From the standpoint of the ordinary theology of the day it is a psychological riddle how the Paul of the Four Letters can have followed the historical Jesus at so short an interval. Pierson opened the eyes of Loman to this fact. It seemed to him that the developed Christianity of the community and the activity of theological thought, which form the background of the Four Letters, justify the hypothesis that they possibly belong to a later time. Loman perceived that the work in this direction begun by Bruno Bauer must be done over again. A thorough study of Bauer’s work showed him that the letters of Paul do not fit into the period where it is usual to place them. True, attempts have been made to solve the difficulty by the suggestion that Paul was a very extraordinary man, and not bound by the laws which govern ordinary men. It is possible, it is true, to go a long way in the explanation of the letters with the help of this supposition; but the duty of criticism, when seeking an explanation of historical facts, is to reject as much as possible all solutions which assume anything unusual and extraordinary.
The Tubingen School had explained the fact that the Four Letters are not mentioned till about the middle of the second century, and then only by a few writers, by the hypothesis that Paul was unusually profound, and that his writings were too advanced to be accepted without misgivings by his contemporaries. But Loman would not listen to this. The fact that the works remained unknown was rather, according to him, that they only came into being at a later period.
Pierson and his friend, the scholar S. A. Naber, published in collaboration in 1886 a Latin work, called Verisimilia, in which they showed how confused the Pauline letters are – a circumstance which must be explained as the result of a later reconstruction; how incomprehensible they must have been to recently constituted churches, which, generally speaking, lacked a philosophic training; and how the whole of the New Testament is permeated through and through by a catholic spirit.
Van Manen was won over about the same time. Hitherto he had always been the most dangerous opponent of the Radical School. In 1886, however, be openly admitted that, in his opinion, not one of the Pauline Epistles is genuine. He was confirmed in this conclusion by reading the important book of R. Steck, of Berne, on the Epistle to the Galatians (1888). Van Manen praises Steck for having kept the question of the authenticity of the Epistles entirely separate from that of the symbolical interpretation of the Gospel history. In Loman’s book these two questions are combined together, and the impression is created that the spuriousness of the Epistles is only assumed in order that the symbolical interpretation may be retained. An epoch was created in the history of the Dutch Radical School by the publication of van Manen’s own books on Paul, of which a detailed description for English readers was given by T. Whittaker in The Origins of Christianity (London, 1904). First of all, the Acts of the Apostles was made the subject of a thorough investigation; then followed the Epistles to the Romans and Corinthians. And his work was made known in the English-speaking world through his articles in the Encyclopaedia Biblica.
In a review of earlier portions of this Encyclopaedia, van Manen had found fault with the too conservative treatment of many New Testament subjects. In spite of the energetic protests of the English press, the editors of the Encyclopaedia decided to entrust him with the task of writing some of the articles on Paulinism. In papers published in the February, March, and April numbers of the Expository Times, in 1898, he had already expressed his dissatisfaction with the way in which advanced thinkers in England and America ignored the scientific work of the Radical School, and blindly accepted the conclusions of the German critics. His complaint was well grounded; nor is the statement disproved by the existence of a book by the Rev. R. J. Knowling (London, 1892), who endeavors to confute Loman, Pierson, and Steck from an antiquated supernaturalism standpoint. That van Manen was not entirely without recognition in the English-speaking world, appears from what has been already said above, as well as from his election as an honorary Associate of the Rationalist Press Association, London, in May, 1904 – a distinction which, alas! he was only able to enjoy for a short time.
After Loman’s death, van Manen and Meyboom brought out a portion of his unpublished works, including an unlisted treatise on the Epistle to the Galatians. The present writer has on many occasions during the last ten years argued against the authenticity of the Pauline Epistles; among other things, he has drawn attention to the so-called Epistles of Ignatius, the writer of which clearly regards Paul not as the writer of letters in the ordinary sense of the word, but of open letters, or treatises in epistolary form. Professor Bolland, in an important chapter of his book Het Evangelie has also collected the most essential arguments against the authenticity of the Pauline Epistles.
Are the Letters of Paul Real Letters?
In order to answer this question we must first define what we mean by a letter. A letter is a medium for the mutual exchange of ideas between two persons, or in certain cases between the writer and a limited circle of readers; hence it is not intended for the public. Deissmann has already distinguished between the letter and the epistle, the latter being a literary production which is not really intended for the persons to whom it is addressed, but for the general public. In the case of a real correspondence the writer naturally reveals his own personality, and enters at once into the thoughts and feelings of the person addressed. Such a document, therefore, enables us to form some idea not only of the writer, but also to a certain extent of the readers. Cicero’s letters to Atticus belong to this class; be shows himself in his true character. In his letters to his friends, on the other hand (Ad Familiares), he reckons on other readers than trusted friends alone, and therefore they not without a certain amount of rhetorical embellishment. Towards the end of the first century A.D. we find the writing of letters a regular form of literary composition. In the schools of rhetoric letters dealing with some historical event, and written under some fictitious historical name (the so-called suasoria), were composed as exercises, and became a part of the literature of the period. Varro was the first to write scientific essays in the form of letters, and his example was followed by many others after him. The didactic letter came into existence; treatises on jurisprudence and medicine took the form of letters. The letter of exhortation we find especially favoured by the Stoics; Panaetius and Posidonius wrote ethical treatises in epistolary form; and Seneca’s Epistles, in particular, may be described as a handbook of practical wisdom for everybody. The form of literature which may be described as the Letter of Edification was particularly in vogue with the Christians.
