Saturday, December 12, 2009

Paul: Mutiny in Galatia 1

To follow the chain back, see the previous entry in this series, Disagreement and Disorder at Corinth: Spiritual Gifts and Worship.

Now to begin chapter 8: Mutiny in Galatia.
The Setting of Galatians
Most scholars agree that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians to Corinth while he was at Ephesus in the mid-50s. Not so with Galatians--here we find significantly different theories about when and where it was written, and to whom exactly. Until the twentieth century, the vast majority of scholars thought it was written by Paul at about the time we are placing it, from Ephesus or even later in his missionary journeys. But developments in our knowledge of Roman governance at the time facilitated many to place Galatians earlier in Paul's ministry, and to a slightly different audience. Eventually, the majority of evangelical scholars in the mid-twentieth century came to date it as the earliest of Paul's letters in order to work out some tensions between it and the book of Acts.

The position of the majority of evangelicals, first championed by F. F. Bruce, is thus that Galatians was the earliest of the letters Paul wrote, written perhaps from Antioch in about the year AD48 to the churches he and Barnabas had founded on their first missionary journey. [1] This is an ingenious reconstruction and one that very tidily cleans up a number of conundrums. In this scenario, Paul and Barnabas have recently finished their trip to cities like Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, and a different Antioch in Asia Minor, in the south central part of what is now modern day Turkey. We now know that this region was actually part of what the Romans called Galatia at the time, south Galatia.

In Bruce's reconstruction, the private meeting of Paul with Peter and James (Galatians 2:1-10) had taken place even before the first missionary journey. Bruce had ingeniously noticed that Paul had already gone up to Jerusalem before that journey because of a revelation about a famine (Acts 11:30). So Bruce speculated that the revelation that inspired Paul's visit to Jerusalem in Galatians 2:2 was the same revelation. After all, both the visit in Galatians 2 and the visit in Acts 11 are Paul's second visits to Jerusalem.

So in this scenario, before his first journey, Paul received private assurances from Peter and James that uncircumcised Gentiles can be Christians. But he returns after the journey to continued controversy over the issue among believers. The conflict comes to a head when Paul and Peter have a knock down drag out at Antioch over whether Jewish and Gentile believers can eat together and the Jewish believers not be defiled in terms of the holiness codes of Leviticus. James apparently pressures Peter not to eat with Gentiles, while Paul stands in front of the church and so much as calls Peter a hypocrite.

Meanwhile, an already ticked Paul hears that certain Jewish missionaries have infilitrated the very churches he and Barnabas just founded (Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, Pisidian Antioch). They are telling the Gentile believers there that they need to go all the way and fully convert to Judaism in order to be saved from God's coming wrath. Paul goes ballistic. [2] He writes them in the strongest terms that "works of Law" like circumcision do nothing whatsoever to make them right with God.

The controversy finally reaches such a fevered pitch that James and the leaders of the Jerusalem church call a meeting of all the key parties involved, the so called "Jerusalem Council" of Acts 15. The key positions are heard. Certain Christian Pharisees present their position (Acts 15:5). Peter champions the position that Gentiles will be saved by God's grace just as Jewish believers will (15:11). Barnabas and Paul share stories of the Gentile conversions on their missionary journey.

Finally, James--the half-brother of Jesus--renders a verdict. Gentiles do not need to be circumcised to be saved. But they do need to do four things. They need to stay away from things that have come into contact with idols (like meat). They need to refrain from acts of sexual immorality. They need to drain the blood from animals rather than strangle them to death and in general stay away from blood.

In one respect, this is an odd list of fundamental requirements for Gentiles. Many have connected it to the basic expectation God has of Noah after the Flood (e.g., Gen. 9:4). The idea here is that God requires of Gentiles what He required of Noah, while he expects of Jews what He required of Moses. Again, an ingenious suggestion, although we favor the interpretation that sees these four prohibitions as a solution to the question of how Jew and Gentile believer can eat together, rather than one of basic ethical requirements for Gentiles.

