June 29 is the traditional date celebrating the apostles Peter and Paul, a feast observed in both Eastern and Western tradition since the mid-4th century; it is associated with their martyrdom (in Rome), and may have been connected with the deposition of their remains (bones/relics) during the 3rd century. In commemoration of this date, over these three days (June 29, 30, and July 1), I will be presenting short notes on several aspects of the traditional relationship between Peter and Paul, as follows:
- Opposition between Peter and Paul in Christian tradition
- Peter and Paul as a symbol of Church Unity
- An exegetical outline and summary of the famous passage in Galatians 2:11ff
Today’s note will look at the first of these:
Opposition between Peter and Paul in Christian tradition
There is only one passage in the New Testament which refers to any opposition between Peter and Paul—this is the second chapter of Galatians (Gal 2). The historical-critical questions surrounding the episode[s] in this chapter (in relation to those of Acts 15) are well-known and continue to be debated by scholars and commentators today; it will not be possible (nor advisable) to try to address them here. Rather, I will simply let Galatians speak for itself:
In verses 1-3, Paul refers to a session held during a visit to Jerusalem, where he and Barnabas (along with Titus, a Greek) met (privately kat’ i)di/an) with those considered (or seeming/appearing, dokou=sin) to be leaders (among the Jerusalem Christians). Though not stated here, these ‘leaders’ must have included James, Peter, and John (v. 9). According to v. 2, Paul went to Jerusalem according to a revelation (kata\ a)poka/luyin), his main concern being to set before them the “good news” (Gospel) that he had been proclaiming among the Gentiles. While he does not clearly explain the reason for doing this, he certainly was aware that his missionary approach—emphasizing that non-Jews could come to Christ and join the wider Christian Community without observing the traditional requirements of the Old Testament Law—was liable to be misunderstood (and misrepresented) even among Jewish Christians. He no doubt wished to maintain strong relations with the Jerusalem community, and to see his missionary work confirmed by them. He goes out of his way to point this out in verses 7-9.
In vv. 4-5, Paul suddenly mentions “false brothers” who were “brought in” (lit. “led along in[side]”) and “came in alongside” to “look down (at)” (i.e. inspect, ‘spy’)—it is not specified just who these people are or how they came to be a part of the proceedings, they may simply have been associates of the leaders (James-Peter-John). Here Paul introduces the freedom vs. bondage theme that will carry through the rest of the letter. The implication is that these “false brothers” wished to impose religious-legal requirements—circumcision, at least—on Gentile converts such as Titus (on the curious language in verse 6, see below). Paul concludes his narrative in vv. 7-10 by emphasizing that the meeting ended with a basic agreement—Paul was indeed recognized as an apostle to the Gentiles, just as Peter was for the Jews [the circumcised]. However, while this distinction could be harmonious, it could also serve as the basis for division. A hint of opposition between Paul and the Jerusalem leaders runs through vv. 1-10, by his repeated use of a curious expression, using the verb doke/w:
- “the ones thought/considered (to be…)”, v. 2
- “the ones thought/considered to be some(thing)”, v. 6 (partially repeated)
- “the ones thought/considered to be pillars”, v. 9
Note the way this narrows and becomes more specific: in verse 9 the expression is identified with James, Peter and John. It is possible that the earlier references could apply to a larger group of church leaders. Some commentators have argued that there is nothing derogatory or negative about the expression “the ones thought/considered to be…”, but Paul’s repeated use of it here suggests otherwise, especially when we consider what he adds in verse 6: “whatever they were carries through [i.e. matters] nothing to me, (for) God does not receive the face of man [i.e. does not take a person at face value, according to appearance].”
However, it is clear that actual opposition does not break through until verse 11-14, a separate (later) incident, narrated by Paul, which took place in Antioch. Paul states that he “stood against (Peter) according to (his) face” (in English we might say “opposed him face to face”, or colloquially, “got right in his face”). The concluding expression of v. 11 (o%ti kategnwsme/no$ h@n) is a bit difficult to translate, but could be rendered “in that [i.e. because] he [Peter] was known/recognized (to be in error) regarding (this)”. I will discuss this passage in more detail in a later note, but the gist of it seems to be that, for a time, Peter was willing to forego the dietary laws (and/or other religious scruples) to observe Christian fellowship with the Gentile believers of Antioch; but, when prominent representatives of the Jerusalem church (“men from James”) arrived, he withdrew and was reluctant to associate publicly in the same way. Paul uses this as the springboard into the main argument of Galatians (summarized powerfully in verses 15-21).
