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Paul and Antioch (1)

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The publication of J. Louis Martynís commentary on Galatians was eagerly awaited by many students of Paulís letters.1 With my work on Pauline chronology, I was particularly interested in how he would deal with the well known autobiographical texts in the letter. I found an original and learned work, from which I have learned much, and which has provided stimulus, if not always agreement. What particularly caught my eye was a quite elaborate hypothesis regarding Paulís relations with Antioch, which I will summarize.

Martyn sees Paul attaching himself to the Antioch church not long after the first Jerusalem visit. For about a decade Paul is an evangelist of Antioch, preaching the gospel to gentiles in Syria and Cilicia, and working in close association with Barnabas. In due course Paul and Barnabas are sent by Antioch to the conference at Jerusalem, which is in effect a meeting of two churches, Antioch representing the cause of the gentile mission, and Jerusalem the interests of the Jewish Christians. Antioch, on the cutting edge of the gentile mission, gets approval of the dual mission, while Jerusalem will receive regular financial support from Antioch. The subsequent dispute in Antioch over table fellowship for Jewish and gentile Christians comes to a head with Paulís outburst against the duplicity of Cephas. This episode marks a political defeat for Paul, which results in a divorce from Antioch, a break with Barnabas, and Paulís departure to the west for work as a lone-wolf evangelist.2 Before looking more closely at this theory, let us make the customary stop and consider matters of methodology and chronology.

  * This article is a revision of ďPaul and Antioch,Ē Proceedings: Eastern Great Lakes and Midwest Biblical Societies 19 (1999) 87-101.
  1Galatians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary [Anchor] (New York: Doubleday, 1997).
  2Martyn 14-15, 17-18, 153, 166, 171, 175, 182 n. 237, 189, 196, 205-10, 229-30, 236, 240.

In Search of a Methodology

Methodology involves how we get our answers; in this case it is a question of how we arrive at a chronology, and how we approach the Antioch episode and other Antioch issues. A defective methodology tends to produce defective answers; a good methodology consistently applied tends to lead to good answersónot infallible, but at least improvable, answers.

The position taken in this article, as throughout this web site, is as follows:3

In trying to put together the pieces of Paulís career, as much as in understanding his teachings, good methodology gives pride of place exclusively to the letters.


Good methodology recognizes Acts as a work of early Christian edification but declines to employ Acts material in biographical or chronological investigations.4


Finally, good methodology balances the priority of the letters with a recognition that they are not impartial, objective biography or history; so even while we recognize that Paul is desperately arguing his case to save the day in Galatia, we do not need to relativize away what information the letters do offer: they are relatively more useful than Acts.

By way off comparison, Martyn affirms on the one hand the priority of the letters, but on the other hand allows room for the use of Acts: ďOur first and decisive attempt to discern the chronology of Paulís work is to be made on the basis of the letters alone.Ē But ďaloneĒ does not mean alone: ďAs a secondary and separable step, we may turn to Acts.Ē5 Though Martyn declares that Acts is to be used only for confirmation and supportive elucidation, clearly he allows himself to be influenced by Acts, especially in depicting Paulís relationship with Antioch. Martyn uses Acts, as a reading of the commentary will show, with some frequency; uses it at crucial points (e.g., in the depiction of Paulís association with Barnabas, where he refers to the ďfairly reliable data in Acts,Ē 216); and elsewhere ignores it (e.g., not following Acts in the pre-conference founding of churches in South Galatia, 182-6). The result is that we do not get a clear picture of either Acts information or letters information, but a congenial harmonization of the two which does little to advance the discussion. (Admittedly, Acts has left a profound imprint upon us all, and it is by no means easy to avoid reading the letters through Acts-colored glasses.)

  3For a more extensive treatment of methodology, click on Letters Based Chronology (1) and Letters Based Chronology (2).
  4This exclusion of Acts is by no means arbitrary; click on Acts as a Source (1) to (4).
  5Martyn 17.

