Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Lancaster on Galatians 2:15-18?

I've always struggled to make sense of Paul's statements in Galatians 2:15-18, particularly the last statement: "For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor."  What was being torn down and then rebuilt?  The following quote from D. Thomas Lancaster's recent book The Holy Epistle to the Galatians (which I discovered via a post from James at Morning Meditations) immediately brought clarity to this long-time question for me:
“We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that [whether Jewish nor Gentile] a person is not justified by the works of the law [i.e., conversion, circumcision, etc.] but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we [the Jewish believers] also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified. But if, in our endeavour to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners [by eating and fellowshipping with Gentiles], is Christ then a servant of sin? [In other words, does becoming a believer mean we forsake Torah? Is eating and fellowshipping with Gentiles really a sin against Torah?] Certainly not! For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. -Galatians 2:15-18

That is to say to Peter, “If you of all people, Peter, rebuild a sharp division between Jew and Gentile by removing yourself from table fellowship with Gentiles, you are rebuilding the barrier that you originally tore down. If you refuse to eat and worship with them, you rebuild the barrier that you originally tore down. You yourself were the first of the apostles to tear that separation down. If now you are putting it back up, then you are admitting that you were wrong in the first place, and you are proving yourself to have been living in sin and transgression.”
Anybody else find this interpretation convincing?  Has anyone else read it somewhere else before, or come to similar conclusions from reading the letter?  If so, please comment--I'm curious.


Anonymous said...

"For if I build again those things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor."

I think Lancaster's connection of this statement to Paul's previous statement of Peter withdrawing from table fellowship from Gentiles is a stretch. A long one.

I think it's a separate statement on it's own. I do not even think that Paul was even speaking of himself, but rather of Galatians (of their condition) - their particular situation of seeking justification apart from Messiah.

Here's the key verse:

"But if, while we seek to be justified by Messiah, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Messiah therefore a minister of sin? For if I build again those things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. Certainly not!"

The key here is SIN (not the previous statement about Peter and Gentiles - that's a separate issue) and in particular not falling back into transgressions/sins while seeking to be justified by Messiah, going back to the things that were suppose to be defeated at the cross (sin and death).

Also, notice that in Greek the Gal. 2:18 doesn't actually have the second "I" that most translations add - it DOESN'T SAY "I destroyed", but simply "things which destroyed". I think it's very important to see that some translations try to paint Paul as anti-Torah. After all, what was Paul actually capable of destroying himself?

I found a Spanish translation that appears much more faithful to Greek that any English translation I've come across:

"Porque si yo reedifico lo que en otro tiempo destruí, yo mismo resulto transgresor." Gálatas 2:18 Spanish: La Biblia de las Américas (©1997)

Which translates into (my translation):

"Because if I rebuilt what was once destroyed, turned myself a transgressor."

Carl Kinbar said...

Hi Gene—The “I” is not actually missing from Gal. 2:15. Neither Greek nor Spanish verbs require the independent pronoun “I”—it’s included in the verb forms.

The Greek word (κατέλυσα) is a first singular active verb. The “I” is included in the form itself. The Spanish destruí is an exact equivalent—it’s a first person active. The “I” is included in the verb form. The Spanish translation of the entire sentence exactly mirrors the Greek. The problem is that English verbs REQUIRE the personal pronoun in order to translate the Greek. That’s why translators supply them.

[Note: I don’t claim to be a Greek or Spanish expert. I studied Spanish in High School and Koine Greek in graduate school. I used standard verb charts to confirm my observations.)

Anonymous said...

Carl, you are correct regarding the verb form (should have looked it up). What is your take on the verse?

James said...

Anyone want to send a link to this discussion to Boaz/FFOZ. They might be able to respond to your concerns and even address them in the book's second printing (the first printing is selling out fast, as I understand it)?

Carl Kinbar said...

Gene, I'm torn between the two primary ways of reading the passage--either Gal. 2:15 is a continuation of 2:14 or it starts a new, though related, topic. Different interpretations -- such as yours and Danial Lancaster's -- flow from these two ways.

