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On the premise that Galatians was written after Paul's first missionary journey, when he visited the lower region of the province of Galatia (Acts 14), but before the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15):

To what "prior writing" (proegraphē) was Paul referring in Galatians 3:1 which speaks of Christ as crucified?

You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed (proegraphē) as crucified? (Galatians 3:1 NASB95)

English Bibles consistently translate proegraphē as "publicly portrayed" in Galatians 3:1, but this is inconsistent with how the various forms of prographō are translated in the rest of the New Testament, although some may take Jude 4 as referring to a figurative prior writing. Further, the instances of this word which I've assessed in the LXX and in Greco-Roman writings can all be understood as referring to something which is previously written, painted, etc., including those instances where something is "set forth as a public notice," per the LSJ lexicon. Although, admittedly, some instances are ambiguous. [If you are aware of an instance where the word definitely does not refer to something which was previously written, then please let me know! I address a number of Greco-Roman uses of the word in my book: https://atrustworthygospel.com/the-book-is-now-available/]

Note: the stated premise about the timing of the letter to the Galatians is asserted by Bruce, Lonenecker, and Schreiner. I can provide proper footnotes, if desired.

4/21/24 Update: I remain interested in any proposed "prior writings" to which Galatians 3:1 might be referring.

I recognize that BDAG has classified this instance of proegraphē under the "to set forth as a public notice" bucket, despite Paul using prographō forms elsewhere to refer to prior documents, whether his own or the OT. I recognize that many commentators are quite happy to treat this instance in a metaphorical or figurative "public notice" sense as referring to Paul's oral presentation, despite there being no other Greco-Roman examples per my research where the term refers to a strictly oral presentation. I recognize that some commentators float the idea that Paul may be referring to the placard affixed above Jesus on the cross, without explaining how this placard was put before the eyes of the Galatians and how the placard itself presents Christ as crucified.

Nevertheless, on the premise that we should first try and translate NT words according to their more common usages and consistent with how an author uses the word elsewhere, unless context requires otherwise, I want to pursue the question as originally asked. The only "prior writing" that I can envision Paul as possibly sharing with the Galatians is something akin to an early Gospel. Are there other "prior writing" options, such as something in the OT?

Thanks.

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    Can this not be a metaphor relating to Paul's verbal preaching, which would have been "graphic" in the metaphorical sense. Commented Apr 19 at 11:03
  • @Stephen Disraeli. Sure it can be, as most any word in the dictionary can be. And that is indeed how it is generally treated in English translations. However, is there anything in the text to suggest that it should be treated as metaphorical? Seems like we should first approach most texts (other than poetry!) with the assumption that a non-metaphorical usage is in view, before imposing something else.
    – Dan Moore
    Commented Apr 19 at 12:56

2 Answers 2

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The operative verb here (as correctly listed by the OP) is προγράφω (prographó) whose meaning is given by BDAG as:

  1. to write in advance or before, write before(hand)
  • (a) in the same document in which the word is found, eg, Eph 3:3.
  • (b) what is written before is found in an older document (by another author as well), eg, Rom 15:4, Jude 4.
  1. to set forth for public notice, show forth/portray publicly, proclaim or placard in public, Gal 3:1.

As usual, BDAG's definitions are based solidly on the voluminous Koine Greek literature of the first century; evidence for these meanings is listed in each word entry - see BDAG for details and its sources in such literature under the entry προγράφω.

Thus, the translation of προγράφω (prographó) as "publicly portrayed", or better, "placarded publicly" (and hence written beforehand!) is entirely consistent with the range of meaning of this verb. Paul may also be hinting here of the placard ("titulus") affixed above Jesus on the cross saying, "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews".

The Cambridge Commentary offers this:

Paul represents his previous preaching of Christ as crucified to the Galatians figuratively as a writing, which he had previously written (προεγράφη) in their hearts (ἐν ὑμῖν). Comp. 2 Corinthians 3:2 f. In this view κατʼ ὀφθαλμούς is that trait of the figure, by which the personal oral instruction is characterized: Paul formerly wrote Christ before their eyes in their hearts, when he stood before them and preached the word of the cross, which through his preaching impressed itself on their hearts. By his vivid illustration he recalls the fact to his readers, who had just been so misled by a preaching altogether different (Galatians 1:6).

