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.


Charles said...

This looks to be interesting. But I do have a few comments and questions. First, your essay seems to assume that Gal 2 = Acts 15. This is of course a commonly accepted view, but many who hold the view also see two disparate accounts of the Antioch Incident/Jerusalem Council (see for example T. Phillips, Paul, His Letters, and Acts). You may be planning to address this, but I don't see much here. Second, you only mention two of the prohibitions (idol food and sexual immorality). Are you suggesting that things strangled and blood come under the idol food category? Third, perhaps I have missed it, but I am not sure how you see Paulinism being made here. Did Paulinism "make" the "Incident at Antioch" or did the "Incident at Antioch" "make Paulinism? Fourth, how do you define Paulinism e.g., a movement, theology, practice, etc)?

Carl Kinbar said...

Your comments on the "via media" remind me of Kinzer's "bilateral ecclesiology" in his "Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism" (Brazos). Do you see a connection between the theological "via media" and an ecclesial via media?

Richard Fellows said...

Your post makes good sense, Michael, I think. You may also like to consider the possibility that Peter's role changed after the meeting of Gal 2:1-10. At that meeting there seems to have been an agreement that Peter would henceforth go to the Jews. This would have made it expedient for Peter to choose to eat with Jews from then on.

I have argued here on my blog that the Antioch incident was not representative of Peter's theological position.

Paul J said...

I am reading through Francis Watson's Paul, Judaism and the Gentiles (2nd edition) at the moment. He seems to emphasize that the "Incident at Antioch" caused Paul to construct his law-free theology.

Do you have any thoughts on Watson's presentation?

Mike Bull said...

Great stuff. I would just dispute the idea of two parallel theologies. This was the fulfilment of the Old Covenant order, with the Hebrews/Jews as a priestly nation mediating for the Gentiles. There were two tables: Passover for the mediators alone, and Tabernacles for Jews and Gentiles as one body (with 70 bulls sacrificed for the 70 nations in Genesis 10).
So, this bipolarity begun in Abraham (circumcision) was fulfilled and completed, and wiped off the face of the earth with the destruction of the temple in AD70 (a crucial event which everyone seems to skip over for some reason). This is why Paul could take a Nazirite vow - the Temple was still standing. This overlap between the Covenants lasted 40 years.

Anders Branderud said...

Re "Jewish Christians":
(le-havdil), A analysis (found here: (that is the only legitimate Netzarim)) of all extant source documents and archaeology using a rational and logical methodology proves that the historical Ribi Yehosuha ha-Mashiakh (the Messiah) from Nazareth and his talmidim (apprentice-students), called the Netzarim, taught and lived Torah all of their lives; and that Netzarim and Christianity were always antithetical.

Judaism and Christianity have always been two antithetical religions, thefore the term “Jewish Christians” is an oxymoron.

The mitzwot (directives or military-style orders) in Torah (claimed in Tan’’kh (the Jewish Bible) to be the instructions of the Creator), the core of the Judaism, are an indivisible whole. Rejecting any one constitutes rejecting of the whole… and the Church rejected many mitzwot, for example rejecting to observe the Shabat on the seventh day in the Jewish week. Examples are endless. Devarim (“Deuteronomy”) 13.1-6 explicitly precludes the Christian “NT”. Devarim 13:1-6 forbids the addition of mitzwot and subtraction of mitzwot from Torah.

Ribi Yehoshuas talmidim Netzarim still observes Torah non-selectively to their utmost today and the research in the previous mentioned Netzarim-website implies that becoming one of Ribi Yehoshuas Netzarim-followers is the only way to follow him.

Mike Bull said...

"Judaism and Christianity have always been two antithetical religions."

Not so. The "death-and-resurrection" of Israel in the first century follows the same pattern as Israel's death-and-resurrections in Babylon and in Egypt. Each time the people of God were brought to a greater maturity. The events of the first century, initiated by Christ, were the final step in the process of achieving a priesthood given for the life of the world. The mediatory "mantle" was passed to the church at Pentecost, just as Elijah's cloak passed to Elijah after his ascension.

Bill C said...

Question: When reading Galatians 2.12 it seems natural to distinguish the 'ones from James' from 'those of the circuscision'. Is there anything in the text that upsets the natural distinction?

shawlynot said...

Agree with Bill C.

Dr. Bird, do you see the "certain men from James" as synonymous with "the circumcision party"? How one understands this issue determines to a large degree how one interprets the rest of the passage, and what Paul is trying to get at.

Mike Bull said...

Dear Michael

I've posted an extended (and hopefully more intelligible) discussion of your "parallel theologies" comment here:

Michael F. Bird said...

Hi folks, to answer or respond:

1. I've come around recently to the view that Gal 2 = Acts 15. Reading Wedderburn and Dunn pushed me over the line.
2. Not sure, but food strangled with blood in it I think is related to idolatry. But I'll read some Acts commentaries before I firm up on that one.
3. By Paulinism I mean the essence of Paul's thought. And I think the incident at Antioch is where we see Paul at his most raw and radical.

Carl: I'm not up on messianic ecclesiology so I don't know.

Richard: Thanks, I'll read that.

Paul: I think Paul already had a Gospel/Torah relationship in mind prior to Antioch. But he certainly stepped on the gas so to speak at and after Antioch.

Mike: There are different ways of articulating the fulfilment of the Old and New. Some, it seems, wanted alot more of the Old retained in the new. I don't think the Pharisaic Christians were right, but they took a different spin on the Jerusalem council.

Bill and Shaw: I think the men from James are Jewish Christians and those of the circumcision are not-Christian Jews. "Circumcision" always denotes non-Christ believing Jews in the NT.

Bill C said...

The next question: "fearing" for himself or 'others'? Again, how can you tell from the text itself? So one returns to the point Shaw made: How one posits the 'fearing for' answer "determines to a large degree how one interprets the rest of the passage, and what Paul is trying to get at." least for how we should view the intentions of Peter.

BradK said...


"Circumcision" always denotes non-Christ believing Jews in the NT.

So how do you read Colossians 4:10-11?

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