And thus, the conflict over Jewish and Gentile relations is largely settled and Peter and Paul move forward in unity and in common agreement on such issues. We might call this reconstruction of the setting of Galatians the "early South Galatian hypothesis," because it sees the letter written to the southern part of the Roman province of Galatia in about the year AD48 just before a Jerusalem Council in AD49. It creates a tidy scenario that accounts for some tensions between Galatians and Acts while maintaining a harmonious and orderly picture of the progress of the early church. We thus understand why it has been the most attractive reconstruction among evangelicals.

However, it faces some serious problems when it comes down to some of the details of Galatians and, for this reason, most scholars in general have not adopted it. Four items in particular seem to make it problematic. First, Bruce was almost certainly wrong to equate the "revelation" that led Paul to go up to Jerusalem somewhat privately (Gal. 2:2) with the revelation that led to the famine relief trip ("gift" trip) of Acts 11:30. The Acts 11 revelation had to do with the famine. The revelation Paul mentions has to do with his understanding of salvation for the Gentiles.

Even more problematic is the timing. In order to make the timing work, Bruce had to take the expression "Then after fourteen years" not to mean fourteen years after his previous visit but fourteen years since he first experienced the risen Jesus. Otherwise Paul's visit in Galatians is pushed too late for the "gift trip." But this interpretation is counterintuitive. Is not Paul's basic point in Galatians 1 and 2 that he had had limited contact with Jerusalem? Is his point not that he did not visit them the first time until three years after his conversion and then not again until fourteen years after that first visit?

Yes, this reading does present a tension with Acts, where the gift trip would have been an intervening visit. But we encounter many such tensions between the biblical accounts, and extensive experience with them leads one to let them fall where they lie rather than insist on reconciling them all. It is almost always necessary to twist one or more of such texts into some far less than obvious reconstruction to reconcile them, which is not the most obvious way to show them respect. It shows a greater valuing of a certain idea about the text than a valuing of the text itself!

The practice with the most integrity is one that lets each text say what it most likely says rather than apply one's intellect to conceive of some less than probable reconstruction. In the end, such hypotheses often create a scenario that is not represented by any of the texts one is actually trying to reconcile. One has substituted the text of the interpreter for all of the texts in question! [3] In this case, however, it is conceivable that the two texts might be reasonably reconciled. Paul is, after all, talking in Galatians 2 primarily about visits having to do with discussion on theological matters, and it is conceivable that he might omit from such a list of visits one that involved no real interaction between him and the Jerusalem leaders on such issues.

So the more likely timing of Galatians 2:1 puts Paul's visit to Jerusalem in Galatians 2 at about the same time as the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15. Most scholars have thus concluded that the two events were one and the same. Paul would thus present the event as somewhat of a private meeting, while Acts would present the event as more of a public one. Here we hit the fundamental reason why many evangelicals have gone with Bruce. Acts 15 is different enough from Galatians 2 to require us to see one as a less straightforwardly historical presentation of the event.

But whether one thinks Galatians 2 was just before the "Jerusalem Council" or is a slightly different version of it, the most likely timing places the writing of Galatians some time after the Jerusalem Council. What this means is that the conclusion of Peter and James in Jerusalem, however it actually played out, did not resolve all the issues between Jews and Gentiles. Indeed, we come now to a third reason why the early dating of Galatians does not seem to fit Galatians. Paul mentions in Galatians 4:13 that it was because of a weakness of his flesh that he preached to them "the very first time." It is a relatively small argument, since it is possible we are reading too much into the word. But the most natural way to take this Greek word is that Paul has already visited the Galatians more than once. If so, then Paul would not have written Galatians until at least after his second visit there, which was after the Jerusalem Conference.

