Galatians 3:1 --- Jesus Christ Pre-Written as Crucified

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Galatians 3:1 --- Jesus Christ Pre-Written as Crucified

Post by robert j » Fri May 24, 2019 10:38 am

Scant few critical scholars or other investigators have acknowledged that “previously written” is a plausible translation for the verb proegraphe (προεγράφη) in Galatians 3:1.

Based on all the available evidence and the wider Pauline context, I think that “previously written” is by-far the most likely intention of Paul here, but for now, wider acknowledgement of that as a possible translation would certainly be progress.

In this post, I will review the scholarship and the early commentary related to this translation issue. Of course, the interpretation of the verse depends on the translation, and in follow-up posts I plan to explore the interpretation in greater detail.

In terms of translation and interpretation, Galatians 3:1 poses significant issues for both an understanding of Pauline thought, as well as for early Christian origins. A non-literal translation for proegraphe in Galatians 3:1--- that is at-odds with the other 3 occurrences in the NT --- has predominated over-time and is firmly entrenched today.

The verb proegraphe (προεγράφη), as it occurs in Galatians 3:1, is in the aorist, indicative, passive, 3rd person, singular --- a past tense. A literal translation of the verb as “previously written” or “written before” is apparently intended and is widely accepted in the other 3 occurrences in the NT (Romans 15:4, Ephesians 3:3, and Jude 1:4).

Proegraphe as Verbal Portrayal

However, the verb was also used for the posting of a written public notice for an event, for a debt, decree, edict, a wanted criminal, and so-on. The term was also used for the first entry on a written list, along the lines of “written first”. The common usage in a functional sense of something written and then posted or publicly displayed predominates in the ancient literature. The verb was also used in a somewhat metaphorical sense of “being posted” or “publicly displayed”. A clearly metaphorical use that supports the established translation in Galatians 3:1 can be found not-long after Paul’s time ---

I will exhibit to you a man who chooses to be a woman rather than a man. What a terrible sight! There is no man who will not wonder at such a [public] display (προγραφήν). (Epictetus (55 -135 CE), Diss. 3.1.29.2, from Wendt 1/)

The earliest Christian examples reflecting the now-predominate sense of the verb are found in the commentaries on Galatians by Chrysostom and Augustine (both ca. 394-395 CE). Both interpret proegrahpe as Paul presenting a vivid verbal portrayal of Christ having been crucified.

Luther later follows suit describing Paul’s verbal portrayal ---

… even as if a painter had portrayed Christ Jesus crucified before their eyes … As if he [Paul] said , “There is no painter that with his colors can so lively set out Christ unto you as I have painted him out by my preaching” (Martin Luther, ca. 1531, Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians)

Many modern scholars could be cited in support of this predominate and firmly- established view, though with some variations on the theme. The primary issue among modern commentators involves the translation of proegraphe as either some sort of vivid verbal description of the crucifixion or, more generally, as “proclaimed publicly”. However, I think just one example will suffice here ---

Hans Dieter Betz, in 1979, emphasizes the sense of proegraphe as “to portray or proclaim publicly” and elaborates ---

One of the goals of the ancient orator was to deliver his speech so vividly and impressively that his listeners imagined the matter to have happened right before their eyes … Paul, in a case of self-ironic exaggeration, makes use of this topos, reminding the Galatians of his initial efforts to proclaim the gospel of “Jesus Christ [the] crucified” to them. 2/ (per Wendt 1/)

Proegraphe as Previously Written

A counter-example to the metaphorical sense of the verb cited above in Epictetus is found in the eclectic collection of texts known as the Sibylline Oracles. In a Christian section dated to around the 4th century CE, the verb is used in the literal sense as something “previously written”. Acrostics are word puzzles using written text ---

There will be a clear sign for all mortals, a most clear sign … This is our God, now forewritten (προγραφεὶς) in acrostics, the immortal savior, who suffered for us. (Sib. Or. 8.244-250, per Wendt 1/)

