Karl Barth was a true Paulinist. Paul’s theology is the essence that runs through Barth’s veins. For years I have been fascinated with J.L. Martyn’s Galatians commentary precisely because it is so stridently Barthian and it attempts to resolutely prosecute the significance of Paul as an apocalyptic thinker. Graham Stanton heralded J.L. Martyn’s Galatians commentary as one of the greatest commentaries of the twentieth century. A comment I concur with since Martyn’s approach to Galatians is a fresh, provocative, and coherent account of Paul’s argument. There is no recycling of Protestant exegesis, no downplaying the radical implication concerning what Paul says about the law, and no attempt to domesticate Paul to any ecclesial culture. Many will also find Martyn’s approach attractive because its Barthianesque slant fits with so much criticism of American civil religion. Martyn’s Pauline Barthianism shines through when he says things like “the gospel is about the divine invasion of the cosmos (theology), not about human movement into blessedness (religion).” On top of that, Martyn’s emphasis on “antinomy” presents a rather convenient vehicle to introduce some “dialectic theology” into a reading of Galatians as well. That said I do have a few significant issues with Martyn’s reading of Galatians based on exegetical, biblical theological, and theological concerns. One immediate problem is that Martyn’s Paul is so thoroughly christological, that there is no space for Israel as elect nor the possibility of a salvation history. Not only does this imply an uber-supersessionism, but as J.C. Beker pointed out the Barthian project collapses apocalyptic eschatology into christology and then defines christology as simply God’s ultimate revelatory word.
First, on exegesis, Martyn often gives subtle but very significant renderings of prepositions that are purposed to dislocate God from the law. So the law given δι’ ἀγγέλων means not “through angels” as with most translations but “by angels” (Gal 3:19) turning the law into an “angelic parenthesis”. The guardianship of the law which leads us εἰς Χριστόν, means not the goal of the law itself, but the goal God had in mind during the period of the law (Gal 3:24). If I did not know better, I’d have to say that Martyn was using some kind of Marcionite Greek Grammar to authenticate some peculiar rendering of Greek prepositions when it suits his theological purposes.
The second problem with Martyn’s interpretation of Paul’s letter to the Galatians is that we also have Paul’s letter to the Romans. If Romans is, as Martyn even thinks, the earliest interpretation of Galatians, then several of Martyn’s assertions about the Abraham, the covenant, and the law are simply untenable. Now Galatians gives us Paul at his most raw and radical. Paul writes Galatians as an emotive form of discourse. His argumentation parodies his opponents at points and also reaches rhetorically against them with vicious contempt. Though Paul writes Romans with much on his mind, the environs of Corinth seem to have offered him some space and respite to think through his gospel more consistently. Thus, what he wrote to the Romans is indeed apologetic and rhetorical, but far more sanguine and restrained than when he wrote Galatians. Yet the basic substructure of Paul’s thought across Romans and Galatians remains the same, the grammar and vocabulary are consistent, the theological premises begun in Galatians about the law are further worked out and applied not abandoned in Romans, and there was too little time between Galatians and Romans for seismic shifts in his thinking to take place. What connects Galatians and Romans is that Paul is consistently apocalyptic in his worldview, but that apocalypticism was storied in nature and was part of a linear sequence that climaxed in redemption and renewal. The major deficiency of Martyn’s reading of Galatians is precisely his excision of the salvation historical elements. As Dunn notes, Martyn “does not do sufficient justice to the extent to which Paul sees God’s saving purpose as a historical process: Abraham as progenitor of seed; the giving of the law as having a role prior to Christ. Christ coming in ‘the fullness of time’; the growing up of heirs from minority (= slavery) to majority (the gift of the Spirit). In Jewish (and Paul’s!) perspective, apocalypse is the climax of God’s saving purpose for his people, not a whole new start.”
 Graham Stanton, “Review of Galatians by J.L. Martyn,” JTS 51 (2000): 54.
 Though see criticisms in Dunn, Theology of Galatians, 36-52; idem, Beginning from Jerusalem, 744-45; Hays, Faith of Jesus Christ, xxxv-xl.
 Martyn, Galatians, 349.
 Martyn, Galatians, 356, 363, 389.
 To be fair to Martyn, even though he flirts with a quasi-Marcionite Paul, he believes that “Paul will not allow their view [i.e., the view of the teachers] of the nomistic people of God to separate him either from the God of Israel or from Israel itself” (Galatians, 574).
 Dunn, Beginning from Jerusalem, 744-45 n. 402.
 Deeply formative for me was reading Karl Barth’s Evangelical Theology which was my own entrée into Barth’s theology and a critical appreciation of Barth makes its way onto several pages of my own Evangelical Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, forthcoming).
 See discussion in Hays, “Is Paul’s Gospel Narratable?” 238-39.