Reviewed by Jarvis J. Williams
A. Andrew Das is the Donald W. and Betty J. Buik Endowed Chair-holder and Professor of Religious Studies at Elmhurst College in Elmhurst, IL. With his recent commentary on Galatians, he has made yet another tremendous contribution to NT Studies and Pauline scholarship. His commentary provides excellent exposition with academic acumen that is accessible to pastors and students.
In this review, I will first briefly discuss the structure and some of the contents of the commentary. Second, I will offer two picky (but related) criticisms.
Das’ commentary on Galatians follows the structure of the Concordia Commentary Series. As a Lutheran confessional series, one of its goals is to provide a lucid scholarly commentary, immersed in the scholarship of a particular book, but accessible to the non-specialist. Das’ work successfully accomplishes this goal with both scholarly rigor and pastoral sensitivity.
First, he summarizes the major introductory issues in Galatians in the opening section of the commentary (e.g. mirror-reading, the identity of Paul’s opponents, the law, justification, etc.) (pgs. 1-89). Although the introduction is long, it does not overwhelm the reader. Second, Das simplifies a fairly technical discussion about the Northern versus Southern Galatians hypotheses at the beginning of the commentary (pgs. 20-30). Most helpfully in this section, Das summarizes all of the major arguments for each position and responds to them. Third, the commentary does not overwhelm the reader with gratuitous footnotes. Instead, in each section, Das cites and interacts with the most significant scholars who discuss the most important issues in the text (e.g. the law and justification in Gal 2:11-21 [pgs. 204-275]).
Fourth, throughout the commentary, Das provides lucid textual critical comments that will surely be helpful to scholars and students alike. Fifth, he provides insightful excurses of issues extraneous to understanding the argument of a particular text. Some of the most helpful sections in the entire commentary are the excurses that explain the social, historical, or theological content of a particular text. To cite one example of many, Das discusses what was at stake in Antioch and in Galatia, and he discusses social identity intercourse in an excursus (pgs. 216-32). He lists the major scholarly interpretations of the social situation at Antioch and in Galatia and offers a point by point response to them, while also offering his interpretation of the situation at Antioch and in Galatia in Gal 2:11-14.
Sixth, Das interacts thoroughly with relevant Second Temple Jewish texts, a method that helps him set Paul’s argument in Galatians in his 1st century Greco-Roman and Jewish context, without locking the message of Galatians in the 1st century Greco-Roman and Jewish world away from 21st century readers. Related to this, Das’ discussions of the relevant apocryphal and pseudepigraphal texts, the relevant Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS), and a number of relevant, multifarious Greco-Roman and Jewish texts as he exegetes Galatians enlighten his explanations of the law, justification, and Paul’s problem with Judaism (e.g. pgs. 337-426). Readers of this commentary owe much gratitude to Das for his combination of careful grammatical-historical exegesis with pastoral and spiritual sensitivities. On the one hand, his successful attempt of grounding his interpretation of Galatians within a 1st century Jewish and Greco-Roman context should enable (not limited to but especially) Lutheran and Reformed readers to avoid racist, anti-Semitic, un-historical, and incorrect post-Roman Catholic readings of Galatians that still continue to argue the tired thesis that Galatians was a response to a 1st century version of Roman Catholicism. On the other hand, Das’ careful grammatical-historical exegesis also demonstrates that the Reformers’ expositional and polemical defense of justification by faith actually has a strong exegetical and historical foundation on which to stand and that Luther’s justification theory originated with Paul himself and not with the Reformer (e.g. pgs. 239-75).
Seventh, related to the preceding point, Das succinctly discusses the post-E.P. Sanders revolutionary readings of Paul with a very informative discussion of reactions to the old Lutheran interpretations of Galatians and 1st century Judaism. Beginning with scholarly contributions before Sanders (e.g. Krister Stendahl) and continuing until Tom Wright, Das manages to navigate through the spider web of both Sanders sympathizers and opponents without becoming entangled within their polemical webs. Consequently, at the end of his summary of the New Perspective of Paul (NPP) (which is and has been for some time the New Old Perspective), his own Lutheran understanding of the NPP versus the old Lutheran version of the Old Perspective of Paul (OPP) becomes apparent.
