Saturday, August 20, 2016

Carrier's snow job, part 1

Last Spring, Richard Carrier debated Craig Evans:

In this post I'll comment on that debate. Carrier also posted a self-serving analysis of the debate which I will comment on in a sequel post:

Evans is a savvy, erudite NT scholar, and he made many good points. There were, however, some significant weaknesses in his presentation:

i) Evans is basically a Synoptic scholar, whereas much of the debate concerned Paul's witness to Jesus.

ii) Evans hadn't read Carrier's book (On the Historicity of Jesus), so he was caught off guard by some of Carrier's arguments.

iii) Evans is a theological moderate, so he makes a number of gratuitous concessions that a more conservative Jesus scholar like Craig Blomberg, Craig Keener, or Darrell Bock would not. 

iv) Even if Evans had prepared for this particular debate, he'd be unable to rebut Carrier's rapid fire presentation in the time allotted. 

I'm going to focus on Carrier's presentation. It was a smooth performance. Like a good demagogue, Carrier is persuasive if you don't know what to listen for, or have a credulous predisposition to take his word for it.

He outlines his case with visual displays. Carrier does a snow job by bombarding the viewer with a blizzard of factoids. They fly by too fast to evaluate. And many audience members lack the background knowledge or resources to register the gaping holes in Carrier's putative evidence.

What really happened
What was said to happen
What was said to have happened within just 30 years

While it's true that urban legends can develop quickly, this example is counterproductive of Carrier's thesis. Although some conspiracy buffs believe the government covered up the crash landing of a flying saucer, the Roswell legend is a national joke. 

Ned Ludd
Movement invented legendary founder
Widely believed no one questioned until recently

Notice that this is a secular example. Carrier can't appeal to religious dynamics. 

Cargo cults
Did John Frum or Tom Navy exist
Visions and spirit communications to shamans
Later claim: real men came to island
No such persons ever existed
We know because anthropologists happened to be on islands at the time.

But from what I've read, real men did come to the island, bringing provisions. For instance:

The island’s John Frum movement is a classic example of what anthropologists have called a “cargo cult”—many of which sprang up in villages in the South Pacific during World War II, when hundreds of thousands of American troops poured into the islands from the skies and seas. As anthropologist Kirk Huffman, who spent 17 years in Vanuatu, explains: “You get cargo cults when the outside world, with all its material wealth, suddenly descends on remote, indigenous tribes.” The locals don’t know where the foreigners’ endless supplies come from and so suspect they were summoned by magic, sent from the spirit world. 
The cult got its biggest boost the following year, when American troops by the thousands were dispatched to the New Hebrides, where they built large military bases at Port-Vila and on the island of Espíritu Santo. The bases included hospitals, airstrips, jetties, roads, bridges and corrugated-steel Quonset huts, many erected with the help of more than a thousand men recruited as laborers from Tanna and other parts of the New Hebrides—among them Chief Kahuwya.

So the legend had a basis in fact. It underwent embellishment, but it wasn't shamanistic visions and spirit communications evolving into a story about real benefactors visiting the islands. Rather, it was the other way around: real visitors gave rise to subsequent legendary embellishment. So Carrier seems to have the development exactly backwards. 

Moreover, the legendary embellishment was spurned by consumption of hallucinogens. As the same article explains:

Chief Isaac and other local leaders say that John Frum first appeared one night in the late 1930s, after a group of elders had downed many shells of kava as a prelude to receiving messages from the spirit world.

But 1C Christians didn't imbibe or ingest hallucinogens to trigger an altered state of consciousness. So that's another instance in which Carrier's attempted parallel breaks down. 

From these three examples, Carrier draws the conclusion founders often invented. Hence, creating the presumption that Christians invented Jesus. But his generalization is absurd. Were the Founding Fathers invented? E.g. John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Patrick Henry, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, George Washington.

Consider the number of American cities named after pioneer settlers. Were they invented?  

Consider philosophical schools like Platonism, Aristotelianism, Epicureanism, Hegelianism, &c. Were their founders invented?

Consider religious movements, viz.

AUM Shinrikyo
Christian Science
Divine Light Mission
Falun Gong
Jehovah's Witnesses
Nation of Islam
Seventh-Day Adventism

The list could easily be expanded. There's no presumption that ostensible founders of a religious movement were invented. To the contrary, that's very exceptional.

