In preparing for our small group study of Galatians during the past few weeks, I’ve come upon several interesting textual features within chapters 1 and 2. Some are micro-level matters (e.g., vocabulary and grammar), whereas some relate to the overall form of the document. I’ll briefly take up one of the latter kind in this post.
To work at discovering the shape/form of a letter can be an illuminating exercise during the process of interpretation. This post, from a study of Galatians five years ago, gives a sort of devotional overview of the letter’s form. Here are the first three major building blocks:
- The greeting component—easily identified in 1:1-5
- The famously terse introduction—1:6-1:10
- The next section is narrative (or narratio, in Greek/Latin rhetorical terms), and Paul’s story line continues through most or all of chapter 2.
My opinion at this juncture is that the narrative extends through 2:21, that is, that the Paul’s words in 2:15-21 are presented as part of the conversation he had with Peter. Given that there were no quotation marks in the original manuscript, the answer to this question must be based on such disciplines as exegesis, discourse analysis, form criticism, and rhetorical analysis. Whether or not another reader believes 2:15-21 was spoken to Peter or not, it is interesting to observe that this block of text serves a transitional purpose in the letter.
The transitional nature of 2:15-21 sheds considerable light on its syntactical ambivalence. Characteristically, transitions in Biblical literature are ambivalent in their connections with the units that they integrate (Parunak 1982). They engage the reader in the new material before the old has been fully left behind. It is completely in keeping with this pattern that Paul’s words to Peter at the end of one major section should anticipate the burden of the next section. Such a scheme, while awkward to describe syntactically, is extremely effective pragmatically. Our subsequent analysis of the paragraph will show in more detail just how it moves readers from Paul’s first major point to his second, and so maintains the integrity of the arguments.
– H. Van Dyke Parunak, “Dimensions of Discourse Structure: A Multidimensional Analysis of the Components and Transitions of Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians,” in Linguistics and New Testament Interpretation: Essays on Discourse Analysis. David Alan Black, editor. Broadman, 1992.
I share the above as solid and trustworthy; it comes from an individual with a PhD in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, master’s degrees in archaeology, computer and communication systems, and other degrees. Not that I couldn’t be convinced of additional or alternate views of 2:15-21 down the road, but my own reading at this point is corroborated by what Parunak has said.
Next, I’ll plan to share a few micro-gleanings that are less proven, more investigatory. . . .