The Plot Of Gal 3:1-18 -- By: Tom Thatcher

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 40:3 (Sep 1997)
Article: The Plot Of Gal 3:1-18
Author: Tom Thatcher


The Plot Of Gal 3:1-18

Tom Thatcher*

The noun “plot” may be defined along two different trajectories. The first trajectory, that normally associated with literature, involves the linear organization of events in narrative time. The second trajectory also involves organization, but not linear. In this vein one might speak of a “plot” of ground, where “plot” represents the space inside a two-dimensional matrix of points on a grid. Both definitions of “plot” follow the basic idea of points arranged in a particular, meaningful way. They differ in that the first, the narrative plot, lays out points on a line that represents time, while the second lays out points on a grid that defines space.

Galatians 3:1–18 is generally read as the first type of plot mentioned above: the linear narrative. This approach presupposes that Paul’s rhetoric is undergirded by a discontinuous salvation history, where “discontinuous” means that the Jewish law has no positive place in God’s salvific plan. Whether this is an accurate assessment of Paul’s view of the law will not be considered here. Instead it will be noted that the linear approach, by projecting this theological discontinuity onto the surface level of Paul’s argument, tends to leave Gal 3:1–18 logically and/or rhetorically incoherent. A new approach to the logical and rhetorical coherence of 3:1–18 will then be sought by approaching the passage as the second type of plot mentioned earlier: a plot of space. While Paul perhaps conceived of salvation in terms of a divine story, the surface rhetoric of 3:1–18 is not undergirded by a linear narrative. The passage plots an area, not a line, and forms not a salvation story but a sacred space.

I. The Galatian Situation

Two issues in the background of Galatians are particularly important to Paul’s arguments in chap. 3: (1) the teaching of his opponents and (2) the potential impact of that teaching on the Galatian churches. The concern in each case is Paul’s perception of the situation, actual conditions notwithstanding.

Paul gives little direct information about his opponents in Galatia, perhaps because he was not fully aware of their doctrine or identity (3:1; 5:7, 10, 12). The letter opens with treason language, accusing the Galatians of “deserting” him to follow “a different gospel,” actually not a gospel at all but a distortion of Paul...

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