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Back in September of 2009 I posted a comment entitled “Who were the Judaizers?” For some reason this post has become the most viewed page on Reading Acts since it launched in September of 2008. Various forms of the question turn up as search items more than any other topic (even beating out N. T. Wright and Rob Bell, which surprises me!) I do not think that was a particularly good blog, but perhaps it is an indication that people struggle with the traditional view of who the people mentioned in Acts 15:1-2 were.

WolfIn that post, I reviewed the traditional view that the Pharisees mentioned in Acts 15 were Jewish Christians who were insisting that Gentiles were converting to Judaism, and therefore needed to keep the Law beginning with Circumcision. I briefly reviewed the view of F. C. Bauer who thought there was a “split” within the early church between the Paul’s Gentile mission and Peter’s Jewish mission. I then dealt briefly with J. B. Lightfoot and J. F. A. Hort , who offered a critique of Bauer and suggested that James was the leader of the more Jewish side of the church, while Paul was the leader of the more or less Gentile wing of the church.

Walt Russell surveyed the various views of the opponents in Galatia and concluded: “While the last 70 years of scholarly study about the identity of these opponents have given rise to a more balanced view of their identity, it has not effectively overturned the traditional Judaizer identification” (Russell, 350).

I still stand by my conclusion from 2009: “Who were the Judaizers, then? Jewish Christians, likely Pharisees according to Acts 15, who, with good intentions, sought to supplement Paul’s gospel by requiring that the basics of the Law be followed: circumcision and food laws. Perhaps the real issue at stake here is the status of the Gentiles within the people of God. Could an uncircumcised Gentile be part of God’s people along with Israel? Could a person be faithful to God and not keep the key elements of the covenant?”

This is another opportunity to think about the theological implications of Acts. Paul argues passionately in Galatians that a Gentile believer is not converting to Judaism and that he is not required to submit to circumcision or the Law. Paul is not advocating freedom from all rules and moral commands, but a freedom for Gentiles from the requirements associated with being a Jew. Paul is does not conceive of his mission as reforming Judaism, nor does he see his churches as converting to the practice of Judaism. Paul argues in Galatians (and I assume Acts 15) that God is doing something new with the Gentiles.

Why then were Gentiles interested in keeping the Law? To those of us who are not Jewish, the Law seems like a burden. But to the Gentile convert, the Law gave form and structure to a new religious experience. Christianity has no Temple, no Sacrifice, no Ritual. That is extremely strange in the world of the first century. Perhaps the attraction to the Law was the result of the human need for “religion,” while Paul preaches freedom in Christ.

I am not sure we are that much different 2000 years later.

Bibliography: Walter B. Russell III, “Who Were Paul’s Opponents in Galatia?” BibSac 147 (1990), 328.

In his commentary on Philippians, Gordon Fee pointed out that as many as 18 different suggestions have been made for the identity of the “opponent” in Philippians.  In this case, the identity of the opponent may provide a bit of a hint to the date of the letter.

Paul begins to deal with these false teachers” in chapter three, although those who preach the gospel from impure motives in chapter one are likely the same group.  One of the more common  identifications of the false teaching is that they are Judaizers, similar or identical to those in Galatia.  Certainly circumcision is an issue (3:2), and the fact that Paul boasts in his own credentials as a law-observant Jew might imply that his opponents have a similar boast.  It is possible that these are Jewish teachers trying to re-convert the Jewish Christians or Gentile God-fearers trying to encourage gentile converts to join them in keeping the law.

If the book was written in the early 60’s from Rome, it is surprising that the issue of Gentile conversion is still a major issue.  The issue seemed to be settled after Acts 15; for it to arise again nearly twelve years after the Jerusalem Conference seems unlikely.  As such, this is a good argument in favor of the early date of the book, written from an Ephesian imprisonment (Polhill, P&HL, 166).

