Reading Paul as a Jew
One of the crucial passages in Paul for determining (or rather, constructing) his posture vis-à-vis the Jewish religion—the Law—is Galatians 3:10–4:7. Many interpreters, especially of the “Lutheran” school, have read this passage as if the “curse of the Law” consists of the inability of human beings to ever meet its demands fully and therefore the irreparable curse that it places on all. The whole purpose of the Law, on this account, is to increase sin in the world, so that the saving grace of the cross will be even more abundant. As can be imagined, such an interpretation of Paul leads easily to charges that he was rabidly anti-Jewish. Moreover, if such views are asserted as a theologically correct view of Judaism and its historical role, then the theology is anti-Judaic (and later anti-Semitic). While there are, of course, passages that can be read in support of such a perverse notion of God—else it would not have achieved such widespread acceptance—I would like to show (as have several other commentators by now) that certainly in Galatians this is by no means a necessary construction of the text. Much more plausible a priori, in my view, would be a conception (closest to Dunn's) that the ultimate inadequacy of the Law stems from its ethnic exclusiveness, from the fact that it represents the practices of the Tribe of Israel and therefore is unsuitable as a way of life and of salvation for the Universal Humanity which Paul seeks to institute. E. P. Sanders's insight here is also very important, namely, that this section consists not so much of Paul's critique of the Law but of his explanation of God's purpose in giving the Law, given its inefficacy for salvation (1983, 65 ff.).
In the following section I will attempt to show that Paul produces a sort of radical, “heretical” midrash—but midrash, nevertheless—in support of his new understandings of Judaism. The very fact, however, that he supports his view with midrash indicates his conviction that he stands in continuity with the Torah and not against it. To be sure, from a “Jewish” point of view, this “continuity” itself constitutes rejection of the Law. The form of Paul's argument itself provides then an elegant analogue for his character; in both we find an entity both inside and outside of Judaism at the same time.
“Those who are men of works of Law are under a curse”
By contrast, those who are men of works of Law are under a curse. For it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not uphold everything that is written in the book of the Law, by doing it” [Deuteronomy 27:26]. It is, then, obvious that nobody is justified before God by Law, because “The righteous shall live by faith” [Habbakuk 2:4]. The Law is not by faith, but “He who does them shall live by them” [Leviticus 18:5].
A proper understanding of these verses of Paul is crucial for any evaluation of his ideology vis-à-vis the Jews, the Torah, and Judaism, as many currently held readings end up claiming that Paul significantly distorts Jewish doctrine here. Hans Joachim Schoeps largely based his claim that Paul misunderstood/misrepresented Judaism on this very passage (Schoeps 1961, 175–83). A reinterpretation of the passage that will not lead to such conclusions is therefore highly important for our general evaluation of Paul on Judaism. In establishing the identity of Paul as a Jewish cultural critic, it is important to demonstrate that he writes as a Jew. Showing the thoroughly midrashic character of the main arguments of the letter is then directly relevant to the descriptive project as a whole. Paul's argument is almost prototypical midrash.
