What Others have Written About Galatians – J. C. O’Neill

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by Neil Godfrey

The fact that a century of such patient and devoted scholarship has yielded so few agreements on difficult passages and fundamental issues makes me think that the nine­teenth-century debate is not yet over. (O’Neill, 8f)

John Cochrane O’Neill had a reputation for being a controversial critic but his attempt to sift through the many variant manuscripts (and to resolve the remaining inconsistencies even when those sources agree) was driven by a desire to “get to the truth about Paul”. O’Neill was not afraid to engage with that earlier “unmentionable” critic among theological circles, Bruno Bauer. Contrary to Bauer’s view, however, O’Neill viewed the interpolator or glossator of the epistle to the Galatians as a person who respected Paul and wanted to expand the original text in ways that did honour to Paul:

[Bruno Bauer] … argued that the epistle could not have been written by Paul to the congregations to which it purported to be addressed, and that all the ideas and most of the expressions were clumsily derived from Romans and the Corin­thian correspondence—indeed, could often only be understood if one knew the original setting. The author of Galatians was, in short, a compiler.

Apart from a brief introduction, the whole part devoted to Galatians— seventy-four pages— is packed with precise, well-argued exegetical observations. The only general weakness in his argument is that no compiler would have made such a bad job of compilation as this author seems to have done; a compiler is more likely to have produced a smooth and understandable epistle than this. The more Bauer vents his sarcasm on the compiler for clumsi­ness in using his sources, the less likely does he make the hypothesis that a compiler was at work. (O’Neill, 4 — bolded highlighting is mine in all quotations)

O’Neill turns the obscurities in Galatians into evidence for the fundamental authenticity of the epistle:

How are we to explain that Paul was an independent apostle, who yet thought he should have his preaching approved in Jerusalem; that the Jerusalem leaders, James, Cephas, and John, solemnly agreed to approve his special work, and yet Cephas was able to act in such a way that Paul had to call him to book publicly at Antioch? The obscurity of the situation as it is pre­sented in Galatians has given a foothold to those who wish to deny completely the authenticity of the book, but it remains an obscurity that is as good a guarantee as any of authenticity, for what falsifier would be so implausible and obscure?

I shall suggest that some of the difficulties have arisen because glossators tried to explain difficulties and fill in details. But, how­ever much the picture has been retouched and repainted, the strong master-strokes have not been completely obscured, and on these we must fix our eyes. They may not fit our preconceptions, but nor do they fit the conceptions of the second-century Church. I think that the clue to the strange relations between Paul and the Jerusalem leaders has been given by the Danish New Testament scholar, Johannes Munck (1904-65). He argued that the Jeru­salem leaders and Paul agreed that the conversion of the Gentiles, as well as the conversion of the Jews, was part of God’s plan for the world; they differed about strategy, the Jerusalem leaders holding that the Gentiles would come in when Israel had re­sponded, and Paul holding that the conversion of the Gentiles might well have to ‘precede that of the Jews. Munck’s exegesis of Galatians I do not find satisfactory, but his insistence that Paul and the Jerusalem leaders could agree that there were two different and distinct missions to be carried out alongside one another pro­vides the key to the relationships at the centre of the epistle. (9f)

Each of us may have our own ways of responding to the argument that I have highlighted with yellow background.

O’Neill is far from dogmatic about his proposed interpolations and glosses and makes no secret of his motive:

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 . . . 

I hope [that] an historical study that removes obscurities and explains the meaning of the words will help to clear the way for a fresh conviction that Paul was in fact an apostle of the Son of God. (10, 13)

Following are the main points of O’Neill’s analysis of Galatians 1 and 2. I have added the table format and text of Galatians alongside O’Neill’s arguments or references to them.

Galatians 1-2 with passages O’Neill considers additions to the original epistle crossed through. References to O’Neill’s discussion that is available publicly on archive.org. I have copied quotations that I think will be of most interest to readers.
1 Paul, an apostle — not from men, nor through man, but through Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who did raise him out of the dead —
2 and all the brethren with me, to the assemblies of Galatia:
3 Grace to you, and peace from God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ,
Explanation on page 19
4 who did give himself for our sins, that he might deliver us out of the present evil age, according to the will of God even our Father,
5 to whom [is] the glory to the ages of the ages. Amen
Explanation on pages 19f
6 I wonder that ye are so quickly removed from Him who did call you in the grace of Christ to another good news;
He could hardly mean that the defection or threatened defection of the Galatians from his teaching, serious as it was, was complete defection from God. He regarded Jews who failed to acknowledge Jesus Christ as still worshipping God, even if they did not wholly obey him (Rom. 10.2; cf. 9-4f). Bruno Bauer adduced the idea that defec­tion from Paul’s position was defection from God as evidence that the true author of Galatians was far removed from the time and circumstances of Paul.1 I cite in support of the possibility that Paul here refers to his own preaching the sentence in Gal. 5.8: ἡ πεισμονὴ οὐκ ἐκ τοῦ καλοῦντος ὑμᾶς [=This persuasion is not from him who calls you] where it is possible that Paul referred to himself. If Paul had meant in 1.6 that the Galatians were defecting from God, he would hardly have called that to which they were defecting evayyeXiov, in however qualified a sense. (21)
7 that is not another, except there be certain who are troubling you, and wishing to pervert the good news of the Christ;  Explanation on pages 20f

