Mistranslated verse in St Paul actually seems to condemn abortionists

Discussion in 'Sacred Scripture' started by anglican74, Jun 26, 2022.

  1. anglican74

    anglican74 Well-Known Member Anglican

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    I found this thread, can anyone confirm or deny who has a better knowledge of Greek?

    —-

    https://twitter.com/brendan_w_case/status/1541117085425827841

    Apropos of nothing, Paul's condemnation of "sorcery (φαρμακεία)" in Gal. 5:20 is very likely aimed at least in part at abortion. The word is typically translated "sorcery" or "witchcraft," and with some justification, but its root meaning -- which survives etymologically in English "pharmacy" -- is "the administration of drugs" (LSJ ad loc.), whether as purgatives or as poisons (cf., e.g., Plato's Laws 933b), the latter frequently dealt by vendors of curses and charms (i.e., "sorcerers"). But one of the most common uses of "φαρμακεία" in the pejorative sense was to procure abortions (cf. Soranus of Ephesus's, *On Gynecology* 1.59), which is surely why the Didachē (ca. 50-150 AD) closely links them: "You will not poison (φαρμακεύσεις), you will not kill a child by abortion (οὐ φονεύσεις τ́κνον ἐν φθορᾷ)" (2.2).
     
  2. Invictus

    Invictus Well-Known Member

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    No, it does no such thing. The word pharmakeia (from which we derive the word “pharmacy”) is used in other books of the NT and simply means “magic”, “witchcraft”, or “sorcery”, and does not always imply the use of drugs. The word occurs in multiple places in the LXX and traces its usage all the way back to Plato. I checked the Hermeneia, Intl Critical Commentary, New Intl Greek Testament, and Expositor’s Bible Commentaries (which cover the full range from very liberal to very conservative): they all said the same thing, viz., that it is a reference to witchcraft, which was a crime in the Roman Empire. None of them indicated any connection between the use of the word and abortions. Furthermore, the passage in Galatians is a “vice list”, which have their own complicated history of interpretation by scholars of Paul specifically and the NT in general. Neither the NT nor the OT specifically mentions abortion. However, the writings of some of the early Church Fathers do mention it.

    You do realize you can research this stuff yourself before posting potentially misleading information, right? Please learn to vet this stuff properly before posting it.
     
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  3. anglican74

    anglican74 Well-Known Member Anglican

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    What about the two references cited where the “pharmakeia” does seem to directly mean to the “sorcery” of those who sell abortifacient potions?

    I don’t deny that the word “witchcraft” had wider usage, I’m only asking if a part of witchcraft were the abortifacient potions, AND, if there was a tradition of Christian interpretation which zeroed in on abortion as the key aspect of ancient witchcraft (as the Didache seems to do)
     
  4. Invictus

    Invictus Well-Known Member

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    Words have different meanings in different contexts, and both the meanings and the contexts change over time as well as from place to place. Just because it was used one way in 2nd century Alexandria doesn’t mean it was used the same way in 1st century Antioch. The commentaries I cited were written by some of the best NT Greek scholars alive today. You are welcome to consult them.

    Although Paul does not mention abortion in his letters, we do know enough of his background to infer what he likely thought of it. First of all, Paul was trained in the “school of the Pharisees” - not a literal “school”, but rather a loose association of likeminded teachers who revered a common system of interpretation. The Pharisees were the forerunners of the Rabbis, whose thought and practice became what we now know as Orthodox Judaism, and whose sayings were collected in the Talmud. As such Paul would have known that Jewish Law does not consider the fetus to be a person, but a potential person. Personhood begins at birth in Jewish Law. However, precisely because the fetus is a potential person, Jewish Law forbids abortion in most cases (though does not consider it murder), except when the life of the mother is threatened, in which case abortion is mandatory. In his discussion of such cases, the medieval Jewish scholar Maimonides describes the intact dilation and extraction method (what some colloquially call “partial birth abortion”), as the most effective method. Maimonides was also a doctor and could speak authoritatively on such matters as they were practiced at the time. Again, Jewish Law only requires abortion when the mother’s life is threatened. Now, abortion was absolutely rampant in the Roman Empire, so much so that sewers in the major cities would have to be periodically unclogged due to the sheer number of aborted fetuses that were disposed of using the sewer system. It is virtually certain that Paul regarded the practice (other than the exception allowed by Jewish Law) and the pagan culture that enabled it with disgust and contempt. I hope it is clear that I do not have some alternative agenda in denying that “witchcraft” in the NT actually means “abortion”. I think we can know with reasonable certainty what Paul thought about it, whether he directly spoke of it or not. It is the view contained in Jewish Law that I have defended in this and in other threads on this Forum, simply because I believe it is the correct view and all other attempts at interpretation are wrong. Judaism had direct access to its Sacred Text in the original language, uninterruptedly. And since following all the commands correctly was perceived as a matter of communal life or death, we can say with certainty that no group has studied these texts more thoroughly, and in their original language, than they have. I think we should listen to them. Christians on the other hand were dependent on Latin, Greek, and Slavonic translations, and read them within a cultural context that precluded most social and intellectual contact with educated Jews. That’s why something like the New Perspective on Paul could not have happened prior to the 20th century.
     