Most interpreters have quite missed the point here, in my view. Their interpretations are dependent on theological presuppositions about Paul's relation to the Law as generating sin, a proposition which seems a priori implausible for Paul to have held. Dunn has produced the best arguments against this notion:
Betz's own reconstruction of Paul's reasoning (the law was given in order to be broken and to generate sin) is hardly obvious from the text (even allowing for 3.19). It would hardly cut much ice with his readers, and on this point Paul could hardly simply assume that his readers shared his presuppositions.…Moreover, as Hübner points out, such a theology attributes a very perverse motive on the part of God in giving the law (Gesetze 27); it is hard to think that Paul would be unaware of such a corollary or would willingly embrace it. (Dunn 1990, 234)
Alternatively, interpretations are based on the notion that one who transgresses even one precept of the Torah is irredeemably cursed—a notion that has no support in Jewish texts of either the first or later centuries. As E. P. Sanders has written, “This sequence of views cannot be found in contemporary Jewish literature. The sequence of thought sounds plausible, but it does not appear to be Paul's, nor that of any form of contemporary Judaism” (1983, 27; 1977, 17–64). “All the rabbis whose views are known to us took the position that all the law must be accepted.…No rabbi took the position that obedience must be perfect. Pharisees and rabbis of all schools and all periods strongly believed in repentance and other means of atonement in the case of transgression” (Sanders 1983, 28). The only exception is perhaps 4 Ezra (Schoeps 1961, 19; Sanders 1983, 28). Krister Stendahl pointed out that this interpretation is implausible on inner Pauline grounds, because Paul himself in Philippians claims to have been “blameless as to the Law” (3:6). Sanders has further discredited on exegetical grounds the interpretation that Paul's claim is based on the word “everything” in the verse and means that one who does not keep all of the Law is accursed:
These three considerations—the character of the terminological argument in favor of Gentiles being righteoused by faith, which is based on prooftexts; the fact that Paul states in his own words what he takes the prooftexts to mean; and the subordination of vv. 10–13 to v. 8—seem to me to be decisive against the view that the thrust and point of the argument are directed toward the conclusion that the law should not be accepted because no one can fulfill all of it. The argument seems to be clearly wrong that Paul, in Galatians 3, holds the view that since the law cannot be entirely fulfilled, therefore righteousness is by faith. (Sanders 1983, 22–23)
Sanders's arguments against the standard reading seem impeccable to me. His own interpretation, however, leaves something to be desired in that it makes Paul depend on a purely associative connection between “the words nomos and cursed.” Schlier, on the other hand, interprets that Paul's intention is that those who do the Torah are not fulfilling the Torah and are therefore accursed (Schlier 1965, 132). However, since he misses the point of the midrashic form, his interpretation has not had the impact it ought to have had on the commentatorial tradition. Dunn, also, I think correctly understands the import of the verse but does not even attempt to interpret the midrash. As Dunn understands:
Most Jews of Paul's day would simply assume that to be ἐχ ἔργων νὸμοςis to remain within all that the Torah lays down, is to do what the law requires. But Paul denies that equation. To be of the works of the law is not the same as fulfilling the law, is less than what the law requires, and so falls under the law's own curse. Why so? The answer is given by our previous exposition of “works of the law.” Those who are ἐχ ἔργων νὸμος are those who have understood the scope of God's covenant people as Israel per se, as that people who are defined by the law and marked out by its distinctive requirements. Such an understanding of the covenant and of the law inevitably puts too much weight on physical and national factors, on outward and visible enactments, and gives too little weight to the Spirit, to faith and love from the heart. (Dunn 1990, 226–27)
So far, so good. But Dunn also does not answer the question of how this can be learned from Deuteronomy 27:26.
The answer is quite simple when looked at from a midrashic point of view. The verse reads, “Cursed is everyone who does not uphold everything that is written in the book of the Law, by doing it.” The words “by doing it” at the end of the verse are syntactically and semantically superfluous—remove them, and the sense is not harmed. Paul, then, following a very standard midrashic move, rereads the verse (or indeed rewrites it syntactically), so that all of its elements will add to the meaning. He does so, in fact, by taking the “by doing it” as modifying the entire phrase “everyone who does not uphold everything that is written in the book of the Law.” We could rewrite the verse, then, as: “Everyone, who [precisely] by doing it does not uphold all that is written in the book of the Law, is under a curse”; i.e., by doing it, by physical performance, works of the Law, one is not upholding all that which is written in the book of the Law, and that is the curse, because “all that is written” implies much more than mere doing! The hermeneutical move that Paul makes here is quite similar (although not identical) to that of the Rabbis in the Talmud on Exodus 23:2, who interpreted “After the majority you must not incline to do evil, and you shall not bear witness in a suit to incline after the majority” as meaning that one must follow the majority.
