Most Influential Commentaries on Galatians (Top 5)
A little over a year ago I wrote a post about the Top Galatians Commentaries. For that list I chose the 5 best in terms of teaching the text the closest to how I think it should be understood. I still stand by those 5—although with the recent addition of Doug Moo’s commentary I think I’d probably change the list slightly (and you can read my review of his commentary over at Themelios)—but every time I read a commentary on Galatians I still think to myself that the best commentary on Galatians hasn’t been written yet. I’m not quite satisfied enough with any one particular commentary to say, “this is the best commentary on Galatians.” Perhaps one day.
But in terms of influence, an entirely different set of 5 commentaries emerge. For today’s post I want to list the most influential commentaries on Galatians. These commentaries have had the biggest impact on the larger interpretation of Galatians, offered massive paradigm shifts that greatly affected scholarship, and subsequently they became voices that everyone had to deal with. Now there are obviously other crucial studies on Galatians in article and monograph form, but here I just want to focus on commentaries. And I’ll list them in chronological order.
1) St. Jerome: Of all the extant patristic commentaries on Galatians, Jerome’s is by far the most thorough and engaging. And one can see his influence on subsequent generations by the fact that medieval and reformation commentators still engaged his commentary.
2) Martin Luther: Obviously Luther’s new perspective on Paul created a landslide in the Christian world. His exposition of Galatians codifies his thought well. It’s perhaps the most repetitive commentary I’ve ever read—apparently every verse in Galatians is about justification by faith—and if the reason why you read a commentary is to understand the source material, then this isn’t a good commentary. But no doubt this is one of the most influential commentaries ever written. (If you like Reformation exegetes, go with Calvin. Every time.)
3) Sir William Ramsay: Ramsay’s commentary on Galatians, from about the early twentieth century, excelled in bringing firsthand knowledge of the topography and archeology of ancient Anatolia into his exegetical decisions. The most significant of these is the way that he championed the view that Paul wrote to the southern part of the Galatian province. Most would agree that J. B. Lightfoot was a better exegete, but Ramsay’s commentary wins the day in terms of influence because of the way in which he significantly altered debates about the destination of the letter.
4) H. D. Betz: Betz’s commentary has changed the way Galatians scholars—and actually New Testament scholars across the board—analyze the New Testament texts in light of ancient rhetorical handbooks. Betz was basically the first to apply this strategy to any writing of the New Testament, and he did it first with Galatians. He argued in the late 1970s that Galatians was a piece of forensic rhetoric. Most writers on Galatians do not accept Betz’s particular analysis but people are still trying to ascertain the rhetoric of Galatians following the lead of Betz.
5) J. Louis Martyn: First of all, Martyn is a game changer. He is to Johannine scholarship what E.P. Sanders is to Pauline scholarship. But he isn’t just a paradigm shifter in Johannine studies, he’s also written what I regard to be the current most influential commentary on Galatians. He is famous for his “apocalyptic reading” of Galatians and one can see his influence in several current scholars like, Douglas Campbell, Beverly Gaventa, Susan Eastman, Martinus C. de Boer, etc. Whatever you make of Martyn’s “apocalyptic reading” of Galatians—and in all honesty I don’t make much of it—one has to acknowledge the sheer brilliance of his commentary.
So these are the commentaries on Galatians that I regard to be the most influential. Which commentaries were most influential in your reading of the letter?