    Last edited: Jun 26, 2022
  5. anglican74

    anglican74 Well-Known Member Anglican

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    Did you just say that we should use 10th century evidence in lieu of 2nd century evidence?...

    Do you have evidence from 1-2nd centuries to back up your points?
     
  6. Invictus

    Invictus Well-Known Member

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    Not at all. (Maimonides was 12th century, not 10th century, BTW.) I just thought it might be illuminating to give a historical example of the legitimate use of what has become a controversial practice. Anti-abortion activists seem to imagine these things in the ugliest way possible and don't stop to consider why and how such methods were invented in the first place, and that they have had a legitimate life-saving use. Nobody said it was pleasant, but that doesn't mean it can never be necessary.

    My points about Jewish Law stand without the reference to Maimonides, though I would not simply discount Maimonides, either.
    None whatsoever, because I was simply giving a hypothetical example. Pick any city and time period you like and the point still stands. It's hardly controversial that languages change over time, and from place to place. The ancient Mediterranean world was no different in that regard. You also have to consider the age of the manuscripts and not just the date the author penned the original. I'm not saying this happened in the late 1st/early 2nd century source you cited, but one always has to consider the possibility of interpolations in the text that reflect later Christian use, since it was largely Christians that were copying these texts. Again, I'm not saying that happened in that instance, but that is one of the things that scholars of the period have to take into account and make determinations about. The oldest manuscript might have been copied 500 years after the author wrote the original. It would be interesting to research if further.

    The various commentaries I've already cited don't even mention the "abortion" interpretation as a possibility. Rendering the word as "witchcraft" or "sorcery" is not controversial. That ought to tell you something. That's a strong sign that you're probably "barking up the wrong tree." But if you want to review their arguments, they are easily found in their respective discussion of Galatians 5:20 in each instance. I'm not going to copy and paste them here. You might even try looking up where the scholars who wrote the commentaries teach and sending them an email about it. I'm sure their answers would be far more illuminating than my own. There's a reason people spend years in university training to learn this stuff. Acquiring the competence to fluently read and compare 5th century BCE classical Greek to 1st century CE Koine Greek and everything in between is no small task. I don't claim to be an expert in these things and that's why I rely on those who are.
     
    Last edited: Jun 27, 2022
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  7. anglican74

    anglican74 Well-Known Member Anglican

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    And I am fine if you think that this could be interpolated... But at least the text as we have it does seem to say it, no?

    It does seem to be interesting that the *only* 1st-2nd century mentions of pharmakeia outside of the Bible (perhaps there are more out there?) do make this heavy linkage between the word, and the use of potions that procure abortion... And we know the early Christian practice of completely rejecting abortion in contrast to the culture around them

    So we know the Apostolic early Christian mindset on this topic, and we have the roughly contemporary equation of pharmakeia with abortifacients, condemning it... And then the mysterious word pops up in St. Paul and he condemns it in the strongest words possible.... The case seems intriguing to say the least, but other usages of the word during this time period can certainly disprove the hypothesis
     
  8. Invictus

    Invictus Well-Known Member

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    I was referring to its use in the late 1st century physician you cited in your OP. Pharmakeia is commonly used in the LXX to refer to sorcery and magic, and there is no controversy regarding its identical use in the NT or its translation in English Bibles. The Galatians passage is not referring to abortions.

