The anti-marcionite, catholicizing Peter-Paul equivalence in Galatians

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by Neil Godfrey

The passage in Galatians (2:7-8) that civilly explains how Paul and Peter were each separate but equal apostles, the former preaching the gospel to the gentiles and the latter to the Jews, is evidently a second century catholicizing attempt to re-write history and bring the two apostles into the same “orthodox” fold. The idea of separate apostleships and gospels for the Jewish and Gentile worlds was unknown till the second century. It is certainly foreign to the thought of Paul found in the rest of his correspondence.

[6] But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man’s person:) for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me:
7] But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter;
8] (For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:)
[9] And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision.
[10] Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do. (From Galatians 2)

William Walker, (who has written extensively on criteria for assessing the likelihood of interpolation — see earlier posts here and here), believes that the entirety of 2:7-9 is an interpolation since it “rudely interrupts the sequence of 6 and 10, where the original means the Pillars imposed no conditions upon Paul and Barnabas except for the relief collection.” (319, Price)

So it would read:

But as for those esteemed to be something great — what they were then makes no difference to me now; God is impressed by no man’s clout — those of repute added nothing to me, except that we should not forget the Poor, the very thing I was eager to do in any case! (Gal 2:6, 10, Price, p.319)

Some readers like to think that Paul was not being too hard on the Jerusalem leaders and did not mean to sound too dismissive of their status. Again according to Price (p.319) it is worth comparing the expression Paul uses here with the similar phrase used of Simon Magus in Acts 8:9:

But there was a certain man called Simon, who previously practised sorcery in the city and astonished the people of Samaria, claiming that he was someone great.

Arguments for interpolation

The following are taken from an article first published in 1931 by Ernest Barnikol.

  1. The Greek text to illustrate the first technical argument can be read in Ernest Barnikol‘s article here. In brief, the only place in the Pauline Corpus where dative case appears with ενεργειν is in Galatians 2:7-8. In every other place Paul uses this word it is either standing alone (Gal 5:6) or with the preposition εν (Phil 2:13; 2 Cor 4:12; 1 Thess 2:13; Col 1:29). Paul writes ενεργειν εν εμοι, never ενεργειν εμοι – but the Greek text is copied more accurately in the article.
  2. In Gal 1:6-9 and 2:5 Paul makes it clear that he knows only one gospel as the true gospel. There is no room for qualification of shades of variations of that gospel. So the introduction in Gal 2:7-8 of a gospel to the circumcised and another gospel for the uncircumcised contradicts the stance of Paul elsewhere. So is the introduction of a special apostleship for the circumcised and another apostleship for the gentile nations.
  3. Paul often interrupts himself but that does not mean that every digression in Paul is from his own hand. We have grounds to doubt his own hand when he digresses a second time just two lines later with the result that his steadily mounting attack is suddenly broken beyond recognition with words quite inappropriate to the immediate context. So following his parenthetical digression in Gal 2:6 Paul proceeds to declare that the three pillars in Jerusalem had nothing to add to him, that they acknowledged his work in the gospel, shook hands and agreed that they should all remember the poor. The passage that appears to be the interpolation interrupts this thought by discussing Paul’s relationship with a fourth name, presumed to be the same as the second mentioned pillar, and coming to an agreement found nowhere else in the Pauline letters.
  4. Gal 2:7-8 also takes a retrospective view of the work of Paul and Peter. It presupposes the completion of their work: The gospel for the gentiles had been committed to Paul and he had worked effectively in it, just as the gospel for the Jew had been given to Peter and he had been effective in that.
  5. In the same passage Paul is attempting to prove his parallel equivalence to Peter. Paul nowhere else has any such ambition in mind. His only thought elsewhere is to prove his independence from Peter.
  6. This is also the only place where Paul speaks of Peter (Cephas) as an apostle. To Paul he is always just Cephas. Barnikol cites 1 Cor 9:5 and 1 Cor 15:5-11 here. I would question the originality of 15:5 but its author, whoever it was, like the author of 9:5 and presumably 1:12, did not think of Cephas, nor James, as one of the apostles or one of the Twelve. Cephas is always “beside, before, indeed, above the Jerusalem apostles.” Paul nowhere knows the Jewish Christians in his churches as a faction who could look to Cephas as their apostle.

