The Saturday Series studies this Fall will focus on the area of Rhetorical Criticism, a specialized field of Biblical Criticism, in which a Scripture passage (or book) is examined from the standpoint of rhetorical analysis—that is, a study of how the message is communicated by word (spoken or written), particularly the art of persuasion and the techniques and arguments used.
Rhetorical Criticism is a relatively new field of Biblical Criticism, introduced and applied primarily to the New Testament Scriptures, in light of Classical Greco-Roman rhetoric. To be sure, rhetorical analysis can be applied to any book or passage, but for the most part it has been the reserve of New Testament scholars, and its application has yielded many valuable insights.
In particular, study of the New Testament letters—and especially the letters of Paul—has benefited greatly from application of rhetorical analysis, as part of an examination of the epistolary form and techniques used by the author. Rhetoric is perhaps more commonly understood in terms of oral speech, but many of the techniques relate nearly as well to literary communication of a message, especially when presented in an epistle or letter.
As a way of introducing the methods and techniques of rhetorical criticism, we will take an inductive approach, working from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, which happens to possess one of the clearest rhetorical structures of any New Testament book. Paul is trying to communicate a very particular (and important) message in this letter, and he effectively uses a number of rhetorical techniques to achieve his goal. Despite the self-effacing tone Paul adopts at times (e.g., 2 Cor 11:6), he was quite well-versed and adept in classical rhetorical techniques, and did not hesitate to apply them in an effort to persuade his audience (his protestation in 1 Cor 1:17; 2:1ff notwithstanding).
Epistolary Prescript (Galatians 1:1-5)
The technical term for the opening of the letter (here 1:1-5) is the epistolary prescript. The openings of Paul’s letters tend to follow the standard framework of Greco-Roman letters, though not infrequently he adapts this in small but important ways. In the case of Galatians, the adaptations to the epistolary prescript are rhetorically charged—meaning that he includes here, in the opening of the letter, in seed-form, key lines of argument that will be developed in the following sections.
The standard elements of the prescript (opening) are: identification of the author(s) (superscriptio, vv. 1-2a), identification of the addressee(s) (adscriptio, v. 2b), and the greeting (salutatio, vv. 3-5); here the greeting includes a doxology (v. 5). Paul’s rhetorical adaptations occur in the superscriptio and salutatio (greeting, vv. 3-4). Let us look at each of these.
“Paulus, an apostolos, not from men and not through a man, but through Yeshua (the) Anointed, and God (the) Father, the (One hav)ing raised him out of (the) dead, and all the brothers with me…” (vv. 1-2a)
Paul often begins his letters by identifying himself as an apóstolos (lit. “[one] set forth”, i.e. sent forth); we typically transliterate this word in English as apostle. Occasionally he qualifies this by including an expression or short phrase, such as “called through (the) will of God” (1 Cor 1:1; cp. Rom 1:1; 2 Cor 1:1; Col 1:1). Here in Galatians, however, he has included a much more expansive insertion (in green above); this insertion can be divided into three parts:
- “not from men and not through a man” —i.e., the source of his apostolic commission (and authority) is not human
- “but through Yeshua (the) Anointed and God (the) Father” —i.e., identifying Jesus Christ and God the Father as the source of his commission
- “the (One hav)ing raised him out of (the) dead” —further identifying God the Father in terms of the resurrection of Jesus
The middle element essentially echoes the phrase “called through the will of God” (see above). It is the first and third elements which relate to two key components of Paul’s rhetoric in Galatians: (1) his apostolic authority, and (2) the Gospel that he proclaims (as an apostle).
1. His Apostolic Authority. 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. It does not come from a human being (“from [apo] men”), nor was it established through a human intermediary (“through [dia] a man”).
There appears to have been some controversy around Paul’s identification as an apostle, since he was not an eyewitness to the resurrection of Jesus, nor was he commissioned by Jesus personally (prior to Jesus’ ascension)—see Acts 1:21-22. We can sense this tension at various points in his letters (1 Cor 4:9; 9:1ff; 15:9), and Paul’s opponents may have emphasized the illegitimacy of his apostleship (see esp. the polemic in 2 Cor 11:5ff). In Galatians Paul similarly defends his apostleship.
2. The Gospel he proclaims. 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”. The nature of the Gospel that Paul proclaims, as an apostle, is very much at issue in Galatians, since he argues throughout that the Jewish Christians who have been influencing the Galatian congregations essentially proclaim a different Gospel.
Turning to the greeting or salutation (salutatio), the standard Pauline greeting occurs in verse 3:
“Favor [i.e. grace] to you and peace from God our Father and (the) Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed”
As in verse 1, God the Father and Jesus Christ are mentioned together.
Verse 4 applies to Jesus a more extensive Gospel formula than we saw in verse 1; indeed, it functions as a kind of summary of the Gospel proclamation (kerygma):
“…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”.
This is important, since a proper definition and understanding of the Gospel (“good message”) is likewise central to the argument of Galatians, as we will see.
These expansive insertions within the framework of the epistolary prescript are a bit unusual, and reflect the importance (and urgency) of the issue that Paul is addressing here. They anticipate the forceful rhetoric that he will use throughout the letter.
In next week’s study, we will turn to the next section of Galatians, the introduction (exordium) in 1:6-11.