Galatians 4: An English Translation

As a school exercise I sat down today, armed with my Liddell and Scott, a few choice reference books, my Nestle-Aland,  and an open mind to see if working my way through Galatians 4, now the topic of some discussion with mythtics, would solve any problems for me.

Is Galatians 4.4 an interpolation, the work of “a falsified Paul,” as hard-core mythtics like to allege?  Does the verse not fit integrally and tonally into the whole of the chapter?  Does not Paul’s emphasis on legitimacy and inheritance reflect (a) his own anxiety over his apostolic legitimacy and (b) his need to show that, as he is a legitimate preacher of the legitimate (or only) gospel,  the Galatians themselves have nothing to fear about their “acceptance” (adoption) as Christians on the road to salvation?

The chapter is much harder to crack than I had remembered from Harvard days:  it is full of periphrasis, half-thoughts, odd  constructions and the sort of unpolished associations that for Paul amount to an argument.  Many of these difficulties are smoothed over in modern translations, and have been even before “dynamic” translation became the preferred style of translators.  I have not been led into temptation but have eschewed all efforts to make Paul say what I want him to have said, which he often doesn’t.

Every translation as Voltaire said is “like a woman: the good ones are never beautiful and the beautiful ones are never good.”  There must be a nonsexist variant of that quote but I don’t know it.  In our time, this has meant that sexy, dynamic translations are often the bastard offspring of the translator’s consciousness, and the literal or “neutral” ones would only make sense 2000 years prior to their translating–if ever.  When there is any doubt about a word, I have given the Greek parenthetically.  But in essence I think it is all here.  In the final analysis we translate because we are trying to understand, not because we have understood something perfectly and just want to share it.  It seems to me that one of the more banal aspects of modern mythicism is its support of certain axioms that constitute its conceptual edifice: Galatians 4.4,5 is one prop in this house, others being the status of James, the “silence” of Paul (and the reputed lack of any developed Jesus-tradition prior to him), the (perfectly explicable) weakness of “external evidence” , and the liberal use of charges of interpolation, anachronicity, and the belief that analogy–whether to infrabiblical or classical sources–can only be interpreted as plagiarism or contrivance in the service of the myth.  Whatever else can be said for or against mythicism, its approach to evidence can only be compared to  a traveler’s decision to take to the rocky dead end next to the clear path that leads to the village because it makes more sense of the journey.  –Is this because John the Baptist was a myth too?

The result of this little exercise is unexciting for the most part, except that having done it I am more convinced than ever that the omission of 4.4,5 would constitute a lacuna fatal to Paul’s argument about legitimacy.  I continue to think that this chapter reflects Paul’s anxiety over the biological legitimacy of Jesus, whose “type” is Issac in the allegory.  While this insistence is framed as theology rather than biography (since Paul doesn’t write biography–something mythtics consistently ignore as part of their agenda), it is clear that Paul regards Jesus as legitimate in the same way that Isaac (4.28) is a legitimate heir capable of imparting the rights of inheritance–sonship.  Ishmael (who is not named in the allegory) is his opposite, the son of a slave, born in lust (4.23).  The slave-woman who “satisfies” Abraham’s physical needs is named, and then associated with Sinai and the “old” covenant; the mother of Jesus is merely “a woman.”

Does Paul’s insistence on an historically legitimate Jesus prove the existence of an historical Jesus?  That is not the claim that is being made–or defeated here:  the claim that is defeated is that Paul had no interest in, or did not “know” anything about an historical Jesus. Shift the topic as they try, mythtics are the group who have said repeatedly that Paul’s silence can be interpreted as his being unaware of any historical tradition concerning Jesus, a claim they then need to extend to the more extravagant notion that the “apostolic community” was simply an alternative Jewish myth-making factory.

