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It has been suggested that although old rabbinic literature always mentions dozens of teachers who speak be-shem omro (i.e., "in the name of him who says"), the Apostle Paul does not refer to contemporary (or nearly contemporary) Jewish scholars in a single one of his letters or in any of his sermons recorded in Acts by Luke. The other apostles also eschewed the expression in their writings.

My question, then, rather than being instigated by a particular problematic verse or passage from the Bible, is instigated by the lack of any verses or passages in the apostles' writings which cite influential Jewish scholars, such as Rabbi Hillel The Elder, who lived and taught within a generation or two (possibly three, depending on how one determines a generation) of the apostles, particularly Paul.

Since Paul was schooled at the feet of Gamliel The Elder, the first to be called "Rabban" and the first president of the Great Council in Jerusalem (see Acts 5:34-40), I find it curious he did not quote his mentor. True, Paul quoted and/or alluded to some "secular" writers, but the vast majority of his citations were almost always to the Tanakh or occasionally to the words of Jesus (e.g., Acts 20:35 and 1 Corinthians 11:23--"For I received from the Lord . . .").

While any answer will involve an argument based on silence, I suggest silence can be, perhaps, an important hermeneutical principle, at least macroscopically. In other words, if a writer in any generation eschews in his or her writing a common, virtually ubiquitous locution used by his or her peers/contemporaries, an inquisitive observer just might want to know why. I know I do.

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up vote 12 down vote accepted

To my mind three factors come into play in this question.

(1) The traditional rabbinic citation form is a product of the schools which post-date the fall of the Temple. I think this is the most important. Although "rabbi" is used (e.g.) in the gospels (Matt 23:7-8, John 1:38, etc.), it is not used in the same way as the rabbinical schools and authorities known from the Mishnah onwards.

I quote (briefly! there is more in context) from G. Stemberger (in a work revising that of H. Strack), Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash (T & T Clark / Fortress, 1991), p. 4:

From the modern perspective the year 70 is a [sic] unequivocal turning point in Jewish history. ... The introduction of the title 'Rabbi' (to be distinguished from 'Rabbi' as a form of address meaning 'my lord, my master') suggests such a consciousness of a new era. This is reflected in t.Eduy 3.4 (Z. 460): 'He who has students who in turn have students of their own is called Rabbi'. ...

This chain of authority (and authoritative citation) is not yet in place in Paul's day.

(2) On two occasions Paul is eager to show that he does have an authoritative train of tradition behind him. The first is in explaining proper order for the keeping of the Lord's Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:23:

For I received from (παρέλαβον ἀπὸ) the Lord what I also delivered (παρέδωκα) to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread,...

Here the formula of "reception and delivery" is what corresponds to the citation formula the question is interested in.1 The same pairing crops up a little later in this letter, 1 Corinthians 15:3:

For I delivered (παρέδωκα) to you as of first importance what I also received (παρέλαβον), that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures...

On reflection, it is interesting that both of these occurrences fall within this letter to the church at Corinth.2

(3) We note also in (2) that Paul's source is Jesus. He wasn't interested in other sources, and to cite an authority would run totally against this self-understanding. As Paul boldly states in Galatians 1:12:

For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

Summary - For these three reasons then (chronology, comparator, and Christ, we might say) we don't find Paul using the later rabbinic citation formula.


  1. The lexical form of the words in this pair are παραλαμβάνω (paralambanō,“receive”) and παραδίδωμι (paradidōmi,“deliver”). I don't know whether it's significant that the only other place in the NT that this pair comes together is in John 19:16 -- of Jesus being handed over for crucifixion -- but I doubt it.
  2. Paul spent a long time in Corinth, but it was also a place where, it appears (most apparent in 2 Corinthians) that Paul's own authority was somewhat suspect there:
    • 1 Corinthians chs. 1 and 3 brings the factions in the church aligning behind various leaders to the fore;
    • in 1 Cor 2:1-3, Paul describes his own weak oratory -- not simply a "rhetorical" device, as it finds an echo in 2 Cor 10:1.
    • And, of course, 2 Cor 10-12 has this (Paul's "authority" in Corinth versus his "rivals") as its central focus.
      And it is only in his writing to the Corinthians that Paul uses the formula of "reception and delivery". Possibly not a coincidence, then.
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You were spot on in #3. Well done. – Simply a Christian Jan 16 '14 at 17:33
Thank you for your fine answer! I appreciate it. Don – rhetorician Jan 17 '14 at 15:15
Excellent answer. The issue of rabbinical tradition before 70 has troubled me for some time. – gideon marx Jan 17 '14 at 16:54

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