The Jewish Paul: A Running Commentary on Galatians (Part 2)

As I indicated in the previous blog, this running commentary on Galatians is designed to demonstrate that Paul remained an observant Jew throughout his life. He neither advocated the abandonment of Judaism or Torah for himself nor for any Jew, whether they believed that Jesus was the Messiah or not. When we left off, Paul had laid out his Jewish credentials and described his call to mission to his pagan converts in the Roman province of Galatia. He hinted that there was someone in Galatia preaching a “different gospel” from his. What that alternative gospel was, he hasn’t yet said. He has been more focused on validating his gospel as the result of divine revelation. We resume our commentary at 2:1 with Paul describing his interactions with the founding apostles of Jerusalem over the nature of Gentile membership in the Kingdom of God.

2:2 Then after fourteen years I went up to Jerusalem again with Barnabas [identified in Acts 4:36 as a Hellenist Jew], taking Titus [identified below as a Christ-believing Gentile] along too. 2 I went there because of a revelation [additional evidence that Paul was a mystic] and presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles [re-read this; his is one form of gospel; it is the one he preaches to Gentiles. It is not one that is preached (by others) to Jews. Thus, there are, as Paul will admit again below, multiple, valid gospels or “good news” messages]. But I did so only in a private meeting with the influential people, to make sure that I was not running—or had not run—in vain [now Paul seems to want apostolic – human – validation for his mission and gospel]. 3 Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, although he was a Greek [Paul wants to imply that the main topic of the meeting was whether or not Gentile believers in Christ should be circumcised. However, it remains unclear whether the subject of Gentile redemption from sin without circumcision was raised although such a claim became a hallmark of Paul’s gospel. That Titus was not required to be circumcised was hardly novel – many Gentiles attended Jewish synagogues in the Greco-Roman world without having to be circumcised. It did not imply that attending Gentiles were redeemed from their sins. How the “influential people” regarded uncircumcised Gentiles when it came to entering the Kingdom of God is left unsaid by Paul.]. 4 Now this matter arose because of the false brothers with false pretenses who slipped in unnoticed to spy on our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, to make us slaves [We cannot tell whether the “false brothers” were simply Jews or Christ-believing Jews. Paul says that “this matter” arose – is it the matter of Titus’s circumcision or Gentile circumcision as a whole? And if the “false brothers” insisted on circumcision for Gentiles, then to what end? If it is redemption from sin, then the “false brothers” are likely saying what was obvious to most Jews: if a Gentile male wanted to be in right standing with the God of Israel, he must be circumcised, that is, become Jewish and obey the law. There is no indication here that Paul argued for righteousness for Gentiles absent circumcision. He only says that Titus was not required to be circumcised. What “freedom” did Paul and his people have in Christ that was being threatened by the false brothers? Freedom for Gentiles to join in Christ-believing Jewish gatherings? Neither the freedom to enter the kingdom or freedom from sin is mentioned as part of the argument. And what is the “slavery” that Paul insists the false brothers want to shackle them with? Is it the freedom of Jews and Gentiles to associate together in communion? Paul speaks elsewhere of Gentile slavery to sin (Rom. 7:14). If this is what he means here, then he is saying in the letter that his gospel redeems Gentiles from sin without circumcision. But he is not presenting that as the argument made at the meeting. Yet Paul deftly places this gospel idea alongside the “false brothers’” insistence on Gentile circumcision without ever connecting the two. In any event, Paul is not saying that by getting circumcised and converting to Judaism Gentiles become slaves to Torah.] 5 But we did not surrender to them even for a moment, in order that the truth of the gospel would remain with you [Surrender what? By portraying this meeting as a single-topic discussion – whether Gentiles must be circumcised or not – Paul is using the event to support his battle with the opposing teachers in Galatia who advocate circumcision for salvation. Unfortunately for us, he nowhere specifies what impact the false brothers’ insistence on circumcision had on his “truth of the gospel.”].

2:6 But from those who were influential (whatever they were makes no difference to me; God shows no favoritism between people)—those influential leaders added nothing to my message [The troubling part of this statement is that Paul does not say what message he conveyed at the meeting. His readers in Galatia may have picked up on that as well. What might the “influential leaders” have added to Paul’s message: circumcision? There is no evidence that first-century Jews actively went about preaching to Gentiles that they needed to be circumcised. By weaving a tapestry of half-statements, Paul is implying to the Galatians that the Jerusalem apostles agreed with him that Gentiles did not have to become circumcised to be made righteous. But whether that was ever discussed is left unsaid. These are gaping holes in the report of the content of this most important meeting, holes that we cannot fill.]. 7 On the contrary, when they saw that I was entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised just as Peter was entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised [This is clearly a reference to two different gospels. Whether or not Paul entertained the idea of two paths to salvation as some claim today, he certainly understood that the impact of the arrival of Messiah Jesus would be different for Jews as opposed to Gentiles. A gospel to Jews, for example, did not need to teach that a crucified messiah was essential for atonement for sin – the Torah had always provided the means for Jews to atone for sin. And Jews did not have to be told anything about circumcision – their eight-day-old boys would continue to be circumcised as required by Torah. Paul’s gospel to the Gentiles, on the other hand, would need to include teachings on both of these issues as they impacted Gentiles.] 8 (for he who empowered Peter for his apostleship to the circumcised also empowered me for my apostleship to the Gentiles [Paul validates both gospel messages as deriving from God]) 9 and when James, Cephas, and John, who had a reputation as pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we would go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised [This is only a mission division; it says nothing about the Jerusalem apostles validating Paul’s message of righteousness absent circumcision. The best we can tell from this report is that, according to Paul, the apostles did not require Gentiles to be circumcised. What that meant in terms of the equal status of uncircumcised Gentiles and Jews vis a vis the Kingdom of God is not addressed]. 10 They requested only that we remember the poor, the very thing I also was eager to do [Paul remembered the Jerusalem church by collecting donations for them from his Gentile converts].

2:11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he had clearly done wrong. 12 Until certain people came from James, he had been eating with the Gentiles [“Eating with” is the focus of the dispute, not what they ate.]. But when they arrived, he stopped doing this and separated himself because he was afraid of those who were pro-circumcision [Again, this has nothing to do with Peter eating non-kosher food as many seem to think. Peter separated himself not because of the menu but because of the unresolved and thus disputed status of the uncircumcised Gentiles he was dining with, probably in a religious meal setting. This confirms that the issue was not resolved at Jerusalem as Paul tried to imply above and that Paul’s complete message regarding salvation and equality for uncircumcised Gentiles was not even broached there. If Peter, one of the Jerusalem pillars, accepted Paul’s message in Jerusalem and then backed out in Antioch, Paul would have made this connection. He does not.]. 13 And the rest of the Jews also joined with him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray with them by their hypocrisy [The hypocrisy is only that Peter and others once joined in the mixed-status dining at Antioch, in respect to the local practice there, and then backed out. It is not, or Paul would have said it, an abnegation of a decision reached earlier at Jerusalem. Barnabas was present at the Jerusalem council as Paul’s companion and even he does not understand the results of that council the way Paul tried to imply above. The issue of Gentile righteousness and status was never worked out in Jerusalem. Paul went out on his own with his own brand of gospel, one that was never validated or perhaps even understood by anyone in Jerusalem nor even by his one-time companion Barnabas]. 14 But when I saw that they were not behaving consistently with the truth of the [Paul’s] gospel [Paul clearly says here that these Jewish Christ-believers are not on board with his gospel.], I said to Cephas in front of them all, “If you, although you are a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you try to force the Gentiles to live like Jews? [Many translations end the quotation here, but it clearly goes on.] 15 We are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, 16 yet we know that no one is made righteous by the works of the law but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.” [This is more likely the point where Paul’s statement to Peter ends. There is so much misunderstanding about these lines. Peter is not “living like a Gentile” in the sense that he is violating his kosher food restrictions. He is living like a Gentile by dining with them openly at a religious meal without being overly fussy about their status as (former?) sinners. Many Jews would have been much more cautious about dining with such people, especially in a religious meal setting. Remember, synagogues did not require Gentiles to give up their idolatry simply to attend synagogue meetings. But intimate dining, especially of a religious nature such as the Eucharist that is probably referred to here, was not normally practiced in mixed company. The question here is the status of the Gentiles, not Peter eating pork or lobster. Paul agrees that Gentiles are sinners by birth – Jews are not. Paul also claims that he and Peter agree that “works of the Law” are not sufficient for Gentiles to become righteous. This phrase “works of the law” is critical to understanding Paul’s gospel message for Gentiles. He does not use “works of the law” to describe what Jews do, only how Gentiles interface with Torah. Nowhere in our ancient sources does any Jewish writer use such a phrase. Paul may have made it up. In any event what he means by it is “working the Law,” that is, the attempt by some Gentiles to earn a place in the kingdom (or becoming righteous) by performing certain requirements (though not others) of the Torah. Supersessionist Christian scholars call this “legalism” and indeed it is but it does not apply to Jews as they would have you think. It is the practice called “Judaizing” which some Gentiles performed in order to try to achieve righteousness. Paul insists it won’t work. Apparently, Peter agreed. Gentiles were inherently unable to follow all of Torah (they could not enter the Jewish temple, for example) and getting circumcised merely in an effort to become righteous was insufficient. Circumcised Jews followed the entire Torah. These Judaizing Gentiles were unwilling or unable to do that. What the Gentiles really needed, according to Paul, was a means of atonement, faith, and some level of obedience to Torah. Jews had long shared in the faith of Abraham for their righteousness. Paul claimed that Gentiles can now share in the faith of Jesus Christ to the same end. It is the same “faith” shared with two different faithful Jews.]

Check back soon for Part 3!

One thought on “The Jewish Paul: A Running Commentary on Galatians (Part 2)

  1. Pingback: The Jewish Paul: A Running Commentary on Galatians (Part 2) – Talmidimblogging

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