Sundays With St. Paul: Wright’s Syllogism of Paul’s “curse”…

During our final class discussion yesterday, we read and talked about Galatians 3:10-14:

“For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law.’ Now it evident that no one is justified before God by the law; for ‘The one who is righteous will live by faith.’ But the law does not rest on faith; on the contrary, ‘Whoever does the works of the law will live by them.’ Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us – for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’ – in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”[1]

For this week’s post, I simply wanted to share a passage from N. T. Wright’s Climax of the Covenant and see what everyone thought of his suggestion. Wright sets up a counter syllogism to that accepted by Westerholm, Hill, Gundry, and others[2] as such:

a. All who embrace Torah are thereby embracing Israel’s national way of life;
b. Israel as a nation has suffered, historically, the curse which the Torah held out for her if she did not keep it;
c. Therefore all who embrace Torah now are under this curse.[3]

Wright notes that this syllogism rests on an assumption that:

a. Israel as a whole is under the curse if she fails to keep Torah;
b. Israel as a whole failed to keep Torah;
c. Therefore Israel is under the curse.[4]

Here is what he has to say about the syllogisms he presents:

“This way of reading the passage has the additional advantage that no Jew would have disagreed with Paul’s premise. As long as we persist in reading v. 10 as a statement of the sin of all individuals, it is easy to suggest that there might in principle be exceptions, especially if one were to read Romans 2.14 ff. in that sort of way. And it has likewise been easy for Sanders, Räisänen and others to suggest that this blanket denunciation of all humans, or all Jews, as sinners, is simply the reflex of Paul’s conviction that salvation is to be found in Christ and nowhere else. One must paint the world black, artificially and against the evidence if necessary, so that the light of Christ may shine the stronger. But if Paul is thinking of Israel as a whole, and of the curse of Deuteronomy not in terms of the future post mortem damnation which hangs over the heads of sinners, but in Deuteronomy’s own terms as Israel’s exile, her subjugation at the hands of pagans, then no Jew of Paul’s day would dream of denying that the exile had indeed happened, and few would deny that the real return from exile – the glorious future predicted in Isaiah or Ezekiel, for instance – was yet to be realized. When might it come about that the Gentiles would change from being the agents of Israel’s curse, the oppressors through whom the darker side of the covenant was being fulfilled, and become the objects of the blessing of Abraham? Paul, starting from the agreed premise that Israel had suffered the curse and was still waiting for the blessing that should follow, has simply drawn the whole train of thought on to Jesus and the Spirit.”[5]

Do you think Paul is thinking in individualistic terms in Gal. 3:10-14? Or does what Wright present have more merit – the notion of Israel as a nation (as well as those who submit to their “national way of life”) being under the curse? Is there another way of going about Gal. 3:10-14 that you think is better?

This is part of a series I’m writing for Near Emmaus. Feel free to read it there or read other posts by other bloggers.

 

[1] New Revised Standard Version

[2] Wright, Climax of the Covenant, 144

[3] Ibid., 147

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 147-48

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Jeremy

Cherokee / Whovian / Sherlockian / Aspiring Auror / Lover of Jesus, Scripture, and creativity / MATS Student at George Fox Seminary.

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