Born of a woman.
Ancient instances of the phrase in Galatians 4.4.
Refer also to the use of the expression according to the
flesh in Greek and Christian
Liddell and Scott define γενναω in part as follows:
(γέννα) Causal of
(cf. γείνομαι II),
of the father, to beget, engender, Aesch., Soph.;
rarely of the mother, to bring forth, Aesch.
they define in part as follows:
Ion. and in late Gr. γί-νομαι....
Radical sense, to come into being, Lat. gigni: 1. of persons,
to be born, νέον
γεγαώς new born, Od.;
τινος Hdt.; more rarely
Lat. natus annos tredecim, Hdt., etc.
2. of things, to be produced, Plat., Xen., etc.
The frequent synonymity of γινομαι
comes out in the fact that both of these words are used to translate
the Hebrew word ילד
(yalad) in the Septuagint.
The following are instances in which the Hebrew ילד (A) is used to mean to give
birth and (B) is translated by the Greek γινομαι
(to become, to come into being, or to be born)
in the Septuagint:
Genesis 4.18, 26; 6.1; 10.1, 21, 25; 17.17; 21.3, 5; 35.26; 36.5;
46.20, 27; 48.5; Leviticus 25.45; Deuteronomy 23.8; 2 Samuel 5.13;
Psalm 86.4, 5, 6; Job 1.2; 15.7.
Genesis 4.18 is an interesting case, because it has four instances
of the Hebrew ילד,
one of which is translated by the Greek γινομαι, the
other three of which are translated by the Greek γενναω, all in the
same sentence. There are other instances (Genesis 17.17; 21.3; 36.5)
in which the sentence has two instances of the Hebrew ילד, one of which is rendered by
the other of which is rendered by τικτω
(to have a child).
The actual phrase born of a woman appears thrice in the
book of Job. First, Job 14.1 (Masoretic and LXX):
For a mortal born of woman is short-lived,
and full of wrath.
Second, Job 15.14 (Masoretic and LXX):
What is a mortal that he should be blameless,
or one born of woman that he would be just?
Third, Job 25.4 (Masoretic and LXX):
How then is a mortal just before God?
Or who born of woman can cleanse himself?
These verses use the Greek adjective γεννητος,
to bear or to give birth, which is the adjectival form
based on the same root as γινομαι.
Euripides offers a classical parallel to this kind of phrase in the
Bacchae, lines 987-990:
Who then bore him? For he was not produced
from the blood of women, but is the offspring of some lioness or
of Libyan gorgons.
Herodotus offers another classical parallel in his
Now, having received back his sovereignty in the
aforesaid manner, Pisistratus married the daughter of Megacles
according to his agreement with Megacles. But, as he already had children,
and as the Alcmeonid family were said to be under a curse, he
had no wish that children be born from his newly-wedded wife, and
therefore had intercourse with her [of a kind] not according to
Then there is Sirach 10.18:
Arrogance was not created for men, nor
wrathful rage for the brood of women.
This verse uses the Greek noun γεννημα,
brood, based on the same root as the verb
From the Dead Sea scrolls we have at least two instances of the phrase,
both using the Hebrew word ילד.
First, 1QS 11.21a:
As what shall one born of woman be considered
in your presence?
Second, 1QHa 5.20b:
What is one born of woman among all your
There may be other instances of this phrase in the Dead Sea scrolls;
I have not searched at all exhaustively.
The phrase appears twice (in parallel) in the gospels.
First, Matthew 11.11:
Amen, I say to you, there is not greater than
John the baptist among those born of women, but the lesser in the
kingdom of the heavens is greater than him.
Second, Luke 7.28:
I say to you, no one is greater than John
among those born of women, but the lesser in the kingdom of God
is greater than him.
These two verses use the Greek adjective γεννητος,
Tertullian quotes Matthew 11.11 in On
Unde et suggeritur, cum adversantes domino
tingui noluerint, eos qui dominum sequebantur tinctos fuisse, nec cum aemulis
sapuisse, maxime quando dominus cui adhaerebant testimonio Ioannem
extulisset: Nemo, dicens, maior inter natos feminarum Ioanne baptizatore.
Whence is also suggested that, since the adversaries
of the Lord refused to be baptized, they who followed the Lord were baptized,
and did not think like their rivals, especially when, if there were anyone to
whom they adhered, the Lord had extolled John above him by his testimony,
saying: No one among those born of females is greater than John the
Clement of Alexandria quotes Matthew 11.11 in The
Rich Man 31:
In the same way he also says that the least in the
kingdom of the heavens, that is, his own disciple, is greater than John,
the greatest among those born of women.
Refer also to Origen, On Matthew 10.22; 13.15.
Tertullian quotes (the Marcionite version of) Luke 7.28 in
Against Marcion 4.18.8:
Maior quidem omnibus natis mulierum.
sed non ideo subiecto ei qui minor fuerit in regno dei.
That forerunner was indeed greater than all of women
born; but even so he who was least in the kingdom of God was not subject
Refer also to Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor 1.5.