There is also Walker’s argument, cited above from Price’s book, which is similar to Barnikol’s #3.

It appears to me that the first interpolation appeared early before Peter became the known or preferred name, and at a time before James, Cephas and John were incorporated by the author of the Gospel of Mark into the ranks of the Twelve. This was also before the time of the later second century interest in equalizing the roles of Paul and Peter and the Twelve — indeed, even as early as the time when the name of James was more pre-eminent than that of the one to be later known as Peter.

Further support for this two-stage interpolation comes from Tertullian’s writings against Marcion. Tertullian knows of the hand-shake in Galatians (A.M. 5:3; Prae.H.,23; A.M. 4:2) but nothing of the claim of equal apostleships. Had he known of such a claim he could hardly have failed to use it against Marcion.

Barnikol’s original text

The interpolated section is greyed out.

[6] . . . for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me:
7] But contrariwise, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel

of the uncircumcision, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter; (For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:)

[9] And when perceived the grace that was given unto me, James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the nations, and they unto the circumcision.

I have highlighted words for appearance, seeing and recognizing to point to another reason for thinking Paul’s original thought depended on the closer unity of the shorter text that is lost with the introduction of verse 8. Barnikol discusses related difficulties with these words in the canonical text.

To Barnikol there is no thought about equal status with Peter. Paul is only interested in knowing whether he was regarded as a Christian and whether his churches were likewise regarded. The division of ministries has nothing to do with race but only with geography. James, Cephas and John stay in Palestine while Paul goes to the nations where he converts gentiles and Jews alike.

If the passage was inserted by a Jewish-Christian in the first century one would not expect a separation between Peter and the other three named pillars. James, Cephas and John would surely have been included among those who preached to the circumcision. Why single out the one listed second in that trio? Why mention the three at all if the focus was on Peter?

History of the early text and interpolation

The canonical text does not appear until around 180 with Irenaeus.

Justin Martyr around 150 wrote that the twelve apostles, who included Peter, went out immediately after the resurrection from Jerusalem to evangelize the whole world. He clearly did not have this Galatians passage in mind. (Nor, apparently, Acts.)

If the passage had existed before the second century it is inconceivable that people like Tertullian did not use it against Marcion. It would have been the perfect verse to counter Marcion’s claim that Paul’s apostleship was the only valid one and that the Jerusalem apostles were frauds.

The African-based Tertullian wrote after Irenaeus. So it appears that the passage entered Galatians shortly before 18, in the West, where Irenaeus knew of it, but before it reached Tertullian:

This passage is the classic expression for the anti-marcionite church dogma of the harmonious parallel work of both apostles. (Barnikol, p.298)

It meets the needs of the second century catholicizing ambitions of the “orthodox” church. It is alien to the thought of Paul as known from his other letters and finds no base in the history of the first century church.

And very incidentally but intriguingly . . .

Barnikol concludes with two intriguing parallel passages from the Acts of Paul and the Acts of John that also date from as early as the second century:

In the Acts of Paul, Thecla reports to Paul after her baptism:

But perceiving this, she said to him, “I have taken the bath, Paul; for he who worked with you for the gospel has also worked with me for my baptism”

and in the Acts of John the prayer of the dying John begins:

O thou who chose us for the apostolate to the Gentiles,
O God who sent us into all the world
who has shown thyself through the apostles. . .

Both second century passages use the same non-Pauline expressions found in Galatians 2:7-8.

