Galatians 1:16-24

There’s a lot of commentary in this section.

16ἀποκαλύψαι τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ ἐν ἐμοὶ ἵνα εὐαγγελίζωμαι αὐτὸν ἐν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν, εὐθέως οὐ προσανεθέμην σαρκὶ καὶ αἵματι,

He revealed his son in me, so that I might evangelize him among the peoples, immediately Iot did not consult with flesh and blood. (flesh & blood = any person of flesh & blood)

Note: revised the translation here.  What I originally had was pretty much gibberish.  The verb <<προσανατὶθημὶ>> is a word that evolved.  Liddell & Scott cite NT usage as ‘to consult’, which is pretty much what it means here.

16 ut revelaret Filium suum in me, ut evangelizarem illum in gentibus, continuo non contuli cum carne et sanguine

17οὐδὲ ἀνῆλθον εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα πρὸς τοὺς πρὸ ἐμοῦ ἀποστόλους, ἀλλὰ ἀπῆλθον εἰς Ἀραβίαν, καὶ πάλιν ὑπέστρεψα εἰς Δαμασκόν.

Nor did I come up to Jerusalem to the apostles for myself, but I went away towards Arabia, and again returned to Damascus.

This is intended to encompass both verses 16 & 17.  This is Paul’s version of his conversion.  One really significant aspect of this is how different his tale of conversion is from the story we get in Acts.  There is no “Road to Damascus”, no being struck blind, none of that.  Now, it’s not impossible that those things happened, but Paul’s silence on this has to make us question—at the least—the more famous version of the story.  Some modern commenters have gone on record as saying that the two stories simply do not match.  And, given Paul’s reluctance to underplay his personal experience and his flair for drama, I’d say we do have to question his silence on the topic.

However, he does agree with the story in Acts that it was a sudden (?) revelation, direct either from Jesus Christ (V 14) or God (V 16).  In addition, it is interesting to note that he says that he ‘returned’ to Damascus.  When was he there the first time?  Was he returning from destroying a group in a nearby town? (cf note to V 13)  Is it possible that Paul chose not to tell the whole story here because it would have been a bit redundant at this point?  He’s been to Galatia; he’s told his story.  Maybe he doesn’t feel like wasting ink and paper going over the story once more since it was well-known to his audience.

This is the sort of unanswerable argument that has kept large chunks of history going for millennia.  The lack of the story of the Road to Damascus in this version has often been used as ‘proof’ that Paul’s story was, essentially, different than the one in Acts.  But, if you discount some of the after-effects (being blind; being taught, etc) of Acts, there is, at root, nothing to contradict that story that he received his conversion in some sort of blinding—but in a rhetorical sense—moment of conversion.  He told us in 1:12 that he received his gospel in a ‘revelation of Jesus Christ’

17 neque ascendi Hierosolymam ad antecessores meos apostolos; sed abii in Arabiam et iterum reversus sum Damascum.

18Ἔπειτα μετὰ ἔτη τρία ἀνῆλθον εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα ἱστορῆσαι Κηφᾶν, καὶ ἐπέμεινα πρὸς αὐτὸν ἡμέρας δεκαπέντε:

 Then, after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to see Cephas (Peter), and remained with him fifteen days.

 Peter was an important figure in the early Assembly of Jerusalem.  This is an important corroboration of the gospels that were written later.  This was written over a decade before Mark, so it’s not like Paul was just repeating what had been handed down.  And, since there’s not a lot of reason to suspect that Mark, or perhaps any of the gospel writers with the possible exception of John, had any knowledge of Paul’s letters, it seems like we can be quite confident about the role of Peter in the formation of what would become Christianity because Paul and the gospels are independent sources.

 18 Deinde post annos tres, ascendi Hierosolymam videre Cepham et mansi apud eum diebus quindecim;

19ἕτερον δὲ τῶν ἀποστόλων οὐκ εἶδον, εἰ μὴ Ἰάκωβον τὸν ἀδελφὸν τοῦ κυρίου.

 I saw none of the other apostles except for James the brother of the lord.

