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Paul and Antioch (2)

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Antioch and the Jerusalem Conference

Martyn’s discussion of the Jerusalem conference continues the theme of Paul’s Antioch attachment. He maintains:


That the conference was in effect a meeting of two churches, Antioch representing the cause of the gentile mission, and Jerusalem the interests of the Jewish Christians;


That in giving approval to the dual mission strategy the conference was recognizing and affirming Antioch’s leading position in the gentile mission; and


That when the pillars (Cephas, James and John) proposed a collection for the needs of the Jerusalem poor they had Antioch in mind as the benefactor, and that Antioch soon began to meet this obligation, initially under Paul’s leadership.16

  16Martyn 204-6, 222-8.

But there are problems with Prof. Martyn’s reconstruction. How can the conference be a meeting between two churches, Jerusalem and Antioch, when Antioch is not even mentioned?

Further, for Prof. Martyn’s case to be convincing, it requires at least two assumptions, i.e. Paul’s Antioch attachment, and the adoption of chronology [B]. If these two assumptions are unfounded, as we have earlier shown them to be, then Martyn’s case becomes at best speculative.

Again, on the matter of the collection, is there not a curious disconnect between Martyn’s idea of what was intended, i.e. regular gifts from Antioch for Jerusalem—for which documentation is lacking; and that which actually happened, i.e. Paul’s collection gathered from his missionary foundations—well documented but seemingly rather unmotivated, given Martyn’s hypothesis?

For all these reasons, it seems prudent to put aside entirely the notion of Paul as an agent of Antioch at the conference. For myself, it is more plausible to bring chronology [A] into play, giving consideration to the possibility of pre-conference founding missions to the west. The Jerusalem conference is then seen as a meeting of apostolic peers, not of two churches. On this reading, the purpose of the conference was not to solve the problems of the mixed community at Antioch, but, as Paul implicitly acknowledges, to gain recognition by Jerusalem of already existing gentile Christian communities in the west which had been founded by Paul on the basis of a circumcision-free gospel. In this way, Paul hoped to avoid the creation of two churches with two gospels. Against this background, the text about running or having run in vain (Galatians 2:2) takes on appropriate significance: as Paul heads up to Jerusalem the recognition of his missionary foundations is of great urgency. Likewise, the approval of the dual mission assures the continuation of the truth of the gospel for the Galatian believers [pros humâs], Galatians 2:5.

As for the collection, on this alternative reading, Paul’s own collection—the only collection that the letters know—is understood as his fulfilment of the terms of the Jerusalem agreement, rather than as an unmotivated afterthought. On the basis of chronology [A] we have a scenario in which Paul begins work on the collection soon after the conference; the intended benefactors are churches already founded by Paul before the conference (probably Galatia, Macedonia and Achaia); and Paul brings the fruits of his efforts to Jerusalem within a tolerable span of some three to four years. (Attempts to document multiple collections on the basis of the present subjunctive mnêmoneuômen in Galatians 2:10 are inconclusive.17)

  17A preliminary survey of ancient texts suggests that the present is the tense of choice for the verb mnêmoneuein (in Crane, Gregory R. [ed.] The Perseus Project,, March, 2000). The verb occurs 245 times, of which 191 are in the present tense (aorist, 31; other tenses, 23). Apart from the indicative (present tense, 102; aorist, 15), the other moods account for 89 in the present and 16 in the aorist. The aorist is used mostly for recollection, or bringing something back into the conscious mind (Hyperides, Speeches 6.4). The preference for the present tense (Demosthenes, Speeches 20.167) seems to be related to the phenomenon of memory itself, which presupposes the continuity which we associate with the present aktionsart. Perhaps related to this dominance of the present over the aorist is an occasional blurring of the present and the aorist (Herodotus, Histories 1.36.3; Plato, Letters 2.314b; Plato, Theaetetus 191d). One may provisionally conclude that the present would normally be used unless some special point was being emphasized, and that the attempt to coax biographical information out of the mnêmoneuômen in Galatians 2:10 (Martyn 206-7) is not supported by common usage. In the Galatians context the pillars are simply requesting that Paul and Barnabas not forget the needs of the poor, and take appropriate action. The use of the aorist here would be unusual and pointless. The tense of mnêmoneuômen specifies not the number of gifts but the kind of remembering.

