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.