Early Christianity and Classical Culture: Comparative Studies in Honor of Abraham J. Malherbe

By Abraham Johannes Malherbe | Go to book overview

RHETORIC AND REALITY IN GALATIANS
FRAMING THE SOCIAL DEMANDS OF FRIENDSHIP

L. Michael White


Paul’s “Personal Appeal” in Gal 4:12–20

I am afraid I have labored over you in vain. Brethren, I beseech you,
become as I am, for I also have become as you are. … My little children,L. Michael Whitewith whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you! I couldL. Michael Whitewish to be present with you now and to change my tone, for I amL. Michael Whiteperplexed about you. (Gal 4:11–12 & 19–20, RSV)

Galatians is perhaps Paul’s harshest letter; well known are the bitter irony and stinging condemnations that run throughout it. But in Gal 4:11–201 Paul turns to address his audience in a direct and very personal way—too personal for some. The passage seems to begin with trepidation and end with panged exasperation. The question is what to make of this emotional outburst in the context of a letter whose theological argument and rhetorical sophistication are so central to contemporary Pauline studies. For the most part, it has been ignored. “Es ist ein Argument des Herzens, das mit starkem Affckt vorgetragen wird, wie der sprunghafte Gedankengang verrat,” said Heinrich Schlier,2 following Oepke and others.3 This traditional view is still followed in some recent commentaries. As a result this passage is taken as an emotional

1 Almost all commentators delimit the passage as 4:12–20, assuming (with text editors at least since Tisrhendorf, following the Vulgate and the Koine) that 4:11 is properly taken as the ending of the preceding section. A few commentators have noticed, however, that 4:19–20 pick up the same sentiment found in 4:11, and that these verses form a kind of inclusio around the passage. We shall return to affirm this view later: see n. III below.

2Der Brief an die Galater (KEK; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1949; 14th [5th] ed., 1971) 208: “It is an argument of the heart, that was expressed with strong emotion [or emotional disturbance], as the disjointed train of thought betrays” (my translation).

3 Albrccht Oepke, Der Brief des Paulus an die Galaler (THKNT 9; Berlin: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 1937; 3rd ed., by J. Rohde, 1973) 140–42; Oepke said that there’s no rationality in the passage as Paul has lost the argument and resorted to a passionate plea. Compare Pierre Bonnard, L’Epître de Saint Paul auxGalates (CNT; Neuchâtel: Delachaux, 1953) 91, who argues that the elliptical syntax further betrays the inner agitation of Paul.

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