On the other hand, if Philippians was written from Rome in the early 60’s, it is only a few years before the outbreak of the war against Rome in Palestine.  This was a time of extreme nationalistic pride and hopes for an independent Israel.  If this period was anything like the Maccabean period, it is possible that circumcision for those within the Jewish covenant was emphasized.  We are on the same sort of ground as Galatians (are the Gentiles converts to Israel)?  If they are, then they must conform to the covenant and be circumcised.  Even as far away as Rome, it is possible that Diaspora Jews saw the boundary markers of circumcision and food laws as non-negotiable for the Jewish people, including those who were ethnically Gentile and sought to align themselves with the Jewish Messiah Jesus.  (Even if the letter is written five years earlier in Ephesus these factors may still be important.)

Another suggestion which has merit is that of David deSilva.  Based on his reading of Philippians as a “letter of friendship” he has suggested that the opponents of Paul in the letter are not actual opponents in the church, but rather Paul is “using a common strategy for building up unity and cooperation within a group: warning about the presence of hostile and dangerous groups on the outside, against whom the Philippians need to present a united front” (deSilva, “No Confidence In The Flesh” Trinity Journal 15:1 (Spring 1994): 31-32)

On balance, I tend to agree with Polhill and date the letter early.  While the evidence for an Ephesian imprisonment is thin, there is enough to lead to me believe Philippians at least was written from Ephesus in the mid 50’s rather than Rome in the early 60’s.  (The other prison epistles were written from Rome, but that is for another time!)  The “opponent” in Philippians 3 is therefore a real threat to Paul’s converts who are encouraging a return to their Jewish roots. This is more or less the same “context” as Galatians, although perhaps with less intensity.

If the opponents are in some way related to the Judaizers of Galatians, who might this effect our reading of 1:27-30, where Paul places an emphasis on living a “worthy life” in the face of false teachers?  Or 1:15-18, which seems to say that there are some (perhaps the opponents, but maybe not) who preach the Gospel out of impure motives – but it is still the gospel!

Perhaps this is more controversial, but how ought we apply this in a present context?  I have occasionally said that I think the word heretic gets thrown around a bit too easily these days,  What would the Paul of Philippians say about controversial teachers such as Rob Bell?

By Acts 15, there appear to have been some Jewish Christians that did not like the implications of Gentile salvation that Paul was preaching.  Individuals from this group went into churches established by Paul and taught that circumcision was required for converts to Christianity.  Who were these opponents of Paul?

The traditional answer to the identity of the opponents of Paul is that they are Jewish Christians that desire to impose the law on Gentile converts – Judaizers.  The term appears in the New Testament only in Gal 2:14 (although a form appears in  but is found in a number of secular sources (Plutarch, Cicero 7:6; Josephus JW 2.17.10; Ignatius, Magn 10.3) with the basic meaning of  “to  live as a Jew in accordance with Jewish customs.”

As early as 1831, F. C. Bauer (from the Tübingen school) suggested that there was a split within early Christianity.  Based on 1 Corinthians, he understood that there were two major parties, a Peterine party (which included the “Christ party”) and a Pauline party (which included the Apollos party).  Those that followed Peter claimed to be “of Christ” since their leadership had been followers of Christ in his earthly ministry, while Paul and Apollos did not know Jesus directly.  The Jerusalem Christians were of the Peter division, a party that was unable to counter Paul’s argument for a gentile mission, but were not particularly pleased with it either.  The opponents at Galatia were the radical elements of the Peterine division.  The serious problem with this view is that it makes Peter the Judizing element in Galatians, despite his rather conciliatory speech in Acts 15.

A real problem with the view of Bauer is that it makes Paul an independent apostle who is the only one that fully understood the teaching of Jesus and the mission to the Gentiles.  While this is quite similar to the view of Paul in some more conservative Dispensationalist circles, it does not reflect the variety of thought in the Jewish element of the church.  The situation was not “either Peter or Paul.”  Peter seems more moderate than James, Barnabas and Silas are a step further towards Paul.

Bauer also seems to have thought that Paul was in continual conflict with the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem.  This does not seem to be the case, although one might describe the situation as “cool” between the Gentile mission and the Jerusalem church based on Acts 21.

