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In 1 Corinthians 1-2, Paul argues God has inverted the thinking of the world by choosing the foolish to humble the wise; by choosing the weak to humble the strong. The one who is in Christ has the Spirit of God and the Mind of Christ and ought to be thinking differently than the world, especially when it comes to leadership within the Church.

Unlike Greek and Roman philosophers, the Christian should not to think of themselves as a disciple of any teacher or leader, nor should a leader think they are developing prestige or honor by attracting many followers. In contrast to the way the world things, the one who is in Christ ought to think of themselves as co-workers busy at work in God’s service.

Paul is primarily addressing the leaders of the church. This is in fact the longest discussion of the relationship of church leaders to their congregations in the New Testament (Ciampa and Rosner, 1 Corinthians, 142). They are not like leaders in the Roman world who are adored and honored, they are simply co-workers in God’s service.

Divisions over leadership are immature (3:1-4 ). The church at Corinth are not maturing like they should have, they are not “spiritual” yet, they are still “fleshly”  Spiritual (πνευματικός) refers to a person who has the Holy Spirit, someone who is led by the Spirit of God.  “People of the flesh” (σάρκινος) refers to the fact they are still thinking as they did before they came to faith in Christ. The noun refers to physical human attributes, often the weakness of human flesh (contrasted with spiritual life, Rom 7:14, 2 Cor 1:12).

The irony is that the church at Corinth made the most use of the gifts tongues and prophecy of the Spirit in the New Testament (Garland, 1 Corinthians, 109). It is possible members of the church thought of themselves as “spiritual” because the manifestation of the Spirit characterized their worship. They are not spiritual simply because they have those spiritual gifts.

Baby Eating MeatIn this section, Paul uses the metaphor of caring for a child. When he was with the church, he fed them milk, since that was appropriate for a child. But as a child matures they are ready for solid food. Paul’s point here is the church is not progressing toward maturity in a normal way, they are spiritual stunted and still need “milk not solid food.”

Everyone has an idea what the “meat” is as opposed to the “milk.” Usually it is “the hard doctrines I understand but you do not because am more spiritual than you are.” First, this cannot be a “secret doctrine” Paul holds back until people are more mature. There is no secret or hidden teaching Christianity holds back until people can handle it. 1 Cor 2 made this point very clear, the secret mysteries of God have already been revealed!

Second, Paul’s point is not that there is a mix of spiritual and unspiritual in the church at Corinth. The whole church is immature and infantile in their thinking because they have these divisions. It is not that Apollos their teacher is highly advanced spiritually and the others are lagging behind. Because there are divisions, the whole church is not growing properly.

Third, Paul is not exhorting the “slow people” to catch up, but the whole church to come together in unity and grow spiritually. He is not pointing fingers at individuals in the church that are bringing the average down, he is saying the local manifestation of the Body of Christ at Corinth is stunted and not growing properly. The whole Body has to grow, not just a part.

This view of church leadership has the potential to transform the way a local church does ministry. In fact, there are many examples of selfless leaders humbly serving their congregations. How could Paul’s vision for the Corinthian change the way churches function? How does the milk.meat metaphor work when applied to church leadership in a modern context? Is “meat” always “hard doctrine”? Should we only ordain people to ministry who properly understand Calvinism?

1 Corinthians begins with four chapters directed at reported divisions in the church. In 1:11 Paul uses the noun ἔρις (eris), quarreling or discord. This word refers to a “hot dispute” between rivals (Ciampa and Rosner, 1 Corinthians, 77). It appears in Sirach 40:9 in a list of things that will come upon the sinner: “death and bloodshed and strife and sword, calamities and famine and ruin and plague.”

This is not a football rivalry (although those can get heat up fast); it is more like standing in the lobby of the Creation Museum with a sign that says “I believe in Evolution,” or visiting Planned Parenthood wearing a pro-life t-shirt. This word describes an emotional flare-up, going beyond reasonable discourse

Greek OratorHow can the presence of “divisions” be described as “worldly?” The “divisions” seem to be over leadership: some considering Paul their authority, other Apollos, others Peter, and still others only Jesus. It is within the context of describing these divisions that Paul describes the church members as worldly.

