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In Galatians 2, Paul records a conflict he had with Peter. In doing so, he mentions that "certain men came from James" and that after their arrival, Peter separated himself from eating with the Gentiles.

When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For 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. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.

Galatians 2:11-13 NIV (emphasis mine)

Everything up to this point in Galatians seems to suggest that James and Paul were of one accord on the gospel for which Paul is contending in the letter. But here, it sounds almost as if James himself has about-faced. And yet, Paul does not have anything to say against James— only against Peter and Barnabas and the other Jews who joined Peter.

What role then did James have to play in this conflict? Were these men delegates from James? Or were they false brethren claiming to come from James? Or is there some other scenario that can explain the data?

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Role of James

The James referred to here was James, the brother of the Lord, that Paul refers to in Galatians 1:19. The same James was episkopos in Jerusalem, and the one who pronounced on how Gentiles were to be received into the Church (Acts 15:13-22). Those whom James would have sent would, having come from Jerusalem, almost certainly have been Jews, who at that time were continuing to keep the law.

I don't think there is anything in the Galatians text that implies James sent certain Jews to Antioch in order to insert them into the "conflict" between Peter and Paul. They simply happened to be there, but, being Jews among Gentiles, became relevant to the supposed controversy, as described below.


Misunderstanding of the "conflict"

I say "supposed controversy" because the consensus in antiquity was that the "conflict" between Paul and Peter was more or less staged, in order to resolve differences between Jews and Gentiles without offending either side. Paul and Peter essentially engage in an argumentative dialog for the sake of those observing it and not for the purpose of prevailing over each other.

This point seems to be completely lost on a number of modern translations, most certainly the NIV included. Such interpretations were dismissed by John Chrysostom (c 349-407), who wrote in his commentary on Galatians:

Many, on a superficial reading of this part of the Epistle, suppose that Paul accused Peter of hypocrisy. But this is not so, indeed it is not, far from it; we shall discover great wisdom, both of Paul and Peter, concealed herein for the benefit of their hearers.1

It should be noted that the word ὑπόκρισις [hypokrisis] means pretense as well as hypocrisy. The ὑπόκρισις in v.13 is not hypocrisy on Peter's part, but his pretense of feigning disdain for eating with Gentiles. This was not lost on the older English versions:

Tyndale (1536)

And the other Jewes dissembled lykewyse/in so muche that Barnabas was brought in to their simulacion also.

Geneva Bible (1575)

And the other Jewes dissembled likewise with him, in somuche that Barnabas was broght into their dissimulation also.

King James Bible (1611)

And the other Iewes dissembled likewise with him, insomuch that Barnabas also was caried away with their dissimulation.

Contrast this with these versions' translations of Matthew 23:28 (NIV: ... on the inside you are full of hypocrisy ...), which use the words ypocrisye (Tyndale) and hypocrisie (Geneva, 1611 KJV).

The modern translations of the verse - "insincerity", "hypocrisy" - seem to date back to the mid-20th century, possibly with the RSV.


Patristic understanding of the "conflict"

Theophylact (1055-1107) summarized the proper understanding of what was occurring in his Explanation of the Epistle to the Galatians:

Many suppose that in this passage Paul is accusing Peter of hypocrisy: but it is not so. Everything that Paul appears to say or do in opposition to Peter was done deliberately as part of a plan. When Peter was in Jerusalem, he allowed circumcision, because he could not draw the Christian Jews away from the law all at once. But when he came to Antioch, he would eat with the Christian Gentiles. However, if Jewish Christians came from Jerusalem [as those sent by James], Peter would withdraw from the Gentiles so as not to scandalize these Jews. He also did this to give Paul a pretext to castigate him. And so Paul rebukes Peter, who meekly endures the reprimand. It would be easier to change Peter's disciples once they had seen their teacher keep silent when he had been rebuked. I withstood him to the face [κατὰ πρόσωπον αὐτῷ ἀντέστην], means "I pretended to resist him." Had there really been an actual quarrel, the two apostles would not have rebuked each other in the presence of the disciples, for fear of scandalizing them. In reality, this was a simulated dispute conducted in public as a means of correcting the disciples. Peter said nothing in response, clearly indicating that he accepted Paul's opposition. Because he was to be blamed [ὅτι κατεγνωσμένος ἦν] [does not mean] that he blamed Peter; rather Peter was to be blamed by all those who were unaware of this plan.2

