Incident at Antioch

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The incident at Antioch was an Apostolic Age dispute between the apostles Paul and Peter which occurred in the city of Antioch around the middle of the first century.[1] The primary source for the incident is Paul's Epistle to the Galatians 2:11–14.[1] Since the 19th century figure Ferdinand Christian Baur, biblical scholars have found evidence of conflict among the leaders of early Christianity; for example, James D. G. Dunn proposes that Peter was a "bridge-man" between the opposing views of Paul and James, brother of Jesus.[2] The final outcome of the incident remains uncertain, resulting in several Christian views on the Old Covenant.

Gentile Christians and the Torah[edit]

Artistic depiction of Paul the Apostle (Vincenzo Gemito, 1917).

Paul was responsible for bringing Christianity to Ephesus, Corinth, Philippi, and Thessalonica.[3][better source needed] According to Larry Hurtado, "Paul saw Jesus' resurrection as ushering in the eschatological time foretold by biblical prophets in which the pagan 'Gentile' nations would turn from their idols and embrace the one true God of Israel (e.g., Zechariah 8:20-23), and Paul saw himself as specially called by God to declare God's eschatological acceptance of the Gentiles and summon them to turn to God."[web 1] According to Krister Stendahl, the main concern of Paul's writings on Jesus' role and salvation by faith is not the individual conscience of human sinners and their doubts about being chosen by God or not, but the problem of the inclusion of Gentile (Greek) Torah-observers into God's covenant.[4][web 2] As Gentiles began to convert from Paganism to early Christianity, a dispute arose among Jewish Christian leaders as to whether or not Gentile Christians needed to observe all the tenets of the Law of Moses.[5]

The inclusion of Gentiles into early Christianity posed a problem for the Jewish identity of some of the early Christians:[5][6][7] the new Gentile converts were neither required to be circumcised nor to observe the Mosaic Law.[8] Observance of the Jewish commandments, including circumcision, was regarded as a token of the membership of the Abrahamic covenant, and the most traditionalist faction of Jewish Christians (i.e., converted Pharisees) insisted that Gentile converts had to be circumcised as well.[Acts 15:1][3][5][6][7] By contrast, the rite of circumcision was considered execrable and repulsive during the period of Hellenization of the Eastern Mediterranean,[9][10][11][12] and was especially adversed in Classical civilization both from ancient Greeks and Romans, which instead valued the foreskin positively.[9][10][11][13]

Around the same time period, the subject of Gentiles and the Torah was also debated among the Tannaitic rabbis as recorded in the Talmud. This resulted in the doctrine of the Seven Laws of Noah, to be followed by Gentiles, as well as the determination that "Gentiles may not be taught the Torah."[14] The 18th-century Rabbi Jacob Emden was of the opinion that Jesus' original objective, and especially Paul's, was only to convert Gentiles to follow the Seven Laws of Noah while allowing Jews to keep the Mosaic Law for themselves[14] (see also Dual-covenant theology).

Paul objected strongly to the insistence on keeping all of the Jewish commandments,[3][15] considering it a great threat to his doctrine of salvation through faith in Christ.[6][16] According to Paula Fredriksen, Paul's opposition to male circumcison for Gentiles is in line with the Old Testament predictions that "in the last days the gentile nations would come to the God of Israel, as gentiles (e.g., Zechariah 8:20–23), not as proselytes to Israel."[web 3] For Paul, Gentile male circumcision was therefore an affront to God's intentions.[web 3] According to Hurtado, "Paul saw himself as what Munck called a salvation-historical figure in his own right", who was "personally and singularly deputized by God to bring about the predicted ingathering (the "fullness") of the nations (Romans 11:25)."[web 3]

Icon of James, the brother of Jesus ("James the Just"), whose judgment was adopted in the Apostolic Decree according to Acts 15:19–29, c. 50 AD.

Council of Jerusalem[edit]

Paul left Antioch and traveled to Jerusalem to discuss his mission to the Gentiles with the Pillars of the Church.[Acts 15:1-19] Describing the outcome of this meeting, Paul said that "they recognized that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised".[Gal 2:1–10] The Acts of the Apostles describe the dispute as being resolved by Peter's speech and concluding with a decision by James, the brother of Jesus not to require circumcision from Gentile converts. Acts quotes Peter and James as saying:

"My brothers, you are well aware that from early days God made his choice among you that through my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness by granting them the Holy Spirit just as he did us. He made no distinction between us and them, for by faith he purified their hearts. Why, then, are you now putting God to the test by placing on the shoulders of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? On the contrary, we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they."