King Arthur

i) Which begs the question by assuming that Moses and King Arthur never existed. 

ii) Moses wasn't the founder of Judaism. Yahweh was the founder of Judaism. Moses was just a prophet. If you're going to speak of human founders at all, Abraham was as much the founder of Judaism as Moses. 

In time of Christianity:
savior gods
all the "son" of God (or daughter)
all undergo a "passion"
all obtain victory over death
all have stories about them sent in human history on earth
Yet none actually existed
Originally agricultural deities converted into personal savior gods.
dying/rising gods
If Jesus existed, he'd be exceptional.
i) What are the dates of the sources? 

ii) It's not enough to postulate parallels. Quote the texts. Show us the alleged parallels. Not tendentious summaries, but what the original texts actually say.

For instance, here's the "resurrection" of Osiris:

 358Recognizing the body he divided it into fourteen parts87 and scattered them, each in a different place. Isis learned of this and sought for them again, sailing through the swamps in a boat of papyrus.88 This is the reason why people sailing in such boats are not harmed by the crocodiles, since these creatures in their own way show either their fear or their reverence for the goddess.
The traditional result of Osiris's dismemberment is that there are many so‑called tombs of Osiris in Egypt;89 for Isis held a funeral for each part when she had found it. Others deny this and assert that she caused effigies of him to be made and these she distributed among the several cities, pretending that she was giving them his body, in order that he might receive divine honours in a greater number of cities, Band also that, if Typhon should succeed in overpowering Horus, he might despair of ever finding p47the true tomb when so many were pointed out to him, all of them called the tomb of Osiris.90
Of the parts of Osiris's body the only one which Isis did not find was the male member,91 for the reason that this had been at once tossed into the river, and the lepidotus, the sea-bream, and the pike had fed upon it;92 and it is from these very fishes the Egyptians are most scrupulous in abstaining. But Isis made a replica of the member to take its place, and consecrated the phallus,93 in honour of which the Egyptians even at the present day celebrate a festival.*/A.html

That doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to the death and resurrection of Christ. Yet Osiris is Carrier's paradigm-case. He keeps harping on that alleged parallel. That's only plausible because he doesn't actually quote primary sources in his debate. 

iii) Here's a classic critique of parallelomania

Here's another critique: M. Hengel, The Son of God (Fortress, 1983), 25-30. 

Jewish version
basic structure+local religion
variant suffering savior god

This is Carrier's attempt to discount awkward evidence to the contrary. When the alleged parallels break down, Carrier says that's because it's a "local variation". His makes his theory unfalsifiable since counterevidence is dismissed as a "local variation" on the "basic structure". 

Osiris paradigm
Public stories placed his death & resurrection in earth history
Private stories explained it's allegory for his actual death and Resurrection in outer space just below moon
Most outsiders believed historical

One basic problem with that comparison is to disregard the Palestinian Jewish context of Jesus, as well as the OT background for the theological interpretation of Jesus. By the same token, it disregards the Jewish antipathy towards paganism. 

Plausible, not necessarily prove true of Jesus

Carrier's tactic is to persuade the viewer through the cumulative impact of specious examples. 

Jesus was a preexistent deity (Phil 2:5-11)
Jesus was an angel (Gal 4:14)
Jesus knew Moses (1 Cor 10:4)

i) Since Phil 2: 5-11 is a classic prooftext for the divine incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of the Son, a text that takes for granted some background knowledge about the historical Jesus, this runs counter to Carrier's thesis.

ii) The fact that Jesus knew Moses is consistent with orthodox Christology.

iii) An angel isn't a preexistent deity. 

iv) Carrier's thesis requires him to say that Christians originally regarded Jesus as an angel. But he only has one dubious prooftext for that claim. He misinterprets Gal 4:14. This text could mean either of two things: 

