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). Continue reading “What Others have Written About Galatians – Pierson and Naber”


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.


Dying and Rising Gods? Scholars are Divided

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by Neil Godfrey

Some argue….

Some argue that it is misleading to speak of “dying and rising gods.”65 Greece (Eleusis) and the East did know of dying gods; there were always two, usually an older female goddess and a younger male partner who dies. The older female mourns, and death is partially abolished, but Gerd Theissen argues that there is never a real resurrection.66 Osiris is killed violently, struck or drowned by his brother Set, then cut to pieces. The overcoming of death is not resurrection: Osiris rules as king of the underworld. The ritual around the fate of dying deities is lamentation: cult members join the female deity in mourning the loss of the partner deity. Cult members do not experience the death themselves but lament it. Other scholars argue that . . . .

Balch, David L. “The Suffering of Isis/Io and Paul’s Portrait of Christ Crucified (Gal. 3:1): Frescoes in Pompeian and Roman Houses and in the Temple of Isis in Pompeii.” The Journal of Religion 83, no. 1 (2003): 49.

So what do the #65 and #66 cited sources say?

65 Gerd Theissen, The Religion of the Earliest Churches: Creating a Symbolic World (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1999), pp. 58-59.

It is certainly true that in antiquity we find belief in dying gods. Here there are always two gods: an older female deity and a younger partner deity, usually a male partner. The younger partner deity suffers death. The older one mourns this. In the conflict between life and death, death is partly abolished – but there is never a real resurrection.19

The following survey shows that most of these deities come from the East.20 Only in Eleusis do we find a genuinely Greek cult:

Original area of dissemination Older female deity Younger partner deity
Eleusis Demeter Persephone
Mesopotamia Ishtar Tammuz
Ugarit Anath Baal
Phoenicia Cybele Attis
Phrygia Cybele Attis
Egypt Isis Osiris

In the Greek view the gods are really immortal. They live at a distance from death. But the myth which underlies the Eleusinian and Orphic mysteries shows that even the world of the gods is not spared the intervention of death. That is even more true of the Eastern gods. The intervention of death is described in different ways. In the first three cases, with Persephone, Tammuz and Baal, the young partner deity is carried off into the underworld and kept there. In the last three cases the deity is killed violently: Osiris is struck or drowned by his brother Seth and then cut in pieces. Attis castrates himself and dies. Adonis is killed by a wild boar. The overcoming of death is not resurrection. Osiris rules as king of the world of the dead. Persephone has to spend four months of the year in the underworld. The corpse of Attis does not decay. Flowers rise from the blood of Adonis. It is therefore misleading to talk of ‘dying and rising gods’. There are dying gods who wrest some ‘life’ from death by compromises.

Only some of these deities were worshipped in mystery cults, i.e. in cults which were not celebrated in public but into which individuals had to be initiated. Thus there were mysteries of Demeter, Cybele and Isis. At best one could see an analogy to Christian baptism as a dying with Christ in these initiation rites. But that would be to overlook an important difference: the festivals (whether public festivals or ‘private’ mysteries) in which the fate of the dying deities is celebrated are all associated with rites of lamentation; the adherents of the deity join the older female deity in mourning the loss of the partner deity. The adherents thus do not experience the death themselves, but lament it. They identify more with the older, mourning, deity than with the younger, dying, deity, even if there are also the beginnings of the latter identification.

19. For the following remarks cf. above all Dieter Zeller, ‘Die Mysterienkulte und die paulinische Soteriologie (Rom 6, 1-11). Eine Fallstudie zum Synkretismus im Neuen Testament’, in Hermann P. Siler (ed.), Suchhewegungen. Synkretismus kulturelle Identität und kirchliches Bekenntnis, Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft 1991, 42-6.

20. The table of different partner deities reproduced below comes from Dieter Zeller, Christus unter den Göttern. Zum antiken Umfeld des Christusglaubens, Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk 1993, 42. There is more information about the individual cults in Hans-Josef Klauck, Die religiose Umwelt des Urchristentums I. Stadt- und Hausreligion, Mysterienkulte, Volksglaube, Stuttgart, Berlin, Cologne: Kohlhammer 1995, 77-128.

(Theissen 58f)

66 Theissen, p. 58, citing Dieter Zeller . . . . See also A. J. M. Wedderburn, Baptism and Resurrection: Studies in Pauline Theology against Its Graeco-Roman Background (Tübingen: Mohr [Siebeck], 1987); Walter Burkert, Ancient Mystery Cults (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1987), pp. 23, 27, 87, 99-101. See Frederick Brenk, review of Ancient Mystery Cults, by Walter Burkert, Gnomon 61 (1989): 289-92.

The question with which we started out, the possibility of influence of the ideas of the mysteries upon Christian ideas about resurrection led us to steer a hazardous course between the Scylla of so tight a definition of ‘resurrection’ that some Christian accounts of the phenomenon of Christ’s resurrection would be excluded, and the Charybdis of overlooking fundamental differences of substance between various myths and the Christian story. . . .

But once a deity is seen as a symbol of, for instance, the natural cycle of vegetation, or perhaps even came into being as a symbol of that cycle, then it would seem appropriate to speak of that deity’s death and resurrection. But is it? A number of scholars have insisted that it is far more appropriate to speak of the deity’s return. That point may be granted; the vegetation deity returns only to die again; it does not effect any final victory over death, at least not qua vegetation deity, although it may as a god of the dead or a solar deity. Nor, in the Graeco-Roman world, did its devotees see their own destinies in terms of resurrection. . . .

It is when Christians came to express in their own terms the beliefs of non-Christians that we find the tendency to describe those beliefs as including the resurrection of the deity or of his devotees. Now it is true that this means that they saw in those beliefs at least a superficial similarity to their own. But that need not mean that the similarity was anything more than superficial. It is quite another thing to suggest that those beliefs somehow generated the Christian ones. Had the dominant Christian claim been, for instance, one to the effect that Jesus had ascended, had been snatched up to heaven, either pagan (or indeed Jewish) beliefs could have been adduced as possibly influential in the formation of the Christian belief, but ‘resurrection’ is another matter and it is this that is the dominant expression of Christian beliefs about Jesus and also of Christians’ beliefs about their own destiny.

(Wedderburn, 208, 209, 210)


. . . . the pagan evidence for resurrection symbolism is uncompelling at best.

To sum up, there is a dynamic paradox of death and life in all the mysteries associated with the opposites of night and day, darkness and light, below and above, but there is nothing as explicit and resounding as the passages in the New Testament, especially in Saint Paul and in the Gospel of John, concerning dying with Christ and spiritual rebirth. There is as yet no philosophical-historical proof that such passages are directly derived from pagan mysteries; nor should they be used as the exclusive key to the procedures and ideology of mysteries.

(Burkert, 23, 101)

Other scholars argue that . . . .

….. Other scholars argue that Osiris is indeed raised from the dead.67

(Balch, 49)

And where does that citation lead us? Continue reading “Dying and Rising Gods? Scholars are Divided”


What Others have Written About Galatians – Joseph Turmel

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by Neil Godfrey

Joseph Turmel, alias Henri Delafosse

The previous post presented a historical Dutch language criticism of Galatians and here I offer a sceptical analysis from France. I have selected from Henri Turmel’s discussion those paragraphs that address Galatians 1-2, — as per my earlier explanation. In my coming post on J.C. O’Neill’s detailed discussion, both Bergh van Eysinga and Turmel are overlooked in the historical survey of criticism. O’Neill pulls back hard on the reins of those critics who have doubted the historical Paul wrote the bulk of our epistle. But before that post, here is Turmel’s take. Note how different are the interpretations of these verses.

Turmel follows Alfred Loisy in the view that the Paul of Acts is closer to the historical Paul than the Paul of the epistles. The Galatian apostle is a Marcionite.

The original text (French) is from

Turmel, Joseph. La Seconde Épître Aux Corinthiens, Les Épîtres Aux Galates, Aux Colossiens, Aux Ephésiens, À Philémon: Traduction Nouvelle Avec Introduction Et Notes. Paris: Rieder, 1927. — pages 67-73

I have made it available on archive.org.

As for the archive.org project itself, please do add your signatures to the petition in their legal battle.

Paul’s words are in italics.

The Marcionite writing is in straight characters.

The Catholic redaction is small type.

3. Paul as an apostle to the Gentiles.

I pass to the long piece which goes from I, 8 to III, 5 and, among the assertions which one meets there, I note first of all those which relate to the apostolate of Paul. According to I:16 Paul was charged with announcing the Son of God “among the Gentiles”. According to II, 2, he explained to the Christians in Jerusalem the gospel he was preaching “among the Gentiles”. The notables recognized that the gospel (II, 7) had been entrusted to him “for the uncircumcised”. Therefore (II,9) it was agreed that Paul and Barnabas would address “the Gentiles”. In a word, Paul is the apostle of the Gentiles.

