The NIV Application Commentary: Galatians. By Scot McKnight. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995. 320 pp. Paper, $22.99.
McKnight is professor of biblical and theological studies at North Park College in Chicago. This commentary is part of the NIV Application Commentary Series, designed to provide both scholarship and application: “bringing an ancient message into a modern context” (p. 7). The author is handicapped, in my estimation, by the need to have three separate discussions of each passage. One discussion concerns the original meaning, a second concerns bridging contexts (from the original readers to today’s readers), and a third deals with contemporary significance.
Original meaning is an unfortunate choice for the interpretation section. While applications may change, meaning does not. The original meaning is the current meaning and the future meaning.
Dividing the application section into two sections is unnecessary and cumbersome. At times McKnight understandably seems to have difficulty deciding what belongs under bridging contexts and what under contemporary significance.
And, while one might assume that all applications would be under contemporary significance, sometimes some of the most important applications are instead found under original meaning. For example, under the original meaning of Gal 5:4 McKnight understands Paul to be teaching that “the only sin that can sever a Christian’s relationship to God through Christ is the sin of apostasy” (p. 250, italics his). In context he makes it clear this refers to loss of eternal life. The implied application is don’t fall away from the faith or else you will end up in hell. Yet this application is not found at all in the contemporary significance section under Gal 5:1-12.
In addition, it is sometimes a bit difficult to find where the author discusses the meaning of a given verse or expression in a verse. While sometimes there are definite breaks in the text to indicate which verses are being discussed (e.g., pp. 243-53), oftentimes there are not (e.g., pp. 81-90). It would have been much more helpful if definite indications were always given, and not only of subsections being discussed, but also of where the discussion of each new verse begins (perhaps with a number in the margin).
Readers of JOTGES will be disturbed by McKnight’s approach to passages dealing with the gospel. As mentioned above, he believes Gal 5:4 is threatening believers with loss of salvation. So, too, he believes, is Gal 5:19-21: “Whether a person made a profession of faith, whether a person had a charismatic experience, or whether a person endured a great deal of suffering does not matter if he or she lives in the flesh (cf. Matt. 7:15-27; 2 Cor 5:10; James 2:14-26). One’s final standing before God, Paul contends, is directly related to whether or not a person lives in the flesh or in the Spirit” (p. 270, italics his). This seems to contradict his earlier statement that apostasy is the only sin which can cause a Christian to lose his salvation. McKnight sees one general judgment for all people, believers and unbelievers, where one’s “final standing before God” is made known. He cites 2 Cor 5:10, a passage on the judgment of the saved at the Judgment Seat of Christ, to prove that those who live in the flesh won’t make it into the kingdom. There is no discussion of inheriting the kingdom and what it means. McKnight simply assumes that it refers to entering the kingdom. He is either unaware of, or does not feel the need to mention, the view that inheriting the kingdom refers to ruling in the kingdom.
Concerning the anathema of Gal 1:8-9, McKnight says that “Paul is not talking here about church discipline; his language is far too strong for that. He is invoking God’s final damnation and wrath on people who distort the gospel of grace in Christ and substitute, in effect, Moses’ law as the preeminent form of revelation” (p. 51). The author simply asserts that the language cannot refer to temporal judgment. He does not consider other NT uses of anathema, or the fact that Paul includes himself as one who might fall under this anathema (“even though we“).
Concerning baptism and Gal 3:27, McKnight is confusing, saying, “Baptism was not necessary for salvation, but faith without baptism was not faith for the early church” (p. 198). He seems to argue that in the early church at the moment of faith, and not after, people were baptized and at that moment were born again.
One final example is his treatment of Gal 6:7-9 and the notion of reaping eternal life. McKnight says, “What Paul is saying is what I have said on numerous occasions in this book: while works do not save us, no one is saved without works. Why? Very simply, because works are the sure indicators of a person’s heart, orientation, and status before God. Every judgment in the Bible is a judgment according to works (cf. Matt. 7:13-27; 16:27; 22:1-14; 25:1-46; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 20:11-15). A person’s final standing before God will be determined by that person’s relationship to Jesus Christ as revealed in his or her works. While it is absolutely true that our grounds of acceptance is the sacrifice Jesus Christ made on our behalf, our connection to that sacrifice is by way of a faith that works itself out in the many good works in a person’s life” (p. 287).
When the author dealt with other issues there were difficulties for me as well. For example, he argues that Paul’s injunctions concerning the role of women in the church are no longer valid by appealing to a cultural shift (pp. 207-211). He suggests that if our contemporary culture is different than the first century culture, then we are free to ignore or alter biblical mandates. This strikes me as a very subjective approach that has no biblical support.
McKnight did, however, share one vignette that I found very helpful. He told of a woman from a fundamentalist background who went to a liberal church and was warmly accepted. Later she was asked to teach a weekly Bible class, and problems arose. The pastor indicated that he felt she “did not belong” in that church because the views she was expressing about the Bible were too conservative for his tastes. This statement by McKnight particularly struck me: “She came to the conclusion that even in liberal Protestantism, there was a ‘fundamentalism of liberalism’ and that fundamentalism was charged with peer pressure against any Christian who took seriously the biblical teachings of Christ and Paul” (p. 36). “Fundamentalism of liberalism” is a nice turn of a phrase.
I found this commentary to be of limited value either for understanding or applying the text.
Robert N. Wilkin
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society