The gospel of Thomas has the following in saying 15:
Jesus said: When you see one who was not
born of woman, prostrate yourselves onto your faces and worship him;
that one is your father.
In Galatians 4.4-5 the apostle Paul says:
But, when the fulness of time came, God sent forth
his son, made [or born] from a woman, made under the law, in order
to redeem those under the law, in order that we might receive the
Irenaeus quotes this Pauline passage in Against
Et apostolus autem Paulus in epistola quae est
ad Galatas, manifeste ait: Misit deus filium suum, factum de muliere. et rursus
in ea quae est ad Romanos: De filio autem, inquit, eius, qui factus est ex semine
David secundum carnem, qui praedestinatus est filius dei in virtute, secundum
spiritum sanctificationis, ex resurrectione mortuorum, Iesu Christi domini
The apostle Paul, moreover, in the epistle to the
Galatians manifestly says: God sent his son, made of a woman. And again in
that to the Romans he says: Concerning his son, who was made of the seed of
David according to the flesh, who was predestinated as the son of God with
power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead,
Jesus Christ our Lord.
He quotes it again in Against Heresies
Ex eo enim qui ex muliere virgine habebat nasci,
secundem similitudinem Adam, praeconabatur observans caput serpentis, id est
semen, de quo ait apostolus in epistola quae est ad Galatas: Legem factorum
positam donec veniret semen qui promissum est. manifestius autem adhuc in eadem
ostendit epistola, sic dicens: Cum autem venit plenitudo temporis, misit deus
filium suum, factum de muliere. neque enim iuste victus fuisset inimicus nisi
ex muliere homo esset qui vicit eum.
For from that time he who should be born of a virgin
woman, after the likeness of Adam, was preached as keeping watch for the head
of the serpent. This is the seed of which the apostle in the epistle to the
Galatians says: The law of works was established until the seed should come to
whom the promise was made. This fact, moreover, is exhibited more manifestly
in the same epistle, speaking thus: But when the fulness of time was come,
God sent forth his son, made from a woman. For indeed the enemy would not have
been fairly vanquished unless it had been a man [born] of a woman who conquered
(Irenaeus also quotes Galatians 4.4 in Against Heresies 3.16.7, but stops short of
our key phrase, factum ex muliere,
in that instance.)
Tertullian also quotes Galatians 4.4 in On
the Flesh of Christ 20.2b-3a:
Sed et Paulus grammaticis istis silentium imponit:
Misit, inquit, deus filium suum, factum ex muliere. numquid per mulierem aut
in muliere? hoc quidem impressius quod factum potius dicit quam natum.
simplicius enim enuntiasset natum; factum autem dicendo, et verbum caro
factum est consignavit et carnis veritatem ex virgine factae adseveravit.
But Paul also imposes silence these grammarians:
God, he says, sent his son, made of a woman. Does he mean through a woman
or in a woman? This is indeed the more emphatic in that he says [the word]
made in preference to [the word] born. For it would have been simpler
to pronounce that he was born; yet, by saying [the word] made, he has both
set his seal on [the sentence that says that] the word was made flesh
and asserted the verity of the flesh made of the virgin.
He also quotes it in On the Veiling of
Scribens enim ad Galatas: Misit, inquit,
deus filium suum, factum ex muliere, quam utique virginem constat fuisse,
licet Hebion resistat.
For while writing to the Galatians he says:
God sent his son, made of a woman, who of course it is established was
a virgin, though Hebion resists it.
Finally, Tertullian notices two missing phrases in the Marcionite text of
the epistle to the Galatians. He writes in Against
Erubescat spongia Marcionis; nisi quod ex abundanti
retracto quae abstulit, cum validius sit illum ex his revinci quae servavit.
cum autem evenit impleri tempus, misit deus filium suum, utique is qui etiam
ipsorum temporum deus est quibus saeculum constat, qui signa quoque temporum
ordinavit, soles et lunas et sidera et stellas, qui filii denique sui
revelationem in extremitatem temporum et disposuit et praedicavit: In novissimis
diebus erit manifestus mons domini, et, In novissimis diebus effundam de spiritu
meo in omnem carnem, secundum Ioelem. ipsius erat sustinuisse tempus impleri
cuius erat etiam finis temporis, sicut initium. ceterum deus ille otiosus,
nec operationis nec praedicationis ullius, atque ita nec temporis alicuius,
quid omnino egit quod efficeret tempus impleri et iam implendum sustineri?
si nihil, satis vanum est ut creatoris tempora sustinuerit serviens creatori.
cui autem rei misit filium suum? ut eos qui sub lege erant redimeret, hoc est
ut efficeret tortuosa in viam rectam et aspera in vias lenes, secundum Esaiam,
ut vetera transirent et nova orirentur, lex nova ex Sion et sermo domini ex
Hierusalem, et ut adoptionem filiorum acciperemus, utique nationes, quae filii
non eramus. et ipse enim lux erit nationum, et in nomine eius nationes sperabunt.
itaque ut certum esset nos filios dei esse, misit spiritum suum in corda nostra,
clamantem: Abba, pater. in novissimis enim, inquit, diebus effundam de meo
spiritu in omnem carnem. cuius gratia, nisi cuius et promissio gratiae?
