H. St. J. (Henry St. John) Thackeray.

The relation of St. Paul to contemporary Jewish thought : an essay to which was awarded the Kaye prize for 1899 online

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Scriptures undoubtedly took its rise at Alexandria,
where the same method had already been applied to
the interpretation of the Homeric poems. The object
in each case was to explain obsolete and archaic modes
of thought and expression, and to bring the ancient
writing into line with more modern ideas. In the
case of the O.T., the object of this style of inter-
pretation at Alexandria was primarily apoloi/etic ; the
materialistic language of the law needed to be
spiritualized in order to find acceptance with Greek
readers. It was apparently first applied (e.ff. by
Aristobulus) to those passages where anthropomorphic
expressions were used of God : then to the laws concern-
ing clean and unclean beasts (in the letter of Aristeas) :
and so its use was gradually extended. In the
writings of Philo'T'j reaches its acme. With him all
idea of an historical meaning in the O.T. narrative
is abandoned ; fanciful meanings are extracted from
every detail of Scripture; unmeaning questions are
raised to which unmeaning answers are given ; fixed
conventional symbols are used (Adam = reason. Eve =
the senses, etc.); numbers have a great fascination for
him ; and this whole method of interpretation has
been so systematized that he can speak of 01 t^j
aWriyoplai Kavovei.^ To such an extent was this
allegorizing process carried that the laws of the Old
Testament, such as those relating to circumcision and

■ See Jowett, EpUtlei of St. Paul, vol i., Dissertation on St. Paul
aad Philo ; and Siegfried, Philo eon Aleraiuiria.



the Sabbath, were in danger of falling into neglect.
I'hilo was aware of this tendency, and expressly opposed
it {dc Miyr. Ahr. 16).

In Palestine the use of allegory was far more
restricted. " The verse does not go beyond its simple
literal sense " was one of the recognised rules of
itabbinic interpretation.' However, it is certain that
in the first century the Alexandrian methods had
found their way into Palestine ; among the prominent
Pabbinical allegorists of that time are mentioned
II. Jochanan ben Sakai, li. Akiba, and R. Gamaliel II.
But this style of interpretation was kept witliin bounds,
and several passages of O.T. were specified, as we shall
see, where allegorizing was strictly forbidden. There
is at any rate sufHcient information to show that it is
not necessary to trace the occasional use of allegory in
St. Paul directly to the influence of Alexandria. Its
object in Palestine was not so much apologetic as
practical, to find proofs in the O.T. for customs and
relations of life which were non-existent and not con-
templated at the time of the writing of the law.

lu St. Paul the object of allegorical explanation is to
find an immediate practical lesson for his hearers in the
narrative of the O.T. Tlie Bible is constantly regarded
as a lesson-book for Christians. ' It was not written
for his sake only, but for ours also' (11. 4. 23): 'for
whatsoever things were written before were written
for our learning' (K. 15. 4): tlie events tliat befell
the Israelites in the wilderness were examples to us,
and happened to them by way of example and were

^ Sabhalh 63. Hamburger, R.E. (arts. Alteyorie and Ejcegene), is
the principal authority which has been consulted on Kabbinical
exegesis. See also a good article on Allegory in Hastings' Bible



written for onr admonition (1 C. 10. 6-1 1). Parallels
are traced between the institutions of the old and the
new dispensation ; Christ is our Passover (1 C. 5. 7),
the Israelites had their baptism and their Eucharist
(1 C. 10).

We will briefly consider the principal passages where
this method of interpretation is employed.

