This blog, by Richard Fellows, discusses historical questions concerning Paul's letters, his co-workers, Acts, and chronology. You can visit my web pages here, but note that they are not kept up-to-date.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Gal 2:1-14: whose side were the pillars on?

Here I will continue to defend the hypothesis of my last post. To recap, the Galatians were thinking that Paul was an envoy of the Jerusalem church leaders. Envoys in the ancient world were expected to represent those who sent them. The almost universal assumption is that the rumor in Galatia was that Paul was a bad envoy in that he had not followed the Law-affirming stance of the Jerusalem church leaders. I suggest the opposite: the rumor in Galatia was that Paul had been a good envoy in that he had loyally repeated the Law-free gospel that the Jerusalem church leaders had given him (but had done so without believing it).

It is hard to get one's head around the hypothesis, so be sure to read Steve's review here. He has explained it very clearly.

Also see Thomas's blog post. He is right that I did not do enough to show that Gal 1:11-14 is consistent with the assumption that the Galatians knew (or at least believed) Peter and James to be supporters of Gentile liberty. So here are some additional arguments.

Galatians as corrective
I believe that Paul cites the Antioch incident of Gal 2:11-14 to correct the rumor in Galatia: namely that his support of Gentile liberty was motivated by loyalty to the Jerusalem church leaders and was not based on conviction or revelation. If I am right we no longer have any reason to suppose that the incident was at all representative of the interactions between Paul and Peter. Indeed, we can assume that there was no other occasion when Paul so forcefully urged Peter to be more supportive of Gentile liberty. Thus the passage tells us nothing about the relationship between Paul and Peter, since even the best of friends can have a heated argument at least once. We can be sure that Paul in Galatians chose to mention whatever events proved his case, and not necessarily those that would give future students of the NT a balanced view of his interactions with Jerusalem.

Paul argued against the Galatian rumor so effectively that it is now hard for us to believe that anyone believed the rumor in the first place, unless we read the letter in the context of the rumors. It is important to be ever mindful of the fact that we are reading just one half of a conversation.

But it is legitimate to ask whether Gal 2:11 allows the view that James did actually write the decree (and was therefore known by the Galatians to be a supporter of Gentile liberty). Well, Stephen Carlson has shown that the harder and better textual variant in Gal 2:12 is in fact the original, and that this makes it probable that the men from James had arrived in Antioch before Paul's visit to Jerusalem (for Peter had visited Antioch twice). It is therefore likely that the men from James are the men from Judea mentioned in Acts 15:1-2. You can read Stephen's incredibly important original blog post here. Now, Acts 15:24 tells us that these men had gone out from the Jerusalem church, but that their teaching had not been approved by the Jerusalem church. This means that we cannot blame James for the role that the men 'from James' played in Antioch.

Is Gal 2:1-14 consistent with the view of Acts that Peter was a supporter of Gentile liberty? I believe it is.

1. Paul wrote that Peter stood self-condemned (Gal 2:11) and that his action was hypocrisy (ὑποκρίσει) (Gal 2:13). The implication is that Peter's action was contrary to his own position. His doctrine was identical to Paul's.

2. Peter's lapse was out of fear of the circumcision faction, and there is no hint that his decision to withdraw from table fellowship had been ideologically motivated. Indeed, this lapse out of fear is consistent with Peter's earlier pattern of behavior (Mark 8:29-38; Mark 14:27-31, 66-72) - it was in character.

3. Peter's decided to no longer eat with Gentiles, and we can assume that he ate with Jews instead. This action may be closer to Paul's policy than is normally supposed, for Paul himself became a Jew to the Jews to win Jews (1 Cor 8:20).

4. Paul calls Cephas "Peter" only at Gal 2:7-8. He calls him "Cephas" everywhere else, including Gal 1:18; 2:9, 11, 14. Now, "Peter" is the Greek form of the name that had been given to Simon to reflect the important foundational role that he was to play in the church (Matt 16:18-19). Therefore Paul's switch to the name "Peter" was, for Paul's Greek-speaking readers, a reference to Simon's important leadership role, for which Jesus had given him the name. This is confirmed by the fact that only here, in Gal 2:7-8, does Paul discuss Peter's role in the church. Now, I see two consequences of this explanation for Paul's use of the name "Peter here". Firstly, the relationship between Paul and Peter cannot have been as strained as is often supposed, because Paul here honors Peter with that name. Secondly, it suggests that Paul is alluding here to the appointment of Peter by Jesus. Paul is therefore referring back to the role that Peter had played as apostle to the circumcised before his encounter with Cornelius (it is not surprising, given the rumor in Galatia, that Paul does not mention Peters later role in extending the faith to the Gentiles). The agreement of Gal 2:9 should therefore not be seen as a deal in which one or other of the parties made a compromise. It was rather a logical division of responsibilities. I imagine that the pillars were pleased to find that Paul had a calling to go to the Gentiles. This allowed them to off-load some of their responsibilities to Paul, and focus on the Jews. The increased responsibilities given to Paul and Barnabas allowed Peter to wind up his missions among the Gentiles and return to his original role as apostle to the Jews. Now, this change in Peter's role may explain his decision to withdraw from eating with Gentiles. He ate with Gentiles during his first visit to Antioch, when he still had responsibilities for the Gentile mission, but when Peter returned to Antioch after Paul's visit to Jerusalem, he ate with Jews instead because he was, by then, focusing on the Jews (Gal 2:9).

Gal 2:3
Some people stress the word "compelled" in Gal 2:3 to suggest that the pillars wanted Titus to be circumcised (but did not insist on it). However, even if this were the case, it would not mean that the pillars were less supportive of Gentile liberty than Paul. Paul did circumcise Timothy, who, I believe, was Titus renamed.

In summary, my conclusion that Peter and James were supporters of Gentile liberty is not called into question by anything in Gal 2:1-14 (or elsewhere, as far as I can see).

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