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

Friday, February 22, 2019

The background to Galatians

My article on Galatians is now published, and can be downloaded for 14 Euros here. Sorry about the price.

"Paul, Timothy, Jerusalem and the Confusion in Galatia" Biblica 99.4 (2018) 544-566.

It is a provocative and potentially ground-breaking piece that challenges modern scholars' cherished beliefs that:-
a) there was a theological rift between Paul and the Jerusalem church leaders.
b) Paul wrote Galatians in anger.
c) Paul was uncompromising in his opposition to circumcision.
d) Galatians shows Acts to be unhistorical.
e) Titus and Timothy were different people.

In the process, I support the south Galatia hypothesis and a date of composition after the circumcision of Timothy. Here is the abstract.
Gal 5,11 is an embarrassment to conventional understandings of Galatians, yet the structure of the letter shows that it is of central importance: it is the clearest text that reveals the rumour refuted by Paul throughout the letter. Paul circumcised Timothy in Galatia and delivered Jerusalem’s decision that circumcision was not necessary. The agitators then encouraged circumcision by appealing to Paul’s authority, claiming that he now approved of circumcision, and that it was only to please the Jerusalem church leaders that he continued to preach a Law-free gospel in Galatia. Acts no longer contradicts Galatians but explains it well.


  1. Richard Fellows: I thought I would respond to you because you wrote such a nice rebuttal to my argument. I still cannot agree with you however. To me Galatians 5:11 only shows that Paul considers the relaxation of the circumcision requirement to be a man made requirement. It appears that the man made aspect of it could come from Isaiah, from James or from Paul, but in Gal. 5:12 he is clear that for him it comes from Jesus and specifically a revelation from Jesus to Paul himself. His anger comes only from the fact that his authority is being questioned as well as the possibility that they think he may be lying about his revelation from Jesus. I am sure that his zealous passion to get converts to the faith would not have been unnoticed and that it would be easy to suspect that he would exaggerate his interactions with Jesus to encourage a change in the Gospel in order to attract new converts, which is probably what the agitators were saying. Essentially that is also what 1 Corinthians 9:20-21 implys. It seems also to me that it is much more likely that the agitators are reflecting what they think is James' secret position, since in Acts 15 James appears to have such a tepid endorsement of the relaxation of the circumcision requirement especially since he does not extend it to Jews. What is curious also to me is that you think that Paul is misrepresenting himself about Timothy/Titus in Galatians where he is clearly the writer, whereas in Acts we don't know who the writer is and he clearly is neither James or Paul and he is writing at a time at least 20 to 30 years after Paul's letter was written. It also seems to me that if Paul actually thought that the Galatians thought that he was secretly supporting circumcision, that he would have been more explicit about rebutting that claim. His ambiguous reference to man in Gal. 5:11 certainly does not make it clear that he suspects them of such thinking. My final point is that taking into account ACTs 15, it seems to me that had James known of the letter to the Galatians, he would have been furious with Paul, since it appears that for him circumcision still applied to Jewish Christians and that he and Isaiah (not Jesus or God) was the authority for the change in policy, whereas Paul's argument against circumcision does not rule out its application to Jewish Christians, while also claiming that the policy is an integral part of Jesus' Gospel, which is hardly a thing that it seems James would say and which he doesn't say even according to Acts.

    One other thing is that I read your quote from John Christomo and it seems to me that he was providing a justification for Paul's hypocrisy, if one assumes that he in fact did encourage Timothy to be circumcised. However he does not seems to be saying anything about Paul in Galatians, excepting that maybe he doesn't agree with Paul's assertions of not getting Titus to be circumcised if in fact Titus is another name for Timothy, which appears to be a weak claim at best. Ironically, John Christomo seems to be arguing against your main point in that he says the following: "But this reason he imparted to Timothy only, and told it not to the disciples. Had they known that the very purpose of his circumcision was the abolition of the rite, they would never have listened to his preaching, and the whole benefit would have been lost." Thus he argues that Paul secretly was against circumcision for everyone and that the Galatians did not know about it because if they had, especially the Jews among them, they would not have accepted the rest of the message before finally allowing the policy to take hold as part of the overall Gospel of Jesus. Appreciate your taking the time consider this. I realize I nay be a little over my head in this discussion, but I appreciate your bearing with me to the extent that you have.

  2. Last post was from sjhicks21 from the Bart Ehrman blog.

  3. Hi sjhicks21, I am struggling to understand much of your response, but I will try to reply to the bits that I think I understand.

    I do not consider James's endorsement of Gentile liberty in Acts 15 to be tepid. He spoke last, but that is not because he was reluctant. In their culture it was customary for the leader to speak last after hearing from others.

    I have not said that Paul is misrepresenting himself about Timothy/Titus.

    Paul DOES rebut the claim that he believes in circumcision. He does so throughout the letter, doesn't he?

    If Paul and James gave different justifications for Gentile liberty, that would be very consistent with my theory. It would be one way that Paul is trying to prove that he is not just following the party line out of loyalty. So maybe your point furnishes me with another piece of evidence. I'll have to give it some more thought.