Jerome, among the earliest of commentators on this verse, understood Paul’s intention for the verb to be “written before”, in a similar fashion to the use in the Sibylline Oracles as well as in the sense found in the other 3 occurrences in the NT. That is, what the Galatians saw before their eyes was something “written beforehand”. And in the case of Galatians 3:1, Jerome believed that it refered to passages in the Jewish scriptures about Jesus Christ “having been crucified” ---

… before whose eyes Jesus Christ has been written before [proscripsit] as crucified among you … Christ had rightly been “written before” us. For the whole chorus of the prophets predicts his gallows and passion, his blows and scourging … Nor is it a trivial praise of the Galatians that they believed in the crucified, as it was previously written for them in such a manner. For by continually reading the prophets and becoming familiar with all the mysteries … (Jerome, ca. 386, Commentary on Galatians, per Wendt 1/)

Jerome’s commentary on Galatians is believed to have been based on that of Origen, though few portions of Origen’s related work have survived. This early translation and interpretation of Jerome soon lost-out --- as seen with Chrysostom, Augustine, and Luther --- but Jerome’s interpretation has found some support recently.

André Péry, in 1959, understands the crucifixion of Jesus Christ in Galatians 3:1 as a reference to textual prophesy (in, L'épitre aux Galates (Delachaux et Niestlé), 1959, p. 35, per Wendt 1/).

Paul Bretscher, in 1963, understands the verse as textual prophesy and suggests an interpretive paraphrase of Galatians 3:1 as, “Foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you? Did you not see Him with your own eyes, black on white in the Scriptures, Jesus Christ crucified?” 3/

Quite recently, in 2016, Heidi Wendt provides what I believe to be one of the best discussions of the translation issues related to Galatians 3:1, as well as other interesting ancillary issues 1/. I have drawn on her article for portions of this post. Wendt understands the verse as textual prophesy and suggests this translation, “You unknowing Galatians! Who has bewitched you, you to whom (or for whom), before your very eyes, Jesus Christ having been crucified was forewritten?” (Wendt, p. 379)

Richard B. Hays is currently Professor Emeritus of New Testament at Duke Divinity School, and is a widely-respected scholar. In this peer-reviewed book, Hays conducted his own translations from the original Greek for most passages that he used from both the LXX and Paul’s letters. Hays clearly acknowledges the possibility of a translation as “pre-written” for the verb proegraphe in Galatians 3:1 ---

In view of Paul’s other uses of the prefix pro with verbs of writing and proclaiming, we may reasonably wonder whether the temporal force of pro obtains here also. If so, the question could be read as a veiled reference to the scriptural prefiguration of Christ’s crucifixion … “O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was [shown to be] pre-written as crucified?” … however, the evidence is ambiguous at best. The more obvious meaning of the text is the one championed by commentators and reflected in the usual translations; the possible reference to a Christ scripturally prewritten as crucified remains a subliminal undertone. 4/ (Hays, note 60, p. 213)

Hays acknowledges that the translation of proegrahpe as “pre-written” is both possible and reasonable, and he provides a possible translation of the entire verse. Yet Hays, with little apparent conviction, ultimately falls back to the “usual translations” for no other stated reason than he accepts the translation “championed by commentators” as the “more obvious meaning”.

Hays is clearly conflicted here --- he acknowledges the evidence is ambiguous (that is, open to more than one interpretation), and Hays goes with the mainstream view as “more obvious” (not “clearly obvious”, or even just “obvious”, but rather it comes down to a judgment call between two possible options). I see Hays’ final phrase here as a wink-and-a-nod to the possibility that “scripturally prewritten” may very well have been Paul’s intention.

