Interpreting Galatians


Tom Schreiner has re-released an updated edition of his work: Interpreting the Pauline Epistles. I’m working through the book as I study the Epistle to the Galatians.

Literary Genre: Letter

In the first chapter, Dr. Schreiner briefly discusses different literary genres, and concludes, obviously, that the 13 epistles of Paul are of the ‘letter genre’. Paul’s epistles:

    • Are occasional in nature,
    • and, they address specific problems,
    • but, are not modeled after literary Greek rhetoric,
    • nor are simply crude personal correspondence

In fact…

  • They are not simple throw-away letters by which had no intention of being re-read or passed around. They are written in a careful structured style and are written in an authoritative manner
  • Paul wrote with apostolic authority and expected his words to be read/obeyed

1 Corinthians 14:37 (KJV) – If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.

1 Thessalonians 5:27 (KJV) – I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren.

2 Thessalonians 3:14 (KJV) – And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.

Colossians 4:16 (KJV) – And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea.

Thus, Paul wrote with authority, and expected the things he wrote to passed about and obeyed as the Words of God.

I was hoping Dr. Schreiner might have more to say regarding whether he considered some, none, or all of Paul’s writings to be epistles (versus letters), but he said little to nothing about the contrast between the two. See my writing on the topic in the following posts:

What is an Epistle?
What is an Epistle?, part 2

Structure of the Letter

Later in the first chapter, Dr. Schreiner overviews the structure of a Greco-Roman letter, comprised of 3 main sections: Opening, Body, and Closing.

Opening

Greco-Roman letters have 4 primary ingredients as a part of a letter opening: sender, recipient, Greeting, Prayer.

Sender – There is significance in the various titles (servant, apostle, etc.) that Paul uses to describe himself in his letters. In Galatians, he uses the following title:

“Paul, an apostle (not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead)…”

Perhaps, here, Paul is trying to emphasize his apostolic authority right off the bat, the issue which he spends considerable space defending in this epistle. He emphasizes that his apostleship is not from/through man, but Jesus Christ and God the Father.

Recipient“…To the churches of Galatia…”

Greeting – Typical Greek letters began with the word χαίρειν (greetings), but Paul normally uses χάρισ ῾υμίν (grace to you). In Galatians, Paul uses “...Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ…”.

Prayer – Hellenistic letters often wished the reader health and then included a prayer to the gods. According to Schreiner*, only Galatians and Titus lack a prayer. In Galatians, in particular, once the Apostle has introduced himself and wished God’s blessing upon his hearers, he jumps right into the matter at hand, “…I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel…’

*In a cursory reading of the openings of several of the Pauline letters, these elements can all be clearly distinguished, except for the prayer (in my opinion). Though the Apostle does mention that he regularly thanks God for the faith of his hearers, I’m not sure how to strictly distinguish an epistolary prayer from each letter.

Body

No explanation required.

Closing

Components of a closing include: prayer, commendation, final instructions, benediction, and Ἕρρωσθε. Where the closing begins can be difficult to discern and is really an interpretive choice.  The close in Galatians, according to Schreiner, is remarkably brief. There is a final exhortation (6:11-17) and a brief closing (6:18).

I wrote a few posts on the opening to the Epistle to the Galatians as shown below:

Grace to You and [then] Peace
Grace to You and [then] Peace, part 2

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