In 1865 J. B. Lightfoot argued against Bauer and the Tübingen school.  The Judaizers were not authorized at all by Peter or the Jerusalem church, although the Jerusalem church were slow in stopping them.  The Jerusalem Church wanted to find a way to compromise between the radical teaching of Paul and the traditional teaching of the Judaizers.  J. F. A. Hort suggested that these Jewish opponents of Paul were lead by James, although mistakenly so.  James himself did not authorize the teaching in direct opposition to Paul, but his followers took James’ example of a Law-keeping Jewish Christian to the logical extreme and forced Gentiles to keep the law.

More recently, Robert Jewett argued that the Jewish opponents of Paul in Galatia were from the growing Zealot movement of Palestine [1].  The Zealot movement was a rather radical anti-Rome movement that sought strict obedience to the Law for all Jews.  Any Jews that were “Gentile-sympathizers” were the enemy.  These teachers sought to supplement Paul’s teaching, according to Jewett, by teaching a form of perfectionism to counter the libertine paganism from which they were converted.

It is perhaps the statement made by Paul in Galatians 6:12-13 that gives us an insight into who the false teachers may have been. They are people that think that by compelling Gentiles to be circumcised they might avoid persecution for the cross of Christ.  Likely Jewett’s theory has some merit; some Jewish Christians thought that by making Gentile Christians conform to the basics of the Law they might avoid persecution by the growing radical elements of Judaism.

Galatians 6:12-13 It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that try to compel you to be circumcised—only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. Even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast about your flesh.

Who were the Judaizers, then?  Jewish Christians, likely Pharisees according to Acts 15, who, with good intentions, sought to supplement Paul’s gospel by requiring that the basics of the Law be followed: circumcision and food laws. Perhaps the real issue at stake here is the status of the Gentiles within the people of God.  Could an uncircumcised Gentile be part of God’s people along with Israel?  Could a person be faithful to God and not keep the key elements of the covenant?

Paul reversed this argument in Galatians:  can a Gentile be a member of the people of God and allow himself to be circumcised?  Can a Gentile be “free in Christ” and keep the Jewish laws concerning food, festivals, etc.?  The answer in Galatians is a resounding no.

A potential problem here is the value of Galatians for contemporary Christians.  If the Judaizers were solely interested in converting Gentiles fully to Judaism, then what is the contemporary application of the book? How do we get from Judaizers to “Church Legalists,” as most contemporary preachers do with this passage?

[1] Robert Jewett, “The Agitators and the Galatian Congregation.” NTS 17 (1971) 198–212.  See also Howard, G. Paul: Crisis in Galatia, 1–19.

[NB:  This is a re-post of something I wrote in 2009 as part of a survey of the book of Acts.  Since Acts 15 and Galatians 2 both concern the Judaizers, I  have re-posted my earlier essay with little change other than the final paragraph.]

At the beginning of the letter to the Galatians, Paul must clarify his relationship with the Jerusalem church.  Polhill wonders why Paul thought he had to spend so much effort at the beginning of this letter to prove his independence of his Apostolic office (Paul and his Letters, 146).  The usual answer, he comments, is that his opponents, the Judaizers, are attacking him as an illegitimate apostle, forcing him to defend his calling.

There is another possibility for this autobiographical section, according to Polhill.  He may be offering his life as a model for the Galatians.  Paul was converted to a gospel of freedom on the road to Damascus, just as the Galatians were when Paul preached that gospel to them.  Just as Paul did not go back to Jerusalem and place himself under the authority of the old order, now the Galatians ought to resist “returning to Jerusalem” by keeping the Law.

The bottom line is that if Paul is under the authority of Jerusalem, then it is at least possible that the “men from James” could claim that Paul has not been authorized to preach a gospel to the Gentiles which frees them from the Law. These Judaizers may have styled themselves as the real followers of Jesus and Paul as the aberration.  Paul therefore stresses that his calling is from the resurrected Jesus himself and that his gospel came directly from the Lord.

At issue here is not the Gospel that Christ died for our sins, was buried, and that he was raised on the third day, according to the scriptures (1 Cor 15:3-5). Paul clearly states that this gospel was passed along to him as the primary core of the gospel.  It is also clear that the preaching of Christ Crucified can be found in the apostolic preaching form the beginning.  What Paul is going to argue in the next two chapters is that his Gospel is Christ Crucified, but when the death and resurrection of Christ is applied to the gentiles, they are not under the Law.  They are not converts to Judaism by rather adopted children of God and therefore free from the law.

