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.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Gaius Titius Justus and his new name, Stephanas

Here I argue that Gaius Titius Justus gave part of his house to the community of believers in Corinth, and that he was then named "Stephanas" in recognition of his generosity. The main texts are Acts 18:7; 1 Cor 1:14-16; 16:15-18;  and Rom 16:23.

Benefaction of the meeting space
An inscription from Stobi, Macedonia, probably from the second century reads:
[Claudius] Tiberius Polycharmus, also (called) Achyrios, the father of the synagogue at Stobi, having lived my whole life according to the (prescriptions of) Judaism, in fulfilment of a vow (have donated) the rooms to the holy place, and the triclinium, with the tetrastoa, out of my personal accounts without touching the sacred (funds) at all. All the right of all the upper (rooms of the building) and the ownership is to be held by me, Claudius Tiberius Polycharmus, and my heirs for all (our?) life. If someone wishes to make changes beyond my decisions, he shall give the Patriarch 250,000 denarii. For thus I have agreed. As for the upkeep of the roof tiles of the upper (rooms of the building), it will be done by me and my heirs.
Polycharmus had given some of the rooms of his house to the Jewish community, while retaining other rooms for his own use. Most synagogues may have been formed out of domestic homes.

I will argue now that this same kind of benefaction provided the meeting places of both the Jews and the Christians in Corinth.

Acts 18:7 reads
Τhen he left the synagogue and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God; his house adjoined (ἦν συνομοροῦσα ) the synagogue.
Titius Justus is here presented as a benefactor who gave space in his house for Paul's use. His house adjoined the synagogue because he (or his predecessors) had given part of their house to be used as the Jewish meeting place. A synagogue, I suggest, had been formed out of Titius Justus's house, in the same way that a synagogue had been formed out of Polycharmus's house. They may, of course, have later extended their house to compensate for the loss of rooms. Titius Justus, like Polycharmus, had given up ownership of the synagogue space in his house, otherwise Paul would not have needed to leave the synagogue.

It is not surprising that the household of Titius Justus should donate rooms for the use of the Christian community,  since it seems that they had earlier performed the same benefaction for the Jews.

1 Cor 11:17 and 1 Cor 14:23 suggest that the whole church met in one place. Rom 16:23 confirms this and shows that the meeting place was in Gaius's house. Now, there are indications that the house owner (presumably Gaius) had given up ownership/control of the space where the believers met:
  1. Paul writes, "Do you not have homes to eat and drink in?"(1 Cor 11:22). He writes, "homes", rather than "your own homes", and this indicates that the meeting place was probably not considered someone's home (1). See also 1 Cor 11:34.
  2. If the head of the house (Gaius) had control over the space, why did he allow the impropriety at their communal meals (1 Cor 11:17-34)? Surely he would have insisted at least that they wait for each other. And why did he allow the problems of 1 Cor 11:2-16 and 1 Cor 12:1-14:40? There meetings were disorganized and this suggests that no one person was in charge: Gaius no longer owned the space so he could not bring the congregation to order.
  3. Paul insisted on not receiving payment (1 Cor 9:12,15; 2 Cor 11:7-9; 12:14-15) for his work (presumably because he wanted to be seen to be independent of the influence of any patrons). It is therefore unlikely that he would allow himself or the church to be dependent in the long-term on a patron for their meeting space. The independence of the church required that they have joint control of their meeting space.
All this suggests that, as in the case of Polycharmus, the church of Corinth met in a room or rooms that had been donated from a believer's house and the head of the house had given up ownership/control of the space. We can assume that, by calling Gaius "host", Paul is not saying that Gaius owned the meeting space, but that he performed the other roles of a host - putting himself at the service of the congregation.

Gaius as Titius Justus
"Gaius" was a Roman praenomen. He was almost certainly a Roman citizen since he was able to host the whole church, so he almost certainly also had a Roman nomen and cognomen. Since "Titius Justus" is a nomen-cognomen combination, his full name could have been Gaius-Titius-Justus, as many have pointed out. The following arguments confirm this identification.
  1. Gaius, along with Crispus and the "household of Stephanas", was baptized by Paul. The household of Stephanas were "firstfruits" (1 Cor 16:15) and Crispus was also one of the first converts in Corinth (Acts 18:8). This suggests that Gaius, too, was an early convert, who was baptized by Paul himself, before someone else (presumably Crispus) started doing the baptizing. This supports the view that Gaius was Titius Justus, the first Corinthian convert mentioned in Acts.
  2. I have argued that Gaius had given up control of rooms that he had donated for the church. This is exactly the type of benefaction that we should expect from the household of Titius Justus, which had performed the same benefaction for the synagogue.
  3. If, as seems likely Titius Justus's household had been able to donate rooms that could accommodate the synagogue community, they surely were able to do the same for the (presumably smaller) church. The church would have no reason to move to someone else's house. Even if Titius Justus died or apostatized, the space would probably still be available for the church to use.
The role of Stephanas
1 Cor 16:15-18 reads:
Now I urge you, brothers and sisters,  - you know that the household of Stephanas were the firstfruits of Achaia and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints - to put yourselves at the service of such people, and of everyone who works and toils with them. I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they bave made up for your absence; for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. So give recognition to such persons.
The recognition that Paul urges should be given to Stephanas suggests that they were benefactors of the church. Carolyn Osiek writes:
Stephanas particularly can be singled out for his social prominence, for he hosts Paul and the whole church, the members of which are expected, as good clients, to be submissive to him

This is precisely the role that Gaius has in Rom 16:23, so we should start to suspect that Stephanas was Gaius.

Stephanas's household is described as the "firstfruits (ἀπαρχὴ) of Achaia". It is widely agreed that the term "firstfruits" has the sense of "the first with the prospect of more to follow". Paul is not saying that Stephanas was merely the first convert of Achaia, because that would not have really helped him to convince the Corinthians to be submissive to this household, and because Athenians were actually the first converts (Acts 17:34). No, the role of "firstfruits" must have been a more substantial role that commanded respect. This fits the role of Titius Justus perfectly. Titius Justus was the "firstfruits", whose benefaction had been followed by a bumper crop of conversions (Acts 18:7-8), and his benefaction deserved the respect of all the Corinthian believers.

The household of Stephanas had "devoted themselves to the service of the saints", as had Gaius Titius Justus, who had acted as host to the whole church (see above).

