Was There No Historical Jesus?
Earl Doherty
 Supplementary Articles - No. 15: "Born of Woman"? - Reexamining Galatians 4:4

Did Jesus exist? Are the origins of Christianity best explained without a founder Jesus of Nazareth? Before the Gospels do we find an historical Jesus or a Jesus myth?

Enlarging on the Main Articles, this section of The Jesus Puzzle web site examines a wide range of topics in New Testament scholarship. Each one adopts the viewpoint that such problem questions or documents relating to the subject of Jesus and Christian origins are best solved when approached from the position that there was no historical Jesus. These studies will help provide a greater insight into the nature of early Christianity, the object of its worship, and the source of its ideas.

The author reserves all re-publication rights. Personal copies may be made as long as author identification is preserved.

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Supplementary Article No. 15

Reexamining Galatians 4:4

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God Sent His Son

In conjunction with the upcoming Second Edition of The Jesus Puzzle, the present study offers a comprehensive examination of the passage in Paul’s letters which, it could be said, most suggests that he has a human Jesus in mind. This is Galatians 4:4-7, containing the double phrase “born of woman, born under the Law.” (I capitalize the word because Paul is referring to the Jewish Law of the Hebrew Bible, the Torah, not to law in general.) There are two different ways to approach this passage: one, accepting the double phrase as authentic to Paul; the other, questioning its authenticity and judging it as a likely interpolation. We will look at the passage as a whole, for regardless in which direction we lean, there are some surprising things to discover about it.

4  Then in the fullness of time, God sent [exapesteilen] his Son, born of woman, born under the Law,
5  in order that he might purchase freedom for the subjects of the Law, so that we might attain the status of sons.
6  And because you are sons, God (has) sent [exapesteilen] into our hearts the Spirit of his Son, crying ‘Father!’
7  You are therefore no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then also by God’s act an heir.” [NEB/my trans.]

 The Sending of the Son

“God sent [the verb exapostellō] his Son.” This verb of sending is used in the Old Testament in connection with the sending of spiritual beings, such as angels, or personified Wisdom as in the Wisdom of Solomon 9:10. The basic form of the verb, apostellō, is regularly used to denote the sending of the Holy Spirit. (The verb and its variants can also be used to speak of ‘sending’ a person.) The identical form of the verb in verse 4, “God sent his Son,” is used in verse 6 to say that “God sent into our hearts the Spirit of his Son.” This is an aorist tense, placing both these actions in the past.

Some translations of the verb in verse 6 render it in the perfect tense: “God has sent into our hearts…” but this is misleading. The question is, are the two thoughts, the two “sent” actions, more or less contemporary? Might they essentially be complementary parts of the same process? By using a perfect tense in verse 6, translators set up a “God sent…God has sent,” sequence, as though the second is completely separate and later than the first, the former representing the advent of Jesus and his life on earth, the latter the installation of his Spirit into Paul’s converts a generation after his passing. And no doubt such a translation has been influenced by that assumption. But if the two ‘sendings’ are essentially contemporary, Paul would be relating both to the time of his own activities: the sending in both cases would then relate only to the Spirit of the Son, so that we could take both in the context of the revelation of Christ by God to Paul and his congregations—as including the wider circles of contemporary Christ belief.

This would then represent the arrival of the spiritual Christ within the current phenomenon of divine revelation about him and Paul’s concept of “Christ in you.” This spiritual knowledge and presence of Christ would be part of the situation in Paul’s time, a knowledge and presence which have brought with them a new freedom from the Law, and by which those who are “in Christ” have achieved the “status of sons.” There need be nothing here that refers to an historical life or act of Christ on earth (or even a sacrificial act in the heavens). Let’s see how well such a reading can be supported.

We should not ignore the fact that Paul has failed to refer here to any event of death and resurrection, historical or mythical. It is not, “God sent his son to die on Calvary and rise from his tomb,” or even “God sent his son to die on the cross and to rise from death,” which could in the latter case allow placement in a mythical context. Rather he says:

“…God sent his Son…in order that he might purchase freedom for the subjects of the law…”

I have dropped the contentious “born” phrases temporarily, so that we can see the main train of thought in the sentence. Note that the antecedent of “he” (the one who purchases freedom) could grammatically be either God or the Son. Usually, it is the Son who is assumed to purchase freedom, but this may well be a significant misreading.

What Paul is focusing on in this passage is the specific transition of the believer from being under the Law to being free of it; from being a “slave” to being a “son.” (Paul has a very negative view of the biblical Torah—though he seems not to want to abolish it completely, but to transform it in Christ—and feels that its traditional application is repressive and soul-destroying.) This in fact has been his entire focus in the preceding chapter 3 of Galatians. And at what point has this transition from Law to freedom, from slave to son, taken place? The fact is, it has not been at the point of Jesus’ sacrificial act, regardless of whether that was historical or mythical. Paul locates it at quite a different point. Here is his thought a few verses earlier:

3:23  Before faith came we were held prisoner by the Law until faith should be revealed....
25  Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the Law.

(The intervening verse 24 has been rendered in translations in either of two ways: “…the Law was our tutor until Christ came,” but this contradicts the thought in the two flanking verses which say that it is “faith” that has come. The other is preferable: “…the Law was a tutor leading us to Christ,” which is literally what the Greek says (gegonen eis Xriston). The latter could be taken in any number of ways: leading us to learning about Christ, leading us to the time when Christ arrived—either in body, spirit, or the revelation of him. The King James Version, for example, translates: “The law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.”)

Thus, even when Christ had performed his act of sacrifice, whether historical or mythical, we were still under the Law, still slaves, not yet sons of God. All this was to change only at the time when faith was brought to the new believer, through the preaching of Paul and other apostles of the Christ.1

1 Paul often talks as if he were the first to receive the revelation about Jesus the Son from God (as in Gal. 1:16), but while he might have liked to think of it that way, it is clear that he was not the first. The Christ cult existed before him, and in 2 Corinthians 11:4, he speaks of other “spirits” (referring to revelations from the Holy Spirit) which other “ministers of Christ” (11:23) have received. Of course, he thinks his own received revelation is superior, the proper one, and it could well be that the sophistication of his own christology was a quantum leap beyond that of any predecessor.

Once more, we see this exclusive focus on the apostolic movement as being the key moment of the present time—seemingly its only moment—with Jesus suspended somewhere in an indeterminate dimension, communicating with humans and having the consequences of his shadowy acts brought into the light and into effect only with the preaching of the gospel by the likes of Paul. To call it curious—this relegation of the vivid events of Calvary and the empty tomb to some opaque no man’s land from which they never seem to emerge into focus—would be an understatement, though it is, of course, consistent with the regular practice of the epistles.

