Bible, Biblical Studies, Grammar, Greek, New Testament

Paul’s Revelation

I was reading/translating through Galatians this morning and I happened upon this little grammatical ambiguity in 1:12.

οὐδὲ γὰρ ἐγὼ παρὰ ἀνθρώπου παρέλαβον αὐτὸ οὔτε ἐδιδάχθην, ἀλλὰ διʼ ἀποκαλύψεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ.

The phrase in question is διʼ ἀποκαλύψεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ. Does Paul mean that he received the gospel at his conversion on the road to Damascus (subjective genitive; by implication the time following that initial encounter) or is he referring to the gospel as it had been circulated throughout his neck of the woods (objective), so to speak? Could it be both? It’s been a long time since I’ve studied Galatians in any depth, so I don’t recall the discussions here. It’s only a minor point in the scheme of the letter, but I was curious how you all might interpret it. Thoughts?

Αυτω η δοξα


3 thoughts on “Paul’s Revelation”

  1. Interesting point. I took the διʼ ἀποκαλύψεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ as a straightforward genitive of agent or means by which. And in Galatians, this phrase is a bit sketchy. However, if you’ll recall the rest of Galatians, what he describes as his uncovering of the gospel, it doesn’t particularly sound anything like the story in Acts. Now, one can suggest that Luke had a flair for taking his predecessor’s words and dramatizing them; for example, the “by fire and the sacred breath” of Mt 1:12 becomes the tongues of fire on Pentecost. My sense is that Paul had a fairly dramatic, if not entirely sudden, conversion moment that Luke subsequently spun into the familiar Road to Damascus story.

    And if you read 1 Corinthians with this in mind, there are times when he says what, IMO, amounts to that he gets his answers on these topics by prayer. I think Paul was a deep thinker, and one prone to sudden “aha!” moments that he ascribed to divine revelation. I think his continued and vehement insistence that he did not receive his gospel via a human agent more or less rules out that he studied under someone. Now, this is not to say that he didn’t pick up the story in his travels and role as a persecutor (whatever that means) of the followers of Jesus. I’m sure he did This assumes, of course that we can trust his word that he did persecute Jesus’ followers. As always, there are times when it’s more or less necessary to take Paul at his word. Anyway, my suspicion is that after picking up these pieces, he, suddenly, put them together in his head until the moment he believed.

    Does that make sense?

    One thing. I’m doing my own translation and commentary of the NT, and Galatians was the second book I did. What I am struck by is how infrequently it’s necessary to parse words. Wait–let me rephrase that. If you’ve ever read any economics blogs, you quickly realize that economists are still arguing over what Adam Smith’s message and meaning were. And Smith wrote in English. I don’t think we need to parse the NT any more than we need to parse “Wealth of Nations”. That being said, I come at NT Greek from a Classics background, and I’m frankly suspicious of some of the conventions that NT translators have made. There are a few times in Galatians where what Paul writes is, as far as I can tell, borderline gibberish, forcing translators and scholars to come to what I call “consensus translations”. I approach the NT Greek through Liddell and Scott to get a sense of how the word may have evolved.

    FWIW. Which may not be much! : D

  2. Thanks, James. I think you’re partly right concerning the need to parse the NT, at least down to the most nitpicky of details and I sometimes wonder if contemporary approaches to Greek grammar have attempted to squeeze more out of the grammar than is there. However, I do think that often enough the authors intend to communicate more subtle and profound points via syntactical nuance. At the end of the day, this is one of those peripheral matters that is second banana to other matters.

    I must say that I wish I had more of a background in Classics–you certainly have an advantage!

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