Doug Moo’s Galatians Commentary – Review P3 (Gupta)

We are now into Galatians ch. 2. Here are my review notes.


Moo sees the Jerusalem meeting narrated in Galatians as probably pertaining to Acts 11:27-30, rather than Acts 15 (p. 118). When it comes to Paul’s ambivalent language about the Jerusalem “Pillars” (esp signalled by dokeo), Moo thinks that the 2:2 reference is neutral, but there is more a hint of irony in vv. 6 and 9 (p. 120, 124, 132).


Why did Peter withdraw? Moo thinks it was born out of a “tacitly wise accommodation to the concerns of stricter Jewish Christians” (p. 143). So, where was the disagreement between Peter and Paul? “Peter perhaps thought that the Jerusalem agreement simply did not cover the kind of situation he encountered in Antioch” (143). But Paul saw Peter’s actions to be, not a breach of the terms of the Jerusalem meeting itself, but rather a negation of “an essential truth of the gospel” (Moo, 144). Moo explains that “the difference is not fundamentally over theology, but over the implications for a specific form of conduct that arises from theology” (146). I see what Moo is saying, but I am not sure Paul would see “theology” in that more limited way.

Did James send these extra men, and why? Moo thinks it possible James sent them, esp in light of the “socio-political situation” and persecution from (non-Christian) Jews against “this new messianic movement” (148).


As you might expect, Moo engages with the New Perspective and defends a more classic Reformational reading of works vs. faith. While he admits that the Reformers did not put enough emphasis on the law (Torah) part of “works of the law,” Moo urges that there remains a fundamental Pauline critique of works as “human-oriented accomplishment” (p. 159). Moo here points to the quotation from Ps 143:2 (LXX 142:2) where Paul uses sarx to refer to the person under judgment. This shows, according to Moo, that the human is frail and weak and, thus, not able to fulfill the law.

I simply do not see this general works/faith dynamic in Galatians for three reasons: (1) Paul’s concept of pistis (faith) can be very active (as in the fruit of the Spirit), (2) the main issues of works  that are specifically brought up in Galatians focus on circumcision, food, and Sabbath -none of these are actually hard to do (except dieting, but that’s not quite what Paul is saying!) or a serious grounds for boasting in accomplishment (*note, though, there is a difference between boasting in achievement and boasting in status; Paul regularly condemned boasting in status). The third issue is this: Moo makes it seem like “works of the law” are objectively bad, but the points in Galatians are that (a) they simply do not make one right before God and (b) their time has come to end. If (b) is right, God has no objective problem with works of the law, his problem is that they are insufficient for use by those who haven’t recognized the radically complete work of Christ. Moo makes it seem like “works” themselves are the problem, but the thrust of Galatians seems to be that the Law works are from God (as a part of holy Torah), but they no longer retain the same usefulness vis-a-vis the covenant, and they were always intended to serve a limited purpose.

Moo delays further detailed discussion until he gets to 3:10-12, so I will say more then as well.

Conclusion: Nothing much surprised me here because Moo had laid much of this out in the introduction. Much of his commentary discussion was fair, sensible, and often insightful.

We will get into some meaty issues in chs. 3-4, no doubt!


How God Became Jesus – Bird v Ehrman on Jewish Monotheism (Gupta)

ZonderBirdI have begun blogging on Bart Ehrman’s new How Jesus Became God. I am also now weaving in the response book How God Became Jesus, edited by Michael F. Bird (Zondervan, 2014). The response book does a pretty good job responding chapter-by-chapter to Ehrman. In this post, I look at Mike Bird’s essay where he responds to Ehrman’s discussion of Greco-Roman and Jewish religion. Bird’s chapter is called “Of Gods, Angels, and Men.”

Here are a series of helpful rejoinders and key points that Bird makes.

#1: On Apollonius of Tyana. Ehrman makes the case that the tale of Apollonius of Tyana in the Greco-Roman world looks an awful lot like the story of the divinity and unique God-man status of Jesus. What Bird points out is that the story of Apollonius was written “at least a hundred years after the Gospels” and Bird is convinced that this biography “has been written as a polemic parody of the Gospels” (26). This is very helpful information for readers to know!

#2: Bird agrees with Ehrman that Jews believed in a variety of supernatural powers. But Bird believes that Jesus was historically unique on a number of accounts, not least of which is that he was crucified and, thus, it would be hard for any Jew to imagine such a man exalted to a special divine status at all. Nobody says these things quite like Bird: “To Jewish audiences, worshiping a crucified man was blasphemy; it was about as kosher as pork sausages wrapped in bacon served to Jews for a jihad fundraiser” (26).

