5. Circumcision and Revelation; or, The Politics of the Spirit
Universal Man Confronts Difference: The Crisis in Galatia
The argument that I have begun to develop is that it is productive to read Paul as a Jewish cultural critic. My suggestion is that there is a great deal in his letters that suggests that the primary motivation, not only for his mission but indeed for his “conversion,” was a passionate desire that humanity be One under the sign of the One God—a universalism, I have claimed, born of the union of Hebraic monotheism and Greek desire for unity and univocity. In this chapter I would like to continue making the case for this as a plausible reading of Paul (especially in Galatians) and also to begin to explore some of the cultural issues that the Pauline move was to raise. We see Paul here actually confronting and attempting to deal with real social issues to which his theory gave rise. As E. P. Sanders has pointed out, “When it came to cases, Paul's easy tolerance, which he effortlessly maintained in theory—it is a matter of individual conscience what one eats and whether one observes ‘days'—could not work. It was not only a matter of individual conscience, it turned out, but of Christian unity, and he judged one form of behavior to be wrong. The wrong form was living according to the law” (1983, 178).
The major argument of this book, then, is that what drove Paul was a passionate desire for human unification, for the erasure of differences and hierarchies between human beings, and that he saw the Christian event, as he had experienced it, as the vehicle for this transformation of humanity. Paul operated with what I call an allegorical hermeneutic (of language, of the Jews, of history, of Christ) which was fully homologous with an allegorical anthropology and axiology. The text which establishes this understanding of Paul's gospel most clearly is his Letter to the Galatians, which is entirely devoted to the theme of the new creation of God's one people, the new Israel through faith and through the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. In my reading of selected passages from that letter in this and the next chapter, I wish to establish the plausibility of two claims: (1) that the social gospel was central to Paul's ministry, i.e., that the eradication of human difference and hierarchy was its central theme, and (2) that the dyad of flesh and spirit was the vehicle by which this transformation was to take place. In the opening paragraph of the letter, the prescript, the major themes of Paul's thought are introduced and particularly the nexus between Christology and the mission to the gentiles.
“An apostle not from men”
Paul, an apostle not from men nor through a man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead.
Dyadic opposition is introduced in this, the very first sentence of Galatians. Paul is not a human apostle but an apostle of the risen Christ. As commentators have pointed out, the form of the expression is certainly strange and very pointed rhetorically. Accordingly some exegetes have argued that Paul must be directly addressing his opponents' charge here, that is, that they had indeed charged him with being an apostle from men, the Church in Jerusalem, and that, therefore, he should submit to the authority of his principals (Bruce 1990, 72–73; Longenecker 1990, 4). Betz has already dismissed this interpretation, as had Burton long before, as there is no evidence anywhere else that this was the nature of the charge, and to assume that every bit of pointed rhetoric found in Paul is in direct response to the opponents seems methodologically unnecessary and therefore unsupportable (Betz 1979, 39, 65). Further, this reading makes sense of only one of the two parallel phrases (“from men”), and not the other. This interpretation does, however, have the advantage of taking account of the energy of this expression, which the suggestions of Betz and Burton do not. In my reading, Paul here, in the prescript, in his very identification of himself, provides a proleptic summary of his entire theme and argument. Paul is not an apostle from men, that is, not from those who are authorities “in the flesh,” as it were, those who have known or are related physically to Jesus, “a man,” but he is the apostle through the resurrected Christ “in the spirit,” and from God who raised him. This interpretation, which is plausible in itself, not least because it makes sense of both halves of the chiasm, does in fact provide an answer to the otherwise attested charge against Paul, to wit, that his apostleship was inferior because he had never had contact with the historical Jesus (Burton 1988, 5; Betz 1979, 39). Paul's argument is to be taken as a direct counter to such charges as the following from the Pseudo-Clementine Homilies:
You see now how expressions of wrath have to be made through visions and dreams, but discourse with friends takes place from mouth to mouth, openly and not through riddles, visions, and dreams as with an enemy. And if our Jesus appeared to you also and became known in a vision and met you as angry with an enemy, yet he has spoken only through visions and dreams or through external revelations, but can any one be made competent to teach through a vision? And if your opinion is, “That is possible,” why then did our teacher spend a whole year with us who were awake? How can we believe you even if he has appeared to you, and how can he have appeared to you if you desire the opposite of what you have learned? But if you were visited by him for the space of an hour and were instructed by him and thereby have become an apostle, then proclaim his words. (Betz 1979, 333)
Even if, as seems plausible, this text is a later Jewish Christian text written in response to Paul and not the occasion of his response, I think it still indicates well what the nature of the conflict between Paul and his Jerusalem opponents would have been like. There is, after all, other evidence, from within Paul, for such a view. The allegory of the lower and the upper Jerusalem (Galatians 4:21–31) points in this direction. Moreover, in 2 Corinthians 5:16 Paul insists that his community no longer knows (that is, recognizes!) Christ according to the flesh but only recognizes Christ according to the spirit. To my mind, that polemic is similar to what we have in Galatians against those who claim that their authority derives from closeness, even family ties, with Jesus, the Jew born of a woman. Finally, it has been suggested that Romans 1:3–4 (“Concerning His son who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the son of God in power, according to the spirit of Holiness, by the resurrection from the dead”) represents a Pauline gloss on a liturgical formula of the early Church for describing Jesus as the son of David and thus as ethnically Jewish. Paul reverses the value of this formula by insisting that this refers only to Jesus' birth according to the flesh, while according to the Holy Spirit, Jesus is the son of God thus rendering his ethnic and family ties, if not worthless—Romans 9:5—, of decidedly less importance! Paul's genius is to be found in this: That which his Jewish Christian opponents cited as the defect in his authority becomes for him precisely its point of greatest strength. I am not imputing to Paul a mere rhetorical or political ploy but an argument which fits perfectly with the entire structure of his thought. Maintaining the structure of binary oppositions that I have cited above in Chapter 1, the apostleship of Peter and James is of an inferior nature, because it is only from Jesus in the flesh (a man); it is the human teaching of a human teacher, while Paul's revelatory vision is not of the human Jesus but of Christ according to the spirit.
“Or am I seeking to please men?”
Or am I seeking to please men? If I were still pleasing men, I would not be Christ's slave. For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel preached by me is not human in nature. For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught, but through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
In direct counter to the charge of the Jewish Christians that I have just cited, Paul argues that while their gospel is only a human teaching, and therefore not truly a gospel but only a teaching like any other, his gospel came directly through a revelation of Jesus, that is, of course, Jesus in the spirit (Longenecker 1990, 5). The defect in his apostleship has been turned into its very source of strength.
“I did not confer with flesh and blood”
For you have heard of my former way of life in Judaism…and that I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people who were of the same age, since I was far more zealous for the traditions of my forefathers. But when it pleased him who had set me aside from my mother's womb and called me through his grace to reveal his son in me, in order that I might preach him among the gentiles, immediately I did not confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem, to those who were apostles before me.
Betz understands these claims of Paul's to be in a philosophical tradition whereby the autodidact and the pneumatic is superior to the one who has received teaching through sane and rational means. I would like to argue that the burden of Paul's argument is different. Once more, on my view, he is contrasting the source of knowledge of his Jerusalem opponents, Peter and James, with his own, and his opponents are found wanting. Why precisely does Paul mention here his zeal and his advancement in learning of the traditions of his forefathers? I think it is because the precise claim that Peter and James had made against him is, in effect, that they have a paradosis of Jesus which Paul does not. Paul then says: If it is paradosis that is required, then I have had a greater paradosis than yours. If all that the coming of Christ means is some correctives to the teaching of traditional Judaism, of the traditions of the Fathers, then what did it accomplish? If there has not been a fundamental change in the structure of salvation, then the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross would have been in vain, as Paul will say openly later on. The source of my knowledge, he says, is not of the same type as the source of knowledge that I had when I was advancing in the traditions of genealogical fathers, but rather the direct revelation in the spirit of Christ is in me. Paul's next sentence—“immediately I did not confer with flesh and blood”—is now fully intelligible, whereas until now it has been held to be puzzling. As Betz puts the problem: “Strangely, he does it first of all negatively, saying what he did not do: ‘immediately I did not confer…'. It is obvious that Paul wants to underscore his immediate reaction to the call. Why does he not simply state his obedience, as he does in Acts 26:19–20? The negative statement is indeed mysterious” (Betz 1979, 72). This is one of the points where I believe that my interpretation solves exegetical problems which previous theses have not: Paul's “negative” statement is exactly the essence of his argument. Paul is emphasizing the superiority of his gospel precisely because it has no human, no fleshly, origin but only the content of the revelation of Christ in him. Therefore, he did not go up to Jerusalem or consult with flesh and blood (a calque on the normal Hebrew expression םדו רשפ for human beings, as opposed to God), having been vouchsafed a source of knowledge so far superior to the knowledge that the flesh and blood possessed. Paul's usage of this precise term here is not fortuitous, since for him, as we have seen, “Jesus according to the flesh” and “Israel according to the flesh” are both technical terms. He is making the case for his dualist hierarchy, here at the level of epistemology. Paul's revelatory experience was, indeed, of supreme importance to him, as we shall also see below in discussing Galatians 3. To deny the supreme importance to him of this experience would be to call Paul a liar, something which is entirely against my intent. The issue is not whether Paul was a mystic but rather what function his mysticism played in the formation of his doctrine and practice.
Paul sets up here the argument that will serve him well throughout the letter: If business is to continue as usual, with the traditions of the Fathers in place and observance of the commandments still required, and, moreover, with the Church claiming another sort of flesh-and-blood paradosis as well, then what possible purpose did the crucifixion serve? Notice that this obviates the old exegetical question of the relationship between Paul's vision of the risen Christ and the content of his gospel (cf. Betz 1979, 64–65). The vision and gospel are one, because the vision of the risen Christ is what enabled Paul to understand the allegorical structure of the entire cosmos as the solution to the problem of the Other and thus to set out on the road to Arabia, “in order that I might preach him among the gentiles.”
Conference in Jerusalem: Confrontation in Antioch (2:1–2:14)
The famous and notoriously difficult reports of Paul's two face-to-face confrontations with the leaders of “Jewish Christianity” must be understood in the light of an overall construction of Pauline thinking. The crux of the matter, to my mind, is the question of when (or indeed whether) Paul argued that circumcision and observance of such commandments as the laws of kashruth were abrogated not only for ethnic gentiles but for ethnic Jews as well. I suggest that for the logic of Paul's theology, which was complete in its entirety from the first moment of his revelation, there was not the slightest importance to the observance of such rites for Jews or gentiles. This does not mean, however, that such observances and their historical meanings are coded by Paul as “bad.” They are simply lower on the hierarchy of values and thus sacrificeable to a higher cause. My interpretation is somewhat different in nuance from that of Davies, who writes: “Nevertheless, although the universalism that we have noticed was implicit in the depth of Paul's experience of God in Christ from the first, its explicit formulation in thought was a slow process, and its strict logical expression in life was never achieved” (1965, 58). Davies further regards the “inconsistencies” of Paul as engendered by unresolved personal conflicts: “In fact, both in life and thought, the Book of Acts and the Epistles of Paul reveal a conflict between the claims of the old Israel after the flesh and the new Israel after the spirit, between his ‘nationalism’ and his Christianity. It is, indeed, from this tension that there arose most of the inconsistencies that have puzzled interpreters of Paul; and it is only in the light of the Judaism of the first century A.D. that this is to be understood” (59). I would argue that Paul's “universalism” was complete from the first moment, and that Galatians, one of the earliest of his letters, demonstrates this. On the other hand, his dual valorization of both spirit and body did not allow him to discount entirely the claims of the literal, physical Israel according to the body. I will make a similar case in Chapter 8 vis-à-vis gender also. In my view, the tension is not a residue of unresolved inner conflict in Paul so much as a necessary tension of his ontology, hermeneutics, and anthropology—even his christology—which are, for me, all strongly parallel.