Verses 6 and 7 as amended may be paraphrased like this.  “I marvel that you are changing over so quickly to some other good news—which is not really good news at all. I would marvel, had there not been people who are disturbing you and wanting to pervert the good news of Christ.”

8 but even if we or a messenger out of heaven may proclaim good news to you different from what we did proclaim to you — anathema let him be!
9 as we have said before, and now say again, If any one to you may proclaim good news different from what ye did receive — anathema let him be!
10 for now men do I persuade, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if yet men I did please — Christ’s servant I should not be. Explanation on pages 23f
13 for ye did hear of my behaviour once in Judaism, that exceedingly I was persecuting the assembly of God, and wasting it,
14 and I was advancing in Judaism
above many equals in age in mine own race, being more abundantly zealous of my fathers’ deliverances,
15 and when God was well pleased — having separated me from the womb of my mother, and having called [me] through His grace —
16 to reveal His Son in me, that I might proclaim him good news among the nations, immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood,
17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem unto those who were apostles before me, but I went away to Arabia, and again returned to Damascus,
18 then, after three years I went up to Jerusalem to enquire about Peter, and remained with him fifteen days,
19 and other of the apostles I did not see, except James, the brother of the Lord.
20 And the things that I write to you, lo, before God — I lie not;
21 then I came to the regions of Syria and of Cilicia,
22 and was unknown by face to the assemblies of Judea, that [are] in Christ,
23 and only they were hearing, that `he who is persecuting us then, doth now proclaim good news — the faith that then he was wasting;’
24 and they were glorifying God in me.
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. . . . .

The interpolation is anachronistic because it regards Judaism as an entity distinct from Christianity. Jews at the time used the term ’Ιουδαϊσμος 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. I.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 Magn. 8.1; 10.3; Philad. 6.1).

The concepts employed are rarely found in Paul, or are entirely absent. In verse 23 πίστις [=pistis/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. . . . 

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 lips. (pp 24-27)

2,1 Then, after fourteen years again I went up to Jerusalem with Barnabas, having taken with me also Titus;
2 and I went up by revelation, and did submit to them the good news that I preach
The verse should then be translated, “But I went up in obedience to revelation, and I submitted the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles, but to the authorities in private, lest I be running or had run in vain”. . . .

The commentators who . . . take it to refer to the apostle’s fear, try to avoid the implication that Paul himself is afraid of anything. They suppose that the words “must be taken to express his fear lest the Judaic Christians, by insisting on the Mosaic ritual, might thwart his past and present endeavours to establish a Church on a liberal basis” (Lightfoot). This strained interpretation is required because the commentators relate the last clause to the very act of submitting the gospel, but the reading I have adopted relates the last clause to the privacy of the con­sultation. The apostle submitted the gospel privately, in case he was running in vain.

The tortuous interpretation cited from Lightfoot, and followed by most commentators, seems necessary in order to avoid a blank denial of all that Paul has been insisting on in the first chapter of the epistle. If his commission was given by God and if he made no attempt to please men, he could not have admitted to asking the Jerusalem leaders to tell him whether or not he was in the right. Yet we cannot deny that the whole of this second chapter of the epistle portrays the Jerusalem leaders as authorities exercising a quasi-judicial power. As Lightfoot shrewdly notes, to his own discomfort, the natural drift of verse 2 is “slightly favoured by οὐδέν  προσανέθεντο [=nothing added], ver. 6”. . . . .

But what can be the point of submitting to the judgement of the Jerusalem apostles if the judgement did not concern the very thing that Paul has insisted in chapter 1 was beyond human judgement, his preaching to the Gentiles? What else can the Jerusalem apostles be deciding than that Paul has been right or wrong from the very beginning? They were deciding, I believe, no such general issue, but simply the concrete particular issue whether they, as the leaders of Israel that had acknowledged her Messiah, would accept the Gentiles who had also acknowledged Jesus as Messiah, but without becoming proselytes, as the firstfruits of the obedience of the Gentiles which had been promised. Had they decided not to accept Paul’s work, Paul would have known that his race had been in vain. This would have been a staggering blow to him, meaning that Israel was not yet ready to accept one of the promised messianic signs, but the blow could not strike at his personal commission from God.

