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

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Stephen Carlson on Gal 2:12, and the Antioch/Sydney incident

Stephen Carlson has generously made his dissertation available online, here. On pages 162-4 he discusses the textual variants in Gal 2:12, building on his 2006 blog post. He shows that, instead of  ἦλθον (they came), Paul wrote ἦλθεν (he came), which is witnessed by most of the best manuscripts. This is an immensely important finding and gives us the following text for Gal 2:11-12.
11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; 12 for before certain people came from James, he used to heat with Gentiles. But when he came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction.
11 τε δὲ ἦλθεν Κηφᾶς εἰς Ἀντιόχειαν, κατὰ πρόσωπον αὐτῷ ἀντέστην, ὅτι κατεγνωσμένος ἦν. 12 πρὸ τοῦ γὰρ ἐλθεῖν τινας ἀπὸ Ἰακώβου μετὰ τῶν ἐθνῶν συνήσθιεν: ὅτε δὲ ἦλθενὑπέστελλεν καὶ ἀφώριζεν ἑαυτὸν, φοβούμενος τοὺς ἐκ περιτομῆς.
Carlson writes,
Paul’s account of the Antioch incident begins with a statement that when Cephas came (ὅτε δὲ ἦλθεν Κηφᾶς) to Antioch, he confronted him.  After giving background information in v.12a that Cephas used to eat with gentiles before the coming of people from James, Paul restarts the account by repeating the triggering phrase ὅτε δὲ ἦλθεν in v.12.  On this reading, only the arrival of Cephas triggered the incident, which is what Paul claimed in v.11.  With the ἦλθον reading, on the other hand, there are two separate triggering events for the Antioch incident.  
On any hypothesis, Paul first mentions the dispute with Cephas (2:11) and then mentions Cephas's earlier practice of eating with Gentiles (2:12a). At first sight this time jump seems unnecessary. Why did Paul not place the events in chronological order? Well, the text is explicable if Cephas's practice of eating with Gentiles was before Paul's Jerusalem visit of Gal 2:1-10. That fact gave Paul no choice but to skip back in time. Paul therefore wrote Gal 2:1-10 and Gal 2:11 in their correct chronological sequence, then went back in time to give the background information about Cephas's earlier practice in Gal 2:12a, and then resumed his chronological sequence in Gal 2:12b. He indicates that he is resuming his chronological sequence by repeating the phrase, ὅτε δὲ ἦλθεν. Cephas presumably visited Antioch twice and ate with Gentiles on his first visit, but not on this second. This confirms the ἦλθεν reading and gives us the following sequence of events:

1. Cephas visited Antioch and ate with Gentiles (Gal 2:12).
2. Some men from James arrived in Antioch (Gal 2:12; Acts 15:1).
3. Paul, Barnabas, and Titus went to Jerusalem (Gal 2:1, Acts 15:2-3) and met with James, Cephas and John (Gal 2:1-10), and (then) with a larger assembly (Acts 15:4-29).
4. Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch (Acts 15:30-35).
5. Peter made a second visit to Antioch and did not eat with Gentiles (Gal 2:11, 12b)

It can be seen that the men from James of Gal 2:12 can be equated with the men from Judea of Acts 15:1. Now, Acts 15:24 suggests that James and the elders had sent these men, but had not approved their message. We therefore have no solid evidence that James opposed the inclusion of Gentiles. Placing Gal 2:1-10 after Peter's meals with Gentiles has the further advantage of explaining why Peter changed his policy. Paul had graciously agreed to take over Peter's tasks among the Gentiles, allowing Peter to focus exclusively on the Jews (Gal 2:7-9), so it was subsequently expedient for Peter to eat with Jews.

Carlson concludes that, "Instead of being intimidated at Antioch into changing his mind, Cephas came to Antioch with no intention of eating with the gentiles." I fear that Carlson has gone beyond the evidence here. Cephas could have decided not to eat with gentiles after finding members of the circumcision faction in Antioch. Perhaps the men from James stayed in Antioch while Paul visited Jerusalem, and perhaps they were still in Antioch when Cephas came back.