Owing, therefore, to Paul's conviction that literal observance was merely irrelevant, being only in the flesh (i.e., it was not sinful striving for works-righteousness à la the Lutheran tradition), he was willing to allow Jews to continue observing such commandments if they chose to, until such observance conflicted with the fundamental meaning and message of the gospel as Paul understood it, namely, the constitution of all of the Peoples of the world as the new Israel (Segal 1990, 215–16; Sanders 1983, 178; compare Davies 1984, 139). Paul says as much when he writes in 1 Corinthians 7:19 that neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything. The practices themselves are adiaphora; it is their interference with the one-ness of the new Israel that disturbs the apostle. The two most obvious such conflicts possible would be any attempt to suggest to the gentiles that in order to be full members of the People of God they must observe the commandments of the Law, such as circumcision and the rules of kashruth, or any observance on the part of Jewish Christians which would lead to a social split and hierarchical structure for the relations between ethnic Jews and gentiles within the Church, thus defeating Paul's whole purpose. In the light of this consideration I think we can read the accounts of Jerusalem and Antioch confrontations with Peter and his associates.
At stake at the Jerusalem conference was the first of the two possible threats to the integrity of Paul's gospel, namely, the claim of the Jewish Christians that gentiles must be circumcised (which alone counts as conversion to Judaism) in order to join the People of God. Yielding or losing this point would, indeed, have resulted in his having run in vain, just as losing the analogous point now with the Galatians would also result in his and their having run in vain (cf. 3:4), because the whole content of Paul's gospel, as I have understood it, is that the physical observances that constitute the physical Israel as the People of God have been transmuted and fulfilled in the allegorical signification in the spirit, thereby constituting the faithful gentiles as Israel in the spirit. This is why it is absolutely vital for Paul that he prove that he has not given in on the question of circumcision as a conversion ritual and requirement, and the ocular proof of Titus's uncircumcision makes that point as no other could: “Yet not even Titus who was with me was compelled to be circumcised” (Galatians 2:3).
This also provides us with an explanation of the difficult expression at 2:6, that “what they were makes no difference to me, God does not show partiality.” I emphatically endorse, with Betz,
the position of a long line of scholars who believe that Paul means to refer to the life of the apostles before Pentecost: they may have had fellowship with the historical and, in particular, with the resurrected Jesus-Messiah; they themselves or others may base their reputation upon that fellowship; or James may even be a relative of the [“Christ according to the flesh”] (cf. 2 Cor 5:16), [yet] God did not pay attention to these historical qualifications when he called Paul. (Betz 1979, 93)
The operative word here is “historical,” because history—to be sure, the concept is somewhat anachronistic—for Paul has the same valence as “according to the flesh.” Israel according to the flesh appealed to history to validate its claim that it alone was the People of God, so once more, as above, were Paul to accept the claim of superiority on the part of Peter and James owing to knowledge of the historical Jesus, and even worse to genealogical connection with him, he would have completely undermined and destroyed the point of his whole mission and spiritual life. Again we see Paul's cultural/religious politics and his political struggles converging brilliantly at a single point, the point of distinction between that which is merely κατὰ σάρκα and that which is κατὰ πνεῦμα.
In the incident at Antioch we see the conflict over the other possible threat to Paul's gospel of inclusion of the gentiles qua gentiles in the People of God, that is, the disruptiveness of Jews and gentiles having different and inherently divisive food practices, when they are living together in the same community as they are at Antioch. According to the narrative that Paul presents, Peter himself had realized this originally, and he also had eaten together with the gentiles, which certainly means he had eaten the non-kosher food of the gentiles. Otherwise, there would have been no violation at all of Jewish Law. As Betz puts it, “he [Peter] had the same theological convictions as Paul, but he did not dare to express them” (Betz 1979, 108). This provides strong evidence in my view that Paul himself had not ever agreed (at least not in his heart) that there were really two gospels, one to the circumcision (and preaching circumcision) and one to the uncircumcision (and preaching uncircumcision). His statement about the Jerusalem conference to the effect that there were two gospels simply reflects the compromise agreement that he made and not his true theological understanding. Else, how could he possibly object to Peter, the apostle to the circumcision, continuing or returning to the performance of Jewish rites? Since Paul's concern was to include the gentiles and not to disabuse the Jews of their outmoded notions, he was able to conclude the agreement on those terms, as long as it did not threaten his mission (Engberg-Pedersen 1992, 688–89). Peter, by acceding to the demands of the “people from James” that he return to Jewish food practices, provided that threat (cf. the excellent formulation of Betz [1979, 112]), and Paul met it vigorously.
“It is not by works of the Law that all flesh will be justified”
We who are Jews by birth and not sinners from Gentiles know that a human being is not justified by works of the Law except through faith in Christ Jesus. So we have also come to believe in Christ Jesus [καὶ ἡμεῖς εἰς Χριστὸν 'Ιησοῦν ἐπιστεύσαμεν], in order that we might be justified by faith in Christ [ἐκ πίστεως Χριστοῦ] and not by works of the Law, since it is not by works of the Law that all flesh will be justified. If, however, we who are seeking to be justified in Christ are also found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? This can never be. For if I establish again what I have dissolved, I set myself up as a transgressor.
This passage is only intelligible, in my view, if it is addressed to Peter. It is irrelevant to me whether it was actually said to Peter at Antioch or whether it is a hypothetical speech reconstructed by Paul for the benefit of the Galatians, but its implied addressee is certainly Peter. He is using the language of Jewish Christians to argue against them, for Paul himself, of course, does not regard the gentiles as essentially sinners as opposed to Jews. He thus states: You and I were born Jews and under the Law. That is, according to Jewish theology as we have known it until now, we already possessed the means to salvation. We had no need of justification by faith, according to that very theology. But we, you and I, came to the realization that that theology was mistaken, and that by works of the Law, no one would be justified. Therefore, we turned to faith in Christ Jesus (Hays 1985, 85). Now, if you by your actions imply that we have been sinners in abandoning the Law, that very Law which you and I have confessed is inadequate to redeem, then is our faith in Christ the testimony of sin? Clearly not so! However, by reestablishing that which you have dissolved—namely, by returning to the observance of the Jewish food rituals and taboos—you have confessed yourself to be a transgressor, have “set yourself up” as a transgressor by doing so. As for me, it is the very opposite.
It seems to me that a major interpretative issue has been often missed in the commentaries on Galatians, to wit, answering the question of why Paul is reciting here the entire narrative of the conference in Jerusalem and the confrontation at Antioch. To my mind, this lengthy narration is only intelligible if it is intended as a sort of parable or analogy of the situation in which the Galatians now find themselves. The application of the present verse to the situation of the Galatians is crystal clear. If you now take on yourself the obligations of the Law, you are then declaring that until now you have been sinners, and thus undermining completely the doctrine of justification by faith, and it will have all been in vain. The crucial issue for Paul is not the theological question of what pleases God, but rather is the relations of the Jews and the Nations (Hays 1985, 84). Paul is convinced that the Jewish-Christian doctrine of justification by faith, which he assumes as a given both by him and his “opponents,” provides the answer to this question, for in faith, all people are one, while in practices they are divided into different tribes. Accordingly Paul argues with Peter: Since you have come to the realization that these works are insufficient for justification and that what is necessary is faith, why, then, do you continue to insist (or allow yourself to be bullied into insisting) that works are necessary? You thus defeat the whole purpose of Christ's coming, which was to free us from the practices of Israel in the flesh by teaching us of their allegorical meaning for Israel in the spirit, through his crucifixion which revealed his own dual nature and thus figured our transformation.
It is really only at the very end of his letter that Paul reveals the application of the Antioch parable to the Galatians situation: “It is those people who wish to make a nice appearance in the flesh that compel you to be circumcised—only so that they may not be persecuted because of the cross of Christ. For not even the circumcisers themselves keep the Law, but they want you to be circumcised, in order that they may boast in your flesh” (6:12–13).
This is absolutely the key passage to the understanding of Paul's opponents in Galatia. It has to be read in the context of Paul's narration of the events at Antioch, which as I emphasized above (not originally, of course) is recited by Paul as an analogy, almost a typology, of the events in Galatia. Paul's opponents are not actually Jewish Christians who insist on circumcision for salvation but essentially are in consonance with Paul's theology; they hold that circumcision is not necessary. When pressed, however, by the contemporary antitype of the “men from James,” they have their gentile proselytes circumcised in order to escape persecution, that very persecution that Paul himself alludes to when he writes, “But if I, my brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted?” (5:11) These men, themselves, do not keep the Law, nor do they intend that their converts will keep the Law—they are essentially in agreement with Paul—but they cave in to pressure from the conservative wing of the Jerusalem church. The analogy with Peter's behavior in Antioch is perfect, as well as with Paul's charge against Peter: How can you ask these people to be circumcised when you do not yourself keep the Law? The charge is not of hypocrisy, but of not standing firm in that which is absolutely essential to the Christian message in Paul's view (Cosgrove 1988, 132–39). As I have already observed, the term “boast” in Paul is often better translated “have confidence in” or “rely on” than “boast about.” Paul is adamant in his integrity. If the Galatians accept circumcision, the whole purpose of the Christ event is destroyed. It will all have been in vain. When Paul tells them, “Look, I, Paul, tell you that if you become circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. I testify again to every man who has become circumcised, that he is obliged to do the whole law” (5:2–3), his point is that by becoming circumcised they reject the message of the Law of Faith or the Law of Christ, which he goes on to detail in the next and final chapter. Willy-nilly, they will be acceding to the Jewish Christian doctrine of James and his followers that only through entrance into the Law (that is, conversion to Judaism) can anyone be saved. By showing their lack of faith in the power of the cross to save, they give up their right to salvation by the cross, as opposed to Paul himself who writes, “But far be it from me to boast [again, to have confidence in] anything but the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which [the cross] the world has been crucified to me and I to the world” (6:14). Paul ends his letter on a note of absolute insistence: “For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything, but a new creation” (6:15). Only by entering into the new creation of Christ's spiritual body, that is, into the New Israel that came into existence with the crucifixion of his fleshly body, is anyone saved. When that fleshly, Jewish body (born of a Jew, under the Law) was crucified, then the new spiritual universal body was created, thus erasing the difference between the circumcised and the uncircumcised.