    We need to be very careful when engaging in speculation here. There is no biblical prohibition of abortion. Those that developed later in Jewish Law solidified around the propositions that the fetus is a potential person and thus worthy of protection, but that the mother’s life takes precedence. So abortion is actually mandatory in the event that the mother’s life is threatened. Now, we know very little about Jewish Christians after the 1st century, other than that they existed, they were bi-ritual, and were Torah-observant in some sense that may or may not have satisfied later halakhic standards. The history is murky and fragmented. Because Jews tended to live in their own communities and separated themselves as much as possible from their Gentile surroundings, it’s reasonable to suppose that different attitudes on the subject evolved between the Jewish Christian communities on the one hand, and the cosmopolitan Gentile Christians on the other, the latter of whom would have had to struggle harder to define and distinguish themselves from other Gentiles without the aid of Jewish observances. The Gentile Christians were not circumcised, and they ate the same food as their pagan neighbors. Opposition to their cultural excesses would have been a core part of their identity. This would not have been the experience of Jewish Christian rural communities in Palestine. Over time, because the Gentile church read the OT as typology, and not in the original language, ecclesiastical interpretations of the OT became almost completely decontextualized, and then took on a life of their own in an intellectual vacuum, until the Renaissance revived the discipline of reading the text in the original language and removed some of the barriers that had prevented this from happening. Meanwhile, Jewish communities had never stopped reading and studying the OT in Hebrew, and had nothing to gain by interpreting it in a way that would displease the Christians.
     
    Last edited: Jun 27, 2022
  9. anglican74

    anglican74 Well-Known Member Anglican

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    That is what we are trying to figure out... I don't want to load the scales with a prejudice before examining all the evidence, for example we know that Christians from the earliest were staunch anti-abortionists, and you may say they did this without being taught to do this from the Bible, but someone else may make the exact opposite case.... So in short we know what the Christian position from the earliest moment has been, and now it is a question of where they learned that from

    Why do you keep again and again injecting medieval jewish theology as somehow relevant here? Come on
     
  10. Invictus

    Invictus Well-Known Member

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    I have not committed any anachronism. I was merely attempting to outline a speculative, hypothetical scenario that would explain how Judaism and Christianity arrived at somewhat different attitudes toward abortion, despite having a common starting point, viz., the lack of a biblical prohibition.

    Exodus 21:22-25 treats a miscarriage that results from an injury as a tort rather than a crime. Numbers 5:11-28 prescribes attempting abortion as a trial-by-ordeal in the case of suspected adultery. Nowhere in the Torah is the killing of a fetus listed as a crime (and certainly not as meriting capital punishment, as murder does). So, on the conception-personhood hypothesis, either God commands murder, contrary to his own law, in Numbers 5, or he fails to prescribe capital punishment for murder, or exile to a city of refuge for negligent homicide, in Exodus 21. God is perfectly just, therefore the conception-personhood hypothesis is not supported by the biblical data. Obviously, what is ultimately born is a person, so that leaves us with (1) birth-personhood, (2) a presumption in favor of preserving life in a maximal sense, and (3) priority given to the mother (when maximal preservation of life isn't possible). This is perfectly logical, and just happens to be the way Jewish Law developed from Point A (the biblical text itself) to Point B (the crystallization in the 4th-6th centuries of the oral tradition from the 1st century BCE to 3rd century CE).​

    We are ultimately talking about modern Christian attitudes, so of course the medieval development for both Jews and Christians is relevant. It is not legitimate to automatically read 2nd century attitudes into 1st century authors. I have already said that it is highly unlikely that Paul approved of the pagan world's practice of abortion, but Paul was also Jewish and no doubt aware of the issues I've highlighted above. He was, furthermore, trained in the specific pattern of interpretation that later crystallized into Rabbinic Judaism. One of the most revered figures of this tradition is R. Gamaliel, whom the book of Acts records Paul claiming as one of his teachers. Paul is also one of the best historical sources we have for 1st century Judaism. I don't think we can know with certainty exactly what Paul thought on every subject, but it is perfectly reasonable to suppose that it bears some resemblance and relationship to both the Christianity and the Judaism that followed him. :dunno:
     
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  11. anglican74

    anglican74 Well-Known Member Anglican

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    Okay I’ll take that
    Do we have some evidence on Jewish rabbinical views on this topic, in 1-3 centuries AD? Not Maimonides please.. someone roughly in the first centuries AD
     
  12. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    With respect, that sounded a bit harsh to me. After all, @anglican74 was posing a question (asking for more info from those who know more).
     
