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Paul and Peter

            Scholars frequently fall into two camps on dating the book of Galatians.  Those holding to the South Galatian theory believe Paul was addressing a group of churches in the southern regions of the Roman province of Galatia.  This view would seem to cast Paul as single visionary, a man ahead of his time (and his church), who eventually catalyzed a process leading to the decisions in the Jerusalem council. 

            Proponents of the North Galatian theory note that Luke uses localized names for the regions in the southern parts of the Roman province, while applying the term Galatia to areas further north (see Acts 16:6; 18:23 for examples of “Galatia”).  Since these churches were planted later, advocates of the North Galatian theory believe that Paul wrote the book after the Jerusalem council.  Paul would thus be seen, not as a lone-wolf visionary trying to change a recalcitrant church, but as an agent in harmony with the larger church body.  Ellen White would seem to implicitly fall into this camp for she explicitly states that the Galatian controversy erupted after the Jerusalem council, and thus Paul’s epistle was written to respond to rebellious elements who refused to acknowledge the authority of that council.[1]  This position is defensible, however, without consulting Ellen White.  The evidence comes from Paul’s argument in Gal 1-2.

            Paul offers two major veins of argument that the Judaizer’s gospel is false while his gospel is true.  His first reason is that he received the Gospel by direct revelation from Christ (1:11-17).  This is a strong argument but such a claim might supply the Judiazers with ammunition to argue that indeed Paul was the lone-wolf radical, acting independently of the body and denying the biblical heritage of circumcision.  To combat such misconceptions, Paul continues with further evidences of the veracity of his gospel.

            Paul states that three years after he had received the Gospel, he went to visit Cephas (Peter), spending 15 days with him (1:18).  Paul also emphasizes that he saw no other church officials except James during this visit (1:19).  While not directly saying they approved of his message, the fact that Peter and James did not hinder Paul from returning to the field to preach his gospel strongly implies they approved his message (1:21-24).  Some may argue that the isolation of Paul’s work bolsters the idea that he was working independently from the core governing body of the church, preaching an alternate theological viewpoint to the mainstream.  I believe the textual evidence in Gal 2 contradicts such a conclusion.  Paul cites an implicit approval by Peter, likely citing him since he was known as the apostle to the Jews (Gal 2:8).  Peter may thus have been associated with the maintenance of Jewish tradition instead of an ally in radical reform like some may have seen Paul.  If Peter, the apostle to the Jews, approved the non-circumcision gospel preached by Paul, that would cause a definite challenge for the Judaizers.  Paul’s case, however, is not yet exhausted. 

            Not only did Peter and James appear to endorse Paul’s early ministry, but 14 years later, Paul brings Titus, a gentile convert to Jerusalem (2:1-2).  James, Peter, and John now give explicit approval to Paul and his gospel by extending the “right hand of fellowship, (2:8-9), and by not compelling Titus to be circumcised (2:3-4).  The point is stunningly clear.  Peter, John, James and Paul are united in their concept of the gospel.  Paul is not the lone-wolf radical seeking to overturn church or biblical tradition.  Rather, he and the big-name leaders are united, in agreement, working together in harmony.  Such agreement, especially with Peter and James, seems more plausible in a context after the Jerusalem council than before. 

            Paul finally cites his story of confronting Peter in Antioch.  This confrontation seems to make more sense if the incident happened after Peter’s public support for non-circumcision of Gentiles at the Jerusalem council.  Paul thus chastises Peter for failing to apply the principles codified at the Jerusalem council.  More critically, Peter appears to have accepted the correction from Paul, thus affirming in a new way that Paul’s Gospel is correct.  Paul’s point is abundantly clear.  He is not acting alone, independently.  He and Peter are on the same theological page, even to the point of being able to correct Peter publicly over the matter.  In Gal 1-2, then, Paul goes out of his way to demonstrate to the Galatians that he was in harmony with the larger church body and its leadership, and that he was not acting independently of the body, as a lone-wolf radical. 

            In summary, the book of Galatians gives evidence of a centralized governing body for the church, located in Jerusalem.  Peter, James, and John appear to be highly visible figures in this organization.  Second, Paul was not happy with those opposing the world-body by offering dissenting views of the gospel.  He refutes them by arguing his message was received by divine revelation and that it had been approved by the authorities in Jerusalem.  Paul and the big-name leaders are united on the gospel.  Furthermore, Peter, the patron apostle to the Jews, submitted to the same policy.  Such arguments seems to make clear that Paul held church authority in high regard.  All these points harmonize well with the Northern theory and its later date.

            At the same time, high leaders can err, as Peter did.  Paul was independent enough in his thinking not to simply say, “well, Peter is a Jerusalem leader, so I won’t question what He is doing.”   Paul used independent judgment to evaluate if Peter was in harmony with Scripture and church policy, while maintaining his own faithfulness to both.  It is important to note that Paul did not seek change for the sake of change, nor change to keep up with prevailing intellectual fashions.  While his first concern was to operate within the confines of divine revelation, Paul clearly saw it as important to follow church policy when it harmonized with that revelation.  Paul did not follow slavishly, but he did know how to follow appropriately.  Paul’s example is noteworthy for today’s church, and is one worth emulating.

[1]See AA 383-385.

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