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Monday, May 19, 2003 AD
Galatians 2 -- An Issue of Racism?
I was challenged this weekend to consider that the circumcision/uncircumcision debate in Galatians was primarily a matter of race, not of ceremonial law. Here’s the key passage:
Galatians 2:11-14 (read in context):

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, "If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?"
Here’s the argument: The circumcision party folks are freaked out by the massive influx of Gentiles into the Church. (It was OK when there were only a token few, but dagnabbit if they ain’t takin’ over…and there goes the neighborhood!) So they wanted to re-erect the old covenant barrier between Jew and Gentile, essentially recreating a court of the Gentiles within the church -- a separate but not quite equal Lord’s table. Peter caved to social pressures. He wanted these guys to think well of him so he compromised on one of the key points of the Gospel, the tearing down of the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile (Eph. 2:11 ff).

Here’s the most convincing evidence to me: Acts 10 shows us the conversion of Cornelius, an event that caused Peter to exclaim, “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (v. 34). I’m not going to try to figure out the Greek for that statement, but the language in various translations makes it very clear that Peter was very clear on this point: “I most certainly understand now...” (NASB); “I now realize how true it is...” (NIV); “Most certainly and thoroughly I now perceive and understand...” (AMP). And it is very clear that he was very clear what he was very clear about: not just that old covenant ceremonial requirements were no longer in effect, but that ethnic and racial partiality is totally out of the picture in the new covenant. In chapter 11 we even see him convincing the circumcision party of this very thing and the lot of them putting a cork in it re their objections and letting out all the stops in their celebration of this marvelous new understanding of God’s grace: “When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, ‘Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life’” (v. 18).

So what happened? Evidently the circumcision party re-exerted itself after awhile and seems to have focused some of that exertion on Peter.* Since nothing could have been clearer to Peter than that the ethnicity was not a deciding factor in the granting of repentance (Acts 11:18), that purity is not a matter of race (Acts 10:28), he had to have been pretty deliberate in turning a blind eye to that fact by the time the events of Galatians 2 came about.

Then in Galatians 3, Paul brings his discussion of justification by faith back to ethnicity again -- “...if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise” (v. 29) -- and continues that line of thought (sons and heirs, flesh vs. promise) through chapter 4.

Then there was some application from that, which I don't have time to talk about 'cuz it's after 9 and I need to go home. Maybe another day.

*It’s interesting to note that these men came from James, who wrote, “...if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.” I’m guessing that epistle came later? No time to look that up now.
Posted by Valerie (Kyriosity) at 5/19/2003 09:04:00 PM • Permalink

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