Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Why Is There No Thanksgiving Period in Galatians? an Assessment of an Exegetical Commonplace

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Why Is There No Thanksgiving Period in Galatians? an Assessment of an Exegetical Commonplace

Article excerpt

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Why is there no thanksgiving period in Galatians? Interpreters have long dealt with this question, affirming that the absence of a thanksgiving in Galatians is exegetically significant.1 To give a fresh examination of this question, I will first survey the exegetical literature to document the various explanations offered for why Paul did not include a thanksgiving, a survey that will show that reading these explanations from 1:6-10 is so prevalent as to be an exegetical commonplace. Second, I will demonstrate that, contrary to most exegetical opinion surveyed, the Galatians would probably not have expected a thanksgiving period or noted its absence, because they did not know Paul's usual practice of including one in his letters and because it was not a common epistolary convention of the time. Finally, I will show that Paul's omission of a thanksgiving in Galatians is to be explained not primarily from his astonished rebuke in 1:6-10 but by the astonishing form and content of his prescript in 1:1-5.


A review of research on Galatians 1 shows that locating the reason for Paul's omission of an epistolary thanksgiving period2 in 1:6-10 has become an exegetical commonplace. Here is Gal 1:1-10 in the NRSV:

1 Paul an apostle-sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead- 2and all the members of God's family who are with me, to the churches of Galatia: 3Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel- 7not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! 9As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!

10 Am I now seeking human approval, or God's approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.3

Early in the twentieth century,4 Theodor Zahn wrote about Paul, "[D]ie Regel bei ihm ist, des Danks in bezug auf die Zustände der Briefempfänger, den Brief selbst zu beginnen. Auch hiedurch [1:6] zeigt er, daß er an den gal. Gemeinden zur Zeit keine Freude hat, die ihn zum Dank stimmen könnte."5 Ernest DeWitt Burton asserted that Paul's rebuke of the Galatians' behavior in 1:6-10 replaces a thanksgiving. 6 George Duncan commented on 1:6, "In Paul's letters (as indeed in ordinary correspondence) the opening salutation is often followed by a word of thanksgiving." With the Galatians, "grace is being spurned. Hence, instead of a word of praise, the Epistle opens with an abrupt and passionate outburst."7 Referring to v. 6, Heinrich Schlier wrote, "Dieser weist ebenfalls eine im Vergleich zu anderen paulinischen Briefen, die sich der antiken Sitte, der Adressaten an dieser Stelle dankend oder fürbittend zu gedenken, in christlich modifizierten Sinn anschliessen, grosse Schroffheit auf."8 Herman N. Ridderbos argued that in Galatians Paul had no occasion to express gratitude; at 1:6, "[t]he painful and dangerous alienation between the apostle and the churches must be discussed forthwith and headon."9 Donald Guthrie wrote, "[I]n place of the usual thanksgiving the apostle gives vent to an unrestrained expression of amazement, which draws attention to a matter over which he clearly felt deeply."10Werner Georg Kümmel commented, "After the prescript, there follows no giving of thanks for those addressed, contrary to epistolary custom, but Paul begins immediately his references to the situation in the community. …

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