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Rembrandt TimothyAs he begins this new phase of the Gentile mission, Paul wants to take Timothy, a young convert from Lystra, as a companion. Like Silas, Timothy is an important companion of Paul and a foundational member of the early church in Asia Minor. Timothy is well known from the letters of Paul, mentioned as a co-sender of the two Thessalonian letters, Philippians, Philemon, and Colossians. He is called a “brother” (1 Thess 3:2, 2 Cor 1:1, Philemon 1:1) and a “fellow worker” (1 Thess 3:2, Rom 16:21). In addition, two letters are sent to Timothy, and he is mentioned in the greetings-section of Hebrews.

The problem is that Timothy’s father was a Gentile and he was never circumcised. That Timothy’s Jewish mother would marry a Greek is unusual, but not unknown. James Dunn suggests that the fact Timothy was not circumcised might be an indication that Eunice has already ceased practicing Judaism and did not circumcise her son. But 1 Tim 3:15 implies that Timothy was taught the Scripture from childhood by his mother and grandmother. Perhaps his father refused to circumcise his son. It is at least possible that he was God-fearing Gentile himself and allowed his wife to raise his son “more or less Jewish” with the exception of circumcision.

This is obviously speculation, but it is not clear from Acts 16 that Timothy’s mother was married to a Greek. It is at least possible that the husband was dead or had abandoned the family at some point, or possibly that there was never a marriage in the first place.

Why does Paul circumcise Timothy? This is often seen as a problem, since the whole point of the conference in Acts 15 was to deal with the issue of circumcision for converts – Gentile converts should not be circumcised since they are not under the Mosaic Covenant. Some scholars have suggested that Paul is inconsistent in the application of the decision of the council, or that Luke’s portrayal of Paul is inconsistent with his letters. Scholars have often wondered if the Paul of Galatians would have circumcise Timothy.

The circumstances of Timothy’s birth as Luke describes them in Acts 16:3 is the solution to the problem. While his mother was a Jew, his father was a Greek. The ruling that the one’s status as a Jew was traced through the mother’s line dates back to the time of Ezra. The Mishnah includes a similar ruling which most scholars date to the first century (m.Qidd 3:12).  While it is not absolutely certain that matrilinear descent was always followed in the first century, there appears to be enough evidence to say that likely was (Dunn, Beginning from Jerusalem, 664, n.23).  From the perspective of most observant Jews in Asia Minor, Timothy was a Jew, not a Gentile.

If it is a fact that Timothy was, with respect to Jewish law, a Jew not a Gentile, then he ought to be circumcised when he accepted Jesus as Messiah and savior. Luke also tells us that the reason Paul circumcised him was pressure from the Jews in Lystra and Iconium. They presumably knew that Timothy was not circumcised and they would have made Timothy’s status with respect to the covenant the central issue whenever Paul attempted to preach the Gospel in a Jewish community. (I think that it is wrong to say that Timothy was “forced” to be circumcised, he was in agreement with Paul on this matter!)

Does Paul “do the right thing” in requiring Timothy to keep the Law, even though he argues passionately in Galatians that those whoa re “in Christ” are not “under Law?”

One of the most interesting things about the Jerusalem meeting is that it is James who appears as the key leader and is described as rendering a decision on the matter of Gentiles and the Law (Acts 15:13-21). The structure of the Jerusalem community seems to center around elders, and James appears to be the leader of this group of elders. To take up a thread from earlier in the book, the Jerusalem community is living like a new Israel. In the early history of Israel, Moses led as a prophet, but through a council of 70 elders.

council-of-jerusalemWithin this community there are some who are “more conservative” with respect to the Law, primarily Pharisees (v.5). These Pharisees accept Jesus as the Messiah, but consider the Gentiles who are coming to Christ as a result of Paul’s mission as “joining Israel.” If the community thought of itself as new Israel, then Gentiles in Paul’s churches were like Gentiles who joined Israel in the Hebrew Bible. The ought to “convert” and accept Jewish Law and practice.

Luke intends his description of the meeting in Acts 15 to show to Theophilus that the church is an orderly independent entity that functions in a way that is similar to the Greco-Roman world. A question that effects the whole is presented to an assembly, which debates that issue and makes a decision that the whole accepts (Witherington, Acts, 451). Luke describes a report from Peter and Barnabas, explaining that the Holy Spirit has come upon Gentiles as it is the Jews at Pentecost, and that miracles are being done by the Holy Spirit among the Gentiles.

