Galatians frustrations

In leading a small group through a Galatians study, I am encountering frustrations.  I can categorize these as relating either to (1) my own inadequacies or (2) Paul’s expressions that are difficult to translate.  Comparatively, I had little frustration with 1:1-2:14.  The problems come with the substance introduced in 2:15 and beyond.

Two text scholars I consulted differed over whether to consider 2:15-21 a rhetorical propositio or a partitio.  It’s not that the label matters, but if I can determine this passage’s function and purpose within the whole letter, I will interpret better.  At this point in my study, I think the passage is less transitional and more stage-setting.  Both the propositio and the partitio traditionally involve backward-looking aspects, and those may be present in 2:15-21, but I find this section heavily weighted toward what is to come in the following discourse.  Whatever Paul is saying here will be elucidated in chapters 3 and 4, or at least I hope so.


The main issue for the last couple of weeks has been interpreting an expression with a notoriously problematic Greek construction:¹  The meaning of this phrase, consisting of the last few words of both 3:2 and 3:5, is something like “by faith’s hearing” or “by the proclamation of faith(fulness).”  The deeper one goes in trying to interpret Galatians on the whole, the large this phrase looms.

The noted Greek grammarian C.F.D. Moule once suggested that ex akoes pisteos equals hearing and believing, i.e., a sort of hearing that leads to belief.  Arguably, that interpretation places more emphasis on the faith/believing, and I think there is some grammatical precedent for that “take.”  Major translations may generally be placed in one of the following categories with respect to how they handle this phrase:

  • Emphasis on hearing (e.g., “the hearing of faith” or “hearing with faith” in the RSV, ESV, NASB, HCSB, KJV, ASV, and others)
  • Emphasis on believing (e.g., “believing what you heard,” as in NIV, NET, NRSV, CSB, ISV, CEB, and others)

Other, more obscure translations may be better than some of those mentioned above.  Was Paul connecting the Spirit of God to the Galatians’ hearing (or heard material) that leads to belief, or to their believing that comes from hearing, or to some other variation?  In an attempt to understand this matter, I have jumped through a few hoops and ended up on my face.  Additional research might involve careful consideration—in all levels of Galatians context—viz. the words for believing/faith and for hearing the message.  Comparisons with similarly themed passages in Romans might eventually be in order, too.

An additional, embedded difficulty in translation involves whether to translate pistis (found 22 times in Galatians, with a 77% concentration in this section) as “faith” or “faithfulness.”  At stake are entire denominations’ theologies (which I care little about)—and a better connection with faith, Christ’s death and related acts, and Paul’s thoughts on salvation and justification (all of which I do care about) At this point, the only thing I’m comfortable in saying in this arena is that Paul affirms both Christ’s faithfulness and the importance of a human faith response.  The human element is clearly a factor in Galatians 2:15-17.  Two overlapping centric textual structures are possible here, with each centering on human faith/belief (with a different preposition) “in” Jesus Christ.  Try both of these on for size:

Structure 1 (encompassing 2:15 through 2:17a)

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 Jesus Christ

C’  even we have believed in Christ Jesus

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, . . .

Above, the A and A’ phrases are verbally related, as are B and B’.  The C and C’ texts form a central emphasis; an added spotlight shines on the mirroring of “Jesus Christ to “Christ Jesus” in the succeeding phrase.

Structure 2 (more compact—2:16 alone—original word order shown below)

Knowing that a man is not justified

by/out of works of [L]aw

but through faith(fulness) in/of Jesus Christ

and we in Christ Jesus have  believed

that we should be justified out of faith[fulness] in/of Christ

and not by/out of works of [L]aw

since no flesh will be justified by works of [L]aw

For my exegetical money, the second structure is more convincing, and it’s even more so in the Greek.  See color codes below.

There are a few inconsistencies above, such as the aqua-colored repetitions and the asymmetry of the “that” clauses.  The negative (not) particles’ correspondence is also intriguing but not necessarily material here.  The centered emphasis on faith(fulness) is key.  If in the C and C’ phrases one takes pistis to refer to the faithfulness of Christ (as opposed to faith in Christ)—and I lean that direction myself—we still have a structure in which those phrases flank the clause “we have believed in Christ Jesus,” which refers to human faith.

Permutations and translations aside, the verbal relationships abound.  Whether intentional or subconscious or both, it seems obvious that Paul was stressing some things here!  At some point, I will have to leave my frustrations with 2:15-3:6 and move on, apprehensively, into all the argument-proving substance of chapters 3 and 4.