Regarding the role of those sent by James (v.12), Theophylact writes:

Here Paul explains why Peter had been condemned. James, the brother of the Lord, was Bishop [ἐπίσκοπος] of Jerusalem and teacher of the Jews who believed in Christ, while continuing to keep the law. Some of these, James sent to Antioch. Upon their arrival, Peter withdrew and separated himself: he was afraid, not of danger to his person, but that the Jerusalem believers would be scandalized by his use of economy3 with the Gentile believers, and would abandon the faith. So Peter stopped keeping company with the Gentile Christians. Not understanding the reason, some of them condemned him.4

Regarding the "hypocrisy" supposed by some versions in v.13, he comments:

Paul calls Peter's plan and actions a dissimulation, or strategem, because Peter deliberately veiled his true intentions, and was actually working to undermine a favorable disposition towards the law of those who zealously observed it. The other Jews are the Hebrew faithful in Antioch, who also withdrew from the company of the uncircumcised.5


Looking through a number of modern Protestant commentaries on this passage, it seems that the interpretation I describe above is sometimes dismissed as a veiled attempt to somehow defend the supposed "papal infallibility" of Peter. This is not to say that there were not such attempts: one commentary points out one ancient interpretation that maintained the Cephas of Ephesians was not the Apostle Peter, but some other Peter.

But both Chrysostom and Theophylact were Byzantines - Greeks, not Romans, outside the See of Rome. By the time Theophylact wrote his commentary, the Great Schism between Rome and the eastern Sees had probably already occurred. Chrysostom, whom John MacArthur once called the "greatest preacher of the early Church", even rejected the notion that the rock upon which the Church was built (Matthew 16:18) referred to the person of Peter.6 In short, neither Chrysostom nor Theophylact had any "axe to grind" here. In any case, I think their exegesis stays very close to the Epistle text, which was in their own language.


1. Homily II on Galatians (tr. from Greek)
2. Explanation of the Epistle to the Galatians (tr. from Greek; Chrysostom Press), p.41
3. οἰκονομία (oikonomia) - a word that doesn't have a good translation in this context; Schaff substitutes "economy", the English word derived from it. It's common meaning is something like "household management", but here it means something like compromise or condescension - in a positive sense.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.
6. Homily LII on Matthew

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The passage does not tell us why the certain men were sent to Antioch, but suggests that Peter was concerned not to be judged by James for his conduct while in Antioch. This can lead to the conclusion that James was more senior in the Jerusalem church than was Peter, but that need not have been the case.

I have always read this aroundthe word 'hyprocrisy' that Paul uses in describing Peter. That is to say, he was wiling to ingratiate himself with the gentile Christians as long as those in Jerusalem did not know that he was ignoring the Law that he should eat apart from the gentiles.

There is no suggestion the men were false brethren claiming to come from James, in fact Peter's response to their presence confirms they were from James. There is also no reason to believe they formed a delegation, in that they represented James for a specific purpose at that time. The men came from James and, if they saw something they believed to be untoward, Peter knew that word would get back regarding his conduct.

