This blog, by Richard Fellows, discusses historical questions concerning Paul's letters, his co-workers, Acts, and chronology.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

No split between Paul and the Jerusalem church

In Gal 1-2 Paul states that his gospel was independent of the Jerusalem church leaders. From this commentators invariably jump to the conclusion that the Jerusalem church leaders and Paul had different views on the issue of circumcision and Gentile liberty. They conclude that the Jerusalem church leaders must have been traditionalists, in contrast to Paul's uncompromising support for the unconditional inclusion of Gentiles. In future posts I will argue that Gal 1-2 has been completely misunderstood and I will offer a new reconstruction of the background of the letter. Here, though, I will argue from other texts that there was no split between Paul and the Jerusalem church leaders, and that he remained an integral part of the mainstream church.

Silas/Silvanus helped Paul evangelize Europe (1 Thess 1:1; 2 Cor 1:19; Acts 16:19-29; 17:10,14-15; 18:5). Paul even mentions him ahead of Timothy (1 Thess 1:1; 2 Cor 1:19). All this shows that there can have been no significant ideological difference between the two men on the issue of Gentile liberty. Yet we also read that Silas was a leader in the Judean church and that he represented the church of Jerusalem on this very issue (Acts 15:22-34; 15:40). The apostles and elders sent Silas to Antioch to represent their views on the issue of Gentile inclusion so we can assume that Silas's views were similar to theirs. Furthermore, Silvanus is attested by "Peter" in 1 Peter 5:12. So Paul's views = Silas's views = Jerusalem's views, therefore Paul's views = Jerusalem's views. In any case, a big gulf between Paul and the Jerusalem church leaders is problematic.

Prisca and Aquila had almost certainly come to the faith independently of Paul's missionary work (Acts 18:2-3). They were from Italy, where Paul had not been. If Paul had a gospel that was at variance with the wider church, as many suppose, it would be hard to explain why Paul collaborated so closely with Prisca and Aquila. He stayed with them (Acts 18:3). They risked their necks for him (Rom 16:3) and he gives them the position of honor at the top of the list of those in Rome whom he greets, and they headed a house church in Ephesus (1 Cor 16:19), presumably with Paul's approval.

Andronicus and Junia came to the faith independently of Paul (Rom 16:6-7), yet he esteems them highly and recognizes their apostleship. They had probably been in prison together.

Apollos was from Alexandria and had clearly not inherited his faith via Paul (Acts 18:24). While there were some in Corinth who claimed to belong to Apollos (1 Cor 1:12), Paul recognized the important role that Apollos had played (1 Cor 3:6). Paul makes no distinctions between the various parties in Corinth, including the "Paul" party, but is critical of the divisions. While there may have been some theological differences between Paul and Apollos (Acts 18:25-19:7), the issue of Gentile liberty was not one of them. Circumcision and Law observance are hardly mentioned in 1 Corinthians (1 Cor 7:18-19), so Apollos had not encouraged the Corinthians to Judaiz.

It seems that there were some in Corinth who claimed allegiance to Peter (1 Cor 1:12). If Paul and Peter had distinct theologies on Gentile inclusion, we would expect Paul to bring up the issue in 1 Corinthians, but he does not.

Luke was clearly an admirer of both Peter and Paul. This is hard to explain if, as some suppose, there was a Paul camp and a Peter camp, representing distinctly different ideologies.

Clement of Rome reveres Peter and Paul in the same breath:
Take the noble figures of our won generation. Even the greatest and most virtuous pillars of our Church were assailed by envy and jealousy, and had to keep up the struggle till death ended their days. Look at the good Apostles. It was by sinful jealousy that Peter was subjected to tribulation, not once or twice but many times; it was in that way that he bore his witness, ere he left for his well-earned place in glory. And Paul, because of jealousy and contention, has become the very type of endurance rewarded. He was in bonds seven times, he was exiled, he was stoned. He preached in the East and in the West, winning a noble reputation for his faith. He taught righteousness to all the world; and after reaching the furthest limits of the West, and bearing his testimony before kings and rulers, he passed out of this world and was received into the holy places. I him we have one of the greatest of all examples of endurance.

