Κυριακή, 19 Μαρτίου 2017

Neil Godfrey : “Born of a Woman” — Sober Scholarship Questioning the Authenticity of Galatians 4:4

“Born of a Woman” — Sober Scholarship Questioning the Authenticity of Galatians 4:4


by Neil Godfrey

J. C. O’Neill (1930-2004) was a well respected critical scholar with some controversial views and always offering stimulating argument. Possibly the most controversial was his Who Did Jesus Think He Was? in which he argued that Jesus did believe he was the Messiah and that even the doctrine of the Trinity could be detected in the Gospels. He also wrote The Recovery of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians (1972). In that work he found himself forced to conclude that the passage declaring Jesus was “born of a woman” was not original to Paul. This should be quite a surprise to anyone who has encountered scholars scoffing at any doubts about the historical existence of Jesus because the passage in Galatians averring that Jesus was “born of a woman” is invariably declared to be iron-clad evidence that Paul had good reason to know that Jesus was, well, born of a woman. Presumably these scholars are convinced that no-one would ever suggest a fictive person would have come into the world by means of a birth or that the gender through whom he was born would be female.

Authority of the epistle remains

But don’t let me misrepresent J.C. O’Neill. Though O’Neill believed Galatians was riddled with “interpolations” he nonetheless hoped that his analysis would
clear the way for a fresh conviction that Paul was in fact an apostle of the Son of God. (p. 13 — my bolding and formatting in all quotations)
If our final text of Galatians was not entirely Paul’s original writing then the authority of the whole letter was only minimally affected as far as the Church is concerned:
This book (“The Recovery of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians”) should make it easier to accord to Paul the authority due to him, and also make it easier to accord to the later theologians (i.e. those responsible for the interpolations and glosses in Galatians) the lesser authority due to them for their insights into the doctrinal consequences of the apostle’s teaching. (p. 13)

Cannot return to the older approach


O’Neill may have been true to what we might see as a conservative faith, but was also true to critical principles in the study of the Scriptures.
We cannot simply return to the older approach; we are bound to accept Spinoza and Locke for, whether we like it or not, we are heirs of the whole modern awareness of history. We must, at all costs, discover what Paul himself wrote, and we must discover, as precisely as we can, the history of the text of his epistles, from the time they were received by those he first addressed until the time when they were gathered together, in a more or less fixed form, into the Christian canon. (p. 12)
Spinoza? Locke?

SPINOZA LOCKE
“The universal rule . . . in interpreting Scripture is to accept nothing as an authoritative Scriptural statement which we do not perceive very clearly when we examine it in the light of its history.” Paul must have been “a coherent, argumentative, pertinent Writer; and Care, I think, should be taken, in expounding of him, to show that he is so.”
The “history” of a scriptural statement comprises:
— nature of its original language
— analysis of a book and its arrangement
— background of the book: author, occasion, reception.
The starting point for studying Paul is therefore to read the epistles through from beginning to end many times to see the coherence of the argument.

.

Why think there are any interpolations at all?

Why can we not assume that the text we have was all Paul’s to begin with? J. C. O’Neill explains why:
If Paul was “a coherent, argumentative, pertinent writer” (Locke), Galatians as it now stands cannot have been written by Paul, for, . . . Galatians is full of obscurities, contradictions, improbable remarks, and non sequiturs; but, if Galatians was not written by Paul, it is too obscure and disjointed, and at the same time too urgent and vital and compelling, to have been written by a compiler. (p. 8)
But haven’t there been commentators who have made “satisfactory and coherent sense of the text” known to us? Doesn’t this prove that we don’t need to posit interpolations? O’Neill says, No. The reason: these commentators do not agree with one another.
If they cannot agree, it seems to me forbidden . . . to rest in the assumption that the text as we have it is, in principle, capable of yielding coherent sense. (p. 8)
Recall Roger Parvus also quoting J. C. O’Neill in one of his posts on a Simonian origin for Christianity:
If the choice lies between supposing that Paul was confused and contradictory and supposing that his text has been commented upon and enlarged, I have no hesitation in choosing the second. (J.C. O’Neill, The Recovery of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, p. 86)

Motives/Intent?

