This blog, by Richard Fellows, discusses historical questions concerning Paul's letters, his co-workers, Acts, and chronology. You can visit my web pages here, but note that they are not kept up-to-date.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Debbie Hunn on Gal 1-2

The latest edition of Biblica has a new paper on-line by Debbie Hunn: "Pleasing God or Pleasing People? Defending the Gospel in Galatians 1-2".

This is a very important paper and everyone who has an interest in Paul should read it. Scholarship on Gal 1-2 has been confused an confusing, but Hunn shows great clarity of thought. She immediately gets to the heart of the problem: how does Gal 1:13-2:21 substantiate Paul's claim that his gospel is from God (Gal 1:11-12)?

The most common view is that Paul is arguing in Gal 1:13-2:21 that he has apostolic authority and that the authenticity of that authority confirms the truth of his gospel. Hunn, however, points out that in both Gal 1:8 and Gal 2:6 Paul is clear that truth does not derive from apostolic rank.

Hunn then notes that Gal 2:2 and Gal 2:10 are in tension with the view that Paul is responding to the accusation that he was dependent on Jerusalem. She then convincingly critiques the view that Paul is presenting himself as an example for the Galatians to follow.

The key to understanding Gal 1:11-2:21, Hunn tells us, is in Gal 1:10:
The distance Paul kept from the apostles also illustrates that he did not seak to mingle with them with an eye to prominence among them, and this answers his question in v. 10: "Do I now seek to please people or God?" Paul argues for the devine origin of his gospel on the basis that he has sought to please God, not human beings, after his conversion.
In Gal 1:14-19 Paul says that, in contrast to his earlier life, after is conversion he no longer sought to gain status among humans:
Paul's brief association with the Jerusalem apostles - of whom he met only two - is evidence that he did not ingratiate himself with them or seek to rise through their ranks.
I think Hunn's thesis is essentially correct, but I would go further. She does not explain what was different about the situation in Galatia that made Paul argue in Gal 1-2 that he was not a pleaser of men. She does not discuss the specific circumstances that made Paul's line of argument particularly necessary. I have argued here, here, and here, that the Galatians suspected that Paul had preached Gentile liberty to please the authors of the Jerusalem decree. This, I think, explains why Paul must prove that he had not been motivated by a desire to please the Jerusalem church leaders in particular. This also explains why Paul does not claim complete independence from the Jerusalem church leaders, but rather shows that his gospel of Gentile liberty in particular was independent of them. Hunn, correctly points out that Gal 2:2 shows that Paul is not claiming general independence from Jerusalem, but this verse does show that the gospel that he preached among the Gentiles was independent of them, for he makes it clear that he had not known how it would be received. On page 45 Hunn correctly summarizes Paul's point in Gal 2:6-10:
He was no junior partner they could take the liberty to instruct, ...
Gal 2:10 is surely part of Paul's argument here. In the ancient world it was unthinkable that clients would be able to instruct benefactors, so by reminding the Galatians that the pillars had asked Paul to remember their poor, Paul further reinforces his point that the Jerusalem church had not told him what to preach: they had recognized him as an equal. Hunn (page 28) is right that Gal 2:10 shows that Paul is not arguing that he was completely independent from Jerusalem. However, Paul is saying that he had not received his message from them.

Hunn may well be right that Paul argues that he had not tried to gain prominence among the apostles. The rumor in Galatia could then have been: "Paul believes in circumcision, but he preached non-circumcision to gain a high standing among the church leaders." This nuanced version of my thesis might make better sense of Gal 1:13-24.

Finally, I think Hunn could have made more use of Gal 5:2-12 and 6:11-17 to shed further light on Gal 1:1-10 in view of the parallels between these passages.

Do read Hunn's paper. It breaks new ground, and clearly exposes the weaknesses of conventional interpretations of Gal 1-2, while pointing towards the way forward.

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