Paul devotes a lot space in 1 Corinthians to correct the disorder in the Corinthians' meetings, and this fits nicely with the suggestion that Stephanas was Gaius, the host of he church. We can imagine Stephanas, as host, feeling a sense of responsibility for the meetings and deciding to travel to Ephesus to ask Paul for help in controlling the meetings. Stephanas's journey to Ephesus is explicable if he was Gaius.

In 1 Cor 16:15-18 Paul bolsters the authority of Stephanas and his household and this makes perfect sense if he was the host of the church. The Corinthian church was suffering from divisions and poor behavior in their meetings, so Paul here tries to unite them under the roof of Stephanas, their host.

The name "Stephanas"
The name is very rare. In the six volumes of LGPN published so far there are just 5 people called Stephanas. This represents just 0.002% of all recorded persons. The same database records just 6 cases of "Stephanephoros". Stephanas means crowned or crown-bearer or the like. In New Testament times crowns were given as civic honors to luminaries because of their beneficence or achievements on behalf of the city.(2) In inscriptions the most commonly mentioned response of the community to a benefaction is the giving of a crown (3). Inscriptions found at Delos (twice) see image,(4) Egypt,(5) Asia Minor,(6) and twice at Berenice (7) show that synagogues likewise gave crowns to their benefactors, including those who financed building construction. Since Gaius/Titius Justus gave part of his house to the church, it is very appropriate that Paul recognized his commitment by giving him the name "Stephanas".

John Chrysostom wrote about Gaius of Rom 16:23:
See what a crown (στέφανος) he has framed for him by bearing witness to such great hospitality in him, and brought in the entire Church into this man's house!
Name selection
On the present hypothesis, Paul calls Gaius Titius Justus "Stephanas" in 1 Corinthians because doing so recalls his benefaction and thus bolsters his authority. This explains why the name "Stephanas" appears only in 1 Corinthians, but is absent from Acts. In Romans 16:21-23 Paul sends greetings from all those in Corinth who, through traveling, had met many of those who had moved to Rome (see here). It is therefore surprising that Stephanas (who had travelled at least to Ephesus) is not mentioned, unless he is Gaius. It is not surprising that Paul should call him "Gaius" in 1 Cor 1:14 since this refers to a time before he had been given the name "Stephanas". Also, calling him "Stephanas" here would have conferred honor on him, and Paul did not want to hint that being baptized by him is a point of pride. It was not uncommon for ancient writers to use different names for the same person according to context. Cicero does it frequently, and Paul does it with Cephas/Petros in Galatians. The switch of names would produced no ambiguity for the Corinthian readers. Paul calls him "Gaius", rather than "Stephanas", at Rom 16:23, presumably because he had called himself "Gaius" when he travelled among the churches and met those who subsequently moved to Rome.

Other similar cases of new name giving
Nearly all the benefactors of the church in the New Testament were given new names to honor their generosity. See here.  These include Crispus-Sosthenes and also perhaps Epaenetus who, like, Stephanas, was a 'firstfruits'. In future posts I hope to show that the tradition of giving new names to benefactors continued into the second century.

Summary of the reconstruction
The family of Gaius Titius Justus had given part of their house for the Jewish community to use as a synagogue. After becoming a Christian and being baptized by Paul, he gave further space in his house for the church to use for its meetings. For this benefaction he was honored with the name "Stephanas" (crowned). Having given up ownership of the space he was not able to enforce proper behavior in the church meetings, so he travelled to Ephesus to get Paul's support. Paul then wrote to the Corinthians, referring to Justus as "Stephanas" to remind them that he had provided the meeting space. Paul urged the Corinthians to respect Stephanas and his household, to give them the authority that they needed encourage proper behavior in the meetings. Later, Paul wrote to the Romans and sent greetings from Gaius Titius Justus Stephanas, who on his travels had met many believers who had subsequently moved to Rome. Paul described him as host of the whole church.

I hope that this post summarizes the evidence for Gaius Titius Justus Stephanas, whom I have previously discussed here, here and here.

Notes
(1) See the work of Edward Adams, as reported by Justin Mihoc, here.
(2) See "The Fading Crown: Divine Honour and the Early Christians", Journal of Theological Studies, (vol 54.2 Oct 2003).
(3) Frederick W. Danker, Benefactor: Epigraphic Study of a Graeco-Roman and New Testament Semantic Field.
(4) Menippus, and Serapion, son of Jason. http://www.pohick.org/sts/delos.html. The image is from Philippe Bruneau, "«Les Israélites de Délos» et la juiverie délienne," Bulletin de Correspondance Hellénique 106 (1982).
(5) http:www.pohick.org/sts/egypt.html  It is disputed whether this inscription concerns Jews.
(6)CIJ 738
(7)Marcus Tittius in Reynolds 1977:244-45, no. 17 = Roux and Roux 1949 = IGRI 1024. Also Decimus Valerius Dionysius in SEG vol.16, no. 931.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Paul opposed Roman (bisexual) norms, not gay marriage

This post is borne of the conviction that interpreters of Paul, at all levels, have failed to fully account for the fact that sexual practices in his day were very different from those of most of our modern cultures. When reading 1 Cor 6:9 and Rom 1:26-27 it is natural for us to assume that Paul has in mind the actions of a group equivalent to modern homosexuals - a persecuted minority who represent about 2% of western society. I shall argue that, rather than having such people in view, Paul is attacking the sexual practices of the majority of Romans, and that these practices can better be described as bisexual and unfaithful.

Bisexual practice was the male norm
Today the prevalence of bisexual practice varies enormously, and in some tribes is universal.*
Psychology Wiki writes about bisexuality in history:
Male heterosexuality and homosexuality, while also documented, appear mostly as exceptions, unless we are examining cultures influenced by the Abrahamic religions, where heterosexuality was privileged, and bisexuality and homosexuality forcefully suppressed. In fact, most of the commonly cited examples of male "homosexuality" in previous cultures would more properly be categorized as bisexuality.
In ancient Greece few men had sex only with men, but bisexual practice was normal. See here. The early Roman empire was similar in that respect. For a good selection of the source documents see the collections here. Also see Homosexuality in Greece and Rome: a sourcebook of basic documents. The section on the early Roman Empire is available here.
Thus, in the view of Martial and other contemporary writers, it could be taken for granted that nearly all Roman men found younger males at least as attractive, if not more so, than women
With marriage, as Martial says, a man was supposed to give up the pleasure of loving young males, but this was only in theory. Wives had reason to fear competition from young males, who were still widely available, and in fact, a woman could not sue her husband for adultery until the late Empire. (p200)
As illustrated by the literature produced in late Republic and early Empire, homoerotic interests and relationships were a dimension of the sex lives of most of the Roman men of the period. Virtually all the major political and military leaders of the late Republic and early Empire were known for their homosexual loves and affairs. (p200)
Consider, for example, the first 15 emperors, whose reigns lasted from 46 BCE to 138 CE. 2 were probably exclusively heterosexual and 3 may have been exclusively homosexual, though two of these were married (to women). The remaining 10 show evidence of having been bisexual and all had wives. This illustrates that bisexual behavior was very common, even allowing for some exaggeration by the ancient historians. See the discussion by Melinda Selmys here.

