Rhetorical Structure of Galatians

Since the 1970s interpretation of Galatians has been influenced by H. D. Betz’s work on rhetoric. Below I provide a list of several examples of how Galatians has been divided according to rhetorical patterns. Skip to the bottom for the full bibliography and a conclusion.

Hans Dieter Betz (1975, 1979):
1:1-5 Epistolary Prescript
1:6-11 Exordium
1:12-2:14 Narratio
2:15-21 Propositio
3:1-4:31 Confirmatio (Probatio); [3:19-25 Digressio]
5:1-6:10 Exhortatio (Paraenesis)
6:11-18 Epistolary Postscript

Bernard H. Brinsmead (1982):
1:1-5 Epistolary Prescript
1:6-11 Exordium (Prooemium)
1:12-2:14 Narratio
2:15-21 Propositio
3:1-5 Interrogatio
3:6-4:31 Confirmatio (Probatio)
5:1-6:10 Exhoratio (Refutatio)
6:11-18 Epistolary Postscript

Hans Hübner (1984):
1:1-5 Epistolary Prescript
1:6-11 Exordium
1:12-2:14 Narratio
2:15-21 Propositio
3:1-5 Introduction to Probatio
3:6-5:12 Confirmatio (Probatio)
5:13-6:10 Exhortatio (Paraenesis)
6:11-18 Epistolary Postscript

George A. Kennedy (1984):
1:6-10 Exordium
1:11-5:1 Confirmatio
5:2-6:10 Exhortatio
6:11-18 Peroratio

James D. Hester (1986):
1:1-5 Epistolary Prescript
1:6-10 Exordium (Prooemium)
1:11-12 Stasis
1:13-14 Transitio
1:15-2:10 Narratio
2:11-14 Digressio
2:15-21 Probatio
3:1-4:31 Confirmatio (Probatio)
5:1-6:10 Exhortatio (Refutatio)
6:11-18 Epistolary Postscript

Robert G. Hall (1987):
1:1-5 Exordium
1:6-9 Propositio
1:10-6:10 Confirmatio
6:11-18 Peroratio

Charles H. Cosgrove (1988):
(1:1-5) Opening
(1:6-10) Thanksgiving parody
(1:11-6:10) Body
Part One: Apostolic Autobiography (1:11-2:21)
Part Two: Central Argument (3:1-4:30)
Part Three: Apostolic Exhortation (4:31-6:10)
(4:31-5:12) Opening
(5:13-6:10) Paraenesis
(6:11-17) Postscript
(6:18) Closing Benediction

François Vouga (1988):
1:6-11 Exordium
1:12-2:14 Narratio
2:14-21 Propositio
3:1-4:31 Confirmatio
5:1-6:10 Exhortatio

Joop Smit (1989):
1:6-12 Exordium
1:13-2:21 Narratio
3:1-4:11 Confirmatio
4:12-5:12 Peroratio
Conclusio: Part 1: Conquestio (4:12-20)
Conclusio: Part 2: Enumeratio (4:21-5:6)
Conclusio: Part 3: Indignatio (5:7-12)
6:11-18 Amplificatio

Richard Longenecker (1990):
1:1-5 Salutation
1:6-10 Exordium
1:11-2:14 Narratio
2:15-21 Propositio
3:1-4:11 Probatio
4:12-5:12 Exhortatio Part 1
5:13-6:10 Exhortatio Part 2
6:11-18 Superscription

Burton L. Mack (1990):
1:6-10 Exordium
1:11-2:14 Narratio
2:14-3:5 Propositio
3:6-4:7 Confirmatio
4:8-20 Exhortatio
[5:13-6:10 is an interpolation]

Jürgen Becker (1992):
1:6-9 Exordium
1:11-2:14a Narratio
2:14b-21 Propositio
3:1-5:12 Probatio
5:13-6:10 Paraenesis

Walter B. Russell (1993):
1:1-5 Epistolary Prescript
1:6-10 Exordium
1:11-6:10 Confirmatio / Probatio
6:11-18 Epistolary Postscript / Conclusio)

Lorin Lee Cranford (1994):
1:1-5 Praescriptio
1:6-10 Exordium
1:11-2:21 Narratio
3:1-4:31 Probatio
5:1-6:10 Exhortatio
6:11-18 Conclusio

Ben Witherington (1998):
1:1-5 Epistolary Prescript
1:6-10 Exordium
1:11-2:14 Narratio
2:15-21 Propositio
3:1-6:10 Probatio
6:11 Paul’s Autograph
6:12-17 Peroratio

Not everyone agrees that Galatians exhibits a “rhetorical” outline. Philip H. Kern states, “Not only does rhetorical analysis fail to produce agreement concerning the outline, but even more, the epistle does not conform to the descriptions culled from the handbooks” (118).

Donald Francois Tolmie summarises the various positions well in his 2004 dissertation which is available online. There are various hybrid models available some of which seem to have validity. Any current commentator on Galatians needs to take rhetoric into account but not in the pure form seen by Betz and those who follow his structure.

