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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Covenant in Galatians 3:15-18 : a comparative study in the Pauline and Jewish covenant concepts Tabert, George Thomas


The present thesis investigates Paul's understanding of covenant in Gal 3:15-18 and relates it to covenantal thought in Judaism. The Biblical covenant is commonly thought of as a contract with the result that the law is not seen as a covenant in itself but only as part of a covenant. This covenantal view of the law is seen as the specific OT and Jewish view and forms the background against which Paul's treatment of the law is studied. The contractual view of covenant and the resultant way of relating Paul's treatment of the law to Jewish thought is challenged. The problem of defining Paul's covenant concept is approached from a study of Gal 3:15. The attempts to interpret this text as a description of some institution of the Greco-Roman world are found deficient. A fresh attempt is made to understand this text as referring to the OT covenant. It is argued that diathēkē means "an enactment" or "ordinance." This claim counters the common notion that the specific idea in this term is that of one-sidedness in an arrangement, a nuance absent from the Hebraic term běrît. By understanding the OT covenant as an enactment, Paul works with the definition of covenant reflected in the OT and universally held in Judaism. There is therefore no disparity between Paul and Judaism in definition of covenant, as is often assumed. Since covenant is an enactment, law itself is a covenant rather than being part of a covenant. This notion lies behind the singular covenant motif seen in the literature from Qumran. The sectaries saw only one covenant between God and his people, of which the various covenant formulations of the OT are only renewals. The one covenant is identified with the law. Other Jewish sources surveyed reflect the same theology of covenant. Paul also understands the law as a covenant but denies the singular covenant motif. In Gal 3:17-18 he treats the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenant formulations as separate and mutually exclusive covenants. By breaking with the singular covenant motif, Paul finds himself outside the pale of Jewish covenantal thought. Paul's break with the Jewish understanding of law lies thus in his interpretation of the OT covenant formulations.

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