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Paul and Galatia (2)

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The Antioch Episode

In the unhappy sequel to the Jerusalem conference, Cephas (Peter), leader of the Jewish Christian mission, appeared at Antioch (we would like to know how often he had been there before), and the findings of the conference were put to the test. Was it a certain euphoria overflowing from the conference which prompted a generous gesture from Cephas, namely, to share table fellowship with gentiles? Had there been table fellowship in the congregation between Jews and gentiles before the conference, or had Cephas introduced a new arrangement? We do not know. Whatever euphoria there might have been was dispelled by the arrival of representatives from James, Peter’s fellow advocate of the Jewish mission. The brave experiment in common meals—we cannot tell whether or not the food was ceremonially clean—came to an end. Even though the sympathies of Cephas apparently lay with integrated dining, he was obliged to return to traditional dietary practice. Barnabas joined Cephas and others in withdrawing from the common meals, and thus defaulted from his position of leadership in the gentile mission.17  For both Cephas and Barnabas, their actions represented to some degree a compromise. As Paul then observed, Cephas, Barnabas and the other Jewish Christians stood accused of hypocrisy.

The view is widely held that Paul came out the loser in this confrontation.18 But it is far from clear what the outcome was.19 More to the point is the evidence of the unfortunate consequences which followed. To some degree or other, everybody concerned was a loser, together with others who were not directly involved. The Jacobite attempt to turn the clock backward apparently did not stop at the Antioch city limits, but, as we shall see, likely extended into Galatia, and probably also into areas of other Pauline foundations. Paul’s intemperate responses to this Judaizing tide, not only at Antioch but likewise in his Galatian letter, have earned him an undeserved reputation as anti-Jewish.

Did this dismal incident then invalidate the work of the Jerusalem conference? It was not so much that at Antioch “the original [Jerusalem] agreements were broken,” as Betz holds,20 but that the episode revealed their inadequacy. The general principles agreed upon at the conference probably had not been implemented by means of canonical stipulations.

  17Could Barnabas seriously have entertained the possibility of bringing gentiles into the fellowship of believers and then refusing to eat with them?
  18In his Paul, Judaism and the Gentiles: A Sociological Approach, SNTSMS 56 (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1986) 56, Francis Watson gives his version of Paul as loser: “It seems that James’ attempt to impose the law on the Antiochene Gentile Christians was successful. If Paul had won the argument, he would surely have said so. . . . This event therefore represented a disaster for Paul: his work in Antioch, based on the premise of the law-free gospel for the Gentiles, had been destroyed at a stroke. . . . The Antiochenes had submitted to the authority of the leaders in Jerusalem, and this in effect constituted a vote of no confidence in Paul’s leadership. He left Antioch because he had to.” Thus, Francis Watson, and others. But it is not a question of who won the argument. Rather, the action of James still left unsettled the resolution of the original dilemma, i.e. how the early church was to accommodate the legitimate claims of Jewish identity and the claims of the gentile mission, and at the same time how it was to enjoy the unity of Christian sisters and brothers, whether Jew or gentile. The apostolic leadership had found no easy solution. In the light of this situation, one finds it curious that scholars should declare Paul the loser when he remained true to his principles, and should ignore the “cave-in” of Cephas and Barnabas when they had not.
  19Betz carefully sizes up the situation and wisely declares, “The result of this confrontation is unknown” (Galatians 104).
  20Galatians 104.

What effect this incident had upon Paul’s broader mission enterprise is difficult to say. But this much is clear:
bulletThe controversy in Antioch was relatively less threatening to his mission enterprise than later opposition in Galatia and elsewhere was to be. That is, Antioch was not a Pauline foundation, however much or little he had invested in the gentile mission there; whereas in Galatia, Philippi and Corinth it was a question of the survival of his major mission fields, not to mention the health and nurture of his children (Galatians 4:19).
bulletIn the showdown at Antioch he had decisively sided with the mission which ultimately was to survive, and he had repudiated a dual standard for acceptance by God, one for the Jewish and one for the gentile believer.
bulletClick on The Antioch Episode, in Paul and Antioch (2), for more detailed discussion of the episode.

In the sequel to the sequel, Paul departed from Antioch, not so much in anger as in regret at the way things had turned out. According to the chronology being proposed here, Paul left, not to begin his independent gentile mission but to continue it. As this stage, he was headed to Asia for the fruitful period of work in Ephesus.

