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A FORTIORI LOGIC

© Avi Sion, 2013 All rights reserved.

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A FORTIORI LOGIC

CHAPTER 10 – A fortiori in the Christian Bible

1. In the Christian Bible

2. Jesus of Nazareth

3. Paul of Tarsus

4. In later Christian discourse

5. Additional findings

In this chapter, I am called upon for the sake of comprehensiveness to comment on some of the a fortiori discourse found in Christian literature, especially the Gospels. I must stress that I do not intend the following treatment to be exhaustive. I am merely breaking ground for a more extensive treatment by others. Being personally not very interested in the Christian religion, I am not sufficiently motivated to do a thorough job on the subject. I do hope someone else will take up the challenge and do the necessary research.

Needless to say, although I am a Jew, I have no desire to engage here in religious polemics against Christianity. Jews do not normally try to convert non-Jews to their views. My interest here is entirely logical. The proof is that I am not always critical. When I am critical, it is with an impartial, scientific spirit – the same spirit I apply to assessment of a fortiori and other forms of reasoning found in Jewish texts or texts of other traditions.

1. In the Christian Bible

Using a Kindle edition of the Christian Bible[1], the Revised King James New Testament edited by Brad Haugaard (2008), I searched mechanically for the main key words and phrases of a fortiori argument and found 28 instances[2].

These were: How much more (17) in Matthew 7:11, 10:25, 12:11-12; Luke 11:13, 12:24, 12:28; Romans 5:8-9, 5:10, 5:15, 11:12 (2 instances), 11:24; 1 Corinthians 6:3; 2 Corinthians 3:11; Philemon 1:15-17; Hebrews 9:13-14, 10:28-29. Other much more (4) in Matthew 6:26, 6:30; Romans 5:17; Hebrews 12:9. Much less (1) in Hebrews 12:25. Even more (1) in 2 Corinthians 3:7-8. No distinctive wording (5) in Luke 13:15-16, 16:11, Romans 11:15, 2 Corinthians 3:9, 1 John 4:20 (the connectives used in these five cases were, respectively: ought not, if not – who, if – what, but, far more and how).

This list may, of course, not be exhaustive, since a fortiori argument is not always distinctively worded. Key words or phrases for which no hits were registered are not here mentioned, for brevity’s sake. Sometimes, words or phrases that usually signal a fortiori argument turn out not to do so, their intent being merely to express increasing magnitude; this occurred, for example, with the 2 instances of so much the more and all 10 instances of all the more (their intent here is simply a lot more). I did not bother to look at residual hits of all the, more, less, and therefore, although there were over a hundred hits for each of these search strings; so I may have missed a few cases.

As can be seen, the 28 instances of a fortiori argument were found in the following 8 books: Matthew (5), Luke (5), Romans (8), 1 Corinthians (1), 2 Corinthians (3), Philemon (1), Hebrews (4) and 1 John (1). Note that the epistles to the Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians and Philemon (13 inst.) were written by Paul; the author of the epistles to the Hebrews is unknown[3]. No cases were found in the other 19 books, namely: Mark, John, Acts, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, and Revelation.

No one has to my knowledge spotted all 28 a fortiori arguments in NT here listed. As we shall see further on, Neusner discusses one example in some detail, namely Matthew 12:11-12. Jacobs mentions three examples, namely: Matthew 12:11-12, Luke 13:15 and Romans 5:10[4]. As we shall see further on, Maccoby cites four examples, all from Romans, namely: 5:10, 5:17, 11:15 and 11:24. Abraham, Gabbay and Schild give the same three examples as Jacobs. I did not discover Luke 13:15 and Romans 11:15 through mechanical search, but only thanks to Jacobs and Maccoby mentioning them. I discovered 1 John 4:20 thanks to H.W.B Joseph[5]. I came across Luke 16:10 and 2 Corinthians 3:9 more or less by chance, due to their proximity to other cases found mechanically.

Out of the 28 instances of a fortiori discourse found, 18 are positive subjectal and 6 are positive antecedental in form; 2 are positive predicatal and 2 are negative predicatal; the other standard forms are not used. Thus, we can safely say that the overwhelming majority of a fortiori arguments in NT are of the most obvious type (positive subjectal or antecedental); however, it is interesting that four of them are more complicated (predicatal). Of the arguments, 17 are purely a fortiori and 9 are clearly or probably intended as a crescendo (i.e. proportional)[6], while the remaining two can safely be classed as logically invalid. One of the a crescendo arguments[7] may be said to breach the rabbinic rule of dayo against inferring a stronger penalty from a lesser penalty given in the Torah.

Needless to say, to acknowledge an argument as ‘valid’ in form is not necessarily to agree with its content. An argument is valid if its premises, be they true or false, do indeed logically imply its conclusion, be it true or false; and argument is invalid it its premises and conclusion are not related in this way. A false premise may, in a valid argument, imply a true conclusion, i.e. a proposition whose truth can be established by other means; and true premises may, in an invalid argument, wrongly seem to imply a false conclusion. Thus, we may well accept an argument as valid without accepting its premises and conclusion, or as invalid without rejecting its premises and conclusion.

Moreover, it should be said that the NT arguments listed above are all in rather abridged form. They do not consciously lay out all the premises involved and all their terms, including all material necessary to draw the putative conclusion. In all cases, the major premise is left tacit, though the middle term is sometimes explicitly stated. This is excusable in most cases, insofar as the minor and major terms are readily apparent, so that given or injecting a middle term, the major premise can in fact be reconstructed; however, in certain cases, some effort and ingenuity may be needed for such reconstruction. In all cases, most of the minor premise and conclusion are explicit; but usually, if not always, the minor premise lacks the necessary information that the subject has enough of the middle term to gain access to the predicate. Strictly speaking, without this crucial factor of ‘sufficiency’, the conclusion cannot logically be drawn.[8]

Furthermore, in cases of a crescendo argument, i.e. where the subsidiary term is not identical in the minor premise and conclusion, but varies ‘proportionately’ to the values of the middle term in relation to the major and minor terms, the NT does not explicitly specify the third premise, the premise about proportionality (pro rata variation), which is logically needed to justify the conclusion. We must take it for granted that the speakers subconsciously had the necessary information in mind when they formulated their conclusions. That these various details are missing from their discourse of course indicates that they did not have full awareness of the formal conditions of a fortiori argument or a crescendo argument. Nevertheless, we are not here to test their abstract knowledge of logic, but are satisfied with making reasonable demands on their actual thinking processes.

Thus, we can be generous and say: if the a fortiori or a crescendo intent of an argument is obvious enough, and the argument can, even though some required elements of it are missing, potentially be fitted into a credible template, i.e. one of the standard forms validated by logic theory, then we may accept it as a ‘valid’ argument for our purposes here. This remains true, even if due to rhetorical flourishes the terms used in an argument vary somewhat (but of course, not if they vary too wildly). We are not interested in a nitpicking evaluation of abstract knowledge, but in a fair assessment of practical knowhow. Of course, we must remain attentive to detail and make sure the argument is not invalid. With these considerations in mind, 26 of the arguments found in NT have been assessed as formally valid, although 2 were declared invalid.

The 10 arguments in Matthew and Luke are attributed to Jesus, the initiator of Christianity, who is regarded by Christians as the son of God. Of these arguments, 9 are positive subjectal in form, including 1 a crescendo; and 1 is negative predicatal. The language used by Jesus (in the translation here used, at least) is: how much more (6), simply much more (2), and non-distinctive (2). All 10 arguments can be considered as formally valid[9].

It should be noted that 4 of the arguments in Luke correspond to 4 in Matthew, so that the net number by Jesus is 6 (rather than 10). That is, Luke 11:13, 12:24, 12:28 and 13:15-16 correspond to Matthew 7:11, 6:26, 6:30 and 12:11-12, respectively. It is interesting to note that the wording in these pairs of equivalents is not identical, implying one or both of them not to be verbatim accounts. The variations may be indicative of poetic license or of interpolation of interpretations, but they are anyway relevant to historical studies. The gospel of Matthew is considered as earlier than that of Luke. Matthew was a Jew living in Israel in Jesus’ day, and may have been an eyewitness to many or most events he recounts; whereas Luke (ca. 1-84 CE) was a Greco-Syrian from Antioch, who did not witness what he reports. Modern scholars suggest both writers based their books partly on the book of Mark and partly on a hypothetical Q document that no longer exists.

The argument in 1 John 4:20 is by John himself; i.e. he is not quoting anyone else. Concerning Paul, as already said 13 arguments are attributed to him, as the author of Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians and Philemon. Of these arguments, 6 are positive subjectal in form, including 4 a crescendo; 5 are positive antecedental, including 1 a crescendo; and 2 are positive predicatal. The language used by Paul (in the translation used, at least) is: how much more (9), simply much more (1), and non-distinctive (3). Only 11 of these arguments can be considered as formally valid; and 2 (being a contrario in form) must be classed as invalid.

Some of the arguments by Paul are very similar, repeating the same idea in perhaps slightly different words. Compare: Romans 5:8-9 and 5:10; Romans 5:15 and 5:17; Romans 11:12 (which itself contains two similar minor premises with a common conclusion) and 11:15; 2 Corinthians 3:7-8 and 3:9. Here, the same author is rewording his thoughts in different ways, to get his points across. Paul (Tarsus, ca. 5 CE – Rome, ca. 47 CE) was apparently a diaspora Jew who lived for some time in Israel. Initially actively anti-Christian, he later converted to Christianity, and became one of its foremost leaders and missionaries. Paul may be said to have turned the Christian movement into a distinct religion, or at least given the evolving religion a new impetus.

Finally, let us mention the 4 a fortiori arguments in Hebrews. Of these, 3 are positive subjectal in form, including 2 a crescendo; and 1 is positive antecedental. The language used in them (in the translation here used, at least) is: how much more (2), simply much more (1), and much less (1). All 4 arguments can be considered formally valid. However, one argument (namely, Hebrews 10:28-29) goes against the rabbinic principle of dayo which forbids using an a crescendo argument to infer a stronger penalty from a lesser penalty given in the Torah. Although the Epistle to the Hebrews was in the past regarded by many authorities as written by Paul, most modern scholars have come to reject the idea. However, if I may weigh in on this debate, judging only by the tortuous style of most of the a fortiori arguments in this book (compared to the straightforward style of the arguments found in Matthew and Luke), the hypothesis of Pauline authorship of Hebrews looks rather probable to me. Alternatively, Hebrews was written by someone else, but he cited a fortiori arguments by Paul or he wrote the arguments in the style used by Paul.

Let us now look at some of the arguments in more detail. First, let us look at the two arguments by Paul that I have classed as invalid. Romans 5:15 reads: “If through the offence of the one [i.e. Adam’s original sin] many died, how much more did the grace of God, and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to many.” That is to say, more formally: If offence by one (Q) caused many to die (S1), all the more grace by one (P) caused many to receive grace (S2). Note that the minor term (Q) and the major term (P) are opposites (‘offence’ v. ‘grace’), even if they have a common factor (‘by one’); also, the subsidiary term has opposite values (‘to die’ v. ‘to receive grace’) in the minor premise (S1) and conclusion (S2), even if there is a common factor (‘many’).

Similarly, Romans 5:17 reads: “If by one man’s [Adam’s] offence death reigned through that one; much more shall those who receive abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one, Jesus Christ.” The argument is much the same: Q is identical (‘offence by one’) and P is similar (‘abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness’, instead of just ‘grace’); also, S1 is similar (‘death to reign’, instead of ‘many to die’) and S2 is similar (‘reign in life’, instead of ‘receive grace’). So we can treat these as one and the same thought, slightly differently verbalized.