James Dunn is quite write (pun intended) when he concludes, “there is a danger that too much emphasis on rhetorical considerations may blur the extent to which the letter is driven by theological logic and passion. It is the theological issues and logic which are likely to have determined the main line and structure of the argument, particularly in the central section (chs. 3–4), more than anything else, though we will find plenty of evidence of Paul’s rhetorical skill in pressing home his case” (20). There is much more that could be said on this issue and the amount written is enormous. However, it seems wise to concede that although Paul was writing within the conventions of the day he was not forming a deliberative speech and did not intend to produce a model letter as mandated by rhetorical handbooks.

Betz, Hans Dieter. “The Literary Composition and Function of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians.” New Testament Studies. 21:3 (April 1975): 353-379.

Betz, Hans Dieter. Galatians: A Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Churches in Galatia. Hermenia Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1979.

Brinsmead, Bernard Hungerford. Galatians: Dialogical Response to Opponents. (SBL Dissertation Series; 65). Chico: Scholars Press, 1982.

Hübner, Hans. “Der Galaterbrief und das Verhältnis von antiker Rhetorik und Epistolographie.” Theologische Literaturzeitung. 109:4 (1984): 241-250.

Kennedy, George A. “Chapter Seven, Thessalonians, Galatians, Romans.” In New Testament Interpretation Through Rhetorical Criticism. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984. 141-156.

Hester, James G. “The Use and Influence of Rhetoric in Galatians.” Theologische Zeitschrift. 42:5 (1986): 386-408.

Hall, Robert G. “The Rhetorical Outline for Galatians: A Reconsideration.” Journal of Biblical Literature. 106:2 (1987): 277-287.

Cosgrove, Charles H. The Cross and the Spirit: A Study in the Argument and Theology of
Galatians. Macon: Mercer University Press, 1988.

Vouga, François. “Zur rhetorischen Gattung des Galaterbriefes.” Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde der älteren Kirche. 79:3-4 (1988): 291-292.

Smit, Joop F. M. “The Letter of Paul to the Galatians: A Deliberative Speech.” New Testament Studies. 35:1 (1989): 1-26.

Smit, Joop F. M. “The Letter of Paul to the Galatians: A Deliberative Speech.” In The Galatians Debate: Contemporary Issues in Rhetorical and Historical Interpretation. Edited by Mark D. Nanos. Peabody: Hendrickson, 2002. 39-59.
Longenecker, Richard N. Galatians. (Word Biblical Commentary; 42) Waco: Word Books, 1990.

Mack, Burton L. Rhetoric and the New Testament. Guides to Biblical Scholarship. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990.

Becker, Jürgen. Paulus. Der Apostel der Völker. Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1992. 288-294.

Russell, Walter B. “Rhetorical Analysis of the Book of Galatians, Part 1.” Bibliotheca Sacra. 150:599 (1993): 341-358.

Russell, Walter B. “Rhetorical Analysis of the Book of Galatians, Part 2.” Bibliotheca Sacra. 150:600 (1993): 416-439.

Cranford, Lorin Lee. “A Rhetorical Reading of Galatians.” Southwestern Journal of Theology. 37:1 (1994): 4-10.

Martin, Troy. “Apostasy to Paganism: The Rhetorical Stasis of the Galatian Controversy.” Journal of Biblical Literature. 114:3 (1995): 437-461.

Witherington III, Ben. Grace in Galatia: A Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998.

Kern, Philip H. Rhetoric and Galatians: Assessing an Approach to Paul’s Epistle. (Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series; 101). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Tolmie, Donald Francois. A Rhetorical Analysis of the Letter to the Galatians. PhD; University of the Free State Bloemfontein, South Africa, 2004. [Available online]

Tolmie, Donald François. Persuading the Galatians: A Text-Centred Rhetorical Analysis of a Pauline Letter. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen Zum Neuen Testament 2. Reihe 190. J C B Mohr, 2005.

5 responses to “Rhetorical Structure of Galatians

  1. Richard Manly Adams, Jr.

    Thanks for posting this. As someone deeply mired in a dissertation on Galatians (largely critiquing previous “rhetorical” approaches), I found this very helpful.

  2. Thanks for taking the trouble to post this helpful information.

    In 2002, Professor C. Joachim Classen, published an article which has not received much, if any attention. His “Saint Paul’s Epistles and Ancient Greek and Roman Rhetoric” was published in Mark Nanos (ed) THE GALATIANS DEBATE: Contemporary Issues in Rhetorical and Historical Interpretation, (Peabody MA: Hendrickson Publishers).

    Classen argues that the classification of a document and its components neither illuminates the context, which gave rise to the document or clarifies how its components function. Classen points out that rhetoric is just another term for oratory and writes (p.105) that “a letter cannot be expected to have the structure of a speech” and adds (p. 109) that the classification of letters “does not assist one in understanding the letter’s intentions or any of its details.”

    Classen faults Betz for not paying sufficient attention to the distinction between oratory and letter-writing and for imposing a rhetorical outline upon Galatians without arguing the merits of the selected structural components or for ignoring prior applications of rhetorical analysis, especially Philip Melanchthon’s.

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  4. scattered thoughts

    Great stuff! Glad I found your page. Surely this is a letter both theologically driven and conventionally written.

    Thanks for your work and ministry!

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