Book Reviews,  Theology/Bible

Doug Moo’s must-read commentary on Galatians

Douglas Moo is one of the bright lights of evangelical biblical scholarship. Countless pastors and teachers have come to know him through his important 1996 commentary on Paul’s letter to the Romans. Seventeen years later, that commentary still stands as one of the finest expositions of Romans available. Indeed, many of us have become students of Paul’s theology and writings through Moo’s careful and faithful scholarship.

That is why I was thrilled to see the release of Moo’s new commentary on Galatians for the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Moo has been marinating in Paul’s writings for decades, and this commentary reflects the depth of his long scholarship on Pauline literature.

When it comes to commentaries on Paul, one of the first questions that the critical reader asks is this: “How does the ‘new perspective’ on Paul factor into the commentary?” Readers familiar with Moo’s work will not be surprised to learn that he is generally not sympathetic to new perspective readings on the Galatians. In fact, Moo takes a fairly traditional approach while carefully engaging alternative voices in the literature.

Moo recognizes, for example, that “works of law” is a specific reference to the Mosaic law. But for Moo, contemporary interpreters go too far when they insist that the phrase can only refer to the Torah (p. 160). A reference to Mosaic law does not rule out the implication that Paul means to make a “distinction between human doing and human believing” (p. 31). In short, the old law-gospel antithesis is very much the substructure of Paul’s concern in Galatians.

Moo also understands the disputed phrase “faith of Christ” in the traditional sense. Against Richard Hays and others who have argued to the contrary, Moo contends that the key phrase means “faith in Christ” not “faithfulness of Christ” (p. 161). Thus for Paul, justification is by “faith in Christ” not by doing “works of the law.”

Moo also disagrees with the understanding of justification made popular by N. T. Wright. Whereas Wright views justification as the divine verdict as to who will be declared to be members of God’s people, Moo flatly disagrees and says this about justification in Galatians:

[The] issue is the terms on which people can expect to find right standing with God… There is no good contextual reason to insist that “justify” in 2:16 must be redefined to mean, or to include, the notion of membership in God’s people. There is no need to collapse the two concepts into one… The flow of the text makes perfect sense if Paul in 2:16 is using DIKAIOO language in its well-attested sense “declare righteous” (p. 55; cf. 161-62).

Moo takes the South Galatian view of the letter’s recipients and dating. In short, he believes this letter was addressed to Christians living in the southern part of the Roman province Galatia. A careful comparison of Galatians to the events in Acts reveals that the letter was likely written in AD 48 just prior to the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15. Thus Galatians is the “earliest extant letter of Paul” (p. 18).

There is much more that can and should be said about this book, but I will finish with this. We owe Doug Moo a debt of gratitude for this important contribution. This book is an important work of scholarship on a critical Pauline text. If you are looking for a solid exposition of the Greek text of Galatians from a non-New Perspective perspective, this commentary (along with Tom Schreiner’s) is the one you’ll want to consult.

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