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Apocalyptic Antinomies in Paul's Letter to the Galatians*

  • J. Louis Martyn

At several junctures in the history of its interpretation Paul's letter to the Galatians has been seen as the embarrassing member of the Pauline letter-family, the one refusing to be brought into line with the others, and even, in some regards, the one threatening the unity and good-natured comradery of the family. Luther, to be sure, called on the familial image in an entirely positive sense, when he confessed himself to be happily betrothed to the letter. Others have considered that betrothal the prelude to an unfortunate marriage, in which Luther was led astray, or led further astray, by this intractable and regrettable letter.

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[1] See Gritsch, Eric W., Martin - God's Court Jester (1983), chap 7, ‘The Gospel and Israel’, and literature cited there. In his lectures on Galatians Luther often spoke in one breath of the Jews, the Turks, and the papists. No careful reader of Luther's lectures can fail, however, to learn much about Galatians.

[2] Käsemann, E., ‘Die Anfänge christlicher Theologie’, ZThK 57 (1960) 162–85; ET ‘The Beginnings of Christian Theology’, 82–107 in New Testament Questions of Today (1969); ‘Zum Thema der urchristlichen Apokalyptik’, ZThk 59 (1962) 267–84; ET ‘On the Subject of Primitive Christian Apocalyptic’, 108–37 in New Testament Questions of Today.

[3] New Testament Questions of Today, 109 n 1.

[4] It is important, however, to see that Käsemann himself found ‘the relics of apocalyptic theology … everywhere in the Pauline Epistles’ (NTQT 131; emphasis added). An appreciative analysis and critique of Käsemann's views are given in Martinus de Boer, C., ‘The Defeat of Death: Paul's Apocalyptic Eschatology in 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 5. 12–21’ (Dissertation, Union Theological Seminary, 1983).

[5] I have encountered this argument several times in oral discussions.

[6] Käsemann, , New Testament Questions of Today, 133.

[7] Martyn, J. Louis, review of J. C. Beker, Paul the Apostle, in Word and World 2 (1982) 194–8, p. 196.

[8] Gadamer, H.-G., Wahrheit und Methode (3 1972) 345.

[9] On the Teachers see Martyn, , ‘A Law-Observant Mission to Gentiles: the Background of Galatians’, Michigan Quarterly Review 22 (1983) 221–36, reprinted in SJT 38 (1985); Ellis, E. E., ‘The Circumcision Party and the Early Christian Mission’, chap 7 in Prophecy and Hermeneutic in Early Christianity (1978).

[10] Taken by itself the expression New Creation scarcely decides the issue we are addressing, but it is pertinent to note that the expression is at home in apocalyptic. See Stuhlmacher, P., ‘Erwägungen zum ontologischen Charakter der kainē ktisis bei Paulus’, EvTh 27 (1967) 135; cf. also Schneider, G., ‘Die Idee der Neuschöpfung beim Apostel Paulus und ihr religionsgeschichtlicher Hintergrund’, TrThZ 68 (1959) 257–70. On the triple death in Gal 6.14 see Minear, P. S., ‘The Crucified World: The Enigma of Galatians 6, 14’, 395407 in Andersen, C. and Klein, G. (eds.), Theologia Crucis - Signum Crucis (1979).

[11] Aristotle spoke of τάναντία, ‘the contraries’, as one of the modes of opposition, Metaphysics 1018a; cf. 1004b and 986a. He also spoke of pairs that admit an intermediate, such as black, grey, white (μεταξύ; άνά μέσον). Gal 5. 3 shows that Paul does not understand Law-observance and non-Law-observance to admit the intermediate phenomenon of partial Law-observance. Nor in 6. 15 does Paul think of complementarity in the sense that circumcision and uncircumcision encompass the whole of humanity (contrast Gal 2. 7–9 and the captatio benevolentiae of Gal 2.15; contrast also the Greek expression “Eλληνες καί βάρβαροι and Jewish references to ). As we will see below, Paul embraces as a major factor in his theology the pattern of mutually exclusive opposition. The concern of the present essay is to approach the question of ‘Paul and apocalyptic’ by taking one's bearings from pairs of opposites, a task as pertinent to the study of the other letters as it is to the study of Galatians. The path followed is distinct from the one that is pursued in studies of the antithesis as a rhetorical form, although there are points of contact. See particularly 30–31 of Schneider, N., Die rhetorische Eigenart der paulinischen Antithese (1970), and Schneider's references to earlier literature.

