Richard Fellows on the background of Galatians

Last Thursday Richard Fellows posted about the claims of the Galatian agitators. Contrary to popular belief they were not sent from James but were in opposition to the Jerusalem position, which was the same as Paul’s. He states his thesis up front:

“I will argue here that the agitators had been saying to the Galatians,

“‘You should be circumcised because scripture requires it. Paul knows this, but he taught you the opposite because he was a loyal envoy of the Jerusalem church leaders (who oppose circumcision).'”

He makes three points in his article:

a) Both Paul and the Jerusalem church leaders believed that Gentiles should not be circumcised.
b) The agitators (understandably) believed that Paul believed that Gentiles should be circumcised, and that he had spoken against circumcision only out of loyalty to the Jerusalem church leaders. The agitators therefore thought that Paul was on their side.
c) Paul’s authority was not seriously under attack in Galatia. Paul had been misunderstood, not maligned.

Fellows reasons well and takes into account some of the data and suggests points where his theory is better than the traditional one. However, he fails to adequately explain Gal 2:11ff, particularly the reason why Peter pulled back from fellowship with Gentiles: “For before certain people came from James, [Peter] 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.” If James and Peter do not represent Jerusalem then I don’t know who does because as Paul mentions, they along with John are the esteemed pillars (2:9). It also reduces the problem to one of circumcision but although this was the most visible sign of the issue it was only peripheral to the central matter, which is a separation of the people of God based on both physicality and practice (circumcision, days, 3:28). Is Fellows suggesting that they mistakenly thought Paul was merely representing Jerusalem on all of these issues? What gospel had he preached on his previous visit? Why had he opposed Peter to his face (indicative of opposing the Jerusalem leadership)? In order for Fellows’ argument to work the Galatians have to be woefully misinformed about the gospel Paul preached to them and out of the loop concerning what is happening in Jerusalem. Neither seems probable, especially since he can appeal to what they formerly knew/agreed with.

Fellows provides us with something to think about but so far he has me asking more questions than what he was answered. It is a work in progress so we’ll have to wait for the next installment.

P.S. If Richard or any other readers think I have misread and/or misrepresented his position please let me know.

UPDATE, April 9, 2010 Richard has posted twice more, addressing my primary question and adding more information about Paul’s dilemma in writing Galatians.

2 responses to “Richard Fellows on the background of Galatians

  1. Thomas, thanks for the feedback. You raise a good question about Gal 2:11-14. I see now that I did not do enough in my blog post to explain how this passage is consistent with my assumption that James and Peter were supporters of Gentile liberty. I will address this point in a blog post soon. I’m not sure that I understand your other points.

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