The Meaning of Justification
The term justification itself must be explicated. I have suggested that Paul shares this terminology and even the specific term justification by faith with his Jewish-Christian opponents, here personified by Peter. It is important to realize, moreover, that the term justification itself is not a novum of Christianity but simply a basic Jewish notion. It refers to the situation of the believer at her last judgment (whether eschatological or merely after death is irrelevant here), when the question is: Will I be acquitted by the divine court? Justification means acquittal. The Greek is a calque (loan translation) on the Hebrew קדצי, which means both to be just or righteous and to be declared or recognized as just or righteous. In addition, there is already biblical speculation on how one becomes justified, whether through God's justice or through his mercy. The novelty of Christianity is that faith in Christ is what counts (either alone or in combination with works) at the divine Assizes. Paul's thought is therefore primarily soteriological, and his determination is that all shall be saved by the same means. Such ethnic practices as circumcision and refraining from eating shrimp could not possibly be the mechanism by which Scythians and Celts (in Galatia) would be acquitted at the Last Judgment, because these practices are specifically Jewish, whereas, as Sanders precisely formulates it, “Christ is the end of the law, so that there might be righteousness for all who have faith.” And therefore, according to Paul:
God's righteousness is, through Christ, available on the basis of faith to all on equal footing. If God's righteousness is the righteousness which is by faith in Christ and which is available to Gentile as well as Jew, then the Jewish righteousness which was zealously sought is the righteousness available to the Jew alone on the basis of observing the law. “Their own righteousness,” in other words, means “that righteousness which the Jews alone are privileged to obtain” rather than “self-righteousness which consists in individuals presenting their merits as a claim on God.” 
It is because it is God's righteousness that it could not possibly be for Jews alone, as Paul explicitly says in Romans 3:29: “Is God the God of the Jews alone?” To support this construction of the theology, detailed exegesis of Paul's hermeneutic is necessary.
Now, although I am claiming in this book that in one major way Paul's hermeneutic stands in opposition to midrash, in another way he is very much within a midrashic tradition. The fundamental hermeneutical stance which he takes to the text is allegorical; that is, the language and even its apparent referents are understood as pointing to a reality beyond themselves. This is then an entirely different orientation to language from midrash in which the concrete reality both of the language and the history which it encodes is absolutely primary. Paul, however, seems very able indeed to make use of midrashic techniques of manipulation of biblical language. In a sense, this is exactly what we would expect of Paul if we take his descriptions of himself seriously. A Hellenistic Jew, thoroughly imbued with the ideology of middle-platonism but just as thoroughly trained in contemporary Palestinian biblical hermeneutics, would perhaps predictably produce biblical interpretation that is Hellenistic in ethos but often Pharisaic in method. The following section of Galatians provides some excellent examples of Paul's use of midrashic method.
The first example of how important this observation is for understanding Paul is Galatians 2:16. It has already been recognized that the argument of this verse is dependent on Psalms 143:2, but I think that the full measure of the midrash has not yet been appreciated (Betz 1979, 118). Even James Dunn, who has made this verse the cornerstone of his argument, and with whose approach I largely agree, has not fully plumbed the depths of this verse (Dunn 1990, 183–214). Paul assumes as a given of his argument that works do not justify. This is not, then, what he is trying to prove here. What the commentators seem to have missed is that Paul is not reading Psalms 143:2 alone but together with its preceding verse. The two verses are:
Lord, hear my prayer, listen to my supplication in your faith. Answer me in your justice. Do not reproach your servant with statute, for no living being will be justified [declared just] before you.
I think that Paul's only extravagant exegetical move here is to read “your faith” as “faith in You.”  All the rest of his doctrine then follows. No living being will be justified (= acquitted) before you by “statute”; therefore, we are dependent on our supplication in faith in order for us to be answered by Your justice (= justification, acquittal).
This interpretation accomplishes several purposes. First of all, I think that it definitively establishes Dunn's point that justification here is simply the Jewish doctrine of vindication by God and not transfer terminology. Second, it strongly argues for Dunn's other main point, that what is bothering Paul is the ethnic exclusivity of Torah-righteousness. The word טפשמ, which I have translated “statute,” in other contexts in Psalms itself, refers precisely to the Jewish Law of the Torah which explicitly marks off the Jews from others. “He has spoken his words to Jacob, his laws and statutes to Israel. He has not done so for any other nation, and statutes, they do not know” (Psalms 147:16–17). Accordingly Paul's interpretation of these verses is just perfect for his argument. David is asking for God to acquit him on the basis of his supplication in faith, because if no human being can be righteous, then failure to keep the statutes (which are specifically and explicitly special to Israel) cannot be the determining factor of salvation. All this becomes a powerful argument in favor of the replacement of “works of the Torah,” Jewish ritual observances by faith, and Paul's argument against Peter is complete. Note that David's supplication to God to “answer me in Your justice” is paradoxically that he come to judge not on the basis of “statute” but on the basis of faith!
While with regard to the specifics of the midrash, I have departed from Dunn's reading, it should be emphasized that in respect to the content, I am in full agreement with him, and I believe that this reading only strengthens his point that “works of the law, epitomized in this letter by circumcision, are precisely acts of the flesh. To insist on circumcision is to give a primacy to the physical level of relationship which Paul can no longer accept” (Dunn 1990, 199). The only thing that puzzles me is why Dunn, having come this far, writes “by that course, Paul will not intend a dualism between spirit and matter, however dualistic his antithesis between spirit and flesh may seem later on in Galatians 5.…But the word ‘flesh’ also embraces the thought of a merely human relationship, of a heritage determined by physical descent, as in the allegory of Galatians 4” (199 [emphasis added]). On the contrary, it is precisely the dualism between flesh and spirit which makes possible this very allegory, so this is exactly what Paul intends. This “physical descent” is an affair of matter, just as spiritual kinship is an affair, tautologically, of the spirit, so there is no “but” here. And this is just what makes Paul's gospel new vis-à-vis traditional Jewish ideologies of sin and redemption (including this very Psalm), which, as has been often shown, also presuppose the need for God's mercy, since no one can be completely righteous. What is new in Paul is not the notion that one cannot be justified by acquiring merits but the notion that faith is the spiritual signified of which convenantal nomism is the material signifier, and that in Christ the signified has completely replaced the signifier. As Dunn has put it, “The new age calls for a practice of the law (including circumcision)that need not include the outward rite ” (Dunn 1988, 121). Physical relationship = physical practices (circumcision the very symbol of genealogy) = literal meaning, but spiritual relationship (Israel in the spirit) = faith = allegory. It is in this sense that Paul can appear to be abrogating the Law at the same time he claims to be fulfilling it; he fulfills the alleged allegorical sense, while abrogating the literal (doing). The allegorical is universal while the letter is particular. The allegorical gives life, but the letter kills.
Circumcision and the Spirit: The Meaning of Pauline Conversion
A very important line of modern Pauline scholarship regards Paul's conversion experience as primary and derives all of Paul's reflections from that fundamental moment. In its religious form, this view is simply that Christ appeared to Paul, and Paul drew the consequences of this revelation. In its secular form, this way of thinking about Paul has been considered most elaborately by Alan Segal in his Paul the Convert (1990). Segal applies insights from the social psychology of conversion and argues by analogy to modern conversion experiences that only after conversion to the new religion does the convert identify what “was wrong” with her previous religion. It seems to me, however, that whether or not converts can account for why they converted or whether or not it is possible to predict who will convert to another religion, it is nevertheless the case that some social or psychological factors must have prepared the potential conversion or mystical experience. In Paul's case, when it is possible to identify a theme of critique of the previous religious system which is plausible in itself—in other words, which corresponds to what we know of that system and corresponds, moreover, to other contemporaneous critiques—it seems to me a violation of Occam's razor to assume that this critique had not motivated the conversion, and not vice versa. While the experience of being in the Spirit as a mystical event is certainly essential in Pauline religion, as my discussion of Galatians 3 below will show, I do not think that Paul's own mystical experience was unprepared for by his past.
The principal area of difference is that I place much less weight on Paul's mysticism than Segal does. Although I am impressed by Segal's argument that Paul provides precious evidence for mysticism in first-century Judaism, I am not persuaded that this is the primary explanatory category for Paul's texts and activities (1990, 34–72). This is not to say that I deny either the reality of Paul's mystical experience or its significance within his religious life; all I would deny is its primacy. For Segal the experience of ecstasy was cardinal, and the christological interpretation a later phenomenon of Paul's experience in a Christian community. This leaves somewhat unexplained Paul's turn to that very Christian community, which Segal argues can be explained through the psycho-sociological study of modern conversion experience: “A convert is usually someone who identifies, at least retrospectively, a lack in the world, finding a remedy in the new reality promulgated by the new group” (1990, 75). My problem is, of course, with “at least retrospectively.” If there were no perception of lack in the world, then why would the convert be a “religious quester” to start with? I think we must begin, then, with the lack, that which I have called the critique. Since I do not imagine that Paul was “psychologically abnormal,” I ask what were the cultural and social conditions that led Paul to have such an experience? None of this, however, denies the reality or the central importance of the mystical experience as providing precisely the solution to the plight.
In an article otherwise quite compatible with the view of Paul adopted here, Segal writes, “Paul himself essentially is converted by his vision of Christ from the perspective of a Pharisee, a right-wing one at that, to a perspective that is more characteristic of left-wing Pharisees and more ‘Hellenistic’ Jews” (Segal 1992). I find this an improbable formulation and strongly prefer a view which would perceive in Paul a conflict to begin with, one which his evident Greek linguistic culture would have prepared, which was resolved by his conversion. In Paul, I argue, the agony preceded the ecstasy. Nevertheless, no rich and responsible reading of Paul can ignore the vital role that pneumaticism does play in his thought, the Spirit not only as a hermeneutic principle but also as a vital force and experience in Christian life. Here, I wish to show that these two aspects of the meaning of “spirit” in Paul are homologous and contribute together to the production of the same system of meanings. N. T. Wright has suggested just the right balance in my view, in defining “Pauline theology”:
If we were to specify the content of this set of beliefs, it would be natural to begin with definitely Jewish categories, since Paul by his own admission continued to understand his work from the standpoint of one who had been a zealous Pharisaic Jew; and that would mean grouping them under the twin heads of Jewish theology, viz. monotheism and election, God and Israel. Indeed, my underlying argument throughout my discussion of Paul, here and elsewhere, is that his theology consists precisely in the redefinition, by means of christology and pneumatology, of those two key Jewish doctrines. (1992a, 1, 7)
Galatians 3 is the chapter in which Paul's pneumaticism, summed up by the phrase “baptism in the Spirit,” is most richly shown, although, interestingly enough, the term does not occur in this letter. The relevant context begins, however, in chapter 2 of that epistle.
“For through the Law I died to the Law”
For through the Law I died to the Law, in order that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and what I now live in the flesh I live in faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself up for me.
