Rhetorical Analysis of the Book of Galatians, Part 1 -- By: Walter B. Russell III

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 150:599 (Jul 1993)
Article: Rhetorical Analysis of the Book of Galatians, Part 1
Author: Walter B. Russell III


Rhetorical Analysis of the Book of Galatians, Part 1

Walter B. Russell III

[Walter B. Russell is Associate Professor of New Testament, Talbot School of Theology, La Mirada, California.]

[This is part one of a two-part series.]

In recent years several new hermeneutical approaches to the Scriptures have arisen. One of the most promising, yet formidable and sometimes inscrutable, approaches is that of “rhetorical analysis” or “rhetorical criticism.” The barrage of Latin terminology used in rhetorical analysis is enough by itself to deter most exegetes who were deprived of a classical education. Add to this difficulty some exposure to extreme applications of rhetorical analysis in a few biblical books, and evangelical exegetes may be totally deterred from investigating this interpretive tool.

This two-part series seeks to present rhetorical analysis within a positive, yet discerning light. This first article introduces rhetorical analysis by describing this interpretive tool, specifying the procedure of rhetorical analysis, illustrating this procedure by applying it to the Book of Galatians, and analyzing previous rhetorical analyses of Galatians. The second article will offer a full-orbed rhetorical analysis of Galatians.

While rhetorical criticism1 and epistolary criticism are

normally applied in separate processes, these two hermeneutical tools need to be integrated in a single analysis. In responding to Brinsmead’s analysis of Galatians,2 Aune has noted the necessity of such integration.

The chief value of this book lies in the author’s persuasive argument that the letter form (in view of the flexibility of its use) cannot be used as the hermeneutical key for understanding compositions like Galatians. One must, of necessity, turn to other genres taken into the letter form (such as those from oratory) in order to understand adequately NT letters.3

As many have noted, the apologetic nature and persuasive intent of Galatians indicates that it can be analyzed and described according to the canons of ancient rhetoric.4 It is the first of the New Testament epistles to be submitted to such a hermeneutical process. Assuming that rhetorical analysis is appropriate for Galatians, one should expect that it will reveal the extent to which Paul wed oratorical or rhetorical genres with the epistolary genre in Galatians. Rhetorical analysis should thereby provide some additional hermeneutical keys for understa...

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