Richard Carrier and γίνομαι
Richard Carrier believes that Jesus Christ never existed. His theory is that Christ was initially a celestial being and later received historical biographies. Part of Carrier’s case is that he claims that Paul never makes mention of Christ in any way that would indicate that he was a historical flesh and blood person. He has a video where he puts together his argument here: At about the 31:50 mark, Carrier addresses a criticism of his argument, and it is his response that I would like to address here. The criticism is that Paul does indeed indicate that Christ was a flesh and blood individual, who is a born member of the human race. The significant passages are Romans 1:3 and Galatians 4:4. That is:
…concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh (Romans 1:3, NAS).
In Greek, is says, “περὶ τοῦ Υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ τοῦ γενομένου ἐκ σπέρματος Δαυεὶδ κατὰ σάρκα…” (Romans 1:3, emphasis mine). Likewise, Galatians 4:4 says,
But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law… (Galatians 4:4, NAS).
The Greek says, “ὅτε δὲ ἦλθεν τὸ πλήρωμα τοῦ χρόνου, ἐξαπέστειλεν ὁ Θεὸς τὸν Υἱὸν αὐτοῦ, γενόμενον ἐκ γυναικός, γενόμενον ὑπὸ νόμον…” (Galatians 4:4, emphasis mine). Carrier’s argument is to focus on γενόμενον or γενομένου, which are the accusative and genitive forms of the aorist participle of γίνομαι. According to Carrier, this is an odd form of the verb to use for “born”, and indicates that Paul was trying to make a specific point, namely that Christ was directly made or manufactured by God. Thus, these passages don’t actually conflict with the idea that Christ was a celestial being. Carrier makes the point that this is the same word used in the to describe the creation of Adam. He may have had Genesis 2:7 in mind:
Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being (Genesis 2:7, NAS).
The verse in the Septuagint reads: “…και έπλασεν ο θεός τον άνθρωπον χουν λαβών από της γης και ενεφύσησεν εις το πρόσωπον αυτού πνοήν ζωής και εγένετο ο άνθρωπος εις ψυχήν ζώσαν…” (Genesis 2:7, LXX emphasis mine). In this verse we see the aorist indicative form of γίνομαι, which is related, though not precisely the same form of the verb that Paul uses. Another important point is that the verb being used to describe the moment of divine manufacture is not εγένετο, but έπλασεν, the third person aorist indicative of the verb πλάσσω, which means “to form” or “to mould”. The verb εγένετο is used in the context of saying that when God breathed life into Adam, he “became” a living man. So here, the verb is being used more broadly to discuss a change of state or coming to be of life from the non-living clay that God had formed. So it isn’t exactly correct to say that γίνομαι means “divine manufacture”. At best, πλάσσω could take that meaning. Instead, γίνομαι can mean “become”, but in this context it is the coming to be of life in the body of Adam, which is γίνομαι + a predicate (living) rather than γίνομαι + a person, in which the proper translation is “born”. So, context always rules over these situations. It makes sense to say that Adam came to be a living soul, but in Romans 1:3 and Galatians 4:4 we are talking about γίνομαι + a person, not a property, predicate, event, or state of affairs. Citing Adam in Genesis just won’t do. Perhaps Carrier has St. Paul in mind when he says:
So also it is written, “The first MAN, Adam, BECAME A LIVING SOUL.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit (1 Corinthians 15:45, NAS).