Paul deliberately sought private audience so that, if the autho­rities were not yet ready to accept the Gentiles, the refusal would not have been public, and Paul would not have had to labour against the disappointment the Gentile Christians would have inevitably suffered at their first rebuff. He would have continued to work for a response from the Gentiles, and he would have con­tinued to hope for an acceptance of these Gentiles by the repre­sentatives of Israel, the leaders in Jerusalem.

What was the content of this commission, which hitherto we have described generally as the commission to preach to the Gentiles? We must now be more precise. The commission was to preach Jesus Christ to the Gentiles without at the same time asking that they become Jews. That commission Paul could never give up to please men, but at the same time that commission had to be carried out, had to be submitted to the test of history, and could have proved, for the time being, fruitless. The first test was successful, and the Gentiles began to believe. The second test might have been unsuccessful, but it too succeeded. The repre­sentatives of Israel acknowledged Paul’s work, did not compel Titus to be circumcised, and laid no conditions … on the Gentile congregations through Paul their representative. (28ff)

3 but not even Titus, [instead, “my companion”] who [is] with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised —


It is easy to see how the name could have been added to the text. The original may well have been, … “But not even my companion, who is a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised” .

Explanation on pages 30ff

4 and [that] because [even] of the false brethren brought in unawares, who did come in privily to spy out our liberty that we have in Christ Jesus, that us they might bring under bondage,
5 to whom not even for an hour we gave place by subjection, that the truth of the good news might remain to you.
6 And [now] from those who were esteemed to be something — whatever they were then, it maketh no difference to me — the face of man God accepteth not, for — to me those esteemed did add nothing,
Without the particle, the whole phrase goes easily with the preceding verb: “for not even my companion who was a Greek was compelled to be circumcised on account of the false intruding1 brothers who came in to spy out the freedom we have in Christ Jesus” . The intruders must have been intruders into the church at Antioch, otherwise we should have to suppose, on the previous argument, that they managed to penetrate into the private meeting between Paul, Barnabas, and Titus with the “pillars” in Jerusalem. But then there would be nothing to “spy out” ; the meeting was openly concerned with the issue. This description of the false brothers must apply to their activities away in the churches from which Paul has come. The sense of verses 3 and 4 is that the pressure brought by these agitators was not suffi­cient to lead even to the requirement that a Greek received by the Jerusalem congregation be circumcised, much less that Greeks in a Greek environment be circumcised. (32f)

The original text of 2:3-6 O’Neill conjectures as follows:

Not even the one who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised, because those who came in unawares, to spy out our liberty that we have in Christ Jesus, that us they might bring under bondage. Not for an hour did we yield in subjection. Of those esteemed to be something, whatever they were then, it maketh no difference to me — the face of man God accepteth not, for — to me those esteemed did add nothing…

Explanation on pages 33-36

7 but, on the contrary, having seen that I have been entrusted with the good news of the uncircumcision, as Peter with [that] of the circumcision,

8 for He who did work with Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, did work also in me in regard to the nations,

9 and having known the grace that was given to me, James, and Cephas, and John, who were esteemed to be pillars, a right hand of fellowship they did give to me, and to Barnabas, that we to the nations, and they to the circumcision [may go],

10 only, of the poor that we should be mindful, which also I was diligent — this very thing — to do.

11 And when Peter came to Antioch, to the face I stood up against him, because he was blameworthy,

12 for before the coming of certain from James, with the nations he was eating, and when they came, he was withdrawing and separating himself, fearing those of the circumcision,

13 and dissemble with him also did the other Jews, so that also Barnabas was carried away by their dissimulation.

14 But when I saw that they are not walking uprightly to the truth of the good news, I said to Peter before all, `If thou, being a Jew, in the manner of the nations dost live, and not in the manner of the Jews, how the nations dost thou compel to Judaize?

15 we by nature Jews, and not sinners of the nations,

16 having known also that a man is not declared righteous by works of law, if not through the faith of Jesus Christ, also we in Christ Jesus did believe, that we might be declared righteous by the faith of Christ, and not by works of law, wherefore declared righteous by works of law shall be no flesh.’

17 And if, seeking to be declared righteous in Christ, we ourselves also were found sinners, [is] then Christ a ministrant of sin? let it not be!

18 for if the things I threw down, these again I build up, a transgressor I set myself forth;

19 for I through law, did die, that to God I may live;

20 with Christ I have been crucified, and live no more do I, and Christ doth live in me; and that which I now live in the flesh — in the faith I live of the Son of God, who did love me and did give himself for me;

21 I do not make void the grace of God, for if righteousness [be] through law — then Christ died in vain.

Explanation on pages 37 to 46

Paul shows that he was not afraid to stand up to Cephas— whose authority as one of the “pillars” he has already acknowledged—in order to show Cephas that he was a transgressor. How much more should the Galatians stand up to men without any such authority who try to persuade the Gentiles to give up their status as the Gentile part of God’s economy in the messianic age. (44)

. . . .

