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Chee-Chiew Lee: The Blessing of Abraham, the Spirit, and Justification in Galatians

Chee-Chiew Lee, The Blessing of Abraham, the Spirit, and Justification in Galatians: Their Relationship and Significance for Understanding Paul’s Theology (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2013).

Close exegesis of Galatians, with due attention to past scholarship on the subject, is among the most daunting tasks in the study of the New Testament. And yet a proper understanding of Galatians is centrally important for grasping Paul’s view of the gospel. To make a fresh contribution to the crowded field of Galatians requires a great deal of patience, a command of a wide band of scholarship, and perhaps a bit of creativity.

Chee-Chiew Lee’s study on the relation of the Spirit to justification in Galatians is a worthy contribution to the field. Lee challenges the view that Paul equated Abraham’s blessing with the Spirit in Gal 3:14. The two are related, but not equal (chap. 2). Their more precise relationship, Lee reasons, might be gleaned from a survey of the remaining sections of the Old Testament and from later Jewish writings. According to Lee, writings (roughly) contemporary with Paul allowed that the Abrahamic blessing accorded certain benefits to the proselyte, but that the blessing of the Spirit was always withheld – reserved for the native Jew. Paul’s insistence on the outpouring of the Spirit upon the Gentiles therefore radicalizes the place of Gentiles within the community of saints. Lee argues that, while few in Paul’s day read Scripture that way, Paul’s view is afforded by passages like Isa 56:3-7 and Zech 2:15 [LXX 2:11], in which those nations that have “joined themselves” to God are referred to as “the people of Yahweh” (p. 189). If other Second Temple Jews missed the Isaian and Zecharian connection between the Spirit and the turning of the nations toward Israel’s God, Paul did not miss it. (This line of reasoning is consistent with a recent trend in Pauline studies, which is to allow careful exegesis of the Old Testament to serve as a palette [of sorts] for understanding Paul’s exegetical mind.)

According to Lee, “the blessing of Abraham is identified with justification, and the Spirit functions as the evidence of receiving the blessing and the means of perpetuating the blessing” (p. 210). Such a view, of course, brings to mind certain ongoing debates about Pauline pneumatology. It will be interesting to see if Lee’s arguments about the shape of Paul’s pneumatology within Galatians come to play a role in those debates.

Reviewed by John Poirier


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Category: Biblical Studies, Spring 2016

About the Author: John C. Poirier, Th.M. (Duke Divinity), D.H.L. (Jewish Theological Seminary), is an independent scholar who has published numerous articles on a wide range of topics. He is the author of The Invention of the Inspired Text: Philological Windows on the Theopneustia of Scripture (2021).

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