If we allow the thought of 3:23-25 to govern 4:4 (which it should, else Paul is contradicting himself), we arrive at this scenario. If God sending his Son in verse 4 is focused on the act—God’s act—of producing that transition from Law to freedom, and Paul locates this transition at the time of faith (which is to say of the response to his own and other apostles’ preaching), then the “sent” of verse 4 does not refer to any arrival of the Son on the earthly scene some decades earlier. Rather, the sending of verse 4 is the sending of the Son during the time of Paul, which can only mean through revelation into minds like his (“God revealed his son in me,” as he has said in 1:16), enabling him to bring knowledge of the Son to others (“in order that I might preach him among the nations”) and produce the “faith” within them which brings about that freedom from the Law and confers the status of “sons” upon them.2

2 Paul seems to have some concept of the Law applying to gentiles. At least, he is taking into account the view of his fellow Jewish Christians that gentiles who join the faith must submit to the Law, which is something he is fighting tooth and nail, quite apart from his desire to set aside the Law for all, Jew and Greek.

Once again, as he does so consistently throughout his letters, Paul has focused entirely on his own work and left the work of Jesus in outer darkness, known and brought into visibility only by God and revelation, with Paul himself acting as the medium for both. If the sending is of Christ as Spirit (which is what Paul then says outright in verse 6), there is no ‘action’ by Christ at that time which purchases freedom, and thus God remains the subject of “to purchase freedom for the subjects of the Law.” It is by sending the revelation of his Son, the long-hidden secret (“mystery”) of which the epistles regularly speak, that God has set in motion the freeing of people from the Law and their adoption as sons through the work of Paul. Here Christ is essentially a passive figure.

The Work of God

If verse 4 is not a reference to the Son’s acts themselves, but to God’s act in sending the revelation of his Son and making the benefits of his sacrifice available, all the elements of this passage fall into place. First, it must be pointed out that Paul, of course, also envisions, and elsewhere states, that it is Jesus’ act of sacrifice which has brought freedom from the Law. A short time earlier, in Galatians 3:13, he has said “Christ brought us freedom from the curse of the Law by becoming for our sake an accursed thing.” This is the primary act which is drawn on by God when he brings about the application of that freedom. But what is the specific point of this application? It is not stated to be the actual time of the sacrifice. As just outlined, the passage from 3:23 to 4:6 makes it clear that the application of the effects of Christ’s act takes place only at the time of faith, which is the time of Paul, not Jesus. This coming of faith has been the act and responsibility of God, through his revelation to Paul (and others) and Paul’s subsequent missionary work.

This, in fact, is the manner in which all the epistles describe the salvation workings of the present time. It is all God’s work, revealing Christ and making available the benefits of his sacrifice. This is why no role is ever given to Jesus in the present except to have himself “manifested” (all those revelation verbs) and enter into Paul and his converts. It is why his acts are never introduced as part of the present scene. Instead, those acts, performed at some unspecified time, have created a deposit placed in heaven’s bank, an account kept hidden by God “for long generations” but now revealed. This account has now been opened for withdrawals, with the PIN number given out to those who have adopted faith in Christ Jesus. We find this fully in keeping with the thought in verse 7: “So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and thus by God’s act, an heir.” Here it is stated to be God who has performed the act which makes the believer a son, not Jesus, and this parallels and confirms the meaning in verse 4, in which it is God who has “purchase[d] freedom for the subjects of the Law,” not Jesus. Thus it has not been the death and resurrection which are the immediate cause of that freedom, and so the “God sent his Son” in verse 4 does not imply a reference to the life which contained such events, but rather refers to God drawing on those acts to put the available freedom into effect by revealing the Son and what he had done (a revelation achieved through a new reading of scripture). God relies on Paul and others like him to elicit the necessary faith.

To put it another way, since it is God who has done the purchasing of freedom, and in the time of Paul, this pulls God’s act of ‘sending’ the Son in verse 4 into Paul’s time. This, then, could only refer to a sending in a spiritual sense—the new knowledge and presence of Christ—which is what Paul goes on to say in verse 6: “God sent the Spirit of his Son.” Thus none of it is a reference to an arrival of Jesus on earth in the past. This does not, in itself, rule out some previous arrival on earth, but such a thought is not present in these verses. And it must be admitted that to take this spiritual sending as referring to the actual point of revelation of the Son, with no life preceding it, would be the natural assumption, given its perfect fit with all the epistles’ talk about Christ being “manifested” in their own time, with him having been part of God’s secret/mystery hidden for long generations, with the looked-for “arrival” of Christ from heaven containing no suggestion that he had been here previously, and so on.

This puts verse 6 in its proper relationship to verse 4. While the two thoughts are more or less contemporaneous, the second is something of a corollary and extension of the first. By revealing Christ and making the benefits of his spiritual-world sacrifice available to believers who now become free of the Law, God has created adopted sons. With Christ, God’s heavenly Son, now “in you” (within “our hearts”) in spiritual form, that “Spirit of his Son” is expressing its hosts’ new relationship with God by “crying: ‘Abba, Father!’ ”

Paul, in this entire passage, presents God as sending his Son, not in terms of any arrival on earth, but in the sense of his revelation to humanity. This fits with every other reference in the epistles to the ‘coming’ of Christ in the present time, offering a “now” figure who speaks from scripture rather than a “then” figure of the past. That an entire movement from its beginning and for over half a century could have adopted such language and created such a picture if an historical Jesus had recently existed and whose memory lived on in their minds is quite impossible.

In the Fullness of Time

All this is further supported by another overlooked phrase, the very first words of verse 4: “Then in the fullness of time…” (literally, “when came the fullness of time [to plēroma tou chronou]”). What is that time? Certainly Paul does not here say, nor ever says, that it was a certain number of years ago, that it was at the time of an identifiable person or period in history which could locate Jesus on earth for us. Still, there is some validity to the idea that Paul is simply voicing the general thought that God did whatever he did when he had decided it was time to do so, and this is what the phrase serves to say. But this still leaves the anomaly of what specifically that “fullness of time” has been applied to. Again, in light of what we have determined about the ‘sending,’ that it was the time of revelation, the time of the preaching by apostles like Paul, this makes the “fullness of time” refer to that preaching movement, conducted under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

Nor can we shift the “sending” back into Christ’s time while leaving God’s “purchasing of freedom” until later, in the time of Paul and faith, and thereby rescue verse 4 for a more traditional interpretation. This would create an awkward and unlikely sequence of ideas: “In the fullness of time a few decades ago God sent Jesus to earth to undergo death and resurrection, in order that God in my (Paul’s) time could purchase freedom for believers and make them sons.” If that were the case, the death and resurrection in the recent past would have been the focus of God’s “freeing from the Law,” not Paul’s later missionary work (see further below). The “now that faith has come” (3:25) is Paul focusing on himself and his own time. (Referring to a past “faith” that was in response to Jesus’ historical death and resurrection would have been too oblique; any reference to the past would have been to the saving events themselves.) Moreover, it is ruled out by another passage in the Pauline corpus. Even though the epistle of Titus, one of the Pastorals, was written probably half a century later, it still preserves much of Paul’s thought. In its opening verses, the writer, presenting himself as Paul, has this to say:

2  …the hope of eternal life which God, who does not lie, promised
before the beginning of time [pro chronōn aiōniōn],
3  and now at the proper time [kairois idiois] he has revealed his word
[NEB: openly declared himself] through the preaching entrusted to me
[i.e., Paul] by the command of God our Savior.