As Stephen Westerholm has concluded in general, “What is crucial to note is that Paul consistently distinguishes between the ‘doing’ of the law's commands required of those subject to it and the ‘fulfilling’ of the law by Christians” (1988, 203; cf. Betz 1979, 275; Barclay 1991, 141). Notice, however, the difference between my way of turning this interpretation and that of others who hold this view. Westerholm seems to regard this usage as a way of deflecting objections to Paul's position by exploiting the “ambiguity” of the term “fulfill.” This is referred to explicitly as “looseness of speech” (Räisänen, supported by Barclay, 140, 142). Barclay also ends up with this sort of explanation: “Given the Galatians' attraction to the law, it would have been dangerous to dismiss the significance of the law altogether, but the positive statements Paul makes here about the law are hedged about with sufficient ambiguity to prevent the impression of reinstating the law” (141–42). I would phrase this entirely differently: Given the fact that Paul believes that the Torah was given by God, it would have been impossible for him to dismiss it altogether, and the positive statements that he makes are the essence of his hermeneutical theology by which Christianity fulfills and does not abrogate Judaism. Thielman, on the other hand, writes, “Paul, on this view, is not suddenly saying that the law has a place in Christian ethics (he has after all just forbidden the Galatians from practicing circumcision), but that Christian ethics overwhelm and, by overwhelming, supersede the Jewish law” (1989, 51). According to my interpretation, for Paul “Christian ethics” is simply the true interpretation of “Jewish Law” and always has been. As I have argued above in Chapter 4, this is supersessionist from the point of view of Jewish hermeneutics but not from Paul's point of view.
The end of Galatians provides an important parallel: “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (5:14). In this verse, Paul speaks of “fulfilling” the Law, not of “doing” it. Barclay has made the very telling point that πληροῦν and its Hebrew equivalent אלמ are never used in Jewish sources in either Hebrew or Greek with reference to the Law, and further that when Paul refers to Jewish observance of the Law he uses φυλάσσω (keep), ποιέω (do), and πράσσω (practice) but not πληροῦν (fulfill) (Barclay 1991, 138–39). Jews do the Law, but Christians fulfill the Law, and even more to the point of this book, the very notion of fulfillment is a Hellenistically inspired Pauline innovation in theology, although obviously one for which the way was prepared by the prophetic diatribes against the hypocrisy of bringing sacrifices while ignoring homeless people. It replaces the difference of the doing of many material practices with the logos of one ideal fulfillment, just as the difference of Jew and Greek or male and female is also to be replaced by the Ideal One, spiritualized phallus which can be circumcised not physically but only with a “circumcision not made with hands.”  Thus, precisely by dying to the Law according to the flesh, the Christian believer can fulfill the Law of Christ. By crucifying the flesh, together with its passions and desires and its fleshly practices, circumcision, the Christian becomes able to walk in the spirit and fulfill the Law of faith working through love. This is the true circumcision which defines the true Jew (Romans 2:25–29).
This distinction is the clue to understanding the key verse, Galatians 3:10, where according to my interpretation Paul argues that those who “do” the Law are not “fulfilling” the Law. I assume that the ἐμμενεῖ (upholding) of the Deuteronomy quotation is semantically (or perhaps theologically) roughly equivalent to πεπλήρωται (fulfilled) in Galatians 5:14. The Hebrew םייקמ of the verse certainly means “to fulfill the requirement of” as well as “to preserve.” Men of works of the Law, those who hold that works justify and practice accordingly, are accursed by the Law itself, because of their misunderstanding of the true import of the Law. It is these to whom Paul will later refer in Romans as “you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law.” This interpretation is supported as well by Paul's own usage in other places, for instance, Romans 3:27, where he explicitly contrasts “doing,” which equals “the Law of works,” with “The Law of faith.”
