Paul the Apostle, His Life Letters and Thought– Part Thirty

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p. 473—It is important to distinguish: 1) what Paul’s conclusion was on the matter; 2) how he argued for it, and 3) his reason for coming to the conclusion. A distinction between the arguments and the reason behind them is important.

p. 475— This is an angry letter, dictated in anger and it led him to make a few extreme statements which when compared to his other letters are exaggerations. The proof is that he modifies or retracts some of these things in Romans. He finds anger in the absence of the thanksgiving in the repeated cursing of the opponents (1.8-9) and his wish that his enemies would mutilate themselves (5.12). The statement that the law was ordained by angels (3.20) and therefore not by God is an exaggeration of his most negative view of the Law, since throughout his letters he quotes the OT as God’s Word, as true, as Scripture. Or perhaps the appearance of anger was a rhetorical tactic [e.g. to scare the converts back into line].

p. 476—Astonishment and cursing have replaced the usual thanksgiving just after the blessing. Another hint that he is greatly upset— the oath in 1.20— before God I do not lie! Not to mention his statement that those who accept circumcision are severed from Christ and have fallen away from grace (5.4). This is an extreme reaction compared to 1 Cor. 7.19; Rom. 2.25-3.4 the other passages on being circumcised.

p.477—- Sanders will pursue a mirror reading of Galatians to figure out what the opponents were saying and doing, but he knows of the cautions for example by John Barclay, “Mirror-Reading a Polemical Letter: Galatians a Test Case,” JSNT 31 (1987), pp. 73-93.

But Sanders is not cautious he says “For every negative in Gal. 1-2 explicit or implied, we should assume that someone holds the position that he denounces.” [Not necessarily among the Galatians themselves. Paul is trying to prevent them from getting circumcised, he is forestalling what he sees as disaster]. Sanders concludes from 1.8-9 that there is someone who opposes Paul [but Paul says ‘if anyone…’]

p. 478–Here is Sanders mirror reading: 1) someone is accusing Paul of being an apostle of secondary importance dependent on human authority, to which Paul replies ‘not by human commission but thru Jesus Christ’. 2) they accused him of having a human message to which Paul replies my message didn’t come from a human source but from a revelation from Christ—1.15-17 3) the oath proves beyond doubt he is answering charges, charges for instance that he went up to Jerusalem soon after his conversion to get authorized. Paul says no, I didn’t go for 3 years, and when I did go I only saw Peter and James the Lord’s brother 4) in 1.10 Paul says he is not trying to please people so they must have been accusing him of doing so 5) according to 2.2 he went up again to Jerusalem according to revelation, so Sanders says this rebuts the notion he was sent for to be given his marching orders. 6) on the second visit he took Titus along and Paul says ‘he was not compelled to be circumcised, though he was a Greek’. This could mean that the false brothers tried and failed to have him circumcised, or that Titus voluntarily got circumcised.

p. 479—“In either case, something happened in Jerusalem with regard to Titus and circumcision to which Paul needed to reply.” [Reading the whole of Galatians it is hard to imagine Paul allowing Titus to be circumcised]. Paul insists the pillar apostles added nothing to Paul’s Gospel or mission which may imply he was accused of modifying his message under compulsion from the Jerusalem leaders, or that his opponents were seeking to add something to his message. Paul asserts his independence and says his mission was recognized (and approved), the only condition being remembering the poor.

p. 480– In general there were some who were insisting that Gentiles must be circumcised keep kosher and observe the Sabbath, and Paul says no. Those were the things that set Jews off from Gentiles the most, in terms of praxis. Sanders enunciates the principles or basis for ‘getting in’ and for ‘staying in’. Getting in involves being a descendent of Abraham. In ordinary Judaism, staying in is by observing the Law and repenting of transgressions. The latter is called ‘being righteous’.

p.481— But according to Jewish Law, Gentiles wanting in had to be circumcised and keep the Law. 5.2 indicates of course that the Galatians had accepted Christ but were now contemplating accepting circumcision— Paul says if you do that, Christ will be of no advantage to you. Someone is trying to persuade the Gentiles in Galatia to do this.

