Notes on Leithart’s Delivered from the Elements

I clean this up in a book review later.  This review is neither an endorsement nor a critique of Leithart.  It’s simply looking at scholarship in NT studies.  Full stop.leithart

Main idea: the fundamental physics of every society consists of purity, pollution, and ritual (Leithart 12). If you “relocate” the sacred then you change the structure of society.

NT use of “nature:” a moral order rooted in the differences of the sexes (27).

Goal: a successful atonement theology must show how Jesus’s death and resurrection is the key to history.

Part 1: Under the Elements of the World

The Physics of the Old Creation

“The elements (ta stoichea) are features of an old creation that Christ has in some way brought to an end” (25).  In both Gentile and Jewish worlds they are structures and symbols that involve distinctions between purity and impurity, sacred and profane.

When Paul uses “nature” it is neither Aristotelian or Stoic.  Gentiles do not have the Torah “by nature” but they still can do what Torah commands (sometimes). Physeis is closely linked to nomos, so of law means a change of the elements (29).  Paul does not use stoichea in the Greek sense. It is a cultural cosmos linked to religious practices.


Adam was placed under the elements.  “Touch not, taste not” was his pedagogy (76).  After the fall, though, flesh was a reminder that the strength of man cannot save.  This might explain circumcision as a symbolic attack on flesh, a reminder that salvation won’t come through natural means.  As Leithart notes, “it is a division from division,” from the pride of nations (89).

What Torah Does

Yahweh’s intention is to destroy the fleshly physics.  When he introduces Torah he is continuing his cutting away of flesh.  The problem with flesh is that flesh spreads pollution (100). As Leithart notes, “Torah cannot kill flesh without killing the man or woman who bears that flesh” (102).

Torah provides a way for Israel to be Yahweh’s people among the division of nations.  It regulates the flesh but does not fix it. As long as Israel is under Torah she is under managers. It is spiritual and we are flesh.  If we come to it it will kill us.

Part Two: Good News of God’s Justice

The Justice of God

Torah and every form of stoichea institutionalize a world of death (126).  In Jesus’s death the old world, the stoichea, the old humanity is gone. Torah established a pedagogy under the conditions of the flesh.  Jesus established a pedagogy under conditions of the Spirit (139).

The Faith of Jesus Christ.

Penal substitution can stand only if it emphasizes the resurrection.  If Christ is not raised, then it is not clear that God accepted his sacrifice. 


(1) The judgment is not a  mere verdict of righteousness, but it is the very act by which it is accomplished (181). “It is a favorable judgment in the form of resurrection.”

It also makes more sense in the historia salutis than in the ordo.  Justification was an act in Jesus’s life (1 Tim. 3:16). And through it we are delivered from the realm of death and stoichea to the realm of Spirit.

Galatians 2 Chiasm:

A. Knowing that a man does not receive delivering verdict by what Torah does.
B. But through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.
               C. We have believed in Jesus Christ.
        B’ so that we may receive the delivering verdict by the faithfulness of XP.
A’ and not by what the law does, since the law does not justify

Pistis Christou in B and B’ refer to the faith of Christ and not Paul’s act of believing. Paul isn’t saying the same thing in three different ways (189).

“Works of Torah” refer to the man and not the deeds (190).  It is someone whose nature has been molded by circumcision, temple, and purity laws.

Justified from the Elements

Thesis: Paul denies that the Spirit comes through the mechanisms of Torah (193).

Flesh and Torah are mutually defining (Romans 7:1-6).  Paul’s argument: to be reckoned righteous is to receive the Spirit.  We receive the Spirit who does acts of power by hearing the message [as Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness].

Chiasm in Galatians 3

A. Spirit comes through the message of faith (1-5).
       B.Abraham believed God (6-9).
C. Those who are of the law are cursed by the law (10).
D.Law vs. Faith (11-12).
            C* Jesus becomes curse to remove curse (13)
        B* So that the blessing of Abraham can come to the Gentiles (14a)
A* So that we might receive the Spirit through faith (14b).

Justify has to refer to more than a verdict.  It also includes a rescue. When Yahweh promised to justify the Gentiles, he was going to judge sin and death. (197).    The good news was not only to the Gentiles, but about them. The content of the gospel is that “all nations shall be blessed in you” (Gal. 3:8).  

Back to Paul’s use of nature:  those who are of different cultures are of different natures.

Galatians 4 is an Exodus motif. Torah works death, so to remain under Torah is to remain under the realm of death.

“The Seed”

Refers to a collective line of descent.  Moses doesn’t mediate the Seed, nor could he since, as mediator of Torah, he can only have a divided humanity (206).

Chiasm in Galatians 4

A. Heir as child (nepios)

       B. no better than a slave (ouden diapherei doulou

                 C. under guardians and managers (hypo epitropous…kai oikonomous)

A’ When we were children (nepioi)

          B’ held in bondage (dedoulomenoi)

                    C’ under ta stoicheia tou kosmou

Humanity is supposed to grow into maturity, but it cannot do this while remaining under the elements and Torah.  The elements are beings who guard and manage children. They could be angelic beings, since Jews received Torah through angels and Gentiles were under beings that are “by nature no gods” (Gal. 4.8).

Chiasm of Galatians 3-4

A.  Faith of Abraham (3.1-14)/
        B.  Faith and law (3.15-22)
               C. Law as pedagogue (3.23-25)
                        D. Baptism into the Seed (26-29)
                C’ Childhood under guardians and managers (4.1-11)
        B’ Weakness of Paul’s flesh/first visit (12-20)
A’ Allegory of Abraham and Sarah (21-31)

Contributions to a Theology of Mission

In Ranks with the Spirit

While stoichea regulate the elements of social life, and a dissolution of stoichea would dissolve the universe, Jesus gives the Spirit who is the new fundamental element of social life (219).  As the Spirit spreads, stoicheic divisions give way to a new order of the Spirit. Instead of a pyramid society of slaves, Paul sees a single body.

Summary of argument so far: “After the curse of Babel, Yahweh continued his war on flesh by beginning an anti-sarkic pedagogy within one family” (283).  Jesus has to be the sacrifice because if he were merely “good,” we would still be barred from Eden.  We would still have to face the flaming cherubim.



About J. B. Aitken

Interests include patristics, the role of the soul in the human person, analytic theology, Reformed Scholasticism, Medievalism, Substance Metaphysics
This entry was posted in Book Review, Eschatology, theology and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Notes on Leithart’s Delivered from the Elements

  1. Pingback: Review: Delivered from the Elements | Kingdom Authority

  2. Pingback: Review: Powers of Darkness (Clinton Arnold) | Blog of the Wars of the Lord

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