Occasionally, even more absurd claims are made, usually because their approach to evidence involves the mythicists in such a tangle that they end up fighting against their own conclusions and self-contradictions.   It is self-evidently true that no “testimony”–let alone an allusion, as here–serves as sufficient proof of an event if it is presupposed that that person (a) is lying (b) did not exist or (c) has good reason to concoct a story. As I have said in my contribution to the Jesus Process however, warrants for skepticism rather than gratuitous suspicion and ham-fisted guesswork need to be applied to the sources we have.  Since the time of the histrionic Drews, with only a few exceptions, mythicism has earned its ornery reputation because of the emotionalism with which its proponents have approached the sources.

Translation since the time of Lorenzo da Valla has been a good way of sniffing out fraud, and quite bluntly–I find none here.  The failure of mythicism to convince scholars that it is a solution to the “question” of Jesus rests on its inability to  satisfy the demand for an alternative theory of Christian beginnings based on the best interpretation of the best evidence we have.  That was the challenge that Case handed down in the early twentieth century, and mythicisim has not budged beyond  that point, except to deny that it has not budged.

As before, I am confident that this wayward, spasmodic, self-interested voice and searching, rough-edged vocabulary is the voice of the real Paul, (convincingly) irreproducible by his studied imitators.

Lacking motivation for Paul’s creation of Jesus or the church’s concoction of Paul and the various paranoid conspiracy theories that are currently being put around to defend these notions, it will finally come down to sane interpretations of what history has left to us.  It has left us this:

[And if you are Christ’s, then Abraham’s according to the promise (3.29) ] ...

 mean, As long as the heir is a child, he is no better than a slave–even if he is lord of the manor; for he is subject to guardians and trustees until the time (προθεσμίας) set by the father.  So also with us: when we were children we were held in bondage to what is base in the world. But when the right time had come, God sent forth his son, having been born (γενόμενον) of a woman, having been born under the law to ransom the ones under the law so that they might receive sonship. And, as you are sons, God sent forth his son’s spirit into our hearts crying Abba, Father. So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and as a son, an heir (κληρονόμος).  But when you did not truly know God you were indentured to those which are not gods by nature; so now having come to know God—or rather being known by God (γνωσθέντες)—how can you turn back again to these weak and base things (στοιχεῖα), desiring to be slaves to them once more?  You heed days, months, seasons, years: I am afraid for you because I may have toiled for you for nothing (εἰκῇ). Brothers I implore you, be as I am, as I am of you: you did me no harm. It was I in my human weakness (ἀσθένειαν τῆς σαρκὸς) who preached the news to you first. And my appearance in the flesh you did not hate or reject (ἐξεπτύσατε), but you received me as a messenger of God—of Jesus Christ.  O, what has happened to  your grace? For I testify that it had been better [γὰρ ὑμῖν ὅτι εἰ δυνατὸν] had you pricked your eyes out and handed them to me. For what? that I have become an enemy for telling you the truth? Their [Paul refers to his opponents, cf 3.1f.] desire for you is no good: they want to shut you out, and be desirous [only] of them [ ἵνα αὐτοὺς ζηλοῦτε]. For [i.e., if there is a] a good reason of course it is good to be made over [δὲ ζηλοῦσθαι]—not only when I’m with you.  My little children, [for whom] I will not rest until Christ is formed [μορφωθῇ ] in you! I so wanted to be with you now, to change my tone [φώνην], because I have doubts about you.  Tell me then: you lot wanting to be under the law—do you hear the law? For it was written that Abraham had two sons, one of a slave [παιδίσκης] one by a free-woman [ἐλεύθερας].  But the son of the slave was born [γεγέννηται] according to the flesh, the son of the freewoman by a promise.  Now this is an allegory [ἅτινα ἐστιν ἀλληγορούμενα]; these women are two laws. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery: that is, Hagar.  Yet Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and [she] corresponds to what is Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children.  But the Jeruslaem above us is the free-woman—and she is our mother, as it is written,

Rejoice unbearing,  barren one

The ones not in birth pangs: break forth in shouting!

Because the children of the desert [τέκνα τῆς ἐρήμου = the desolate one]

Exceed the children of the one who is married [Isa 54.1]

Now we, brothers, are like Isaac, children of the promise. But just as formerly the one having come about [γεννηθεὶς] according to the flesh harassed the one having been fathered according to the spirit, even so now.  But what does scripture say?  Drive out the slave and her son!, for the son of the slave will not inherit [what belongs to] the son of the free woman.  So brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.

