Studying Paul in his ancient Mediterranean horizon and the reception and handling of Paul in early Christianity are two of my primary areas of historical research. In view of this—and the Conn-verations blog’s focus on issues of hermeneutics and context(s)—every now and then I will try to post on Paul in Christian Origins.
During a short reading break I decided to type out something that has been swirling around my head since I recently read through Jubilees (a 2nd century BCE Jewish writing) again. The following passage stuck out to me in connection with something Paul does in Galatians 3.1-4.7.
Just to be clear at the outset, I do not think that Paul is necessarily writing with Jubilees in mind or that what Paul is doing is predicated upon some unique development within Jubilees. Rather, I prefer to view the following passage from Jubilees as a possible window in on certain ways things might have been understood by some(many?) Early Jews—thus, something that might have been “in the air” in Paul’s context.
But after this they [Israel] will return to me in all uprightness and with all of their heart and soul. And I shall cut off the foreskin of their heart and the foreskin of the heart of their descendents. And I shall create for them a Holy Spirit, and I shall purify them so that they will not turn away from following me from that day and forever. And their souls will cleave to me and to all my commandments. And they will do my commandments. And I shall be a father to them, and they will be sons to me. And they will all be called “sons of the living God.” And every angel and spirit will know and acknowledge that they are my sons and I am their father in uprightness and righteousness. And I shall love them. (Jubilees 1.22b-25)
The Jubilees passage shows an Early Jewish combination of several things in an eschatological setting: the blessing of the Spirit, Sonship, and faithfulness to the Torah—all with YHWH’s ultimate deliverance. The association of the Spirit/breath with Torah-faithfulness in a picture of YHWH’s ultimate deliverance is seen already, for example, in Ezek 36-37. In Galatians, of course, both the blessing of the Spirit and Sonship are on the opposite side of the apocalyptic and salvation-history divide from Torah-faithfulness. To put this another way, in Galatians the Spirit and Sonship are explicitly dissociated from Torah-faithfulness when it comes to God’s ultimate rescue of his people. In Galatians, Torah and Torah-faithfulness belong to the evil age from which Christ delivered us by his death (c.f. Gal 1.4, and the rest of the letter).
The Jubilees passage in question, along with many other passages in Early Jewish literature, helps us see how Paul’s understanding of Torah and Torah-faithfulness in relation to YHWH’s ultimate salvation would be shocking to a 1st century audience—it is foreign to any strand of Old Testament and/or Early Jewish thought with which I am familiar. This—that Torah faithfulness is part and parcel of any type of salvation YHWH would ever bring for his people—by the way, would be one of the main (Biblical) points of the teachers in Galatia that Paul sets out against in his letter. Paul can only put forth his shape of eschatological hope and deliverance, one dissociated from Torah, in the light of his understanding of Christ’s death (in Galatians) and the experience of the Spirit among the Galatians apart from Torah (c.f. Gal 3.2-5). Paul appeals to the Galatians’ experience of something—the Spirit—that was known to mark the climax (fullness) of time in the history of God’s dealing with Israel according to various forms of Jewish eschatological expectation. He appeals to their experience of it (the Spirit) not “ek/x ergwn nomou” (not out of works of Torah) in order to have credibility to recast completely the relation of the Spirit (and Sonship, as we will see) with Torah—to recast the relationship in a way foreign to any strand of Hebrew Bible and/or Early Jewish thought.
It seems Paul is sort of constrained into having to do something with Abraham in view of the other teachers (his “opponents”) presentation of their Torah-defined form of Christianity. It appears they taught their form of Christianity to the Gentiles of the Galatian churches through casting Abraham and Abrahamic descent in terms of Torah-keeping (various understandings of Abraham as a Torah-keeper colored the thought of many strands of Early Judaism). They would have presented this version of Abraham and Abrahamic descent as a Scriptural argument. Among other things they could appeal to Genesis 17 where circumcision is part of God’s covenant with Abraham and his descendants FOREVER. They also could appeal to Genesis 26.5, for example, where Abraham is a Torah-keeper.
In view of this, in 3.6-14 Paul presents his own “Scriptural”—reread in the light of Christ and the reality of experiencing God’s salvation apart from Torah—argument dissociating Abrahamic descent (Sonship) from Torah. Instead he associates Abrahamic descent with being “ek pistews” (literally: out of faithfulness). In 3.10-12 Paul dissociates “ek pistews” from Torah. In 3.13-14 we catch a glimpse of how “ek pistews” is a short-hand reference to Christ’s rescuing faithfulness (in the Cross) for Paul. Thus, for people such as myself (and the Paul scholars in whose footsteps I tread), Paul has all along been associating true Abrahamic descent with Christ when he talks about it being “ek pistews,” which, again, for Paul is something completely dissociated from Torah.