We thus reach the second reconstruction of the setting of Galatians. This reconstruction still sees Paul writing Galatians to the churches of South Galatia (Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, Pisidian Antioch) but sees him doing it at some point during his second missionary journey, probably while he was at Corinth. In this scenario as it usually plays out, Peter took a trip north to Antioch after the Jerusalem Council, whatever its precise nature. For a time, he fellowshipped with Gentile Christians just as Paul and Barnabas did.

Then James, nervous that their allowance to Gentiles would lead Jewish believers also to slack off in their keeping of the Law, sends some people to check on what was going on at Antioch. They convince Peter and Barnabas that they cannot slack off on purity concerns just because the Gentiles can be saved without following them all. Paul goes ballistic, as in the other scenario.

There are two key differences to this scenario from the previous one. The one is the fact that Paul seems to lose this argument. After all, he tells us earlier in Galatians 2 that James, Peter, and John agreed with him on the issue of circumcision. If Peter and Barnabas had given in to his argument at Antioch, Paul would have told us in Galatians. The end result is that Paul's argument with Barnabas in Acts 15:39 probably was about more than just whether to take Mark along on their next trip. We remember that Acts, in keeping with its general approach, completely omits this controversy at Antioch. We have good reason to believe that Paul leaves Antioch on somewhat tense, perhaps even bad terms with the Jerusalem church. We can still feel that tension even when he returns to Jerusalem in Acts 21:20-22.

A second curiosity with this approach is what to make of the letter Acts 15 pictures being sent as a result of the Jerusalem Conference. As we hinted above, its four prohibitions would actually solve the matter of Jew and Gentile believer eating together, at least in the minds of people like James, Peter, and Barnabas. If Gentiles would stay away from strangled meat with the blood still in it, from meat that had been sacrified at a temple, and from sexual immorality, then Jewish believers could eat with Gentile believers. The early Galatians scenario was nice and neat on this question, because it considered the Antioch blow up to have happened before the Council.

But if the blow up at Antioch was after the Council, then the letter becomes anachronistic--at least if it is addressing the question of "table fellowship," who you eat with. [4] If it is only giving a bare bones "Noahic" list of general requirements for Gentiles, then there is no tension. But if it is telling Gentiles how they must get and prepare food in order that Jewish believers might eat with them, then we are forced to see Acts 15 as a somewhat syncopated presentation of what was in history a more complicated and drawn out struggle. In either case, it is clear that Paul did not agree with the letter's position. As we have seen, Paul neither mentions the letter nor takes its position when he deals with the Corinthians on the subject of meat sacrificed to idols. One way or another, Paul's relationship with the Jerusalem church continued to involve some tension, even into his second and third missionary journeys. And we saw this fact in 1 Corinthians where Paul mentions some at Corinth who might say they are "of Peter" in a way that distinstinguished them from Paul (1 Cor. 1:12)

We mentioned four problems with the early South Galatia theory, but we have only mentioned three of them so far. The fourth is a difficulty not only for the first reconstruction but also for the second one we have just mentioned. Paul says in Galatians 4:13 that he first preached the good news to them because of a physical problem. He goes on to say how they would have been glad to give him their own eyes if they could have (4:15). Paul thus seems to have been passing through some part of Galatia when he encountered eye problems that led him to change his plans for an extended period of time.

It is difficult to fit this description of Paul's founding visit with the depiction of Paul's first missionary journey in Acts 13-14. South Galatia was hardly on the way between Cyprus and Antioch. To go there required intentionality on Paul and Barnabas' part. To be sure, some scholars have questioned whether Paul took exactly this path historically. Some even suggest Paul might have been in Greece some ten years earlier than Acts depicts. But these reconstructions seem highly speculative. We really have no reason to question Acts' itinerary at this point.

On the other hand, this founding visit might fit Paul's itinerary leaving south Galatia on his second missionary journey, where Acts says he went on to travel "through the region of Phrygia and Galatia" (16:6). Indeed, could some of the forbidding of the Holy Spirit Acts 16 mentions be its way of referring to Paul's need to stay relatively put in north Galatia because of eye problems? It was this region of north Galatia, where the modern city of Ancyra is located, that most Christians thought Galatians was written until the twentieth century. That is because for most of antiquity, only this area was actually called Galatia. The ethnic Galatians, although they were long gone by the time of Paul, had lived in this northern region.