In summary, it seems to me that the evidence outside Galatians suggests that Paul remained firmly within the circle of the mainstream church, as presided over by the Jerusalem church leaders. Those who are determined to see a theological chasm between a Paul camp and the 'pillars' in Jerusalem will no doubt suggest that the lack of evidence for their hypothesis just shows how thoroughly the truth has been suppressed by Luke. However, such a conspiracy would have to have involved not only conscious distortion of the direct data by Luke, but also careful manipulation of subtle incidental details, and deliberate corruption of the undisputed letters of Paul!


  1. Thanks for the interesting post, Richard. Michael Goulder would not deny the close connections between Paul and Jerusalem, but he argues that the relationship was a troubled one. On Silas, for example, have a look at his "Silas in Thessalonica" to see where he goes on that one.

  2. Big leaps made all over the place here. We really know almost nothing about these people, their beliefs, alliances, etc. Nothing you say is justified by any real evidence.

    And you think "Luke" was a supporter of Peter? I think to the contrary, the evidence makes it more likely that he claimed Peter, who was at odds with Paul, as an ally of Paul as a way of pushing Paul's agenda. I doubt the real Peter would have been pleased.

  3. Thanks Mark. I had forgotten about Goulder's article on Silas. He was certainly a creative thinker and I have benefited from his work. In this article, however, I feel his arguments are week and he uses rhetorical slight of hand to compensate. While I have not addressed all his points, I have attempted something of a rebuttal of his hypothesis in my next post.

  4. Hi Richard,

    I really enjoyed reading your point of view here. You expressed the argument very well. I wish I had access to your presentation here when I was debating with a Jewish fellow about a year ago on one of the discussion boards. I didn't believe there was anything to a conflict between Peter and Paul, but I had trouble defending my position.

  5. I apologize for coming into this discussion way out on its fringes but, from skimming through just this page, I am struck by the non-mention of the fact that many historians and Bible scholars debate about how historically reliable Acts is. The assumption seems to be that it is reliable, even though not written until about 65 years after Jesus' death and not by an eyewitness. IF the doubters about Acts are correct, where does that leave us? We wouldn't have a clue, would we, of what Jewish followers of Jesus (before Paul) believed and how much or how little their beliefs about Jesus-as-messiah resembled Paul's or any orthodox Christian beliefs about him? If we do not come down on the side of those sceptical about Acts' historical reliability, we are still left with the fact that the historical reliability of Acts is debatable and therefore we cannot claim certainty or even strong likelihood that whatever view we have of what the earliest Jewish followers of Jesus believed about him is correct. Is this too convoluted to follow?

  6. Steve, thanks for dropping by. Yes, many suggest (usually without giving evidence) that Acts is unhistorical. When they do present evidence, it usually comes from the supposed discrepancies between Acts and Galatians, but, as I argued in March and April 2010, those discrepancies arise only because Galatians has been misunderstood. In Jan and Sept 2010 I provided new evidence that Acts was written by Paul's companion, Luke/Lucius. Many of my other blog posts also support the historicity of Acts, and maybe one day I will draw all the threads together.

  7. Richard, in a little over three months, a year will have passed since the posts above were posted. I'm wondering if you have pulled together and summarized your arguments for the reliability of Acts. Also, have you put your work before any Bible scholars and historians and asked their opinion of it? I understand that much of it circles around the phenomenon of name-changes and, sorry to say, I have not had the time to read your arguments.

  8. Hi Steve, thanks for your interest. A good place to start is my post on Galatians here. I show there that when the background of Galatians is properly understood, the letter is explained beautifully by Acts. Paul's undisputed letters and Acts are in perfect harmony. It is probably my most important post, but, unlike my more recent post, does not get many hits. I have found it almost impossible to get feedback on my proposed understanding of Galatians, except for comments like "publish it", which misses the point because it is already published - on my blog.

  9. Is there any church or group of worshipers that deempathizes or denies the authority of Paul.