Paul is therefore adamant that Gentiles who try to keep the Law are not really followers of Jesus,  but rather Gentiles who are converting to Judaism.  What sort of ethical and social ramifications will this “freedom in Christ” have on his churches?  That is the point of the last third of the letter.

Why is Paul so harsh on people preaching that Gentiles ought to keep the law?  F. F. Bruce suggested that Paul knows that law-keeping for salvation is a “snare and a delusion” from his own personal experience.  He had kept the law as perfectly as anyone, yet he had not been pleasing to God.  But he clearly sees that now.  In addition to the simple self-deception of law-keeping legalism, Paul knows that there are dangerous implications for those gentiles that try to keep the Law, they risk not really being saved.  Polhill describes Paul as “livid” at the Galatians for abandoning the gospel for a “perversion,” and points out that Paul calls them “stupid” for rejecting the spirit for the flesh (3:1-5). These are harsh words and strong emotions.

Bruce’s reconstruction is is possible, but it does not really take into account recent studies on Paul and Judaism. Did the opponents in Galatian really think that they could earn their salvation?  The Pharisees, for example, did not really think that keeping the law made one right with God.  A person is right with God by election (God chose Israel), and the Jew stays right with God by keeping the Law as best as he can.

Not all Jews had to be Pharisees, but all Jews keep the “Works of the Law,” including Sabbath, food taboos, and circumcision.  These were the principle boundary markers which defined “a Jew.”  I think that Paul point is that if the Galatian Gentiles keep the boundary markers, they will be not really different than Gentile god-fearers or converts to Judaism.  A God-fearer worship in the synagogue and may try to keep the law as best they can as non-proselyte Gentiles.

For Paul, to acknowledge Jesus is to acknowledge that the Law has been fulfilled in him as the Messiah and the Gentile believer is under no obligation to keep the Law, beginning with the boundary markers.  The fact remains that Paul’s gospel is that God sent Christ into the world to rescue those who were condemned in this evil age. Gentiles are not converting to Judaism, they are saved apart from the Law.  If they are converting to Judaism, then they are not really saved, since the Jew also needs to accept the Gospel.

The harshness we detect is perhaps more of a product of our modern, western multiculturalism.  Paul declares boldly that there is only one Gospel, his Gospel.  The others are wrong, with the result that a person cannot be right with God apart from Paul’s gospel.

Is there any room in contemporary discussions of the gospel for the sort of “righteous indignation” we read in the book of Galatians?  I am confident that there are quite a few people inthe present church who should be “lit up” by Paul, but does this really “work” in a modern context?

The main problem Paul addresses in the book of Galatians is the status of Gentiles in the Church.  Are Gentiles converting to Judaism?   The immediate occasion for the letter is a problem with Gentiles being forced to keep the Law by some persons coming from Jerusalem claiming to have authority from James. This Jewish party accepted Christ, but they held to a keeping of the Law in addition to faith in Jesus.  Paul calls this a “new gospel” that is not really a gospel.

A secondary issue is Paul’s authority to declare that Gentiles are free from the Law.  The Judaizers are likely questioning Paul’s right to teach that gentile converts do not have to keep the law.  Who is Paul?  Where did he get his authority?  The first two chapters address this issue. Note that this is a theme that is found from the very first lines of the letter – Paul is an apostle by the authority of Jesus Christ and the Father himself!

A third issue in the book concerns the status of the Law in the new age.  If Paul has authority as called by Jesus personally to be the Apostle to the Gentiles, and  if the gentiles are really set free from the restrictions of the Law, what was the point of the Law in the first place?  This is covered in the third and fourth chapters.

It is likely that a major part of the opponent’s message concerned Abraham and the promise of God to Abraham.  If you are going to follow the God of Abraham and participate in the blessings of Abraham, like Abraham you must accept the sign of the covenant – circumcision. Paul goes to the same texts that the false teachers might have used, Genesis 15:6 and 17:4-14.  He develops the idea that the promise is foundation for the law, to accept the sign of the covenant is to accept the whole covenant, fully realized in the Law of Moses.

