earliest church (Gal 2:9) are depicted as strong advocates of Torah observance, whereas Paul is vilified.
This depiction of Peter probably to some degree reflects historical reality, since Paul in Galatians 2:11-14 describes him as following the lead of 'certain people from James' and withdrawing from table fellowship with Gentile Christians because of scruples related to the Law.17 On the other hand, there may have been a certain ambiguity in Peter's position, since both the book of Acts (chs. 10-11 and 15:7-11) and the probably pseudonymous 1 Peter cast him in a Pauline light.18 Paul's description of Petrine vacillation in Gal 2:11-14 suggests that both aspects of this depiction have some basis in reality, but we may suspect that he fell more towards the James side of the spectrum than the Pauline one.19
Jewish Christians encountered by Paul in his mission
James and Peter were important figureheads, but they themselves were only the tip of a huge Jewish Christian iceberg that is mostly invisible to us because of the eventual triumph of Gentile Christianity. Paul himself, in his battle against it, provides compelling evidence of its power, for example in his letter to the Galatian Christians. The latter had come under the influence of a group of Law-observant Christian missionaries who insisted that not only Jewish but also Gentile males must be circumcised and observe the Torah in order to become members in good standing of 'the Israel of God' (cf. Gal 6:16). These missionaries, whom Paul calls 'agitators' (Gal 1:7, 5:10), were probably part of a broadly based Law-observant Christian mission to Gentiles, against which Paul also battles in his letter to the Christians in Philippi, where he warns against 'dogs' who insist on 'mutilating the flesh', i.e. circumcision (Phil 3:2-3). He also attacks Christian missionaries of Jewish descent in
17 Exactly what those scruples were is not clear, since there is nothing in the Torah itself proscribingJews from table fellowship with Gentiles. Common guesses include fear of contracting ritual impurity through casual contact with unclean Gentiles, apprehension that the food served might not be kosher, and anxiety that it might not have been properly tithed (see Sanders, 'Jewish association').
18 On Pauline theological elements in 1 Pet, see Achtemeier, 1 Peter, 15-19.
19 One of the weaknesses of the great work of F. C. Baur, who first brought the term 'Jewish Christianity' to prominence, is that he does not recognize this Petrine ambiguity but identifies Peter totally with the anti-Pauline, Torah-observant party in the 'battle royal between Jewish Christianity and Gentile Christianity' (Carleton Paget, 'Jewish Christianity,' 751) that for him constitutes the first two centuries of Christian history. For a review of Baur's major contribution to the study ofJewish Christianity, seeLuedemann, Opposition to Paul, 1-7.
Was this article helpful?