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Neil Godfrey

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7 thoughts on “The anti-marcionite, catholicizing Peter-Paul equivalence in Galatians”

  1. I am a 67 year old non-scholar, non-clergy, of Primitive Baptist persuasion, but not associated or a member, for practical reasons. I am Pauline to the core. I feel the use, by Paul, of the words “somewhat” [twice] is a specific sarcasm directed at those closest to Jesus, who were pontificating from Jerusalem, who, at one time did not believe in him. Their
    Babylonian corruptions of OT religion was still ingrained. Paul’s trip of confrontation on the Judaizing issue, must have taken place about 53.5 A.D., a full twenty years after the resurrection. His complaint must have been a belated and agonizing decision. The result of the problem he was addressing was endemic and has contributed to a perpetual ‘anti-grace’ sacramentalizing [sic] of Christianity. i.e [“Do something to get saved eternally.”] Lk 18:8

    Terrance Krueger
    P.O. Box 100
    Fountain Inn, SC 29644-0100

    (864) 862-1010

  2. Well, I believe the Scriptures are a synergistic unit [sic]. Rather than banging verses together as if they somehow refute each other. I believe that we must force ourselves to make them agree. Therefore Luke, who wrote Acts was seeing the meeting from a different perspective than Paul [naturally], I believe Paul’s own characterization is accurate and so is Luke’s. What goes unsaid in Acts is said in Galatians. I trust Paul, as did Jesus, who saw his brethren, at one point, not believing in him at all: [Mar 6:4] [Jhn 7:5 “for neither did his brethren believe in him.” Brethren = James, Joses, Simon and Jude] James, a pontificating leader in Jerusalem, was the one who crafted the letter admitting: “that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls,” Are we supposed to believe that these, at this late stage, [20 years after the resurrection] did not know what was going on, [NO!] ….or were they promoting it or winking at it, because of their own misunderstanding of Jesus’ and Paul’s mission? G_R_A_C_E ! You know, mandatory circumcision and a compulsory keeping of the Law, for inclusion in heaven, is sacramental religion, pure and simple! tlk

  3. Hi Terrance. You wrote “I believe the Scriptures are a synergistic unit [sic] . . . I believe that we must force ourselves to make them agree. . . . I believe Paul’s own characterization is accurate and so is Luke’s. . . . ”

    I can’t help wondering what led you to these beliefs. Have you compared the Bible with other ancient texts that make similar claims to be the word of God?

  4. Terrance, I accidentally deleted your reply to my post. With apologies I do hope you can repost. Tried to email you direct but that bounced.

    (Pending your response, I recall that you saw my remarks as an attempt to play games with you, by slyly hinting at something in a round about way, and being “funny” – not! — that what you in your post were saying was quite clear, as was Paul’s letter, and that if I really wanted to know what you believed I would consult your blog.) — Fair enough — would welcome your reposting in your own words with your blog link.


  5. Please consider a small book “The Lost History of Calvinism” by Harold Hunt [Google] 205 Pgs on the Judaizing of Christianity through the Alexandrian Academy – Augustinian Catholicism – Calvinism – Reformation – Puritans – Modern Sacramental Religion [any belief that require man’s decision or will to precede regeneration] …..and as in “do something to get saved”, which was a tenant of corrupted Babylonian Judaism. Modern Calvinism [i.e. Reformed Baptists], through “perseverance” is still sacramental because it requires certain performance by man to insure eternal salvation. This is similar toi the Judaizers requirement for circumcision and Law of Moses in order to be a true Christian and go to heaven. God’s deceased heavenly elect are chronicled as being from places where the Gospel could not possibly have been presented [Rev. 5:9; 7:9 & 14:6]


  6. Well I have no interest in going to heaven (except maybe as a tourist) or doing anything that is likely to get me there, but from what you say it sounds like I’m a prime candidate for ending up there anyway — I lack the “will or decision” to go there, and am not the least interested in “doing something to get saved”. Scary.

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