Thus the “proper time,” an idea equivalent to Galatians’ “fullness of time,” is indeed the time of revelation and preaching by Paul. It is not the time of Jesus’ arrival and acts on earth. Now, the Galatians verse might theoretically allow for an earlier arrival even if the “time” it refers to is the time of faith when believers actually become sons, based on Christ’s work; yet common sense surely rules that out. Would any writer present the “fullness of time” as coming only with the period of Paul and his preaching, rather than with the past incarnation of the Son and his earthly career? Of course, such a way of thinking is betrayed all through the epistles, such as in 1 Corinthians 10:11, “Upon us the fulfillment of the ages has come!” Here Paul himself declares that all the expectations of the previous age have been focused on and come to fruition in his time, rather than in any life of Christ in the recent past. Again, it is inconceivable that an entire movement would consistently express itself this way. Furthermore, Titus 1:2-3 does not allow us to deliberately go against common sense. There is no room made in those verses for an earlier arrival. Between God’s promises made “before the beginning of time” and the revealing of his word “at the proper time” in the preaching of Paul, no scope is available for any arrival of Christ on the earthly scene to do work of any kind, either bestowing eternal life or revealing its availability. No writer would ever have laid out such a pattern and completely ignored Jesus in the middle of it.3

3 This is only the most blatant indicator that the writer of the Pastorals knows of no historical Jesus, which strengthens the case I have suggested in Appendix 1 for regarding 1 Timothy 6:13, with its reference to Pilate, as an interpolation. But even failing that, Robert Price, in his The Pre-Nicene New Testament, has presented the Pastorals in a pattern of composition which would allow my observation to stand and yet retain 6:13 as authentic to 1 Timothy. Price demonstrates that Titus and 2 Timothy were written first by one author, and that 1 Timothy was not only written later by a different author, it contains a lot of material taken over from the two earlier epistles. This would allow, if 6:13 were authentic, for much of the ‘no historical Jesus’ spirit of the earlier documents to be carried over into 1 Timothy, even if the later author has absorbed some Gospel data. In fact, we find that the ‘silences’ in 1 Timothy relate to specifics about Gospel details and teachings, not to the existence of Jesus per se. It is 2 Timothy and Titus which contain the blatantly exclusionary passages. In any case, I still regard the idea of interpolation of the Pilate reference in 6:13 to be, on balance, the more feasible and supportable option. (See the Appendix of Supplementary Article No. 3, Who Crucified Jesus?, for a discussion of the authenticity question.)

The End of the Law

 But let’s go back to Galatians 3:23 and consider more fully the curious way Paul presents things. “Before faith came, we were held prisoner of the Law until faith should be revealed.” In the context of an historical crucifixion some decades earlier than Paul was writing, this would be a perverse thought. If Jesus dying on the cross was the necessary act (and it was) which brought about the setting aside of the old Law, surely any idea that the Law still held sway even after that historical event had happened would be unnatural. Rather, the Law would have ceased to have any force, any life in it, from that point on, even if the message about this cessation was yet to be brought to people, even if people only assumed that they were still under the Law until informed otherwise by Paul. Yet Paul, in 3:23, states clearly that the Law was in effect, it continued to make people prisoners, until his time, the time of revelation to apostles like himself and the bringing of faith to their converts. He never attaches any ‘end’ of the Law to the actual death of Jesus. This would make perfect sense in the context of a death which had not taken place at an identifiable point in history, but in the spiritual world, something hidden for long ages, knowledge of which has only now come through God’s revelation about it. In such a context, the only point that would be available to which the end of the Law’s dominion could be affixed would be the point at which the Son’s sacrifice was revealed and faith in it was inaugurated. Indeed, Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4:14: “We believe Jesus died and rose again,” clearly implying that not only the rising, but even the death was a matter of faith, not historical knowledge. As well, in 1 Corinthians 15:12-16, he seems to say that Christians know of Jesus’ resurrection through revelation by God, through faith rather than historical witness.4

4 Paul’s silence on the Law’s demise at the time of the crucifixion itself seems to change somewhat in later epistles written in his name, although the texts are not perfectly clear on the point. Ephesians 2:15 has Christ “abolishing in his flesh the Law with its commandments and regulations.” Since “flesh” here refers to his form/substance when undergoing crucifixion, and since this is followed by the statement that in his new “body” he has reconciled Jew and gentile and destroyed the barrier between them, this could, in the mind of the writer, place the end of the Law at the time of that spiritual world event. Both these sentiments are highly mystical and could not refer to the literal flesh and body of Christ on earth. The same situation exists in Colossians 2:14 where Christ on his cross nails the Law to it, canceling its inimical regulations. This, too, is a mystical scenario, followed by a clearly spirit-realm scene in which the demon powers are disarmed and triumphantly led in some spectacle of defeat. Actually, who it is that does the canceling and nailing of the Law to the cross is grammatically uncertain. It could be God, although the switch to Jesus for the disarming of the powers, which seems required, is in that case virtually unrecognizable. If it is indeed God doing the canceling, this would be closer to Paul’s conception and could be assigned to the time of his preaching.

The observations thus far are valid quite apart from the absence or presence of “born of woman, born under the Law.” But they do have a bearing on the question of whether those phrases should be in the text, or whether they are interpolations. If the sending of the Son in verse 4 does not refer to the arrival of the person Jesus on earth, but only to a spiritual manifestation in the time of Paul, then the idea of Christ being “born of woman” would be immaterial—even if an historical Jesus had existed. The “born” idea would have no relevance to what was being said around it. By the same token, “born under the Law” would be equally irrelevant to what was being discussed. Within the context of the Galatians passage itself, neither of these features would play any direct role. Christ is not being presented as the one who abolishes or purchases freedom from the Law. That is God himself. (It is “God’s own act,” as the NEB emphasizes it.) But could it be claimed that this act by God was made possible by Jesus being sent to earth in the past and being “born of woman, born under the Law”? First of all, these would be quite secondary to the death and rising which is the primary act which bestows salvation. (Why did Paul not put these events forward instead of the woman/Law features?) In what way would being born of woman and born under the Law be items worthy of highlighting as important in this context? It would go without saying that if Jesus had lived on earth and been crucified as a human being on Calvary, then he was “born of woman.” That would hardly contribute anything to the primary act or strengthen it; it would be merely gratuitous and redundant. In fact, since orthodox interpretation of the passage assumes that the sending of verse 4 already means the life of Christ and his saving act of death and resurrection, Paul would have no reason to say that he was “born of woman.” Thus the presence of the phrase provides a justification for suggesting interpolation.