In either case, what is sure is the invalidity of the argument. The argument is presented as an a contrario one, with contrary minor and major subjects (“the offence of one man” and “the gift of grace of one man”) and contrary subsidiary predicates (“the death of many” to “the grace of many”). Such reasoning by inversion seems reasonable enough, at first sight. The minor and major terms, though contrary, might well be placed in a continuum running from negative to positive values; and likewise, the subsidiary terms, though contrary, might well be placed in a continuum running from negative to positive values. Even though this double a crescendo idea is not in itself objectionable, the conclusion cannot be claimed to follow from the available premises, because the parallelism between the two negative values (in the minor premise) and the two positive values (in the conclusion) cannot be proposed as a premise without begging the question. That is, the argument inevitably involves a circularity, needing the conclusion to make possible deduction of the conclusion.

Such complicated argument, trying to express many thoughts at once, in tortuous ways, seems to me rather typical of Paul[10]. However, it should be pointed out that there are instances of similar invalid reasoning in the Talmud. For instance, in Mishna Makkoth 3:15, which reads: “R. Hananiah the son of Gamaliel said: If in one transgression a transgressor forfeits his soul, how much more should one who performs one precept have his soul granted him!” So, while the form of Paul’s reasoning here does suggest some mental confusion, it does not prove (as Maccoby has insisted) that he had no Pharisaic influence.

Let us now look at Hebrews 10:28-29, which fails to apply the rabbinical dayo principle. It reads: “He who despised Moses’ law died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses: How much more severe punishment do you suppose he shall deserve, who has trodden under foot the Son of God, and has counted the blood of the covenant, with which he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and has affronted the Spirit of grace?” More formally put, the argument runs: If one who breached Mosaic law (Q) was punished with death (S1), all the more he who has done all these un-Christian things (P) will be more severely punished still (S2).

This argument clearly intends an a crescendo movement from ‘punished with death’ (S1) to ‘more severely punished’ (S2). Since it is an inference from alleged Torah law (although where in it does ‘despising Mosaic law’ entail ‘death without mercy’ is not specified), it should not (according to the rabbinical rule of dayo, to repeat) conclude with a more severe punishment (for whatever greater sin). So this argument is invalid under Judaic logic, even if it could be regarded as sound (that is, if we grant the implicit major premise) under general logic. Thus, whoever (it was Paul, I suspect) formulated it cannot claim to be reasoning in accord with Pharisaic standards. Moreover, of course, there is no mention in Mosaic law or lore of any “Son of God,” or “blood of the covenant, with which he was sanctified,” or “Spirit of grace.” These being all Christian concepts and values, quite foreign if not contrary to the Torah context, it is absurd to appeal to the Torah in relation to them.

Let me also here comment on Luke 16:11, in which Jesus says: “If you have not been faithful with worldly wealth, who will entrust you with true riches?” Although this sentence uses no special key words or phrase, it is obviously a fortiori. More formally put, it says: If you (S) have not been [trustworthy (R) enough to be] faithful with worldly wealth (Q), then you (S) will not be [trustworthy (R) enough to be] faithful with spiritual wealth (P). This is a valid purely a fortiori argument, of negative predicatal form.

I found this case through mechanical search for the key word much, which led me to Luke 16:10, viz. “He who is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he who is dishonest in the least is also dishonest in much.” These two sentences are clearly not a fortiori arguments. In my opinion, they are even non-sequiturs – for to my mind one may be scrupulously honest in little things, but be tempted into dishonesty by the prospect of a big gain; or inversely, be merrily dishonest in little things, but steadfastly refuse to engage in a big crime. Nevertheless, it is while looking at Luke 16:10 that I noticed the a fortiori argument in 16:11. However, here too I would like to point out that the word “therefore” which links these two verses is logically quite unjustified. At best, it indicates some further logical confusion; at worst, it reveals a manipulative intent.

Paul makes a positive predicatal argument in Romans 11:24 (which we shall analyze further on) and another one in 1 Corinthians 6:3. The latter reads: “Do you not know that we shall judge angels? how much more, things that pertain to this life?” This is a valid purely a fortiori argument: If we (S) can [i.e. have the authority (R) to] judge (R) angels (P), all the more we (S) can [i.e. have the authority (R) to] judge things of this world (Q). I will not here bother to unpack all a fortiori arguments found in the NT, as I think most of the others can be sorted out without too much difficulty by the interested reader.

I have to say that, although I have many years ago read the whole Christian Bible in the way of an intellectual duty, I did not greatly enjoy doing so and remember little of it. I can see that it contains some wisdom and good, but there are also in it many things that I find hard to swallow. As a philosopher, I find the idea that God might have a son of flesh and bones untenable. I also find references by Jesus to demons possessing people quite silly. I understand that people at that time did believe in such things; there are echoes of this even in the Talmud, although such belief does not play any role in Judaism today. Additionally, I am rather put off by Jesus’ occasional fits of bad temper and verbal abuse of people[11]. Such behavior does not look very ‘high-minded’ to me.

Moreover as a Jew, I find Paul’s frequent denigration of Jews and Judaism quite offensive and painful, since clearly lacking in objectivity and truth. He obviously had a personal axe to grind in this matter. I also suffer at the thought of all the innocent Jews that were persecuted through the centuries due to the unflattering narrative concerning “the Jews” given in the Christian Bible as a whole. For these reasons, it is with great reluctance that I wrote the present chapter, quoting some passages from this document. I did not want to give the impression I was endorsing it.

Anyway, I think I have managed here to give a new impetus to logic research in Christian sources. I hope other people, more at ease in this particular field than me, will take up the challenge and look further into the matter. It is not a religious issue, but has to do with the history of logic.

2. Jesus of Nazareth

In the present section, we will focus on one of the ten (or six, if we exclude repetitions) a fortiori arguments attributed to Jesus in the Christian Bible, and discuss its substance as well as its form. I will show some of the complications that may surround the reading of such arguments. Needless to say, although I am a Jew, I have no desire to engage here in religious polemics against Christians or any other denominations. Jews do not normally try to convert non-Jews to their views[12]. My interest here is entirely logical. The proof is that I am not always critical. When I am critical, it is with an impartial, scientific spirit – the same spirit I apply to assessment of a fortiori and other forms of reasoning found in Jewish texts.

In an essay entitled “Comparing Gospels and Rabbinic Writings: a Halakhic Instance”[13] Jacob Neusner, a Jew, draws attention to the following argument by the founder of Christianity, Jesus son of Joseph (ca. 7-2 BCE to 30-36 CE), in Matthew 12:10-12, which may be construed as a fortiori:

“And they [the Pharisees present] questioned Jesus, asking, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?’ – so that they might accuse him. And he said to them, ‘What man is there among you who has a sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable then is a man than a sheep! So then, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.’”

This exchange occurred as Jesus was about to “heal” a man’s withered hand in a synagogue on a Sabbath. As Neusner points out, this passage displays ignorance of Jewish law, which in fact definitely allows and indeed recommends saving a person’s life on the Sabbath, intervening however necessary even if the life is not directly and imminently endangered (citing Tosefta Shabbat 15:11-12); and as for a sheep fallen in a pit, the law allows and recommends that it be cared for where it is and later pulled out (Tosefta Shabbat 14:3); moreover, in the Halakhah “healing” does not constitute “work” forbidden on the Sabbath; so it is unlikely that “they” (i.e. some “Pharisees,” i.e. some rabbis[14]) would “accuse him” on account of “healing on the Sabbath!”

There are other passages in the Christian Bible pointing to the same story, by the way, although they do not repeat the a fortiori argument. In Luke 6:9, Jesus says: “Then said Jesus unto them, I will ask you one thing: Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good, or to do evil? to save life, or to destroy it?” And in Mark 3:4, “Then he turned to his critics and asked, “Does the law permit good deeds on the Sabbath, or is it a day for doing evil? Is this a day to save life or to destroy it?” The latter adds: “But they wouldn’t answer him,” which shows that the “Pharisees” concerned could not have been learned rabbis, but at best common people ignorant of Jewish law; for rabbis would have easily answered this tendentious query. Note the logically misleading phrasing of Jesus’ questions: “to do good, or to do evil?” “save life, or destroy it?” etc. – as if there is no middle ground, as if the refusal of certain types of doing good implies a permission or imperative to do evil, as if such choices are the fundamental issue throughout every Sabbath.

One wonders if Jesus ever personally kept the Sabbath. Had he done so, he would surely have experienced the peace of it and known that it is not a time when one feels like getting involved in emotional disputes. Certainly, at the time of the episode here discussed Jesus was not, or at least his disciples were not, Sabbath observant. This is made evident in the text, just before the above mentioned exchange in the synagogue: “Jesus went on the sabbath day through the grainfields; and his disciples were hungry, and began to pluck the heads of grain, and to eat.” Some Pharisees reprove them, but he signifies that he is above the law, saying of himself: “the Son of man is Lord of the Sabbath”[15].

But more to the point to the present logical inquiry, as Neusner also remarks, with reference to the argument in Mathew: “Saving life is not at issue in the story, only doing good;” and, further on: “The Halakhic definition of doing good on the Sabbath is feeding the beast in the pit, not raising it up.” That is to say, aside from the issue of the truth or falsehood of its premises, the a fortiori argument (presumably intended here, since the signal expression “how much more” is used) is logically questionable, because its apparent conclusion does not quite follow from its premises. This can be seen if we try rewriting the argument more formally:

A man (P) is much more valuable (R) than a sheep (Q).

A sheep (Q) is valuable (R) enough to be lawfully lifted out a pit on the Sabbath (S1).

Therefore, a man (P) is valuable (R) enough to be lawfully healed on the Sabbath (S2).



Note that it is I who has added the words “valuable (R) enough to be lawfully” to the minor premise and conclusion, so as to make the argument true to a fortiori form and thus logically credible; but I think no one would contest this addition. The implicit major premise must have an appropriate middle term R, such that a man has more R than a sheep; and the vague term “value” seems appropriate in this context. As for the addition of “lawfully,” this is inserted to reflect the question “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” asked by the Pharisees and Jesus’ conclusion that “It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath;” more will be said on this specification further on.

What we have here, evidently, is an attempt at positive subjectal a fortiori argument. Notice that the major and minor terms (P and Q) are subjects, the minor premise and conclusion are positive, and the inference goes from minor to major. Since the subsidiary term (S) is not identical in minor premise and conclusion, the argument intended must be a crescendo. If the argument intended were purely a fortiori, the correct conclusion would simply be that “a man is valuable enough to be lifted out of the pit on the Sabbath (S1).” Here, Jesus (according to Matthew) concludes that “a man is valuable enough to be healed on the Sabbath (S2)” – not exactly the same thing.

So we must assume a hidden additional premise to the effect that: “S varies in proportion to R.” What is “S,” here? That is, what is the common ground between “being lifted out of a pit” (S1) and “being healed” (S2) on the Sabbath? It is, as the proof-text has it, “being saved” from some danger on the Sabbath, or more broadly to be the recipient of some “good” deed. So the hidden premise is that the amount of “saving” (S) permissible is proportional to the “value” (R) of the creature being saved. If a sheep, which is worth less than a man, is worth saving, then all the more is a man worth saving and in more ways. This is the a crescendo reading of the argument.

I above say that Jesus draws a conclusion more specifically about healing, with reference to the question posed to him, viz. “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” to which he is presumably implicitly answering when he compares sheep and men. In fact, the conclusion explicitly drawn by Jesus, viz. that “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath,” is more general. We could alternatively, then, read the argument as purely a fortiori, by referring to the common ground of the two apparent predicates as the real predicate. That is, we could formulate the argument rather as follows:

A man (P) is much more valuable (R) than a sheep (Q).

A sheep (Q) is valuable (R) enough to be legitimately saved in some way on the Sabbath (S).

Therefore, a man (P) is valuable (R) enough to be legitimately saved in some way on the Sabbath (S).



This argument is not strictly correct, because though the predicate “saved in some way” is made to seem the same in the minor premise and conclusion, it is in fact different below the surface. This difficulty could be overcome by suggesting, instead, that what the speaker had in mind was to generalize from the more specific formal conclusion, “lifting a man out of a pit on the Sabbath,” to any act of “doing good” or “saving” on the Sabbath,” and then to apply this general principle to the more specific case of “healing a man on the Sabbath.” If we view his reasoning thus, we might justify it as a logical chain (a sorites) comprising a purely a fortiori deduction, a generalization (induction) and an application (syllogistic deduction).