Bruce Winter describes the Greco-Roman practice of discipleship in the second chapter of his book and finds a great deal of parallels between the disciple-teacher relationship in the culture of Corinth and the problem of divisions in the church over the authority of teachers.

Dio Chrysostom visited Corinth about A.D. 89-96.  He described the activities of the disciples of the Sophists – the professional orators who were able to command large audiences, high fees for educating youth, and often a great deal of power within the city. The skill of oration involved not only speaking skills, but also an attractive demeanor, the best orators were good looking, athletically trained men.  Orators might be employed as lawyers, gaining clients from the very highest ranks of the city. Dio Chrysostom also observed that the disciples modeled himself after his teacher, taking the imitation seriously, including style of speech, dress, and even walk.

There was extreme competition among the orators for honor and power.  The better the orator, the higher the fee, and the more disciples he will attract.  Dio complained that Corinth was filled with “wretched” sophists, many of whom were debating one another with “shouting and abuse” near the temple to Poseidon.

Disciples could be fiercely loyal to their teacher, the term used to describe a loyal student is “zealot.”  (This is not to be confused with the Jewish Zealots of the mid-60’s in Palestine.)  The teacher expected exclusive loyalty from the student, which included the defense of that teacher or the ridicule of other competing teachers.

Bruce Winter reports the story of students following a rival teacher and his disciples listening for mistakes of grammar or rhetoric (Winter, After Paul Left Corinth, 39). When the mistake was made they would ridicule that teacher as deficient. Philostratus tells the story of a teacher that was so ridiculed that he ordered his slaves to thrash the disciple that was mocking him.  The slaves actually beat the rival teacher’s disciple to death!

Obviously Christian teachers are different than an orator or philosopher. If the Corinthian Church is thinking about their Christian teachers as a Greco-Roman orator, then they are importing “worldly thinking” into the church and risk the unity of the Body of Christ. To what extent does this kind of thinking cause trouble in a modern context? While I would love to see the Beth Moore disciples go after John’s Piper’s disciples in a turf-war, I am not sure the Christian church is effected in by the world in quite the same way—or is it?

Paul alludes to Leviticus 19:18: the Law is fulfilled in one commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Gal 5:14). This verse is the most quoted verse from the Pentateuch in the New Testament, despite the fact it is almost never referred to in first century Jewish texts. Perhaps this is because Jesus himself stressed love of neighbor as a fulfillment of the law.

There was a lively debate in the first century on how to sum up the Law. When a teacher of the Law asks Jesus what the greatest command is, he responds “to love the Lord your God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:34-40). Jesus says the Law and prophets “hang” on these two commandments.

Love Your NeighborHowever, defining just who was included as a neighbor was also a hotly debated topic. Prior to the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), Jesus is asked by an expert in the Law to define “neighbor.” The man likely understood the word “neighbor” to refer to his fellow Jews, since that is what neighbor means in Leviticus. But Jesus expands “neighbor” to include anyone who is in need.

It is possible Paul has fellow-Christians in mind here, given the context of factions within the church (5:15, 26), but he will expand the doing of good in 6:10 to everyone, but especially the “household of faith.” Paul’s point is not, “if you want to keep the Law, love your neighbor.” He has said repeatedly that the age of the Law is done and over with and the one who is in Christ is free from the Mosaic Law.

After arguing that Gentiles do not have to keep the Law, it is ironic Paul now says when they love their neighbors they “fulfill the Law.” It is as if Paul is saying, “If you really want to keep the Law, love your neighbor.” Like a prophet from the Old Testament, Paul tells his readers their observance of rituals do not mean anything if they do not do the heart of the Law, namely, love of God and love of neighbors. If one is loving one’s neighbor, then they are already doing the “spirit of the Law.” By walking by the Holy Spirit, the believer is already fulfilling the whole law.