Paul's paradoxical formulation here is a crux. What does it mean to say that through the Torah he died to the Torah? My suggestion is that this must be understood in the light of Paul's paradoxical opposition of the true Torah to that which is understood as Torah by other Jews, as we have seen in our reading of Romans 2 above. Paul's whole argument there is that there is a true Law (the Law of faith; 3:27), and that this Law is different from the false Law of the observances of physical rites and the trust in physical genealogical connection. The true Law is the spiritual, allegorical, inward interpretation of the external, which is only its sign. In our verse in Galatians, Paul is arguing exactly the same proposition and giving it its christological foundation as well. Through the true meaning of the Law, which was revealed in the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ as a hermeneutic key and as a mysterious transformation, I have died to the old (mis)understanding of the Law as the outward observance which makes one (so I thought) a real Jew. Paul is referring here to the christological apocalypse he experienced and which, I will argue, the Galatians experienced as well. This interpretation is certified by the phraseological identity of the ἐν ἐμοί both places (Betz 1979, 124). This is gnostic in the etymological sense of a knowledge which transforms the person of the knower entirely. Bultmann's descriptions of the Hellenistic mystic fit Paul perfectly at this moment:
Man is related to the other world by participation in it. Something in him has come from that other world, that world of light. Depending on which mythical or cultic tradition determines the thought patterns, it is there from the very beginning as a primeval portion of light that has descended into matter, or it is the result of some change or influx due to a sacrament or an ecstatic experience. This something in man is regarded as the essential element in the one born again. And yet it has no necessary connection with the empirical man, with his acts and his fate. (1967, 19–20)
This is very close indeed to the Pauline discourse on the meaning of dying with Christ as an ecstatic experience and baptism as a sacrament in Galatians.
Paul follows this with a remarkable and necessary corollary to his argument. His Jerusalem opponents could certainly have argued something to the effect that while it is true that Christ's coming has redeemed the spirit, we who still dwell in flesh must observe the Torah in order to control the flesh and make it as well obedient to God's will. Paul counters this by saying that the very dwelling in the flesh is only apparent. In reality, he is no longer living in the flesh but in a hidden spiritual existence called Christ living in me. A passage from the Corpus hermeticum, Chapter xiii, cited by Bultmann, provides an extraordinary parallel (however Bultmann himself quite puzzlingly fails to note this parallel):
Seeing in myself an immaterial vision, produced by the mercy of God, I have left myself in order to enter into an immortal body, and I am now no longer what I was, but I have been begotten in the intellect. This cannot be taught, and it cannot be seen by means of the material elements through which we see below. This is why I am no longer concerned with this initial created form which was my own. I have no more color, cannot be touched, and do not extend in space; all that is foreign to me. Now, my child, you see me with your eyes, but what I am you cannot understand when you look at me with your body's eyes and with the physical sight. It is not with those eyes that anyone can see me now, my child. (Bultmann 1967, 18–19)
Note the extraordinarily clear platonistic influence on this passage as well. Although Paul has not physically died, it is Christ who lives in him. He was crucified with Christ, and he has been transformed into the sort of being that Christ was, only apparently fleshly but through faith entirely spiritual. Observances in the flesh would seem, then, totally irrelevant. “The practical consequence of this can be either libertinism or asceticism” (Bultmann 1967, 21). It is easy to see how the Corinthians “misunderstood” such preaching.
“Having begun in the spirit, are you now finishing up in the flesh?”
You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ crucified was so vividly portrayed. This only do I want to learn from you: did you receive the Spirit by works of the Law or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the spirit, are you now finishing up in the flesh? Have you experienced such things in vain? If so, it really was in vain. Does he, therefore, who supplies the Spirit to you and who works miracles in you [do so] by works of the Law or by the hearing of faith?
Paul is arguing here that the Galatians have partaken of exactly the same sort of transformative experience that Paul himself underwent, and now, in contrast to him, they wish to nullify it. He “does not deny the grace of God. For if justification came through Law Christ has died in vain” (2:21), but they, by their desire to accept the Law, do deny the grace of God and show that Christ has died in vain.
I suggest that this “before your eyes” suggests a platonic “eyes of the mind,” in which visions are seen. Paul's depiction here is the implementation of enargeia. In any case, the analogy between Paul's own vision of the crucified Christ and that of the Galatians is enhanced by the use of ἐν ὑμῖν, “in you,” which echoes the ἐν ἑμοί by which Paul describes his own experience. The “hearing of faith” has been much discussed (Hays 1983, 143–45). Does this refer to God's act of proclamation (which the Greek allows) or the human act of hearing? I think that it is both, understood as a single act. Paul exploits the very ambiguity of the Greek in order to make an extraordinarily rich and multivalent claim. This “hearing,” because it is “of faith,” I would suggest is a hearing with the ears of the soul—like the seeing with the eyes of the mind. God declares, and the humans hear, in one soteriological (and mystical) moment of Paul's preaching and the Galatians' baptismal response. This double motion of God's faith and human faith will connect the rest of the chapter as well. In Abraham we find both the promise, which will be fulfilled through the coming of Christ into the world, and the faith in the promise, which is fulfilled by people entering into Christ faithfully. The beginning and the end of Galatians 3 hold together perfectly, as Hays has already argued, albeit on somewhat different grounds (1983, 193–214). Because the spirit is given through faith and not by works of the Law, therefore, “There is no Jew or Greek in Christ,” ἐν Χριστῷ, which I take to be virtually equal in force to “in the spirit,” ἐν πνεύματι.
The ratio, spirit is to flesh as faith is to law, is here made absolutely explicit, thus establishing the dualist movement of Paul's thought. “Spirit” here is functioning in two very closely related senses, which contribute enormously to the effectiveness of the argument. On the one hand, obviously, Paul is referring to the Holy Spirit which manifests itself as a gift in the life of the Galatian community, but, on the other hand, he coordinates with it spirit as one of the poles of the dyad: flesh / spirit. We then get another one of the analogical equations that Paul, following common Hellenistic usage, finds so useful—and so obvious that they often do not need to be explicitly drawn. Cosgrove remarks that “The Spirit/ flesh antithesis is put to a wide variety of uses by the apostle; it is not simply another way of expressing the polarity between faith and works of the law” (1988, 46). True enough, but at the same time, I would argue that whenever Paul uses a dichotomy of this sort—and spirit/flesh is one of the most powerful for him—all of its associated, analogical dichotomies are being called into play at the same time. Since “flesh” means literal observance (works) and especially circumcision in the flesh, “spirit” means faith, so it is absurd in Paul's view, almost a contradiction in terms, to expect manifestations of the Spirit to be the product of works. They belong on opposite sides of the dualist hermeneutical structure. I think we do better to listen closely to the rich overtones of Pauline language, the way its polysemy increases its power, rather than trying to resolve the ambiguities at every moment.
The final two sentences, which have been the occasion of much exegesis, make perfect sense on my reading, for as I have argued, Paul's concern is that any notion of the obligatory nature of physical observances makes nonsense of the completion of the meaning of such observances in the spiritual signifieds. So if the Galatians now accede to the notion that they must be perfected “in the flesh,” they would render the gifts of the spirit “in vain.” “If so” then means, “If you do this thing and have yourselves circumcised.” Since the Galatians have not yet done so, it is simply a conditional. If they do not make this grave error, then it will not have been in vain. I would tentatively suggest that Paul's opponents here had been promoting a doctrine that vision in the Holy Spirit is only available to the circumcised.
“From My Flesh I Will See God”
From rabbinic texts—albeit quite a bit later than Paul—we actually learn of the view hypothesized as a genuine Jewish theologoumenon. Some of the Rabbis read circumcision as a necessary preparation for seeing God, the summum bonum of late-antique religious life (Boyarin 1990a). This is, of course, an entirely different hermeneutic structure from platonic allegorizing, because although a spiritual meaning is assigned to the corporeal act, the corporeal act is not the signifier of that meaning but its very constitution. That is, circumcision here is not the sign of something happening in the spirit of the Jew, but it is the very event itself—and it is, of course, in his body. Moreover, as I have argued elsewhere, for the rabbinic formation, this seeing of God was not understood as the spiritual vision of a platonic eye of the mind, but as the physical seeing of fleshly eyes at a real moment in history (1990a). Thus, even when it spiritualizes, the rabbinic tradition does so entirely through the body. Spirit here is an aspect of body, almost, I would say, the same spirit that experiences the pleasure of sex through the body, and not something apart from, beyond or above the body.
Elliot Wolfson has gathered the rabbinic (and later) material connecting circumcision with vision of God:
It is written, “This, after my skin will have been peeled off, but from my flesh, I will see God” [Job 19:26]. Abraham said, after I circumcised myself many converts came to cleave to this sign. “But from my flesh, I will see God,” for had I not done this [circumcised myself], on what account would the Holy Blessed One, have appeared to me? “And the Lord appeared to him” [Genesis Rabbah 48:1, 479].
As Wolfson correctly observes there are two hermeneutic moves being made simultaneously in this midrash (1987b, 192–93). The first involves interpretation of the sequence in the Genesis text of Genesis 17:1–14, which is the description of Abraham's circumcision and Genesis 17:23 ff., which begins, “And The Lord appeared to Abraham in Elone Mamre.” The midrash, following its usual canons of interpretation, attributes strong causal nexus to these events following on one another. Had Abraham not circumcised himself, then God would not have appeared to him. This interpretation is splendidly confirmed by the Job verse. The Rabbis considered the Book of Job, together with the other Holy Writings, to be an exegetical text that has the function of interpreting (or guiding interpretation of) the Torah. In this case, the verse of Job, which refers to the peeling off of skin, is taken by a brilliant appropriation to refer to the peeling off of skin of circumcision, and the continuation of the verse, which speaks of seeing God from one's flesh, is taken as a reference to the theophany at Elone Mamre. The reading of sequence of the Torah's text is confirmed by the explicit causality which the Job text inscribes. Circumcision of the flesh—peeling of the skin—provides the vision of God. As Wolfson remarks, this midrash constitutes an interpretation of circumcision that directly counters the Pauline one: “The emphasis on Abraham's circumcision…can only be seen as a tacit rejection of the Christian position that circumcision of the flesh had been replaced by circumcision of the spirit (enacted in baptism)” (1987b, 194). The physical act of circumcision in the flesh, which prepares the (male) Jew for sexual intercourse, is also that which prepares him for Divine intercourse. It is hard, therefore, to escape the association of sexual and mystical experience in this text.
The strongly eroticized character of the experience of seeing God, established by the interpretation of circumcision, is made virtually explicit in another (later) midrashic text, Numbers Rabbah 12:10, also cited by Wolfson (1987b, 196–97):
O, Daughters of Zion, go forth, and gaze upon King Solomon, wearing the crown that his mother made for him on his wedding day, on his day of bliss [Song of Songs 3:11]: It speaks about the time when the Presence rested in the Tabernacle. “Go forth and gaze,” as it is said, “And all the people saw and shouted and fell on their faces” [Leviticus 9:24]. “The daughters of Zion,” those who were distinguished by circumcision, for if they were uncircumcised they would not have been able to look upon the Presence.…And thus it says, “Moses said: This is the thing which the Lord has commanded that you do, in order that the Glory of the Lord may appear to you” [Leviticus 9:6]. What was “this thing”? He told them about circumcision, for it says, “This is the thing which caused Joshua to perform circumcision” [Joshua 5:4].…
Therefore, Moses said to them, God commanded Abraham, your father, to perform circumcision when He wished to appear to him. So in your case, whoever is uncircumcised, let him go out and circumcise himself, “that the Glory of the Lord may appear to you” [Leviticus 9:6]. Thus Solomon said, “O Daughters of Zion, go forth and gaze upon King Solomon,” the King who desires those who are perfect, as it is written, “Walk before Me and be blameless” [Genesis 17:1], for the foreskin is a blemish upon the body.
