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Incident at Antioch

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Petrus et Paulus 4th century etching

Peter and Paul, depicted in a 4th century etching with their names in Latin and the Chi-Rho.

The "Incident at Antioch" is the standard title historians use to refer to the Early Christian dispute between the apostles Paul and Peter which occurred in the city of Antioch around the middle of the first century. The primary source for the incident is Paul's Epistle to the Galatians 2:11-14. Since F.C. Baur, scholars have found evidence of conflict among the leaders of Early Christianity; for example James D. G. Dunn proposes that Peter was a "bridge-man" between the opposing views of Paul and James the Just[1].

Gentile Christians and the Torah

As Gentiles began to convert from Paganism to Christianity, a dispute arose among Christian leaders as to whether or not Gentiles needed to observe all the tenets of Mosaic Law. In particular, it was debated whether Gentile converts needed to be circumcised or observe the dietary laws. Circumcision in particular was considered repulsive in Hellenistic culture[2].

Completely independent of Paul but around the same time period, the subject of Gentiles and the Torah was also debated among the Rabbis as recorded in the Talmud, the result being the doctrine of the Seven Laws of Noah and the determination that "Gentiles may not be taught the Torah". Rabbi Emden of the 18th century was of the opinion that Jesus' original objective, and especially Paul's, was only to convert Gentiles to the Seven Laws of Noah while requiring Jews to follow full Mosaic Law[3]. See also Dual covenant theology.

Paul was a strong advocate of the position that Gentiles need not be circumcised nor observe dietary laws, a position which some took to advocate Antinomianism. Others, sometimes termed Judaizers, felt that Gentile Christians needed to fully comply with the Mosaic Law; see also Legalism (theology) and Cafeteria Christianity.

Saint James the Just

Icon of James the Just, whose judgment was adopted in the Apostolic Decree of Acts 15:19-29, c. 50 AD.

Council of Jerusalem

Paul left Antioch and traveled to Jerusalem to discuss his mission to the Gentiles with the Christian "pillars of authority". [4] Describing the outcome of this meeting, Paul says "they recognized that I had been entrusted with the good-news for the un-circumcised".

Acts of the Apostles describes the dispute as being resolved by Peter's speech and concluding with a decision by James the Just to not require circumcision from Gentile Converts. Acts quotes Peter and James as saying:

"My brothers, you are well aware that from early days God made his choice among you that through my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness by granting them the holy Spirit just as he did us. He made no distinction between us and them, for by faith he purified their hearts. Why, then, are you now putting God to the test by placing on the shoulders of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? On the contrary, we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they."
Acts 15:7-11
"It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood."
Acts 15:19-20

This Apostolic Decree is still observed by the Greek Orthodox[5].

See also Dual-covenant theology.

The Incident

According to the Epistle to the Galatians chapter 2, Peter had traveled to Antioch and there was a dispute between him and Paul. Epistle does not exactly say if this happened after the Council of Jerusalem or before it, but the incident is mentioned in Paul's letter as his next subject after describing the meeting in Jerusalem. Galatians 2:11-13 says:

When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group.

PaulT

Artist depiction of Saint Paul Writing His Epistles, 16th century (Blaffer Foundation Collection, Houston, Texas). Most scholars think Paul actually dictated his letters to a secretary[6].

To Paul's dismay, the rest of the Jewish Christians in Antioch sided with Peter, including Paul's long-time associate Barnabas:

The rest of the Jews joined in this charade and even Barnabas was drawn into the hypocrisy.

Acts of the Apostles confirms the fallout between Paul and Barnabas soon after the Council of Jerusalem, however claiming that the reason was over whether John Mark was fit to join Paul's mission or not.[7] Acts is entirely silent about any confrontation between Peter and Paul, that or any other time. However, Peter's attempted siding with the Gentiles is also described in the Acts. Acts 11:1-3 says:

The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, "You went into the house of the uncircumcised and ate with them."

Contrary to what Paul said in his Epistle, Acts reports a different outcome, with Peter successfully convincing everyone that he had been right instead of giving in under pressure like Paul claimed. As his defence, Peter says in Acts 11:17:

"So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God's way?"

This is basically the same that Paul preaches to Peter in his Epistle:

"We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ."

In Acts, the dispute itself is described to have happened before the death of King Herod (Agrippa) in 44 AD, and thus years before the Council of Jerusalem. Paul's involvement in the conflict is nowhere to be found in Acts.

There is a some debate that the confrontation was actually not between Paul and Peter, the Apostle, but another one of the identified 70 disciples of the time with the same name as Peter. In 1708, a French Jesuit, Jean Hardouin wrote a dissertation that argues Peter was actually another Peter, thus the emphasis of using the name Cephas (Aramaic for Peter).[8]

Outcome

The final outcome of the incident remains uncertain, indeed the issue of Biblical law in Christianity remains disputed to this day. The Catholic Encyclopedia states: "St. Paul's account of the incident leaves no doubt that St. Peter saw the justice of the rebuke." In contrast, L. Michael White's From Jesus to Christianity states: "The blowup with Peter was a total failure of political bravado, and Paul soon left Antioch as persona non grata, never again to return."[9]