To write letters in another person’s name was at that time just as common as to introduce well-known persons into narratives, and to put sayings and speeches into their mouths – like those of Jesus, for example, in the Gospels, or those of Peter and Paul in the Acts. In all this there is not the remotest intention of deceiving. Anyone who had anything to say by way of exhortation or edification wrote a letter, without troubling himself about deficiencies in the external form. Thus the Epistle to the Ephesians is without an address, that to the Hebrews without a suitable introduction, that of James without a proper conclusion; the First Epistle of John lacks both introduction and conclusion.
At first no one thought of regarding these productions as actual letters written by the men whose names they bear. Gradually all this was changed. The desire for information, reverence for the authority of the written word, the formation of a canon – these are the factors that brought about the result that, from the time of Irenaeus (c. 180 A.D.) onward, the thirteen (or even fourteen) Pauline Epistles and the Catholic Epistles – nay, all the documents of early Christianity so far as they were accepted by the Church – passed for the work of the writers whose names they bore, and were also supposed to be intended for the readers who were named either at the beginning, or the end, or in the title, or by tradition. This applies also to letters which are universally admitted to be later compositions – as, for example, Paul’s Epistle to the Laodiceans, the Third Epistle to the Corinthians, the letter of Jesus to King Abgarus, and others.
Modern times brought a reaction against this attitude. The apocryphal letters were rejected immediately after the Reformation; later the genuineness of some of the writings of the Apostolic Fathers was also doubled; since Semler, many of the Pauline and Catholic letters were added to the list; the T?bingen School left little but the four principal letters. The Radical School has arrived at the conclusion that the so-called letters are not letters at all, thereby returning to the point of view of the time in which they were composed. The Muratori fragment, a list of New Testament books belonging to the end of the second century and named after the Italian scholar by whom it was discovered, tells us of Paul: “Although the blessed apostle writes only to seven churches” – whose names follow – “nevertheless it is clear that one single Church was spread over the whole earth. And John, although in the Apocalypse he speaks to seven churches, nevertheless addresses all churches equally.”
Whereas in the time of Justin Martyr (c. 150 A.D.) the Gospels were the only sacred books recognized by the Church, twenty years later, in the time of Dionysius of Corinth, there was quite a considerable collection of letters. All our canonical letters are to be regarded as models and types of the episcopal pastoral letters; they were the admonishing voices of the apostolic men who after they were dead, still spake to the Christian Churches, in order to convert them from the old Jewish standpoint to the new one of the Catholic faith.
The Epistle to the Galatians
Now that T. Whittaker has made the views of van Manen on the Epistle to the Romans and the two Epistles to the Corinthians accessible to English readers, it is perhaps desirable to devote particular attention to the Epistle to the Galatians, especially as it enjoys a great reputation for authenticity.1
The Epistle to the Galatians is considered almost universally to be the oldest surviving document of Christian origin, although we have no positive evidence for its existence before 180, and even then only the evidence of the most uncritical of the Church Fathers – namely, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian – men who have pronounced almost all the New Testament writings to be of apostolic origin, including even the Fourth Gospel, the Pastoral, and the Catholic Epistles.
If we really have before us a document called into existence by the circumstances of the time, then it must be possible to explain it as a whole by reference to the conditions which are presupposed by the letter itself. Tradition, title, even the character of the document, all testify that it is a letter. It bears the appearance of having been extorted from the sender against his will, so that at the end the writer can say, ” From henceforth let no man trouble me ” (6:17). Although ” brethren ” are named as joint authors of the Epistle, it is Paul alone who speaks; his language is full of energy and passion; he writes under the influence of strong emotion. We feel that there is something that compels him to write. He addresses a definite circle of readers, to whom be is not a complete stranger – nay, to whom he stands on a footing of close intimacy.
Externally we are confronted with only one difficulty: it is without the usual address of an ancient letter. Such an address we find elsewhere in the New Testament – e.g., in Acts 15:23; 23:26, and in James 1:1; the name of the sender is given in the nominative case; it is stated as briefly as possible and without the addition of any titles; then follows the name of the person or persons to whom the letter is sent, and last of all the word “greeting.” In our Epistle, on the contrary, the actual address is grammatically separated from the greeting; the name of the sender receives all kinds of descriptive additions; even in the address itself we find indications of the contents of the letter; for example, it contains by implication a reply to those who refuse to recognize the writer as an apostle, in the passage: “Paul, an apostle not of men, neither by a man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead” (1:1).
All this strikes us as singular, to begin with; but there remain other features which are not less singular. It appears that the letter is written not by Paul only, but by all the brethren with him. Yet, after a perusal of the letter, it will not readily suggest itself to the reader that others beside Paul are responsible for what is written in it; everywhere the singular number is used with the exception of 1:8, 9. The mention of other authors is to be explained as a fictitious addition, due to an imitation of 1 and 2 Cor, where Sosthenes and Timothy are named along with Paul, in order to enhance the authority of the documents and to introduce them with due ecclesiastical impressiveness.
