Wednesday, July 07, 2010
The road to Antioch
I'm currently writing an essay for a volume in honour of Martin Hengel. The subject I've chosen is "The Incident in Antioch: The Making of Paulinism". What I take to be the formative factors and decisive events leading up to the incident in Antioch (Gal. 2.11-14) are as follows:
• Due to its devotion to a crucified messianic claimant, the Jerusalem church was under scrutiny and opposition from their Jewish compatriots. The two pogroms resulting in the martyrdoms of Stephen and James son of Zebedee show just how incendiary the church’s praxis, preaching, and proselytism proved to be.
• The period between the late 30s and late 40s CE was a tumultuous time in Palestine with Herod Antipas exiled to Gaul for stockpiling weapons, Caligula’s attempt to place a statue of himself in the Jerusalem temple prompted outrage among Jews throughout the empire, a rise in anti-Gentile sentiment and anti-Romanism, an increase in banditry in the countryside, and a series of incompetent and heavy-handed Roman governors (including the Jewish apostate Tiberius Alexander (ca. 46-48 CE).
• The acceptance of Gentile believers without the obligation of circumcision as advocated by the Jewish Christian Hellenists and then Peter.
• Peter’s ministry and movements alternated between Jewish, Samaritan, and Gentile settings and his actions in these spheres left a question mark for some hanging over Peter’s fidelity to the Torah.
• Paul’s arrival in Antioch infused further theological depth into the church of Antioch. Paul also emerged as the leader of the Antiochene mission to Jews and Gentiles and constituted the foremost defender of the Antiochene church’s stance concerning Gentiles and the Torah.
• The increase in the number Gentile believers in Antioch and in Antioch’s daughter churches in Cyprus, Cilicia, and Pamphylia.
• Active opposition from the pharisaic wing of the Jerusalem church to Jewish Christians eating with Gentiles and foregoing the necessity of Gentile circumcision for conversion. At one point they even took the initiative to try to intervene in the Antiochene church.
• Mediation between the Antiochene and Jerusalem churches by Barnabas (Greek-speaker) and by James (Aramaic-speaker) on the subject of Gentile inclusion.
• The Jerusalem council achieved a via media by finding in Scripture a justification for the inclusion of Gentiles within the church without requiring circumcision and placing upon Gentiles only the obligation to avoid idol food and sexual immorality. Yet the Jerusalem council also permitted the existence of two parallel theologies: one theology where the Gentiles were uncircumcised equals in a renewed Israel with holiness constituted by the Spirit and another theology where uncircumcised Gentiles were guests in an Israelite remnant that still defined holiness through Torah observance. The Jerusalem council’s decisions seem optimized in a setting where Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians remain in parallel rather than integrated, especially in relation to shared meals. The council did not stipulate the standard of law observance to be upheld for Eucharistic fellowship to ensue.
• The accession of James as the senior authority among the “elders” in Jerusalem. James stood in between Paul and Barnabas on the one hand and the conservative Jewish Christian members one the other hand. James sought to permit the freedom of the Antiochene churches while staving off criticism from nationalistic Jews in Jerusalem for being insufficiently loyal to Israel, the temple, and Torah.