O’Neill is kind to the original interpolators. They did not intend their marginal notes to be incorporated into the main body of the text, he says. They may have been elaborating on the text with their own thoughts set in the margins. Copyists were piously fearful of losing anything that might have been important to eventually our text came to us with original text and marginal notes all bound up in one. (Given the length of some of these “glosses” I think the suggestion that they all found their way into the main body of the text raises more questions than it answers.)

O’Neill’s argument on Galatians 4:1-10

J. C. O’Neill shows us that the authenticity of Galatians 4:4 passage (Christ was born of a woman) is open to question. It is not unquestionable bedrock evidence for what Paul himself believed or even wrote about Jesus, birth and the gender of one giving birth. So let’s look at his arguments for Galatians 4:4 and the surrounding passages.
Verses 1-3 and 8-10 are omitted from the original. Paul did not write those, he argues.
Galatians 4:1-10 (ASV)
1 But I say that so long as the heir is a child, he differeth nothing from a bondservant though he is lord of all;
2 but is under guardians and stewards until the day appointed of the father.
3 So we also, when we were children, were held in bondage under the rudiments of the world:
4. οτε δε ηλθεν το πληρωμα του χρονου {12}
εξαπεστειλεν ο θεος τον υιον αυτου {13}
γενομενον εκ γυναικος {8}
γενομενον υπο νομον {8}
5. ινα τους υπο νομον εξαγοραση {12}
ινα την υιοθεσιαν απολαβωμεν {13}
4 but when the fulness of the time came, {12}
God sent forth his Son, {13}
born of a woman, {8}
born under the law, {8}
5 that he might redeem them that were under the law, {12}
that we might receive the adoption of sons. {13}
6 And because ye are sons, God sent forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father.
7 So that thou art no longer a bondservant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.
8 Howbeit at that time, not knowing God, ye were in bondage to them that by nature are no gods:
9 but now that ye have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how turn ye back again to the weak and beggarly rudiments, whereunto ye desire to be in bondage over again?
10 Ye observe days, and months, and seasons, and years.
Verses 1 to 3 are incompatible with verses 4 to 7.
Verses 1-3 tell us that an heir is kept in subjection while he is a minor and is little different from a slave, though he is lord of all. Even though he is “in bondage” he is always an heir still. Then on the appointed day he becomes free. The heir here is the Gentile or pagan. Chapter 3 explained that the Gentiles are heirs of Abraham and verses 1 to 3 continue in that context.
But 4-7 speaks of a quite different situation. A slave is ransomed and adopted as a son. He is really a slave but only after adoption as a son does he become an heir. We are no longer speaking of the pagan Gentile but of the Jew who is under the law that God gave (3:19). The law here is surely the Mosaic law since virtually all references to this νομος in the preceding chapter were of the Mosaic law.
So if 1-3 and 4-7 are speaking of different situations (the former of one who is always a son and heir and the latter of one who is a slave who is adopted as a son), verses 8 to 10 must go with the former, verses 1 to 3.
Verses 8 to 10 speak of the folly of one who has come to know God returning to the bondage of the time before he became free. Verses 8-10 speak of the governing powers over the child and heir awaiting the appointed time to become free. This has no relevance to verses 4 to 7 that make no mention of slave-owners or governing powers. (And the ruling powers in 8-10 are negatives, not the law of 4:4 that came from God.)
Now if verses 1-3 and 8-10 are a single and coherent argument, then they could not have been written by Paul. Why? Because they do not address the dangers facing the Galatians.
The Galatians were facing the problem of Judaizers — those wanting to impose the Jewish law. But Paul could hardly have spoken so disparagingly of the law that he had said came from God. Paul would not call this Jewish law “weak and beggarly elements” etc. He had only just declared (3:19) that the law came from God! He had even said Jews have a right to continue to live “as Jews”, so there was nothing wrong with that law.
O’Neill suggests the closest heresy known that matches this description of devotion to days and times and seasons is the heresy of the Elchesaites. The Elchesaites (known from Hippolytus) appear to be going back to pagan practices, and I (not O’Neill) quote one section from Hippolytus here:
But since we have stated that they also bring into requisition astrological deceit, we shall prove this from their own formularies; for Elchasai speaks thus:
“There exist wicked stars of impiety. This declaration has been now made by us, O ye pious ones and disciples:
  • beware of the power of the days of the sovereignty of these stars, and engage not in the commencement of any undertaking during the ruling days of these.
  • And baptize not man or woman during the days of the power of these stars, when the moon, (emerging) from among them, courses the sky, and travels along with them.
  • Beware of the very day up to that on which the moon passes out from these stars, and then baptize and enter on every beginning of your works.
  • But, moreover, honour the day of the Sabbath, since that day is one of those during which prevails (the power) of these stars.
  • Take care, however, not to commence your works the third day from a Sabbath, since when three years of the reign of the emperor Trajan are again completed from the time that he subjected the Parthians to his own sway,–when, I say, three years have been completed, war rages between the impious angels of the northern constellations; and on this account all kingdoms of impiety are in a state of confusion.”
Since verses 1-3 and 8-10 address a situation that was not facing the Galatians in the time of Paul (i.e. temptations to keep the Jewish law) O’Neill concludes they were not originally by Paul. They were a commentary or application of the principles of Paul’s argument to a later situation.

