Doug Moo’s Galatians Commentary – Review Pt1 (Gupta)

Moo GalDouglas Moo, a top-notch conservative evangelical New Testament exegete, has recently published a major commentary on Galatians in the Baker Exegetical Commentary series (~450 pp.; Baker, 2013).

I will spend the next six weeks or so working through this commentary as I teach an intensive Galatians course at Northeastern. In this first installment, I will only discuss the introduction (pp. 1-64).

The commentary commences with your standard preliminary issues: Paul is author, Moo prefers the South Galatia recipient theory but favors it only slightly, and he dates Galatians to about AD48, “just before the Apostolic Conference of Acts 15” (p. 18).

What is the occasion of Paul’s writing of Galatians? Moo argues that it was written to “combat people who are pressuring the Galatians to undergo circumcision and submit to the law of Moses as a means of completing their Christian experience” (19). Is the focal point the question of how one is saved? Moo thinks so, but with the qualification that it is not initial salvation that is in view, but rather “ultimate vindication in the judgment” (20).

From pp. 21-31, Moo explores how various interpreters have understood Paul’s argumentation in Galatians. He briefly surveys E.P. Sanders’ perspective and also includes James Dunn. In a footnote, Moo discusses N.T. Wright as well. Moo notes that he does not intend to argue extensively against the New Perspective in this commentary because he has done so elsewhere. But he makes three points on p. 24n. 32: (1) NPP is commended for trying to contextualize Paul’s theology within first-century environment; (2) Sanders’ covenantal nomism theory is contested as a theory – Moo thinks there is evidence of Jewish legalism; and (3) the “staying in” focus of covenantal nomism still points in the direction of works-righteousness.

I am not sure Moo’s two critical points are that harmful to the NPP since not everyone follows Sanders on covenantal nomism (e.g., Wright rarely uses this language). Also, Wright and Dunn fully recognize that final judgment is a judgment of works, yet neither of them think that Paul’s reinforcement/articulation of this is legalistic.

Moo also challenges readings of Galatians by John Barclay and Francis Watson. Moo lumps both of them together insofar as they both argue for readings of Paul’s Christ/Torah antithesis rooted in “specific and unrepeatable historical circumstances” (p 26). Moo casts both scholars as critical of “a long tradition of theological interpretation of the biblical text” (26). Moo characterizes Barclay as someone who denies that we should move to “abstraction” in Paul’s concerns in Galatians. I found this remark from Moo a bit baffling – I think Barclay is quite good and strong at thinking broadly and theologically about Paul’s concerns in this regard (e.g., see all of Barclay’s work on Paul in the last 8 years)! What seems to be Moo’s concern is not that Barclay or Watson do not make broader theological claims – they certainly do! Rather, Moo wants to read Paul’s concern in Galatians as a problem with “human ‘doing’ in general” (p. 27). So: “A distinction between human doing and human believing, while not the focus in the letter, does underlie the argument of Galatians” (31). But (and this is important, folks), Moo has to make his case for this with Galatians 1-4 primarily in mind. Even if this proved to be true, then he must qualify that this concern (doing vs. believing) underlies part of the letter. He simply cannot make this case for the letter as a whole, since “doing” is quite central to chs 5-6, as Barclay has argued.

For most of the remainder of the introduction, Moo treats (briefly, but sufficiently) several majordoug-moo1 themes.

Salvation History and Apocalyptic (31-32). Unlike Martyn, Moo does not seen Salv-Hist and Apoc as mutually exclusive. Moo (I think rightly) sees the “apocalyptic” tone appear in Galatians where we see the victorious and climactic work of Christ. Paul thinks the epochal work of Christ is far more “disruptive” to life than Paul’s opponents recognize (p. 31). But Moo thinks Martyn goes too far: Moo states “The OT is not just a negative foil for the gospel, but also prepares for it in certain central ways” (32).

The Gospel (pp. 32-33) – a helpful section.

Christ (33-33) – also good.

The Spirit (34-35) – fine.

The Law (35-37) Here is where Moo’s Luther-like sensibilities come through. Moo recognizes an eschatological dimension to Paul’s concern with Torah – its time is over. But the end of Torah is not arbitrary. Rather, Torah cannot make one right with God because it is a matter of doing and not believing (p. 35). I don’t feel like Moo really answers the why question – why is “doing” such a problem?

Another subject Moo treats here is the ongoing Christian use of the OT Law. Moo does emphasize that the OT is Scripture for all believers, but “The OT law has no direct authority over the believer but continues to be an indirect source (under the authority of NT teaching) for the moral life” (37). I think I know what Moo is trying to say, but I am wary of (1) using the word “indirect” and (2) setting the authority of the OT at one removed from the NT or, worse yet, under the authority of the NT! Does that mean the NT authorizes the OT as authority (and then what does it mean in practice that it is ‘indirect’)? Or does it mean that the NT only establishes as authoritative those parts of the OT that are clearly held as continuous for the moral life? This sounds to me like a pick-and-choose approach, which makes one wonder what it means to consider the entire OT authoritative for Christians? [sidenote: I think Brian Rosner is on much, much, much more secure ground in his new work, Paul and the Law where is sees Paul as re-characterizing Torah as ‘wisdom’ for the Christian, rather than law].

