Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Difficult Dating of Galatians

Of the seven undisputed Pauline letters, Galatians is the most difficult to date. It's been dated early (sometimes even before I Thessalonians), late (along with Romans), and in-between (somewhere amidst the Corinthian letters, but often right before both). In the past I've favored an early dating, around the time of I Thessalonians, but never really been happy with it. Mark Goodacre now offers good reasons for placing it between I & II Corinthians.
"It cannot escape the most cursory of readers that Galatia has dropped out in between the writing of 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians. Paul is still on good terms with the Galatians in 1 Corinthians, and has recently given them directions concerning the collection. By 2 Corinthians and Romans, they are no longer mentioned as participants in the collection. The rupture with the Galatian churches, to which the epistle to the Galatians bears witness, has occurred in between the writing of 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians. Paul has lost those churches, and Galatians is his last desperate attempt to win back people he sees as apostate."
That's a good point, and one also noted in passing by Philip Esler in New Testament Theology, discussing Paul's strategy of dealing with ethnic conflict in the Roman church:
"Paul seems to have hit upon [a better way of resolving ethnic conflict], perhaps because of his prior experience in Galatia, where his hard line against Judeans seems to have backfired, as shown by the failure of the Galatians to contribute to his collection for the poor..." (p 280)
That Paul asked the Galatians to contribute is clear from I Cor 16:1. That they didn't end up doing so is implied, as Esler and Goodacre say, in Rom 15:26 -- and even earlier, as Goodacre notes, in II Cor 9:2. So the falling out between Paul and the Galatians (occasioned by Paul's flaming letter) must have happened between I & II Corinthians.

Mark also compares I Cor 7:19 to Gal 5:6/6:15, concluding that the former must precede the latter:
Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God's commandments is what counts. (I Cor 7:19)

In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love...Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation. (Gal 5:6, 6:15)
Paul's rivals in Galatia were stressing that circumcision is a commandment of God, and so Mark concludes that Paul would not have said I Cor 7:19 after the Galatian controversy: Galatians indeed comes after I Corinthians.

Another good point, but I think one could argue similarly, in the reverse direction, by comparing Gal 3:28 to I Cor 12:13:
There is no longer Judean or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female. For all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:28)

For in the one spirit we were all baptized into one body -- Judeans or Greeks, slaves or free -- and we were all made to drink of one spirit. (I Cor 12:13)
The controversy over women's issues in Corinth caused Paul to drop the "male/female" part of his theological forumula, and so using Mark's logic, Paul would not have said Gal 3:28 after the Corinthian controversy: I Corinthians thus comes after Galatians.

So in comparing theological remarks between Galatians and I Corinthians, I think it's a stalemate. But in comparing what Paul says about the collection between I Corinthians and II Corinthians & Romans, Mark is on much stronger ground.

UPDATE: Mark addresses the relationship between Gal 3:28 and I Cor 12:13, as he sees it, arguing that "Paul's addition of the more liberated 'male nor female' represents his more mature, developed thought" (Galatians indeed coming after I Corinthians), "not something that he dropped because his attitude had changed" (as if I Corinthians were the later letter). Mark sees this as an understandable development because Galatians centers on the issue of circumcision,
"a very andocentric affair, but what Paul sees in 3.28 is that baptism, unlike circumcision, is an initiation rite that involves women as well as men. Perhaps it was this context that caused him to reformulate the statement. I would like to think so."
I responded to Mark by acknowledging the point -- about circumcision being andocentric, and relating this to the implications of baptism. I'm now convinced that I Corinthians was written before Galatians. But it's important to realize that Paul's erasure of distinction between male and female (Gal 3:28) doesn't necessarily represent a "more mature" development. As I said,
"There were more 'abolitions of distinction' in the earliest days [of the Christian movement] on account of apocalyptic fervor, and only subsequently, as the kingdom didn't come and problems arose, such distinctions gradually reasserted themselves.

"That's exactly what happened between Galatians and Romans. In Romans Paul doesn't even say 'in Christ there is no Judean or Greek', let alone the 'male/female' part. That's because (so Esler) the erasure of differences -- while appealing to us today in the abstract -- is impractical, doomed to fail in the real word, and seriously backfired on Paul in Galatia. In Romans he went out of his way to assert differences between Judeans and Greeks. Does that make Paul 'less mature' in Romans, or more?"


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