¹ The phrase is constructed with a preposition and two successive nouns in the genitive case (ἐξ ἀκοῆς πίστεως | ex akoes pisteos).  The genitive case is the most potentially varied of the Greek cases.

Gal 1&2: gleanings (3 of 3)

As I study and learn and attempt to teach, I often preserve notes in documents on my hard drive, or within my Logos Bible software, or in my Google Drive “cloud” documents, or in the margins of Bibles and other books.  Another part of my process often involves writing on this blog.  I started this kind of documenting, I think, back in 2009 during a study of Philemon.  It is in this same vein that I share some things I’m presently learning in Galatians.  This is the last of three commentary posts that offer miscellaneous textual insights from chapters 1 and 2.(The first two posts are here and here.)  Whether I’m on target in this instance or that, I hope other students will be spurred to dig into the text.

In 2:1-2 I find the suggestion of a symmetric structure.   For sake of illustration to the majority of my readers I’ll attempt a partially awkward paraphrase that points this up:


A  Then after fourteen years
B I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me.
C 2 I went up in response to a revelation, remember.
 I “ascended” to the acknowledged leaders and laid before them privately

A¹ the gospel that I proclaim among the gentiles, in order to make sure that I was not running, or had not run, in vain.


Moving from the outside in, the fourteen years (above, A) may be seen as explained or elaborated on by Paul’s activities (in A¹), i.e., time spent among the gentiles, that is, the reader should remember that it was a long time that Paul was in gentile lands and not in Jerusalem.  The Greek verb in B is the same as the verb in C.  The verb in B¹ is a different word but only by two letters:  anethén vs. anethebén, but the similarity might not be significant since there are quite a few words that begin and end with the same letter combinations.  The point of emphasis would be in C, which is the 3rd mention of revelation in Galatians, and that is why I’ve added the word “remember,” because the idea seems contextually emphatic.  On the matter of revelation/revealing, please see this prior post.  I think that essay particularly makes for worthy devotional pondering (even if it’s not great reading undergirded by solid research).

2:5-7 contains some interesting possibilities.  Note the relationships shown by the color coding below:

5 we did not submit to them even for a moment,

 so that the truth of the gospel might always remain with you.

      6 And from those who were supposed to be acknowledged leaders
             (what they actually were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)
—those leaders contributed nothing to me.

 On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised,

just as Peter for the circumcised

Peter is one of them.  The “you (all)” group being addressed with reference to the gospel would be the uncircumcised gentile Galatians.  The leaders are presented a bit ironically.  In context, the center of the center is probably not so much a dismissive “I don’t even care about them” as a putting-in-proper-perspective of the Jerusalem apostles.  Combined with the elusive, idiomatic expression about partiality that has been translated many different ways (see this site), it seems more a matter of saying that Peter and the others had no bearing on what Paul was doing—and, as the Weymouth translation puts the idiom, “God recognizes no external distinctions” after all.  That, after all, is one of the principal themes of Galatians, and it will show up in the famous 3:28-29 and, in the specific matter of circumcision as an external distinction.

I noticed the above on my own, but I am not very confident about it.  On this page (not my own work) the structure is expanded, and the center is the same.

2:14-2:19 appears to employ a chiastic structure; the inner focal point is faith in Jesus Christ (v16).  The fact that a chiastic structure might overlap the beginning of what I’ve identified as a transitional passage (2:15-21) might lead one to question whether a section indeed starts in v15.  If I had to choose here between rhetorical structure and chiastic structure (and I don’t think I do have to choose), I would tend to prioritize the integrity of the rhetoric.  It is also bears mention that if a chiasm spans verses 14-21, it adds weight to the thought that verses 15-21 continue the narration of the dialogue between Paul and Peter.  In other words, this structure supports the idea that Paul’s conversation with Peter didn’t stop in v14.

2:19-2:21 may also have a centered, symmetric structure.  This chiasm is less convincing to me than in 2:14-19, but if it were intentional, one focal point is that Christ lives in Paul (v20).  This insight calls to mind the earlier mentions of Jesus’ having been revealed in Paul (1:12, 1:16).

If any of this has whetted your appetite, please see this post on the structure of 1:10.  It is also rather technical exegetical work—beyond my qualifications, really—but this kind of thing is loads of fun (really!) to dig into.