The Question of the Return Visit to Galatia

If Paul was headed westward from Antioch to Asia, we would like to know whether he made the considerable detour to pay a return visit to Galatia. “Possible, but not certain,” is the answer. The to proteron of Galatians 4:13 permits, but does not require, the rendering, “the former [of two times];21 it may also mean, “the first time,”22 or “once,” or “the only earlier time.”23 The choice depends upon what other information we have.

What then are the possibilities? Unless one is willing to argue for a sea voyage from Antioch to Ephesus—with no stops in Galatia!—Paul traveled overland from Antioch to Ephesus. In this case, Galatia is not on the way, either.

What kinds of factors may Paul have considered, in deciding whether to make the detour to Galatia?

bulletWere there opportunistic considerations, to the effect that he might not be passing this way again, especially if he was already looking beyond Asia Minor and the Aegean basin to Rome as a staging area for Spain, “the limits of the west,” as 1 Clement describes it? If so, was this not the best time to visit Galatia?
bulletWere there pastoral  and personal considerations, taking into account his preference for re-visiting his churches in person, instead of depending just upon his deputies and upon letters, especially as the Galatians were his children whom he had begotten (4:19)?
bulletDo some of the previous warnings he mentions in the letter (5:17-21, and especially 1:9) belong not to the founding visit but to a second visit?
bulletWas it not prudent to communicate the findings of the Jerusalem conference to his churches in Galatia, especially the exemption from law observance which he had won, and the obligation which he had undertaken to raise a collection from his churches for Jerusalem?
bulletHow was he to balance his desire to re-visit the Galatians with the urgency to begin his work in Ephesus?

The view adopted here is that we have a modest balance of the evidence in favor of a second visit, without our being able to offer strong confirmation.24 If Paul did not re-visit Galatia, it is likely that he went directly to Ephesus and deputized Titus or another of his associates to visit the Galatian congregations and commence work on the collection.

  21The former time would of course imply a latter time.
  22BAGD 722.
  23Betz, Galatians 11.
  24I have been presupposing the “territory hypothesis,” or North Galatia, for the location of the Galatians addressed in the letter. If sufficiently convincing arguments were offered for the “province hypothesis,” or South Galatia, i.e. in Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe, then the case for a return visit to Galatia would become stronger, since Paul might well have been passing through these towns on the way to Asia from Antioch. But the arguments for the province hypothesis rest largely upon evidence from Acts and consequently are not given much weight here, especially since Acts appears to differentiate Galatia from the above mentioned towns (16:1-6).

Controversy, the Collection, and the Outcome of Paul’s Work in Galatia

However we are to identify the opponents in Galatia, the controversy did have to do with whether circumcision and Torah observance were binding upon gentile converts in Galatia. The teachers in question had probably attacked Paul, as a way of undermining his law-free gospel, and had been proclaiming a different gospel (Galatians 1:6-9). Their attack against Paul probably did not originate spontaneously, but had the support, if not the initiative, of a major Christian center such as Jerusalem or Antioch. This movement presumably was intending to bring the believers in the Galatian communities into substantial conformity with Torah. How well did they succeed? The answer to that is connected with the topic of the collection. [Click on Collection, for a more comprehensive discussion.]

Probably somewhat earlier than the rise of the controversy Paul had instituted the collection in Galatia, either in person during a return visit, or by engaging one of his associates, perhaps Titus, in the project there. In 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, he explains the plan which he had already provided for the Galatians in the administration of the collection: they were to put something aside on the first day of the week so that the collection would be ready at an appointed time for delivery to Jerusalem. But for some reason Paul refrains from actively promoting the collection in the Galatian letter.25 The explanation of this silence is probably to be found in the lapse of work on the collection as a result of the growing opposition to Paul in Galatia.26 A parallel situation is to be found at Corinth, where Paul was obliged to postpone work on the collection until the apostle’s differences with Corinth had been reconciled.27 Achaia finally did complete work on the collection, as we learn from Romans 15:26. Macedonia, after a late start,28 was also included in the collection. But Galatia is omitted from the list altogether.

  25Unless one follows Lightfoot in reading Galatians 6:7-10 as an appeal for the Galatians to be generous in their contribution! This point is noted by Howard L. Ramsey, The Place of Galatians in the Career of Paul (Ph.D. Thesis, Columbia University, 1960) 87.
  26This is also the view of Gerd Luedemann, Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles: Studies in Chronology (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984) 86-87.
  27In 2 Corinthians 8, Paul is seeking to reinstitute work on the collection in Corinth, after the better part of a year (2 Corinthians 8:8-11); this period when the collection had lapsed probably corresponds to the period when the conflict with Corinth was intense. Click on Collection at Corinth.
  282 Corinthians 8:1-5.

This omission of Galatia in Romans 15:26 is significant.29 We are probably to conclude that the collection in Galatia was never completed after the project was put aside.30 From this line of reasoning we may draw a further conclusion about the outcome of Paul’s efforts to save Galatia for the gentile mission. Whereas at Corinth the renewal and completion of the collection followed upon and were probably made possible by reconciliation between Paul and Corinth,31 in Galatia the failure of the collection project is probably a reliable indicator that alienation continued. Other indicators support this view. At the time Paul wrote his letter to Galatia,32 some or most of the congregations were at the point of abandoning, or had already abandoned, Paul’s law-free gospel.33 As Vielhauer observes, it has not been demonstrated that the letter succeeded in winning them back.34 The bare preservation of the letter is virtually the only evidence that the letter had its wished for result.35

  29This significance is muted or over-ridden by interpreters (regrettably the majority) who give precedence to Acts 20:4, with its list of people who accompany Paul to Jerusalem. (One can hardly imagine why Paul might have omitted Galatia from the list in Romans 15:26; it would surely have strengthened his position if he could have included Galatia, and Asia/Ephesus as well, among those foundations which had contributed to the purse.) We would be surprised if the author of Acts had good information about the churches which contributed, when he is unaware of the collection project, or has chosen to suppress it. If the list is authentic, it could represent the names of those delegated, by Paul or by certain churches, to accompany (suneipeto) the collection; such a function is not necessarily the same as if they were representing the churches which had contributed.
  30Georgi appeals to Acts 20:4 for evidence to the contrary; this appeal to the evidence of Acts is representative of Georgi’s readiness to favor Acts over the evidence of the letters at crucial points. See Remembering the Poor 111, 122-3.
  31One recognizes that a substantial body of opinion would make 2 Corinthians 10–13 Paul’s last word to the Corinthians; in that case, such interpreters have not offered a credible explanation of how the collection could be completed under the circumstances of continued alienation.
  32A date not long after 1 Corinthians for the composition of Galatians is preferred in this web site, but the difficulties of dating the letter are well known. There are too many silences, about where he is, who his companions are, where he has been, and what his travel plans are, for us to be certain.
  33Betz (Galatians 267) refers to the following texts as indicating how close the Galatians were to the brink: 1:6; 3:1; 4:9-11, 15a, 16, 19, 21; 5:4, 7; 6:12-16.
 34Vielhauer, Philipp, Geschichte der urchristlichen Literatur (Berlin/New York: de Gruyter, 1975) 125.
  35Vielhauer, Geschichte 125 (citation from Betz, Galatians 28, n. 36). Whatever happened in the short-run, the future was not bright for Jewish Christianity (or, shall we say, Christian Judaism?) because of some or all of the following considerations: (a) the end of the Jerusalem based leadership of the Jewish Christian mission, occasioned by the death of James (62 C.E.) and the departure or death of Cephas and John; (b) the fall of Jerusalem (70 C.E.); (c) the exclusion of Christians from the synagogue (ninth decade C.E.?); and (d) the rapid growth of Gentile Christianity.

Some of the pertinent points which emerge from the foregoing discussion may be summarized as follows:

bulletIn calling attention to some of the methodologically confusing consequences of harmonizing the letters and Acts, we have sought to justify our consistently letters-based approach to Galatians.
bulletChronology [A], which places three of the four great founding missions before the Jerusalem conference, has been shown to provide a coherent view of the relations between Paul and the Galatian congregations, though of course its validity is not proved by this fact alone.
bulletThe founding of gentile congregations in Galatia (and elsewhere) before the Jerusalem conference gives point to Paul’s championing of the gentile mission for precisely these gentiles (Galatians 2:5).
bulletThe Jerusalem conference authorized what was in effect a dual mission strategy, without making sufficient provision for integrating the two communities which resulted.
bulletThe Antioch episode revealed how broad the chasm was between Jewish and gentile Christianity. The tension between the two would not soon find an agreeable resolution.36
bulletPaul earnestly sought to bring about reconciliation with the Galatians, but it is doubtful that he succeeded to any great extent.

  36For one aspect of this continuing problem see the discussion in Paul J. Achtemeier, The Quest for Unity in the New Testament Church: A Study in Paul and Acts (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987) 62-66.


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