15 thoughts on “Galatians 4: An English Translation

  1. Pingback: The crazy attacks on Vridar « Vridar

    • Maybe it is language like “wishing our children dead…” that transcends hyperbole and reality and shows a complete lack of scholarly proportion that has something to do with the “attacks.” or maybe, as this comment aptly examples, it is that VRIDAR is merely theatre.

      • Yes, but bad theatre. Who’d buy a ticket? A play which would have empty houses – were it not for a cluster of cloning cheering repetitive minions on the fringe. Typically they take things out of context, and here, a common Hebrew curse is taken out of context where it was used for the ideology ‘mythtic fringe’, they isolate it, and interpret it literally as a curse upon themselves.

      • VRIDAR writes “Hoffmann has since removed it from that comment but resurfaced it in his new post ….” What? More accurately,
        the comment deserved a post so was upgraded to the following post. Why does Vridar describe it in such a way I wonder? It’s OK, I know, don’t tell me.

      • @Steph, to be precise it existed as a comment for less than an hour. And if anything, the quotation was made more visible by turning it onto a post: what is his point?

      • That’s the irony. He probably thinks you deliberately removed it after he wrote his post and tried to hide it later in another post. I knew it was the making of a new post and the post which you posted very soon after was an expansion of it. Or more likely, he hasn’t got a point. He does make it suggest something suspicious though. He’s really lost his grip and all sense of reality.

  2. “Is Galatians 4.4 an interpolation, the work of “a falsified Paul,” as hard-core mythtics like to allege?”

    You keep making this claim, can you cite some references, please? I do not believe that the current “breed” of mythicists is so prone to make this argument.

    By the way, the term “falsified Paul” I believe applies to a Paul who is himself a fabricated character. The entire corpus, in that case, would be considered falsified. I do not believe this argument is widespread, but is suggested by Detering. Hasn’t gained a lot of traction.

    It was a little sad when you slinked off from the Gal 4:4 discussion at Vridar. I would have enjoyed seeing your razor sharp wit dismantle the simplistic solution offered by reyjacob to the “bastard argument.” Glad to see you back on that horse. So, is “under the law” to be read similarly in both halves of 4:4? Or is there a different way to read that?

    You have to admit: uttering a Hebrew curse in frustration at your opponents is a little beneath a respectable response, wouldn’t you say?


    • “Is Galatians 4.4 an interpolation, the work of “a falsified Paul,” as hard-core mythtics like to allege?”

      You keep making this claim, can you cite some references, please? I do not believe that the current “breed” of mythicists is so prone to make this argument.

      Read my sentence; give me evidence that you cannot find this allegation in the work of those you call current. Who are your saints and favorites? Whom do they resort to as authorities? Who was the first to suggest the inauthenticity of Paul and why? Your guru I think was the one who introduced the idiotic and sensational billboard arguments of Kenneth Humphreys into a discussion. Detering is only one of several. (Surely you knew?) Then give me ten dollars. You are being naive or deliberately misleading if you suggest that Paul denial is not part of this increasingly crazy puzzle.

      In any event, no one but your best friends are going to believe that by force majeure you can remove the “dubitability” of Gal 4.4 from the rockbed of mythicist thinking. Good luck trying. It’s been there for 100 years. You’d be better off trying to get rid of James brother of the Lord, though not much. Lacking that, getting rid of Paul is your best shot. This is not my logic; it’s mythtic. But you don’t need to reply to this: the energy many of you have spent trying is good proof that this has hit a nerve.

      “Slink off from discussion.” How was my door-slamming Hebrew imprecation a slink, dear boy? it is a direct and unequivoval suggestion that with every passing day the mythicist argument looks not only weak and angry but irrational. Come into the light.

      On the bastard bit: I have said that my bastard argument is a hypothesis (“I may be wrong but,”); that is something scholars do to advance possibilities. I have also said I do not know if I am right (check it), but even if I am not (and I still think I am) it does not reduce the cumulative weight of Paul’s emphasis on legitimacy in the whole first section of the epistle.

