Gal 3:16 as midrash (was...)

Charles David Isbell cisbell at
Wed Mar 14 21:15:49 EST 2001

In the debate between Christian Brady and John Ronning, it seems clear to me
that what Christian is claiming is hardly assailable on the grounds so far
advanced.  If I understand his argument, he is making two points.  First, he
is contending that Paul's use of midrashic interpretation was of a piece
with the broad rabbinic function of midrash in that era.  John, if you doubt
Christian's assertion on this point and reject his initial example from
Shemot Rabbah, take a quick look at a traditional Haggadah.  There you will
see clearly, and in easily available form, several examples of how different
interpretations can be attached to the same text.  No one supposes that
these are exegetically defensible in a modern guild context, but they are of
enormous significance in showing how the text of the haggadah developed.

Christian's second point is even more important, in my estimation, as he
distinguishes between "Paul's exegetical technique" and "his theology that
motivated the specific application in this case."  I believe that an
important facet of midrashic interpretation is that it is essentially
eis-exegetical.  That is, the interpreter already knows what he wants to
illustrate BEFORE he turns to a text.  Only then does one seek out a text on
which he can base his interpretation via a wordplay or similar cute little
homiletical ploy.  Rabbinic literature is chock full of such twists.  This
can be spelled out step by step in almost any passage of the Talmud.  It is
well known that the Mishnah almost never quotes a biblical passage on which
to base any of its assertions.  But the most common introductory formula in
the Gemara is "How is this so?"  And believe me that the biblical links that
are called forth to support the mishnayot are very often very interesting
exegetically, to say the least.

Where Paul deviates from a typical rabbi of his day is not in methodology
but in the presupposition about Jesus necessary to his theological
affirmation that rabbinic practitioners of midrash did not share.  Although
I am certainly not a big fan of Paul, I think it is unfair to criticize him
for doing something that was so common in the rabbinic world of his day.

If anyone wants to know, write to me offlist and I'll give you my list of
things for which Paul SHOULD be criticized.  :-)

Charles David Isbell

Disclosure:  Yes, Christian and I are both in Louisiana.  But anyone
familiar with our state must know how painful it is for an LSU man to agree
with a Tulane man about anything.  But Christian is right this time.  And
could we all lighten up a wee bit!

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