  13. Invictus

    Invictus Well-Known Member

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    It was not my intention to be harsh. But he starts new posts here again and again that either contain debunked conspiracy theories (e.g., climate change), false/misleading reports (e.g., conversion therapy in the UK), or, in this case, an unsubstantiated claim that a verse has been mistranslated in every English Bible. The title of the post is not worded as a question, but as a declarative statement. I then proceeded to answer him, after reading through four different commentaries on Galatians that might shed light on the issue, and his response has been to argue with me about it ever since, instead of interacting with what I cited. I put this type of thing in the same category as what you rightly objected to in the "Holy Spirit" thread. There are such things as facts, and we all have a moral and ethical obligation to make sure we are not spreading false information, regardless of what our individual opinions may be. In this day and age, it is easier than it ever has been before to fact-check something before posting it, and that's all I was asking that he do. I double-check things before I post them, and have no problem admitting it if I've committed a factual error. I don't think that's too much to ask.
     
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  14. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    I'm no Greek scholar, but the concordance says the the word springs "From G5332; medication (“pharmacy”), that is, (by extension) magic (literal or figurative): - sorcery, witchcraft."

    Clarke's Commentary says this:
    Witchcraft - Φαρμακεια, from φαρμακον a drug or poison; because in all spells and enchantments, whether true or false, drugs were employed. As a drug, φαρμακον, might either be the means of removing an evil, or inflicting one, etymologists have derived it from φερον ακος, bringing ease, or φερον αχος, bringing pain. So spells and incantations were used sometimes for the restoration of the health; at others, for the destruction of an enemy. Sometimes, these φαρμακα were used to procure love; at other times, to produce hatred.
    Similarly, Barnes' Commentary says:
    The word which is used here (φαρμακεία pharmakeia, whence our word “pharmacy,” from φάρμακον pharmakon, a medicine, poison, magic potion) means, properly, the preparing and giving of medicine. Then it means also poisoning, and also magic art, or enchantment; because in savage nations pharmacy or medicine consisted much in magical incantations. Thence it means sorcery or enchantment, and it is so used uniformly in the New Testament. It is used only in Gal_5:20; Rev_9:21; Rev_18:23; Rev_21:8. Some have supposed that it means poisoning here, a crime often practiced; but the more correct interpretation is, to refer it to the black art, or to pretensions to witchcraft, and the numerous delusions which have grown out of it, as a striking illustration of the corrupt and depraved nature of man.​

    Although this link between 'drugs' and 'sorcery' has been noted by certain Bible scholars in past centuries, what is missing is any specific link between the word used in Gal. 5:20 and abortions. The idea that Gal. 5:20 was meant to speak to the abortion issue seems to be a modern innovation.
     
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  15. anglican74

    anglican74 Well-Known Member Anglican

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    Thank you for a contribution to the discussion @Rexlion

    Right, the link is not there, the link is in the Didache which explicitly seems to equate pharmakoia with abortifacient drugs

    Since we don't know the sense in which St. Paul used it, it is at least intriguing that he could've operated in the same thought world as the authors of the Didache

    But yeah if Invictus can show 1st century Jews using pharmakoia or equivalent words in a different sense, then we can't say for sure which sense St. Paul would have meant it in

    @Invictus You know, no one is forcing you to respond.... You make it sound as if some topics are off the table, and you'll decide the ones which should be ok and which shouldn't..
     
  16. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    It seems to me that there are 3 possible ways mainly for the state to meddle in attempts to reduce abortions.

    (1) To make it utterly illegal under any circumstances.

    (2) To regard it as a matter in which the state has no interest and therefore will not legislate.

    (3) to regard it as a practice to be limited, preferably reduced to insignificance if possible, by regulation and control of every aspect of the procedures and timings of the procedures involved.

    (1) This will not stop abortions and may even increase them, but in secret. It will merely drive the practice underground, make them even more dangerous and surround the whole phenomenon with crime, corruption and wickedness, as did the imposition of prohibition in the 30's, which all eventually had to be repealed because it was totally unworkable and counter productive in a society strongly resistent to being totally controlled by the state. (rightly so).

