Tuesday, October 09, 2007

DeConick on the Jerusalem Council

April DeConick asks how Gal 2 may be reconciled with Acts 15, without resorting to either artificial harmonization or torching Luke. We've tackled this subject before on the biblioblogs (see here for instance) and it's worth revisiting. Let's take April's points in turn.
1. The solution that Acts 15 never happened doesn't make sense of the fact that Luke knows about a decision (letter?) from James that resorts to Noahide laws, nor that these laws appear to have been known and observed by Christians as late as the third century. These laws have to have been instituted or invoked by someone somewhere in the first century in order to deal with the Gentile problem.
I agree that the apostolic decree is historical and dates to the first century, though not as early as Luke would have us believe. It may belong at Acts 18:22 (as Mark Goodacre suggests) or perhaps even later.
2. Paul's understanding of his meeting in Jerusalem recorded in Galatians 2 does not correspond to Acts 15, neither in terms of outcome or in terms of who was there and what was discussed. Trying to harmonize them results in apology, not history.
Yes. There's nothing worse than artificial harmonization on these questions. While Acts 15:1-29 (not Acts 11:27-30) is reporting basically the same event as Paul recounts in Gal 2:1-10, Luke isn't reporting everything as it really happened, nor even when it really happened.
3. If the decision of Acts 15 had been made prior to the Antiochean Affair, it doesn't make sense that the apostles would then begin a counter-mission to Paul after the Affair and demand circumcision of the Gentiles in the churches Paul missionizes.
No. This is the most common mistake made with the Antioch incident, and it boggles my mind that so many scholars cannot bring themselves to accept the obvious: Paul had extracted an agreement out of James and Peter (against the necessity of Gentile circumcision), which they in turn broke. I've written about this before and would emphasize there is nothing shocking about the pillars' treachery. It makes perfect sense in the agonistic milieu of the ancient Mediterranean; it's what we would expect from them. There is evidently a need on the part of many exegetes to reconstruct more harmony and equanimity in the early church than warranted. Why? For apologetic reasons? To make Paul appear less offensive than he was?
So... how can the Jerusalem Council best be explained given the evidence we have?
I think it can be accounted for rather easily. Bearing in mind that Luke goes out of his way to claim the support of Peter and James by reversing their historical roles (historically they were a lot more like Matthew than as portrayed in Acts), we have as follows: Gal 2:1-10 should be identified with Acts 15:1-29 (rather than Acts 11:27-30), but on the understanding that Luke offers a revisionist account in two important ways. First he brings the apostolic decree forward, conflating the circumcision question with later Noahide concerns. Second he smooths things over in general, portraying things far less controversial as they were. But it wasn't Christians with Pharisaical links who caused the trouble at Antioch (as he depicts in Acts 15:1,5), rather Peter and James (Gal 2:11-14) who broke their own agreement.

UPDATE: More from April, and see also Doug Chaplin.

10 Comments:

Anonymous Ralph Hitchens said...

I think we have to lower our expectations about what can be resolved here. Informed speculation is as good as we're going to get, absent newly-unearthed information. It seems plausible that the "men from James" who came to Antioch may have done so on their own initiative, perhaps having wrangled from James reluctant permission to look into how matters stood between the Jewish Christians and the gentile believers. It's likely that a tolerant Apostolic Decree such as Luke describes may not have sat well with many in the Jerusalem Church. James himself, a zealous Jew by most descriptions, may have had second thoughts about his decree. Questions and doubts may have surfaced after the conference, and been acted upon impulsively. All of this is well within the realm of speculation.

10/09/2007  
Blogger James F. McGrath said...

As I also posted over on April's blog, I have long felt that the simplest explanation for what we find in Acts is the following:

1) Either
(a) Luke was aware of the Jerusalem Council's letter or something purporting to represent a decision by the Jerusalem church

OR

(b) Luke was offering this solution to the problem in his time as an attempt at compromise between the Jerusalem and Pauline churches.

2) Luke also knew that Paul had not been present at Council and/or had not been aware of its decision. This is suggested not only the reference to Paul learning about it later, but the problem which the Western addition of Acts 15:34 was intended to resolve. Luke has either inserted a Council that did not occur, or placed Paul and/or Silas at it when they were not in fact there.

3) Luke seems persuaded that Paul would have agreed to the Gentiles accepting some minimal requirements for the sake of church unity, and thus presents Paul as present at the Council and in agreement with its decision.

10/09/2007  
Blogger Richard Fellows said...

Loren,

I am still unconvinced by your suggestion. First you assert that there was an agreement between Paul and the Jerusalem leaders. This is far from clear. It may simply be that Peter and Paul agreed that a degree of specialization would allow them to more effectively evangelize: Peter would focus on the Jews and Paul on the Gentiles. Specialization here makes sense because it would have been difficult to preach a gospel of inclusion to the Gentiles without alienating the Jews (though Paul tried it by trying to be all things to all men).

