By Keith Thompson
Earl Doherty asserts, “The so-called Apostolic conference in Acts 15 has Paul and the apostles in Jerusalem coming to an agreement on the question of Gentile observance of the Jewish Law, yet in Galatians 2 these issues are still unresolved after the meeting (Doherty (2001), 19). Richard Carrier likewise argues Acts attempted to “sell a particular (historically fabricated) account of how early Christianity abandoned the requirement of Torah observance, one that made it seem approved even by Peter all along. . . when in fact we know from Paul (Gal. 2) that Paul was for a long time its only advocate and was merely tolerated by Torah observers like Peter, often contentiously” (Carrier (2014), 362). On this kind of basis, Robert Price likewise mentions the “Paulinists and Petrinists the book of Acts wants to reconcile” (Price (2006), 496).
This is the old Baur Tübingen thesis advanced by German New Testament critic Ferdinand Christian Baur in the 19th century. It states Acts was created by the second century church to reconcile alleged earlier Petrine Jewish and Pauline Gentile factions (which I will argue below did not even actually exist). The idea is Peter and Paul were at odds on Torah-keeping and their opposing Christin factions emerged because of this. Then Acts and other texts were written to make it seem as though Christians got along on the matter all along (See F. C. Bauer, Paul the Apostle of Jesus Christ, (Stuttgart, 1845); cf. idem, “The Christ Party in the Corinthian Community, the Opposition Between Petrine and Pauline Christianity in the most Ancient Church, the Apostle Peter in Rome,” Tübinger Zeitschrift Für Theologie 4 (1831). But this theory has already been refuted (see e.g. Kümmel (1973), 162-184 and Ellis (2003), 87-115 for the history of its rejection and refutation. For modern rebuttals see J. Munck, “The Church Without Factions,” in Paul and the Salvation of Mankind, (London: CM, 1959), pp. 135-167; N. A. Dahl, “Paul and the Church at Corinth According to 1 Cor. 1:10-4:21,” in W. R. Farmer et al (eds.), Christian History and Interpretation, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967), pp. 313-335; David Wenham, “Unity and Diversity in the New Testament,” in Ladd (1993), pp. 687-694; L. L. Welborn, “Discord in Corinth: First Cor 1-4 and Ancient Politics,” in Politics and Rhetoric in the Corinthian Epistles, (Marcon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1997), pp. 1-42; C. H. Hill, Hellenists and Hebrews: Reappraising Division within the Earliest Church, (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1992); Witherington (1998), 240-247; Thiselton (2000), 109-130; Garland (2003), 44-50; Keener (2013), 1249-1260)).
Contrary to the claims of Mythicists, I do not see a contradiction between the Acts 15 council and the Galatians 2 ordeal between Peter and Paul. Yes, in Galatians 2 the Jerusalem Christians and Peter travelled to Antioch keep Kosher, withdrew from the table of the Gentiles, and were interpreted by Paul as trying to “force the Gentiles to live like Jews” (Galatians 2:14). And yes, earlier in Acts 15 it was adjudicated that Gentiles are not under Mosaic Law and that Jewish Christians did not need to keep it for salvation. However, my reading of Galatians 2 is that Peter knew of the Acts 15 adjudication, but made the mistake of temporarily going against it in Antioch, after which he was corrected by Paul. After Peter made the error of withdrawing from the table of the Gentiles to eat kosher with the Jewish Christians (Galatians 2:12-13), Paul called Peter out for hypocrisy (vv. 11-12). It is clear therefore that Peter’s normal mode of conduct was not kosher-keeping, withdrawing from Gentiles, or “forcing Gentiles to live like Jews.” Instead, Peter momentarily engaged in these errors thereby exhibiting “hypocrisy.” In the Greek when one acted with ὑποκρίσει (hypocrisy), the person created “a public impression that is at odds with one’s real purpose or motivation, play-acting. . . outward show” (BDAG, 1038). So, what we see in Galatians 2 is Peter’s outward show or play act at that specific time. And it was out of step with his normal mode or purpose. Paul’s statement that as a norm Peter “live[d] like a Gentile and not a Jew” (2:14) confirms normally Peter (and by implication the other Jerusalem Christians under him) did not keep