Preaching on Galatians 1:11–17

15 11 2009

[caveat: some of this material has been reworked from an earlier post]

The essential point of this pericope is that because the gospel has come by a revelation of Jesus Christ, it is not a human message. The logic underpinning these verses can be seen by reversing the order of Paul’s points in v.11–12: the gospel comes through revelation (1:12); it is therefore not human (1:11). In this way, a sermon could include these two points, along with a third regarding the impact of revelation (below).

 

First, our pleasing of God rather than people (1:10) stems from the fact that the gospel is not a human message. It will not appeal to people on a ‘natural’ level because it is a divine message, which can only be received when God opens our hearts. As such, Christians must avoid the temptation to make the gospel more palatable or more ‘human’. To do so, would be to deny the nature of the gospel, and to fall into the trap of pleasing people rather than God. To ‘humanize’ the gospel is also to rob it of its power, for it will domesticate it to the level of all other human wisdom. Thus, ironically, the preacher who seeks the wider acceptability of the gospel will undermine it.

 

Second, the gospel is not a human message because it comes by the revelation of Christ. Christ himself has been revealed and forms the content of the message. While we will not receive a personal revelation akin to Paul’s, the gospel that is taught to us has a divine source and origin. It may have been taught to us, but it was revealed to Paul, who learnt it from no man. This underscores the significance of the apostolic gospel; we are not at liberty to proclaim a message—human or otherwise—that contradicts the apostolic witness. Our gospel must be Paul’s gospel, which is, in fact, the message of Christ.

 

Third, the revelation of Christ cuts through prior convictions, customs, and even heritage. Paul is a walking demonstration of this fact, as he records his firmly-held conviction that the church was misguided, his advancing in Judaism, and the zeal for his ancestral traditions. When Christ was revealed to him, however, his convictions were shattered, his ‘career’ in Judaism abruptly ended, and his ancestral traditions rejected or redefined. Christ tore down Paul’s worldview only to recast it in his own image. The power of the revelation of Christ can be seen in such ways: as the great persecutor of the church, Saul, was transformed into the great apostle Paul, so too does the revelation of Christ shatter, rebuild, and shape lives today.

Posted by Con Campbell





Galatians 1:17

11 11 2009

οὐδὲ ἀνῆλθον (εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα) (πρὸς τοὺς (πρὸ ἐμοῦ) ἀποστόλους),

ἀλλὰ ἀπῆλθον (εἰς Ἀραβίαν)

καὶ πάλιν ὑπέστρεψα (εἰς Δαμασκόν).

Paul here expands on his statement in 1:16 that he did not immediately consult with anyone. We are told who, in particular, Paul has in mind with the expression flesh and blood (1:16): he refers to those who were apostles before him (πρὸ ἐμοῦ). Immediately following his conversion, and his apostolic commission, he did not even go to Jerusalem to consult with the other apostles. Instead, he travelled to Arabia, then back to Damascus. Acts 9:19b–25 records Paul’s (still known as Saul) activities in Damascus. He preached in the synagogues (9:20) and grew more powerful during this time (9:22). The time spent in Arabia, however, is not mentioned in Acts; it is only recorded here in Galatians 1:17.

 

The verse effectively forms a miniature embedded narrative as Paul recounts his post-conversion movements. As to be expected with (embedded or otherwise) narrative, the mainline is conveyed through aorist indicatives (Campbell 2008b:84–85)—in this case, ἀνῆλθον, ἀπῆλθον, and ὑπέστρεψα.

 

The rhetorical contribution of this verse is to underscore the main point of 1:15–16—that Paul did not consult flesh and blood with respect to his commission to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. As the recipient of the revelation of Christ, by God’s will, Paul had no immediate need to consult with the apostles in Jerusalem. While he will go on to detail his eventual encounter with the apostles—especially Peter—throughout chapter 2, Paul wants the Galatians to understand that his apostleship, and the gospel he proclaims, is not derivative. It does not depend on the other apostles; if it did, his position may be weakened with respect to their regard for him as a genuine apostle.