The reason the Galatian believers are to submit to the Law of Love in Christ is that their current behavior is going to destroy the church. They are biting and devouring one another (5:15). Paul describes the factions in the Galatian churches as wild animals. They are like “mad beasts fighting each other so that they went up killing each other” (Betz 277). Wild animals are commonly used as metaphors for bad behavior in the Greco-Roman world, so this is a metaphor the Galatians would have immediately understood.

There is a danger in keeping the Law, but Paul says here there is also danger in factionalism. The body of Christ functions best when there is unity in local churches (Phil 2:1-4). The problem Paul must address is therefore “how do I serve my brother and sister in love?”

How does Paul describe the life of service to one’s neighbor in Galatians? What does this “look like” in a contemporary setting?

The fact the believer is free from the Law should not necessarily lead to the view that the believer may indulge in sinful behavior (Galatians 5:13). Does Paul contradict himself in this verse? He has consistently argued in Galatians that the believer is free from slavery to the Law, but now he says the believer ought to re-submit to slavery, this time to his neighbor. Freedom from Law is not a freedom from everything. There is always some sort of obligation to fulfill, whether to the government or family, etc. Here in Galatians 5, Paul has in mind our obligation to serve God by serving one another.

Galatians Freedom in ChristSince the one who is in Christ is free from the obligations of the Law, they now must voluntarily re-enslave themselves to the Spirit. For Paul, there are only two possibilities, either one is enslaved to the flesh, or one is enslaved to the Spirit. Paul will unpack what he means by flesh and Spirit in the next paragraph, but for now it is important to understand these are the only two options for the one who is in Christ.

Based on what Paul says in Galatians, the Law is not an option for living out a life “in Christ.” Nor is it acceptable to blend a life “in Christ” with something else, such as a Greek philosophy or worship of another god. Paul would be just as critical of the Galatian churches if they chose to live out a new life in Christ through popular Stoic or Epicurean ethical philosophy as he is with the Gentiles trying to keep the Law.

The fact we are free from the Mosaic Law is not to be used as a reason to indulge in sinful behavior. The noun here refers to a starting point, like capital for a business venture or a military base from which an assault is launched. By the first century, the word was used for “pretext” or “occasion, opportunity.” In 1 Tim 5:14 it is used for an “excuse” for Satan to slander unmarried widows for moral lapses.

Since the believer in Christ is free from the Mosaic Law, it is possible some people took Paul’s gospel as a license to sin. Paul must deal with this problem here and in Romans 6:1-1-4 since there were people who did take their freedom too far. Some of the problems described in 1 Timothy and Titus are a result of people “sinning so that grace might abound.” The letter of Jude deals with people who “pervert the grace of our God into a license to sin” (Jude 4). If someone is free from all restraint of the Law, what keeps them from indulging in all sorts of sin?

Someone might say, “If election and preservation means I cannot lose my salvation, then I can behave any way I would like and still be saved.” Paul would never agree with this statement. This is an issue of spiritual maturity. For example, imagine the first taste of freedom a teen has when they go to college. Mom and Dad are not watching them all of the time so they have the freedom to do whatever they want. As a result, many college freshmen get into trouble (or at least the freshman fifteen….or twenty!)

While it is possible for a person to understand their freedom in Christ in this way, Paul says it is inappropriate for the one who is “walking by the Spirit” to indulge the sinful nature.

What is an example of a Christian using their freedom as an excuse for sin? Based on Galatians, how would Paul respond to that sort of misuse of one’s freedom in Christ?

That Abraham “believed in God and was declared righteous” is an important point for Paul. But it is critical to Paul’s point to know when Abraham believed. He trusted in God’s word before the sign of the Covenant was given, in Genesis 15 not 17. What is more, Abraham believed in God well before his great demonstration of faith in Genesis 22. The reader of Galatians needs to know the whole flow of the Abraham story in Genesis 12-24 in order to grasp the full impact of Paul’s point.

