Some reasons to question the authorship of Galatians

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by Neil Godfrey

Herman Detering in The Falsified Paul [link downloads a 2 MB PDF file] lists a series of brief points to alert readers to “some questions and problems which could give a moment’s pause even for those who until now have never doubted the authenticity of all the Pauline writings.” (p.54) I have singled out those that apply (though not exclusively) to the letter to Galatians, generally taken as indisputably by Paul.

Reason 1: The introductory description of the author

Paul, an apostle (not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God . . . )

Like introductions to other ostensibly Pauline letters (c.f. Romans, 1 Corinthians, Philemon) this reads more like the description by a third party interested in exalting, justifying, promoting the apostle he is presenting as the author. Ancient letters normally began without any pretension: e.g. Cicero greets Atticus.

Reason 2: The vagueness of the addressees

to the churches in Galatia

Compare 1 Corinthians:

to the church . . . in Corinth, to those who are sanctified . . . , together with all those who in every place call on the name of the Lord Jesus . . .

As Detering comments: The poor letter carrier!

Reason 3: Conflict with biographical plausibility

I want you to know, brethren, that the gospel preached by me was not of men (Gal.1:11)

How could Paul have written as if he had forgotten to make this central point of his teaching clear to the Galatians when he had been with them?

Reason 4: Looking back in the past tense on his apostolic peers

From those who seemed to be something — whatever they were, it makes no difference to me . . . (Gal.2:6)

This does not appear to be from the pen of one who is reporting an ongoing situation that he has experienced.

One might also look at Gal. 1:17 (nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me . . .) but I do not know enough about the Greek involved to know if this can be read as saying the apostles before him “were” such.

Reason 5: Conflict with historical plausibility

See with what large letters I am writing this with my own hand (Gal.6:11)

Clearly the author wants to make his letter sound like it is from the authentic hand of Paul. Letters falsely attributed to Paul would therefore appear to be known to the author. But how could forged letters of Paul have been circulating when Paul was alive to challenge them? Forgeries obviously appear at a time when they cannot be so easily challenged.

And forgeries appear in the names of those who carry respect and authority. If Paul were such a renowned authority in his own time then we have a problem. Paul and his letters do not become (indisputably) well known until the church writings of the second century.

A passage in 2 Thess.3:17 (The salutation of Paul with my own hand, which is a sign in every epistle; so I write) is widely taken as evidence that the letter is a forgery. So, Detering asks, why the different take on the similar passage in Galatians?

Reason 6: Compare Hegel lecturing aborigines

How could the “simple mountain people of the countryside, or the certainly not much better educated people of the province” (p.56) be expected to follow the sophisticated theological arguments and concepts of the letter?

Reason 7: Conflict with psychological sense

Paul declares that when he was converted by Jesus to want to identify with Jesus, to become one with Jesus, he consciously chose to ignore others who had spent time getting to know Jesus and went off alone to the desert (Gal.1:17).

Detering quotes an imaginary comparison by Pierson (Bergrede): A hater of Socrates in southern Italy who publicly rejoiced at the death of Socrates reads a dialogue of Plato and suddenly decides he wants to be just like Socrates. Instead of hurrying to Athens where Plato and Alcibiades are still alive, among many others who knew Socrates well, to learn all he could about how Socrates thought, felt and what he taught, he went off to Egypt. There he remains isolated for 3 years, then begins to write about Socrates, and suddenly finds the whole world regarding him as the most valid interpreter of Socrates.

Reason 8: The Gap Years

This applies to all of Paul’s letters. Why, if written in the middle first century by one regarded as the greatest apostle to the gentiles, and whose theological sophistication was unrivalled in early Christian literature, — why are the writings of such a one not attested until the second century?

And why do we encounter in Justin Martyr some concepts found in Paul’s letters without Justin having any apparent knowledge of Paul and his letters? And why do we first learn of Paul’s letters when they are the apparent preserve of the “heretic” Marcion?

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Neil Godfrey

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