Unique Aspects of Galatians 1:1-5

Paul wrote thirteen letters of the New Testament, and they follow a typical pattern of letter-writing: introduction, body, and conclusion.

The introduction in first-century letter-writing was fourfold:
(1) Author/Sender(s)
(2) Recipient(s)
(3) Grace-Wish
(4) Thanksgiving

You can find interpretive insights in Paul’s letters by reflecting on how Paul elaborates on or deviates from this fourfold pattern.

For example, consider six observations from Galatians 1:1-5:

First, Paul claims that his apostleship is “not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father” (1:1).  This elaboration is important for the purpose of Galatians, because the recipients are deviating from the gospel which he proclaimed with the authority of Christ.  Before rebuking them for turning to another “gospel,” he reminds them of his authority.

Second, Paul identifies some fellow senders as “and all the brothers who are with me” (1:2a).  In other letters, sometimes he adds a co-sender, like Timothy or Silas or Sosthenes.  But here there is an all-inclusive statement (“all the brothers”), intended to bolster support for the concerns raised in his letter.  He wants the Galatians to know, “This isn’t just an exhortation from me or a couple other people.  All the brothers with me share my burdens expressed in this letter.”

Third, Paul wrote succinctly “To the churches of Galatia” (1:2b), adding no colorful phrase.  In his other letters he uses words like “faithful” or “saints” or “beloved,” but not here in Galatians.  This is likely due to the dire situation of the Galatian churches.

Fourth, Paul expands on the dual source (“God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”) of the grace and peace (1:3).   This expansion is focused on Jesus as the one “who gave himself for our sins…” (1:4).  The cross makes its first of several appearances in the letter and will prove to be an important theme.

Fifth, Paul ends his introduction with a doxology (1:5), something which doesn’t occur at the beginning of his other letters.  The Father deserves “glory forever and ever” for the redemption accomplished in his Son.  The presence of the doxology also signals a shift in the letter.

Sixth, there is no thanksgiving before the body of the letter (which begins in 1:6).  The absence of a thanksgiving is probably also due to the emergency situation of the Galatian churches.  Paul feels outraged by their deviation from the gospel message, so he deviates from his typical letter pattern in order to quickly address his readers.

These observations demonstrate the uniqueness of the introduction of the letter to the Galatians.  Again, observing how Paul elaborates on or deviates from typical letter patterns can yield significant interpretive insights as we read his letters.


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