For whom is the letter intended? The words of the address are: “To the churches of Galatia.” It is an old question, which has been and still is the subject of endless controversy, which Galatia is here meant – Galatia proper or the much more extensive Roman province of that name. The latter supposition Sch?er describes as “a singular delusion.” We are not obliged to take sides with either party. Whether we consider the smaller or the larger Galatia to be meant, in either case a letter so addressed could not be delivered. How many of these churches were there? How were they to be found? It will perhaps be said the letter was no doubt put in charge of a messenger who knew where to deliver it. But in that case how was it passed on? How are we to explain the fact that we find no directions in the letter itself that it should be passed round? If by Galatia is meant the province, then the difficulty of the problem is increased; we must remember that the language and character of the people in Galatia proper were not the same as in the towns of Antioch in Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe, which belong to the Province of Galatia, and to which the letter, in the opinion of many critics, was also intended to be sent.
When we take all these circumstances into account, the only possible conclusion is that we are dealing here not with an actual but with an open letter, as though one were to write a letter “To the Christians in England,” which in such a case is never actually dispatched, and is intended for anyone who has a mind to read it. As soon, however, as we realize this, we have no longer any reason to speak of the perplexity and agitation of the apostle, which is reflected in this letter to his churches, and which has to explain all that is otherwise inexplicable in the document. It can no longer be regarded as an exhortation or a reproof from the disquieted father, who is concerned for the welfare of the souls of his spiritual children. Where difficulties occur, it is a common habit of commentators to say there is an allusion here to circumstances well known to the writer and the readers, because they stand a footing of such intimacy with one another. As soon, however, as we admit that we have before us not a letter but a literary production, this solution is no longer available. Calvin was right, although not in the sense which he intended, when he wrote: “We must not suppose, because some of Paul’s letters are addressed to particular towns and others to particular individuals, that therefore they are not equally intended for everybody.” The letters of Paul are not intended for special persons or communities, but for the whole Church.
It is now apparent why there is so little objective reality about the actual conditions which are indicated in the course of the letter. The presupposed conditions of a general falling-off from the Gospel preached by Paul must have been true of a great number of places. The whole of the contents is rather a dissertation in the form of a letter than a letter. Paul’s independence must be defended; Christianity must be proclaimed as the religion of freedom, and return to Judaism must be censured. The whole Epistle is a piece of special pleading. This is why editors in their commentaries and introductions busy themselves so much in tracing the line of thought of the writer, and explaining what positions are being defended. Holtzmann has truly said that the Four Letters are intended to be studied rather than read. But in that case they must be called books, or treatises, rather than letters,
The relation in which Paul as writer stood to his readers is a mystery. This is not because we are without sufficient information – in other words, for want of data. The champions of their authenticity would gladly make us believe this, but it is not the case. The difficulty arises rather from the fact that the writer is inconsistent with himself. Paul had only founded the churches a short time before (4:19; 1:6). They would then have done anything for him; in fact there existed an almost sentimental attachment between the Galatians and him (4:14ff.). The question arises, How is this intimacy, amounting almost to affection, possible in the case of a number of churches at the same time? And how can we make it square with so sudden a falling-off? If he really, when he was present with them, converted them by the grace of Christ to “Pauline” Christianity, then it is inconceivable that these Christians who had reached such spiritual heights – not in a single isolated case, but all the churches in Galatia alike – should suddenly proceed to place themselves under the Law and allow themselves to be circumcised (1:6; 3:1-5; 4:21; 6:2), and that only because they had been incited thereto by “certain persons” or “a certain person.” The writer speaks in a tone of command, like a man of authority, angry and indignant (1:1, 6; 3:1-5; 6:17); a moment later he becomes once more the calm instructor, and calls them “brethren”; nay, he becomes even more gracious, and speaks to them as to beloved children (4:19).
How surprising it is that we obtain no positive information from this composition about the character and ideas of the Galatians in the middle of the first century A.D. Is it conceivable that a modern missionary dealing with some actual question could write to a church founded by himself a letter so colourless as this? We miss here the element of life and reality; instead of this we have a coldness and impersonality which is not merely suspicious, but fatal to the authenticity of the letter, especially when we further take into consideration the evident affectation of personality, the unsuccessful attempt to produce a natural and human figure.
We ask in vain who the men were who formed the churches to which the writer addresses himself. Were they heathen Christians, or Jewish Christians? Both views may be supported from passages in the letter. Throughout the book both kinds of church members are presupposed, which is natural enough in a book or treatise, but not in a letter which is intended for a particular group of persons. We find here sound believers, recreant believers, converted Jews, and converted heathen, all embraced in the circle of readers.