The Christian Life (37-38) – fine, but surprisingly short.

“The Faith of Christ” (38-48) – a nice overview and helpful reaffirmation of the “faith in Christ” view.

Justification/Righteousness (48-62) – probably the most useful section of the introduction. It  won’t surprise you to know Moo argues against Wright on the meaning of dik* language in Galatians. Moo thinks that it doesn’t mean covenant membership, but “right standing with God” (with a primary forensic sense). I think Moo is seeing the double-sided nature of the issue when he writes, “Membership in God’s people and justification are closely related, but they are not identical. One entails the other, but they are not the same” (p. 55) – I think this is about right. However, Moo goes on to say that Paul’s main focus is “status before God” (58) – I am not quite sure that is the main focus. (sidenote: on the question of the center of Paul’s theology, Moo says it is “union with Christ,” but justification “is a critical and important means of explicating his gospel”; see 57).

Before Moo concludes the introduction (with his textual outline), he gives a very brief discussion of rhetorical approaches to Galatians. I agree with Moo when he states that “Galatians does not appear to fit neatly into any of the major rhetorical categories” (63). Paul may have used some rhetorical conventions of his time, but finding a larger rhetorical framework is only of very limited value.

OK, that is the introduction. I was not surprised that I disagreed with Moo on the value of the work of James Dunn, N.T. Wright, John Barclay, and Francis Watson. I also did not find his introductory statements about Paul’s criticism of human doing (vs. human believing) convincing – but I will suspend my complete rejection of his view until I see all his exegetical comments!

Overall, though, I found the introduction pretty standard. His discussion of Pistis Christou is commendable and his extensive study of justification/righteousness is worth reading as well.

More to come! Stay tuned!


Review of G.D. Fee’s Galatians Commentary (Part II)

In the earlier part, I simply introduced the commentary by Fee.  Now I will press on to comment on the content and theological perspective of Fee’s excellent commentary.

On introductory issues, Fee has little to say.  He favors the Southern Galatians view just slightly (with the mentioning of Barnabas being the tipping factor).  More controversially, Fee places Galatians between the writing of 2 Cor. and Romans – for a number of reasons, but it includes the close relationship between Romans and Galatians.  He does not expand upon all the reasons, but he has taken this approach in his earlier works and I am sure he offers some explanation there.  In the end, he explains that such differences of opinion on the dating and the location of the readers does not greatly affect the interpretation of the epistle.

One thing to take notice of, in Fee’s method of interpretation, is his eye for the word-order of the Greek sentences.  For example, in the salutation he sees the order of ‘grace and peace’ (1.3) to be purposeful in order – as peace results from grace.  Fee is attributing to Paul, here, a high level of intentionality even in perfunctory sorts of parts of the letter.  I have no problem with this assumption and he makes some interesting points, though it is difficult to know for sure.

I think an exegetical conundrum in Galatians is the actual point of the personal narrative in chs. 1-2.  Why does Paul spend so much time discussing where he has been, who he has been with, and all that?  Fee’s perspective is helpful:

His point in [1.13-24] was to capitalize on what his detractors saw as a defect, namely, that they came from Jerusalem but Paul had not.  But what they saw as a defect Paul saw as to his great advantage.  His gospel came directly from Christ and therefore had nothing to do with “men,” either in terms of source of approval’(55)

Another issue that Fee touches upon is how to translate and interpret the challenging Greek word sarx.  He aptly explains that, for Paul, being ‘in the flesh’ means: ‘to live according to the values and desires of life in the present age that stand in absolute contradiction to God and his ways’ (108).

Now the question you have been waiting for – what about the New Perspective and the question of the law?  Fee seems quite supportive of the fundamental convictions behind the New Perspective on Paul and the issues in Galatia.

‘At issue…is not how people gain their salvation, but whether “saved people” must also adhere to the law’ (81); ‘the primary issue of this letter is not “justification by faith,” but Gentile inclusion as Abraham’s – and therefore God’s – true children and thus rightful heirs of the final inheritance.’ (151)

He also seems quite close to the views of J.D.G. Dunn when he highlights the boundary-marking nature of the law.  Here he is insistent that the law was given for social and moral reasons, rather than soteriological ones (see 189).

One of the issues that Fee discusses is the perennial problem of translating dikaioo into English.

‘interestingly, the word “absolve,” in the sense of “to grant pardon for” would seem to come closest to [an English equivalent], but it is a word Protestants are loathe to use because of what they perceive to be abuses in Roman Catholic use of the word’ (83)

He finds ‘acquit’ to be inappropriate as it means no verdict of guilt is involved.  In Fee’s mind, this kind of thinking can lead to problems.  Sin is there, guilt is there, but it has been pardoned, not treated as non-existent in the first place.

On the matter of pistis christou – ‘faith of Christ’ – Fee argues for the objective genitive (‘faith in Christ’).  One point he makes is that Mark 11.22, exete pistin theou, would have clearly meant ‘have faith in Christ’, not ‘have the faith of Christ’.