More importantly, if we should expect James and Peter to break their agreement, as you suggest, then Paul would certainly have expected it also. In that case, why did he enter into the supposed agreement. If everybody broke agreements, then no agreements would ever be possible and they would never be made. You assertions make no sense to me, or they are greatly over-stated.

Richard.

10/10/2007  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Richard wrote:

You assert that there was an agreement between Paul and the Jerusalem leaders. This is far from clear. It may simply be that Peter and Paul agreed that a degree of specialization would allow them to more effectively evangelize...

No, the implications are stronger than this. With the example of Titus, Paul is saying the pillars agreed that circumcision would not be required. The only requirement involved the collection.

If we should expect James and Peter to break their agreement, as you suggest, then Paul would certainly have expected it also. In that case, why did he enter into the supposed agreement.

Paul had scored big-time by extracting an agreement from the pillars. Honor is the greatest form of wealth in this culture, and Paul had bearded the lions in their den, and come out victorious. (If he had ignored the pillars and refused to play ball he would have been playing the fool.) That he expected some form of counter-attack in the future was given. Counter-challenges and ripostes are constantly played out in these cultures. It's how one responds to them, and the public reception of the response, that determines the outcome.

Remember too that Paul's position had been the pillars' own for years (see here), and that's probably why he was able to corner them into the agreement. That would have compounded their shame and need for revenge.

If everybody broke agreements, then no agreements would ever be possible and they would never be made. You assertions make no sense to me, or they are greatly over-stated.

Obviously not everyone breaks agreements all the time. But when rivals and opponents get the better of each other in cases like this, honor demands payback. As Esler says in his Galatians book, when Paul left Jerusalem, he would have been well advised to watch his back.

10/10/2007  
Blogger Richard Fellows said...

Loren,

You have not demonstrated that there was an agreement that involved compromises by either party. Still less have you demonstrated that Paul 'scored big-time by extracting an agreement' from the pillars, or that he cornered them into an agreement. Your scenario depends on the assumption that they were somehow tricked into an agreement that they were not comfortable with. However, such a weighty assumption requires evidence.

Yes, the pillars were comfortable with Titus being uncircumcised, but this was in a confidential meeting. We have no evidence that they declared publically that it was OK for Titus to be uncircumcised. Nor do we have any evidence that Titus was known to be uncircumcised by anyone in Jerusalem other than those in the confidential meeting. In short, I see no evidence of any concession by the pillars.

Gal 2:1-10 speaks only of agreement between Paul and the pillars. It does not tell of comprises and deals.

10/10/2007  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Richard wrote:

Gal 2:1-10 speaks only of agreement between Paul and the pillars. It does not tell of comprises and deals.

The "private" agreement -- and don't overrate confidential meetings: in agrarian societies, gossip mills soon take care of those -- more than likely included not requiring circumcision, which is why Paul brings it up in the context of Galatians. It's far too unrealistic to think the issue would not have come up, or was not a chief concern (and with the affronting Titus present) alongside the question of specialization.

10/10/2007  
Blogger Richard Fellows said...

Loren,

I am saying that there was agreement between Paul and the pillars, but I am questioning whether there was 'an agreement'. I hope you understand the distinction. From memory I think Orchard, among others, suggested that there was no dibate about Titus's uncircumcised state in Jerusalem. He pointed out that the language of Gal 2:3 is consistent with the view that the issue never arose.

What evidence do you have that Titus was 'afronting' to the pillars? Are you not pre-supposing that they thought that he really should be circumcised and agreed to his non-circumcision only as a concession?

It seems rather likely that Paul is saying in Gal 2:3 that the pillars did NOT find Titus's uncircumcised state to be afronting. Notice how Paul inserts that Titus was with him and was a Greek, at the expense of making a rather disjointed sentence. Paul seems to be saying that the Pillars did not kick up a fuss even though Titus was there large as life.

Perhaps you might explain why you think it is unrealistic to suppose that the issue did not come up.

Incidentally, I think that gossip DID come into play. I have argued elsewhere that the (Galatian?) 'false brothers' were brought in and found out that Titus was uncircumcised, and that they gossiped about it in Galatia. This is how all the Jews in the region of Iconium knew that the father of Titus-Timothy was a Greek.

10/10/2007  
Blogger Stephen C. Carlson said...

There is evidently a need on the part of many exegetes to reconstruct more harmony and equanimity in the early church than warranted. Why? For apologetic reasons? To make Paul appear less offensive than he was?

It's more than just apologetic reasons because it affects more scholars than the usual suspects. I think it's a testament as to how well Luke was able to control the narrative.

10/10/2007  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Richard wrote:

What evidence do you have that Titus was 'afronting' to the pillars?

Titus' uncirumcised presence was insulting to those in the Judean community (and thus to the pillars who had begun to mainstream the Christian movement) who believed in the necessity of proselyte conversion for mixed fellowship. Simply by bringing Titus to Jerusalem, Paul was issuing a challenge.

Perhaps you might explain why you think it is unrealistic to suppose that the issue [circumcision] did not come up.

It's completely unrealistic. Not only would the issue have been raised as soon as Titus entered Jerusalem, it would have been the first question on everyone's mind. Paul and Barnabus presumably shared table-fellowship with Titus, so this would have been an example forcing the question right off the bat -- not least because of potential idolatry (the issue of eucharist wine), but also Gentile status and ranking in general.

The idea that the apostles would have discussed a mission to the Gentiles without even addressing the most obvious question, "What happens in cases of mixed table-fellowship?" is one that I don't take seriously. I'd recommend reading chapter 4 of Esler's Galatians, "The Problem with Mixed Table-Fellowship", if you haven't already. It's reasonable to assume that other details weren't addressed and/or resolved until later (like the Noahide stipulations in the apostolic decree), but not circumcision itself.

Incidentally, I think that gossip DID come into play. I have argued elsewhere that the (Galatian?) 'false brothers' were brought in and found out that Titus was uncircumcised, and that they gossiped about it in Galatia. This is how all the Jews in the region of Iconium knew that the father of Titus-Timothy was a Greek.

Yes, I recall. I'm glad to see you applying this model in your work

10/11/2007  
Anonymous George Hamelin said...

I think we have to lower our expectations about what can be resolved here. Informed speculation is as good as we're going to get, absent newly-unearthed information. It seems plausible that the "men from James" who came to Antioch may have done so on their own initiative, perhaps having wrangled from James reluctant permission to look into how matters stood between the Jewish Christians and the gentile believers. It's likely that a tolerant Apostolic Decree such as Luke describes may not have sat well with many in the Jerusalem Church. James himself, a zealous Jew by most descriptions, may have had second thoughts about his decree. Questions and doubts may have surfaced after the conference, and been acted upon impulsively. All of this is well within the realm of speculation.

Thank You Ralph!
Let me waste a few seconds to thank you all for the most civil and thoughtful discussion of all these matters that I have yet seen on the net. I'd just about given up on it what with all these crackpots floating around wasting everyone's time. I feel more than a little intimidated by the level of the discussion so (as usual) I am trying to keep my eyes and ears open and my mouth shut.
I just wanted to throw in a comment or two about a couple of things that seem to be oddly absent from this discussion. Mr. Hitchens already expressed my first observation better than I could so let me reitterate my thanks on that. Maybe we should all remember that bricks made without straw can easily fall apart under pressure? Some damn fool is gonna dig up jar of old papyrus and we'll all need to start a new thread. (Hope so!)
Only one point then. All this discussion about the pillars and Paul and not one mention of the fact that all these men were, after all, followers of that other guy, what was his name now?, oh that's right, Jesus. Now I'm not a religious man, which makes my interest in the origins of Christianity a little odd I guess, and I am not trying to sound pious here. I just can't help but feel that the fact of these men having chosen to become "Jesus people" rather than one of the assorted other "belief systems" available to them should have some bearing on our assesment of their attitudes and likely responses/reactions. Maybe it's the Presbyterian sunday school boy in me coming out here but all this talk of honor and pride and retribution and revenge and jockying (jousting?) for position just seems so...well..."un-christianlike". The thing was after all a reform type of movement wasn't it? Crossan may overplay the "antithesis of the Imperial cult" angle a bit(!)but still, it's not an irrelevant point that the very attitudes that are being used to explain the behavior proposed are (seems to me) irreconcilable to any interpretation of Jesus I know of. though I grant that they were the norm of the times. I have always liked to try and give these men at least some credit for sincerity, despite the obvious lack of it in later generations.
It also seems counter intuitive that the "founding fathers" of the Christian religion (or any other movement) would have seemed so disinterested in a chance to expand it. It seems (feels?) to me that the natural reaction would be to lessen membership requirements not to tighten them. It's hard to imagine how gentile inclusion would NOT have ticked off some of the old boys in Jerusalem, this "circumcision party" perhaps. But why would the pillars have been worried about such a group? Maybe because to have lost their support might have endangered the ability to preach openly in the city, or even the synagogues?
Maybe these men from James were messengers? "Hey Pete, Jim says we gotta back off all this for a while until we get these old boys sorted out." Is that what Paul means by "fear of the circumcision party"?
"Pete you should know better!! You and Jim and John offered me the right hand of fellowship and we have all been living it, but now you withdraw it, you and Jim, just out of fear of these guys?....thats hypocritical! You don't believe their right."

Where is old John in that I always wonder? Why doesn't Paul accuse him as well? Is he dead by then? Is he staying out of the fray? Isn't the little dig that Paul makes about John, James, Peter, and the brothers bringing their wives along at the believers expense made after this? So he's not dead? Maybe off doin' his job instead of hangin' around town getting into intigues?

Ok I'm wandering...sorry. I don't imagine for a second that this warrants a reply, and I'm sure if i get one it will be to point out why I don't have a point worth relying to! Thanks all, I promise....eyes and ears open....mouth shut.

9/11/2008  

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