Although the Epistle is a unity, in which a thread of connection is not lacking from the beginning to the end, nevertheless we notice here and there that the writer introduced ideas which he has picked up in the course of his reading. Sometimes these appear in a wrong connection, thus betraying the writer’s dependence on others. In 2:16 he quotes without acknowledgment a phrase which he borrows from the Septuagint version of Psalm 143:2; he writes down the phrase, with a modification of his own, without further comment, and leaves us to suppose that he is giving us an original utterance. There are various passages in our Epistle which by themselves are obscure, and only become clear when we place beside them verses from Romans and Corinthians. For example, Gal 2:17ff is only to be understood when we have read Rom 6 and 7, where Paul speaks of himself as dead to the Law by the body of Christ (7:4); 3:29 is illustrated by Rom 9:7, where a distinction is drawn between descent according to the flesh and descent according to the promise; 4:12 by 1 Cor 4:16 and 11:1; 4:19 is explained by 1 Cor 4:14ff.
The last-named figure is particularly striking. Let the reader try to grasp the bold – nay, incorrect metaphor: “My children”, says Paul to the churches which he has just founded – “my children, of whom I labour in birth till Christ Jesus be formed in you.” What an unnatural picture! Paul, represented not as a father but as a mother, one who suffers the pangs of child-birth, and that for children who are already born. Here we trace the handiwork of one who seeks to improve on a predecessor; he is trying to intensify the very natural picture of Paul as a father, but he only spoils it. Gal. 5:13-18 shows close dependence on Rom. 13:8-10. When in 6:2 he speaks of the Law of Christ, it almost appears as though Christ were made the giver of a new Law. The singularity of the expression is to be explained by phrases like “Law of Faith” (Rom. 3:27) and “Law of the Spirit of Life” (Rom. 8:2), which, in the connection in which they stand as antitheses of the Law of Works and the Law of Sin and Death, are quite natural and in their proper place.
Our attention is also arrested by 6:11, where we come unexpectedly upon the sentence: “See with what large letters I have written unto you with my own hand.” To what do these words refer? Scholars are not agreed in their answer to this question. Some of them say that the reference is to the whole letter; others that it is only to the conclusion, which is introduced by these words. The usual explanation is as follows: Paul was accustomed to dictate his letters; as an artisan be was not ready with his pen. Hence, when he adds a few lines to the letter already dictated, he makes large, awkward letters, and himself in this verse makes a playful allusion to this circumstance. Deissmann, who gives this explanation, also proceeds to say that this autograph postscript is an evidence of authenticity, appealing to the statement of a certain C. Julius Victor to the following effect: “When the ancients wrote to their intimate friends, they usually wrote with their own hand, or at all events added an autograph postscript.” According to Deissmann, Paul added such an autograph postscript to all his letters, even where none is to be found now. For proof of this he appeals to 2 Thess. 3:17: “The salutation of Paul with mine own hand, which is the token in every epistle; so I write.” ” It is strange,” says Deissmann, “that it is just these words which are used as an argument against the genuineness of 2 Thess.” This observation of Deissmann seems to me to show a singular lack of discernment. Many critics, even of those who regard 1 Thess. as a genuine letter of the Apostle, find themselves confirmed in their doubts of the authenticity of the Second Epistle by these very words in 3:17. If the readers knew the handwriting of Paul then it was unnecessary for him to draw special attention to the fact that he had written it himself; if they did not know it, then the statement loses all significance. If the letter was brought by trustworthy persons who were known to the community, then the assurance that it came from Paul was superfluous. If they were not such persons, then how did it happen that they were entrusted with the delivery of so important a document? There is no conceivable reason for the introduction of the words in Gal 6:11, unless we suppose that the writer is merely copying what is assumed to be elsewhere the usual practice of Paul – the practice, namely, of adding a line or two to his letters as a proof of their genuineness; the passage that the writer had in his mind was no doubt 1 Cor. 16:21. But the addition in the case of 1 Cor. is not out of place, because the letter itself had been written by a secretary; in our letter nothing is said of the employment of a secretary.
By these few striking examples, which could easily be multiplied, I have endeavoured to show how the difficulties with which we are confronted in reading the Epistle to the Galatians disappear as soon as we call in the assistance of Romans and Corinthians. The writer evidently knew these letters, or their sources, and made use in his own work of utterances borrowed from them, very much as a modern preacher makes use of expressions, terms, and even whole texts in his discourses, which are sometimes only suggested by the mere sound of a word, and have no connection with the rest of the sentence; so that those of his audience who are not at home in their Bibles are often unable to say what is his own and what is borrowed. Hence this letter is the literary successor of the other three principle letters; the same thoughts and expressions which in them appear in their proper connection are here only artificially combined.
The tradition, then, that Paul wrote this Epistle to the Galatian churches is anything but probable. In addition to this it finds no support in the Acts. Any one who reads his Bible attentively is conscious at once of a great difference between the representations given in the Epistle and in the Acts of one and the same event. If the Epistle is a genuine work of the Apostle, written from Ephesus about the year 55, then the undoubtedly later book of Acts has, of course, no right to be heard. To Baur and Zeller, who proved convincingly that there is no way of harmonising the contents of the two writings, the authority of the anonymous and much later author of the Acts cannot possibly be set against that of the writer of our Epistle, who describes the episodes which he relates with all the fullness of one who is narrating his own experience. What were the reasons for this intentional toning-down? The explanation given by the T?bingen scholars was this: the writer of Acts was endeavouring to reconcile the two opposing elements of early Christianity – namely, a Jewish-Christian element named after Peter, and a heathen-Christian element named after Paul. But how was it possible that a writer who was acquainted with the Four Letters, and recognised them as the composition of an authorised apostle of Jesus Christ, should nevertheless have overlooked Pauline Christianity and the Paul of the Epistles? For this is what the author of the Acts does. Whereas in the Epistle to the Galatians Paul comes forward as the absolutely original and independent preacher of the Gospel, he here stands from the time of his conversion to his first missionary journey (Acts 9:26-12:25) in a position of subordination – in fact, as a kind of prot?g? of Barnabas and the church at Jerusalem. According to the Acts, the universalism of Paul is already carried out in practice by Peter; immediately after Paul’s conversion Peter baptises the first heathen (Acts 10:1-11:18). The conflict between the Legal and the progressive tendencies, as it unfolds itself in the Pauline letters, is absolutely inconceivable if we follow Acts, where Paul is portrayed as a Law-observing Jew and Pharisee.