Paul’s “Scriptural” argument for his version of Abrahamic descent—“ek pistews” and not “ek/x ergwn nomou”—eventually turns on his playing with “seed” in 3.15-29. True Abrahamic Sonship is “ek pistews”—again, a short hand reference to Christ’s rescuing faithfulness—because Christ is the “seed” of the Abrahamic promise (3.15-16). Thus, “in Christ you are all sons of God, through [Christ’s] faithfulness” (3.26)…”and if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to promise” (3.28). True (Abrahamic) Sonship is “ek pistews”/in Christ and thus (for Paul) not in any way associated with Torah keeping. Paul thus counters the Scriptural arguments of his opponents in Galatia with his (re-read) “Scriptural” presentation. They urge a Torah-observant form of being Christ’s people through their Scriptural presentation of a Torah-defined Abrahamic promise.
Ok, I hope I have not bored or lost anyone with this whirl-wind tour through Paul’s thought in Galatians…
Getting back to Jubilees and Galatians, the Jubilees passage connects the eschatological expectation of the Spirit with Sonship. In the light of this association, it seems to me, parts of what Paul does in Galatians 3.1-4.7 make greater sense. In Gal 3.1-4.7 Paul speaks of the promise of the Spirit, the “blessing of Abraham,” Sonship, and even “Justification” in almost overlapping ways. More to the point, Paul somehow connects “the blessing of Abraham”—that all the nations of the earth would be blessed in him; Abrahamic descent for the Galatians—with the promise of the Spirit, which (3.2-5) the Galatians have begun to experience. For this connection, see 3.14, “so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through (Christ’s?) faithfulness.”
Here I submit Jubilees 1.22b-25 helps us with a question that has troubled some in the history of interpretation. How is the “blessing of Abraham” connected with the Spirit? We usually just gloss over this. But, how did the “blessing of Abraham” and Abrahamic descent (Sonship) become associated with the Spirit in Paul’s mind in such a way that he could relate them in his argument? How could this make sense to and help in persuading a group of people in the 1st century—a group with some exposure to Abrahamic traditions and an eschatological hope linked with Abrahamic identity? Though we might be able to answer this question without it, I think Jubilees 1.22b-25 gives us something more concrete with which to work.
The Jubilees passage presents us with a form of Early Jewish eschatological expectation in which the Spirit is associated with Sonship. Thus Paul can discuss the blessing of being Abraham’s seed in association with the blessing of receiving the Spirit. Indeed, for Paul the Spirit is a Spirit of Sonship that God has sent “because you are sons” (4.6). The Spirit, at least, marks out the Galatians as God’s Sons—Abraham’s true seed in Christ Jesus (3.27-29). Like Jubilees, Paul understands the presence of the Spirit as identifying its recipients as God’s true people, his Sons (Children).
Thus, Jubilees 1.22b-25 with its connection of Sonship and the Spirit helps us see how Paul can do what he does. Paul’s opponents in Galatia muster a powerful Scriptural argument: being the God of Israel’s true people now through (the) Christ means you need to keep Torah. After all, as they might argue, true Abrahamic descent (Sonship) as defined by the eternal Abrahamic covenant means circumcision and Torah keeping like Abraham (c.f. Gen 17 and 26.5, for example).
Paul counters by pointing out that the Galatians received the Spirit apart from Torah. Since the blessing of the Spirit defines, or is at least connected with, true Sonship—a way of thinking reflected in, for example, Jubilees 1.22b-25—Paul can persuasively move from their experience of the Spirit to the nature of their (Abrahamic) Sonship. Paul can persuasively move from their experience of the Spirit apart from Torah to discussing the nature of their Abrahamic Sonship as apart from Torah, despite the powerful Scriptural arguments his “opponents” presented. Paul does this through his own “Scriptural” (re-read in the light of Christ and the experience of the Spirit) arguments—through his “ek pistews”/Christ-rereading of those scriptures. Paul’s re-reading of those scriptures as supporting true Abrahamic Sonship apart from Torah carries weight only because of the Galatians’ experience of the Spirit apart from Torah.
Again, all of this turns on Paul’s ability to treat the Galatians’ experience of the Spirit as something bound up with Sonship—an association seen in Jub. 1.22b-25. Since they have experienced the Spirit apart from Torah, they can be Abraham’s true descendents apart from Torah. Perhaps Jubilees helps us see how Paul’s discussion of the blessing of the Spirit can also be a discussion of Sonship. Discussion of the Spirit can connect to arguments about true Sonship in view of such an established connection in Jewish thought as reflected in Jubilees 1.22b-25. Whether or not I even buy the argument I have made, Jub 1.22b-25’s association of the Spirit and Sonship should catch the attention of the careful reader of Galatians.
So, Jubilees 1.22b-25 helps us better see how what Paul does with the Torah in Galatians is shocking. It also (1) provides us with a relevant parallel of a connection between eschatological Sonship and the eschatological Spirit and (2) aids our understanding of how Paul’s arguments could actually be persuasive to his 1st century audience.
In view of certain controversies concerning Paul in our ecclesiastical world, I should mention that there is really nothing distinctively New Perspective in what I have said in this post.