Sunday, October 24, 2010

Exegetical notes on Galatians 1:1-5

The text:

Παῦλος ἀπόστολος οὐκ ἀπʼ ἀνθρώπων οὐδὲ διʼ ἀνθρώπου ἀλλὰ διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ καὶ θεοῦ πατρὸς τοῦ ἐγείραντος αὐτὸν ἐκ νεκρῶν, 2 καὶ οἱ σὺν ἐμοὶ πάντες ἀδελφοὶ ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις τῆς Γαλατίας, 3 χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη ἀπὸ θεοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν καὶ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ 4 τοῦ δόντος ἑαυτὸν ὑπὲρ τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ἡμῶν, ὅπως ἐξέληται ἡμᾶς ἐκ τοῦ αἰῶνος τοῦ ἐνεστῶτος πονηροῦ κατὰ τὸ θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ πατρὸς ἡμῶν, 5 ᾧ ἡ δόξα εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων, ἀμήν.

A number of variations in the text of v3 appear. The strongest of these is πατρὸς καὶ κυρίου ἡμῶν which is preferable on external evidence, with a strong and broad cross-section of attestation. Paul's usage elsewhere (Rom 1:7, 1 Cor 1:3, 2 Cor 1:2, etc.) supports the reading as stands, and a desire to align ἡμῶν with κυρίου would make sense of a scribal change. The effect of the primary alternate reading is theologically negligible, in my opinion.


Paul, an apostle not from men nor through human agency but through Jesus Christ and God [the] Father that raised him from the dead, 2 and all the brothers with me – to the churches of Galatia,
3 Grace to you and Peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 he that gives himself for our sins, so that he might rescue us from the present evil age according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be glory eternally, Amen.


The standard epistolary introduction receives a number of distinctive features in 1:1-5. Firstly, the author Paul immediately identifies himself as an apostle, and this previews one of the dominant concerns of the epistle in chapters 1-2, a defence of Paul’s gospel intertwined with his apostleship. The qualifications he gives direct our attention first negatively, to the source (not from men), and the agency (nor by men) of his apostleship, then positively to the agency of Jesus Christ, and the source. A strict distinction between source and agency is probably overblown here, so that Paul’s double statement has a certain highlighting of its non-human origins. The qualification of God the Father as ‘the one that raised him from the dead’ is the only reference to resurrection in Galatians, and yet its prominent position in identifying the very God who is the source of Paul’s apostleship reinforces its prominence in his gospel, despite its absence from the bulk of the epistle.

The reference to the brothers with him reminds us that Paul’s epistolary and pastoral work was not done in isolation, but in community.

The addressees, the churches of Galatia, are a source of scholarly contention. For myself, I favour a Southern Galatian hypothesis. The reference to multiple churches suggests multiple gatherings of Christians, and reinforces the notion from elsewhere the ἐκκλεσία properly refers in early christian literature to a local community.

The twin greeting of grace and peace combines the distinctive Jewish salutation, shalom, with the uniquely Christian emphasis on grace, forming a typical Pauline address. Some suggest the grammar of this verse is open to being read as ‘God – our Father and the Lord Jesus’, as a statement of Jesus’ divinity. While this is possible, I am unconvinced the Greek reads so straightforwardly. It can well be agreed, though, that Jesus’ divinity is attested on other NT grounds, and conceded that Jewish 1st century authors would not invite such ambiguity frivolously. That the Christ is identified further in v4 matches the further description of the Father in v1, giving us a rounded presentation of both death and resurrection, with the clear gospel statement of ‘the one giving himself for our sins.’ This is the core of Paul’s gospel message, which is part and parcel of the content of the Galatian epistle.

The purpose clause introduced gives an eschatological note to Paul’s gospel and epistle, ‘this present evil age’ picking up apocalyptic language. However, a full-blown apocalypticism of genre or outlook is impossible to sustain from the rest of the epistle. Thus, it is better characterised as part of Paul’s eschatology. The present age is passing, done with, and the new age has come, into which we are rescued by Christ’s salvific death. The importance of time is also previewed here.

The death and rescue are both 'according to the will of our God and Father', and so reveal and accomplish the divine purpose, which cannot be thwarted. This final statement leads Paul naturally into praise, as he offers up a doxological conclusion to his introductory statements.


Stephen C. Carlson said...

A number of variations in the text of v3 appear as πατρὸς καὶ κυρίου ἡμῶν and further variation, none of which is particularly convincing on external grounds.

I beg to differ. This variant is read by P46 P51 B D F G 1739 and Byz, which is external evidence so good (Alexandrian, Western, and Byzantine) that this variation unit must be resolved on internal grounds.

Seumas Macdonald said...

I concede, I have been too hasty in my comment on external grounds. I will give it some more thought.

Seumas Macdonald said...

I have edited the text, in order to deal more thoroughly with the variant. Thanks for your input.

Stephen C. Carlson said...

Much better.