Saturday Series: Galatians 1:11-2:14

Narratio (Galatians 1:11-2:14)

Following the introduction (exordium) to the letter (1:6-10, see last week’s study), Paul proceeds with the narratio in 1:11-2:14. In classical rhetoric, the narratio (Greek di¢¡g¢sis) refers to a statement (narration) of the facts of a case, along with related events, by the author/speaker; it also sets the stage for the principal arguments (or proofs) which follow. Cicero defines it as “an exposition of events that have occurred or are supposed to have occurred” (De inventione 1.19.27; see Quintilian 4.2.2ff, and Betz, pp. 58-9).

In Paul’s letters, the narratio tends to be autobiographical in character, since the issues dealt with in the letter are typically related in a fundamental way to Paul’s missionary work. That is certainly the case here in Galatians, and all the more so, since the rhetorical thrust of the letter has a strong apologetic character, in which Paul defends the legitimacy of his apostolic ministry.

Verses 11-12 make up the propositio, or opening statement, intended to influence the audience. This is indicated by Paul’s use of gnœrízœ gár hymín (“For I make known to you…”) at the start. This sort of opening is relatively common, positioning and presenting the speaker/author’s arguments as something the audience is already familiar with (“You are certainly aware of…,” “You are not unaware of the fact…,” “You must remember…,” etc). Verses 11-12 are transitional, joining the exordium to the narratio that follows; note the significance of this central proposition:

“For I make known to you, brothers, the good message [euangélion] being brought as a good news [euangelisthén] by me, that it is not according to man, for not even did I receive it along from a man, nor was I taught (it), but (it came) through an uncovering of [i.e. revelation by] Yeshua (the) Anointed.”

Here Paul begins to develop themes and lines of argument which were introduced in the letter opening (vv. 1, 4) and the exordium (vv. 6-9). Two key themes, which are interrelated in Paul’s argument, are presented in the proposition: (1) his apostolic commission came as the result of a direct revelation from Jesus himself, and (2) the Gospel (euangélion, “good message, good news”) as proclaimed by him is part of this same revelatory commission. The central point was made back in verse 1—namely, that the Gospel Paul proclaims was not taught to him by other human beings, but came to him directly by revelation from Jesus Christ. This fact is intimately connected with his role as a representative and emissary (apostle) of Christ, both aspects—Gospel message and apostolic authority—being central to his exposition.

The exposition/narration that follows in 1:13-2:14 does more than simply present the facts of the case; rather, Paul uses this rhetorical opportunity to develop these two key lines of argument. This is done by three narrative stages—that is, in three sections of the narratio. Indeed, as noted above, the narratio itself is autobiographical, and can be divided into three parts:

    • Paul’s early career—the call to be an Apostle (1:13-24)
    • The meeting in Jerusalem—confirmation of Paul’s role as Apostle to the Gentiles (2:1-10)
    • The incident at Antioch—questions regarding the Gospel as proclaimed to the Gentiles, concerning Jewish-Gentile relations and the Law (2:11-14)

Let us examine briefly how Paul uses the rhetorical and epistolary form of the narratio to develop the argument by which he hopes to persuade the Galatians.

Paul’s early career (1:13-24)—From the standpoint of this study, three basic themes or points can be isolated:

    • His religious devotion and zeal—that is, his Jewish identity (vv. 13-14). The “traditions [lit. things given along, passed down] of the Fathers” certainly includes legal (i.e. commands and regulations of the Torah) as well as extra-legal religious matters. His devotion extended even to persecuting the early Christians in Jerusalem and Judea, which corresponds to the scenario described in Acts 8:1-3; 9:1-2ff. Note also how here he effectively contrasts Judaism with the Gospel (presented in v. 15), but not as either competing or complementary religions; rather, the revelation of Jesus Christ to him represents something entirely new.
    • His call and commission as Apostle (to the Gentiles)—it came directly from God and Christ (vv. 15-17) This is indicated by two aspects of the narrative:
      (1) He was set apart (vb aphorízœ) by God (even before he was born), being called by the favor of God and through the (personal) revelation of Christ (vv. 15-16a)
      (2) He did not consult at first with other Christian leaders (in Jerusalem), i.e. his instruction and earliest ministry work was directly under the guidance of God and Christ (vv. 16b-17)
    • His ministry work becoming accepted within the wider early Christian community—including contact with the apostles in Jerusalem (vv. 18-24)