As in 1:8, Paul refers to an angel as an exalted messenger, to be received with all due reverence. "As Christ Jesus" thus is ascensive: "You welcomed me as an angel of God, indeed, as if I were Christ Jesus himself." D. Moo, Galatians (Baker, 2013), 285.  
Two matters need discussion here: (1) whether the phrase is generic and means "an angel from God" or whether it is specific, wherein Paul is picking up a common Septuagintal phrase and intends "the angel of God"; and (2) the relationship between the two hos phrases–whether they are progressive and ascensive (one word leading to the next that is higher) or appositional (the second clarifying the first. It should be noted also that the second issue exists only if one decides that the phrase is specific. If it is generic, then it automatically means that the two phrases are progressive and (ascensive).
In the first place, one called "the angel of the Lord" (or "God") regularly serves as the divine messenger in several OT narratives; and in some of these narratives the "angel" turns out to be the Lord himself. This is especially true of the crucial narratives in Gen 18 and Exod 3-4, plus the Gideon narrative in Judg 6. 
But whether Paul's next phrase, "as Jesus Christ," is intended to stand in apposition to, and thus to identify, the angel of God is a different matter. That is, Christ may very well assume the role of the OT "angel of the Lord".
In favor of "the angel of God" as equal to Christ himself is the fact that "the angel of the Lord" often turns out to be a representation of Yahweh himself, so that the two become one in some way. On the other hand, there is simply no firm evidence that would lead us to believe that Paul had a kind of "angel Christology". One is always wary of a christological perspective based on one or two texts that themselves are rather obscure. G. Fee, Pauline Christology (Eerdmans, 2007), 229-31.

The upshot is that Gal 4:14 either:

i) Distinguishes Jesus from an angel


ii) Identifies Jesus as Yahweh

According to (i), an angel is a supernatural creature, and that stands in contrast to who Jesus is.

According to (ii), the "angel" is really a theophany. On that view, Paul regards the OT "angel of the Lord" as a Christophany. But on that view, the angel is not a creature, but a local manifestation of Yahweh himself. 

Angelic descent
Pre-Christian Jewish belief (Philonic parallels) in an archangel who was already called:
The firstborn son of God (Rom 8:29)
the celestial "image of God" (2 Cor 4:4)
God's agent of creation (1 Cor 8:6)
And God's celestial high priest (Heb 2:17; 4:14).

i) Paul was tutored in Palestinian Judaism, not Alexandrian Judaism. Paul was a protégé of Gamaliel, not Philo. It's a different conceptual world.  

ii) Paul's usage isn't based on Philonic Platonic categories, but OT categories. Jesus as the "firstborn son" alludes to passages about the Davidic messiah like Ps 89:27. 

2 Cor 4:4 has its background in the Exodus theophany (Exod 32), combined with a Last Adam typology. 

In 1 Cor 8:6, Jesus is more than God's agent. Rather, Paul inserts Jesus into the Shema. 

iii) Philo has no incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection. Carrier disregards the historical setting of Hebrews. 

Carrier attempted an antithetical parallel between Jesus and Satan, then inferred that since Satan doesn't exist, by parity of argument, neither does Jesus. But, of course, NT Christians did believe in a personal Devil. 

earliest Christian writings
imported into history
typically what happens:
Jewish patriarchs
pagan savior gods
modern cargo cults

That begs the question by assuming the Jewish patriarchs are fictional characters. 

our sequence of evidence corresponds to it:
Epistles only speak of a celestial being and revealed gospel (7 authentic Paulines)
Gospels come decades later. Well-crafted literary fictions allegorical function

To say the Gospels are intentionally fictional is a highly contentious claim. I'll say more about that in my sequel post.

all later historicity claims based on the gospels 
Tons of "historical" evidence forged in its place (dozens of Gospels, acts, fake epistles, doctored passages fabricating evidence

Which fails to distinguish between the canonical Gospels, which were authored by eyewitnesses or authors who knew eyewitnesses, and 2C apocrypha. 

Paul never says who birthed Jesus or where never places on earth
Paul never says who killed and buried Jesus or where

There's a lot about OT history that Paul never mentions. That hardly implies that he didn't believe in OT history. Paul talks about what is relevant to his correspondents. And he takes for granted their knowledge of the historical Jesus. Paul's general focus is on the theological significance of the Christ-Event, and Christian ethics. 

1 Thes 2:15-16 inauthentic

Begs the question. Ignores evidence to the contrary.

"the archons of this age" (demonic forces) who killed him (1 Cor 2)

Although the "archons of this" age could denote demonic forces, it could also denote human rules, or human rulers in league with the demonic forces. 

All creeds in Paul lack any historical events

False: consider Paul's discussion of the Lord's Supper in relation to the institution of the Last Supper. 