Julius Caesar Bisexual, married.

Augustus Bisexual, married.
Tiberius (see here and here) Bisexual, married.
Caligula Bisexual, married.
Claudius Married.
Nero Bisexual, married
Galba Bisexual, married
Otho Probably Bisexual, married
Vitellius Bisexual, married.
Vespasian married
Titus Bisexual, married
Domitian Bisexual, married
Nerva probably homosexual or bisexual, probably unmarried
Trajan probably homosexual, married
Hadrian Probably homosexual, married

The shortage of passive male partners, and resulting abuses
A normal (bisexual) Roman male desired sex with both women and men, but only if they could take the active (penetrating) role. (We should not therefore equate ancient Roman bisexuality with modern bisexuality). Wikipedia explains:
Same-sex attitudes and behaviors in ancient Rome often differ markedly from those of the contemporary West. Latin lacks words that would precisely translate "homosexual" and "heterosexual." The primary dichotomy of ancient Roman sexuality was active/dominant/masculine and passive/submissive/"feminized". Roman society was patriarchal, and the freeborn male citizen possessed political liberty (libertas) and the right to rule both himself and those of his household (familia). "Virtue" (virtus) was seen as an active quality through which a man (vir) defined himself. The conquest mentality and "cult of virility" shaped same-sex relations. Roman men were free to enjoy sex with other males without a perceived loss of masculinity or social status, as long as they took the dominant or penetrative role. Acceptable male partners were slaves, prostitutes, and entertainers, whose lifestyle placed them in the nebulous social realm of infamia, excluded from the normal protections accorded a citizen even if they were technically free. Although Roman men in general seem to have preferred youths between the ages of 12 and 20 as sexual partners, freeborn male minors were strictly off-limits, and professional prostitutes and entertainers might be considerably older.
See here for further discussion of Roman sexuality. The pleasure was had by the one who took the active role, but not, in general, by the passive partner. We see this when Lucian discusses sex with boys:
the one who's in charge ... goes away having taken a choice pleasure, but for the one outraged there are first pain and tears, and then, as the pain loosens a little over time, you won't hurt him any more, so they say, but there's no pleasure whatsoever.
Seneca the Younger's Moral Epistles 95.21
Today women equal men in regard to lust, although born to take the passive role - may the gods and goddesses destroy them! So perverse is their new species of invented immodesty: they actually penetrate men!
Ovid (Ars 2.683-4)
I hate sex that doesn't get both partners off; this is why I'm less moved by love with boys.
Those who enjoyed the passive (penetrated) role were a tiny minority and are frequently ridiculed in our sources (the texts are too numerous to mention). Thus Roman society was cursed with a gross imbalance in which many desired to take the active role, while few wanted the passive role. It seems to me that this mismatch of supply and demand led to all sorts of abuses, in which the rich and powerful used every necessary means to secure the scarce resource.

Thus, not only was most same-gender sex unfaithful to the marriage bed, but it was also an expression of social domination. Sex was commonly involved a male Roman citizen and a non-citizen male who serviced him when coerced or paid. The citizen nearly always took the active role, and indeed, there seems to be agreement nowadays that it was illegal for anyone to penetrate a male Roman citizen. See Winter, After Paul Left Corinth, p110-112. Sex between Roman citizen men was therefore illegal.

The abuse of slaves is shown, for example, by Seneca the Elder's Controversies 4.Preface.10
When Haterius was defending a freedman accused of being his patron's male concubine, I remember him saying: "Lack of sexual modesty in a free man is a legitimate charge, but in a slave it is a necessity, and in a freedman a duty."
Petronius's Satyricon illustrates that this practice threatened marriages:
A handsome young boy turned up among our new waiters, and Trimalchio cornered him and proceeded to lavish kisses on him. To assert her wifely rights, Fortunata [Trimalchio's wife] responded by bad-mouthing Trimalchio, calling him "scum" and "a disgrace" for not controlling his lust.
Male-male sex usually involved an adult man and a beardless boy, who would be discarded when he lost his boyish looks. Seneca the Elder complains that "leading citizens employ their wealth against nature; they have legions of eunuchs and amputate them so they can be apt for a longer passivity" (castration causing them to keep their boyish looks for longer).

We have few sources on female-female sexual relationships. However, since nearly all women had arranged marriages between the ages of 15 and 20 (usually for economic reasons), I think we can assume that most sexual acts between females involved at least one married participant.

Little love or devotion in same-sex relationships
Some are keen (for various reasons) to argue that not all same-sex activity was abusive. However, cases of mutually loving homosexual relationships were rare. Most of the evidence for them comes from works of fiction, where we would expect rare relationships to be recorded. In his chapter on "Love and Devotion in Homosexual Relationships" James Neill (p206-208) cites the following examples: 

Encolpius and his slave boy, Giton, in Satyricon by Petronius. However, neither man is faithful and, as discussed here,  "An orgy ensues and the sequence ends with Encolpius and Quartilla [a woman] exchanging kisses while they spy through a keyhole at Giton having sex with a virgin girl; and finally sleeping together".

Fortunata and Scintilla in the same novel. They exchange erotic kisses, but both women are married (to men).

Hippothous and Cleisthenes in An Ephesian Tale by Xenophon of Ephesus. However, this is a pederastic relationship and was not loyal since, Hippothous fell in love with a woman named Anthia. See pages 83-84 here.

Hippothous and Hyperanthes in the same novel. This too is a pederastic relationship and Hyperanthes shows no love for Hippothous. See here.

Clinias and Charicles in Leucippe and Clitophon by Achilles Tatius. Again this is an asymmetric (pederastic) relationship. Charicles, the beloved (passive partner), seems indifferent to Clinias, the lover. It would be wrong to think of Clinias as a homosexual since he is clearly experienced in the seduction of women. See here.

Megilla and Demonassa in Dialogues of the Courtesans by Lucian. They have a long term Lesbian relationship, but it is not exclusive, since they entice Leaena to have sex with them.


