The structure of Galatians


Of all the genuine letters which Paul wrote to churches, Galatians is the only one which has come down to us without either reordering or interpolation. [1] The good news is that from a historical point of view, Galatians is arguably the most important of Paul's letters. [2]

Derivation of the structure

The section divisions suggested by most modern commentators offered little indication of any page pattern in Galatians. It was not until 1995 that I saw the significance of A. H. McNeile's structure. [3] His structure has sections starting at 1:1, 2:15, 4:8, 4:21, 5:1, 5:13 and 6:11. This matched a 14-page model quite well, except that the last section was too small for a page size of around 800 letters. Yet there was no indication of anything missing from the end of the epistle. The explanation was not far away. It can be found in 6:11: "See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand". The 608 letters in the last section were written slightly larger than the rest! Detailed investigation revealed further subsections and some major sections. These found considerable support from the best stem analysis, where in most cases the word corresponding to the best stem could be used in a meaningful section title.

The structure of Galatians

chapter:verse Greek pages suggested
range letters   section title
  The GOSPEL according to Paul
1:1-10 777 1    It is not of HUMAN origin
1:11 - 2:14 2376 3    The dispute with PETER
2:15 - 3:5 930 1    Justification is not by WORKS of the law
     The example of ABRAHAM
3:6-14 712 1       His BLESSING
3:15 - 4:7 1667 2       His DESCENDANTS
4:8-20 831 1    YOUR disloyalty is perplexing
4:21-31 794 1    Sons of the SLAVE and of the free woman
5:1-12 716 1    Freed from the need for circumcision
  Live by the spirit, not by the FLESH
5:13-26 948 1    Caring for ONE ANOTHER
6:1-10 726 1    REAPING the benefits of what one sows
6:11-18 608 1 Postscript: The CROSS of Christ

Concerning the structure

  1. In the section titles, words in capitals (more accurately the stems of the equivalent Greek words) were picked out by my word stem analysis as the most distinctive words in their respective sections. The fact that such matches are found in as many as 13 of the 14 sections, provides considerable support for the view that Paul had this structure in mind when planning this very important letter.

The format of the archetype

  1. The numbers of letters refer to the NA27 Greek text. According to the model proposed here, the 10477 letters of 1:1 - 6:10 occupied 13 pages with a mean of 805.9 letters per page, whereas the last page had 608 letters. Thus Paul would have 'filled' the last page if his writing was about 4/3 the size of that of his scribe.
  2. With a total of 14 pages, it is unlikely that the archetype was written on a codex (where e.g. 12 or 16 pages would have been expected).


1. My research has led me to conclude that Romans is a combination of two original letters, that the Corinthian correspondence and 1 Thessalonians contain interpolations, and that Philippians is a combination of three original letters.
2. Galatians gives us a unique insight into the tension which existed between Paul and James, the brother of Jesus and leader of the Jesus movement in Jerusalem. This tension provides a crucial clue for understanding the whole Jesus movement in the period 30 CE to 65 CE. Also Paul's mention of "James the brother of the Lord" (1:19) proves beyond reasonable doubt that Jesus was a historical person. For the Paul who was ultra-sensitive about his status vis-a-vis James (Gal 2:6; c.f. 2 Cor 11:5   12:11) would not have brought attention to the close family relationship between James and Jesus unless it had been a historical fact.
3. A.H.McNeile, "An Introduction to the Study of the New Testament" (2nd edn, Oxford University Press, 1953, p.150)