If “born of woman” is thus to be set aside, “born under the Law” would almost certainly have to go with it. But even without that, what could “born under the Law” itself have contributed to the primary act of death and resurrection? Nothing evident. And if one tried to see any relevance for it in relation to the discussion of the abolition of the Law, that too is hard to come by. In what way is Jesus having been “born under the Law” a useful or working part of the mechanism by which God has freed believers from it, which is what this passage is all about? It is the death and rising which is the salvific act drawn on by God. It did not require Jesus to have been subject to the Torah himself. If it did, Paul should have been led to spell out that relevance, especially since it would have been far from obvious to his readers (just as it is far from obvious to us).

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Burton on Galatians 4

One of the most thorough analyses of this passage was made by Edward D. Burton in 1924, in the International Critical Commentary series. He, of course, was not a mythicist, but some of the observations he made on various elements of these verses help to cast the mythicist viewpoint, and what I have said above, in a favorable light.

First of all, the two qualifying phrases, “born of woman, born under the Law” (genomenon ek gunaikos, genomenon hupo nomon) are descriptive of the Son, but not specifically tied to the ‘sending.’ Burton says [Galatians, p.218-19]:

“The employment of the aorist [past tense] presents the birth and the subjection to law as in each case a simple fact, and leaves the temporal relation to exapesteilen [“sent”] to be inferred solely from the nature of the facts referred to….But the phrases are best accounted for as intended not so much to express the accompaniments of the sending as directly to characterize the Son, describing the relation to humanity and the law in which he performed his mission.”

For those phrases, Burton is not ruling out the understanding of a temporal relationship to the verb, but he is saying that it is not grammatically necessary. Yet if they can be seen as not qualifying the sending, this further frees the ‘sent’ thought in verse 4 from having to be a reference to the arrival in the world of the incarnated Christ in a human body.

Burton also calls into question the meaning of “born under the Law”:

“The words genomenon hupo nomon should probably be taken in the sense ‘made subject to law’ rather than ‘born under law,’ for, though genomenon ek gunaikos evidently refers to birth, that reference is neither conveyed by, nor imparted to, the participle, but lies wholly in the limiting phrase. This idea is, therefore, not of necessity carried over into the second phrase.”

 Note his qualifier of “evidently” as the meaning of birth for “genomenon ek gunaikos.” Burton is admitting that the chosen word in the Greek is not the plainest one for being born in the literal sense, a point we will consider shortly. He accepts that the phrase does indeed mean birth, but not because of the nature of the participle; rather, it is because the “of woman” gives it that meaning (presumably). Further, because genomenon in itself does not necessarily spell birth, one cannot simply by extension take the second appearance of it as meaning “born.” So the second phrase should, says Burton, be reduced to the safer interpretation that Jesus was “subject to the Law.” This eliminates any need to understand that he was born a Jew and automatically under the Law. Taken with the fact of Burton’s other observation, that the two participles do not have a necessary temporal relation to the verb “sent,” this means that one could possibly understand that Christ came in “subjection to Law” at some later point than birth. Burton does not offer any suggestion as to when or how this could take place, whereas I might suggest that it is possible that Paul, if he in fact included these phrases, might have envisioned Christ as taking on such features when he entered “the realm of flesh.”

The myths of some savior gods, such as Dionysos, had them ‘born of woman’ (Semele, in his case), and while such mythology was originally cast in an earthly setting implying an earthly woman, its attraction into the Platonic cast of turn-of-the-era philosophy might have transformed her into a mythical counterpart to the earthly Semele. It’s a tricky question, but it does enable us to suggest the possibility that Paul’s “woman” was similarly mythical. And to suggest that the idea was prompted by scripture.

Isaiah 7:14

“A young woman is with child, and she will bear a son…”

This is a passage which, despite its context clearly linking the woman and her child with the time of the prophet, was widely regarded as prophetic of the Messiah. If Paul felt compelled to interpret this as a reference to his spiritual Christ, he would not have refrained from stating it (even if he didn’t understand how it could be that the spiritual Christ could be “born of woman”). Perhaps he simply assigned it to the world of myth and God’s “mysteries”—which were unfathomable anyway, and had to be accepted on the basis of scriptural revelation; just as he accepted that the spiritual Christ was of David’s stock because scripture said so. Why he would choose to introduce that mythical element here, especially without explanation, can only be a matter of speculation. In the context of Galatians 4, there seems no practical necessity for either phrase, which becomes one of the arguments for interpolation.5

5 By the time of Irenaeus, Christian thinkers had come up with a reason for Christ being “born of woman.” In Against Heresies, Bk.V, 21, Irenaeus explains that, since man was conquered by the serpent (Satan) in the Garden of Eden through a woman, Eve, it was fitting and necessary that a man born of a woman who was a descendant of Eve would overturn that conquest and conquer Satan. Could this idea have been in Paul’s mind, leading him to offer this type of parallel? After all, he uses paradigmatic parallelism in Romans 6:1-5, in having the convert’s ‘death’ in baptism parallel Christ’s, and his future resurrection guaranteed by Christ’s own. But this is quite different from that of Irenaeus. Paul’s parallel is between the believer and Christ (as it is in the fundamental mystery cult relationship between savior and devotee). And if Christ “born of woman” is meant to be in parallel to the believers being “born of woman,” this would add another dimension to the parallel relationship, one which Paul never lays out, unless it be understood as part of the general pattern of “likeness” so often stressed by the early writers (as in the Philippians hymn and Hebrews 2:15; compare the Ascension of Isaiah 9:14-15). Yet taking on the “form” and being only in the “likeness” of a man is not the same as saying that he became an actual earthly man (something the epistles never explicitly state: there are other forms of “man” in the philosophical thinking of the time), much less that he was born in the human way (something Paul never explicitly tells us by using the common verb for being born, gennaō). If Paul were being consistent with early Christian expression here, we would have to see him as regarding the ‘birth’ from woman as equally a “likeness,” which would render such a birth and such a woman mythical, something relating to the metaphysical dimension, revealed by scripture. This would be in keeping with the fact that he does not tell us who this woman was. Still, it remains odd that he would have brought up this parallel solely within the context of Galatians 4 where, as we have seen, it would not have been pertinent to the discussion. Another reason to lean toward interpolation.

But back to Edward Burton. He suggests that “the motive for the insertion of the [second] phrase is doubtless to emphasize the cost at which the Son effected his redemptive work” [p.218]. The problem is, the desire for such an emphasis is not to be detected anywhere else in Paul’s writings. If the “cost” (inferring a negative connotation) of the Son’s redemptive work included the fact that he had to be born in human flesh and be subject to the Law, and Paul wanted to emphasize this, he would surely have chosen (or been forced) to talk about that life, with its disadvantages and demands, more than he does—which is to say, not at all. The suffering and death of Christ cannot simply be included in such a category, for they are never identified as taking place on earth, in actual human flesh. Moreover, this would be to unjustifiably rule out the idea that gods could suffer and die, something which is patently not the case given the mystery cult myths. (And it would be begging the question.)


