing the Old Testament to show that one who relies on works of the law is cursed.[1]

Verse 10 starts with “for” (Gk. ga.r), which could be loosely translated as “on the other hand.” This shows a contrast with “those of faith” in verses 7, 9.[2] “Verse 9 is about ‘those who have faith,’ while v. 10 concerns those who observe the law.”[3] Paul asserts that “all who rely on works of the law are under a curse.” That is to say, that anyone who holds works of the law as a way to be justified is under a curse. The anarthrous kata,ran has the effect of “cursed as opposed to blessed.” [4] “Paul frequently assembled an argument from contraries and develops his theology in terms of antitheses.”[5] After asserting that those who look to the law for justification are under a curse, he grounds this assertion in the Old Testament.

The exact nature of Paul’s Old Testament citation is under dispute. Is Paul quoting from the Hebrew Old Testament, or the Septuagint (LXX)? Is Paul referring to one verse, or two verses conflated together to make one point? Is Paul citing the Old Testament from memory or does he have a copy of the text he is citing? The reason these questions arise results from the fact that there are words that appear in Paul’s citation that are not in the Masoretic Text (MT) of Hebrew Old Testament: pa/j “everyone,” pa/sin “everything.” Also, Paul substitutes evn tw/| bibli,w| tou/ no,mou “in the Book of the Law” for toi/j lo,goij tou/ no,mou tou,tou “the word of this law.”

Some have suggested that the reason for this is that Paul is conflating two verses into one citation—Deuteronomy 27:26 and Deuteronomy 28:1.[6] They argue that “Paul may simply have conflated the two texts into a single quotation as he did earlier in [Galatians] 3:8 with Gen 12:3 and 18:18.”[7] Though this is a plausible explanation of the data, it seems there exists an explanation that is to be preferred, namely, Paul quotes, from memory, the LXX translation of Deuteronomy 27:26a.[8] “Paul’s twofold ‘all’ is probably the result not of his fusing two quotations but more simply of his following the LXX text of Dt. 27:26a, which by inserting the two instances of pas adds emphasis to what is expressed in the MT.”[9] This explanation accounts for Paul’s use of pa/j “everyone” and pa/sin “everything,” because they are in the text of the LXX. Also, it accounts for why Paul substitutes evn tw/| bibli,w| tou/ no,mou “in the Book of the Law” for toi/j lo,goij tou/ no,mou tou,tou “the word of this law:” since he quotes from memory, without the text in front of him it is easy for Paul to use synonyms. Further

By substituting “everything that is written in the Book of the Law” for the Septuagint’s “all the words of this law” (MT also has ‘this law’ [taZOà]), Paul further generalizes the original denunciation of “the man who does not uphold the words of this law by carrying them out”… into a curse on “every one who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law and do them”…whereas “this law” refers to the twelve curses pronounced from Mount Ebal (the “Shechemite dodecalouge”; Dt. 27:15-26), “the law” is in Paul’s mind a reference to the written Torah (cf. Dt. 31:26; Jos. 1:8) in all its details.[10]

Therefore, what Paul is communicating in this passage is that all who hold to works of the law as a means of justification are under the curse declared by the law itself because all who do not do everything in the law are under a curse.

A more fundamental question lies behind this question of what Paul is quoting; why does he quote this passage? In other words, in what way does it advance his argument that those who rely on works of the law will not be justified? The key to understanding the answer to this question is the phrase Paul inserts at the end of this passage: tou/ poih/sai auvta, (to do them).

This phrase shows that Paul is in the realm of performance. Paul quotes this passage to illustrate the fact that e;rgwn no,mou is in the sphere of performance. This LXX quote shows that Paul thinks of e;rgwn no,mou as something that is done or performed by an agent. This sets forth the idea that justification is not based on an individual’s performance of works of the law, but rather that justification is through faith in the one who performed on behalf of his people.[11] Further, it needs to be understood that Paul does not have in mind just certain Old Testament laws, i.e. circumcision or the dietary laws. Rather, it is clear that Paul has the entire demands laid out in the Old Testament.

