Paul’s View of the Law: Galatians (Chaps. 1-2)

For a proper study of Paul’s treatment of the Law in Galatians, I believe it is important to keep the overall line and structure of his argument in view throughout. For this reason, I will be looking at the relevant verses and passages according to the divisions of the letter as established by the best rhetorical analysis.

In analyzing the structure and rhetorical framework of Galatians, I am generally following the outline of Hans Dieter Betz (Galatians, in the Hermeneia series, Fortress Press [1979]). This landmark critical work was among the first to apply modern rhetorical analysis extensively to Paul’s epistles; for a more traditional-conservative approach along the same lines (and using the same basic outline), see B. Witherington, Grace in Galatia: A Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians (T & T Clark / Eerdmans: 1998).

The outline is as follows:

    • Opening Greeting (Epistolary Prescript)—1:1-5
    • Introduction, with direct address to the audience (Exordium)—1:6-10
    • Narration or statement of relevant facts and events (Narratio)—1:11-2:14
    • Statement and exposition of the case (Propositio)—2:15-21
    • Presentation of arguments and proofs (Probatio)—3:1-4:31
    • Exhortation and ethical instruction (Exhortatio)—5:1-6:10
    • Conclusion and Farewell/Benediction (Epistolary Postscript)—6:11-18

Epistolary Prescript (Gal 1:1-5)

This includes the standard elements indicating author and addressee (vv. 1-2), greeting (vv. 3-4) and doxology (v. 5). There are two aspects especially worthy of note: (1) Paul’s self-identification as an apostle (a)po/stolo$), v. 1, and (2) the Gospel summary in v. 4. These are both common features of Pauline opening greetings, but they have a particular significance here in Galatians:

    • Paul as an apostle, that is, one who is set forth as a special emissary and representative (of Christ). This will be a central theme in establishing the argument of the letter—Paul’s role and authority as an apostle to the Gentiles. Note how he qualifies the term “apostle” in verse 1—”not from men and not through a man, but through Yeshua (the) Anointed and God (the) Father”. In other words, his apostolic authority comes directly from Jesus Christ and God the Father. Consider also how his apostleship is connected to the Gospel message here in v. 1 with the concluding formula “…the (One) raising him [i.e. Jesus] out of the dead”.
    • Verse 4 applies to Jesus a more extensive Gospel formula: “the (One) giving himself over our sins, that he might take us out of the standing evil Age, according to the will of our God and Father”. A proper definition and understanding of the Gospel (“good message”) is likewise central to the argument of Galatians, as we will see.

Exordium (Gal 1:6-10)

This represents the introduction of the letter and the beginning of Paul’s direct address to his audience. Verses 6 and 7 provide the causa, that is, Paul’s reason for writing. He begins, “I wonder/marvel [qauma/zw] 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 taxe/w$ (“[so] soon/quickly”). Note the two parallel verbs in vv. 6-7:

    • metati/qhmi (“set [something] after”, i.e. change the place of)—metati/qesqe “you have moved (yourselves) away from [a)po\]”
      • 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”, ei)$) “another Gospel” (e%teron eu)agge/lion)
    • metastre/fw (“turn after/across”, i.e. turn to a different place or condition)
      • Paul’s opponents (the ones “troubling” [tara/ssonte$] the Galatians) wish “to change/pervert/distort” [metastre/yai] “the Gospel of Christ” [to\ eu)agge/lion tou= Xristou=]

On the one hand, Paul accuses the Galatians of changing over to “another” Gospel, on the other, he accuses certain people of wishing to change/alter the Gospel. Though he does not state it here, it soon becomes clear that this “other Gospel” is represented by the views of the Jewish Christians who would require (or urge) that Galatian believers become circumcised and observe the regulations of the Law (Torah). Paul effectively marginalizes this Jewish-Christian (“Judaizing”) position with his aside regarding this “other” Gospel—o^ ou)k e&stin a&llo (“[of] which there is no other”). That is to say, in Paul’s mind, there is only one Gospel, and it corresponds with the Gospel which he has been proclaiming. As will become clear throughout the first chapters of the letter, this question of the Gentile believers being (or feeling) compelled to observe the Old Testament/Jewish Law is no small matter of indifference or preference, but rather cuts to the very heart of the Christian message. The seriousness with which Paul views the matter is indicated by the double curse (anathema) he gives in verses 8-9. Implied within the curse is an affirmation of Paul’s own apostolic authority—this will be the main focus of the narration 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.

Narratio (Gal 1:11-2:14)

In classical rhetoric, the narratio 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. Verses 11-12 make up the propositio, or opening statement, intended to influence the audience. This is indicated by Paul’s use of gnwri/zw ga\r u(mi=n (“For I make known to you…”) at the start.

I am not sure why Betz, in his outline of Galatians, treats verse 11 as part of the transitus; his own analysis on pp. 59-60 shows that it is better regarded as the opening of the narratio (part of the propositio).

Here Paul expands upon the point made back in verse 1—that the Gospel he proclaims was not taught to him by other human beings, but came to him directly by revelation from Jesus Christ himself. 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 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)

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 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”, 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”—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 (e)qnikw=$); 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 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.

Propositio (Gal 2:15-21)

The propositio is the primary statement of the case (distinct from the statement introducing the narratio, cf. above), along with an initial exposition, whereby points of agreement and disagreement are laid out. Each of these seven verses is vital to an understanding of Paul’s view of the Law in Galatians. I have discussed and examined them in some detail in a series of notes, and, as such, it is not necessary to repeat that analysis here. The notes proceed according to the following outline of the section:

    • Note 1 (vv. 15-16)—Basic proposition regarding justification and the Jew/Gentile distinction
    • Note 2 (vv. 17-18)—Rhetorical argument to show the problem with applying the Law to (Gentile) believers
    • Note 3 (vv. 19-20)—Relation of the believer to the Law
    • Note 4 (v. 21)—Concluding argument regarding justice/righteousness

The overall statement in vv. 15-21 is further expounded by Paul in chapters 3-4 (the probatio) with a series of arguments illustrating and proving its validity, with the purpose, of course, of convincing and persuading the Galatians. Each of these arguments is important for Paul’s view of the Law and must be examined carefully; this will be the focus of the next article in this series.

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