Posted by Con Campbell





Galatians 1.15–16

10 11 2009

1:15–16

↓Ὅτε δὲ εὐδόκησεν [ὁ θεὸς]

↑ὁ ἀφορίσας με (ἐκ κοιλίας μητρός μου) καὶ καλέσας (διὰ τῆς χάριτος αὐτοῦ)

ἀποκαλύψαι τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ (ἐν ἐμοί),

↑ἵνα εὐαγγελίζωμαι αὐτὸν (ἐν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν),

εὐθέως οὐ προσανεθέμην σαρκὶ καὶ αἵματι

 

The first challenge presented by these two verses is to understand their syntactical structure. There is one independent clause: εὐθέως οὐ προσανεθέμην σαρκὶ καὶ αἵματι (1:16c), which is directly modified by a subordinate clause that has two further subordinate clauses modifying it. The first subordinate clause is Ὅτε δὲ εὐδόκησεν [ὁ θεὸς] […] ἀποκαλύψαι τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ ἐν ἐμοί (1:15a […] 1:16a), which is interrupted by the second subordinate clause ὁ ἀφορίσας με ἐκ κοιλίας μητρός μου καὶ καλέσας διὰ τῆς χάριτος αὐτοῦ (1:15b). The third subordinate clause is ἵνα εὐαγγελίζωμαι αὐτὸν ἐν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν (1:16b), which also modifies the first subordinate clause (1:15a […] 1:16a). The effect of this structure is that Paul is able to make several tangential points before reaching his main concern: he did not immediately consult anyone with respect to his apostleship.

 

The first subordinate clause (1:15a […] 1:16a) indicates that Jesus was revealed to Paul according to God’s pleasure (εὐδόκησεν). Paul regards his conversion and apostleship to be determined by God’s sovereign will, and this fact intersects with 1:1 and 1:12. In 1:1 Paul asserts that his apostleship is divinely appointed; in 1:12 we see that his gospel does not come from a human source. The connection of 1:16a to 1:12 is further enhanced by Paul’s reference to the revelation of Christ: Paul was not taught about Christ, but received revelation of him (see 1:12, above). His Son is the direct object of the verb to reveal, such that Paul is not saying that the message about Christ was revealed to him, but Christ himself.

 

Here in 1:16a, Paul curiously refers to Christ being revealed in me (ἐν ἐμοί). While ἐν is the most flexible of Greek prepositions, here it most likely denotes the object to which something happens (BDAG), such that God was please to reveal his son to Paul. It is worth noting, however, that ἐν ἐμοί parallels ἐν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν in 1:16b. While the latter prepositional phrase is normally translated among the Gentiles—regarding ἐν as locative—the parallel with the former phrase is nonetheless instructive. The purpose of God’s revealing Christ to Paul is that he might in turn preach him among (or to) the Gentiles.

 

The subordinate clause of 1:15a […] 1:16a is intersected by 15b: who from my mother’s womb set me apart and called me by his grace. The two substantival aorist participles, ἀφορίσας and καλέσας, encode perfective aspect, which creates the pragmatic expression of antecedence (even though the participles are substantival; see Campbell 2008a:37–44). These are activities that preceded the main action of God revealing his son to Paul, and they further underscore God’s sovereignty in Paul’s conversion and apostleship. Indeed, it may be argued that the latter participle refers to his conversion, while the former refers to his apostleship. Being called by grace is an experience that is shared by believers, as we see in 1:6—the Galatians were also called by grace—and thus refers to the conversion to Christ that is shared by all. Being set apart from his mother’s womb (ἐκ κοιλίας μητρός μου), however, seems to refer to a unique occurrence. Paul is, after all, set apart, which suggests uniqueness, as does the reference to his mother’s womb. While Paul’s conversion alone does not explain why God chose to reveal his son to him in order to preach to the Gentiles, his being set apart from the womb seems to do this.

 

As noted above, God’s purpose in choosing to reveal his son to Paul was that he might preach him among the Gentiles (1:16b). The ἵνα with subjunctive εὐαγγελίζωμαι indicates purpose (Wallace 1996:471-73). With the subjunctive’s direct object αὐτὸν, Paul does not say so that I might preach about him, but so that I might preach him. Paul’s preaching does not merely concern the proclamation of a message, but also the proclamation of a person. The prepositional phrase ἐν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν is normally regarded as locative, translated as among the Gentiles, though might rather be regarded as expressing the object to which something happens (BDAG): to the Gentiles. The attraction of this reading is that it consolidates the parallel with ἐν ἐμοί in 1:16a, and is also a stronger expression. Paul does not proclaim Christ merely among the Gentiles, as though are simply the sphere of proclamation; he proclaims Christ to them. Thus, this understanding of the phrase is more direct and is to be preferred.