The next verse is also quite simply understood as a midrashic argument, although from the rabbinic point of view surely a “midrash of lies.”  Paul wishes to prove that “nobody is justified before God by Law.” He first cites the verse of Habbakuk which reads that the “righteous live by faith.”  It follows from this that those who live by faith are the righteous, i.e., the justified. He then argues that those who live by the Law do not live by faith, since the verse in Leviticus explicitly reads “He who does them lives by them, ” i.e., one who does the commandments lives by them and not by faith. Since, then, we know from Habbakuk that the righteous live by faith, he who lives by them and not by faith (and, thereby, does not fulfill the Law) is not righteous—is not justified. Paul has then a perfect proof that “nobody is justified before God by Law.”  This interpretation obviates Sanders's claim that Paul is here denying the truth of a verse of the Torah (1978, 106, and 1983, 20 ff.). Paul is using methods of interpretation that would not surprise any Pharisee (I suspect) or Rabbi, although the results he arrives at would, of course, shock them to their depths. The phrase “does them” in the Leviticus verse is precisely the same as “to do them” in the verse of Deuteronomy, so this argument is a direct sequel to the previous one. Finally, it is highly significant that in the Leviticus context, the Law which one does is specifically marked as that which marks Jews off from gentiles:
You shall not act according to the way of life of Egypt in which you lived. And you shall not act according to the way of life of Canaan, into which I will cause you to go, and you shall not live by their laws. You shall do my statutes [םיטפשמ] and keep my laws and live by them. I am the Lord your God. And you shall keep all my laws and all my statutes and do them, which if a man does he will live by them.
Given the whole vector of Paul's argument in Galatians, it is hardly surprising that he would choose this set of verses as his negative example. As I have pointed out above, the word םיטפשמ, “statutes,” is a highly marked term for Jewish privilege in having been given the Law, because of its use in the Psalms verse: “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). Therefore, Paul argues, those who do them, and thereby mark themselves off from the Egyptians and the Canaanites, live by them and not by faith, but those who live by faith, which is for all, are righteous. Ergo, those who do them are not righteous.
It is not insignificant, moreover, that this verse of Leviticus that Paul has just treated so negatively appears in the context of justification of the laws against incest, which appear immediately following it, and it is precisely these sexual practices which are identified as the “way of life of Egypt and Canaan.” If this was the nature and content of Paul's preaching on his first visit to Corinth as well, it is not entirely surprising that some of the Corinthian Christians “misunderstood” and concluded that Christian freedom consisted of abrogation of the laws against incest as well. This point will be very significant in the next chapters of this book.
“Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the Law”
Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.”
“In the context of the letter, he certainly assumes that the Law becomes a curse for those who seek justification before God ‘by works of the Law,’ because by doing so they deprive themselves of the blessing of Abraham given to ‘men of faith’” (Betz 1979, 149). The theological and christological notions are very clear here and well set out in the commentaries, for example, by Betz. Humanity has been enslaved by the “elements of this world,” including, for Jews, the Law. (For the positive role of the Law as παιδαγωγός, see below on 3:24). Through the double sacrifice of being born a human, coming under the Law, and being crucified, Christ has freed Jews from the slavery of the Law and gentiles from the slavery of the elements of the world. All of this will be developed further in Chapter 4 of the letter and is prefigured in the verse here.
Once again, the crucial question is how to understand the prooftext that Paul cites. In fact, I think that the answer here is rather simple. The verse in Deuteronomy reads literally: A curse of God is hung, or, since there is no way to distinguish subject from nominal predicate in Hebrew other than context: The hung one is a curse of God. In Hebrew and Aramaic the verb “hang” is often used with the sense of “to crucify.” One could very easily, then, interpret the verse to read that the crucified one is the curse of God, and from thence the substitutional christology that Paul here implies can be readily derived. It is a very interesting problem, however, that the verse as cited in Paul's Greek, presumably from a Septuagint form, actually supports the midrash less well than would the original Hebrew. I would suggest, therefore, with a certain degree of trepidation that we may have here, in fact, a fragment of Palestinian Christian midrash that Paul is reproducing. The “scapegoat” christology, generally held to be an earlier christology than Paul, would support this hypothesis as well.