The first sentence in verse 20 has a different view of the life of a Christian from that expressed in the rest of verse 20 and in verse 21. The ego dies to be replaced by Christ, and the Christian man is substantially changed. In the rest of the verse, on the other hand, the Christian man undergoes not a change in substance but a change in the centre of his trust. The death he went through did not change his nature but changed his allegiance. He still lives in the flesh, expecting death and resurrection with Christ.

I conclude that the first sentence of verse 20 is a perfectly understandable gloss on Paul’s argument. Paul’s mention of death could not but suggest to a theologian living in the Hellenistic world the mystical change of nature whereby an initiate was in­corporated into the divine life and deified. Compare the prayer to Hermes, “ Come to me Lord Hermes, as babies to women’s wombs . . . I know you, Hermes, and you know me. I am you and you are I.” (45f)

O’Neill, John Cochrane. The Recovery of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. London: S.P.C.K., 1972.

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40 thoughts on “What Others have Written About Galatians – J. C. O’Neill”

  1. “what falsifier would be so implausible and obscure?”

    Inspector Grandpierre: Obviously you’re telling the truth, for why would you invent such a ridiculous story? – From the movie Charade (1963):

  2. The correct Gospel analogy for the O’Neill’s criticism of the Bruno Bauer’s view would be when a biblical scholar attributes the difficulties in the gospels to embarrassment for a historical Jesus, not even wanting to contemplate the possibility of attributing the difficulties to the various sects that edited the gospel. As if the recognition of the sectarian rivalries was even more sacrilegious than giving up to the criterion of embarrassment.

    This prevents O’Neill from asking to himself, for example, why just “Arabia” is mentioned in 1:27. A critical answer is that the compilator had in mind the Aretas’s episode in 2 Cor, in order to show the courage of the apostle in facing a greatest danger than what would have expected him in Jerusalem (persecutions by Jews as described in Acts). Had he not interpolated the visit to Arabia, the delay of 14 years before the first visit of Paul to Jerusalem (the current first visit having been interpolated later) would have been interpreted as cowardice by the apostle, compared to the courage shown by him in Acts.

          1. Also the Paul of Acts walks up to those coming to arrest him in Jerusalem (per se an imitatio Christi). The Paul of Galatians should not lag behind in this respect, hence he returns to the his previous Arab persecutors, this time in the same Arabia.

            1. Let’s not shift the goal posts in mid-game 😉 — My original response was to the claim that

              the compilator had in mind the Aretas’s episode in 2 Cor, in order to show the courage of the apostle in facing a greatest danger

              He admittedly slunk out from the city in secrecy rather than face his Arab persecutors.

              1. Your claim (“He admittedly slunk out from the city in secrecy rather than face his Arab persecutors).

                …is true also for the persecutions of Paul by Jews in Acts (Paul escaped always to them) .

                Read well my previous comment again: the compilator had in mind the Aretas’s episode in 2 Cor, in order to show the courage of the apostle in facing a greatest danger than what would have expected him in Jerusalem (persecutions by Jews as described in Acts).

                The courage of Paul of Galatians had to overcome the courage of Paul of the Acts. The latter was persecuted by the diasporic Jews and even so, he went into the lion’s den (of all the places): Jerusalem. Very courageous!

                If Paul hadn’t gone into Arabia, then in the original Galatians (without the current first visit to Jerusalem), he would have gone to Jerusalem (the “lion’s den”) only after 14 years: enough to raise against him the accusation of cowardice. Or to prefer over him the Paul of Acts.

                By going immediately into Arabia, now also the Paul of Galatians appears enough courageous. Arabia is the new, temporary “lion’s den” in the place of Jerusalem. Paul goes into Arabia despite of the fact that he knows in advance that the Arabs are his persecutors. Just as in Acts Paul goes to Jerusalem despite of the fact that the Jews are his persecutors.

              2. By going immediately into Arabia, now also the Paul of Galatians appears enough courageous. Arabia is the new, temporary “lion’s den” in the place of Jerusalem. Paul goes into Arabia despite of the fact that he knows in advance that the Arabs are his persecutors. Just as in Acts Paul goes to Jerusalem despite of the fact that the Jews are his persecutors.

                This is entirely speculative. There is no basis in the evidence for this interpretation. Please note again what I have often tried to point out when addressing this type of argument — “confirmation bias”. It is the same method that joins dots to “prove” conspiracy theories. Anyone can always — I suspect that is only slight exaggeration if exaggeration at all — can assemble evidence to support a favourite idea if they look hard enough. But that’s not good scholarship, it’s not good research, it’s not how we establish truth in any situation. But it is how people have found others guilty of crimes they never committed — circumstantial and cherry-picked “evidence” (really unfiltered data) to “prove” their guilt.