"It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood."

This Apostolic Decree is still observed by the Eastern Orthodox Church.[17]

The historical reliability of the Acts of the Apostles is disputed.[18] While the Council of Jerusalem was described as resulting in an agreement to allow Gentile converts exemption from most Jewish commandments, another group of Jewish Christians, sometimes termed Judaizers, felt that Gentile Christians needed to fully comply with the Law of Moses, and opposed the Council's decision.[5][15][19]


According to the Epistle to the Galatians chapter 2, Peter had traveled to Antioch and there was a dispute between him and Paul. The Epistle does not exactly say if this happened after the Council of Jerusalem or before it, but the incident is mentioned in Paul's letter as his next subject after describing a meeting in Jerusalem which some scholars consider to be the council. An alternate theory, which many believe to be better suited to the facts of the incident, is that it took place long before the Jerusalem Council, perhaps shortly after Paul's famine visit of Acts 11. This conclusion makes more sense of Peter's apparent change of heart. Galatians 2:11–13 says:

When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men 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.

To Paul's dismay, the rest of the Jewish Christians in Antioch sided with Peter, including Paul's long-time associate Barnabas:

The rest of the Jews joined in this charade and even Barnabas was drawn into the hypocrisy.

Peter and Paul, depicted in a 4th century etching with their names in Latin and the Chi-Rho

The Acts of the Apostles relates a fallout between Paul and Barnabas soon after the Council of Jerusalem, but gives the reason as the fitness of John Mark to join Paul's mission (Acts 15:36–40). Acts also describes the time when Peter went to the house of a gentile. Acts 11:1–3 says:

The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, "You went into the house of the uncircumcised and ate with them."

This is described as having happened before the death of King Herod (Agrippa) in 44 AD, and thus years before the Council of Jerusalem (dated c. 50). Acts is entirely silent about any confrontation between Peter and Paul, at that or any other time.

A minority of scholars argues that the confrontation was actually not between Paul and Peter, the Apostle, but another one of the identified 70 disciples of the time with the same name as Peter. In 1708, a French Jesuit, Jean Hardouin, wrote a dissertation that argues "Peter" was actually "another Peter", thus the emphasis of using the name Cephas (Aramaic for Peter).[20] In 1990 Bart D. Ehrman wrote an article on the Journal of Biblical Literature, similarly arguing that Peter and Cephas should be understood as different people, citing the writing of Clement of Alexandria[21] and the Epistula Apostolorum in support of his theory;[22] Ehrman's article received a detailed critique by Dale Allison, who argued that Peter and Cephas are the same person.[23] Nowadays, most scholars agree with Allison on the matter and Ehrman himself has partially backed down from his position, stating that he is undecided on the matter.[24]

The final parting of Peter and Paul has been a subject of Christian art, pointing to a tradition of their reconciliation.


The final outcome of the incident remains uncertain; indeed the issue of Biblical law in Christianity remains disputed. The Catholic Encyclopedia states: "St. Paul's account of the incident leaves no doubt that St. Peter saw the justice of the rebuke."[25] In contrast, L. Michael White's From Jesus to Christianity states: "The blowup with Peter was a total failure of political bravado, and Paul soon left Antioch as persona non grata, never again to return."[26]