Berenice and Mesopotamia in Photios's abridgement of Babyloniaca by Iamblichus. Photios lived in the nineth century and, in any case, the relationship between these two women is far from clear. See here, pages 49-52.

Callistratus and Afer in Martial's satire Epigrams 12.42, and Gracchus and a cornet player in Juvenal's Satire 2. These texts refer to (fictional) weddings in which citizen males took the role of a bride. They perhaps represent the best evidence of committed homosexual relationships close to Paul's time-period. We should remember, though, that weddings had little legal consequence, and we cannot assume that neither partner was bisexual in practice. Also, Martial and Juvenal consider it shocking that a Roman citizen should choose to take the female role in these unions, and they expect their readers to be shocked too. This demonstrates the rarity of such unions.

Lastly, Neill mentions the same sex relationships of emperors Nero and Elagabulus. I have already discussed Nero's abusive relationships hereElagabulus (ca 203-222) married five women in his short life and is no example of faithfulness.

Others point to Plutarch's moralia 751A. However, it is widely agreed (see here) that Plutarch's Eroticus was written in imitation of Plato. Plutarch "was an avid propagandist for Hellenic values, and his works are thought to reflect the attitudes of an age long past."* Thus, Plutarch tells us more about the values of classical Greece than first century Roman practice.

In summary, nearly all same-gender sexual relationships were abusive/unfaithful and Paul would not have approved of the equivalent heterosexual relationships. Hultgren in his recent Romans commentary (p620) writes, 
In no case does one find references to or hints of committed same-gender relationships entered into by adults who pledge lifelong fidelity. On the contrary, there is plenty of evidence for promiscuity and abuse.
Same-gender sex in the bible
In the bible, as in other ancient Jewish texts, same-gender sex is strongly associated with idolatry. We see this directly in Lev 18:21-22, in 1 Cor 6:9, and in Rom 1:23-27. This reflects the fact that bisexual practice was normal in pagan society. Gen 19:4-11 describes an attempted same-gender sexual assault by "the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man". Clearly this passage is not referring to a homosexual 2% of the population of Sodom, but to the bisexual (and married) majority. A city where all the men are strictly homosexual is absurd and is disproved by the fact that Lot's daughters had found husbands in Sodom (Lev 19:12-14).

1 Cor 6:9-11
Corinth was a very Roman city. We know of a few members of the Corinthian church and I would argue that they all had Latin names (Prisca, Aquila, Gaius-Titius-Justus-Stephanus, Crispus-Sosthenes, Fortunatus, Achaicus, and Erastus (which was probably a cognomen)). The background of 1 Corinthians is that members of the Corinthian church were wanting to continue their pagan practices of idolatry and sexual immorality. In "The Corinthian Question" Barnett argues that these opponents were upper class, and this is consistent with their hubris and the influence that they had over the lower class majority in the church. As is often pointed out, Paul is attacking the upper class in 1 Cor 6:1-8 since it was the upper class that took people to court. The context therefore suggests that Paul is attacking the norms of upper class Roman households in 1 Cor 6:9-11.

The NRSV translates 1 Cor 6:9: "Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes (οὔτε μαλακοὶ), sodomites (οὔτε ἀρσενοκοῖται), thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers - none of these will inherit the kingdom of God." The terms μαλακός and ἀρσενοκοίτης have been variously translated, but there is perhaps a consensus that they refer respectively to those who take the passive and active roles in male-male sexual unions. Paul's terms therefore imply asymmetric relationships, that usually involved social dominance.


In 1 Cor 4:17-6:20 Paul discusses vices about which some Corinthians had boasted, so the sins that he mentions in 1 Cor 6:9-11 are likely things performed openly. This is confirmed in 1 Cor 6:11 where Paul writes: "and this is what some of you used to be". Paul had recently visited the Corinthian church and he knew its members and their lifestyles. So, while he was diplomatic enough not to name names, his readers will have known exactly who he was referring to when he condemned same-gender activities in 1 Cor 6:9. Paul was condemning the sexual relationships of those individuals: we cannot conclude that he was condemning all possible same-gender sexual relationships. It is especially doubtful that he was condemning committed same-gender relationships, which were very rare. 1 Cor 6:9 refers to 'wrongdoers' and this arguably limits the scope to abusive/unfaithful male-male sexual relationships. It seems unlikely that Paul is here telling male slaves that they will not inherit the kingdom of God if they complied to their masters' sexual advances, since they had no choice in the matter, so 1 Cor 6:9 is not a blanket ban on male-male sexual activity.


While I would go a little further, Thistleton (p451) puts it well when he points to:
Vasey's reminder that in the society of imperial Rome Jews and Christians saw a "form of homosexuality [which] was strongly associated with idolatry, slavery and social dominance. It was often the assertion of the strong over the bodies of the weak." This no doubt colored Paul's perception, and coheres with certain attitudes related to wealth, status, manipulations, and power at Corinth.
Rom 1:18-2:3
Interpreters of the bible often assume that it must contain statements that directly address the burning issues of their own day. Thus, those who want to find a policy statement on gay marriage in the bible will find what they are looking for. However, the bible contains no such policy statement. In Rom 1:26-27 Paul is not saying "do not practice same-gender sex". He describes same-gender sex as a punishment for idolatry, not as a sin (though he surely considered much of it to be a sin).
and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error. (Rom 1:23-27)
.... yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them. (Rom 1:32) 
The "error" in 1:27 is the aforementioned idolatry. (This point has been missed by the NIV translation which has "perversion" instead of "error").

This passage makes sense in the light of the sexual practices of the ancient world described above. Paul is caricaturing the bisexual practices that were characteristic of the pagan world. People gave up having sex with their spouses, but instead had sex with members of their own gender. He is referring to the bisexual majority, not to a homosexual minority. Paul's statement that they "applaud others who practice them" makes it even more unlikely that he was referring to committed same-sex relationships because such relationships (if they existed) were despised (see on Callistratus and Afer above).

At least part of Paul's purpose in this passage is to encourage his readers not to pass judgement on others (Rom 2:1-3). It is therefore ironic that this passage has been used to pass judgement on homosexuals, with brutal consequences. Paul's discussion of same-gender sex in this passage is, in a sense, incidental to his discussion of Gentile culture and passing judgement. He is not giving a policy statement on same-gender sex, so we cannot assume that he condemned all same-gender sexual relationships. Paul's larger argument requires only that he convince his readers that pagan culture resulted in sinful forms of same-gender sex, and that some of them practiced those very same things.