(a) In 1 Cor. 9. 9 the quotation 'Thou shalt not
muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn ' (Deut. 25.
4) is followed by the comment m twv ^owv f^iXei rw
0eft), ri St 17/ua? TrdvTWi \eyei ; Si ij/xay yap eypdcprj,
k.tX The O.T. passage is used both here and again
in 1 Tim. 5. 1 8 to prove that God's labourer is worthy
of his hire. The passage in Corinthians is doubly inter-
esting, first because St. Paul here comes nearer than
he does anywhere else to denying the plain meaning
of the O.T., and also because the application of the
allegorical method to this or kindred passages finds
parallels both in Philo and in Rabbinical lore. Philo
in similar language declares that God does not care
about a thing so commonplace as a cloak, and there-
fore directions concerning a cloak in Ex. 22. 27 must
have an allegorical sense; and elsewhere he says that
the law was given for rational beings and not for the
sake of irrational animals.' But, strangely enough, in
his treatise De Caritate^ the passage from Deuteronomy,
along with the other passages in the Pentateuch which
inculcate kindness to animals, is taken in its literal
sense. We learn from Rabbinical writings that the
passages enjoining humanity to animals, 'Thou shalt

'De Somn. i. 16, ih vict. off. I. The passages are quoted on
p. 234.

'§ 19, iyafuu Si Kal iKelvoi' rbv viiiov, St KiSairip in xopv itavapnovUf
avviSiav rait irpmifmt Sia-yopdu Tiovv dXoiSi'TO fiij ^i^oCc.



not kill motlier and young in one day' (Lev. 22. 28),
' Thou shalt not take the dam with the young ' (Deut.
22. 6), ' Thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother's
milk ' (Ex. 2M. 1 9), were among those where the use of
allegorical interpretation was strictly forbidden.^ But
it appears that it was only towards the end of the first
century that a strong reaction set in among the Rabbis
against the use of allegory, owing to the extent to
which it had been carried at Alexandria and also
to the appropriation of the writings and the methods
of Alexandria by the Christians ; and the express pro-
hibition makes it probable that these passages had
been allegorically explained at an earlier date. St. I'aul,
we may therefore presume, is in agreement with the
Rabbinical practice of his time in so explaining the
passage of Deuteronomy. Whether the original sense
of the O.T. is entirely abandoned by St. I'aul depends
on the meaning which is assigned to iravrwi. If we
translate it ' altogether ' with A.V. and R.V., the literal
meaning is apparently given up; but the use of the
word elsewhere in the N.T. certainly favours the
rendering of R.V."'* ' Saith he it, as doubtless he doth,
for our sake ? ', when the literal sense will be subordi-
nated but not rejected.- The passage will then be an
instance of the Rabbinical 'argumentum a minori ad
majus ' (see below).

^Jenit. Berachoth 5, etc., ap. Haniburcer, R.E., art. AUegorie.
Ueiit. 25. 4 is not expresaly mentioned, but must, one presumes,
have been included with the analogous passages.

' riiTut in St. Luke always =' undoubtedly ' (L. 4. 23: A. 18. 21,
21 22 28 4). In St. Paul it is elsewhere ulways jomed with a
negative, meaning ' not at all,' 'certainly not' (R. 3. 9, 1 C. 5. 10,
16 12), except in 1 C. 9. 22, where it = 'at all events, 'by all
means.' There is no support here for the meaning 'altogether,
i.e. for our sakes, ' to the exclusion of all others.'



(6) The section 1 Cor. 10. i-i i is a marked instance
of St. Paul's ' typical ' use of O.T.* The blessings and
the punishments which fell to the lot of the Israelites in
the wilderness are here regarded as types of the privi-
leges and perils of the Christian. Their passage through
the sea and under the cloud are figures of baptism ; the
heaven-sent manna and the water from the rock typify
the Eucharistic meal. Throughout the section those
passages in the O.T. narrative are selected which can
be made to bear directly on the circumstances of the
Corinthian Church. We have discussed elsewhere* in
connexion with its Jewish parallels the most important
phrase, ' the rock whicli followed them, and the rock
was Christ.' It is sufficient here to remark that the
fanciful Rabbinic legend of an itinerant rock is taken up
and spiritualized ; that the identification of the rock
with Christ finds some illustration in Alexandrian
thought : first in Wisdom, where it is (ro(f)ia which
brings water from the rock : and then more clearly
in Philo, who identifies both the manna and the rock
with the Divine \6yoi ; that in view of the early
Rabbinic use of ' the rock ' as a title of the Messiah,
this identification had possibly also been introduced
into Rabbinic circles in St. Paul's time* ; that there