Let us now open Acts. Paul, immediately after his conversion (IX, 20) preaches in the synagogues of Damascus. Later (XIII, 5) he announces the word of God in the synagogues of Salamis of Cyprus. In Antioch of Pisidia (XIII, 14) he preaches in the synagogue. Driven out of Antioch he goes to Iconium and there again (XIV, 1) he goes straight to the synagogue. But there are cities where the Jews are not numerous enough to have a synagogue. Such is the case of Philippi. What does Paul do? He conjectures that, if there is no synagogue, there must at least be a modest oratory, and that this oratory must be placed near a watercourse where ablutions can be performed. When the Sabbath arrived (XVI, 13), he went to the small river that flowed near the city. There he finds women gathered. He speaks to them and one of them, Lydia, “a God-fearing woman”, is baptized with her family. In Thessalonica “the Jews,” says the author of Acts (XVII, 1), “had a synagogue.” Paul enters it and for three Sabbaths he speaks in it. Chased out of Thessalonica, he went to Beroea and went to the synagogue (XVIII, 10) to exercise his apostolate. In Athens, in Corinth, it is again in the synagogue (XVII, 17; XVIII, 4) that he speaks. And it is also in the synagogue of Ephesus (XVIII, 19; XIX, 8) that, during his two stays in that city, he preaches Christ.

It is true that in three places (XIII, 46; XVIII, 7; XXVIII, 28) he threatens the Jews to turn away from them and to turn to the pagans; but it is recognized that these threats belong to interpolated texts and do not deserve to be taken into consideration1 . It is also true that in Athens, after several weeks’ contact with the philosophers who swarmed the city and whose life was lived in the square, Paul spoke before a pagan audience which listened to him with excited curiosity. But this exceptional case aside, the fact remains that the apostle, wherever he went, carried out his propaganda in the synagogues or, as in Philippi, in places that served as synagogues. His listeners were partly Jews and partly proselytes. The latter were not always circumcised, which explains the case of the Galatians who were won over by Paul to the Christian cause while they were still uncircumcised, but they were affiliated with Judaism, they had ceased to belong to the pagan religion. Paul evangelized the Jewish world and its dependencies; he did not evangelize the Gentile world. And the long section of the Epistle to the Galatians that presents him as the apostle of the Gentiles is a fiction devoid of reality.

    1. Loisy, Les Actes des apôtres, p. 541, 692, 938


1.Paul an apostle not from men or by man, but through Jesus Christ and God the father who raised him from the dead, 2 and with me all the brethren in the churches of Galatia, 3 Grace and peace be yours from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from this evil age according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

6 I marvel that you are so quickly turning away from him who called you to the grace of Christ for another gospel. 7 Not that it is another gospel, but there are those who trouble you and want to overthrow the gospel of Christ.


8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you any other gospel than that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we said before, so now I say again: If anyone preaches to you a gospel other than that which you have received, let him be accursed. 10 Now shall I plead my cause before men, or before God? Or am I trying to please men? If I still pleased men, I would not be the servant of Christ. 11 I inform you, brothers, that the gospel which I preach is not of man. 13 For I received it not from man, nor was I taught by man, but by revelation from Jesus Christ. 13 For you have heard how I formerly behaved in Judaism, how I persecuted excessively and ravaged the church of God. 14 I surpassed in Judaism many of those of my age and my race because of the immoderate zeal that I had for the traditions of my ancestors. 15 But when it pleased him who distinguished me from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, 16 to reveal his son in me to proclaim him among the Gentiles, immediately I consulted neither flesh and blood, 17 and I did not go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I departed for Arabia and returned again to Damascus. 18 Then1 after three years I went up to Jerusalem to meet Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw no other of the apostles except James the brother of the Lord. 20 What I write to you, behold, I declare before God that I do not lie. 21. Then I went to the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 And I was unknown to the churches of Judea which are in Christ. 23 Only they had heard it said: He who formerly persecuted us now proclaims the faith which he fought against. 24 And they glorified God in me.

1. Catholic interpolation intended to magnify Peter whom Paul wants to get to know, more precisely whom he wants to “contemplate”. It contradicts the context in which Paul displays his disdain for those who “appeared to be something.”

4. Paul is dead to the law.

In the same piece in which he claims the title of apostle to the Gentiles, Paul solemnly declares that the law no longer means anything to him. And he gives to his declaration this sharp turn (II, 19):

Through the law I died to the law that I might live for God.

Now, according to the Acts (XVIII, 18), before leaving Corinth, Paul took the Nazirite vow, which involved shaving his head. Upon arriving in Jerusalem (XXI, 26), he completed his vow in the temple accompanied by four indigent Nazirites, and it was in the midst of these sacred exercises that he was arrested by the Jews. But that is not all. In the epistle, Paul insists on behaving as a man dead to the law, and he refuses (II, 3) to allow his Greek companion Titus to be circumcised. However, in Acts XVI, 3, we see him circumcising Timothy, who, being the son of a Greek father, had not been circumcised. The two stories of Titus and Timothy have always puzzled exegetes. Nevertheless, until our time, it was believed that, with goodwill, they could be reconciled with each other. Today, it is acknowledged that they contradict each other,1 and that one of them was entirely invented to counteract the other. It is said that the fiction lies in the account of Acts, whose author intended to neutralize the text of the epistle. However, it is accepted that Paul indeed took the Nazirite vow.2 This concession is enough for us. The man who performed in the temple the rites imposed on a Nazirite could very well have circumcised Timothy, and there is no reason why he would have obstinately refused to circumcise Titus. In any case, he did not consider himself dead to the law; he did not believe that death to the law was an indispensable condition for life with God. Here again, the text of the epistle belongs to the realm of fiction, and the apostle it depicts has nothing in common with the historical Paul. 

    1. Loisy, p. 620.
    2. Id. p. 796.

5. God revealed his son to Paul.

The dissertation from I, II-III, 5 is not by Paul. Who is its author? Let’s see where it leads. Its author, who is dead to the law in order to live for God, adds that he was crucified with Christ and lives by the life of Christ. This mystical theology is exactly the same as we encountered in the Epistle to the Romans1. There too, we learned that the Christian grafted onto Christ dies with Christ and lives by the life of Christ. Now, we know that the section Ro., V-VIII was written by a disciple of Marcion.

1. L ‘Epître aux Romains, p. 29.

The dissertation from 1,11-III, 5 is of Marcionite origin. This origin gives us the key to various details that until now had remained mysterious. It specifically explains the revelation that Paul boasts about and the disdain he shows for the apostles. The Son of God whom Paul preaches is the good God, the God who came to earth to rescue men from the empire of the creator God, but whom men, blinded by the latter, did not receive or, which amounts to the same thing, did not understand. Therefore, it was not from human teaching that Paul could know this God. He would have always been ignorant of Him without a revelation. He received this blessing. God revealed His Son to him, meaning He revealed Himself with the ethereal garment He wore during His time on earth.

When Paul received his revelation, he at first avoided all contact with the apostles, who were men of flesh and blood, in that they believed in a carnal Christ destined to raise up the kingdom of David. His apostolate was carried out in Arabia and then in Syria and Cilicia. However, after fourteen years he went to Jerusalem. He would never have made this decision on his own, but a revelation forced him to do so. To obey God’s command, Paul went to Jerusalem and evangelized the Christian community there. He was the one who acted as an apostle, for he presented his gospel (II, 2), the gospel he had received from God, but nothing was presented to him, no attempt was made to instruct him (II, 6b). The three “pillars” of the Jerusalem community, James, Cephas and John, believed in his mission; they promised him to cooperate in his work among the circumcised and asked him to help them materially. The results of Paul’s apostolate in Jerusalem were therefore consoling. Unfortunately, they did not last. James returned to his carnal dreams, and Peter did not have the courage to resist him. Needless to say, everything in this account is fictitious except for the trip to Jerusalem and the collection for the poor, and these two facts have been distorted (the collection is presented as a help requested by the apostles).

II. Then, at the end of fourteen years, I went up again 1 to Jerusalem with Barnabas, having also taken Titus with me. 2 I went up there by virtue of a revelation and expounded to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, especially to those who were most respected, so that they would not run or have run in vain. 2. 3 But Titus who was with me and yet was a Greek, was not even forced to be circumcised, 4 because of the false brothers who had slipped in among us to invade the freedom we have in Christ Jesus, in order to enslave us . 5 We did not yield to them even for a moment in the spirit of submission, that we might maintain the liberty of the gospel among you. 6 But on the part of those who appeared to be something – what they may have been in the past does not matter to me: God is no stranger to persons – therefore those who were the most seeing that the gospel had to me entrusted for the uncircumcised as he was entrusted for the circumcised to Peter, 8 for he who worked in Peter for the apostleship of the circumcised worked in me for the apostleship of the Gentiles, 9 and knowing the grace which had given me was granted, James, Cephas and John who were considered as pillars, gave me and Barnabas their hands as a sign of association so that we were for the pagans and they for the circumcised. 10 But they asked us to remember the poor, which I hastened to do. considered taught me nothing. 7 But, on the contrary, seeing that the gospel was entrusted to me for the uncircumcised as it was entrusted to Peter for the circumcised, 8 for he who worked in Peter for the apostleship of the circumcised worked in me for the apostleship of the Gentiles, 9 and knowing the grace that had been given to me, James, Cephas and John, who were considered as pillars, gave me and Barnabas their hands as a sign of association so that we would be for the Gentiles and they for the circumcised. 10 But they asked us to remember the poor, which I hastened to do.

1. Particle added by the Catholic editor who interpolated I, 18-20. The Marcionite editor obliged by Acts XI, 30; XII, 25 of leading Paul to Jerusalem did everything necessary so that the dignity of the apostle did not suffer. 

2. Catholic addition which safeguards the primacy of the apostles. It contradicts the context in which Paul claims to have his gospel from heaven.