2C creeds radically reverse this fact: Ignatiusrefute words and implications of Paul

Speaking to an issue on which Paul is silent is not a refutation of Paul. To affirm something isn't to deny something that wasn't said. Carrier's inference is fallacious. 

only revelation and Scripture as sources of info:
Gal 1:11-12 revelation

Carrier is equivocating. What Paul got by revelation was Jesus appearing to him and a theological interpretation of the historical Jesus, as well as a theological interpretation of OT messianism. It's not a substitute for oral history. 

1 Cor 15:1-3 gospel I preached…received…according to scriptures…appeared to Cephas
1 Cor 11:23 I received from the Lord
Not earthly event

i) That's misleading. Paul uses a standard formula for authoritative oral history. 

It comes from the Lord in the indirect sense that it's ultimately traceable to the historical Jesus. But Paul's immediate source of information is from eyewitnesses.

ii) Apropos (i), Carrier edits out Paul's explicit appeal to eyewitnesses in 1 Cor 15:5-7. At the very least, this alludes to oral history regarding the empty tomb and physical post-Resurrection appearances of Christ. Paul takes for granted that his audience is familiar with the story of Christ's crucifixion and resurrection. 

Moreover, Mark's Gospel may well have been in circulation by the time Paul wrote 1 Corinthians (AD 55-56).

iii) "According to the scriptures" doesn't mean Scripture is his source of information regarding the historical Jesus. Rather, it means the mission of Christ was (a) in fulfillment of OT Scripture, and (b) OT Scripture provides a theological interpretation. 

Brothers of the Lord (Rom 8:15-29)
Born (=made) of the sperm of David
word for divine manufacture, not descent
Born (=made) of a woman
allegory (Gal 4:24) 
He was "made" into flesh, not "born" (ginomai rather than gennao, same word Paul uses to refer to manufacture of Adam and our resurrection bodies. 

That's erroneous. For instance:

The noun sperm ("seed") in Jewish thought, and particularly in the Greek OT (LXX) and NT, usually means simply a "human descendent"–though in messianic contexts "seed of David" also conjures up ideas about Israel's Messiah…and the noun sarks ("flesh") in non-ethical contexts elsewhere in Romans and Paul's other letters means simply "human" or "human descent"…Thus this first part of the couplet can be translated "the one who was descended from David with respect to his human descent (or 'according to his humanity')". R. Longenecker, The Epistle to the Romans (Eerdmans, 2016), 64-65. 

"David's seed" doesn't mean Jesus was literally made from David's sperm. Is Carrier really that obtuse? It's idiomatic for ethnic ancestry. Cf. "For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin" (Rom 11:1). Paul isn't suggesting that he was the direct product of Abraham's sperm. Rather, he can trace his ancestry back through Benjamin to Abraham, as his lineal forebear. "The seed of x" is idiomatic for "descent of x". A synonym for posterity. Just check Greek lexicons. 

Carrier denies that Gal 1:19 (cf. 1 Cor 15:7) refers to the James as the stepbrother of Jesus because any Christian can be a brother of Jesus (Rom 8:29). However, "brother" can't be synonymous with Christian brother in this context because Paul uses "brother" to single out a particular James. If he was using "brother" in the figurative sense, that added descriptor wouldn't distinguish James from Peter and John. 

2 Pet 1:16 forges an eyewitness account of meeting Jesus on earth

That begs the question regarding the authorship of 2 Peter. 

otherwise unknown Christians claiming Jesus was cleverly devised myth (2:1). Gospels cleverly devised myths

Which makes them false teachers. 

first time Jesus appears in Paul, after death.
Rom 16:25-26 revelation…scriptures
Rom 10:14-17 how shall they be sent without a preacher
1 Cor 9:1 Apostle…sees Jesus
2 Cor 12 & 1 Cor 14 revelations spirit communications
no Jews heard Jesus preach, only apostles received revelations
no eyewitness testimony
revelatory cult like shamans in cargo cults
no references to Jesus preaching other than from heaven
No one meeting Jesus before his resurrection
no references to Jesus ever working miracles or being healer or exorcist
no historical stories about Jesus at all

i) That's ridiculously skewed. In 1 Cor 15, the question at issue isn't the earthly ministry of Christ, but the resurrection of the just. Will Christians be raised from the grave? 