' For Jewish typology see Eisenmenger, Entdecltes Judenthum, ii.
159 f., 264. He quotes from Jr Qibborim, fol. 52, col. 3: "Our
Rabbis of blessed memory have said that the fathers are types
(vorhilder) to their bods, but they have not explained in what things
they were types to their sons ; therefore have we held it right to
expound this of all their circumstances, that they were a type of the
future. Therefore all the accidents (zufalle) of the fathers and the
unfruitfulnesB of the mothers are a type of that which had to be
borne by the Israelites among the nations. "

»p. 205 ff.

'Cf. Justin, Dial. 114 e (quoted by Meyer-Heinrici in loc).


is an unmistakable reference to the pre-existence of
Christ, who is regarded as really guiding the Israelite
host (>/f, not ecTTJc or Tt/Voy vf) ; and lastly, that the
literal truth of the O.T. narrative is not sacrificed for
tlie sake of the lessons to be drawn from it.

(c) IJut the most highly allegorical passage in St.
Paul is the section Gal. 4. 21-31, containing the
allegory of the two sons of Abraham. The bond-
woman Hagar in St. Paul's interpretation stands for
the old covenant given from Sinai ; Sarah, it is implied,
represents the new covenant of grace and freedom.
St. Paul justifies his identification of Hagar with Sinai
by the fact that the Arabian desert, in which Sinai
lies, was the home of Hagar's descendants, or (as some
suppose) by the fact that Sinai was locally spoken of
in the Arabian peninsula as Hadjar, ' the rock.' In the
latter part of the section an illustration of the present
persecutions which Christians undergo from Jews is
drawn from the persecution which according to Jewish
tradition Isaac underwent at the hands of Ishmael.
We have in another chapter ' considered this tradition,
and quoted Jewish illustrations for the emphasis which
was laid on the birth of Isaac, ' the child of promise,'
as something miraculous and supernatural. We will
here briefly touch gn a few other details in this diffi-
cult section.

uTivd €<TTiv aWriyopovfieva (4. 24). This may
be rendered (1) ' which things are spoken in an
allegory,' i.e. the allegorical meaning was intended in
the original writing, or (2) ' which things are capable
of (and do actually receive) an allegorical interpreta-
tion.' The latter is most probably right; and the
> p. 212 ff.



phrase suggests that St. Paul was conscious that the
passage was one which had already received allegorical
treatment. It is, however, doubtful whether the word
aTiva can have the wider sense which Lightfoot gives
to it, ' which class of things,' as though this was one
out of several passages which might be so treated ; see
the use just below in verses 25 and 27 (and in Apoc.
11. 8) of the word jJt/?, which appears to be the
regular rendering of the Hebrew "J, used in defining
the terms of an allegory.

arvv<Trof)(^eiv (verse 25). It is possible, as Light-
foot says, that in using this word " St. Paul is alluding
to some mode of representation common with Jewish
teachers to exhibit this and similar allegories." But
we have not sufficient information on Jewish allegory
to confirm this. The arrangement must have been
something like that of two parallel columns as shown
in Lightfoot: Hagar, Ishmael, old covenant, earthly
Jerusalem standing in one column (a-J(rTot;(a) over
against their opposites (ai/r/o-TOJxa) in the other. The
suggestion that in avaToiyia there is an allusion to
the Eabbinic practice known as Gematria,^ i.e. the
tracing of equalities between the numerical values of
the letters composing different words, has nothing to
recommend it.

