How’s that for a nondescript, non-attention-getting title? The thing is, Galatians 1:10 is interesting in itself (if you’re into this kind of thing)! Here are the main things I find in this brief text:
- two present-tense verbs and two questions in the first half of the verse
- two imperfect-tense verbs and a statement in the second half
- three instances of “man” in three successive clauses, followed by “Christ” in the final clause
- bookends suggested by the use of “God” and “Christ” (and a resulting chiasm or sandwich structure)
- perhaps one “performance” feature that would have been spotlighted in 1st-century oral reading (but no other “poetic” features such as alliteration, assonance or rhyme)
First, here is the unadorned English text from the ESV (line endings are my own, for sake of consistency):
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God?
Or am I trying to please man?
If I were still trying to please man,
I would not be a servant of Christ.
Next, below is the transliterated Greek text. For the non-Greek-reading followers (probably 94% of you), all you need to do is notice the similar spellings, and maybe the Theon and Christou (God and Christ) in the first and fourth lines, respectively.
arti gar anthropous peitho ē ton Theon?
ē zeto anthropois areskein?
ei eti anthropois ēreskon,
Christou doulos ouk an ēmēn
Next, here is a rough translation—weird-sounding because it’s in the same word order as the original:
Now for to man do I appeal or to God?
or do I seek man to please?
If yet/still man (actively) I were pleasing,
of Christ a slave not I would (myself) be being.
I have intentionally indented lines two and three not because Paul would have laid it out that way with his own hand, but because the wordings and syntax suggest that layout. We may without question assert that Paul is saying something with gusto here. Arguably, the entire introductory text (1:6-10) includes and predicts the substance of the letter as a whole, and the specific content of v. 10 certainly serves Paul’s aims and emphases. Clues to his emphatic passion include (1) the initial, emphatic placement of the word for “now,” (2) the repetitions, and (3) the switch from the present to the imperfect tense. I have some question about the precise import of the imperfects, so I have the word “actively” in parentheses. I also acknowledge the awkward “be being” at the end (but stay with me to the end here).
The final line amounts to a very strong, culminating emphasis. Perhaps that phrase would have struck the early hearers something like the “punchline” of threefold question-and-answer with Peter in the courtyard after Jesus’ arrest—or perhaps the “Simon, do you love me” sequence of John 21, in which the third question uses a different word. It seems to me that, in any language, repeating something two or three times and following it with something else sets up an emphasis on the last item.
It bears mention that the conditional statement (essentially an “if . . . then . . .”) in the second half of v. 10 is constructed as a so-called “second-class condition,” which means that the “then” or second part of the statement (above, the last line) is to be seen as contrary to fact. We might paraphrase this way: “If I were yet trying to please men and women, you might end up thinking that I was no longer being Christ’s servant, which is obviously not the case!” The verb “peitho” has several possible renderings but is often thought of meaning “trust in.” Paul’s sense here might involve trust, but a contextual reading seems to lean more toward “please,” “win the approval of” or even “curry favor with.”
Another translation issue appears in the third line above: “eti” may be translated “yet” or “still,” and it can also carry a numerical connotation, i.e., “in addition to,” but this last possibility is very unlikely here. Bob Deffinbaugh explains and interprets as follows:
The issue in question is whether Paul deliberately diluted his message to suit his audience in order to gain status among them. Paul’s defense begins with the word “still” in verse 10. He thus turned the tables on his opponents. His conversion was not a change for the worse, but a change for the better. It was not that he had begun to be a man-pleaser since his conversion, but that he had ceased to be so. As a zealous Pharisee he was a man-pleaser. Had he not been converted, he would still be a man-pleaser. In verses 11 and 12 Paul gives a general answer in his own defense: “For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” – Bob Deffinbaugh (full article here)
Paul’s “still” or “yet” in v. 10 could perhaps refer to a hypothetical time in the mind of his audience when they thought was seeking people’s approval. Given the literary context here (at least chapter 1 and possibly into chapter 2), the scenario described by Deffinbaugh above seems more likely.
The final verb (a “being” verb) is in the imperfect tense, suggesting an ongoing, incomplete action. I imagine there’s a legitimate way to translate that verb directly into English, but I can’t figure out how. In the literal-order, word-for-word rendition above, I had “not I would be being,” but that’s obviously awkward. Although the term “servant” or “slave” (Gk doulos) is a noun, not a verb, it makes sense to me to render that concept as part of the verb (serving instead of servant)—in a moderately expansive paraphrase, that is. Below, then, is my paraphrase of Galatians 1:10:
So . . . at this juncture, who do I appear to put my trust in or seek the approval of—people or God? Seriously! Do you really think I’m attempting to please people at this point?
If I were still seeking the approval of people (as I admit was the case before my conversion), then I would not be actively serving Christ.
That’s smoother than the exact-word-order version, for sure, but I consider it a work in progress. Do you think I’ve translated the meaning reasonably well? Does this passage aid your understanding of Paul and early Christianity? Is there any impact on your view of your own discipleship? Tell me what you think.