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The background to Galatians

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  • Richard Fellows
    The Judean church leaders wrote a letter affirming Gentile liberty (Acts 15:19-29). Paul delivered this letter to the south Galatian churches and
    Message 1 of 25 , Jun 15, 2009
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      The Judean church leaders wrote a letter affirming Gentile liberty
      (Acts 15:19-29). Paul delivered this letter to the south Galatian
      churches and simultaneously circumcised Timothy (Acts 16:3-4). I
      suggest that this made the Galatian believers confused about what Paul
      actually believed and that Paul's letter to them is his response to
      this confusion. Paul circumcised Timothy to help him gain an audience
      with Jews, but Paul could not explain that that was his motive, for
      the Jews whom he hoped to bring to Christ would not have responded
      favorably. At some point after Paul left Galatia some there said,
      "Paul circumcised Timothy, so he must believe in circumcision, so it's
      OK for other Gentile believers to be circumcised. It is true that he
      preached Gentile liberty, but he must have done so only to please the
      Jerusalem church leaders who had written that letter. The real Paul
      believes in circumcision."

      These rumors in Galatia explain the letter:

      5:11 reads, "why am I still being persecuted if I am still preaching
      circumcision?". The believers thought Paul supported circumcision.
      Does the second "still" (ETI) in this verse indicate that Paul is
      admitting here that he had recommended circumcision to Timothy?

      6:17 reads, "From now on, let no one make trouble for me; for I carry
      the marks of Jesus branded on my body". Paul is saying here, "Let no-
      one question my commitment, for I have the wounds to prove it".
      Chrysostom understood this: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/23106.htm

      5:2 reads, "Listen, I ,Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves
      be circumcised, Christ will be on no benefit to you." This is a strong
      statement. Here Paul over-states his position to correct the rumor
      that he believed in circumcision. Paul writes, "I, Paul" to make it
      clear that these are his own beliefs: he is not writing these things
      to please the Jerusalem church leaders. With the "I, Paul" he detaches
      himself from Silas and other Jerusalem church leaders, just as he
      detaches himself from Timothy with the "I, Paul" in 2 Cor 10:1.

      5:10 says, "But whoever it is that is confusing (TARASSWN) you will
      pay the penalty". 5:11 shows that the confusion was the rumor that
      Paul supported circumcision. The same word appears in 1:7, "there are
      some who are confusing you". 1:8 read, "But even if we or an angel
      from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we
      proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed!". Paul, then, is here
      refuting the view that he had endorsed circumcision. The charge that
      he supported circumcision therefore lies behind 1:8-9 as well as 5:11.

      1:8-9 in turn provides the background to 1:10-24, where Paul explains
      (overstates?) that he was not an underling of the Jerusalem church
      leaders. He does this to refute the view that he preached Gentile
      liberty with the sole purpose of pleasing them. He makes it clear that
      he had preached his gospel even before he had had much contact with
      the Jerusalem leaders. Paul does this to prove that his preaching was
      not done out of obedience to the Jerusalem leaders.

      Gal 2:6 reads, "And from those who were supposed to be acknowledged
      leaders (what they actually were makes no difference to me: God shows
      no partiality)". Paul here asserts again that he was not an underling
      of the apostles: his preaching and writing derived from the
      revelation that he had received from God, and were not done
      insincerely to please the Jerusalem apostles.

      In Gal 2:11-14 Paul selects an incident that must have been very
      atypical, since Acts and Gal 2:1-10 indicate that Paul and Peter were
      in agreement that Gentile liberty was important. Paul here asserts his
      own commitment to the cause of Gentile liberty: he opposed Peter "to
      his face" and "before them all", and he stood alone even after the
      other Jews fell away. Paul stresses here that his commitment to
      Gentile liberty is sincere. He had taken a stand against Peter himself
      on this very issue. He selects this incident because it shows that his
      support for Gentile liberty was not motived by a desire to please Peter.

      This understanding of Galatians seems to reconcile the letter with Acts.

      Does this work?

      Richard Fellows
      Vancouver.