Text and meaning of verse 25a. Into this question
the limits of our subject do not require us to make a
searching investigation. No light has at present been
thrown on the verse by Jewish methods of allegorizing.
It is sufficient to say that the principal Mss. read
either (1) to 8e "Ayap 'Eiva opo^ ea-Tiv ev Tfj 'Apa/Sla
(W.-H.), or (2) TO yap ^tva,K.T.\. (Lightfoot) ; and that
' Weber, 121.


the Mss. are strangely divided, (2) having the majority
of MSS. in its favour, while ' transcriptional evidence '
supports the other and harder reading. If (2) is read,
the sentence will either be (a) a mere geographical
note, which would hardly be required by the Galatian
or Jewish readers, and would be out of place in this
highly allegorical passage, or (i) it will afford a justifi-
cation of the parallel between Hagar and Sinai, because
Sinai is in Arabia, and Arabia is the country of the
Hagarenes ; but the ellipse of the second clause in the
argument, which is left for the readers to supply,
makes this explanation improbable. Adopting the
reading (1) there are again two possible explanations,
(a) ' The word Hagar (to "Ayap) means in Arabia
mount Sinai.' St. Paul, according to this interpreta-
tion, is alluding to the Arabic word Hadschar (Chagar),
' a rock,' which during his stay ' in Arabia ' he had
heard applied to the mountain ; the theory is supported
by a rather vague statement of Chrysostom, and another
statement (of doubtful value) of the traveller Harant
in the 16th century to the effect that Sinai was locally
called Agar. Tlie great improbability of this theory,
apart from other reasons on the ground that the initial
letters of the Hebrew and Arabic words are different, is
sufficiently shown by Lightfoot. It is, however, sup-
ported by Meyer and other autliorities. On the whole
the best explanation appears to be that of Dr. Hort, (i)
that opo^ is to be taken with both subject and predicate,
'Mount Agar (cf. 'mount Ephraim,' 'mount Esau,' etc.)
is mount Sinai in Arabia.' The meaning is the same
as that of 2 (6), but it has the advantage of leaving
nothing to be understood. The home of Hagar and
lier descendants is, as you know, Mount Sinai.



h avw 'lepovdoXnn . . . vrii eariv fu'lTip '/M^"
[iravTwv] (verse '26). Here we have a common Kab-
binical phrase, which, however, has lost the material
sense attaching to it in Jewish writings. In them the
heavenly or upper Jerusalem (rh"-0 ?ia D>1BTl\ Weber
404) is the glorified counterpart of the earthly city,
which has existed from eternity with God, and will at
the last descend to earth to take the place of the exist-
ing city. The principal references in the Apocryphal
works are Unoch, 90. 28, 29, where ' the old house' is
described as being folded up and removed, and a new
house greater and larger than the first is set up in its
place; 2 Esdras 7. 26, 9. 3 8-10, the vision of a
woman who is transformed into the heavenly city,
which has existed from eternity, and is built where no
human habitation could exist (10. 54): it is the earthly
Jerusalem which in this book is spoken of as ' Sion
mater nostra omnium' (10. 7) ; 2 Esd. 13. 35, 36. its
appearance on earth ; Apoc. Baruch 3 and 4. In this
last passage ' my mother' is again the title applied to
the earthly city which is to be given up to her enemies.
But Baruch is warned that this is not the city " which
will be revealed, that which was prepared beforehand
here from the time when I took counsel to make
Paradise and showed it to Adam before he sinned," and
which was afterwards shown to Abraham and to Moses
on Sinai, and is now preserved with God.' With St
Paul, as Lightfoot remarks, the term becomes "a
symbol or image, representing that spiritual city of
which the Christian is even now a denizen (Phil. iii.
20)." There is an emphasis on the final ijm""; 'the

> See for further literature Charles' note in he. Cp. esp. Test
XII. Patr. Dan. 5: Heb. 12. 22, Apoc. 3. 12, 21. 2, 10 ff.


mother of us Cliristians is not the earthly Jerusalem,
which the Jews fondly call ' our mother,' but a heavenly
city.and that a verydifferent city to the future Jerusalem
as conceived by the Eabbis.'