James states that it is not right to “trouble” the Gentiles with the Law. The verb παρενοχλέω is rare in the New Testament, only used in this passage. It does appears in 2 Macc 11:31 in a text describing the Jews being permitted to “enjoy their own food and laws” without being troubled by the Greek authorities. In that case, the Jews were not to be “troubled” over their keeping of boundary markers like circumcision or food laws, here in Acts the Gentiles are not to have the Law imposed upon them.

The position of James in the Jerusalem council bears on the date of the writing of the Epistle of James. While this cannot be stated too dogmatically, it appears that the letter of James written before the Council as well. He is clearly writing to Jews, especially those Jews that are living outside of Palestine. He is also dealing with the same sorts of issues, how do we “keep the law” in the new age? The fact that he deals with the same language as Paul (“justified by faith”) is remarkable, as if he has heard Paul’s teaching and is trying to clarify it for the Jewish audience.

Perhaps James is the best to make the statement since he stands between the two parties, the Gentile Party represented by Paul, and the Circumcision party represented by the Pharisees. It is hard to know just how much “power” James has at this point, but the resolution seems to keep both sides happy.

Does it seem like this solution satisfies everyone? Paul never (specifically) mentions it in his letters and he continues to have trouble with Judaizers.

YokePeter reports his experience with Gentile salvation and argues that requiring Gentiles to keep the Law is placing an unnecessary yoke upon them (Acts 15:7-11).  He first briefly reminds the assembly of his encounter with Cornelius, a conversion which was confirmed by evidence from the Holy Spirit. At the time this was a shock to Peter and his companions, as well as to the Jerusalem community. Cornelius received the Spirit before he converted to Judaism. In hindsight, this may be the reason that the Spirit comes upon him even before baptism, so that there can be no question that Cornelius was saved apart from conversion.

When Peter describes the Law as a “yoke” on the Gentiles he is not necessarily criticizing the Law. In Judaism, the idea of being “yoked” to the Law is a positive image, although there is often the implication of completeness – if you are yoked to the Law, you are required to keep it all (Bock, Acts, 501).  To live under the yoke of the Torah or yoke of Wisdom was to live as God intended!

Sirach 51:26 Put your neck under (wisdom’s) yoke, and let your souls receive instruction; it is to be found close by.

PsSol 7.8-9  For you will have compassion on the people Israel forever  and you will not reject (them); And we are under your yoke forever, and (under) the whip of your discipline.

m.Aboth 3:5 R. Nehunya b. Haqqaneh says, “From whoever accepts upon himself the yoke of Torah do they remove the yoke of the state and the yoke of hard labor. And upon whoever removes from himself the yoke of the Torah do they lay the yoke of the state and the yoke of hard labor.”

m.Ber 2.2 Said R. Joshua b. Qorha, “Why does [the passage of] Shema precede [that of] And it shall come to pass [if you keep my commandments]? So that one may first accept upon himself the yoke of the kingdom of heaven and afterwards may accept the yoke of the commandments.

Despite being given the Law, Peter says the forefathers were never able to “bear the yoke.” Luke 11:46 uses a similar phrase with respect to the traditions of the Pharisees, so it is possible Peter has  “beyond the Torah” traditions in mind.  I really cannot see the requirement of circumcision for converts to Judaism  as one of these sorts of burdens, however.

What is more, Peter calls the imposition of law on the Gentiles “testing God.”  Luke used πειράζω in Acts 5:9, Sapphira “tests” the Holy Spirit.”  To “test God” is to invite disaster! Like Gamaliel’s advice to the Sanhedrin, perhaps it is better to let Paul continue rather than to be on the wrong side of God’s work in this new age. In fact, Peter has already learned God accepts Gentiles without circumcision when the Holy Spirit fell on Cornelius (before circumcision and before baptism!) For Peter, it is dangerous for the Jerusalem community to impose the Law on these new Gentile converts.

Peter therefore is agreeing with Paul, God saves both Jew and Gentile by faith.  But God has only given the Law to Israel, not the Gentiles. He agrees with Paul’s claim that Gentiles are not converts to Judaism, although he may stop short of agreeing that Jews and Gentiles both are converts to something new, a new people of God which Paul will later call the “body of Christ” (Eph 3:1-6). Peter is not saying that Jews ought to disregard Law, but only that Gentiles ought not be given this additional burden.

