Richard Fellows has a A New Theory on the Background of Galatians, which he calls “potentially the most important blog post that I have ever written”, followed by Whose side were the pillars on? He argues that (A) Paul and the pillars both believed that Gentiles should not be circumcised, but (B) the agitators in Galatia thought Paul was really on their side — that he had spoken against circumcision only out of loyalty to the pillars with whom he disagreed.
I should note that while I disagree with Richard’s thoroughly argued proposal, my view is actually closer to (A) than most, in the sense that I think Paul and the pillars were at least initially on the same page regarding Gentile liberty. Including Gentiles in the people of God without converting them into proseltyes cohered with apocalyptic hope, and that’s what was preached from the get-go in the Christian movement. But that formula wasn’t going to work forever — not with increasing numbers of Gentiles joining the church, and in a world where the apocalypse kept getting postponed; not in the face of increased pressure from wider Judaism on account of this. That’s why Christianity started to mainstream around the year 49. In order to survive. (That’s typical of millenarian movements, of course: they evole and change/update beliefs when the end fails to come.) So while there was an uneasy agreement between Paul and the pillars in Jerusalem (Gal 2:7-9), I maintain that the pillars broke the agreement (Gal 2:11-14), largely as a survivalist strategy.
And I emphasize that while Paul was rightly furious for being so humiliated, the pillars’ about-face was an understandable move. I think of them as realists who were trying to keep Christianity viable within Judaism. Centuries of theologians and scholars have turned Paul into a lone, gun-slinging hero at Antioch, but perhaps there are no easy heroes here. Both Paul and James (via-Peter) acted out of legitimate concerns.
My reading can account for all the Pauline data as much as Richard’s, though of course I don’t see Acts as squaring so neatly with Galatians like he does. It accounts for the initial agreement at Gal 2:7-9 as much as the fallout in Gal 2:11-14. I’m not terribly impressed with Richard’s claim that the Antioch incident “tells us nothing about the relationship between Paul and Peter, since even the best of friends can have a heated argument at least once”. In the honor-shame world, one does not call attention to “whatever events prove one’s case”, certainly not a shameful confrontation like this between friends. Antioch was about treachery more than mere “hypocrisy”, and it turned Peter and Paul into rival apostles.
I encourage people to read Richard’s posts. They paint an opposite picture of the one I take to be accurate, but they show serious thinking outside the box, which of course is what we should always be doing as readers of the bible.