Friday, March 07, 2008

My Proposal for the Antioch Incident, Part One: What is Paul’s issue with Peter?

I had intended to continue surveying important voices on the question of the Antioch incident. However, as with so many good intentions, I must now revise the breadth of the study. While it would have been productive and important to survey Esler (although it should be said that I did read him), Tomson and Bockmuehl (although he is much like Tomson with the added geographical insight that Antioch was the “gateway” to the ideal Land of Israel), I must move on to other things. So in conclusion of this rather protracted rabbit trail I will offer my proposal for the three questions: (1) What is Paul’s issue with Peter; (2) What role does James play in the circumstances; and (3) Who are “those of the circumcision”? Here I will address the first question.

As I have already on more than one occasion suggested in earlier posts, I wish to propose that the issue here is not what was eaten (traditional view), or how (the manner in which) it was eaten (Nanos’ view), but where it was eaten. The contextual marker for this is the verb “withdrew”: Peter and the other Jews who followed his lead “withdrew” from eating with the non-Jewish believers in Jesus. It is possible that the description is meant to be a figure of speech, but it is not obviously so. What if we take it to be a concrete depiction of the event: Peter left the meals. In this way, Peter’s action of which Paul so vehemently opposed was a departure from a place where the shared meals were eaten. If the space was Jewish space to where would they have withdrawn? Would not they have had to force the non-Jews to depart? This may appear to some to be an overly literal reading of the text, but I am growing persuaded that the verb “to withdraw” is more than simply a figure of speech in this context and becomes something of a key that better explains the other elements. Furthermore, the idea of a concrete withdraw can be substantiated by an appeal to Luke’s account in Acts, however controversial that may be. If one allows Luke’s narrative to have an influence here then it makes good sense of Paul’s strong rebuke of Peter.

Acts 10—11 make clear the issue at stake in Peter’s ministry to Cornelius’ household was association: the right for a Jew to enter the home of a non-Jew, even one who is a god-fearer (see 10:28). Peter’s vision corrected an apparently longstanding view that it was against law to enter the home of a non-Jew. God makes clear that this is to be no concern of Peter and he subsequently visits Cornelius at his home. This raises the concern of the Jerusalem church so a meeting is called and Peter is called to account. After his testimony the church agrees that God does not make distinctions between Jew and non-Jew and in essence a halakic principle of association is set forth that makes it appropriate for Christ-believing Jews to fellowship in the homes of non-Jewish god-fearing believers in Jesus.

On this reading, Peter and the other Jewish believers in Jesus by withdrawing from fellowship with Gentiles, presumably from fellowship in the Gentile’s own social space, were not only implying that these Gentiles needed to be judaized (2:14)—and I take this to mean not only to become circumcised but more importantly for this context to live in such a way as to create a conducive Jewish social space for intimate social intercourse—but disregarding the direct revelation from the Lord.

I think then when the context of Gal 2:11-14 is carefully considered and allowed to rightfully define the clause “living like a Gentile” (2:14), it seems to me that the clause connotes association—or lack of. In another context the description may mean something very different since “living like a Gentile” is ambiguous when disconnected from a particular context, as is “living like a Jew”. I agree that our source materials suggest that it was possible for one to live Jewishly and eat with Gentiles but it appears that the “eating with” was acceptable under certain conditions at least for some more scrupulous Jews; that is: in a controlled Jewish social space. While I am well aware that there was not one view on levels of association in the first century, clearly there were strong views of separation by some groups at least in Judea. Luke's evidence suggests there were such views among even the common folk such that Peter states it is "unlawful for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him" (10:28). Cornelius was a god-fearer so he must have had social intercourse with Jews, but it seems as if the issue rested on the place of that intercourse. E.P. Sanders voices this perspective on the situation in the Second Temple period:
Jewish food laws permitted them [Jews] to entertain Gentiles, but not to accept Gentile hospitality (unless the Gentiles could provide Jewish food and wine). The new result of this one-sided possibility would be very little entertaining of the one by the other. Social intercourse among equals involved reciprocity (1990:181; cf. Dunn 2002:209, emphasis added).
So the issue appears to be not whether Jews ate with Gentiles, but where Jews ate with Gentiles—on Gentile terms on Gentile turf or on Jewish terms on Jewish turf? The Jewish believers in Jesus followed a halakic principle revealed first to Peter (Acts 10) that allowed them to freely associate with god-fearing Gentiles in their social space without question and this openness seems to have been in conflict with some other approaches which is the point of Acts 10.

While this view is perhaps closest to Nanos’ reading, I remain unconvinced of his assertion that the issue was “how” these meals were conducted since it is unclear to me how an outsider could tell in Jewish social space that Jews were treating god-fearing Gentiles with a higher respect than was appropriate to their position. He did not provide evidence that showed concretely how this would be observed. In an earlier post Isuggested the possibility in jest of a bouncer at the door of the house who said “Drop’um!” I think the verb “withdraw” has real traction when taken concretely. Peter was eating with Gentiles in Gentile social space (as he did with Cornelius), but then withdrew from those situations. I agree with Nanos' point, however, that Paul's answer to the problem is an affirmation of the Gentile identity as equal members of the eschatological age. Interestingly, Paul's central idea in Galatians 2:15-21 is reminiscent of that of Acts 11:17-18.