In Acts 15:2, Paul and Barnabas have a “sharp dispute” with people who have come from Jerusalem to Antioch to urge Gentile converts to submit to circumcision in order to be saved. Why was circumcision such an important issue in Acts 15? Why does Paul think it is important enough to travel to Jerusalem and discuss the matter with Peter, James, and members of the Jerusalem community who were Pharisees (Acts 15:5)?

Copy (17th century) of Garofalo, The Circumcision of Christ, 1519Circumcision was a major factor in Jewish identity. While the practice of circumcision itself is not unique to the Jews in the Ancient world, although some of the traditions based on the Hebrew Bible are specifically Jewish.  Circumcision is given as a sign of the Covenant of Abraham in Genesis 17, yet the ritual itself did not confer “spiritual blessing” as a sign of the covenant.  For this reason the prophets told the people that they needed a “circumcised heart – clearly a metaphorical use of the idea of circumcision (Deut. 10:16, 30:6; Jer 4:4; Ezek 44:7, 9).

There is strong evidence that during the intertestamental period and into the first century, at least part of the Jews thought that circumcision was required for the convert to Judaism.  (See, for example, Lawrence Schiffman in Jewish and Christian Self-Definition Volume 2 (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1981), 115-156, especially 125-127.  Schiffman discusses the Talmud (Yebamot 46) and the importance of the Izates story in Josephus Antiq. 20.2.4, see this post for more details on this story).

For the Jew, circumcision was one of a handful of important boundary markers which set them apart from the rest of the world.  For the Gentile, circumcision was a strange mutilation of the flesh.  Greco-Roman writers who comment on Judaism usually ridicule the practice.  Marital, for example, seems to find a great deal of (naughty) humor in the Jewish practice (Epigrams 7.35.3-4; 7,82, 11.94).

Paul does not reject circumcision for Gentile converts for practical missionary concerns. Sometimes Paul’s Law-free Gospel for the Gentiles is described as a shrewd move on Paul’s part in order to make a Jewish religion more palatable to the Greco-Roman world. But Gentiles were attracted to Judaism in the first century. Shaye Cohen suggested several levels of attraction to Judaism, including simple admiration of Jewish life, benefaction towards Jewish synagogues, joining the Jewish community, and full conversion to Judaism (The Beginnings of Jewishness, 140-197; “Respect for Judaism by Gentiles according to Josephus,” HTR 80 (1987): 409-430). Michael Bird argued Second Temple period Jews successfully proselytized Gentiles, although Judaism was not a missionary religion (Crossing over Sea and Land, 149). If Gentiles were already attracted to Judaism and some did in fact fully convert, this may explain why Paul’s Gentile churches in Galatia were tempted to accept circumcision and other Torah practices as a part of their new faith in Jesus.

As an analogy, the evangelical Christian church has more or less accepted rock-styled praise bands as necessary to appeal to the modern world.  Most churches have (rightly) rejected the idea that worship music must be played only on a proper pipe-organ.  In most cases, this shift in worship style is motivated by a desire to stay contemporary for evangelistic reasons. This is how some see Paul’s rejection of circumcision as a entrance requirement into faith in Jesus. Richard Pervo, for example, suggested the implied reader of Acts believed Gentiles were eager to participate in the divine promises but found some practices of Judaism to be an obstacle. This is particularly true for circumcision, but Sabbath and food taboos were also considered odd in the Greco-Roman world. Pervo finds it difficult to imagine why Paul’s Gentile converts would have been receptive to Jewish practice in the light of the narrative of Acts, yet Galatians presupposes some Gentiles were tempted to fully convert to Judaism by submitting to circumcision (Pervo, Acts, 334).

Such a view makes light of the practice of circumcision in the first century. If this is the sign of Abraham’s covenant  given by God, how can it be rejected as inconsequential?  Paul does not merely call circumcision for Gentiles meaningless, he says it is dangerous.  If one allows himself to be circumcised, he is in danger of nullifying the grace of God! (See Gal 1:6-9, for example.)  Paul arrives in Jerusalem in Acts 15 convinced that any Law added to the Gospel is no gospel at all, including circumcision.  Whatever God is doing among the Gentiles in Asia Minor (Acts 14), there is no conversion to Judaism.  Schnabel makes this point in Paul the Missionary in the context of the book of Galatians (126): “Paul insists that the Gentiles do not have to become Jews before they are accepted by God as followers of the Messiah” (emphasis added).