With the early commentary by Jerome, the opinion of at least three modern scholars, and the discussion of the widely-respected Hays, understanding proegrahpe in Galatians 3:1 as “pre-written” has significant support --- though still meager in extent.


robert j


1/ Wendt, Heidi, Galatians 3:1 as an Allusion to Textual Prophesy, JBL 135, no. 2, 2016. pp. 369-389
2/ Betz, Hans Dieter, Galatians: A Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Churches in Galatia, Hermeneia (Philadelphia: Fortress), 1979
3/ Bretscher, Paul G., Light from Galatians 3:1 on Pauline Theology, Concordia Theological Monthly, vol. XXXIV, no. 2, Feb. 1963
4/ Hays, Richard B., Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul, Yale University Press, 1989

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Re: Galatians 3:1 --- Jesus Christ Pre-Written as Crucified

Post by robert j » Tue Jun 04, 2019 8:28 am

Part 2 --- Galatians 3:1

In light of the information in the OP, I will proceed with the understanding that “previously written” is a plausible translation for the verb proegraphe in Galatians 3:1.

In this post, I will discuss one reason (among several) why I think that “previously written” is the most likely intention of Paul in this verse.



Paul who?


Who or what was Paul’s real competition with the Galatians?

Paul only identified his human opponents as “some”, “they”, and “those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh try to compel you to be circumcised”. There is no evidence in the letter that the opponents were from outside the surrounding local community. They were most likely local Jewish friends and neighbors. Apparently, they did not vociferously oppose Paul’s spiritual son of the God of the Jews found in the Jewish scriptures by means of creative readings. But they did strenuously object to the prospect of Paul’s Galatians becoming full participants with God’s chosen people without the benefit of circumcision.

Paul likely spent many hours among the Galatians developing his belief system by showing them, reading to them, and spinning many Scriptural passages. But when he moved-on, Jewish acquaintances of his converts could easily show them three or four passages in the Scriptures --- in less than half-an-hour --- in which the very words of God are clear and unequivocal. If one wanted to join among God’s chosen people, circumcision was not an option, but rather an absolute necessity. There are three passages in which it is clearly required that converts and males of any age in life must be circumcised in order to gain full participation with the chosen people of God ---

And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, This is the law of the Passover; no foreigner shall eat of it … And if any convert should come forward to you to keep the Passover to the Lord, you shall circumcise every male of him … and he will be even as the native born of the land; no uncircumcised person shall eat of it. There shall be one law to the native inhabitant and to the one coming forward to convert among you. (Exodus 12:43-49, LXX)

… the Lord said to Joshua … circumcise the sons of Israel the second time … and he circumcised the sons of Israel … For all the people who came out were circumcised, but all the people who were born in the wilderness along the way as they came out of Egypt had not been circumcised. For the sons of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness … (Joshua 5:2-5, LXX)

And God said to Abraham, You also shall fully keep my covenant, and your seed after you for their generations … Every male of you shall be circumcised … And it shall be for a sign of a covenant between me and you. And the child of eight days shall be circumcised by you, every male into your generations, and the servant born of your house, and the one bought with silver from every son of an alien who is not of your seed … And my covenant will be upon your flesh for an eternal covenant. (Genesis 17:9-13, LXX)

To the Galatian group, who was this Paul guy? The evidence in the letter Galatians, and Paul’s other letters, reveal an itinerant Jewish evangelist, now asking for money (Galatians 6:6), who had once ended up in their care when he got sick in their town or village (Galatians 4:13-14). With extremely creative and non-traditional readings of the Jewish scriptures, Paul showed the Galatians a novel and tempting shortcut to full-participation with the Israel of God. Beyond the Scriptures, Paul’s only other “evidence” consisted of his own personal stories of revelations, stories about some nebulous groups in far-away Judea, and a story about three leaders in Jerusalem they apparently had never met nor heard-of before Paul came along.

O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you? This is a very pointed and provocative challenge. After all, the Galatians were putting their own spiritual fate on the line, and the letter is clear that the Galatians were very highly motivated to belong with the Israel of God. If Paul was only referring to his own vivid and creative stories and preaching here, it’s just as likely that the Galatians would think that Paul was the bewitcher rather than their Jewish friends and neighbors that were holding the clear and unequivocal words of God in the Scriptures.

