I am going to teach a 6-week course on Galatians towards the end of the semester and I am reading a number of commentaries (esp Hays, Dunn, and Moo, as well as a new monograph by Rosner and a short book on justification by Westerholm). One contested issue in the more recent study of Galatians is the legitimacy of using clues within the letter to “mirror-read” the motivations and arguments of the third-party missionaries (or agitators, teachers, etc…). Some interpreters have developed quite extensive theories about the teachings of the missionaries, while others (like John Barclay) are more cautious and minimal.
I was a bit surprised to see Martin Luther himself try out some mirror-reading in his commentary: early in his study of Galatians he imagines the instruction of the Jewish-Christian missionaries in this way:
“You have no right to think highly of Paul. He was the last to turn to Christ. But we have seen Christ. We heard Him preach. Paul came later and is beneath us. Is it possible for us to be in error—we who have received the Holy Ghost? Paul stands alone. He has not seen Christ, nor has he had much contact with the other apostles. Indeed, he persecuted the Church of Christ for a long time.” (CCEL, p.9)
Isn’t this remarkably accurate? I think this goes to show that mirror-reading is not a modern phenomenon, and it is hard not to do this kind of thing with such strongly polarized and seemingly defensive/responsive statements from Paul as we see in Galatians.