Skip to main content

Galatians 2:11-14: The circumcision group

11 When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain people 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. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.
14 When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, "You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs? (TNIV)
There's an important issue that we need to wrestle with in this passage, and it's the question of whether or not the people from James and the circumcision group are the same group. I am not inclined to think that they are. The ensuing discussion is drawn from Longenecker's commentary pp 73-5.

In verse 12, we are told of Peter's fear of 'the circumcision group.' There are three main options for who this 'circumcision group' is. They could be (1) Jewish Christians who claim that circumcision is necessary for Gentiles, they could be (2) Jewish Christians generally, or they could be (3) Jews generally. The Greek behind 'circumcision group' more literally is 'the circumcised ones.' The TNIV's wording shows that its team of translators opted for number 1. Longenecker, however, has convinced me that option 3 is actually the best choice.

There are two major reasons that he gives that I think together are somewhat decisive. One, is that when Paul uses the term 'circumcised' in the prior section, he's referring to Jews generally. This is in keeping with Paul's typical usage of this term. Second is that there seems to be no conceivable reason for Peter to fear a group of Jews when he was one of the leaders of the Jewish church and had been open in fraternization with Gentiles (see Acts 11).

On the other hand, we can suggest a plausible reason why there may be fear of the Jews at large. In the 40s and 50s there was a 'rising tide of Jewish nationalism in Palestine and its growing antagonism towards any Jew who had Gentile sympathies or who associated with Gentile sympathizers' (p. 74). To take Longenecker's point and run with it, it's very possible that Jews back in Jerusalem were getting increasingly intolerant with the Jerusalem church (remember, Christians were probably still involved in synagogues and the temple at this time). This meant that the mission to the circumcised was probably getting more difficult (as Longenecker points out) and it may be that there was growing persecution. Thus the church in Jerusalem and subsequently the Jewish Christians in Antioch may have taken a pragmatic approach for the time being. They knew that Gentiles didn't have to become circumcised, but for the sake of the gospel mission, and/or out of love for believers in Jerusalem, they may have pushed for Gentiles to follow Jewish dietary laws and get circumcised even though they knew that it wasn't required in an absolute sense. This seems to me to be the type of extenuating circumstance that could lead Peter to act against his earlier agreement (and act against what he believed as the term hypocrisy suggests he did).

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Exploring the Christian Way of Life - The Identity of Jesus - Church History (Pre-Reformation) - Aquinas and Conclusion

When we reach Aquinas we come to the pinnacle of orthodoxy when it comes to the Trinity and Christology. Christology was important to Aquinas and he dedicated the first fifty-nine questions of Tertia Pars of his Summa Theologiae[1] to the topic. In many ways it is refreshing because he does not treat solely the more philosophical questions of who Jesus was that preoccupied theologians from the third century on. He also spent extended time on Jesus earthly ministry, death, resurrection, ascension, and glorification which was a major innovation.[2] Of course every possible topic of Trinitarian and ontological speculation is also probed. For the sake of space we will only hit some highlights.

Aquinas is clearly in step with the tradition that can be traced from Nicea, through Augustine and the Lombard, to the heart of the Middle Ages. One thing to briefly note is that even in his densest argumentation, Aquinas was not trying to prove elements of his theology via rational argument as that…

Exploring the Christian Way of Life - The Identity of Jesus - Church History (Pre-Reformation) - Irenaeus

Starting from Irenaeus, Christology, in some respects, moves on. A big part of this would have been due to the “gnostic” controversies. It became increasingly important to clarify the relationship between Father and Son and to minimize their distinctiveness, while still maintaining Jesus’ full humanity. From this point on, clashes over heresy about the nature of Christ and discussions related to Trinitarian theology dominate Christological discussion to the point that the original emphasis on Jesus’ Messianic identity fades to the background.[1] Maintaining the affirmation that Jesus was both human and divine was critical for Irenaeus and those after him because they saw that as the necessary grounds of salvation.[2]

Of particular interest to Irenaeus was the baptism of Jesus. What happened when he received the Spirit?[3] It was not the means by which the Word entered Jesus. He was not merely human before that point.[4] Rather it was a divinization of the human nature of Jesus, a nat…

End of Summer Review/Update

The school year is now upon us and I'll definitely not be posting the next two months. This summer didn't quite go to plan so I didn't get to do the blogging I was hoping to do. Specifically I was planning on blogging through 2 Thessalonians, but that didn't happen. It may happen late in the fall, but we will see. I may instead decide to pick up a different Pauline letter (perhaps 2 Corinthians). This is my last year of school  and by the fall of next year I should be back on a more regular blogging schedule.

A lack of blogging was not from a lack of productivity (although I'm sure my Pokemon Go playing did cut into my reading time a little bit). I've had a interesting summer learning about Medieval Christianity and specifically focusing on Peter Lombard and Thomas Aqunias. They'll both be featured in my next paper in Exploring the Christian Way which I hope to publish here in late January of 2017. 90% of the reading and 80% of the writing is done for that …