kosher or, obviously, try to force Gentiles to observe it (if Peter did not normally keep kosher, why would he normally try to force Gentiles to keep it?) Thus, Galatians 2 shows Peter knew of the Acts 15 adjudication of Gentiles being free from the Law and Jewish Christians not being able to be saved by keeping it, that Peter lived by this adjudication normally, that he went against it temporarily in a hypocritical “play-act” manner, and then was corrected by Paul on the issue after which he went back to his normal mode. That Peter and Paul later did missions together in Rome (Ignatius, Letter to the Romans, 4; Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.3.2) means Peter stopped being a hypocrite on the issue and instead went on to consistently live by the Acts 15 resolution. Paul would not have done missions with Peter if this were not so. For, these matters of kosher and Gentile law observance were essential gospel or salvation issues for Paul (Galatians 2:14a: “But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel. . .”). Hence, rather than Galatians 2 contradicting Acts 15, I think it shows Peter had knowledge of it and normally lived by it, except at this occasion of hypocrisy or play-acting in Antioch. I am not alone in this reading either (After coming to this view of Galatians 2, I discovered Bruce came to similar conclusions. In F. F. Bruce, “Is the Paul of Acts the Real Paul?,” BJRL (1976), p. 282 he remarked, “Paul's indignation at Peter's withdrawal from table fellowship with Gentile Christians at Antioch was due precisely to his awareness that Peter's conduct did not conform with his inner convictions-that it was, in Paul's words, a piece of ‘play-acting’" (Gal. ii. 11-14)). This correct reading shows Galatians 2 cannot be seen as evidence for the Baur thesis.
Carrier’s view Peter was Torah observant is also refuted by other early materials. We know Peter was not Torah observant but instead a New Covenant observer like Paul. For example, 1 Peter 2:9, which Carrier admits Peter wrote (Carrier (2014), 263), says all believers are priests. This means he believed the priests, Levites and sacrificial system of the Mosaic Covenant were no longer in effect, but that all Christians replaced this system in New Covenant theology. This contradicts the Torah.
The idea Peter and Paul were and remained at odds on this issue, and that their later followers (i.e., the supposed Jewish Petrine Christians and Gentile Pauline ones) existed in sects which survived many decades reflecting such a disagreement only to later be resolved by Acts, etc., is refuted by a number of other considerations as well. The “Hebrews” and “Hellenists” mentioned in Acts 6:1 do not actually evidence such groups as previously assumed (i.e., they were not the doctrinally divided forerunners of the supposed “Petrinists” and “Paulinists” as Baur thought). The evidence instead points to the groups being separated by language but not by doctrine (For a list of the scholars who hold this view, see David Fiensy, “The Composition of the Jerusalem Church,” Richard Bauckham (ed.), The Book of Acts in its First Century Setting, vol. 4, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B. Eerdmans, 1995), pp. 234-236). The “Hebrews” were just native Palestinian Jewish Christians who spoke and attended synagogue services in a Semitic language. And the “Hellenists” were merely Jewish Christians who spoke and attended synagogue services in Greek. Many of the Hellenist Jews most likely moved to Palestine from the Greek-speaking Diaspora. Fiensy remarks,
“The Hebrews were of Palestinian origin. Some of them had possibly been pilgrims for the feast of Pentecost and had remained after conversion, but we should expect that most of them were inhabitants of Jerusalem. Likewise the Hellenists could have been in part pilgrims from the Diaspora. The simplest explanation, however, is that most of them came from the ranks of the Greek-speaking Jews of Jerusalem who lived and worshipped in the Lower city, especially in the City of David. This location contrasts with the traditional sites of the Upper Room, both of which are in the Upper City. Thus we should see at least three locations for the activity of the Jerusalem Church: the Upper Room in the Upper City, the Hellenistic synagogues in the Lower city, and of course the Temple” (Ibid., 235).
