Written by Douglas J. Moo Reviewed By John Anthony Dunne

This new commentary on Galatians provides exactly what the church and the academy has come to expect from Doug Moo, an exegetically sensitive attention to the text under discussion and a vindication of a robustly Protestant and evangelical perspective. On most issues, when various opinions are surveyed, Moo judiciously organizes the material in a helpful manner that is easy to read and clear. Readers can be assured that they will not be bogged down by extraneous debates but can find compelling arguments without getting lost in the secondary literature. This will be a great commentary to have in your own personal library alongside Tom Schreiner’s contribution to the ZECNT series since their perspectives and exegetical decisions complement each other in many ways. I would also recommend that interested readers have a good working knowledge of biblical Greek before trying to utilize this commentary, as the grammatical discussions might be too technical for most beginners.

Of course, there is always a list of hot topics that readers may want to know about a given commentary’s conclusions. At the risk of being reductionistic—though one should never simply read a review without going to the source for themselves—I’ll briefly make note of a few of these. Moo argues for a traditional reading of justification/righteousness language and the pistis Christou debate (no surprise to anyone I’m sure). Moo does emphasize though, rightly in my opinion, that the real concern for Paul is not present justification (i.e., initial acceptance only) as much as ultimate justification (pp. 61–62). This ultimate legal standing before God, is “fully secured by faith in Christ” (p. 162). Additionally, Moo affirms that Paul’s critique of the law is both salvation-historical (the era of the law has passed) and anthropological (it is impossible to keep the law without error).

With these major conclusions I am more or less quite content. I did, however, find myself in consistent protest in relation to one minor issue and two more substantial issues. The less significant of these relates to a matter of emphasis. Moo makes a few comments about the relative importance of justification in Galatians to other issues, such as the sufficiency of the Spirit, which I find incongruous with the evidence. Though I would shy away from language about “the center” of Galatians, let alone Paul’s thought as a whole, surely the Spirit is not “an ancillary” issue to justification (see p. 57) nor would it be an “exaggeration” to speak of the Spirit as “central” in Galatians (see p. 34). If either justification or the Spirit is to be given more rhetorical weight in the letter it is surely the reception of the Spirit (though this dichotomy is unrepresentative of Paul’s thought in Galatians; even Moo briefly notes this by referring to them as “overlapping concepts” on p. 174). However, the “one thing” that Paul wants to learn from the Galatians is whether they received the Spirit by hearing with faith or by works of the law (Gal. 3:2).

A more substantial issue is Moo’s treatment of “the works of the law” throughout the commentary. While Moo certainly acknowledges the particular sort of contextualized argument that Paul is making in regards to “the works of the law” in Galatians, he reminds the reader again and again that “works” and “doing” in general are included in Paul’s critique by implication (cf. pp. 27, 30–31, 159, 176, 193, 203, 209–210, 244, 324–325). Yet just as it would be imprecise to reduce “the works of the law” to three or four “identity badges” (e.g., circumcision, Sabbath, dietary laws)—though these surely stand out in Gentile contexts—it is likewise incongruous to expand “the works of the law” beyond all that the law requires to any “work” of any kind. The former is truncated, the latter inflated. Paul is simply not concerned to de-emphasize human activity in Galatians, as Moo is well aware, because otherwise the latter half of the letter would be gutted of its significance (cf. esp. Gal. 5:6, 22–23; 6:4–5, 8–10).

The final critique that I have relates to an issue that colors most of the interpretation offered in the commentary—the occasion for which the letter was written. Moo connects the agitators’ motivation—the fear of persecution (cf. Gal. 6:12)—with the anachronistic thesis of Robert Jewett that Zealots were the root cause (pp. 20, 393; cf. 148). Whether or not the “Zealot” movement existed at the time Galatians was written (between the late 40s to mid-50s)—which is not the perspective of most scholars, though surely similar groups did exist—this thesis is based on the assumption that the agitators were from Jerusalem, which is not entirely clear. It is surprising as well that Moo never offers an alternative to this reconstruction, such as that offered by Justin Hardin, Bruce Winter, and others, regarding the influence of Roman imperial pressure. What makes this alternative even more intriguing is the fact that Pisidian Antioch—which was one of the main destinations of the letter according to the “South Galatia” theory for which Moo (rightly) argues (see pp. 8–18)—was a major Roman colony in Asia Minor with a massive temple dedicated to Caesar Augustus.

Despite my quibbles mentioned above, preachers, teachers, researchers, and seminarians will find Moo’s commentary on Galatians to be a reliable guide on the grammatical nuances of the Greek text as well as the broader theological concerns of the church. I highly commend it.

John Anthony Dunne

John Anthony Dunne
St Mary’s College, University of St Andrews
St Andrews, Scotland, UK

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