 

The main clause of 1:15–16 is finally reached with 1:16c: I did not immediately consult with anyone. This clause derives its significance from the syntax of the sentence; even though the sentence’s subordinate clauses are full with theological significance, Paul’s main point must remain here. The adverb εὐθέως (at once, immediately) seems a little odd, given that it modifies a negative action—or an action that Paul did not take—namely, that he did not consult flesh and blood (οὐ προσανεθέμην σαρκὶ καὶ αἵματι). There are at least two alternatives for understanding the function of the adverb. First, it may be used to express the fact that there was no lag between the revelation of Christ to him and Paul’s going into Arabia (1:17). Read this way, εὐθέως actually modifies ἀπῆλθον in 1:17, which is sixteen words away. More likely, the adverb means that Paul did not immediately consult others, but did so after three years (1:18). In this way, εὐθέως modifies the verb following it, rather than one that is quite removed.

 

The verb προσανατίθημι expresses the idea of consulting with someone (BDAG), which naturally requires the following nouns to be dative (σαρκὶ καὶ αἵματι). This use of the dative case expresses association or accompaniment (Wallace 1996:159-61); Paul did not partake in consultation in association with anyone. While the phrase σαρκὶ καὶ αἵματι clearly refers to people, the rhetorical force of these words is to highlight the distinction between Paul’s God-ordanied apostolic appointment and the influence that people may have had. People are only flesh and blood, but the revelation of Christ is divine.

Posted by Con Campbell





Galatians 1.14

14 09 2009

καὶ προέκοπτον (ἐν τῷ Ἰουδαϊσμῷ) (ὑπὲρ πολλοὺς συνηλικιώτας) (ἐν τῷ γένει μου),

↑περισσοτέρως ζηλωτὴς ὑπάρχων τῶν πατρικῶν μου παραδόσεων.

Continuing the description of his former way of life, Paul here indicates his zeal and success within Judaism. First, he was advancing beyond many of his contemporaries (ὑπὲρ πολλοὺς συνηλικιώτας). The imperfect προέκοπτον continues on from the two imperfects in 1.13 to convey descriptive information—a common function of imperfective aspect.

Second, Paul was extremely zealous for the traditions of his ancestors. The subordinate participial clause 1.14b begins with the comparative adverb περισσοτέρως (even more so), with which Paul could be outdoing himself or outdoing others. That is, the adverb could be comparative to his advancing in Judaism, such that he would be be saying that he was advancing in Judaism but even more so he was zealous for his ancestral traditions. Or the adverb could be comparative to his contemporaries, such that he would be saying that he was more zealous for the traditions than his contemporaries were. The clause would then read as follows: Paul was advancing beyond many of his contemporaries, being even more zealous than they for their ancestral traditions. Either option is possible. However, given that the first half of the verse sees Paul comparing himself to others, it follows that the second half is furthering the comparison: Paul was advancing beyond his contemporaries and was more zealous for their ancestral traditions than they were.

The affect of this comparison is to underscore the radical nature of Paul’s conversion, which will be described from the next verse on. Not only was Paul an ‘extreme’ persecutor of the church (1.13)—and thus wholeheartedly committed to preserving true Judaism (as he then saw it)—but he was a rising star of Judaism.

Until Christ was revealed to him.

Posted by Con Campbell





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.





Preaching on Galatians 1.10–12

3 09 2009

The essential point of this small pericope is that because the gospel has come by a revelation of Jesus Christ, it is not a human message, and therefore a slave of Christ will not seek to please people through it. The logic underpinning these verses can be seen by reversing the order of Paul’s points: the gospel comes through revelation (1.12); it is therefore not human (1.11); Paul therefore does not seek to please people (1.10). It is no doubt best, however, to preach the verses as they stand. In this way, a sermon could be structured simply with three points—one for each verse.

