Dr. A. Andrew Das took some time to reflect on his Galatians commentary. Read on to learn what led him to this writing, what he thinks about modern Pauline scholarship, and how he hopes his commentary will be influential.
How did you become interested in studying Galatians?
In 1992 J. Louis Martyn taught a seminar on Galatians at Yale while he was in the process of preparing his Anchor Bible commentary. This was my first taste of a Pauline epistle at the graduate level, and the course introduced me to a entirely new way of understanding Second Temple Judaism as well as to what is called “the new perspective on Paul and the Law” (it’s not that new anymore).
The “new perspective” movement does not prioritize the Reformation’s emphasis on sin and grace and abandons anything remotely “Lutheran” in the reading of Paul. The first-century apostle is absorbed, instead, with rejecting the view that the gentiles need to become Jewish in order to enjoy membership in the people of God.
After a Lutheran seminary, this was an entirely new way to read Paul’s letters, and I returned to these discussions in my doctoral work. I also went back to the description of the Judaism of Paul’s day as a religion based on God’s gracious election of a people and mercy toward sinners. I developed what I have labeled a “newer perspective on Paul and the Law” (I guess it’s not “newer” anymore). My 2001 Paul, the Law, and the Covenant lays out my approach to reading Paul. The Galatians commentary, then, is a chance to return to the biblical book that got me started in my professional work.
What unique contribution does your commentary make?
The Galatians commentary differs from some of the other commentaries in the series. Since Pauline scholarship has been largely neglected in conservative Lutheran circles, and since Galatians is not an excessively long biblical book, I have tried to be fairly thorough in my review of the professional literature. So you will find in the footnotes of the commentary reference not only to all the other commentaries on Galatians but also to a range of journal articles, ancient sources, and other professional materials.
My hope is that this commentary will get the conservative Lutheran audience up to speed on what is going on in modern Pauline scholarship.
At the same time, this Galatians commentary is the very first that is written from the standpoint of my “newer perspective” on Paul and the Law. I have argued at length why one can accept an understanding of Judaism as a religion largely of grace rather than of “works righteousness,” the old caricature, and yet Paul understood that grace in terms of Christ and not the Mosaic Law. To take the path of Moses’ Law is simply a dead-end with respect to salvation. For that matter, the Law of Moses itself points the way forward to what God would be doing in Christ.
How do you hope your commentary on Galatians will influence the ministry, preaching, and teaching of pastors?
I was frustrated as a teenager and college student by preaching and teaching that did not advance my understanding of the Scriptures beyond what I had gleaned already before my teenage years. I went to seminary and graduate school in the hope of finding a way to offer something back to that bored teenager from years before.
Pastors and teachers in the church need to remain active and genuinely curious about the ancient biblical text. That curiosity, combined with good study patterns in the parish and a good set of tools, would, I am convinced, make a difference for many potentially disengaging parishioners. I am hoping that this Galatians commentary would provide pastors and teachers with a useful resource for personal study in Scripture as well as for preparing interesting, meaty Bible classes and engaging sermons.
Another problem in our circles is what I call a sort of “Gnostic” preaching and teaching of the biblical text. Conservative Lutheran pastors jump too quickly to the analogy of faith or to other biblical books when preaching a biblical text. There is a place for that, but later on in the interpretive process. Lou Martyn was right to stress to his students and colleagues that we have to imagine ourselves in the first-century congregations addressed by Paul in his Letter to the Galatians. That original setting is the rightful context in which we must interpret these words.
Unfortunately, unless we have personal connections with the Doctor and his TARDIS (a fairly sophisticated time machine), we are not able to go back in time to sit in one of those Galatians congregations when the letter was first being read and studied. That means that we need to reconstruct, as best as we can, what that original context must have been like. We need to study the first-century culture. We mine Paul’s letter for clues about the situation he was addressing. We test hypotheses about the original audience and situation. Then we go back and read the letter in view of that reconstruction.
This is the task not just of the scholar but also of the pastor, and especially of the congregation itself. Every pastor’s job is to transport the congregation back in time to those original audiences. We have to appreciate Galatians on its own terms before we then branch out and understand Galatians in view of the larger Pauline corpus. Then we branch out and interpret Galatians in view of the rest of the New Testament and the rest of the Scriptural witness. Finally, we are able to look at how Galatians was received through the centuries and understood within the framework of Lutheranism.
The problem is that too often interpreters ignore the crucial starting point with the original audience, and, when that happens, it becomes very easy to get these words on the page to mean something that reflects more our own modern discourse. We read our own conclusions into an ancient text. If this commentary gets the point across about the need for good interpretive work, then that will be one measure of its success.
What was the best part about writing your commentary?
Of course, the best part about writing the commentary is to see the labors finally completed and in print. Hopefully others will find it useful and of value, and to the Lord be the glory!
About the Author
A. Andrew Das is the Donald W. and Betty J. Buik Chair at Elmhurst College. Dr. Das authored Solving the Romans Debate (Fortress, 2007); Paul and the Jews (Hendrickson, 2003); Paul, the Law, and the Covenant (Hendrickson, 2001); and Baptized into God’s Family (Northwestern, 1991; 2d ed., 2008). He coedited The Forgotten God (Westminster John Knox, 2002).
His articles have appeared in Journal of Biblical Literature, Journal for the Study of the New Testament,New Testament Studies, Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Concordia Journal, Concordia Theological Quarterly, and Logia, as well as in Paul Unbound (Hendrickson, 2010), 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 (Society of Biblical Literature, 2012), The Law in Holy Scripture (Concordia, 2004), The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Ethics (forthcoming), and The Oxford Handbook of Pauline Studies (forthcoming).
He was an invited member of the Society of Biblical Literature’s Paul and Scripture Seminar and has presented at the Society of Biblical Literature; the African Society of Biblical Scholars; the Chicago Society of Biblical Research; the 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 and serves on the Holman Christian Standard Bible revision committee.
He received his M.Div. from Concordia Theological Seminary and did his graduate work at Yale University, Duke University, and Union Theological Seminary in Virginia. He served as a pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church (LCMS) in Lombard, Ill., from 2000–2002 and assisted as a pastor at St. John’s Lutheran in Lombard from 2002–2004.