11 But when Cephas came to Antioch I resisted him to his face because he was reprehensible. 12. For before the coming of some from James he ate with the Gentiles. But after their arrival he withdrew and kept away for fear of the circumcised. 13 The other Jews concealed with him so that Barnabas himself was carried away by their dissimulation. 14 But when I saw that they were not walking uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live as the Gentiles and not as the Jews, how can you constrain – do you want to Judaize Jews? 15 We are Jews by birth and not sinners among the Gentiles. 16 Now knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Christ Jesus, we also have believed in Christ Jesus in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of law, because no flesh will be justified by the works of the law 1. 17 But if seeking to be justified by Christ we also are found sinners, is Christ then the minister of sin? Far from it1. 18 For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I constitute myself a transgressor. 19 For by the law I died to the law that I might live unto God. 20 I am crucified with Christ. I live, but it is not me, it is Christ who lives in me. Now that I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not reject the grace of God, for if righteousness is obtained by the law Christ and therefore died in vain.

1. This piece has its climax in 17 which responds to the same spirit as Ro. III, 5 and came from the same pen. See L ‘Epître aux Romains, p. 47.



Why Damn the Old and Create a New Method?

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by Neil Godfrey

They damned the old method, and self-consciously proposed a new method — not because they sought to create a new theological or scholarly party but because they believed the new method was forced on them by the nature of the Bible itself. Gunkel and his friends were convinced that Wellhausen and his school did not understand the religion of the Bible. If it was true that one understands as much as one has the power to love and to give honour, then the implicit challenge was that Wellhausen did not love enough and honour enough the religion he studied. — J.C. O’Neill, 115

Amen. — at least to the highlighted sentence. The same sentiment applies precisely to the reason underlying many of my posts relating to biblical studies. If I had some bee in my bonnet about Christianity such that I had a mind to “attack” or “undermine” or “expose” traditions, then the tone of my posts would be very different from what I believe it to be. The reason I select topics on which I sometimes take a radically different stance from the conventional wisdom is because I believe that much of biblical studies is held captive to tradition and theological bias. My background is in historical studies and I am interested in approaching Christian and Jewish origins from the perspective of the normative standards of research in other areas of historical inquiry.

As for the second half of that quote, I can’t say I “love” the Bible, but I do love research into understanding the Bible. Does an Assyriologist “love” the often cruel and superstitious inscriptions they must study? I doubt it. But they do love what they can understand and share about another culture and dimension of human experience. It is a sad (though inevitable) admission of the bias in which biblical studies has been held captive that one must justify one’s methods by declaring they are rooted in a “greater love” for the religion built upon them.

(P.S. — If I am completely honest and transparent I have to admit that the quotation I offered above had the impact it did because of my recent experience with the earlywritings forum where the moderator waxed at great length and in multiple comments that my interest was in trying to find some new and most extreme “out there” notion that I could, just to be different for the sake of being different, or “to create a party” as per the quote.)

O’Neill, J. C. “Gunkel Versus Wellhausen: The Unfinished Task of the Religionsgeschichtliche Schule.” The Journal of Higher Criticism. 2, no. 2 (Fall 1995): 115–21.



What Others have Written About Galatians – Bergh van Eysinga

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by Neil Godfrey

The following is by the “Dutch Radical” Gustaaf Adolf van den Bergh van Eysinga (1874-1957). I have translated it from the Dutch with the assistance of machine translators. The 1946 Dutch work from which this chapter (#4) on Galatians is an extract is available at https://archive.org/details/eysinga-servieres/mode/2up

Bergh van Eysinga, G. A. van den. De Oudste Christelijke Geschriften. Servire’s Encyclopædie. Den Haag: Servire, 1946. pp 115-120

The bolding highlight is, as usual, my own.


Paul’s Letter to the Galatians

The well-known peculiarity of Paul’s letter is also found here, when Paul appears to be writing alone and with a staff of brothers (1: 2, 8 ff.). In order to reconcile the contents of this letter with the accounts of Paul’s travels in Acts, the Roman province of that name was assumed to be Galatia in the address, which encompassed much more than Galatia in the narrow sense, so that in this letter Paul would have been addressing congregations in Lystra, Derbe, etc. Schürer has rightly called this hypothesis a curious fallacy of criticism and sought the Galatians of the letter in Galatia proper, the central plateau of Asia Minor, the old Celtic country, the area of the river Halys. Nowhere does it appear that the inhabitants of Pisidia and Lycaonia were ever called Galatians. How could a letter with this address intend to exclude the actual Galatians? But then the great difficulty arises, that Paul, who is regarded as the founder of the Galatian churches (1: 6-9), has according to Acts never been to that mountain country. Furthermore, we are surprised by the assumption that they were susceptible to Pauline preaching and were considered to be very high as churches (3: 1-5), yes, even that they were able to understand this letter, which cannot be expected from an uncivilized mountain people. Loman therefore compared this letter to these readers with “Hegel for the Atchinese”. Supposing, however, that a short time ago they had been able to understand and agree with the profound Pauline Gospel, how can they now suddenly fall away and how can these spiritual Christians – not one, but all of them – become the prey of “someone” or “some” who are zealous for circumcision (l:6f; 3:1; 4:8-11; 6:12f)? How could they thus thwart Paul’s whole missionary work among them? As long as he was with them, everything went well (4:18), but as soon as he leaves, all those convinced Pauline Christians in all those Galatian congregations suddenly want to get circumcised.


Contrary to the tolerant spirit we know from elsewhere, where Paul becomes all things to all people to win them over for the Gospel (1 Cor. 9:19ff), this letter contains numerous vehement statements. Right from the start (1:8), there is a curse, and it is repeated (1:9); the designation: “foolish Galatians” (3:1,3); the words: “if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you” (5:2); “you who seek to be justified by the Law have severed yourselves from Christ; you have fallen from grace” (5:4). The sharpest statement is: “Oh, that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves (i.e., castrate themselves; Calvin found this too harsh and translated it as ‘perish’)” (5:12). However, everything said about this falling away is so vague that it could apply to many situations. When a specific circumstance is hinted at, the situation does not become any clearer: Paul had not intended to stay in Galatia, but illness forced him; “it was because of an illness (not: despite) that I preached to you” (4:13). Surely, it requires an extraordinary effort of body and mind to convert a foreign people, in an extensive land with many cities and without a specific center. Does this happen just incidentally and because of “illness”? People have speculated about the nature of this illness, thinking of epilepsy, malaria, leprosy; also an eye disease as a result of the stoning in Lystra (Acts 14:19). But illness or weakness is the traditional phenomenon that accompanies the gifts of the man of God, so that he does not boast in himself (cf. 2 Cor. 12:7ff).

If the writer wants to express the participation of the Galatians in Paul’s suffering, he falls into tremendous exaggeration: they received him as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus himself (4:14). How did these pagan-thinking and feeling people come to this not-so-obvious idea? Subsequently, it is said that they would have gouged out their eyes and given them to him, if that had been possible (only the word “necessary” would have made sense here), then it seems to be spoken to a small circle of intimate friends. However, one must not forget that Paul writes this to the congregations of Galatia! A clear proof of the artificiality of the whole. The conversion of Galatia is depicted as a miracle of God, and the Apostle as a superhuman being.


The historical part of the letter (1:6-2:21) contains a defence of Paul’s independence, but the whole is a fervent plea for the doctrine of justification by faith and not by works of the Law. Yet, something is always taken back from the sharpest statements. When Paul, 17 years after his conversion, goes to Jerusalem, it happens by higher guidance (2:2), but also out of fear of objections from some (2:1-10). He bitterly criticizes the Apostles there; he considers himself their superior and wants no fellowship (2:6), yet he presents his Gospel to them for judgment, and they force nothing upon him, indeed, they extend the hand of friendship to him (2:9). When Paul was converted by a revelation of Christ, he consulted none of those who were Christians before him (1:17). Allard Pierson drew attention to the improbability of this fact by the following parallel: a younger contemporary of Plato, born in Southern Italy, who as a fervent Sophist had rejoiced deeply over Socrates’ death, but comes to different thoughts a few years later, now realizes that thinking, feeling, teaching, living like Socrates, identifying completely with Socrates, is the one necessary thing. What does he do now? Quickly travel to Athens, where Plato and Alcibiades still live, who have seen, heard, and known Socrates? None of that. He travels to Egypt, stays there for three years, writes and speaks lifelong about Socrates and is considered by a gullible world to be the most credible witness about the wise man, the most reliable interpreter of his teachings and intentions!

The work of an earlier Pauline follower in the spirit of Marcion has been moderated in this letter by a more temperate, Catholicizing Paulinist. This dual origin is evident from the dual naming of the Rock Man, who is alternately called Cephas and Peter; and the capital of the Jews, which is referred to as Hierosalem and Hierosolyma. “Abraham’s seed” is used in one place (3:7, 29) as a title for believers, and elsewhere for Christ (3:16). There is only one Gospel, the Pauline one,—thus says the original, uncompromising author; there are two Gospels, for the more Jewish-tinged one is also recognized,—thus says the Catholic editor, who offers something for everyone (1:6). Alongside the sharp opposition to circumcision, there is indifference to this practice (5:6; 6:15). Although the Galatians are immediately instructed in the Pauline Gospel, they are expected to have a thorough knowledge of the Old Testament and especially the Law.


