Treachery at Antioch

Recent dialogue about the Gentile mission has prompted me to revisit the Antioch incident of Gal 2:11-14, and after reading the article by Paula Fredriksen (via Goodacre), I think the last part of the puzzle just fell into place.

What was Antioch about? Two points are crucial. First, it was about circumcision rather than dietary laws. The men from James were saying that Gentiles had to become circumcised converts in order to share table-fellowship on an equal basis with Jews. To my knowledge, only Philip Esler and Mark Nanos have recognized what Gal 2:12 makes plain: that Antioch centered on the question of circumcision — that is, full conversion to Judaism — rather than food laws, as if to imply that something “less drastic” than circumcision was being imposed by way of compromise. As Esler notes, “modern notions of fair play” have hindered scholars from interpreting the Antioch incident correctly (Galatians, p 137).

This leads to the more disturbing second point. If Antioch was truly about circumcision, then the pillars had revoked their own agreement: in Jerusalem they had agreed to leave Gentiles free of any obligation to become circumcised (Gal 2:7-10). Why the about-face at Antioch (Gal 2:11-14)? The immediate answer has to do with honor and revenge. Esler should be cited at length:

“[Paul] had extracted an agreement from the Jerusalem leaders without giving away anything himself. True, he had consented to remember the poor…but his point ['I was eager to do so'] is that he would have done it even without any action taken by the pillars, so that they really got nothing in return for the promise of fellowship…” (pp 135-136)

Not only did Paul get the better of the pillars, but of outside factions, like the “false brethren” of Gal 2:4-5. Esler goes on:

“The defeat of the circumcision group in Jerusalem would have left them steaming with the desire for revenge. Their honor had been besmirched by Paul’s very obviously getting the better of them, and in this culture we expect that they would seek to turn the tables on Paul, just as Israel did on Ammon in II Sam 10-12… When Paul left Jerusalem, he would have been well advised to watch his back… Persons in this culture who are shamed to this extent do not forgive or forget… With Paul and Barnabus, and later Peter, out of the city they would have been left with James and John upon whom they could exert pressure to revoke the agreement.” (pp 132,136)

To western readers, this kind of back-biting seems to make the pillars liars, but that’s the point. Lies and deceptions are often honorable and expected in shame-based cultures. As rival apostles, the pillars were under no obligation to keep any “promises” made to Paul, and indeed they would have been childish to do so. Paul, for his part, would have been under no delusions about how much weight, and for how long, the Jerusalem agreement carried.

I’ve always wondered how Paul managed to get the better of the pillars, as Esler claims, without giving up anything in turn. Now, having read Paula Fredriksen’s article, I can better understand why. Paul’s position had been their own for almost twenty years now. In the earliest days of the movement, any Gentiles would have been accepted as equals without halakhic conversion requirements. That’s what the apocalypse was about: Gentiles being saved as Gentiles. (Mark Nanos has emphasized this too.) So by agreeing to Paul’s demands they were only endorsing their own past practice and keeping things status quo — despite increased misgivings, and increased pressure from outside groups, as time went on.

But the pillars broke their promise (and years of past practice) for the sake of their tarnished honor. In the end they probably saw themselves as keeping the church functional in the context of wider Judaism, in a present age which was promising to stretch on indefinitely. Paul, of course, could not accuse Peter of breaking his promise — he would have made a fool of himself (so Esler, p 138). He had no right to expect the pillars to keep their word to begin with. The best he could do was accuse Peter of “hypocrisy” or inconsistency. But Antioch was about more than mere hypocrisy. It was about back-biting: treachery pressed into the service of an attempt to update beliefs and practices, as all millenarian movements eventually do.

Bibliography

Allison, Dale: Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet, Augsberg Fortress, 1998.

Esler, Philip: Galatians, Routledge, 1998.

Fredriksen, Paula: “Judaism, the Circumcision of Gentiles, and Apocalyptic Hope”, JTS 42, pp 532-564, 1991.

Nanos, Mark: “What Was at Stake in Peter’s ‘Eating with Gentiles’ at Antioch?”, The Galatians Debate, pp 282-318, 2002.

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16 thoughts on “Treachery at Antioch

  1. Of course, there is the possibility that Paul didn’t tell the whole truth about what happened in the Jerusalem meetings. Or is that sort of thinking not permissible?