  3. It should be kept in mind, though, that Pauline conspiracy theories are not a mythicist innovation. One was put forward by Marcion very early, at practically the same time that the extant record makes its first mention of a collection of Pauline letters. Marcion was the original Christian conspiracy theorist, claiming that the Gospel and Pauline letters had been interpolated by Judaizers: “They [the Marcionites] say that by separating the Law and the Gospel Marcion has not so much innovated the rule (of faith) but rather returned to the one previously adulterated. (Adv. Marc. I,20,1). About which Sebastian Moll says: “This fundamental conviction was at the very heart of the Marcionite movement, the idea of re-establishing what had been falsified. Marcion was convinced that there had been a great Judaising conspiracy going on in the world aimed at perverting the Gospel by pretending that Christ belonged to the Creator.” (The Arch-Heretic Marcion, p. 83)

    And if we ask if Marcion’s word should be taken over that of the proto-orthodox, there do appear to be some good reasons to do so:

    First, even aside from any consideration of the collection of ten Pauline letters, there is ample indication that proto-orthodox writers did have frequent recourse not only to interpolations, but also to forgeries, false attributions, fabrications, and plagiarisms. See Bart Ehrman’s Forged for many examples.

    Marcion, on the other hand, comes across as quite aboveboard. His Antitheses has not survived but, to judge by comments made about it by the proto-orthodox, he appears to have straightforwardly argued for the fundamental incompatibility of the teaching of Jesus with that of the Hebrew Scriptures. And in his attempt to restore the Gospel and Pauline letters he largely adhered to his openly declared restoration program of trimming away what he considered to be the Judaizing interpolations. He is nowhere accused of forging gospels or letters or apocalypses to advance his program. “To Marcion’s credit be it said that he brought in no apocryphal material” (Blackman, Marcion and his Influence, p. 47). “The great majority of corrections consists of excisions… The number of additions made by Marcion is so very slight that one is skeptical about the few cases in which such must be assumed…” (Harnack, Marcion: The Gospel of the Alien God,p. 43).

    Second, there are the many inconsistencies, self-contradictions, and the general choppiness of the Pauline letters. These characteristics which are widely acknowledged by scholars can be plausibly explained by Marcion’s conspiracy theory: the letters have been systematically reworked to turn their proto-gnostic author into a proto-orthodox one. The reworking was successful but left behind some rough spots. Now I realize that the sad state of the letters is usually blamed on Paul’s impulsiveness and his disregard for logic. He was a missionary—-not a theologian—-we are regularly reminded, so we shouldn’t expect logic or theological consistency from him. And/or, as you propose in your post , the choppiness in part may just be due to his quirky style: his writing “is full of periphrasis, half-thoughts, odd constructions and the sort of unpolished associations that for Paul amount to an argument.” Maybe so. But it is curious that the roughness largely occurs in passages that deal with items about which proto-gnostics differed from the proto-orthodox: the Law, sin, the flesh, the visible world and its maker(s). And since Marcion’s theory can account for that peculiarity, I think it too merits retention among the viable explanations.

    Third, Marcion’s scenario that there was a proto-gnostic type Christian missionary present at Christianity’s first hour is basically conceded by the proto-orthodox. In your book on Marcion (Marcion: On the Restitution of Christianity: An Essay on the Development of Radical Paulinist Theology in the Second Century) you call attention to the proclivity of the proto-orthodox to locate the times of their heretical opponents as late as possible. Yet there is a notable exception: Simon of Samaria and his followers. The proto-orthodox concede that Simon existed in apostolic times. Acts of the Apostles acknowledges that he received Christian baptism. Irenaeus too acknowledges that Simon was a Christian, albeit a phony one. And he was said to have preached among the Gentiles, ultimately making his way to Rome.

