Preaching the Sufferings of Christ

In Galatians 3:1, Paul turns on the Galatian Christians for moving away from the gospel as they had first heard it from him. You can hear his anger (the NRSV and a few other translations end the verse with an exclamation mark). 

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly exhibited as crucified! (NRSV)

Show Me Your Glory

But, wait a minute. What's this about them having seen Jesus publicly exhibited as crucified before their own eyes? They weren't up on Golgotha's hill with Mary and John and the chief priests and the soldiers. Paul can't mean that they saw the actual crucifixion. Then what is he talking about? If you dig around a little, you'll find that most preachers and commentators say that he must have been speaking about his own preaching, that he told the story of Jesus' crucifixion so compellingly, that he was so captivating, that it was as though they had seen the whole thing in an IMAX theater. 

But, wait another minute. Paul, by his own admission, wasn't a very good preacher. Or, at least he wasn't that eloquent.

For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power. (1 Cor 1:17, NRSV)

For they say, "His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible." (2 Cor 10:10, NRSV)

I think I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles. I may be untrained in speech, but not in knowledge; certainly in every way and in all things we have made this evident to you. (2 Cor 11:5, 6, NRSV)

So, what of this? The question is whether there is a better translation of the Greek that jives with the rest of Paul's testimony and the rest of the Word. Turns out there is. In virtually all the translations you can find, the translators have translated the Greek word προγραφω (prographo) the same way: to set forth as a public notice, to publicly placard, to show forth publicly. 

But this definition, which translates the prefix προ (pro) as "in the face of," isn't the preferred definition. In other words, it's not what first comes to mind when you read the word in the Greek. Here's what the Greek lexicons have:

BDAG: (1) to write in advance or before, write before(hand); (2) to set forth for public notice, to show forth/portray publicly

Liddell, Scott: (1) write before or first; (2) set forth as a public notice

Abbott-Smith: (1) to write before – Rm 15:4; Eph 3:3; Jude 4; (2) to write in public, placard

So the primary definition is “to write beforehand.” And here's some irony: Paul used the word both in Romans and in Ephesians, and translators have translated it as "written beforehand."

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. (Rom 15:4, NRSV)

and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words (Eph 3:3, NRSV)

And, frankly, that's how it should be translated in Galatians 3:1.

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was written beforehand as having been crucified! (Gal 3:1, Smythean)

What's this mean? Well, Paul wasn't reminding the Galatian Christians that he had narrated a movie of Christ's crucifixion. What he did was show them how the crucifixion and the spiritual side of Jesus’ sufferings had been prefigured in Old Testament texts such as Jonah, Isaiah, the lament Psalms, and even the law of Moses (see, e.g., Deut. 21, 22, 23). Is this consistent with what we see Paul doing elsewhere? You bet it is. 

To this day I have had help from God, and so I stand here, testifying to both small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would take place: that the Messiah must suffer, and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles. (Acts 26:22–23, NRSV)

After they had set a day to meet with him, they came to him at his lodgings in great numbers. From morning until evening he explained the matter to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the law of Moses and from the prophets. (Acts 28:23, NRSV)

And Paul was no outlier. Jesus himself said that the Old Testament had prefigured his sufferings.

Then he said to them, "Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory? Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. (Luke 24:25–27, NRSV)

I imagine that Bible translators translated  προγραφω (prographo) as "publicly exhibited" because they don't want to believe that Christ suffered spiritually on the cross.  But Paul says that it was his preaching of those very sufferings that brought about the Galatians' receiving of the Spirit and the working of miracles in their midst.