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Promise, Law, Faith: Covenant-Historical Reasoning in Galatians (Gordon)

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Hendrikson Academic

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In Promise, Law, Faith, T. David Gordon argues that Paul uses “promise/ἐπαγγελία,” “law/νόμος,” and “faith/πίστις” in Galatians to denote three covenant-administrations by synecdoche (a figure of speech in which a part is made to represent the whole or vice versa), and that he chose each synecdoche because it characterized the distinctive (but not exclusive) feature of that covenant. For instance, Gordon argues, the Abrahamic covenant was characterized by three remarkable promises made to an aging couple (to have numerous descendants, who would inherit a large, arable land, and the “Seed” of whom would one day bless all the nations of the world); the Sinai covenant was characterized by the many laws given (both originally at Sinai and later in the remainder of the Mosaic corpus); and the New Covenant is characterized by faith in the dying and rising of Christ.

As Gordon’s subtitle suggests, he believes that both the “dominant Protestant approach” to Galatians and the New Perspectives on Paul approach fail to appreciate that Paul’s reasoning in Galatians is covenant-historical (this is what Gordon calls perhaps a “Third Perspective on Paul”). In Galatians, Paul is not arguing that one covenant is good and the other bad; rather, he is arguing that the Sinai covenant was only a temporary covenant-administration between the promissory Abrahamic covenant and its ultimate fulfilment in the New Covenant in Jesus. For a specific time, the Sinai covenant isolated the Israelites from the nations to preserve the memory of the Abrahamic promises and to preserve the integrity of his “seed/Seed,” through whom one day the same nations would one day be richly blessed. But once that Seed arrived in Jesus, providing the “grace of repentance” to the Gentiles, it was no longer necessary or proper to segregate them from the descendants of Abraham. Paul’s argument in Galatians is therefore covenant-historical; he corrects misbehaviors (that is, requiring observance of the Mosaic Law) associated with the New Covenant by describing the relation of that New Covenant to the two covenants instituted before it—the Abrahamic and the Sinaitic—hence the covenants of promise, law, and faith. Effectively, Paul argues that the New Covenant is a covenant in its own right that displaces the temporary, Christ-anticipating, Israel-threatening, and Gentile-excluding Sinai covenant.


Table of Contents:

1. Introductory Issues

2. Historical Questions Pertinent to Galatians

3. The Autobiographical/Historical Introduction: Galatians 1-2

4. Promise, Law, Faith: Galatians 3

5. Promise, Law, Faith: Galatians 4:1-5:1

6. The Exhortations: Galatians 5-6

7. Quo Vadis: Where Do We Go From Here?



T. David Gordon (BLA, Roanoke College; MAR, ThM, Westminster Theological Seminary; and PhD, Union Theological Seminary in Virginia) is professor of religion and Greek at Grove City College in Grove City, Pennsylvania. He has also taught at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts (where he first began teaching Galatians in Greek in 1984), served as pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashua, New Hampshire, and is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America. Dr. Gordon has contributed to a number of books and study Bibles and has published scholarly reviews and articles in academic journals, as well as popular articles in periodicals such as Modern Reformation magazine. He is the author of Why Johnny Can’t Preach: The Media Have Shaped the Messengers and Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns: How Pop Culture Re-Wrote the Hymnal.



"As he has taught the Greek text of Galatians for more than thirty-five years, T. David Gordon's Promise, Law, Faith represents the fruit of this labor. Focusing on the meaning of the 'law' in Galatians, he attempts to give a critique of both the New Perspective and the traditional (Lutheran, Protestant) views, thus creating a middle road between them. Though one may not agree with all of Gordon's views, it cannot be denied that he has defended them well and made a very good case for this 'middle road.' Not only is this book based on outstanding exegesis and biblical-theological work, Gordon is also an engaging writer who does not lack wit. This is a significant contribution to scholarship on Galatians, and anyone teaching, writing, or preaching on Galatians needs to read it. Indeed, it is a tour de force. A special bonus is the approximately seventy-five-page excursus on 'the righteousness of God.' I hope we will receive more works of such quality from T. David Gordon's pen."  - G. K. Beale, J. Gresham Machen Chair and Research Professor of New Testament Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

"With his signature verve and vigor, T. David Gordon cuts a path between common Protestant and New Perspective readings of Paul's Epistle to the Galatian churches. While all may not agree with his case, Gordon definitely will cause readers to think, reread their Hebrew and Greek texts, and carefully weigh his arguments. Any serious student of Galatians will profit immensely from Gordon's exegetical spadework and his decades-long study of the New Testament." - J. V. Fesko, Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, Mississippi

"T. David Gordon's exploration of Galatians in Promise, Law, Faith charts a distinctive course between traditional Protestant interpretations of Paul and the so-called New Perspective. His covenantal reading of the letter is compelling and merits serious consideration for every student of Pauline theology. He writes with a clarity, liveliness, and humor that are rare in academic books. I encourage seasoned scholars and students alike to read this important work." - Sean M. Mcdonough, Professor of New Testament Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton, Massachusetts