Galatians: Witherington on the stucture of Galatians

 

Reading some of the early church father’s commentaries on Paul’s letters … one becomes aware that those who lived in a rhetorical environment recognized Paul’s letters for what they were – rhetorical speeches within an epistolary framework and with some epistolary features. After all, a letter was a surrogate for oral speech, and a good letter would seek to model as many of the best and most persuasive features of speech as possible.

In fact, the rhetorical forms of Paul’s letters are more revealing of his concerns and content than are the epistolary forms and elements. …

Galatians is one of the most obviously rhetorical of all Paul’s letters. It includes the usual epistolary framework at the beginning and the end (1.1-5; 6.11-18), but for the most part it is pure speech material. Unlike most of Paul’s other letters, Galatians has no thanksgiving section, no greetings to particular persons, no health wish, no mention of present or future travel plans. Any educated ancient person would surely have seen Galatians 1.6-6.10 … as a rhetorical tour de force – “full of sound and fury.” …

Close inspection reveals that all of the arguments in Galatians have one aim – to convince the Galatians to take a particular course of action in the near future as they deliberate whether to get themselves circumcised and submit to the Mosaic law. … the issue is ‘not whether Paul had been right in what he had said or done, but what they themselves were going to believe and do.’ …

The following outline shows the structure of Galatians and the deliberative discourse it contains.

Epistolary opening (1.1-2)
Epistolary greeting (1.3-4)
Doxological conclusion to epistolary section (1.5)
Exordium: Two gospels? (1.6-10)
Narratio: The origin & character of the gospel of grace (1.11-2.14; 1.11-12 is transitional)
Propositio: By the faithfulness of Christ, not by works of the law (2.15-21)
Probatio:

  • Argument one: The faith of Abraham and the foolishness of the Galatians (3.1-18)
  • Argument two: The goal of the guardian, the function of the Faithful One (3.19-4.7)
  • Argument three: Shared experience (4.8-20)
  • Argument four: The allegory of antipathy (4.21-5.1)
  • Argument five: The unkindest cut of all (5.2-15)
  • Argument six: Antisocial behavior and eschatological fruit (5.16-26)
  • Argument seven: Bearable burdens and the yoke of Christ (6.1-10)

Epistolary authentication formula (6.11)
Peroratio (6.12-17)
Epistolary closing (6.18)

The Paul Quest by Ben Witherington, pp.119,121,122

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