First, a slave of Christ is concerned to please God, not people. This is an enormous challenge for Christians today, with pressure from within and without the church to conform to the patterns of our societies. Indeed, heralds of the gospel are not immune from such pressure, but they ought to model the courage required to fulfil their vocation as slaves of Christ. A caveat here, however, would be that Christians should not deliberately cause offence in the name of not being people-pleasers; we do not add stumbling blocks that the gospel itself does not evoke. Additionally, we must avoid the error of thinking that if we are not people-pleasers then we must be pleasing God, for it is possible to please neither man nor God!

Second, our pleasing of God rather than people stems from the fact that the gospel is not a human message. It will not appeal to people on a ‘natural’ level because it is a divine message, which can only be received when God opens our hearts. As such, Christians must avoid the temptation to make the gospel more palatable or more ‘human’. To do so, would be to deny the nature of the gospel, and to fall into the trap of pleasing people rather than God. To ‘humanize’ the gospel is also to rob it of its power, for it will domesticate it to the level of all other human wisdom. Thus, ironically, the preacher who seeks the wider acceptability of the gospel will undermine it.

Third, the gospel is not a human message because it comes by the revelation of Christ. Christ himself has been revealed and forms the content of the message. While we will not receive a personal revelation akin to Paul’s, the gospel that is taught to us has a divine source and origin. It may have been taught to us, but it was revealed to Paul, who learnt it from no man. This underscores the significance of the apostolic gospel; we are not at liberty to proclaim a message—human or otherwise—that contradicts the apostolic witness. Our gospel must be Paul’s gospel, which is, in fact, the message of Christ.

Posted by Con Campbell





Galatians 1.12

1 09 2009

οὐδὲ γὰρ ἐγὼ (παρὰ ἀνθρώπου) παρέλαβον αὐτὸ

οὔτε διδάχθην

ἀλλὰ (δι᾿ ἀποκαλύψεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ).

While the previous verse states that the gospel that Paul proclaimed to the Galatians is not according to man—thus focusing on its nature—here Paul declares how he received this gospel. The verse consists of two negative statements followed by a positive statement. The rhetorical force of this verse as it runs on from 1.11 is created by three negatives that deny the possibility of any human source of the gospel, followed by the ultimate—and positive—statement concerning the gospel’s true source: the gospel is not according to man (1.11c); nor did Paul receive it from man (1.12a); nor was it taught to him (1.12b); but rather it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ (1.12c).

The first two negative statements are linked through the correlated conjunctions οὐδὲ and οὔτε: not…nor. The first statement is full, specifying the redundant subject (ἐγὼ), first person verb (παρέλαβον), object (αὐτὸ), as well as the all-important source that is being ruled out: (παρὰ ἀνθρώπου). This may be contrasted to the truncated second statement that simply includes the correlative conjunction οὔτε and the verb (ἐδιδάχθην). The function of this truncation is simply to add a qualification to the first statement: he did not receive the gospel from man, nor was he taught it. It is hard to know whether this qualification is of any special significance, or if Paul is simply reiterating the point that he has underscored throughout this chapter so far. It might be supposed that the two notions of receiving the gospel and being taught the gospel imply slightly different things: the former regards the gospel as a valuable commodity that has been deposited to him (cf. ‘my deposit’, 2 Tim 1.12; also 1 Tim 6.20; 2 Tim 1.14); the latter regards the gospel as something that is passed on through instruction and teaching. Given the emphasis on the gospel as a deposit in the Pastoral Epistles, the former notion may have more to do with the entrusting of the gospel to leaders in the church; leaders receive the gospel, and are thereby entrusted with it for safekeeping as well as proclamation. But when the gospel is proclaimed by such leaders, it is taught to their hearers. While such notions are speculative, they may be seen to reinforce Paul’s point: his gospel was neither received from man, nor taught to him (by man).

The strong adversative ἀλλὰ introduces the positive statement that declares the true source of the gospel. The stength of the statement has a rhetorical facet by virtue of it being a verbless clause. Such clauses are normally significant, and when found in positions other than epistolary greetings can achieve striking prominence. The verbless nature of the clause, however, leaves unclear which verbal concept is to be supplied by the reader. This ambiguity is reflected in the translations, some of which render the verbless clause I received it through a revelation (ESV), while others have it came by a revelation (HCSB). Since Paul regards this knowledge as revelatory in source, some sense of receiving it seems appropriate. After all, revelatory knowledge is not, ordinarily, learnt; its direct and dramatic nature means that it is apprehended, received, taken hold of.

