Galatians mini-structures

[This is the 5th in a text-based series on Paul’s letter to the Galatians.  The entire series, which includes other types of posts as well, may be accessed through this link.]

If you became overwhelmed with the detail level of the prior two posts, you are not alone — I did, too.  Today’s material is no light fare, either, but the rewards for digesting it are great.  Today, I’ll be sharing two small-scale textual structures presented by New Testament scholar Greg Fay, and one I found on my own.  These are chiastic or inclusio-type structures.

Mini-structure No. 1:  3:1-9 (Greg Fay)

A          3:1     You foolish Galatians …

   B        3:2      (“works of the Law, hearing of faith”) (ἐξ ἔργων νόμου, ἐξ ἀκοῆς πίστεως)

C    3:3    “Are you so foolish” (opening of resultant question)

Beginning                ἐνάρχομαι  (enarchomai)
by the Spirit           πνεύματι   (pneumati)

3:3b                 D                  [are you] now

by the flesh             σαρκὶ  (sarki)
completed?             ἐπιτελεῖσθε   (epiteléisthe)

C’        3:4  “Have you suffered so many things in vain, if indeed it was in vain?”

   B’        3:5    (“works of the Law, hearing of faith”) (ἐξ ἔργων νόμου, ἐξ ἀκοῆς πίστεως)

A           3:6-9  (identifying of peoples/groups)

  1. Speaking transparently here … for me, the A sections above are not all that readily seen as book ends, but for Dr. Fay, they made sense as section markers.  It is not always the individual words that form relationships; sometimes, it’s an antithesis or a concept or even a sound (think homonym and pun).
  2. Moving inward toward the B sections, the mirroring is clarified:  the Greek expressions “works of the law” (ἐξ ἔργων νόμου) and “hearing of/with faith” (ἐξ ἀκοῆς πίστεως) are identical in both 3:2 and 3:5.
  3. The C sections (3:3 and 3:4) are not as conceptually related but are both pointed questions asked of the audience.
  4. The syntax of the even more pointed question in 3:3b may not be apparent in English translations, or even in an interlinear Bible.  The center of the chiasm appears to be the word νῦν (now/at present); the time reference.  Flanking this single word are the mirror expressions a) spirit vs. flesh and b) having begun vs. completed.

The significance of the above isn’t as great as, say, grace vs. law, the relationship of old and new, and more.  However, the structure does make clear the pointed way Paul was addressing the issues in the Galatian region.  I (i.e., not necessarily Dr. Fay) might suggest that the thrust here is to move the Judaizing Galatians forcefully to serious consideration of the negative implications of trust  in the flesh and law of the Old Covenant.

In writing this post, I have spent nearly an hour refreshing myself on the above chiasm, which is one that I was already convinced of, based on prior study.  The lasting reward found in such discoveries is compelling, though — so much so that I think I’ll try a conceptual paraphrase of v.3 on my own here!

Are you so ridiculously deluded?

You started out in the Spirit; that’s established.
What about now?  
You have a choice to make in the present.
What is it going to be now? 

Will you make a choice to continue in an ongoing, fleshly system?

Or will you decide to continue on the better voyage you had embarked on, in God’s Spirit?

~ ~ ~

Mini-structure No. 2:  2:15-17 (bc)

I have great respect for New Testament scholars that are able to read Greek fluently and to determine from the primary sources things that are not always clear to English readers.  Although most of what I have recently studied and learned from Galatians was a step removed from the sources, I did some work with the Greek text myself, and I was delighted to discover the chiasm below on my own:

A  We are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles;

   B  nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law

C  but through faith in Christ Jesus,    διὰ πίστεως, εἰς Ἰησοῦ| Χριστοῦ

C’  even we have believed in Jesus Christ,   εἰς Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν ἐπιστεύσαμεν,

    B’  so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since (that) by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.  But if, while  seeking to be justified in Christ,

A’  we ourselves have also been found sinners,

Remembering that chiasms and inclusio-/sandwich-type structures are by no means all that the Spirit used, through the conduit of Paul, in communicating to the Galatians, I immediately thought it logical and likely that the propositio (“proposition” to be proved, 2:15-21) would include a more formal, intentional rhetorical device such as the chiasm.

For me, the key to locating the center of this passage was the elementary observation that “Christ Jesus” was mirrored a few words later with “Jesus Christ.”  Next, the prepositions jumped out at me; I am learning that Paul sometimes (and perhaps particularly in the early letters to Thessalonika and the Galatian region?) intentionally used prepositions serially in structuring certain emphatic thoughts (cf. 1 Thess 1:10).

