“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.