According to church tradition, Peter and Paul taught together in Rome and founded Christianity in that city. Eusebius cites Dionysius, Bishop of Corinth as saying, "They taught together in like manner in Italy, and suffered martyrdom at the same time."[27] This may indicate their reconciliation. In 2 Peter 3:16, Paul's letters are referred to as "scripture", which indicates the respect the writer had for Paul's apostolic authority.[28] However, most modern scholars regard the Second Epistle of Peter as written in Peter's name by another author.[29][30]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Dunn, James D. G. (Autumn 1993). "Echoes of Intra-Jewish Polemic in Paul's Letter to the Galatians". Journal of Biblical Literature. Society of Biblical Literature. 112 (3): 462. doi:10.2307/3267745. JSTOR 3267745. 2:14: "how is it that you compel the Gentiles to judaize?" "To judaize" was a quite familiar expression, in the sense "to live like a Jew", "to adopt a distinctively Jewish way of life"-with reference to Gentiles taking up Jewish customs like observance of the sabbath. The polemical note sounds in the verb "compel". [...] The element of compulsion would enter because there were Gentiles who were making claims, or for whom claims were being made, to enter into what generations of Jews had always regarded as their exclusive privileges (in terms of the argument of Galatians, into the direct line of inheritance from Abraham). To safeguard the character of these privileges it was evidently seen as necessary to ensure that such claimants conformed fully to the traditional notes of the covenant people. This Paul regarded as compulsion. {{cite journal}}: External link in |quote= (help)
  2. ^ James D. G. Dunn in The Canon Debate, L.M. McDonald and J.A. Sanders, editors, 2002, chapter 32, page 577: "For Peter was probably in fact and effect the bridge-man (pontifex maximus!) who did more than any other to hold together the diversity of first-century Christianity. James the brother of Jesus and Paul, the two other most prominent leading figures in first-century Christianity, were too much identified with their respective "brands" of Christianity, at least in the eyes of Christians at the opposite ends of this particular spectrum. But Peter, as shown particularly by the Antioch episode in Gal 2, had both a care to hold firm to his Jewish heritage, which Paul lacked, and an openness to the demands of developing Christianity, which James lacked." [Italics original]
  3. ^ a b c Cross & Livingstone 2005, pp. 1243–5.
  4. ^ Stendahl, Krister (1963). "The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West" (PDF). Harvard Theological Review. Cambridge University Press. 56 (3): 199–215. doi:10.1017/S0017816000024779.
  5. ^ a b c d Bokenkotter 2004, pp. 19–21.
  6. ^ a b c Hurtado 2005, pp. 162–165.
  7. ^ a b McGrath 2006, pp. 174–175.
  8. ^ Bokenkotter 2004, p. 19.
  9. ^ a b Fredriksen 2018, pp. 10–11.
  10. ^ a b Hodges, Frederick M. (2001). "The Ideal Prepuce in Ancient Greece and Rome: Male Genital Aesthetics and Their Relation to Lipodermos, Circumcision, Foreskin Restoration, and the Kynodesme" (PDF). Bulletin of the History of Medicine. Johns Hopkins University Press. 75 (Fall 2001): 375–405. doi:10.1353/bhm.2001.0119. PMID 11568485. S2CID 29580193. Retrieved 9 January 2020.
  11. ^ a b Rubin, Jody P. (July 1980). "Celsus' Decircumcision Operation: Medical and Historical Implications". Urology. Elsevier. 16 (1): 121–124. doi:10.1016/0090-4295(80)90354-4. PMID 6994325. Retrieved 9 January 2020.
  12. ^ Kohler, Kaufmann; Hirsch, Emil G.; Jacobs, Joseph; Friedenwald, Aaron; Broydé, Isaac. "Circumcision: In Apocryphal and Rabbinical Literature". Jewish Encyclopedia. Kopelman Foundation. Retrieved 9 January 2020. Contact with Grecian life, especially at the games of the arena [which involved nudity], made this distinction obnoxious to the Hellenists, or antinationalists; and the consequence was their attempt to appear like the Greeks by epispasm ("making themselves foreskins"; I Macc. i. 15; Josephus, "Ant." xii. 5, § 1; Assumptio Mosis, viii.; I Cor. vii. 18; Tosef., Shab. xv. 9; Yeb. 72a, b; Yer. Peah i. 16b; Yeb. viii. 9a). All the more did the law-observing Jews defy the edict of Antiochus Epiphanes prohibiting circumcision (I Macc. i. 48, 60; ii. 46); and the Jewish women showed their loyalty to the Law, even at the risk of their lives, by themselves circumcising their sons.
  13. ^ Neusner, Jacob (1993). Approaches to Ancient Judaism, New Series: Religious and Theological Studies. Scholars Press. p. 149. Circumcised barbarians, along with any others who revealed the glans penis, were the butt of ribald humor. For Greek art portrays the foreskin, often drawn in meticulous detail, as an emblem of male beauty; and children with congenitally short foreskins were sometimes subjected to a treatment, known as epispasm, that was aimed at elongation.