p. 482— It was not just in Galatia that Paul was under attack. The evidence of the letter shows opposition in Jerusalem and in Antioch too. Sanders thinks Acts shows Paul was dependent on the Jerusalem Church, not independent as Paul asserts in Gal. [But both Acts and Paul agree that Paul was called, equipped etc. by a vision of Christ, not by the Jerusalem church, and even if you throw in Ananias, he is part of the church in Damascus, not Jerusalem]

The first visit to Jerusalem seems to have involved him just getting acquainted with Peter and James, and perhaps also learning things about Jesus. The second visit he took Barnabas and Titus with him.

p. 483— Paul seems to talk somewhat sarcastically about the Jerusalem leaders ‘those reputed to be pillars’ 2.6— ‘those believed to be something’ ‘what they were doing doesn’t matter to me, God shows no partiality’ (2.9)— does 6.3 also refer to them— ‘those who believe themselves to be something’ [I would say this has to do with the opinions of others about the pillars— about their honor rating]. Note Paul distinguishes between the pillars and the false brothers, and he is glad to have the hand shake and approval of the pillars. They ‘recognized the grace’ God had bestowed on him and agreed he and Barnabas should convert Gentiles. Paul wanted their support. We don’t know who the false brothers were, are they the same as the false apostles in 2 Cor. 11.26.

p. 484— Probably there were only a few false brothers, as Paul says they slipped into the meeting. Antioch was clearly the second most important city for Christians after Jerusalem in Paul’s lifetime, mentioned 13 times between Acts 11-15. If Paul had a home base it was probably Antioch. He was already there when Peter showed up, and there was a common meal shared by Jewish and Gentile Christians there, Sanders suggests a meal including the Lord’s supper which Peter and Barnabas and others joined at first, but then withdrew due to pressure from the ‘men who came from James’.

p. 485— We don’t know the outcome, but Paul may have lost the battle in Antioch, and perhaps also lost the churches in Galatia. Sanders says we don’t know what ‘the men from James said’ that caused withdrawal, but if they came specifically to convey a message to Peter then they had to know he was there, and he must have been there for a while and Jerusalem knew about it. “But…let us say that the ‘people who came from James’ spoke as James representatives, whether or not James had explicitly told them what to say.”

pp. 486-87— Here are some possibilities: 1) the common meals at Antioch broke the kosher food laws, and so Jews in these meals were breaking explicit divine commands; The laws in question are in Lev. 11 and Deut. 14 and specifically pork and shellfish were forbidden, birds of prey (doves and pigeons permitted), there were no chickens in these regions at this time, snakes and most insects were forbidden except those who have legs above the feet (i.e. locusts). Jews can’t eat fat or blood of animals 2) the 2nd possibility is that the Gentiles themselves were regarded as impure and the opponents would under no circumstances eat with them; 3) perhaps the food was kosher but it had not been tithed or handled in purity; 4) eating with Gentiles might have damaged Peter reputation as apostle to Jews, [or made it hard for him to convert them]. Acts 10 is not evidence that Jews like Peter started to violate the food law, it just meant they should accept Gentiles without their observing them. Sanders doubts the real issue here is food since he thinks neither Peter nor Paul would have simply eaten pork etc.

p. 488— In regard to Peter “Separating himself from the abominable meats would not have required the advice of James’ representatives.” Neither the impurity of Gentiles nor the purity and tithing laws would have affected meals in Antioch. The reason is that Jews in the Diaspora were already impure themselves due to corpse impurity which could only be removed at the Temple in Jerusalem. It is true that Gentiles were regarded as inherently impure and so couldn’t enter the inner courts of the Temple. [The issue of impurity is a red herring here?]. Moreover Jewish lit. discusses eating with Gentiles and always focuses on the food not the people cf. Let. Of Aristeas 181-94 which shows the translators of the LXX regularly dining with the king of Egypt and his court! The king’s kitchen prepared kosher for the Jews.

n. 17—when Diaspora Jews came to Jerusalem they had to have corpse impurity removed which required 7 days before entering the temple.

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