Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Book Review: Galatians

Martinus de Boer's commentary on Galatians came out too late for me to utilize it when I blogged through Galatians previously. Now that it's out, I figured I'd give reviewing it a whirl. As usual, for general comments on format, see the discussion of the NTL series in my commentary series overview post. This particular volume in the New Testament Library is one of the more detailed in the series. It checks in at a little over 400 pages, making it among the most detailed work since Martyn's commentary in 1997 (the other candidate being Schreiner), and like Martyn's is also written from an apocalyptic perspective.

de Boer begins with a brief introduction (especially considering the overall size of the commentary) canvassing all of the typical introductory matters. For those interested, he opts for a fairly early date and a northern Galatian hypothesis.

The commentary proper is very detailed. de Boer assesses how each sentence fits into the larger Pauline argument and also drills in on each phrase addressing lexical and syntactical issues. Sprinkled throughout the commentary are several excurses on topics like 'Works of the Law' or 'Allegorical Interpretation.' These were several pages long and dealt with the issues at hand in a more comprehensive matter than one would typically get in the commentary proper, integrating Galatians as a whole into his argument and situating the argument in Galatians in Paul's own broader context (including both other Pauline writings and other second temple Jewish writings).

As I mentioned previously, de Beor writes from an apocalyptic perspective. He understands every noun form of pistis to refer to Jesus own faith(fulness) and stresses the Law/faith antinomy in a manner very similar to Martyn. Salvation is liberation from slavery, and concepts like 'sin' and 'the flesh' are personified. At this point, one probably wonders how de Boer differs from Martyn, because everything I've described is very similar to Martyn's commentary. Additionally, would someone who already owns Martyn's work want to buy de Boers?

I personally prefer de Boer's commentary and here's why. First, while both are excellent at attempting to flesh out the background of the text and providing a robust portrait of the teachers, I found Martyn to be a bit overboard at times. de Boer is a bit more chastened. Second, I found Martyn's commentary to be a bit overkill. While there is a ton of good information in it, it did drag at times. de Boer's commentary is plenty thorough without belaboring points. Third, de Boer's apocalyptic theology isn't identical to Martyn's (or Douglas Campbell's or Michael Gorman's or ...). That too makes it worth checking out. For example, I gained fresh eyes for Galatians 2:15-16 by reading de Boer's innovative suggestion that the the works of the law and faith antithesis did not originate with Paul, but that it's quoted material (I'm ultimately not convinced but it is defensible exegetically). Finally, from an interpretive standpoint, de Boer is the first commentator I've come across, besides Fee, (granted I haven't spent much time with Witherington's or Matera's commentaries) that seems to fully grasp the centrality of the Holy Spirit in Paul's argument. That's a correction in studies of Galatians that is badly needed.

Overall I think that de Boer's commentary is excellent and is the best detailed work in recent years. It would pair particularly well with Dunn's commentary providing well argued and interesting counter proposals to his version of the NPP. 5 stars out of 5.

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