Craig Keener on Galatians 4:15

Craig S. Keener, “Three Notes on Figurative Language: Inverted Guilt in Acts 7.55-60, Paul’s Figurative Vote in Acts 26.10, Figurative Eyes in Galatians 4.15.” Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism. 5 (2008): 42-50.

I see that previous years of JGRChJ have been published by Sheffield Phoenix Press and are no longer available online so get it while you can!

In this article Keener provides short notes on these three passages (Acts 7:55-60; 26:20; Gal 4:15) in light of the tendency of rhetoricians to turn their accusers accusations against them. Galatians 4:15 states “What has happened to your sense of blessedness? I testify that if it were possible, you would have removed your eyes and given them to me.” Some scholars have argued from this (and “what large letters I write”; 6:11) that Paul had bad eyesight. Keener here argues that he is actually using a figure of speech. It is not meant as a literal reaction to meet his need but a hyperbolic expression meant to convey their devotion to him. Keener provides a number of parallels from Greek literature and one from Sifre Deutoronomy 131.1.4.

The note on Galatians is fairly short and stands or falls on the context of 4:13-15. Many scholars have seen v15 in relation to his reason for traveling to Galatia. Hence Keener says:

Because Paul has just remarked that a physical infirmity provided the occasion for that visit (Gal. 4.13-14), it might seem natural to infer that Paul’s ailment involved his eyes. But the offer of their eyes would express their sentiment whether or not related to the occasion for his visit, and it is questionable why an eye ailment would have provided the primary occasion for his preaching to them.

Keener’s conclusion thus stands on his approach to this question. He weighs the probabilities and concludes. “Paul is probably merely employing a familiar hyperbolic figure for an expression of sacrificial devotion.” As mentioned he provides some contemporary support, although Catullus (84-54 BC) and Petronius (27-60 AD) are Latin poets. On the whole, his conclusion is based more on speculation than hard fact and need not be seen as conclusive. Keener could be right but more evidence, specifically evidence regarding the use of plucking out one’s eyes as a gesture of devotion, needs to be gathered.

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