Peter and Paul in conflict? Part 2 – Dismissing the case for a lack of evidence.

Last time I noted the origins of the belief that Peter and Paul were in a major theological controversy. We traced this back to a nineteenth century New Testament scholar named Johann Christian Bauer.

Bauer and others who argue that Peter and Paul taught distinctively different versions of Christianity make this argument from Galatians 2:11-21most specifically Galatians 2:11-14. The problem is that there was a theological disagreement between Peter and Paul.

To understand and fully dissect this view, we must first begin with an understanding of the context of the epistle to the Galatians.

Galatians 2 and the controversy at Antioch

The controversy at Antioch seems to have occurred within the context of larger discussions about the place of gentiles in the Christian Church. Paul’s major point is is that justification is received by faith alone, and therefore gentiles do not need to adapt themselves to the law.

Within the immediate context, Paul presents first a basic unity between himself and Peter, along with James and John on these basic questions.[1] Modern students then who believe the controversy at Antioch was theological in its tenor rarely discuss the controversy at Antioch in its larger context.

Hypocrisy – not doctrine

Second, they ignore the details of the passage. Paul does not describe Peter’s actions of no longer eating with gentiles in terms of distinctions in belief, but rather in terms of hypocrisy. For example:

Vs 12 Peter’s actions of eating with the gentiles would make no sense if he differed from Paul on justification or the place of gentiles in the Church. Paul later states that Peter withdrew himself from table fellowship out of fear.

Vs. 13 – He describes the actions of other Jews behaving hypocritically.

Vs 14 – Paul explicitly describes those who imitated Peter’s actions as hypocritical

Vs. 15-16 – Paul begins his conversation on the larger issue in a way that makes no sense if Peter and Paul’s beliefs were the same in regards to the gospel itself.

At no point does Paul use any language indicating that Peter is holding to incorrect beliefs, instead, Paul seems to state explicitly that Peter’s behavior is hypocritical. But if that belief is hypocritical, then it means Peter betrayed his own beliefs.

Later confirmation

Galatians was likely written around AD 48-49, though this dating is not accepted universally. In 1 Corinthians 2:12-13 Paul discusses factions identified with particular apostles, including Peter. In verse 13 he states, “Christ isn’t divided, is He? Indicating there were no divisions between himself and the other apostles.

Conclusions

Someone once suggested that Evangelicals fail to read between the lines in our discussions of Galatians 2:11-21. In point of fact, however, what those who argue for a Petrine and Pauline split are actually doing is not reading between the lines, but wholly ignoring the details of Paul’s discussion.

[1] Galatians 2:1-10

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