[12] For Greece the first collection of pertinent texts was made by Kemmer, E., Die Polare Ausdrucksweise in der Griechischen Literatur (1900); we have now the finely nuanced interpretation by Lloyd, G. E. R., Polarity and Analogy (1966). The traditions of primary importance are those of Heraclitus, the Pythagoreans, Parmenides, the Hippocratic corpus, Plato, and Aristotle, the last being our major source for the role of polar structure in Pythagorean philosophy. See also the orphic papyrus discussed by Schütz, O., Archiv für Papyrusforschung und verwandte Gebiete 13 (1939) 210–12, and for Stoic traditions on the άντικείμενα von Arnim, J., Stoicorum Veterum Fragmenta (1903) 2, 7083, and Polenz, M., Die Stoa (1948) 48 ff. For Persia see notably Widengren, Geo, ‘Leitende Ideen und Quellen der iranischen Apokalyptik’, 77162 in David, Hellholm (ed.), Apocalypticism in the Mediterranean World and the Near East (1983); cf. in the same volume the article by Hultgård, A., ‘Forms and Origins of Iranian Apocalypticism’ (387411); also Kuhn, K. G., ‘Die Sektenschrift und die iranische Religion’, ZThK (1952) 296316. for Egypt one notes certain recurrent antitheses in ancient Egyptian religion (Lloyd, , Polarity and Analogy 29 n 3), and above all Philo's use of the Pythagorean tradition of opposites, once in order to show Moses’ priority to Heraclitus (Who is the Heir 207–14), and elsewhere in order to enrich the doctrine of the Two Ways (On Flight and Finding 58; Questions and Answers on Exodus 23; cf. 1QS 3. 13–4. 26). For Palestine see Isaiah 45. 7, where God is the one who now creates light and darkness, salvation and woe (a pre-figurement of opposites in the new age? cf. Carroll, Stuhlmueller, Creative Redemption in Deutero-Isaiah, 1970); Ecclesiastes 3. 1–9; and especially 7. 14; Ben Sira 11. 14; 33. 14–15; 42. 24–25 [Ben Sira provides the classic example of the use of the theory of cosmic polarity in service of the doctrine of the Two Ways; note also the motif of complementarity in the last passage, reflecting Ben Sira's concern to avoid a split in God by affirming that God created a split world; cf. Herm, Mand 58; cf. Middendorp, Th., Die Stellung Jesu Ben Siras zwischen Judentum und Hellenismus (1973); Hengel, M., Judaism and Hellenism (1974) I, 146; Hadot, J., Penchant Mauvais et Volunté Libre dans La Sagesse de Ben Sira (1970); Maier, G., Mensch und freier Wille (1971)]; in Qumran literature the major text is 1QS 3. 13–4. 26, where one finds a connection between pairs of opposites and the expectation of the New Creation: the struggle between the two Spirits is characteristic of the cosmos until God establishes the New Creation by destroying the Spirit of Evil; the New Creation is thus connected with the termination of cosmic polarity. The wisdom traditions show the thought of archaic polarity serving the doctrine of the Two Ways; Qumran can represent the tendency in apocalyptic traditions to use the thought of archaic polarity also in the service of the doctrine of the Holy War (cf. also the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, note 13 below); from the numerous treatments of Qumran dualism two items: May, H. G., ‘Cosmological Reference in the Qumran Doctrine of the Two Spirits and in Old Testament Imagery’, JBL 82 (1963) 114; Licht, J., ‘An Analysis of the Treatise on the Two Spirits in DSD’, Scripta Hierosolymitana 4 (1965) 88100); the pertinent rabbinic data, fully collected and arranged, wherever possible, by date, would make a study in themselves; it will suffice to mention the continuation of the use of pairs of opposites to serve the doctrine of the Two Ways; Aboth 2. 9; 5. 7; 5. 19; and the sometimes philosophical discussions of the in which the accent generally lies on complementarity rather than on opposition, e.g. Midrash Rabba 11. 8, where the Sabbath asks God for a partner (), and is given Israel as a partner; (cf. Pesikta Rabbati 23. 6); Ecc 7. 14 is taken up in several places, e.g. Hagigah 15a, where, however, under the name of Akiba, the motif of opposition is added to that of cosmic complementarity (cf. Midrash Bahir 129 and Midrash Temurah 2). It is well known that the so-called doctrine of the syzygies was a favourite of the gnostics and also plays an important role in Jewish-Christian traditions now found in the Pseudo-Clementine literature; see e.g. Strecker, G., Das Judenchristentum in den Pseudoklementinen (2 1981).

