The “Israel of God” in Galatians 6:16: A Pauline Innovation?

The phrase “Israel of God” in Galatians 6:16 has been a source of exegetical difficulty because it can be understood in several, defensible ways. The expression is truly unique, unparalleled in the extant literature. The lack of lexical evidence has given the “Israel of God” phrase an enigmatic reputation among Galatian scholars. It is, no doubt, the seemingly unconventional τοῦ θεοῦ genitive qualifier attached to the right-hand side of the head noun τὸν Ἰσραὴλ that gives Paul’s utterance a unique touch. An exegetical interpretation of the “Israel of God” phrase depends on how one assembles the data leading up to 6:16. In all cases, the danger is attaching to 6:16 a reading that puts it at odds with Paul’s earlier argument of breaking down the division between Jew and Gentile (cf. Gal 3:28). Thus, an exegetical attempt is made in this paper to connect the situation of deception with Paul’s literary theme of inheritance. This connection suggests that the “Israel of God” could be understood by the Galatians as a rhetorical reference to Paul’s opponents in Galatia – opponents whose deceptive behavior seems to follow the pattern of “Israel,” who was Jacob, the trickster, prior to his name change by God. This suggestion of a Pauline innovation fits with the rhetoric to the fledgling Galatians, who are currently being persuaded out of their own inheritance through the means of bewitchment. Along with the paper’s attempt to connect deception and inheritance, the suggested thesis intends to be supported by (1) a grammatical analysis of Gal 6:16 (2) an explanation of “new creation” in 6:15 and (3) the identification of Paul’s opponents in Galatia.

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