The T?bingen scholars had only one answer to give to this contradiction: the Paul of the letters was an, unpractical uncompromising radical. The Catholic Church, which was then in process of formation, could only accept him as a canonical authority after it had first modified his doctrines so as to make him appear less of an extremist. The Apostle of the Gentiles, ignored at first, had to be rehabilitated as an orthodox teacher by a Catholic writer.
This hypothesis, however, labours under serious difficulties. How could the picture which the Acts gives us of the Apostolic period receive such ready acceptance among Christians? How was it possible that the Epistle to the Galatians should have remained for a whole century without any influence on the development of Christian faith and Christian life? Is it probable that at the same time and in the same communities two mutually inconsistent documents of the Apostolic period – one giving the original picture of Paul, and the other the willful misrepresentation of it – should have been allowed by the Church to challenge comparison with one another ? To name only a few of the inconsistencies. According to Gal. 1:17, Paul, after his conversion, goes to Arabia; the writer of Acts knows nothing of this journey. According to Gal. 1:18, Paul journeys three years after his conversion to Jerusalem in order to make the acquaintance of Peter; with the exception of Peter, he sees no one else there but James, and only remains there fifteen days. In Acts 9:26 ff., on the contrary, we are informed that Paul is introduced to the community of Jerusalem by Barnabas, has daily intercourse with the church, and preaches the Gospel – in other words, remains there for some time, and makes the acquaintance of the whole church. The Epistle to the Galatians evidently intends to enter the lists for Paul as an independent teacher. This is done at the expense of the older Apostles at Jerusalem; he stands above them, and has no fellowship with them – nay, he alludes to them not without acrimony: “But from those who think they are somewhat – what they are is naught to me; God respecteth no man’s person….” (2: 6). The Acts knows nothing of this hostility, which culminates in the conflict between Peter and Paul at Antioch (2:11 ff.).
Compare also Gal 2:1-10 with Acts 15, which evidently describes the same event-namely, the meeting at Jerusalem called by the Apostles along with Paul and Barnabas, in order to discuss the attitude to be observed by the Gentile converts towards the Law. Whereas, according to Gal. 2:2, Paul goes up to Jerusalem in consequence of a revelation, and without any other summons, in Acts 15:2 we find that he is commissioned by the church at Antioch to act as their official representative. The outcome of their deliberations is that the Gentile Christians should be released from the obligation to observe the Jewish Law; while, however, according to the Acts they are commanded to abstain from meat offered to idols, from fornication, from things strangled, and from blood, the writer to the Galatians tells us nothing of all this, but informs us instead of the promise of Paul to make a collection for the poor of Palestine.
Luke leaves the impression that Paul, on the occasion of his first journey to the Galatians, could only pay them a hasty visit; and that upon a second occasion, when he passed through their country, he could do no more than confirm their faith (Acts 16:6; 18:23). In no case can it have been Luke’s intention to suggest to his readers that Galatia had been the scene of a life-and-death struggle about the most essential questions of faith, as the letter teaches us that it was. Moreover, how could this letter – on the assumption that it was genuine – have left no trace of itself in the narrative of Luke? How could he have contradicted its statements on many important points? Luke cannot have recognised the authority which the writer of the letter claims for himself.
Nothing is said in the Acts of any letters written by Paul. Nowhere do we find any trace of their existence either in this book or anywhere else; nowhere do we hear a word of any influence that they exercise until they crop up in Gnostic circles. How did they pass from the possession of the communities to which they are addressed into the hands of men like Basilides and Marcion? There is nothing to show that in the intervening period they were circulated and read by others. When Justin Martyr alludes to written documents used by the Church, he speaks of “Memoirs” or “Gospels,” never of any letters written by Apostles. Papias exalts the living word at the expense of written works. Is it likely that such a conservative man should have, done this, if the exchange of sacred literature had been a regular practice of primitive Christianity?