References

  1. James D. G. Dunn in The Canon Debate, L.M. McDonald and J.A. Sanders, editors, 2002, chapter 32, page 577: "For Peter was probably in fact and effect the bridge-man (pontifex maximus!) who did more than any other to hold together the diversity of first-century Christianity. James the brother of Jesus and Paul, the two other most prominent leading figures in first-century Christianity, were too much identified with their respective "brands" of Christianity, at least in the eyes of Christians at the opposite ends of this particular spectrum. But Peter, as shown particularly by the Antioch episode in Gal 2, had both a care to hold firm to his Jewish heritage, which Paul lacked, and an openness to the demands of developing Christianity, which James lacked. John might have served as such a figure of the center holding together the extremes, but if the writings linked with his name are at all indicative of his own stance he was too much of an individualist to provide such a rallying point. Others could link the developing new religion more firmly to its founding events and to Jesus himself. But none of them, including the rest of the twelve, seem to have played any role of continuing significance for the whole sweep of Christianity—though James the brother of John might have proved an exception had he been spared." [Italics original]
  2. Jewish Encyclopedia: Circumcision: In Apocryphal and Rabbinical Literature: "Contact with Grecian life, especially at the games of the arena [which involved nudity], made this distinction obnoxious to the Hellenists, or antinationalists; and the consequence was their attempt to appear like the Greeks by epispasm ("making themselves foreskins"; I Macc. i. 15; Josephus, "Ant." xii. 5, § 1; Assumptio Mosis, viii.; I Cor. vii. 18; , Tosef., Shab. xv. 9; Yeb. 72a, b; Yer. Peah i. 16b; Yeb. viii. 9a). All the more did the law-observing Jews defy the edict of Antiochus Epiphanes prohibiting circumcision (I Macc. i. 48, 60; ii. 46); and the Jewish women showed their loyalty to the Law, even at the risk of their lives, by themselves circumcising their sons."; Hodges, Frederick, M. (2001). "The Ideal Prepuce in Ancient Greece and Rome: Male Genital Aesthetics and Their Relation to Lipodermos, Circumcision, Foreskin Restoration, and the Kynodesme" (PDF). The Bulletin of the History of Medicine 75 (Fall 2001): 375–405. doi:10.1353/bhm.2001.0119. http://www.cirp.org/library/history/hodges2/. Retrieved 2007-07-24. 
  3. Jewish Encyclopedia: Gentiles: Gentiles May Not Be Taught the Torah
  4. Gal 2:1-10, Acts 15:1-19
  5. Karl Josef von Hefele's commentary on canon II of Gangra notes: "We further see that, at the time of the Synod of Gangra, the rule of the Apostolic Synod with regard to blood and things strangled was still in force. With the Greeks, indeed, it continued always in force as their Euchologies still show. Balsamon also, the well-known commentator on the canons of the Middle Ages, in his commentary on the sixty-third Apostolic Canon, expressly blames the Latins because they had ceased to observe this command. What the Latin Church, however, thought on this subject about the year 400, is shown by St. Augustine in his work Contra Faustum, where he states that the Apostles had given this command in order to unite the heathens and Jews in the one ark of Noah; but that then, when the barrier between Jewish and heathen converts had fallen, this command concerning things strangled and blood had lost its meaning, and was only observed by few. But still, as late as the eighth century, Pope Gregory the Third (731) forbade the eating of blood or things strangled under threat of a penance of forty days. No one will pretend that the disciplinary enactments of any council, even though it be one of the undisputed Ecumenical Synods, can be of greater and more unchanging force than the decree of that first council, held by the Holy Apostles at Jerusalem, and the fact that its decree has been obsolete for centuries in the West is proof that even Ecumenical canons may be of only temporary utility and may be repealed by disuse, like other laws."
  6. Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985. p. 316-320. Harris cites Galatians 6:11, Romans 16:22, Colossians 4:18, 2 Thessalonians 3:17, Philemon 19. Joseph Barber Lightfoot in his Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians writes: "At this point [Galatians 6:11] the apostle takes the pen from his amanuensis, and the concluding paragraph is written with his own hand. From the time when letters began to be forged in his name (2 Thessalonians 2:2; 2 Thessalonians 3:17) it seems to have been his practice to close with a few words in his own handwriting, as a precaution against such forgeries... In the present case he writes a whole paragraph, summing up the main lessons of the epistle in terse, eager, disjointed sentences. He writes it, too, in large, bold characters (Gr. pelikois grammasin), that his handwriting may reflect the energy and determination of his soul."
  7. See Acts 15:36-40.
  8. Scott, James M. A Question of Identity: Is Cephas the Same Person As Peter?" Journal of Biblical Studies Issue 3/3 October 2003. [1]
  9. White, L. Michael (2004). From Jesus to Christianity. HarperSanFrancisco. pp. 170. ISBN 0–06–052655–6. http://books.google.com/books?id=w4ehxXoIxCUC&pg=PA170&vq=%22total+failure+of+political+bravado%22&dq=paul+%22visits+to+jerusalem%22+acts+letters&as_brr=3&sig=EZ2xNofTh3Rw11WHiHXs-iVqhR8. 
  • Dunn, James D.G. The Incident at Antioch (Gal 2:11-18) Journal for the Study of the New Testament 18, 1983, pg 95-122
  • James D. G. Dunn Echoes of Intra-Jewish Polemic in Paul's Letter to the Galatians Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 112, No. 3 (Autumn, 1993), pp. 459-477
  • James D. G. Dunn, Jesus, Paul and the Law, chapter 6: "The Incident at Antioch"[2]
  • White, "From Jesus to Christianity"
  • Moriyoshi Murayama, The incident at Antioch ; a social-scientific analysis of Galatians 2:11-14

See also

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