[13] The formula is also cited in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (Asher 1. 4; 5. 1); cf. further Judah 19. 4; 20. 1; Levi 19. 1; Naph 2. 10; 3. 5; Joseph 20. 2; Benj 5. 3. In Ben Sira 42. 24–25 the formula is used to express complementarity rather than opposition, a tendency to some degree characteristic of the interpretation of duality in wisdom traditions and in rabbinic literature (see preceding note), not to mention the important role complementary duality plays in Greek philosophy (e.g. Heraclitus) and in the history of medicine from the Hippocratic corpus to the writings of C. G. Jung.

[14] See especially Aristotle, Metaphysics 986a, where the ten principles of the Pythagoreans are listed in two columns of opposites (σνστοιχίαι).

[15] The letter opens with the ancient pair of God/human being, and closes with the strange pair of flesh/cross (6. 13–14). Some of the pairs of opposites involve the expressions ούκάλλά; ούέάν μή; ή; ούκέτι δέ; others appear simply by opposed datives (e.g. 2. 19) or adverbs (e.g. 2. 14).

[16] The traditions connecting the famous three reasons for gratitude to Thales, Plato, and Rabbi Judah (active ca. 130–160 C.E.) are conveniently cited in Meeks, W. A., ‘The Image of the Androgyne’, HR 13 (1973/1974) 167–8. The two major interpretive alternatives for Gal 3. 28 arise from taking its background to be gnosis, on the one hand, and apocalyptic, on the other. Meeks' learned article travels the former route; the present essay the latter. Nothing in the text or context of Gal 3. 28 indicates that the thought is that of re-unification. See also 1 Cor 15. 46.

[17] The conviction that the Law is the antidote to the Evil Impulse is very old and very widespread, stretching at least from Ben Sira (e.g. 15. 14–15) and the Qumran literature (e.g. CD 2. 14–16) to the Epistle of James (e.g. 1. 22–25) and rabbinic traditions [Porter, F. C., ‘The Yeçer hara’, Biblical and Semitic Studies (1901) 128]. That Christian Jews held this conviction is clear from the Epistle of James; see Joel, Marcus, ‘The Evil Inclination in the Epistle of James’, CBQ 44 (1982) 606–21, and the article by Martyn cited in note 9 above.

[18] By giving the identity of the true opposite to the fleshy Impulse, Paul exposes the power of God that makes certain the promise of Gal 5. 16. Thus Paul does not speak of an anthropological doctrine in the proper sense (Ketz, H. D., Galatians, 1979, 278), but rather of the advent of Christ's Spirit. Cf. Vos, J. S., Traditionsgeschichtliche Untersuchungen zur Paulinischen Pneumatologie (1973), 7684; Meyer, Paul W., ‘The Holy Spirit in the Pauline Letters’, Interpretation 33 (1979) 318, especially 11; Lull, D. J., The Spirit in Galatia (1980).

[19] See note 10 above, and John, Koenig, ‘The Motif of Transformation in the Pauline Epistles’ (Dissertation, Union Theological Seminary, 1970) 3843.

[20] It is worth no ting that Geo Widengren identifies as the two main motifs of apocalyptic thought (1) cosmic changes and catastrophies and (2) the war-like final struggle in the cosmos, David, Hellholm (ed.), Apocalypticism in the Mediterranean World and the Near East (1983), 150. See Hall, B. Barbara, ‘Battle Imagery in Paul's Letters’ (Dissertation, Union Theological Seminary, 1973).