Gnosis (Marcion) and the emerging Great Church (Justin) are the two factors that we may constantly assume in the emergence of the canonical Pauline collection. Van Manen has attempted to restore the shorter letter as Marcion possessed it and made its higher originality plausible. Tertullian calls Paul, in opposition to Marcion, “your Apostle.” Original Paulinism considers revelation the highest authority, not tradition or Scripture (1:16). Christians are spiritual people; the Jewish is the carnal; just as God stands in opposition to the world, so also to the Law, which is powerless to save people and even brings them under a curse (3:3, 10). The Spirit, freedom, and the Gospel take its place. Mystical piety speaks from the words: “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (2:20). The Law was ordained through angels (3:19), added to the promise given to Abraham, and “because of transgressions”; this has been interpreted as “to restrain transgressions”; but Augustine and Calvin heard from it: “to increase transgressions.” The letter to the Romans (4:15; 5:13, 20; 7:11ff) sheds the necessary light on this. Indeed, many otherwise incomprehensible passages in our letter are clarified by what we remember from previous letters. If it says: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us” (2:13), we naturally ask: why is the Law a curse? Romans 1-2 provides the answer. One must know the whole complex of ideas developed there to understand this enigmatic expression. Thus, one must have read Romans 4 to understand the unprepared word: “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” (3:6). “All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (3:27) is a combination of Romans 6:3 and 13:4. One thinks of the mysteries, where putting on the garment of the god makes one a god. If those who belong to Christ are called Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise (3:29), we must recall how Romans 9:6ff distinguishes between descendants according to the flesh and according to the promise. The impossibility of a man coming up with the idea of being in labor again over children he has already brought into the world (4:19) only becomes understandable when one remembers 1 Corinthians 4:14ff, where Paul appears as the father of the congregation because he gave them spiritual life. The follower of this metaphor made something absurd out of it. The writer claims to have previously said that those who commit various sins will not inherit the Kingdom of God (5:21). However, we do not find this word earlier in our letter, but in 1 Corinthians 6:9ff.


It can be said that the content of this writing is a brief summary of the system that the author developed in Romans. This already refutes the view of the Tübingen School, which suggested that this letter, as the sharpest and most uncompromising expression of Paul’s anti-legalistic spirit, would have been his first work, after which he wrote more calmly in 1 and 2 Corinthians and Romans. Bruno Bauer, Steck, and Van Manen reverted to the old traditional order of these letters. Whoever compiled them in their present form has clearly assembled them as parts of one book.


Only after 70, with the fall of Jerusalem and the dispersal of the priesthood, could the story arise that Christ had appeared some time ago and founded a new community. Christianity, as an authoritative world religion, claims the legitimate inheritance of the Jewish hierarchy. Jerusalem already appears in this letter as servile (4:25), Judaism as a closed entity, and in direct opposition to Christianity.

When we see that the differences of origin, social position and sex in the Christian community have been erased, then this phenomenon finds its parallel in the congregations of the Mystery Cults. Those who surrender to the Redeemer are one (3:28; cf. Rom 10:12).



Allard Pierson, de Bergrede e.a. Synoptische fragmenten, Amst. 1878: 98-112. — Loman’s Nalatenschap I, Gron. 1899. — Rudolf Steck, Der Galaterbrief, Berl. 1888. — Mijn: Pro domo in N.T.T. 1923: 186 w.. — Heinrich Schlier, Der Galater-Brief, Gött. 1941. — W. C. van Manen in T.T. 1887: 382 vv.; 431 w..


What Others have Written About Galatians – Robert M. Price

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by Neil Godfrey

To freeload off the Gospel of Luke’s prologue, inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order an account of those things which have been written in Galatians, I have decided not to add my own variant to their number, but to set forth one by one the accounts of our predecessors so that ye may understand the breadth of understanding that has gone before us, compare, and ponder.

I hope to cover the views of Bruno Bauer, G. A. van den Bergh van Eysinga, J.C. O’Neill, Joseph Turmel, and any others that come to mind along the way. (Suggestions welcome but not necessarily followed up.) My main focus will be on the first two chapters of Galatians since this exercise is partly an attempt to think more clearly about the questions I raised in my previous post. I should also add a range of commentaries where they focus on Galatians 2:6.

First off the rank will be Robert M. Price’s presentation of Galatians 1 and 2 from The Pre-Nicene New Testament.

In my view, Marcion wrote only what we read as chapters 3-6. The first two chapters, in their first form, were added subsequently by Marcionites as a rebuttal to the story in Acts, which attempts to co-opt Paul, and with him Paulinists (Marcionites, Encratites. Gnostics), for Catholic Christianity. (316)

Price makes some reasonable points, I believe:

Bruno Bauer, Rudolf Steck, W. C. van Manen, and others have observed numerous contradictions and anachronisms implying that the work is multi-layered, having gone through the hands of various redactors, and that even the original form was pseudepigraphical. Van Manen judged that Marcion himself wrote the first draft. I take Marcion as the author, partly because of the striking comment of Tertullian (Against Marcion, 5: chap. 3) that “Marcion, discovering the Epistle of Paul to the Galatians,… labors very hard to destroy the character of these Gospels which are published as genuine and under the names of the apostles.” If we take “discover” in its strongest sense, the comment implies no one had seen the epistle before. (315)

The translation and notes in the right hand column are Robert Price’s. The italics in Price’s translation indicate disputed passages that are not found in all manuscripts. I have added the green-ish shading to make them more easily noticed. I would normally use a more familiar translation (RSV, NIV, etc) but hopefully the publishers will not mind if I copy just the two chapters of Price’s worth-reading translation. Fresh translations, as Price himself points out, help us to read all too familiar passages afresh. I have highlighted in yellow the problematic passage discussed earlier, which agrees with Ken Olson’s explanation.


1Paul, an apostle, not sent from any human authority, neither by human beings, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, the one who has raised him from the dead, 2and with me, all the brothers,a to the congregations of Galatia:

a. “Brothers” denotes itinerant missionaries.
3May you enjoy the favor and the protection of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4the one who has given himself for the sake of our sins, so he might rescue us out of the present evil age in accordance with the will of our God and Father, 5to whom all worship is due throughout ages multiplied by ages. Amen.
6I am astonished that already this soon you are detaching yourselves from the one who called you by the favor of Christ, embracing a different message of salvation, 7which in fact is not another, only that there are some bothering you and intent on perverting the news of Christ. 8As for that, even if we or some angel from heaven should proclaim to you some message of salvation besides the one we proclaimed to you, let him be excommunicated! 9Let me just repeat that for emphasis. If anyone proclaims a message of salvation beside the one you first welcomed, let him be excommunicated!b b. This anticipates the claim that the Mosaic Torah was the gift of angels, not of God (cf. 3:19-20 below); thus a Judaizing gospel must be the creation of angels, too.
10Is that blunt enough for you? Am I ingratiating myself with my audience now or am I calling down God? Or am I mincing words to flatter men? For if I were still concerned to meet the expectations of mere mortals, I would have chosen some other task than being a slave of Christ. 11For I am letting you know, brothers, that the news preached by me is not human in origin, 12for it was not from human beings that I received it, nor was I instructed in it;c on the contrary, it was revealed by Jesus Christ.d 13You are acquainted with my actions while I belonged to Judaism,e how I went to insane lengths persecuting God’s community and laid it waste, 14and progressed in Jewish religion beyond many contemporaries in my race, being many times over a zealot for my ancestral traditions.f c. What lies in the background here is Paul’s instruction by Ananias of Damascus, as in Acts 9:17-19.
d. The same claim is borrowed for Peter in Matt. 16:16-18.
e. As Bruno Bauer and J. C. O’Neill point out, the use of this term is anachronistic, presupposing two distinct religions, which was not yet clear in Paul’s day. The word was used in the first century, but only to offset Judaism from paganism. It had not yet come to be used vis-a-vis Christianity. O’Neill brackets verses 13-14 as an interpolation, veering off the train of argument.
f. Note the seeming equation of Jewish zeal with the persecution of Christians.
15And yet, when God, who had watched over me since my umbilical cord was cut, 16thought it choice irony to reveal his Son to me,g and called me by his favor in order for me to proclaim him among the nations, I paused not to consult with flesh and blood, 17neither did I go up at once to Jerusalem to the apostles previous to me.h No, I took off for Arabia and went back to Damascus.i

18It was only after three years that I went up to Jerusalem to consult with Cephas and remained with him fifteen days.j 19But I did not so much as see any of the other apostles except for James, the Lord’s brother.k 20Now in this recounting, I swear before God: I am not lying!l 21From there I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.

22And still I remained known only by reputation to the congregations in Christ of Judea.m 23They only heard rumors: “The one who persecuted us now preaches the very religionn he was then intent on destroying!”o 24And they worshipped God on account of my case.

g. Here we find the influence of Euripides’ Bacchae, where Dionysus hypnotically compels the conversion of his persecutor, Pentheus, as part of a death trap. See also the irony-laden words of Christ in Acts 9:16.
h. Again, contra Acts 9:26-27.
i. The writer presupposes the narrative of Acts since Damascus has not been mentioned previously, as it is in Acts 9.
j. He remembers the exact duration fourteen years later? This sounds like a narrator simply positing plausible times and seasons for the sake of a story.
k. In Tertullian’s treatise, Against Marcion, he does not mention this first visit, implying the text of Galatians did not yet mention it either. If it had, Tertullian surely would have made hay of it: it would have clearly implied Paul’s subordination to the Jerusalem authorities, a point Tertullian would have used against Marcion. He didn’t, though, implying that he didn’t have it to use. Thus, it is a later insertion designed to abet the notion that Paul did go to Jerusalem to submit himself to the twelve as soon as he was able. “Again” was added to 2:1 at the same time by way of harmonization. Tertullian mentions the visit of 2:1-10 apparently as the visit, not as a second visit.
l. Obviously, this is a rebuttal to another account, widely known, in which Paul was a delegate of mortal agencies and had at once submitted himself to the previous apostles. Either the writer is responding to Acts 9 or that was the common version, which our writer seeks to overthrow, rewriting history in the interests of later sectarian strife.
m. Contrary to Acts 9:28-30.
n. The term here literally reads “the faith,” generally considered to be post-Pauline usage.
o. This is a crucial admission that the whole notion of Paul as a persecutor is the product of popular rumor. In all probability it is a distortion of the Ebionite claim that Paul, as an anti-Torah Christian, had opposed the true Christian religion—theirs. In a later time, when few remembered the sectarian divisions of an earlier generation, this version was misunderstood as if Paul, a non-Christian, had physically persecuted believers in Christianity per se.