Still, let us go back and look at the argument as it is presented. Jesus is not actually saying that the sheep legally may or ought to be lifted out. Rather, he is suggesting that a sheep owner would anyway, out of self-interest, irrespective of the law, pull out the sheep. That is, even if Jewish law forbade such action (which it does, in fact, as we have seen), the sheep owner can be expected to be so attached to his material possession that he will ignore the prohibition and save his sheep. There is an implicit insult there, a suggestion that most if not all religious Jews are hypocrites; and indeed that very word is used in a similar context (Luke 13:15). The image thus projected of Jews as ‘interested’ (i.e. as essentially materialists, not spiritually inclined) has no doubt been very satisfying to anti-Semites in the past two millennia.

Granting this reading, the argument is not really about law – i.e. that saving a sheep’s life is legal and therefore, all the more, saving a human life must be legal. The implication is rather that saving a sheep (by pulling it out of a pit) is not legal, but is nevertheless done in practice. Whence the conclusion ought logically to be that even if saving a human (in the same way) is likewise not legal, it will likely be done in practice. Such a conclusion would not answer the question posed, viz. “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” – but it would serve to make the legal question seem irrelevant. So this is really revolutionary discourse, aimed at encouraging that the law of the land (or religious law) be ignored or discarded.[16]

That may explain the (alleged) reaction of “the Pharisees” (as e.g. reported in the parallel episode in Luke 6:11) – viz. “But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus.” We may suggest that they were not angry because he had done something illegal on the Sabbath by healing, but because he had defied the authority of the law as such by means of false premises and invalid reasoning. It was no doubt his hostile attitude[17] that worried them the most, for mere doctrinal disputes are commonplace and generally accepted among Jews. So the purpose of the story is to give a false impression regarding the reaction of the Pharisees: to make them seem intolerant; whereas they were in fact reacting normally to an unfair attack.

I personally do not believe stories like the one about Jesus healing people miraculously. But let us suppose for the sake of argument that it was true. We can first ask what his motive was in performing such healing. If it was simply kindness, why did he choose to do it in such a demonstrative manner and precisely on the Sabbath? Presumably, if he had done it in private and on a weekday, he would not have provoked such negative reactions. Certainly, the person he healed could have waited one more day, having presumably been sick for years. So, we must assume that Jesus’ intent was confrontational. It was not merely to heal, but to publicly contend. He was out to show his (alleged) miraculous powers and thus claim for himself a religious authority above that of the Pharisees.

However, in Deuteronomy 13:2-4, it is expressly stated: “If there arise in the midst of thee a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams – and he give thee a sign or a wonder, and the sign come to pass, whereof he spoke unto thee – saying: ‘Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them’; thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or unto that dreamer of dreams.” “If there arise in the midst of thee, etc.” refers to anyone who challenges the religious status quo, for whatever reason – even a Jew. “Going after other gods” refers to any proposed deviation from the Torah, as traditionally understood by the Jews. So the Pharisees were under no Torah-given obligation to submit to Jesus following such fancy demonstrations. On the contrary, their religious duty was to be extremely cautious with such a man.

Many Christians who read such stories simply cannot understand why the Jews rejected Jesus – in Christian eyes the performance of a miracle like the healing above described should have sufficed to convince the Jews to accept him. For such Christians, the Jews’ negative response could only be explained as obstinacy and bad faith. Indeed, Jesus’ own negative statements on several occasions, concerning Jews who did not accept his claims, shows he felt unjustly rejected by them[18]. What he and Christians have failed to understand is that Jews are positively obligated by their Scriptures to be very suspicious of anyone who makes extravagant claims, even if he comes on with impressive miracles[19].

Let us return now to Neusner’s critique. As he points out, no one denies Jesus’ explicit principle that “It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” The issue is: what constitutes “good” in the present context? For Jesus, it is (in a generous reading) pulling the sheep out of the pit; whereas for the rabbis, it is feeding the sheep in the pit until the Sabbath ends. Precisely because a sheep is not as valuable as a human being, it is not worth breaking the Sabbath for; nevertheless, as one of God’s creatures, it should be treated in a kindly manner. But as regards a human being, according to the halakhah (i.e. established Jewish law), if one falls in a pit, he not only may but must be pulled out as soon as possible and using any means, and as Tosefta puts it: “it is not necessary to get permission [ad hoc] from a court” (i.e. the general permission suffices).

Clearly, the legal context and related rabbinical attitudes are very different from what Jesus here assumes and implies them to be. Lifting a sheep out of a pit is a good deed that is not allowed, though that does not exclude a less drastic good deed from being done (viz. feeding the sheep where it is for a while). Lifting a man out of a pit is a good deed that is allowed and indeed prescribed – not by a fortiori inference from the sheep, as Jesus seems to think, but for an entirely other reason, viz. (if I am not mistaken) that Jewish law is intended to preserve and prolong our life and not needlessly endanger or sacrifice it (except in certain very special cases[20], of which the present case is not one).

So, not only is Jesus’ apparent a fortiori argument built on very unflattering insinuations and on quite false legal premises, but its conclusion is a non-sequitur and irrelevant to the question asked! It is more a sophistical exercise is misrepresenting facts and sowing doubt than a serious attempt at legal proof. If Jesus was as some claim a rabbi, even a dissident one, he would not have indulged in such confused and misleading discourse. All the more so if he was God incarnate or the son of God, as some claim[21].

If we try to understand Jesus’ discourse from his own point of view, we must declare his incoherence. On the one hand, he gets angry at and insults some Jews for taking care of their animals – thus suggesting that he believes Jewish law to be against all such actions on the Sabbath (which it is not, in fact). On the other hand, he is willing for his part to dismiss the law’s interdiction (as he wrongly assumes) of “healing” and more broadly “doing good.” This is inconsistent discourse – he surely cannot both defend and dismiss the law at his convenience.

Perhaps the thrust of his argument is that even if “healing” is in actuality illegal it is in principle permissible; i.e. he is effectively advocating that the law currently accepted be changed. But if this was his purpose, a local synagogue was hardly the right forum – he ought to have addressed himself to the accredited lawmakers (ultimately, the Sanhedrin). But the legislative process is obviously not the center of interest here. Note that nowhere are the “Pharisees” in question named, as is customary in legal debate among Jewish rabbis. They are just presented as stereotypes, typical representatives of a monolithic class slated for contempt. No counter-arguments by them are cited, either; no exposition or explanation of their legal posture.

In any case, as Neusner rightly stresses and explains in detail, “healing” (by ‘miraculous’ or ‘magical’ means, like ‘pronouncing prayers or incantations’ or ‘laying on of hands’) does not in itself fit into the definition of “work” that Jewish law prohibits on the Sabbath, and so it is not and never was forbidden. It is only concrete acts that fall under one or more of the 39 categories of work (Heb. melakhah) which constitute breach of the Sabbath. It is true that the rabbis decreed that in a situation that is not life-threatening medical intervention should be avoided; but here their main concern was that the doctor or patient would likely prepare herbs for medication purposes (for this would involve melakhah). The rabbis were certainly never opposed to curing the sick! As regards chronology, these 39 categories were certainly known before Jesus’ time, being given in the Mishna[22]. When after the above speech Jesus (allegedly) dramatically “heals” a man who had a “withered hand,” using no material equipment, he has in fact done no forbidden work!

In view of this, it is absurd to suppose that the rabbis would ever have even asked Jesus the specific question: “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” or even the vaguer question: “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath?” Why would they have done so, if a positive answer from him would have been correct? And why would they have been angered by his right answer and sought to obstruct him? It doesn’t make sense. Whoever reported this incredible episode obviously misunderstood what was going on. More likely, the whole narrative is made up ex post facto so as to throw opprobrium on “the Pharisees.” It can reasonably be considered an imaginary tale.[23]

3. Paul of Tarsus

Hyam Maccoby, a Jew, wrote several interesting books expressing his ideas about the narratives in the Christian Bible that many Christians, though presumably not all, have found objectionable. One of these books was The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity[24]. Basically, as I see it, Maccoby’s intent was to harmonize as much as possible Christian lore with Jewish doctrine, and his means for this end was to place the responsibility for the divergences between them mainly on Paul of Tarsus (5-67 CE). I have no interest in the present context in Maccoby’s larger theories or in the objections of some Christians to them, although needless to say I would likely be more receptive to the former’s viewpoints.

What interests me here is Maccoby’s objections to Paul’s claim to having a “Pharisee,” i.e. rabbinical, background. This claim is made in Acts 22:3: “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers…”[25]. Presumably this refers to Gamaliel the Elder (d. ca. 50 CE), grandson of Hillel the Elder and grandfather of Judah the Prince (the redactor and editor of the Mishna); if so, Paul is claiming a very high-level master, who was probably presided over the Sanhedrin at some time. Maccoby’s discussion is mainly to be found in his book’s chapter 7: “Alleged Rabbinical Style in Paul’s Epistles” (pp. 62-71). There, Maccoby considers some of Paul’s arguments, principally those apparently in the style of rabbinic qal vachomer; and he attempts to show that most are technically faulty to a degree that excludes the possibility that Paul may indeed have been trained as a Pharisee. Essentially, Maccoby argues that Paul constructed his arguments rhetorically, more in the manner of the sophists in the surrounding Hellenistic culture than in accord with rabbinic norm and practice.

Obviously, the evaluation of Paul’s claim to rabbinic antecedents, cannot be based solely on the style of his discourse, but must focus mainly on his knowledge of Jewish law. I do not propose to here look into this matter, which requires a lot more study than I am willing to invest[26]. But offhand, I would certainly doubt that Paul was very knowledgeable. The ease with which he dropped out of normative Judaism and adopted religious ideas and attitudes, some of them pagan, from other traditions is indicative of a certain lack of grounding in Jewish belief and law. His defection sounds all the more incredible, considering his claim to have been a student of no less a personage than Gamaliel I[27]. Of course, he may have studied in the latter’s academy (yeshiva) for a short while, without this implying that he reached a high level in his studies. That he sat “at the feet of Gamaliel” does not necessarily mean that he was a star student, or at all remarkable.

As I said earlier, based on inspection of all of Paul’s a fortiori discourse, I do not entirely agree with Maccoby’s sweeping assessment. I do agree with him that Paul’s a fortiori arguments are often distinctive, often confused, and often incredible. Paul had apparently a tendency to pack many thoughts into a single statement, and his was not exactly an orderly mind. But comparable errors are found, even if very infrequently, in rabbinical discourse. So we cannot draw a hard and fast conclusion concerning Paul’s Pharisee background or qualifications from his psycho-epistemology. He certainly resorts more than any other speaker in the NT to argument that looks a fortiori – at least thirteen times (and four more if the Epistles to the Hebrews are attributed to him). In only two cases, viz. Romans 5:15 and 5:17, would I declare his argumentation hopelessly invalid. Nevertheless, Maccoby’s criticism has some justification.

Maccoby cites four examples of apparent qal vachomer from Paul, all from the Epistles to the Romans. Their analysis here is my own, independently of Maccoby, whose thinking will be examined further on. The first example runs as follows:

Romans 5:10. “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”

This looks like some sort of a crescendo discourse: (a) God’s enemies are, through the death of his son, reconciled to him; (b) those who have been reconciled [to God] are, through the life of his son, saved by him. This would be logically okay if presented as two independent statements of fact. But the difficulty arises due to use of the expression “how much more,” which ordinarily implies an a fortiori type of argument, in which (a) would be a premise and (b) a conclusion. Six terms are mentioned here: enemies; death of son; reconciled; reconciled; life of son; saved; the premise and conclusion have one term in common, viz. reconciled, though this term is predicate in the premise and subject in the conclusion. This is not a known format of a fortiori argument.

The movement of thought involved here seems somewhat akin to first-figure syllogism: A is B and B is C, where B is the middle term (“reconciled”) and A and C (God’s enemies and friends, respectively) are the major and minor terms. But there is no intent at drawing the conclusion A is C. Rather, the intent seems to be: A is B is the premise, and B is C is the conclusion. So this is not syllogism, either. What is involved is step by step increase in proximity to God: from enmity to reconciliation, and from reconciliation to salvation. One difficulty is that, though the two propositions are apparently intended to be in chronological sequence, life comes after death. Presumably, then, ‘death’ here refers to the crucifixion and ‘life’ to the resurrection; or alternatively, maybe, ‘death’ refers to the Christian’s reflection on the crucifixion and ‘life’ refers to his or her remembrance of Jesus’ life.

Albeit these difficulties, let us try to formulate an a fortiori argument, by making a number of changes in the given data. I would say that Paul intended to argue as follows:

Friends of God (P) are more redeemable (R) than enemies of God (Q);

and, enemies (Q) are redeemable (R) enough to be reconciled through the crucifixion (S1);

also, proximity to God (reconciliation/salvation) (S) is proportional to redeemability (R);

therefore, friends (P) are redeemable (R) enough to be saved through the resurrection (S2).



This is a formally acceptable, positive subjectal a crescendo argument. The term “friends” here introduced is taken to be applicable to people who “have been reconciled” (in the minor premise), and is suggested by opposition to “enemies.” The crescendo movement is suggested by the use of different predicates, and by the fact that the first (in the minor premise) is relatively negative (referring to death) while the second (in the conclusion) is relatively positive (referring to life). The premise about proportionality is needed to give the argument more formal validity. Presumably, Paul had it in mind as he formulated his argument.

This is a generous rewriting by me on Paul’s behalf, to align his argument with a standard form. Whether any of the premises is true or not need not concern us here, we are only verifying formal validity. The use of parallel contrasts between terms is rather typical of Paul’s a fortiori discourse. It is conceivable that he intended to say this, but at the same time wanted to add other ideas, and so spoke with his logical mouth a bit too full. Is this argument by Paul rabbinic in style? Truthfully, I do not remember coming across a rabbinic argument of similar form, although further research might discover one or more. Note that a very similar argument by Paul, not mentioned by Maccoby, is Romans 5:8-9. This reads:

“But God shows his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Having been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from the wrath of God through him.”

Here again, Paul seems to intend an a crescendo argument, viz.: if people who are still sinners (Q) are redeemable (R) enough to be justified by the death of Jesus (S1), then converts (i.e. those already “justified”) are redeemable (R) enough to be saved from punishment through him (S2). It is all a bit confusing, but can with a bit of effort be standardized.

I should add that both these arguments, i.e. Romans 5:8-9 ad 5:10, are not strictly speaking formally valid, but they are at least potentially so. They lack a clear middle term and major premise; and they lack a premise on proportionality, and furthermore a clear formula for calculation of the proportional change. For all that, I have accepted these two concrete arguments as (more or less) ‘valid’, for reasons that I have already laid out in my earlier theoretical treatment of such arguments. My position is, simply put, that we are not here concerned with the scientific truth of the premises and conclusion, or with the logical precision of the argument put forward, but merely with a rough estimate of its general credibility as a unit of ordinary discourse. If these arguments were Talmudic, I would accept them as reasonable in this loose sense; therefore, even if I do not agree with their content, I must to be fair grant their form the same ‘pass’ status.

The second example Maccoby gives is the following:

Romans 5:17. “For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus.”

This takes a while to understand, but when one looks at the context it becomes clearer. The minor premise refers to the ‘original sin’ by Adam – when that one man (Adam) trespassed (ate the forbidden fruit), death reigned (humanity became mortal) through that one (thanks to Adam). The conclusion refers to the benefits, according to Paul, of following Jesus – when the recipients of grace and righteousness (the Christian converts) follow the other one man (Jesus), life will reign (for them, thanks to him). Whether or not we agree with what he is saying, this seems to be Paul’s thought, although it is expressed by him in unnecessarily tortuous fashion. The way Paul puts it is rather confusing at first sight, but if we reshuffle the terms a little his intent becomes clearer. Thus, his argument might be construed as a positive subjectal a crescendo, as follows:

Following Jesus (P) is more powerful (R) than the trespass by Adam (Q);

and, the trespass by Adam (Q) was powerful (R) enough to cause many to die (S1);

also, existential consequences (life/death) (S) are proportional to the power (R) of causal acts;

therefore, following Jesus (P) is powerful (R) enough to cause many to live (S2).



Not all details of the original argument are carried over, but the gist of it is clearly there. I have inserted a middle term (R), viz. the “power” of causal acts, and used it to reconstruct the tacit major premise (which requires Christian faith in Jesus) and the tacit additional premise about proportionality (which seems reasonable enough as a generality). Now, the question is: is this valid reasoning? I would say—no.

Although this argument somewhat resembles the preceding, the intention here is clearly a contrario, i.e. if Q causes S1, then P, the opposite of Q, must cause S2, the opposite of S1. These two causations may happen to be both true, but it cannot be said that one necessarily proceeds from the other. The given premises by themselves do not allow us to infer the putative conclusion. Even if the crescendo from S1 to S2 is conceivable, it is not easy to provide an additional premise which guarantees that the switch from Q to its opposite P is precisely correlated with the switch from S1 to its opposite S2 – this degree of precision is very difficult to demonstrate. The argument is effectively a circular one, because we only imagine the correlation by virtue of the conclusion. Thus, the argument must be considered invalid.

It is true that the preceding argument, Romans 5:10 also seems a contrario, since it goes from enemies being ‘reconciled through a death’ to friends (the opposite of enemies) being ‘saved through a life’. But there, even though the contrast between death and life does give the argument an a contrario flavor, the two predicates are not strictly-speaking antithetical, because reconciliation and salvation are within the same polarity even if the latter is more positive than the former. Although such argument could also be rejected as tenuous on formal grounds, I have as earlier indicated let it pass as reasonable ordinary discourse. Similarly for the comparable argument of Romans 5:8-9.

On the other hand, in Romans 5:17, the two predicates (death and life) are diametrically opposed, and the argument is a clear case of a contrario, and therefore invalid. The same goes for another argument by Paul, not mentioned by Maccoby, namely Romans 5:15. This reads:

“If through the offence of the one [i.e. Adam’s original sin] many died, how much more did the grace of God, and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to many.”

More formally put: If the offence by Adam (Q) was powerful (R) enough to cause many to die (S1), then the gift by Jesus (P) will be powerful (R) enough to cause many to receive grace (S2). Here again, notice the radical opposition between Q and P and between S1 and S2, and the consequent difficulty of formulating some additional premise that would justify the simultaneous switchover from negative to positive of both these variables. For this reason, the argument must be viewed as invalid.

Thus, as regards the second example of a fortiori argument by Paul that Maccoby draws attention to, we have to agree with him that it is invalid, even if the reasons we have given are (as we shall see) different from the reasons he gives. As regards the question as to whether similar reasoning is found in rabbinic discourse, the answer this time is—yes. I have found at least one a contrario argument in a Jewish source. It is in the Mishna Makkoth 3:15, which reads:

“R. Hananiah the son of Gamaliel said: If in one transgression a transgressor forfeits his soul, how much more should one who performs one precept have his soul granted him!”

It is interesting to note that Paul’s thought in Romans 5:17 (and indeed in 5:15) is essentially much the same as this Mishnaic saying, except that Paul has injected Adam and Jesus into the equation. It is conceivable that Paul had this very maxim in mind when he formulated his own[28]. In any event, in my opinion (I could yet be wrong on this one), the said argument in the Mishna is formally as invalid as the said two in Romans[29]. Thus, although Paul’s formulation is a bit more complicated than R. Hananiah’s, he may have made it under Pharisaic influence!

Regarding the third example put forward by Maccoby:

Romans 11:15. “For if their [the Jews’] rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?”

Here, Paul seems to suggest that God’s rejection of the Jews brought about His reconciliation with the world, and therefore when He accepts them again something even better will occur, namely a general resurrection of the dead. Or maybe, that the Jews’ rejection of Jesus made possible his acceptance among the Gentiles, and therefore if the Jews decided one day to accept Jesus something even better will occur, namely a general resurrection of the dead. Or something like that – the subjects and objects intended are far from clear. Either they were not clear in Paul’s mind, or he had difficulty expressing his thought. Be that as it may, what we need to note is that Paul is saying that since “rejection” leads to “world reconciliation,” it follows that “acceptance,” which is obviously a more friendly attitude, must lead to proportionately more than mere “world reconciliation,” i.e. to “life from the dead.” More formally presented, Paul’s argument can be construed roughly as follows:

Acceptance (P) is a more positive attitude (R) than rejection (Q);

and, rejection (Q) is positive (R) enough to result in world reconciliation (S1);

therefore, acceptance (P) is positive (R) enough to result in life from the dead (S2).



Formally, what we have here is a positive antecedental a crescendo argument, since it progresses from “world reconciliation” to “life from the dead.” So, an additional premise about proportionality is required and presumably implicitly involved; something like “the desirability of the consequences (S1, S2) is proportional to the positivity (R value) of the antecedent events (Q, P),” which is not unreasonable[30]. So, the argument as such can be said to be valid, even if its terms are far from lacking in ambiguity and its minor premise, however it is interpreted, is open to doubt.

This argument, like that in Romans 5:10, has an a contrario flavor, insofar as its subjects (vaguely put, “rejection” and “acceptance”) are antithetical and its predicates look a bit like opposites (because “life from the dead” includes mention of death, whereas “world reconciliation” does not). But of course, it is in truth not a contrario, since the term “life from the dead” is in fact positive and indeed more positive than the term “world reconciliation.” So it can, like Romans 5:10, be considered valid. This is, of course, after generous rewriting by me on Paul’s behalf, for the purpose of standardization. Here again, notice Paul’s signature style, depicting a rising progression from negatives to positives and from lesser things to greater things. I do not know if similar rhetoric occurs in in rabbinical discourse; but if it does, it must be quite rare. So the form of the argument could perhaps eventually pass as rabbinical, even if its content would definitely not.

Note that a very similar argument by Paul, not mentioned by Maccoby, is Romans 11:12. This reads:

“If their [the Jews’] fall means riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles; how much more will their fullness bring?”

This sentence in fact contains two arguments with the same thrust: If the Jews’ fall means riches for the world, then their fullness will bring about something better. And: If the Jews’ failure means riches for the Gentiles, then their fullness will bring about something better. Here again, some negative remarks by Paul about the Jews, claiming them to have fallen and failed, presumably because they did not acknowledge Jesus as divine. The statement is no doubt viewed by Paul as positive, since he considers that their recalcitrance did not prevent (or maybe enabled) spiritual enrichment for the world, and he predicts that if they change their mind, even better things will result (this being tacit, but obviously intended in the rhetorical question). The use of a rhetorical question in lieu of a definite conclusion is stylistically very rabbinic.

The fourth example of Pauline a fortiori argument considered by Maccoby is:

Romans 11:24. “After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!”

We see at once that this statement makes sense, and would be acceptable in rabbinical disputation. It can easily be recast in the following, positive predicatal form (note how it proceeds from major to minor, from the more difficult act to the easier one):

More compatibility (R) is required to graft cuttings into another olive tree (P) than to do so into the same olive tree (Q);

and, a wild olive tree cutting (S) is compatible (R) enough to be grafted into another, cultivated tree (P);

therefore, a wild olive tree cutting (S) is compatible (R) enough to be grafted into its own, wild tree (Q).



Note that this argument is purely a fortiori (since the subsidiary term, S, remains constant), whereas all the preceding instances were a crescendo. Although it can be considered valid, Paul’s habitual mental gymnastics are evident in it: a branch is “grafted,” as against “cut out,” in a manner “contrary to nature,” as against “natural,” into a “cultivated,” as against “wild by nature,” olive tree. It is clear that Paul enjoys such entangling thoughts.

We have thus far looked at seven of Paul’s a fortiori arguments, four mentioned by Maccoby and another three not mentioned by him. These are all the a fortiori arguments in Romans. There are another five a fortiori arguments by Paul in: 1 Corinthians 6:3; 2 Corinthians 3:7-8, 3:9, 3:10-11; and Philemon 1:15-17. There are additionally four a fortiori arguments which might be (could well be, in my view) by Paul in Hebrews 9:13-14, 10:28-29, 12:9, 12:25. None of these arguments are mentioned, or taken into consideration, by Maccoby. I will not list them all here; but if the interested reader looks them up, he or she will see that most of them (including those in Hebrews) have features very similar to those highlighted above. Paul’s distinctive style is easily recognized in them.

The following is just one example, found in Hebrews 9:13-14: “For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who are unclean, sanctifies them so their flesh is clean: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, cleanse your consciences from dead works to serve the living God?” Notice the contrasts: between animal sacrifices and Jesus’ self-sacrifice; between the uncleanness of those who are sprinkled with ashes and the spotlessness of Jesus; between the cleansing of the flesh in the first instance and the cleansing of consciences in the second; between dead works and the living God. The underlying argument form is simply a crescendo; but the suggestive play of light and shade looks very Pauline.

As regards the four arguments in Romans brought to our attention by Maccoby, following our own analysis above we can say the following about them in the way of a summary. In all four cases, the wording is far from straightforward, and not entirely clear; but with a bit of effort and imagination the intended arguments can be recast in standard forms. The first two can be construed as positive subjectal, the third as positive antecedental, and the fourth as positive predicatal. The first three are a crescendo arguments, and the fourth is purely a fortiori argument. Three of the arguments may be considered valid; but one is invalid. The validity of the first and third arguments is here accepted, even though in a stricter perspective it is open to debate. The invalid argument is the second, and its invalidity is due to its peculiar a contrario form. As for whether Paul’s discourse has or lacks “rabbinical style” – the question is difficult to answer conclusively. He has his own peculiar style – that is all that can be said with certainty.

Maccoby’s assessment of the four arguments differs considerably from mine, due to his different theoretical understanding of the nature and conditions of validity of a fortiori argument. He judges the first three of the said arguments by Paul as invalid and the fourth as valid. He regards the three invalid arguments as invalid because the predicate in each putative conclusion is never identical to the predicate in the minor premise. This, according to Maccoby, does not conform to the rabbinic dayo (sufficiency) principle, which he sees as interdicting all ‘proportional’ a fortiori argument (i.e. all a crescendo argument).

Maccoby is right in his observation that, as regards the first three arguments, the predicates in the minor premise and conclusion do not match. But in my opinion he is wrong in his assumption that this is necessarily a breach of the dayo principle. This principle, as I have shown in earlier chapters (7-8), only forbids the inference, from the penalty prescribed in the Torah for a certain crime, to a greater penalty (not prescribed in the Torah) for a greater crime. It is not a general proscription of proportionality. If we look at the three arguments in question, viz. Romans 5:10, 5:17 and 11:5, we see that none of them are to do with inference of a penalty – they all conclude with what Paul perceives as an increased good.

In fact, looking at all 28 a fortiori arguments found in the Christian Bible, only one might be construed as involving a breach of the dayo principle. This is the argument in Hebrews 10:28-29 – of which Paul could well be the author, in view of its tortuous style. I have analyzed this argument in more detail in a previous section (10.1). Suffices here to point out that it argues from an (alleged) death sentence for breach of Mosaic law to a “more severe punishment” for various unchristian attitudes or acts. Insofar as Mosaic law is mentioned in the premise, and an increase in punishment is mentioned in the conclusion, this may be said to be a breach of dayo.

Of course, no rabbi would accept this inference anyway, since the conclusion concerns matters that have nothing to do with Judaism. That is, the rabbis would strongly object to its (tacit) major premise, which places Christian values above Jewish ones. But as regards application of the rabbinical dayo principle, this is the only place where it might conceivably be formally applied; and its effect would be to declare the conclusion excessive, i.e. lacking conformity with Judaic standards of inference. But this constitutes a religious norm – not as Maccoby imagines a logical one. Logically, the argument is passable. This does not mean that its content is necessarily true, but simply means that if the required major premise and premise about proportionality were given, the conclusion would follow from the minor premise. The missing premises are, however, open to doubt.

Furthermore, it should be said that it would be inaccurate to say that the dayo principle is regarded by the rabbis as an absolutely unbreakable rule. We have seen in our study of the Baba Qama 25a that some rabbis allowed its occasional breach. Maccoby fails to mention that—not, I think, out of dishonesty, but because he regards the dayo principle as identical with the principle of deduction (i.e. the logical rule that the conclusion of a deductive inference cannot contain information not given explicitly or implicitly in the premises). This belief of his is based only on the Sages’ objection to the first argument of R. Tarfon in the Mishna, without regard to their objection to R. Tarfon’s second argument (which Maccoby fails to notice and take into consideration).

Due to his limited understanding of the dayo principle, Maccoby does not give credence to the Gemara which throws some doubt on it. He does not admit the possibility that it might have been Torah-decreed, as claimed by the Gemara. Maccoby rejects the Gemara as a late interpolation by some comparatively ignorant Amora. He does not notice the fact that the Gemara presents this thesis as being of Tannaic origin (i.e. as a baraita), in which case it was historically much earlier than he supposes. Anyway, since the Gemara was settled, its account is accepted as kosher; that is to say, rightly or wrongly most rabbis do accept that a fortiori argument may occasionally be performed without regard to dayo. Indeed, they generally believe, following the Gemara, that the natural conclusion of an a fortiori argument is ‘proportional’, and that an artificial decree is necessary to prevent such conclusion. Maccoby does not convincingly take these givens of Judaism into consideration.[31]

Anyhow, returning to Maccoby’s criticism of Paul, his analysis proceeds as follows. Since only Paul’s fourth argument can be considered as valid, a success rate of one out of four can hardly be regarded as skillful performance. As well, every student in rabbinic academies knows the dayo principle; so Paul, who did not apply this rule, cannot have been a Pharisee. But as we have seen, of the three arguments by Paul considered invalid by Maccoby, two are in fact valid; and the remaining invalid argument is not invalid for the reason given by Maccoby. Moreover, the dayo principle is not an issue in any of the arguments that Maccoby focused on. So Maccoby’s criticism here was unjustified.

Of course, Paul can still be criticized on other grounds, mainly the evident confusion in his way of thinking and verbal expression, not to mention his unorthodox religious ideas and values. A Christian commentator, one James Patrick Holding[32], unhappy with negative judgments of Paul by Maccoby, engages in ad hominem and other fallacious attacks on him, and then complains as follows:

“Maccoby gives Paul a failing grade on 3 out of 4, accusing him of ‘woolly, imprecise reasoning’ and going ‘far beyond the conclusion warranted’ – the bottom line being, Paul cannot be a Pharisee or a rabbinic exegete, because he ‘was arguing for a doctrine of which the Pharisees would have disapproved strongly.’ (pp. 65-6). Now, did the reader catch that? Paul can’t be a Pharisee or a rabbinic exegete, because he comes to conclusions that are false by Pharisee thinking… i.e., because he asserts that Christianity is true. All 4 of these arguments, in fact, are quite sensible if what Paul argues is based on what is true; but that is the very point at issue, and Maccoby has merely started by assuming from the get-go that Christianity as we know it is a Pauline fraud. Once again, all he does here is argue in circles.”

This is an unfair counterargument disingenuously posing as logical criticism. Holding is saying that Maccoby denies Paul’s Pharisee credentials simply because he dislikes his Christian conclusions. But this is evidently not Maccoby’s approach. Maccoby clearly bases his rejection of Paul’s Pharisee pretentions on his (alleged) demonstration of Paul’s inability to reason correctly and in accord with rabbinic standards and practices (as he sees them). There is no prejudice on Maccoby’s part, no circularity in his argument. His denial of Pharisee status to Paul is Maccoby’s conclusion, not his premise. He does not primarily question Paul’s concrete conclusions, but the process through which Paul drew them, which he judges (albeit incorrectly) to be pseudo-logical. It is not the content of Paul’s discourse Maccoby attacks, but its form.

Contrary to Holding’s claim, the invalidity of Paul’s arguments (according to Maccoby) does not depend on the truth of the premises – it is an issue of process. Whether the premises are true or false, conclusions obtained by such means are invalid. Invalid does not mean false – the conclusions may still be true for other reasons – but they cannot be true for the reasons advanced, since the process is faulty. This is elementary logical doctrine, which Holding has evidently not yet grasped. Let us recall that Maccoby has demonstrated his intellectual integrity with regard to Judaism, too – he does not fear to criticize apparent wrong reasoning by the Amoraic writer of the Gemara Baba Qama 25a. He evidently tries to be an unbiased observer. So he is not some Jewish fanatic blindly attacking Christian doctrine, as Holding tries to depict him.

Maccoby’s critical attitude of Paul is, in my opinion, most fitting with regard to Romans 7:1-6, which reads as follows:

“You cannot be unaware, my friends – I am speaking to those who have some knowledge of law – that a person is subject to the law so long as he is alive, and no longer. For example, a married woman is by law bound to her husband while he lives; but if her husband dies, she is discharged from the obligations of the marriage-law. If, therefore, in her husband’s lifetime she consorts with another man, she will incur the charge of adultery; but if her husband dies she is free of the law, and she does not commit adultery by consorting with another man. So you, my friends, have died to the law by becoming identified with the body of Christ, and accordingly you have found another husband in him who rose from the dead, so that we may bear fruit for God. While we lived on the level of our lower nature, the sinful passions evoked by the law worked in our bodies, to bear fruit for death. But now, having died to that which held us bound, we are discharged from the law, to serve God in a new way, the way of the spirit, in contrast to the old way, the way of a written code.”

I agree with Maccoby’s analysis of this passage and his conclusion that Paul is “muddle-headed.” Paul here claims an analogy between a widow who consorts with a man (since her husband is dead, her act is not adultery), and converts (i.e. ex-Jews, presumably) who have taken up a new religion (Christianity). Whereas it is the widow’s husband’s death that frees her from the law against adultery, in the case of the converts it is claimed that it is they who have died “to the law,” and that “having died” they are “discharged from the law.” Moreover, the man (“another husband”) they consort with is someone who “rose from the dead,” so that the predicate of death originally applied to the widow’s husband is now implicitly applied to the widow’s consort. Such discourse can rightly be characterized as “muddle-headed.”

Of course, Paul is saying something comprehensible. He is saying that the converts being no longer bound to their “lower nature,” having adopted the “way of the spirit,” have no need of the “old way, the way of a written code” (i.e. the Torah), which was designed to control their “sinful passions” and indeed perhaps “evoked” them. But the issue here is not what he is saying, but how he is saying it. His form of discourse is faulty, whatever its content might be – and that reveals something negative about his intellectual abilities, i.e. his psycho-epistemology. In short, Paul does not have a very logical mind[33]. An amusing comment in this regard is passed on by Solomon Schechter[34]: “Harnack makes somewhere the remark that, in the first two centuries of Christianity, no man understood Paul except that heathen-Christian Marcion, and he misunderstood him.”

This study of Paul’s attempts at logic is of course not exhaustive, and an exhaustive study would of course be welcome. But enough evidence has been adduced for us to draw a rather negative overall conclusion as suggested by Maccoby. Personally, I have always found Christian discourse a bit befuddling; I now better understand why. I do however understand that Paul’s language may sound pleasant to Christians. To their ears, its illogical structure is not a problem, but music and poetry. The message of love and salvation is, finally, all that matters to them. They are not concerned with technical issues.

To conclude our brief study: it is not possible to judge whether Paul did or did not receive a Pharisee education merely by looking at his a fortiori argumentation. The only way to really answer this question is to examine the degree of Paul’s knowledge (or lack of knowledge) of Jewish law, which we have not done here. What is evident from Paul’s discourse is that he had, after his conversion to Christianity, a very negative opinion of Judaism. This can be seen for instances in the two a fortiori arguments in 2 Corinthians 3:6-9:

“Who has also made us able ministers of a new covenant; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter kills, but the spirit gives life. For if the ministry of death, written and engraved in stone, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance; and that glory fading: Shall not the ministry of the spirit be even more glorious? For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, far more does the ministry of righteousness exceed it in glory.”[35]

Notice the very negative characterizations of Judaism as “the letter [that] kills,” “the ministry of death,” and “the ministry of condemnation.” Whether this strong antipathy was the result of a close contact with Judaism in the past which ended in deep disillusionment or was the result of very superficial past acquaintance with it needs investigating. My personal impression offhand – I claim no expertise in the matter – is that Paul’s criticism of Judaism was very overall, very vague: it was not the criticism of an ex-scholar, i.e. someone able to formulate detailed and conclusive arguments. As regards Paul’s substantive accusation, here, viz. that Judaism is a religion concerned with ‘the letter’ (i.e. soulless rituals) instead of ‘the spirit’ (i.e. soulful consciousness of God), this can easily be refuted.

While it is true that Jewish worship is always in danger of being an empty shell, it is also true that we are always expected to overcome this natural tendency and put some life into our worship. This problem of form without content is present in all religions, because it is part and parcel of the human condition. It is present even in Christian ritual – someone can regularly go to church, yet spend his or her time there idly chatting with a neighbor; or someone can be always nattily dressed as a bishop, yet behind the scenes engage in despicable pederastic orgies. Even in Zen meditation, which is in principle devoid of ritual, it is easy to lose one’s concentration and be carried away by random thoughts. The human mind is fickle and readily wanders off; repeated effort is required to produce and sustain full presence of mind. Sometimes, the mind perversely does the opposite of what one wants it to do.

In Judaism, as in other religions, external observance without inner commitment is not regarded very highly. In Isaiah 29:13, God is reported as complaining that: “this people draw near, and with their mouth and with their lips do honour Me, but have removed their heart far from Me, and their fear of Me is a commandment of men learned by rote” [36]. Jewish teachers today are well aware of the danger, and they enjoin people to add kavanah (intention) to their observance, and not just practice in a mindless manner. That is, when praying to be aware of the words and to mean them; when donning phylacteries to do it attentively, aware of the significance of the act; and so forth. No doubt it was the same in Paul’s day, i.e. during the Mishnaic period. However, Judaism does not condemn inattention outright, as Paul seems to have done. Performing the mitzvot (commandments) in a mechanical manner is not recommended, but it is certainly accepted as better than not performing them at all. Judaism is realistic and aware that it is not easy for most people to attain the ideal of full attention and intention.

Another common interpretation of Paul’s letter-spirit dichotomy is that, whereas Judaism was a religion which put the emphasis on “works,” Christianity was to stress “faith.” To be “saved,” a Jew had to “perform,” whereas a Christian needed only to “believe.” This, I would say, was a lure, a sales pitch – for I cannot conceive of anyone being accepted as a good Christian who does not eventually behave in a certain way, a way Christians consider acceptable. Of course, entrance into the fold has to be free of charge, or almost so, to attract converts; but once in, the convert must to a large extent conform to the norms and mores of the group he or she has joined, or face rejection. This is true in all religions. Faith and conduct cannot logically be dissociated: good conduct expresses sincere faith; whereas bad conduct expresses insincere faith, which means: lack of faith. Conduct is the seal of truth and measure of faith. Actions speak louder than words. One can, of course, argue about which actions are best; but some sort of action is necessary.

The importance of faith (in God and in the Torah) is not denied in Judaism, but on the contrary it is emphasized. For instance, the Gemara (Makkoth 24a) teaches, in the name of R. Simlai: “But it is Habakuk who came and based them [the 613 commandments] all on one [principle], as it is said: ‘But the righteous shall live by his faith’.” This passage (Habakuk 2:4) just means that faith is necessary for religious practice, not that it replaces it. The 613 commandments are “based on” faith; it is they, and not merely the faith underlying them, which make a man “righteous” and make possible for him to “live” spiritually. Faith is indeed part of the spiritual path, but it cannot by itself take a man very far along it. Additional acts are required, on the material, mental and spiritual planes, to progress further.[37]

So, Paul’s criticism of Judaism is unfair. I am not saying that he had no right to criticize it, note well. I would and do say that Judaism deserves criticism in many respects. But I just do not think Paul zeroed in on precisely what, in it, deserves criticism. Note also that his criticism is not logically applicable to all Jewish law. Although many Jewish laws have to do with ritual (laws relating to animal sacrifices, permitted/forbidden foods, ritual purity, and so forth), many Jewish laws have nothing to do with ritual. They are aimed at ensuring justice, peace and social cohesion; they are about murder, theft, damages, commerce, inheritance, marriage, divorce, charity, and so on. Surely Paul was not against such laws, which are necessary (in some form or other) for any functioning society! Certainly, Christian societies also had to and do have such laws. So his comments lack precision in this respect too.

We might further speculate that Paul was a man ahead of his time, who found the rigid regulation by Judaism of all aspects of people’s lives all the time to be oppressive and antithetical to genuine spirituality. This was the rule (i.e. the dominion) of the “letter”– always having to follow some regulation or other – and he advocated in its stead the rule of the “spirit” – a freer, more spontaneous approach to worship of God. Many of today’s Jews would, in truth, agree with this more secular vision of religion, although those with some experience of Judaism know this to be something of a caricature. Some religious people are indeed spiritually inert; but others manage to lead inspired, lively lives. But was Paul really as modern as this reading suggests? Remember that before his conversion to Christianity Paul was by his own admission an extremist, persecuting Christians[38] against the advice of his Pharisee teacher Gamaliel. Judging by the negative tone of his subsequent statements against Judaism and Jews, it does not seem that his character radically changed through conversion. He was still antagonistic; only the target of his animus changed.[39]

Judging by his harsh words, I think Paul had a personal ax to grind. He verbally degrades Jews, speaking of their “fall,” “failure,” and “rejection.” The term “ministry of condemnation” is perhaps indicative of his feeling rejected by fellow Jews. The term “ministry of death” is perhaps indicative of the deep pain such rejection caused in him. These terms may also allude to the condemnation and killing of Jesus, and thus perhaps intend a blood libel, but their main intent is clearly criticism of the Torah, the doctrine “engraved in stone.” Considering Paul’s Jewish roots, one can’t help comparing his behavior to that of ‘self-hating’ Jews of the present day, like Noam Chomsky, George Soros or Yariv Oppenheimer, to name but three, who due to some obscure personal resentment against other Jews, perhaps merely wounded pride, go abroad sowing seeds of ill-will against the Jewish people. The irony of their position is that it is precisely because they are born Jews that their words are given weight. Such Jews forget the Torah’s admonition (Leviticus 19:18):

“Thou shalt not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”

Note that this is a purely spiritual instruction, without an iota of ritual in it. One cannot fulfill the letter of it without fulfilling the spirit of it. One cannot fake it, or go through the motions of it half-heartedly. It enjoins us to be conscious of our passions and learn to actually dominate them. This is not easy to do, when one’s feelings are hurt and one yearns to get back at those who hurt them. Did Paul practice this commandment? I suspect not. It is doubtful, anyway, that he took it and others like it into consideration when he accused Judaism of consisting of “letter” without “spirit.”

But the bottom line in any Jewish criticism of Paul is his Christian belief that Jesus was “the Son of God.” This was a radical break from Judaism. The concept is not, has never been and will never be part of Judaism. The idea of a “messiah” is Jewish – but this refers to a human being, not to an incarnation or offspring of God; a spiritually exceptional man, to be sure, but still a man. The moment any Jew accepts the idea of a “son of God,” he places himself outside the bounds of Judaism; he belongs to a very different religion, called Christianity. This is not “a sect” of Judaism, even if historically rooted in it and sharing many beliefs and values with it; it is something apart, with its own course and destination. It is not a Jewish path at all, even though there are some people today – the “Jews for Jesus” and other Christian missionaries – who pretend that it is.

4. In later Christian discourse

Knowing that a fortiori argument is frequently used in the Christian Bible, and indeed in the Jewish Bible which Christians also study often, and moreover that a fortiori argument was often enough used in the Greek and Roman worlds where Christianity took root and evolved, it is natural to expect that such argument would be commonly used in later Christian literature. I searched mechanically for 19 key phrases[40], which are usually indicative of a fortiori discourse, in a couple of important Christian writings to confirm this prediction.

In the Confessions[41] of Augustine of Hippo (354-430 CE), I found 10 possible cases: how much more (2), how much less (2), so much less (1), how much the more (1), so much the more (3), and even more (1). In the Summa Theologica[42] by Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274 CE), I found 176 cases: a fortiori (3), all the more (54), all the same (2), how much more (15), how much less (2), so much more (4), so much the more (32), so much the less (4), still more (40), still less (12), even more (8). Note that I found no case of the expression ‘a fortiori’ in Augustine’s book, and only three cases in that of Thomas Aquinas.[43]

The exactitude of the statistics given here is of course not very important. For this reason, I did not verify that each case counted was indeed an a fortiori argument. Also note, it may well be that some a fortiori arguments were not counted, because they do not involve the key phrases used as search strings. I did notice that a few of the a fortiori arguments in Thomas Aquinas’ book were actually quotations from the Jewish and Christian Bibles; but that is an interesting finding in itself, so I did not exclude those cases.

Also noteworthy is that neither Augustine nor Thomas Aquinas discuss the a fortiori argument in these two books – they only use it. Well, that was to be expected, since these books are not inquiries into logic theory. I do not know where in Christian literature (as against literature by Christians) I might find discussion of the a fortiori argument as such. This is of course a more interesting topic of research than merely counting how often the argument is used. Wiseman[44] mentions a book that might be helpful in this regard:

“A similar example to the lenient dayo is from the Digest of Justinian, no 49, in Albert Gautier, Introduction to Roman Law for Studies in Canon Law, (Rome: Faculty of Canon Law, St. Thomas University, 1994), page 154: In poenis bensignior est interpretatio facienda. ‘In penalties, the more benign interpretation is to be applied.’”

I have not looked at this book, but judging from this brief citation it seems to point to a principle in Christian (or is it earlier Roman?) law that resembles the rabbinic dayo principle. Where it differs, perhaps, is in its apparent general applicability to penal law (note the unqualified reference to “interpretation”), whereas the rabbinic sufficiency principle is usually considered as specific in Jewish law to ‘proportional’ a fortiori argument (although I would view it as more broadly applicable to any ‘proportional’ argument).

“In penalties, the more benign interpretation is to be applied.” This is the kind of text worth looking into. There are, of course, many potential resources in the Internet, including full listings of Catholic and other canon law codes. However, I will not attempt to research this issue further. It is something that should be dealt with by someone with more than my minimal interest in and knowledge of Christian hermeneutics. This job surely has yet to be done – because it can only be properly done in the light of my novel work in a fortiori logic, so whatever was done before it is inadequate.

5. Additional findings

Surfing again through the Internet more recently, after writing all the above, I discovered (to my dismay) that there are many passages of the NT that are considered as a fortiori and that I have not included in my list. I found these additional instances in various websites, where they are used for preaching purposes; but I did not note down the names of the websites. There are, I have little doubt, more instances to be found; but I did not pursue the matter further. The instances I found were: Matthew 10:29-31, Luke 16:10 (2 instances, of which 1 invalid) and Luke 16:12, Luke 18:6-8, Romans 8:32, John 7:23 and John 10:35-6. Of these 8 instances, as we shall now see, 7 are technically valid while one is invalid.[45]

In Matthew 10:29-31, Jesus says: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” The a fortiori argument here is: if a sparrow (Q), whose is worth (R) little, is under God’s protection (Sq), then you (P), who are worth (R) much more, is under God’s protection even more (Sp) – so don’t be afraid. This is clearly an a crescendo argument of positive subjectal form, going from minor to major, and therefore valid.