This is indeed a remarkable text, not least for the blurring of gender which it encodes in its interpretative moves. Consistently with the entire midrashic enterprise of interpreting the Song of Songs, the verse in question is historicized as well. It is taken to refer to the event described in Leviticus 9, in which the entire People of Israel had a marvelous vision of God. This event is interpreted as a wedding between God and Israel, as are other moments of revelatory vision of God, such as the hierophany at Mount Sinai. The verse of Song of Songs that refers to King Solomon's wedding is taken, then, as an interpretation of the wedding day between God and Israel described in Leviticus. But complications begin. By a typical midrashic pun, King Solomon (Schelomo) is turned into God, the King who requires perfection (Schelemut). If the male partner is God, then the female partner must be Israel. Accordingly, the “Daughters of Zion” are Israel. However, this also results in a gender paradox, for many of the Israelites who participated in that Divine vision were men. Those very Daughters of Zion are accordingly understood as males. The word “Zion” (Hebrew Tsiyyon) is taken as a noun derived from the root ts/y/n, to be marked, and accordingly the Daughters of Tsiyyon are read as the circumcised men of Israel.
I would like to suggest that more than midrashic arbitrariness is at work here, for the mystical experience au fond, when experienced erotically, often involves (in the West?) gender paradox. The mystical experience is interpreted as a penetration by the Divine word or spirit into the body and soul of the adept. This is accordingly an image of sex in which the mystic is figured as the female partner. This paradoxical gender assignment (when the mystic is biologically male) is a problem for erotic mystic imagery (Eilberg-Schwartz 1991). Verna Harrison has described a similar issue in the work of Gregory of Nyssa:
When the human receptacle is described allegorically in terms of sexuality, it has to be represented as female. It is no accident that in his first work, On Virginity, and in one of his last, the great Commentary on the Song of Songs, Gregory chooses feminine language to speak of the human person, especially in describing our relations with God, which for him are the definitive aspect of human identity and existence.…In the treatise On Those Who Have Fallen Asleep, he speculates that in the resurrection human reproductive faculties may be transformed into a capacity to become impregnated with life from God and bring forth various forms of goodness from within oneself. This suggests that although human persons can be either male or female in this world and will be neither male nor female in the next (cf. Gal. 3.28), on a different level they all relate to God in a female way, as bride to Bridegroom. (Harrison 1992, 118–19)
My perhaps too bold suggestion is that our midrashic text is related to the same paradox of mystical experience. Circumcision is understood by the midrash text as feminizing the male, thus making him open to receive the Divine speech and vision of God. My interpretation of this midrash is that of medieval mystics (E. Wolfson 1987b, 198 ff.): “R. Yose said, Why is it written, ‘And the Lord will pass over the door [literally opening]’ [Exodus 12:23]?…‘Over the opening,’ read it literally as ‘opening'! That is, the opening of the body. And what is the opening of the body? That is the circumcision” (Zohar 2, 36a, cited in E. Wolfson [1987b, 204]). Although this text is a pseudepigraph of the thirteenth century, I am suggesting that the idea is already embryonic in the midrashic text, in which circumcised men are “daughters.” The mystic pseudepigraph would then be making explicit that which is implicit in the earlier formation. Thus, we have indeed evidence for the possibility of a Jewish (and Jewish Christian) view that regarded circumcision as necessary preparation for experiencing the Spirit. Note once more how that view is grounded precisely in the flesh. “From my flesh [my circumcised penis] I will see God.” Were such a view current among Paul's opponents in Galatia we would easily understand his charge, “Having begun in the spirit, are you now finishing up in the flesh?” 
The reason that this suggestion must be very tentative is that, as far as I know, the only evidence for such a doctrine is post-Pauline and therefore could very well be interpreted as a response to Paul. Nevertheless it remains very attractive to me to speculate that such a doctrine already existed among the “Jews” and thus the Judaeo-Christians, for then Paul's argument here has enormous force. “They are telling you that only the circumcised can see God, but you yourselves have already experienced visual experiences in the Holy Spirit, so their claim is shown to be a lie! Moreover, since the spirit is higher than the flesh, and you have already jumped (from the very beginning) to that level, will you now return to the lower level of the flesh?”  Another possibility is that Paul is simply contrasting two forms of initiation as such: the higher one, baptism, which is in the spirit, and the lower one, circumcision, which is in the flesh. It may even be that Paul's crucial flesh / spirit dyad is initially generated by this very opposition. In any case, it enters into a very rich texture of associations and meanings in his thought that go far beyond the moment. One way of saying this—and of seeing it—would be to understand this fundamental opposition as reproduced entirely at every moment in his discourse, as its foundational, structuring, generating “key” symbol.
Freedom or Anarchy?
In order to understand Paul, surely one of the key texts is Galatians 5:14. Paul's rhetoric in this passage is apparently confusing and has led interpreters to directly opposing conclusions. In verse 14—“For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’”—he seems to be upholding the Law. But just a few verses later, in verse 19 he seems to speak of the Law as irrelevant: “But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law.” Some have seen here (in verse 14) an apparent contradiction to his view that the Law is abrogated; after all, he cites the Law here and ordains that it be kept in some sense or other, while others with equal justice see this passage as the center of Paul's “attack” on the Law. Some of these interpreters have gone so far as to regard 5:14 as “ironic.” A third view sees Paul as contradicting himself within the space of three verses. E. P. Sanders contributed a searching discussion of these passages in Paul. He has well demonstrated the inadequacy of all earlier interpretations (1983, 93–105; Thielman 1989, 50–54). He shows that Hans Hübner's distinction between “the whole law” (5:3) as the Jewish Law and “all the Law” (5:14) as a Law which has nothing to do with the Jewish Torah is impossible (Sanders 1983, 96). He moreover shows that the notion that Paul distinguishes between the Law perverted (by Jews) and the Law as it was intended does not hold because Paul never refers to Jewish practice of the Law as perverted. There is, moreover, as Sanders demonstrates, little in Paul to commend the view of Bultmann and his followers that Paul condemns the Law pursued for salvation, while he upholds the (same) Law pursued for the fulfilling of God's will, that it is the inner disposition of the person that counts (85–86). On the other hand, as in other cases, I find Sanders's objections to the current interpretations stronger than his own exegetical suggestions—his analysis of the plight is better than his solution. In this case, I think he starts off very well by observing that for Paul the observance of loving one's neighbor (Galatians 5:14) (and particularly in its concrete manifestation of bearing her burdens [6:2]) constitutes “the real way to fulfill the law” (97). Moreover, even though Pharisaic/rabbinic teachers also cite Leviticus 19:18 as a summary of the Law, none other than Paul (or such as Philo's extreme allegorizers) advocated that its observance replaced circumcision and the rest of the concrete Law. Sanders's summary of the problem is exemplary: “There is, then, appreciable tension between the view that Christians are not under the law at all—they have died to the law, not just to part of it and not just to the law as perverted by pride, but to the law as such—and the view that those in Christ fulfill the law—not just aspects of it, and not just the law when pursued in the right spirit” (99). Sanders, however, comes to the conclusion “that both positions cannot be maintained in detail.” Obviously an interpretation which makes sense of both of Paul's statements would be superior to one that cannot. I think that Galatians 5:14 (and its associated texts) can be strongly read in the context of the general interpretation of Pauline thought that this book proposes.
To be sure, Paul does not propose a distinction between the Law pursued in the right spirit and the Law perverted. In this, as I have said, Sanders completely convinces me. But Sanders's parallel denial that there is no distinction in Paul between the letter and the spirit of the Law does not convince. On the one hand, Sanders precisely distinguishes between two interpretations of the Pauline antinomy: (1) you are not under the Law, but nevertheless you are under a law, the Law of Christ, which commands love of the neighbor; and (2) you are not under the Law, but nevertheless you should fulfill it, not by being circumcised, but by loving your neighbor; that is real fulfillment.
He argues that the second is “by far the more likely meaning” (98). On the other hand, he is unable in my opinion to explain what it means to fulfill the Law without being circumcised. Sanders is effectively throwing up his exegetical hands when he writes with regard to 1 Corinthians 9:19–21, “Christians both stand in a right relationship to God and live in accordance with his will, but [this] is no more thought through in a systematic way than Gal. 5:14 and Rom. 8:4” (100). To bridge this gap, I submit that only a hermeneutic approach will do, one that understands that the Law is one—“But the readers would not understand that Paul intends by ‘law’ in 5:14 and 6:2 a law which is entirely distinct from the other one” (98)—but at the same time finds a way to relate systematically between that which is being affirmed and that which is being denied about the Law in Paul. My claim is that there is ample evidence throughout the corpus that what is being affirmed is the spiritual sense—the universal Law of Christ, of love, of faith—and what is being denied is the literal, carnal sense—the Jewish Law of circumcision, kashruth, and the Sabbath. This solution is explicitly denied by Sanders, who claims that Paul “does not define Christian behavior as keeping the ‘spirit’ of the law as distinct from observing it literally” (101). But Paul does—as Sanders himself admits—draw such a distinction at several prominent places. Why should Romans 2:29, which I have interpreted in detail in the previous chapter, not be understood as proposing precisely this distinction, whereby “true” circumcision is a matter of the heart and the spirit and not of the penis? The Jew who is one inwardly and not outwardly would be precisely the one who is characterized by loving his neighbor as himself and not by watching what he eats. Paul's references to “circumcision not made with hands” also strongly support precisely this interpretation, that Paul distinguishes between the physical and the spiritual interpretations of the Law and affirms the latter while denying the significance of the former. Once more, the physical observances correspond to difference, to the particular, while the spiritual interpretations are understood by Paul to correspond to sameness, to the universal.
Indeed, “The law, for Paul, is not only the will of God, it is the will of God as revealed in Jewish Scripture,” but only, as Sanders notes by implication, after the veil has been removed. This veil is the carnal veil that occludes precisely the spiritual, inner meaning. In this way, we understand Paul's excision from the Law of precisely that which was particularly Jewish and thereby problematic for his project of the new universal Israel, without necessitating an assumption of either inconsistency or, worse, expediency, as Sanders is forced to by his insistence that “Paul himself offered no theoretical basis for the de facto reduction of the law” (102–03). The same point has been made in somewhat different terms by Westerholm. Sanders argues that Paul's point in Romans 10:5–8 is that “Moses was incorrect” (41). Westerholm is absolutely accurate in asserting, “But Moses could not be ‘incorrect’ for Paul” (1988, 145n.16). Therefore, there must be a rationally explicable theoretical basis for his approach to the Law. I hold that he did offer such a basis and did so, moreover, over and over again in his dyads of spirit/ flesh, spirit/ letter, inner/outer. Sanders agrees that 1 Corinthians 7:19—“Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God”—is “one of the most amazing sentences that he ever wrote” (1983, 103). But he seems to think that it is possible to interpret Paul without accounting for that amazing sentence: “He seems to have ‘held together’ his native view that the law is one and given by God and his new conviction that Gentiles and Jews stand on equal footing, which requires the deletion of some of the law, by asserting them both without theoretical explanation” (103). I will not propose that everything in Paul must hang together or that different circumstances may not ever have provoked somewhat different and partially contradictory responses, but I believe that here we can supply a theoretical explanation that precisely eliminates such a gross contradiction.