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​but on the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter was with the gospel for the circumcised, (Gl 2:7 [EMTV])

Paul quotes the dissimulation of certain men of circumcision and witnesses that when he saw this, when it had discernment of the dissimulation, that the Jews of the circumcision were not acting correctly according to the truth of the gospel. Which gospel? It is not the gospel entrusted to Apostle Peter, the of circumcision and yes, the gospel for the Gentiles. In the presence of all, because in the presence of all? Because it was necessary attract attention of the Jews of the circumcision for the truth of a gospel for the Gentiles, and at the same time, to have several witnesses of the fact! Then the Apostle Paul praises the Apostle Peter of reprehensible one! So, the Christian Jews of the circumcision would recall the synod of Jerusalem in Acts 15, Acts 21:25 regarding the converted heathens. It was revealed to an Apostle Peter whom the heathens would be going to be converted, but their jurisdiction, it fell to an Apostle Paul. One does not question on infallibility in the subject in epigraph, in different jurisdictions.

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In chapter 1, Paul had just finished giving his account of his conversion. He is trying to explain to the Galatians that nobody taught him his gospel, because it was revealed to him directly from Jesus Christ.

"Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also."

But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised:

And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage:

To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you." Galatians 2:1-4

Paul says there were false brothers that came in secretly to dispute with Paul about circumcision. It seems he believed that these men were Jews pretending to be Christian so that they could argue about circumcision. This next part is going to be confusing. I'm going to stop using the KJV for a bit and make a literal translation with the Greek as a reference:

"of moreover those esteemed (δοκέω) to be something (whatsoever formerly they were not to me makes a difference; surface the God of mankind not does accept) to me indeed those esteemed (δοκέω) nothing added" Galatians 2:6

ἀπὸ δὲ τῶν δοκούντων εἶναί τι ὁποῖοί ποτε ἦσαν οὐδέν μοι διαφέρει πρόσωπον ὁ θεὸς ἀνθρώπου οὐ λαμβάνει ἐμοὶ γὰρ οἱ δοκοῦντες οὐδὲν προσανέθεντο

Paul is now talking about a different group of people. These "esteemed" are not the same as the false brothers. Any time the words "reputation" or "seemed" appears in the KJV, it is from the Greek δοκέω which means "to seem" or "to be of an opinion". Okay, back to the KJV but I'm going to move a parenthesis and the last part will be literal:

But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me (as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter;

For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:)

and having known the grace the having been given to me Jacob and Cephas and John those esteemed pillars to be right hands they gave to me and Barnabas of fellowship that we to the nations they moreover to the circumcised

καὶ γνόντες τὴν χάριν τὴν δοθεῖσάν μοι, Ἰάκωβος καὶ Κηφᾶς καὶ Ἰωάνης, οἱ δοκοῦντες στύλοι εἶναι, δεξιὰς ἔδωκαν ἐμοὶ καὶ Βαρνάβᾳ κοινωνίας, ἵνα ἡμεῖς εἰς τὰ ἔθνη, αὐτοὶ δὲ εἰς τὴν περιτομήν

So let's put that all together, but take out the parenthesis:

of moreover those esteemed (δοκέω) to be something (whatsoever formerly they were not to me makes a difference; surface the God of mankind not does accept) to me indeed those esteemed (δοκέω) nothing added

But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me

and having known the grace the having been given to me, Jacob and Cephas and John (those esteemed pillars to be) right hands they gave to me and Barnabas of fellowship that we to the nations they moreover to the circumcised

Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do." Galatians 2:1-10

So the esteemed are Jacob, Peter, and John. Paul says these men added nothing to his gospel, because he had received his gospel by revelation of Jesus Christ. He then goes on to tell a story about how he boldly stood up to Peter in front of everyone:

But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.

For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision.

And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation.

But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?" Galatians 2:11

I find it interesting that this same event is said to have happened in Acts. Except in the Acts account, Peter is in Jerusalem and the exact opposite happens:

"And the apostles and brethren that were in Judaea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God.

And when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him,

Saying, Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them.

But Peter rehearsed the matter from the beginning, and expounded it by order unto them, saying,

I was in the city of Joppa praying: and in a trance I saw a vision, A certain vessel descend, as it had been a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came even to me....

....Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost.

Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God?

