Paul’s Letter to the churches of Galatia is one of the more controversial books of the New
Testament and addresses precisely the first great controversy in the nascent Christian church;
how one should understand the Old Testament in light of Jesus Christ. It is no surprise then that
Marcion adopted Paul’s Galatians as his “fighting epistle” that proved the rejection of the Old
Testament and ordered it first in his canon although, it is thought to have been adopted in
Augustine also employed Paul’s letter to the Galatians against Pelagius, who
denied original sin and preached a works-righteousness, in the 412 council in Carthage.
Martin Luther (1516, 1519, 1535) and John Calvin (1548) take up Galatians again as Scripture
that casts Rome as the “Judaizers” of their day who had turned the gospel message of
justification by faith into works of the law.
This is essentially an argument about individual
salvation. Protestant interpretation of Galatians remained unified on this view until the advent of
historical scholarship in the early 1900’s.
Claude G. Montefiore (1914) and George Foote Moore (1921) are generally the first two biblical
scholars noted who argued against the convention of seeing Judaism as a legalistic religion.
Albert Schweitzer (1931) next argued that justification by faith was not the central doctrine in
Galatians, but rather a mystical being “in Christ”. In the seminal work of the New Perspective, E.
Paul and Palestinian Judaism
(1977), expands on these previous arguments on
the basis of an in-depth study of Jewish sources from B.C. 200 to A.D. 200 and concludes that
Palestinian Judaism is best described as “covenantal nomism”, whereby God saves by entering
His people into a covenant, an election of grace and mercy. God’s people stay in grace through
Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur bis Eusebius
, Vol. I, (Leipzig: Hinrich’sche
Buchhandlung, 1893), pp. 191-197, pp. 839-840, Theodor Zahn,
Geschichte des Neutestamentlichen
, Vol. II, (Erlangen: Deichertsche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1890), pp. 456-494.
Galatians: Sacra Pagina
, Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 2007, p. 26.
Roman Catholic scholars have disputed this depiction from its inception.