Paul also uses Abraham as an example in both Romans and Galatians. Why select Abraham as the model of faith? It is possible the agitators themselves have been using Abraham in their teaching, since Abraham was a Gentile who believed God and that belief was “credited to him as righteousness.” Paul’s opponents in Galatia may have argued the Gentiles now coming to Christ are in the same category as Abraham, and Abraham was circumcised as a sign of his covenant with God.

Gen 22God credited this belief to Abraham. The verb חשׁב refers to considering an internal thought which “reckons” or considers something. It is an evaluation or something-“to reckon” not in the sense of counting numerically but of evaluative assessment” (TLOT, 480).

Righteousness is a key theological term in both the Old and New Testament. Christians tend to hear “righteousness” as personal holiness. Although this is certainly part of what the term can mean, modern reductions to “sinlessness” miss the rich use of this word to cover all sorts of activities from honesty to justice.

But in the Old Testament, righteousness is usually associated with one’s actions with respect to a standard, such as the Law. If one keeps the Law, then one is “righteous,” which implies a moral standard. But “sin” in the Old Testament is far more than moral offenses against God, physical uncleanliness separates one from God, so a woman (for example) who has given birth is “unclean” and needs to make a sin offering. Giving birth is not a moral problem, but a change of physical status.

In Galatians 3:7-9, Paul is creating a biblical argument, focusing on the phrase “credited as righteousness” in Genesis 15. In this story, Abraham believed in the word of God as revealed to him and God considered him “right with God” as a result. At this point in history, Abraham should be considered a Gentile, at least by the rules imposed by the agitators in the Galatian churches.  He was uncircumcised and the food and Sabbath laws have not yet been given. Since he believes in the God who called him out of his father’s land, he a “converted pagan,” just like the Galatian believers.

This is in contrast to other views of Abraham in Judaism of the Second Temple Period. For example, in the apocryphal book Sirach, Abraham is described as having kept the “law of the Most High,” so God entered into a covenant with him and “certified the covenant in his flesh” (Sirach 44:19-21). Paul does not rewrite Scripture like so much of the literature of the Second Temple Period did.  He considers Abraham as a Gentile who was made right with God by faith in what God told him, not by works (either circumcision or the Law).

Abraham is therefore the perfect model for Paul to use since he was justified before the Law:  he was justified by faith not by the act of circumcision.


Paul says that Peter’s withdrawal from table fellowship with the Gentile is nothing less that hypocrisy. The problem Paul has with Peter is his change of attitude and behavior after the visit from the “men from James.” The first verb Paul uses (shrink back) is a military term and has the sense of retreating to an “inconspicuous position” (Witherington, 154). In Acts 20:27 Paul uses the verb to describe what he did not do – he did not “shrink back” from preaching the gospel in Ephesus in the face of persecution.

The second verb (separate) has the sense of separating something into groups, as in separating sheep and goats in Matt 25:32. While this does refer to ritual purity (clean and unclean), there is an eschatological sense here as well. At the end of the age, the Lord will separate those who will enter the kingdom from those who will not. If I am right that the political and religious situation in Judea was becoming increasingly “apocalyptic,” it is possible that these “men from James” were encouraging a separation of the Jews and the Gentiles in anticipation of the coming judgment.

Peter and PaulThe reason for Peter’s withdrawal from table fellowship is fear from the circumcision party – those Jews who insisted on circumcising Gentiles. There is at least the possibility (based on Gal 6:12) that some Jews, such as the Zealots, were willing to use force to ensure that Jewish traditions were being observed. During the Maccabean period circumcision of new-born sons was enforced (1 Macc 2:24-26). About 125 B.C the Hasmonean king of Judea John Hyrcanus forcibly circumcised an Idumean village in order to “convert” them to Judaism (Josephus, Antiq.13.9.1).