Paul uses the bodily resurrection of Christ as divine precedent. In that context, he naturally begins with the death of Christ, not what happened before then–which is beside the point.

ii) He says Jesus was "buried". That's earthly. And it alludes to the crucifixion. Paul isn't talking in a vacuum. His audience is expected to know about the life of Christ. They've been evangelized. Paul is reminding them of Christ's resurrection (in Jerusalem), to ground the resurrection of Christians in union with Christ. 

eternal archangel recently given flesh to die and rise and report this by revelation 
completely reversed in the Gospels 
Mark: no cosmology, just appears out of nowhere and starts doing stuff

i) That's a prejudicial way of putting it. That's like saying that in a biography about Eisenhower's presidency, Ike just appears out of nowhere in starts doing stuff. But the point of a presidential biography is to focus on the person's political career. Likewise, the point of Mark is to focus on Christ's public ministry. That presumes an unstated backstory. 

ii) If, moreover, the Gospel writers were so prone to confabulation, why doesn't Mark concoct a detailed infancy narrative? There was pious curiosity about Jesus as a child. That's why apocryphal infancy Gospels fill that gap. But Mark doesn't do that because he doesn't make stuff up. 

Matthew: born (made in a womb) but not preexistent 
Ditto: Luke/Acts 
John: Preexistent, identical to God 
progression from ordinary guy to preexistent being

That ignores the high Christology of the Synoptics. Cf.

S. Grindheim, Christology in the Synoptic Gospels

S. Gathercole, The Preexistent Son

20 years before Mark, Paul already identifies Jesus as preexistent being, God's viceroy, whose flesh was made by God (Phil 2)

i) Actually, Phil 2 identifies Christ as preexistent divine being who acquired a human nature and died on the cross. 

ii) I'd date Mark earlier than Carrier does. 

Criteria don't work
Stan Porter
Morna Hooker
Mark Goodacre
Hector Avalos
John Gager
Christopher Tuckett
Anthony Le Donne
Rafael Rodriguez
Dale Allison

That's deceptive. For instance, Porter has conservative views regarding the historicity of Jesus. Likewise, Allison doesn't simply reject the standard criteria, but proposes alternatives. He takes the position that people remember events better than words, and they remember the gist of what was said. Cf. Constructing Jesus, chap 1.

Gospels full of myth-markers
Assimilate Jesus to known hero formulas (countercultural heroes, Rank-Raglan Sons of Gods, suffering saviors, miracle men, persecuted righteous man)

i) There's evidence for the existence of "miracle men", viz. Keener, Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts.

ii) Righteous men are persecuted. That isn't mythical–that actually happens.

iii) Carrier's use of the Rank-Raglan paradigm has been challenged, viz. 

elements taken from OT and HomerJesus a retelling of Moses, Elijah, Odysseus

i) Jesus and Elijah sometimes perform similar miracles because suffering people need the same kinds of miracles. Sickness and death, especially in the 1C, can only be cured by miracles. 

ii) To say the life of Christ is a retelling of Odysseus is the height of absurdity. In Homer, Odysseus is a mere man. A husband and father. King of the island of Ithaca. A veteran of the Trojan War. After the war, he suffers various ordeals from Poseidon, Cyclops, Circe, Calypso, the Sirens, the Laestrygonians, Scylla and Charybdis, &c. The plot and cast of characters has nothing in common with the Gospels.  

Full of etiological myths (baptism, eucharist) 

What makes Carrier assume baptism and the eucharist were not established by Jesus? 

and mythic models (faith healing, exorcism, dealing with critics)

That begs the question. There's medical evidence for faith healing. There's psychiatric evidence for demonic possession. 

full of improbable events–which are central, not incidental to every story.

In the debate, Carrier illustrates this allegation by mentioning the darkness during the crucifixion. Let's take a comparison: on May 18, 1980, in Yakima, WA, the town went dark at daytime. That was due to volcanic ash from the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, occluding the sunlight. 

Now, if this was reported in a 1C religious text, with no explanation regarding the cause, Carrier would say that's mythical and improbable. Yet that was a natural event. 

Ascension of Isaiah
late 1C/early 2C Gospel
prophet Isaiah receives vision of Jesus descending and becoming incarnate
earliest vision we can reconstruct lacks Jesus visiting earth
Jesus is crucified by Satan (archon of this age) in the sky below the moon.
parallel to Osiris

Carrier's use of that text has been critiqued:

got suppressed later
evidence outside Bible?
doesn't mention earthly life (1 Clement; Hebrews)

Hebrews is alludes to a familiar narrative about the earthly ministry of Christ, before his Ascension. 

