Galatians Commentary – Interview with A. Andrew Das

galatians commentary andrew dasA. Andrew Das (Ph.D., Biblical Studies, Union Theological Seminary in Virginia) is Assistant Dean, Faculty for Assessment and Accreditation, and Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Elmurst College. He is also the author of the Galatians volume in the Concordia Commentary series.

Dr. Das has been listed among twenty-five leading Pauline theorists of the last century in the textbook “Perspectives Old and New on Paul.” Another recent text, “Approaches to Paul,” devotes a section to his work. He has authored several books with leading publishers in biblical studies: “Solving the Romans Debate” (Fortress, 2007), Paul and the Jews (Hendrickson, 2003), Paul, the Law, and the Covenant (Hendrickson, 2001), Galatians (808 pages, Concordia Academic, 2014), and Paul and the Stories of Israel: Grand Thematic Narratives in Galatians (Fortress, 2016).

Dr. Das is currently working on Remarriage in Early Christianity, a work ranging from the historical Jesus to Augustine, and he is also researching the key women and their leadership in the Pauline communities and writings. He co-edited and contributed to The Forgotten God: Perspectives in Biblical Theology (Westminster John Knox, 2002).

His articles have appeared in such premiere venues as the Journal of Biblical Literature, the Journal for the Study of the New Testament, New Testament Studies, the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, and Biblical Research, as well as in edited volumes, most recently in Paul Unbound (Hendrickson, 2009), The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (Abingdon, 2009), Reading Paul’s Letter to the Romans (Society of Biblical Literature, 2012), Unity and Diversity in the Gospels and Paul: Essays in Honor of Frank J. Matera (Society of Biblical Literature, 2012), the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Ethics, the Lexham Bible Dictionary (“Sadducees,” “The Letter to the Romans”) and the Oxford Handbook of Pauline Studies (forthcoming).

He has served as an invited member of the Society of Biblical Literature’s Paul and Scripture Seminar and has presented his work at the annual meetings of the Society of Biblical Literature, the Chicago Society of Biblical Research, the prestigious international Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas, of which he is an elected member, and the Evangelical Theological Society. He is also a member of the Catholic Biblical Association of America. He was one of a handful of western scholars invited to deliver a paper at the inaugural meeting of the Society of Biblical Scholars, the new organization for biblical scholarship on the African continent.

He currently serves on editorial board of the African biblical studies journal Sapientia Logos and the Holman Christian Standard Bible translation revision committee. He has authored for wider audiences Baptized into God’s Family (Northwestern, 1991; second edition, 2008).

1. What previous research and/or personal interests led you to this project and helped prepare you to write this commentary on Galatians?

Prior to the commentary I had published major articles on Galatians, including in the Journal of Biblical Literature, presented on Galatians at conferences (the Society of Biblical Literature, the Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas, and the Evangelical Theological Society), and authored three prior books on Paul (Paul, the Law, and the Covenant, Paul and the Jews, and Solving the Romans Debate).

2. Who is the intended audience for this commentary? Would it benefit pastors? professors? students? lay Christians in the local church?

This commentary is designed to be scholarly while still benefiting pastors, students and lay church leaders. For instance, English translations are provided for the Greek in the text. The scholarly aspect will be helpful for professors and fellow researchers in Galatians. The new NICNT commentary on Galatians by David deSilva, the New Covenant commentary on Galatians by Jarvis Williams, and Craig Keener’s Galatians all make very extensive use of the volume, as one can see from their indices. Professors have reportedly used the commentary in seminary classrooms around the country. The commentary includes pastoral applications of the exegesis at various points that pastors, students, and lay Christians have found helpful and meaningful. I have heard that it is that practical application of the interpretive work that peers have found valuable in the seminary classroom.

3. What is unique about this commentary? What contribution does it make to studies of Galatians?

The commentary advances my “newer perspective” on Paul. It thus represents an outworking of my theoretical foundation in Paul, the Law, and the Covenant (Hendrickson, 2001), where I contend that Paul is not assuming a legalistic Second Temple Judaism. With E. P. Sanders’ Paul and Palestinian Judaism, I grant that Paul’s concerns with the Mosaic Law are a function of his Christ-centered reasoning. If salvation is in Christ and not the Mosaic Law, then why foist the Mosaic Law’s requirements on the gentiles as necessary? What is necessary is faith in Christ. This “newer” way of thinking does not relegate to secondary status the implications of the gospel for Law observance. On the contrary, since the Law does not possess saving efficacy, to use the Law as a means of salvation is to engage in an exercise of empty, vain, human works. Thus the theology of the Reformers is on track, even if I derive it without reference to legalistic Judaism–and this does not deny strands of legalism in Second Temple Judaism, just that they are not central to Paul’s Christ-centered reasoning.