Finally—and here I mean finally in the sense of summing up the bulk of chapters 1 and 2 for now, but not forever (sort of like Paul’s use of a summation word in Philippians 3:1, right in the middle of his letter)—I want to mention Paul’s eyes and the Damascus Road revelation experience of Acts 9/Gal 1.  Taking this up will require a good deal more study of syntax, idioms, grammar, vocabulary, and more, but I am thinking that the infirmity to which Paul refers in Gal 4:12-15 could have been a visible remnant of the revelation and blindness from about 15 years prior (1:12, 1:16).  If so, the “marks of Jesus” of Gal 6:17 could refer to the same condition of the eyes—perhaps some scar tissue or red marks or scaly eyelid skin or something.  If I’m onto anything at all here, it would tend to heighten the already-high emotional sense of this letter:  the nature and content of Paul’s gospel are inextricably associated with the revelation of Jesus Christ to him, and any remaining physical manifestations on his body would have been seen by the Galatians when Paul first preached to them.  This reality would make the Galatians’ abandonment of the pure gospel message all the more unexpected, ironic, and tragic from Paul’s point of view (and my own!).  How could they abandon the message delivered by one who had so obviously received it directly from Jesus?

The above is pretty speculative at this point, and I have loads more study ahead before reaching any sort of conclusion.  In a week or three, perhaps I will have some gleanings to share from 2:15-21 (which is substantially transitional, not passively so) and beyond.

Rhetorical aids in Mark

Examination of the text of Mark reveals quite a few structured textual arrangements—likely intentional—that rhetorically aid this gospel.

I.  One of these possible structures is found in 10:33a-34, where a barrage of verbs and pronouns may well be intentionally “poetic.”  One notices the similar, repeated “suffix” sounds when reading the Greek aloud, but some of it may be happenstance since some Greek verb-endings sound alike by nature (they can’t be said to “rhyme” per se).  The endpoints of this section, though, are the future middle/passive verbs that indicate Jesus 1) will be handed over, and 2) will Himself rise again, and those seem intentionally placed.  The middle of this mini-section contains the dramatic declaration (here, for the 3rd time) that Jesus will be handed over to the Gentiles.

paradothesetai   (will be handed over)
tois arxiereusin
kai tois grammateusin,
kai katakrinousin
auton thanato
kai paradosousin
auton tois ethnesin

kai empaixousin
auto kai emptusousin
auto kai mastigosousin
auton kai apoktenousin,
kai meta treis hemeras
anastesetai           (will myself rise up)

II.  Some have identified Mark’s¹ “triptychs,” and one of these may be seen in 2:1-12.  In point of fact, most or even all of Mark may be analyzed in terms of mini-“sandwich” structures of a few verses at a time.  (See here for an exhaustive listing.)  Some of these are centric, i.e., the middle of the sandwich is the point of emphasis; others are parallel sets of thoughts.  Some seem more significant than others, but looking into these structures can sometimes help the reader see the intended emphasis.

III.  Taken on the whole, Mark appears to have an intentional form:

A Beginning – the “forerunner” (John) points to Jesus (1:4-8)
B Jesus’baptism – The splitting of the heavens, “You are my son” (1:9-11)
C Jesus is tested in the wilderness (1:12-13)
D The parable of the sower (4:1-9)
. . .
D’ Parable of the vineyard (12:1-11)
C’ Jesus is tested in the temple (12:13-27)
B’ Jesus dies, the temple veil is split “Truly this was God’s son.” (15:33-39)
(also note in this gospel other declarations of Who Jesus is)
A’ The “post-runner” (the young man) points to Jesus (16:1-8)

IV.  Another serious Bible student I know has noticed the following large-scale chiastic structure just past the core/middle, which is found at 8:22-10:52:

A The Pharisees and the Denarius                    12:13-17

B The Sadducees and the Scriptures     12:18-27

C The Most Important Commandment – Jesus’ Answer 12:28-31

C’ The Most Important Commandment – Restated    12:32-34

B’ Jesus and the Scriptures                                12:35-40

A’ The Poor Widow and Her Two Coins           12:41-44

– Lee Patmore (used by permission)

As Lee has it (and I certainly see no reason to disagree), the center of 12:13-44 section involves a rather singularly emphatic, positive interaction with a scribe.  In the next post, I’ll highlight more of this very significant conversation in a different way.

B. Casey, 5/24/15

¹ It bugs me to type “Marcan” as scholarly convention has it, since the consonant in Mark’s name is a kappa (κ), not a chi (χ) or a “hard C” of any kind.  Maybe the “Marcan” spelling got started because of the Vulcans?  Anyway, if I type “Markan,” someone might object.  So, I avoid the issue.  I also don’t like the standard pronunciations of “Pauline” and “Johannine,” so I avoid those, too.  🙂

Standing alone

Heigh-ho, the derry-o . . .
The cheese stands alone.


from “The Farmer in the Dell”

For a melancholy introvert, standing alone is no uncommon experience.  Among the areas in which I feel increasingly alone is the study of scripture.

