A Reflective Christian

All for God’s Kingdom

The relation between Romans and Galatians

One of the principal means through which Romans has essentially been interpreted is through the lens of Galatians. In Galatians, we see Paul with a very condemning voice, arguing that those who got circumcised were severed from the Messiah. Because of some of the similar language between Romans and Galatians, Romans in turn got interpreted as if Paul were fighting against another gospel in that letter also. As a result, Torah obedience was spoken of negatively, as if one had to spurn the Torah altogether (or even worse and further from the text, as if one had to spurn all works altogether). I would guess that a negative view of the Torah stems from an incomplete interpretation of Galatians that was then imposed upon Romans.

I would posit that Galatians is concerned with Torah obedience that, in effect, closes off a prophetic voice, that essentially alienates further revelation and direction regarding ethics. In Galatians 3, Paul asks if the Spirit (akin to the prophetic voice and further revelation) was received by faith/trust or if it was received by following the old custom of Torah obedience. And then, in chapter 5, Paul goes on to state that what matters if faith/trust working through love.

While this is a very preliminary hypothesis, I would gather that what Paul is anathematizing is a vision of old-form Judaism that merely integrates Jesus as Messiah, but past that it continues to follow the old tradition. Torah obedience, per se, isn’t the problem, but rather Torah obedience that alienates any further revelation of what is ethically good beyond what was contained in the Torah.

Where such a reading of Galatians would come in contact with Romans is that, according to my view, the Torah is not enough to be truly a righteous person. Instead, one must follow the example of Jesus and the trust in God that he lived by in order to truly understand and become righteous, righteous in the manner of God’s righteousness nature (cf. Matthew 5:48). Not that looking to the Torah itself made oneself an anathema, but that restricting oneself to Torah obedience alone leads us to reject the lifestyle of Christ as further revelation of righteousness.

Hence, in Galatians one who is circumcised is severed from Christ, because some who were being circumcised refused to listen to a further prophetic voice in Jesus (and the Spirit) beyond that which was already in the Torah. As a result, love with one another was not the result. We see the example of Peter in Galatians 2 refusing to eat with the Gentiles. This would also explain Paul’s further exhortations to love one another in Galatians 5 and 6.

Romans on the other hand, simply says that obedience to the Torah is not enough (Romans 3), but rejecting the “glimpses of righteousness” in the Torah and simply relying upon one’s acceptance of the Torah and circumcision without obedience to the terms of the covenant will also result in judgment. In that, there is another place of contact between Romans 2 and Galatians 6:13.

In the end, it is easy to see why Romans and Galatians were essentially taken as two letters saying the exact same thing, because there are a couple places of contact. However, it has lead to Romans being essentially conformed to a Galatian interpretation and a rather negative view of the Torah resulting within more traditional Protestant circles.


August 15, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment