Born of a woman

Why does Paul say in Galatians 4:4 that Jesus was “born from a woman” (genomenon ek gunaikos)? I argued in “Christmas according to St Paul” that the “sending” of Jesus was much more like the sending of the son to the vineyard in the parable of the wicked tenants than the sending of Wisdom into the world. In other words, I don’t think Paul is talking about the incarnation. The sending happened when the time was fulfilled and Jesus began to proclaim the good news of the coming kingdom of God to Israel (cf. Mk. 1:15).

I noted that “born of a woman or of women” was an idiomatic expression for being human, and in particular for being weak, vulnerable and flawed. But there is perhaps more that can be said.

At the beginning of Romans Paul says that he has been set apart for the gospel of God “concerning his Son, born from (genomenou ek) the seed of David according to the flesh, determined or appointed as Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness from (ex) the resurrection of the dead” (Rom. 1:1-4, my translation).

The phrase “resurrection of the dead” points not to Jesus’ resurrection alone but to a general resurrection: “dead” (nekrōn) is plural. Jesus has been raised and determined or appointed as Son of God in power on the basis of the future eschatological reality of the resurrection of the righteous.

So the story about Jesus is constructed around a contrast between two fundamentally Jewish “froms”: he was “born from the seed of David” but was “appointed Son of God in power from the resurrection of the dead”.

This seems relevant to our reading of Galatians.

In Galatians Paul explains how God “was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles” (Gal. 1:16). This is the Jesus whom he encountered on the road to Damascus, who had been determined as Son of God, Israel’s king, judge and ruler of the nations, by his resurrection.

Perhaps, then, the emphasis on having been “born from a woman, born under the Law” reflects a similar contrast to the one that we find in Romans 1:1-4. “From a woman” presumably does not mean “from the seed of David”. The emphasis is on the fact that Jesus shared in the Jewishness of his people—he was a Jew “by nature” (phusei; cf. Gal. 2:15). But there is the same controlling structural antithesis between the human circumstances of Jesus’ prophetic-messianic mission to Israel and his resurrected status as Son of God.

Romans 8:3 may suggest further that having been born from a woman as weak, flawed humanity, having been born under the Law of sin and death as a first-century Jew, Jesus appeared to share in the sinfulness of rebellious Israel.

Perhaps. In any case, here’s wishing you a happy (Pauline) Christmas!