Conclusion
Paul's condemnation of the (abusive and unfaithful) same-gender sex of Roman culture is completely in line with his egalitarian principles (e.g. Gal 3:28). He would surely be shocked to learn that his words have been used to deny equal rights to a persecuted minority whose sexual orientation is not a choice.

Let me know if I have missed any important considerations.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

N.T. Wright's blunder on homosexuality

Paul, I think, was against heterosexual sex outside of committed relationships (marriage), and it is safe to assume that he was also against homosexual sex outside of committed relationships. Paul's statements against homosexuality in Rom 1:18-2:4 and 1 Cor 6:9 do not state that gay marriage is an exception, but this silence is significant only if something similar to gay marriage occurred in Rome or Corinth in Paul's day. N.T. Wright believes that Paul was indeed aware of committed homosexual relationships:

He gave the following comments in this video.
But one thing I do know, as an ancient historian, is that there is nothing in contemporary understanding and experience of homosexual condition and behavior that was unknown in the first century. The idea that in the first century it was all about masters having odd relationships with slaves or older men with younger men - yeah sure that happened, but read Plato's Symposium. They have permanent faithful stable male-male partnerships - lifelong stuff - Achilles and Patroclus in Homer - all sorts of things.
Similarly, here, he writes:
In particular, a point which is often missed, they knew a great deal about what people today would regard as longer-term, reasonably stable relations between two people of the same gender. This is not a modern invention, it's already there in Plato.
In his Paul for Everyone: Romans Part 1, he writes:
Nor is it the case, as is sometimes suggested, that in the ancient world homosexual relationships were normally either part of cult prostitution or a matter of older people exploiting younger ones, though both of these were quite common. Homosexual 'marriages' were not unknown, as is shown by the example of Nero himself. Plato offers an extended discussion of the serious and sustained love that can occur between one male and another.
And here, he says,
And as a first century historian I want to say the context in which the New Testament is written is one in which there was a lot of casual homosexual experimentation and whatever. But also as you see, hundreds of years before in Plato, people who were in long-term partnerships. So it isn't the case, as some have said, that the New Testament is simply opposed to a phenomenon which is quite different from what we know today.
Have you spotted Wright's blunder? The problem here is that the evidence that Wright cites does not support his conclusion. Plato was a Greek writer, not a Roman, and his Symposium was written in 385BC. Paul refers to homosexuality only in 1 Corinthians and Romans, which were written to the most Roman of all his audiences, and he wrote more than four centuries after Plato. Homer's work, the Iliad, dates to the 8th century BC, so is even less relevant to first century Roman sexual practices, and there is no consensus on whether  Achilles and Patroclus were homosexual lovers, and, according to Plato, their relationship was one of age dissonance.

As far as I can tell, there is little evidence for anything close to gay marriage in Paul's day. The evidence of committed homosexual relationships in classical Greece merely brings the lack of such evidence from the early Roman empire into sharper focus. Wright, who by his own admission is no specialist on homosexuality, seems to assume that sexual practices must have remained the same across the centuries. They did not.

The example of Nero, cited by Wright, hardly provides evidence of committed homosexual relationships. Wright is referring to the 'marriages' of Nero to Sporus and to Doryphorus, as recorded by Suetonius: Nero XXVIII-XXIV. The passage, which doesn't make pleasant reading, is reproduced here:
XXVIII. Besides abusing freeborn boys and seducing married women, he debauched the vestal virgin Rubria. The freedwoman Acte he all but made his lawful wife, after bribing some ex-consuls to perjure themselves by swearing that she was of royal birth. He castrated the boy Sporus and actually tried to make a woman of him; and he married him with all the usual ceremonies, including a dowry and a bridal veil, took him to his house attended by a great throng, and treated him as his wife. And the witty jest that someone made is still current, that it would have been well for the world if Nero s father Domitius had had that kind of wife. This Sporus, decked out with the finery of the empresses and riding in a litter, he took with him to the assizes and marts of Greece, and later at Rome through the Street of the Images, fondly kissing him from time to time. That he even desired illicit relations with his own mother, and was kept from it by her enemiess who feared that such a relationship might give the reckless and insolent woman too great infiuence, was notorious, especially after he added to his concubines a courtesan who was said to look very like Agripinina. Even before that, so they say, whenever he rode in a litter with his mother, he had incestuous relations with her, which were betrayed by the stains on his clothing.

XXIX. He so prostituted his own chastity that after defiling almost every part of his body, he at last devised a kind of game, in which, covered with the skin of some wild animal, he was let loose from a cage and attacked the private parts of men and women, who were bound to stakes, and when he had sated his mad lust, was dispatched by his freed man Doryphorus; for he was even married to this man in the same way that he himself had married Sporus, going so far as to imitate the cries and lamentations of a maiden being deflowered.
Clearly, Nero was not a homosexual in the sense that we would understand the term, and his "marriages" were not committed relationships in any sense. Suetonius's mentions of Nero's "marriages" to men appear in a discussion of Nero's bazaar sexual practices, and this suggests that Suetonius expected the idea of homosexual marriages to appear bazaar to his readers. Suetonius would not have written "he married him with all the usual ceremonies", if this was a recognized practice. Thus, Wright's mention of Nero's "marriages" backfires on him, doesn't it?

Wright says that there has been a lot of confusion about homosexuality, but I fear that he has added to it. Unfortunately many will turn to Wright and other famous writers for guidance on passages like Rom 1:18-2:4 and 1 Cor 6:9, but there is no substitute  for consulting specialists and, preferably, the source documents.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

How Acts explains Galatians

Paul's letter to the Galatians is often used to argue that Acts is not historically accurate and cannot have been written by a companion of Paul. In this blog post I bring together some observations that show that Galatians has been badly misunderstood and that it actually confirms the historicity of Acts.

Paul wrote Galatians, especially chapters 1 and 2, to respond to the Galatian believers' misunderstanding of the relationship between himself, the gospel of Gentile liberty, and the Jerusalem apostles. But what exactly was the misunderstanding? The first column in the table below shows the conventional reconstruction of the beliefs of the Galatians. My own reconstruction of their views is shown in the second column.

The conventional assumptions about what the Galatians were saying The new view about what the Galatians were saying
"The Jerusalem church leaders are a higher authority than Paul on the circumcision question." "Paul is a higher authority than the Jerusalem church leaders on the circumcision question."
"Paul is against circumcision." "Paul is in favor of circumcision (so it is OK to be circumcised)."
"Paul preaches a law-free gospel in Galatia, against the wishes of the Jerusalem apostles." "Paul preaches a law-free gospel in Galatia to please the Jerusalem apostles."
"The Jerusalem apostles are in favor of circumcision (so it is OK to be circumcised)." "The Jerusalem apostles are against circumcision."