1Then, after an interval of fourteen years, I went up to Jerusalem again with Bar-Nabas, taking along Titus, too. 2And I went up, summoned by a revelation.p And I laid out before them the news as I proclaim it among the nations, in private session with those of great repute, for fear I might have been running off course.q 3But my companion Titus, a Greek, was not compelled to be circumcised. He was willing to go along with it voluntarily as a concession.

4But on account of the pseudo-brothers who had sneaked into the sessionr in order to spy on our freedom from the Torah that we gentiles have in Christ, thinking they would enslave us, 5we yielded to them in submission but for an hour in order to preserve the news for you.s 6But as for those esteemed to be something greattwhat they were then makes no difference to me now; God is impressed by no man’s clout—those of repute added no proviso to me. 7On the contrary! Once they saw how I had been entrusted by God with the news for the uncircumcised, just as Peter was for the circumcised, 8the one energizing Peter for an apostolate to the circumcised energizing me also, but to the nations, 9and acknowledging the favor shown me by God, James and Cephas and John, the ones reputed to be Pillars,u offered to me and to Bar-Nabas the good right hand of partnership, dividing the territory: we would henceforth go to the nations, they to the circumcised,v 10except that we should not forget the Poor,w the very thing I was eager to do in any case!

p. Note that he is not making an appearance in Jerusalem at the behest of any human authority, contra Acts 15:2.
q. Here we find a retrojection into imagined apostolic times of Marcion’s own visit to Rome to join the church there and voluntarily disclose his doctrine. Obviously at the time, he took seriously the reputation of the Roman Church for authority, disdaining it only after they had rejected his doctrine. In the same way, Muhammad very often in the Koran retells the stories of Israelite prophets, including Moses, Abraham, and Noah, in terms modeled quite closely upon himself and his conflicts.
r. He thus seeks to hide the fact that this Torah faction was part of the core group of Pillars, “those of repute. ” He implies that no one knew them at that time for what they turned out to be: Judaizing hardliners.
s. The reference is to the token circumcision of Titus, another version of which is told in Acts 16:3, where Timothy has been substituted for Titus.
t. Not coincidentally, in Acts 8:9 we find pretty much the same disdainful phrase characterizing Simon Magus. In Acts we are reading the other side of the same argument.
u. This is cosmic terminology denoting the Atlas-like function of upholding the vault of heaven, perhaps signaling a channel of communication with heaven, much like Jacob’s ladder, the axis mundi. Accordingly, James the Just is said to have served as high priest for the Jerusalem Church. After his death, it was possible for Jerusalem to fall because it no longer retained the protection of his presence. The exalted office of the Pillars would thus have been analogous to the later Jewish legend of the Fifty Righteous, whose presence on earth guaranteed God’s protection no matter how sinful everyone else became (Gen. 18:24-26).
v. As William O. Walker Jr. points out, vv. 7-9 must be an interpolation since they rudely interrupt the sequence of 6 and 10, where the original means the Pillars imposed no condition upon Paul and Barnabas except for the relief collection. Note that the interpolator slips and calls Cephas “Peter,” his more familiar name.
w. The Jerusalem Ebionim, in other words, for whom Paul is constantly raising money in his churches. This is a fictive version of Marcion’s own initial gift of a large sum to the Roman Church, which they refunded after deeming him a heretic. Its refusal is echoed in Acts 8:18-24; 21:20-26; 24:17-18; Rom. 15:16, 30. This proviso, representing tribute money to be paid the Jerusalem Church as the price of recognition of Paulinism, obviously should follow verse 6.
11But when Cephas arrived in Antioch, I stood up to him publicly because he was blatantly out of line.x 12For before a certain party arrived from James,y he used to dine with the gentiles,z but when this one arrived, he stood down, segregating himself, fearing the circumcision faction. 13And the rest of the Jews played hypocrite along with him so that even Bar-Nabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14But as soon as I noticed they were not walking the straight path of the news, I said to Cephas in front of everyone: “If you, being a Jew, nonetheless live like a gentile,a where do you get off forcing the gentiles to Judaize?b 15Physically, we are Jews, not sinners from the nations, 16and since we know that a person is not accepted as righteous by virtue of deeds of Torah, but by belief in Christ Jesus—even we believed in Christ Jesus in order that we might be counted righteous by token of belief in Christ and not by deeds of Torah because no human being will ever be counted righteous by deeds of Torah. 17But if, in the very effort to be counted righteous through Christ, we were found to be sinners no better than the gentiles, does that make Christ a facilitator of sin? Never! 18But if I start to rebuild the very things I demolished, this is what makes me a transgressor. 19For it was by means of the Torah that I died relative to the Torah, escaping its grasp so I might live relative to God. 20I have been crucified alongside Christ. I live no more, but Christ now inhabits my body; as a result, what I now undergo in the flesh I endure by the belief in the Son of God loving me and giving himself up on my behalf. 21I for one do not presume to turn my nose up at the mercy of God: for if it is really through the Torah that salvation comes, then Christ’s death is moot!”c x. This was apparently because Peter signaled” he was promoting a different gospel that would involve Judaizing the gentiles (v. 14), thus incurring the curse of anathema (1:8-9).
y. This party consisted of delegates sent to check on the implementation of the Jerusalem decree dealing with basic kosher laws (cf. Acts 15:30-32).
z. Acts 10
a. Peter behaves like a gentile by eating non-kosher food, something implied here but made clearer in Acts 10:12-15; 11:3. See Frank R. McGuire, “Galatians as a Reply to Acts,” Journal of Higher Criticism 9 (Fall 2002), 161-72.
b. Against his better judgment, Peter decided to acquiesce to James by imposing the stipulations of the Jerusalem decree (Acts 15). The decree remains hidden here but nonetheless lurks in the background, as McGuire points out.
c. This impromptu speech corresponds very closely to that ascribed to Peter in Acts 15:7-11, but with a pinch of Romans added. Which apostle is credited with it turns on which one was the pioneer evangelist to the gentiles, an honor Acts gives Peter, while the epistles give it to Paul. German critics of the Tubingen school say Acts adapted the speech from Galatians, whereas Dutch critics claim Galatians adapted it from Acts.

As I remarked in the earlier post, or at least tried to suggest, that last passage (vv 11-21) does not come across as a realistic account of what Paul would have said in the circumstances. It is an artifice, a sermon, and as Price notes, it is built from other texts. It is not Paul — or at least it seems to me to be the work of a scribe crafting a letter through the character of Paul. A few years ago I posted how another section in these opening chapters appears to be intertextually crafted from Jeremiah: Sowing Doubt That an Emotional Paul Authored Galatians. Of course, we might think that Paul was so immersed in the scriptures that he could not help but express himself in scriptural language — in the same way I used the prologue to Luke’s gospel to open this post. But that would not explain the apparent link with Acts, as noted by Price:

After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10 Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? 11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

As for Galatians being a rebuttal to the character of Paul as portrayed in Acts, that could potentially make Galatians very much a latecomer. If we accept the arguments of Joseph Tyson (and I am one who has been persuaded by them up to now) Luke-Acts were not completed (taking the canonical form familiar to us) until the 120s CE. Justin writing a little later tells us that Marcion was still active in his day but I cannot think that Justin had ever heard of the book of Acts. The Gospel of Luke was in many respects an answer to Marcionism. Should we think Acts was attempting to refute Galatians and other writings of Paul rather than the author of Galatians taking issue with Acts? That’s something that I would need to take some time to study before reaching a conclusion, if I can at all. Hopefully in the meantime I will encounter publications that have tackled that question.



A Little Question of Past Tense Pillars in Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians

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by Neil Godfrey

I have a question. How might we best explain the passage in Paul’s letter to the Galatians in which he seems to imply that the pillars of the Jerusalem church, James, Cephas (Peter) and John, “were” pillars — in the past? How are we meant to understand those words?

Was Paul saying that though they were pillars of the church they were no longer generally so regarded at the time of his writing?

Was Paul saying that he himself regarded them pillars in the past but did so no longer?

Does the expression betray the hand of an author who was looking back on past history, after the passing of the generation of the pillars?

2 1Then, after fourteen years again I went up to Jerusalem with Barnabas, having taken with me also Titus;

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;

but not even Titus, who [is] with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised —

and [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,

to whom not even for an hour we gave place by subjection, that the truth of the good news might remain to you.