EXCURSUS: Distinguishing Between the Spirit of Father and Son

In regard to the question of distinguishing between the two ‘sendings’ in verses 4 and 6, Burton has some very interesting observations to make. He is of the same mind as myself that there is a sequence entailed in verse 6 between the occurrence of becoming sons of God and the taking in of the Spirit of Christ, which is a consequence of and authenticates the sonship. But Burton sees the first ‘sending of the Son’ in verse 4 as the mechanism of the process of becoming sons, referring to the acts of Jesus of Nazareth, whereas I have analyzed it as referring to God’s revelation about the Son and the benefits accruing from his mythical acts. Through those acts, God himself is able to free the believer from the Law and adopt him as a son. (One assumes that female believers are also adopted as sons.) Thus, the sent Son of verse 4 is the “Spirit” of the Son being sent into the world by means of revelation and taking up a presence within it. Whereas the sending of verse 6, which actually uses the words “the Spirit of the Son,” is specifically the installation of the spiritual Son into the hearts of those who are now “in Christ,” through faith and the ritual of baptism.

In the orthodox interpretation, which Burton follows, verse 4 is speaking of the actual entry of the incarnated Christ into the earthly world and what he did there, which itself brings about—or enables—the sonship of those who come to believe in him; whereas verse 6 speaks of his “Spirit” in a post-incarnation supernatural sense. That this is mistaken is inadvertently supported by an intriguing observation by Burton. He starts by saying [p.222] that “Historically speaking, the sending of the Son and the sending of the Spirit [i.e., the Holy Spirit; he is not referring to the Son of verse 6] are distinguished in early Christian thought,” though here he appeals to a Gospel as an example, where the Son would clearly be thought of as a human figure. But then he notes:

“But in the experience of the early Christians the Christ who by his resurrection had become a spirit active in their lives, and the Spirit of God similarly active, could not be distinguished.”

Burton fails to perceive the reason for this, a reason which makes the phenomenon he describes completely natural and not at all perplexing or unusual. First of all, we must remove from his statement the assumption that Christ became “a spirit active in their lives” through the route of having been a human on earth. This is being read into the writings of those “early Christians”—by which Burton means in the epistles, which represent the life of the early Church. This assumption is not in evidence in those epistles, which never speak in any identifiable way of an earthly life of Christ or an earthly body. Thus, what we really have in the lives of the “early Christians” of the epistles is solely “the spirit of Christ,” a force coming to them—and “into” them—through a revelation by God and their adoption of faith in that force. Without a human figure and traditions about him present in the background, there was little to clearly differentiate the Spirit of Christ from the Spirit of God. Both would be sensed in the same way.

Thus it is no wonder that Burton observes (which he does by acknowledging the actual impression the epistles convey) that the early Christians made little distinction between the Spirit of Christ and the Spirit of God. They were both ‘spirits’ in the same way: known to them through beliefs and revelations which had nothing to do with either one of them having been recently on earth. And since the spiritual Christ was essentially a part of God, his ‘first-born’ emanation in Philo’s terminology, there was precious little to actually distinguish the two, except in some of the roles they played—though the latter did not proceed from historical memory but from the interpretation of scripture. Christ was the part of God which had descended to be crucified in the lower heavens as a sacrifice for sin. But with no human life involved, such a descent and sacrifice were hidden, unattached to any historical time and place. Thus there was little or no basis on which to treat the Spirit of Christ present in their faith world differently from the Spirit of God that was also present in that world. The two Spirits were essentially two parts of the same divine organism. This is not to say that they confused the two; Paul knows when he is speaking about Christ in his life and about God’s Spirit active in the movement. As Burton also says:

“Apparently the apostle Paul, while clearly distinguishing Christ from God the Father…and less sharply distinguishing the Spirit from God…is not careful to distinguish the Spirit [i.e., the Holy Spirit] and Christ, yet never explicitly identifies them.”

It is understandable that Christ (as Spirit, which is the only way Paul has contact with him) would suffer from lack of distinction from the Spirit of God, since they are both essentially the same thing: God’s emanation, with Christ having a certain theoretical individuality as a divine entity in himself. What he does not have is any identification with a recent historical man, which would have provided a powerful additional dimension to ensure Paul’s distinctive treatment of the Spirit in his life who had once been Jesus of Nazareth. Burton is trying to find something in Paul’s thought that cannot be there, and thus the absence of it is perplexing to him. All the indicators of the true situation are facing Burton squarely on, but he cannot put the pieces together because the established paradigm of an historical Christ is too ingrained and too essential. (The epistle 1 John is another document in which we encounter the same vagueness of distinction between the Father and the Son, sometimes to the point where scholars find it difficult to identify which figure is being referred to in a given passage. They are often led to assume it is the Son simply on the basis of Gospel understandings, even though this is not always borne out by a careful reading of the text.)

Incidentally, we should note the similar situation remarked on by scholars (see The Jesus Puzzle, n.16) that the early church supposedly made no distinction between “words of the Lord” as spoken by Christian preachers like Paul out of inspiration from Christ in heaven, and words spoken by Christ on earth. There is no distinction because there are none identified as the latter in the epistles; scholars simply assume them to be if they resemble those in the Gospels. Without such identification, they all become “words of the Lord” from heaven, or else, when unattributed to Jesus, they are simply moral pronouncements coming from a general pool of such things.

“Born” or “Arise”: Ginomai vs. Gennaō

Burton also recognizes another anomaly. In discussing whether “born under the Law” means “by birth” (and deciding that it need not), he says:

“Had the apostle desired to express the idea of ‘born’ in both phrases, he could have done so unambiguously by the use of gennēthenta.”

Here we come to a significant point of contention between historicists and mythicists. As Burton acknowledges, the verb (in participle form) used in both phrases, “born of woman, born under the Law”—genomenon ek gunaikos, genomenon hupo nomon—is not the most natural word to refer to birth. The verb used is “ginomai” which has a broader meaning of “to become, to arise, to occur, to come into existence, to be created.” It can also be used in the sense of human birth, but that meaning will be determined by the context. On the other hand, there is a verb which in straightforward fashion means “to be born”: the passive of “gennaō,” to give birth.

The question becomes, why did Paul not use gennaō if all he meant was that Jesus was born in the normal human way? What would lead him to use ginomai instead? First, we need to consider a few statistics.

Burton has already deduced that Paul does not have to mean literally “born” in “born under the Law,” although he does not apply the same reasoning to “born of woman” because he thinks the context imposes the birth meaning. But if Paul envisioned an entirely mythical Christ, did ginomai better serve his purpose? If he decided that the two thoughts needed to be expressed—perhaps under the pressure of a scriptural verse, most likely Isaiah 7:14—was ginomai the best word available? Was he again putting forward an idea regardless of whether or not it could be rationally understood, simply putting his trust in scripture? Considering what he was able to do with terms like “flesh” and “body” in purely mystical and metaphysical settings, placing a ‘birth’ by a ‘woman’ in such a setting would not likely be beyond him.

