The Glossary of Terms



Young People's Bible Dictionary

by Barbara Smith (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1965)

Galatians, The Letter of Paul to the. N.T. book, a letter written by Paul to the churches in Galatia, about A.D. 51, to counteract the effect of visiting teachers who were saying that Christains must keep all of the Jewish law.

Harper’s Bible Dictionary

edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)

Galatians, the Letter of Paul to the, the ninth book in the nt and one of the most important historical and theological documents from early Christianity. Chaps. 1 and 2 especially are the only extant primary source of information concerning the earliest period of primitive Christian history. Theologically, the Letter is the first complete statement of Gentile Christian theology and thus its oldest self-definition, in which the new Christian religion is separated (as far as we can tell, for the first time) from Judaism.


The Letter of Paul to the Galatians

Written by Paul (1:1; 6:11-18), the Letter is addressed to a group of congregations, ‘the churches of Galatia’ (1:2). Scholars are still debating whether these churches were located in central Anatolia (the so-called North Galatian hypothesis) or, as seems less likely, further to the south (the so-called South Galatian hypothesis, by which the churches may be connected with the cities of Antioch, Lystra, Derbe, and Iconium mentioned in Acts 13-14).

Paul himself names the cause for writing his Letter (1:6-7): the newly founded churches are about to shift their allegiance away from their apostle and founder to his opponents, who are competing Jewish-Christian missionaries. Paul’s Letter is designed to prevent such a shift. Its thoroughgoing argument amounts to a defense of the gospel as he preached it and as Gentile Christianity had accepted it. In order to understand the Letter, today’s readers must comprehend the rather complicated theological arguments made and presupposed in the text. Paul’s explicit argument attempts to reassure the Galatian readers that the gospel they received from Paul is fully sufficient for their salvation. After hearing this gospel (3:2-5), they received the Holy Spirit (3:2-3, 14; 4:6) and became partakers ‘in Christ’ (3:26-28). Equipped with the benefits of justification by faith in Christ (1:4; 2:15-16), Paul assures them that they can look forward with confidence to their eternal inheritance, the Kingdom of God (3:29; 5:5; 6:8, 16-18). Embedded in the Letter we also discover an implicit argument being used by the Jewish-Christian missionaries against Paul, according to which the Galatians have come to doubt Paul’s message when they were faced with ‘transgressions’ in their midst (6:1). Apparently, Paul’s opponents have helped them understand these transgressions as evidence that they were still ‘sinners’ outside salvation (2:15-17, 21), and these opponents have almost persuaded them to accept circumcision (2:3; 5:2-3, 6; 6:12-13, 15) and the Jewish Torah (3:2, 5; 4:9-10, 21; 5:2-4, 18).

The Opposition to Paul: The problem of who Paul’s opponents were has been the subject of much discussion for almost two centuries. Were there two oppositional fronts (W. Lütgert) or just one? Were they Christian or non-Christian Jews, or were they Gentiles attracted to Judaism (‘Judaizers’)? Were they resident Galatians or outside intruders? J. R. Crownfield held them to be Jewish-Christian syncretists (those who took elements from one religion into another) interested in circumcision as a symbolic ritual. J. Munck took them to be Gentiles who had recently become converts of a Judaizing Christian movement in Galatia, a ‘heretic’ offshoot of Paulinism. W. Schmithals advanced the hypothesis that they were (Christian or non-Christian) Jewish Gnostics who practiced circumcision as a magically potent ritual but were otherwise ‘libertines.’ Schmithals’s hypothesis was later modified by G. Bornkamm, K. Wegenast, H. Koester, and D. Georgi, all of them assuming that the opponents were Jewish-Christian missionaries representing some kind of Asia Minor syncretism.

A further problem is the connection between Paul’s opponents and the ‘men from James’ and Jerusalem (2:11). Were they agitators moved by political nationalism in Jerusalem (D. B. Bronson)? Did they try to ease the pressures the church in Jerusalem suffered from the hands of the Zealots by organizing a campaign to ‘judaize’ Gentile Christians in Asia Minor (R. Jewett)? H. D. Betz proposed that 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1, a section that had long been identified as non-Pauline, be regarded as a piece of anti-Pauline theology compatible or even identical with that of Paul’s opponents in Galatia. G. Lüdemann has shown that these opponents must be seen in connection with the history of anti-Paulinism in Asia Minor in the first two centuries of the Christian era.

Composition: Galatians is an apologetic Letter, the epistolary ‘frame’ consisting of the prescript (1:1-5) and the postscript (6:11-18). The prescript follows the basic Pauline pattern with the superscription (Lat. superscriptio, i.e., opening words; 1:1-2a: the name of the principal sender, his official title and the definition of the title, and stating the [unnamed] co-senders), the ascription (Lat. adscriptio, i.e., those to whom the letter was addressed; 1:2b), and the greetings, or salutation (Lat. salutatio; 1:3-4), expanded by christological and soteriological formulae indicating the major concerns of the Letter and ending in a doxology with the concluding ‘amen’ (1:5). The postscript, written in Paul’s own hand (6:11), presupposes that the preceding parts of the letter (1:1-6:10) show the hand of an amanuensis or scribe (cf. Rom. 16:22). The postscript authenticates the Letter and sums up its major points, thus serving as the recapitulatio (summary) and peroratio (conclusion).

The body of the Letter (1:6-6:10) is composed as an apologetic speech with its traditional rhetorical parts. The introductory statement (Lat. exordium; 1:6-9) names the problem (Lat. causa; 1:6-7) and presents Paul’s immediate response, the reissuing of a previously issued curse against apostates (1:8-9). The defense arguments are presented in four major sections: first, the narrative (Lat. narratio; 1:12-2:14) recites the events preceding and leading up to the present situation. These events are of course told with a partisan slant so as to assist the defense; they end with the dilemma the Galatians are now facing (2:14). Second, the statement of the problem (Lat. propositio; 2:15-21) sets forth the major points of agreement and disagreement between the author and his readers. Third, the demonstration, or proof (Lat. probatio; 3:1-4:31) includes an interrogation (3:1-5) and arguments from Scripture and tradition. The final section is exhortation, with three subsections, each of which begins with the restatement of the doctrinal presupposition (5:1a, 13a, 25a).

Reading the Letter Today: Modern readers will have to learn how to read Galatians as a piece of ancient epistolary literature. In those terms, the Letter represents the author, Paul, who is physically absent and must communicate despite the limits of a written text (cf. 4:18-20). His Letter carries his entire defense speech to the readers, who, reading it aloud, transpose it into oral speech. They then have to make up their minds whether Paul’s line of argument is convincing. Whatever they decide will activate the conditional curse and blessing (1:8-9; 6:16) that is also carried to them by the Letter. The same situation must be faced by modern readers: the letter again confronts readers in every age by arguing the central points of Paul’s theology and by presenting to them the fateful choice between salvation and condemnation.

Bibliography Betz, H. D. Galatians: A Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Churches in Galatia. Hermeneia: A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979. Bruce, F. F. The Epistle to the Galatians: A Commentary on the Greek Text. The New International Greek Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1982. Ebeling, G. The Truth of the Gospel. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984. Lüdemann, G. Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles: Studies in Chronology. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984.


All glossary terms
Edited for by Robert Nguyen Cramer
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