C. H. Hill’s book Hellenists and Hebrews proves this and also refutes Baur, making the case that “we are not justified in assigning the membership of the early Jerusalem church to Hellenist and Hebrew ideological pigeonholes” (C. H. Hill, Hellenists and Hebrews: Reappraising Division within the Earliest Church, (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1992), p. 91. In the work he also refutes the idea the idea the Hellenists had a lower view of the Temple. See also the helpful little article by Hurtado for a good summary of the evidence for the position the Hebrews and Hellenists were not at odds doctrinally (Larry Hurtado, “The‘Hellenists’ of Acts: Dubious Assumptions and an Important Publication,”). The only clear evidence of dispute between the Hebrews and Hellenists is in Acts 6:1 which merely concerns Hebrews not properly caring for Hellenist widows in terms of food distribution. But this was quickly resolved and does not prove doctrinal disunity.
There are good arguments Paul and the other apostles / Jerusalem church were instead unified. Hill points out there is no evidence any of Paul’s opponents he dealt with in his letters had authorization from the Jerusalem Church. What is more, that Paul affirmed he received financial collections for the Jerusalem church (Galatians 2:10; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8–9; Romans 15:25-33) suggests unity between them. Hill’s book covers all the ground and must be consulted by anyone who still believes the Baur thesis. I should also point out in Galatians 1:18-19 Paul stayed with Peter and James in Jerusalem for fifteen days, and in Galatians 2:9 Peter, James and John gave Paul their right hand of fellowship. Would they have done so if they disagreed with Paul on the critical matters of the Law and salvation (i.e., the very gospel message itself)?
After Baur died, the writings of the apostolic fathers began to be authenticated. Thus, when Ignatius mentioned Peter and Paul doing missions together in Rome, even after the Galatians 2 ordeal (Ignatius, Letter to the Romans, 4; Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.3.2), and when certain apostolic fathers who were students of the original disciples like Peter and John actually affirmed the apostleship and orthodoxy of Paul, it makes sense to agree with Köstenberger et al when they note, “The Tubingen theory that Peter and Paul were rivals should be viewed as obsolete” (Köstenberger et al (2016), 837 n. 54). Polycarp was a student of John and the other apostles (Polycarp, Letter to the Philippians, 6; Tertullian, Prescription Against Heretics, 32; Irenaeus, Letter to Roman Presbyter Florinus; idem Fragments from the Lost Writings of Irenaeus, 3; idem, Against Heresies, Book 3, Ch. 3). Yet, Polycarp affirmed the apostleship and orthodoxy of Paul (Polycarp, Letter to the Philippians 3, 11, 12). If the Jerusalem apostles (Peter, James and John) were at odds with Paul and rejected his doctrine, Polycarp would have known this and would not have affirmed Paul’s authority. Evidence shows Clement of Rome knew the original disciples (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.3). His letter attests he knew of Peter and followed his teachings (Clement, Letter to the Corinthians 5 shows knowledge and acceptance of Peter). In chapters 2 and 11 many scholars believe he even shows knowledge of 1 Peter 2:17 and 2 Peter 2:6-9. Yet Clement affirmed the apostleship of Paul as well (Clement, Letter to the Corinthians, 5, 27). If Peter and his “party” were opposed to Paul and his doctrine, they would have warned Clement or Clement’s immediate predecessors about Paul. Ignatius may have been a disciple of John and an acquaintance of Peter (Martyrdom of Ignatius 1; Eusebius, Church History 3.22; Theodoret, Dialogues 1). Yet, Ignatius also affirms Paul’s credibility (Ignatius, Letter to the Ephesians 12).
Baur’s idea 1 Corinthians 1:12 shows there existed parties with apostle leaders and opposing doctrines is incorrect. Without arguing from the text exegetically, Carrier supports this idea (Carrier (2014), 147 and idem, “The Spiritual Body of Christ,” in Price and Lowder (2005), p. 224 n. 302). Price does the same (Price (2003), 56, 187; idem (200), 60). The text says, “each one of you says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Corinthians 1:12-13). Baur claimed according to the text the groups of Paul and Apollos were one and the same, and that the groups of Peter and Christ were one in the same, the latter teaching Law observance for salvation (Baur, “Die Christuspartei in der Korinthischen Gemeinde, der Gegensatz des paulinischen und petrinischen Christentums in der Altensten Kirche, der Apostel Petrus in Rom,” TZ 4.Heft , pp. 61-206). However, Thiselton has shown scholars following Baur here in identifying these groups as parties with opposing doctrines really died down in the middle of the 20th century. Since then academics have not really taken this approach for good reasons involving ancient rhetoric, Greco-Roman education, politics and sophism, etc (Thiselton (2000), 109-110). Better alternatives with stronger evidence have been proposed. So, Price, Doherty and Carrier are relying on an antiquated view.
