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“God Is Witness” A Classical Rhetorical Idiom in Its Pauline Usage

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image of Novum Testamentum

Five times in the undisputed letters Paul invokes God as guarantor of the truth of a claim with a form of the phrase “God is witness.” Interpreters have long identified these sayings as self-imprecatory oaths after a pattern attested in the Hebrew Bible. In this article, I argue that the Pauline phrase “God is witness” is not a self-imprecatory oath at all, but rather a figure of speech with roots in the rhetoric of classical Greece and a long tradition in postclassical pagan, Jewish, and Christian literature. In this figure of speech, God is not testifying against Paul in case Paul should default on a promise; rather God is testifying for Paul that Paul’s character can be trusted.

Affiliations: 1: Princeton, New Jersey


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