What, then, of verses 4 to 7, or in particular 4 to 5?

Verse three has been grammatically linked to verse 4, but whoever wrote verse 3 (about pagans) failed to understand that verse 4 was about Jews only. Only Jews need to be ransomed from the Law.
So what do we make of 4 to 5?
* These refer to Jews. And the writer says “that we (i.e. the Jews) should receive the adoption”. What does this have to do with Paul’s attempt to keep the Galatians law-free? O’Neill would expect that Paul would make a point of arguing that whatever applied to the Jews who were under the Law also applied to the Gentiles who were not. But he argues not like that here.
* Besides, verses 4 to 5 appear to be a citation from some sort of Jewish Christian liturgy. Note the chiasmic structure and syllable pattern that I have highlighted above. The syllabic pattern is a “striking regularity . . . not to be found in the surrounding verses.” (p. 59)
But then. . .
The great difficulty in the way of regarding verses 4 and 5 as another gloss is that then the whole section will have been glossed heavily by two different hands, one responsible for verses 1-3, 8-10, and the other responsible for verses 4f. Nevertheless, that seems to be the right solution; and verses 4f would have been the first addition, which helped prompt verses 1-3, 8-10, the second addition. (p. 59)
In short, the first giveaway for O’Neill concerning 4:4-5 (if I understand his point correctly) is that the writer speaks of “we” as if including himself with his readers as Jews. But more significantly, the passage has no relevance to Gentiles or ex-pagans whom Paul is attempting to turn away from Judaizers. One would expect Paul to argue that any factor applicable to the Jews is also applicable to the Gentile converts. Besides, the passage appears to have been someone’s recollection of some credal formula that they have noted against the original argument.

Conclusion

I have attempted to present the O’Neill’s argument here as best I can. Others may have a clearer understanding and wish to clarify or correct anything. O’Neill himself said:
I cannot hope to have been completely right at every point in assigning this verse to Paul, and that to a glossator, and the other to an interpolator; or even if the division be right, I can easily have ascribed to Paul what was written by a commentator on Paul, and to a commentator what was written by Paul himself — and one such mistake could affect the whole enterprise. (p. 11)
I like working with (or in this case reading and contemplating) ideas that acknowledge their own uncertain foundations. There are far too many dogmatic “fundamentalists” even among so-called critical scholars in this field.
So how to test O’Neill’s thesis?
The only test of my thesis, or of any other thesis, is to work through Galatians line by line, and to see which thesis makes the best sense of the words. (p. 13)
So I am not presenting it as an argument I am firmly convinced about myself. It is a long time since I studied Galatians intensively and in depth, and I would prefer to have time to follow through a few remaining questions before committing to it.
The reason I have posted it here is to demonstrate that there is indeed an argument for interpolation that does emanate from the high standards of critical scholarship. It is a reminder how little we know for sure about the character of the sources we rely upon for early Christian studies. That, in turn, reminds us how foolish it is to base dogmatic arguments upon any single passage. Mostly, however, the point is to show that even a passage that so many take for granted as a foundational text is not necessarily what it seems to be — even according to a Churchman many would consider conservative in beliefs yet who values genuine critical scholarship and intellectual integrity.

http://vridar.org/2014/01/15/born-of-a-woman-sober-scholarship-questioning-the-authenticity-of-galatians-44/
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