When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life." Acts 11:1-18

It's also interesting that Paul says everyone agreed that Peter should go to the circumcised, and Paul to the uncircumcised. In Acts, Peter says:

"And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe." Acts 15:7

Paul seems upset with Peter about something. It also seems like Paul has read Acts and he's not too happy with what it said. He tells many stories that Acts records in the first two chapters of Galatians, but he tells them with his own spin on things.

Scholars are mixed about whether Paul wrote Galatians before the Jerusalem Council or afterwards. I think it's more reasonable to say this was after Acts 15, because Paul isn't too happy with Barnabas and they had split up shortly after the Jerusalem Council. Paul and Barnabas had a disagreement and Paul could not forgive Mark for leaving them in Pamphylia, so Paul decided to separate from them:

And some days after Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do.

And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark.

But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work.

And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus;

And Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God.

And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches." Acts 15:36-41

Paul is also trying to distance himself from the Apostles that Yeshua chose, and it's probably because he doesn't want the Galatians to be persuaded by the gospel they taught. As was stated before, Paul's trying to explain that his gospel came directly from Jesus Christ:

"But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man.

For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ." Galatians 1:11-12

Conclusion:

I'm going to say Paul is lying about Peter. He doesn't want the Galatians to think that any other gospel than the one he is preaching is valid, so he brings into question the authority of Peter and then tells a story to confirm that Peter has lost his way. So I guess it's up to you. Do you trust the man that never spent a day with Yeshua and came in his own name (John 5:43), or do you trust that the Messiah chose his apostles because he knew they would deliver his message?

"And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning." John 15:27

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  • I'm having great difficulty following the argument here. I'm not sure what Acts 11 has to do with it. There is a large body of scholarship on the "Council of Jerusalem" between Acts 15 and Galatians 2, to say nothing of the numerous Acts and Galatians commentaries that discuss these issues. I don't know what the conclusion ("...it never happened.") is actually referring to. .../2 – Dɑvïd Aug 16 '16 at 19:59
  • .../ We often urge answerers to "show their work", which is a requirement on this site. Don't just tell us what you know, tell us how you know it. You may want to see "What are we looking for in answers?". Please have a look over those links and see how you might revise this answer to follow those guidelines. – Dɑvïd Aug 16 '16 at 20:01
  • Hello Davïd. I will work on clarifying this and add more details. I find Acts 11 relevant because it is the same event that Paul describes (Peter sitting and eating with the uncircumcised), except the outcome is the exact opposite. It's almost as though either Paul had read Acts, and was trying to say "Remember the man that sat with gentiles? Well he's changed", or the author of Acts had read Galatians and was saying "This is what had happened when Peter was confronted for sitting with gentiles. He was bold and he would never back down". I can't decide but I'm pretty sure Paul read Acts. – Cannabijoy Aug 17 '16 at 3:50
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    While not being Biblical, the Gospel of Thomas states: '12. The disciples said to Jesus, "We know that you are going to leave us. Who will be our leader?" Jesus said to them, "No matter where you are you are to go to James the Just, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being." This conforms with Acts in suggesting James was the original appointed leader of the Church.. – Dhammadhatu Aug 20 '16 at 9:44
  • @Dhammadhatu I can't even pretend to know what the gospel of Thomas is about, nor do I ever read it. But I have always found this interesting "Yeshua said, Seek and do not stop seeking until you find. When you find, you will be troubled. When you are troubled, you will marvel and rule over all." Jacob was definitely important to the early disciples, but he knew we are all brothers (Matt. 23:8). – Cannabijoy Aug 20 '16 at 17:18
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I don't agree that these men Paul describes as being "from James" were sent to work in opposition to Paul, but I do see that this issue on the necessity for new believers to be circumcised was one that had traction in the Jerusalem church. Some supporters, or more accurately "advocates," Paul points out as being "former Pharisees," and it seems were right back to their old tricks. These guys came from the same group that Jesus felt such contempt for during his entire ministry.