Eighth (and most importantly), Das offers a careful, lucid, and spiritually edifying exegesis of each section of Galatians. Page after page offers an insightful and robust exegesis of the text under discussion, an exegesis that is lively and engaging. For example, Gal 2:11-21 and 3:10-14 are probably two of the most difficult sections in the entire letter. Yet, Das clearly summarizes the major argument of each text, states each text’s contribution to the larger argument in the letter, and engages in a concise exegesis of the passages, while discussing the different interpretive options along the way (e.g. see pgs. 196-275 for commentary of Gal 2:11-21 and pgs. 310-336 for his commentary of Gal 3:10-14).
Brief Critical Interaction
Das’ commentary is a tremendous contribution to NT Studies and to Pauline scholarship. He has given scholars, students, and pastors a work that will shape (and maybe even change) their reading of Galatians. However, I have two picky criticisms.
First, the major problem that I have with the commentary is that Das does not provide a detailed discussion of race (by which I mean otherness [e.g. Jew, Greek, slave, etc.]) and ethno-racial identity theory as it pertains to Galatians. As Das is keenly aware, ethno-racial identity formation is currently one of the hot issues in Pauline Studies and especially in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Pertinent ethno-racial identity questions related to Galatians are as follows: did the category of race exist in antiquity; was the category of race distinct from ethnicity; was gentile a racial category in Galatians; is it appropriate to use the category of race when discussing ancient texts like Galatians, and when Paul discusses his former life of Judaism in Gal 1:13-15, is he suggesting that he forfeited his membership within one race (namely, Judaism) to become a member of another race (namely, Christianity) once he followed Jesus Christ or did he remain a Jewish follower of Christ while maintaining multiple racial identities? The list of questions could continue. There is currently no unified answer amongst scholars. In fact, a massive handbook on social identity theory was published in 2014 by T&T Clark with contributions from some of the most influential NT scholars working in this field. Many of the contributors advocate competing social identity theories.
Das could have illuminated certain texts for the reader (e.g. Gal 1:13-15; 2:11-21) that seem to pit Paul’s former Jewish racial identity against his new racial identity in Christ by discussing head on social identity theory as it relates to race and as it relates to Paul’s problem with Judaism in Galatians. Furthermore, the absence of a detailed discussion about race and the debates pertaining to it in Das’ commentary results in a missed opportunity to apply the text of Gal 2:11-21 to modern day race relations. Too many readers of Gal 2:11-21 today rightly continue to focus on the vertical aspect of justification, but wrongly to the neglect of the massive sociological ramifications of God’s vertical act of justification by faith in Jesus Christ, ramifications that are apparent in 2:11-21. Das could have devoted an excursus on the importance of the sociological ramifications of Paul’s justification theory within Paul’s soteriology in Gal 2:11-21, while also making it clear that justification first and foremost is a divine forensic verdict of not guilty, which God pronounces in favor of those who have faith in Jesus Christ and which changes one’s vertical status before God, regardless of whether they are Jewish or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, rich or poor, etc.
An unwillingness to discuss overtly race as it relates to Gal 1:13-15 and 2:11-21 might leave some readers thinking that 2:11-21 only refers to one’s vertical relationship with God and has nothing to do with one’s horizontal ethno-racial reconciliation when in fact the first place Paul discusses justification in Galatians is in a context that highlights Jew versus Gentile division. God’s act of justifying (=declaring to be in the right) both Jews and Gentiles (=distinct ethno-racial groups) by faith (=by the same means) in Jesus Christ (=by the same agent) based on the work of Jesus Christ on the cross (=by the same atoning sacrifice) apart from works of law (=apart from the human effort of Jewish Torah-observance) in Galatians exonerates both of them in God’s law-court and unites them to one another so that they can participate in table-fellowship (=reconciliation) with each other (Gal 1:4; 2:11-21; 3:10-14). But God acts in Christ to justify different races of people the same way, and he brings both groups into fellowship with himself first and with one another as a result. Paul makes it very clear in Gal 2:14 that ethno-centrism/racism is a gospel issue, and 2:15-21 makes clear that God’s act of justifying Jews and Gentiles by faith in Jesus Christ puts an end to Jewish and Gentile ethno-racial division. There is much about race that scholars, students, pastors, and laypeople could have learned from Das about the reconciling power of the gospel and about the gospel as the solution to Jewish and Gentile hostility with God and Jewish and Gentile hostility with one another from a discussion about ethno-racial identity in Gal 2:11-21 and how Paul’s gospel speaks to the world’s racial divisions in the 21st century.