      1. I don’t mean to sound polemical here, but how realistic is it that a Nabataean king would be pursuing Paul “for his faith” in the 30s? Could Christianity really have been that notable or significant at the time?
        I ask because there are those who find it liklier to be a reference to Aretas III who, unlike Aretas IV, was known to have actually controlled Damascus. Obviously, that would put 2 Corinthians in the first century BCE.

        1. Some people have suggested that Paul was active then; would you know any such authors.

          But that would merely raise the same questions as you ask, but in a diiuferent form: how realistic is it that a Nabataean king would be pursuing Paul “for his faith” in the 1st century BCE? Could Christianity really have been that notable or significant at the time?

          1. Yes, Bart Willruth has put together a pretty coherent case for Paul in the first century BCE.


            He sees Paul as some kind of auxillary soldier, pointing to details such as the frequency of Paul’s shipwrecks (3 seems rather a lot for an incidental traveler) and certain terminologies that have a military origin. Part 2 lists the evidence for this concept.

      2. He never says it had anything to do with his faith and that would make no sense in 37 anyway. If he was even converted yet, Aretas didn’t know or care anything about Christians. If Paul was held by Aretas, it makes more sense that it was because he was Herodian.

        That whole passage is weird, though, because Aretas never took Damascus in the first place.

  3. Your criticism assumes that the pattern is a mere coincidence:
    Persecution by diasporic Jews —> Paul goes to Jerusalem
    Persecution by Arabs in Damascus —> Paul goes to Arabia

    1. No Giuseppe, not at all. Please study how “confirmation bias” works. My criticism believes that different explanations for both coincidences and raw data as it stands independently must be tested and not assumed to fit one’s pet theory.

      It is your readiness to assume that when you see patterns or coincidences that fit your theory you immediately embrace them as proof of your theory.

      That is the same method conspiracy theorists use.

      Astrologers use the same method to prove astrology works.

      Witch hunters used the same method to identify who was a witch and who wasn’t.

      Profiling is the same kind of reasoning using coincidences and patterns to unfairly victimize minorities.

      We use the same method to see faces and animals in the clouds.

      It is the same kind of reasoning that leads people into cults, seeing only what fits their prejudices and wishes and not testing the information independently.

      It is your method that assumes — assumes, without independent proof or evidence — that a coincidence that fits your theory must prove your theory. We need evidence. Not assumptions.

      Assumptions are not allowed in a court of law; they are not good methods in any research investigation. They are bad scholarship — the same pseudo-scholarship behind the “coincidences” in astrology, for example.

      (Quite apart from the simple fact that began this little discussion — Paul ran from his persecutors in Arabia if we are to credit his account in the Corinthian letter. The simplest explanation is that there was no belief that he would face persecution in Arabia before he went there. How can anyone possibly say that that’s what he thought. There is simply no evidence for the claim that he went there knowing or expecting persecution. None at all. You have a nice symmetrical theory and are looking for data to fit into it. That is not scholarship. It is not sound reasoning.

      I have tried to point this out many times in the past. I would encourage you to study how valid and invalid reasoning works. Without a knowledge of this one will always follow blind leads.)

      1. Obviously I don’t mean to built an entire case for Galatians’s posteriority over Acts on Galatians 1:17 being based on the Aretas’s episode and Acts in mind. But the contrary is true: if one is already arrived to the conclusion (for other justified reasons) that Galatians postdates Acts, then the the my argument about Arabia becomes more strong and it can’t be reduced to mere coincidence. Put bluntly: a delay of 14 years for Paul visiting Jerusalem (in the original version) had to be compensated with the addition of an act of heroism by the apostle. Nothing better was found (given the previous sources) as expedient than a tiny allusion to persecution by the Arabs: Galatians 1:17.
        You have alluded about other previous unnamed criticisms by you on other arguments: I remember only your strong certainty that Mark precedes *Ev (and you criticism of the contrary view held by me). I can only say that I continue to think that Mark postdates *Ev (even if *Ev wasn’t the oldest gospel).

        1. if one is already arrived to the conclusion (for other justified reasons) that Galatians postdates Acts, then the the my argument about Arabia becomes more strong and it can’t be reduced to mere coincidence.

          There is no argument about Arabia. It is nothing but evidence-free assertion. It is mere assertion without any supporting evidence at all. The mere fact, if it be a fact, that Galatians is written after Acts is not evidence at all. You are filling in a blank page with your theory. A theory needs evidence to be persuasive. You only have a blank page and assume your theory is the best explanation. That is the confirmation bias on steroids.

          Put bluntly: a delay of 14 years for Paul visiting Jerusalem (in the original version) had to be compensated with the addition of an act of heroism by the apostle.

          Why did it have to be compensated at all? We have absolutely zilch evidence that there was any act of heroism. No evidence at all. You have a theory and you are filling in the gaps in the evidence with your theory. That is conspiracy theory logic.

