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.
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.