Finally, if gentiles are freed from the Law, what is their motivation to behave in a moral and ethical way?  Has Paul cut off the gentile from the Law so that they can live any way that they choose to?  To live by the Spirit is not libertine sinful living – he covers this issue in the last two chapters of the letter.

If Paul was allowing the Gentiles freedom from the Law, this might have implied to some law-keeping Jews that they were free entirely from moral restraints.  Perhaps Paul is teaching that Gentiles can accept Jesus as the Messiah and live the way that they have always lived.  To a Jew, things like circumcision and food laws were very important, but true ethical living was more important.

Paul must defuse this criticism of his Gentile mission by showing that the Gentile is free from the Law, but now he lives by a new law, a Law of Christ.  This new law is a law of love, a law that is guided by the Holy Spirit. The “sin list” in chapter five makes it clear that Paul is not advocating an anarchist libertine freedom, but rather a life that is lead by the Spirit of God and manifest in the “fruit of the Spirit.”

Back in September of 2009 I posted a comment entitled “Who were the Judaizers?” For some reason this post has become the most viewed page on Reading Acts since it launched in September of 2008.  Various forms of the question turn up as search items more than any other topic (even beating out N. T. Wright and Rob Bell, which surprises me!)  I do not think that was a particularly good blog, but perhaps it is an indication that people struggle with the traditional view of who the people mentioned in Acts 15:1-2 were.

In that post, I reviewed the traditional view that the Pharisees mentioned in Acts 15 were Jewish Christians who were insisting that Gentiles were converting to Judaism, and therefore needed to keep the Law beginning with Circumcision.  I briefly reviewed the view of F. C. Bauer who thought there was a “split” within the early church between the Paul’s Gentile mission and Peter’s Jewish mission.  I then dealt briefly with J. B. Lightfoot and J. F. A. Hort , who offered a critique of Bauer and suggested that James was the leader of the more Jewish side of the church, while Paul was the leader of the more or less Gentile wing of the church.

Walt Russell surveyed the various views of the opponents in Galatia and concluded:  “While the last 70 years of scholarly study about the identity of these opponents have given rise to a more balanced view of their identity, it has not effectively overturned the traditional Judaizer identification” (Russell, 350).

I still stand by my conclusion from 2009: “Who were the Judaizers, then?  Jewish Christians, likely Pharisees according to Acts 15, who, with good intentions, sought to supplement Paul’s gospel by requiring that the basics of the Law be followed: circumcision and food laws. Perhaps the real issue at stake here is the status of the Gentiles within the people of God.  Could an uncircumcised Gentile be part of God’s people along with Israel?  Could a person be faithful to God and not keep the key elements of the covenant?”

This is another opportunity to think about the theological implications of Acts.  Paul argues passionately in Galatians that a Gentile believer is not converting to Judaism and that he is not required to submit to circumcision or the Law.  Paul is not advocating freedom from all rules and moral commands, but a freedom for Gentiles from the requirements associated with being a Jew.  Paul is does not conceive of his mission as reforming Judaism, nor does he see his churches as converting to the practice of Judaism.  Paul argues in Galatians (and I assume Acts 15) that God is doing something new with the Gentiles.

Why then were Gentiles interested in keeping the Law?  To those of us who are not Jewish, the Law seems like a burden.  But to the Gentile convert, the Law gave form and structure to a new religious experience.  Christianity has no Temple, no Sacrifice, no Ritual.  That is extremely strange in the world of the first century.  Perhaps the attraction to the Law was the result of the human need for “religion,” while Paul preaches freedom in Christ.

I am not sure we are that much different 2000 years later.
Bibliography: Walter B. Russell III, “Who Were Paul’s Opponents in Galatia?” BibSac 147 (1990), 328.

By Acts 15, there appear to have been some Jewish Christians that did not like the implications of Gentile salvation that Paul was preaching.  Individuals from this group went into churches established by Paul and taught that circumcision was required for converts to Christianity.  Who were these opponents of Paul?