          Nothing better was found (given the previous sources) as expedient than a tiny allusion to persecution by the Arabs: Galatians 1:17.

          You can’t just rip one piece of data from one context and assume it must fit in another scenario in an entirely different context. You have no idea who wrote either of those details or when or why or for whom — only theories. But even if you did know any of those details you would have to try to explain a link between Galatians and the Damascus episode — with evidence, not assumption. It’s a nice story that you have imagined — you can make a story out of connecting those dots, but you cannot reconstruct history like that.

          There are numerous other theories in the commentaries and scholarly literature postulating reasons for Paul going to Arabia, and at least some of those have a justifiable method and argument behind them.

          As for other arguments, it doesn’t matter what the specifics are, but your intelligence is undermined by your all too regular proclivity to slip into confirmation bias. Please do — I implore you — study the rules of logic, especially logical fallacies, and try to test your own ideas with them.

          I have tried to do that. I know how easy it is to be wrong and I can detect confirmation bias a mile off — except when it is right behind me. I always have to be on guard as we all do.

          1. I think that the premise that Galatians is a reaction against Acts imposes the interpretation of Gal 1:17 as an allusion to a persecution faced in Arabia. Part of the premise, for who knows well the premise, is that the author of Galatians wanted to create a Paul who was better than the Paul of Acts. Nothing of different from the Gospel proposing a Jesus who was better than Elijah or Odysseus. The only difference is that the rivalry between the two Pauls is also theological (MacDonald sees only a cultural rivalry between Jesus and the Homeric heroes, while only Vinzent sees also a theological rivalry in Jesus’s imitation of Elijah). Your objection that Paul couldn’t go into Arabia on the assumption that (he knew that) persecutors expected him there would be equivalent to the objection that none evangelist would have invented Jesus facing Legion. Not even when Legion is a midrash of Polyphemus? Not even when Jesus has to do better than Elijah? The Paul of Galatians had to do better than the Paul of Acts. The Paul of Acts faced persecution immediately in Jerusalem itself. The Paul of Galatians couldn’t go immediately to Jerusalem (a rapid visit would be seen as a rapid submission to the Pillars), hence Paul is made to go into Arabia, an allusion to the persecution that would have expected the apostle there would have been sufficient to the readers who had already read 2 Corinthians and Acts. The heroism of the apostle could only be increased.

            1. You seem to be ignoring the logical fallacy of your argument that I have tried to draw to your attention, so let me try another angle. You may be quite right that Paul expected persecution if he went to Arabia. That may have been true, or it may even have been just what the author of Galatians wanted his readers to believe. But there is no evidence to support either interpretation. The data allows us to reconstruct events so that those scenarios are true, but it also allows us to construct different motives and thoughts, both or either in Paul himself or in the authors of our works. In other words, we have constructed a plausible scenario in the same way a novelist constructs historical fiction from the historical evidence.

              All we have is a fictional reconstruction. It may coincide with the true facts but that would be merely coincidence.

              Your objection that Paul couldn’t go into Arabia on the assumption that (he knew that) persecutors expected him there would be equivalent to the objection that none evangelist would have invented Jesus facing Legion.

              You have not grasped my argument at all. I make no such assumption. My point is that there is simply no evidence on which to affirm that Paul knew or expected in advance some form of persecution awaiting him in Arabia. None at all. You have an argument, a narrative, to affirm that he could foresee the persecution, but you have no evidence to support that claim. The fact that he was in trouble with Aretas does not in any way tell us anything at all about what we or Paul could have expected at the time he decided to go to Arabia.

              If you read the commentaries you will find other evidence-based arguments for why the author of Galatians wrote that Paul went to Arabia. But they are all evidence-based. None of them hints that persecution awaited him there.

              The Paul of Galatians couldn’t go immediately to Jerusalem (a rapid visit would be seen as a rapid submission to the Pillars), hence Paul is made to go into Arabia, an allusion to the persecution that would have expected the apostle there would have been sufficient to the readers who had already read 2 Corinthians and Acts. The heroism of the apostle could only be increased.

              Again you are imagining motives that are not found in the texts.

              I have no idea whether Galatians was written before or after Acts or 2 Corinthians. Whether it was written before or after either does not change the simple fact that readers of Galatians are given no clue whatsoever to suspect that Paul could have expected persecution by going to Arabia.

              Readers are told nothing at all about his motives or thoughts or knowledge of the circumstances at the time.

              If the author of Galatians was wanting to lionize Paul there are other ways he could have done it with respect to his Arabia visit that are consistent with our evidence. The author left us no evidence that he wanted us to think Paul was courageously going into a lion’s den. None at all. But as I said, there are other evidence-based explanations for his visit to Arabia in Galatians that do not rely on us today imagining motives or us today imagining knowledge about the state of affairs.