Use of Isaiah 54. i . This passage, originally spoken
of the deliverance from captivity, was, as we have seen,'
by Jewish writers associated with 51. 2, ' Look unto
Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you.'
' Sterilitas Abrahae et Sarae figura fuit sterilitatis

Tlie contrast with Philo's allegory of the same O.T.
narrative is drawn out by Lightfoot {Gal. ed. 10. 198-
200). rhilo is entirely unhistorical. Hagar, rightly
interpreted by him (so far as etymology goes) as irapol-
Ktjaii, represents the instruction of the schools, Sarah is
divine wisdom, Abraham is the seeker after knowledge,
who must pass through the preliminary training of the
schools (the union with Hagar) before he is fitted for
initiation into the higher wisdom (the marriage with
Sarah). There can be little doubt that St. Paul is
influenced here solely by Rabbinic methods of allegory,
and is in no way indebted to Alexandrian thought.
It is true that the passage, Is. .54. i, is one of the
very few quotations from that book made by I'hilo,^
but the quotation is made in an entirely different
connexion ; Jiightfoot's assumption that the story of
Hagar and Sarah was present to his mind when he
quoted it hardly appears to be justified.

(d) Another O.T. passage from which an allegorical
meaning is extracted is the story of the veil which
Moses placed over his face as expounded in 2 Cor. 3.
In tiie first place the vanishing of the glory on Moses'
'p. 186. '-/)• Gibboriin, ap. Lightfoot. ' De Juxecral. M. ii. 4,14.




face, which the veil was intended to hide, is explained
as typifying the transitory nature of the law, the
knowledge of which Moses wished to keep back from
the Jews ; then by a fresh figure, the veil is taken to be
significant of the blindness of the Jews at the reading
of the Scriptures, ' it not being revealed that it (the old
covenant) is done away in Christ' (3. 14, RV."*).'

Leaving the consideration of his allegorical inter-
pretation, we may note a few other points in St. Paul's
mode of using the O.T. which admit of illustration from
Jewish sources. These are the running commentary
(R. 10. 5 ff., i6ff., where the opponent's questions are
put and answered, G. 3. loff, E. 4. 8), the addition
of commentary to text as though forming part of the
quotation (1 C. 15. 45 ff.), the stress laid on individual
words (G. 3. 1 6, a-wepfiari). This last habit is common
to Eabbinic and Alexandrian exposition ; it is a more
marked characteristic of the writer of the Epistle to
the Hebrews than of St. Paul. We have touched on
the difficult passage of Galatians elsewhere.*

One other point may be noted, which at first sight
would not be taken to be specially a Jewish trait.
This is St. Paul's frequent use of the The o /ortiort
'argumentum a fortiori.'' Among the "g'lment.
seven rules of Old Testament interpretation which are
ascribed to Hillel, and which were afterwards increased
to thirteen by R. Ismael, the first place was given to
that known as ' Light and heavy ' (n^aim ^p) ; * this

>Cf. p. 75f. 2p. 70f.

^ iro\\(|! /xaXXof usually preceded by a protasis with tl yip or el d4
(R. 5. 9, 10, IS, 17, 2 C. 3. 9, II). Cf. R. U. 12, 24 (irAirv ^O : 2 C.
3. 8 (iruf oilxl /<.): K. 11. 15, 16 {ft yiip. . . tU . . .; ttdi . . . xal) :
1 C. 6. 3 {/JL-^Tiyf PiuTiKd).

* Weber, 110 f.


rule sanctioned the use of anjumenta a minori ad
majns in interpreting the O.T. That which holds good
of the less holds good also of the greater, and vice versd.
As instances of the application of this rule we may
quote the following : ' Silence is beautiful for the
wise — much more then for the fool ' ; the duty of
praying before meat is deduced from the command to
pray after meat (Deut. 8. lo). The form of words
used is often the same as in St. Paul, ' but if . . .
how much more ' ("'JaDT "'taa nns by • • • Bi* !T3). It
seems most likely that the constant use of this form
of argument by St. Paul, not necessarily in arguing
from the O.T., is a trace of the primary Rabbinic rule
of Scriptural interpretation current in his day.

