Saturday Series: Galatians 1:6-10

Exordium (Galatians 1:6-10)

Last week, we began our rhetorical-critical study on Galatians, starting with the opening (epistolary prescript) of the letter (1:1-5). We saw how Paul’s rhetorical purpose resulted in the adaptation of the traditional opening (even as realized in the majority of Paul’s letters). Both the superscription and the greeting (salutatio) were expanded to include thematic elements that will become important for the rest of the letter—namely, (1) the legitimacy of Paul’s status as an apostle, and (2) an emphasis on the Gospel message (kerygma) proclaimed by Paul (as an apostle). Today we will move on to the start of the body of the letter proper, the introduction or exordium (to use the classical rhetorical term).

This opening section of a speech (or letter) can also be referred to as a proeemium or principium. From the standpoint of classic Greco-Roman rhetoric, the exordium is treated, for example, by Aristotle (Rhetoric 1.1.9; 3.14.1ff), Cicero (De inventione 1.4.6-7.11), and Quintilian (4.1.1-79); see Betz, p. 44. The exordium can serve a number of different purposes for the speaker/author. The author (in the case of a letter) can state his/her reason for writing (causa), introduce the subject to be addressed, present the facts of the case, and/or prepare the audience so that they are more likely to be receptive and respond favorably to the message.

For the exordium of Galatians (1:6-10), Paul has several key purposes or themes which he wishes to introduce. One may divide the exordium into three parts. In the first of these (vv. 6-7), Paul gives the reason for writing to the Galatians; in Latin rhetorical terminology, this is the causa (or cause) for his writing.

“I wonder that so quickly you (would) set yourselves away from the (one hav)ing called you in (the) favor [of the Anointed], (and) to a different good message, (for) which there would not be another, if (it were) not (that) there are some (people) troubling you and wishing to turn away [i.e. distort] the good message of (the) Anointed.”

Paul’s approach here is indirect, in that he does not adopt a standard direct and straightforward opening (principium), but takes a ‘subtler’ and more creative approach, using a method called insinuatio. This approach tends to be used when the audience has (already) been won over by the arguments of the author’s opponent(s) (see Betz, p. 45). Note the present tense verbs in vv. 6-7, indicating that the influence of Paul’s opponents on the Galatians is something current and ongoing.

The forcefulness of Paul’s language is also an indication of the urgency of the situation. He begins, “I wonder/marvel [thaumázœ] that…”, a deliberative rhetorical technique that draws attention to the course of action being taken (or about to be taken) by his audience; similarly, his use of the adverb tachéœs (“[so] soon/quickly”). It is a device of ‘indignant rebuttal’, implicitly attacking the things said and done by the opposition side. On the rhetorical use of the verb thaumázœ in this regard, see Betz, p. 47.

Note the two parallel verbs in vv. 6-7:

    • metatíth¢mi (“set [something] after”, i.e. change the place of)—metatíthesthe “you have moved (yourselves) away from [apó]”
        • The transfer is away from the one calling the Galatians to faith and salvation, i.e. God (but in a secondary sense, also Paul as apostle), and toward (“unto”, eis) “another Gospel” (héteron euangélion)
    • metastréphœ (“turn after/across”, i.e. turn to a different place or condition)
        • Paul’s opponents (the ones “troubling” [tarássontes] the Galatians) wish “to change/pervert/distort” [metastrépsai] “the Gospel of Christ” [to euangélion toú Christoú]

As Betz notes (p. 47), much of this vocabulary reflects a partisan political context—being applied to a religious setting. Paul immediately establishes two sides, tied to a particular view of the “good message” (Gospel) proclaimed by the early Christians. On one side, we have the Gospel as proclaimed by Paul (and his fellow missionaries), and, on the other side, the version of the Gospel held by his opponents (yet to be introduced in the letter).