“The promise of the Spirit through faith”
That the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles through Jesus Christ, and that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
Paul here, as elsewhere, spiritualizes and allegorizes the notion of kinship. If for rabbinic Jews the crucial signifier is actual, physical descent from Abraham, for Paul, it is descent from Abraham according to the spirit, which is constituted by entry into the faith community of Christ. He equates the promise made to Abraham that Sarah would bear Isaac to Abraham's spiritual paternity of Jesus, “the seed” to whom the promise was made, and through Jesus, the seed of all who believe. Thus the exegetical notion that the blessing is for the descendants of Abraham by the “promise” and not to those who are his descendants “by the flesh” is fulfilled in time by God through the sending of the Messianic seed through which the promise was made. The fulfillment of the promise is, however, through the participation of the people in the spirit which has been offered them by Christ's crucifixion. Entering into the spirit, by participating themselves in the experience and commitment of the crucifixion and resurrection, constitutes acceptance of the gift and thus entering into the descent by the promise, the type of which was the birth of Isaac through the promise and not by the natural carnal means. Indeed, it is not so much Abraham who is the type of Christ but Isaac. God offers adoption as spiritual children through the sacrifice of his son, but people either accept it or reject it. They accept it by allowing the gifts of the spirit into their hearts. If they reject it by going back to the works of the Law, implying thereby that only physical descent or physical adoption into the Jewish family saves, then Christ died on the cross in vain. As Ferdinand Christian Baur put it so precisely at the end of the nineteenth century, “According to the [Jerusalem apostles], it is in vain to be a Christian without being a Jew also. According to [Paul], it is in vain to be a Christian if, as a Christian, one chooses to be a Jew as well” (Baur 1875, 57).
In Galatians Paul is supporting the connection between the allegorical theory of the Law and christology. The two midrashim together provide the argument. The Law itself has already informed us of its own dual nature by telling us that anyone who remains with the physical level of “doing the Law” has not fulfilled the Law. This is then followed by the midrashic argument that anyone who merely does the Law is not living by faith, which alone justifies, and finally that Christ through his crucifixion has revealed the true meaning of the Law, namely, that its material signifier is to be replaced by its spiritual signified. In the next section Paul will turn to the third aspect of the triad, the question of physical descent and genealogy, which he will also read in accord with the allegorical structure.
“Brothers, I draw an example from common human life”
Brothers, I draw an example from common human life: likewise, nobody annuls or adds a codicil to a covenant of a man, once it has been ratified. Now the promises were spoken to Abraham “and to his seed.” It does not say “and to his seeds,” as about many but about one: “and to your seed”—which is Christ. But this is what I mean: the Law which came 430 years later does not make void a covenant previously ratified by God, in order to nullify the promise. Hence, if the inheritance comes through Law, it no longer comes through the promise. However, by promise God has granted it to Abraham as a gift of grace.
In these verses, Paul sets up his opposition between physical descent and genealogy—which are equal to the literal, to Israel according to the flesh, which corresponds as well to the historical Jesus—and descent according to the promise, Israel according to the spirit, which corresponds to the risen Christ. N. T. Wright has recently contributed what I take to be a new and correct interpretation of this passage. “Seed” here does not mean Christ per se but rather “family,” as its Hebrew original often does as well. In order for the traditional Jewish theological conviction that in the end all will be saved through the covenant to be true, the promise must devolve on all in the end. Now it does not say “seeds,” families, but “seed,” family, so it follows that for the covenantal promise to come true, all of humanity must be constituted through Christ into a single seed (Wright 1992a, 162–68). The Law, which came later and serves a temporary function, could not be the means by which this will come about, since it divides humanity into families and does not join them into one seed. In any case, God's promise is a “gift of Grace,” a term which certainly echoes the Hebrew םניח תנתמ, where the Hebrew root for grace is used adverbially to mean a free, unconditional gift.
“Why then the law?”
Why then the law? It was added because of transgression, until the seed should come to whom the promise had been made; and it was ordained by angels through an intermediary. Now an intermediary is from more than one, but God is one.
