January 31: Galatians 1:6-11ff

In the previous note, I discussed Paul’s use of the eu)agge/l- word group in 1 Thessalonians (often considered the earliest of his surviving letters). We saw that, for the noun eu)agge/lion at least, by the late 40’s A.D. it had already come to have a definite technical meaning for early Christians—as the message regarding Jesus Christ, which ministers (such as Paul) were proclaiming to audiences, and which, through acceptance of it, people were led to become believers in Christ. At the same time, there is also evidence, we may say, of a distinctive Pauline development in the use and significance of the term. Among the points of emphasis appear to have been:

  • God as the source of the “good message”, who entrusted it specially to chosen ministers (such as Paul)
  • The content of the “good message” centered on what God has done through the person and work of Jesus.
  • The proclamation of the “good message” entails sacrificial service by the messengers (i.e. missionaries such as Paul), the two going hand in hand.
  • The effect of the proclamation is achieved through the power and work of the Spirit.

These defining aspects of the “good message” may not be original to Paul’s thought and expression, but there is no certain evidence for them prior to Paul’s (earliest) letters, with the possible exception of two or three Synoptic sayings of Jesus (to be discussed in an upcoming note).

The eu)aggel- word group is even more prominent in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, with the noun (eu)agge/lion) and verb (eu)aggeli/zomai) occurring 7 times each. The dating of Galatians remains disputed, with some commentators treating it as the earliest of his letters (mid/late-40s). This view is held primarily by traditional-conservative commentators, with an eye toward harmonizing the accounts in Galatians 2 and Acts 15. In terms of the subject matter, style, and rhetorical/polemic thrust of the letter, I find much in common with Romans and 2 Corinthians, and tend to think that it was probably written around the same time as those two letters. In any event, it may be argued that, in Galatians, we have Paul’s clearest (and most forceful) expression of what he means when he uses the eu)aggel- word group. The polemic character of the letter has much to do with this, since Paul is arguing against certain Jewish Christians who have a different sense of the religious identity for believers in Christ, and what that entails. Paul addresses this matter through his use of eu)agge/lion/eu)aggeli/zomai.

The bulk of occurrences in Galatians are found in the introductory section (exordium) of the letter (1:6-11), where the noun is used three times (vv. 6-7, 11) and the verb four (vv. 8-9, 11)—half (7) of all occurrences in the letter. Through this specific language, Paul establishes the importance of the terminology in relation to the conflict he addresses—eu)aggel- becomes a theological and rhetorical keyword. See, for example, how the exordium begins:

“I wonder that you (have) thus (so) quickly set (yourselves) over [metati/sesqe], (away) from the (one) calling you in (the) favor [of the Anointed], (and) into a different good message…” (v. 6)

The words in square brackets may not be original (e)n xa/riti instead of e)n xa/riti Xristou=); in that case, the reading would presumably be “the (one) calling you in (his) favor”—i.e. God calling believers in/through his own favor. The emphasis on believers’ identity in terms of the favor [i.e. grace] of God (rather than observance of the Torah) is, of course, developed strongly throughout the letter; however, note here how this is framed—the Galatians have, or are in danger of, setting themselves “into a different good message” (ei)$ e%teron eu)agge/lion). This rather neatly, and concisely, indicates that the religious views of those Paul is arguing against represent “a different Gospel” entirely. The prefix meta/ in the verb metati/qhmi indicates a change in position; as a political term, it can refer (in a negative sense) to a partisan viewpoint. The implication is that those who heed the message of these other Jewish Christians would be separating themselves from Paul and the Gospel message he preached to them. The line of rhetorical argument used by Paul, and beginning here in this verse, is meant to prevent that from happening.