  2. What promises were actually broken? Paul claims that Peter and James promised that Paul could preach to the Gentiles and that Paul and Barnabas (where’s Titus?) would have fellowship with James and Peter. Conspicuously absent is a promise that Peter agreed to have fellowship with Paul’s Gentile converts.It sounds like Paul was not the only party that didn’t really give anything away.

  3. Gary wrote:<>there is the possibility that Paul didn't tell the whole truth about what happened in the Jerusalem meetings. Or is that sort of thinking not permissible?<>Very permissible, and possible, but what do you have in mind?

  4. Stephen wrote:<>What promises were actually broken? Paul claims that Peter and James promised that Paul could preach to the Gentiles and that Paul and Barnabas (where's Titus?) would have fellowship with James and Peter. Conspicuously absent is a promise that Peter agreed to have fellowship with Paul's Gentile converts.<>But then how does one explain Peter’s visit to Antioch? Paul and Barnabus were promised a peace which consisted of fellowship <>(koinonia)<>, which seems best interpreted as the sort of (table-)fellowship violated at Antioch. The agreement, presumably, was that Jews and Gentiles could continue sharing table-fellowship as they always had in the Christian movement, without requiring conversion of the latter. That’s the significance of Paul’s revelling in his victory with regards to Titus (Gal 2:3) and not submitting to circumcision faction more generally (2:4-5) — and then Peter coming to Antioch to practice what was agreed upon (2:11-14).

  5. Loren,It is important to note that the “men from James” in Gal. 2.11-14 take issue with Peter on eating with Gentiles and do not apply pressure to Gentiles to be circumcized. Unlike the issue at Galatia where agitators where compelling Gentiles to be circumcized. In Antioch the problem was not uncircumcized Gentiles but Jewish Christians not respecting Jew-Gentile boundaries. Paul prosecutes the logic of the position by saying that only circumcized Gentiles could partake of table-fellowship. But that is an inference Paul makes, he shifts the dispute from law-devout Jews to the status of Gentiles.

  6. Mike wrote:<>It is important to note that the "men from James" in Gal. 2.11-14 take issue with Peter on eating with Gentiles and do not apply pressure to Gentiles to be circumcized. Unlike the issue at Galatia where agitators where compelling Gentiles to be circumcized.<>If Antioch was unlike Galatia, why does Paul bring it up? Surely it mirrors the Galatian crisis. (This is what Esler and Nanos have seen clearly.) But more generally, if the men from James “take issue with Peter on eating with Gentiles”, then they are ipso facto implying that the Gentiles need to become circumcised in order to eat with Peter and other Jews. That’s the significance of the “circumcision faction”. And in this culture, public shame amounts to as much “pressure” as one could ask for.<>In Antioch the problem was not uncircumcized Gentiles but Jewish Christians not respecting Jew-Gentile boundaries.<>So what’s the message to Paul’s Galatian converts? That Jewish Christian missionaries should mix with his Gentiles?? I don’t think so. Paul brings up the case of Peter because Peter’s withdrawal from fellowship spoke clearly: Gentiles needed to become circumcised to share equal table-fellowship. This speaks directly to the circumcision requirement being imposed now in Galatia.

  7. <>But then how does one explain Peter's visit to Antioch? Paul and Barnabus were promised a peace which consisted of fellowship (koinonia), which seems best interpreted as the sort of (table-)fellowship violated at Antioch. The agreement, presumably, was that Jews and Gentiles could continue sharing table-fellowship as they always had in the Christian movement, without requiring conversion of the latter.<>I’m sure Paul interpreted the agreement in the most favorable light, but that’s not how his (former?) partner Barnabas took it. If Paul and Barnabas had such an unambiguous victory in Jerusalem, why did Barnabas side with Cephas against Paul in Antioch?Another way to look at the agreement is that James merely promised not to disfellowship Paul (and Barnabas) personally for having consorted with Gentiles, which he had the right to do considering all the impurity implications of his associating with Gentiles.I read Galatians 2 not as Paul’s unambiguous victory, but as Paul’s making lemonade out of a bunch of lemons he got from James. It was at Antioch when he realize how rotten many of those lemons actually were.

