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Book Review – The Blessing of Abraham, the Spirit, & Justification in Galatians: Their Relationship and Significance for Understanding Paul’s Theology

Chee-Chiew Lee. The Blessing of Abraham, the Spirit, & Justification in Galatians: Their Relationship and Significance for Understanding Paul’s Theology. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2013. 256 pp. $28.00.

Gal3.14This book is a revision of a dissertation done under Douglas Moo at Wheaton. In this study, Chee-Chiew Lee investigates the relationship between the Abrahamic blessing and the promise of the Spirit in Galatians 3:14. Finding the arguments of those who see no relationship between these two motifs unconvincing and the explanations of those who do see a relationship (whether as equal or related in some other way) unsatisfactory, Lee  undertakes perhaps the most thorough study of the topic to date by looking at the two motifs throughout the OT and Second Temple literature. She thereby offers a cogent explanation of the relationship between the Abrahamic blessing and the promise of the Spirit, why Paul juxtaposed these two motifs in Gal 3:14, and how their relationship sheds light on Paul’s overall argument in Galatians and the theology of justification therein.

This study begins with a contextual and exegetical overview of Gal 3:1-14 in Chapter 2. Lee demonstrates that Gal 3:1-14 is situated in the context of Paul’s discussion of justification by faith and argues that the passage “constitutes the primary substantiation of his fundamental assertion in Gal 2:16 that justification is by faith in Christ Jesus and not by works of the law. The elaborations in Gal 3:15-6:10 may be seen as the secondary substantiation of Paul’s thesis” (22-23). In introducing the key issues related to determining the relationship between the Abrahamic blessing and the promise of the Spirit in Gal 3:14, Lee first looks at the other occurrences of juxtaposed ἵνα clauses in the Pauline letters before coming back to discuss Gal 4:4-5 and applying the findings to Gal 3:14. Outside of Galatians, when Paul juxtaposes of ἵνα clauses there is a general pattern of the second clause explicating the first and of the content of the two being related but not equal. Lee notes that there are exceptions; that while these two observations are important, syntax alone is not decisive in determining the relationship between the Abrahamic blessing and the promise of the Spirit in Galatians 3:14, and that the context of Galatians is key. Lee notes that “the Spirit should not be equated with the Abrahamic promise or taken as the fulfillment of the Abrahamic blessing. Rather, the promised Spirit is likely to be understood in the prophetic tradition of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel in relation to the Abrahamic, Sinai, and new covenants” (60).

Therefore, in Chapters 3 and 4, Lee seeks to provide a framework for how Paul might have understood the relationship between the Abrahamic blessing and the promise of the spirit by examining the blessing of Abraham in Genesis and its development in other OT texts, as well as the motif of the promise of the Spirit in the prophets. Chapter 3 seeks to “interpret Genesis 12:1-3 in its narrative context in relation to the primeval history in Genesis 1-11 as well as its development in the rest of the Pentateuch” (61). Although the promise of descendants begins to be fulfilled in Genesis, the other two elements of the Abrahamic promise (land and blessing to the nations) remain unfulfilled in the Pentateuch, looking forward to a future complete fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise. Chapter 4 examines Ps 72:17, Jer 4:2, and Zech 8:13 to trace how the Abrahamic promise of blessing to the nations is further developed in the OT. These texts develop the Abrahamic blessing of the nations in two streams: the “seed” as a specific descendent of Abraham and the eschatological fulfillment of blessing for the nations. This chapter also traces the motif of the promise of the Spirit in the prophets, surveying all the texts that mention the promise, paying attention to the metaphors of pouring out of the Spirit and putting the Spirit within, focusing especially on Isa 44:3 and Ezek 36:26-27. Lee demonstrates that “the promise of the Spirit always occurs in the context of Israel’s restoration” (113).

Next, in Chapter 5, Lee examines how the motifs of the Abrahamic blessing and the promise of the Spirit were developed in the Second Temple Literature. “This study seeks to observe how these two motifs are developed in relation to the Gentiles in order to facilitate our investigation of how Paul might have interacted with contemporary thoughts on these two motifs in Gal 3:1-14” (136). Lee demonstrates that in the Second Temple literature, the Abrahamic blessing for the  nations was usually associated with obedience to God’s laws, and that the promise of the Spirit was typically understood in relation to cleansing of sins and empowering of obedience. However, there was generally not an expectation for Gentiles to receive the Spirit; furthermore, the blessing of Abraham and the promise of the Spirit are never associated. Finally, Chapter 6 investigates Paul’s understanding of the Abrahamic blessing and the promise of the Spirit, proposes a reason for why Paul juxtaposed the two motifs, and articulates the relationship between them. Before ending with some implications of her conclusions on understanding Galatians and Pauline justification, Lee sums up the relationship between the Abrahamic blessing and the promise of the Spirit as follows:

First, the Spirit signifies the reconciled relationship between God and his people, and thus, the reception of the Spirit by those who believe in Christ is the evidence that they have received the blessing of Abraham – their present justification before God. Second, the Spirit ensures the perpetuation of the blessing of Abraham – future justification – by working in the lives of believers to produce true obedience and righteousness, as well as by empowering them to resist sin, so that the law may be fulfilled and the curse of the law may continue to be subverted.

(Lee 197)

The Blessing of Abraham, the Spirit, & Justification in Galatians is an excellent book for anyone interested in the biblical motifs of the Abrahamic blessing and the promise of the Spirit, as well as how they relate. Lee provides a robust treatment of the topic through surveys of the motifs throughout the OT, the Second Temple literature, and Paul, before bringing these insights to bear specifically on Galatians 3:14, the text in which they are juxtaposed. Contrary to the prevailing view in modern scholarship that equates the blessing of Abraham and the promise of the Spirit, Lee argues convincingly that the two motifs, while not equated, are in fact related. Whereas previous scholarship has not articulated the relationship in a substantial way, Lee does. Furthermore, this book is also an important read for those with particular interest in Galatians and Pauline justification; although here, the reader should be aware that Lee is basically aligned with the traditional Lutheran understanding of justification.

Many thanks to Pickwick Publications, an imprint of Wipf & Stock, for the review copy!

Purchase: Amazon

 

 

 

 

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6 Comments

  1. jamesbradfordpate

     /  March 26, 2015

    Reblogged this on James' Ramblings.

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  2. Thank you for this, Jennifer. I saw this book some time ago and I thought I should check it out. Your review is helpful.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  3. I’m waiting for your contribution to the topic of Justification and Galatians/Romans in light of Second Temple Judaism

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • Haha! Not sure I would have anything to contribute, but that would be pretty cool. Every time I think there’s nothing left to write on the topic (esp from the traditional perspective) something new pops up.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply

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