The Epistle to the Galatians

By Ronald Y. K. Fung
Grand Rapids : Eerdmans (1988). xxxiii + 342 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Irv Busenitz
4.2 (Fall 1993) : 231-232

The author, resident scholar and adjunct lecturer at the China Graduate School of Theology, Hong King, initiated this project while doing graduate work under F. F. Bruce at the University of Manchester. His goal has been to provide a scholarly treatment in a "user friendly" format for pastors and students, "especially for an examination of the letter specifically as Paul's most direct defense and exposition of justification by faith . . ." (xi).

With the characteristic imprint of his mentor, Fung skillfully guides the reader into the text. His succinct treatment of introductory issues has numerous, occasionally lengthy, footnotes with documentation and technical details. It is so succinct that some treatments are less than full. For example, the rudimentary discussion of the location of the Galatian churches (1-3) is noticeably brief, referencing instead the works of others. On the other hand, he treats the date of composition extensively (9-28), finally accepting the conclusion of his mentor that "Galatians may well have been written on the eve of the Jerusalem Council (ca. A.D. 48)" (28) and identifying the Jerusalem visit of Galatians 2:1-10 with the famine relief visit of Acts 11 (86).

Fung's analysis of the text is, for the most part, quite helpful as it touches upon the central features and their meaning. Yet he frequently fails to reveal little more than what is elementary and cursory. His discussion of the "different gospel" in 1:6-7 is quite brief. He rejects the conventional distinction between the two Greek adjectives in this passage, concluding, "As in 2 Cor. 11:4, no essential distinction is intended; this becomes all the more likely in the light of the consideration that the word `another' (`gospel' has been supplied in translation) seems to be used somewhat pleonastically in order to introduce the following `only' or `except that'" (45).

The discussion of the fruit of the Spirit is insightful and thorough (262-73). It has an extended description of each quality, tracing each through the Pauline writings as well as through the NT. He carefully explains the difference of terminology and meaning when comparing 6:2 with 6:5: "While that verse [6:2] speaks of `heavy loads' that one finds unbearable and requires assistance in carrying, this verse [6:5] speaks of a person's 'own proper burden,' like the traveler's own pack. The reference is probably to the ineluctable duties of life that fall to each person, including answerability to God for one's own conduct and performance" (291).

The extensive indexes of subjects, authors, and Scriptures provide a quick reference tool and enhance the value of this exclusively English work. Though brevity in both the text and the footnotes regarding some major interpretive issues reduces the commentary's usefulness, it will still serve as a beneficial resource for pastor, teacher, and student.