However, we must reckon with the fact that the Romans expanded the territory in 25BC to include the southern area. The cities of south Galatia thus were thus part of Galatia as well. We have decided to fall off the log with Galatians primarily written to the northern territory, classic Galatia, but we have to admit it is a close call. We must face the odd situation, for example, that we do not know the names of any churches Paul founded in this area, while we know many names of churches he founded in the south. Nevertheless, as we will see, we think Galatians fits the general preoccupations of Paul while at Ephesus better than when he was at Corinth.

[1] Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free. **

[2] That Paul is infuriated when he writes Galatians should not be in doubt given his comment that he would be quite pleased if these individuals bent on circumcision would just cut their whole thing off (Gal. 5:12).

[3] The most notorious example is of course Harold Linsell's suggestion in The Battle for the Bible (***) that Peter might have denied Jesus six times, three before a first crowing and three more before a second. He applied his ingenuity and created a scenario that differs more from each gospel text than each of them actually differ from each other!

[4] And here let us add to our list of books one might read to master Paul the masterful collection of essays by James D. G. Dunn over the years called, The New Perspective on Paul (***). His essay, "The Incident at Antioch" is, in our opinion, the most definitive discussion to date on the blow-up. Dunn takes the second scenario position on Galatians, that it was written in the early 50s from Corinth to southern Galatia.


Dustin said...

Have you entertained the proposition by Bruce Winter that the opponents in Galatia were Gentiles who were trying to get the Christians to join the imperial cult worship, and therefore the reasons for the judaizing was to secure a exempt legal standing from this participation?

I have wondered about this, because of what is said at the end of the letter: "Those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh try to compel you to be circumcised, simply so that they will not be persecuted for the cross of Christ." (Gal 6:12 NAU)

Jews were not allowed to persecute others in the diaspora. Therefore, it seems that the identity of the persecutors could in fact be Gentiles working for the imperial cult.

Any take on this?


Angie Van De Merwe said...

If you take that interpretation, AND you hold to infallibility, then, you would be "creating" a spiritualized and separated "kingdom of God", which has traditionally been the view of some in the Church.

But, the problem with setting us an "anti-cultural view" via Rome/Christian/Gentile, and historicizing the text for today's Chrstian, is that you set up a situation where the "Christian" cannot serve Rome or Caesar AND worship God? This is a preposterous view today, in a free it holds to the "tradition" of "cross-bearing", "martydom", and "self-denial" as ultimate service to God. This is not too far from Islam's radical faith tradition, is it?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

On the other hand,
The Casear cult could be considered an "idolatrous" form of worship and for those, whether they be conservative scrupulous Christians that cannot serve an outward form OR Christians under tyrannical rule...both have reason to rebel against such authoritarian views. And in free societies one has a right to do so.

Dustin said...


You miss the point of what I was trying to do.

I was trying to do what all respected Bible students do, which is to recreate as best as possible the most plausable historical scenerio based on the evidence available. If you wish to critique, then please do so by engaging the evidence.


Angie Van De Merwe said...

Sorry, I was coming through understanding what was said as far as government or culture, as it pertains to individual liberty. This is a context dependent view approaching the text, histicizing (or taking seriously the real historical situatedness).This is a more progressive view, as it pertains to diversity. Government in free societies allow such liberty of conscience, as Galatians grants.

You, on the other hand, were coming to the information through the text and positioning the text as a critique of government and governmental "servants". You historicize the text, as an absolute governmental standard, allowing cultural variances within distinctive communities.

At least, this is what I think happened in our mis-communication.

I have to think more about this...

Richard Fellows said...


you ask, "Is his point not that he did not visit them the first time until three years after his conversion and then not again until fourteen years after that first visit?"