The Antioch Episode

We now turn to a discussion of the confrontation between Paul and Cephas at Antioch (Galatians 2:11-14). It resulted in a political defeat for Paul, says Prof. Martyn. He notes three consequences of that defeat: 


A break with Antioch, which he can describe as a “shocking divorce from the Antioch church;


A break with Barnabas; and


Paul’s recovery of his apostolic vocation and the beginning of his independent mission to the west.18

Concerning Paul’s break with Antioch, that suggestion is persuasive only if we assume his long term attachment to Antioch, an assumption which we have already had reason to question. On his break with Barnabas, that view assumes an earlier long-term association between the two, which is by no means demonstrable.19 On the recovery of his apostolic vocation, and the beginning of his “lone-wolf” excursions to the west, I have already characterized this interpretation as an accommodation to the requirements of chronology [B].20  

  18Martyn 17-18, 240.
  19The characterization as a “break” does not give sufficient weight to Paul’s favorable enough view of Barnabas in 1 Corinthians 9:6 (Martyn 217 curiously represents Paul as “essentially estranged from Barnabas” when writing Galatians, but not when writing 1 Corinthians).
  20This might also be characterized as an example of the post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy; as if the rooster’s crowing causes the sun to rise.

As for the main proposition, that the Antioch episode was a political defeat for Paul, I would urge that the situation was quite a bit more complex than Martyn represents. If we are to do justice to the nuances of the occasion, we need to recognize that there were several different persons or groups involved, and that the outcomes varied. Some preliminary comments are in order before we make a detailed damage assessment.

     1) If the Jerusalem meeting was intended not to solve the problems of a mixed community like Antioch but to consider the status of Paul’s gentile mission foundations (as I have earlier suggested, on the basis of chronology [A]), we should not be surprised that the provisions of the agreement did not address the question of inter-dining. The dual mission program could be seen, and probably was seen by some, as justifying separatism as well as inclusiveness at the common (or not-so-common) meal. When Paul came to defend inter-dining, it was not on the basis of the dual mission strategy but rather on the basis of a theological postulate, believing in Christ Jesus (Galatians 2:14-15). Whether the bitter confrontation at Antioch could have been foreseen and avoided is uncertain; foreseen, perhaps; avoided (by the Jerusalem deliberations), hardly.

     2) The episode revealed how deep the chasm still was between the “rigorists,” representing James (Galatians 2:12),21 and the “progressives,” including Paul and his sympathizers. It is reasonable to suppose that the rigorists, having suffered a setback at Jerusalem when the gentile law-free mission was given recognition, would maintain that the dual mission allowed no room for fuzzy accommodationists like Cephas to blur the distinctions between Jew and gentile; i.e., “dual” meant “distinct.” Progressives would be opposed to the barriers of legal observance as destructive of the truth of the gospel; i.e. “mission” meant “inclusiveness.”

     3) Given this polarization, as well as the failure of Jerusalem to have offered ground rules for inter-dining, we would not expect the principled speech of Paul (Galatians 2:14-15) to have restored the one table to Antioch. The issue at Antioch was the problem of inter-dining, not Paul’s gospel or the future of the gentile mission.

  21It is plausible that the views of the “men from James” (tines apo Iakôbou) reflected the position of James himself.

Damage Assessment

As we sift through the debris and observe how the various persons and parties fared in the disputation, we will see that the news for the most part was not good.

