One of the subjects of discussion which came up at the conference was the book GALATIANS: A TORAH-BASED COMMENTARY IN FIRST CENTURY HEBRAIC CONTEXT by Avi ben Morddechai.
The theory of this book is that Paul in Galatians is effectively a Karaite out of his time and that the "works of the law" that Paul is standing in opposition to is the Oral Law of Rabbinic Judaism.
Friday night we got into discussion and debate about this book, but as time to light the Erev Shabbat candles before sunset came upon us, we had to cut the discussion short. Of course we always want to answer all questions, and so I am opening discussion on this issue here, for any wishing to discuss the book, or its theory, or the Oral Law vs. Karaitism debate in general.
I must respond this theory proposing to give the proper understanding of Galatians. This new theory was proposed by my good personal friend, Avi ben Mordechai. My response to this theory is purely academic. I have nothing personal against Avi. I have known Avi for over ten years and count him as one of my best friends.
Back in 1996 in his 1st edition of Messiah volume 1 Avi gave earliest understanding of Paul and Galatians from a Torah Observant view.
In the first edition he addressed Galatians 3:10 and Rom. 3:19-20 by retranslating the Greek word "ek" as meaning "out of and away from" rather than "by" or "of". Thus he was understanding Paul as saying that a person cannot be justified "out of and away from the works of the law".
Now in 1997 Avi and I had a series of month long meetings, I had addressed this matter with him. I told Avi that I disagreed with his take on these verses for two reasons. First I said that I did not believe the Greek was the original, so I would have to look at it in the Aramaic, secondly, I said that the phrase "works of the law" was a theological technical term used by Paul's opponents, and that it was not a reference to the Torah itself. I said that I had been teaching that for years, and that recently a document found at Qumran had substantiated this point.
I told Avi that "works of the law" was a technical theological term used by the Qumran community to describe their halacha, and was presented as a method of justification. I showed Avi that MMT reads:
Now we have written to you some of the works of the Law, ... And it will be reckoned to you as righteousness...
(4QMMT C:26-27, 31)
And that this is an amazing inverse literary parallel to Gal. 2:16; 3:6:
Now we have written to you some of the works of the law, ... And it will be reckoned to you as righteousness...(4QMMT C:26-27, 31)
Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Yeshua the Messiah, even we have believed in Yeshua the Messiah, that we might be justified by the faith of Messiah, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.... Even as Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him for righteousness.(Gal. 2:16; 3:6)
Similarly I showed him that Paul makes a similar usage of "Under the Law". Avi made use of this information and revised Messiah volume 1 in later editions to reflect this information. Avi pointed out in the third edition: "Nowhere in ancient rabbinic literature is the phrase 'works of the law' found..." (Messiah Vol. 1; 3rd ed. p. 292)
In the third edition of Messiah Volume 1 Avi concluded quite correctly:
"...he [Paul] is then understood to be using a Qumran legal term... So, what were these pertinent (miqsat) 'works of the law' that Paul was referring to? Simply, about two dozen purity laws... The fact that Miqsat Ma'ase HaTorah, 'some of the works of the law' is not found in rabbinic literature indicates that the idea was not normative to Judaism. Rather among the Oral traditions of some of the P'rushim (Pharisees), the same traditions that Paul upheld, there was more of a leaning to relax many of the Torah precepts, an idea opposed forcefully by the Yahad hyper-purity community doctrines."
(Messiah Volume 1; 3rd ed. p. 292-293)
Now at this point I think Avi absolutely had it right!
But now in his book Galatians: A Torah-Based Commentary in First-Century Hebraic Context, Avi writes regarding Gal. 2:16 and the phrase "works of the law" :
"'works of the law' (ma'asei haTorah) can be understood as a false system of justification, which was a Pharisaic system of decreed and traditions..." (p. 216) and "'works of the law' which meant Pharisaic oral traditions and Pharisaic authority." (p. 217)
In this the new book Avi has totally abandon the facts he himself presented in the third edition of Messiah One. With no explanation at all Avi goes from defining "works of the law" as "a Qumran [Essene] legal system... about two dozen purity laws... not found in rabbinic literature... the Yahad hyper-purity doctrines" to "a Pharisaic system of decrees and traditions... Pharisaic oral traditions and Pharisaic authority." (p. 216-217)
And to my surprise, the 478 page book never seeks to explain why the very sound theory presented in the third edition of Messiah Vol. 1 Chapter 7 is to now be rejected. Avi’s new book never even opens the matter for discussion, but seems to simply sweep Messiah Vol. 1 Chapter 7 and with it 4QMMT under the rug.
Avi’s new theory that Paul’s opponents in Galatians were Pharisees has serious problems. Te begin with, Paul identifies himself as a Pharisee. While there is no evidence that Pharisees made any special use of the phrase “works of the law”, this exact phrase was used in an anti-Pharisaic Essene document (4QMMT) and was proposed as being “reckoned as righteousness” for those who keep them.