If we take the text to mean in Corinth there were actual theological parties at odds with each other doctrinally, then Paul would not exhort people to not follow him and his “party” as he does in v. 13. Elsewhere Paul does exhort Christians to side with him over against actual opponents and groups in his letters (Garland (2003), 50 references Galatians 1:6-9; 2:11; 5:10-12; 6:12-13; 2 Corinthians 11:4, 13-15, 19). This makes it clear actual opposing parties with divergent doctrines are not in view in 1 Corinthians 1:12-13. Many commentators think Paul was, as Quintilian talked about (Quintilian, Inst. 9.2.30), being rhetorical and mockingly caricaturing the Corinthians because of their general individualism apparent in verses 10-11 and the repetitive “I’s” in v. 12 (See Garland (2003), 47-51 for the scholarship establishing this position.). So, in reality there was not anyone actually saying they belong to individual Christian leaders. When ancients were actually sloganeering in political situations in personality-centered ways, people would say “I support so and so,” not “I belong to so and so” which is what we see in 1 Corinthians. “I belong to so and so” is actually the way children would speak (M. M. Mitchell, Paul and the Rhetoric of Reconciliation, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993), p. 84). This is clearly a caricature and was not what the Corinthians were actually saying (since they were not literal children). Paul was just saying they were being child-like in their general individualism (Paul also calls them infants in 1 Corinthians 3:1-4. And Paul’s use of hyperbole can likewise be seen in 4:15’s mention of their “ten thousand guides in Christ”). He took such general individualism to its ultimate logical extreme: the mockingly insulting and absurd idea that it is just as absurd as people eventually siding with different influential Christian leaders instead of being united in Christ. Thus, there were no parties in reality (Raymond F. Collins, First Corinthians, (SP: Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1999), p. 73; Garland (2003), 47-48). The parties were just a fictional, rhetorical device for Paul’s argument about the immatureness of general individualism. Garland notes, “This conclusion best explains why in this section Paul addresses not the individual factions but the entire church. It also explains why he never takes on the other teachers. . .” (Garland (2003), 48).
I find this interpretation the most plausible. But even if one rejects it and thinks the Corinthians did form little groups devoted to individual church leaders, there is nothing in the context suggesting doctrinal divisions like Law observance for salvation were involved. S. M. Pogoloff correctly noted, “the smoke of divisions do not necessarily imply the fire of doctrine” (S. M. Pogoloff, Logos and Sophia: The Rhetorical Structure of 1 Corinthians, (Society of Biblical Literature Series 143, Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1992), 100). The only mentions of Corinthian quarreling in the letter are lawsuits (6:1-11) and unruly Lord’s Supper table practices where certain Christians went hungry and others got drunk (11:21). If there were groups fighting about Law observance for salvation (a critical matter for Paul), Paul would have condemned the doctrine and group holding to that as contradicting the gospel, as he did regarding the teaching of his Judaizer opponents in Galatians 1:6-9; 3:1-2, 10; 5:4 (And again there is no evidence these Judaizing opponents had the support of the Jerusalem church). But he did not. The best possible case is the Corinthian factions, if they even existed, were just petty ones based on baptism (as in 1:13-17) and sophist practice. That is, those baptised by Paul sided with him in a child-like manner mimicking the competitive sophist education model of siding with individual teachers even though Paul, Apollos, Peter, and Christ were not in actual doctrinal disunity (See Ciampa and Rosner (2010), 81 for the scholarship arguing for this position). The argument of 1 Corinthians 1:13, on this view, can then be summarized as: “just because you were baptized by me [Paul], does not mean you were baptized in the name of Paul.”
In sum, the idea Acts was created to reconcile Petrine Jewish and Pauline Gentile Christianity is without basis, and Acts does not contradict Paul’s letters on such matters. Moreover, there is no real evidence of doctrinal disunity required for the Baur thesis to work, much less between Petrine and Pauline parties. Thus, the Baur thesis is refuted.