“οὕτως καὶ γέγραπται Ἐγένετο ὁ πρῶτος ἄνθρωπος Ἀδὰμ εἰς ψυχὴν ζῶσαν· ὁ ἔσχατος Ἀδὰμ εἰς πνεῦμα ζωοποιοῦν (1 Corinthians 15:45, emphasis mine).” As you can see, Paul is quoting from the Septuagint at Genesis 2:7. The only difference is that he inserts “first” and “Adam” because he is making the typological contrast that Jesus Christ is the “last Adam.” So this can no more be used to indicate that εγένετο in Paul mean “manufacture” rather than “born” than it could in Genesis 2:7. Genesis, and Paul’s quote of Genesis, predicates “living soul” of Adam—that he became a living soul—so it is simply wrong to translate this passage as “born” here. The New American Standard correctly translate this as “became.” Carrier notes that Paul doesn’t use the word γίνομαι to refer to a human birth. This is somewhat question-begging since, he must assume that these two instances are really meant to indicate “to happen, become, or be made” but not “to be born”, which is precisely the question he is raising. Consequently, he precludes instances where Paul seemingly does use the word because he already assumes that it has a different meaning than “born”. This is not entirely fair since the word specifically does mean “to be born” in the context of persons, as I’ve mentioned in my analysis of Genesis 2:7. So it does have broad meaning for a general “coming to be” but Greek relies on context to shave down the meaning. One need only check Liddell and Scott’s Intermediate Greek Lexicon to see that, of persons, it means to be born, as I have said. Carrier points out that Paul uses another verb for being born in Romans 9:11 and Galatians 4:23,29. It is true that Paul also uses γεννάω, but that just means that Paul is willing to use synonyms of a word, it does not not imply that Paul was trying to make a careful distinction. Carrier then makes a big deal about the fact that some scribes switched verbs in certain manuscripts (indicating for Carrier some grand conspiracy to make Jesus appear historical rather than mythic-celestial). It could be just a substitution error. They put in the synonymous word by accident. There is a major flaw in Carrier’s argument. He cites Paul, who is citing the Septuagint, as evidence that γενόμενον means divinely manufacture rather than born, since it is used to describe the creation of Adam. Well, how is this verb used elsewhere in the Septuagint? I started to check and only made it through the rest of the book of Genesis, but I am almost certain there will be more examples, if I had the time an patience to research the entire Septuagint. Here, I am searching out the precise aorist participle form of the verb γίνομαι to see how it is used in those context. We might ask if “divine manufacture” to “born” would be better translations in these passages.
Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore to him, Isaac (Genesis 21:3, NAS)
The Hebrew word translated into “was born” is “yalad”, which means “to bear, bring forth, or beget”. The translators of the Septuagint render the passage this way: “καὶ ἐκάλεσεν Αβρααμ τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ τοῦ γενομένου αὐτῷ, ὃν ἔτεκεν αὐτῷ Σαρρα, Ισαακ” (Genesis 21:3, LXX emphasis mine). Notice that γενομένου, used in Genesis 21:3 is precisely the same word used in Romans 1:3, right down to the same case and number. So are we to interpret this as “divinely manufactured”? In the context, we are talking about Abraham, not God. It doesn’t make sense to translate this any other way. Surely Paul would be familiar with this passage, if he was familiar with the Greek word used in Genesis 2:7. Also, let us consider this passage:
and the sons of Joseph, who were born to him in Egypt were two; all the persons of the house of Jacob, who came to Egypt, were seventy. (Genesis 46:27, NAS).
Again the Hebrew word that is translated as “were born” is a form of the verb “yalad”. Let’s see how the Septuagint translated the passage: “υἱοὶ δὲ Ιωσηφ οἱ γενόμενοι αὐτῷ ἐν γῇ Αἰγύπτῳ ψυχαὶ ἐννέα. πᾶσαι ψυχαὶ οἴκου Ιακωβ αἱ εἰσελθοῦσαι εἰς Αἴγυπτον ἑβδομήκοντα πέντε” (Genesis 46:27, LXX emphasis mine). Here we have the same aorist participle, but this time it is the nominative plural form of γίνομαι. Clearly we are seeing a translation pattern here. And again, consider whether “divine manufacture” makes sense when we are talking about the sons of Joseph! My last example is:
Now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are (Genesis 48:5, NAS).