This sense of conflict relates to the two rhetorical themes introduced by Paul in the opening (epistolary prescript) of the letter (vv. 1-5, see above). We have: (1) the essence of the Gospel message, and (2) the legitimacy of Paul as an apostle proclaiming this message. His primary focus is on the first point—the essence and truth of the Gospel. This is why he speaks of a “different” (héteros) or “another” (állos) Gospel—that is, a version of it different from the one he has proclaimed to the Galatians. It is not clear, at this point in the letter, what this “difference” entails, only that the matter is most serious, in his mind. This explains the forcefulness of the language here in the causa, but also the introduction of the curse-formula that follows in vv. 8-9 (see below).

The second theme is also present: the legitimacy of Paul as an apostle. The expression “the (one) having called you” (ho kalésantos hymás) is ambiguous. It is best understood in terms of God the Father as the One who calls believers to faith in Christ (“in the favor [i.e. grace] of Christ”); however, it could also refer, in a subordinate sense, to Paul as the one who calls them through his proclamation of the Gospel. Almost certainly, Paul has both levels of meaning in mind.

Paul cleverly disparages the view of the Gospel held by his opponents, in verse 7, by emphasizing that there really cannot be a different Gospel—i.e., there is only one Gospel, and by implication it corresponds with Paul’s version of the Gospel. Indeed, he goes on to say that he would not even bother to speak of “another” Gospel, were it not for the fact that there have been some (tinés) people “troubling” (vb. tarássœ) the Galatian believers with their claims and teachings. Paul states that these ‘other’ people actually wish to the distort/pervert (vb metastréphœ, see above) the truth of the Gospel. Certainly, Paul’s opponents would not see the matter this way, and would claim just the opposite, attributing any distortion of the Gospel to Paul.

The seriousness with which Paul views the matter is indicated by the double curse (anathema) he gives in verses 8-9. It is not uncommon for classical orators to make use of threats as a means of persuading their audience, nor is the use of curses in a speech (or letter) unknown. However, typically, any curse formula would appear at a later point, toward the end of the speech or letter—a portion referred to as peroratio. It is unusual to include a curse formula as part of the introduction, as Paul does here. Rhetoricians tend to view threats or curses as something that should be used only as a last resort, when other means of persuasion do not seem likely to succeed (see Betz, p. 46). Paul’s use of it here illustrates two pertinent facts: (1) that his opponents have been successful, to some measure, in persuading the Galatians; and (2) it shows the seriousness and urgency with which Paul views the matter. It was most serious, indeed, for a missionary or leading figure in the Church to proclaim a “different” Gospel:

“But, even if we, or a Messenger out of heaven, should proclaim as (the) good message [to you] (something) alongside of [pará] the good message which we proclaimed to you, may he be set up (as cursed)! As we have said before, even now again I say: if anyone proclaims as (the) good message to you (something) alongside that which which you received along (from us), may he be set up (as cursed)!”

Implied within the curse is an affirmation of Paul’s own apostolic authority—this will be the main focus of the narration section (narratio) that follows in vv. 11ff. Paul’s position and authority as an apostle (representative of Christ) is also indicated in verse 10, which serves as the transitus, or transition, between the exordium and the narratio. This transitional declaration is also important for a proper understanding of Paul’s application of rhetorical techniques in his letters:

“For do I now persuade men or God? Or do I seek to please men? If I would yet please men, a slave of the Anointed (One) I would not be.”

Paul seems to deny that he is trying to persuade (vb peíthœ) people, and yet clearly that is what is is doing in his letter. The point is, however, not that he makes no use of persuasive (rhetorical) techniques, but that he does not rely upon them to convey the truth of his message. Nor does he seek to “persuade God,” an idea which he perhaps includes here because of the curse-formula in vv. 8-9. God is not to be swayed or persuaded by quasi-magical means. More critical is Paul’s final point in verse 10: that he is not writing to please men. His duty, as an apostle, is to proclaim the Gospel; to this end, he is effectively a “slave” (doúlos) of Christ.

This statement leads to the question of Paul’s apostleship—and the relation of his apostolic authority to the truth of the Gospel message that he proclaims. It is this theme which comes more firmly into focus in the next section of the letter (the narratio, 1:11-2:14), which we will examine in next week’s study.

References above marked “Betz” are to Hans Dieter Betz, A Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Churches in Galatia, ed. by Helmut Koester, Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 1979).

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