In Part III of Paul & the Gift John Barclay exegetically and theologically analyzes The apostle’s letter to the Galatians. Barclay’s treatment requires four chapters, weighing it in at just over one hundred pages. In addition to his exegesis, he compares a reading of Paul’s letter to that of Luther, Dunn, Martyn, and Kahl by drawing attention to the numerous locus of debate that are associated with it such as Faith, Christ, Works, Law—pistis Christou (πιστις Χριστου) vs. erga nomou (εργα νομου)—and several others. What Barclay reveals is Paul’s desire for new communities to form as a result of the gospel he proclaims:
“The truth of Paul’s gospel has to be both recognized and enacted–in fact, recognized in its enactment. It is only as communities are remolded in exclusive allegiance to ‘the law of Christ’ that they may be said to affirm the baptismal confession, ‘Jesus is Lord’ (Rom. 10:9). Social practice is not, for Paul, an addition to belief, a sequel to a status realizable in other terms: it is the expression of belief in Christ, the enactment of a ‘life’ that can otherwise make no claim to be ‘alive'” (p. 439-440).
As Barclay demonstrates, grace, for Paul, is unconditioned (incongruous) but not unconditional (rejecting non-circularity). The gift, then, is the Christ-event: the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. For Paul’s theology, incongruity is the dominant of the perfections; it is because of this that the gospel “stands or falls” (p. 370). Based on his exegetical analysis, Barclay crafts the below rendering of Galatians 2:15-21—
You and I, Peter, are Jews, used to thinking of ourselves as categorically distinct from “Gentile sinners.” But we know (though conviction and experience) that a person (whether Gentile or Jew) is not considered of worth (“righteous”) by God through Torah-observance (“living Jewishly”), but through faith in (what God has done in) Christ. We look to God to consider us valuable (“righteous”) in Christ, not through obeying the Torah, and this is so even if (in situations like Antioch’s) our resulting behavior makes us look like “sinners” (“living in a Gentile fashion”). Does that mean that Christ has led us into sin? No way! Only if one were to reinstate the Torah as the arbiter of worth (“righteousness”) would “living like a Gentile” in Christ be classified as “transgression”. In fact (taking myself as a paradigm), I have died to the Torah—it is no longer what constitutes my standard of value—because I have been reconstituted in Christ. My old existence came to an end with the crucified Christ; my new life has arisen from the Christ-event and is therefore shaped by faith in the death of Christ, who loved me and gave himself for me. This divine gift I will by no means reject: if “righteousness” were measured by the Torah, the death of Christ would be without effect (p. 371).
Barclay’s translation is directly in line with what is conclusive of the whole letter of Galatians.
- The theology of Galatians ‘drives toward the formation of innovative communities, which not only span the boundary dividing Gentiles and Jews, but practice a communal ethos significantly at odds with the contest-culture of the Mediterranean world’ (p. 443).
- The incongruity of grace enacted in the Christ-event and experienced in the Spirit. Because the Christ-gift neither recognized nor rewarded the worth of Paul’s life “in Judaism,” and equally was given irrespective of the worth of Gentiles, it jolts its recipients into a new construal of the cosmos (p. 443).
- The contextual specificity of the letter and the breadth of the canvas on which Paul depicts issues. For Paul, it is because the Christ-event has subverted every other regime of value that it cannot be repackaged within the taxonomies of the Torah without losing its character as incongruous gift. And neither does it conform to quest for honor or the definitions of capital that are regnant in the “world” on human terms (p. 444).
- We are able to appreciate in a new way how communal practice is ‘integral to the expression of good news, because the issue of the Law in Galatians is not law-as-demand or law-as-means-to-salvation. Living by faith is ‘necessarily expressed in new patterns of loyalty and behavior’, with the Spirit as its source, director, and norm (p. 444).
- Clarifying how Paul’s allegiance to the truth of the good news necessarily questions the ultimate authority of the Torah, there is no denigration of Judaism required with this reading of Galatians (p. 445).
As these points reveal, Barclay’s argument is boiled down to understanding the missionary context of Paul’s gospel as the perfection emphasized is incongruity. Paul’s gospel as he preached it was missional and reflects his social context. He destroyed the hostile disunity that existed between Jews and Gentiles. Paul’s motive was to tear down the walls built by the social order, and the only way to do it was with a gospel that was new and unique. Jews and Gentiles living in community together was the new model for community that is made possible under the umbrella of the Christ-event, that is, the grace-gift. This completely changes how they would interpret community and what it means to do life together; free of social hierarchy for a “Community of Different’s”, reflecting the title of Scot McKnight’s book on the subject.
My final installment of Barclay will be published within a week, and it will reflect his findings for Paul’s letter to the Romans.
If you haven’t read them yet, check out my other posts regarding Barclay’s book Paul & the Gift by clicking the links below!