It was on the hill of the Jewish Scriptures that Paul’s arguments and authority with the Galatians would live or die. Clearly Paul held the weaker hand. But Paul played his cards as best he could. And it was his extended arguments from the Scriptures that Paul introduced with verse 3:1

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Re: Galatians 3:1 --- Jesus Christ Pre-Written as Crucified

Post by Ben C. Smith » Tue Jun 04, 2019 10:18 am

I guess I am doomed never to understand the seemingly irresistible allure of the translation "was forewritten" for προεγράφη in Galatians 3.1. If I accept the verse as written, "was forewritten" creates an intolerable non sequitur, since there is no way that Jesus was forewritten (presumably by Moses and the prophets) as crucified before the Galatians' very eyes; no, Jesus was forewritten as crucified ages ago, before any of the Galatians were even born, and I cannot bring myself to suppose that Paul is claiming otherwise. So I am forced to add something to the verse, much as Richard B. Hays does in the OP: "O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was [shown to be] pre-written as crucified?" Hays accurately senses that what is missing must mean something like "shown," "proven," or "demonstrated." Trouble is, that meaning is not missing at all; it is synonymous with the other definition of the word προγράφω! (LSJ: "set forth as a public notice.") So we would be defining the necessary meaning of "shown" right out of the verb, only to have to reinsert this meaning back into the clause in the form of a missing or understood verb. But why, when the necessary synonym is sitting right there in the text? It seems as though it can be only because we desperately want προγράφω to mean "forewrite" (for reasons which are completely obscure to me).

I agree completely that Paul's point with the Galatians stands or falls on the Jewish scriptures; this means nothing for the meaning of προεγράφη in Galatians 3.1, however, since his public portrayal of Jesus as crucified can derive from the scriptures without his having to expressly say so every time he mentions it.
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Re: Galatians 3:1 --- Jesus Christ Pre-Written as Crucified

Post by Secret Alias » Tue Jun 04, 2019 10:39 am

Unless the text wasn't originally written to the Galatians. "The epistle which we also allow to be the most decisive against Judaism, is that wherein the apostle instructs the Galatians." [Tertullian Against Marcion 5.2.1]
“Finally, from so little sleeping and so much reading, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind.”
― Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote

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Re: Galatians 3:1 --- Jesus Christ Pre-Written as Crucified

Post by robert j » Tue Jun 04, 2019 1:26 pm

Ben C. Smith wrote:
Tue Jun 04, 2019 10:18 am
I agree completely that Paul's point with the Galatians stands or falls on the Jewish scriptures; this means nothing for the meaning of προεγράφη in Galatians 3.1, however, since his public portrayal of Jesus as crucified can derive from the scriptures without his having to expressly say so every time he mentions it.

... I am forced to add something to the verse, much as Richard B. Hays does in the OP: "O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was [shown to be] pre-written as crucified?" Hays accurately senses that what is missing must mean something like "shown," "proven," or "demonstrated."
Hays acknowledges that, for Galatians 3:1, “the question could be read as a veiled reference to the scriptural prefiguration of Christ’s crucifixion.” (see OP)

You acknowledge above for Galatians 3:1 that Paul’s “public portrayal of Jesus as crucified can derive from the scriptures …”

Hays provided the parenthetical clarification for us modern readers who weren’t there when Paul was demonstrating his system to the Galatians. I think it’s important to point out that the letter was addressed to those who were there when Paul showed them the relevant Scriptural passages.