Ian said...

Totally unrelated to the Antioch incident: have you seen Dr. Garlington's review of Piper's recent book?
Thought you'd be interested.

Richard Fellows said...


Thanks for that. I had been wondering what your own take on the Antioch incident was.

You say that the issue with Peter concerned WHERE he ate. This got me thinking. When Gal 2:12 says that Peter used to eat with Gentiles, are we to think of Gentile hosts or Gentile fellow guests? By accepting hospitality from an Anitochean equivalent of Titius Justus, Peter would have been implicitly recognizing that person's leadership role, I think. There is increasing recognition that churches were formed around benefactors who offered their houses as meeting places. By withdrawing from such Gentile space, was Peter (out of fear of those of the circumcision) withdrawing his visible support for Gentile Christian leadership in Antioch? Perhaps Peter continued to eat with Gentiles when hosted by Jews, but declined invitations from Gentile Christian hosts, so as not to give the impression that he was endorsing their leadership or becoming their client.

The Jews of Antioch were very open to having Gentiles in their community. Peter too was big on including Gentiles (Acts 10), and surely Barnabas was too. It is therefore hard to believe that Peter, Barnabas and the Jewish Christians of Antioch completely stopped eating with Gentiles. It is more believable that they stopped accepting the hospitality of Antiochean Gentile Christian benefactors. Just a thought.

Joel, I would be interested to read your thoughts on why Paul includes the Antioch incident at all. Why was it important for the Galatians to hear about it? How does Gal 2:11-14 fit with Paul's overall argument in Gal 1-2?


Anonymous said...


Thanks for your comment. What you are suggesting is what I am asserting, or at least thought I was: Peter and the Jewish believers stopped accepting hospitality from Gentile believers. I am of the mind that Peter and the other Jewish believers potentially would have continued to eat with Gentiles if that eating took place in Jewish social space. So I agree with your development of the patron idea.

The short answer to your question is: I think Gal 2:15-21 reveals why he included it. The story gave him the opportunity to express his view of Gentile in light of the faithfulness of Christ.

Richard Fellows said...


I am liking your suggestion more and more.

I have often wondered why Paul's clash with Peter took place in Antioch but did not take place earlier in Jerusalem. If Peter ate with Titus in Jerusalem, why did he later refuse to eat with Gntiles in Antioch? Or if Peter refused to eat with Titus in Jerusalem, why did Paul not confront him there? One solution to this problem is to speculate that Titus pretended to be a Jew while in Jerusalem (except in the private meeting). Another solution, favoured by Loren Rosson on his blog, is to speculate that Peter went back on a deal that he reached with Paul in Jerusalem. But if you are right, there is no need for any of this speculation. The fact that the incident did not occur in Jeruslam during the visit of Paul and Titus is evidence that the issue in Antioch was about eating in Gentile houses, rather than about eating with Gentiles. This observation favours your view over Nanos's.

If you are right, Peter's offence in Antioch is more minor than it would otherwise be. To shun Gentile hosts is not as serious as to shun all Gentile believers. This helps to explain why there was no fundamental rift between Peter and Paul (see Michael Bird's recent discussion and consider the way that Paul calls Peter the Rock in Gal 2:7-8).

There are implications here for Pauline Chronology. Many doubt that the Antioch incident could have happened after the agreement of Acts 15. But there is no reason to suppose that the Jerusalem council discussed whether Gentile believers could be patrons of the church, so Peter's withdrawl from these Gentile hosts was not in conflict with the council agreement.

I would be interested to read what others think, but it seems to me that your hypothesis is very important and probably correct.

You wrote: "The short answer to your question is: I think Gal 2:15-21 reveals why he included it. The story gave him the opportunity to express his view of Gentile in light of the faithfulness of Christ."

I am unconvinced here. I see nothing in Gal 2:15-21 that would have forced Paul to describe the Antioch incident. I'm sure that Paul could have made the points that he makes in 2:15-21 without describing his confict with Peter.

As far as we know, Paul's relationship with Peter was a good one, and the Antioch incident was quite atypical. The fact that Paul mentions the Antioch incident at all therefore requires explanation. Surely Paul would not put a named colleague in a bad light unless there was a compelling reason to do so. (And if Peter was Paul's enemy as some believe, it is surprising that he is named because Paul never names his enemies).

What forced Paul to write Gal 2:11-14? I don't want to turn into a broken record here, but it seems to me that in Gal 2:11-14 Paul is refuting that charges that a) he really believed that leading believers should be circumcised, and b) he preached about the inclusion of Gentiles only to please Peter. This fits the context of Gal 1:1-2:11 where Paul argues that his aim was not to please men, and that he had not inherited his gospel from the Jerusalem church, and that he cared nothing for the pillars. It seems to me that the 'influencers' in Galatia were appealing to Paul's authority, claiming that he believed in circumcision (5:11), and that everybody knew that Peter was opposed to Gentile circumcision. Am I missing something?