A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Did Peter Abandon the Jewish Food Laws at Antioch? #2

Galatians 2:11-18

Judaism in the first century was concerned with defining the limits of table-fellowship. The observing of these limits varied from Jewish community to Jewish community. It is reasonable to suggest that even among the Jewish communities of the Diaspora it was expected that good Jews would follow the halakic explanations of the purity laws. This may have been true at Antioch as well. While there was social interaction between Jews and God-fearing Gentiles, more scrupulous Jews would generally avoid table fellowship with Gentiles (Jubilees 22:16; compare Tacitus, Hist. 5.5.1-2). Jews who were more Hellenized, however, might feel free to participate with Gentiles in table-fellowship within certain limits. It is likely that the early church wrestled more intensely with this dilemma as more and more Gentiles entered the church (compare Acts 11:2-3).

Whatever the exact nature of the table-fellowship at Antioch, the dispute finds its core in 2:14 in Paul's rebuke of Cephas (Peter): "‘If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?" Here Peter is told that he lives like a Gentile in matters of table-fellowship. Again, this does not necessarily mean that Peter had abandoned entirely the laws regulating table-fellowship. What the "men from James" wanted was stricter observance of the food laws and purity laws. This effectively meant that unless the Gentiles decided to Judaize, the Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians could not have table fellowship together. This could and likely would compel the Gentile believers to Judaize, that is to embrace Jewish customs and laws to the extent that Gentile believers would be accepted at the table.

One reason that Peter may have withdrawn from table-fellowship with Gentiles was that he was told that such behavior was not Jewish, and as a Jew he ought to live like one. He had abandoned the ancestral faith. Indeed, his lifestyle in Antioch hindered the evangelization of other Jews.

Paul saw this withdrawal from the table as inconsistent with the gospel. Peter and his Jewish brothers were not on the right road. In complying with the demands of the church in Jerusalem, if indeed it was the church in Jerusalem or merely certain men claiming such authority, Peter built a wall of separation between the Jewish and Gentile believers it was a wall that denied the Gentile Christians full membership in the church; it denied their status as true believers, unless, of course the Gentiles were to Judaize, which meant becoming more like Jews. In so doing the covenant prerogatives would continue to remain in the hands of ethnic Israel.


Greg Hazelrig said...

Good post. Thanks and keep it up.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Amen to what Greg says here.

Reminds me of the 2006 book on Paul from N.T. Wright which I just finished recently. Of for that matter his new book on justification which I likewise finished (in fact it may have been spelled out more in that one).

We need more good scholarship that puts such down in readable terms for all in the church, as on this post.

Thanks, Allan.

Messiah's Way said...

One of the things that is often missed is that the issue is not about food at all. Table fellowship was a substitute for Temple worship for those in the diaspora. Clearly those of James would have had a stricter approach to this, ie use your fork not your spoon. If Peter had grown up with this, it seems logical that he would miss it and gravitate towards it. To Peter, eating with the Gentiles would be like having to eat at the kids table.

So for what does Paul chastise Peter? For treating the Gentile brethren as second class citizens. Which is something a Jew should not do, but something that happens in the Gentile world all the time. Pay attention to what his charge against Peter is: That Peter who is a Jew is acting like a Gentile (by changing tables) even while teaching the Gentiles to act like Jews. This is a good lesson for all of us when we are in the midst of "righteous" and "less-righteous" people.
Shalom, Jeff.