I am given pause every time I get to 2:15. Along with many translators who indicate continuity with the use of quotation marks, I tend to see it as continuous. However, it doesn't read well as a transcription of spoken language and would, in this way of reading, be a summary of Shaul's rebuke of Peter. So, even if it's continuous, I doubt that Shaul actually spoke those words to Peter. They can be read as his unpacking of what the said to Peter for the sake of the Galatian audience.

IMO, it is also viable to read 2:14 and 2:15 as discontinuous (see the UBS Greek NT, for example). However, that ends Shaul's account of his rebuke of Peter very abruptly.

I'm reminded that Galatians is not a treatise but a letter, albeit not a personal letter as in modernity. So maybe I shouldn't expect things to be so tidy, one way or the other.

IMO, there are times in Shaul's letters and elsewhere in the Scriptures that we can offer viable interpretations but not necessarily completely airtight ones. That may be the case here.

Boaz Michael said...

Yahnatan--Shalom to you,

I think I sent you a review copy of the book. If I didn’t, let me know and I’ll send you one.

I personally liked Lancaster’s reading on Galatians 2:15-18 because it carried the context of the previous discussion about the Antioch incident and at least offered a potential reading of an otherwise obscure passage. It answers to the Jew/Gentile friction raised by Peter in Antioch, and it seems to follow naturally from the table-fellowship issue under discussion in 2:11-14. The other suggestion requires a complete change of subject, with no warning or indication, and it requires Paul to use the word “we” to refer to Jewish believer in Galatians 2:15 and then use “we” to refer to Gentiles in Galatians 2:16-17. That seems like a stretch to me.

I think Lancaster’s suggestion solves some of the questions and works well as a summary on the Antioch incident, but who knows? It’s a difficult text.

Anonymous said...

Boaz, first of all, I really like Lancaster's book (I still have to finish it, but my friend forcefully borrowed it from me the moment he saw it). Don't agree with a few things in it here and there, but I still think it's a watershed work that Christians and others should seek to put on their reading list.

The issue I have with Lancaster’s take on these particular verses is that he puts way too much emphasis on Jew/Gentile ethnic friction and discrimination, while Paul's main the issue appears to be one of Gentile justification from sin and that of Judaizing them (compelling them to become Jewish). This is why Paul takes on Peter with such gusto. Peter, by his passive actions brought on by fear, while fully knowing and teaching that Gentiles are justified by faith is actually forcing these same Gentiles into the arms of those who would ALSO have them convert to Judaism (in spite of what Messiah did for them, sans observance of Mosaic Torah by Gentiles), just to be more acceptable to those who would want to glory in their flesh. By doing so Peter is confusing these Gentiles into thinking that they must become Jewishly observant, something that Paul simply would not stand for.

That's the hypocrisy of Peter and others - knowing that Gentiles are justified by faith, but making it appear to OTHERS that he agrees with them that Gentiles must become defacto Jews.

Yahnatan said...

Thanks for all the comments so far. Boaz, I think your observation about the abrupt changing antecedent of "we" (from "we Jews" to "we Gentiles/believers") really helps pinpoint an important aspect of my difficulty with the one reading, and why I find Lancaster's reading so helpful.

Gene, just to be clear (and given what's been said in response to your initial comment): in your reading, what is Paul referring to as (possibly) being "rebuilt"?

Anonymous said...

"what is Paul referring to as (possibly) being "rebuilt"?

Yahnatan - what is spoken here as being rebuilt is the idea that Gentiles must become Jews in order to be justified in Messiah and before G-d. To hold such views (as some in the circumcised party did) was to take away from the very essence of what Yeshua did - provided a free gift of salvation apart of justification by observance of Torah. That's the thrust behind Paul's confrontation with Peter and that the argument that was made before the so called "Jerusalem Council" took place. This argument that centers on sin and redemption is a far stronger than ethnic discrimination argument (the classic "rebuild of the wall") which seems to be that main point Lancaster makes here. That's my take.