“I’m not suggesting we need less thinking; my point is that we need more than thinking. And we need to think carefully about the limits of thought (I tried to tease this out in the opening of Imagining, with a hat tip to Proust). That’s not a paradox; that’s intellectual honesty.”
The following is an excerpt from the Paideia commentary on Galatians, by Peter Oakes.
Having castigated the Galatians for turning away to another (unreal) gospel, Paul now begins the first major argument of the letter. It is conveyed by means of a narrative. He seeks to demonstrate that his gospel came not from a human source but directly from God.
As with his claim to divine authority in 1:1, Paul has an unstated advantage in his argument. The Galatians were converted through Paul’s gospel, so they are not going to dismiss it as fantasy. To them it is substantial and valuable. Paul’s opponents have presumably acknowledged its value to some extent, but then went on to present a further message, which they saw as carrying a higher authority than that of Paul, and which called for some modification to the behavior that the Galatians had learned from him.
Paul counters that his gospel came by revelation from God. It could not be trumped by a message backed by even the highest human authority. The passage begins with a disclosure formula, “I declare to you.” The information Paul gives this way in his letters tends to become the basis for persuading the hearers to some action or attitude (cf. 2 Cor. 1:8; Phil. 1:12). Galatians 1:11–12 also echoes verse 1.
Paul’s commission, and now his gospel message, are not from a human source but from God, through Christ. Verses 11–12 set the agenda. However, the outworking of the agenda has a rather unexpected shape. Instead of moving directly to recounting the revelation (1:16) and Paul’s lack of early contact with other Christian leaders (1:16–22), he spends time first on his life “in Judaism” and his persecution of the church (1:13–14). His change from persecutor to preacher is celebrated in 1:23–24.
This unexpected arrangement of the passage allows Paul to speak not only of the fact of the revelation but also of the degree of impact that the revelation had on him. This adds strength to his argument for the validity of the revelation.
©2015 by Peter Oakes. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.
For more information on Galatians, click here.
In this volume, respected New Testament scholar Peter Oakes offers a translation and reading of Galatians as presenting a gospel of unity in diversity in Christ. He shows that Paul treats the Galatians’ possible abandonment of his gospel as putting at stake their fidelity to Christ.
As with other volumes in the Paideia series, this volume is conversant with contemporary scholarship, draws on ancient backgrounds, and attends to the theological nature of the text. Students, pastors, and other readers will appreciate the historical, literary, and theological insight offered in this practical commentary.
“This excellent commentary sets Paul’s letter effectively within its historical context, finely illuminates the text while well illustrating and contributing to the range of discussion on the letter within contemporary scholarship.” – James D. G. Dunn, Durham University
“Peter Oakes has delivered the goods in his much-anticipated Galatians commentary. Despite the many difficult passages in Galatians, Oakes provides a judicious and magisterial treatment of the text.” – Michael F. Bird, Ridley College
“Drawing on his extensive knowledge of Paul’s social world, Peter Oakes here offers a fresh reading of Galatians that is historically secure, exegetically precise, and theologically relevant. Oakes masterfully filters the best of current scholarship in an accessible form, adding many original insights of his own.” – John M. G. Barclay, Durham University
“Oakes combines a deep grasp of the ancient social context, a close familiarity with the exegetical issues, and an insightful identification of contemporary theological questions that are impacted and provoked by this potent Pauline letter.” – Philip Esler, University of Gloucestershire
“In this eminently readable and erudite commentary, Peter Oakes guides the reader through the text and argument of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians with careful exegesis and theological sensitivity.” – Martinus C. de Boer, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Peter Oakes (DPhil, University of Oxford) is Greenwood Senior Lecturer in the New Testament at the University of Manchester in Manchester, England. He is the author of Reading Romans in Pompeii: Paul’s Letter at Ground Level and Philippians: From People to Letter, and has contributed to many books. He is also the editor of Rome in the Bible and the Early Church and the coeditor of Torah in the New Testament.
For more information on Galatians, click here.