Josephus and Tacitus having no sources other than the gospels or christians citing gospels no independent corroboration/evidence
Except 1 Clement, which only knows a revealed Gospel
obvious fiction (infancy gospels, other apocrypha)
based on Gospels or informants relying on the Gospels (Josephus, Tacitus)
no corroboration of any earthly story

i) There's no presumption that Tacitus had to get his information from Christians. Many Romans were stationed in Palestine during the public ministry of Christ. 

ii) And even if he did get his information from Christians, that doesn't mean his Christian informants had to get their information from the Gospels. There were thousands of witnesses to the public ministry of Christ. There'd be a living memory of his life and work. 

all other evidence from first 80 years of Christianity's development not preserved 80 blackout
no church records or correspondence from later half of 1C

What about Romans-Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, and Jude?

Even if Carrier implausibly dates some of these to the 2C, quite a few still date to the later half of the 1C. 


  1. Here's quite a bit of data on the ginomai/gennao assertion put together by Glenn Miller a couple years back. Like the Ascension of Isaiah, this poor linguistic argument is just taking arguments from Doherty and Murdock. That tells you a lot right there.

    "“γενόμενον ἐκ γυναικός, ‘born of a woman’; for this well-attested use of γίνομαι as a quasi-passive of γεννάω cf. 1 Esd. 4:16; Tob. 8:6; Wis. 7:3; Sir. 44:9; Jn. 8:58. The expression echoes Heb. yelûḏ ’iššāh, ‘born of a woman’ (cf. Jb. 14:1; 15:14; 25:4; 1QH 13:14; 1QS 11:21). The plural ἐν γεννητοῖς γυναικῶν is found in Jesus’ appraisal of John the Baptist in Mt. 11:11 / Lk. 7:28 [text: ‘of those born of women, none are greater than John’]. Nothing can be made of Paul’s usage of γενόμενον rather than γεννητόν. In this kind of context they are synonymous (…). Paul’s wording is applicable to any one of woman born; it throws no light on the question whether he knew of Jesus’ virginal conception or not.” [Bruce, F. F. (1982). The Epistle to the Galatians : A commentary on the Greek text.(195). Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.]

    “The first, “born of a woman,” emphasizes his true humanity and representative quality. “The aorist middle use of γίνομαι (“be,” “become”) for γεννάω (“beget”; in the passive “be born”) was common in Jewish circles (cf. Sir 44:9; 1 Esd 4:16; Tob 8:6; Wis 7:3; Rom 1:3 [an early Christian confessional portion]; John 8:58; Josephus, Ant. 2.216; 7.21; 16.382; echoing ילור אשׁה yĕlûd ˒iššâ, “born of woman”] of Job 14:1; 15:14; 25:4, as carried on in such passages as 1QH 13.14 and 1QS 11.21), with the participle γενόμενον used in synonymous fashion to the adjective γεννητόν (“begotten,” “born”). The expression “born ἐκ γυναικός” has often been seen as implying a virgin birth. But ἐκ γυναικός is a Jewish locution for a human birth or idiom simply for being human—as, for example, Job 14:1, “For man born of woman [βροτὸς γεννητὸς γυναικός] is of few days and full of trouble”; Matt 11:1/ /Luke 7:28, “Among those born of women [ἐν γεννητοῖς γυναικῶν] there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist” (see also Josephus, Ant. 7.21; 16.382). It provides, therefore, no clue of itself as to whether either early Christians or Paul believed in, or even knew of, Jesus’ virginal conception. Rather, as a qualitative expression “born of a woman” speaks of Jesus’ true humanity and representative quality—i.e., that he was truly one with us, who came as “the Man” to stand in our place. Furthermore, as an elaboration of the formula “God sent his Son,” it suggests that God’s sending coincides with the Son’s human birth, which is a notion comparable to the theme of God’s call, commission, and sending of his prophetic servants from their birth that appears elsewhere in Scripture (cf. Isa 49:1, 5; Jer 1:5; and Paul’s own consciousness in Gal 1:15). … The second participial clause at the end of v 4, “born under the law,” lays stress on another factor involved in the representative work of “the Son.” [Longenecker, R. N. (2002). Vol. 41: Word Biblical Commentary : Galatians. Word Biblical Commentary (171). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.]