  8. Stephen wrote:<>I'm sure Paul interpreted the agreement in the most favorable light, but that's not how his (former?) partner Barnabas took it. If Paul and Barnabas had such an unambiguous victory in Jerusalem, why did Barnabas side with Cephas against Paul in Antioch?<>I don’t undertstand what Barnabus’ siding with Peter proves about what transpired beforehand in Jerusalem. Peter was a pillar; he and James were the real authorities in the movement — much as it galled and chaffed Paul to (in effect) admit this in places like Gal 2:2 and Rom 15:31. Barnabus presumably got cold feet and sided with the real power.<>Another way to look at the agreement is that James merely promised not to disfellowship Paul (and Barnabas) personally for having consorted with Gentiles, which he had the right to do considering all the impurity implications of his associating with Gentiles.<>Yes, but did he have the “right” to do it in light of the end? What was the past practice in the Christian movement? <>I read Galatians 2 not as Paul's unambiguous victory, but as Paul's making lemonade out of a bunch of lemons he got from James. It was at Antioch when he realize how rotten many of those lemons actually were.<>I guess the way I see it is that Gal 2:1-10 reflects Paul’s unambiguous victory in keeping things status quo, despite increased misgivings on the part of the pillars and pressures from wider Judaism. It was unambiguous, but nothing really changed. Antioch is where things began changing.

  9. Barnabas is relevant because he too got the “right hand of fellowship” along with Paul, but he apparently did not understand it (by taking Cephas’s side) that this fellowship extended as far as Paul thought.I like the idea Paul was not the innovator at Jerusalem, but I’m not sure to what extent he actually “won” the debate. What probably happened was a rather ambiguous settlement, where both could claim some sort of victory (as we see in Gal. 2), but which didn’t actually resolve all the issues.Unless it’s in Acts 15 (which is questionable), we don’t really have James’s own perspective on the agreement, so we have to treat Paul’s claims carefully.

  10. The Gal 2:1-14 incident would appear to have occurred before Peter had his own revelation about eating with the uncircumcised Gentiles and got permission from Jerusalem to do so provided they followed certain (Noachian?) laws. Otherwise, Peter wouldn’t have been embarrased by eating with the Gentiles per Paul’s boast. So, it is unlikley that Paul had gotten approval from James at this point to eat with the uncircumcised Gentiles and Paul may not be telling the truth about what James authorized in their meeting. If I have this right, then we are 14-17 years after the death of Jesus and circumcision of Gentiles appears to still be a necessity. That changes later when Peter has his revelation.

  11. Fredriksen’s article makes the point that it is entirely possible that at its very beginning the Jesus movement accepted Gentile followers without requiring conversion. However, that doesn’t mean that there was a consensus regarding table fellowship with the Gentile members. It is quite possible that there would have been differences of opinion, and perhaps more important, differences of practice regarding eating together. But whatever those early practices were I would be suprised if it included Jewish members openly violating the laws of Kashruth, which it would appear, is the position Paul was arguing for in Galatians. So it seems to me that whatever understading was reached in Jerusalem, Paul was seeking to take it a step further first in Antioch and later in Galatia.

  12. Daviv52 wrote:<>whatever those early practices were I would be suprised if it included Jewish members openly violating the laws of Kashruth<>I disagree — I wouldn’t be surprised at all. Millenarians movements are infamous for breaking hallowed taboos, and desecrating tradition left and right, in light of the apocalypse. But of course there would have been few Gentiles involved in the movement in its earlier stages. It was with increased numbers — and with decreased apocalyptic fervor as time went on — that the issue became pressing and finally needed to be addressed.

