Recently I posted Paul the persecutor? in which I suggested that Paul’s confession in his epistle to the Galatians to having persecuted the Church did not necessarily imply that he literally jailed, beat and killed Christians before his journey to Damascus.
J. C. O’Neill would have thought I was far too soft. Those passages in which Paul is confessing to have persecuted the church are late interpolations, he argued back in 1972 in The Recovery of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians.
Here is his confession in the first chapter of Galatians:
13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it; 14 and I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. . . .
22 And I was still not known by sight to the churches of Christ in Judea; 23 they only heard it said, “He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me.
O’Neill believes a strong case that those verses were interpolated by a second century editor wanting to glorify Paul (my bolding, formatting and added translations, pp 24-27):
These verses have been interpolated into Paul’s argument by a later writer who wished to glorify the apostle.
The argument is irrelevant and anachronistic, the concepts differ from Paul’s concepts, and the vocabulary and style are not his.
Paul is arguing that he was directly commissioned by God, through a revelation of his Son, to spread the good news among the Gentiles. Although he visited Jerusalem to get information from Cephas,1 and there saw James, the Lord’s brother, he was not indebted to them for his special commission. That visit was three years after his call, and his first reaction to the call had not been to go to Jerusalem but to go to Arabia.
What is at stake is his right to serve Christ as he has been called to serve him. The astounding reversal of roles he underwent, from a fierce persecutor of the Church to an evangelist of the faith, and from a precociously zealous Jew to an opponent of Jewish customs, is no argument in favour of Paul’s position. His position stands or falls on the revelation he has received and the recognition accorded him by the “pillars” in Jerusalem.
E. Bammel2 has suggested that the trouble-makers in Galatia had attacked Paul because he had once been a persecutor of the Church, and that Paul was defending himself by admitting all, and then citing the praise of him that was used in the Judean churches:Ὁ διώκων ἡμᾶς ποτὲ
τὴν πίστιν ἥν ποτε ἐπόρθει.=The one persecuting us thennow is preachingthe faith which once he destroyed.
It is hard to imagine the men who visited Galatia finding ammunition to use against Paul in his activities before he was called. Even if this were brought up against Paul, it is even harder to imagine that Paul would cite the approval of the Judean churches as support for his case. His case rested solely on the commission from God and, the subsequent approval he received from the authorities who might otherwise have been thought of as his commissioners. What the Judean churches thought was neither here nor there. Paul had asked the Galatians ironically in verse 10 whether he should now try to please men, and he is not likely, a few sentences later, to quote the men he had pleased.
The interpolation is anachronistic because it regards Judaism as an entity distinct from Christianity.3 Jews at the time used the term Ἰουδαϊσμος [=Judaism] to describe their faith in opposition to heathenism (2 Macc. 2.21; 8.1; 14.38; 4 Macc. 4.26; synagogue inscription in Frey, C.I.J. 1.694), but the use of the term in a Christian context seems to imply that Christianity is a system completely distinct from Judaism. Paul was well aware of the tragic gulf that had opened up between those Jews who believed in Jesus Christ and those who refused to believe, but he still held fast to the fact that “theirs were the fathers” (Rom. 9.5), that the fathers of those who believed in Christ were also the fathers of the unbelieving Jews.
But this interpolation speaks in the terms to be found in the Apostolic Fathers of the second century, when Judaism had become a foreign entity (Ignatius 1Magfz. 8.1; 10.3; Philad. 6.1).The concepts employed are rarely found in Paul, or are entirely absent. In verse 23 πίστις [=faith] is used of the Christian religion, as in Acts 6.7, and the only possible parallels in Paul are at 3.23-5, 6.10, and Rom. 1.5, all passages that are of doubtful authenticity.4
When verse 13 is read in conjunction (with verse 23, it seems likely that ἐκκλησία [=church] is used in the first instance as the word for the Church as a whole; either the universal Church, or the Church of the Judean provinces. Although Paul was active as a persecutor only in Jerusalem, he planned to persecute Christians in Damascus; the destruction of Christian congregations everywhere is what is contemplated in the phrase καὶ ἐπόρθουν αὐτήν [=and was destroying it]. The Judean churches which did not know him by sight regarded him as persecuting them.