It can be seen that I have reversed all the usual assumptions. Most commentators assume that the Galatians thought that Paul was a disloyal apostle of the Jerusalem church leaders and that he preached a law-free gospel in Galatia against their wishes. I propose that the Galatians assumed that Paul was a loyal envoy of the Jerusalem church leaders and that he preached a law-free gospel in Galatia against his own convictions. Paul argued against circumcision in Gal 3-6, but before he could throw his authority behind this law-free gospel, he needed to show that he was writing out of conviction and not just playing the loyal apostle of the Jerusalem church leaders. This is why he distances himself from the Jerusalem church in Gal 1-2, I suggest. Paul's dilemma when writing Galatians is that almost anything that he might write could be dismissed by the Galatians as motivated merely by a desire to honor Jerusalem's jurisdiction over Galatia. Paul's views against circumcision in the letter will carry weight only if he can first establish that they are indeed his sincere views.

Let us look at the four rows in the table in turn.

"Paul is a higher authority than the Jerusalem church leaders on the circumcision question."
The circumcision debate in Galatia focused on the scriptures (see Gal 3:6-4:31). The Galatians will have known that Paul was well educated in the scriptures (see Acts 22:3, Gal 1:13-14, and Paul's letters generally). Peter and John, at least, were uneducated (Acts 4:13). Therefore the Galatians probably considered Paul's opinion on the circumcision question to be more authoritative than that of the Jerusalem church leadership.  The fact that he had helped to found the churches of Galatia will have added to his authority there. It is true that the Jerusalem apostles had been close to Jesus during this life, but no-one appealed to the teachings of Jesus to settle the circumcision debate, as far as we know.

"Paul is in favor of circumcision (so it is OK to be circumcised)."
Gal 5:11 reads,
But my friends, why am I still being persecuted if I am still preaching circumcision?
The two instances of the word "still" (ἔτι) naturally refer back to the last common point of reference between Paul and the Galatians: his last visit to Galatia. This verse suggests that
1) Paul had, in a sense, preached circumcision during this last visit to Galatia
2) Paul had also preached against circumcision at the same time and had been persecuted because of it
3) the Galatians were believing that Paul had preached only circumcision since leaving them. Paul argues that this cannot be the case because the persecution has not stopped.

The events of Acts 16: 3-10 fit perfectly with Gal 5:11 and explain how the Galatians' confusion arose.
3 Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him; and he took him and had him circumcised because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. 4 As they went from town to town, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. 5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith and increased in numbers daily. 6 They went through the region of  Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7 When they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them, 8 so, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. 9 During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." 10 When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them. (Acts 16:3-10)
Paul delivered the decisions of the elders, to the effect that circumcision was not necessary, and I suggest that Paul was persecuted because of it. At the same time Paul circumcised Timothy in preparation for the onward journey and this might have suggested to the Galatians that Paul was in favor of circumcision and planned to preach circumcision in his new territories. The decision of the missionaries to go beyond Asia, without preaching there, may have contributed to the Galatians' suspicion that Paul intended to preach circumcision in his new mission field: the geographical jump would have given Paul the opportunity to switch his teaching without it being immediately obvious that he had done so. The Galatians could have reasoned, "Paul had Timothy circumcised and then went off with him to lands beyond Asia, without telling us exactly where he was going, because he intended to preach circumcision in his next mission field. He preaches a law-free gospel to us, but he will preach circumcision in his new territory since it will fall under his jurisdiction, now that he is the leader of the missionary team". Paul, writing from that mission field, answers, "If I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted".

Gal 6:17 reads, "From now on, let no one make trouble for me; for I carry the marks of Jesus branded on my body". This further suggests that Paul's commitment to the law-free gospel is being questioned in Galatia. He is saying, "my wounds prove my commitment, so let no one question it." The thought here is  very similar to 5:11. Paul corrects the view that he believes in circumcision also in Gal 1:8-9 (see the table below). Now, the color-coded table at the end of this post shows that Gal 1:8-9, Gal 5:11, and Gal 6:17 all occur at the same location in Paul's sequence of thought and this confirms that they serve the same function.

The confusion about what Paul actually  believed is evident also in 1:7 and 5:9, which also appear at the same place in Paul's sequence of thought (see the color-coded table at the end).

In Galatians Paul presents himself as an uncompromising supporter of a Law-free gospel (Gal 1:8-9; 2:4-5; 2:11-14; 5:2-3; 5:12). The Paul of Galatians takes a more extreme position than does the Paul of Acts or indeed the Paul of the other letters. This is explicable if Paul wrote Galatians to correct the view that he believed in circumcision. See the discussion below for more on how Paul uses the Antioch incident of  Gal 2:11-14 to prove his commitment to a law-free gospel.

"Paul preaches a law-free gospel in Galatia to please the Jerusalem apostles."
How did the Galatians explain why Paul preached a law-free gospel to them? Paul's law-free gospel had been given to him by revelation (Gal 1:11-16). However, Paul rarely talked about his revelations (2 Cor 12:1-6), and the fact that he must write Gal 1:11-16 suggests that he is informing the Galatians about it for the first time. Therefore it is unlikely that the Galatians already knew that Paul had received his law-free gospel by revelation.

Now, the (south) Galatian towns where evangelized by Barnabas and Paul. Acts 14:12 tells us how the two missionaries were perceived by the Galatians:
Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes, because he was the chief speaker.
Zeus was the ruler of all the Gods so the Galatians (probably rightly) thought that Barnabas was in charge. Barnabas himself was under the authority of the Jerusalem apostles (Acts 4:36; 11:22). The Galatians could easily have concluded (probably rightly) that the movement of Jesus-followers had not given Paul authority over the territory of Galatia and that he was obliged there to follow the doctrinal positions of Barnabas and the Jerusalem church. Paul later acted as postman for the Jerusalem church (Acts 16:4) and this will have re-enforced the impression that he was an envoy (apostle) under the direction of the Jerusalem church leaders. Envoys were expected to represent the views of those that sent them (See Mitchell's "New Testament Envoys" JBL 1992).

It is therefore plausible that, when Paul had left Galatia and traveled to Europe, the Galatians came to the view that Paul had preached a law-free gospel to them out of loyalty to the Jerusalem church - and not out of conviction. Confirmation of this is found in the table below.

