Wednesday, July 05, 2006

NTW on the curse in Galatians 3

Introduction: NTW argues that, in Galatians 3:10-14, the "curse" referred to is not the universal curse, which comes from original sin, but the more specific curse on Israel for vocational failure which led to Exile. Is he right?

I've nearly finished Paul: Fresh Perspective. It's better than What Saint Paul Really Said--as always a fun read, highly recommended. Of course, it wouldn't be a book by Wright if it didn't mention the Exile about 400 times. Brace yourself. (For a good review, see Scot McKnight's webpage:

I was raised on traditional interpretations of "the curse" in Galatians 3, interps which inevitably connected it to the curse on humanity from Genesis 3 as a result of original human sin. But Wright offers something completely different:

"The point about the 'curse' and the Messiah's bearing it on behalf of others, is not that there is a general abstract curse hanging over the entire human race." He instead limits the 'curse' to Israel, tying it in to his reading of Romans 10, Deut 30, and exile.

Is this correct? Arguments for (without referencing commentaries!):
(1) There is not a lick of proof in the context that a universal curse is in mind, i.e., from Genesis 3.
(2) The pronouns seem to point to an "us" as Jews as Paul reflects on Law and its implications/limitations, all the way to 26, when Paul begins to address Galatians with their status as sons and heirs apart from Law. If this shift in pronouns is important, then it supports NTW's reading.
(3) Thematic coherence--that is, this makes sense. If we can set aside Exile and simply speak of failure to keep the law and (consequential) curse and lack of Abraham's blessings extending through Israel to the Gentiles, then this certainly makes good sense of the context. According to NTW, Gal 3:10-14, in context, is about the more specific curse on Israel for vocational failure which led to Exile; she failed to be the light to the world, and in order for God to bring the promises of Abraham, the chosen vehicle of his servant/son Israel had to be repaired. That is, for God to fix the world, he had to fix Israel--cursed under the Law. Israel herself needed redemption, because of the inability of the Law to provide the light to the nations and deliver the promises of Abraham to the nations (all the more reason not to have one's foreskin removed!!!).

Against? Without going to the commentaries,
(1) It is possible to suggest that the "curse" language picks up the theme of Genesis 3 intertextually, apart from any overt reference. But against this, the curse is "Israel-specific" as it references Deuteronomy, Promised Land, etc....not Genesis or all humanity.


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