There is only one other passage in the New Testament which could reflect some sort of opposition between Peter and Paul; this is 1 Corinthians 1:12, part of a discussion on divisions among believers in Corinth:
“each one of you says: ‘I am of Paulus’, and ‘I (am) of Apollos’, and ‘I (am) of Kefa [i.e. Peter]’, and ‘I (am) of (the) Anointed [i.e. of Christ]’—has the Anointed (One) been divided (into parts)?…”
Kefa (the original Aramaic of Pe/tro$/Peter, “Rock”) is mentioned again in 1 Cor 3:22 and 9:5. The reference in 1 Cor 1:12 (and perhaps also 3:22) would not be a direct personal opposition, but could imply emphasis on a more “Jewish” style of Christianity associated with Peter. That such a distinction of “Jewish” vs. “Gentile” Christianity, represented by Peter and Paul, persisted in Christian tradition, may perhaps be indicated by the so-called Pseudo-Clementine Literature (the Homilies and Recognitions). These works, typically dated to the early-3d century, are pseudepigraphic (see on Pseudonymity and Pseudepigraphy), associated with Clement, a prominent figure of the early sub-apostolic period, and traditionally one of the first bishops of Rome. The Homilies are prefaced by (pseudonymous) correspondence between Peter and James, in which Peter presents books of his preaching (the Homilies) and gives instruction regarding their use and distribution. In the letter to James (2:3-4), Peter complains (and warns) that:
“some among the Gentiles have rejected my lawful preaching and have preferred a lawless and absurd doctrine of the man who is my enemy. And indeed some have attempted, while I am still alive, to distort my words by interpretations of many sorts, as if I taught the dissolution of the law and, although I was of this opinion, did not express it openly. But that may God forbid!” (transl. Johannes Irmscher and George Strecker in Hennecke-Schneemelcher, New Testament Apocrypha, vol.2 ).
According to the books of Homilies which follow, the “lawless” “enemy” is Simon Magus; however, many critical scholars hold that Simon is actually a kind of code (or cipher) for Paul and his teachings. In Hom. II.17.3-5, Simon is described specifically as one who went (ahead of Peter) to the Gentiles and proclaimed “a false gospel”. The narrative of the Homilies works on two levels: (1) Peter pursues Simon and challenges/opposes him as a false teacher and wicked magician, much in the manner of other legendary, extra-canonical “Acts” of the Apostles; and (2) Peter pursues and corrects a specific sort of false teaching that has been spread out into the Gentile world.
The theological outlook of the Homilies is strongly Jewish Christian, having much in common with the language and thought-world of the Sermon on the Mount; indeed, it draws heavily on the “Two Ways” motif (see also Didache 1-5; Barnabas 18-20), which was itself no doubt influenced by sayings of Jesus such as in Matt 7:13-14ff. The “easy way” that leads to destruction involves ignoring or disregarding the Law of Moses and/or the corresponding commands of Jesus (Hom. VII.7.1-2ff; VIII.5-7, etc). The dualism of the Homilies is even more pronounced, as we see in book 2, culminating in the juxtaposition of Simon and Peter—Simon with the false Gospel comes first, then follows Peter with the true Gospel—an inversion/perversion of the proper order of God (and Creation) which the true Gospel is meant to correct. However, the Homilies (as reflecting the purported teaching of Peter) do not simply require Gentiles to obey the Law of Moses; rather, its theological outlook is expressed well in book 8, where in chapters 4ff an argument is laid out akin to the modern-day “Two Covenants” theory—Jews who faithfully observed the Law of Moses will not be condemned, even apart from Jesus, and (Gentile) Christians who faithfully observe Jesus’ commandments (as in the Sermon on the Mount) too will be accepted, even apart from the Law. It is the “lawless” pseudo-Christians (i.e. followers of “Simon”) who certainly will be condemned.
There are rough similarities to the Homilies in the epistle of James, a much earlier compendium of Jewish-Christian instruction which has also been greatly influenced by the Sermon on the Mount. In James 2:14-26, there is the famous passage on “faith and works”, often thought by many commentators to have been written in response to Paul’s teaching. Of course, much depends on the date of composition and authorship of the letter (perhaps better described as a sermon-tract). Dating varies considerably, from early (40s) to late (90-100); I am more inclined to accept an earlier dating, at least prior to the Jewish War of 66-70. Did ‘James’ know Paul’s teaching on “faith and works” such as we see in Galatians, and is he writing to contradict it? At least one statement (verse 24) almost seems to be an explicit contradiction, as does the very different use of Genesis 15:6 in vv. 21-23 (cf. Gal 3:6; Rom 4:3). On the other hand, it can be argued (rather convincingly) that James and Paul use e&rga (“works”), pi/sti$ (“trust/faith”) and even dikai/w/dikaiosu/nh (“justify”, “justice/righteousness”) somewhat differently; certainly the context is different—in James 2 the main issue is the importance of “good works” (acts of mercy) to the poor and needy, whereas in Galatians Paul is addressing the question of whether Gentiles (and believers in general) are still required to observe the Old Testament Law.