Let the sponge of Marcion be ashamed of itself; except
that it is superfluous for me to discuss the passages he has left out, since my
case is stronger if he is shown wrong by those he has retained. But, when it
came about that the time was fulfilled, God sent his son, evidently that God
who is the God even of those times of which the ages consist, who also has
ordained the signs of the times, suns and moons and constellations and stars,
and in short has both foreordained and foretold the revelation of his own son
at the far end of the times: In the last days the mountain of the Lord shall
be made manifest, and: In the last days I will pour out of my spirit upon all
flesh, as Joel has it. To have waited for the time to be fulfilled was
characteristic of him to whom belonged the end of time, as also its beginning.
But that leisured god of yours, who has never either done anything or prophesied
anything and so knows nothing of any time, what has he ever done to cause time
to be fulfilled, and to justify waiting for its fulfilment? If he has done
nothing, it was foolish enough that he waited for the times of the creator,
and thus did service to the creator. But to what purpose did he send his son?
To redeem those that were under the law, that is, to make crooked places into
a straight way and rough places into smooth ways, as Isaiah says, so that old
things might pass away and new things might arise, a new law out of Zion and
the word of the Lord out of Jerusalem, and that we might receive the adoption
of sons, we the gentiles, who once were not sons; and he himself will be a
light of the gentiles, and in his name shall the gentiles hope. And so as to
make it certain that we are sons of God, he has sent his own spirit into
our hearts, crying: Abba, father. For he says: In the last days I will pour
out of my spirit upon all flesh. By whose grace, if not his whose was the
promise of grace?
Thus we see that the text of Marcion as Tertullian had it must have jumped
from misit deus filium suum (God sent his son)
to ut eos qui sub lege erant redimeret
(to redeem those who were under the law), skipping the phrases about
the son being made of a woman or made under the law (factum
ex muliere, factum sub lege).
Some evidence from Josephus. First, Antiquities
For Teba and Gaam and Tachas and Maaca
were born of Reuma his concubine.
For Ishmael, the founder of their nation,
who was born to Abraham of the concubine, was circumcised at that
And after the death of Solomon, when his son
Rehoboam, who began from an Ammonite woman whose name was Naamah,
had succeeded him in the kingdom, the rulers of the multitude sent
immediately into Egypt and called back Jeroboam.
Will you slay these two young men,
born of a queenly woman, who are accomplished with every virtue
in the highest degree, and leave yourself destitute in your old age,
but exposed to one son who has very ill managed the hopes you have
given him, and to relations whose death you have so often
resolved on yourself?
The report is that this fountain at the
beginning caused, not only the blasting of the earth and the trees,
but also of the offspring of women, and that it was entirely of a
sickly and corruptive nature to all things whatsoever, but that it
was made gentle, and very wholesome and fruitful, by the prophet
Elisha. This prophet was familiar with Elijah, and was his
Josephus also writes in Antiquities
12.4.6 §186 that Joseph, son of Tobias, had become a father
of seven children from one woman
Origen, Against Celsus 1.70:
But it clearly appears that after his
resurrection he ate fish; for according to us he took on a body,
as one made from a woman.
Pseudo-Clementine homilies 2.17:
And he who was among those born of
women came first; then he who was among the sons of men came
Pseudo-Clementine homilies 3.22:
But a yokefellow was created for him, a female
nature, much differing from him, as being from substance, as the moon from
the sun, as fire from light. She, likewise as a female ruling the present
world, was entrusted to be the first prophetess, announcing prophecy with
all among those born of women. But the other, as the son of man, being a
male, prophesies more beneficial things to the age to come as a
Pseudo-Clementine homilies 3.23:
The one among those born of women, therefore,
as the female announcer of this present world, wishes to be believed
Pseudo-Clementine homilies 3.52:
Since, therefore, while the heaven and the earth
still stand, sacrifices have passed away, kingdoms, and prophecies among
those born of women, and suchlike things, as not being ordinances of
Pseudo-Clementine homilies 8.15:
But from their spurious intercourse spurious
men came into being, much greater in stature than men, whom they
afterwards named giants, though not those dragon-footed giants
who waged war against God, as the blasphemous myths of the Greeks
sing of, but rather wild in their ways, and greater than men in size,
since they came into being from angels, but less than angels,
since they were born of women.
(Still to check out: Socrates, History of
the Church 7.32.)
G. A. Wells, Who Was Jesus?,
All that Paul says about Jesus's birth is that he was
"born of a woman" (Galatians 4:4). He believed that Jesus existed
as a supernatural being before the world was created, and he is
here arguing that he humbled himself by being born as an ordinary
Jew "under the law". Anything but a quite ordinary birth would
go against this argument which is concerned to stress Jesus's
extreme self-abasement in adopting human existence.