Form in Galatians

In coming to understand many things, form and structure are important.  I know this because I’ve been confronted with my own lack of understanding so many times, and often, my understanding grows a tad bit when some aspect of structure that I hadn’t previously been aware of is spotlighted before my eyes.

Q:  Why was this meeting held with those people?
(Oh — it’s because of this way of viewing the structure of the organization.)

Q:  What does that piece of art, or that musical composition, “mean”?
(I can get closer to understanding something about it if I learn about its component parts, its makeup.)

Q:  How does the form of this architecture relate to its function?  How does it “work”?
(Just think how many more disasters we’d have if architects didn’t understand form.)

I am not equal to the task of writing much commentary about Paul’s letter to the Galatians, but in studying the letter more deeply than ever before, I’m coming to understand more by delineating some component parts.  It’s not always possible to do this without preconceived ideas, and the delineation sometimes seems to be more art than science.  Still, knowing the following general sections helps to understand what Paul is saying by the guidance of the Spirit of God:

  • Epistolary prescript 1:1-5
  • Introduction 1:6-10 (11)
  • Statement of facts that relate to issues to be addressed 1:11(12)-2:14
    • Gospel 1:11-12
    • Narrative of Surprising Developments 1:13-2:14
  • Key summary section:  statement of points of agreement/disagreement, issues to be proven 2:15-21
  • Confirmation, proof, development of arguments just summarized 3:1-4:31(5:1)
  • Exhortation (the “so what” or “therefore”) 5:1-6:10
  • Epistolary postscript (with conclusion included)  6:11-18

For much of the above, thanks are due to Ben Witherington III and his commentary Grace in Galatia.  Other scholars I’ve contacted have laid things out similarly.

For me, the key help has been the labels affixed to 2:15-21 and 3:1-5:1.  Understanding the summary, introductory nature of 2:15-21 brings new light to the meaty middle of Galatians.  And some of the confusing argumentation in chapters 3 and 4 appears more lucid in light of the various rhetorical means Paul employs in attempts to persuade the Galatians.

As our group moves into the final two chapters — a section more devoted to “how to live, how to move on” — I’m feeling more confident, although not as confident as I yet may be, about any applications we might make to our current lives in the 21st century.

God, give us all the mind of Paul, inasmuch as he had Your Spirit, in coming to understand more deeply

integral arguments about Christian identity
key word-concepts (e.g., faith, justification, law, freedom, promise)
persuasive, overarching themes seen in rhetorical structures

And may all of this result in the infusion of even more of You in our hearts, crying, “Abba!”

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