The revelation could be from Jesus Christ (genitive of source) or about Jesus Christ (genitive of apposition), or even of Jesus Christ (genitive of content); the genitive could express either one. While it is standard to regard this expression as indicating source, such that the revelation comes from Jesus Christ, it might be more likely that it indicates content: the gospel was received by Paul through a revelation of Jesus Christ. The main reason for this is that in 1.15–16 Paul says that God was pleased to reveal his Son in me (ἀποκαλύψαι τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ ἐν ἐμοί). His Son is the direct object of the verb to reveal, such that Paul is not saying that the message about Christ was revealed to him, but Christ himself. This is confirmed in the second half of 1.16: so that I could preach Him among the Gentiles. Again, Paul does not say so that I could preach about Him, but so that I could preach Him. Since, therefore, Jesus Christ is himself the revelation of God to Paul, it follows that here in 1.12 the genitive Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ should be taken to express content: Paul received the gospel through the revealing of Christ to him.

It is likely that Paul refers to his encounter with the risen Christ when he speaks of the revealing of Christ to him. On the one hand, the pericope that follows this verse describes his former way of life and then what happened after this revelation was received (1.16 ff), which implies that he does have an event in mind—the Damascus road incident. On the other hand, Paul stops short of explicitly referring to that event. Nevertheless, the contrast between his former way of life and what was to follow underscores the apocalyptic nature of the revelation of Christ: Paul’s life was dramatically reversed as he came into line with the reality of the risen Christ.

Posted by Con Campbell





Galatians 1.11

10 08 2009

Γνωρίζω γὰρ ὑμῖν, ἀδελφοί, τὸ εὐαγγέλιον

↑τ εαγγελισθν (ὑπ᾿ ἐμοῦ)

ὅτι οὐκ στιν (κατὰ ἄνθρωπον)·

This verse continues the thought of 1.10, in which Paul reveals his God-ward orientation: as a servant of Christ he does not seek to please people. Here in 1.11 we see Paul make a similar point about the gospel he preaches: it is not according to man (κατὰ ἄνθρωπον). The origin of the gospel is of great significance for Paul, and underscores why he does not seek to please people (1.10): the gospel he preaches is not from a human source. This is the sole point of this verse, and its positive answer lies in the following verse—the gospel was received by revelation from Christ (1.12).

The verse also connects to the discussion of 1.6–9, and in particular 1.8. The measure there of what constitutes a false gospel is any message that strays from what we have preached to you (1.8). While 1.8 suggests that the integrity of the gospel message is bigger than Paul’s apostleship in that even if he were to get it wrong, the gospel would trump his authority, here we begin to see why the gospel as originally delivered by Paul is the benchmark: its origins are not human. It is not, strictly speaking, Paul’s gospel; and yet, on the other hand, it is so described because it was entrusted to him.

In fact, the adjectival participial clause τὸ εὐαγγελισθὲν ὑπ᾿ ἐμοῦ (proclaimed by me) is of crucial importance in this verse because it once again stresses the fact that the true gospel is the one originally proclaimed by Paul. The perfective aspect of the aorist participle implies antecedent action (proclaimed), even though its function is adjectival.[1] This means that Paul is referring to a previous event: the gospel as proclaimed is the benchmark, regardless of whatever is currently being proclaimed. In the unlikely hypothetical situation of 1.8 in which Paul allows the (however remote) possibility that he might get the gospel wrong at some later point, the past proclamation of the gospel is fixed and serves as an anchor for the Galatians should they become confused by alternate versions of the gospel.

