Galatians 2:11-21 And The Interpretive Context Of “Works Of The Law” -- By: Todd Scacewater

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 56:2 (Jun 2013)
Article: Galatians 2:11-21 And The Interpretive Context Of “Works Of The Law”
Author: Todd Scacewater


Galatians 2:11-21 And The Interpretive Context
Of “Works Of The Law”

Todd Scacewater*

* Todd Scacewater is Ph.D. student in NT at Westminster Theological Seminary, 2960 W. Church Road, Glenside, PA 19038.

Christian theologians throughout church history have unanimously interpreted Gal 2:15-21 as a polemic against Peter’s actions in Antioch recorded in 2:11-14. This traditional interpretation sees Peter implying works righteousness through his withdrawal from table fellowship with the Gentiles, hence Paul’s confrontation of Peter and his subsequent argument in Gal 2:15-21 about justification coming through faith in Christ, not works of the law. The phrase “works of the law” in 2:16 has been understood as what Paul attributes to Peter in Antioch. Hence, “works of the law” refers to either meritorious works in general, or to works commanded in Torah.1

In recent decades, advocates of the New Perspective on Paul (henceforth, “NPP”) have subjected Gal 2:11-21 to a new reading. The effect of this new reading (explained in the next section) has resulted in a new understanding of the Antioch incident and, in particular, Paul’s response to it. Most importantly, this new reading has prompted a new understanding of the phrase “works of the law” in Gal 2:16, which has been foundational for the NPP, especially in the work of J. D. G. Dunn and N. T. Wright. The purpose of this paper is first to demonstrate how Wright and Dunn rely on Gal 2:16 for their particular understanding of “works of the law,” and subsequently to propose a new reading of 2:11-21, which, if correct,

would create a need for NPP advocates to reassess how they define “works of the law.”

I. Dunn And Wright On Galatians 2:16

Dunn and Wright are leaders among the various streams of the NPP.2 Both Dunn and Wright rely on the polemical context of “works of the law” in Gal 2:16 for their understanding of the phrase. More specifically, they rely upon understanding the phrase polemically against Peter’s actions in 2:11-14

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