The point that Paul wishes to make here is that Christian freedom must not be interpreted as permission to do everything and anything. Paul already anticipates the sort of “misunderstanding” of his gospel with which he would have to deal in 1 Corinthians. It would have been easy to misunderstand Paul's railing against the Law as a claim that there is no Law at all, but this is not what Paul ever meant. What he meant is that there is an outer aspect to the Law, the “doing” of the Law, which was special to the Jewish People alone and which has been abrogated in Christ, and an inner, spiritual aspect of the Law which is for everyone and which has been fulfilled in Christ and is thus entirely appropriately styled as “the Law of Christ” (6:2). The “Law of Christ” is the allegorical, spiritual fulfillment of the letter of the Law of Moses, the Law according to the flesh (Hays 1987). “Flesh” has two seemingly opposite but paradoxically coordinated meanings for Paul; it is commitment to the literal, outward doing of the Law on the one hand, and it is sinning through the flesh on the other. These two are not, of course, identical, but they are related. Both of them are opposed in some sense to the spirit which alone provides assurance of fulfilling the Law (that is the spiritual referent of the Law, which is love). The apparent contradictions in Paul remarked by various commentators are, on this interpretation, entirely illusory (Barclay 1991, 140 and n.113). Paul's expression here is thus no more contradictory of itself or of anything else in Paul than “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6). Paul has in effect taken common sentiments of Judaism to the effect that the purpose of the whole Torah and its Laws can be summed up in one ethical/spiritual principle and drawn the logical conclusion suggested by his allegorical scheme, namely, that the spiritual signified can replace its literal signifier completely. This, then, counts for him as fulfilling the Law while the outward observances are the doing of the Law also referred to as being “under the Law.”
Galatians 5:14 and 19 are thus in perfect consequence. The Christians are not ἄνομος, without Law, nor ὑπο νόμον, under the Law. Instead, they are ἔννομος Χριστοῦ, in the Law of Christ (1 Corinthians 9:20–21), which also proves that ὑπο νόμον is in opposition to ἔννομος Χριστοῦ) (Barclay 1991, 126–27). They are not lawless, nor under the Law (Galatians 5:19), but subject to the Law of Christ, which alone counts as fulfilling the Law (Galatians 5:14). This perspective helps us solve, as well, another outstanding problem in Pauline interpretation, the nature of the “Law of Christ.” Is the Law of Christ a reference to Jesus’ actual teachings or not (Barclay 1991, 126–35; Hays 1987)? Does νόμος here mean “law” at all, or perhaps only “principle”? In my view, these questions are obviated, because the Law of Christ refers to the Law according to the spirit, the Law of faith working through love, which enjoins those practices of agape which Jesus has also in his person taught. The Law of Christ is thus the Law transformed by Christ's crucifixion and exemplified by his behavior. Faith and love without “doing” are fulfillment, while doing without faith and love is nothing. Paul is thus completely consistent. It is thus that Paul can say: “Neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision is anything but keeping the commandments of God” (1 Corinthians 7:19). Rabbinic Jews, understandably, reacted quite negatively to such sentiments. In the next chapter I will continue close reading of Galatians with a view to answering the question of whether Paul's discourse on the so-called “curse of the Law” is as anti-Judaic as it has often been claimed to be by both Jewish and Christian readers.
1. For a somewhat different account of the interrelationships of these elements, see Smith (1990, 141). [BACK]
2. For a very judicious discussion of the question of whether Paul responds to these documents or they are later polemics against Paul, see Davies (1965, 50–51). See also Gager (1983, 125). [BACK]
3. Luke 1:32 is of significance here, for it simultaneously describes Jesus as the son of God and David as the father of Jesus. The formula is thus the same. Luke simply does not feel the need to supply the hermeneutic gloss, according to the flesh, with regard to Jesus' human genealogy. [BACK]
4. This last argument was pointed out to me by Ruth Clements. [BACK]
5. If the Peter/Paul opposition as I describe it seems to prefigure the later controversies between orthodox and gnostic Christians, that is no accident, as I read Paul as a moderate “gnostic,” somewhere between the monadic corporeality of the Jerusalem church and the extreme spirituality of the later true Gnostics. Cf. Wedderburn: “[Views of Jesus's resurrection] of Christians seem to range through a whole spectrum from the accounts of the crucified body being restored to life, wounds and all (cf. Lk. 24.37–42); Jn 20.25,27), through Paul's account in 1 Cor 15 which seems to suggest that the resurrection appearances were of the same kind as his own conversion experience ” (1987, 192–93 [emphasis added]). And again there: “Epiphanius mocks the Valentinians as denying the resurrection of the dead, ‘saying something mysterious and ridiculous, that it is not this body which rises, but another rises from it, which they call spiritual,’ (‘Mysterious and ridiculous’ perhaps, but still very Pauline)” (215 and see also 216–18). Moreover, this controversy between Peter/James and Paul had political implications similar to those of the later schism as well. See Pagels (1978, 415–30). [BACK]
6. See, however, αι=!μα καὶ σάρκας contrasted with gods in Polyaen. Strat., III, 11, 1 cited in TDNT VII, 99. [BACK]
7. See next section for further discussion of this point. [BACK]
8. I absolutely agree with Betz (71) that Paul's ἐν ἐμοὶ here has to be understood as referring to a vision and will further support it later. The question of “internal” or “external” is irrelevant in my opinion. In either case, Paul is referring to a vision with the “eyes of the mind.” See further discussion below. [BACK]
9. Elizabeth Castelli has asked what is at stake in this claim for me, since I make it so emphatically. The answer is that I wish to disrupt what I believe to be a false antithesis between theological and sociological understandings of Paul. While my reading of Paul is one that interprets his work as responsive to particular situations in the churches to which he is writing, and therefore within the modern sociological tradition of Pauline scholarship, at the same time I find it generated by a consistent theological mainspring as well. In this, again, I think that my method of reading Paul, as well as my particular constructions, are perhaps closest to those of F. C. Baur. [BACK]
10. It is important, however, to note that from a rabbinic Jewish perspective, this very stance puts Paul into direct conflict with Judaism. It is not “tolerance” of Judaism to say that for Jews it is a matter of indifference whether or not they are circumcised. This is a dismissal of Pharisaic/ biblical Judaism entirely. [BACK]
11. The perspective here is substantially the same as that of Sanders (1983, 177). [BACK]
12. I find it impossible to follow the argument of Watson, who writes that “Paul claims in Gal. 2:14 that in eating with Gentiles, Peter has been living ‘like a Gentile’ (ἐθνικῶς), and if taken literally this would mean that Peter and the Jewish Christians of Antioch had abandoned the observance of the law and their Jewish identity. But it is hard to imagine the apostle to the circumcised doing this, and it is perhaps more likely that Paul has exaggerated the extent of Peter's departure from the law.…The example given—eating with Gentiles—perhaps suggests a relaxed attitude toward the law on the part of the Antiochene Jewish Christians, rather than a complete renunciation of the law” (Watson 1986, 33). Watson goes on to write, however: “It is therefore probable that at Antioch too, Gentile Christians were exempted from the Jewish food-laws,” a claim that certainly contradicts the first one. If Peter had been eating with those gentile Christians, then certainly it means that he was eating the same food as they, and if they were exempted from the Jewish food laws, then he also was eating non-kosher food, which constitutes in itself a renunciation of the Law. See also Sanders (1990, 170–89), who has completely discredited the view that James would have encouraged Peter to stop eating with gentiles because of a putative gentile impurity. As Sanders has shown, even the existence of such a category of impurity was very much contested—and apparently the Shammaites, to whom Paul is often assigned, were against the notion—while in any case, the fact of impurity would not prevent one from eating with a person, certainly not in Diaspora, where all are impure (172–76). Moreover, as Sanders demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt, only certain very extreme texts proscribe table fellowship with gentiles if the food is kosher (on this point, see also Segal: “There is no law in rabbinic Judaism that prevents a Jew from eating with a gentile” [1990, 231] and Fredriksen: “The discussions preserved in the Mishnah that detail the correct procedure on such occasions [of Jews and gentiles eating together] attest to the frequency with which they occurred” [1988, 151]). Of the alternatives which Sanders suggests for what Peter was transgressing in James's eyes, I find most attractive the notion that he was eating non-kosher food of some sort (185–86). Sanders's reason for assuming that the most plausible interpretation is that James did not want them to eat with gentiles, “because close association might lead to contact with idolatry or transgression of one of the biblical food laws,” seems to me less likely, precisely because the gentiles that Peter was eating with were Christians, and either their food was kosher or it was not. Presumably, it was not. Furthermore, it would hardly behoove James to choose the most extreme and marginal version of Jewish practice (precisely on Sanders's account). This is even more the case on the second of Sanders's choices, namely, that “some people had a general reluctance to eat any Gentile food.” This does not mean that Peter had necessarily eaten pork or shellfish of which Sanders is probably right in assuming that hardly any Jew would eat, but could easily refer to meat not slaughtered properly and the like. Any of these would count as “living like gentiles.” [BACK]
13. As I argue below, this point provides key evidence, also, as to the identity of the “opponents” in Galatia. Sanders has put this in a somewhat more positive light: “It was probably Peter's responsibility to the circumcised, which might be hindered if he himself were not Torah-observant, not disagreement with Paul's mission as such, which led him to withdraw from the Gentiles in Antioch” (Sanders 1983, 19, and see there 177). [BACK]
14. Compare the reading of Gager (1983, 33–35). [BACK]
15. In spite of our generally different interpretations of Galatians as a whole, I quite agree with Cosgrove (1988, 133–39) on the interpretation of this passage. [BACK]
16. The difference between Hays's view and mine is that he understands Paul's interlocutors here to be Jews who have adopted the doctrine of justification by faith but not abandoned the Law, whereas I see Paul as arguing against Jews who, having adopted the doctrine, initially drew the conclusion that the Law was no longer obligatory or important but then went back to Law observance for communal reasons to which Paul objects. I think that this interpretation renders his argument here and later more coherent and strong. I certainly agree with Hays when he says, “In both of these letters [Galatians and Romans], Paul treats the doctrine of justification by faith as an agreed-upon premise from which he can construct his position about the relations between Jews and Gentiles and the role of the Law in the life of the Christian community.” [BACK]
17. For the position that Paul is referring to Peter's actions here, see Cosgrove (1988, 138), who interprets exactly as I do, and Barclay (1991, 80 and n.13). [BACK]
18. My view is very close to that of Gaventa 1986. [BACK]
19. For this interpretation, see below n.20. [BACK]
