Plot and Character in Galatians 1–2 -- By: Timothy Wiarda

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 55:2 (NA 2004)
Article: Plot and Character in Galatians 1–2
Author: Timothy Wiarda

Plot and Character in Galatians 1–2

Timothy Wiarda


Analysis of plot structure and Paul’s self-characterisation contributes to the ongoing debate concerning the function of the narrative material in Galatians 1 and 2. While such analysis confirms the traditional view that this material aims to establish the credentials of Paul and his gospel, it shows that these chapters also serve a strong paradigmatic purpose. It more sharply defines both the traditional view (by clarifying each episode’s distinct contribution to Paul’s defence of his gospel and authority) and the example view (by identifying the precise aspects of Paul’s life that he presents for imitation).

1. Introduction

In this study I wish to bring some of the interests and perspectives of narrative criticism to bear on the autobiographical material of Galatians 1:132:21, giving special attention to plot structure and characterisation.

While analysis of plot and character has its intrinsic interest, it may also shed light on the rhetorical functions of this section of Galatians – a matter that has engendered significant debate among interpreters. For this reason before beginning narrative investigation I will briefly survey the principal ways interpreters have understood Paul’s rhetorical aims. Scholars have taken three broad approaches. Those who adopt what might be called the traditional view conclude that Paul seeks to demonstrate the legitimacy of his gospel and/or apostolic ministry. They connect Paul’s narrative tightly to his immediately preceding assertion that he did not receive his gospel from any human person but ‘through a revelation of Jesus Christ’ (1:12), and thus see the central issue to be the source of Paul’s message and apostleship. He defends the divine origin of both by stressing his independence from the

Jerusalem church; this is necessary, it is usually assumed, because Paul must respond to the charge that his message and authority derive only from the Jerusalem apostles.1 Those who share this basic perspective, however, display two diverging tendencies. A number of influential interpreters treat Paul’s entire autobiographical narrative as a more-or-less unified whole serving one central purpose: to demonstrate the claim of 1:12 that Paul did not receive his gospel from human sources.

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