What Others have Written About Galatians – Pierson and Naber

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by Neil Godfrey

I have copied here a translation from an 1886 publication of …

… two researchers from different fields of knowledge …. A. Pierson is the theologian …, whose work has made him known as an astute and fearless critic …. S. A. Naber, on the other hand, is a philologist and thus offers a guarantee of complete impartiality. The work therefore also claims to have brought the truth to light along a path that has hitherto been almost untrodden. The motto taken from Galen, which compares ordinary exegetes with those quacks who triumphantly cure a sick patient suffering from dropsy, reveals the opinion that the authors have of the exegesis of the New Testament to date. Why are there so many obscure passages in the New Testament which, despite all attempts at explanation, have only become more and more incomprehensible and where the work of the exegetes, instead of removing the difficulties, has only piled up new ones? The answer to this question is: because the New Testament consists of writings which are not homogeneous in themselves, but represent a basic text which has been revised and interpolated many times. (Steck, 18 — translation)

The original publication, Verisimilia, is in Latin. As per my original intent to address only the first two chapters of Galatians I post here only as much as is directly relevant — again with all bolded highlighting being my own. I have added text boxes with the relevant passages (Young’s Literal Translation) from Galatians for easy reference. (Some text references might not align correctly, presumably misprints, but the contents of the text boxes should make the argument followable.) —– One more note: Pierson and Nabor refer to “Bishop Paul” in order to identify the author of various interpolations into an originally thoroughly Jewish document as belonging to the later “episcopal age” of the church.

This epistle consists of two parts: one historical (1:1–2:14) and the other dogmatic and paraenetic (2:14–6:18). The transition from the former part to the latter is made through verse 2:14, the first part of which is historical and the latter part dogmatic. More will be said about this below.

The fact that the part we have called historical is beset by such grave difficulties should not seem surprising to us; for the things recounted in it reveal a varied origin and are mixed and confused in remarkable ways. We believe we will be able to show that these accounts are not to be attributed to a single writer, as they contain diverse and plainly contradictory statements about himself. We will compile in one place what we have observed about this matter.

He denies that there are two Gospels (1:9) and writes that the Gospel he opposes is not different from his own.

I wonder that ye are so quickly removed from Him who did call you in the grace of Christ to another good news; that is not another, except there be certain who are troubling you, and wishing to pervert the good news of the Christ; 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! 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!

He solemnly curses others (1:8); then, as those who give advice and exhortation in a kindly manner often do, he repeats what he had once said, although saying it once was entirely sufficient.

He does not wish to please other men (1:10), but his disciples will judge whether he has achieved this in his ministry (2:2: μήπως εἰς κενὸν τρέχω).

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. . . .

22 and I went up by revelation, and did submit to them the good news that I preach among the nations, and privately to those esteemed, lest in vain I might run or did run (μήπως εἰς κενὸν τρέχω)

He was set apart from his mother’s womb and called by God’s grace (1:15) and until manhood advanced in Judaism and persecuted and attacked the Church of God.

He speaks of Jesus as if he were an image or leaven that had long been hidden in the heart (1:16: εν εμοι) and likewise speaks of Jesus as if he were a mortal man, whose brother he even knew (1:19).

15 and when God was well pleased — having separated me from the womb of my mother, and having called [me] through His grace [cf 13 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] 16 to reveal His Son in me, . . . 19 of the apostles I did not see, except James, the brother of the Lord.

The one who is circumcised is not a partaker of Christ (5:2ff.) and he patiently bears that his companion Titus is in danger of being circumcised (2:3); indeed, he extends a hand to those who might demand circumcision.

52I Paul do say to you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing . . . .

He received the true Gospel by revelation (1:12) and likewise it was a revelation that made him go to Jerusalem to inquire whether he already knew the true Gospel (2:2).

12 for neither did I from man receive it, nor was I taught [it], but through a revelation of Jesus Christ . . . . 2and I went up by revelation,

He labored in vain if the disciples follow those whom he himself asked to decide whether he might have labored in vain (4:11).

22 and I went up by revelation, and did submit to them the good news that I preach among the nations, and privately to those esteemed, lest in vain I might run or did run

411 I am afraid of you, lest in vain I did labour toward you.

He calls false brothers those who came to spy on his own liberty (2:4); soon he extends a hand to those who would not spare that most cherished liberty unless something is conceded on both sides (2:9).

2and [that] because 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, . . .  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]

He does not object to those who are considered to sit as judges over him (2:2), nor does he care who they were (2:6), even though the sole reason for their judgment lies in his past life.

