Galatians 2:11-14 – The Antioch Incident

Galatians 2:11-14 describes a serious confrontation between Paul and Peter on the issue of table fellowship with Gentiles. For Paul, what Peter does is hypocrisy, and what the “men from James” do is nothing short of a breach of their agreement in the earlier private meeting described in Gal 2:1-10.

First, a chronological note. James Dunn refers to the event Paul describes in Gal 2:11-14 as the “Antioch Incident.” Since 1980 he has produced a series of articles and reflections on the problem of Gal 2:11-14. (I am following his Beginning at Jerusalem (2009), §27.4). Dunn believes that the agreement of Acts 15 takes place before the Incident, which he believes is described by Paul in Gal 2:1-10. The Antioch Incident therefore takes place after Acts 15, Peter’s behavior as well as the influence of the men from James is a breach of the agreement of Acts 15 in this reconstruction. John Polhill has a similar order of events in Paul and his Letters (105-10).

Hypocrite-FaceI disagree with this sequence of events. In my view, the agreement reached in Gal 2:1-10 was a private meeting between Paul and James, perhaps parallel to Acts 11:30. Paul established churches throughout southern Galatia (Acts 13-14), and returned to Antioch. During this time he confronted Peter on the issue of table fellowship, apparently Barnabas also broke fellowship with Paul over the issue. About the same time Paul hears that “men from James” have infiltrated his churches and were teaching that Gentiles ought to be circumcised. He first writes a letter to his churches clarifying the issue (Galatians) and then he travels to Jerusalem to confront James on the issue of circumcision (Acts 15).

Whether the event is before or after the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15), the 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 go to Jerusalem to meet publicly with all the parties involved (Acts 15). As long as Paul’s ministry remains limited or focused on Gentile God-Fearers within the synagogue, there is little problem. But Paul is now targeting Gentiles outside of the synagogue, making the status of Gentiles a major question.

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

Third, the incident points out what we already know about Paul from chapter 1, he is not under the authority of the Jerusalem Pillars. Paul is commissioned by the risen Lord directly and will not be told by men allegedly from James to change his gospel.

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

3 thoughts on “Galatians 2:11-14 – The Antioch Incident

  1. A few thoughts in relation to your point 3 and your questions:

    Very important point that Paul is not, as you say, really under the authority of the Jerusalem Pillars (the identity of whom, incidentally, may indicate no “twelve Apostles” group actually existed, at least not as core, authoritative leaders… “Bishop” James was not ever named among that group, for one thing). Paul certainly didn’t see or want himself “under” them, though he did give some grudging submission as he felt it was required or to his advantage. You well state: “Paul is commissioned by the risen Lord directly and will not be told by men allegedly from James to change his gospel.”

    This carries some vital implications, one of which is this: Luke has to do quite a dance to try to effectively weld the authority presumed by certain Jesus followers to the Pillars with that presumed (in most if not all cases, by others distant from Jeru.) to Paul. And the Pillars and Paul are not the ONLY contenders for “authority” or right doctrine Luke has to attend to. The followers of John are another group he alludes to a couple times, mainly Acts 19, and he works hard in both his Gospel and Luke to connect John and Jesus seamlessly, apparently beyond what is historically the case… our info is minimal given the literary genre and purpose of the Gospels/Acts (cf. Joshephus on John and Jesus, the latter who he is almost silent on, being a bit more explanatory on John).

    I say “vital implications” above because Christian theology depends so heavily on Paul… it would likely look very different without him…. The fact that he basically asserted his presumed authority into the picture of Christian origins by force of his personality and his results in gaining and training followers should give traditional Christians, by THEIR OWN THEOLOGY, real pause…. Where is any line of accepted authority actually validating or confirming Paul’s revelations and subsequent teachings? Luke certainly tries to provide that, but his attempts are fraught with problems. The author of 1 Peter makes a small attempt, of less real substance than even Luke’s.

    I won’t presently venture out on specifics as to why Acts “does not record the Antioch Incident.” But I think you’re on the right track in saying it “… may have been passed over in order to highlight unity of the Jerusalem conference”, invoking Luke’s obvious aim to create a picture of early Christian unity and historical flow or cohesion. While he couldn’t smooth everything out, he managed an adequate job to set (or reinforce) the course that the “standard model” of Christian origins would take basically until the present, although that model has been seriously challenged beginning at least a century ago, and particularly since the work of Bauer in the 1930s.

    To me, the best “non-orthodox” explanatory model has only developed since the 80s… the “social interest” theory propounded (in fair detail) mainly by Burton Mack and Jonathan Z. Smith, with a relatively small additional group of able scholars including Kloppenborg, doing somewhat related work. If the scholarly approach to Christian origins is NOT interdisciplinary, as Mack pushes with a few others, it just isn’t going to shed much new light. Just recently the Jesus Seminar people are focusing on what may be a similar trajectory in their current project to describe Christian origins in more detail… Although not much a fan of their earlier historical Jesus work, I’m eager to see what they will develop with this.

    As to Acts not recording the

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  2. Oops… as to the incomplete sentence ending my remark, just posted, I forgot to erase that beginning after I’d taken it up higher in the writing space.

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  3. I tend to agree with Polhill more on the sequence of events. It makes sense to me that the two events describe in Acts 15 and Galatians 2 are the same event. Of course, as a student, I find it very tough to disagree with my professor, someone who has studied this an immense amount more than I. On the other hand, Polhill has done his fair share of studying as well. So after that inner conflict, I think I’ve settled with Polhill.
    This makes the incident in Galatians 2 a little more significant, in my opinion. Peter stands up and makes a speech, and then, not long after, is found not leading by example. I relate to Peter in that it is much more comfortable to try and please others than to stand firm on one’s beliefs.

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