But Paul almost always uses the word to refer to a local congregation.5 He had an ideal opportunity to use the singular in 1.2, if that was his custom, but there he wrote ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις τῆς Γαλατίας [=in the churches of Galatia]. In 1 Thess. 2.14 he spoke of “the churches of God that are in Judea in Christ Jesus”.6
The vocabulary of this section is unusual. The word ἀναστροφή [=way of life] occurs only in Ephesians and 1 Timothy among the books of the Pauline corpus, and Ἰουδαϊσμος, πόρθέω, συνηλικιώτης, [=Judaism, destroy, my people] and πατρικός [=fathers] are not found elsewhere in that corpus. The enclitic ποτέ [=former] occurs three times here, once more in Galatians (at 2.6), and only nine times elsewhere in the Pauline corpus, excluding Ephesians and the Pastorals (where it occurs seven times).
The style of the section is even and steady, unlike the style of Paul. The sentences consist of 20, 19, 12, and 20 words respectively. καὶ joins distinct clauses with verbs in the indicative three times (1.13, 14, 24), which is rather frequent in comparison with the five times in the rest of the epistle (1.17, 18; 3.6 O.T.; 5.1; 6.2). The imperfect ‘occurs seven times in this section, and only eight times elsewhere in the epistle (1.10 twice; 2.67; 2.12 twice; 3.23; 4.3, 29). Two of the imperfects are periphrastic, and we are told that the periphrastic construction was on the increase.7
The case for regarding 1.13, 14, 22, 23, 24 as an interpolation is a strong one as it stands, but to complete the case I must try to explain why anyone should wish to add this sort of note to Paul’s text.
E. Bammel has already shown that verse 23 probably contains a citation from a Judean church tradition, and I think it likely that this thesis can be extended to cover the whole of the section I have isolated. The author possessed Judean traditions about Paul, the persecutor who became the champion of the faith, and he inserted them into Galatians at the appropriate points in the story. His source was Judean as opposed to Jerusalemite,8 so that he has to explain that, although they used to say “He who once persecuted us”, they did not know him by sight.Because he was employing old traditions, the interpolator did not regard his additions as illegitimate. He saw himself as enriching a treasured epistle by an edifying reminiscence of the conversion of St Paul, which could appropriately be put onto his
1. G. D. Kilpatrick, “Galatians 1:18 . . . ”, New Testament Essays: Studies in Memory of Thomas Walter Manson, ed. A. J. B. Higgins (1959), pp. 144-9.
2. E. Bammel, “Galater 1.23”,ZNW 59 (1968), pp. 108-12 at p. m. The germ of the idea was first put forward by E. Barnikol, . . . (Kiel 1929), p. 50.
3. Cf. Bruno Bauer, Kritik der paulinischen Briefe. Erste Abteiling: Der Ursprung des Galateerbriefs. Berlin 1850 p. 13.
4. Cf. E. Bammel, op. cit., p. 108, n. I.
5. J. Y. Campbell, “The Origin and Meaning of the Christian Use of the word EKKAHEIA”, JTS xlix (1948), pp. I30-42; reprinted in Three New Testament Studies (Leiden 1965), pp. 41-54. Excluding Ephesians, he argues that only in Col.
1.18, 24. it is beyond question that the word has a wider significance; in eight other instances that is more or less likely.
6. The phrase ἐδίωξα τὴν ἐκκλησίαν τοῦ Θεοῦ [=I persecuted the church of God] in 1 Cor. 15.9 is parallel to our phrase in Gal. 1.13. It is possible that “God’s church” in I Corinthians could refer to the congregation in Jerusalem, but the true solution seems to be that I Cor. 15.1-1 I is a later credal summary not written by Paul.
7. Blass-Debrunncer-Funk, §65(4).
8. Judea in v. 22 must exclude Jerusalem (Lightfoot against Lipsius; T. Mommsen, ZNW2 (1901), p. 85; W. Heitmiiller, ZNW 13 (1912), pp. 3203).