Galatians overview and macro-structuring

[This is the 2nd in a series on Paul’s letter to the Galatians.]

One means of getting a handle on the content of an ancient letter is examination in terms of recurring themes and words.  Many believe that freedom is the underlying key concept in the Galatian letter, although the word itself is not seen as frequently as law or faith.  The next post in this series will contain a chart of recurring words in the letter.

As the letter is seen as a whole, one key thematic area is the relating of the Old and New Covenants.  The conclusion of this blog series will present some high-impact material from Ben Witherington III on this relationship.

Witherington emphatically highlights that Galatians is not primarily about how to begin, or even about how to remain; rather, it’s about how to move forward.  (On this point, immersion in 3:27 is not an emphatic point in the letter, but may rather be assumed, i.e., Paul would have found no need to instruct about it, as he would today; believers in Jesus as Christ were clearly being immersed as a habituated matter of practice, clothing themselves with Christ.)

For Aristotle (who lived and taught some 350 years before Paul), philosophy was concerned with the how and what of things.  He gave some major headings for aspects of persuasive rhetoric, all of which Paul appears to have used in communicating with the Galatians:

  • ethos (asserts speaker’s personal character, credibility)
  • pathos (puts the audience in a frame of mind based on emotional appeal)
  • logic (offers argument, proof)

Galatians also appears to employ quite a few discrete rhetorical devices (not only chiasm or epistle form).  Ben Witherington III and many others agree on a rhetorically based outline of the document, though, and it runs something like this:

  • Epistolary prescript 1:1-5
  • Exordium 1:6-10 (11) (intro)
  • Narratio 1:11(12)-2:14 (statement of facts that relate to issues)
    • Gospel 1:11-12
    • “Narrative of surprising developments”) 1:13-2:14
  • Propositio 2:15-21 (statement of points of agreement/disagreement, issues to be proven)
    • succinct, in keeping with general practice
    • relatively complete
    • looks both backward and forward
    • smooth transition in and out of (note the “we” beginnings, followed by “I” statements)
    • the question, for Witherington:  Who are the people of God, and what constitutes them?
  • Probatio 3:1-4:31 (confirmation, [proof], develops arguments — “explanation” that it’s about faith, not law or works; and that faith preceded Law)
  • Exhortatio 5:1-6:10 (the “so what” or “therefore” — the “application” — how to use freedom)
  • Epistolary Postscript (with peroratio/conclusion included, 12-17):  6:11-18

The Word commentary affirms that a) 1:6-10 and b) 5:1-12 establish an inclusio for all the arguments and persuasions of the letter.  Note the “sustained severity” of these “bookend” passages.

The following chiastic or inclusio-type structure is given by John Bligh (as quoted in Word Bib Commentary, cxiii).  This outlines the entire letter:

A Prologue 1:1-12

  B Autobio 1:13-2:10

    C Justification by faith 2:11-3:4

     D Arguments from scripture 3:5-3:29

         E Central chiasm 4:1-10

     D’ Arguments from scripture 4:11-4:31

    C’ Justification by faith 5:1-10

  B’ Moral section 5:11-6:11

A’ Epilogue 6:12-18

To the extent that the above is on target, the “central chiasm” of chapter 4, verses 1-10, would be seen as a focal point of the whole.


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