Saturday, 20 February 2010

Peter at Antioch again

Earlier this week I posted some thoughts from studying Galatians 2:11-24, when Peter came to Antioch and Paul opposed him in public.

As I've reflected on this passage further, I'd like to ask.... what exactly does it mean?

On one level I know what it means. It tells us what happened when Peter came to Antioch, of course.

The question is, though, why is Paul telling us about this? In other words, what exactly is the passage's function within the whole letter? How does it advance the case that Paul is making?

Paul's case, as outlined in 1:6-9, is simply this: that there is only one gospel, and it is the gospel that Paul preached - not the gospel of the "Judaisers".

Any kind of "mirror-reading" of chapters 1 and 2 will make clear that the Judaisers were trying to persuade the Galatians that there was a gap between Paul and Peter's apostleship and their gospel - with Paul on the losing end. Paul was some kind of subordinate, and had mangled the message somewhere in transmission when bringing it (allegedly) from Jerusalem.

Within this context, how exactly does Galatians 2:11-24 function? Here the mirror-reading is more difficult I think. Were the Judaisers spreading a false report of Peter's trip to Antioch that Paul wanted to correct? Or is Paul simply continuing to demonstrate that he was not inferior to Peter, shown by the fact he had once even publicly rebuked him? Were the Judaisers making Peter seem infallible in everything he did (perhaps Peter also had begun to separate from Gentiles in Jerusalem too, and the Judaisers were using this report?), and was Paul's purpose to correct this untruth? Is Paul's purpose simply, like in 2:1-10, to show that his gospel had been publicly vindicated with Peter present?

Or is it a combination of these things, or some others too? The answer to this question seems impossible to be dogmatic about. God has not revealed the answer to this question. So how does this then affect how we preach it? For a lot of the preaching, it makes no difference - we'll have to spend a good deal of time explaining what happened and what it meant, and how it fits in the overall scheme is not affected by this so much. But it still makes some difference - we have to give some account of the purpose of the passage if people are meant to understand the book as a whole and not just individual verses her and there.

Any thoughts? My (I hoped educated) best guess is that Paul is, for the best of motives, having to expose to the Galatians that Peter is not all that the Judaisers have made him out to be. It is a historical argument, refuting the idea that Peter was the super-apostle whose teachings (though these actually totally agreed with Paul's, as 2:1-10 established - and necessarily so, as my understanding is that the apostles were inspired and infallible in all their teaching) and practices were the guide to judge the others by. He's demonstrating that the Judaisers' reconstruction simply doesn't work when tested by what had really gone on down the years.

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