20. Jewett (1970, 204–06) interprets in a similar fashion, adducing, moreover, a highly convincing historical background to this group. There are certain differences, however, between our interpretations, and while I think that there are some considerations which favor Jewett's, others favor my version. Jewett argues that the agitators truly believed in circumcision as a necessity for salvation, and that when Paul says they do not keep the Law, he means the Law as he (Paul) understands it (201). This accounts better than my interpretation for the statement that the agitators are promoting another gospel. On the other hand, it seems to me clear from these verses that Paul is claiming that were it not for their fear of persecution, the agitators would not be pressing the Galatians to convert at all. This tension in his account is exemplified in the following sentence: “The nomistic Christians in Judea would have ample reason to boast if they could induce the Gentile churches to enter the ranks of the circumcised, for such an achievement would release them from a mortal threat levelled against all who dared to associate themselves with the ungodly and the uncircumcised” (206). (Presumably, Jewett would argue that this only means that they would have no interest in converting gentiles at all nor care what they do, a proposition I for one find less than convincing.) Once it be admitted that the agitators wish to circumcise the Galatians to avoid persecution and not because they believe in the necessity of the gentiles being circumcised for salvation, then it seems best to consider them the anti-type of Peter as presented in the Antiochene parable—that is, essentially on Paul's side against James and the even more extreme Palestinian nomistic Christians but afraid of persecution. Finally, I am not persuaded by Jewett's quite brilliant argumentation that the Galatians were libertines. The entire rhetoric of the letter suggests the opposite, that they were strongly drawn to nomism, and as I have suggested elsewhere, that the last part of the letter has to do with a danger that Paul perceives of misunderstanding of his call to Christian freedom. Jewett reads too much, in my opinion, into the phrase “being completed in the flesh” and into the use of “days” for Sabbaths and holidays. The latter is actually quite attested in rabbinic Hebrew parlance. [BACK]
21. An attractive alternative explanation for this passage is that offered by Segal:
If you receive circumcision, you are bound to follow the entire law because you have converted to Judaism. Paul says that what is necessary is that all be transformed by the spirit, which is in modern parlance a different kind of conversion. It follows that if you are not circumcised you do not have to keep the whole law. But it does not follow that you do not have to keep parts of it; we have seen that many Jews and Christians assumed that part of the law was encumbent upon non-Jews who wish to live with Jews. He even tells us that the Christians who are making this deal are not as pious as Pharisees. And as an ex-Pharisee he has nothing but contempt for that position.…So his argument appears to us to be very subtle, but it may have been exceedingly clear to those living in the social situation he addresses. He says that if you want to be Jewish you have to go way beyond what the circumcisers are doing. You need to become a Pharisee, as Paul himself was a Pharisee. Evidently, he sees their ordinary Judaism as a kind of watered-down Judaism. They keep some of the laws but not others. And they do not practice the pieties of the Pharisees. This is a kind of hypocrisy. (Alan F. Segal, “Universalism in Judaism and Christianity,” unpublished paper, 1992)
I have the following difficulties with this elegant reading. First of all, what evidence is there that a sort of partial observance of the Law was characteristic of an alleged “ordinary Judaism”? Second, what evidence is there that when Paul says the “whole law,” he is referring to the “pieties of the Pharisees” and not to those observances which were the province of all groups of first-century Jews, at least in Palestine? Third, I find that this interpretation is less responsive to the context of the letter to the Galatians than mine in that it does not account for the analogy between the situation of the circumcisers and that of Peter in the Antioch encounter and thus makes the appearance of the narration of that incident less compellingly relevant. On at least some hermeneutic principles, that alone would lead to preference for the explanation offered in the text. [BACK]
22. I do not think therefore that “justification” has so much to do with “getting in” or “staying in” (pace Sanders) as in being saved at the end. It is conceivable that according to some versions of Christianity (and indeed, some versions of Judaism—not rabbinic), being in is sufficient for being saved, but they are still logically distinct categories. Cf. Wright (1992a, 2 and esp. 148), who conflates the two concepts. As its Hebrew contexts show, “justified” simply means, “declared just,” which may or may not be a function of membership in the covenantal community. Although I find much exciting and necessary in Wright's work (which reached me just as I was completing this manuscript), his understanding of justification seems to me to seriously weaken his overall claim that Paul is not dealing with soteriology. Somehow the two elements of covenantal theology and individual salvation will have to be integrated in future work. I, moreover, think that “justified” works perfectly well as a translation of the Greek (and Hebrew). See below in this chapter for an actual Hebrew source for this usage in Paul. [BACK]
23. But Sanders also quotes approvingly Heikki Räisänen's comment: “The Jews' establishment of their own righteousness…is…identical with their rejection of Christ,” and “the root of the evil lies in a christological failure, not in an anthropological one” (Räisänen 1980, 71). Sanders has seemingly abandoned his correct (in my opinion) insight that “their own righteousness” means the righteousness which devolves on them simply by virtue of being Jewish, and thus contains a trenchant critique of Judaism—not, I agree, on the basis of the false merit-grace distinction—and has, therefore, nothing to do with their “rejection of Christ.” It is precisely an “anthropological” (read ethical) failure, but not one of works-righteousness! See also Sanders: “It is the Gentile question and the exclusivism of Paul's soteriology which dethrone the law” (1977, 496–97). Once we have admitted the first (the gentile question), however, we have no need of the second (Paul's exclusivism), and I would argue that the latter is, therefore, an epiphenomenon of the first factor.
I think, moreover, that the interpretation of Paul offered here goes a long way toward answering the objections and contradictions that have led Räisänen to his extreme position on Paul's alleged “incoherence.” To take one example: Vis-à-vis Romans 2, Räisänen has argued that it is inconsistent to claim on the one hand that all have sinned and, on the other, that there are gentiles who have kept the Law. This is, however, no contradiction at all once we realize that it is not individuals of whom Paul speaks but groups. All have sinned, Jews and gentiles alike, but individual Jews as well as gentiles have kept the Law. Therefore, all—Jews and gentiles as groups—are equal in the sight of God! Incoherence (as well as coherence) is an artifact of hermeneutics (pace Räisänen 1986, 103ff.). [BACK]
24. Below I will argue that rabbinic Judaism, which we know, of course, only from post-Pauline writings, elaborated a different response to this ethico-spiritual challenge. [BACK]
25. See also Segal (1990, 277 and 281). Campbell, citing Davies, seems also to have gotten this just right:
Although Paul exploits Hellenistic forms and literary genres, he takes seriously the scriptures of his people and seeks to deal with the problem in their terms—employing rabbinical and other methods to do justice both to this new emergence, the Christian community, and its matrix, the Jewish people.
26. First, I am not persuaded of the necessity for the interpretation that Paul substitutes “all flesh” for “all that lives” as an interpretative gloss and then derives from that the principle that works do not justify, since works are of the flesh. (To be sure, it is not impossible that such a midrash lies behind Paul's interpretation here. Dunn has made as good a case for it as can be made, here and also in Dunn [1988, 155].) I find it most plausible that in Paul's Bible the text had πασα σάρξ and not the πας ζῶν of the Septuagint. This position is certainly supported by the fact that Paul's version of the text is cited in 1 Enoch 81.5 as well (Charles 1913, 169). I read Paul's argument, therefore, as both deeper and more straightforward than this. [BACK]
27. Indeed, it is not to be excluded that “faith of Jesus Christ πίστις Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ” here means Jesus Christ's faithfulness, and then Paul is not even making this exegetical extravagance. This would bring the interpretation in line with the use of the same psalm in Romans 3, for which see Hays 1980. Against this interpretation, however, is the fact that Paul here does seem to be strongly asserting the necessity of human faith in Jesus Christ: Even we have had faith in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by the faith of Christ καὶ ἡμεῖς εἰς Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν ἐπιστεύσαμεν, ἵνα δικαιωθῶμεν ἐκ πίστεως Χριστοῦ. I do not dispute, therefore, the notion that there is a faithfulness of Jesus Christ of which Paul speaks; rather I wish to disclaim a view that would hold that it follows from this that the faith of humans in Jesus is not, for him, significant.
One could easily interpret that the human faith in Christ is answered by his faithfulness, a perfectly rabbinic notion of measure for measure הדימ דגנכ הדימ, one of the most frequently attested of all theologoumena in rabbinic thought. Westerholm has adduced several other passages (curiously, not this one) in which it is quite clear that the faith in question is human faith in Christ and not Christ's faithfulness toward humans (1988, 111–12). It may be that in all of these places the same movement of הדימ דגנכ הדימ is present. Indeed, even Romans 3:22 can be taken to show this very movement from the faith of the human to the answer of God's faithfulness: The righteousness of God through the faith of Jesus Christ for all who believe δικαιοσύνη δὲ θεοῦ διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ εἰς πάντας τοὺς πιστεύοντας. (See the discussion of the analogous Galatians 3:22 by Richard B. Hays .) Although in the earlier work, Hays did not pay attention to this double or dialogical movement of faithfulness, in his later work he does (1989, 40–41). The doctrine of justification by faith remains intact—although, to be sure, not in its Reformation form of sola gratia. See also Watson (1986, 199n.89) and especially Barclay (1991, 78n.8). [BACK]
28. I accordingly think that Thielman (1989, 64–65), who sees here a Pauline argument that no one can keep the Law, has quite missed the point. Also, this interpretation completely obviates Segal's claim that justification has to do with conversion in first-century Judaism or that “Paul could have learned the language of justification from his Christian compatriots after he entered the Christian community” (1990, 177). [BACK]
29. See Dunn (1990, 207), where he replies to Räisänen on this precise point but fails to use this (to my mind) decisive argument. [BACK]
30. Westerholm has also made the point that the inability of humans to be justified by works, because they could not or would never fulfill the Law adequately, was a traditional prophetic claim (1988, 163–64). In a sense, his argument about Paul is similar in structure to mine, although very different in conclusion. Taking this traditional theological motif as primary, he argues that Paul went beyond the Prophets in discovering a radical solution. I hardly think that the fact that inability to keep the Law was not an invention of Paul should be relegated to a “postscript” (pace Westerholm 1988, 163); it is crucial to realize that, this “plight” having become a common theme of Jewish writing, Paul alone—or nearly alone—arrived at the conclusion that faith was now a fully adequate surrogate for keeping the commandments.