And from those who were esteemed to be something — whatever formerly they were [= ὁποῖοί ποτε ἦσαν ; ποτε = once, formerly, at one time], it maketh no difference to me — the face of man God accepteth not, for — to me those esteemed did add nothing,

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,

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

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.

There are explanations and Ken Olson, whose contributions on the earlywritings forum I have very much appreciated, took the trouble to post me the following explanation. The specific questions of mine to which he was responding were not exactly the same as I mentioned above but I believe his response applies to any number of possible questions that might arise — though I’m willing to modify that claim if Ken objects. I have interspersed Ken’s reply with my own thoughts on the points he makes.

Paul is writing after the Antioch Incident (Gal 2.11-14) and after Jewish Christian missionaries have started preaching to his Gentile converts to Christianity that they must get circumcised and follow the Mosaic law in order to be part of God’s people. Paul thinks the Jerusalem church (including Pete and James) have gone back on the understanding they reached at the Jerusalem conference described in Gal. 2-1-10.

This is a reasonable inference for us modern readers to make. But there is nothing in Paul’s rebuke of Peter that points to a breach of prior agreement with the three pillars. If Paul had been offended by a breach of prior official understanding in Jerusalem, would not we expect him to make some reference to that fact, especially since Paul also associates the offending practice with “false brethren”? Rather, when Paul describes the change in Peter’s behaviour after representatives from James arrived, he implies that James had never accepted Paul’s view that gentiles were not to be “judaized”. Paul faults Peter’s behaviour as hypocrisy, not betrayal or having gone back on his word. Earlier he had even said that Jews who wanted gentiles to keep the Jewish laws were “false brethren”. Yet Paul has nothing to say about that view when confronted by the behaviour of Peter and, by implication, James?

11 When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.

Paul follows with a lengthy sermon or exposition of his gospel that was surely not what he said in the heat of the moment. It certainly reads like a theological explanation that is coloured with some dramatic force by the conflict in the prior narrative:

14 When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?

15 “We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles 16 know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in[d] Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.

17 “But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we Jews find ourselves also among the sinners, doesn’t that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! 18 If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a lawbreaker.

19 “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”

Paul really said all of that yet not a word about the prior agreement or betrayal by James or the view that such judaizers were “false brethren”? No, surely the dramatic narrative functions as a backdrop for this sermon for the readers’ benefit.

Back to Ken’s reply:

This is an angry letter because Paul feels betrayed both by the Jewish church and by his Galatian converts. Moreover, he wants to emphasize that his (law-free) gospel was given to him directly by God (Gal 1.1, 1.11-12). His authority does not derive from the Jerusalem church *and it never had*.

This is a problem for Paul, because it might look to outsiders like his authority to preach the gospel did indeed derive from the Jerusalem church. He is trying to minimize the contact he’s had with Jerusalem and to suggest that his gospel and his authority to preach it did not come from the Jerusalem church. Paul went to Jerusalem and laid the gospel he preached to the Gentiles before those of note ‘because of a revelation’ (Gal. 2.2). They did not summon him to give and account of his activity and had no authority to do so – he went up because of a revelation.

Is not there a problem here? On the one hand we read that Paul went up to Jerusalem “by revelation” — evidently to disabuse anyone of the idea that he was being summoned by the pillars — but on the other hand we read that he presented his gospel to them “lest he had been or might further be teaching in vain”. Surely there is an irreconcilable contradiction here, is there not? How can Paul say that he submitted what he taught to the pillars “in case it had been mistaken in some way” given his insistence that his gospel was not “from men”.

Moreover, he took Titus with him and he was not compelled to be circumcised (i.e., they did not insist Titus be circumcised. Also, they added nothing to Paul (i.e., he put his gospel before them and they did not insist that he add the requirement of circumcision or observance of the Mosaic law in general). They agreed that They asked only that he remember the poor (collect money for the Jerusalem church), which he was eager to do. They agreed that he and Barnabas should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised (the Jews) and gave them right hand of good fellowship (i.e., they shook on the deal).

The good relationship Paul had (or thought he had) with the Jerusalem pillars at the time he met them (as narrated in Gal. 2,1-10) has been broken.

Galatians 2.6 (Berean literal): And from those who were reputed to be something (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who were of repute added nothing to me;

ὁποῖοί ποτε ἦσαν, οὐδέν μοι διαφέρει, ‘whatever they were formerly makes no difference to me’

I take Paul to be saying that whatever reputation they had enjoyed among men ceased to be relevant in their dealings with Paul (i.e. Paul is not saying they ceased enjoying that reputation among human beings).

In his commentary on Galatians (1997) J. Louis Martyn writes:


PS Yes, that really is the shorter form of my reply.

I agree that Paul’s explanation that he went to Jerusalem “by revelation” was an implicit claim that he did not recognize the authority of James, Cephas/Peter and John over him. The problem remains, in my view, how Paul could at any time imply that he had recognized those three persons as “pillars”. If he says “whatever they were… I no longer regard them as such”, then he is saying something very unlike the Paul we otherwise know.

Paul insisted from the very beginning that his gospel was not from men, so much so that on his conversion he avoided Jerusalem altogether for many years. One has to conclude that he never personally regarded them as pillars. It follows that he could not have at any time without any qualification or explanation have called, or thought of them as, pillars.

But if Paul is saying that others had regarded them as pillars, how can he say in Galatians 2:6 that they “formerly were pillars” — unless they no longer exist at the time of his writing?

If Paul was using the past tense simply because he is talking about past events, it is nonetheless awkward to speak of a situation that still exists at the time of writing itself to also have been a past event — as if it is no longer applicable to the present. We don’t speak of last week’s debate by saying Trump debated Biden “who was (formerly) the president”.

Such is my reply that I had returned to the earlywritings forum to post, only to discover that, without warning or explanation, I had been “permanently banned”. So if any reader here has contact with Ken, do feel free to notify him of this post. Of course the views of others are also welcome.


Origin of Belief in a Supreme Moralizing God

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by Neil Godfrey

What could have prompted individuals of our highly successful species to obey an unseen being who told them what they should and should not do?
— Peoples & Marlowe, 253

In my Origins of Religion post I focussed on anthropological evidence for the most fundamental of religious concepts that we can reasonably infer were found among our earliest homo sapiens ancestors. We saw there that the idea of a high god who is actively interested in humans, imposing on them moral codes and threatening to punish them for disobedience, was alien to our forebears just as it is generally alien to today’s hunter-gatherer societies.

So what is the evidence that informs us when and why the belief in a supreme moralizing god emerged?

The TL;DR version of this post:

In short, the explanation offered by Peoples and Marlowe is that belief in a supreme deity that actively rewards and punishes people according to their moral conduct arises in societies that have a very large population who rely on strong cooperation in order to maintain and protect the facilities and methods on which their survival depends. These are (mostly large) societies in need of controlled complex cooperation.

This time I rely heavily on another article by two of the authors (Peoples and Marlowe) who informed my earlier post. They ask two questions:

What circumstances could have triggered belief in a single creator, or gods that affect the lives of humans, or one all-powerful god of morality? 

What characteristics of High Gods ensured that they would be culturally sustained, and why?

(255 — my formatting and bolding in all quotations)

The authors examined four types of societies across a sample of 168 in all:


Who are the foragers? How do they live?

Foragers are the equivalent of the hunter-gatherer societies of the previous post, those among whom the idea of a moralizing high god was found to be an anomaly. (The article on which I drew for that post was published some years later than the one I am discussing now.)

High Gods are present in all types of societies, but far less often among foragers and horticulturalists. Foragers are far more likely to have inactive High Gods or no High Gods at all….

Among our sample of forager societies, 58% had no High God and 88% had either no High God or one that was inactive.

(258, 260)

The explanation given for this absence of belief:

Most foragers are self-sufficient and usually require less cooperative labor…. They are able to survive on a variety of resources and occupy a wide range of habitats…. Most foraging societies are egalitarian and by nature resistant to others dictating what they should do. They would resist the concept of a demanding High God, and thus be less susceptible to evangelism.



Who/what are pastoralists?

Pastoralists are more mobile than foragers but also more stratified. They are often on the move in small groups sparsely scattered throughout vast areas of land. Their most important and often main source of subsistence exists in the form of large, divisible amounts of energy and wealth which can be stolen: their herd animals.


And the likelihood that they will believe in an active moralizing deity?

According to the sample studied the pastoralists were highly likely to believe in a moralizing high god.

In contrast [to foragers], pastoralists are in constant and direct contact with their main source of subsistence and livelihood in a landscape filled with moment-to-moment contingencies. Situations often become quickly unstable (herds scattering) or dangerous (attacks by marauders or wild animals). Blood feuds within and among groups are not uncommon …. Pastoralists have the highest frequency of warfare across the four modes of subsistence …, which increases the need for collective action. Recurring environmental and ecological threats take on enhanced importance because of the self-generating wealth embodied in herded animals. When drought devastates pasture, disease decimates herds, and constant violence over grazing rights becomes unrelenting, a bond of cooperation within one group or tribe must provide a survival advantage when challenged by other feuding groups.


But how might the above influence a tendency to believe in such a god?

The conceptual seed of a paternalistic High God that meddles in human morality and promises social order probably originated several times in many societies. This type of monotheistic god found fertile ground in the threatening landscape of pastoralism. A broader contextual view, based on Whiting’s theory of psychocultural evolution (Worthman 2010), might suggest that belief in a High God is the projection of the pastoralists’ sense of insecurity in the face of unmitigated ecological threat.