Proper clarification of this and the following passage is crucial to any construal of Paul's theology of Judaism. There seems to me to be not the slightest reason in this text to understand the word χάριν as telic, namely that Paul wishes to say that the Law was given in order to produce transgression, as Betz, following many modern commentators, argues. The simplest explanation of the verse is that the Law was given as a temporary and secondary measure, because of the existence of sin in the present age, in order to restrain people from transgressing until the coming of Jesus who is the seed (Lull 1986, 481–98). Thielman has proposed another interpretation which seems to me also to be a distinct possibility. He reads τῶν παραβάσεων χάριν προσετέθη, “added because of transgression,” as having causal force, not in the sense of preventing transgression but in the sense of providing an answer to transgression, namely, punishment. This also helps make good sense of the συνέγκλεισεν ἡ γραφὴ, “Scripture consigned or confined under sin,” of verse 22 below (1989, 74).
After hundreds of years and hundreds of interpretations, I believe that Wright has solved the problem of these verses (1992a, 168–72). The “seed” to whom the promise was made is the new one human family of Christ, and it was ordained by angels through an intermediary, Moses. Wright's reading decisively clarifies the next verse. The translation given above follows standard interpretations, none of them successful, which in one way or another find here a logical argument that the Law must have been given by angels and not by God. Wright translates rather, “Now he [the mediator] is not a mediator of one, but God is one.” Having established above that “one” here means the new unified single family of humanity in Christ, we understand the verse to mean that Moses was the mediator not for this one family of humanity but for only a part of it, for a difference within the sameness, so this cannot be the fulfillment that God looks for, because God is one. The verse becomes on this reading an exact parallel to Paul's argument in Romans 3:20: “Is God the God of the Jews only? Is he not of gentiles also? Yes, of gentiles also.” As Wright sums up his interpretation:
The problem of v. 20b can be solved quite easily once 20a is read in this way. Moses is not the mediator of the “one family,” but God is one, and therefore desires one family, as he promised to Abraham. The presupposition of Paul's argument is that, if there is one God—the foundation of all Jewish belief—there must be one people of God. Were there to be two or more “peoples,” the whole theological scheme would lapse back into some sort of paganism, with each tribe or race possessing its own national deities. (1992a, 170)
The Rabbis, however, did not see it that way, allowing that others could worship God and be saved without joining into one People of God. Once more, I think the passion for unity must be ascribed to Paul's Hellenistic Jewish Weltanschauung.
The Law is thus demoted in importance vis-à-vis the promise, but whether it was given to prevent or to punish transgression, there is no suggestion here that it has a demonic function or that these angels are to be understood demonically. It is easy to see, however, how gnostics could find such a meaning here. In any case, the important point is that there is no warrant here to understand that the function of the Law was to produce transgression in order to increase the scope of the working of God's grace—rather like a doctor making the patient sicker in order to increase the scope of her healing power. Nor do the next verses argue for such an interpretation either.
“Is the law then against the promises of God?”
Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not. For if a law had been given which could make alive, then justification would indeed be by the law. But the scripture consigned everything under sin, in order that the promise, by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. Before the faith came, we were kept in custody under the Law, confined until the coming faith was to be revealed. Therefore, the Law has been our guardian until Christ, in order that we might be justified by faith. But since the faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.
Paul begins this argument with another logical proof. If the Law, as he has just said, is given for the purpose of preventing sin, does it not annul the promise—in other words, does it not substitute itself for the promise and obviate the promise? This seems to me a strong argument against the interpretation of the previous verses that the Law was given to increase sin, in order that the grace of the promise would be necessary, for if that were the case then the question of the Law being against the promise would not arise! Only if the Law is accorded the positive role of confining sin would it be possible even to imagine that it somehow cancels the promise of a “free gift of grace.” Verse 23, “But the scripture,” seems difficult for my interpretation, however. It seems strongly to promote a reading that the Law itself produces, and thus confines everyone under, sin. However, this problem is illusory. Note that Paul switches here from “The Law” to “Scripture” as the subject of the sentence, and this shift must be significant. He is not speaking here of “The Law” at all, but of the text. The action of the text is linguistic, so “consigns/confines everyone under sin” must be understood as “predicates of all humanity that they are sinful.” To understand this point, the following linguistic parallel may be helpful. In his book on Paul, John Barclay has written the following sentence: “The peculiar pessimism about ‘mankind’ and ‘flesh’ in the Dead Sea Scrolls arises from an apocalyptic and sectarian perspective which consigns everyone to doom unless they experience the grace of God within the elect community” (1991, 205). Just as Barclay does not mean to say here that the sectarian perspective caused (performative) everyone to be doomed but only that it declared (constative) everyone doomed, so also could we understand Paul's Scripture as “confining” everyone under sin, in other words, declaring that all are sinful. This interpretation also obviates the difficult conclusion that Paul is equating “under sin” in this verse with “under the Law” in the next; therefore, the Law = sin (Longenecker 1990, 181–82). For ὑπὸ ἁμαρτιὰν in the sense of “sinful,” see Romans 3:9. It may be that Paul holds, as indeed he seems to, that the Law cannot redeem from sin (Romans 6:14), but this still does not mean that he holds that the Law produces, increases, or causes sin. Thielman offers an attractive alternative interpretation, that Scripture (which he takes as equal to the Law here) confines everyone who is sinful and does not allow them to escape the consequences of their sin.