If this is the case, then perhaps Peter is afraid of real persecution by a zealous wing of the Jerusalem church. This is not a case of “the pastor is coming over, hide the beer bottles”! Peter and Barnabas may have withdrawn from fellowship to avoid a potentially violent reprisal from the “zealots” within Jewish Christianity. Paul himself sought to correct what he understood to be a false teaching about the messiah (Acts 8:1-3). It is impossible to be certain of the source of this persecution, but like pre-Christian Paul, this group was concerned about Diaspora Jewish Christian communities maintaining proper beliefs and practices.

While Peter is a hypocrite, Paul describes Barnabas as “led astray.” This is a different word which has the sense of being “carried away” by something. Perhaps Barnabas was fooled by the rhetoric of the “men from James.” Barnabas was originally sent to Antioch by Jerusalem and perhaps he was under some additional pressure by these men. His loyalty was to Jerusalem and was associated with the apostolic community since the earliest days (Acts 4). The Gentile mission is Paul’s commission, it is not Barnabas’s.

Peter’s actions, then, are out of character. He is not living out his beliefs nor is he keeping the agreement reached with Paul in Gal 2:1-10.

Galatians 2:11-14 describes a serious confrontation between Paul and Peter. This incident takes place at Antioch some time before the Jerusalem conference in Acts 15. For Paul, Peter’s withdrawal from table fellowship is plainly hypocrisy. Peter has agreed Gentiles were not converts to Judaism and were fully saved apart from the Law. But under pressure from the “men from James” Peter withdraws from fellowship with the Gentiles. For Paul, this is nothing short of a breach of the agreement in the earlier private meeting (Gal 2:1-10).

Peter and Paul hugging 2The Antioch Incident has some far-ranging ramifications for Paul. First, it forces the issue of Gentile equality out into the open. No longer will a private meeting do. Paul must now go to Jerusalem to meet publicly with all the parties involved (Acts 15).

Second, the incident may represent a break between Paul and the Antioch church. He continues his missionary efforts, eventually spending eighteen months in Corinth and three years in Ephesus. By Acts 18, the center of Gentile mission shifts from Antioch to Ephesus. Paul’s mission is responsible for planting many churches in the Lycus Valley by the end of the first century.

Third, the incident points out what we already know about Paul from Galatians 1—he is not under the authority of the Jerusalem church. Paul was commissioned by the risen Jesus directly and will not tolerate being told to change his gospel by men allegedly from James.

Why does the book of Acts not record the Antioch Incident? It is possible Luke thought his inclusion of the Jerusalem conference in Acts 15 was sufficient to summarize the problem of Gentile salvation. Luke tends to emphasize the unity of the church, so the incident at Antioch may have been passed over in order to highlight the unity of the Jerusalem conference.

Are there on-going ramifications of this split between Paul and Peter/Barnabas? James Dunn, for example, suggested this even forced Paul to move away from Antioch as the center of his mission, eventually settling in Ephesus for several years. Are there other unexpected results?

Commenting on his meeting in Jerusalem, Paul says that the Pillars “added nothing” to him (2:6). This can be taken in two different ways. First, the Pillars did not add anything to Paul’s gospel, meaning they “approved” of the Gospel Paul was teaching and did not require him to include something more in his preaching to the Gentiles. Second, this may mean the approval of the Apostles did nothing to enhance Paul’s honor or prestige, since he was already commissioned by God to preach this Gospel (Witherington, Galatians, 140).

In the context, Paul’s dismissal of the honor of the Apostles indicates he did not require their approval and it did not matter if they agreed with him or not, since he knew he was right. This might be something like a doctor who is has an M.D. getting an approval to practice medicine from a local high school. The approval of Jerusalem does not matter to Paul since a higher authority has already given him all approval he needs.

Peter and Paul Hugging

The Pillars give Paul the “right hand of fellowship.” Does this indicate some sort of formal agreement? The “giving of a hand” is found in the Hebrew Bible several time (2 Kings 10:15 for example). In general, this is an offer of friendship between equals, but occasionally it is a gesture from a superior person to a socially inferior person. Giving the “right hand” is ambiguous. It is possible Paul understood this gesture as friendship between equals, but the Apostles understood it as friendship with an inferior Paul. Whatever the case, Paul takes the presence of the opponents in the Galatia churches as a breach of this agreement.