Ellicott is for forceful:

Evidently set forth.—This hardly brings out the full force of the metaphor, which is that of a picture or writing conspicuously and publicly exhibited.

MacLaren is similar:

Jesus Christ crucified has been conspicuously set forth before you,’ he says to these Galatians. Now, he is referring, of course, to his own work of preaching the Gospel to them at the beginning. And the vivid metaphor suggests very strikingly two things. We see in it the Apostle’s notion of what He had to do. His had been a very humble office, simply to hang up a proclamation. The one virtue of a proclamation is that it should be brief and plain. It must be authoritative, it must be urgent, it must be ‘writ large,’ it must be easily intelligible. And he that makes it public has nothing to do except to fasten it up, and make sure that it is legible. If I might venture into modern phraseology, what Paul means is that he was neither more nor less than a bill-sticker, that he went out with the placards and fastened them up.

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  • First, on what basis should we defer to option 2 in BDAG, rather than to option 1, which Paul uses in his other writings? Typically, one should be biased towards expecting a given author, writing a comparable piece of literature, to use similar meanings for words unless the context suggests otherwise. Hence, there needs to be a suitable reason for the reader to assume a different meaning for προγράφω than what Paul uses when he refers to something previously written by himself (Eph. 3:3) or in the Scriptures (Rom. 15:4).
    – Dan Moore
    Commented Apr 19 at 13:10
  • But further, each of the "public notice" examples that I've investigated refers to something which is indeed written. The titulus approach might make sense if Paul was talking to those "before whose eyes" the titulus had actually been seen, but that doesn't seem likely with most of those over in Galatia. And the titulus itself seems an odd referent for that which was put before their eyes, even if they had seen it on the cross, as wouldn't Paul instead refer to the crucifixion itself?
    – Dan Moore
    Commented Apr 19 at 13:17
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Perhaps it would be helpful to review some of the examples listed in BDAG under the "public notice" option to demonstrate that these involve something which is indeed "previously written," drawn, painted, etc. That is, it is not used in a metaphorical sense.

Josephus, Against Apion 2.252 -

(252) The painters also, and statuaries of Greece, had herein great power, as each of them could contrive a shape [proper for a god]; the one to be formed out of clay, and the other by making a bare picture of such a one; but those workmen that were principally admired, had the use of ivory and of gold as the constant materials for their new statues1

Plutarch, Demetrius 46.5 (which BDAG lists as 46.10) -

But nevertheless they would have their pleasantries; and one of them wrote up in front of the tent of Demetrius the opening words of the ‘Oedipus,’ slightly changed:—2

Plutarch, Moralia 408e (which BDAG lists as 408d) -

if the opinion which he holds about the god is such that he can accept and admire the maxims of of the Wise Men inscribed (progegrammena) here, ‘Know thyself’ and ‘Avoid extremes3

Again, the common treatment of prographō in Galatians 3:1 as metaphorical is apparently without precedent, per biblical or Greco-Roman literature [prove me wrong with a passage which is unambiguous!]. Hence, I contend that we need to try harder to find a non-metaphorical approach for translating this passage. Perhaps a more appropriate translation might be

O foolish Galatians! … What was previously written concerning Jesus Christ’s crucifixion was presented before your eyes.4

And what might this be referring to? This appears to refer to something like a Gospel, such as Matthew. Therefore, I offer the following as "my answer" to the question, unless someone can come up with some OT options.

And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him. (Matthew 27:30–31 ESV)

1Flavius Josephus, The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged, trans. William Whiston (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987), 809.

2Plutarch, Plutarch’s Lives, trans. Bernadotte Perrin (Medford, MA: Harvard University Press, 1920).

3Plutarch, Plutarch’s Moralia, trans. Frank Cole Babbitt (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1969).

4Daniel Moore and Phil Fernandes, A Trustworthy Gospel: Arguments for an Early Date for Matthew’s Gospel (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock, 2024), 60.

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