For the Galatians who were present when Paul showed them the passages in the scriptures about Jesus Christ having been crucified, the verse minus Hays’ parenthetical clarification would have been entirely understandable ---

O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you? Before whose eyes Jesus Christ was pre-written as having been crucified. (Galatians 3:1)

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Re: Galatians 3:1 --- Jesus Christ Pre-Written as Crucified

Post by Ben C. Smith » Tue Jun 04, 2019 1:49 pm

robert j wrote:
Tue Jun 04, 2019 1:26 pm
Hays provided the parenthetical clarification for us modern readers who weren’t there when Paul was demonstrating his system to the Galatians. I think it’s important to point out that the letter was addressed to those who were there when Paul showed them the relevant Scriptural passages.
But that is not when Jesus was forewritten as crucified. Jesus was forewritten as crucified by Moses and by the prophets: ages ago. You have to add a verb to the sentence to get something in there that is contemporaneous with the Galatian readers. And here you do just that:
For the Galatians who were present when Paul showed them the passages in the scriptures about Jesus Christ having been crucified, the verse minus Hays’ parenthetical clarification would have been entirely understandable ---
You have said it yourself: the Galatians were present when Paul showed them the passages. They were not present when Jesus was forewritten into those passages. Paul showing them the passages in which Jesus has (already) been forewritten is not the same event as Jesus being forewritten into those passages in the first place.

If it was before your very eyes that the doom of a nation was foretold, that means that you were there when the prediction was made; it does not necessarily mean that you were there when the nation met its doom.
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Re: Galatians 3:1 --- Jesus Christ Pre-Written as Crucified

Post by robert j » Tue Jun 04, 2019 2:41 pm

Ben C. Smith wrote:
Tue Jun 04, 2019 10:18 am
I guess I am doomed never to understand the seemingly irresistible allure of the translation "was forewritten" for προεγράφη in Galatians 3.1.
This comes down to opinion. I see it quite clearly as a plausible translation, as well as Paul’s most likely intention with this verse.

As presented in the OP ---

Jerome saw it as Paul’s intention about 1600 years ago in his Commentary on Galatians.

Some modern scholars see it as Paul’s intention --- Péry (1959), Bretscher (1963), and Wendt (2016).

Hays (1989) sees a translation as “pre-written” as possible and reasonable.

I suspect further back-and-forth with you on this issue of translation will be of little avail. Your opinion to the contrary certainly has plenty of support, and is duly noted.

ETA: I certainly don't intend to discourage any further comments from you on any additional discussion that I may post on this issue.
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Re: Galatians 3:1 --- Jesus Christ Pre-Written as Crucified

Post by Ben C. Smith » Tue Jun 04, 2019 2:43 pm

robert j wrote:
Tue Jun 04, 2019 2:41 pm
Ben C. Smith wrote:
Tue Jun 04, 2019 10:18 am
I guess I am doomed never to understand the seemingly irresistible allure of the translation "was forewritten" for προεγράφη in Galatians 3.1.
This comes down to opinion. I see it quite clearly as a plausible translation, as well as Paul’s most likely intention with this verse.

As presented in the OP ---

Jerome saw it as Paul’s intention about 1600 years ago in his Commentary on Galatians.

Some modern scholars see it as Paul’s intention --- Péry (1959), Bretscher (1963), and Wendt (2016).
This is why I said I must be doomed never to understand. It appears to me that the lure of "forewritten" is very strong indeed, and I do not know why.
I suspect further back-and-forth with you on this issue of translation will be of little avail. Your opinion to the contrary certainly has plenty of support, and is duly noted.
I agree.
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Re: Galatians 3:1 --- Jesus Christ Pre-Written as Crucified

Post by robert j » Tue Jul 30, 2019 8:53 am

Part 3 --- Galatians 3:1

In this post, I’ll continue my work to demonstrate that “previously written” is the most likely translation for the verb proegraphe (προεγράφη) in Galatians 3:1 based on consistency with Paul's source material and on Paul’s wider use of language. In my next post (beyond possible responses), I plan to show how Galatians 3:1 provides significant evidence for a different Jesus --- not the historical figure so widely accepted, nor any type of figure that recently died.

But some nuts-and-bolts first. As a brief review of the OP, the sense in ancient texts for the verb proegraphe (προεγράφη) includes “being posted” or “publicly displayed” as well as the more literal sense of something “previously written”.

