Gaston: The Administration of “Angels”

I started Lloyd Gaston’s Paul and the Torah.

Gaston states on page 42 that Paul deems Gentiles to have been under the law before they were redeemed by Christ, and he refers to Galatians 3:23 and 4:5.  What does that mean?  Gaston answers as follows: “There is a tradition which identifies Gentile deities with the angels of God, the seventy angels of the nations, and there is at least the strong possibility that their function was to administer the law of God in realms beyond the covenant with Israel…Whether the administrators are called elements of powers or angels, they have administered a law from which Gentiles have been redeemed in Christ according to Paul’s gospel.”

My impression is that this is the essence of how Gaston conceptualizes Paul’s view on the law: that the Sinaitic law, starting with Ben Sira, became equated with wisdom, which is universal.  Therefore, Jews and Gentiles were both under the authority of the law.  But God’s law for the Jews was administered directly by God, whose covenant had gracious provisions for them.  The law for the Gentiles, by contrast, was administered by angels, and the angelic rule over the Gentiles does not appear to have been as benevolent as God’s rule over Israel.  Christ, therefore, redeemed the Gentiles from the curse of the law.

As is typical of the New Perspective, Gaston argues that Paul’s main concern was countering Jewish exclusivism towards the Gentiles, not Jewish legalism or self-righteousness.  On page 33, Gaston notes that Paul reproaches the Jews in Romans 2:17-24 for failing to be a light to the nations.  When Paul says in Romans 10:3 that the Jews sought to establish their own righteousness while being ignorant of the righteousness of God, Gaston contends that this means that “Israel as a whole interpreted the righteousness of God as establishing the status of righteousness for Israel alone, excluding the Gentiles from election.”  For Gaston, Paul’s problem with Israel was that she did not join him in proclaiming that the Gentiles could be righteous.

So far, I am really enjoying Gaston’s book because it offers a different perspective on Paul from that to which I am accustomed.  I have some questions about Gaston’s points, however.  First of all, if Paul in Galatians is addressing the issue of Gentiles being under a law that is administered by angels, why does Paul in that letter refer explicitly to the Sinaitic covenant as something that engenders bondage, or go out of his way to deny that the Sinaitic law could annul the Abrahamic promise?  Wasn’t Sinai part of Israel’s relationship to God and the law, not the Gentiles’ relationship?  Second, is Paul really rebuking Jews for exclusivism in Romans 2, or is he saying that the Jews claim to be a light to the Gentiles, but they fail in this task because they do not keep the law?

What I appreciate about Gaston’s approach, though, is that it addresses a question that has long perplexed me.  A theme in the writings of Paul and Deutero-Paul is that Christ somehow redeemed the Gentiles from the powers of the universe, which has been interpreted as their belief in other gods.  So is Paul saying that Christ has redeemed the Gentiles from an imaginary problem, something in which they believed, but which is not true?  Why would Christ redeem the Gentiles from something that had no power over them in the first place?  But Gaston’s argument is that, for Paul, the powers did have authority over the Gentiles, and Christ was nullifying that authority.  For Gaston, Paul felt that God redeemed the Gentiles from a real problem, not an imaginary one.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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