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The Letter to the Galatians (New International Commentary on the New Testament (NICNT)) Hardcover – September 18, 2018
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About the Author
David A. deSilva is Trustees' Distinguished Professor of New Testament and Greek at Ashland Theological Seminary. His many other books include An Introduction to the New Testament, Introducing the Apocrypha, and Galatians: A Handbook to the Greek Text.
- Publisher : Eerdmans (September 18, 2018)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 622 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0802830552
- ISBN-13 : 978-0802830555
- Item Weight : 2.24 pounds
- Dimensions : 6 x 1.7 x 9.4 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #656,314 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Any time NICNT comes out with a new volume it is well worth getting. Sure, they grow ever larger, longer and more expensive, but they are still very much worth it. Previous heavyweight academic and scholarly commentaries on Galatians from the past few decades from a conservative and evangelical perspective have included: F.F. Bruce (NIGTC, 1982); Richard Longenecker (WBC, 1990); Thomas Schreiner (ZECNT, 2010); and Douglas Moo (BECNT, 2013). This new volume is a welcome addition.
The first hundred pages of his work involve introductory matters. Concerning the rather drawn-out debate as to whether Paul was writing to the churches of North Galatia or South Galatia, deSilva opts for the southern thesis, but says that the “evidence is inconclusive on either side”. And he argues that this is likely his earliest epistle.
As to the text itself, a careful verse by verse exegesis and exposition is engaged in. While interacting – as one must – with other authors and commentators, he keeps most of that discussion limited to the footnotes, so that interaction with the biblical text itself is foremost on each page. Let me highlight just a few key areas of Paul’s thought as discussed in this commentary.
A crucial part of Paul’s letter is Gal. 2:15-21. deSilva spends 50 pages on these seven verses, and he includes four excurses therein: what Paul means by justification, works of the law, faith, and grace. As he says about 2:16, this verse “is perhaps the most dense and most debated in all of Pauline literature.” There is no question about that.
Interpretative, grammatical and theological challenges abound. On the famous debate about understanding “the faith of Christ/Jesus” as either an objective genitive or a subjective genitive, deSilva opts for the “traditional understanding” of “trust in Christ” after looking in depth at the pros and cons. But he argues that the discussion is “fraught with theological significance” as his own theological position (Methodist) makes clear.
The question of justification, which is “central to Christian theology, and Paul’s letters (esp. Galatians and Romans)” is of course a major point of discussion and debate with the New Perspective on Paul. deSilva therefore frequently cites or interacts with Dunn, Wright and others, presenting himself as more or less sympathetic to the position.
He both agrees and differs with them on various matters, and also takes a similar stance regarding traditional Reformed thinking on these issues. Both his Methodism and his openness to aspects of the NPP accounts for his stance.
Thus he argues that a major battle in Galatians is not that of faith versus works, but the faith of Christ over against the works of the law. After explaining this in some detail, he then says this: “The principal problem with the Torah was that its term had expired and that what was its strength prior to Christ was now its greatest flaw – the maintenance of the boundary between Jew and gentile on the pretense that the former retained ‘favored nation’ status before God.”
Justification is, according to Paul (at least as deSilva reads him) not just some “particular transactional moment” as he sees those of the Reformed tradition guilty of affirming, but something “dynamic and relational”. Says deSilva:
“We are not reading Galatians with Paul when we are thinking that he is most concerned with establishing ‘faith’ or ‘grace’ as “the valid ‘external’ soteriological basis of justification.” He is most concerned with moving Christ-followers forward in the process of transformation that Jesus has opened up for us by God’s fresh supply of God’s Holy Spirit, and not allowing us to be turned back from the direction in which Jesus has invited us….”
He takes this stance throughout. In his comments on Gal. 5:1-6, for example, he says that this passage “raises questions about the adequacy of the prominent Reformation-era expression ‘justification by faith alone’.… In Paul’s economy, faith is important because this faith has led to the Galatian’s reception of the Spirit (3;2-5, 13-14)…. The slogan ‘justification by faith alone’ draws a sharp line between ‘faith’ and the very thing that faith was awakened to obtain, namely, the Spirit.”