    (2) This would be laissez faire, devil may care irresponsibility by the state, a washing of its hands of obvious injustice and winking the eye at criminally medical quackery, while totally ignoring the harm government inaction may cause to many 10's of thousands of vulnerable pregnant women.

    (3) This would most likely be the course of action which would most successfully reduce the number of abortions, if the legislation was framed in sensible ways which restrict unnecessary procedures but regulate and control the safety and medical effectiveness of procedures deemed by such legislation to be 'regrettably necessary'.

    I would suggest that reduction of abortions is the best the state is likely to be able to achieve. At any rate before the Kingdom of God appears universally on earth and all human beings are guided by The Holy Spirit and truth.

    The imposition of LAW by any state has never been successful in establishing righteous behaviour among human beings. It was fanatical religious fervour and the judicious imposition of LAW that crucified Christ.
    .
     
    Last edited: Jun 27, 2022
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  17. ZachT

    ZachT Well-Known Member

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    I don't think the Didache link is particularly strong to be honest. The closest I can get to talking about abortifacients in Koine Greek databases is Soranus 'On Gynaecology'. It seems pretty clear the use of "magic potions used to poison" in a gynaecology textbook to talk about abortions is a niche use of the term, unlikely to be accessible to Paul's audience. Given basically every other use of the term outside the bible we have records of (Plato, Aristotle, Polybius, Demosthenes, Hippocrates, etc.) is in the context of witchcraft - as well as every other ancient Latin text written by competent bi-lingual writers, and every other English speaking Greek translator is to translate it to witchcraft it seems exceptionally unlikely it's a mistranslation.
     
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  18. Invictus

    Invictus Well-Known Member

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    Asked and answered. Again, the LXX and Philo use the term in the sense of “witchcraft”, as others here have noted as well.

    I have no compunction: no one is forcing you to post bogus claims over and over again as if they’re fact. Blaming me and others for pointing out that they’re bogus doesn’t change that. You either post stuff with the expectation that people will comment on it or you don’t. If you don’t want to get called out for posting stuff that’s not true, a good way to achieve that is to not post it in the first place. :hmm:
     
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  19. anglican74

    anglican74 Well-Known Member Anglican

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    I would think it's the opposite, since the Didache is extremely famous as the earliest Christian text to unambiguously mention and reject abortion... So why is the link not strong?

    These are all authors 400-200 years prior to St. Paul, while Soranus and Didache are nearly contemporary

    I don't think you understand my point, as I have not said that "witchcraft" and "abortifacient potions" are mutually exclusive and we must choose one or the other; rather, the ancient word translated into the english "witchcraft" had a wide-ranging set of meanings, one of which was the craft of producing noxious potions... The problem is that the english "witchcraft" does not contain the "noxious potions" aspect, while the ancient Greek word does

    We associate the word "withcraft" with women with crooked noses on flying broomsticks; they associated it with normal-looking midwife type women who could sell you noxious potions in a backalley.... So our word "witchcraft" is inadequate to convey the ancient word, which did include noxious potions within it.... When Christians began to condemn abortifacient potions, they condemned pharmakoia! They didn't condemn "women with crooked noses on flying broomsticks," they condemned "midwife type women selling noxious potions in a back alley"

    So that's what I mean by the word pharmakoia being mistranslated in St. Paul, in that it seems very clear that his use of word did include a condemnation of noxious/abortifacient potions (along with all the other things those women did), whereas in the English "witchcraft" that aspect of the condemnation is totally lost
     
  20. ZachT

    ZachT Well-Known Member

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    Because the word you're looking for is not directly used to describe or mean "abortifacients". It's setup word to provide context. It could essentially be translated to "You should not buy strange poisons from witches, you are not to commit abortions". It still needs the second part to be linked to abortion, the authors did not consider the use of φαρμακοια sufficient for the readers to understand they were talking about abortion.

    Soranus doesn't need the second part, but Soranus is specifically talking about gynaecology so his use is clear.

    This misunderstands Koine literature. Plato did not write in Koine, he wrote in Attic. Koine was invented by Alexander the Great to unify the Greek languages - Plato was dead before Alexander was king. Complete copies of Plato we have tend to date around the 1st/2nd centuries and are written in Koine. Those are the copies we use to inform us how to read Koine - the same way Greeks in the 1st century were taught by their teachers - reading Plato in the modern language of the time.
     
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