      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
    • Kenneth Litwak
      Richard,    That s an interesting idea, but I m not quite convinced.  I see no way that Gal 2:1-10 and Acts 15 could refer to the same event.  Rather, I am
      Message 2 of 25 , Jun 24, 2009
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        Richard,

           That's an interesting idea, but I'm not quite convinced.  I see no way that Gal 2:1-10 and Acts 15 could refer to the same event.  Rather, I am in the company of those who think that Galatians was written before the events in Acts 15.  Otherwise, it would be clear to Gentiles that, no matter what Paul did with Timothy, they did not need to keep the Law.  I would quickly add that those who take the view that Paul's autobiographical info is von Rankean history, wie es eigentlich gewesen, have adopted an invalid view of how history is written, no matter who wrote it.  To assume that Luke was stupid or invented the story out of thin air and that Paul's account must refer to the same encounter is gratuitous and disingenuous at the very least.  I don't see any way to match Galatians 2 with Acts 15.  Galatians 2 must recount a previous event, IMHO. 

        Ken Litwak

        --- On Mon, 6/15/09, Richard Fellows <rfellows@...> wrote:

        From: Richard Fellows <rfellows@...>
        Subject: [XTalk] The background to Galatians
        To: crosstalk2@yahoogroups.com
        Date: Monday, June 15, 2009, 9:19 PM

















        The Judean church leaders wrote a letter affirming Gentile liberty

        (Acts 15:19-29). Paul delivered this letter to the south Galatian

        churches and simultaneously circumcised Timothy (Acts 16:3-4). I

        suggest that this made the Galatian believers confused about what Paul

        actually believed and that Paul's letter to them is his response to

        this confusion. Paul circumcised Timothy to help him gain an audience

        with Jews, but Paul could not explain that that was his motive, for

        the Jews whom he hoped to bring to Christ would not have responded

        favorably. At some point after Paul left Galatia some there said,

        "Paul circumcised Timothy, so he must believe in circumcision, so it's

        OK for other Gentile believers to be circumcised. It is true that he

        preached Gentile liberty, but he must have done so only to please the

        Jerusalem church leaders who had written that letter. The real Paul

        believes in circumcision. "



        These rumors in Galatia explain the letter:



        5:11 reads, "why am I still being persecuted if I am still preaching

        circumcision? ". The believers thought Paul supported circumcision.

        Does the second "still" (ETI) in this verse indicate that Paul is

        admitting here that he had recommended circumcision to Timothy?



        6:17 reads, "From now on, let no one make trouble for me; for I carry

        the marks of Jesus branded on my body". Paul is saying here, "Let no-

        one question my commitment, for I have the wounds to prove it".

        Chrysostom understood this: http://www.newadven t.org/fathers/ 23106.htm



        5:2 reads, "Listen, I ,Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves

        be circumcised, Christ will be on no benefit to you." This is a strong

        statement. Here Paul over-states his position to correct the rumor

        that he believed in circumcision. Paul writes, "I, Paul" to make it

        clear that these are his own beliefs: he is not writing these things

        to please the Jerusalem church leaders. With the "I, Paul" he detaches

        himself from Silas and other Jerusalem church leaders, just as he

        detaches himself from Timothy with the "I, Paul" in 2 Cor 10:1.



        5:10 says, "But whoever it is that is confusing (TARASSWN) you will

        pay the penalty". 5:11 shows that the confusion was the rumor that

        Paul supported circumcision. The same word appears in 1:7, "there are

        some who are confusing you". 1:8 read, "But even if we or an angel

        from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we

        proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed!". Paul, then, is here

        refuting the view that he had endorsed circumcision. The charge that

        he supported circumcision therefore lies behind 1:8-9 as well as 5:11.



        1:8-9 in turn provides the background to 1:10-24, where Paul explains

        (overstates? ) that he was not an underling of the Jerusalem church

        leaders. He does this to refute the view that he preached Gentile

        liberty with the sole purpose of pleasing them. He makes it clear that

        he had preached his gospel even before he had had much contact with

        the Jerusalem leaders. Paul does this to prove that his preaching was

        not done out of obedience to the Jerusalem leaders.



