Galatians: Lesson 1: Galatians 1:1-5

October 7, 2019 1 Comments


Over the last couple of weeks, I have shared historical and cultural information about the Galatians that I felt was important to our increased understanding of this letter. I find that the more I understand the context regarding scripture, the more I understand God’s servants and God Himself. Today’s lesson will take us into the letter itself and Paul’s writing style.


If you were asked to give a definition for this word, what would you say? A quick search on a dictionary app yielded this answer. Rhetoric, according to Merriam-Webster, is “the art of speaking or writing effectively: such as a: the study of principles and rules of composition formulated by critics of ancient times b: the study of writing or speaking as a means of communication or persuasion.” Also, rhetoric is “a: skill in the effective use of speech b: a type or mode of language or speech;”. Biblical scholar, Dr. Ben Witherington, defines rhetoric as “the learned art of persuasion.” Paul, along with his converts and people everywhere in first century A.D., greatly appreciated and valued rhetoric and the rhetors of their day. They discussed and evaluated these rhetors in ways that resemble present-day people discussing and evaluating their favorite sports and sports figures. Paul was a skilled rhetorician. He understood his culture and his people and he used those skills in crafting this letter. “[T]here is good reason to believe that Paul intended for his letters to be read aloud to his congregations (cf., e.g., 2 Cor. 13.11; Col. 3.16). They were documents meant primarily for the ears not the eyes of his congregations and this raises the likelihood that Paul took into account the aural dimensions of his text, so that it could be properly and effectively delivered in the full sense of that term.” Paul’s sole mission was to share the good news of Jesus Christ and he exercised his gift of persuasive rhetoric to see that his mission was successful.

The letter to the Galatians is considered one of the most rhetorical of all of Paul’s letters. Aside from a few epistolary passages, such as the beginning of the letter, “Galatians 1.6-6.10 in the eyes and hands of any good rhetor would be seen as and could be made to be a very effective speech full of arguments and rhetorical devices.” Those who study Greco-Roman rhetoric are divided as to the type of rhetoric this document contains. The two camps are apologetic and deliberative. Without going into greater detail about the letter’s structure, I would suggest that as you read through this letter that you consider this statement. “As has been often noted, the best way to determine the sort of rhetoric one finds in a particular speech is to ask what sort of judgment or decision Paul’s argument is attempting to get his audience to make.

Just like today’s influencers on social media sites, many of the speakers and philosophers of Paul’s day only highlighted the positives. Paul wasn’t out to please others. He used positive and negative examples of his life to get his point across to his audience. He wanted the Galatians to accept his authority and to trust him. Some had come into the community of faith proclaiming a message contrary to the one that Paul had shared with them when he visited Galatia. I will write more on these opposers in a future post. Throughout this letter, Paul’s goal was to persuade the Galatians to reject a message concerning circumcision and the Law and instead to turn back to the message of grace. 

Paul wrote in a particular rhetoric style called Asiatic which, according to Quintilian, the famous teacher of Roman rhetoric, displayed one’s scars, used emotion-charged language, and was given to bombast and ostentation. He used his rhetorical skills from the beginning of the letter in an effort to reestablish community among the Galatians. He achieved his aim through the use of pronouns. Paul opens the letter in “the first person singular, move[s] to the second person plural and then conclude[s] with the first person plural.” The subtlety of language and use of the first person plural set the stage to sway the Galatians to consider themselves along with Paul as part of the same community of faith.

“Paul, an apostle – sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead – and all the brothers with me,

To the churches in Galatia:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,” Galatians 1:1-4 

Paul is not a Jewish name but a Greek name meaning ‘little’. As a Roman citizen, Paul would have also had two other names which are never mentioned in scripture. We do know that Paul was also called Saul, his Jewish name given after the first king of Israel (Acts 9:1; 13:9). He was also from the tribe of Benjamin (Philippians 3:5). In addition, Paul calls himself an apostle. The word means a delegate, a messenger, or one who is sent out. Some scholars believe Paul introduced himself this way because his apostleship was under attack. He was not one of the Twelve original disciples of Jesus. In the book of Acts, we are given a definition for an apostle in scripture. The person chosen needed to be one who knew and followed Jesus during his entire ministry and needed to have witnessed his resurrection ( Acts 1:21,22). Therefore, these opposers of Paul are technically correct. Paul, however, didn’t argue with these opposers instead he stated emphatically that he was an apostle. His apostleship was not bestowed by man but was divine in origin. He had received the message directly from Jesus. Other scholars think “[t]his document is not about defending Paul’s apostleship, but about persuading the assemblies in Galatia to continue to follow the truth of the Gospel already received and reject the ‘other Gospel’.”

Paul also indicates that he is not alone but with others. The intended rhetorical effect is that Paul is not spreading his gospel but the Gospel. Isn’t it interesting that Barnabas is not mentioned? If we hold to the timeline of when this letter was most likely written as A.D. 49-54, this fact indicates that Paul and Barnabas have had the falling out between them. The fallout most likely being the one as a result of the incident at Antioch. In other letters written by Paul, such as 1 and 2 Thessalonians and 1 and 2 Corinthians, he mentions other known co-workers for Jesus with him. The exclusion of not mentioning Barnabas or any of his fellow companions, therefore, is circumspect. 

The opening to this letter is unusual particularly for Paul. He begins with the use of a prescript that ends with a doxology followed by an Amen. Why do you think Paul chose to start his letter in this manner? Also contrary to his usual style, Paul omits a praise or thanksgiving section to these churches in Galatia. His address to them is sparse and lacks the warmth and love that he normally expressed. The lack of any affection could be an indication of his concern and sorrow over these churches according to scholar John Chrysostom. Since the letter is circular and will travel from church to church, we must assume that Paul believes “that the agitators’ message has infected and affected not just one congregation but several.” Paul has also chosen the transliterated word, ekklesia, for churches which is a “term used for Greek assemblies where matters of policy would be debated and decided. It was the place where deliberative rhetoric was the form of persuasion to be used.”

In Galatians 1:3, Paul gives his standard greeting of grace and peace. These two words highlight his desire to see no division between Jew and Greek. The word used for grace is an adaptation of a Greek greeting and the word for peace is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew greeting Shalom. The Greek charis, in the theological sense, means grace. The word can also mean beauty and charm. This word also carries with it “the idea of undeserved generosity, of a gift.” The Jewish word Shalom, on the other hand, “means far more than the mere absence of trouble. It means everything which is to our highest good, everything which will make the mind pure, the will resolute and the heart glad. It is that sense of the love and care of God, which, even if our bodies are tortured, can keep our hearts serene.

In Galatians 1:4, Paul is possibly quoting a fragment of an early Christian confession. The verse states that Jesus gave his life voluntarily to death on the cross and that his death was a necessary sacrifice for our sins. “In Paul’s view, suffering and even death is by no means outside the will of God for a person, indeed in the Son’s case this was at the very heart of what God sent the Son to do on earth. Then too, redemption is the larger aim of God for humankind.” We cannot rescue ourselves. Salvation comes from God through Jesus Christ.

to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” Galatians 1:5



References: Grace in Galatia A Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians Ben Witherington III; The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians William Barclay; Life Application Study Bible New International Version;; Wikipedia


1 Comment

  1. Reply

    Alfred Kuhnert

    October 22, 2019

    It boggles my mind to think about composing a letter such as Paul’s to the Galatians. There is no computer to allow for quick corrections to phrasing and content. He had to plan the letter and compose it while taking into account many various issues. And, unlike mine, his handwriting would have to be clear and discernible to the readers!

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