Weakness Language in Galatians -- By: David Alan Black

Journal: Grace Theological Journal
Volume: GTJ 004:1 (Spring 1983)
Article: Weakness Language in Galatians
Author: David Alan Black


Weakness Language in Galatians

David Alan Black

The Apostle Paul can rightly be regarded asthe Theologian of Weakness.” Yet Pauls theology of weakness developed in a dynamic fashion in response to the situations facing him, and his particular formulations are consistently adapted and designed to meet particular issues at hand. Nowhere is this more clearly seen than in those letters in which the apostle finds himself forced to answer the criticisms of his opponents regarding his own weakness (Galatians and 1 and 2 Corinthians). After an examination of Gal 4:9 and 13 }, the author concludes that weakness language is Pauls way of making clear to his readers in Galatia that the source of power for salvation and progress in holiness is found, not in ones religious activities (4:9 ) nor in ones own personal strengths (4:13), but in God himself.

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Introductory Remarks

The most unified and highly developed concept of “weakness” in the NT is to be found in the writings of the Apostle Paul.1 It is therefore all the more surprising that the Pauline weakness terminology has received virtually no comprehensive study outside of Romans and 1 and 2 Corinthians.2 In this article our purpose is not

to discuss every occurrence of ἀσθένεια and its cognates, but to examine two of the earliest, and in some ways the most unique, occurrences of the word-group found in a fascinating passage in Galatians (4:1–20). We hope thereby to make a helpful contribution to one aspect of Pauline lexicography in particular and to Pauline theology in general.

Exegesis of the Texts

In the letter to the Galatians weakness language occurs only twice but in two closely related places. The neuter plural adjective is found in the formulistic phrase τὰ ἀσθενῆ καὶ πτωχὰ στοιχεῖα (“the weak and beggarly elements”) in 4:9, while δι᾿ ἀσθένειαν τῆς σαρκός (“on account of a weakness of the flesh”), a reference to the occasion of Paul’s Galatian visit, appears in 4:13. Since both of these references are in highly polemical settings, i...

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