Was Paul’s Epistolary Anger Rhetorical or Real? (Gupta)

In a post I wrote earlier today, I linked a couple of video lectures I watched by Luke Timothy Johnson. In the first video, Johnson makes the case that Paul’s anger in Galatians is “rhetorical” – we are not reading his hot-headed personality, we are reading his rhetorical argumentation (i.e., the “anger” is not unchecked emotion, but communicative strategy). Many other scholars think quite differently, that Paul was hastily sending off a letter soaked in his “real” indignation. I think there is probably a balance to find here (and perhaps Johnson is implying that after all), but I found a noteworthy illustration of the latter view (Paul was angry and it shows) in an article by David Bartlett called “Preaching to Galatians” (Interpretation, 2000, 279-292).

In days of yore when both were teaching at Union Seminary in New York City, it is said that Paul Tillich and Reinhold Niebuhr were wont to write angry letters to scholars or critics with whom they disagreed. Both also had the habit of letting the letter cool overnight and then rethinking the issue in the morning. Typically, according to the story, Tillich would re-read his angry letter, think better of it, and put it in the wastebasket. Niebuhr would re-read the letter and then put it in the mailbox…

When he wrote Galatians, Paul foreshadowed Niebuhr. (280)



One thought on “Was Paul’s Epistolary Anger Rhetorical or Real? (Gupta)

  1. Interesting. I agree with Johnson that Paul’s “anger” in Galatians is rhetorical. I believe his apparent anger is designed to convince the Galatians of his sincerity, since they are suspecting that he, in reality, believes in the merits of circumcision. Does anyone know where Johnson might have provided arguments for his position?

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