Was the agreement a “division of labor”? Peter will go to the Jews, while Paul goes to Gentiles? It may be the division ethnic or geographical. According to 1 Peter, Peter ministers in northern Asia Minor. 1 Corinthians implies Peter had some influence in Corinth, but this may not imply he actually ministered in that city. It is likely Peter continued doing the sort of ministry Acts 10-12 describes. Like Jesus, Peter seems to have ministered primarily to the Jews, but especially to those on the fringe of Judaism. James may have remained in Jerusalem and minister to Jews who remained faithful to the Law (Acts 21:20).

Paul, on the other hand, continued to go to synagogues as a part of his regular pattern of ministry (Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea and Corinth) and in 2 Cor 11:24 Paul indicates he has been disciplined in the synagogue several times before A.D. 52. But Paul did avoid regions which were already evangelized by others; his intention was always to move west into regions which had not yet heard the Gospel (Rom 15:23-24).

As it stands in Galatians, what is Paul’s point in recounting this encounter with the Jerusalem Leadership? It is possible Paul’s reasons for including the information in Galatians differ from Luke’s reasons for omitting it (if the encounter is not Acts 15) or Luke’s emphasis on the unity between Paul and Jerusalem.

[NB: This is based on an excerpt from my upcoming book on Galatians.]

In Galatians 2 Paul reports a meeting in Jerusalem with “the Pillars.” In this meeting he brings along Titus as a test case for Gentile salvation.

With respect to the book of Acts, when does this meeting take place? There are three possibilities. First, “after fourteen years” in 2:1 may refer to the time since Paul’s conversion. Galatians 2:1-10 would therefore refer to the “famine visit” (Acts 11:29-30). Luke tells us that Barnabas and Paul deliver a gift from Antioch to the poor believers in Jerusalem in response to a prophecy from Agabus. Paul says in Galatians he went to Jerusalem because of a revelation (2:1) and he was told to continue to remember the poor (Gal 2:10). “Remembering the poor” in Jerusalem is exactly what the famine relief visit intended to do. A serious problem for this position is Acts 11:29-30 does not mention a meeting with any of the leaders in the Jerusalem church, whether public or private.

Book-of-GalatiansA second possibility is the event takes place “after fourteen years” from the last time reference in Galatians, Paul’s three years in Arabia. This would mean the visit took place seventeen years after his conversion. Galatians 2:1-10 would therefore be Paul’s report of the meeting in Acts 15. This meeting, usually called the “Jerusalem conference,” discussed the relationship of Gentiles and the Law. There are several problems with this view.

In Acts 15, Paul does not go to Jerusalem in response to a revelation. He is responding to some teachers in Antioch who are arguing Gentiles must submit to circumcision. Second, there is no reference to Titus in Acts 15, in fact, Titus is not mentioned at all in Acts. Third, the meeting in Acts 15 seems public: “the apostles and elders gathered.” In Gal 2: 2 Paul specifically states he met privately with those who were “influential.” Fourth, while the issue in both Acts 15 and Gal 2:1-10 is circumcision of Gentile believers, Paul does not refer to the decision of the conference or the letter drafted by James in his letter to the Galatians. The only hint is that Paul was told to continue to remember the poor, but he has already been doing that for some time by Acts 15.

A third possibility is Paul went to Jerusalem on another occasion and met with the leaders of the Jerusalem church. This would mean Gal 2:1-10 does not refer to either Acts 11:29-30 or Acts 15. If it is the case, Paul does not mention the famine visit in the letter. It is possible he did not need to since he did not meet with any leaders at that time. Potentially this could be a problem if his opponents pointed out that Paul had more contact with Jerusalem than he admitted on in his letter.