Horticulturalists often combine cultivation with some foraging. They are close to foragers on the productivity-subsistence continuum but less mobile and less autonomous with respect to acquiring food. We might expect to see a pattern of High Gods among horticulturalists similar to that of foragers. But increased food production leads to larger villages and related social problems (crime, disease) that reduced mobility exacerbates. The beginnings of stratification appear among horticulturalists (and complex foragers) in the form of charismatic, entrepreneurial community leaders (“big men”) who begin to establish conventions that institutionalize social controls (Johnson and Earle 2000). These leaders would gain personal power, prestige, and enhanced reproductive success from their association with active High Gods who lend support to their initiatives. Even if they were not the originators of the concept of a High God they would likely have been promoters of it.


That was the prediction. What were the findings?

High Gods are present in all types of societies, but far less often among foragers and horticulturalists.



Agriculturalists reside at the far end of the continuum, excelling in production of resources while being sedentary. Emergence of early agricultural societies benefited from the efficiency and success of cooperative labor. The demands of public works such as construction of communal storage facilities, defensive perimeters, and irrigation networks overcame limits to growth and made possible the population booms that led to big city problems…. It is now clear that agriculture began in a range of habitats from dry to wet. But the high productivity of a managed irrigation system was fundamental to the formation of pristine states in the Mexican highlands, coastal Peru, Egypt, the Indus Valley, Middle East, and possibly China…. These societies were highly stratified and their leaders would gain the most from moral conventions that reduce chances of fissioning and also ensure high levels of cooperation. But the population as a whole would eventually benefit as the society expands at the expense of other competing groups.


And the results of the survey….

High Gods were present in 73% of agricultural societies, and of those where a High God was present, 62% were active or moral.



Peoples and Marlowe note that group size increases significantly among successful agriculturalists. This leads to a higher level of social stratification or inequality:

Group size will grow with increased food production, which may depend on cooperative efforts. Drought, disease, and social-action problems constantly threaten famine. If the costs of cooperation outweigh the benefits, groups will fission as individuals leave for less-competitive resource environments. When leaving is not a good alternative, a population may remain intact even though some individuals are at a disadvantage. The result is inequality (stratification) and exploitation of others by certain individuals or kin groups (Boone 1992).


Maintaining workable cooperation among ever larger populations presents new challenges for the successful functioning of the entire society — with its need to maintain storage facilities, defences against marauders, and increasing numbers of the community wanting to go their own way. The chances of an authority figure emerging in such a situation are high.

One scenario for achieving the levels of cooperation and prosociality needed to stabilize larger populations (or growing ones) suggests the emergence of an authority figure and the concept of an overpowering high god to leverage his authority would be appealing, Peoples and Marlowe suggest.

Proposed Explanation for Belief in a Supreme Moralizing God

We propose that belief in active or moral High Gods stemmed from challenges encountered by individuals employing modes of subsistence that demanded the effective manipulation and cooperation of others in order to produce, manage, and defend vital resources. Constant threats to subsistence and survival engendered, for pastoralists and some agriculturalists, the practical idea of promoting belief in a powerful spiritual force that could promise deliverance from the enemy, and punish those who did not follow the rules of cooperation and moral constraint. The coercive power of religion was used to facilitate cooperation for the benefit of higher-status individuals, which in turn benefitted the whole group. The success of this strategy was copied, and it led to the transformation of human societies into higher levels of collective, economic organization that sustained larger populations….

This research has shown the importance of High Gods to achieving cooperation in growing populations or those under environmental stress.


Peoples and Marlowe, 259

Peoples, Hervey C., and Frank W. Marlowe. “Subsistence and the Evolution of Religion.” Human Nature : An Interdisciplinary Biosocial Perspective 23, no. 3 (September 2012): 253–69. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12110-012-9148-6.

Permanently banned from the Biblical Criticism & History Forum – earlywritings.com

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by Neil Godfrey

I returned to the forum to follow up a question I had with a scholar on the earlywritings forum and wanted to reply to his answer but discovered when I tried to log in that I am met with a message:

It seems my attempts to engage critically with the moderator of the forum, Peter Kirby, was simply too much for him. Or was it my attempts to protest the trolling insults leveled against others — including ad hominem by Peter Kirby himself — that he interpreted as personal criticisms of his moderation practices? I’d like to point you to my protests and how they were responded to but the moderator has placed them in a section that only members can access.

The irony is that other members would sometimes speak up for me and compliment me on my refusal to engage in the personal attacks and other trolling that is so rife there.

The further irony is that he has publicly praised the forum contributions of the two worst trolling offenders of all. Not that he praised them for their trolling, of course. But trolls are trolls, I think, because they have little of substance to contribute and are at a loss in serious debate. Perhaps some responses that I would see as fatuous disunderstanding of the issues were interpreted as weighty contributions by the moderator — so I wondered privately.

I did point out that Peter Kirby has regularly been critiqued by significant others for raising critiques that are grounded in misunderstanding or failure to read and synthesize the details of works he is attempting to engage with. I did so because of a post of his in which he personally attacked the characters of some others while simultaneously expressing longing for the days of a certain scholar who did not think of his contributions as highly as he seemed to remember. Maybe that was the last straw. Or was it because of my rejoinder to him when he insisted that he had said nothing wrong — indicating that his personal insults are justified? (Ah yes — when he insisted he had said nothing wrong I do recall now that I “let fly” and reminded him of his record of insult and character denigration of others under the guise of “being helpful”. — I guess then I did indeed attack the moderator for his own misdemeanours.) [[NOTE to Neil: Do Not Tick Off a Moderator of a forum by confronting him with his faults if you would like to post from time to time!]]

Or was it my attempt to try to explain that the approach of many biblical scholars was not in accord with the methods of historians in other fields of inquiry?

Whatever the reason he did not seem to think it appropriate to inform me of any reason. As a rule I was always trying to be careful to stay on topic and avoid any insult or denigration of others. Unless some ham-fisted attempts at humour were misunderstood, but I’d normally have a chance to explain if I saw that happening. And standing up for others against insults was certainly not a personal attack on the moderator: it was pleading the moderator, not attacking him.

But Peter has for some reason long been reading my comments and responses with personal hostility, seeing in them personal attacks where there are none, and gratuitously judging my character and mentality in the most outlandish ways. I never could understand why. When I asked at one point he simply indicated that I must be blind not to see how abusive or insulting I was being. I had long thought I got along well with all members except for two well-known trolls and the moderator himself. Sometimes others complimented me in public or in personal messages at my forbearance.

I left the forum as a regular contributor a few weeks back simply because I could no longer handle the personal abuse I received from two trolls and the moderator himself. The pressure to leave had been mounting after Peter set up a trolling and ad hominem free zone for certain “Academic” discussions — only for me to find myself being targeted by trolling responses and very, very lengthy ad hominem posts by Peter himself in which he presented lengthy “arguments” (pop-psychoanalysis) about my psychological disposition and telling me I should never fault an argument for being circular! (seriously)

Well, I guess I am not welcome on a forum in which the moderator breaks his own rules prohibiting ad hominem posts in his “Academic” forum and in which he praises the contributions of two of the most shallow, dogmatic, anti-intellectual and ignorant trolls I have ever encountered. I am certainly not weeping.



Origins of Religion

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by Neil Godfrey

The universality of religion across human society points to a deep evolutionary past.

The universality of religion across human society points to a deep evolutionary past. However, specific traits of nascent religiosity, and the sequence in which they emerged, have remained unknown. Here we reconstruct the evolution of religious beliefs and behaviors in early modern humans . . . . (Peoples, Duda, Marlowe, 261)

Of interest to most of us is the question of God. Belief in a high god, we will see, does not “come naturally”. We can conclude (and as I will further show in future posts) that belief in God is associated with the development of complex societies. (More specifically this post addresses “traits of religion” since “religion” as an abstract concept was alien to many ancient cultures, with what we would consider to be religious beliefs and practices being, to the ancients, a natural part of everyday life.)

We began our evolutionary journey with a study of hunter gatherers since it is reasonable to infer they represent or earliest way of living.

Locations of the 33 hunter-gatherer societies studied (p. 265)

There are many traits of religion and seven were looked for and studied:

Animism is inevitably with us. “The most striking animist is … Charles Dickens. Both as narrator and through his leading characters, Dickens finds animal form, motion, and volition everywhere. Among artifacts, he most animates houses, furniture, clothing, and portraits…” (Guthrie, 58) Surely since Dickens Walt Disney would be a serious contender to be “the most striking animist”. Of should that title go to the modern advertising industry?

1. Animism

We define animism as the belief that all “natural” things, such as plants, animals, and even such phenomena as thunder, have intentionality (or a vital force) and can have influence on human lives. (266 — some will baulk at classifying animism as a religion but it is undeniably a “trait of religion”, “the oldest trait of religion” and “fundamental to religion”.)

2. Belief in an afterlife

Belief in an afterlife is defined as belief in survival of the individual personality beyond death …. (266)

3. Shamanism

We define shamanism as the presence in a society of a “shaman” (male or female), a socially recognized part-time ritual intercessor, healer, and problem solver …. Shamans often use their power over spirit helpers during performances involving altered states of consciousness … to benefit individuals and the group as a whole …. We view shamans as a general category of individuals often found in hunter-gatherer societies who mediate between the earthly and spirit worlds to promote cohesion and physical and mental well-being in the society …. (266)

4. Ancestor worship

Ancestor worship is defined as belief that the spirits of dead kin remain active in another realm where they may influence the living, and can be influenced by the living …. (p. 266)

There are various types of ancestor worship:

  • spirits can be present but not necessarily active in human affairs;
  • they may or may not be influenced by humans through prayer and offerings.