Second, related to the first critique, unless I have overlooked something, Das nowhere mentions or interacts with a recent significant monograph on ethno-racial identity in Galatians written by Love L. Sechrest. Her work is titled A Former Jew: Paul and the Dialectics of Race (T&T Clark, 2009) and published in the Library of NT Studies Series (LNTS). It is a revised copy of her doctoral thesis, which she successfully defended at Duke University. Das deserves criticism here because Sechrest spends much time discussing Paul’s use of ethnos and genos in Galatians as she seeks to develop her thesis that Paul perceived of himself as a former Jew after he became a follower of Christ. She also argues that race (rightly defined) is a legitimate category to apply to ancient texts like the bible by offering an analysis of nearly 5,000 secular and Jewish extra-biblical texts that contain ethno-racial language. Sechrest’s work is so controversial that at the national meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in 2011 and 2012, one of the Pauline epistles study groups, the Pauline Soteriology study group, and the African-American Biblical Hermeneutics study group discussed and rigorously debated her about the merits of her monograph. Scholars mentioned by Das throughout the commentary like Philip Esler, John Barclay, and others participated in these sessions. A work this controversial written by a NT scholar on Galatians and published in the LNTS series deserves at least some attention in a Galatians commentary, especially since Paul calls himself a former Jew (Gal 1:13-15) and since the letter contains a massive Jew versus Gentile, ethno-centric, divisive problem (Gal 2:11-21). However, to Das’ defense, he clearly demonstrates throughout the commentary that he is keenly aware of her work by his agreement with those scholars who strongly oppose Sechrest’s exegesis of Galatians and conclusions about ethno-racial identity theory (e.g. pgs. 124, 385).
A. Andrew Das has been an established NT scholar and a leading expert in Pauline studies for some time. His previous monographs on the law in Paul and his articles on numerous aspects of Paul’s theology and letters have richly contributed to the ongoing discussion of salvation in Paul and his problem with Second Temple Judaism. This new commentary is once again another gem from the pen of Das. Although I have some occasional disagreements with him (I am a Reformed Southern Baptist after all!), Das has nevertheless provided a well-rounded, informed, and balanced commentary on Galatians that will be useful to scholars, students, pastors, and laypeople. This commentary demonstrates with much clarity and with an exegetical tour de force that it is possible to affirm the Reformers’ view of justification by faith, while rejecting the old, racist, anti-Semitic, and un-historical caricatures of 1st century Judaism. In light of the exegetical and theological confusion caused by the racist effects of the Holocaust on Pauline exegetes, who assault all expressions of Second Temple Judaism as evil and legalistic in the Roman Catholic sense, and in light of the exegetical and theological confusion of many post-Holocaust Pauline exegetes, who label any criticism of 1st century Judaism as racist, anti-Semitic, and un-historical, Das’ commentary brings tremendous clarity to the message of Galatians and to its 1st century situation, which is an accomplishment that should not be underestimated! I will gladly require my students to read this commentary, and I strongly recommend it both to all interested in understanding Paul’s letter to the Galatians in its 1st century Greco-Roman and Jewish context and in understanding how the letter’s message speaks today in the 21st century from a Lutheran scholar’s perspective.
Jarvis J. Williams, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of NT Interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, and Review Editor for New Testament here at Books At a Glance.
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