THE IDENTITY OF THE ’ΙΣΡΑΗΛ ΤΟΥ ΘΕΟΥ (ISRAEL OF GOD) IN GALATIANS 6:16 Andreas J. Köstenberger Professor of New Testament Director of Ph.D./Th.M. Studies Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary Wake Forest, North Carolina 27587 Introduction Who is the “Israel of God” in Gal. 6:16? Entire theological systems divide over the interpretation of this passage, which has an important bearing on the question of the relationship between Israel and the church. Yet, rather than being viewed through a pre-existing systematic-theological grid, Paul’s puzzling reference to the “Israel of God” in Gal. 6:16 ought to be studied first and foremost in the context of the entire epistle and especially in light of Paul’s anti-Judaizing polemic. Even this polemic, moreover, should be seen in the larger framework of the cross work of Christ and its implications for the new covenant community. 1 J. D. G. Dunn, in his important work The Partings of the Ways, sketches these larger issues well: Another inescapable question which lies at the heart of Christian self-under~standing as a result of its origins is: Who are the people of God? How stands now the axiom of Israel’s election? So long as Christianity and Judaism were still part of an unbroken, continuous spectrum, it was not so much of a problem. It was possible to speak and think of a renewed or expanded Israel in continuity with the old . . . . But with the final parting of the ways the question becomes more pressing and unavoidable as such. Who are the people of God? All Jews? Or only those Jews who have become Christians = the remnant = eschatological Judaism? Or Gentiles as well? What about the great bulk of the Jewish people who have not believed in Jesus as Messiah and still show no signs of doing so? And has Christianity taken over from Israel, the “new Israel” superceding the old?2 Traditionally, Gal. 6:16 has been interpreted as affirming that the church replaces Israel as God’s new covenant community, the true spiritual “Israel.”3 As W. D. Davies observes, however, “If this ____________________ 1The major contours of this article were in place prior to the publication of Greg Beale’s important article, “Peace and Mercy Upon the Israel of God: The Old Testament Background of Galatians 6,16b,” Bib 80 (1999): 204–23. Beale’s primary purpose is to establish Is. 54:10 with its “new creation” context as the most plausible background for Gal. 6:16 (in both cases, “mercy” and “peace” are collocated). While the approach of the present study is more rhetorical and contextual, Beale’s argument supplements our own conclusion regarding the identity of the “Israel of God.” 2Cf. James D. G. Dunn, The Partings of the Ways between Christianity and Judaism and their Significance for the Character of Christianity (London: SCM, 1991), 248; cf. also the excellent article by W. D. Davies, “Paul and the People of Israel,” NTS 24 (1977): 4–39 from whom Dunn seems to glean many of his insights, including the term “parting of the ways” for the title of his book (cf. ibid., 10). Davies locates Paul’s major concern in Galatians “with establishing who constitute the true people of God” (ibid.).
2 proposal were correct one would have expected to find support for it in Rom. ix–xi where Paul extensively deals with ‘Israel.’ ” 4 The Jewish-Christian antagonism that developed during the crystallization period of the church in the first few centuries A.D. doubtless influenced this interpretation. Paul was read as teaching a “replacement theology” where the New Testament church took the place of Old Testament Israel in God’s plan for His covenant people.
3 Our interpretation of Gal. 6:16 will proceed as follows. First, we will briefly review two important issues: the identity of Paul’s opponents, and the issue at stake in Galatia. Then we will consider the structure of the epistle and seek to identify how Gal. 6:16 functions in the framework of the letter as a whole. When interpreting the passage, we will first consider syntactical and then theological issues. We will conclude with some biblical-theological observations.
4 πιστεως ευλογουνται συν τω πιστω ’Αβρααμ: “Those of faith are blessed together with believing Abraham,” 3:9). They have been “baptized into Christ” (οσοι . . . εις Χριστον εβαπτισθητε, 3:27), and “have crucified the flesh” ( οι . . . του Χριστου την σαρκα εσταυρωσαν, 5:24). They are “spiritual” (οι πνευματικοι, 6:1). As many as will conduct themselves by Paul’s rule (that is, that neither circumcision nor uncircumcision amounts to anything, but a new creation; cf. 6:15–16: οσοι τω κανονι τουτω στοιχησουσιν), are part of this group. Finally, as will be argued in this paper, these believers are the “Israel of God” (6:16).