Concerning Luke 16:10 and 12. In Luke 16:1-9, Jesus tells the parable of a manager who is asked by the property owner, who suspects him of “wasting his possessions,” to give an account of his work; so the manager uses his position to cancel a portion of the owner’s debtors’ debts, so as to gain their favors in case he loses his job; whereupon (surprisingly[46]) the owner commends the manager for shrewdness! Presumably, then, the owner was initially dissatisfied with the manager, not because he wasted his possessions in worldly economic terms, but because he wasted them on material pursuits instead of using them in spiritual pursuits; for Jesus uses this story to illustrate the dictum: “use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” Then in Luke 16:10-12, Jesus makes four statements, apparently connected to this parable, which seem intended as a fortiori arguments. The problem with them is that while the last two are valid, only one of the first two can be valid.

Verse 10 states: “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” These would appear to be two purely a fortiori arguments: (a) If someone (S) is trustworthy (R) with very little (Q), then he (S) is trustworthy (R) with much (P); and (b) if someone (S) is not trustworthy (R) with very little (Q), then he (S) is not trustworthy (R) with much (P). Granting that “very little” and “much” refer to responsibilities, then the argument of v. 10(b) would be valid since it is minor-to-major and negative predicatal; but the argument of v. 10(a) would be invalid since it is minor-to-major and positive predicatal. If we tried to fix this problem by interpreting “very little” and “much” as referring to demands for rewards, say, then argument (a) would be major-to-minor and valid, but (b) would be minor-to-major and invalid. Therefore, Jesus is here contradicting himself, however we interpret his words in v. 10.[47]

Verses 11-12 state: “So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?” These two arguments are purely a fortiori, negative predicatal in form, and apparently intended to go from minor to major, which means they are valid. Moreover, they resemble argument (b) of v. 10 – which suggests that the missing word in v. 10 is ‘responsibilities’; in which case we can say with some certainty that it is argument (a) of v. 10 which is invalid. In any case, it is sure that Jesus commits an error of logic somewhere in this passage. Obviously, someone who makes such an error cannot claim to be infallible (or at least, the document where the error is made cannot be claimed to be an accurate report). Note that I have already mentioned Luke 16:11 in my earlier list, so I do not count it as an additional instance here.

Concerning Luke 18:6-8. In Luke 18:1-5 Jesus tells the parable of “a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought” would was repeatedly approached by a widow demanding justice in a case against someone; at first the judge refuses to get involved, but finally decides to do her justice so as to get her off his back. Jesus uses this story to encourage his disciples to “always pray and not give up.” Then in Luke 18:6-8 he proposes the following argument: “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.” This can be read as a purely a fortiori argument, as follows: if even an unjust human judge (Q) is (say) wise (R) enough to eventually relent and do justice if insistently appealed to (S), then God who is just (P) is wise (R) enough to eventually relent and do justice if insistently appealed to (S). We could also read the argument as a crescendo, if we mention the “widow” in the subsidiary term in the minor premise and the “chosen ones” in the subsidiary term in the conclusion; and it seems clear that the latter interpretation is the more accurate one. In any case, the argument is positive subjectal, and goes from minor to major, and is therefore valid.

In Romans 8:32, the author (Paul) argues: “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” The a fortiori argument intended here is: if God (S) cared for humans (R) enough to give up his son for them (P), then He cares for them (R) enough to graciously give them all things (Q). This is purely a fortiori, positive predicatal argument, going from major to minor, and therefore valid. We could throw some doubt on Paul’s reasoning here, if we consider that the predicate of the minor premise is “give up his son” and that of the conclusion is originally “give up his son and graciously give people all things” – for then the latter is clearly “more” caring than the former, and the argument becomes minor-to-major and therefore invalid. However, we can just retort that the conjunction between “give up his son” and “graciously give people all things” occurs after the valid a fortiori argument has concluded.

In John 7:23, Jesus argues: “if a boy can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing a man’s whole body on the Sabbath?” That is to say: if circumcision on the Sabbath (Q) is important (R) enough not to be contrary to Mosaic law (S), then healing a man’s whole body on the Sabbath (P) is important (R) enough not to be contrary to Mosaic law (S). This is purely a fortiori argument, of positive subjectal form, going from minor to major, and therefore technically valid. Regarding the material issue at hand, as I explain in an earlier section of the present chapter (10.2), the dispute seems to have been unnecessary, since Mosaic law does not in fact forbid, but rather encourages (when the danger is serious enough), curing a sick person on the Sabbath.

In Judaism, the protection of life is considered a paramount value, which makes all other values possible; there are some exceptions to this rule, but Sabbath observance is not one of them. Moreover, it is doubtful that “healing” in the sense here used constitutes Sabbath “work,” in which case it is not forbidden as such (though it might be forbidden as sorcery). So what is Jesus trying to prove, by means of this a fortiori argument? Not that Mosaic law allows healing people on the Sabbath, but that he is above Mosaic law. According to him (or to the book’s author, John), Mosaic law does – absurdly, inhumanely – forbid healing on the Sabbath, and Jesus – who is “sent” by God (v. 18) – decrees otherwise. Thus, the a fortiori argument is not intended as a proof within the Mosaic system of law, but as a rejection of that system (at least in the said instance). Note Jesus’ adversarial attitude, indeed his paranoia, implied by his statement (in v. 19) “Why are you trying to kill me?” – to which the crowd incredulously replies (in v. 20) “Who is trying to kill you?”

In John 10:34-6, Jesus argues: “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods’? If he called them ‘gods’, to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be set aside—what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’?” The a fortiori argument intended here is: if people to “whom the word of God came” (Q) are sufficiently exalted (R) to be called ‘gods’ (Sq), then a person “whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world” (P) is sufficiently exalted (R) to be called “God’s Son” (Sp). This is clearly an a crescendo argument, of positive subjectal form, going from minor to major, and therefore technically valid.

However, it should also be pointed out that the argument is circular, or at least ‘custom made’ to yield the desire conclusion. The context for it is given in verses 30-33 – there we see Jesus claiming: “I and the Father are one.” Some people then pick up stones to stone him. He apparently does not understand why they would want to do that, saying: “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?” To which they reply: “We are not stoning you for any good work, but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” Whereupon Jesus offers the said a fortiori argument. But it is clear that this argument does not prove him to be “God’s son,” since it is premised on the already controversial idea that he is a person “whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world;” and moreover, though the purely a fortiori conclusion that he is to be called a ‘god’ might follow from that, we have only his say-so that the argument ought to be a crescendo and conclude with a proportionately higher title.

Summing up. Thus, to conclude, there are at least eight more a fortiori arguments in the NT to add to our earlier list of such arguments. Of these, 1 is in Matthew, 4 are in Luke, 1 is in Romans and 2 are in John. One of those in Luke is, as we have shown, invalid, while all the others are formally valid (even if we may disagree with their contents). All these arguments are spoken by Jesus, except the one in Romans which is authored by Paul.

As regards the forms of argument used[48]: 4 are positive subjectal, 2 are positive predicatal and 2 are negative predicatal; also, 5 are purely a fortiori, while 3 are a crescendo. As regards the language used in them to suggest a fortiori reasoning: in Matthew 10:29-31, the words “even” and “more” seem to play that role; in Luke 16:10, the words “very little,” “much” and “also” are involved; in Luke 16:12, the rhetorical “if not, then who?” is used; in Luke 18:6-8, it is “will not?”; Romans 8:32 similarly has: “how will he not also?”; John 7:23 resorts to “why?”; and John 10:35-6 to “what about?”. Evidently, the language used is not distinctively a fortiori, even if we clearly intuitively see in each case that the intent is so.

I have not tried to merge the results of my earlier and more recent research more seamlessly, partly so as to avoid rewriting the present chapter altogether, and partly so as to show readers how to proceed with new findings – since it is possible if not probable that there will be still more instances found in the future. But I can briefly sum up as follows: we have thus far discovered a grand total of 28 + 8 = 36 instances of a fortiori argument in the NT.



[1] The books constituting the Christian Bible are referred to by Christians as the “New Testament” (abbr. NT), while those constituting the Jewish Bible as the “Old Testament” (abbr. OT).

[2] Please note that I have more recently come across 8 additional instances. These I report in a separate section of the present chapter, further on. The total is now therefore 36.

[3] Paul was in the past assumed by some to have also authored the epistles to the Hebrews, but this assumption was not universally accepted; nowadays, most experts reject it.

[4] In Rabbinic Thought in the Talmud, pp. 113-114. Note that Jacobs also cites three examples from the Biblical Apocrypha: Ecclesiasticus 10:31, 14:5, and Wisdom of Solomon 13:3. I have not searched through the Apocrypha, or for that matter the Pseudepigrapha, for a fortiori arguments, but clearly this is a job worth doing and likely to reap a rich and interesting harvest. Even if such literature is non-canonical, it is historically significant.

[5] See the section devoted to this author later in the present volume.

[6] Namely: Matthew 12:11-12; Luke 13:15-16; Romans 5:10, 11:15, 2 Corinthians 3:7-8, 3:9, 3:10-11; Hebrews 9:13-14, 10:28-29. For example, in Luke 13:15-16 the increase is from ‘untying an animal from its stall so as to allow it to drink water’ to ‘cutting loose a woman from a demonic bond so as to heal her’; these are obviously two degrees of ‘setting free and relieving’.

[7] Namely, Hebrews 10:28-29.

[8] Though all these remarks are made with regard to ‘copulative’ a fortiori arguments, similar ones can be made with regard to ‘implicational’ arguments.

[9] However, before surmising that Jesus is infallible, see the section on Additional findings (10.5), where it is shown that Jesus commits one error of reasoning (in Luke 16:10).

[10] See for instance: Romans 5:10: “If, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we shall be saved by his life.” Here, the argument is valid, although the subjects ‘who were enemies’ and ‘who have been reconciled’ are contrary, the predicates ‘reconciliation with God’ and ‘being saved’ are two degrees of the same thing, even if they are given an a contrario flavor by their further qualifications, viz. “by the death of his Son” and “by his life.” We could here too argue that the conclusion cannot be drawn from the premises without taking the conclusion as a premise; but because of the vagueness of the contrast between the predicates here, we can generously say that the conclusion is not really needed as a premise to draw the conclusion, especially if we ignore the said further qualifications. On this basis, I have counted the argument as valid; but it is admittedly a borderline case. Romans 5:8-9 is not very different, though a bit less unsure. Note that although I have counted it as purely a fortiori, it could be considered as a crescendo.

[11] Haï Bar-Zeev, in Une lecture juive du Coran (Paris: Berg, 2005), on p. 62, cites some anti-Semitic statements by Jesus: “You brood of vipers. How can you speak good, when you are evil?” (Matt. 12:34), “O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you?” (Matt. 17:17), “O ye of little faith” (Luke 12:28), “Ye are of your father the devil” (John, 8:44), “All [i.e. the rabbis] that ever came before me are thieves and robbers” (John, 10:8). Obviously, these are not pondered, empirical and rational judgments, but emotional outbursts. Note also the episode when Jesus initiated physical violence against certain merchants and caused them material losses (see Mark 11:15-16; Matt. 21:12; Luke 19:45; and John 2:13-16). One cannot avoid reflecting on the many Christians who, over the past two thousand years, have felt justified by such statements and stories to kill and otherwise persecute many, many innocent Jews.

[12] However, I would want to challenge the Christian inclinations of some contemporary Jews, those who call themselves “Jews for Jesus” or “messianic Jews.” Christianity is not a sect of Judaism, but a quite different religion, even if the two have some common beliefs and one is historically an offshoot of the other to a large extent. Similarly, the differences between Judaism and Islam, and between Christianity and Islam, are sufficiently marked to be significant, even if Islam was originally largely plagiarized from its two predecessors.

[13] In Rabbinic Literature: An Essential Guide (Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 2005), pp. 144-149.

[14] Mepharshim – interpreters of Scripture.

