Galatians and Christian Theology

In 2012 a large group of scholars gathered at St. Andrews for the fourth in a series of triennial Scripture and Theology conferences. This particular year’s focus was upon Galatians and Christian Theology. The results of this conference were published in this extensive collection of essays.

This collection of essays is comprised of three sections: Justification, Gospel, and Ethics. The actual conference was not arranged according to these three topics, but as the publisher edited the collection, it became clear that all the presentations fit quite neatly (in most cases) into one of these artificial categories.

On interesting aspect of this collection is the cross-disciplinary nature of many of the papers. Naturally some papers are written by specialists who stick to their particular area of knowledge (i.e. Wright on Messiahship in Galatians), but many of the biblical scholars and theologians ventured on to the other side of their academic divide. Systematicians dove into exegesis and exegetes dove into systematics. All this makes for some really interesting essays!

On of the most interesting sections in the book was the Gospel section. I probably found this to be the case since I have more of a bent towards systematic theology… When considering the gospel in Galatians, the editors write, one is “lead to the meaty matters of the ordo salutis, as well as to issues of time, eternity, election , and God’s very being as Trinity.”

One final aspect of this collection that I really appreciated was the sensitivity of (most of) the authors in paying attention to the history of theology and biblical interpretation. Rather than simply sticking to “brand spanking new” insights, most essays interacted in significant ways with the history of the church’s interpretation of this letter.

Highlights

This collection contains a total of 23 essays; 10 devoted to the issue of justification, 7 devoted to the gospel, and 6 devoted to ethics. To address each of these essays is beyond the scope of this brief review, but I will give some personal highlights.

Ch 1- Messiaship in Galatians? N.T. Wright. Typical Wright, talking about exile and justification. He argues for the importance of Messiahship in “christos-based incorporative language.” He also argues that Messiah as true Israel is at the heart of Paul’s participatory soteriology. In other words, God’s people are summed up in the Messiah.

Ch. 11 – The Singularity of the Gospel Revisited – Beverly Roberts Gaventa. The Gospel’s singularity deals not only with the fact that there is only one gospel, but also with its “singular, all-encompassing action in the lives of human beings.” The gospel makes claims upon all things.

Ch. 12 – Apocalyptic Poiesis in Galatians – Richard Hays. He tries to move past the redemptive-historical vs. apocalyptic dichotomy often presented in readings of Paul’s letters. In this essay he argues that “Paul is seeking to reshape the imagination of his readers, seeking to narrate them into a symbolic world where God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son of God, and the Spirit are powerfully at work to bring a new world into being.”

Ch. 17 – Heirs Through God: Galatians 4:4-7 and the Doctrine of the Trinity – Scott R. Swain. He defends the need for theological interpretation of scripture because scripture is the “seat of doctrine.” He shows how Galatians 4:4-7 is a “seat of doctrine” for the doctrine of the Trinity. He analyses the grammar of divine agency in this passage and shows the God’s action in Christ and the Spirit is not “mediated” action – it is immediate. Hence showing the rational behind the Trinity.

Ch. 19 – “Indicative Imperative” as the substructure of Paul’s theology and Ethics in Galatians? – Volker Rabens. Many of us who preach have learned about the importance of the indicative-imperative distinction in Paul’s letters. Well this distinction is being challenged. Rabens interacts with one of this model’s primary critics – Zimmermann – and shows that although the indicative-imperative distinction is not the be-all-end-all mode of ethics for Paul, it is certainly an important aspect. In fact if we want to be faithful to Paul’s words and he particular grammar he actually uses, we ought to see Paul’s ethics as implicit indicatives and implicit imperatives. Paul doesn’t always explicitly talk about indicatives-imperatives, but he certainly thinks this way.

All in all, I recommend this book. It offers some of the most up to date discussion of important topics in Galatians. It also provides a window into contemporary Pauline studies (which according to this book revolves around apocalyptic readings of Paul). Every reader will be able to find something that interests them in this book; for some that might be exegesis, for others it might be biblical theology, and even for others it might be historical or systematic theology. Its all here!

 

(Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an impartial review.)

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