In Search of a Chronology

Regarding matters chronological, Martyn has chosen, it seems to this writer, a chronology which follows Acts in locating the great founding missions of Paul after the Jerusalem conference.6 (To the extent that Martyn bases his chronology on the letters, it resembles what we have called Chronology [B] in this web site, and for convenience it will be so designated in the present article; click on Chart [B].) He has chosen [B] on the basis of no new evidence or arguments, and has (mostly) ignored the difficulties of [B].7 In all fairness, he has worked out the inferences of his preferred chronology with consistency, but has in the process served to illustrate the problems which [B] creates, as noted below. To be sure, [B] is a theoretically plausible alternative to [A]; but [B] enjoys no prima facie advantage, nor is its superiority self-evident (if it were, we would need no hypotheses nor arguments). So is there any positive evidene for [B]? The answer is, almost none; the letters, including Galatians, are silent on where Paul went after the conference and after the subsequent Antioch incident. Thus, when one considers that [B] creates more problems than it solves,8 it hardly qualifies as a default position. (Click on Option B? for a fuller discussion of the problematical status of [B].)

On the other hand, when one considers that Chronology [A] solves more problems than it creates (making better sense of the collection and of the retrospective texts in Galatians 2:2 and 2:5, and avoiding time compression or extension), it comes closer to qualifying as a default position. In spite of criticisms, no Titanic-size damage to [A] has been sustained. Exception has been taken to [A] on two counts: the silence in Galatians 1:21 on western founding missions before the conference, and the Barnabas question.

     Galatians 1:21. This text, taken together with the rest of Galatians 1:11Ė2:14, offers quite sufficient evidence to support Paulís argument for independence from Jerusalem. No reader imagines that Paul has not made his case; listing more places he had visited before returning to Jerusalem would be rhetorical over-kill. Paul demonstrates his distance from Jerusalem not only spatially or geographically (headed away from Jerusalem) but also temporally (only after fourteen years did he re-visit the city.9

     The Barnabas Question. Critics of chronology [A] offer an argument which would make Barnabas a traveling companion of Paul during his missionary travels:  (a) Since Paul and Barnabas were partners in the gentile mission until the Antioch episode, when Barnabas yielded to the Judaizers; but (b) since there is no convincing evidence that Barnabas was part of Paulís founding missions in Macedonia and Achaia; (c) hence these founding missions can not have been before the Jerusalem conference.10 The weak link of this argument is point (a): the letters do not justify the notion of a lengthy partnership between Paul and Barnabas, extending as long as the Antioch episode. The fact that the two met for the trip up to Jerusalem (Galatians 2:1) does not require that they had been laboring together for the previous fourteen years. The idea of such a lengthy association is of course based only upon Acts (11:25-30; 12:24Ė15:39). With the invalidation of its major premise, the whole argument is shown to be unfounded. Clearly chronology [A] is to be preferred.

In reviewing Paulís relationships with Antioch, we will first consider the period before the Jerusalem conference, then the conference itself, and finally the Antioch episode.

  6Martyn has of course not adopted all the details of chronology [B], but in the manner of Acts has elected to place all the great found missions after the Jerusalem conference.
  7Martyn 186 n. 244, an exception.
  8These problems may be summarized as follows:  an awkward view of the collection [click on Antioch and the Jerusalem Conference: Collection]; difficulties with retrospective texts such as Galatians 2:2 [mÍ pŰs eis kenon trechŰ Í edramon] and Galatians 2:5 [hina hÍ alÍtheia tou euangeliou diameinÍi pros hum‚s]; and excessive time compression or extension.
  9Martyn, by using an inclusive reckoning (in the interests of [B]) for the fourteen years, i.e. fourteen years after the call rather than fourteen years after the departure for Syria and Cilicia, diminishes the force of Paulís temporal argument.
  10See George Ogg, The Chronology of the Life of Paul (London: Epworth, 1968) 90, and others. Other critics argue that Paul could not have met Barnabas to travel to the Jerusalem conference (Galatians 2:1) if Paul was missionizing in the west; see D. Georgi, Remembering the Poor: The History of Paulís Collection for Jerusalem (Nashville: Abingdon, 1992) 129. On the contrary, one may suppose either (i) that Paul was not without ways of arranging to meet Barnabas in Antioch or some other place, or (ii) that Paul might have known that he could find Barnabas in Antioch if he went there.

