(1) What is Paul’s issue with Peter?
Peter’s hypocrisy (hypokrisei) according to Hays was not that he disregarded “basic Jewish dietary laws by eating meat with blood in it, or pork and shellfish”, because he reasons, “it seems unlikely that such flagrant violations of Jewish norms would have been practiced in Antioch, particularly if the Gentile converts were drawn primarily from the ranks of the ‘godfearers’, who presumably would have already assimilated to Jewish dietary practices”. Instead, Hays suggests that the issue was Peter’s disassociation from the Gentiles at the table. The likelihood of this interpretation is strengthened by Gal 2:12 which speaks not of food per se, but “eating with” the Gentiles. Hays goes on to observe that eating with Gentiles is not forbidden by the Torah, but scrupulous Torah-observant Judeans thought of this as equivalent to eating Gentile food, since their presumption was that all Gentiles were idolaters.
(2) What role does James play in the circumstances?
Hays believes James is the force in the story. This is borne out in various remarks: Hays says that the “men from James” pressured Peter to “stop eating with Gentile believers”; that “James [was] worried that too much fraternization with Gentiles would have bad results”; and that “the response of this fraction at Jerusalem [judean Jewish Christians] was to urge Peter, with the blessing of James, to avoid contact with Gentiles”.
(3) Who are “those of the circumcision”?
Hays while acknowledging the ambiguity of the phrase “those from the circumcision” he appeals to other contexts, namely Rom 4:12, to support the view that this designation denotes Jewish Christians. With no substantial support, Hays hesitantly concludes “it appears that Paul is accusing Peter of fearing other Jewish Christians in Antioch”.
While I find Hays answer to the first question convincing and correct, his answer to the second is lacking textual support. The text says neither that the “men from James” actively pressured Peter “to draw back” from associating with Gentiles, nor that James sent them for this purpose. The text simply states that before the “men from James” arrived Peter associated with Gentiles at the table, but after they arrived he stopped. Thus, the reason for his action could be as much his own fault as that of the guests from Jerusalem. Furthermore, the passage suggests the former (Peter’s own issue) since Paul’s confrontation is solely directed at Peter and those who joined him. One would expect that if Paul’s issue was with those from James his invective would be aimed at not only Peter, but also James and the Jerusalem church who, according to the standard view, were the real cause of the incident. As for his answer to the third question, it seems more reasonable to take ones cue from the immediate context where Paul uses the term to refer to the group that comprises Peter’s missionary scope in 2:7. In this case, clearly the group in view is non-believing Israelites and not Jewish believers in Jesus.
I will address my colleague Scot McKnight’s view in the next post.
Witherington, Ben. 2004. The New Testament Story. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.