The meeting in Jerusalem (2:1-10)—I have discussed this passage in some detail in relation to the so-called ‘Jerusalem Council’ of Acts 15. I would generally follow the majority of commentators in their view that Acts 15 and Galatians 2 refer to the same underlying historical event[s], though this identification is not without difficulties. However one chooses to interpret the relation between these passages at the historical level, here we must focus exclusively on what Paul writes in his letter. The following points should be noted:

    • Paul’s attendance in Jerusalem is also the result of a revelation (vv. 1-2, cp. Acts 15:2f)
    • At issue is the Gospel Paul has been proclaiming to the Gentiles (v. 2)
    • There were some (Jewish Christians) in Jerusalem who would require/compel Gentile believers to be circumcised [and, presumably, to observe other Torah regulations as well] (v. 3; this is more prominent in Acts 15:1-11ff)
    • Paul characterizes these Jewish Christians (“Judaizers”) as “false brothers” (pseudádelphoi), indicating that they have come in surreptitiously (infiltrating/spying), and with false/improper motives (v. 4); note the introduction here of a motif (slavery vs. freedom) which will appear throughout the epistle.
    • Paul clearly contrasts this Jewish-Christian view with the “truth of the Gospel” (al¢¡theia tou euangelíou)—as such, Paul feels compelled to oppose it (v. 5)
    • The authority and importance of the (apostolic) leaders in Jerusalem, judged in human terms, is devalued by Paul (v. 6, 9)
    • And yet, Paul’s role as apostle to the Gentiles is confirmed—along with his missionary approach and the Gospel he proclaims—by the leaders in Jerusalem (James, Cephas/Peter, and John) (vv. 7-9)

We can detect how many of the important themes and motifs of the epistle, to be expounded by Paul, are introduced and interwoven throughout this narrative. The points of controversy and conflict are brought forward, and already Paul has begun the polemical (and vituperative) treatment of his opponents which will increase markedly in the climactic sections of the letter.

The incident at Antioch (2:11-14)—For a detailed treatment of this section, see my earlier discussion, and also on the Peter/Paul controversy in Christian tradition. It also may be worth consulting my notes on the so-called Apostolic Decree from Acts 15. Here we have a narrative snippet from a minor, but significant, event in early Church history, which shows the cultural and religious difficulties in incorporating Gentile (non-Jewish) believers within a largely Jewish-Christian matrix.

The incident at Antioch, by all accounts, did not involve Jewish Christians urging or compelling Gentiles to observe the Torah; rather, it had to do with the behavior of the Jewish believers. Should Jews (as believers in Christ) continue faithfully to observe the Torah regulations and/or their religious traditions if it meant separating themselves from fellowship with Gentiles? The issue may even have gone deeper, for Paul speaks of Peter as starting to be in a Gentile manner of living (ethnikœ¡s); this perhaps indicates that Peter has ceased to observe certain Torah regulations (such as the dietary restrictions, cf. Acts 10:9-16), at least when living and eating among Gentile believers. Social pressure (from prominent Jewish believers) apparently caused Peter to return to his prior religious scruples.

Paul saw and sensed in this a great danger, as it seemed to place Jewish distinctiveness ahead of Jewish-Gentile unity in Christ. This is an important observation directed at those commentators who would view Paul’s arguments regarding the Law in Galatians as being limited to what is necessary for salvation. The incident at Antioch shows that Paul’s argument goes well beyond this, for it relates to the very notion of Christian identity. Galatians is first surviving Christian writing (however one dates it exactly) to address this issue head-on.

Through this relatively lengthy narration (narratio), Paul has moved from a defense of his apostleship (section 1) to a defense of his view of the Gospel and what it means to be a Christian (section 3). He has effectively laid out the groundwork for his lines of argument in chapters 3-4. However, before Paul begins with his “proofs” in chaps. 3-4, he first must present the central proposition (propositio) which he seeks to prove. This is done formally in 2:15-21, which we will examine in next week’s study. The issue is stated, in practical terms, at the close of the narratio, which the question (posed to Peter, but, by extension, to all Jewish Christians):

“how can you make it necessary (for) the nations [i.e. Gentiles] to live as Jews?”

Paul’s view of the Gospel is that it is not necessary at all for believers (esp. Gentile believers) to “live as Jews” (vb Ioudaï¡zœ), by which is meant accepting the binding authority of the Torah regulations. He will expound this proposition in vv. 15-21, and then go on to prove it (probatio) through six lines of argument in chaps. 3-4.

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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