        Gal 2:6 reads, "And from those who were supposed to be acknowledged

        leaders (what they actually were makes no difference to me: God shows

        no partiality)" . Paul here asserts again that he was not an underling

        of the apostles: his preaching and writing derived from the

        revelation that he had received from God, and were not done

        insincerely to please the Jerusalem apostles.



        In Gal 2:11-14 Paul selects an incident that must have been very

        atypical, since Acts and Gal 2:1-10 indicate that Paul and Peter were

        in agreement that Gentile liberty was important. Paul here asserts his

        own commitment to the cause of Gentile liberty: he opposed Peter "to

        his face" and "before them all", and he stood alone even after the

        other Jews fell away. Paul stresses here that his commitment to

        Gentile liberty is sincere. He had taken a stand against Peter himself

        on this very issue. He selects this incident because it shows that his

        support for Gentile liberty was not motived by a desire to please Peter.



        This understanding of Galatians seems to reconcile the letter with Acts.



        Does this work?



        Richard Fellows

        Vancouver.



        [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]































        [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
      • Richard Fellows
        Thanks, Ken, I agree with much of what you write. Also, I take Acts to be historical, and it is precisely for that reason that I equate Gal 2 with Acts 15
        Message 3 of 25 , Jul 23, 2009
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          Thanks, Ken,

          I agree with much of what you write. Also, I take Acts to be historical, and it is precisely for that reason that I equate Gal 2 with Acts 15 (see, for example, my recent email on chronology).

          You assume (I think) that the outcome of the Acts 15 meeting would have prevented the circumcision issue from arising in (south) Galatia. But is this really a safe assumption? Following the delivery of the decree the south Galatians would know that the Judean church leaders did not support circumcision, but why must we assume that the authority of the Judean church leaders held sway in south Galatia? The decree does not make its case by appealing to any words of Jesus, so the agitators in Galatia would surely wish to question its validity. Peter, James, and the elders had never been to Galatia, so why should the Galatians accept their authority as absolute?

          The scenario may have been something like this:
          1. The decree was delivered to south Galatia
          2. The agitators argued, "The doctrine of Gentile liberty is a mistaken inference from a single vision of Peter (whom you do not recognize). Paul (your 'father') circumcised Timothy so he actually supports circumcision, so you should be circumcised too. Paul's verbal support for Gentile liberty was just to please Peter and the others, so it does not represent an independent second witness to the will of God.
          3. Paul wrote the letter in response, arguing that his revelation was independent; that he was no underling of Peter and the others on this issue; and that they should not believe the rumor that he supports circumcision.

          Ken, does this answer your objection to equating Gal 2 with Acts 15? Do you see any other difficulties with the equation, or indeed with my reconstruction of the background to the letter?

          I have made my proposal available on the web here:

          http://members.shaw.ca/rfellows/Site/T-T_Galatians_background.html

          Richard Fellows
          Vancouver.

          ----- Original Message -----
          From: Kenneth Litwak <javajedi2@...>
          Date: Wednesday, July 22, 2009 3:22 pm
          Subject: Re: [XTalk] The background to Galatians
          To: crosstalk2@yahoogroups.com

          > Richard,
          >
          >    That's an interesting idea, but I'm not quite convinced.  I
          > see no way that Gal 2:1-10 and Acts 15 could refer to the same
          > event.  Rather, I am in the company of those who think that
          > Galatians was written before the events in Acts 15.  Otherwise,
          > it would be clear to Gentiles that, no matter what Paul did with
          > Timothy, they did not need to keep the Law.  I would quickly add
          > that those who take the view that Paul's autobiographical info
          > is von Rankean history, wie es eigentlich gewesen, have adopted
          > an invalid view of how history is written, no matter who wrote
          > it.  To assume that Luke was stupid or invented the story out of
          > thin air and that Paul's account must refer to the same
          > encounter is gratuitous and disingenuous at the very least.  I
          > don't see any way to match Galatians 2 with Acts 15.  Galatians
          > 2 must recount a previous event, IMHO. 
          >
          > Ken Litwak


          [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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