One of the features that has often been remarked upon in Galatians is its lack of thanksgiving at the opening of the epistle. This is in direct and marked contrast to every Pauline epistle:
Romans 1.8: "First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world . . . ."The thanksgiving, straight after the standard "grace and peace . . ." is always present (and in the Deutero-Paulines too, Col. 1.3ff, Eph. 1.3ff, 2 Thess. 1.3ff) and its absence only in Galatians makes its readers sit up and pay attention. There is clearly something pretty serious happening in Galatia if Paul is not able to bring himself to offer thanks. Bear in mind that he faces other tough situations in his letters but still gives thanks. In 1 Corinthians, one of the members of the church is living with his father's wife (1 Cor. 5.1-13) and is commended by other members of the church. Paul thinks this is abominable and pronounces judgement. Yet he still has plenty of time to give thanks at the beginning of the letter. In 2 Corinthians, he has all manner of difficulties about his own reputation and authority to deal with, yet even here he finds time for thanksgiving, albeit in relation to God's comforting of Paul and his companions (2 Cor. 1.3-7).
1 Cor. 1.4: "I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5 For in him you have been enriched in every way . . . "
2 Cor. 1.3: "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble . . . ."
Phil. 1.3: "I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now . . . ."
1 Thess. 1.2-3: "We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. 3 We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith . . ."
Philemon: "I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, 5 because I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints . . .
The question that this raises with respect to Galatians is what has happened that has caused such a negative reaction on Paul's part? The common explanation, that the Galatians are contemplating circumcision is not adequate to the task. What Paul in fact appears to depict is a scenario in which the Galatians are being circumcised. He is responding to reported group actions rather than individual contemplations. Notice what replaces the thanksgiving, what sits, in Galatians, where the thanksgiving would be expected to sit:
1.6: Θαυμάζω ὅτι οὕτως ταχέως μετατίθεσθε ἀπὸ τοῦ καλέσαντος ὑμᾶς ἐν χάριτι [Χριστοῦ] εἰς ἕτερον εὐαγγέλιονPaul is astonished at what the Galatians are doing, turning away, departing from the one who called them – as he characterizes the situation – to a different gospel. Paul's astonishment is easier to understand if he is reacting to news of a process already underway than if he is reacting to news about the Galatians merely considering this step. Paul is expressing shock here, shock that they are turning away, abandoning his Gospel. Something tangible has happened. Something troubling and decisive has been reported to Paul. Turning away to a different gospel is rhetoric more compatible with action underway than action contemplated. In the next post in this series, I will be looking at evidence that Galatian contemplation is not what Paul is describing.
"I am astonished that you are so quickly turning away from the one who called you in the grace [of Christ] to a different gospel."