I have argued at length that the background to Galatians is as follows.
1. James and the elders wrote a decree, saying that Gentile believers did not need to be circumcised.
2. Paul visited (south) Galatia and delivered the decree, but circumcised Timothy, a Gentile.
3. Paul left Galatia.
4. Some agitators in Galatia debated with the Galatian believers:
Agitators:  You should be circumcised because the scriptures require it. Paul knows this and that is why he circumcised Timothy with the intention of preaching circumcision in his new mission fields. 
Galatians:  But Paul told us that circumcision was not necessary.
Agitators:  He does not really believe that. He delivered the decree out of loyalty to the Jerusalem church leaders (who are not experts in the scriptures). He preaches against circumcision to you because your territory comes under the jurisdiction of the Jerusalem church.

This ties in nicely with the  ἦλθεν reading of 2:12, which exonerates James. This dramatically changes our understanding of why Paul brings up the Antioch incident. It is usually supposed that Paul is here trying to discredit Cephas. However, on my hypothesis, Gal 2:11-14 serves to show the Galatians that Paul's support for Gentile liberty was genuine and not just motivated by a desire to please Cephas and the other Jerusalem church leaders. To illustrate this I will quote the "Sydney incident", which is part of an account of someone's experience in the Australian army:
One evening my section was on a boys night out on the town in Sydney, doing bit of a pub crawl. I was not a heavy drinker, so I was the only sober one in the group by 9. 00 p.m. In one of our excursions across a park, several of us walked passed a couple of gay men innocuously holding hands as they strolled through the park. As they walked by, however, one of my group (the highest ranked member in fact) began yelling all sorts of hateful things interspersed with vicious expletives at them. He pushed his way over towards them as the couple quickly hurried their pace. Sensing the potential for fruitless violence at two innocent citizens, I grabbed my superior (and let it be known that this guy was built like Sylvester Stallone in his 80s physique) and dragged him back towards the group
Now, why did the author write this? At first sight it might appear that his purpose was to show that the Australian army contains drunken homophobes, even among the higher ranks. However, the original readers of this piece, which was written by a famous biblioblogger, knew the background: the blogger had been accused of bigotry and was writing to have us believe that he was not homophobic. This piece is not about the Australian army at all. It is about the blogger himself. In the parentheses he slips in the key pieces of information that he wants us to know: he had courageously been the first to take a stand against homophobia by taking on a man who was his superior officer and was aggressive and built like Sylvester Stallone. The emphasis in this story is on the commitment of the author.

Similarly, Paul illustrates his own commitment to Gentile liberty by bringing up the Antioch incident. He slips in the facts that he had taken on Peter, a high ranking apostle, and had opposed him to his face. He lets the readers know that he had been the only one to take a stand and had opposed Peter in the presence of all. All this is written with the sole purpose of demonstrating the genuineness of his commitment to Gentile liberty. He later reinforces the point by pointing to his persecutions (Gal 5:11) and wounds (Gal 6:17). Both the blogger and Paul have had their commitment questioned, and both respond by pointing to the physical risks that they took and the fact that they had taken a solitary stand on the issue in question and had done so against an authority figure.


  1. Hey thanks for this - it's thought-provoking and enlightening. I need a little more time to take it in, but it seems persuasive to me.


  2. Yes. I find it surprising that the "he came" reading has not attracted more attention, given that Carlson wrote about it back in 2006. It changes everything. Why hasn't it gone viral?

  3. Hi there! I recently discovered your this blog of yours and I love it. :-) I have gone through each and everyone of your earlier posts, and you have without a doubt made me re-think certain issues (for example the use of passages such as 1 Cor 16 as the possible historical background for the Pastorals).

    I think that your take on the Antioch incident is one of the best that I have heard to date.

  4. Thanks for visiting, Pär. I am thinking about how to bring my reconstruction of the background of Galatians to a wider audience.