              1. I am satisfied that you concede now some plausibility of the my hypothesis in the context of some premises (in primis, the fact that the readers of Galatians were well aware of 2 Corinthians and Acts). To my knowledge, I don’t know why “Arabia” in particular is mentioned (why “Arabia” rather than Babylon or Egypt), apart the Prosper Alfaric’s hypothesis that Paul expected Essenes just there and not elsewhere. Or the Brodie’s hypothesis of Paul as new Moses (assuming the additional hypothesis that Arabia means Sinai).

              2. I’ve never doubted plausibility but my point was that plausibility applies equally to historical fiction as it does to history. It is neither here nor there with respect to being data upon which to reconstruct history. One cannot build an edifice on plausibility — unless one is content to write a historical novel.

                If you look at some of the commentaries you will find more evidence-based explanations for ‘why Arabia’ in Galatians.

                (Plausibility that is based on a logical fallacy is even less qualified to count as a basis for a historical reconstruction.)

    1. I place primary importance on literary analysis as the first step in reading any literature — and several works have pointed me towards intertextuality of the larger passage in which the Arabia trek features. Messengers of God were known to dash off to the desert/wilderness after a life-changing encounter with God before embarking on their “mission proper”.

      1. Which assumes (1) a real experience described in the genuine words of Paul; or (2) the identity of the god (of which Paul is the messenger) as the god of the OT. Both the points can be questioned (if the letters are seen as the product of the Marcion’s school).

        1. No. Both those options are unwarranted leaps. Either can only be justified if it finds further — and independent — support. Intertextuality does not presuppose allegiance to any of the deities that are the focus of the source texts. (Do Christians playing with motifs from Homer or Euripides secretly worship Athena or Dionysus?) The only valid approach is to analyse the evidence we have before jumping to conclusions about “genuine words of Paul” or the “identity of Paul’s god”. The evidence comes first. Beware assumptions and confirmation bias — they invalidate any argument.

          1. I am only saying that if Marcion (or a marcionite) wrote Galatians, then Arabia (and Sinai) less of all the places would be where he would have sent the apostle shortly after the revelation. None midrash from Homer would send Jesus in a place of worship of Pagan gods.
            I wonder now if the fact that Sinai is in Arabia may explain why just Arabian persecutors are against Paul (if in Damascus or in Arabia itself). Is Marcion remarking the opposition between Paul and (the people coming from) the place where Moses received the law? Afterall, in Acts Paul is threatened by local Jews in Damascus. Replacing the Jews with the men of the Aretas’s governor in the role of persecutors in the same city would be not less anti-Jewish (= anti-nomianist) as veiled allusion.

            1. You are building on sand. You don’t seem to be interested in testing your argument against the principles that explain “confirmation bias”. We have very few absolutes about Marcion, and we know of intertextuality on the part of anti-demiurge gnostics with the Hebrew Bible.

              One of the most important takeaways I got from Earl Doherty was his stress on the primacy of logical validity of arguments. Unfortunately in some respects I took this so seriously that I began to see where Earl himself had slipped in that area. That made me all the more concerned about how easy it is for any of us to slip into fallacies — especially when we are “on a roll” with a “pet theory” that seems to explain so much.

              All I can do is try to point out where you are adding ideas — your theory — into the evidence before us — instead of relying strictly on nothing more than what the evidence itself tells us. I think I attempted to point out your proclivity for interpreting data through your theory and seeing how the data read that way supposedly supporting your theory on the earlywritings forum and have tried to do so again here.

              It’s part of our evolutionary heritage to see patterns amidst the chaos — it helped with survival. Better to see danger where none exists than to miss it because of nature’s camouflage. It is the same “confirmation bias” that is at the foundation of conspiracy theories and fundamentalist theology.

              It doesn’t work to simply repeat the same argument from different angles while avoiding engaging with the criticisms raised against its logic.

              1. Sorry, but Marcion’s anti-demiurgism would have never allowed the introduction of a verse (Gal 1:17) designed to make Paul pay homage to the god who revealed himself on the Sinai. Unless what expected Paul in Arabia was persecution.

              2. You keep missing my point. Why do you ignore the criticism of confirmation bias and keep repeating arguments arising from the same logical fallacy?

                I gave the example of generic gnostic intertextuality to drive home a balance against intertextuality with Homer etc. It makes no difference from what side the intertextuality comes — your argument is cherry picking instead of testing evidence. It is simply looking for and sticking whatever details seem to fit to your theory — exactly as conspiracy theorists do to try to argue for a conspiracy theory.

                There is absolutely no evidence that the author of Galatians had Paul go to Arabia in expectation of persecution. You are merely deducing that from a series of dots external to the core passage itself.

                I am tiring of your constant refusal to address my criticism of the logic of your argument.

