The Early Need

Paul’s Early Reference to a Gospel

In the verse below, can you find Paul’s reference to something which was previously written which presented Christ as crucified?

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. (Galatians 3:1 ESV)

The ESV wording above is typical of English translations, and commentators will typically elaborate on how great an orator Paul must have been as he “publicly portrayed” the gospel on his recent visit to the Galatian province. But is this a correct understanding of the passage?

Here we have an opportunity for you to do a little Greek word study. What Greek word stands behind “publicly portrayed”? Now go find the other three places that this word is used in the New Testament, by Paul and Jude. How is the word understood in those contexts?

If you are brave, then take a broader look at how this word is used in the contemporary and earlier Greek writings, and in the writings of the early church fathers. Refer to your favorite lexicon for potential passages. Does the word, in context, ever mean something like “publicly portrayed” without reference to something which was physically written, drawn, or painted, whether posted or not? While there are a few passages which offer some ambiguity, even there the “previously written” meaning still works.1 (My upcoming book treats this in more detail).

So therefore, if Paul is referring to something which was previously written, which presented Christ as crucified, then to what was he referring? I have a suggestion!

Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” And he said, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!” (Matthew 27:22–23 ESV)

Or does the presupposition that some hold, that the first Gospel was published decades after the resurrection, require that we craft a unique meaning for the word, just for use in Galatians, in order to obfuscate that this might be referring to something written?

The Bryce park sign above seemed particularly appropriate for this conversation. Yes, it is publicly displayed. Yes also, it was previously written.

Comments? If you find a passage which doesn’t fit what I’m asserting here, then let’s talk about such!

  1. Some might claim that Jude 4 does not refer to something which has actually been written, particularly if the “book of life” references in Exodus 32:32–33; Philippians 4:3; and Revelation 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12 are not taken literally. However, with this approach it must then be conceded that Jude 4 is still referring to something which has been figuratively written. Either way, it is not referring to something which has been “publicly portrayed,” without a physical referent ↩︎

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