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Apr 29 / Steve Runge

Galatians 2:11-14-What is being contrasted?

I received some good questions this week regarding the nature of the contrasts in Gal 2:11-14, and specifically about what exactly the content introduced by ̓αλλά is correcting or replacing. I have not posted much lately, so I’ll turn my response into a post. I am using Levinsohn’s basic discourse annotation scheme, where the underlined text denotes frames of reference/points of departure, and the bold indicates something placed in marked focus for emphasis sake.1 Indenting indicates subordination, either syntactic or an embedded speech that functions as the complement of a verb of speaking. Here is the text:

11 Ὅτε δὲ ἦλθεν Κηφᾶς εἰς Ἀντιόχειαν, κατὰ πρόσωπον αὐτῷ ἀντέστην,

ὅτι κατεγνωσμένος ἦν.

12 πρὸ τοῦ γὰρ ἐλθεῖν τινας ἀπὸ Ἰακώβου μετὰ τῶν ἐθνῶν συνήσθιεν·

ὅτε δὲ ἦλθον, ὑπέστελλεν καὶ ἀφώριζεν ἑαυτὸν

φοβούμενος τοὺς ἐκ περιτομῆς.

13 καὶ συνυπεκρίθησαν αὐτῷ [καὶ] οἱ λοιποὶ Ἰουδαῖοι,

ὥστε καὶ Βαρναβᾶς συναπήχθη αὐτῶν τῇ ὑποκρίσει.

14 ἀλλʼ ὅτε εἶδον ὅτι οὐκ ὀρθοποδοῦσιν πρὸς τὴν ἀλήθειαν τοῦ εὐαγγελίου, εἶπον τῷ Κηφᾷ ἔμπροσθεν πάντων·

εἰ σὺ Ἰουδαῖος ὑπάρχων ἐθνικῶς καὶ οὐχὶ Ἰουδαϊκῶς ζῇς, πῶς τὰ ἔθνη ἀναγκάζεις ἰουδαΐζειν;

This is a highly ordered narrative, with well-marked transitions. Each of the underlined frames of reference are temporal, establishing a new state of affairs for the main clause that follows. Peter’s arrival in Antioch precipitated Paul’s confrontation of him, but it concerned events that had been going on for some unknown time in Peter’s ministry. Based on the information structure, Paul makes it clear that he did not beat around the bush, but kicked the door down, as one might expect of him. He confronts Peter κατὰ πρόσωπον, with the reason provided in the ὅτι clause, which also uses marked focus to emphasize the most salient element. Paul confronts Peter because he was clearly in the wrong. Note that he provides the outcome before disclosing exactly what it is that precipitated the confrontation. This event may have been common knowledge; but even if it was Paul goes to great lengths to make clear exactly what went wrong and why.

The events that precipitated the “strange event at Antioch,” as Dunn calls it, are essentially backfilled (not unlike flashbacks today in shows like Lost) in a series of clauses introduced by γάρ in v. 12. In terms of grounding, what follows is background information that fills in needed detail. It is essentially an embedded narrative. It does not advance Paul’s overall argument to the Galatians, but sets the stage for his next assertion. Within this embedded narrative, there are several developments. In my view, Paul’s argument resumes in v. 15 in a virtually seamless transition from what appears to be a quote at the end of v. 14. The seam is so tight that it is really hard to say conclusively. Let’s take a look at the background narrative, beginning with v. 12.

This section begins with a temporal frame “before the arrival of some of the ones from James.” We learn not only that these (most likely) Judaizers are going to show up at some point, but also that what happens at their arrival is the crux of the matter. Their arrival is what the OT poetics folks would call the “inciting incident.”  There are three imperfect indicatives (indicated by italics) used to characterize the actions, ostensibly to indicate this was “standard operating procedure.” Before the Judaizers arrive, Peter is characterized as eating with the Gentiles. It seems that this kind of interaction may have been just as scandalous as Jesus’ habit of eating with “sinners and tax collectors.” I am not a social-scientific expert, but it seems reasonable to understand “eating with” as a general reference to “hanging out” with the Gentiles. Based on the verbs in 12b, it seems Peter gave up more than just dining with them. There is ample evidence from the NT that Jews frowned on interaction with Gentiles. Consider the centurion’s refusal to allow Jesus to enter his home  in Matt 8:8/Luke 7:6, or Peter’s caveat in Acts 10:28 that he really shouldn’t be slumming with the Gentiles. He seems to have gotten over this issue and accepted them as co-heirs in Christ after the Jerusalem council (Acts 15), at least until the Judaizers arrived.

Once the “James Gang” hit town, suddenly everything changes. Whatever characterized Peter’s behavior before they arrived, he is now characterized (using imperfect indicatives) as withdrawing and separating himself, the very thing that the Pharisees and the centurion expected Jesus should do as a rabbi and devout Jew.  WWJD? Not what Peter did. Why did Peter do this? Fear, indicated plainly by the participial clause that elaborates on the main actions of the clause. Note also that the James Gang are recharacterized as “the circumcision,” further confirming that the Jew/Gentile distinction is the crux of the matter.

Recall that Peter learned clearly in Acts 10 that there is no longer a distinction in God’s view between Jew and Gentile. Peter publicly affirms this lesson in Acts 15:9. Remember also that Cornelius and his family were the only ones other than the Apostles who received the Holy Spirit without a laying on of hands. Up to that point, new believers received the Spirit through a formal process, not a general outpouring. We must not overlook this. I expect God knew what He was doing, knew that the Jews would have a fair amount of heartburn accepting that the Gentiles were really equal partners in His plan of salvation. He reserved the “apostle only” privilege for Gentiles first before extending it to all believers. Pretty cool stuff, Maynard. Alas, I digress…

Ah yes, it gets worse. Because of Peter’s influence as a leader, his decision to “cease and desist” encouraged others to follow his lead. We get this really nice hapax legomena συνυπεκρίθησαν to characterize what the “remaining Jews” did (not the “other Jews” or simply “Jews”), possible strengthened by adverbial καί to thematically “add” these Jews to Peter and his behavior. The hypocrisy they join in can only be understood as the separating and standing aloof that Peter is characterized by, otherwise there is no need for prefixing συν- to the verb.

But wait, there’s more. It goes from bad to even worse. Notwithstanding Paul’s disagreement with Barnabas over John Mark in Acts 15:39, it seems that if anyone should have turned the tide or remained above the fray in Paul’s estimation, it was Barnabas. I understand ὥστε in 13b to introduce a result, and there is no textual problem with the adverbial καί used here to thematically connect Barnabas to at least the “remaining Jews” if not also to Peter. Pay attention to how Paul chooses to characterize things: Barnabas was lead astray (passive, perhaps absolving him a bit) by them, either in their hypocrisy or by their hypocrisy. Not sure it matters much whether “hypocrisy” was the destination or the means. The bottom line is that Peter’s decision to change his behavior was wrong, based on its hypocrisy. He clearly knew better, but bowed to the peer pressure of the Jews.

We finally come to ἀλλά in v. 14, which Levinsohn, Brannan and I understand to introduce something the corrects or replaces some proposition from the preceding context. The question is, what is it? From my view, the proposition that is corrected is v. 12, essentially hanging out with the Gentiles, then deciding it was wrong when distinguished guests arrived. One could argue that v. 13 should be included in the “proposition to be corrected,” but I view it as being an ancillary result of the core issue with Peter. Had he not withdrawn, there is a good chance the others (EVEN Barnabas!) would not have withdrawn either.

Paul does a great job of “spinning” things to advance his argument. Look at what “he sees” when he arrives. He does not say that Peter and the others were properly observing Jewish custom of not associating with unclean Gentiles; nor that he exercises sound judgment by “being all things to all people” when the James Gang arrive. Quite the contrary. He saw ὅτι οὐκ ὀρθοποδοῦσιν πρὸς τὴν ἀλήθειαν τοῦ εὐαγγελίου. What exactly does he mean by the “truth of the gospel?” The very same issue that led to the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15: what is the status of believing Gentiles?

Even though Paul has disparagingly characterized the behavior of Peter and the others, he had not directly addressed it. There is a marked contrast here, one that would have been present even without ἀλλά. The use here makes the contrast more explicit, constraining the reader to pay close attention to it. Paul’s correction to what precedes is his speech to Peter in front of God and everybody. Bad day to be Peter.

Verse 14b is the janus verse that connect the story to the issues that Paul is addressing in the Galatian church. It’s one thing for Jews to choose to continue traditional observances after following Christ, it is quite another to require the Gentiles to do the same (i.e. the Jerusalem council, Acts 15). And worse than both is to walk in freedom from tradition one day, and then to revert and require others to do what you formerly had been unwilling (and unable fully) to do. If the Jews couldn’t keep the law, how could it be placed on others, especially after some Jews had already shed the burden?

If there really is no longer any distinction between Jew and Gentile, then all the believers should live like it. And not just some of the time, but ALL of the time, regardless of who stops by to visit.

  1. See the glossary of terms for a basic overview, or my paper on the Parable of the Sower for more specifics on information structure. []


  1. Richard Fellows / Apr 30 2010

    Interesting discussion. But isn’t 2:13, after all, part of the ‘proposition to be corrected’? I guess it depends on what assumptions we make about the background to Galatians, and the function of 2:11-14. I have argued e.g. here that Paul is countering the view that he believed in circumcision for Gentiles (the Galatians were thinking that Paul, to please the Jerusalem apostles, pretended to support Gentile liberty). In this passage Paul’s point is that he stood alone against Peter: “I opposed him to his face”. Isn’t it possible, then, that 2:14 corrects the Galatians’ assumption that Paul supported Gentile liberty only to please other church leaders?

    You wrote, “Paul makes it clear that he did not beat around the bush, but kicked the door down”. Yes, and I think that is precisely Paul’s purpose. His rhetoric in Galatians is aimed at overturning the opposite view (namely, that he believed in circumcision).

  2. Steve Runge / May 1 2010

    HI Richard. I think there is room to include v. 13 with what is corrected, but you have quite a different model of what was going on based on the “Galatians’ assumption that Paul supported Gentile liberty only to please other church leaders.” This is news to me, and beyond the plain sense of the context. Based on the thematic connections using καί from v. 13 back to v. 12, I do not see the likelihood of your proposition being either derived or really supported from this context. The hypocrisy being referred to in this context is clearly that of Peter and the other Jews. It does not seem based on circumcision, but on association. Circumcision is only used as a thematic label for the Jews from James, not in reference to the ceremonial act.

  3. Richard Fellows / May 1 2010

    Steve, my intention was not really to argue for my reconstruction of the background to Galatians, but rather to ask whether it fits with your observations. I agree that the hypocrisy referred to here is that of Peter and other Jews, and that the issue here is association, not circumcision. All this is perfectly consistent with my reconstruction of the background to the letter. For the evidence for my proposal you will need to go back to my earlier posts, here and also see the analysis here. Incidentally, my proposal has quite a lot in common with Hunn’s recent proposal here.

  4. Steve Runge / May 2 2010

    To be Frank, Richard, after reading your posts and that of Carlson that you cite, it still remains far-fetched. The stumbling block is your assertion that “Both Paul and the Jerusalem church leaders believed that Gentiles should not be circumcised.” Based on the nature of the Acts 15 council and impact Peter’s vision appears to have had on his views, I cannot accept your proposal. At most there may have been mental assent, but when the rubber hit the road the Pillars show a propensity to revert to old ideas. Growing up in Virginia, it was one thing to verbally support racial integration, it was quite another to bring home a friend or move into a neighborhood that did not fit the accepted mold. Freedom and equality are much more costly in practice than in theory. Furthermore, it is one thing to have a private relationship with someone, and quite another to make it public among one’s peers. Regardless of who came when or the timing of the council relative to the Antioch incident, Peter seems to have played both sides and been called out for his hypocrisy.

    I have heard it expressed as the difference between preferred beliefs and actual beliefs. The former are given lip-service, the latter are what we act upon. I see the pillars–at best–holding Gentile freedom as a preferred belief, ostensibly allowing Paul to go and do his own thing as long as it did not upset their status quo.

  5. Richard Fellows / May 2 2010

    Steve, thanks for sharing your insights on racial integration in Virginia. I think they could well be applicable here, and could explain why Peter supported the Jerusalem decree and affirmed Paul’s gospel (Gal 2:7-9), but later showed hypocrisy when the rubber hit the road.

    But all this is actually rather consistent with my hypothesis. I require only that the Galatians believed that the Jerusalem church leaders supported Gentile liberty. The Galatians would think this if, for example, Acts is right about the letter that the Jerusalem church leaders wrote. In writing this letter, they would not have been taking huge personal risks.

    So, I think your Virginia insights are helpful, but I think they actually support my hypothesis by showing that the letter of Acts 15 is historically plausible. Perhaps you have misunderstood my hypothesis?

    I do not understand your point about the Acts 15 council and Peter’s vision.

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