A Response from Thomas R. Schreiner to the Teaching of N.T. Wright Re: Gal 3:10
For as many as are of works of law are under a curse, for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who does not remain in all the things written in the book of the law so that he does them." (Galatians 3:10)In the Introduction to his recently published Galatians commentary, Dr. Thomas Schreiner [who was my professor for a Greek exegesis class on Galatians] writes about the impossibility of reading Galatians as if we are the first recipients of the letter. Similarly, in the Preface, Dr. Schreiner argues that a responsible interpreter must interact with various views taken regarding the text. Among the various scholars with whom Dr. Schreiner interacts in his text, N.T. Wright is one of the more well-known and controversial.
Responding to the ideas of N.T. Wright is certainly not a major focus of Dr. Schreiner's commentary. Nor can the commentary as a whole be thought to take a combative position toward all of Wright's views (about half of the time Wright's works are footnoted, Schreiner is expressing at least partial agreement with Wright). However, there is one fairly lengthy interaction with Wright that I wanted to discuss on this blog, in regards to Galatians 3:10,
Is Paul, in Galatians 3:10, seeking to demonstrate the requirement of perfect obedience to the God's law (the Torah), and universal human sinfulness? To be sure, Wright affirms that Paul teaches "all human beings are under the power and rule of sin" [see Wright's essay HERE for this and related issues re: Galatians], but, from what I have read, Wright does not seem to think that God's law requires perfect obedience, and he certainly does not think that perfect obedience or general human sinfulness are the point of Gal 3:10; instead, Wright teaches that Gal 3:10 is about the nation of Israel coming under the curse of God and being exiled due to failure to keep Torah.
After noting that Paul does not use the language of exile, Dr. Schreiner raises and defends three points in objection to N.T. Wright's teaching on this verse:
- The sins listed listed in Deut 27:15-26 (the text Paul quotes in Gal 3:10) all apply to individuals.
- Paul's argument in Galatians is not just that national Israel has not kept the law, but that each individual cannot keep the law.
- Paul does not address his words to Israel with a reference to Israel's history, but to the Galatians, with a warning that if they turn to the law for their hope, perfect obedience to it is required to avoid God's curse.
This debate is important especially due to its relevance re: controversies concerning Wright's teaching on justification.
The following is an extended quote from Dr. Schreiner's Galatians commentary, pages 206-207, in which he details his argument against N.T. Wright's reading of Galatians 3:10:
It is increasingly popular to see a reference to the exile in Paul, particularly because of the work of N.T. Wright. Such an interpretation is also defended in Gal 3:10 by James Scott, who notes that the proof text in Deut 27:26 can be traced back to the covenant curses in Deuteronomy. The emphasis, therefore, is shifted from the sins of the individual to the corporate sins of Israel. It is not the case, on this reading, that Paul criticizes individuals for failing to observe the law perfectly. Rather the focus is on the sin of the nation as a whole. [Emphasis added.] In the context of Deuteronomy, when sin becomes serious enough, it warrants the curses of the covenant manifested supremely in the exile.
This is not the place to interact in detail with Wright's thesis. [In other words, Dr. Schreiner does not want to turn his commentary on Galatians into an extended debate with N.T. Wright.] We should note that Paul himself does not use the language of exile, and hence some reserve about the appropriateness of the term is salutary. Wright is correct in the sense that the covenant promises of the OT were not completely fulfilled. Most of those in Israel would probably agree that this was due, in part, to the nation's sin. Nevertheless, it is unpersuasive to apply the exile theme to Gal 3:10. It should be noted first of all that the sins listed in Deut 27:15-26 all apply to individuals. Nothing is said about a corporate curse on the nation in these verses, but the curse is on individuals who violate the Torah. Even if there is a corporate referent (which is doubtful), individuals are not excluded. As Das says, "The fate of the nation as a corporate whole cannot be abstracted from the conduct of its individual members. The sin of individual Israelites accrues to Israel as a whole."
Second, even if one were to agree that we have a reference to the curse of exile, Paul's readers could have drawn a very different conclusion from the argument. If the exilic curse lies on Israel because it violated Torah, the Gentiles could reason, "We will keep Torah and avoid the curse." If Paul's argument does not contain an argument about the impossibility of keeping the Torah, such a response on the part of the Judaizers and the Galatians would be fitting. Paul's argument has more depth than the exilic interpretation recognizes. He not only claims that people have not kept the law; he also asserts that they cannot keep the law.
Third, it is unclear that a reference to Israel's history is intended. Paul does not sketch in here a historical summary of Israel's past. He directs his words to the Galatians, to any who rely on works of law, warning them that if they turn to the Torah, they must keep it perfectly to avoid God's curse.