Furthermore, what do we find when we examine the Pauline usages of the two verbs throughout his letters, and compare them with usages in the wider record? (I will in most cases refer to the main verb itself, rather than the specific form in which it appears.) The results are illuminating:

One: Paul (as we have him in the canonical texts) uses ginomai in any alleged sense of “born” only in regard to Christ: Romans 1:3 and Galatians 4:4. The Philippians hymn uses the same verb in 2:7, “made in the likeness of men.” All three relate to the issue under discussion: does this use of ginomai signify something other than ordinary human birth? If the two verbs are supposedly synonymous to convey the meaning of “born,” why does Paul choose this verb only here?

Two: Consider other epistolary usages of ginomai: 1 Corinthians 15:45: “Adam became [ginomai] a living soul.” Here it cannot be the meaning “born,” since Adam was created by God, not born of anyone. In 1 Corinthians 1:30, Paul speaks of Christ Jesus “who is made [ginomai] for us wisdom.” Hebrews 1:4 speaks of Christ “becoming [ginomai] so much superior to the angels.” Of himself, ‘Paul’ says in Eph. 3:7 “I became [ginomai] a minister of the gospel.” There is a certain consistency here. The usage of ginomai in this area is directed at “becoming,” not being “born.” So what should we make of the fact that in relation to Christ, Paul gravitates to ginomai?

Three: When Paul does want to directly and unmistakably express “born” what does he use? Outside of his two references to Christ, always gennaō: Romans 9:11 (children not yet born), Galatians 4:23 and 4:29 (the son/one…born…). The latter are part of his allegory of the two sons of Abraham, coming only a few verses after he has spoken of Christ as “born of woman.” Why did he switch verbs here, if they both meant the same thing and he wanted to state the same thing?

Four: In none of the other epistles is the verb ginomai used for “born.” Not in Hebrews 11:23, not in 1 John 2:29, 3:9, 4:7, 5:1 or 5:18.

Five: In all cases (about two dozen) where the Gospels express the idea of being “born” they use either gennaō, the adjective gevvētos, or the verb tiktō (to bear). In no case do they use ginomai. When they refer specifically to the birth of Jesus (four times in Matthew, twice in Luke), they use gennaō, or tiktō once in Luke. John uses ginomai twice in the Prologue: “all things were made [egeneto] through him” (where it hardly means “born”), and “the Word was made [egeneto] flesh” (where it has the same meaning of “made” rather than “born”).

If, as some claim, the two verbs can be equally understood as “born” in this type of context, if the implication is that a writer could have used one or the other since he would have been sensible of no distinction, why does the law of averages not apply in the New Testament? Why is there a universal use of gennaō to apply to all births other than that of Jesus, as well as to Jesus’ birth in the Gospels? Why does a distinction only exist between the Gospels’ consistent use of gennaō to refer to Jesus’ birth, and the epistles’ consistent use of ginomai to refer to Jesus’ (alleged) birth? Was it not the same sort of birth?

The strong implication is that, if the key phrases in Paul are his own voice and not an interpolation, Paul must have had in mind something different in regard to Christ than simply being “born” in the normal sense. If all he meant was the latter, then he should have had no reason to choose ginomai in those isolated cases.

Further, when we consider the usage of the entire phrase “born of woman,” we see the same imbalance. In the Septuagint the phrase occurs three times in Job and once in Sirach; in the Gospels twice. Some usages in the later apologists have to do with quoting Matthew and Luke. Every one of these phrases uses gennaō (or the Latin equivalent). The only exceptions are those which quote Paul’s use of ginomai. It is often claimed that Paul used the phrase because it was so common. If it was so common, why did he not use it in the common form? The very fact that something is common should lead one to use it if one means the common thing. If it was found in scripture and Paul was taking his cue from there, why did he change the verb as used in scripture? The fact that Paul changed the key element of the phrase should lead us to conclude that he was avoiding using it in its normal form because he meant something different from the normal understanding.

Or else, he didn’t write it all.

-- iii - -

“Born of Woman, Born under the Law” as an Interpolation


So far we have been analyzing this passage while adopting the assumption that “born of woman, born under the Law” could have been authentic to Paul. If we abandon that assumption, would the problem be solved? Is there evidence and argument available to make the solution of interpolation acceptable and even persuasive?

First, let’s see how the passage would read if those phrases were dropped. And in fact, a context does exist in which those phrases do not appear. Not in the form of any extant manuscript of Galatians which does not contain them, yet something pointing to that very thing. The following is a reconstruction of the passage from the version of Galatians used by the ‘gnostic’ Marcion in the mid second century. Although a copy of Marcion’s document is not extant, scholars have reconstructed most of it from passages in Tertullian’s Against Marcion in which Tertullian, in great detail, takes Marcion to task for adulterating the “true original” of Paul’s letter. From that work, Marcion’s version of Galatians 4:3-6 has been put together as follows.6

6 Taken from The Center for Marcionite Research Library at The translation is by Daniel Jon Mahar, from “English Reconstruction and Translation of Marcion’s Version of To the Galatians” at 

As a man I say,
When we were barely-born,
We were enslaved
Under the elements of the cosmos.
But when the fullness of time came,
God sent forth his Son,
That he might purchase those under law,
And that we may receive adoption.
God sent forth the Spirit of his Son
Into your hearts, crying, “Abba, Father”.

In Book V, chapter 4, Tertullian is going step by step through the opening verses of Galatians 4. He quotes, “ ‘But when the fullness of time was come, God sent forth His Son—’ ” then stops and makes a few comments on God’s control of ‘time,’ its ages and days. He resumes:

“But for what end did He send His Son? ‘To redeem them that were under the Law…and that we might receive the adoption of sons,’ that is, the gentiles, who once were not sons.” [Translations of Tertullian taken from Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol.III]

The phrases “born of woman, born under the Law” are passed over without comment—if indeed they were in Marcion’s epistle. (If they were not, it would never have crossed Tertullian’s mind to think that the phrases in his own copy, half a century later, might have been added and that Marcion’s version represented the original.)

We know that Tertullian’s own copy (in Latin) contained them because he appeals to the phrase “born of woman” in another place (On the Flesh of Christ, 20), where he says:

“Paul, too, silences these critics when he says, ‘God sent forth His Son, made of a woman.’ Does he mean through a woman, or in a woman? [This relates to the conflict between heretical and orthodox interpretations.] Nay more, for the sake of greater emphasis, he uses the word ‘made’ [factum] rather than ‘born’ [natum], although the use of the latter expression would have been simpler.”

The Latin “factum” corresponds to the Greek genomenon (the verb ginomai), while “natum” would correspond to gennōmenon (the verb gennaō). This tells us that Tertullian, even though he understood factum to mean “born,” acknowledged that natum (and gennaō) would have been the more natural language. He explains Paul’s use of ginomai by saying he wanted to emphasize “the reality of the flesh which was made of a virgin,” but this would have been imparting to Paul an awareness of critical disputes in Tertullian’s time and an intention to discredit them. We do, however, know from this (and from Irenaeus a little earlier) that both Greek and Latin versions of Galatians by the late second century contained ginomai/facio in that phrase. We also know (from Irenaeus, Against Heresies III,10,3) that they also contained “born under the law” and that this verb, too, was ginomai/facio.

