He who hears the shema drinks the shekar!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Studying Galatians

I've been working through on and off Galatians over about the last 2 or so years, having finally made it to Chapter 6 (this coming Sunday AM). Here are a few random biographical suggestions that might serve as a sign post for someone wishing to work on Galatians in the future.

As far as commentaries go, R. Longnecker (one of the better ones I've seen in the Word Commentary Series) and Betz (in the Hermeneia by Fortress Press) will give you an excellent 1-2 punch on the exegetical front. Differences notwithstanding, both proved stronger 'theologically' than I expected when starting. If you're planning to work/teach/preach/study through Galatians, Longnecker is a 'must buy' with Betz deserving 2nd prize. After that it tends to be very hit or miss. Ridderbos' commentary (published in 1953) is ok, but it lacks some of the more profound things he wrote later in life. Interestingly, I think there were a number of places that the later Riddersbos (a la
Paul: An Outline) differered from this commentary. One definitely gets the sense that he was reading Galatians eariler through the lens of the ordo salutis while moving more toward a historia salutis reading of Galatians by the time he wrote Paul: An Outline.

Fung (NICNT) is alright...good in places, ho-hum in others. Unlike the more-recently redone Anchor Commentary series in the OT which tends to be quite good, I didn't find J.A. Martyr's commentary (1997) very helpful at all as a 'critical' commentary. James Dunn's commentary (in the Black NT series, 1995) and monograph (
A Theology of Paul's Letter to the Galatians, Cambridge Press) have their scattered brilliant moments mixed in with large swaths of theological presuppositions that I don't share; it would take a detailed review of Dunn to say more. However, for the purpose of this review, I'm not ready to throw either of these books to the "NPP" (the New Perspective Pergortory) of fundamentalist exegesis. You need to be aware of how Dunn reads Galatians, and I think you'll come away better off digesting the argumentation. Richard Hays monograph (The Faith of Jesus Christ, Scholar's Press, 1983) that focuses specifically on Galatians 3 and 4 is another piece that deserves careful attention, even though I don't find all of his arguments immdiately compelling and remain unconvinced of his pistou Christou position.

Moises Silva's
Interpreting Galatians: Explorations in Exegetical Method is another important book worthy of taking a look at. There are places where I concur and do not concur, but it's still a book you ought to consult when working in Galatians.

The book that has largely flown under the radar (at least, I've never heard it mentioned in my cross-section of Reformed and OT-minded friends) is
The Flesh/Spirit Conflict in Galatians by Walter (Bo) Russell (Univ. Press of America, 1997). Russell is Professor of Biblical Exposition at Talbot Seminary; however, he did his Ph.D in NT at Westminster Seminary in PA under the direction of Moises Silva. His primary readers were Richard Gaffin and Stephen Westerholm.

As he notes in the preface, "This book is a work of biblical theology. It sets forth a creative thesis that swims against the theological current of the last few generations. The flow of the current is this: Whenever Paul speaks of the flesh/Spirit struggle, he is referring to an internal struggle within Christians.
The thesis of this book is that this understanding of a flesh/Spirit struggle within believers is a misreading of Galatians (and elsewhere) and results in a wrong theological anthropology. Rather, I set forth the premise that Paul uses the flesh/Spirit antithesis in Galatians (and elsewhere) in a redemptive historical sense to refer to eras or modes of existence in the history of God's people." (ix, emphasis in the original).

Those familiar with Ridderbos'
Paul, Vos' work on the Spirit, and Gaffin's work on the resurrection, Moo and Westerholm on 'the law', etc., will know exactly what's going on here; Russell argues very much along those same Biblical-theological lines. Those who have consulted T. David Gordon's, "The Problem at Galatia," Interpretation 41 (1987): 32-43 will find that Russell adopts a very similar position with respect to the book's purpose, and issue that has fairly dire consequences in how you read the book. While the book makes its particular focus on only Chapters 5 and 6 (where Paul's sarx/pneuma antithesis comes into focus), Russell makes excellent usage of the entire book's redemptive historical outlook, particular as it relates to the book's rhetorical strategy (35-86). He also has some good discussion regarding 'Paul's opponents' and what they were teaching (11-34), and how that often influences the 'method' or 'lens' the book is anaylzed through.

In other words, the first 3rd of the book will make an excellent introduction to the book, if you are looking for something to dive into at the start of your Galatians' study. There are two editions floating around, both identical as I can tell. The later one sells for about $5 more dollars. The cheapest place I've found selling the cheaper edition is Barnes and Noble.

I'm leaving out a lot of literature/commentaries that probably deserve a mention, but in the interest of brevity I'll save that for questions if want my opinions about other literature. I'm not Galatia expert by any means (email T. David Gordon if you want that!), but I have read just about all of the literature that I can get my hands on related to the book.

On one final note, what do I read on Galatians if I don't have gazillions to buy expensive monographs? My advice would probably be to consult something like the little-known-about commentary on Galatians by Leon Morris. It's not a perfect commentary, but I personally liked it better than any of the other 'pop variety' commentaries on Galatians (e.g. Stott, Hendrickson, even Ryken to a certain extent). Strangely, the book (published in 1996) seems to go largely unnoticed, even among evangelicals. There are places where I don't share his views, but it's a nice lay-refernce under 200 pages.


chaos said...

thanks for the russel recommendation. I'll need that soon.

chaos said...

my wife bought me the book! stoked.
hey congrats M.M. i remember from church that you are the ultimate kid guy. have fun. we'll be praying for you guys.