22 and I went up by revelation, and did submit to them the good news that I preach among the nations, and privately to those esteemed, lest in vain I might run or did run . . . . And 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

It is agreed among the brothers that he himself should be an apostle to the Gentiles (2:7-8), and then he departs for Antioch, where there was a noble church among the circumcised (2:11ff.); indeed, the entire argumentation in this epistle is taken from Jewish principles (Ch. 3ff.), nor can he persuade anyone unless they are from the circumcision. But if you consider the writer to have been in Antioch first and somewhat later to have departed from Antioch to Jerusalem, he will be found to have called a hypocrite (2:13) the same one whom he previously reported among those whose judgments he preferred above all others (2:2).

Thus here we hear two persons, one of whom is severe and zealous, the other mild and gentle and yielding to foreign authority in the church. We confess that some explanation of this inconsistency is attempted, but that explanation is not made except by the aid of a certain god, as they say, who is brought down by a machine at the opportune time (cf. κατὰ ἀποκάλυψιν 2:2).

Then we ask why indeed that historical part has been placed before the rest, but there too we find constant contradiction.

He marvels (1:6) that the readers are turning away from the Gospel, which he taught them to be the very Gospel of God and revealed truth (cf. 1:9: ὡς προειρήκαμεν); but only after seventeen years does he finally communicate to the disciples a most serious matter, namely that this Gospel is indeed revealed truth (1:11).

I wonder that ye are so quickly removed from Him who did call you in the grace of Christ to another good news; . . . . 11 And I make known to you, brethren, the good news that were proclaimed by me, that it is not according to man

He was with them (1:9), but the disciples only heard from others how he once lived among the Jews (1:13. ἠκοῦσαν).

Those whom he persecuted (1:13) did not know him by face (1:22)1.

1 In Judea, the churches heard for fourteen years (ἠκοῦσαν ησαν) that he was preaching; but if they had not heard what he was preaching, they could scarcely have praised God for it.

13 for ye did hear of my behaviour once in Judaism, that exceedingly I was persecuting the assembly of God, and wasting it . . . . 22 and was unknown by face to the assemblies of Judea, that [are] in Christ

He demands that faith be given to him announcing the Gospel (1, 8), but he thinks it necessary to swear by God that he is not lying when he writes about his own life.

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! . . . . 20 And the things that I write to you, lo, before God — I lie not

Now these many and great contradictions persuade us to conclude that all these have a dual origin. One might say that the mild Bishop Paul integrated what we read in 1:1-102 and the journey to Jerusalem to be approved by those of reputation, while he interwove all the rest about his own life with the accounts of a certain apostle, in whom we easily recognize a very different character and a very different style. We will attribute to him verses 8, 11, 12, 15, 16, 22; 2, 5; 6, but as it appears in 2, 3; 4 and from the thread of the narration abruptly broken off at 2, 14, the context is too poorly preserved for us to dare to separate the elements in this historical fragment (1, 1—2, 14) and assign each to its own place.

2 Certainly the principal points. Specifically, verses 1-5 bear the marks of his way of speaking, such as in those phrases “from men,” “by man,” which cannot even be understood until you reach verses 11 and 12. The addition “from evil” (παντός τοῦ πονηροῦ) suggests a discussion about the parousia, for Paul the Bishop spontaneously slips into it, although eschatology is otherwise not touched upon in the entire Epistle. It is likely that he borrowed from elsewhere the idea that forbids us to be “transferred to another gospel,” the force of which he immediately weakens: “which is not another” and “except there are some who… ” (verses 6 and 7). Nor perhaps is it a coincidence that the curse (ἀνάθεμα) in verse 9, which is taken from verse 8, is repeated in much milder words: the phrase “if we or an angel” in verse 8 is much stronger than “if anyone preaches to you” in verse 9; the former cannot happen, the latter certainly can happen: likewise, “as you received” in verse 9 is somewhat less arrogant than “as we preached” in verse 8. The words in verse 10a are corrupted.

Those who contend that this epistle was written in one continuous flow must first marvel at how many obscure points are found in the historical fragment, where the writer should have especially strived for clarity to better elucidate what would follow from it; indeed, there is nothing here that hinders us. The Epistle to the Galatians refers us to those times when the disputes about circumcision had long been buried, and the Gospel of the uncircumcision held its place alongside the Gospel of the circumcision. Among the Jews, the sect of those who favored stricter practices and those who wished to relax the traditional discipline had once fiercely opposed each other, but Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians had this in common, that they had embraced the teaching of Christ. Then also occurred what we see happening everywhere in ancient times: a religious conflict was resolved by reconciling opposing opinions. Bishop Paul likewise intended to do this, as he intertwined his new and conciliatory approach with old and too rigid opinions in 1:1–2:14. Everything proud, everything bold, everything severe attracted him, just as mortals are generally most attracted to what they lack themselves; but he could not leave it as he had received it: a gentle and truly Christian spirit concealed within him diluted the strong wine.