5 related to the imagery of slavery. Generally, circumcision is presented in antithesis to the cross of Christ.14 The rhetorical pattern can be laid out as follows.15 1. Narratio: Paul has followed the rule (1:10–2:14) a. Paul is “a slave of Christ” ( Χριστου δουλος, 1:10) b. Paul claims that “not even Titus . . . was compelled to be circumcised” ( ουδε Τιτος . . . ηναγκασθη περιτμηθηναι, 2:3) c. Paul claims that he was “entrusted with the gospel of the uncircumcision just as Peter of the circumcision” (πεπιστευμαι το ευαγγελιον της ακροβυστιας καθως Πετρος της περιτομης, 2:7; cf. 2:8–9, 12) 2. Probatio: Paul’s rule is to be followed, or slavery results (3:1–4:31) a. The former prison of sin and the Law (3:1–4:1) i. “Scripture has shut up all under sin” ( συνεκλεισεν η γραφη τα παντα υπο αμαρτιαν, 3:22) ii. “Kept in custody under the Law, being shut up” ( υ πο νο μον εφρουρου μεθα συγκλειομενοι, 3:23) Rule: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female” (’Ιουδαιος ουδε Ελλην, ουκ ενι δουλος ουδε ελευθερος, ουκ ενι αρσεν και θηλυ, 3:28) iii. “As long as the heir is a child, he is no better than a slave” ( κληρονομος νηπιος . . . ουδεν διαφερει δουλου, 4:1) b. The former prison of the world’s principles (4:2–20) i. “Enslaved by the principles of the world” ( τα στοιχεια του κοσμου ημεθα δεδουλωμενοι, 4:3) ii. “So that you are no longer a slave but a son” ( ωστε ουκετι ει δουλος αλλα υιος, 4:7) iii. “Then when you did not know God you were slaves” ( τοτε μεν ουκ ειδοτες θεον εδουλευσατε, 4:8) iv. “Turn to the weak and worthless principles to be enslaved” ( επιστρεφετε . . . επι τα ασθενη και πτωχα στοιχεια . . . δουλευειν, 4:9) c. The present prison of Judaism (4:21–5:1) i. “From Mount Sinai bearing children unto slavery” ( απο ορους Χινα εις δουλειαν γεννωσα, 4:24) ii. “Corresponds to the present Jerusalem . . . she is in slavery with her children” ( συστοιχει . . . τη νυν ’Ιερουσαλημ, δουλευει . . . μετα των τεκνων αυτης, 4:25) iii. “Do not be subject again to the yoke of slavery” ( μη παλιν ζυγω δουλειας ενεχεσθε, 5:1) 3. Paraenesis: Paul’s rule is to be followed, not circumcision (5:2–6:10) a. The futility of circumcision (5:2–12) i. “If you are circumcised, Christ was of no benefit to you” ( εαν περιτεμνησθε, Χριστος υμας ουδεν ωφελησει, 5:2) ____________________ 14The semantic fields of circumcision, slavery, and the cross include the following terms: περιτομη, περιτεμνω, ακροβυστια (16 times), ενκοπτω, αποκοπτω (once each in 5:7, 12); δουλος, δουλεια, δουλευω, δουλοω, καταδουλοω (12 times; 8 times in 4:1–5:1); συγκλειω, φρουρεω (3 times; 3:22–23); σταυρος, σταυροω (6 times). Of further interest are the terms freedom and free ( ελευθερος, ελευθερια), which occur in 2:4; 3:28; 4:22–31 (5 times); 5:1, 13. 15The use of rhetorical categories does not necessarily imply that Paul consciously followed Graeco-Roman rules of rhetoric. The flow of argument and major divisions stand regardless of the rhetorical categories employed.