    And the proto-orthodox description of Simon’s beliefs bears a quite definite resemblance to what Marcion claimed was present in the Paulines. Marcionism looks to be a simplifying development of Simonianism. Where Simon picks, chooses, and allegorizes certain Old Testament texts to justify his adherence to a Supreme God and his dismissal of the Jewish Creator and Law-giver God, Marcion goes further and just outright rejects that Scripture as irrelevant for Christian purposes. But their views of the Law, sin, the flesh, the world and its maker are otherwise pretty much the same.

    And strangely, the proto-orthodox know more specifics about Simon’s succession than they do about that shadowy group usually referred to today as “the Pauline school.” They claim that Simon’s successor was Menander and that he too was from Samaria although he operated out of Antioch. And they claim that Basilides of Alexandria and Satornilus of Antioch were pupils of Menander. And they claim that Marcion was proto-orthodox in belief when “in the first flush of faith” (Adv. Marc.4,4) he made his donation to the Roman church, but that he was subsequently corrupted by the Simonian Cerdo who came to Rome from Antioch in the late 130s. To me this all seems to fit together rather well. We seem to have more real historical indications here than anything in the New Testament!

    Finally, keep in mind other apparent anomalies in the early record. For example, Justin mentions Simon several times, but never Paul or his letters. Likewise, the document(s) underlying the pseudo-Clementines mentions Simon but not Paul. In the pseudo-Clementines Peter faces off with Simon, while in the New Testament Peter faces off with Paul at Antioch (and possibly at Corinth). But it is only in much later literature that the two apostles to the Gentiles, Paul and Simon, ever face off with each other. If A (Peter) faces off with B (Paul), and A (Peter) faces off with C (Simon, whose beliefs resemble those of the Marcionite Paul), one cannot help but wonder whether B and C are different versions of the the same person.

    So I admit that I can’t help wondering: Are the Paulines proto-orthodox reworkings of Simonian materials? Is the Paul of Acts a proto-orthodox replacement for Simon? If these suspicions mean I can be dismissed as a paranoid conspiracy theorist, so be it.

    • I’ll deal with Marcion in my own book which is nearing completion; to be blunt, we have a totally different model than van Manen and the Radicals were working with in 1887. I could be brusque and say that van Manen hadn’t read me, Harnack or Tyson on the topic. They were simply pushing the envelope of the German theorists they admired. As for Ehrman’s popular study, it breaks no new ground.

      Sorry that this does not address your points individually but that is why we write books and not only blogs. However, if you had read my post for the Jesus Process, the question of (relative) second century silence about Paul is dealt with. His own letters are good evidence of a parlous situation that led to his general irrelevance until he was “redeemed” in the Marcionite controversy; but the suggestion that a letter like Ephesians and a letter like Galatians as van Manen thought could have originated from the same period (or situation) simply illustrates that his calculations (and a few other things) were off by decades. His value is that he got some things right and that he raised some questions that he got wrong but still needed to be answered. The point is not to squeeze facts to fit a master theory but to let the facts, such as they are, indicate the shape of the picture. I won’t comment on “Simon” here, but on point is is clear that Irenaeus needed a fountainhead of heresy to correspond to his genealogy of right teaching and the anti-Marcionite Acts gave him a name roughly contemporaneous with the apostles. In the interest of time (I don’t have much of it) this will be my only comment on the topic, but thanks for an interesting question.

      • I understand about the time constraints. I wanted to clarify one point however. You apparently mistook me as a proponent of the theories of van Manen and the Dutch Radicals. As I understand it, they held that the Paulines were second century compositions. That is not my position.

        I accept, like Marcion, that the letters were for the most part first century compositions—-at least those usually regarded as the seven authentic ones. (The deutero-Paulines may have been authored by a later Simonian like Menander or Satornilus). But at some point all ten letters were subsequently interpolated by a proto-orthodox Christian who turned the proto-gnostic missives into proto-orthodox ones. Marcion apparently thought the tampering occurred quite early, at the hands of the false brethren and false apostles mentioned in the letters. I myself am inclined to think the initial tampering occurred later, perhaps around 130 CE, at the hands of a proto-orthodox circle in Rome.

        In any case, I just wanted to make clear that I do not subscribe to van Manen’s theory regarding the Paulines.

        I look forward to your new book on Marcion. Any expected publication date?

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