Paul in Antioch, Before the Conference?

We have already noted that Prof. Martyn adopts a [B] chronology, accepting the view that the great Pauline foundations were all established following the Jerusalem conference. Martyn says that during the period of ten years or so before the conference Paul worked in tandem with Barnabas as an evangelist of Antioch, preaching the gospel to gentiles in Syria and Cilicia. If one wonders how the intensely independent Paul of the letters would be so closely tethered to Antioch for so long, Martyn answers with the theory of a kind of vocational development. At this early period, Paul understood his apostolate in terms of two foci: (1) He was sure of being called to the gentile mission by the resurrected Lord himself; and (2) he was conscious of being sent out on that mission by the Antioch church.11 Only later, after the incident at Antioch, did Paul become the lone-wolf evangelist, no longer supported or sponsored by a church such as Antioch.12 

Now the problem is that the letters provide little or no documentation of this view, Antioch being mentioned only once, and that in connection with the Antioch episode;13 Syria also is mentioned once, but only in connection with the apostleís next travel stops after Jerusalem. While the letters permit, they do not support, any kind of extended residence of Paul in Antioch or in her hypothetical daughter churches as an evangelist of Antioch.14 Likewise, there is only scant circumstantial evidence in the letters for his work with Barnabas in Antioch or elsewhere; click on Paul and Barnabas. One suspects that reminiscences of Acts (11:22-30; 12:24Ė13:3; 14:26-28) have consciously or unconsciously shaped Martynís thinking.

As for the notion of vocational development, it is unsupported by the letters, and appears to be a way of accommodating Paulís apostolate to the necessities of chronology [B].

More cautiously, as an alternative to Martynís proposal of an Antioch attachment, one might with equal or greater plausibility, employing a strictly letters-based methodology, suppose that Paul had visited and even spent time in Antioch, was known and welcomed by the believers there, was accepted as a supporter of the circumcision-free gentile mission, and was acknowledged as an apostle. We may also suppose that from time to time Paul was associated with Barnabas in the gentile mission, and that they both adopted a policy of self-support, but not that they necessarily worked together regularly; see 1 Corinthians 9:6, as well as Galatians 2:1, 9.15 This alternative has the advantage of rendering unnecessary any speculation about vocational development.

  11Martyn 179.
  12Martyn 17-18, 179.
  13One may suspect a case of begging the question in Martynís attempt to explain why the letters are mostly silent on Antioch: ďIt is, then, the later and deeply painful break with the church in Antioch (2:11-14) that explains Paulís silence about that church in his travelogue, and specifically his failing to mention his Antioch attachment at the outset of [Galatians] 1:21.Ē (183)  In this circular argument, the silence about the Antioch attachment is based upon the supposed break with Antioch, which in turn presupposes the Antioch attachment.
  14There is evidence of the influence here of chronology [B], in that the advocate of this chronology might be looking for some way to keep Paul occupied as an evangelist in the eastern provinces for the eleven or fourteen years between the first two Jerusalem visitsóand where else but at Antioch, and its daughter churches? This assigning of Paul to Syria-Cilicia is difficult to reconcile with his intention not to preach the gospel where Christ was already named (Romans 15:20). Indeed, Martynís preference for eleven (ten) years between the visits seems itself to be founded more upon the exigencies of [B] rather than upon the more natural sequential reading suggested by the series of epeitaís (Galatians 1:18, 21; 2:1). [B] creates too much time between Jerusalem visits one and two, and allows too little time between visits two and three. What Jerome Murphy-OíConnor wrote of A. Suhlís Acts-based chronology might well apply to Martynís: ď. . . [He has] divided Paulís life into a period of implausible idleness followed by a period of incredible activity . . . Ē (ďPauline Missions Before the Jerusalem Conference,Ē Revue Biblique 89 [1982] 73).
  15For further details, click on Paul and Barnabas.


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