February 28, 2009

Vocabulary in Galatians - The Summary

The List appears below this post, with an explanation of the stats. Here is my summary.

Paul’s vocabulary in Galatians is full of conflict. Eighty negatives and 106 personal references make for a very defensive tone. There are 62 legal terms, counting 32 uses of the word “law”. Another 65 terms (at least) had specific Jewish connotation for the Greeks Paul was writing to. No wonder there are at least 13 terms expressing strong disagreement and another 62 terms indicating attempts to prove or persuade. In fact, truth itself seems hotly disputed. Terms regarding deception appear 13 times, while truth appears only 7. Evidently the Galatians were struggling with fear/doubt (4), which helps explain why Paul put such an emphasis on promises (19) and faith (27).

Folks I’ve known say Galatians is about “Freedom”, which gets 11 references, but words indicating some degree of control appear far more – 32 times. That’s also where a lot of the argumentative tone and negative language comes in. And it may not be an accident that hierarchy is visible 22 times as well. Sometimes, if you didn’t know better, you could get the idea that Paul seems to hold the same disdain for “apostleship” as he does for slavery.

People also say Galatians is about Grace (7) although other spiritual blessings appear more often – 29 times. Still, giving and receiving appear 17 times, and the idea of inheritance gets 7 specific inclusions. By the way, God is usually the one giving, and the Galatians are usually the ones receiving. Incidentally, there are 7 terms of accounting and 28 specific numeric references. The accounting terms intersect very well with the legal ones. You would almost think somebody was (or had just recently been) on trial!

Speaking of proof once again, references to thinking or knowledge appear 18 times and communication naturally shows up a lot (49). Literacy gets 13 mentions and seeing or hearing picks up 15. Whatever Paul was trying to communicate (49), the novelty of writing (as a ministry strategy) was on his mind, as revealed by his pen.

It should of course go without saying the Galatians themselves were very important to Paul. The word “you” appears 90 times. I did not count how many are singular, but most must be plural. (Two times, “you” means Peter.) Unlike distributive plurals, these plurals have a plural context as well. Paul’s letter was sent to a group, not a collection of individuals. Familial terms appear 45 times. First person plurals also occur 45 times.

For comparison in terms of volume, the biggest category in the letter is references to the Godhead. God, Jesus or “the Spirit” get mentioned a total of 111 times. Paul’s referring to himself comes in second place because, obviously, a lot of the controversy Paul was responding to actually centered on rumors about Paul himself. The third biggest category is references of Jewish connotation (about 95, if we include “the law”).

Aside from all the drama of the present evil age, Paul really was focused on the grace and peace of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. The Cross was mentioned 8 times, with mercy/redemption another 3 times. Glory/revelation (8), life (24) and safety/protection (9) were all key ideas. (We already mentioned faith and spiritual blessings.) Thank God resurrection got mentioned once, right at the start.

Specific sins (20), selfishness (10), destruction (11) and depravity (15) also come up, mostly in a couple of pockets along the way. Overall, Paul was concerned with building up instead of tearing down. He only criticized those he considered destroyers.

Constructive language appears in 22 words. Failure (5) was a tragedy to be acknowledged but overcome by willpower (56) and actual effort (26). However, excellence (4) was generally discounted and desire (27) was usually a negative thing. Paul taught active living not based on personal gusto. Mostly, the physical nature (41) was to be dealt with by humanity (19) through grace in the spirit (both above) despite many troubles (14).

In every passage, time (65) and place (57) are two constant topics in the linguistic background. Paul was always moving or thinking about going somewhere.

Meanwhile, the 423 pronouns almost outnumber the action verbs (279) and being verbs (174) all by themselves. I won’t count the personal nouns, but there are plenty. Not to be too philosophical, people were not human doings to Paul. (Most of the verbs connected with Galatians are passive or linking verbs, except for the negative behaviors, but to be honest, this does not necessarily enhance my view of Paul’s view of “laymen”.)

In all of this, true to his reputation, the apostle of grace seems most concerned with establishing people firmly in Jesus Christ by faith than with anything else. Still, the letter is filled with conflict and arguments because Paul had just seen the limits of Jerusalem’s “grace” to the Gentiles. “Skip the knife. Just eat like we do.” On returning from the Council, Paul heard the troublemakers who went to Antioch had also caused more trouble in Galatia. What was he supposed to do?

A 154-word letter that basically said, “Okay, fine, don’t get circumcised.” was not going to help. But that doesn’t mean the Galatian Epistle ignored the Jerusalem letter completely. "Fornication” and “idolatry” both got no-no'd exactly once each – it was only the food restrictions that Paul (justifiably) felt free to ignore. To that I say, hey, two out of three ain't so bad!

In conclusion, I believe God had more than enough grace for Paul's strategy and so should we, too... even though the saints in Jerusalem at that time may not have agreed.

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