All things considered, I think the third option is best for understanding this meeting in Gal 2:1-10. At some time prior to Acts 15, perhaps even before his first missionary journey, Paul met with Peter and James in order to establish a precedence for Gentiles who accept Jesus as savior. Paul’s success among the Gentiles created a class of believer who was neither ethnically Jewish nor a convert (or near-convert) to Judaism. At the time of this meeting, Peter and James agree these Gentiles are not converting to a form of Judaism and are therefore not required to keep the Old Covenant.

I realize this is something of a controversial issue – Longenecker and Still simply state the problem and point the reader to more technical discussions in the commentaries (Thinking Through Paul, 92). How does an early date (before the Jerusalem conference in Acts 15) change the way one reads Galatians? Or, alternatively, if the letter was written after Acts 15, how does Paul’s description of the event in Galatians differ from Acts?


The first major controversy the early church had to contend with strikes the modern reader a bit strange. Unlike later theological debate over the divinity of Jesus or the Trinity, or modern concerns over how to properly worship in church or who can (or cannot) be ordained as a minister, the earliest church struggled to know what to do with Gentiles who accepted Jesus as the Messiah. Are these Gentiles “converting” to a form of Judaism? If that is the case, should they keep the Law? Or are they like the “God fearers Gentiles,” people welcome in the synagogue without having to fully convert?  If they are fully keeping the law, does this imply a secondary status for Gentile believers?

Primarily as a result of Paul’s Gentile mission, the percentage of Gentiles was growing in Christian communities. Some Jews thought that it was necessary for the Gentiles to keep the whole Law, starting with circumcision.

CircumcisionBased on Galatians, it appears that Paul had taught the Gentiles that they do not have to keep the Jewish Law, especially circumcision.  Undoubtedly this also included food laws and Sabbath worship, the other major boundary markers for Jews living in the Diaspora.  After Paul established these churches and re-visited them once to appoint leaders (Acts 14:21-28), he returned to Antioch and reported that God had “opened a door of faith” among the Gentiles.

Sometime after Acts 14, some teachers arrived in Paul’s Gentile churches and told the Gentiles that they were required to fully convert to Judaism in order to be fully a part of the people of God in the present age. I think that this teaching focused on the boundary markers of food and Sabbath as well, but Galatians and Acts 15 is concern only the practice of circumcision. If Gentiles are going to be considered full participants in the people of God in the present age, they must be Jews; this requires conversion and obedience with the law.

This is no small controversy for several reasons. First, circumcision was a major factor in Jewish identity. For many in the Greco-Roman world, it was circumcision which set the Jews apart, usually for ridicule.  Marital, for example, seems to find a great deal of humor in the Jewish practice (Epigrams 7.35.3-4; 7,82, 11.94).

Second, Paul argues in Galatians and other letters that the church is neither Jew nor Gentile (Gal 3:28). If Gentiles convert to Judaism, then the church is Jewish; if a Jew rejects the Law and acts like a Gentile, then the church is “Gentile.” Paul’s point is that there is something different than Judaism happening in the present age, the “church” is not a form of Judaism, nor is it a Gentile mystery religion. The church in Paul’s view transcends ethnicity (neither Jew nor Gentile), gender (neither male or female) and social boundaries (neither slave nor free).

For Paul, if the Gentiles are forced to keep the Jewish boundary markers, then they have converted to Judaism and they are not “in Christ.”  This view would have been radical in the first century, and it still is difficult for Christians two thousand years later.  One does not “act like a Christian” to be right with God, any more than one “acted like a Jew” in the first century to be right with God.

If Paul rejects the Jewish boundary markers, what does this imply about the status of Gentiles in the present age? How does the book of Galatians address this issue?

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About Me

Phillip J. Long

Phillip J. Long

I am a college professor who enjoys reading, listening to music and drinking fine coffee. Often at the same time. Author of Jesus the Bridegroom(Wipf & Stock 2014).

My book Jesus the Bridegroom is now available from Amazon in paperback or Kindle

ACI Profile for Phillip J. Long

Christian Theology


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