The Galatians Debate: Contemporary Issues in Rhetorical and Historical
Interpretation edited by Mark D. Nanos (Hendrickson) Students and scholars
reading the secondary literature on Galatians must often negotiate specialized
language and complex lines of argument. In addition to the theological jargon
that traditionally characterizes discussion of Galatians, one now encounters a
significant amount of rhetorical and sociohistorical terminology, and the
reader's familiarity with this specialized language is increasingly assumed.
The Galatians Debate is designed to facilitate familiarity with the contemporary issues central to the interpretation of Galatians and to present examples of the prevailing points of view as well as some recent challenges to them. The essays included explore the rhetorical and epistolary approaches to examining Galatians, comprise a comprehensive introduction to significant research in the field, and represent some of the best work available. Mark Nanos offers an introduction and glossary of terms to help students begin their study and a comprehensive volume bibliography and modern author and ancient sources indexes for those who are continuing on to further study.
Excerpt: In recent years, the sophisticated refinement and employment of rhetorical and sociohistorical tools have profoundly altered the interpretive landscape. The impact of these methodological developments is probably nowhere more clearly evident than in the contemporary discussions of Paul's letter to the Galatians. As a result, the student seeking to read the secondary literature on Galatians must often negotiate specialized language and complex lines of argument for which he or she may be largely unprepared. In addition to the theological jargon that traditionally characterizes discussion of Galatians, one now encounters a significant amount of rhetorical and sociohistorical terminology, and the reader's familiarity with this specialized language is increasingly assumed. Unless one has been trained in rhetorical theory, especially classical, is familiar with epistolography, has a grasp of historical, social scientific, and literary criticism, and enjoys some acquaintance with the increasing awareness of the interpreter's role in the interpretive process-and the kind of carefully measured phrasing this can produce-this language, which was designed to clarify and increase precision, may instead serve to obscure and perhaps alienate.
This volume is designed to help facilitate familiarity with the contemporary issues central to the interpretation of Galatians, the prevailing points of view as well as some recent challenges to them, and to help penetrate the specialist's technical terminology. Unfortunately, it is unable to address all of the current-much less the traditional-debates or include every pertinent participant and essay, especially the arguments offered only in monographs or commentaries, or as part of research made in the service of other topics and texts. The essays included, however, comprise a comprehensive introduction to significant research in the field, representing some of the best work available, and, for the most part, define the terms commonly employed, or at least provide a sense for how they are used. Those chosen for this volume concentrate around three important areas of particular interest. The first part of the volume examines contemporary rhetorical and epistolary analyses of the letter. The second part investigates recent interpretations of Paul's autobiographical narrative related in Galatians 1 and 2, especially Paul's view of his relationship with the Jerusalem authorities of this nascent movement and, even more specifically, his perspective on the incident with Peter at Antioch. The third part traces various ways of constructing the situation among the addressees in Galatia, whereby interpreters seek to discover the reasons Paul wrote just this response.'
Many issues arise in each of these areas of debate. For rhetorical analysis of Galatians, for example, consider but a few of the methodological matters that become immediately apparent in these essays. How should an interpreter approach the task in view of the fact that Paul wrote letters but the rhetorical handbooks addressed the delivery of orations? If analyzed according to rhetorical categories for oration, or, alternatively, within epistolary categories, or even by attending to elements that arise from both of these communication mediums, to what genre should Galatians be assigned, and with what results for its interpretation? Moreover, should analysis of Paul's firstcentury correspondence be confined to theories and examples that arise in ancient classical handbooks and extant texts, and if so, which ones, or should it include the insights available to us now from later rhetorical theories and examples? Naturally, the decisions made on these matters will impact the way the message of the letter is interpreted or its prior interpretation is confirmed.
In the area of sociohistorical methodology, consider the way that interpreters construct the context of the writer and the recipients of the letter. What were the contextual situations of Paul, his addressees, and those who were influencing them in a direction to which Paul objected? Why did he write this letter? Or more precisely, why did he perceive the need to write it, and what did he design it to accomplish? How might Paul's assessment have differed from the perceptions of the addressees in Galatia? or from the perceptions of those whose influence Paul sought to check? The construction of the situation(s) among the addressees and the perception of Paul upon which the interpreter settles directly influence the way that he or she perceives the nature of Paul's response or confirms a prior understanding thereof. Each interpreter variously draws, intentionally or not, upon a wealth of historical and cultural as well as rhetorical and philosophical-not to mention theological-ideas, traditions, and methods of enquiry and argumentation. Naturally, the different choices made in each of these areas combine to influence every interpreter to different conclusions.