     1) Cephas faced difficult choices, and for him the results of the incident were mixed. His interests were with the Jewish mission (Galatians 2:7-9), at the same time that he probably appreciated the importance of the gentile mission. Had it not been for the arrival of the rigorists, he would likely have continued to tolerate a certain amount of inconsistency, by sharing meals with gentiles and to a modest degree living like a gentile (Galatians 2:14, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew . . . ”). By withdrawing from the common table, he was exposed as unsupportive of gentile members, putting pressure upon them to adopt Jewish ways (anagkazein Ioudaizein, Galatians 2:14); i.e. his action imposed constraints on the gentiles to conform to the food requirements of Torah as a condition of admission to the Jewish table.22

     2) For Barnabas, things were difficult too, but for different reasons. If Cephas represented the Jewish mission, Barnabas was supposedly a champion of the gentile mission. His position would have been more consistent had he held his place at the non-observant table. So where did he go wrong? Was he somehow convinced by the rigorists that the Jerusalem agreement required Jewish-Christians like himself to be Torah-observant? Was he trying to keep lines with the synagogue open? Did he have good pastoral reasons for joining the Jewish table? It is difficult to know. Paul with some justification recognizes that Barnabas’ rôle in the gentile mission is seriously diminished: if he is unwilling to eat with gentiles, how can he realistically hope to make much headway in a gentile mission? His reputed leadership in the gentile mission is thus not much more than play acting, Paul seems to be saying. Once Barnabas had stepped over the line to side with the rigorists, he would have discredited himself as an advocate of progressive inclusiveness: his actions were speaking louder than any thing he might have said in support of the one table.

     3) For the rigorists, the trip down from Jerusalem will have seemed worthwhile. They had preserved kashrut for Jewish members of the Antioch congregation (or at least had made it possible for observant Jewish Christians to feel secure). They had extended the sway of the Jacobite caliphate, and perhaps felt that they had settled a score with Paul, if we suppose with Martyn that they had made common cause with the pseudadelphoi (false brothers) of Galatians 2:4.23 They now held almost all the cards; of the principals at the Jerusalem conference, they had successfully maneuvered Cephas and Barnabas to their side, so that it was now James, Cephas and Barnabas against Paul.24

     4) For members of the Antioch community, whether Jewish or gentile, there was little to cheer about. Inter-dining had been halted. The Jewish members, along with Cephas and Barnabas, sided with the rigorists, seemingly hesitant to cut themselves off from the Jewish mission and from the synagogue. Thus they were able to affirm their Jewish identity, but at the cost of unity within the community. The gentile members may well have sided with Paul, whom they properly saw as the sole major player left to champion the gentile mission, and it is certainly conceivable that they rallied behind him.25 Without our having to decide the outcome for the gentile believers, it seems that inter-dining was lost at Antioch, and the loss will have grieved those at both tables whose inclinations were inclusive.

  22Whether Cephas’ action exerted subtle pressure upon gentile members to convert to Judaism is less certain; the answer to that question may depend on the extent to which Jews at this time, and Jewish Christians in particular, were permitted to eat meals with gentiles. See E. P. Sanders’ “Jewish Association with Gentiles and Galatians 2:11-14,” in The Conversation Continues: Studies in Paul and John: In Honor of J. Louis Martyn, ed. Robert T. Fortna and Beverly R. Gaventa (Nashville: Abingdon, 1990) 170-88.
  23Martyn 195, 218.
  24The rigorist victory, if we may use the term, would have been a Pyrrhic one, hardly outlasting the life of James, and the flight to Pella, not to mention the eventual expulsion of Christians from the synagogue. In all fairness to the rigorists, they faced the daunting task of conserving the old wineskins of their precious Jewish heritage, at the same time that they were tasting the new wine of the Christian life.
  25Alternatively, some Gentile Christians at Antioch, who did not want to be separated by food laws from their Jewish brethren, may have made common cause with them, adopting Jewish ways and perhaps even becoming proselytes.

Looking back at the damage assessment thus far, we may contemplate the very real possibility that Paul faced all the other parties to the dispute as the sole advocate of the gentile mission, together with any of the gentiles who might have sided with him. How then did he fare?

