Review: Galatians (Paideia)

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Peter Oakes, Greenwood Senior Lecturer in the New Testament at the University of Manchester, has given us another good commentary on Galatians, one that is needed in light of those who advocate for the New Perspective on Paul. Even still one might ask, “Why do we need another commentary (again)?”

  • Here, the aim of the series is mainly to students of the academic kind, that they would be engaging in NT studies and would be grounded in a basic understanding the NT texts. Along with this, “Paidiea” in Greek means “education.”
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  • So NT texts are written and shaped by the writing styles of the time. Knowing how ancient writers wrote various forms of literature helps us to better understand our Bible today.
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  • And the NT texts weren’t written so the authors could make a quick buck (or a denarius?). They have their own teaching aims, aims to “form the theological convictions and moral habits of their readers” (ix).

Oakes believes Paul wrote Galatians probably in the early 50s AD, after 1 and 2 Thessalonians but before 1 Corinthians. Paul writes mainly about three (human) parties: himself, his readers, and his opponents. In his introduction Oakes provides the readers with a side-table, a model of a normal Christian house church in Rome, consisting of the householder (and his wife, children, servants, slaves, and relatives), other householders and their family members, and other members of families, servants, slaves, and homeless people, all possibly related (or not) to Christians. He does this so the reader can have a more stable picture of Paul’s audience. So when the pillars in Jerusalem ask Paul and Barnabbas to “remember the poor” (Gal 2.10), it’s likely that most of the those in the church were poor.

Brief Points

The Rhetoric of 2.15-17

Oakes looks at the rhetoric of Galatians to show the train of thought. In 2.15-17 Paul is replying to Peter, “the logic of the action of Christian Jews in trusting in Christ was that they were no longer trusting in the law for righteousness.” As Oakes says, scholars have been thrown off by Paul’s argumentation in these verses. The end of 2.16 Paul quotes and give a Christian re-interpretation to Ps 143.2. Why didn’t Paul simply say that instead of all of 2.15-16? “[B]y beginning from a premise that he thinks Peter must agree with, Paul’s rhetoric stands more chance of carrying Peter with him” (86).

3.23-25, the Law as Guardian

The law exercised constraint but not constraint for the sake of punishment. The law’s constraint was the way of managing the circumstances up to the arrival of Christ, up to a time that Paul is about to identify in terms of reaching maturity (4:1-4). The law had an important role. (p. 127)

4.22-31, the allegory

Oakes agrees with Martyn (p 436) that “Paul sees this allegorical sense [v24] as inherent in the Genesis text: ‘For Paul, as for Philo, the two women in the Genesis story point beyond themselves’” (155). He says that “Paul expects that the Galatians, reading Genesis with Christian eyes, will see it this way too“ (156). The Galatian Christians belong to the Jerusalem that is free, the one above in heaven (cf. Phil 3.20), while the ‘present Jerusalem’ observes the law and are in slavery to it.

6.2, the law of Christ

Christ bore our burdens on the cross (Is 53.3-4). He acted on behalf of people (1.4; 2.20; 3.14). As well as bearing the burdens of others, the theme of bearing appears throughout Galatians 6 (6.2, 5, 17) [180].

A Few to Keep In Mind

What strikes me as odd is how the sections that work through the text of Galatians, called Tracing the Train of Thought, are often bogged down by two weights: grammatical discussion and the opposing views of other commentators.

  1. Grammar: In 1.15-16 Oakes discusses whether en emoi should be translated as God being “pleased to reveal his Son to” Paul or “through” Paul and then spends about five paragraphs on discussing differing views. This brings me to my next point.
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  2. Scholars Mentioned: Oakes interacts with other scholars and commentators throughout his work. The major scholars represented her are mainly E.P. Sanders and James Dunn (New Perspective on Paul), J. Louis Martyn and Martinus de Boer (an ‘apocalyptic’ reading of Galatians), Douglas Campbell, and Richard Hays (though there are still more I have left out). This is good.
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    The amount of discussion, on the other hand, is not. There is a lot of going back and forth with the other scholars. Sometimes it seemed like I spent more time reading the opposing views than I did Oakes’ views. Sometimes I’m not even sure what Oakes’ final view was (he names a few different views on how the present Jerusalem is in slavery [4.25], but he doesn’t say which one he agrees with [157]). Some discussions are important, as in 2.16: is it about our “trust in Jesus Christ” or “the faithfulness of Jesus Christ” to the Father (Hays)? Oakes vouches for the former. But when the title of the exegetical section of the commentary is called Tracing the Train of Thought, I often found myself lost in the bog of discussion. One aim of the commentary is for academic students (which I hope to be next year) to be grounded in other academic NT studies. I often agreed with Oakes when his views were stated, but sometimes I didn’t even know what his own view was. Only those of other scholars.

Recommended?

Yes, but with some caveats. Unfortunately this volume is not aimed at the layman (unless that layman knows advanced Greek and is well aware of the other theological issues surrounding Galatians). Oakes’ volume on Galatians is good as he gives careful insights and arguments for his views. He knows much about the Greco-Roman social and cultural context of the first century (a big plus), and he can say a lot without his book rolling out to x-hundreds of pages. He doesn’t agree with the New Perspective, though he shares some points of agreement which I think is good.

There is a lot to learn here, but, as stated before, this volume will be better suited for the student. The pastor can gain insights too, and the Theological Issues will help stir up thoughts. Oakes shows his grasp of the whole letter’s unity by referencing later verses with earlier verses (like how 3.28 can help us understand 2.14b. Also 2.34, the ‘false brothers’ seeking for Titus to be circumcised, and 6.12, Paul’s opponents ‘compelling’ the Gentiles to be circumcised, helps us to see the egregiousness of Peter’s error in 2.14b, Peter ‘compelling’ the Gentiles to Judaize), and vice versa. Oakes is another good voice in the crowd, but sometimes the other voices crowd him out, even in his own book.

Lagniappe

  • Series: Paideia: Commentaries on the New Testament
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Baker Academic (April 21, 2015)
  • PDF Sample

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[Special thanks to Baker Publishing for allowing me to review this book! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book].

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