Paul, Philo, and the Genesis of the Law: The Case of Galatians

What, according to Paul, was the origin of the Jewish Law? If we ask about his view in Romans, the question is easily answered. 7:12, 14, and 22 appear to settle the matter. If we ask about his view in Galatians?as I to do in the present paper?the question is considerably harder to resolve. Paul touches on the question at various moments in the letter, but in ways that are anything but plain and have left the society of Pauline scholarship in profound disagreement. Did the Law originate with God, or the angels (3:19-20), or was Paul simply being unclear about it and incoherent? The trouble is that various passages seem to point in different directions. 3:15-20 suggests that God was not the source and donor of the Law; yet 3:21-22, 24 and 4:21-31 imply that the Law was always part of his plan for the redemption of humanity. In this paper I wish to suggest that the seeming contradictions in Galatians disappear if we allow ourselves to assume that Paul thought about the genesis of the Law in much the same way as Philo of Alexandria thought about the creation of those aspects of the human species that are responsible for wickedness. In Opif. 72-75, and other passages, Philo explains that in Gen 1:26a God uses the plural when verbalizing his wish to create the human species (“let us …”) because specifically in the case of the creation of humanity he saw fit to make use of certain helpers. Humans alone, he suggests, are capable of vice, and as it would have been inappropriate for God to be accountable for evil, he chose to create only those parts of human nature that stimulate virtue, while assigning the creation of those that generate evil to certain assistants. In that way, he was able to determine that the capacity for sin should be part of human nature, but at the same time avoid assuming responsibility for it by not actually creating that capacity himself. I propose that in Galatians Paul conceptualized the emergence and delivery of the Law in much the same manner. Presumably because of its imperfections and incapacity to obliterate sin, Paul deemed the creation and passing of the Law beneath the dignity of God, although he recognized that God wanted the Law to be part of his grand salvation-historical plan. Hence he reinterpreted the Jewish tradition about the presence of angels on Mount Sinai at the giving of the Law in such a way as to make these angels responsible for the ordaining of the Law, so that the people could have its Law without God getting his hands dirty. God, in other words, decided that the Law should “be there,” but took part neither in its actual formation nor in its delivery. When seen in this light, 3:15 and 3:21-22, 24; 4:21-31 turn out to be complementary, rather than contradictory.