#3: To show that some Jews could use “god” language quite loosely, Ehrman points to Philo’s relating Logos imagery to a god and even Moses. But Bird is quick to counter by Philo’s own words: “Sooner could God change into a man than a man into God” (p. 27). This serves Bird’s wider point that it does no good for a historian to argue that Jewish theo-cosmology could be compared at all to Greco-Roman cosmology where Greeks and Romans easily believed that a man could become a god.

#4: Ehrman tries to argue that first-century Jews sometimes worshiped angels. But Bird quotes this conclusion from Loren Stuckenbruck: “Angel veneration is not conceived as a substitute for worship of God. Indeed, most often the venerative language is followed by an explanation which emphasizes the supremacy of God” (see Bird, 33). This serves Bird’s point that there was a clear dividing line between angels and the one Most High God.

Only one “critical” comment here about something in Bird’s chapter I found less helpful.

#1: Trying to explain Christological monotheism, Bird says that “It’s like God was Jesified and Jesus was Godified…The God of Israel is revealed in, and through, and even as the Lord Jesus Christ” (p. 28). This sounds good (esp the latter sentence), but I fear it could be confused with either modalism or not really monotheism. I might prefer to say, “the tune of God was played in the Jesus key.” Is that better? This is tough stuff to get just right.

Conclusion: Is this a helpful response book?

Just after one chapter from Bird, I think it is a resounding “yes.” It is less important to me that Bird et al say that Erhman is biased or that they articulate an orthodox perspective of Christology. What is most helpful is that it seems like Ehrman tends to leave things out, exaggerate, or works with some dubious methods. Or even that he quotes parts of scholarly works that are a bit misleading (such as his appeal to Hurtado). So, the Bird book provides helpful scholarly critique and balance. Basically, you get the full picture of the nature and scope of the debate.

Lend Me Your Ear: Malchus and “The Bible” on the History Channel (Skinner)

MalchusOn Easter afternoon I was flipping through the channels and came across the series “The Bible” on the History Channel. I had watched the first few episodes when they aired last year, but never actually watched the episode in which Jesus is arrested, tried, and crucified. I was interested to see that Malchus–a character who appears by name only in John 18:10, had a recurring role as the trusted servant of the high priest. The one thing Malchus is known for is being on the receiving end of a sword wielded by one of Jesus’ disciples. He never even speaks. As happens in much of the series, the character called “Malchus” is a conflation of the various accounts that speak of a “servant of the high priest” who is struck on the ear by a disciple in the garden of Gethsemane (along with some additional screenwritten material that doesn’t appear in the NT). I was paying close attention to how this would be treated because I recently wrote a brief chapter on the character Malchus for this book.

The story of the high priest’s servant having his ear severed appears, with minor variations in all four canonical gospels. In Mark 14 we read, “Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.” The account in Matthew 26 departs little from Mark. Luke alone tells us that Jesus paused to heal the man’s ear (cf. Luke 22:51)–a detail the episode made sure to include. Only in John’s account is Malchus given a name and Peter identified as the perpetrator. One interesting detail that Mark and John share is the use of the double diminutive ὠτάριον (outer ear) rather than the typical οὖϛ (ear) or simple diminutive, ὠτίον (which also refers to the outer ear and is shared by Matthew and Luke). Some have argued that the choice to use this term is intentional, and refers to a portion of the outer ear or possibly the earlobe, though BDAG notes that it was used interchangeably with οὖϛ (ear) in later Greek.

So….armed with this (admittedly) extraneous information, I was watching closely to see how this would be depicted. I must say that I was surprised (and a little pleased) to see Peter slash Malchus across the ear, leaving a large wound on the outer part of the ear rather than having his ear hanging by a thread.


Free Audio Courses from Regent College In Honor of Earth Day (Gupta)

Today is Earth Day! Regent College Audio is offering several free audio courses and lectures on “creation care.” They have two whole courses available worth nearly $60 – but absolutely free (from speakers such as Iain Provan and Rikki Watts). I was just thinking yesterday, as I finished listening to the Gordon Fee Galatians course from Regent, that I wanted to buy another course. I hadn’t thought about “creation care” courses, but you can’t beat the price tag! Remember to use the coupon code to get the deal.

Check out the options today. I just sign ordered the two full courses available. The deal expires on Saturday.

Doug Moo’s Commentary – Review Pt2 (Gupta)

In this review series on Douglas Moo’s BEC Galatians commentary, we have already discussed the introduction. Now we move on to chapter 1 of Galatians in the commentary proper.


