On the Paragraph Division Between Galatians 5 and 6
Fairly recently, while visiting a church while out-of-town, I heard an excellent sermon on Galatians 5:26-6:5. As apparent from the citation, in this sermon it was asserted that a new paragraph, lasting through the fifth verse of Chapter 6, begins with the last verse of Chapter 5 (so that the chapter break should fall before, not after, what we see as 5:26; the reader will remember that the chapter breaks were not in the original text and are therefore not inspired). No argument (as far as I can recall) was given by the preacher for why the break should fall before 5:26, and below I will give a short argument for why I think that the preacher was wrong on this point and why the division correctly falls after 5:26.
Why This Matters
I concede that this issue is not of first importance. Certainly, since there were no paragraph divisions explicitly written into the original text, sincere Christians may amicably disagree over where the paragraphs should best be divided. And despite my disagreement with the preacher on the issue of paragraph/chapter division in this section of Galatians 5-6, I (again) affirm that the sermon mentioned above was one of the better sermons I have ever heard: it was thoroughly gospel-soaked, and it both encouraged and challenged me.
I do think that the issue of paragraph division (in terms of understanding the text of books/epistles as containing passages with discrete units of meaning) is worthy of some careful attention. If we divide the word of truth wrongly, we are not reflecting the author's intended meaning in the text. If we place paragraph divisions in the wrong places, we will not be able to correctly identify the topic sentences of the paragraphs, and we will thus have a false view of the main point being made in the various paragraphs.
The History of Interpretation
Checking through a number of Bibles that I own, I found that they all place a paragraph break between Chapters 5 and 6 of Galatians, with the exception of one edition of the NASB, which places the paragraph division before 5:25, rather than 5:26. In looking at a number of commentaries, it seems that the various authors assume that the chapter division is correct. It seems that there is (and has been through the years) a widespread consensus that the paragraph/chapter break between Chapters 5 and 6 is correctly placed.
The above observation is certainly far from absolute proof regarding the question under consideration. On the one hand, the publishers of Bible editions and the authors of commentaries COULD simply be wrong in their (explicit or implicit) assertions regarding the paragraph/chapter break. On the other hand, the publishers and commentators COULD simply be accepting the chapter break from older editions, without proper reflection.
Despite the concession above, I would like to suggest that when approaching a passage we should carefully consider the work of those who have gone before and that, especially when there is a consensus among Bible scholars from a wide denominational spectrum, we should be extremely cautious about dismissing their work without a compelling reason for doing so.
Additional Arguments For How We Know That The Chapter Division Between Galatians 5 and 6 Is Properly Placed
In addition to the brief comment above regarding the history of interpretation, I would like to suggest two other arguments for how we can know that the chapter division between Galatians 5 and 6 is properly placed; these arguments are: 1. The use of adelphoi ("brothers" or "brethren") at the beginning of Chapter 6; 2. The way that those who explicitly disagree with the placement of the chapter division actually address the text.
1. One reason, it seems, that most have seen a proper paragraph/chapter break between Galatians 5:26 and 6:1 is because 6:1 begins with a direct address to the intended recipients of the letter, which appears to indicate a division in the text. Paul frequently uses adelphoi to begin a new paragraph, as clearly seen in Romans 10:1 or 1 Corinthians 14:20, to give but two of numerous possible examples.
Dr. Thomas Schreiner [the only commentator I have read who agrees that the text should not be divided between 5:26 and 6:1-- though he, like the edition of the NASB I mentioned earlier, begins the paragraph at 5:25, rather than 5:26] asserts that “the use of this term does not necessarily designate a new section” (Schreiner, Galatians, Zondervan: 2010, 355). But the proof that he gives to back up this assertion is a reference to two verses: Gal 5:11 and 6:18. These two verses, however, are unusual in that: a. In the latter [6:18], which is the last verse of the entire book, adelphoi appears as the penultimate word of the epistle, followed only by “Amen;” b. In the former [5:11], adelphoi is preceded by the conjunction de.
- The Apostle closes out his epistle once again addressing the recipients of his letter. Even if he had begun EVERY other paragraph with adelphoi, there would be no reason to expect that adelphoi as the second-to-last word introduces a new paragraph, containing only the words adelphoi and “Amen.”
- Dr. Schreiner may be correct in asserting that 5:11 does not begin a new paragraph. Verse 11 is certainly closely tied to verse 10 in that verse 11 contains the conjunction de before the word adelphoi. Also, the first word in both 10 and 11 is the Greek word for “I;” in both of these verses Paul is making a direct assertion about himself to the recipients of the letter.
In the strictest sense, Dr. Schreiner is correct in using the verses mentioned above to prove that adelphoi “does not necessarily designate a new section.” Yet it seems to me that in MOST instances where we find the Apostle using adelphoi, especially as the first word in a sentence, it is for the purpose of grabbing his readers/hearers attention, because he is either introducing a new topic of conversation, or he is making such a specific point about what he has previously written that he means to begin a new paragraph.
Conversely, in MOST instances where adelphoi does not begin a paragraph, there are features of the text that clearly indicate why a paragraph break would be inappropriate. In other words, I would suggest that the default position should be to take adelphoi, when used as the first word, or in the first phrase, of a sentence, to indicate that a paragraph break should occur previous to that sentence. When adelphoi appears as the first word of Galatians 6:1, I see no features of the text that would lead me to believe that a paragraph break has not occurred.
2. The preacher mentioned at the beginning of this post asserted that the paragraph/chapter break should fall before 5:26 rather than 6:1, but in the body of the sermon, he actually preached Galatians 6:1-2 before going back and discussing 5:26. If 6:1 did not begin a paragraph, it seems that it would make little sense to NOT discuss 5:26 at the beginning. Likewise, Dr. Schreiner’s commentary addresses Galatians 6:1-5 in a separate paragraph from his discussion of 5:25-26 (Schreiner, Galatians, 354-355); this would hardly seem appropriate if the passages themselves were to constitute a single paragraph.
In conclusion, I believe that both the preacher I have mentioned and Dr. Schreiner have done a service in showing that Galatians 6:1-5 are connected to the previous verses. (Dr. Schreiner argues against the view that the text of Galatians 5:25-6:10 is composed of “unrelated maxims” .) I do think that they have somewhat over-corrected a tendency to isolate Galatians 6:1-5 from its context, however, when they assert that a new paragraph/chapter does not properly begin at 6:1
[Somewhat ironically, when publishing this post, the Blogger program deleted my paragraph divisions in the second half of the post; I've put them back in, but some might be in the wrong places. :) ]
Labels: Bible study