                Do you not understand what confirmation bias is and how it works?

  4. If we are entertaining the theory that Galatians is written with an intention to challenge concepts in Acts, then are there timeline issues here?

    1./ Paul was unknown to most until Marcion introduced his epistles?
    2./ The gospel of Mark makes use of Romans?
    3./ The gospel of Luke uses Mark?
    4./ The book of Acts was written after Luke?

    Each of the above contentions can be challenged, and it is also possible that Acts was written after Galatians but incorporates material that predates Galatians (which the Galatians writer may have been responding to).

    My preference is to stick to Acts being a response to Galatians based those assumptions above, but I know to never get too attached to an assumption these days!

  5. I see that McGuire gives a reason for the choice of Arabia that is slightly better than my. While I see a motive in the need of a place of persecution (for Paul) that could replace validly Jerusalem (as place of persecution described by Acts), McGuire in “Did Paul write Galatians?” writes that Arabia was yes introduced to replace the Acts’s Jerusalem, but only in order to remove the difficulty (found in Acts) of a Paul going just to Jerusalem (where there are Jews) shortly after having faced persecution by “Jews” in Damascus:

    If Paul did go to Arabia, what did he do there and how long did he stay? In the absence of such details, Gal. i, 17 serves no other purpose than to improve on the earlier first-person account and refute Luke’s version of his movements between Damascus and Jerusalem.

    McGuire’s reading doesn’t require that persecution expected Paul in Arabia. It requires only awareness (and correction) of an editorial fatigue found in Acts (i.e. the fact that Acts, replacing Aretas with the Jews of Damascus, has made irrational the next visit of Paul in the lion’s den: Jerusalem, of all the places).

    Hence the probable reading is that (1) the Aretas’s episode comes before; (2) Acts replaces Aretas with the Jews for diplomatic reasons but as collateral effect raising the editorial fatigue of the passage from Damascus to Jerusalem (“the lion’s den”); (3) Galatians wants to remove the Acts’s editorial fatigue by imagining that the Aretas’s governor persecuted Paul in Damascus because Paul had made a missionary journey in Arabia. In the mind of the author of Galatians, the causal sequence “Arabia —> Damascus” had to be more persuasively realistic than the Acts’s sequence “Damascus —> Jerusalem”.

    1. I’m not interested in what McGuire argues. That is not the subject of this post. But I am interested in sound methods of basic comprehension, analysis and synthesis of the texts, and that nearly always leads me to accept the fragility of what we think we know. You come across as hell bent on arguing dogmatically for one particular view that aligns with your theory of the origins of Galatians vis a vis the Marcionite struggle — and you appear equally determined to avoid engaging with the criticism repeatedly levelled against your method of argument.

  6. Your criticisms against me are always welcomed. Even so, I think that you are wrong about Doherty. The fact that the epistles are fabricated in the Marcion’s school doesn’t confute the Doherty’s claim that texts as 1 Cor 2:6-8 attest to the myth of a celestial crucifixion. Detering is an example of scholar who argues for both the things (a myth of the celestial crucifixion preceding the fabrication of the “pauline” epistles). Droge is another.

    1. I don’t see that they are welcome at all. You seem to completely ignore them. You certainly have not responded in any way that indicates you have any concern for them since each response only adds to the same logical fallacy. And again — you misread what I said about Doherty: my point was that I came to see where he himself succumbed to logical fallacies in his arguments. (The question of the heavenly crucifixion per se is irrelevant to my point.) My point re Doherty was to highlight how easily we can fall into logical errors.

      I can only implore you to please, please study the logic of valid and invalid arguments.

      I was reading a review earlier today about an apologist claiming to be a historian of Jesus and the early Church. I have no doubt about his sincerity and conviction that he is on the side of truth. But I also know that he is following the same methods of confirmation bias as conspiracy theorists — and, must I repeat it, you also, along with other fundamentalists or apologists. I have been there, I know the fallacies and how easily they trap us. You would earn a lot more credibility if you demonstrated an awareness of those fallacies and changed some of your arguments accordingly.

      1. I mean that I give up to defend the view that Gal 1:17 replaces the place of persecution, while I see it now as giving a background to 2 Corinthians 11:32-33 contra Acts 9:22-25.

        I don’t think that Gal 1:17 is based on Elijah because “Arabia” sounds as a pointer more to Nabatea than to (only) Sinai. In addition, Galatians 4:5 is evidence that when the author wanted to mean Sinai, he would have done so explicitly without talking in general terms about the entire region including Sinai.

    2. Let me add that my point about Doherty’s logical errors were in relation to questions not directly related to his thesis of the heavenly crucifixion. His arguments on that score were valid — but that does not necessarily mean their conclusions were true and not open to revision. His logical errors lie in the way he approached other questions relating to the history of the early church and early Jewish and Christian traditions.

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