The light which the letter throws on the period becomes very unsteady when our attention is drawn to difficulties of an historical nature, which we find ourselves faced with as soon as we assume its authenticity. To name only a few. Before his conversion, Paul was a Jew who was zealous for the traditions of his people, and for this reason persecuted the Church of God (1:13ff); elsewhere, however, he says that only Pauline Christians are exposed to persecution, so that the Jew Paul could have had no reason to persecute Christians who were not yet Pauline Christians. In 2:9 we read of an arrangement whereby Paul and his companions should labour among the heathen, and the other apostles – James, Cephas, and John – among the circumcised. This sounds reasonable, but as a matter of fact it was not feasible, and was impossible in practice. Jews were to be found even among the heathen; who was to minister to them? Or, in other words, was the division of work an ethnological or a geographical division? All this professes to be history, but it is not a record of actual events. If it were, why does Paul then not appeal to this arrangement in dealing with the Galatians? Whatever interpretation we put on that arrangement, the older Apostles could have no right to meddle with Galatia, because the country lay outside of Palestine and was inhabited by Gentiles; this was, in fact, why they had accepted without demur Paul’s antinomian Gospel.
Once more, Paul appears in a double light. On the one hand he is jealous for the independence of his own apostolic authority (1:1, 12, 16), speaks of the Legal standpoint as something inferior (3:2, 3), calls the Galatians foolish because they wish to live under the Law (3:1, 4:21), considers that such persons deserve to be shut out from the community (4:30; 5:2, 4). And yet the same Paul who says all this is of one mind with the older Apostles, refers his Gospel to them (2:2); in fact, he is the very embodiment of conciliation, rising superior to all distinctions of creed (3:28; 5:6; 6:15,ff.). It is not conceivable that Paul can have given expression to both these sentiments. No; we have here the work of an ardent disciple of Paul, who was advancing in the direction of the antinomianism of Marcion, but whose extreme views were toned down by a less impetuous Pauline Writer with Catholic sympathies.
It is useless to suggest that Paul’s denunciations in this letter, which are more vigorous than those in Romans and Corinthians, are to be ascribed to overpowering emotion, for there is also a great deal in the letter which shows perfect self-possession. Such, an alternation of violent emotion and calm restraint is impossible except in a fictitious letter.
Everything indicates that the churches had long been in existence. Catechisms are already necessary for catechumens so that they may communicate the word to their teachers (6:6) ; we hear already the question raised of exclusion from the communion of the Church. Hence a very advanced stage of ecclesiastical organization must have been reached. And not only of organisation, but also of doctrine. The Law is done away with and replaced by Grace; the breach with Judaism is complete. God is no longer connected with the Law, although he is the God of faithful Abraham. The Law was given by the ministry of angels (3:19), and there is nothing to show that it proceeds from God. When we find the Apostle urging that the Law has not been able to make of no account the promises of God (3:17, 21), we conclude that he supposes that it does not proceed from God – nay, that it is rather antagonistic to Him. In order to live unto God, we must die to the Law (2:19). Both Jews and Gentiles, who formerly were subject to lower powers (4:3, 8-10), are in the fullness of time redeemed by the sending of the Son. There is thus, in fact, a new revelation of God, although it is true that our letter, in its present form, is the work of an adapter who combines the new teaching with the old, inflexible, Jewish conception of God (6:7-8). To the Hellenistic element belong the equality of women and men, and the allegoric interpretation of the Scripture.
How could the unphilosophic Galatians understand this letter? Loman compares it with Hegel lecturing to the aborigines of the East Indies. Was it possible for men recently converted, largely belonging to the lower classes, to understand these theological discussions, which are so obscure even to scholars of today? Let the reader refer to their commentaries, and observe how eloquent they are when they happen to understand something, and how they always fail us whenever there is a difficulty. And yet we cannot take refuge in the explanation that the writer of the letter finds a difficulty in expressing his thoughts, that he is wrestling with a language which he only imperfectly understands. On the contrary, he is quite at home with Greek, which be must have heard in his parents’ house every day and learned to write at school. We recognise in the Pauline letters the scholar trained in the philosophic schools, and not entirely a stranger to rhetorical artifice. It is true that he makes mistakes, but we may be sure that he would have made many more if he had been obliged to write in Hebrew or Aramaic.
All the inconsistency and vagueness, of which I have given examples from the Epistle to the Galatians, but which characterise all the Four Letters without exception, are to be explained by the fact that the persons addressed are represented as the contemporaries and converts of Paul, but are made to do duty as warnings and examples to the Christians of the later author’s own day.
The defenders of the genuineness of the Four Letters do not support their view by any very cogent arguments. They apply the epithet “hypercritical” to the work of the Radical School; they describe the Paul of the Epistles as a personality “who could not have been invented,” and talk of the individuality of the letters, without, however, taking much trouble to demonstrate its existence. No less a person than P. Wendland adopts the prevailing tone when he writes: “Any one who fails to recognise a living, religious personality in the Four Epistles of Paul and in the underlying framework of the Synoptic Gospels is not qualified to undertake any historical investigation of this period.” But since when is a living, religious personality the decisive factor in judging of the genuineness or spuriousness of a literary work? Whether the writer of a letter merely calls himself Paul, or really is Paul, makes no difference to the individuality of his character or the genuineness of his religious feeling. Nay, even when the writer assumes the name of the wise King Solomon, who lived long before his time, he can give us in the books of “Ecclesiastes” and the “Wisdom of Solomon” deeper philosophy than the historical King Solomon ever had at his command. In the field of history and criticism we must not trust too much to intuition. Moreover, I have already shown what all this individuality really amounts to.
