Galatians 1.13

13 09 2009

Ἠκούσατε γὰρ τὴν ἐμὴν ἀναστροφήν ποτε (ἐν τῷ Ἰουδαϊσμῷ),

↑ὅτι (καθ᾿ ὑπερβολὴν) ἐδίωκον τὴν ἐκκλησίαν τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ ἐπόρθουν αὐτήν,

This verse begins a key section of embedded narrative that describes Paul’s former way of life (1.13–14), his conversion and calling through a revelation of Christ (1.15–16), and his lack of consultation with others (1.16–17). Paul begins by referring to the Galatians’ knowledge of who Paul was before his encounter with Christ, indicating that they had heard about his way of life in Judaism. The aorist indicative Ἠκούσατε encodes perfective aspect and here expresses the action in summary. It does not indicate that the Galatians at one particular time or instant heard Paul’s story—indeed, their information may well have been received over an extended period, and even in installments. The aorist simply indicates that the Galatians heard about Paul when he was Saul.

In the subordinate clause of 1.13b, Paul begins to unpack the things that the Galatians would have heard about his previous life with two imperfect indicative verbs. These two verbs, together with the subordinating conjunction ὅτι, shape the descriptive function of this clause. Description is a standard function of the imperfect indicative within narrative (embedded or otherwise), in keeping with its imperfective aspect. Paul describes himself as persecuting the church of God according to excess (καθ᾿ ὑπερβολὴν), and as trying to destroy it (ἐπόρθουν αὐτήν). This second imperfect is translated trying to destroy because it is a conative imperfect, which expresses an attempted (but unsuccessful) action. There is nothing about the imperfect itself that indicates this, but it is simply one of the functions of remote imperfectivity in a context that implies that the action was not successful.[1] Obviously, Paul did not succeed in destroying the church, thus the verb is regarded as conative in function.

As Paul begins this autobiographical section, he is unsparing in the implicit critique of his former way of life. The two actions portrayed are not only violent, but harsh. He executed them in an excessive fashion. And he highlights the vulgarity of his deeds with the possessive genitive of God (τοῦ θεοῦ), which indicates his severe misdirection: in seeking to serve God, it was the church of God that he tried to destroy.

Posted by Con Campbell

[1] See my Basics of Verbal Aspect, 78.



One response

14 09 2009
Jerry Jacques

I appreciate this greatly. It is really helping me engage the Greek in the passage.



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