It is interesting to note that both the more rhetorically and sociohistorically oriented approaches to the interpretation of this letter connect when attending to the issue of establishing a context for Paul's letter. Why? Because, in order to interpret Paul's language in Galatians, it is necessary to construct-or at least assume-the context for which it is imagined to have been used, so that the historical rhetorical meaning it may have held for the writer and his addressees can be proposed. We have the extant message Paul sent, but we do not know the situational context that prompted his decision to write it; we cannot know a priori what he meant to communicate, why he arranged it in this and not some other way, or what, for the recipients, it meant when received. In order to construct a context for understanding these historical and rhetorical situations, that is, what might have been actually happening as well as what Paul thought was happening and hoped to effect by way of this letter, it is necessary to hypothesize from the language used therein, because apart from this letter we do not have any certain evidence from which to work. These are interdependent tasks. Circularity is thus built into the process of interpretation, since we do not know the context but must hypothesize it from the language of the letter, yet we do not know the meaning of the language of the letter-or the genre-without hypothesizing a context for its usage.
The construction of sociohistorical as well as rhetorical contexts to interpret Paul's language cannot be easily separated from the enterprise of interpretation itself, including theological. Each aspect involves analysis of Paul's rhetoric in a kind of back-and-forth process; moreover, none of this analysis takes place in a vacuum. The point can be illustrated with any of the essays included in this volume, but let us briefly consider the essay that initiated the contemporary interest in rhetorical analysis of Paul's letter, as it should help the reader qualify the results of each of the others.
Hans Dieter Betz makes is clear that he seeks to investigate the "possible criteria and methods" for "how to arrive at an `outline' of the letter." Betz thereby announces that he does not seek to offer a hypothesis for, or an analysis of, the sociohistorical context of Paul or the addressees per se, or to offer an interpretation of Paul's language. He wants to determine the rhetorical genre exemplified by Paul's argument, and then outline the elements. Yet the choice of rhetorical genre requires the construction of a sociohistorical as well as rhetorical context provoking Paul's letter-in Betz's case, what is determined to be Paul's "defense" against "opponents." Naturally, this situational hypothesis requires an implicit, if not explicit, analysis of Paul's letter, from which the elements of its construction are gathered. That is, in order to determine the reason for the letter, it is necessary for Betz to have a working hypothesis for the author's perception of the situational exigence-why Paul felt compelled to respond. Only with a situation already postulated can Betz propose a reason for Paul choosing as most appropriate to the task ("inventing") just this kind of defensive reply ("forensic"/"judicial") instead of some other kind (e.g.., "deliberative" or "epideictic"), or even an entirely different kind of discourse. And only after these stages of the interpretive process have been undertaken can Betz advance an argument for why and how Paul set out to arrange the elements (the outline) of his argument-that is, how Paul "organized" it. This process exemplifies the ineluctable circularity of the interpretive task already noted: from the rhetorical information supplied in the letter, in concert with any other information or conjecture that is also incorporated, the interpreter hypothesizes the historical as well as rhetorical situation giving rise to the letter and at the same time analyzes its rhetoric, including that from which he or she constructed that context, on the basis of his or her hypothesis of the context of its usage. Since the contemporary interpreter was not present, he or she can only hypothesize the historical situations as well as the rhetorical nature of Paul's epistolary response. Then these hypotheses must be tested, debated if you will.
It should be noted that the importance of these contemporary discussions of the context and rhetoric of Galatians reaches well beyond the confines of the interpretation of this particular letter. Even discussions of those whose influence Paul opposes in other letters often turn on the identity and interests attributed to those supposed to be influencing his addressees in Galatia. The information contained in Paul's autobiographical narrative of Galatians I and 2 is the most important firsthand source that interpreters have available for comprehensive constructions of Paul and his activities, and it provides some of the earliest and most essential available evidence for research into the historical and theological origins of Christianity, reaching even beyond consideration of Paul's relationship with the Jerusalem apostles. For example, histories of early Christianity rely upon an interpretation of the "facts" about Paul, the Jerusalem apostles, and the developments in Jerusalem and Antioch that are related in these narrative units. And the interpretation of the situation in Galatia and of the nature of the message contained in Paul's response also plays a central role in such historical constructions. This last element, the interpretation of Paul's message in this letter, is of course essential to the theological enterprise. Indeed, for sociohistorical as well as rhetorical debates, Galatians holds pride of place.