  13. Bütz (“The Brother of Jesus”) shows that Galatians predates the Jerusalem Council. In brief, Gal 2:11-14 = Acts 15:1-2. Further, these tensions, aroused by the Gentile Mission pioneered in Paul’s First Missionary Journey (46-48 AD), date to c. 49 AD. This agrees perfectly with the Claudian expulsion of the Jews from Rome, due to unrest arising from disputes regarding “Chrestus”, also dated to 49 AD.Therefore, we see that Paul’s Gentile Mission almost immediately sparked a fire-storm of flame-fests throughout the whole of Judaism, from Jerusalem to Antioch to Rome. The heat between Peter and Paul in Antioch was civil compared to that in Rome between Jews and Nazarenes (thus, Claudius’ edict). Cf. Acts 22:21-22 — the gentile issue remained the primary obstacle for the Jews. This ALSO means that these hard feelings were QUICKLY RESOLVED, at the Jerusalem Council in c. 50 AD (Acts 15). Further, James the Just, Bishop of the Church, explicitly disowned the ‘Judaizers’ (so-called) who had accosted Paul in Antioch (Acts 15:24), saying they acted without his authority.Henceforth, Paul was officially rehabilitated. James the Just himself called him a “beloved brother” (Acts 15:25), and Paul remained in good standing thereafter (cf. 2 Peter 3:15). There was no schism.Lastly, this means Paul checked in with the Jerusalem Church after every Missionary Journey — 1st (Gal 2:1), 2nd (Acts 18:22), 3rd (Acts 21).Paul was a team player, and there was no schism.PS: Paul’s return to Jerusalem in 48 AD after his First Missionary Journey (46-48 AD) happened “fourteen years” after his conversion experience (Gal 2:1). Thus, Paul met the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus in 34 AD. Further, Paul lived in Damascus for the next “three years”, from 34-37 AD (Gal 1:18). Paul then fled from the city due to the persecution of the governor of King Aretas (2 Cor 11:32) prompted by the petitions of (influential) Jews to the same (Acts 9:23). This must have been in 37 AD — consistent with the fact that Aretas only had authority over Damascus from 37-40 AD under Emperor Caligula, after the death of Tiberius (Mar. 37 AD), and before Aretas’ own death (40 AD).

  14. Loren,your assume that the Jerusalem church leaders were reluctant to accept the inclusion of uncircumcised Gentiles. But Acts is against you, and so is Galatians. Paul shows respect for Peter by calling him “Rock” when discussing his role in the church (see Gal 2:7-8). How else do you explain why Paul calls him PETROS here and only here?In Gal 2:1-10 Paul says that he had discovered in Jerusalem that the pillars were on the same page as he was. There is nothing here to suggest that anyone had had to compromize on anything. No compromize was necessary because they are in agreement.I used to think that Gal 2:12 showed that James was in sympathy with the circumcision party. However if we reject the ‘they came’ textual variant and accept the well attested ‘he came’, as we must, then the following sequence is suggested:1. Peter came to Antioch and ate with Gentiles and returned to Jerusalem.2. Men from James came to Antioch3. Paul visited Jerusalem (Gal 2:1-10 = Acts 15).4. Peter came back to Antioch. The men from James were still there and Paul opposed Peter.Now, the men from James should therefore be equated with the men from Judea of Acts 15:1. This is important because we know from 15:24 that, while they had been sent by the Jerusalem church (and therefore by James), they did not have the doctrinal support of the Jerusalem church (and therefore of James). Therefore Gal 2:12 tells us nothing new about James’s views on the circumcion question, and we should accept the testimony of Gal 2:1-10 and Acts, which show that he and Paul were on the same page.Furthermore, Paul says in Gal 2:6 that the pillars meant nothing to him. He says this to show that he preached his gospel out of conviction and not just to please the pillars (see Gal 1). This shows that the pillars held views similar to what Paul proclaimed. The background to Galatians is the confusion that arose in (south) Galatia following the circumcision of Timothy and the delivery of the letter from Jerusalem (Acts 16:1-5). The Galatians naturally deduced that Paul actually believed in circumcision (Gal 5:11)and that he had preached against it only to please the pillars and not out of conviction.Sorry, but I just don’t see this big gulf between Paul and the pillars that you and Esler take for granted. See also my comments on the Euangelion blog. The rest of your speculation is idle unless you can first establish that Paul and the pillars were on different pages.Richard Fellows. Jan 23 2008.

  15. Author; You’re great learning has turned you into a heretic! Or at least jaded you considerably about the kind of men entrusted with the faith.The gospel is not something to be bargained and haggled over like so many chickens or a political deal cut in a smoke filled room.These were men who had given themselves to Christ–who had died to themselves, who had been crucified with Christ, nevertheless lived–not they but Christ in them. What concern had they of their own opinions–none–but they sought God’s as all that mattered.

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