NRSV text Commentary
1:1 Paul an apostle—sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— The Galatians were saying that Paul preached a law-free gospel to them only because, as a messenger of the Jerusalem church, he was obliged to do so. Here, from the start of the letter, Paul protests that he was not a messenger of the Jerusalem church, but of God. His point is that everything that follows in the letter is written out of conviction. Many suppose that Paul is defending his authority in 1:1, but the word "apostle" simply means "one who is sent" in Paul and does not confer status (see on 1:19 below).
1:6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— Here, as elsewhere in the letter, Paul has an exasperated tone. To convince his readers that he is sincere, he expresses emotion that it would be hard to fake.
1:7 not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. I am astonished that yo are so quickly deserting" the law-free gospel that I preached to you "and are turning to" a gospel of circumcision, under the influence of "some who are confusing you" by saying that I believe in such a gospel (which is no gospel at all),
1:8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! but a curse on us if we ever proclaim circumcision to you. Paul here shows his sincerity by calling down a curse on himself. He here writes the words "contrary to what we proclaimed to you", instead of simply, "contrary to my gospel" because he must distinguish between the gospel that he had preached to them and the gospel that they thought he believed and now preached.
1:9 As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed! Lest the Galatians think that Paul is faking his disapproval of them (out of obligation to Jerusalem), he repeats the curse.
1:10 Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? Are you thinking that I am writing all this to stay in good standing with the Jerusalem apostles?
If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ. No, I am not a people-pleaser, but a servant of Christ,
1:11 For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; 1:12 for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. for I proclaimed the law-free gospel, not because the Jerusalem church had asked me to, but because I had received it from Christ. Here Paul uses the phrase "the gospel that was proclaimed by me" instead of "the gospel that I proclaim" or simply "my gospel" because he must distinguish it from the gospel of circumcision which the Galatians assumed Paul was now preaching in Europe.
1:13 You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. 1:14 I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. 1:15 But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased 1:16 to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, 1:17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus.Here Paul reiterates that he owed his allegiance to God, not to those who shared his gospel. He explains that, immediately following his conversion, he did not consult with any other believers in Jerusalem or Damascus about the gospel that he had been commissioned to proclaim among the Gentiles, but he went straight away into Arabia. Paul's point is that he preached non-circumcision out of conviction and not as a means to ingratiate himself with the leading Christians of Jerusalem (or Damascus). I have argued here that Aretas did not permit Christ to be preached in Arabia and that Paul was therefore the first to preach Christ there. This explains why Paul got into trouble with Aretas (2 Cor 11:32). Luke does not mention Paul's two or three years in Arabia and nor does he mention the the conflict with Aretas, presumably because he wanted to avoid inviting persecution by drawing attention to Paul's illegal preaching in Arabia. The unusual phrase, "his disciples" in Acts 9:25 makes sense if it refers to converts that Paul had made in Arabia while working in isolation from any other Christians. Paul's isolation at that time is also shown by the fact that the Jerusalem believers were not convinced of his conversion (Acts 9:26).
1:18 Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him for fifteen days; 1:19 but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother. Paul says that when he eventually did go up to Jerusalem, the only apostles he met were Cephas and James. "Apostles" in Paul's usage means missionaries. He did not meet the other missionaries, presumably because many of them were in distant mission fields at the time. That Paul is here limiting the term "Apostle" to missionaries is confirmed by Acts 9:27, which tells us that Paul met (most of) the eleven. There is no conflict between Acts and Galatians here (or elsewhere).
1:20 In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie! Paul declares that he is not lying, lest the Galatians think that he is telling a white lie as a loyal messenger of the Jerusalem apostles might be expected to do.
1:21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, 1:22 and I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ; 1:23 they only heard it said, ‘The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.’ 1:24 And they glorified God because of me. Paul says here that he had preached the law-free gospel before he was known to the Judean believers. It cannot be said that I preached the law-free gospel just to please the Judean churches, because I did not even know them at the time.
2:1 Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. In 1:10-24 Paul supports his argument by showing that he had preached the law-free gospel before he had had much contact with the Jerusalem church. He argument does not require that he had had little contact with the Jerusalem church up to the time of writing, and he makes no such claim. Contrary to a common assumption, Paul is not obliged to mention every visit to Jerusalem up to the time of writing, and there is no reason to doubt the famine visit. Paul mentions the "fourteen years" here to show that he had preached his law-free gospel for a long time before he took the time to check that it was in line with the thinking of the Jerusalem church. He is saying, "I cannot have been preaching the law-free gospel to please the Jerusalem church for those 14 years because I was not even sure whether they shared my perspective on the matter."
2:2 I went up in response to a revelation. 2:2 does not contradict Acts 15:1-2. Paul does not mention that he had gone to Jerusalem to receive instructions from the Jerusalem church because to do so would have supported the rumor that he was motived by a desire to please them. Paul therefore gives a different, but not incompatible, explanation for his visit.
Then I laid before them (though only in a private meeting with the acknowledged leaders) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure that I was not running, or had not run, in vain. Acts 16:4 shows that the Galatians will already have known about the plenary meeting of Acts 15:3-29 in which the Jerusalem church confirmed that observance of the Law was not required. Here in 2:2 Paul tells them that he had a pre-meeting meeting with the leaders because he was not sure what their position would be. He says this to show, once again, that he had not been preaching the law-free gospel to please the Jerusalem church.
2:3 But even Titus, who was with me, was not compelled to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. 2:4 But because of false believers secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might enslave us— 2:5 we did not submit to them even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might always remain with you. Here Paul explains why he did circumcise Timothy, who was also known as Titus. See here.
2:6 And from those who were supposed to be acknowledged leaders (what they actually were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those leaders contributed nothing to me. Paul says here that the Jerusalem leaders meant nothing to him. He says this not to undermine their authority, but to show that his preaching was not motivated by a loyalty to them.
2:7 On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel for the circumcised 2:8 (for he who worked through Peter making him an apostle to the circumcised also worked through me in sending me to the Gentiles), Here Paul contradicts the rumor that the Jerusalem leaders had told him what to preach. He says that they recognized the legitimacy of the gospel that he had received independently from God.


