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Paul says that Peter’s actions are nothing less that hypocrisy. Peter has changed his attitude and behavior toward Gentile Christians after the visit from the “men from James.” The first verb (ὑποστέλλω) is a military term and has the sense of retreating to an “inconspicuous position” (Witherington, Galatians, 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 (ἀφορίζω) has the separating into groups (the sheep and the goats in Matt 25:32, for example). Witherington takes this to mean that the word has a sense of ritual purity, and I might add it has an eschatological sense. At the end of the age, the Lord will separate those who will enter the kingdom from those who will not. If we are 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 a coming judgment.

The 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 Galatians 6:12) that some Jews, such as the Zealots, were willing to use force to ensure Jewish traditions were being observed. If this is the case, then perhaps Peter’s fear is a real fear of persecution by the more zealous wing of the Jerusalem church.  This is not a case of “the pastor is coming over, quick hide the beer bottles”! Peter and Barnabas may have withdrawn from fellowship to avoid a potentially violent reprisal from the “zealots” within Jewish Christianity.

Peter’s actions therefore are out of character and not in line with his beliefs nor the agreement which he reached with Paul in Galatians 2:1-10. Paul thinks Peter and Barnabas have “shrunk back” out of fear and are in need of correction. While Peter is a hypocrite, Paul describes Barnabas as “led astray.” The verb συναπάγω has the sense of “carried away,’ he was fooled by the rhetoric of the “men from James.”

Witherington suggests that Barnabas found himself in a bad place because he was originally sent to Antioch by Jerusalem, he could not go against the “orders” of the church who sent him to Antioch in the first place (Galatians, 157). His loyalty was to Jerusalem, the group with which he was associated from the earliest days (Acts 4), rather than to Paul and the Gentile mission. The Gentile mission is not Barnabas’ commission, it is Paul’s. All of the Jews in the Antioch church join with Peter and Barnabas in withdrawing from fellowship with the Gentile believers. This indicates that there is a church-wide split caused by the “men from James.”

Paul publically confronted Peter because his “conduct was not in line with the truth.” This confrontation was “before them all,” which may mean that Paul waited until the church assembled. Parallel to the private meeting in Jerusalem, Paul chose to bring this issue to the whole assembly. The accusation against Peter that he is not living in accordance to what he knows is the truth, the agreement of Gal 2:1-10, for example. The agitators in the Galatian church, on the other hand, were described with military terms. They are spies and agitators who are outside of the truth of the gospel to begin with. Peter knows the truth and is not acting in accordance with it, the agitators do not even know the gospel.

Paul’s point is that if Peter and the Jewish Christians withdraw from the Gentile Christians, then there is no unity in the body of Christ. As Paul will point out later in the later, there is no Jew or Greek in the Body of Christ, we are all members together “in Christ.” To separate into two bodies, a Jewish and a Gentile one, totally misses the point of a “joint-body” as Paul describes in Ephesians 2.

What is at stake here is the nature of the Gospel. If Paul loses this argument, then Gentiles will continue to be “second class believers” in the eyes of some conservative Jewish believers.

Although the issues are different, how does contemporary churches create boundaries which push some types of Christians out of fellowship, or consider them as second-class Christians? Perhaps some of the boundaries are important (the men from James thought circumcision was critical to being a follower of Jesus), but others may not be. How can we disagree on the boundaries without compromising the unity of the Body of Christ?

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?

One of the more tantalizing aspects of Paul’s early ministry is his “three years in Arabia.” In Galatians 1:17, Paul claims he did not go to Jerusalem immediately, but rather he went to Arabia for a period of time before returning to Damascus. This period of time is not spent in modern Arabia (i.e. Saudi Arabia), but rather the Nabatean kingdom on the east side of the Jordan. As Robert Smith states, the term “Arab” “could be used as a virtual equivalent of ‘Nabatean’ (1 Macc 5:25, 39, 9:35, and 2 Macc 5:8)” (ABD, 1:326).

Jeresh, from Summer
of 2013

Paul gives us some details of these events in 2 Corinthians 11:32-33. While Luke indicates the Jews were plotting against him, 2 Corinthains adds an important fact: The local guard was looking out for him as well. He specifically mentions Aretas IV, the client-king over the Nabateans. During the reign of Aretas IV (9 B.C. – A.D. 39) Nabatean culture was at a high point. The king was responsible for the development of Petra and developed a number of cities along the Petra-Gaza trade route. He controlled territory as far north as Damascus and as far south as northern Arabia. To a certain extent, Aretas IV was the “Herod the Great” of the Nabatean kingdom. Since Aretas IV died in 39, the latest date for Paul’s conversion is 36, if not earlier.

After an initial confrontation with Jews in the synagogue in Damascus, it is possible that Paul traveled from Damascus to other major cities in the Nabatean kingdom. This would have included cities of the Decapolis, perhaps even the modern site of Jeresh. It is possible he visited Petra since it was a major trading center at the time. He may have used Damascus as a “base” since there was already a community of believers there. We simply have no real facts to deal with for this three year period, other than he was living in that territory for three years and that he did not consult the other apostles until three years after his experience on the road to Damascus.

But as James Dunn observes, the more difficult question is why Paul spent three years in the Arabia. Paul makes an emphatic statement that after receiving a commission from the resurrected Jesus to be the “light to the Gentiles,” he did not “consult flesh and blood” but went to Arabia (Gal 1:7). Like Dunn, I think that Paul is simply following through on the commission he was given, to take the message of Jesus the Messiah to the Gentiles. The Nabatean kingdom provided him with ample opportunity to do just that.

Sometimes this period is described as a spiritual retreat into the desert, to work out the implications of his encounter with Jesus. I think that it is certain that Paul begins working through what “Jesus as Messiah” means, and what his role as the ‘light to the Gentiles” should be. He likely spent a great deal of time reading the scripture developing the material that he will use later in Antioch, then on the missionary journeys. But this period is not a monastic retreat! Paul is preaching Jesus and being faithful to his calling as the light to the Gentiles.

 

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?

 

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