Paul’s View of the Law: Galatians (Chaps. 3-4, Argument 5)

Section 5: Galatians 4:12-20

In this section, Paul appeals to the Galatians on the basis of his own person and example, having begun this transition already with the rhetorical question (expressing self-doubt, dubitatio) in verse 11. There he expresses concern that his missionary work to the Galatians may have been in vain. In his commentary on Galatians (pp. 220-1), Betz refers to this as an “argument from friendship“, and cites numerous examples from Greco-Roman literature, including works “on friendship” (peri\ fili/a$). The general parallel is accurate, in at least two respects:

    • The argument involves reciprocity between Paul and the Galatians
    • His (true) friendship with the Galatians is contrasted with the false friendship of his Jewish-Christian opponents

I would outline the section as follows:

    • V. 12—the “friendship” theme is established: imitation and reciprocity
    • Vv. 13-15—an appeal to the Galatians’ past response to Paul (their friendship)
    • V. 16—contrast with the present situation: has Paul become their enemy?
    • Vv. 17-19—contrast between Paul and his opponents (true and false friendship)
    • V. 20—concluding statement of Paul’s concern (parallel with v. 11)

Since this section does not deal directly with the Law, I will discuss it only briefly, before moving to the sixth argument (4:21-31).

Verse 12—Paul’s personal appeal to the Galatians is here expressed in terms of imitation (“come to be as I [am]”) and reciprocity (“even as I [am as] you [are]”). The motif of following Paul’s own example appears frequently as a point of exhortation in his letters (1 Thess 2:14; 1 Cor 4:16; 11:1; Phil 3:17; also 1 Cor 7:8, 40; 10:33). Similarly, the idea of mutual care and concern among believers is a primary ethical (and theological/spiritual) teaching, and, as such, may be connected with the so-called “love command” (Gal 5:13-14; 6:2). In a way, this basic formulation expresses the only sense in which believers are any more “under Law”—we are obligated to love one another, and to share each others’ burdens. Equally important is the way Paul makes this appeal based on his own person and authority. As previously noted, this was a key theme and point of emphasis throughout the first two chapters of Galatians—his role and authority as an apostle (to the Gentiles), which he received directly (by revelation) from Christ. Therefore, his personal authority becomes a valid (and vital) argument in support of the Gospel he has been proclaiming, including his teaching regarding the Law.

Verses 13-15—Several words and phrases are particularly worth noting:

    • eu)hggelisa/men (“I proclaimed the good message”), v. 13—note the contrast between the “good message” (Gospel) and his own human weakness.
    • e)de/casqe/ me (“you received me”), v. 14—receiving (de/xomai) one sent to proclaim the Gospel is effectively the same as receiving the Gospel itself (Acts 8:14; 11:1; 17:11; 1 Thess 1:6; 2:13; 2 Cor 6:1; 11:4), as well as receiving the one who sends (cf. Jesus’ saying in Matt 10:40 par).
    • w($ a&ggelon qeou=w($ Xristo\n  )Ihsou=n (“as a Messenger of God… as [the] Anointed Yeshua”)—this is an important principle: that the apostle is one sent by God (and Christ) and acts as Jesus’ own representative; in accepting Paul (and the Gospel he proclaimed) they were accepting God the Father and Jesus Christ (whose representative Paul is).
    • The description of sacrificial friendship in v. 15 draws upon similar exemplary imagery in Greco-Roman literature and philosophy, as most notably narrated in the Toxaris (40-41) of Lucian (cf. Betz, Galatians, pp. 227-8).

Verse 16—The Galatians’ prior friendship (vv. 13-15) is contrasted with the current situation. By turning to “another Gospel” (1:6ff), they are essentially rejecting Paul; therefore he asks the (rhetorical) question: “so have I become your enemy [e)xqro/$], (in) telling the truth to you?”

Verses 17-19—Here Paul creates a subtle contrast between himself and those Jewish Christians who are influencing the Galatians to accept the Law. Vv. 17-18a make use of wordplay involving the verb zhlo/w, with its dual meaning of “to be zealous/jealous”, and the adjective kalo/$ (“beautiful”, “fine, good, exemplary”). The implication is that Paul’s zeal (for the Galatians) is fine/good, but the ‘zeal’/jealousy of his Jewish-Christian opponents is not. Note also how a kind of false reciprocity is expressed in v. 17, parallel to that of v. 12. The verb zhlo/w can carry the sense of “longing” for someone/something, especially in the context of friendship and (erotic) romance; thus we might paraphrase verse 17—”their longing for you is not good; rather, they wish to close you off so that you should long for them!” In verse 18b-19, Paul expresses his own longing for the Galatians; indeed, his own friendship for them goes even beyond a lover, and is actually more like a parent (a mother) who is giving birth to a child! His ‘labor pains’ (on their behalf) continue, as he expresses it marvellously, “until (the time in) which (the) Anointed {Christ} should be formed/fashioned in you”.

Verse 20—This is another example of the rhetorical device of dubitatio (expressing self-doubt), similar to that in verse 11. The expression “I fear for you” at the start of v. 11 is parallel to “I am at a loss in (dealing with) you” at the close of v. 20. The verb a)pore/w means “without a way through (a situation)”; in English idiom, we might say “I just don’t know how to deal with you” or “I am at my wits’ end with you!” In the rhetorical context, Paul is here playing a role—he has tried all these different ways to convince the Galatians, he is now left with expolitio, i.e. modulating the voice for the purpose of persuading the audience (cf. Betz, Galatians, p. 236). If only he were there with the Galatians in person, they could really hear what he was saying! This demonstrates just how important Paul regarded the matter.

One final argument remains in the probatio (chapters 3-4), namely, the famous allegory of 4:21-31; this will be discussed in the next article.

References marked “Betz, Galatians” are to: Hans Dieter Betz, Galatians, in the Hermeneia series (Fortress Press [1979]).