 James, The Brother of Jesus !!!  This is, IMO, a very significant passage, especially in regard to the doctrine of the virgin birth.  Given the matter-of-fact way this is tossed out, as if it were common knowledge,  it seems to be a huge indication that the idea of the Virgin Birth had not been invented yet.  Otherwise, would Paul have brought this up the way he does?  This is why I’ve chosen to take these books chronologically, so that we can see better how the layers start to accumulate. 

 The notion of the virgin birth first shows up in Matthew, some 30 or more years after Paul wrote this letter.  And Matthew got the idea because he was reading from the Septuagint—commonly referred to as LXX, The Seventy—which was the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scripture, the Old Testament.  In the Hebrew, the relevant passage of Isaiah tells us that a ‘young girl’ will give birth.  Which, given that marriage usually closely followed puberty, was fairly standard and hardly anything noteworthy.  However, the Greek renders the Hebrew as ‘παρθενος’, which is more properly translated into English as ‘maiden.’  This can mean ‘young girl’, but it has the added layer of virginity.  Hence, and Old Maid—a woman who has remained a virgin (well, presumably, in polite company, and maybe back in the day, at least it was assumed…) all her life.  She’s no longer young, but she’s still a maid, as in maiden. 

 Back to James.  This is interesting, and a bit tricky.  We are told that there are two apostles named James.  The first is commonly referred to by scholars as “James the Greater”.  He is the brother of John, and one of the sons of Zebedee, who become known as the “Sons of Thunder.”  The other is referred to by scholars as “James the Lesser”.

 Now, one again, to the best of my knowledge, we are not told in the gospels that the “other” James is the brother of Jesus.  We are told in Mark 6:3, that he has a brother James, and we are told that there were two apostles named James, but we are not specifically told that this brother of Jesus is the apostle referred to as James the Lesser.

 Now, given that Paul seems to indicate that the brother of Jesus was one of the more important figures in the Jerusalem assembly, it does seem odd  that James the Brother is almost completely overlooked in the gospels.  However, this is a topic to be picked up more extensively when discussing the gospels, especially the gospel of Mark.  In the meantime, suffice it to say that one modern scholar has suggested that James the Brother, had the right to be, or assumed the role of what he calls a ‘caliph’, being a close relative of the prophet.  As such, he took a very prominent role in the Jerusalem assembly.  There would be cultural precedent for this. 

 Given this, we have to acknowledge that, after the Diaspora, James almost completely faded from the picture.  How much of this was a deliberate attempt to diplace him in favour of the other apostles who later came to be the recognized leaders, and how much was due to the fact that James earlier role was simply forgotten after both his death and the destruction of Jerusalem, is a matter for serious discussion.

 19 alium autem apostolorum non vidi, nisi Iacobum fratrem Domini.

20ἃ δὲ γράφω ὑμῖν, ἰδοὺ ἐνώπιον τοῦ θεοῦ ὅτι οὐ ψεύδομαι.

However, what I write to you, behold before God, that I do not lie.

 Apparently he feels the need for an oath like this to convince us readers.  This seems reminiscent of his defensiveness in 1 Thess.

21ἔπειτα ἦλθον εἰς τὰ κλίματα τῆς Συρίας καὶ τῆς Κιλικίας.

Then I went to the region(s) of Syria and Cilicia.

21 Deinde veni in partes Syriae et Ciliciae.

22ἤμην δὲ ἀγνοούμενος τῷ προσώπῳ ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις τῆς Ἰουδαίας ταῖς ἐν Χριστῷ,

For we were unknown by face to the assemblies of Judea, those (assemblies) in Christ.

In his trips to Jerusalem, he’d only met with a few of the apostles, so he was unknown to the majority of believers.

22 Eram autem ignotus facie ecclesiis Iudaeae, quae sunt in Christo;

23μόνον δὲ ἀκούοντες ἦσαν ὅτι Ὁ διώκων ἡμᾶς ποτε νῦν εὐαγγελίζεται τὴν πίστιν ἥν ποτε ἐπόρθει,

For they had only heard that “He who was persecuting then now evangelizes the faith which then he destroyed,”

23 tantum autem auditum habebant: “ Qui persequebatur nos aliquando, nunc evangelizat fidem, quam aliquando expugnabat ”,

24καὶ ἐδόξαζον ἐν ἐμοὶ τὸν θεόν.

