Who’s a Doofus?

Don Carson has an interesting take on the situation in Galatia when Paul confronted Peter (Gal 2:11-14). His thought is that “men from James” and “the circumcision party” are two different groups. His theory is that Peter didn’t stop eating with Gentiles for fear of Judiazers from James. Rather, it was men from James who brought word to Galatia that Jews in Jerusalem were persecuting the believers there for doing such things. After all, it was Peter who’d received the vision from heaven articulating to him that all food is clean and that the gospel should go to the Gentiles. Peter knew this so surely he wouldn’t be swayed by legalism to stop eating with Gentiles, right? Carson admits that there is no historical evidence of persecution at that time but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t have happened. Peter, out of compassion for Jewish believers in Jerusalem, draw back from things that incited persecution back home. This is how it could be that even Barnabas got carried away into it. (Gal 2:13) Neither Peter nor Barnabas had abandoned the gospel for their old Jewish ways, they were showing compassion on their friends and family back home. Paul’s beef is that in doing that even for good reasons, they were compromising the gospel.

What Carson’s approach does is to save Peter from looking like he’s clueless, spineless or compromised. Those are laudable things! I mean, if you take the conventional approach, that the “men from James” were the “party of the circumcision” and they intimidated Peter into withdrawing from Gentiles, then he does look pretty goofy.

However, there are some issues with Carson’s idea (and he freely admits it.) One is the verse I came across the other morning. Not a “theory slayer” but it does pose a difficulty. Titus 1:10 seems to indicate that the party of the circumcision wasn’t Jews outside the church but troublemakers inside. It seems to me that for Carson’s theory to work, Paul would have to speak of the party of the circumcision as unbelieving Jews who saw Jewish converts to Christianity as deserters from the faith. But Titus 1:10 speaks of them as if they’re troublemakers within the church. I think that tips the scales back toward the more conventional approach. “Men from James” were Judaizers who wanted Gentiles to essentially convert to Judaism before becoming Christians.

Ok, so what if they are? Well on this side of the scales, James looks like the doofus too. If he’s leading the party of the circumcision, then what was up with his speech at the Jerusalem council in Acts 15? It couldn’t be that Galatians happened some time before Jerusalem, Paul mentions the council in the letter. So from this side of the scale, James contradicts what he said at the council and Peter contradicts his vision. On the other side, Carson’s side, James and Peter are off the hook but now we wind up with the circumcision party joining the church at Crete where Titus was pastor. So the Jerusalem council didn’t settle that issue and chase those folks off and Paul doesn’t tell Titus to put them out, only that they “must be silenced.” Then following on from there in verse 11, it seems that these Judaizers are actually Cretans!

There is on really clear, simple explanation of what lead to Paul rebuking Peter in Galatia. Aren’t you glad I pointed all this out? I’d hate to have us sit comfortably on incorrect answers. I’m here for you. :)

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  • Extremely wise and godly men often have a few really silly ideas. I go to BJ, I know :)

  • True, true. I just wish a) I was wise and godly and b) I knew what my silly ideas were.

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