Were the phrases “born of woman, born under the Law” in Marcion’s earlier copy or not? It might seem curious either way, that Tertullian did not comment on them if they were present, or did not castigate Marcion for removing them if they were not. Yet the conundrum is fairly easily solved by Tertullian himself. After addressing verse 3, and before he goes on to verse 4, he says: “But indeed it is superfluous to dwell on what he has erased, when he may be more effectually confuted from that which he has retained.” Thus, if “born of woman, born under the Law” was missing in Marcion, Tertullian’s silence on that ‘erasure’ would fit his stated intention not to dwell on such things. Whereas, if the words were present, his silence would go against his stated intention to address the things Marcion retained. Thus, if we can judge Tertullian by his own words, “born of woman, born under the Law” was not present in Marcion’s version of Galatians.

But there remains the question: did Marcion in fact excise the phrases? They could be said to go against Marcion’s doctrine that Jesus was not “born” of anyone, but descended from heaven as a fully grown (docetic) man; and since Marcion had even less use for the Jewish Law than Paul did (he rejected all things Jewish as originally belonging to his conception of Christianity), these two phrases would have been prime candidates for the cutting-room floor. The issue cannot be settled one way or the other. All we can say with some degree of confidence is that the Galatians used by Marcion which Tertullian was addressing did not contain “born of woman, born under the Law.”7

7 The radical view that none of the Pauline epistles are authentic, but were in fact written in their original forms by Marcion himself—co-opting a supposedly dim and legendary figure of almost a century earlier as a preacher of his own theology—would mean that such originals did not contain the phrases. This radical view is a complex question. Its leading exponent today is Herman Detering of Germany, who has an extensive website on the subject ( and has published a book, The Fabricated Paul. I am unable to embrace this theory, though many of its observations about the epistles themselves are insightful and illuminating, and at the very least give us a picture of the Pauline corpus which has likely been through a significant amount of later editing. (See the closing sections of the previous Supplementary Article on Hebrews for a short discussion of the reasons why I retain some degree of an authentic first-century Paul.)

Textual Corruptions

But in addition to the observations made earlier, that the analysis of the surrounding text would make “born of woman, born under the Law” irrelevant to it and not likely to have been included by Paul, there is another consideration which works in favor of interpolation. For this, we must go to a groundbreaking and influential book published in 1993 by Bart D. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture. Ehrman’s exhaustive study of the extant texts of the New Testament led him to realize that over the course of the early centuries from which we have a surviving record—beginning after the year 200—numerous amendments and insertions were made by Christian scribes to many passages. As Ehrman says in his Introduction:

“My thesis can be stated simply: scribes occasionally altered the words of their sacred texts to make them more patently orthodox and to prevent their misuse by Christians who espoused aberrant views.” [p.xi]

Ehrman “explores the ways proto-orthodox Christians used literature in their early struggles for dominance, as they produced polemical treatises, forged supporting documents under the names of earlier authorities, collected apostolic works into an authoritative canon, and insisted on certain hermeneutical principles for the interpretation of these works….It was within this milieu of controversy that scribes sometimes changed their scriptural texts to make them say what they were already known to mean. In the technical parlance of textual criticism…these scribes ‘corrupted’ their texts for theological reasons” [p.xii].8

8 In view of the extent of forgery even within the New Testament (the polite term is “pseudonymity”), in view of the vast catalogue of apocryphal writings purporting to recount the “Acts” of this or that apostle, forged letters from Pilate to Rome, correspondence between Paul and Seneca, a letter even from Jesus himself to an Edessan king, and the scribal amendments Ehrman has revealed (not that others were not aware of some of them earlier), not to mention the notorious Christian character of the extant “Testimonium” in Josephus, we should regard forgery and amendment as the name of the game in early Christianity and adopt it as the default position. To a great extent, suspicion needs to be brought to everything textual, including and especially as late as Eusebius, the Church historian under Constantine to whom we owe so much of our knowledge of the early ‘history’ of Christianity. That Matthew and Luke, as we shall see, made wholesale changes to their sources (Mark and Q) is there for all to see, and to think that this wasn’t done to the epistles and other writings through the century and a half when we entirely lack manuscript evidence is plainly naivete and special pleading.

Ehrman creates a picture of orthodox Christians tampering with all sorts of passages, scribal emendations done for the purpose of making it clear that Jesus was such-and-such in opposition to heretical doctrines like adoptionism, separationism, and especially docetism. Although these observations are based on variant manuscript readings coming from the third century and later (since we have no manuscripts earlier than about the year 200), Ehrman was able, by comparison with citations from second and third century commentators like Irenaeus and Origen, to make certain deductions about emendations that could have been made as early as the first half of the second century.

It is certainly the case that if contentions within Christianity could induce scribes to alter and insert words in the later period, there is nothing to prevent them from having been doing the same in the second century. “Born of woman” would be a natural insertion in Galatians (perhaps around the middle of the century, to counter the claims of docetists like Marcion and others and their appropriation of Paul) in order to make the point that Jesus was in fact a fully human man from a human mother. Why Paul, on the other hand, would have needed to make this obvious point is not so clear, especially if he wrote long before docetism came along whose views would need counteracting.

In a section entitled “Christ: Born Human” in his chapter “Anti-Docetic Corruptions of Scripture,” Ehrman has pointed out [p.239] that Galatians 4:4 was indeed a passage that was a favorite for amendment. The Greek “genomenon ek gunaikos” was occasionally changed to “gennōmenon ek gunaikos”—from the verb ginomai to gennaō, the latter being the verb that everyone (including Tertullian) has acknowledged was the plainer word for being born in the human way. Similarly in Latin manuscripts, says Ehrman, “factum” (made) was changed to “natum” (born). Clearly, such later scribes, faced with Gnostic doctrine that Jesus had not been born a real human but only in the semblance of one, that he had passed through Mary without taking on any of her human substance, felt that the verb ginomai was not explicit enough and substituted gennaō. (Ginomai did ultimately survive and became part of the received text.)

If later scribes were amending these important texts, earlier ones could well have introduced the entire phrase in the first place during a period when Jesus was struggling to emerge from mythical to historical, or from docetism to flesh and blood humanity. Later, scribes in some communities felt that the initial insertion was not graphic enough, not ‘human’ enough, and so changed ginomai to gennaō, facio to nascor. This, by the way, would indicate that the two verbs were not regarded as interchangeable and that ginomai was not the strongest verb to convey the idea of being born in the human way.