And in me they glorified God.


About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on August 30, 2012, in epistles, Galatians, Paul's Letters and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Saul of Tarsus (Paul of course) did not seem to spend much time in his hometown. Even before his conversion, we find him moving between Jerusalem and Damascus, which takes one through the northern parts of Roman Arabia (the Nabateans had moved north to Damascus). After his conversion, he returns there. If he was a tentmaker, this may have been the business center of his trade since this is the beginning of the caravan route through the Fertile Crescent to the Jewish kingdom of Adiabene (Assyria) client state of the Parthian-Armenians, crossroads on the way to Babylon or Persia or Armenia or Caucasus – the first two having as large or larger Jewish populations than Palestine. The key theological center of Judaism was still in Babylon and may have been the source of much of the hard-line behavior that push pressure on Rome in its buffer state of Judea.
    It is also important to note that the Arabian edge of Palestine is where refuge has been sought for hundreds of years previously and for years yet to come, even into the Bar Kochba rebellion of 135 AD. There was probably a support group that Paul could use – maybe he joined a caravan or two while he was on the run.

  2. This is good information. It’s the sort of thing of which I know very little. I do know that Damascus was a major commercial centre, no doubt because of its location at the beginning of the caravan route.

    But I’m especially intrigued by the statement that Babylon was the theological centre of Judaism. Do you mean the actual city of Babylon? Did that still exist? Or Babylonia, as in the area of modern Iraq? Mesopotamia was contested by the Romans and the Parthians, mainly held by the Parthians. But I have no sense of what sort of influence, theological or otherwise, that Babylon had on Jerusalem. The NT is completely silent about this, and I haven’t read all of Josephus.

    Finally, I don’t get the impression that Paul had to take it on the lam after his conversion. He may have had to lay low until the heat died down, but I didn’t read this as him traveling. However, there’s nothing to preclude this.

  3. I did mean a Greater Babylon, at least, if not Babylonia. During the Seleucids, the city became more depopulated until ruins by the Parthian period, but the province of Babylon still continued.
    A summary of items to give you the general sense: Firstly, only a portion of the Jews returned to Judea after Cyrus “freed” them, leaving a large portion behind, probably with both in the same families. Secondly, Persians settled a group of Jews in a buffer state west of the Caspian that came to be called Hyrcanus (where John Hyrcanus the Hasmonean king gets his name). The Parthians and Armenians where culturally connected with each other and with the Jewish communities that formed a chain across the top of the Fertile Crescent all the way to the Mediterranean at the Orontes River area (and possibly even to Cilicia?) The name “Orontes” was a dynastic family of the Armenians at this time, derived from one of the Parthian words for ruler: “Arvantid”, if I remember correctly.
    During Roman times, to travel across this region was to go from village to village with a density that reminds me of driving from New York to Philadelphia, or across New England. No large cities, just villages. Petitions to Rome came from someone labeled by their village, not a large nearby city as would have been common. It did not take a caravan – one could have stayed in family homes and the type of community centers (lodges) that every village maintained, even to this day. The caravans were for the short cut across the desert that the Crescent wrapped around, using Damascus and Palmyra as “ports” in the sea of this desert.
    Many families had members in both Judea and Babylon and places along the way. Of the top Jewish theological seminaries, most of them were in Babylonia. After the Roman-Jewish wars, these seminaries complained they were not longer getting the revenue from Judean pharisees looking for rulings on theological issues. Most of the Talmud probably comes from Babylon, and the Babylonian version still contained the rules of Temple sacrifice long have the Jerusalem Talmud dropped it. in first century AD, the royal family of Adiabene (Assyria) became Jewish, and its Queen Helenus who paid for Egyptian wheat to Judea during a famine and you can see where she was buried near Jerusalem with a large monument celebrating the love for her. The King of nearby Commagene was later traditionally said to have fallen in love with Helenus, and to have converted to Christianity by James the Just and to have corresponded with Jesus who promised to visit him after the Passover in Jerusalem (remember – tradition). During World War II there were still 164,000 Jews in Iraq, but who have left since then.
    The Jewish world and the Roman world was like a Venn diagram with the overlapping part in the Judea-Syrian axis.

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