[21] Barrett, C. K., ‘The Allegory of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar in the Argument of Galatians’, 116 in Friederich, J., Pöhlmann, W., Stuhlmacher, P. (eds.), Rechtfertigung, Festschrift Käsemann (1976).

[22] See e.g. Aristotle, , Metaphysics 986a. Paul's method of interpretation, especially because of his explicit reference to allegory (4. 24), has often been compared with allegorical exegesis in Philo. More pertinent may be Philo's interest in a series of paired opposites; see note 12 above.

[23] See note 9 above.

[24] See note 6 above.

[25] To a considerable extent Paul causes the letter to be focused on the issue whether the advent of Christ has introduced a new religion, as the circumcising Teachers think, or whether that event marks the end of all religion by terminating holy times (4. 10), food laws (2. 11–14) etc. Note the sharp irony with which Paul employs in a polemical fashion the terminology of religious conversion in 4. 9 (Georgi, D. in ThEH 70, 1959, 111 ff.). Our analysis of pairs of opposites in Galatians shows that Paul's use of this pattern does not fall in the line of wisdom tradition, with its marraige of the pairs to the doctrine of the Two Ways, but rather in the line of apocalyptic, in which the pairs are seen to be at war with one another. Gal 5. 19–23 does not present a list of vices to be avoided, matched by a list of virtues to be followed, as though the letter offered a new edition of the doctrine of the Two Ways. Paul speaks, rather, of the activities of two warriors, the Flesh and the Spirit.

[26] We have noted above that in composing Galatians Paul employs at crucial points the noun άποκάλνψις and the verb άποκαλύπτω. It is strange that in the investigation of apocalyptic patterns in Paul's thought relatively little attention has been given to the Apostle's use of these vocables; but see now Richard Sturm, E., ‘An exegetical study of the Apostle Paul's use of the words apokalyptō/apokalypsis.’ (Dissertation, Union Theological Seminary, 1984).

[27] In Galatians the cross repeatedly forms an apocalyptic antinomy with circumcision (e.g. 5. 11), just as Christ's death forms an apocalyptic antinomy with the Law (e.g. 2. 21): Beverly Gaventa, R., ‘The Purpose of the Law: Paul and Rabbinic Judaism’ (M.Div. Thesis, Union Theological Seminary, 1973).

[28] Epistemology is a central concern in all apocalyptic, because the genesis of apocalyptic involves a) developments that have rendered the human story hopelessly enigmatic, when perceived in human terms, b) the conviction that God has now given to the elect true perception both of present developments (the real world) and of a wondrous transformation in the near future, c) the birth of a new way of knowing both present and future, and d) the certainty that neither the future transformation, nor the new way of seeing both it and present developments, can be thought to grow out of the conditions in the human scene. For Paul the developments that have rendered the human scene inscrutable are the enigma of a Messiah who was crucified as a criminal and the incomprehensible emergence of the community of the Spirit, born in the faith of this crucified Messiah. The new way of knowing, granted by God, is focused first of all on the cross, and also on the parousia, these two being, then, the parents of that new manner of perception. Galatians is a strong witness to the epistemological dimension of apocalyptic, as that dimension bears on the cross. See Martyn, J. Louis, ‘Epistemology at the Turn of the Ages: 2 Corinthians 5. 16’, Farmer, W. R., Moule, C. F. D., Niebuhr, R. R. (eds.), Christian History and Interpretation: Studies Presented to John Knox (1967) 269–87; Keck, L. E., ‘Paul and Apocalyptic Theology’, Interpretation 38 (1984) 234 n 17.

[29] Galatians provides one of the clearest indications in the corpus that Paul's understanding of apocalyptic is focused primarily not on God's uncovering of something hidden from the beginning of time (1 Cor 2. 10), but rather on God's new act of invading the human orb, thus restructuring the force field in which human beings live. In other words, more important than the etymology of the verb άποκαλύπτω is Paul's using it in parallel with the verb έλθείν (Gal 3. 23). Faith is apocalypsed by coming newly on the scene. Thus the knowledge spoken of in the preceding note is knowledge of an invaded cosmos.

* Paper delivered at the 39th General Meeting of SNTS, August 1984.

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