  14. ^ a b Eisenstein, Judah David; Hirsch, Emil G. "Gentiles May Not Be Taught the Torah". Jewish Encyclopedia. Kopelman Foundation. Retrieved 9 January 2020. Inasmuch as the Jews had their own distinct jurisdiction, it would have been unwise to reveal their laws to the Gentiles, for such knowledge might have operated against the Jews in their opponents' courts. Hence the Talmud prohibited the teaching to a Gentile of the Torah, "the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob" (Deut. xxxiii. 4). R. Johanan says of one so teaching: "Such a person deserves death" (an idiom used to express indignation). "It is like placing an obstacle before the blind" (Sanh. 59a; Ḥag. 13a). And yet if a Gentile study the Law for the purpose of observing the moral laws of Noah, R. Meïr says he is as good as a high priest, and quotes: "Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments, which if a man do, he shall live in them" (Lev. xviii. 5). The text does not specify an Israelite or a Levite or a priest, but simply "a man"—even a Gentile ('Ab. Zarah 26a). [...] R. Emden, in a remarkable apology for Christianity contained in his appendix to "Seder 'Olam" (pp. 32b-34b, Hamburg, 1752), gives it as his opinion that the original intention of Jesus, and especially of Paul, was to convert only the Gentiles to the seven moral laws of Noah and to let the Jews follow the Mosaic law—which explains the apparent contradictions in the New Testament regarding the laws of Moses and the Sabbath.
  15. ^ a b Fredriksen 2018, pp. 157–160.
  16. ^ McGrath 2006, pp. 174–176.
  17. ^ Karl Josef von Hefele's commentary on canon II of Gangra notes: "We further see that, at the time of the Synod of Gangra, the rule of the Apostolic Synod with regard to blood and things strangled was still in force. With the Greeks, indeed, it continued always in force as their Euchologies still show. Balsamon also, the well-known commentator on the canons of the Middle Ages, in his commentary on the sixty-third Apostolic Canon, expressly blames the Latins because they had ceased to observe this command. What the Latin Church, however, thought on this subject about the year 400, is shown by St. Augustine in his work Contra Faustum, where he states that the Apostles had given this command in order to unite the heathens and Jews in the one ark of Noah; but that then, when the barrier between Jewish and heathen converts had fallen, this command concerning things strangled and blood had lost its meaning, and was only observed by few."
  18. ^ Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Acts of the Apostles" . Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. In section Objections against the Authenticity: "Baur, Schwanbeck, De Wette, Davidson, Mayerhoff, Schleiermacher, Bleek, Krenkel, and others have opposed the authenticity of the Acts."
  19. ^ Cross & Livingstone 2005, p. 1244.
  20. ^ Scott, James M. "A Question of Identity: Is Cephas the Same Person As Peter?" Journal of Biblical Studies 3/3 October 2003.
  21. ^ Eusebius, Church History, Book I
  22. ^ Ehrman, Bart D. (1990). "Cephas and Peter". Journal of Biblical Literature. 109 (3): 463–474. doi:10.2307/3267052. ISSN 0021-9231. JSTOR 3267052.
  23. ^ Allison, Dale C. (1992). "Peter and Cephas: One and the Same". Journal of Biblical Literature. 111 (3): 489–495. doi:10.2307/3267263. ISSN 0021-9231. JSTOR 3267263.
  24. ^ BDEhrman. "Finally: Cephas and Peter. What Do I Really Think?". The Bart Ehrman Blog. Retrieved 2021-12-18. Most scholars think it's improbable. OK, highly improbable{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  25. ^ Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Judaizers" . Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  26. ^ White, L. Michael (2004). From Jesus to Christianity. HarperSanFrancisco. p. 170. ISBN 0-06-052655-6.
  27. ^ Eusebius, Church History 2.25.
  28. ^ "Peter places the epistles of Paul on the same level as the Old Testament." Simon J. Kistemaker, Peter and Jude (Evangelical Press, 1987), 346.
  29. ^ Orthodox Study Bible, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, Elk Grove, CA, USA, 2008, p 1690
  30. ^ Wallace, Daniel Second Peter: Introduction, Argument, and Outline
  1. ^ Larry Hurtado (August 17, 2017), "Paul, the Pagans' Apostle"
  2. ^ Stephen Westerholm (2015), The New Perspective on Paul in Review, Direction, Spring 2015 · Vol. 44 No. 1 · pp. 4–15
  3. ^ a b c Larry Hurtado (December 4, 2018), "When Christians were Jews": Paula Fredriksen on "The First Generation"


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