Appreciating Martyn and the Apocalyptic Reading of Galatians

“God would not have to carry out an invasion in order merely to forgive erring human beings. […] The whole of humanity…is, in fact, trapped, enslaved under the power of the present evil age. That is the background of God’s invasive action in his sending of Christ, in his declaration of war, and in his striking the decisive and liberating blow against the power of the present evil age.”

J. Louis Martyn, Galatians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary AB 33A (New York: Doubleday, 1997), 105.

As I’ve outlined in a previous post, I don’t think we ought to follow Martyn in his pitting of “forensic” against “cosmic” apocalyptic in Galatians. The first sentence of this beautiful quote reifies and depends upon that typology, which we ought to leave  behind. But the rest of Martyn’s comment, drawn from his Anchor Bible commentary, seems to me to be a spot-on summation of one aspect of Paul’s gospel, namely its cosmic, liberative implications for life in the present age.

In Martyn’s reading, Paul’s gospel is of an invasive God: in Christ, his death/resurrection, and in the sending of the Spirit, God is invading enemy territory (“the present evil age”), resulting in an eschatological estuary, an overlap between the present evil age and the coming age which brings with it “the hope of righteousness” (5:5, NRSV; Martyn: “the hope of rectification”). This is classic “now-not yet” Christian eschatology; in my view, it’s right-on. If we jettison Martyn’s dogged commitment to the forensic-cosmological apocalyptic dichotomy, and read 1:4 more simply as the two-part summary of Paul’s understanding of Christ’s death (see here), there is still much within his commentary to commend it as a valuable resource for reading this fascinating letter.

Featured image: ἀποκαλύψεως (“apocalypse,” “revelation” – Gal 1:12) in P46, our earliest manuscript of Paul’s letters (via CSNTM).

This post is part of an ongoing series reflecting my engagement with some of the “big ideas” in Galatians studies in preparation for a comprehensive exam.

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