Similar language is employed in verse 7, when Paul shifts from the Galatian believers, to the Jewish Christians who were proclaiming this “different Gospel”, stating that they are ones “wishing to turn over [metastre/yai] the good message of the Anointed”. The verb used (metastre/fw, “turn over/across”, i.e. pervert, change) is parallel to that used in v. 6 (metati/qhmi, “set over/across”), with its common prefix meta/ (indicating change of position or transferal). We already saw the expression “good message of the Anointed” (i.e. Gospel of Christ) used by Paul in 1 Thess 3:2; it also occurs in Rom 15:19; 1 Cor 9:12; 2 Cor 2:12; 10:14; Phil 1:27, etc. It is best understood as an objective genitive indicating the content of the message—i.e. being about, or regarding, Jesus Christ.

The falsity of the “different Gospel” (of these Jewish Christians) is emphasized by Paul’s aside here in v. 7 that, in reality, there is no “other” Gospel besides the one he has proclaimed to the Galatians. In verses 8-9, Paul uses the verb (eu)aggeli/zomai, 3 times) to say much the same thing, even more forcefully, emphasizing that is the message that is proclaimed, not the pedigree of the messenger doing the proclamation, which is at issue. Noun and verb are used together, for special emphasis, at the conclusion of the exordium, in a declaration that also transitions into the narrative section (narratio) of the letter:

“For I (would) make known to you, brothers, the good message [to\ eu)agge/lion] th(at was) being given as a good message [to\ eu)aggelisqe/n] under [i.e. by] me, that it is not according to man…” (v. 11)
Note the effective wordplay in this emphatic doubling—to euangelion / to euangelisthen.

The narratio (1:12-2:14) which follows brings out clearly two points outlined above: (1) that the good message comes from God as its source, and (2) Paul is one of the ministers specially entrusted with the good message (by God). These two points serve to confirm the truth of the (version of) the message proclaimed by Paul, and, by implication, the falseness of anything different. Paul’s situation is all the more unique because of his commission by Jesus himself through a special revelation (v. 12). The remaining four occurrences of the noun eu)agge/lion are all here in the narratio (2:2, 5, 7, 14 [along with the verb in 1:23]), beginning with verse 2:

“…the good message which I proclaim among the nations”

The context (i.e. second half of the narratio) is a meeting in Jerusalem (usually identified with that of Acts 15), in which Paul’s role as an (apostolic) missionary to the Gentiles (non-Jews) in Syria, Asia Minor and Greece, etc, was confirmed (cf. also v. 7). The statement in verse 5 is especially significant, in relation to the conflict regarding believers and observance of the Torah, whereby the expression “the truth of the good message” is essentially identified with “the freedom which we hold in the Anointed Yeshua”—i.e., freedom not be ‘enslaved’ again by any requirement to observe the Torah (v. 4). The same expression, “truth of the good message” occurs again at the close of the narratio (v. 14), where the point of conflict is stated most clearly, and, in rather practical religious terms.

The final occurrence (of the verb) is in 4:13; interestingly, it is the only instance where the eu)aggel- word group is used (directly) in the main body (probatio) of the letter, an indication, perhaps, of how powerfully Paul had already established the association—i.e., the truth of his position with the Gospel itself—so that there was really no need to clarify this point further. However, the rhetorical emphasis in 4:13 is interesting to note, as it stresses again that it is the content of the message, and not the messenger himself (i.e., Paul) that is important. Paul proclaimed the good message “through weakness [lit. lack of strength] in the flesh”, and yet, through faith/trust, the Galatian believers accepted him “as a messenger [a&ggelo$] of God”, even “as the Anointed Yeshua” himself (v. 14). Again, this is due, not to Paul’s own character, but to the power of the message of Christ which comes from God.

If the “good message” is not tied to observance of the Old Testament / Jewish Law (Torah), then, in terms of the religious identity of believers, it must be centered upon something else. This is not specified directly in connection with the term eu)agge/lion in Galatians (or 1 Thessalonians), but is implied throughout the letter, especially in the lengthy main section (the probatio) of chapters 3-4, where it is expounded in detail. The content of the “good message”, quite apart from the Torah and the (Old) Covenant, is based entirely on the person and work of Jesus—establishing a New Covenant with God’s people. Paul brings this theological matrix of meaning more directly in line with his use of the eu)aggel- word group in other letters, such as that to the Romans, which we will examine in the next note.