Next:  there are four different forms of the same verb (justify) found in 2:16-17, and this usage strikes me (I may be off-base here) as emphatic.  One can’t help but notice the relationship of the two notions of justification.  Being justified by faith in Christ is being established as distinct from being justified by works of the Law.  Note the textual mirroring in these expressions from the first and last parts of 2:16:

hoti ou dikaioutai anthropos ex ergon nomou

[that is not justified a man out of works of the law]

hoti ex ergon nomou ou dikaiothesetai pasa sarx

[since out of works of the law will not be justified all flesh]

Important/corresponding elements in the above include

  • man/flesh
  • “out of works of the law” (identical above and below)
  • “not” (ou in Greek) preceding the verb “justified”
  • the fact that these two are “hoti” (“that”) clauses, which are generally significant in exegesis and have been translated differently — “that” is most often used, but this word may also be rendered as “because” or “since”

Again, the hyper-emphasis of this chiasm is the centrality — both textually and theologically central! — of faith in Jesus Christ/Christ Jesus.  Below, for the Greek-literate, is the entire text of 2:16 (the fourth dikaio* verb is found in 2:17).  Note the convincing textual mirroring in the bold expressions — “belief of/in Jesus Christ” is set against “Christ Jesus believed.”  As with Greg’s chiastic layout of 3:1-9 above, the textual direction of 2:15-17 could be a forecfully personal thrust designed to require the Galatians to enlist, with Paul, on the side of faith in Jesus Christ.  The seemingly simple words kai hemeis (and we) are found between the two “faith in Christ” expressions.

εἰδότες [δὲ] ὅτι οὐ δικαιοῦται ἄνθρωπος
ἐξ ἔργων νόμου
ἐὰν μὴ διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ,

καὶ ἡμεῖς

εἰς Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν ἐπιστεύσαμεν,
ἵνα δικαιωθῶμεν ἐκ πίστεως Χριστοῦ
καὶ οὐκ ἐξ ἔργων νόμου,
ὅτι ἐξ ἔργων νόμου
οὐ δικαιωθήσεται πᾶσα σάρξ.

~ ~ ~

Mini-structure No. 3:  3:26-29 (Greg Fay).  I had previously highlighted 3:26-29 in this prior, more devotionally oriented post but cannot resist doing so again!  Greg Fay has noted that this passage may be the conclusion to which the overall argument is headed (and the center of 3:1-4:10, pre-epistolary “request”).

A   Sons of God (υἱοὶ θεοῦ) through faith in Christ Jesus

B    Immersed, put on (clothed with) Christ

C    Neither Jew, Greek, etc.
C’   One in Christ Jesus

B’   Of (belong to) Christ

A’  Sons (seed — σπέρμα) of Abraham, heirs of promise (ἐπαγγελίαν κληρονόμοι)

~ ~ ~

One additional example of textual structuring to be pointed out here is not chiastic (concentrically formulated) but is rather a repetitive use of a single preposition in a relatively short section of the letter:

Five ὑπὸ (under) phrases from 3:22-4:5

  • under sin
  • under law
  • under a guardian (paidadogos, paidadogon)
  • under guardians (epitropous) and managers (oikonomous)
  • under basic forces of the world
  • under the law


This concludes the more exegetically/textually oriented material on Galatians.  

The concepts dealt with in the three concluding posts in this series on Galatians are of serious significance to most of the Christian world.  I’m under no illusion that the opinions of the scholar I’ll be quoting (or my own choices of the quotes or emphases of the concepts, for that matter) represent the crux.  However, if you’ve merely skimmed most of this material on Galatians to date, I sincerely hope you will pore over the upcoming, three final posts that deal with the relationship of Old and New.  

2 thoughts on “Galatians mini-structures

  1. Aaron Hermann 07/26/2017 / 10:11 am

    Hello Mr. Casey,

    My name is Aaron Hermann. I came across your site while researching chiasms in the Bible. I have been learning Greek for the last two years and was very excited to see that you are combining the study of chiasm and Greek. This common interest is why I’m contacting you today.

    Bob Schlenker, my friend and dear brother in the Lord, has developed a web-based software to support his own explorations of the linguistic structures of the biblical text. We haven’t seen anything else like it! He has been using it privately and refining it for over a decade, and he was recently inspired to make his online web application available publicly.

    It’s a professional grade app that is fit for academic and non-academic use. It’s not free but there is a free trial, and a promotional website where you can learn more about it and see some examples.

    With a login to the app, which he calls, with some levity, the Chiasmatron 2000, you can explore it for yourself. It’s got a nice interface and is pretty intuitive, and you’ll find a quick start video on the Help Tips page.

    I hope you’re not offended by my approaching you with this request. Please, ask me for a Username and Password. I respect your work and really think that you’ll appreciate what you find.

    Thanks for your consideration!


    Aaron Hermann


    • Brian Casey 07/27/2017 / 9:58 pm

      Aaron, many thanks for your message. It’s hard to imagine, given the complexities of some chiastic structures, than anything automated could be broadly effective, but I’ll certainly be interested in checking this out. It’s interesting that you keyed in on an older post on Galatians, when I just posted a new chiasm based on current study of the same letter:


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