Beyond Galatians 3:1, the verb is used 3 other times in the NT, all in the sense of something previously written. But the less literal sense of the verb is not uncommon in other ancient texts.

The earliest ancient commentators on Galatians 3:1 were divided on the sense of the verb, with at least one example each for a vivid verbal portrayal, and for previously written. The vast majority of modern bible translators and the body of Christian Bible Scholarship prefer some form of “publicly portrayed”. But some modern scholars argue for “previously written” as Paul’s intention, and at least one widely-respected NT scholar and Greek specialist acknowledges that translation as plausible.



What Would Paul Do?


For Paul, The Jewish Scriptures served as a large resource of material to appropriate and mold to serve his needs. Paul used the verb γέγραπται (it has been written), and other forms of the same verb, about 20 times in his letters to his congregations to introduce his version of concepts from the Scriptures. And the verb is found in Romans about 20 times in relation to the Scriptures. Paul used the verb many times to provide scriptural support for his arguments for a wide variety of issues, including to characterize his Christ.

Paul told the Galatians, and likely his other congregations, that he entered into the faith as a result of a revelation from God (Galatians 1:15). But in his letters, it is the Jewish Scriptures that provide the information, where provided, about the salvific and redemptive death of Jesus Christ --- a few examples ---

Paul’s Letters and RomansMy Comments

… Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures … (1 Corinthians 15:3)

Can’t get much clearer than that.

He was delivered over to death for our trespasses and was raised to life
for our justification. (Romans 4:25)

A clear allusion to Isaiah 53.

… the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins … (Galatians 1:3-4)

Another allusion to Isaiah 53.

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for
us, for it has been written: "Cursed is everyone hanging on a tree" (Galatians 3:13)

A conflation of Deuteronomy 21:23 and 27:26.

O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you? Before whose eyes Jesus
Christ was previously written as having been crucified. (Galatians 3:1)

Just another pea in the pod.
( o o o o o o o o o o o o o o )

A “pro-” prefix (προ-) in a Greek verb often indicates location (in front of, forward), or time (previous, before).

In the work cited in the OP, Wendt (2016) argues that Paul’s other two uses of verbs with a “pro-” prefix (προ-) in verse 3:8 of Galatians, both directly related to the Jewish Scriptures --- as well as the use of the exact same form of the verb proegraphe (προεγράφη) directly related to the Scriptures in Romans 15:4 --- provide significant evidence for the interpretation of proegraphe in Galatians 3:1 as “forewritten” (pp. 377-378).

And Hays (1989) makes similar arguments for the translation as “pre-written” as being reasonable and plausible (p. 107 and 213).

Verse 3:1 in the letter Galatians stands at the beginning of Paul’s extended arguments from the Jewish Scriptures that continue for many verses. There are 4 occurrences of verbs with a “pro-” prefix (προ-) in chapter 3 of Galatians ---

… Jesus Christ was fore-written (προεγράφη) as having been crucified. (Galatians 3:1)

And the Scripture, having fore-seen (προϊδοῦσα) that God justifies the Gentiles by faith, fore-told the gospel (προευηγγελίσατο) to Abraham … (Galatians 3:8)

... The Law, having come four hundred and thirty years afterward, does not annul the covenant having been beforehand confirmed (προκεκυρωμένην) by God [i.e., in the Scriptures], so as to nullify the promise. (Galatians 3:17)


When Paul indicated his teaching about Jesus Christ --- that is, his own actions --- he typically used the verb κηρύσσω. In the infinitive, it is often translated in bibles as “to preach", but I prefer another widely recognized translation as “to proclaim”. Paul used this verb 12 times in his letters to his congregations, and he used it in all 5 of those letters.

Here’s just one example where Paul used his preferred term with the very same form of the verb for “having been crucified” as found in Galatians 3:1 ---

… we, however, proclaim (κηρύσσομεν) Christ as having been crucified … (1 Corinthians 1:23).