    “The term γίνεσθαι ἐκ refers to the birth of a human being “out of” a human mother, while γίνεσθαι ὑπό defines the conditions of existence of a human being.” [Betz, H. D. (1979). Galatians : A commentary on Paul's letter to the churches in Galatia. Hermeneia--a critical and historical commentary on the Bible (207). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

  2. Cont.

    "The sending is also interpreted in terms of the predicate γενόμενος ἐκ γυναικός. This is used traditionally for all men, but does not occur elsewhere in Paul.” [Theological dictionary of the New Testament. 1964-c1976. Vols. 5-9 edited by Gerhard Friedrich. Vol. 10 compiled by Ronald Pitkin. (G. Kittel, G. W. Bromiley & G. Friedrich, Ed.) (electronic ed.) (8:383). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.]

    The first meaning given in Baur: 1. be born or begotten—a. lit., abs. (Dit., Syll.3 1168, 6; Epict. 2, 17, 8; Wsd 7:3; Sir 44:9) J 8:58; w. ἔκ τινος foll. (Diod. S. 3, 64, 1; Appian, Basil. 5 §1; Parthenius 1, 4; Athen. 13, 37 p. 576c ἐξ ἑταίρας; PPetr. III 2, 20; PFlor. 382, 38 ὁ ἐξἐμοῦ γενόμενος υἱός; 1 Esdr 4:16; Tob 8:6; Jos., Ant. 2, 216)Ro 1:3; Gal 4:4 (cf. IQS 11, 21). Also of plants 1 Cor 15:37. Of fruits ἔκ τινος be produced by a tree Mt 21:19 (cf. X., Mem. 3, 6, 13 ὁ ἐκ τ. χώρας γιγνόμενος σῖτος). [Arndt, W., Gingrich, F. W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (1996, c1979). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature]

    Gennaw is related, but is the word emphasizing the agent’s action of generating the baby – not the one being born:

    “The NT term used most frequently for “bear, born” is Gk gennáō — sometimes in the literal sense alluding to motherhood, but also in a figurative sense referring to the beginning of the spiritual life (e.g., Jn. 1:13; 3:3–8). [Bromiley, G. W. (1988; 2002). The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (1:442). Wm. B. Eerdmans.]

    γέννάω, fut. Med. γεννήσομαι in pass. sense, D.S.19.2 (but -ηθήσομαι Id.4.9): (γέννα):—casual of γίγνομαι (cf. γείνομαι), mostly of the father, beget, ὁ γεννήσας πατήρ S.El.1412; οἱ γεννήσαντές σε your parents, X.Mem.2.1.27; τὸ γεννώμενον ἔκ τινος Hdt.1.108, etc.; ὅθεν γεγενναμένοι sprung, Pi.P.5.74; of the mother, bring forth, bear, A.Supp.48, Arist.GA716a22, X.Lac.1.3, etc.:—Med., produce from oneself, create, Pl.Ti.34b, Mx.238a. [Liddell, H. G., Scott, R., Jones, H. S., & McKenzie, R. (1996). A Greek-English lexicon. "With a revised supplement, 1996." (Rev. and augm. throughout) (344). Oxford; New York: Clarendon Press; Oxford University Press.]

    Overall. The difference can be seen to be one of focus: one focuses on the act of giving birth (the more ‘active’ word, emphasizing the parent) and the other focuses on the result of the birth (a human being). So, at the related passage in Romans 1.3:

    “ἐκ σπέρματος Δαυίδ, “came into being, born.” Since γίνεσθαι (“become, come to be”) merges into εῖ̓ναι (“to be”), the participle phrase has in view more the state of man (= “born of woman”—Job 14:1; 15:14; 1QS 11.20–21; IQH 13.14; 18.12–13, 16) than the event of giving birth itself, for which γεννάω would be the more appropriate word” [WBC, in loc.]

    So, the actual usage of the word in the pre-NT world supports a ‘birth’ understanding as being common. This regularly occurred in Hellenistic and Jewish contexts. So, the skeptics claim, in this case, is based on an incomplete knowledge of the language and idioms of the time.

    But—I might add—your comment about ‘becoming of a woman’ meaning the same thing as being born is dead on. And, it is even stronger than that in this passage. The Greek actually uses the preposition ‘out of’ for what the English gives as ‘of’. Literally, it reads “born OUT OF a woman”! If that is not an explicit denotation of human, physical birth, I don’t know what is."