He is impatient with arguments over monergism (the work of God alone) and synergism (the joint work of God and man) when it comes to issues of justification, righteousness, and the like: “Paul’s robust sense of the Holy Spirit at work within the Christ-follower makes it impossible truly to distinguish a precise division of labor, such that neither foreign, theological categories of synergism nor monergism suffice to capture Paul’s understanding.”
Those of the Reformed and Puritan persuasion would argue that this would be to conflate and confuse justification with sanctification. While these are two distinct things, they also can never be separated. The once-off initial work of Christ in our lives (monergistic justification) is always to be followed up by our life-long transformational growth in holiness in cooperation with the Holy Spirit (synergistic sanctification).
But deSilva does go on to say that while there can be no salvation without a changed life (God’s goal is not just to get Christians off the hook come judgment day, but to make them new creatures), it is indeed God who is at work in the life of the believer via the Holy Spirit, and “thus in and behind all the Christian’s ‘working’.”
Theology is not only covered in this commentary: practical matters of course are also necessarily covered. Paul always follows up his doctrinal concerns with behaviour concerns, and so should all good commentators. And that deSilva does. For example, after looking at Paul’s first ten introductory verses, deSilva reminds us of contemporary relevance of all this.
Paul’s insistence on one gospel does not mean, as deSilva reminds us, that Christians cannot disagree on various matters, but there are nonetheless certain theological boundaries which we dare not transgress:
“Paul is especially attuned to the danger of compromising the terms of God’s invitation and the fulness of God’s vision for the sake of making the same more appealing or palatable to those with whom we have to do. In Paul’s mind, the problem arises not from pleasing human beings but from making this an aim that competes with pleasing God. There is no virtue in being overtly displeasing to people, and Paul is elsewhere quite finely attuned to the importance of not putting any unnecessary obstacles in the way of people (2 Cor. 6:3). He is aware, however, that there are necessary obstacles (e.g., see Gal. 5:11b).”
Or as he remarks on Gal. 6:7: “Christian freedom carries with it substantial responsibility to use that freedom as God intended and as God, through the Spirit, directs and empowers. The absence of law does not mean the absence of consequences or accountability before the One who searches our inmost intentions and thoughts.”
Obviously much more can be said about this work. Those who dislike the NPP or non-Reformed treatments may find themselves demurring too often here. But if you are able to live with some theological differences, while enjoying watching a world-class New Testament scholar at work, this volume should not disappoint.
If you insist on commentaries from a much more Reformed perspective, then stick with volumes by Moo, Schreiner and others. But this helpful work will stand the test of time, even if it invites robust discussion and debate at various places.
There’s a major, thorough Introduction of over 100 pages after a substantial bibliography. First, he addresses the Pauline authorship. From there, he delves into Paul’s ministry in Galatia and the pastoral challenges he faced there. That requires a careful rendering of the false teachers there. It was an explosive battle among Paul and the false teachers and DeSilva well described it. Next, geographic issues (he favors the South Galatian view) and chronology are surveyed. Acts is consulted and a conservative chronology is pieced together over several pages.
As you would expect with this author, he dives deep into rhetorical issues. There are 40 pages on it! I don’t find that as interesting as some do but he examines it with the best scholarly standards. He ends with structure and the overall effectiveness of the letter.
Next, you get 400 pages of commentary on the epistle itself. I found it thorough, done with careful exegesis, and with a healthy coverage of issues scholars love along with some timely excursuses. Pastors will benefit from this commentary too. All in all, a fine work.
My only criticism (and it has nothing to do with deSilva's work) is that I wish his Application and Connection sections were more clearly labeled. After he has analyzed a large pericope, he moves into insightful and wise practical concerns for the church. However, there is no title to tell you when he has moved from textual commentary and into pastoral applications.