We have seen then that in his use of the O.T.
St. Paul was thoroughly a child of his time. In his
mode of quotation, his neglect of the original context,
his Messianic interpretation of passages which originally
had no Messianic reference, and his occasional resort
to one of the two opposite forms to which Jewish
exegesis inclined — the straining of the letter {(rirepnari,
G. 3. 1 6) or the highly allegorical exposition — in all
these the influence of the Eabbinic schools is un-
mistakable. In what, then, it may be asked, lay the
superiority of St. I'aul to tiie Rabbis ? The answer is,
in his -spiritual insight into the general meaning of the
O.T. Tiie allegory, the scripture-proof, the forced
argument, these do not constitute the greatness of the
Apostle. His superiority lies rather in his grasping
the correct spirit of the O.T., and in particular of
those Hebrew prophets to whom he felt himself akin.
" Allegorical and incorrect exegesis could never create
an idea. They only illustrate one which has been




suggested in other wtiys." * He is not to be judged
by incorrect interpretation of individual passages. He
believed that there was a mystical meaning in the
O.T., and we cannot doubt that he was divinely guided
to grasp that meaning. ' The letter killeth, but the
spirit giveth life ' " was his guiding principle in
interpreting the O.T. Christianity, he says, has its
mysterious wisdom which is revealed to believers by
the Spirit, ' but the natural man receiveth not the
things of the Spirit of God ... for they are spiritually
discerned . . . but we have the mind of Christ,' ' or
as he says in more humble language elsewhere, ' I
think that I too have the Spirit of God.'^ But the
arguments by which he tried to convince his opponents
of the true meaning of the O.T. as pointing forward to
Christ, are those which they would themselves have
employed for another purpose ; and to some extent we
need not doubt that they were selected for that very
reason. They were the arguments which were best
calculated to appeal to them. Still, though the
position taken up by his adversaries must never be
lost sight of in considering the reasoning of the
Apostle, the explanation that he is using their
weapons is not sufficient by itself to account for
his manner of exegesis, and does not invalidate the
undoubted and perfectly natural fact, which calls for
no further explanation, that his modes of interpreta-
tion and argument were coloured and limited by the
ideas of his time and country.'

' S.-H. 306. ''2 C. 3. 6. » 1 C. 2. 6-16. M C. 7. 40.

' See farther, VoUmer, AlUeiit. Citate, 57 ff., 77 ; Toy, Quolaliorui in
the N. T. , Preface ; Lightf uot, Oal. 200, and especially S. -H. , Somam,



In some few pjissages St. Paul for purposes of illustra-
tion has recourse to Jewish legends with regard to
persons and events in Old Testament history. Eab-
binic commentaries on the O.T., as is well known,
take one of two forms ; one class is known as
Halachah, and consists of casuistical discussions as to
the meaning and application of minute points of the
Mosaic law and ritual, the other is known as Hag-
gadah, and consists of the embellishment of the plain
historical narrative by legendary accretions. It is
with the latter class of commentary with which we
are here concerned. Its influence in the N.T. is seen
especially in St. Stephen's speech in Acts vii. ; there is
also probably an allusion to the legendary method of
Isaiah's death in Heb. 11. 37 (eirpla-Otjcrav), and there
is the allusion to the dispute concerning the body of
Moses in Jude 9 (where the writer is probably using
the Assumption of Moses). We will here consider three
of the undoubted instances of the use of such legendary
matter in St. Paul.

Foremost among these is the passage in 1 Cor. 10,



where the Apostle in discussing the question of the

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Online LibraryH. St. J. (Henry St. John) ThackerayThe relation of St. Paul to contemporary Jewish thought : an essay to which was awarded the Kaye prize for 1899 → online text (page 15 of 20)