One point that must be made clear, however, is that my reading of Paul as motivated by the question of the inclusion of the gentiles is most emphatically not a sociological one that locates his writing in the practical problems of the first-century church (pace Wrede, as cited by Westerholm 1988, 167), but one that is as theologically based as Westerholm's account of a Paul motivated by the failure of the Law to provide an antidote to the poison of sin. Where Westerholm writes that the “fundamental principle” affirmed by “Paul's thesis of justification by faith, not works of the law, is that of humanity's dependence on divine grace; and that conviction, it may safely be said, underlies everything Paul wrote,” I would substitute for the fundamental principle the conviction that all humanity is one in the eyes of God and must be saved in the same way, a conviction that, it may safely be said, underlies everything that Paul wrote. The alternative, then, between Paul the profound theological thinker and Paul the practical church politician is, in my view, a false one. I find Westerholm's interpretation compelling, as I do, of course, find my own as well. The question remains whether they are incompatible. Perhaps the ultimate solution will be an understanding of Paul that sees him as operating on both levels at once. [BACK]
31. In Romans 3:22, which I have discussed briefly in note 27 above, this motive is explicit also, for immediately after asserting that God's righteousness comes to all who believe through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, Paul asserts: For there is no distinction οὐ γάρ ἐστιν διαστολή, a declaration that prepares the way for the end of the chapter, in which he insists that there can be no discrimination in the way that God justifies Jews and gentiles, because he is the God of the whole world, and therefore the circumcised and the uncircumcised are all justified on account of their faith. [BACK]
32. Dunn misses this point again when he writes that the “phrase ἐν σαρκί used in the same passage (Rom. 2.28) denotes not merely the physical as opposed to the spiritual, but also the people of Israel in terms of physical identity and racial kinship” (1990, 222). In my view, these are not two separate meanings at all, but two sides of the same coin. The physical is the people of Israel in terms of physical identity and racial kinship, and the spiritual is the allegorical interpretation of that identity and kinship in the Body of Christ. [BACK]
33. “Thus, when Paul writes in Rom. 3:21 that ‘now, apart from Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, witnessed by the Law and the Prophets,’ he is making a claim that anyone who had ever prayed Psalm 143 from the heart would instantly recognize: God's saving righteousness, for which the psalmist had hoped, has at last appeared. The witness of the Law and the Prophets to the righteousness of God is not merely, as Christians have sometimes strangely supposed, a witness concerning a severe retributive justice; rather, it is a witness concerning God's gracious saving power, as Psalm 143 demonstrates” (Hays 1989, 52). [BACK]
34. Menahem Lorberbaum has made an interesting alternative suggestion, namely, that what Paul is saying here is that his former life under the Law was equivalent to a crucifixion which prepared him for the resurrection with Christ. [BACK]
35. In this sense Alan Segal's characterization of Paul's experience as “conversion” is certainly justified. [BACK]
36. Bultmann himself, after setting out the parallels, claims to discredit them. While I do not think that Paul was influenced by so-called Mystery Religions, particularly because they are unattested so early, I do think that there are very strong parallels here. Paul could very well have been the source of the influence, or common religious developments could have produced both. The parallels are nevertheless illuminating, despite Bultmann's disclaimers (1967, 23–30). Thus, Bultmann's claim that “of course Paul experienced ecstasy, but for him it is a special charism and not the specifically Christian mode of life (cf. 1 Cor. 12–14)” (24) ignores in my view the very next verses of Galatians, which I am about to discuss. What, after all, is the outpouring of the Spirit to which Paul refers, if not ecstasy? [BACK]
37. Later in Romans 6 Paul will interpret this dying and resurrection of the individual Christian as taking place in baptism, which is certainly (already in older Judaisms, as well as in later) a ritual of death and rebirth. [BACK]
38. See my discussions below in Chapters 7 and 8. [BACK]
39. Cp. Gaston and Gager (1983, 234) on this verse. Gager himself seems somewhat skeptical. [BACK]
40. Cp. again the passage quoted above: Now, my child, you see me with your eyes, but what I am you cannot understand when you look at me with your body's eyes and with the physical sight. It is not with those eyes that anyone can see me now, my child (Bultmann 1967, 19). [BACK]
41. This is how Murray Krieger describes this figure as used by Phillip Sidney with reference to Psalm 114: “Enargeia, the verbal art of forcing us to see vividly. Through the ‘eyes of the mind'—an appropriately Platonic notion—we are shown the coming of God and his ‘unspeakable and everlasting beauty.’ Here, then, are words invoking a visible presence, though, of course, to ‘the eyes of the mind’ alone. Though God's may be only a figurative entrance through His personified creatures, the poet makes us, ‘as it were,’ see this entrance. He is there, in His living creation, and absent no longer” (Krieger 1979, 601). [BACK]
42. This important point was suggested to me by my student, Cecilia Mahoney, who thus independently arrived at one of the important insights of Cosgrove's book (1988), namely, that Paul and the Galatians shared a charismatic experience. I accordingly disagree with Betz (133) who writes: “Paul does not reflect upon the difference between himself and the Galatians; his conversion was the result of a vision of Christ and not, as it is for them, of the hearing of the Christian message.” I would argue that Paul is explicitly connecting the two experiences via the eyes of the mind. Cosgrove and I, however, reach very different interpretations of Galatians starting from our independently arrived at common assumption that the Galatians have had important pneumatic experiences similar to those of Paul and occasioned by his preaching. For these differences, see below passim. [BACK]
43. Note that this simply obviates the distinction between πίστις Χριστοῦ as faith in Jesus or Jesus’ faith, as both are necessary moments in the same motion. See above, n.27. I reject as well the opposition between “imitating Abraham's faith” and “participating in Christ, who is Abraham's seed,” which Boers sets up, as cited in Dunn (1990, 202). [BACK]
44. I entirely agree with Cosgrove that there is no reason to assume that the Galatians “must be turning to the law without thought for the Spirit.” Paul's argument would lose its entire force were that the case. They believe that Law is compatible with spirit, and Paul is proving to them that it is not, because the Law is of the flesh, while the Spirit (Holy) is of the spirit. [BACK]
45. I therefore disagree with Cosgrove, who claims that circumcision is not mentioned in Galatians 3–4 (51). [BACK]
46. There is one part of Cosgrove's argument that, if I have understood it, seems to me singularly weak. His interpretation of 2 Corinthians 3:6 requires that we assume that the Super Apostles in Corinth hold that keeping the Law is a precondition for the continued experience of the spirit (111–12). In other words, they hold that Law and spirit are not ontologically on the same level. But Paul opposes law and spirit as terms which are ontologically (although not axiologically) equal. His assumptions, then, would be so incompatible with those of his opponents that they could hardly even understand each other. In other words, were Cosgrove's reading correct, it seems to me that Paul should have said something like: “The letter kills but faith gives the Spirit,” since on his reconstruction the desirability of the spirit is equal to both groups and the issue is whether Law or faith brings the spirit. On my understanding, the verse makes better sense, because the question is indeed whether the letter or the spirit is the desirable means to life. I do not dismiss, however, the possibility that life itself means life in the Spirit, in which Spirit has already a somewhat different sense from “spirit” opposed to letter. [BACK]
47. Understanding the participle οἱ περιτεμνόμενοι of 6:13 in the sense of “those who advocate circumcision” (Jewett 1970, 202–03). [BACK]
48. For much more evidence to this effect, as well as an interpretation and consideration of the gender issues involved, see D. Boyarin 1992b. I think that these data are much more to the point than general claims to the effect that Torah observance is necessary for the Holy Spirit, pace Barclay (1991, 84). Note that Balaam, who was not Jewish and not a Law observer, was vouchsafed the Holy Spirit. According to rabbinic tradition, he was born circumcised! [BACK]
49. Here, of course, only “his” is possible. Circumcision is accordingly a very problematic moment in the constitution of gens and gender from my feminist point of view. All I can do, however, it seems to me at present, is record that problematic. My next book is intended to be a cultural poetics of rabbinic Jewish manhood, centering around circumcision as a psychic structure. [BACK]
50. Justin Martyr provides an excellent example of a late-antique platonic version of seeing God with the mind's eye (Justin Martyr 1989, 196). [BACK]
51. Much of the following section is dependent on the material he has gathered in Wolfson 1987a and b. [BACK]
52. For an almost identical use of Job, see D. Boyarin (1990b, 86). [BACK]
53. Howard Eilberg-Schwartz's God's Phallus (1994) is a brilliant phenomenology of Judaism along these lines. [BACK]
54. As Wolfson so persuasively demonstrates, however, the dominant kabbalistic trend was to understand the mystic as male and the Divine element he encountered as female, The Shekhina, or even the Torah represented as female. Then, the circumcision was necessary for penetration of this female, just as it is required for human sexual intercourse (1987b, 210–11). For the Rabbis (of the pre-medieval period), such a divine female as a solution to the paradox of mystical gender was excluded, and only feminization of the male mystic was possible. [BACK]
55. For a much fuller account of the rabbinic interpretations and views, see D. Boyarin 1992b. [BACK]
56. The distinction between ἐν σαρκί as referring to circumcision or to the works of the Law in general is a false one in my view, pace Barclay (1991, 86). The immediate issue is circumcision, according to my hypothesis, the fleshy observance par excellence, but circumcision itself is a synecdoche for all of the works of the Law. [BACK]
57. This is a modification of a point made by Barclay (1991, 224, and see there, 228). [BACK]
58. For this term, see Ortner 1973. [BACK]
59. Sanders simply refuses to apply to Paul the very logical consideration that he utilizes in regard to Philo's allegorizers: “They did not observe the literal law, but they observed its ‘real’ intent” (118n.32). Thus even when he decides that a moment in Paul (Romans 2:29) is similar to Philo's allegorizers (131), he does so only to deny the genuine Pauline character of the passage. The question in my mind is what is at stake in denying this hermeneutical dimension in Paul? Why do nearly all modern interpreters wish to exclude it? [BACK]
60. See Chapter 8 below. Also, in Chapter 6 I will argue that the specific usage that Paul made of a verse of Leviticus in Galatians 3:13 could easily have “misled” those who heard his preaching into thinking that incest was permitted to Christians. I think it is this “misreading” of his intentions that Paul is trying to guard against. I am not “siding” with Paul here, but I do assume that the Corinthian crisis can be explained, without assuming outside agitators in Corinth, simply as an interpretation of Paul's preaching of freedom in the spirit as in most of Galatians, an interpretation which he, already here, is at pains to denote as a misinterpretation. It must be remembered that Marcion (the “heretic” who rejected the “Old Testament” entirely) built his edifice on Galatians, and it is not entirely surprising that he could do so. Once more, it seems that unknowingly I have reproduced a position very similar to that of F. C. Baur (1873–75, 1, 263). [BACK]
61. I thus decline the very opposition between these two possibilities suggested by Barclay when he writes, “This genitive should not be taken in the sense of a law promulgated by Christ but in the looser sense of the law redefined through Christ ” (134). My interpretation here is thus virtually the same as—but subtly differentiated from—his (132–34). Or rather, I should say that the hermeneutic perspective I have been defending lends considerable weight, in my opinion, to the interpretation that Barclay proposes. Note how this interpretation subtly shifts (while substantially accepting) the view of Hays (1987, 275) that the Law of Christ “is a formulation coined (or employed) by Paul to refer to this paradigmatic self-giving of Jesus Christ.” [BACK]
62. This interpretation also has the virtue of making sense of the talk of spirit in the continuing verses, which are now understood as carrying both senses, that of the human spirit as opposed to the human flesh which sins, as well as the spirit of the Law (love) as opposed to its flesh (circumcision). See also Barclay (1991, 115), who has provided what seems to me by far the best account of the end of v. 17. See also my discussion in Chapter 6 of Romans 13:8. [BACK]