Holtzmann once put the following question to the Radical, Steck: How is it that what we consider it impossible for Paul to have written, becomes natural and reasonable in the mouth of a member of the Pauline school in the second century? In the following sentences, however, Holtzmann unconsciously furnishes the answer to his own question: “The contradictions, in the discovery of which Steck shows great acuteness, are not greater than when, for example, Schiller’s Don Carlos in the second act has not yet read anything from the hand of the queen, whereas in the fourth he is in possession of a whole packet of letters, one of which – the one she wrote to Alcala – he specially treasures; or when the soldiers in Wallenstein’s camp, in the second act, have received double pay, whereas in the eleventh they have not even received their ordinary pay for forty weeks.” Exactly so. It is precisely in a free composition of the second century that contradictions which create no comment in poetical writings are more easily explained than in an actual letter of Paul.
The well-known scholar J. H. Moulton, in replying to van Manen, thinks that he can demonstrate the authenticity of the Epistle to Philemon by pointing to the fact that the names, Chresimos and Onesimos, are found in the papyri. By the same process of reasoning we might argue that the constant occurrence of the name Piet is a proof of the historical existence of Piet Smeerpoetis.
In the second edition of Holtzmann’s Neutestamentliche Theologie, published after the author’s death, that scholar considers the following to be the most serious objection to the conclusions of the Radical School: this vigorous combination of Jewish ideas with Greek clearness of expression is no longer conceivable in one of the Epigoni of the second century. To this I reply: But were these two elements such irreconcilable contraries, after they bad become so blended with one another in the Diaspora? It is only necessary to remind the reader of the picture which the French scholar Br?hier has drawn of Philo, in which the most striking feature is that Philo does not find it necessary to seek for any reconciliation of his Jewish faith with heathen philosophy, simply because he was utterly unconscious of any antagonism between them. In addition to all this, in the period under discussion, Hellenistic philosophy had become saturated with religious elements, as Reitzenstein especially has shown us. Such combinations of the Greek and Jewish spirit were therefore not unusual, and we must not suppose that the traditional Paul of the middle of the first century enjoyed a monopoly in this respect.
What Holtzmann then proceeds to quote as typical theology of the Jewish schools, does not differ from much of the same sort that we also find in Philo, and therefore does not need to be explained by the hypothesis that the writer had once sat at the feet of Gamaliel; he could have acquired it all in the Diaspora. Nay, there is a good deal of it that is the common property of the whole period, in so far as it was under the influence of a Platonism with an admixture of Pythagorean and Stoic elements, so that it could easily regard God as the judge of the world, holy himself and demanding holiness in others. In the Stoic Epictetus, God is the morally Perfect One; His will is righteous and best; He implants in us the moral law, and sees that it is obeyed. The purely supernatural system of a history which hovers between heaven and earth – such as we find in the Epistles of Paul – needs, even less than the allegorical interpretation of the Scriptures, to be borrowed from the schools of the Jews. The belief in a revelation was an active force under the Empire: the best proof of this is to be found in the rise during this period of secret oriental cults everywhere. Everything that Holtzmann further enumerates as specifically Jewish in the Pauline Epistles was well known in Hellenistic circles at the beginning of our era: the antithesis of above and below; of the present and the future world; of angels and demons; the doctrine that the world will finally be destroyed; the idea of sin and atonement, of vicarious suffering and redemption – not one of these ideas can be called the exclusive property of Judaism.
But, further, the Radical School has never denied that Paulinism had a certain connection with Judaism; all that it states is that it arose in a Gnostic circle – a fact which appears both from the history of the Canon and from Marcion’s collection of letters. For the oldest traces of the formation of a Canon are to be found in the heretic Marcion. Those writings are called canonical which can serve as a rule or canon of faith and conduct. None of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament was canonical to begin with; they only slowly became so, often only after much controversy. According to Tertullian, Marcion in his conflict with the Right of his own days appealed to one Gospel and a collection of ton Pauline letters. The Gnostics more than any one needed a new sacred book, because they did not recognise the Old Testament as a revelation. Before we hear a word about commentaries on New Testament writings in Catholic circles we find them already existing among the Gnostics – a proof that these writings already enjoyed canonical authority among them.
The Catholics followed the example of the heretics and took over their canon, but they attached it to the Old Testament and modified the contents both of the Gospel and Epistles. If Marcion had used a single anonymous Gospel, the Church recognised no less than four, under the names of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the first certain traces of which are to be found in Irenaeus (c. 180 A.D.). We must regard this expansion as an expression of the catholicising spirit, which was anxious to give every one something to satisfy his own particular tastes. And whereas the opponents of the heretics have always maintained that Marcion mutilated and curtailed the Apostle’s letters, it appears from more than one passage that, on the contrary, he possessed a more original reading of the letters than that which stands in our own canonical edition. The Gnostic text of the Epistles of Paul was replaced in Catholic circles by the early Christian text.
Everything, therefore, points to the origin of Paulinism in Gnostic sources. It does not emanate from Palestine. If Rabbinical dialectic is to be found in the letters, this is to be explained by the nature of the polemic; the writer who is arguing against Jews, brought up in the traditions of Pharisaic Legality, is most likely to be successful by using their own methods of argument. But the Four Letters also contain a number of passages which show points of contact, both in form and matter, with the Cynic Diatribe – i.e., with the missionary preaching of ethical teachers of the Cynic and Stoic schools.