Not exactly. His point in Gal 1:15-24 is that he became a well known missionary before he had had much contact with the Judean churches and that therefore he had not received his message from them. This point in 2:1ff seems to be that he had been a Christian for a long time before he even knew for sure what the Jerusalem church leaders thought about the inclusion of Gentiles in the church (and that therefore he could not have received his message from them). These are related, but DIFFERENT points. The fact that they are different points means that the 'three years' and the '14 years' probably both refer back to the time of is calling/conversion. Also, there is nothing to exclude the possibility of an intermediate visit to Jerusalem between the events of 1:24 and 2:1. Many boldly state that the Gal 2:1-10 visit was Paul's second visit to Jerusalem, but there is no evidence for this.

I am still baffled by your (tentative) adherence to the north Galatia hypothesis. Acts 16:6 surely refers to Phyrgian Galatia, not to north Galatia. Furthermore the three pieces of divine guidance that the missionaries receive have the common purpose of getting Paul to Europe as quickly as possible. Is Luke really saying that the divine guidance was fickle, sending Paul first to the north-east to north Galatia, and then west to Troas? I think not. Also, as I have mentioned before, chronology does not allow enough time for the evangelization of north Galatia.

You argument about Paul's physical condition makes little sense. You say that south Galatia was not on the way to anywhere, but neither was north Galatia. Look at the map here. Where are you proposing that Paul was on this way to? And why did he not go their?

Anyway, I am pleased that you have addressed the possibility of combining south Galatia with Gal 2=Acts 15.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I must add, that I presumed upon what you "were" we are in a university setting, I am always thinking in that context...for student development.

I approached what you were saying in the light of "all truth is God's truth", so to I am interested in the students developing fully and understanding that whatever they do, they can do to glorify God...I have seen many fall short of their full potential because of some Christian "ideal" they have in mind...whether that be of marriage, or "special ministry", as if anything was not "ministry"....

Ken Schenck said...

Well, Richard, I continue to think about the north-south Galatia issue. Almost thou persuadest me to be a south Galatianist. I will reflect a bit on the timing more.

npmccallum said...

I'm sure you're aware of this, but "the half-brother of Jesus" is far more specific than the text ever gets and is perhaps, to use your own words, a disrespectful reading.

"although we favor the interpretation that sees these four prohibitions as a solution to the question of how Jew and Gentile believer can eat together, rather than one of basic ethical requirements for Gentiles."

It seems that it would be beneficial to consider the ancient Christian tradition that these requirements are valid. There are numerous examples in antiquity, but perhaps the best modern example of this is the various Catholic and Orthodox churches in Africa and Asia, which still hold rigidly to this proscription. I'm not saying you're wrong, but it seems a fairly modern interpretation.

Ken Schenck said...

Dustin, although I deeply respect Winter's expertise, I wonder if he can produce evidence either that the imperial cult or the distinction between Judaism as a religio licita and Christianity as unprotected being in play to this extent this early.

Nate, my sense of early Christian tradition is that it often contains a kernel of truth but that it became rather credulous even within decades of the original writings. The fathers are important to me for theological reasons, but I am highly suspicious of them when it comes to any help they might be in arriving at the original interpretations.

npmccallum said...

Certainly Bauer's work dispels any myth we have about a singular original interpretation (not to mention that Acts and Galatians are themselves interpretations). However, you offered a range of interpretations (including ones you disagreed with), but left out the one with the widest historical support. I thought it deserved at least a "this is the most common interpretation, but is not likely because of X." (If for nothing else than my own education)

It also side-steps the James as half-brother interpretation, which requires speculation (as do other interpretations, no doubt). While of course you must "fall off the log," such debated issues in biblical studies shouldn't be passed by without as much as a footnote (and it is a debated issue, considering the amount of ink spilled over this question).

But of course, perhaps I merely misunderstand your intended audience. Is this designed for an audience already familiar with these issues?

Anyway, I am enjoying this series, so thanks!