In order for Paul’s argument to carry any force there is an underlying, implicit, premise that must be true. This premise is that no one can fulfill the entire law. Paul’s argument may be put like this: 1) Unless one does everything that is in the law they are under a curse; 2) No one can fulfill everything that is in the law; 3) Therefore, everyone is under a curse.[12] John Calvin puts the syllogism as, “Whoever has come short in any part of the law is cursed; all are held chargeable with this guilt; therefore all are cursed.”[13] Thus, in order for Paul’s argument to be effective his implicit premise, which he assumes to be true, must in fact be true. “This argument of Paul would not stand, if we had sufficient strength to fulfill the law; for there would then be a fatal objection to the minor proposition.”[14]

Some have argued that Paul is not implying this premise. Some have argued that Paul could not have thought that a single infraction of the law would place one under the curse of the law because the law makes provision for infractions done against the law.[15] The way this difficulty is resolved is by understanding the nature of the Old Testament sacrificial system. The Book of Hebrews explains that sacrifices in the Old Testament were never intended to remove guilt from those who were under the curse of the law. Rather, the cultic sacrifices in the Old Testament were a shadow and type of the one to come who would in fact remove the guilt from their transgressors.[16]

Others have argued against this premise that no one can keep the whole law by pointing to Paul’s words in Philippians 3:6, where he describes himself as being blameless before the law. In this text, some claim, Paul is saying that he is blameless with respect to legal righteousness.[17] Again, this difficulty is not insurmountable if one sees Paul’s words in Philippians 3:6 as the words of a self-righteous Pharisee. When Paul says he is blameless before the law, these are the words of a Pharisee who has not yet seen that the law is more than external actions. In addition, this idea that no one can do all that is in the law is not unique to Paul here in Galatians. It is found in a number of rabbis and Jewish teachers of Paul’s day, especially those of the school of Shammai.[18] Further, it is found elsewhere in the New Testament: James 2:10 and Romans 3:23.

With this understanding of Galatians 3:10—namely, that anyone who tries to find a right standing before God on the basis of works done or performed in conformity to the Old Testament law, in part or whole, will not be justified—we turn to those who have seen works of the law as not a means of a right standing before God, but as a way to distinguish those who are and who are not the people of God.


[1] Lightfoot, 136.
[2] Ronald Y.K. Fung, The Epistle to the Galatians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 141. J. Gresham Machen, Machen’s Notes on Galatians: Notes on Biblical Exposition and Other Aids to the Interpretation of the Epistle to the Galatians (Birmingham: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2006), 177.
[3] Timothy George, The New American Commentary: Galatians (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 229.
[4] William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995), 127. Frederick William Danker, ed., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Ed.. (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1957), 525.
[5] Timothy George, The New American Commentary: Galatians (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 229.
[6] Ibid., 230. Guy Waters, The End of Deuteronomy in the Epistles of Paul (Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2006), 80-86.
[7] George, 230.
[8] John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Galatians (Chicago: Moody Press, 1987), 77. James D. G. Dunn, Black’s New Testament Commentary: The Epistle to the Galatians (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1993), 170. Martin Luther, The Crossway Classic Commentaries: Galatians (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1998), 143. Lightfoot, 137. Fung , 141. Machen, 177. Though this text says “Deut. 27:16” this seems to be a misprint since this passage does not have the some content as Deuteronomy 27:26.
[9] Fung, 141.
[10] Fung, 141.
[11] Venema, 27-92. Waters, The End of Deuteronomy in the Epistles of Paul, 177-178.
[12] Machen, 177-178. George, 230.
[13] John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005), 89.
[14] Ibid., 89.
[15] George, 231.
[16] Hebrews 8, 10.
[17] Fung, 142.
[18] George, 230.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Before posting please read our Comment Policy here.

Think hard about this: the world is watching!