The commentary also offers a fuller explication of my understanding of Paul and the Law, first narrated in Paul, the Law, and the Covenant, and then Paul and the Jews (and in several articles since, including in the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, the Frank Matera festschrift, and Paul Unbound–due out shortly in a second edition from Scholars Press). The commentary shows how Moses’s Law has continuing relevance even if it is not God’s provision for salvation. The Law remains a standard at God’s judgment, but those in Christ fulfill the Law in following Christ by the Spirit. They do not set out to “do” the Law. In following Christ and his example of love (Gal. 2:20), the demands of the Law are satisfied. The commentary does this by resolving the tension between salvation and justification by faith in Christ and the sanctified life in Christ. Justification and sanctification are conceptually distinct but simultaneous: when the gospel message evokes faith, the believer’s eyes are directed by the Spirit to Christ on the cross (Gal. 3:1) at which point Christ’s saving death for all people avails to an individual personally. At that point, not only does the individual by faith benefit from Christ’s saving work, that person is no longer the same. He or she is in Christ and Christ is in him or her–and there is adoption and the power of the Spirit. This is Paul’s answer to those advocating Moses’ Law. The real power for a God-pleasing life is also in Christ and not the Law by virtue of Christ’s Spirit.

The commentary was thorough in reviewing all prior scholarship on Galatians (especially prior to 2011), thus providing value for the commentators immediately following. Even as this commentary builds on those who went before, it provides a solid foundation for those coming after.

Finally, as modern Pauline scholarship has become rather hostile to the “Lutheran” approach to Paul, this commentary represents a genuinely Lutheran reading of Galatians that takes into account the modern scene. As a response to criticism from the larger world, the commentary is thus the least “Lutheran” of the series in terms of the series trend to provide Lutheran hymns, devotional material, and reflections. This particular commentary in the series is designed for both Lutherans and non-Lutherans. If what Lutherans think about Paul has any value, it should stand on its feet with an honest interpretation of the biblical text. The target audience is therefore much, much wider than is typical for commentaries in this series. As I said in the preface, it is designed “to be overheard.”

4. What section or passage of this commentary was particularly memorable to research and write? Why?

Two sections come to mind–Galatians 3:28 and Galatians 6:1-10. Galatians 3:28 is in many ways the heart and soul of the letter. Paul expresses how we all have become one person in Christ. We are in Christ and He in us, but we are also one with each other. We are justified and we are also now different. Galatians 6:1-10 then shows how this leads to our fulfilling the Law, as understood through the lens of Christ’s saving work. We express Christ-life love in our dealings with fellow family members in the faith.

5. What personally edified you in writing this commentary, increasing your affections for Christ?

How can one not benefit from Paul’s reasoning in this letter–how Christ is in me and I am in Him, how Christ has saved me apart from my own efforts or decision or capacities? Paul keeps directing my eyes back to the cross (Gal. 3:1) where I see the certainty of my salvation, where I am protected from falling away. I struggle against sin, but one of the contributions of this commentary is to stress that we battle sin from the point of view of that decisive victory in Christ. The battles will not end until the Last Day, but the victory remains sure, nonetheless.

6. Besides your commentary, what are your top recommended books (commentaries or otherwise) on Galatians?

Since my commentary came out, Craig Keener wrote a very nice volume on Galatians from Baker. Unlike my volume, he is not attempting to apply the letter or his exegesis pastorally. Pastors and laypeople may be frustrated by that. His is more of a straight-up commentary. We disagree, as is inevitable, at various places, but at least in terms of a review of the literature, he has done a nice job, especially since my review of the literature is limited largely to what came before 2011.

7. What is next for you? What project are you currently working on? How can people follow your work and ministry?

Since writing the commentary, I published a follow-up monograph that has been very well received, Paul and the Stories of Israel: Grand Thematic Narratives in Galatians, Fortress Press, 2016. Some of the matters that would be too technical for a commentary receive more in-depth treatment in this book.

I have been working this last year on a series of twelve essays invited and contracted for various volumes, including several in a five views on Paul book to come out from Baker. I am contributing the essays on the Protestant Perspective on Paul. James D. G. Dunn represents the “new perspective” (which, as Dunn stresses, isn’t all that new anymore). The two of us have sparred in print for many years–and I am sure he will get me corrected again. Brant Pitre has written a thought-provoking essay on the Catholic Perspective on Paul. Magnus Zetterholm represents a more nuanced “Paul within Judaism” position. Perhaps my favorite colleague in Pauline studies, John M. G. Barclay, offers his new “gift” perspective. It’s a great volume and should be out in a year or so.

I am also co-editing a new volume on Romans that stems from my work as a co-chair of the Scripture and Paul group of the Society of Biblical Literature. That volume should appear in print from Fortress/Lexington later in 2020. I have a couple essays in that volume–one on Christ as Messiah in Romans, and another on why Romans 8:3 should not be understood in terms of the sin-offering. I wrote a few years back the essay introducing the undisputed Pauline letters for the Oxford Handbook of Pauline Studies, which should finally appear in print in 2020 (it has been available on-line for a while now).

Lastly, I am trying to make progress on a book on remarriage in early Christianity, but my labors as an assistant dean of the faculty (for assessment and accreditation) here at Elmhurst College has been slowing me. I hope to complete the manuscript in 2020.

Please visit Dr. Das’ website: andrewdas.net

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