7 Questions on Galatians in the NICNT Commentary Series
David A. deSilva (Phd., Emory University) is the Trustees’ Distinguished Professor of New Testament and Greek at Ashland Theological Seminary.
He is the author of over twenty-five books, including Day of Atonement: A Novel of the Maccabean Revolt (Kregel, 2015), The Jewish Teachers of Jesus, James, and Jude: What Earliest Christianity Learned from the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha (Oxford, 2012), Seeing Things John’s Way: The Rhetoric of Revelation(Westminster John Knox, 2009), An Introduction to the New Testament: Contexts, Methods & Ministry Formation (InterVaristy, 2004), Introducing the Apocrypha (Baker Academic, 2002), Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture (InterVarsity, 2000), and Perseverance in Gratitude: A Socio-rhetorical Commentary on the Letter “to the Hebrews” (Eerdmans, 2000).
He was involved in several major Bible translation projects, serving as the Apocrypha Editor for the Common English Bible and working on the revision of the Apocrypha for the English Standard Version. He has also created several video resources and Mobile Ed courses for Faithlife, including “The Apocrypha: Witness Between the Testaments” (BI 291), “The Cultural World of the New Testament” (NT 201), and “Interpreting the Epistle to the Hebrews” (NT TBA).
1. What previous research and/or personal interests led you to this project and helped prepare you to write this commentary on Galatians?
It was actually my early work on 4 Maccabees (of all things) that made me start thinking about Galatians in a way that drew me into the deeper study of the letter. The author of 4 Maccabees promotes strict observance of the laws laid out in the Torah as the God-given way to master the passions and desires that lead one to sin (Paul’s “works of the flesh”) and lead one to exhibit the full range of virtue. It got me thinking about how the rival teachers might have presented their “gospel” in Galatia. I approached this commentary with a great deal of trepidation and care, building up to it with a short commentary (Global Readings: A Sri Lankan Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians) which was essentially my way of proving to myself that I could develop a coherent reading of the letter, a handbook on the Greek text for Baylor’s series, and a short piece on Pauline theology (Transformation: The Heart of Paul’s Gospel) since I knew I had to sort out some basic questions there before proceeding.
2. Who is the intended audience for this commentary? Would it benefit pastors? professors? students? lay Christians in the local church?
Like the NICNT series as a whole, this commentary is written first and foremost for the pastor who needs to thoroughly understand a scriptural text for the ministry of teaching and preaching. This also makes the commentary ideal for the seminary student (and the seminary classroom). I believe that academic colleagues will find some arguments and options in my commentary stimulating for their own research (even as I have turn to volumes of the NICNT throughout my career as an academic alongside the “heavier” commentary series), but it’s not written first and foremost to serve academic ends. If the lay Christian in the local church were to ignore the footnotes entirely, he or she would find the main discussion accessible and relevant to his or her interests, though admittedly a bit on the heavy side.
3. What is unique about this commentary? What contribution does it make to studies of Galatians?
I don’t think of the commentary as particularly “unique” – indeed, I’d be afraid at this point that something truly “unique” in biblical studies would be thoroughly off base! I do think that this commentary offers at least a distinctive blend of attention to the rhetorical, cultural, and ideological contexts of the letter and its argumentation, due diligence in the more standard facets of exegesis, and interest in uncovering Paul’s vision for the formation of the Christian disciple, the local community of disciples, and the global body of disciples. It involves itself fully in the theological questions that one would expect: What is “justification” and how does one arrive at that goal? What is the place of the Law in God’s historic plan for humanity and now in the life of the Christ-follower? If the Law will not lead us to righteousness in God’s sight, what will?
4. What section or passage of this commentary was particularly memorable to research and write? Why?
Galatians 2:16, because I was absolutely stalled there until I had figured out and committed myself to (in three long excurses!) the meaning of justification in Paul, the sense of the phrase pistis Christou (spoiler: “trusting Jesus” seems by far the stronger option), and what Paul had in mind by “works of the Law.” After that, Gal 3:10-14, again because there were so many questions to untangle, and the matter of the stoicheia tou kosmou, because I find the concept so important for understanding the well-worn ruts of the “old creation” into which we are all socialized – and from which we must leap up and out if we are ever to catch the vision that God has for us as “new creation.”
5. What personally edified you in writing this commentary, increasing your affections for Christ?
I think I have to answer this question as if you had ended it differently, namely with: “increasing my appreciation for God’s provision for and involvement in our lives.” Working through Galatians again and again held before me ever more urgently the person and role of God the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity that gets a toss-off, single line in the Apostles’ Creed. The experience of the Holy Spirit is a foundational one for Paul’s converts: knowing that they have received the Spirit should put an end to their waffling in the face of the rival teachers’ sales pitch (3:2-5). Paul tells us that a principal purpose for Jesus’s death was to secure for us this Holy Spirit (3:13-14) – and we should value the end even more than we value the means by which it was attained. Paul insists that the Holy Spirit’s effective presence is enough to guarantee victory over the passions of the flesh (and their corruption of our lives and relationships, and the corruption of the grave that is the flesh’s ultimate bequest for us) if we would but walk in step with the Spirit (5:5-6, 13-25; 6:7-8). The exegetical work significantly changed the emphasis of my work in the pulpit and the sanctuary.
6. Besides your commentary, what are your top recommended books (commentaries or otherwise) on Galatians?
I found Andrew Das’s commentary in the Concordia Commentary series to be extremely helpful. D. Francois Tolmie’s monograph Persuading the Galatians (Mohr Siebeck, 2005) is an important, stimulating, and insightful example of how one an execute “rhetorical criticism” of Galatians apart from relying on classical rhetorical theory. J. M. G. Barclay’s early monograph, Obeying the Truth (Fortress Press, 1988) was deeply formative for my thinking about Galatians early on in my career, and I still recommend it to my students as the best single monograph on Galatians they could read.
7. What is next for you? What project are you currently working on? How can people follow your work and ministry?
I’m turning my attention back to Revelation for a while. I am currently working on A Week in the Life of Ephesus for InterVarsity, a book that I understand will be the seventh and last in that series. The goal of each book in the series is to provide a window into the everyday, lived world of an important city (Corinth, Jerusalem, Rome) or type of person (a slave, a centurion, a woman) in relation to a New Testament text. I am trying to bring Ephesus to life in a week immediately preceding the inauguration of its great Temple to Domitian in AD 89/90, with a view to immersing my readers in the world that John addressed in Revelation. After that, a brief textbook on Revelation for Eerdmans/SPCK’s Discovering series and a commentary for Eerdmans’s socio-rhetorical series. Find me on Facebook or follow my (admittedly sporadic) blog (apocryphalwritings.wordpress.com).
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