Again, the Hebrew verb translated to “were born” is “yalad”. And the Septuagint is as follows: “νῦν οὖν οἱ δύο υἱοί σου οἱ γενόμενοί σοι ἐν Αἰγύπτῳ πρὸ τοῦ με ἐλθεῖν πρὸς σὲ εἰς Αἴγυπτον ἐμοί εἰσιν, Εφραιμ καὶ Μανασση ὡς Ρουβην καὶ Συμεων ἔσονταί μοι…” (Genesis 48:5, LXX, emphasis mine). Again, this is the aorist participle of γίνομαι, which comes from the older form γίγνομαι. It is a word that is commonly translated as born when set within the context of the “coming to be” of humans. Clearly Paul would have had access to these examples from the Septuagint. He would have known that it is a common way to translate “yalad”, which means “to beget”. So Romans 1:3 and Galatians 4:4 are very strong evidence that Paul thought Jesus was actually born of the seed of David, and of a woman, just as the Gospels report. This is compelling evidence against the thesis that Paul thought Christ was a celestial being who never walked the Earth. So, my assessment of Carrier is that he really did not do a careful analysis of γίνομαι. I think it is clear that Paul uses the word to mean “born” and that he would have been quite familiar with the verb as one which can mean “born”. That Paul uses a synonym occasionally does not mean that he wants to use γίνομαι in some technical sense with Adam’s “divine manufacture” in mind. In fact, there are plenty of instances of the Septuagint where the exact same verb-form is used and “born” is the only reasonable way to translate. I don’t see how Romans 1:3 or Galatians 4:4 could be about “divine manufacture” like Adam since they specifically mention the involvement of humans in both cases. Why mention David’s seed or that He will be from a woman at all? Carrier says that the latter instance is an allegory. Undoubtedly, he has Galatians 4:21-31 in mind, where Paul tells us that Abraham had two sons, the first born to a slave woman and the second was of a free woman.
This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar (Galatians 4:24, NAS).
So Carrier wants to say that “being born of a woman” is “being born of a covenant” and so Galatians 4:4 really just means that Jesus was born of a covenant, not that he was actually born of a human. But is this a fair assessment? Paul makes the point that his discussion of Hagar and Sarah are “allegorizing” of what was said before, namely the story of Hagar and Sarah. Carrier wants us to extend the allegorical interpretation back to verse 4, but Paul is only indicating that he is allegorically treating the story he just referenced from Genesis. This does not mean that Paul did not think it was true that Jesus was born of a woman. Rather, a straightforward reading is that he made the statement in Galatians 4:4 quite plainly and then adds an allegorical dimension to the idea of being “born of a woman” by referencing Hagar and Sarah as a way to draw out a deeper dimension of what the birth of the Jewish messiah means given that his lineage traces all the way back to Isaac. But, let us suppose this was meant to be allegorical even in Galatians 4:4. If so, then Carrier’s claim that it would be odd or incorrect to translate γενόμενον as “born” utterly falls apart. For it must be translated that way, though allegorically. Otherwise, we would expect to see a derivation of γεννάω, if Carrier is correct this is the only word Paul would use for “born”. That is, Paul would not use γενόμενον if he intended it to have a different meaning other than “born”. The allegory in which it is employed depends upon us understanding the word to mean “born”. To slip out of the allegorical language would mean that Paul is slipping between literal and allegorical language, which would be sloppy, if not incoherent. But if “born” is the proper translation in Galatians 4:4 (though allegorical), then Romans 1:3 is the clincher against Carrier’s case. For there is no “allegorizing” going on there. This means that Carrier must recognize that Romans 1:3 is saying that Christ Jesus, who was promised by the prophets, was indeed “born of the seed of David according to the flesh.” Without the excuse of saying that this was “divine manufacture”, Carrier has no retreat. Carrier speculates that, somehow, David’s seed is taken into the heavens to produce Christ, but that speculation is insufficient if the verse indicates birth. Any reasonable interpretation and translation of the passage would see that Romans 1:3 says that Christ is born, not made or generated. So, insisting that the woman in Galatians 4:4 is allegorical is not actually helpful to Carrier’s case in the least given that it pretty much proves that γίνομαι + person should be understood as “born”. This shows that Paul is willing to use synonymous terms for “born”, as I suggested earlier in this post. So, this is not an extra argument that he can add to his thesis that γίνομαι shouldn’t be translated as “born”. Rather, it directly contradicts that argument. Perhaps if Galatians 4:4 were the only instance where Paul uses a derivation of γίνομαι, Carrier could simply insist that it is only an allegorical birth of a “woman” = “covenant”. However, there is also Romans 1:3, remains a thorn in Carrier’s side. The mythicists demand that we throw away all context and instead imagine some grand conspiracy was afoot. I just can’t buy it. And Carrier’s efforts to pretend that γίνομαι is inappropriately translated as “born” is either extremely ignorant or dishonest. Combines with his attempt to allegorize Galatians 4:4, I find his case to be contradictory and confused.