A peculiar method is used in 2:11–14.

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?

What is read today cannot be understood; certainly, the accusation of hypocrisy in verse 13 and the reproach in verse 14b lack sufficient cause. Peter had erred because his spirit was inconstant and timid, but he neither dissimulated nor compelled anyone. For a short time he mingled with the Gentiles so as not to cause offense to others, but this did not immediately warrant the accusation “if you, though a Jew,” by which such a grave defection from the Jews is argued, which cannot be made from the preceding text. Yet, the text is not in good condition. It is read in the Vatican Codex, to which much credit is rightly given, in verse 12b: οτι ελθειν (James), υπετιλλε και αφωριζιν εαυτον (Cephas). We consider this silent change of subjects intolerable and will gladly delete the words τινας απο Ιακώβου, so that Cephas is equally said to “separate himself” and “hide himself”; thus οτι ελβιν will simply be seen as repeated from verse 11. In this way, verse 12 with the words προ του γαρ ελβιν refers to Cephas’ arrival, namely what he did before he came to Antioch. Only now do we understand the crux of the matter, so that we can judge the manner of Cephas’ life: namely, Cephas, before coming to Antioch, associated with the Gentiles. He did not do this in Antioch, φοβούμενος — which now becomes clear — τους εκ περιτομής, whereas according to the received text one might have expected those από Ιακώβου [=from James]. Therefore, Cephas is indeed a hypocrite, who deceives the Antiochene Church by hiding that he previously lived differently elsewhere. Thus, it is finally said that Cephas perpetually lived with the Gentiles, and it is rightly reproached to him what is reproached in verse 14b.

Who this Cephas was, we do not know, but after the opinion that this Cephas was the Apostle Peter himself and one of those of repute had spread more widely and firmly taken hold, Bishop Paul could not simply transcribe the fragment as it was. He does not attribute the fault to Peter but criticizes certain unknown individuals, τινας ἀπὸ Ἰακώβου [=certain ones from James], for the Bishop prefers to shift the blame to unknown people, cf. 1:7: εἰ μή τινές εἰσιν οἱ ταράσσοντες and 5:10, to which passage we will return later.1

1 Now at last it becomes clear how correctly we once corrected verse 11: ὅτι κατέγνωμεν. Whoever wrote this first truly knew what kind of person Cephas was; he knew that he lived this way consistently. If he had not discovered this, the accusation of hypocrisy would have collapsed.

In verse 14, the phrase τοῦ εὐαγγελίου should be deleted; for here the issue is not about what the true Gospel is or whether we ought to live like Jews or Gentiles, but it concerns truth, sincerity, and consistency; nor is it permissible for us to appear more religious than we really are. However, with these corrections, the fragment becomes very useful. Here the dispute is not among Christians, but the matter is between Jews who lived according to Jewish customs and others who lived otherwise. Cephas’s adversary speaks so clearly that it cannot be more so: “if you, though a Jew,” and those whom Cephas wants to compel are Gentiles, τά ἔθνη. For a similar reason, later disputes arose between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians, and only then was that phrase in verse 14 coined: ἀλήθεια τοῦ εὐαγγελίου, but we will touch upon that discussion about true faith later.

14 But when I saw that they are not walking uprightly to the truth of the good news [ἀλήθεια τοῦ εὐαγγελίου,],

Now it is not at all surprising that verse 2:14 marks the end of the historical fragment, as it is the conclusion of the argument and contains a general precept in these words, which was meant not to be noticed, the personal pronoun “you”; but this is the idea the writer upholds: if a Jew by birth, having broken the bonds of the law, asserts his freedom, he should not be listened to if he wants to compel Gentiles who wish to piously worship the true God to observe the Mosaic law.

Pierson, A. (Allard). Verisimilia : laceram conditionem Novi Testamenti. Amstelodami : P.N. Van Kampen, 1886. http://archive.org/details/verisimilialace00nabegoog.

Steck, Rudolf. Der Galaterbrief nach seiner Echtheit untersucht nebst kritischen bemerkungen zu den Paulinischen Hauptbriefen. Berlin, G. Reimer, 1888. http://archive.org/details/dergalaterbriefn0000stec.


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