The traditional answer to the identity of the opponents of Paul is that they are Jewish Christians that desire to impose the law on Gentile converts – Judaizers.  The term appears in the New Testament only in Gal 2:14 (although a form appears in  but is found in a number of secular sources (Plutarch, Cicero 7:6; Josephus JW 2.17.10; Ignatius, Magn 10.3) with the basic meaning of  “to  live as a Jew in accordance with Jewish customs.”

As early as 1831, F. C. Bauer (from the Tübingen school) suggested that there was a split within early Christianity.  Based on 1 Corinthians, he understood that there were two major parties, a Peterine party (which included the “Christ party”) and a Pauline party (which included the Apollos party).  Those that followed Peter claimed to be “of Christ” since their leadership had been followers of Christ in his earthly ministry, while Paul and Apollos did not know Jesus directly.  The Jerusalem Christians were of the Peter division, a party that was unable to counter Paul’s argument for a gentile mission, but were not particularly pleased with it either.  The opponents at Galatia were the radical elements of the Peterine division.  The serious problem with this view is that it makes Peter the Judizing element in Galatians, despite his rather conciliatory speech in Acts 15.

A real problem with the view of Bauer is that it makes Paul an independent apostle who is the only one that fully understood the teaching of Jesus and the mission to the Gentiles.  While this is quite similar to the view of Paul in some more conservative Dispensationalist circles, it does not reflect the variety of thought in the Jewish element of the church.  The situation was not “either Peter or Paul.”  Peter seems more moderate than James, Barnabas and Silas are a step further towards Paul.

Bauer also seems to have thought that Paul was in continual conflict with the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem.  This does not seem to be the case, although one might describe the situation as “cool” between the Gentile mission and the Jerusalem church based on Acts 21.

In 1865 J. B. Lightfoot argued against Bauer and the Tübingen school.  The Judaizers were not authorized at all by Peter or the Jerusalem church, although the Jerusalem church were slow in stopping them.  The Jerusalem Church wanted to find a way to compromise between the radical teaching of Paul and the traditional teaching of the Judaizers.  J. F. A. Hort suggested that these Jewish opponents of Paul were lead by James, although mistakenly so.  James himself did not authorize the teaching in direct opposition to Paul, but his followers took James’ example of a Law-keeping Jewish Christian to the logical extreme and forced Gentiles to keep the law.

More recently, Robert Jewett argued that the Jewish opponents of Paul in Galatia were from the growing Zealot movement of Palestine [1].  The Zealot movement was a rather radical anti-Rome movement that sought strict obedience to the Law for all Jews.  Any Jews that were “Gentile-sympathizers” were the enemy.  These teachers sought to supplement Paul’s teaching, according to Jewett, by teaching a form of perfectionism to counter the libertine paganism from which they were converted.

It is perhaps the statement made by Paul in Galatians 6:12-13 that gives us an insight into who the false teachers may have been. They are people that think that by compelling Gentiles to be circumcised they might avoid persecution for the cross of Christ.  Likely Jewett’s theory has some merit; some Jewish Christians thought that by making Gentile Christians conform to the basics of the Law they might avoid persecution by the growing radical elements of Judaism.

Galatians 6:12-13 It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that try to compel you to be circumcised—only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. Even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast about your flesh.

Who were the Judaizers, then?  Jewish Christians, likely Pharisees according to Acts 15, who, with good intentions, sought to supplement Paul’s gospel by requiring that the basics of the Law be followed: circumcision and food laws. Perhaps the real issue at stake here is the status of the Gentiles within the people of God.  Could an uncircumcised Gentile be part of God’s people along with Israel?  Could a person be faithful to God and not keep the key elements of the covenant?

Paul reversed this argument in Galatians:  can a Gentile be a member of the people of God and allow himself to be circumcised?  Can a Gentile be “free in Christ” and keep the Jewish laws concerning food, festivals, etc.?  The answer in Galatians is a resounding no.

[1] Robert Jewett, “The Agitators and the Galatian Congregation.” NTS 17 (1971) 198–212.  See also Howard, G. Paul: Crisis in Galatia, 1–19.

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