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The Peter-Paul Faceoff at Antioch

07 Dec

Many Biblical scholars seem to think Paul’s conflict with Peter at Antioch occurred after the Jerusalem Council. I don’t believe that reasoning is correct. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul claimed that he visited Jerusalem twice before he wrote his epistle—once three years after his conversion (Galatians 1:18), and a second time fourteen years after he met Jesus on the Damascus road (Galatians 2:1). Some scholars conclude that Paul either missed a visit (Acts 11:28-30; 12:25), or Paul’s visit fourteen years later occurred during the famine, and the Jerusalem Council visit occurred sometime later, perhaps after he left Corinth in Acts 18. Nevertheless, the ‘two’ are the same visit. That is, the Famine-Relief visit and the Jerusalem Council visit were one and the same visit, and occurred cir. 49 CE.

In his epistle to the Galatians, Paul’s visit to Jerusalem and his challenge of Peter at Antioch are joined with a ‘but’ (Galatians 2:11)! However, we should understand the conflict in Antioch occurring chronologically before Paul’s visit to Jerusalem. We all explain our own account of certain events similarly, and even though they are out of chronological order, our listeners don’t get confused if they are familiar with the overall story. Nevertheless, many scholars believe Paul’s conflict with Peter occurred chronologically after Paul’s visit to Jerusalem. They conclude that Peter had a ‘relapse’ after the Jerusalem Conference.

I submit that there are more and better reasons to believe the Peter–Paul conflict at Antioch occurred before the Jerusalem Conference than afterward. For one, it is easier to explain why Paul’s men from James (Galatians 2:12) came to Antioch in the first place, if the event occurred before the conference. Luke tells us in Acts 15:1 that men from Judea came down to Antioch, saying gentiles couldn’t be saved without being circumcised according to Moses. This issue precipitated the debate in Jerusalem in Acts 15 according to Luke and Paul agrees in Galatians 2:3, 7-9 that his conference in Jerusalem had something to do with whether or not gentiles needed to be circumcised.

Secondly, it is easier to understand Peter’s going aside to keep company with the men from James **before** the Jerusalem Conference than afterward. If Peter and Paul didn’t have a private agreement concerning circumcision, as a result of their 15 day meeting during Paul’s first visit to Jerusalem 3 years after his conversion (cp. Galatians 1:18), then certainly Peter would have realized gentiles didn’t need to be circumcised as a result of his vision from Jesus in Acts 10, which prepared him for his meeting with Cornelius. It is much easier to understand Peter tuning aside from one of these events than on the formal agreement made so public after the Jerusalem Conference. Moreover, had Peter gone aside after the conference, the believers themselves at Antioch would have understood that the men from James and Peter were not behaving properly. Peter’s behavior would have been immediately recognized as prejudicial, and the gentile believers would not have felt compelled to become Jews (Galatians 2:14).

Finally, after the Jerusalem Conference, Antioch would have had written evidence from James, saying circumcision was not a problem between Jew and gentile fellowship. Paul never brought up any such letter to remind Peter or the men from James that they are behaving improperly. Who could have denied the written evidence if it existed? If James’ letter was never brought up at Antioch, it is a very strong implication that the formal agreement was not yet written. Therefore, Peter most likely went aside before that conference took place.

 

 

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Posted by on December 7, 2012 in circumcision, Textual Criticism

 

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