No one should assume that he or she approaches the interpretation of this text without some presuppositions, whether gained from study of Galatians, Paul's other letters, the Acts of the Apostles, or other ancient texts believed to bear upon its interpretation, and without his or her own predisposition to the material and its meaning, even the perception of its relative importance. Some of these presuppositions may have become part of what he or she believes to be known about Galatians as well as its author, Paul, from sermons and classes, literature and newspapers, casual conversation or formal education, or prior reading and study of the letter. This exposure may have led to a negative or positive disposition to the language of the letter, to the person who wrote it, to those to whom he wrote, or to those whom he wrote to oppose. Some interpreters have internalized a particular understanding or seek to do so to direct their future thoughts; some may have other interests, including challenging a particular interpretation, for any number of reasons. The point is that the interpretation of this letter and the ends to which the conclusions drawn are applied represent aspects of a complex process; no one should assume that he or she is approaching the task without some bias. In this interpretive enterprise humility, the employment of interdisciplinary methodologies, and the role of debate to sharpen our awareness of the alternatives offer immeasurable benefits.
Certain debates that were once central for the interpreter of Galatians are now not the focus of most contemporary attention, and are thus not the topics of this volume. For example, the discussion of the precise location of the addressees (the socalled North or South Galatia hypotheses), while ongoing, is presently at an impasse. It is currently difficult to make much headway from the information internal to the letter itself. The arguments tend to focus upon comparisons with information available in the Acts of the Apostles, and are often undertaken as part of comprehensive portraits of Paul and his several journeys. At this juncture most interpreters concentrating upon Galatians summarize the evidence for both positions and, if taking up
one side or the other, usually still seek to distance their conclusions from the necessity of being proven correct on this element. Other debates not covered specifically here focus on particular passages, such as investigations of certain elements related in Paul's autobiographical accounts in Galatians 1 and 2. They seek to understand, for example, how or if the events noted there correspond to the events traced in the Acts of the Apostles, the timing of this letter vis-à-vis Paul's other letters, or the chronology and character of Paul's life and activities both before and after his "calling or conversion," or whether he argued on the basis of "faith in" or "the faith of Christ." Also not included are many essays on a wide variety of topics that include discussion of Galatians, or those that focus upon particular passages but do not aim to offer a comprehensive analysis of either the context or rhetoric of the letter per se. Many of the theologically oriented disputes fall into this category. They concern Galatians and may arise in and influence the arguments of the contributors to this volume, but represent broader topics than this project can hope to address.
A word about organization is in order. The volume is divided into three major parts, as discussed above. Two of these are subdivided further according to methodological emphasis. The essays within each part and subdivision appear in the order of their original publication date, with new contributions last; hopefully, this will offer the reader a sense of the way that the debates have developed to date. Below is a brief introduction to each of these parts and subdivisions, and a summary of each of the essays. Crossreferences to essays within the volume have been updated to reflect the page numbers of the contributions as they appear now in The Galatians Debate. The footnote numbering in these chapters may not always exactly match that of the original articles. A Glossary of selected terms follows the last essay. Finally, there is a comprehensive volume bibliography, an index for citations of ancient sources, and an index of modern authors.
Echoes of the Exodus Narrative in the Context and Background of Galatians 5:18 by William N. Wilder (Lang) Paul declares, "If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law." In this study William N. Wilder departs from conventional interpretations by arguing that the language of Galatians 5:18 represents Paul's new exodus understanding of the Christian experience. According to Wilder, Paul consistently uses the phrase "under the law" to refer to a bondage he understood as particular to the Jews, with strong connotations of a specifically Egypt-like slavery attached to this phrase in Galatians. Wilder also argues that the typological association of the Spirit and the exodus cloud, found elsewhere in Paul in a comparison of 1 Corinthians 10:1-4 and 1 Corinthians 12:13, is likewise assumed in the phrase "led by the Spirit" and may be traced back to the Old Testament prophetic literature and Psalms (Hag 2:4-5; Isa 63:11-14; Neh 9:19-20; Ps 143:10). The author gives special attention to the influence of Psalm 143 on Paul's theology, contending that it provides an Old Testament source both for the new exodus assumptions in Galatians 5:18 and for the apocalyptic flesh-Spirit antithesis that dominates the larger context of that verse.
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