That Paul points them out without hesitation is not surprising given the stakes at the time, but you can see he doesn't worry much about social niceties. He has as little patience with them as did Jesus, and he is just as forthright in his criticism, but at times I can see where he might come off as something of a hard-ass. He comes straight out with calling Peter a hypocrite just as openly.

(It's too late here for me to find it before finishing up but in Acts there was young man who joined up with Paul and Barnabas as they left out on another mission journey and wasn't strong enough to keep up, running back to Jerusalem about half-way through the trip. Later you'll notice Paul has to be convinced to give the kid another chance and only after some effort does he relent and allow for the young man to be given an second chance.)

So he was perhaps impolitic at times, sure, but he was no liar and the case made that he was one is wholly without merit.

In some ways I see him and James as being more alike than not in many ways. James is acting out of love when he writes be he is speaking to us in the church in his epistle and doesn't sugar-coat it when he calls us out for being half-hearted and useless, for being fakes and sinners still. I know he is writing truth but he comes straight out with it and I know I didn't feel like he was all too worried about hurting my sensitive little feelings in the process.

The fact that Peter felt embarrassed and ashamed when his fellow Jews arrive from Jerusalem and see him taking meals with his Gentile brothers doesn't really point to him acting in God's will here. I also think, however, that to see Peter's reaction to what he knows his fellow Jews are thinking about his little vacation from keeping kosher and observing the laws of Moses as just being more weakness on his part is to miss some of the story.

From our historical and cultural vantage point it is easy to dismiss everyone in the Jerusalem church as either still missing the whole point or as being in the service of the enemy. Imagine though just how obscene these Gentile believers must have seemed to them. I would think it must have felt like they were witnessing debauchery as evil as a Roman orgy and that can't have been easy for them. What Paul was asking them to accept must have gone against every fiber in their being.

Still, the fact that these "certain men came from James" could mean they were from James directly, and it could mean they came under his direct, but I find that a stretch to force. A parallel reading of the passage is largely in agreement by most of the more recent translation, but I would point out the NLT translates the passage as "when some friends of James came." A few leave out the reference to men entirely as is the case with the KJV translation which uses the phrase "certain came from James."

It could as easily have meant they came from James in the way Barnabas came from Paul. And just because they were wrong on this issues, as Barnabas and Peter ended up being as well, it doesn't mean they represent any evidence of disharmony or anything but a sincere and difficult struggle to live Christ's message.

We have no way of knowing, but if James was at least conflicted by God's pouring out of grace to the Gentiles I see how that might be the case. We do know when the thing sort of exploded in Antioch he was in Jerusalem and at was at least a participant in the discussion over retaining parts of the law the Gentiles would be forced into keeping. I know I miss why eating the flesh of a strangled animal was such an affront, and I am not sure how superstitious belief in idols can pollute anything - especially given some of the things that were not included.

That the church has struggled and still struggles is a certainty. Even if we had better intentions we are still a body comprised entirely of struggling sinners. So when I see our humanity being truthfully included once more by in Acts by Luke for the mysterious Mr. Theophilus's elucidation I am more convinced of the truth of Christ than ever before.


Whew. At this many word's you would think I must have some Russian in me but perhaps even worse it's my Irish love of words that does me in....

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This is all very confusing, and I think one must read Galations "between the lines" so to speak. It seems to me that the Council in Acts 15 whereby James allows Paul to admit uncircumcised into the gathering, BUT he goes on to say that the Gentiles will learn the Law as it is preached every Sabbath, assuming that the Gentile believers will circumcise their children, and themselves when they become indoctrinated. Clearly James would not have the authority to admit uncircumcised into the inner Temple Court, and so expected only a small number of Gentiles would remain uncircumcised. However, Paul took this small allowance and then began preaching that the Law was abolished, contrary to Jesus' specific teaching. In Galacia where Paul was, James realised his error and how Paul had extended it and sent some of those who adhered to the circumcision group to convince Paul to correct his ways, however Paul defied them and continued in his apostasy.

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