The writers of the Pauline letters speak Greek and think in Greek. When Paul in Rom. 1:14 (cf. 1 Cor 14:11), calls himself a debtor, both to “Greeks and barbarians,” such an expression proceeds from the national consciousness not of a Jew, but a Greek. That the man should pray with uncovered head and the woman with her head covered was a Greek and Roman custom; it is Paul’s teaching in 1 Cor. 11:4-7. Whenever he speaks of Jews and Judaism, he always leaves the impression that he himself occupies an outside standpoint. Take for example the following passages: “If thou (proudly) namest thyself a Jew, and reliest on thy possession of the Law, and dost glory in standing in a special relation to God…” (Rom. 2:17); ” Is God a God of the Jews alone, and not also of the Gentiles?” (Rom. 3:29); “I became a Jew unto the Jews, in order to win the Jews” (1 Cor. 9:20). No one who read these words without knowing who is supposed to have written them could possibly regard the writer as a born Jew.
The book of the Wisdom of Solomon, which is part of the Greek Bible and a precursor of the philosophy of Philo, is among Paul’s sources. It is a thoroughly Alexandrine production, permeated with Greek philosophy. When Paul, in 1 Cor. 15:35, 36, understands the resurrection of the dead in a spiritual sense, and rejects all expectation of a resurrection of the body, this is not Jewish. The antitheses between spirit and soul, flesh, body; between the spiritual and the psychic man; between the heavenly and the earthly body; further, the longing to put on the heavenly body, the double existence of a man in ecstasy, the transfiguration of form and shape – all these conceptions Paul shares with the heathen redemption-religions. The same may be said of the idea that this redemption must extend to the cosmos, the whole created world.
How far from Jewish the character of the Pauline Epistles is appears most clearly from the impression that these writings leave upon Rabbinical scholars of our own time. Thus C. G. Montefiore, although he does not doubt their general authenticity, expresses himself thus: “Either this man had never been a Rabbinical Jew, or else he has completely forgotten what Rabbinical Judaism was and is.” And J. Eschelbacher thinks that no Scribe, no one who had ever been at home in the Law, could ever have written words which evidence such a complete renunciation of Judaism as we find here. Of any profound knowledge of the Scriptures, or even of wide learning and acquaintance with what was taught in the schools of the Jews, within and without Palestine, there is absolutely no trace of any kind in the Pauline Epistles. Eschelbacher further shows that the author of the Epistle to the Galatians cannot possibly have been a Jewish Scribe, since he uses the Septuagint translation instead of the original Hebrew text, and in consequence of this gives us interpretations which conflict with the statements of the latter. The favourite idea of the Scribes, of a repentant return of sinful man to God, brought about by the impulse of his own heart and the belief in the forgiveness which he will then obtain from the merciful God, is not found in Paul. The God of Paul, in what he does and suffers, reminds Eschelbacher rather of the Fate of classical antiquity than of the God of the Old Testament. What impression these letters made upon Jews learned in the Law, he illustrates by a story – which, by the bye, is not historical – from Epiphanius. His Jewish-Christian opponents said that Paul was a Greek by birth, who had fallen in love with the daughter of a priest at Jerusalem, and in order to win her had gone over to Judaism; when, however, his suit was rejected, he came forward as an antagonist of Judaism!
When Holtzmann, in the passage mentioned above, speaks of the “powerfulness” of the Pauline letters, it is not obvious which letters he means. He cannot possibly refer to all the thirteen letters which have been handed down from antiquity under the name of Paul ; probably he means only the four principal letters, which he separates from the rest without more ado. But this distinction between principal letters and letters of the second period is arbitrary. The whole collection, when compared with the letters of John, of Clement, or of Ignatius, displays a certain uniformity, as against these other collections; naturally, because they too are the product of one circle, although not necessarily of one author. Moreover, if we have a right to separate the four principle letters from the rest, we have the same right to take the Epistle to the Romans and separate it from the others, and then to say that a comparison with these others proves that it is spurious. Whatever division is made of the Pauline Epistles, there will always remain obvious traces of agreement or disagreement. There is not less difference in language, style, religious and ethical thought, between 1 Cor. and 2 Cor., on the one side, and Rom. and Gal., on the other, than there is between Romans, on the one side, and Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, on the other. Moreover, the old tradition knows nothing of any special precedence enjoyed by the Four Epistles; to it the genuineness of all is equally above suspicion. I am far from wishing to dispute the powerfulness of the Pauline Epistles; but let me say once more: Can this “powerfulness” be credited only to a certain Paul, who, after being a persecutor of Christianity, became converted to it three years after Jesus’ death? Of this conversion, and all that resulted from it, it is now time to speak more fully.
From: Radical Views about the New Testament, translated from the Dutch by S. B. Slack (London: Watts, 1912), pp. 59-90
- In my remarks on this Epistle I have been able to make use of some unpublished lectures of van Manen, which have been courteously placed at my disposal by his daughters. Compare also my book Holl. Rad. Kr., pp. 110-112 [⤺]