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Gal 1:15

But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased

Is there anything in the literal or idiom Greek that would support a literal, preselected date? As opposed to the human hindsight viewpoint: "it happened on this date, so that must have been what God wanted"?

(Edited 2/4/21) My apologies for not being clear enough. The working phrase I am asking about is "when God was pleased". I'm aware there is a parenthetical phrase that splits this.

It strikes me as Paul is referring to the date of the events in Acts 9:3-5, when the light shone from Heaven and the Voice spoke.

To a mind steeped in current American English, "when God was pleased" could sound like "on the day God had previously determined" or "on the day God was happy with". This could indicate that, as God had predetermined a path for Paul ("from my mother's womb"), this particular date was likewise pre-planned.

Is that thought supported from the original language?

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Paul is recounting his own experience. His narrative is that which he, himself, can testify of, since he, himself, experienced it.

... οτε δε ευδοκησεν ο θεος ... αποκαλυψαι τον υιον αυτου εν εμοι [Gal 1:15...16 TR]

... and when God was well pleased ... to reveal His Son in me [YLT]

The revelation was within himself. He experienced it. Only he knew of it. It was 'in' him.

Paul simply states the fact of what happened to him and he states that this happened because it was pleasing to God to cause it to happen.

Paul can categorically state when this happened. And since he was not the instigator of this (it is a matter of 'revelation' not study, not works, not effort) he knows - for a certainty - that this came from God and it came because God determined it to be so.

God is active : Paul is passive.

God determines : Paul receives.

There was an immediate and astounding revelation that left Paul blinded for several days. There was also further, progressive, revelation as can plainly be seen in Paul's epistles wherein even the chief Apostle, Peter, has to admit that 'there are certain things hard to be understood'.

Paul himself testifies that upon meeting the apostles 'in conference, they added nothing to me' for he, himself, had received revelation at least equivalent to them and more so.

And of all of this Paul testifies 'I received of the Lord that which I delivered unto you' and of the gospel itself, Paul witnesses 'I neither received it of men, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ'.

The only possible conclusion from all the evidence available to us (and there is an abundance of that) is that God determined where, and how, and when, Paul would be granted revelation, both immediately as an initial experience and then consecutively in a progressive manner following on from that immediate and startling encounter.

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I'm going to suggest that what Paul is doing is weaving the "call" of Jeremiah into his own "call" for his intended Jewish audience in Galatia.

Jeremiah 1:5 says:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as a prophet to the nations (לַגּוֹיִ֖ם - the Gentiles).”

Galatians 1:15-16:

But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles,

Paul is reinforcing to his Jewish audience that his call is just like Jeremiah's call. That Paul is not taking this mantel upon himself but has been called by God. Paul, like Jeremiah, is a prophet to the gentiles.

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  • Up-voted +1. Very relevant point from Jeremiah. – Nigel J Feb 4 at 7:57
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Gal 1:15

But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased

All 3 verbs are in the aorist tense.

Is there anything in the literal or idiom Greek that would support a literal, preselected yy/mm/dd date?

No.

Let's look at the context.

13 For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. 15But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased 16to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. 17I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus. 18Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days.

Nothing mentions a specific date. Everything happens as event-driven, not date-driven. Moreover, the special event, the revelation of God's son in Paul, was a process. It didn't happen and finish in a single day. He went to Arabia and disappeared for 3 years.

“When it pleased God” was a time set by God known only by him. In this sense, the time was preselected by God. However, the Greek verses here do not support the reading of a specific date.

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Gal 1:15 cannot be quoted alone because it cuts Paul's sentence of half-way through. I little more says this:

Gal 1:15-17 - But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not rush to consult with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to the apostles who came before me, but I went into Arabia and later returned to Damascus.

Here Paul sets out three simple facts:

  • God had selected Paul for a special task from before birth, "the womb"
  • God revealed to Paul "His Son" [we have a record of this in Acts 9:3-6 - see appendix below]
  • Paul then went to Arabia for a while, presumably to sort out his thinking and pray.

All that we can say about actual dates is:

  • Paul's formal calling on the road to Damascus was a few short years after Jesus' resurrection somewhere about 33 - 35 AD
  • Paul's age at this point is unknown so we do not know when God decided to set him apart. So nothing can be said about his "setting apart".

On the last point, the Greek is simply, ἐκ κοιλίας which could be either during pregnancy or at birth. Ellicott summarizes this phrase:

From my mother’s womb.—A comparison of other passages where this phrase is used seems to make it clear that the sense is rather “from the moment of my birth” than “from before my birth.” (See Psalm 22:10; Isaiah 49:1; Isaiah 49:5; Matthew 19:12; Acts 3:2; Acts 14:8.) From the moment that he became a living and conscious human being he was marked out in the purpose of God for his future mission.

Meyer has something similar:

Galatians 1:15. But when it pleased, etc. Comp. Luke 12:32; 1 Corinthians 1:21; Romans 15:26; Colossians 1:19; 1 Thessalonians 2:8; 1 Thessalonians 3:1. It denotes, of course, the free placuit of the divine decree, but is here conceived as an act in time, which is immediately followed by the execution of it, not as from eternity (Beza).

ὁ ἀφορίσας με ἐκ κοιλίας μητρός μου] who separated me, that is, in His counsel set me apart from other men for a special destination, from my mother’s womb; that is, not in the womb (Wieseler); nor, from the time when I was in the womb (Hofmann, comp. Möller); nor, ere I was born (Rückert); but, as soon as I had issued from the womb, from my birth. Comp. Psalm 22:11; Isaiah 44:2; Isaiah 49:1; Isaiah 49:5; Matthew 19:12; Acts 3:2; Acts 14:8 (in Luke 1:15, where ἔτι is added, the thought is different). ἐκ γενετῆς, John 9:1, has the same meaning. Comp. the Greek ἐκ γαστρός, and the like. We must not assume a reference to Jeremiah 1:5

APPENDIX - Paul Revelation about Jesus, Acts 9:3-6

3 As Saul drew near to Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?”

5 “Who are You, Lord?” Saul asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” He replied. 6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

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