At the end of the day, I think there is good reason to take Paul as an early witness to the testimony of those who directly knew Jesus while he lived his earthly life. Mythicists emphasize this idea that Paul says little about Christ’s life on Earth, and try to explain away what he does say. Each attempt to explain away gets more and more convoluted. My short list of things that Paul claimed about Jesus includes. I’m sure they would dispute some passages, and offer unusual interpretations of others. But the point isn’t whether one can explain away evidence to fit an alternative hypothesis, the question is about what is more likely. Anyways, here is why I think Paul believed in a historical Jesus:
1. Paul says that there was personal experience, or first-hand acquaintance of Christ in the flesh, or according to his flesh (2 Cor 5:16, ‘ἐγνώκαμεν κατὰ σάρκα Χριστόν’– the word ἐγνώκαμεν is translated into Latin as “cognovimus” as opposed to “οἶδα” or in Latin “sciare” which is a more scientific way of knowing things. In Romance languages, like Italian we see the contrast between verbs like “conoscere” and “sapere”, which roughly map on to the distinction. Paul is talking about a familiar sort of knowledge, not an abstract or indirect knowledge).
2. Paul tells us that Christ was born of a woman under the law (Galatians 4:4), born from the descendants, or lineage of David according to the flesh (Rom 1:3). Paul uses the the aorist participle of γίνομαι, which is to be translated as “was born” (see above).
3. Paul credentials himself by writing of a meeting that he had with James, the brother of Jesus (Gal 1:19). James was a common name—there being more than one James in Early Church leadership, e.g. James, son of Zebedee (who incidentally is also identified via fraternal bond in Acts 12:2)—and Paul uses a particular epithet to identify this particular James, “X the brother of Y” is a common way to identify people and, in the Bible, the phrase never indicates anything other than a real familial bond. “Brother in Christ” or “brethren” is not the same sort of expression as “X, the brother of Y” and no other Apostle, aside from those directly claimed to be familymembers in the Gospel, is given this epithet. It was not just a common way of indicating that James was a believer as this would have been a) redundant given the context, and b) self-defeating since “believer” wouldn’t specify James among believers named James. Also, the familial relationship is corroborated by the Gospels, Josephus, and Hegesippus. Finally, Jude is identified as a brother of James and Jesus in the Gospels (Mark 6:3; Matt 13:55) and Jude identifies himself as James’s brother in Jude 1:1).
4. Paul gets Christ’s teaching on divorce right (1 Corinthians 7:10-11). See Matt 5:32, Mark 10:12, and Luke 16:18.
5. Paul says that Jesus testified before Pontius Pilate (the historical existence of Pilate is fairly well established) (1 Tim 6:13, as the Gospels relate). Celestial beings who are never born or walk on Earth do not testify before Roman prefects.
6. Paul says that Christ was having supper the night he was betrayed, took bread and a cup and said that it was his body and blood and to do that in his memory, (1 Corinthians 11:23-24, as the Gospels relate).
7. Paul says that Jesus was killed, like the Jewish prophets, by his fellow Jewish countrymen (1 Thessalonians 2:14-15).
8. Paul relates and affirms a very early creed that he learned, that Jesus died, was interred (buried in a tomb—to celebrate funeral rites as opposed to merely be put in a common pit), rose on the third day, and appeared to his twelve Apostles and many others—many of whom Paul says were still alive at the time he wrote the letter, as if to invite his readers to corroborate his testimony by asking them about what they saw. And like the Gospels, he says that God raised Jesus from the dead (1 Cor 15:3-15).
9. Jesus not only appeared in the likeness or form of a man (Philippians 2:7). Paul explicitly says that Jesus was a man (1 Corinthians 15:21; 1 Timothy 2:5).