The LSJ, Middle Liddell, and Strong’s include a translation for Paul’s preferred verb as “to proclaim or preach a message publicly”, and Strong’s adds a further clarification, “and with conviction (persuasion)”. A persuasive public preaching is just how most interpreters of Galatians 3:1 characterize the verb proegraphe in Galatians 3:1. If Paul’s intention in Galatians 3:1 was to describe his verbal preaching, why abandon the term he preferred to use elsewhere in his letters? Why choose a term with a “pro-” prefix like those he used a few lines later about things found in the Jewish Scriptures. Why choose a term that literally means “previously written”?

Elsewhere, when Paul wrote about his own performance, preaching, or proclamation to his congregations, he occasionally characterized the action as being “among you” (ἐν ὑμῖν) as in 2 Corinthians 1:19 and 12:12, or “among the Gentiles” as in Galatians 2:2. But beyond Galatians 3:1, Paul didn’t find it necessary to specify his actions as “before your eyes”. That concept was clearly understood in a general sense of in your presence.

However, in Galatians 3:1, it wasn’t just his proclamation that Paul was writing about. Considering the available evidence, I think Paul found it necessary to state that it was “before your eyes” because it was words in the Jewish Scriptures about Jesus Christ having been crucified that gave Paul the credibility to accuse the Galatians of being foolish and bewitched --- words the Galatians had seen with their own eyes.

robert j


note: The occurrence of the phrase “among you” (ἐν ὑμῖν) in Galatians 3:1 in a few relatively late manuscripts is widely accepted as a late insertion.
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Re: Galatians 3:1 --- Jesus Christ Pre-Written as Crucified

Post by robert j » Wed Aug 07, 2019 7:27 am

Part 4 --- Galatians 3:1 --- The First Jesus Christ

O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you? Before whose eyes Jesus Christ was previously written as having been crucified. (Galatians 3:1)

Significant issues of early Christian origins are in play with the translation and interpretation of Galatians 3:1. In my understanding of the wider context in Paul’s letters, and as supported by this verse in Galatians, Paul found the death of his Jesus Christ as having already occurred in the Scriptures --- a done-deal.

The vast majority of modern scholars and bible translators prefer some form of “publicly portrayed” for the translation in Galatians 3:1. However, clear support for “previously written” ---- as the appropriate translation and as Paul’s intention for the verb proegraphe --- is found in the fourth century commentary on Galatians by Jerome, as well as in articles by some modern scholars including Péry (1959), Bretscher (1963), and Wendt (2016) [see OP]. Hays (1989) sees a translation as “pre-written” as plausible and reasonable.

I am firmly in agreement with Jerome and these modern scholars that see “previously written” as Paul’s intention for the verb proegraphe in Galatians 3:1. However, when it comes to interpretation, I must part ways with Jerome and these scholars, all of whom see Paul’s use of “previously written” in this verse as a reference to a foretelling in the scriptures of the death of Jesus Christ.

I think that what the Galatians had seen in the Jewish Scriptures were not predictions of a future death of Jesus, but rather what Paul had shown them in the Scriptures was the death of Jesus Christ as a fait accompli.



In Paul’s letters, Christ died according to the Scriptures, but nowhere in those letters does Paul refer to the death of his Jesus Christ as an event foretold in the Scriptures.


Translators of Galatians 3:1 may not agree on the rendering of the first term here, but nearly all translators agree on the past tense nature of both terms, προεγράφη ἐσταυρωμένος (fore-written [as] having been crucified). Jesus Christ was found in the ancient writings as having been crucified. This characterizes the death as a fait accompli within the temporal realm of the Scriptures, and is not indicative of the prediction of a future death.

In Paul’s occasional letters, much of the scant information directly related to the salvific death, in addition to Deuteronomy, was apparently derived from Isaiah 53 ---

… having given Himself for our sins … (Galatians 1:4)

… who was delivered over for our trespasses, and was raised for our justification. (Romans 4:25).