6 ii. “Every circumcised man is obliged to keep the whole Law” ( παντι ανθρω πω περιτεμνομενω . . . οφειλετης εστιν ολον τον νομον ποιησαι, 5:3) Rule: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision is anything nor uncircumcision but faith working through love” ( εν γαρ Χριστω ’Ιησου ουτε περιτομη τι ισχυει ουτε ακροβυστια αλλα πιστις δι’ αγαπης ενεργουμενη, 5:6) iii. “Who cut you in from obeying the truth?” ( τις υμας ενεκοψεν [τη ] αληθεια μη πειθεσθαι; 5:7) iv. “If I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the offense of the cross would be abolished” (ει περιτομην ετι κηρυσσω, τι ετι διωκομαι; αρα κατηργηται το σκανδαλον του σταυρου; 5:11) v. “Would that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves” ( Οφελον και αποκοψονται οι αναστατουντες υμας, 5:12) b. Paraenesis (5:13–6:10) i. “Do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be slaves to one another” ( μη την ελευθεριαν εις αφορμη ν τη σαρκι, αλλα δια της αγαπης δουλευετε αλληλοις, 5:13) ii. “Those of Christ have crucified the flesh with [its] passions and desires” ( του Χριστου την σαρκα εσταυρωσαν συν τοις παθημασιν και ταις επιθυμιας, 5:24) 4. Conclusio: Paul’s blessing on all who follow his rule (6:11–18) a. “Those who want to make a good showing in the flesh, those urging you to be circumcised” (οσοι θελουσιν ευπροσωπησαι εν σαρκι, ουτοι αναγκαζουσιν υμας περιτεμνεσθαι, 6:12) b. “For neither do those circumcised themselves keep the law, but they want you to be circumcised to boast in your flesh” (ουδε γαρ οι περιτεμνομενοι αυτοι νομον θυλασσουσιν αλλα θελουσιν υμας περιτεμνεσθαι, ινα εν τη υμετερα σαρκι καυχησωνται, 6:13) Rule: “For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything, but a new creation” ( ουτε γαρ περιτομη τι εστιν ουτε ακροβυστια αλλα καινη κτισις, 6:15) c. “And those who walk by this rule, peace upon them and mercy, even upon the Israel of God” (και οσοι τω κανονι τουτω στοιχησουσιν, ειρηνη επ’ αυτους και ελεος και επι τον ’Ισραηλ του θεου, 6:16) The issue of conformity vs. nonconformity to Paul’s “rule” is a significant part of the argument of the letter. Nonconformity results in slavery; conformity results in the “slavery” of loving one another. Paul’s rule is closely tied to the futility of circumcision in the age of the “new creation” Christ ushered in.16 The rule of Gal. 6:16 is resting on the strong anti-Judaizing polemic of the whole letter. An identification of the “Israel of God” with parts or all of literal, physical, ethnic Israel seems therefore unlikely.
7 sets up the issue from an autobiographical angle: ει συ ’Ιουδαιος υπαρχων εθνικως και ουχι ’Ιουδαι¨κως ζη ς, πως τα εθνη αναγκαζεις ιουδαι¨ζειν; (“If you, being a Jew ethnically, do not live like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?” 2:14).
8 the law (οι υπο νομον θελοντες ειναι, τον νομον ουκ ακουετε, 4:21; cf. 6:13), launches him into an allegory of the two covenants by which he seeks to show that contemporary Judaism is enslaved.
9 Longenecker, Ray, Ridderbos, Stott, and many covenant theologians);17 second, “Israel of God” is used literally, referring to ethnic Jews, that is, either to (a) a believing Jewish remnant within the broader Christian church (Burton, Davies, Richardson, Betz; Walvoord, S. L. Johnson, and other dispensationalists); (b) an eschatological Israel that will be saved at Christ’s return (i.e. the “all Israel” of Rom. 11:26; Mussner, Bruce); or (c) non-judaizing Jewish Christians in Galatia (Schrenk, Robinson).18 Syntactical Issues The major syntactical difficulty that has an important bearing on the interpretation of Gal. 6:16 is related to Paul’s use of the conjunction και at the end of the verse. 19 Are we to read, “And those who will walk by this rule, peace upon them and grace, even upon the Israel of God,” taking the conjunction και to be explicative and epexegetical of “those who will walk by this rule”? In this case, the two groups would be identical.
10 5:21 as the closest syntactical parallel to Gal. 6:16. 22 The passage reads, συνεκαλεσαν το συνεδριον και πασαν την γερουσιαν (“They assembled the Sanhedrin, that is, the gerousia”). The conjunction και seems to be used epexegetically to identify a given group by an equivalent expression for the same body.23 Similarly, in Gal. 6:16, with οσοι τω κανονι τουτω στοιχησουσιν emphatically at the beginning of the sentence, Paul pronounces a blessing, “Peace upon them and mercy,” ειρηνη επ’ αυτους και ελεος, only to add a further identification of the recipients of this blessing, “Even upon the Israel of God,” και επι τον ’Ισραηλ του θεου. We opt for an ascensive understanding of the conjunction in Gal. 6:16, with the first group referring to Christians in Galatia, and the second group broadening the reference to Christians in general.24 Another relevant issue is the use of the earlier και in Gal. 6:16 between ειρηνη επ’ αυτους and ελεος, και επι τον ’Ισραηλ του θεου.25 Is the conjunction used to connect “peace and mercy,” or does it introduce a reference to, and a blessing upon, a different group from the one mentioned earlier in the clause? This is a difficult question indeed. A search of the New Testament for parallel syntactical constructions (that is, a noun followed by a preposition governing a pronoun followed by και plus another noun), yields only one other passage, Luke 3:22, which reads: και καταβηναι το πνευμα το αγιον σωματικω ειδει ως περιστεραν επ’ αυτον, και φωνην εξ ουρανου γενεσθαι (“And the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came from heaven”).