Perhaps my analogy to modern worship-practice is lame because music is not an essential part of the Gospel. Why is Paul so upset in Acts 15:1-2 at the suggestion Gentile converts ought to submit to circumcision?

 

 

When did the earliest believers begin to question the “boundary markers” of Judaism?  By “boundary markers” I mean primarily circumcision, food laws and keeping Sabbath. It is not really possible to describe Peter and John as preaching to Jews in the Temple that what Jesus did on the cross freed them from the Law.

Fence

One reason for this is that there were few Jews who saw the Law as a slave master from which they longed to be free.  For the men worshiping in the Temple, and likely for those in the Greek-Speaking Synagogue of the Freedmen, keeping the law was a privilege given to them by God.  There were likely few Jews if any who would have relished the chance to throw off the constraints of the Law.  In fact, the Maccabean Revolt indicates that the majority of Jews were willing to fight in order to be allowed to keep the Law!

For me, this indicates that the Jewish believers in Jerusalem continued to practice Judaism in every way.  The question “should we continue to circumcise our children” or “should we eat prohibited foods” simply would never have come up in the early years. Jesus is Messiah and Savior, but he did nothing to cancel the Jewish believer’s commitment to the Law.  Another indication of this is that many Pharisees and other “zealous” Jews joined the Jerusalem church (Acts 15:5, 21:20-21).  If Peter, John, Stephen or Philip urged Jews to defect from the Law, the reaction to Paul is unintelligible.

The boundary markers only became an issue after a significant number of Gentiles joined the church, likely in Antioch first, but certainly in Paul’s first churches in Galatia. Acts 11:20 indicates that the church at Antioch limited their evangelism to Jews until men from Cyprus came and evangelized the Hellenists.  The noun Eλληνιστής refers to Greek speaking Jews (BDAG), not Greeks.  The ESV footnote says that the word refers to Greek speaking non-Jews, but this explanation is not correct and misses the point Luke is trying to make.  The Christians at Antioch are targeting both Hebrew/Aramaic speaking and Greek speaking Jews just like what was happening in Jerusalem until the persecution scattered the believers.

Even if these Hellenists are Gentiles, it is likely that the Gentiles who were joining the church in Antioch were doing so as God-fearers. This was the recognized practice in the synagogues anyway.  There was no compulsion for these God-fearing Gentiles to submit to circumcision, although it appears that in every other respect they kept the Law and traditions of the Jewish people.  The fact that the apostolic representative Barnabas was pleased with the progress in Antioch indicates that the Law is still respected and kept in these Christian synagogues.

There is really no “questioning of the boundary markers” until the first Pauline mission, when the gospel is preached outside of the synagogue and Gentiles who were not already God-fearers accepted Jesus as savior.  If Luke’s story ended in Acts 11, then Christianity would have remained a messianic sect of Judaism.

The first major controversy the early church had to contend with strikes the modern reader a bit strange. Rather than debating the nature of Jesus or developing the doctrine of the Trinity, the first major theological problem was the status of the Gentile who has put their faith in Jesus. Before Acts 13, there were only a few Gentile believers (Cornelius and his household, for example). But after Paul’s mission to several cities in Galatia,

Are Gentiles converting to Judaism? If so, should they keep the Law? Or are they like the “God Fearers,” Gentiles who kept some of the Law but did not fully convert? For some Jewish Christians, there may have been an implied secondary status for the Gentile believer in Jesus who does not fully convert to Judaism and keep the Law.

But why was circumcision of Gentiles converts such a controversial issue? In Acts 13-14 Paul has success among Gentiles for the first time and establishes several churches with mixed congregations of Jews and Gentiles. That these churches included some Gentiles who were not previously “God Fearers” seems to be clear from the response Paul gets in Lystra.

Based 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, circumcision was the key practice which set the Jews apart from the rest of the world (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. Some of Marital’s comments on circumcision are so crude the original Loeb translators did not translate them into English so as not to offend sensitive readers, choosing instead to translate them into Italian. A new edition of Marital has been produced for the Loeb series by D. R. Shackleton Baily which not only translates these epigrams, but seems to strive to offend!)

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 nor 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.

Based on a fair reading of Galatians, Paul met with serious resistance for his Law-free Gospel from some Jewish Christians. What might have motivated these opponents of Paul? What is it about Paul’s preaching of the Gospel to the Gentiles which shocked them?

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.

 

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?

 

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Christian Theology

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