Near the beginning of Isaiah 53 in the LXX ---

This one bears our sins …” (Isaiah 53:4)

The verb “bears” (φέρει) is in the present, indicative, active --- the sacrifice is acting in the present time in bearing our sins.

But all the characterizations of the sacrifice itself in Isaiah 53 are written in the Greek with past-tense verbs ---

… he was wounded (ετραυματίσθη) on account of our sins … (Isaiah 53:5)

… the Lord delivered him up (παρέδωκεν αυτόν) for our sins. (Isaiah 53:6)

… he was led (ήχθη) to death. (Isaiah 53:8)

Then, beginning with 53:10, the resurrection might be seen ---

… the Lord wills to cleanse him of his wound (Isaiah 53:10)

… the Lord wills by his hand to remove misery of his soul, to show to him light ... (Isaiah 53:11)

And the implications of the salvific death and the resurrection can be seen with future verb tenses ---

… he will see (όψεται) a long lived seed (Isaiah 53:10)

… he will inherit (αυτός κληρονομήσει) many” (Isaiah 53:12)

Certainly Paul was extremely flexible in his generative use of the LXX --- plucking material out of context, conflating verses, and imposing conveniently creative interpretations. But I think it would have been very awkward indeed if Paul had fudged all those verb tenses in Isaiah 53 in order to demonstrate to his audiences that the death was foreseen as a future event. All the apparently explicit information in this central passage describing the suffering and death are presented in Isaiah in the past tense.

With the salvific sacrifice from Isaiah 53:1-9, the apparent resurrection in Isaiah 53:10-12, the redemption from the Law by hanging on wood from the conflation of verses in Deuteronomy, and the wrath to come and the imminent Parousia from Joel chapter 2 (2:1 to 3:5 in some versions), Paul’s Christology is reasonably well-sourced in the LXX.

There is nothing in Paul’s letters that indicates an execution by the Romans, nor a Roman-style crucifixion. Paul’s Jesus Christ was suspended on a stake, on wood, consistent with a mode of humiliation and punishment found in earlier Jewish and Greek texts.

And there is no clear indication in Paul’s letters that the death of his Jesus Christ occurred in recent times in relation to Paul. I have addressed that question in relation to several verses in Paul’s letters elsewhere on this forum.

In Galatians 3:8, Paul claimed that the Scriptures foretold a blessing by God upon the Gentiles --- the very gathering of Gentile assemblies that Paul was enacting in his own time. Overall, Paul’s letters can be seen as directing the focus of the LXX onto his own times with his gathering of assemblies, and his claim of an imminent Parousia and coming wrath. Many of Paul’s arguments are rife with complex scriptural allusions. However, in his letters, Paul does not use the Scriptures to characterize the salvific death of his Jesus Christ as a foretelling.

Paul’s Jesus Christ was killed by some non-explicit “rulers” at some non-explicit time within the current “age/aeon” (1 Corinthians 2:6-8). And prior to Paul’s proclamation, the death was a “long-secret mystery” (1 Corinthians 2:6-8, and in a summary of Pauline thought in Romans 16:25-26).

In the realm of Paul’s letters, the Scriptures fore-told the blessing of God to come upon the Gentiles in Paul’s own time. It was Paul that was chosen by God from the womb, and whom later received a revelation by God of the Son and was appointed by God to bring the good news to the Gentiles. And it was Paul that revealed and proclaimed the long-secret mystery of the salvific and redemptive death by means of creative and generative readings of the Jewish Scriptures, and brought the opportunity of faith for all.

It would only have required one person that might have known the death of Jesus Christ did not have any separate existence outside of the Scriptures --- Paul --- the crafter, the promoter, and the beneficiary of patronage.

I have written before on this forum that if Paul had been asked by a follower if Jesus Christ actually had died the redemptive death that Paul had shown to them in the Scriptures --- it seems clear that Paul would have answered in the affirmative.

But whether Paul actually believed it himself, we’ll most likely never know.


robert j

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