Monday, May 04, 2009

"We believe ... justified by faith" - Peter in Acts and Galatians

In Gal. 2.16 the "we have believed" (episteusamen) probably refers to Jewish Christians (not Jews or only Apostles) like Peter who agree on a commonly agreed gospel. This would suggest that belief in righteousness by faith was not a Pauline invention, but was part of the shared understanding of the Jerusalem church. This counters the assertion of Albert Schweitzer that righteousness by faith was Paul's own articulation which emerged from (a) an antithetical response to the proselytizers who argued for righteousness by works of law, (b) out of exegesis of Hab. 2.4 and Gen. 15.6, and (c) because it is less convoluted than justified by solidarity and union with the Christ. (I should note that Richard Hays and E.P. Sanders also recognize that righteousness by faith is not a uniquely Pauline formulation). But what interests me is that Gal. 2.16 seems to correspond to Peter's speech in Acts 15 at the Jerusalem Council which also refers to believing in Jesus and being saved by faith. In which case, Paul is certainly putting forth an authentic Petrine position in Gal. 2.16 and not a straw man argument nor is he misrepresenting Peter to the Galatians. In other words, the episteusamen of Gal. 2.16 corresponds to the pisteuomen of Acts 15.11!

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Gal. 2.15-16: "We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified" (ESV).

Acts 15.8-11: And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will” (ESV).

2 comments:

Mike Koke said...

Hey Michael, I wonder what you think of the arguments of Richard Pervo (Dating Acts) and Joseph Tyson (Marcion and Luke-Acts) that Acts is a Second Century work and knows Paul's letters. I think part of their case is actually the significant connections between Galatians 2 and Acts 15, so then Luke would be assigning a known Pauline view to Peter.

Michael Barber said...

Hmmm... Here's an interesting question: if there was a common understanding on the importance of faith I wonder where the origin for this belief came.

Let's consider a few interesting Gospel stories.

1. The healing of the woman with a flow of blood: "And he said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease" (Mark 5:34).

2. The healing of the blind man Bartimaeus. "Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way" (Mark 10:52).

3. Jesus' words to the centurion: "When Jesus heard him, he marveled, and said to those who followed him, 'Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith. 11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.' 13 And to the centurion Jesus said, "'Go; be it done for you as you have believed.'" (Matt 8:10-13).

Could it be that maybe, just maybe, perhaps, in some way, there's a slight possibility that there's a chance that a key element of Christianity came from... Jesus?

I would say that it is very probable that what we have in the preaching of the early Church is evidence of the historical effect of the one to whom they gave their lives.