In either case, however, the function of the Law is not to give life. The answer to the question about the Law being against the promises, then, is No, of course it is not. Now comes Paul's proof: If there were a law which could make alive (= justify), then indeed justification would come from the Law and the promise would be nullified. The function of the Law, however, is not to give life. All it does is confine all under sin, or by reason of sin, so that they may continue until the promise is given to those who believe. Therefore, the original premise is proven wrong: The Law does not annul the promise. Paul then explains the positive function of the Law as a pedagogue who makes it possible for people to be justified by faith, and now that this function has been fulfilled is no longer required.
Accordingly, we need not see the παιδαγωγός in a negative light, as Betz implies (177), in order to follow Paul's argument. If the pedagogue is a guide and baby-sitter appropriate for the small child, then we understand Paul's mashal perfectly. In the infancy of humanity the pedagogue was necessary because of sin (not to produce sin, a bizarre and near Marcionite notion, which Lutheran theologians refer to as “God's strange work”!), but now with the maturity of the coming of Christ the pedagogue is no longer necessary. If we do not accept the essentially Lutheranizing interpretation of Paul's Law doctrine to the effect that it has never been a way of achieving virtue, then we do not need to render Paul's notion of the Law as a pedagogue so discontinuous with the topos of Law as educator which as Betz remarks was common from Plato on. On the other hand, there may be no doubt that Betz is correct that it is wrong to see here an argument that the Law prepared for the coming of Christ by educating people in that direction (Betz 1979, 177–78). The mashal in the beginning of chapter 4 completely disables such an interpretation. The pedagogue is not a teacher in the sense of one who prepares the child for adulthood but a guardian in the sense of one who keeps him or her out of trouble while waiting for adulthood. This does not, however, translate into such terms as “ugly” or “demonic” that Betz uses, nor to a notion that the pedagogue was sent to increase transgression!
“And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’”
I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no better than a slave, though he is the owner of all the estate; but he is under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father. So with us; when we were children, we were slaves to the elemental spirits of the universe. But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir.
Paul develops and interweaves here two themes that he has set forth, the metaphor of the pedagogue and the Galatians’ memory of their baptism. He conjoins them through the slave-freeman antinomy of the baptismal formula by insisting that the child is alike in status to the slave. Further, the childhood image, which has until now only been used to explain the status of the Law, given 430 years after the promise and only temporary, is now used analogously to explain the situation of the Galatians under paganism. We, all of us, I as a Jew and you as pagans, we were all under the elemental spirits of the universe: You under the pagan gods and I under the Law. I wonder if Paul is thinking here of the verse in Deuteronomy 4:19, which seemingly ordains the stars as the proper worship of “The Nations.” Thielman has, once more, made an attractive and simple alternative suggestion. He argues philologically that τὰ στοιχεῖα τοῦ κόσμου, “the elements of the world,” simply means the world itself, and the reason that Paul uses this “roundabout” term is that στοιχεῖα is also used metaphorically for the “elements” as that which a child learns first in school, thus effectively continuing Paul's figure of a child's education and maturity (1989, 82). But when we had grown up, then God the Father sent forth his son to redeem us born under the Law, that we—and you as well—might receive adoption as sons. Because you are also sons, at the baptismal ceremony God sent his spirit into our hearts, and we all cried out “Abba! Father!”