This participial clause also serves as a counterpoint to the last phrase of the verse. While the final phrase expresses the main point of the verse—that the gospel is not according to man—the mention of Paul’s proclamation of that gospel highlights the fact of human activity as servant of divine agency. While the gospel does not have human origins, it is proclaimed by human servants of Christ. Of course, this apparent tension represents no problem for Paul, even though it may do so for the Galatians. In fact, this apparent tension has been running through this first chapter so far: while Paul’s apostleship is from God and not man (1.1), his authority as an apostle does not supercede the authority of the gospel (1.8). While it is Paul’s apostolic proclamation of the gospel that makes it authentic, this does not preclude the apostle Peter from error. Indeed, it is this apparent tension between divine and human agency that leads to the Galatian problem: how can those whom God has called turn away to a false gospel (1.6)? The answer is the same that says that the divinely appointed apostle Peter can be wrong about the gospel, and that says that the gospel is not from man, yet was proclaimed by Paul.

Posted by Con Campbell


[1] See my Verbal Aspect and Non-Indicative Verbs, 37–44, on the discussion about substantival participles and relative temporal expression; the same point may be applied to adjectival participles.





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.





Preaching on Galatians 1.6–9

2 08 2009

The underlying message of 1.6–9 is that there is one true gospel. This underlying message entails three corollaries, which give shape to the passage before us. First, because there is one true gospel, the Galatians are gravely mistaken to turn to a different gospel (1.6–7). Second, because there is one true gospel, no one—not even the apostle Paul—has the authority to proclaim an alternate gospel (1.8). Third, because there is one true gospel, anyone who does proclaim an alternate (and therefore false) gospel is condemned (1.9).

In preaching this passage, these three points could shape a sermon, with each point contributing to the central point, that there is one true gospel. The first two points offer direct and immediate challenges to the contemporary church.

1. First, there is always the risk of deviating from the true gospel message. Churches face the continual pressure from our society and culture to weaken the claims of Christ and to offer a less offensive version of Christianity than that which the true gospel creates. Almost every element of the gospel is challenged by the values of popular culture and mainstream thinking. But perhaps more in line with the direct interest of this passage is the threat to the true gospel that is presented from within the church. Our churches are always vulnerable to the (sometimes) subtle false-paths that are offered by those who appear to hold the same commitments. Those who want to change the gospel are those who are already regarded as under the gospel, otherwise their error would hold little threat. It is relatively easy to discern falsehood that comes from those who openly oppose Christ; error that comes from within, however, is an entirely different matter.

2. Second, no one has the authority to alter the gospel, and this is as true today as in Paul’s day. And the practice of proclaiming a false gospel appears no less prevalent today as in Paul’s day; perhaps it is even more so. It seems to me that it is possible to classify false-gospel proclamation into two broad types. On the one hand, there is the kind of proclamation that does not regard itself as altering the gospel. It sees itself as being consistent with the apostolic witness, true to the Scriptures, and sometimes as a return to the true gospel, while other proclamations have deviated from the truth. Clearly this kind of proclamation does not regard itself as falling under Paul’s severe warning in 1.8–9, since it does not consider itself a deviation from the true gospel. And so, this proclamation is not easily identified for what it is. On the other hand, there is the kind of proclamation that happily alters the gospel, without fear of consequence or difficulty of conscience. This kind will normally stem from a belief that the apostolic witness is but one manifestation of the Spirit—a body of teaching appropriate for its day, but no longer binding. The Spirit leads the church into all truth, and today’s expression of that truth brings a different gospel, a new message from God. Whether or not this kind of proclamation sees itself as falling under Paul’s warning is irrelevant; the warning itself is part of a previous revelation of the Spirit.

3. While the first two points offer direct and immediate challenges to the church, the third point really serves to underscore the seriousness of the issue and the severity of its consequences. Those involved in proclaiming a false gospel are to be accursed; the issue could hardly be more significant. In preaching this point, my own inclination is not to pronounce judgment on those whom I may regard as falling under this warning. No doubt this inclination will not be shared by all preachers, but I contend that it is not the most helpful option for the encouragement of our churches. Without wanting to weaken what Paul says here, a better approach may be to allow 1.8–9 to provide gravitas. This is a serious issue and is to be reflected upon with utmost concern. It is not the occasion to label false-teachers and pronounce curses upon them. Rather, it is the occasion to reflect upon our own preaching to be sure that we have not unwittingly altered the gospel ourselves; to be sure that we are not at risk of subtly shifting away from the truth; of preparing ourselves to know the gospel in its richness, and hence to know when it has become corrupted.

Posted by Con Campbell