It is significant that only here does Paul discuss the role of Cephas and only here does he refer to him by the name "Petros". This name, for Paul's (Greek-speaking) readers, means "Rock", and signifies Cephas's role as the rock on which the (Jewish) church was to be built (Matt 16:18). If Paul and Cephas were rivals, as some suppose, Paul would not have honored Cephas by calling him "Petros" here.
2:9 and when James and Cephas and John, who were acknowledged pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. Paul shows here that the "pillars" recognized him as an equal: he was not their underling, as the Galatians supposed. There is no reason to suppose that Paul and the pillars were rivals. Rather, we should think of the pillars being happy that Paul and Barnabas were able to take over their responsibilities in Gentile lands, leaving them free to focus on the Jews.
2:10 They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do. See my blog post here.
2:11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; 2:12 for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they [he] came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. 2:13 And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 2:14 But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, ‘If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?’ In this passage Paul argues that, contrary to the rumor, he is firmly committed to Gentile liberty. Much of the emphasis in this passage is on Paul himself: he opposed Peter to his face, he confronted Peter "before them all" even after Barnabas and the others had been led astray. To counter the rumor that he believed in circumcision, Paul portrays himself here as an uncompromising champion of Gentile inclusion.
Someone who supported Gentile liberty only to please the Jerusalem church leaders might preach a Law-free gospel and he might even risk conflict over the issue, but he would never take a stance against those same church leaders for not being committed enough on the issue. The Galatians (according to my proposal) were thinking that Paul preached the law-free gospel only out of obedience to the Jerusalem church leaders - principally Peter, the major force behind the inclusion of Gentiles (Acts 10:1-11:18; 15:7-11), and perhaps also Barnabas, who led the mission that evangelized Galatia. If Paul can recall an occassion when he actually confronted Peter and Barnabas for not being committed enough to the law-free gospel, he can use it to quosh the Galatian rumor. Gal 2:11-14 is that incident. Paul's criticism of Peter and Barnabas here shows the Galatians that he is not a seaker of their approval. The incident that Paul recounts serves to prove to the Galatians that he genuinely believed in the law-free gospel and was not just the messenger of Peter and Barnabas on the issue.
See also the discussion of Gal 2:11-14 below.


Gal 1:1; 5:2 and 6:11 are shown in blue in the table below. They all begin their respective passages on the confusion in Galatia and serve to indicate to the Galatians that what follows are Paul's views, not the views of the Jerusalem apostles speaking through him.

"The Jerusalem apostles are against circumcision."
Paul (and Titus-Timothy) delivered to the Galatians the decisions of the Jerusalem church leaders (Acts 16:4). The Galatians will therefore have believed (rightly I think) that the Jerusalem leaders were against circumcision (for Gentiles of course). Many commentators, on the assumption that the Galatians thought that Jerusalem was in favor of circumcision, are surprised that Paul does not cite the Jerusalem decree to correct them. However, we should reverse the argument: Paul's silence about the decree shows that it would have been counter-productive for Paul to mention it - in fact it had contributed to the rumor that Paul wrote the letter to oppose. Acts 10:1-11:18; 15:1-32 show that the Jerusalem leaders, like Paul, believed that circumcision was unnecessary. Gal 2:6-9 confirm this unanimity between Paul, the Jerusalem "pillars", and Barnabas.

Some have inferred (perhaps correctly) from Gal 2:3 that the "pillars" would have preferred Titus to be circumcised. However, Paul himself circumcised Titus later in Galatia (Acts 16:3) after he had been named "Timothy", so it cannot be argued from 2:3 that Jerusalem was more pro-circumcision than Paul.

The Antioch incident of Gal 2:11-14 harmonizes very well with Acts, especially if we accept the better attested reading, "he came", in 2:12 (see Carlson's post here). The sequence of events is:

1) Peter came to Antioch and ate with Gentiles and then left.
2) Some men "from Judea" (Acts 15:1) came to Antioch and preached circucision, thinking (mistakenly) that they had the approval of James and the Jerusalem church (Gal 2:12; Acts 15:24).
3) Paul, Barnabas, and Titus went up to Jerusalem (Gal 2:1; Acts 15:2) to discuss the circumcision question.
4) Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch and Peter later returned to Antioch.
5) the Judeans "from James" were still in Antioch and Peter decided that on this visit he would not eat with Gentiles.

With this sequence it cannot be argued that James could not have written the Jerusalem decree, because the men "from James" were sent before the decree was written and Acts 15:24 shows that they did not have his backing anyway. Peter believed that Gentiles should be included (Acts 10:1-11:18; 15:7-11) and his lapse of courage here is completely in character (compare Mark 8:29-38; Mark 14:27-31, 66-72). There is no need to suppose that Peter's views were different from Paul's. Peter's decision not to eat with Gentiles is explained by his lack of courage and also, I suggest, by his new role. At the time of Peter's first visit to Antioch he was, presumably, involved in outreach to Gentiles, but by the time of his second visit to Antioch, it had been decided that he should focus on the Jews (see 2:9 above), so it was now expedient for him to avoid offending Jews.

With the new understanding of the background to Galatians we can no longer assume that Gal 2:11-14 is  in any way representative of Paul's relationship with Peter. There may have been occasions when Peter chided Paul for not defending Gentile liberty vigorously enough, but in Galatians Paul cited only the incident that proved the point that he need to make, and that was the Antioch incident.

It is true that there were some in the Judean churches who favored circumcision (for Gentiles) and that the Jerusalem church leaders tried to avoid offending them. We see this in Peter's behavior in Antioch. James's conflict aversion is evident in Acts 21:20-24, and the men of Gal 2:12 may have mistaken his conflict aversion for an endorsement of their mission. However, there is no reason to doubt that the Jerusalem church leaders did indeed write the decree and that it was shared with the Galatians. The Galatians will then have believed that the Jerusalem apostles and Barnabas were against circumcision.

Paul's sequence of thought
The interpretation of the letter given above is further demonstrated by a comparison of the passages that concern the agitators who were propagating the rumor in Galatia. It can be seen from the color-coded table below that Paul follows the same sequence of thought in all three passages. This confirms that the belief that Paul supported circumcision (5:11) is the background to all three passages






































Conclusion
The Galatians (rightly?) assumed that the Jerusalem church required Paul to preach the law-free gospel in Galatia. After Paul circumcised Timothy, they concluded that he actually believed in circumcision and this encouraged them to consider circumcision for themselves. Paul wrote Galatians to show that he was genuinely against circumcision and persuade the Galatians not to be circumcised. Acts and Galatians are in perfect agreement.

Further reading
For more evidence that Galatians was written to south Galatia, see here.
For more evidence that Acts was written by a companion of Paul, see herehere, here, and here.
Here is a detailed discussion of Gal 5:11, and here I engage with Campbell's treatment.
Earlier posts on the background to Galatians can be found here, here, and here.

Feedback, either positive or negative, is welcome.