One of the more interesting discussions in Fee’s commentary is his treatment of Gal. 3.12 with the quote from Lev. 18.5.  Here, when some say the issue is ecclesiological and others that it is soteriological, Fee argues that it is primary eschatological (this is my paraphrasing of his views).  If one is to choose to carry out the works of Torah, then one is choosing a life that involves going back to an outdated paradigm of religious life.  Moreover, one is choosing this paradigm that was never intended to save or to make one righteous.

Fee underscores Paul’s point that one cannot pick and choose which laws to follow and which to ignore for the Galatians.  It is all or nothing.  One cannot mix and match ‘faith in Christ’ elements with ‘works of law’ elements.  If one decides to take on parts of the law – they decide to carry out the whole thing (thus Gal. 3.12).  He follows up with an important point: ‘The plain assumption in all of this, one should note at the end, is that people can do “the righteousness” found in the law, understood as observable behavior…The curse is that they must do so, and thus they are excluded from Christ’ (118).  Well said, Gordon.

A serious concern that one could issue with Fee’s intepretation is that it could seem to reject the importance of the OT altogether.  This could be fuel for supporting a kind of Marcionism.  But, Fee makes an important clarification.  The law is still useful as a reminder of God’s desire of morality and virtue, but the law’s role of ‘hemming in human conduct because of trangressions’ has been made obsolete by the advent and endowment of the Spirit.  The Spirit is able to bring about the kind of righteousness God desires (a function not available to the law).

While we are on the topic of ethics, Fee has an excellent discussion of the moral discourses in the last couple of chapters of Galatians.  A nice pithy quote, though, comes from his summary of Pauline ethics:

‘God’s glory is their purpose, the Spirit is their power, love is the principle, and Christ is the pattern’ (232)

I will end with probably one of the most perplexing issues in Galatians – Paul’s use of OT imagery and, especially, the discourse on Hagar and Sarah.  Is it reasoned allegory?  Some kind of typology?  What do we do with it?  Can be learn how do to that?  What Paul just making it up as he went along?  With respect to Gal. 4.21-5.12, Fee has these wise words:

‘Paul was inspired by the Spirit in ways that we are not; and this passage was not written to give us an example of “how to do Scripture” (197) ‘we simply do not know enough about their situation to know how much, if any, of this paragraph is in direct response to what was being argued by the agitators themselves’ (197)

Review of G.D. Fee’s Galatians Commentary (Part I)

Gordon Fee is not someone that I expect that I need to introduce to most of my readers.  His work on the Holy Spirit, textual criticism (and NT exegesis in general), Philippians, 1 Corinthians, the Pastoral Epistles, and ecclesiology is well-known.  Most recently, he penned a mammoth volume on Paul’s Christology, a work that will likely be a standard reference tool on that subject for years to come.

We are fortunate to have a new commentary on Galatians (Pentecostal Commentary series; Deo publishing, 2007) from Fee.  This epistle gives us depth of insight into the apostleship of Paul, the Jew-Gentile issues, his relationship with Jerusalem/Peter/James, and, of course, the Holy Spirit and Christian ethic.  What a delight to have Fee’s perspective on such matters.

First – about the type of commentary.   It is in a series that is by pentecostals and speaks into the pentecostal community.  Fee is insistent, though, that his is not a ‘Pentecostal commentary’, but, rather, it is an exegetical commentary written by a NT scholar who happens to be a pentecostal.  He does not feel the need to support particular pentecostal doctrines.  In fact, when he does address pentecostals directly, his comments are more critical (as a fellow pentecostal) rather than sycophantic.

The format and style of the commentary immediately demonstrates that it is not of the same depth and critical-engagement as the ICC, Anchor, or NIGTC.  He spends no more than 10 pages on the ‘introduction’ (date/place/purpose/themes).  The commentary proper involves a standard pericope-by-pericope discussion followed by a ‘reflection’ (on theological issues and applications) and ‘response’ (which directly applies the teaching to the reader with penetrating questions and other thoughts).

Again, this is not a place to turn to for detailed comment or for an extensive bibliography.  On the other hand, it is helpful when someone has a short bibliography because he (or she) divulges the most salient books and articles.  It is worth reproducing here what books Fee consulted most often for Galatians:

Barclay, J.M. G. Obeying the Truth (1988)

Betz, H.D. Galatians (Hermeneia; 1979)

Bruce, F.F. Galatians (NIGTC; 1982)

Burton, E.D. Galatians (ICC; 1921)

Dunn, J.D.G. Galatians (BNTC; 1993)

Hansen, G.W. Galatians (IVPNT; 1994)

Lightfoot, J.B. Galatians (1865)

Longenecker, R.N. Galatians (WBC 1990)

Martyn, J.L. Galatians (AB; 1997)

Matera, F. Galatians (SP; 1992)

Witherington, B. Grace in Galatia (1998)

In the next segment of this review I will discuss the actual content of the commentary and Fee’s contributions to the various exegetical enigmas in Galatians.