5. High gods

… single, all-powerful creator deities who may be active in human affairs and supportive of human morality. (p. 266)

As with ancestor worship there are variants:

  • some high gods can be present but not interested in humans;
  • or they can be active in human affairs but not interested in moral conduct;
  • or they can be active in judging behaviour and punishing immorality.

6. Worship of active ancestors

7. Worship of active high gods

And here is their result. The graph illustrates how often the respective types of religious belief were found across the 33 societies:



Our results reflect [the] belief that animism was the earliest and most basic trait of religion because it enables humans to think in terms of supernatural beings or spirits. Animism is not a religion or philosophy, but a feature of human mentality, a byproduct of cognitive processes that enable social intelligence, among other capabilities. It is a widespread way of thinking among hunter-gatherers ….  This innate cognitive trait allows us to attribute a vital force to animate and inanimate elements in the environment …. Once that vital force is assumed, attribution of other human characteristics will follow…. Animistic thinking would have been present in early hominins, certainly earlier than language (Coward 2015; Dunbar 2003).

It can be inferred from the analyses, or indeed from the universality of animism, that the presence of animistic belief predates the emergence of belief in an afterlife.

(Peoples, Duda, Marlowe, 274 — my bolding in all quotations)

Our basic psychology that makes it so easy for us to believe in spirit forces has been discussed in earlier posts:

In brief,

The fundamental building blocks of religious thinking and behaviour are found in all human societies around the world – from small-scale indigenous communities to industrial conurbations and inner cities. For example, people everywhere imagine that bodies and minds can be separated, that features of the natural world have hidden essences and purposes and that we ought to please and placate the spirits of the dead. People everywhere are inclined to spread stories about miraculous events and special beings that contradict our intuitive expectations about the way the world works, giving rise to a plethora of beliefs in supernatural beings and forces of various kinds. People everywhere – even babies who have not yet learned to speak – experience feelings of awe and reverence when they encounter those who can channel otherworldly powers. (Whitehouse, 42f)

Animism would appear to be the fundamental human universal.

Our results indicate that the oldest trait of religion, shared by the most recent common ancestor of present-day hunter-gatherers, was animism. This supports longstanding beliefs about the antiquity and fundamental role of this component of human mentality, which enables people to attribute intent and lifelike qualities to inanimate objects and would have prompted belief in beings or forces in an unseen realm of spirits. (Peoples, Duda, Marlowe, 277)

The following traits of religion are contingent. Why some hunter gatherers embraced the following is a follow-up question. But animism is fundamental: animism is the precondition for all the other traits.


Many but not all groups acquire a belief in an afterlife or embrace shamanism.

Once animistic thought is prevalent in a society, interest in the whereabouts of spirits of the dead could reasonably lead to the concept of an unseen realm where the individual personality of the deceased lives on. The afterlife might be a rewarding continuation of life on earth, or a realm of eternal punishment for those who break social norms. Belief in an afterlife may have generated a sense of “being watched” by the spirits of the dead, prompting archaic forms of social norms … actualized in the role of the shaman. (Peoples, Duda, Marlowe, 274)

On the “naturalness” of believing in an afterlife:

While most wild religious beliefs were not selected for in the human evolutionary journey, they came about as a side effect of other, more adaptive psychological characteristics: for example, our intuitive psychology (including the way we anticipate how others will behave), our intuitive biology (such as the way we create taxonomies of the natural world), our tool-making brains (which make us think everything has a purpose) and our tendency to overdetect agency in the environment (particularly our early warning systems for detecting predators). These intuitions helped our ancestors to survive and pass on their genes, but they also make us naturally susceptible to believing in an afterlife; they make us treat certain objects or places as sacred; they lead us to think that the natural world was intelligently designed; and they convince us that invisible and dangerous spirits lurk in caves and forests.

. . . . 

This ability to reason about the mental states of others [“theory of mind”] has profound consequences for our ideas about spirits and the afterlife. A good example of this is … an attempt to explain beliefs in the afterlife as a side effect of the way we naturally reason about minds. … The idea of a ghost or spirit of the dead results from the impossibility of imagining the elimination of certain mental states….

In other words, we imagine the spirits of the dead to remember things that happened during their lives, to have feelings, and to form judgements even if we know that their bodies (including their eyes and their ears) no longer function and may be incinerated or rotting in the ground. This theory is consistent with the very early development of such assumptions in children.

(Whitehouse, 53f)

Belief in afterlife is a precondition for shamanism and ancestor worship.


Shamanism significantly correlates with belief in an afterlife, which emerged first….

Although shamanism has been described as the universal religion of Paleolithic hunter-gatherers … it is not a religion per se, but a complex of beliefs and behaviors that focus on communication with the ancestral spirits, as well as the general world of spirits in the realm of the afterlife. Shamans are healers, ritual leaders, and influential members of society …. Communication with omniscient and perhaps judgmental spirits of known deceased, including ancestors, would have been a useful tool in the work of the shaman….

As humans migrated out of Africa more than 60 kya … the shaman’s curing skills and group rituals would have enhanced survival through physical and emotional healing, enforcement of group norms, and resource management. (Peoples, Duda, Marlowe, 274f)

Ancestor worship

Ancestor worship is not commonly found among hunter-gatherer societies. In future posts I will address research that points to a very strong association between ancestor worship and early agricultural societies.

Worship of dead kin is neither widespread among hunter-gatherers nor the oldest trait of religion. Fewer than half of the societies in our sample believe that dead kin can influence the living…. Greater likelihood of the presence of active ancestor worship [i.e. worship of ancestors actively interested in human affairs] has been linked to societies with unilineal descent where important decisions are made by the kin group…. Ancestor worship is an important source of social control that strengthens cohesion among kin and maintains lineal control of power and property … particularly in the more complex hunter-gatherer societies. In contrast, immediate-return hunter-gatherer societies … seldom recognize dead ancestors who may intervene in their lives. (Peoples, Duda, Marlowe, 275)

The latecomer in the evolution of human societies is “God” . . . .

High gods

Belief in a high god is an outlier in the study. Where it is found the researchers suspected it the belief was acquired from borrowing instead of being organically evolved in the group. (See the original article for a detailed explanation of the ways and extent to which the above religious traits are associated with one another, and the evidence that the belief in high gods is not associated with any other early attribute.)

Belief in high gods appears to be a rather “stand-alone” phenomenon in the evolution of hunter-gatherer religion. Prior studies have shown that among the four modes of subsistence (hunter-gatherers, pastoralists, horticulturalists, and agriculturalists) hunter-gatherers are least likely to adopt morally punishing active high gods, if any high gods at all (Botero et al. 2014; Norenzayan 2013; Peoples and Marlowe 2012; Swanson 1960)…. Early egalitarian hunter-gatherers would rarely have acknowledged an active high god (Norenzayan 2013; Peoples and Marlowe 2012) and would be the least likely to accept or benefit from the supernatural meddling and social constraints of deities who would be seen as “high rulers” (Peoples and Marlowe 2012). The leaders of complex hunter-gatherer societies whose subsistence relies on collective effort should be more likely to benefit from the coercive power of a punishing high god. Our analysis does not support the prevalence of either type of high god among ancestral hunter-gatherers, and the evolution of high gods does not correlate with any of the other traits of hunter-gatherer religion, including ancestor worship. (Peoples, Duda, Marlowe, 276)

God, we will see in more detail in coming posts, appears in certain kinds of socially complex societies:

If a society acquires belief in an omniscient and potentially morally punishing creator deity, it does so regardless of other aspects of its religion but more as a reflection of its social and political structure. (Peoples, Duda, Marlowe, 278)

Guthrie, Stewart. Faces in the Clouds: A New Theory of Religion. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Peoples, Hervey C., Pavel Duda, and Frank W. Marlowe. “Hunter-Gatherers and the Origins of Religion.” Human Nature : An Interdisciplinary Biosocial Perspective 27, no. 3 (September 2016): 261–82. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12110-016-9260-0.

Whitehouse, Harvey. Inheritance (pp. 42-43). Cornerstone. Kindle Edition.


“Game Players” versus “Bomb Throwers” – Journalists Divided

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by Neil Godfrey

On the one hand we have warnings about what the conviction of Julian Assange (the plea bargain was of course made under extreme duress) means for press freedom ….

On the other hand we have reminders that a vast number of journalists embedded within the spectrum of the mainstream press (which includes the left wing Guardian) aspire to cosy up to power rather than expose the realities of power to the people — they will not take the warning as anything but a “see what happens if you don’t play our game” lesson:

Scroll the following video to the 3:30 point….


A catch … freedom costs

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Long before posting the news of Julian Assange’s release I was scouring sources and waiting to see what the catch was. I only posted after feeling reasonably confident that we had the whole story. But we didn’t. Here is the part that was not known at that time:

For the “privilege” Julian Assange must pay over half a million US dollars.

Please help if you can: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/p/free-julian-assange

(From https://x.com/wikileaks/status/1805643584328098080 )

From the crowdfunding site

I’ve already chipped in a little.

At last . . . .

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

It’s been a long and painful wait . . .  For posts relating to Julian Assange see https://vridar.org/tag/julian-assange/

Move the play button to 1:25 and start from there for the main 1 minute: