Monday, July 9, 2012

A Summary of Week 4 Trinity Cathedral Young Adult Galatians Study

Summary of Week 4: Galatians 2:11-24

Peter and Paul
El Greco

Last week we looked at Gal. 2:1-10.  In that passage Paul, Barnabas, and Titus went to the church at Jerusalem and met with the “pillars” there—James, Cephas, and John.  Members of the Jerusalem church wanted to force Titus to become circumcised.  Paul says that he did not “yield for even an hour” to those “who came in to spy on our freedom.”  The James, Cephas, and John offered the “right hand of fellowship” to Paul, thus acknowledging that Paul was an apostle (what he had claimed came from the Lord himself and not from people) and that his ministry would be particularly focused to the Gentiles.  This resulted in a victory, not primarily for Paul, but for the advance of the Gospel. 

Verse 11 breaks the flow of Paul’s chronological narrative somewhat.  For the past 24 verses (since 1:11) Paul’s argument has been sequential following his own journey, then in 2:11 that flow is suddenly interrupted with “But when Cephas came to Antioch” (the linear continuity of the “then’s” have given way to a discontinuous “but”).  Not only has the narrative shifted chief characters—Paul to Peter, but the location has also changed—Jerusalem to Antioch.  The first 10 verses of chapter 2 dealt with the symbol of the Law that is circumcision, the next 11 deal with another symbol of the Law—table fellowship.  The characters involved in the present unit are Cephas (Peter), messengers from James, Jewish Christians of Antioch, and Barnabas. It is also worth noting that the church at Antioch—the first place followers of Jesus were called Christians—was a very unique place.  Unlike Jerusalem that was made up exclusively of Jewish Christians and the daughter churches of Antioch that were overwhelmingly Gentile, Antioch was a truly multicultural church (large numbers of Jews and Gentiles).

The passage opens with Paul coming right out and saying that Cephas stood condemned.  It is significant that Paul summarizes the incident (condemns Peter) before providing any details (telling the story). Following the line of thought from our last two weeks of study, Paul is once again noting that the Gospel is over the apostles (the Gospel is the foundation of the Church and not vice versa).

In this passage Cephas was eating with the Gentiles before “certain men had come from James” (from Jerusalem to Antioch).  At this, Cephas “drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party” (a party that must not have been on board with the resolution made between the “pillars” and Paul that we witnessed last week).  Now this might have gone unnoticed if it were only Cephas who stepped out, but because Peter was a “pillar” of the Church the rest of the Jewish Christians at Antioch “play-acted” (acted hypocritically) with him.  The crowning blow for Paul, though, is the defection of Barnabas his otherwise faithful coworker (the one who was there for him from the very beginning; the one who earlier stood beside him in the battle against the false brothers in Jerusalem as we witnessed last week; in sum: the one who always had his back).  These Jewish Christians had abandoned their Gentile brothers and sisters and not just for daily meals, but for the ultimate meal that was ate at the same table—the Eucharistic meal (ht# J. Louis Martyn).    

Paul saw that their conduct was not only hypocritical, but more importantly, “not in step with the truth of the Gospel.”  Therefore, Paul opposed Cephas publically saying, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”  Paul’s language betrays the fact that this was not the first time Cephas enjoyed table fellowship with Gentiles.  In fact, it had become a regular thing (it may have even begun with his great vision of Acts 10:9-33).   

Through his actions, Peter has unwittingly said, “Unless you conform to the Jewish way of life we cannot have social relations with you.”  The Gentile Christians at Antioch were made to feel like second class citizens, and not just by Cephas but also by their fellow Jewish Christians who had been eating with them all along and even one of their own leaders—Barnabas. 

Interestingly enough, in response Paul seems to go against what he later writes in Galatians 6:1 (“if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him or her in a spirit of gentleness.”)  In this episode, Paul displays anything except gentleness.  Why is this?  For Paul, Peter’s withdraw is no mere transgression.  Peter’s action is the effective preaching of an anti-Gospel in the midst of the Antioch church (which, as we learned from chapter 1, is no Gospel at all—recall: “let that person be accursed”).  For Paul, once again the foundation is at stake.  Desperate times call for desperate measures. 

The presentation of Paul’s public speech to Peter is very interesting but oftentimes missed.  Most English translations end the quote at the end of verse 14 (…“how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews).  J. Louis Martyn notes that while this is probably inevitable, it is misleading.  Paul’s speech is intentionally broadened to include not only Cephas and the past audience at Antioch, but also the False Teachers and the present audience of Galatia!  After openly rebuking Peter, Paul goes on to rhetorically put his arm around him and the False Teachers shoulders in writing, “We ourselves are Jews by birth and not “Gentile sinners.”  He then goes on to write, “yet [even] we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ [or ‘the faith of Jesus Christ’].”  Thus he undercuts the distinction between Jew and Gentile (Martyn, 249).  The faith of Christ (or faith in Christ) does not serve as a supplement to the keeping of the Law, either for Christians of Jewish or Gentile lineage.  On the contrary, concerning salvation, observance of the Law and the faith of Christ constitute a genuine antimony (Martyn, ibid.).  Together with the Gentile, the Jew stands before God with empty hands.  Both are to put their trust in the work of Christ with the source of their (and our) acceptance--that being the faith of Christ.

To conclude, I must note that the general tenor of this passage is that Paul did indeed undergo a political loss here.  He was very quick to point out the success of his trip to meet with the "pillars" in Jerusalem, if he was successful at Antioch it would have helped his case with the Galatians to note that as well.  Nevertheless, Paul proceeds to "fight" for the true Gospel despite setbacks.  He fought for it's advance in Jerusalem and Antioch, he will continue to do so in Galatia and everywhere else whether church leaders, apostles, or even angels oppose it.  

*As for the last few verses of the section, I do not have time to write a summary.  Here are some of my notes about these verses.

--3 times in verse 16, Paul makes it clear that no one is “justified”/rectified” (declared righteous or made righteous) by obeying the Law but by grace through Christ’s faith (or human faith).

-- Paul has torn down the Law as a way of being good with God; he will not rebuild what he has already shown to be powerless as far as salvation is concerned. 

-- The life Paul and the believer now lives is in the faith of the Son of God, “who loved me (us) and gave himself for me (us).”

--He refuses to put up with Jesus + the Law, because he will not “nullify the grace of God.”  For the kicker to end Paul’s extended quotation, “if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”

Final Note: *Some proponents of the classical perspective on Paul are adamant at opposing “faith of Christ Jesus” language (vs. “faith in Christ” Jesus language).  As Martyn and others show, classical perspective believers need not hold that traditional understandings of justification (or "rectification") fall or stand based on the former interpretation/translation.  For those interested in this discussion I would refer you to the stellar, though not always perfect, work of J. Louis Martyn in his commentary on Galatians and his Theological Issues in the Letters of Paul.  To whet your appetite:

“God’s rectifying act, that is to say, is no more God’s response to human faith in Christ than it is God’s response to human observance of the Law.  God’s rectification is not God’s response at all.  It is the first move; it is God’s initiative, carried out by him in Christ’s faithful death… The point is that the Christ in whom we faithfully place our trust is the Christ who has already faithfully died in our behalf (cf. Rom. 5:8) and whose prevenient death for us is the powerful rectifying event that has elicited our faith.” Martyn, 271

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