In biblical studies, I am coming to know (read that as an intentional use of the imperfect  tense/aspect — I am not in a perfected state of having arrived at the end!) a little more than “just enough to get you in trouble.”  I don’t know how to use all the tools I have available, and sometimes I take the wrong exit ramp or stop at the wrong rest stop in exegetical study, but I am as confident as one can be that I’m on the right road.  It is a lonely highway. . . .

Recently, during Bible class, a very good man (A)

made a very un-good statement. (B)

His statement (C)

reflects the bad ideas (B’)

of lots of other good people out there who read their Bibles.  (A’)

The statement was something like this, in part:  “I’m not very much into the ‘structure’ of Paul’s letters.  I think verses X-Z stand alone.”  And in one fell swoop — and I really don’t think he intended to do this — he undercut the very idea of the importance of literary context.

The indented layout of the five blue lines above shows chiastic arrangement.  Because of my acquaintance with chiasms and my interest in biblical exegesis, and because I felt like using it as an emphatic illustration, I composed that little chiasm (in all of one minute).  It’s cathartic for me, in a way.

This type of arrangement is quite common in ancient texts.  Scholars sometimes disagree on the particulars, but nary a scholar worth his salt denies the prevalence or significance of such things in the rhetorical thought-patterns of the ancients.  In terms of structure, the “text” above is actually very much like something that might be found in a gospel or in one of Paul’s letters.  The emphasis in such a section of text is in the middle—in this case, the statement made by my sibling.  My intent, then, in communicating through the chiastic structure above, is to focus attention on the statement itself, not on the person.  Secondary and tertiary emphases may also be presentsuch as the relationship of bad statements and bad ideas (B and B’ lines).

Anyway, back to the statement itself. . . .  I took it as an expression of some lack of understanding, or maybe some frustration with being confronted with new emphases on context and purposeful literary analysis in Bible study.

The thing is, the statement that “verses X-Z stand alone” was flat wrong, insofar as it went.

The intent of my brother’s heart was completely fine; he was just off-base in suggesting that we might get just as much from a short section by letting it stand alone.

In the course of reading, studying, and coming to understand a literary document, nothing stands alone.

But the cheese and I do stand alone far too often, I think.  Maybe we are limburger.


Philemon 1: structural clues

On Sunday evening, September 19, our Philemon study group began.

Content-wise, our activities commenced as any study group should–directly in the text. Well, OK, I did give about 5 min. of introductory background from the Int’l Standard Bible Enclopedia, Vol. IV, but as soon as we collected ourselves, we read the text.  Six times. You can do that with Philemon.  🙂

This past Sunday evening, we started delving earnestly into the organization, the structure, the linguistic clues, the historical background (and anything else we might be led into).  Drawing from material penned by my friend Greg Fay, we looked first at clues that outline the structure of a letter in first-century Graeco-Roman culture.  Admittedly, some of these seem simplistic and might be assumed, without much ado.  The “introduction,” while not always found at the outset, is most often right there where you expect it to be.  And in Philemon, we are not surprised to find the introduction in verses 1-7.

The middle/body/meat is in verses 8-20 or 21, and the conclusion, in verses 21-25.  Greg points out the transitional material in verses 8-10 that delineate the beginning of the Main Body of the letter and later comments, “With skilled writers, it’s sometimes difficult to tell exactly where a Conclusion begins because the transition is natural and fluid.”  I’m confident that as our little study group digs more deeply into Philemon in the coming few weeks, we’ll develop a more solid sense of the God-breathed message, and will gain understanding of the elements that provide clarifying delineation around said message.

The thoughts of skill and transitioning into concluding material reminded me of a preacher I heard during a certain year in my life, on the outskirts of Chattanooga, Tennessee.  I can hear his voice now, as he transitioned into his concluding material in each sermon.  His voice ascended in pitch, and became a little more nasal and annoying.  The clue words were “And so …” with the word “so” nearly an octave above the pitch of “And.”  We always knew when to scrape the hymnal against the rack, dragging it out to be ready for the invitation song, because the closing clues were so obvious.  This preacher’s gifts were not necessarily in public speaking, as you might have guessed.

Thankfully, Paul was not such a humdrum preacher.  There’s an inspired message here in this little book, and that includes the intro, the body, and the conclusion.  I aim to discover more of this message, to help others discover it, and ultimately to let it affect my efforts at being a disciple.