Galatians 1.10

6 08 2009

Ἄρτι γὰρ ἀνθρώπους πείθω ἢ τὸν θεόν;

ζητ ἀνθρώποις ρέσκειν;

↓εἰ ἔτι ἀνθρώποις ρεσκον,

Χριστοῦ δοῦλος οὐκ ἂν μην.

Paul begins this section with two rhetorical questions: For am I now trying to win the favor of people, or God? and Or am I striving to please people? The contrast between seeking to please people rather than God is sharpened in the second part of the verse: If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ. The antithesis that is set up between pleasing people and pleasing God creates a thematic link with the opening verse of the epistle, which stresses the fact that Paul is appointed an apostle by Jesus Christ and God the Father, and not from men or by man. Since his apostleship is not derived from people, so he is not concerned with pleasing people.

Beginning the section with Ἄρτι, now, seems to create a contrast with a previous state of affairs. While now in English might be used in a rhetorical, rather than temporal sense—to mean now, my first impulse was to run away—the Greek word ἄρτι has only temporal connotations (BDAG). Thus, Paul is talking about now as opposed to a previous time; he is not employing a rhetorical device. The previous time to which he alludes is not stated here, but it is natural to understand Paul as referring to his former way of life in Judaism, which is mentioned only a few verses along (1.13–14).

While πείθω normally refers to the act of persuasion, it does have the rare meaning to win over, strive to please (BDAG). To suggest, however, that Paul seeks to win God over, or to win his favour, creates tension with the fact that he regards himself as chosen by God, who has lavished his favour upon him. To strive to please God, rather than people, seems the most natural way to take 1.10a, but then this is not without difficulty also. Reading the rhetorical question this way creates a redundancy, since 1.10b asks do I seek to please people? There are, however, at least two reasons why this option is nevertheless acceptable. First, redundancy itself is no reason to dismiss a particular reading, and in fact is a common highlighting device[1]—a plausible possibility here. Second, this reading does not create a complete redundancy in any case. The obvious distinction between 1.10a and 1.10b is that the former contrasts pleasing people with pleasing God, while 1.10b simply asks whether Paul seeks to please people at all. The effect of this, then, is for 1.10b to partially answer the question of 1.10a: does Paul strive to please people or God? That question is answered by another question: does he seek to please people at all? Indeed, this movement is repeated between 1.10b and 1.10c, in that 1.10c also answers the previous question: does Paul seek to please people? Well, he could not do so and remain a slave of Christ.

The two present indicative verbs in 1.10a and 1.10b (πείθω, ζητῶ) encode imperfective aspect, and are normally translated with a progessive sense: am I striving to please; am I seeking to please. While this reading is quite normal for imperfective verbs, and is certainly possible here, it may not provide the best rendering of Paul’s point. A progressive sense implies that Paul conceives of an ongoing action in which he is currently occupied. It may fit Paul’s purpose better to regard these present indicatives as gnomic, describing a general reality: do I strive to please people or God? Do I seek to please people? This is a natural implicature of imperfective aspect, and has the effect of characterising Paul’s manner of behaviour rather than referring to specific activity.

The second half of the verse forms a second class conditional sentence, which is indicated by imperfect indicative verbs in the protasis (ἤρεσκον) and apodosis (ἤμην), as well as ἂν in the apodosis. According to Wallace, ‘The second class condition indicates the assumption of an untruth (for the sake of argument).[2] When the second class condition employs imperfects, it normally expresses present temporal reference.[3] The reason for using imperfects even when present temporal reference is meant is that the remoteness of the imperfect form suits the logical remoteness of unreality. Rather than expressing past temporal reference (as it usually does), the remoteness of the imperfect expesses unreality.[4] Since the second class condition is ‘unreal’, or contrary to fact, the remote tense-forms are used (imperfect, aorist, pluperfect).

The force of this unreality is that while Paul says If I were still trying to please people, it is understood that he is not doing so. But the point of the conditional sentence is that if he were trying to please people, this would mean that he would not be a slave to Christ. Apparently, then, being Christ’s slave does not allow one to be a people-pleaser; one’s allegiance is entirely caught up in this slavery, and pleasing Christ is its aim.

The use of ἔτι, still, in the protasis If I were still trying to please people parallels ἄρτι in 1.10a, and likewise refers to an earlier time, most likely Paul’s previous life in Judaism. As such, Paul seems to imply that he was concerned with pleasing people in his previous way of life. But, as the conditional sentence makes clear, his former condition as a people-pleaser means that he was not a slave of Christ at that time.

The way this verse contributes to its immediate context is to point out that declaring an altered gospel (1.6–9) is not pleasing to God, and it implies that alterations to the gospel occur through people-pleasing rather than unswerving commitment to Christ. Indeed, Paul will claim in the next verse that his gospel is not at all derived from a human source, but came by revelation from Christ. As a bearer of that revealed gospel, it is important that Paul not be swayed by the favour of people, so that he may declare the genuine gospel in its unaffected, revealed form.

Posted by Con Campbell

[1] See Steven E. Runge, Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament: A Practical Introduction for Teaching and Exegesis.

[2] Wallace, 694.

[3] Wallace, 695.

[4] See my Verbal Aspect, the Indicative Mood, and Narrative, 98–99.




4 responses

6 08 2009

Thanks Con for modeling good exegesis!


10 08 2009


Also, I’m interested in looking at Steven Runge’s, “Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament: A Practical Introduction for Teaching and Exegesis.” I haven’t been able to find it – is it out yet? If not, is there an ETA that you would know of?

Thanks mate.


10 08 2009
Con Campbell

Hi Stan,

It’s not out yet. It will be published as a Logos Libronix ebook type thing, so you can check the site for more details:


2 09 2009
Richard Fellows

Who were the people whom Paul was accused of pleasing? Were they the Judean church leaders? I offer this short piece in the hope that some day someone will actually read it: 😉

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