The explicit citation of the Aramaic usage alludes, I think, to two things: Jesus’ own crying out of “Abba” to God and the traditionary prePauline liturgy of the baptism. Therefore, through God, you (and we) have been recognized as a son, by entering into the spiritual body of the Son, and therefore no longer a slave but an heir. (See also Schweizer, in the TDNT VIII 391–92 and 399.) Paul's figure for the condition of Israel under the Law demonstrates beyond doubt, I think, that he does not hold the Law to be demonic or evil, or the commitment to keeping the Law to be contemnable in the way that the variations of the “Lutheran” interpretation would have it. This “slavery” is the benevolent and beneficial slavery of the child. It is for his own good. Only a fool, however—You foolish Galatians—would prefer to remain in such a state and not grow up into the status of heir. In an unpublished paper, David Henkin has analyzed this text brilliantly:
Significantly, the elevation of the Christian to the status of son is not an adoption in the ordinary sense of a superimposition of a natural title on someone who has no natural claim to the title. As the metaphor of the custodian (the paidagog;aaos) in the preceding verses implies, the apocalyptic moment is one in which sons (who were always by nature sons, though their contingent historical position obscured this fact) are recognized and redeemed by their rightful father. The reshuffling of the lines of genealogy is presented here as an act of restoration. The historical signifiers that Jewish law prescribed to represent a kind of paternal bond with God are peeled away and sons are recognized by their father by virtue of their faith, which is to say by virtue of the capacity to recognize him as their father. (Henkin 1991)
This, I think, provides the perfect summation of Paul's theology of Judaism and the Jews. They and their Law had literal value at a certain point in human history, in the childhood of humanity. However, now that maturity has come in the guise of the coming of Christ, his crucifixion, and his rising from the dead, the value of the signifier has been superseded. There is no more role for Israel as such in its concrete sense—except always for the promise of Romans 9–11 that in the end it will not be abandoned but redeemed by coming to faith in Christ. At stake is not Paul's love for Jews. I take very seriously his anguish in the beginning of Romans 9 over his brothers in the flesh. This very anguish, however, is precisely what signifies that as Jews—that is, as the historically understood concrete community of the flesh—Israel has no more role to play in history. A true parable may help make the point clearer. A Jewish friend of my family's was in the business of importing equipment for chicken farmers. As such, among his major customers were Anabaptists in Pennsylvania, with whom he became very friendly over a number of years. At one point, at a meal, the wife of his customer became distraught and began to cry. When asked why she was crying, she answered: Because Sidney is such a lovely person, and he is going to go to hell. I have no doubt that her love for Sidney was real—and specific, not merely abstract love for all human beings—just as was Paul's for his Jewish relatives. Nevertheless, it would be hard to claim that this woman valued Sidney, as a Jew, and this is my point about Paul. If the only value and promise afforded the Jews, even in Romans 11, is that in the end they will see the error of their ways, one cannot claim that there is a role for Jewish existence in Paul. It has been transcended by that which was its spiritual, allegorical referent always and forever: faith in Jesus Christ and the community of the faithful in which there is no Jew or Greek.
On my reading, then, it is totally inappropriate to think of Paul's thought as anti-Semitic, or even as anti-Judaic (except for perhaps the occasional outbursts of temper and frustration in 1 Thessalonians 2:14 [if genuine] and Philippians 3). Paul loves his relatives according to the flesh, anguishes over them, and is convinced that in the end they will be saved. This salvation, however, is precisely for those Jews a bitter gospel not a sweet one, because it is conditional precisely on abandoning that to which we hold so dearly, our separate cultural, religious identity, our own fleshy and historical practice, our existence according to the flesh, our Law, our difference. Paul has simply allegorized our difference quite out of existence.