But, one might ask, if “genomenon ek gunaikos, genomenon hupo nomon” was from the start a scribal interpolation to make the case for human birth and human nature in Christ, why did the initial interpolator choose ginomai instead of gennaō? Why not put in the more ‘natural’ verb from the start? The answer to that is partly speculative. Perhaps one scribe had a little different feeling than another scribe about the relative meaning of each verb. Nuances can also change over time. When a later scribe was looking for a way to make the case for human birth stronger, it may have struck him that this would be a change for the better. It has been suggested that using ginomai would have been ‘more literary’ than using gennaō.

On the other hand, Tertullian himself offers a feasible explanation, as we have seen. Recall the passage in On the Flesh of Christ, 20, quoted earlier:

“…Nay more, for the sake of greater emphasis, he uses the word ‘made’ [factum] rather than ‘born’ [natum], although the use of the latter expression would have been simpler.”

Tertullian found not only that factum/genomenon sounded fine to his ears, he believed that the reason for it was to create greater emphasis. Obviously, later scribes did not agree and decided to change it.

Christ Under the Law

As a final consideration on whether Paul was likely to have written “born under the Law,” we ought to examine his attitude about what being under the Law meant to him in the first place. To his way of thinking, it was entirely a negative condition, useless for salvation, an enabler of sin. God needed to free believers from it. “No human being can be justified in the sight of God for having kept the Law: Law brings only the consciousness of sin,” Paul says in Romans 3:20. Would it not have occurred to him, or to his readers, to wonder how Jesus, if he was born under Law, was exempt from this terrible fate? Would not the two statements, Romans 3:20 and Galatians 4:4, constitute something of a contradiction—at the least requiring clarification? The very fact of the inclusion of “born under the Law” in Galatians 4:4 implies that Christ was in fact a subject of the Law and therefore a prey to all its impediments. It could serve no other purpose than to say that Christ was like us in regard to the Law. If Paul didn’t mean that, or meant it only in a limited fashion, excluding all the negative aspects he is constantly declaring, he would have had to spell that out. (And what would have been left to actually embody the condition of Christ’s being “born under the Law”?) A later scribe inserting it might not be aware of the discrepancy he was setting up, but Paul surely would have been. He, not the scribe, was the writer of the context.

Romans 7:7 – “Is the Law identical with sin? Surely not. Yet I would not have known sin except through the Law. I would not have known lust except for the Law saying: thou shalt not lust.” (We can be quite sure that Paul had in mind actual lust and not the milder “coveting” which translations prefer to use. He alludes to something more graphic in 7:23, but we don’t need a roadmap to decide what “members” he is talking about.) But if being born under the Law did that to him, why didn’t it do so to Christ? Would not Paul feel constrained to offer qualifications where Christ’s ‘birth under the Law’ was concerned?

Romans 7:21 – “When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.” Would not evil have been there with Christ, if he was born under the Law? If no one will be declared righteous in the sight of God by observing the Law, how can this not have included Jesus if he was born under the Law? Indeed, did he obey the Law or flout it? Did he, too, regard the Law as something that was no longer an asset to salvation, that needed to be set aside? (Not according to Matthew and Luke—and Q—he didn’t.) Would Paul not need to elucidate this point? Wouldn’t his position stand or fall on that very question? It is difficult to see how he could have put forward such a revolutionary gospel as the abolition of the ancient Mosaic Torah without addressing the question of whether Jesus himself had advocated such a thing. If he had, this is all Paul would have needed. If he had not, or if he had preached the retention of the Law (as very clearly in Matthew), Paul wouldn’t have had a leg to stand on in anyone’s eyes.

If all of this was liable to raise confusion in his readers (and how could it not?), it is perplexing that Paul would be even tempted to state Jesus’ subjection to the Law in Galatians 4:4, especially since it would have served no practical purpose. The more Paul would call attention to Jesus’ status under the Law, supposedly to say that he was like us, the more the anomaly would work against him. And if in many important respects Jesus was not like everyone else who was under the Law, this would go against the alleged purpose for saying it in the first place.

Here we have an identical situation to that which I have pointed out in regard to Paul’s concept of “living kata sarka.” If living in the flesh, as Paul so consistently emphasizes, is full of corruption, temptation, sin, contrariness to God, even ‘death’ (figuratively speaking), the question had to arise as to how an historical Jesus who ‘lived in the flesh’ was not a party to all this. Why does Paul never give a hint of any awareness of such a conflict, either in regard to Jesus ‘living in flesh’ or being ‘born under the Law’? The simplest answer is that he had no idea of his Jesus living in (earthly) flesh or being born under the Law. Again, the anomaly seems to have sailed over the head of the scribe who made the interpolation. For Paul, it was so endemic to his way of thinking and preaching, it could not have failed to impress itself upon him, and he would have had to deal with it. It would have been an itch he couldn’t help but scratch.

In Romans 2:17-24, Paul sets up the perfect opening to elucidate Jesus’ distinction from everyone else born under the Law. Consider the passage and try to imagine the spirit of Jesus standing at Paul’s side and hearing what he is saying to certain Jews who are ‘born under the Law’:

“But as for you—you may bear the name of Jew; you rely upon the law and are proud [lit., you boast] of your God; you know his will; you are aware of moral distinctions because you receive instruction from the law; you are confident [lit., have convinced yourself] that you are the one to guide the blind, to enlighten the benighted, to train the stupid, and to teach the immature, because in the law you see the very shape of knowledge and truth. You, then, who teach your fellow-man, do you fail to teach yourself? You proclaim, ‘Do not steal’; but are you yourself a thief? You say, ‘Do not commit adultery’; but are you an adulterer? You abominate false gods; but do you rob their shrines? While you take pride in the law, you dishonor God by breaking it. For, as Scripture says, ‘Because of you the name of God is dishonored among the Gentiles’.”

The tone of the whole passage is critical. Paul is almost sneering at those he is addressing, those Jews under the Law. If the spirit of an historical Jesus were standing at Paul’s side, he would be cringing, waiting for Paul to make the obvious exception for himself. (“Surely he’s not including Me in all that sarcasm about Jews who, having knowledge in the Law and being teachers, do not practice what they preach? Have I dishonored God by breaking the Law? Is he saying that because of Me ‘the name of God is dishonored among the gentiles’? Surely not!”)

There is not a word anywhere from Paul about how Jesus the teacher behaved while being “born under (or subject to) the Law.” Moreover, with Jesus supposedly looming in the background, he could have been brought forward by Paul to illustrate how this particular Jew “instructed in the Law” had shown how to properly behave even in such circumstances and not dishonor the profession and the name of God.

In sum, the question of interpolation of these phrases cannot be settled with absolute certainty. But there are enough compelling indicators that Paul either could not or would not have included them in the Galatians 4:4 passage to remove them from contention as good evidence that Paul viewed his Christ as a recent human man. Taken together with the alternate possibility that these phrases, if by Paul, reflect a metaphysical view of Jesus determined by scripture (although I would lean most toward the interpolation option), I regard this as an effective neutering of perhaps the most significant argument on the historicist side that the epistles stand in the tradition of an historical Jesus.