[15] Matt. 12:1-8. Similarly, Luke 6:1-5. If Jesus and his disciples traveled further away from human habitation than the law permits, they were breaking the Sabbath. In any case, plucking grain standing in a field is definitely breach of Sabbath law. (Moreover, although Deut. 23:26 permits “plucking ears with thy hand” in “thy neighbour’s standing corn,” the rabbis interpret this permission as applicable only to laborers working in that field – and not as an invitation to all passersby to serve themselves without the owner’s permission.) The text does not say that Jesus plucked grain, but only specifies his disciples as doing it. However, would his disciples have done that if their leader disapproved of such acts? Obviously, Jesus’ unconcern with Sabbath laws does not only relate to “healing” sick people; it looks like a general indifference to this most important area of Jewish practice. The Sabbath is one of the first commandments given to the Jews in Sinai (Ex. 16:23), and has been considered by Jews throughout history as one of the most precious features of Judaism. It is the very heart of this belief system, constituting a symbolic acknowledgement of God as creator of the world and as active liberator of the Jews from Egyptian bondage.

[16] A Christian apologist presents this argument as follows: “Jesus exposes the fallacy in his critics’ logic using an a fortiori argument. He points out that they would be willing to work in order to rescue a distressed sheep on the Sabbath. If that is true, then how much more should they be willing to restore a man who is created in the image of God.” Norman L. Geisler in Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2009), p. 71. It should be clear from my above analysis that Jesus did not expose “the fallacy in his critics’ logic,” but on the contrary engaged in fallacious reasoning!

[17] Jesus’ petulant behavior towards the rabbis reminds me of present-day anti-religious secularists, some of who go out of their way to upset religious people; it seems that the anti-establishment attitude of some Jews is not a new phenomenon. In my view, there is nothing wrong in challenging the establishment – I myself often criticize orthodox views, and so would hardly object; what is wrong is the antagonistic tone some people use to do that.

[18] See Jesus’ harsh words in Matt. 12:34, 17:17and John 8:44, 10:8. Surely, if Jesus acknowledged the Torah, he would have known that Deut. 13:2-4 and 18:21-22 fully justified the rejection of his claims by most Jews. As Bar-Zeev points out (pp. 57-64), the Jews who rejected Jesus were typically those most knowledgeable of Torah, while his followers were mostly ignorant people or social outcasts, “the poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3), “tax collectors and sinners” (Matt. 9:10), “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 10:6). I should add that, as far as I can tell (I could be wrong), Jesus did not enjoin or even give leave to his future followers (i.e. Christians) to persecute Jews. His words were bitter, but not intended to incite hatred and violence.

[19] In Sanhedrin 107B (in the uncensored editions of the Talmud) Jesus is presented as a pupil of the Pharisee sage R. Joshua ben Perachya, who publicly “excommunicated him” following some inappropriate behavior (apparently, just judging a woman by her looks); the master was criticized by his peers for his rigor in “repulsing Yeshu with both hands,” saying: “Let the left hand repulse but the right hand always invite back.” It is also there said that Jesus “practised magic and led Israel astray.” (See the Soncino ed. footnotes 13 and 17.) In Berachot 17B (uncensored ed.) Jesus is referred to as someone “who disgrace[d] himself in public.” (See the Soncino ed. footnote 5.) However, the Sanhedrin 107B story does not seem factually credible, because: (a) it contains an anachronism, since it is said to have taken place at the time of king Alexander Jannai (c. 107-78 BCE); and (b) it is unclear what Jewish law would justify excommunicating a Jew for merely judging a woman by her looks! (Maybe this explanation of Jesus’ excommunication is intended as a metaphor; but I cannot imagine what that metaphor might be.) There may be some truth to the story, but the details were apparently forgotten and then fancifully filled in. Nevertheless, the said passages of the Talmud are still noteworthy, as they illustrate how later rabbis, at least, looked upon the founder of Christianity. Note that, contrary to what some apologists claim nowadays, there is no suggestion here or elsewhere that Jesus was regarded as a rabbi (even if a dissident one), let alone that he was ordained as one.

[20] One should rather die than engage in idolatry, murder or illicit sexual relations (Pesachim 25a-b).

[21] See e.g. John 3:17, 10:30. The concepts of God incarnating or having a son are, needless to say, totally foreign to Judaism; so we can well cite Deut. 13:2-4 in this context. These concepts are clearly imported from other cultures. In Greek and Roman mythology, for instance, gods (including the chief among them, Zeus or Jupiter) often visit humans under human guise and often beget children with human partners.

[22] See Mishna Shabbat, and the corresponding Talmudic tractate (for the figure of 39, see on p. 69a: “The primary forms of labour are forty less one”), available in English at: www.halakhah.com/shabbath/index.html. A brief exposé on this topic can be read on Wikipedia at: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Activities_prohibited_on_Shabbat. Though the Mishna was completed in about 200 CE, the discussions in it date from at least about 100 BCE.

[23] I must say some passages in the Christian Bible give me the impression of recounting a bad dream or a hallucination, the kind where people speak verry slowly in loww-pitched voices and say and do things quitte out of touch with ordinary reality and logic.

[24] London: Weidenfeld, 1986. I have found three excerpts from this book posted on the Internet. One, called “The Problem of Paul,” which presents Maccoby’s general view of Paul, is at: www.positiveatheism.org/hist/maccoby2.htm; and the second, called “Paul’s Bungling Attempt at Sounding Pharisaic” is at: www.positiveatheism.org/hist/maccoby3.htm. The third is at: books.google.com/books?id=co_CxizRbTAC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Hyam+Maccoby+Paul+and+the+Invention+of+Christianity&hl=en&ei=BRmHTeJriYI6t4_w7wg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CDAQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false.

[25] And again in Philippians 3:5, where Paul describes himself as “Circumcised the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; regarding the law, a Pharisee.” However, Paul (to my knowledge) gives no exact dates regarding his alleged Judaic studies. How old was he when he started? How long did he study? His conversion to Christianity is dated as ca. 31-36 CE, i.e. when he was about 26-31 years old. That is not old enough to have made very advanced rabbinical studies (to be sure, there have occasionally been some brilliant young rabbis – but Paul does not claim or appear to have been one).

[26] There is no doubt already plenty of literature on the subject. The writers would need to be very knowledgeable in both Jewish law and Christian literature.

[27] A Christian tradition claims that this Gamaliel was eventually baptized, and remained a secret Christian even while he sat in the Sanhedrin so as to protect the new sect. This claim strikes me as an utterly incredible ex post facto fabrication.

[28] I do not think that this R. Hananiah was a son of the Gamaliel referred to earlier as Paul’s Pharisee teacher; that Gamaliel (the Elder) does not seem to have had a son of that name. It looks like the reference may be to the Tanna of the 1st-2nd cent. Hananiah/Hanina b. Gamaliel II, i.e. to a great-grandson of the aforesaid Gamaliel, since Gamaliel II was a son of Shimon, the son of Gamaliel I. In that case, the said Mishnaic statement would be later than Paul’s. But Paul may have heard a similar statement from earlier lips, maybe even from another rabbi with the same name. In any case, the fact that Paul’s statement is more complicated the Mishnaic one suggests that it came later, since the reverse direction of influence is extremely unlikely.

[29] As you can see, I am not playing favorites. Although I personally accept the content of R. Hananiah’s statement and do not accept the content of Paul’s statements, I recognize that their forms are the same, i.e. equally a contrario, and thus judge them equally invalid.

[30] Note in passing that there is no occasion to apply the dayo principle to this a crescendo argument for the simple reason that the conclusion is more positive than the minor premise.

[31] I am greatly simplifying the issues here; the reader is referred to the earlier chapters on Talmudic a fortiori argument (7-8) for more precise treatment. Funnily enough, Maccoby and the Gemara have in common the failure to have noticed the significance of the second argument of R. Tarfon and the Sages’ objection to it.

[32] “Hyam Maccoby: A Critique” posted online at: www.tektonics.org/lp/maccobyh01.html. I do not know when this essay was published – obviously sometime between 1986, when Maccoby’s book was published, and 2011, when I found the essay.

[33] Boaz Cohen, in “Letter and Spirit in Jewish and Roman Law,” in: Essential Papers on the Talmud, ed. Michael Chernick (New York: NYU Press, 1994), pp. 399-428, seems to agree with this proposition, when he says: “Paul contradicted himself, when he claimed that the promise made to the seed of Abraham could not be annulled. Using the argument a fortiori, he argued as follows: ‘Brethren, I speak after the manner of men. Though it be but a man’s testament, yet if it be confirmed none disannulleth, or addeth thereto’ (Galatians 3:15). How much more is it true, he argues [further on], of the promise given to Abraham, which was confirmed before God” (p. 35). However, while Cohen may be justified in accusing Paul of inconsistency, I cannot confirm his claim that an a fortiori argument is involved here: he is using the King James NT, and the words “how much more” do not appear there (or in any other version I looked at). Note that Cohen’s paper originally appeared in Jewish and Roman Law: A Comparative Study (New York: JTSA, 1966).

[34] Selected Writings. Oxford: East and West Library, 1946.

[35] For the record, these arguments are both positive subjectal, since they go from minor to major. Also, the words “even more glorious” and “exceed it in glory” suggest they are intended as a crescendo. Note in passing Paul’s usual rhetorical resort to opposites: the letter kills vs. the spirit gives life, the ministry of death vs. that of the spirit, the ministry of condemnation vs. that of righteousness. However, the arguments are formally valid, because they are not a contrario, i.e. their subsidiary term (glorious, having glory) remains the same in minor premise and conclusion, varying only in degree.

[36] Mendell Lewittes mentions this passage, and others drawn from the Tanakh and the Talmud to the same effect, in his Principles and Development of Jewish Law (New York: Bloch, 1987), p. 7.

[37] Of course, faith in whom or in what is another question to ask here. In Judaism, the faith needed is faith in the existence of God and in His having revealed the Torah. In Christianity, the faith needed is faith in the divinity of Jesus and in his saving power. In Islam, Buddhism and other religions, the faith needed in each case is something else again.

[38] Bar-Zeev makes the interesting suggestion that Paul may have, in Acts 22:4, exaggerated his persecution of Christians (“to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women”) so as to make his conversion appear all the more radical. We have, after all, only his word for it.

[39] As far as I know (I might be mistaken), however, Paul did not instruct or even merely permit Christians to persecute Jews. Anti-Semitic acts were probably a later development.

[40] Namely, briefly put, using the first letter of each word: af, atm, atl, ats, hmm, hml, smm, sml, hmtm, hmtl, smtm, smtl, sm, sl, stm, stl, sts, em, em.

[41] The Confessions of Saint Augustine, a Project Gutenberg Etext (2002) prepared by Robert S. Munday.

[42] A Project Gutenberg Etext (2006) produced by Sandra K. Perry, with corrections and supplementation by David McClamrock, based on the Complete American Edition, translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province. (This eBook is divided into four parts, with a total of 3735 pages.)

[43] Of course, these documents are translations from Latin, and the precise choice of words in them depends on the whim of the translator(s).

[44] In A Contemporary Examination of the A Fortiori Argument Involving Jewish Traditions, p. 165.

[45] All quotations are from the New International Version, given at: www.biblegateway.com.

[46] This is a weird parable. A man gives away, without permission, his boss’ money to third parties, in order to gain favor with them – and his boss would praise him? Surely, there is a big moral difference between being generous with one’s own possessions, and stealing and distributing someone else’s wealth to make friends.

[47] His discourse is partly nonsensical, either way. If we say that the intent was ‘responsibilities’, then argument (a) is questionable, since obviously just because an employee can handle easy tasks, it does not follow that he can handle difficult ones. If we say that the intent was ‘demands for rewards’, then argument (b) is questionable, since obviously just because an employee is unreliable when dissatisfied with the rewards, it does not follow that he will be unreliable when rewarded as he wishes. Note well I say ‘it does not follow’, which does not exclude that the antecedents and consequents may on occasion occur together.

[48] Matthew 10:29-31 {+s &}, Luke 16:10 {+p, –p}, Luke 16:12 {–p}, Luke 18:6-8 {+s &}, Romans 8:32{+p}, John 7:23 {+s}, John 10:35-6{+s &}.

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