     5) The situation which Paul faced may be clarified as follows. On the one hand, we see a certain distance or detachment from the Antioch scene, as the following considerations indicate.


Antioch was not his mission field. He had not founded Antioch, nor was its character as a mixed community typical of his mission churches. We would not expect Paul to have spent much time in Antioch preaching the gospel where it had already been heard (Romans 15:20).


The common table in Antioch, though supported by Paul, was not necessarily initiated by Paul, nor was it the centerpiece of his apostolate. His primary concern was his gospel and the progress of the gentile law-free mission. That a common table was of the bene esse for Paul, not the esse, is suggested by his professed flexibility in being “all things to all people” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). If Paul championed the common table in Galatians 2:11-14, it was to maintain for his gentile readers in Galatia (and in his other gentile foundations) the principle of a law-free gospel (Galatians 2:5).

On the other hand, Paul evidently felt that he had a stake in the inter-dining question, even if Antioch as a mixed congregation was a special case and not typical of the essentially gentile congregations which he had established. If he was something of an innocent by-stander, he was also something of a “whistle-blower,” ready to resist any encroachment upon the freedom of gentile believers (Galatians 5:1, 13), wherever they were.

So how did it turn out for Paul?

It is doubtful whether for the short term Paul succeeded in restoring inter-dining at Antioch (unless Cephas changed his mind again and resumed eating with the gentiles!).


If the end of a single non-observant table was a loss for Antioch believers, Paul in sympathy with them would have felt the loss too.


Paul may have succeeded in holding the line for the gentile believers in Antioch against efforts to bring them into compliance with dietary regulations being observed at the Jewish table.


The integrity of Paul’s gentile mission was unchallenged. Of the parties to the disputation, only two—the rigorists, and Paul—came out with their positions uncompromised.

Concluding Summary

Several observations now follow, by way of summary:

     1) The use of chronology [B], in combination with material from Acts, simply will not work for Martyn.26 There are too many exegetical close calls, too many gratuitous assumptions:


There is silence in the letters about Paul’s Antioch attachment;


The letters do not support an interpretation of the Jerusalem conference as a meeting of two churches;


The letters do not show Paul and Barnabas to be delegates of Antioch;


The letters do not support the theory of a compromised apostleship; and


The notion of multiple and continuing collections is not founded on letters evidence.27

     2) With chronology [A] as a working (and more adequate) alternative, the figure of Paul the independent apostle emerges:


We see Paul, productive as a “lone-wolf” apostle in his earlier as in his later years, and active primarily in founding churches in Galatia, Macedonia and Achaia during precisely the period when Martyn would have him attached to Antioch;


We see him bringing these accomplishments to the Jerusalem conference as supporting evidence that God was already working through his apostolate to the gentiles (Galatians 2:7-9; note the three-fold affirmation); and 


We see him accepting the proposal that he bring an offering from these gentile foundations to relieve the poor in Jerusalem.

     3) A more nuanced analysis of the Antioch episode will seek to do justice to the considerable complexity of the situation. When we reckon up the gains and losses in this unhappy confrontation, we have a rather mixed result. Inter-dining, for the time being, is lost; but the incident is more a defeat for Antioch than for Paul. The gentile mission of Paul continues, and flourishes.

  26Even if one adopts a [B] chronology without resorting to Acts (click on Chart [B]), there are still problems to be faced. A [B] chronology provides for a fourteen year period spent in Syria and Cilicia between Jerusalem visits #1 and #2, and the period between visits #2 and #3 requires some eight to twelve years. But the latter period is probably too long an interval for the completion of the promised collection for Jerusalem—Paul claims that he has made haste to do it, Galatians 2:10; while Syria and Cilicia seems a somewhat limited area for his apostolic labors during the earlier thirteen or fourteen year period.
  27The hypothesis of a second (lost) Galatian letter (Martyn 29-30) is also speculative.


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