I was a bit surprised by Moo’s translation of 1:1 – “Paul–an apostle chosen not by human beings nor by a human being…” - why did he translate both of these prepositions with “by”?  He seems to contradict or challenge his own decision on p. 68 by stating that dia (the second “by”) is best understood as “through” – so why not translate it as “through”?


On the subject of the Galatians “so quickly” turning to another gospel, Moo wonders whether there is a faint allusion to the golden calf incident of Israel where “They have been quick to turn away” from God’s command and towards an idol (Ex 32:8). The allusion would be very hard to detect, but fitting for Paul’s message in Galatians (pp. 76-77).

When it comes to the meaning of “gospel/good news” in 1:6, Moo challenges N.T. Wright’s overall reading of euangelion where Wright argues that the “good news” (with Isaiah in view) is not about salvation, but about the lordship of Christ and the eschatological reign of God. Moo contests that this is what Paul is talking about in Gal 1:6. According to Moo, “Paul uses the language to focus not so much on the fact of God’s reign or Jesus’ lordship but on the wonderful benefits that the coming of Christ as Lord brings to his people. In Galatians, at least, this is certainly the case” (78).

I have to admit that, on close reading of Galatians, Moo seems to have the better argument. However, I think it is a mistake to think we can neatly separate the gift from the reign of the gift-giver (remember Kaesemann here). The reign and the benefits come as a package. Nevertheless, Moo’s point should be taken to heart.

With reference to 1:8, Moo says that the false teaching will lead the Galatians to hell (literally; p. 80). Hmmm, not sure if this is the right way to put this, given Paul’s non-interest in hell-language. I think it best to leave it as “cut off from Christ” (5:4), as Paul writes it.

On 1:10, Moo translates doulos as “servant” in his translation, but then talks about Paul as “slave” in the exposition. I think “slave” is the better rendering here as Galatians places a premium on retaining the offensive, status-destroying dimension of the cross of Christ.


What does the “revelation of Jesus Christ” refer to in 1:12? Is it objective or subjective genitive? I think, wisely, writes: “this is one of those texts where it might be best to refrain from locking the meaning into either option” (95).


Again, I am surprised by some translation/sense consistency issues. On 1:16, Moo refers to the idea that Paul says God revealed his Son “to me” (p. 98), but then he translates it as “in me” (99). I think “in” is right, but why the confusion?

While it is clear Moo disagrees with Dunn and Wright on a Old/New Perspective reading of Galatians, I am impressed with how often Moo quotes or cites Dunn approvingly (on other issues, of course). That is the mark of a good scholar, who can still retain the best ideas of a scholar with whom one disagrees.

I was not satisfied by Moo’s treatment of the word Ioudiaismos in 1:13. Moo rejects Dunn’s view that this word (I.) refers to a “distinctive nationalist Jewish movement that arose at the time of the Maccabees.” In Moo’s own defense of a broader meaning (“Jewish faith as a whole”), he cites BDAG. I am reluctant to turn to BDAG as a source because it can come across as objective or non-interpretive, but it definitely is driven by human interpretation of words and texts. Moo ought to have noted that I. is a very rare word and it doesn’t help to point to Ignatius’ Magn. 10.3 lest the reader think Paul is pressing (in Galatians!) for a parting of the ways. I think the proper working out of the meaning of I. in Gal 1:13 is crucial to understanding the whole letter. I had a chance to read Peter Oakes’ forthcoming Galatians commentary (Paideia) and his treatment of this subject is superb. I think my concern with Moo’s approach also has to do with his use of the word “faith.” Oakes has the better wording where he refers to it as the Jewish “way of life characterized by practices that Jews generally saw as being proper.”


One comment here – I was interested in Moo’s discussion of pistis in 1:23. Here is says pistis does not take its normal sense of “believing,” but rather seems to refer to the faith-in-Jesus movement itself (p. 114). I think this is about right, but in another post I will have more to say about why pistis is the right word for this. Also, later, I will have sharper disagreement with how Moo reads faith-works language in Galatians and Paul more generally.

Final Thoughts

It may seem like I didn’t like what I have read so far in Moo, but the above notwithstanding, I found his discussions thoughtful and mostly well-researched (though I prefer Louw-Nida over BDAG as my go-to lexicon). Would I assign students to read Moo in an exegesis course? If it is the only commentary as textbook, probably not, but alongside Dunn or Hays (or Oakes!) I would be happy with that.