Monday, August 06, 2007

Called Out...

Peter saw animals of all kinds ascending and descending from the heavens, which was God's declaration of not only what is permissible, but who is acceptable. From that moment on he lived under the umbrella of widespread Grace, which allows not only Jews into the kingdom, but all who would come to Jesus, regardless of previous affiliations.

In Antioch Peter feasted with those he formerly viewed as unclean, inadmissible. It was his calling, his reckoning for living a life that excluded all, save for himself and the righteous few. He ate, drank, and celebrated Grace that was for everyone.

Yet as Magnolia taught us, the past is never done with us. The past clings and haunts and always seeks to be our home base.

Others from Jerusalem arrived, those who believed only those converted to the law were allowed to be converted to Jesus, and Peter put his fork down. Embarrassed by his company, he excused himself and eventually landed at the table of the new arrivals, the old guard. It was as if the status-wars of Junior High lunch hour had returned.

Paul saw this and, in his letter to the Galatians, notes how he confronted Peter of his hypocrisy in front of the entire group of people eating.

But that's all we get. Just that Paul confronted Peter. We don't get Peter's reaction, or anyone else's for that matter. I read this and actually feel a little sympathy for everyone's favorite New Testament stomping boy, Peter. Of course, he was clearly being inconsistent with what he knew to be the inclusive nature of the Good News, and needed someone like Paul to help remind him. But if I was Peter, I would have been a little defensive at being called out in front of everyone. Because, after all, who the hell did Paul think he was? My desire to win-and-be-better-than-you would have mentioned something about Paul's history of murder and persecution of Christians.

But we don't know, and maybe this is best. Perhaps Peter did have a golden comeback for Paul, but Paul left it out of his description out of self-preservation, and also to prevent people like me from using excuses for my bad behavior. Or maybe Peter recoiled in shame, which is also not a healthy response at being told you are wrong.

I suppose it will make a good conversation some day on the other end...


Aaron said...

Judging from Peter's last recorded words (the letter of 2 Peter), he held Paul in the highest esteem, even recognizing Paul's writings as inspired Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16). However he may have reacted at Antioch, by the end of his life he appears to be on good terms with Paul.

I love that passage in Galatians for several reasons. It is a powerful demonstration of the horizontal effects of justification by faith. If God counts us righteous before him by grace alone and not based on any human distinctions, then how can we erect human distinctions among ourselves in the church as the test of fellowship? Faith alone is what qualifies someone to share in the Lord's table. Also, I like to see Paul call out Peter, not because I have anything against Peter (I like him a lot and see myself in him frequently), but rather because it is perhaps the greatest ammunition we have against the Roman Catholic system of authority. Paul's burden in Galatians 1-2 is to argue that his apostleship is not inferior to anyone else's, that he too has been commissioned by Christ (and not by mere men), and that, therefore, his message of grace is to be received. Ultimately, however, authority does not rest in any person (save Christ himself) but in the message proclaimed, so that even if an angel from heaven (or a Pope!) preached a different gospel, he was to be accursed (Gal. 1:8-9). Galatians contains within it strong arguments for both the formal principle of the Reformation (Scripture alone) and the material principle of the Reformation (justification by faith alone).

the 10th kid said...

I love that I learn something by reading your blog--almost every time I check in. Keep it coming!

Carn-Dog said...

and Galatians is great because while it is all these things it does, I think Hays argues successfully, present us with narrative substructure that calls for participationist Christology and subjective genitive reading of pistis christou construction, lest we believe who we are and what we do doesn't matter to God.

Praise God James and Paul don't disagree, only that Paul has been misunderstood since Luther butchered him.

Aaron said...


I suggest you pick up and read the two volume work "Justification and Variegated Nomism," edited by Carson, O'Brien, and Seifrid (volume 2 is really the most important one). It may help you get rid of those unfair characterizations about Protestant readings of Paul. Also, check out the much more reader-friendly "Perspectives Old and New on Paul" by Stephen Westerholm. Hands down, it is the best book on the subject.

Carn-Dog said...

Thanks Aaron,

may do, but don't you think that they (Carson, O'Brien, and Seifrid) have certain presuppositions, be they right or wrong that will necessarily land them in the camp that you espouse? Not trying to suggest that others don't, but it might be helpful if we identify these tendencies before we begin reading.

Which unfair Protestant characterizations do I have? Hays? pretty sure he's still protestant. Luther? You may have me here. It's just that his writing on the Jews makes call into the question his motivations and consequently theological methodology to everything else. I don't have a problem with the objective genitive reading, in fact Hays argues that two the three genitive constructions in Gal 2:16 reflect precisely that position, but I'd rather get there with the help of someone like James D.G. Dunn, who to me is full of a bit more grace than Luther and subsequently more trustworthy.

Happy constant reforming!!!

Aaron said...

Luther's reading of Galatians (and the tradition that follows him) cannot be swept aside by an appeal to whatever feelings he may have had about the Jews. It must be judged on the merits of exegesis, which is precisely what Carson et al engage in (as does Hays). One could just as easily argue that the Holocaust has distorted the way contemporary scholars read Galatians, only in the opposite direction.

Hays is a fine scholar, and he certainly opens up windows on the text that others have not seen so clearly. But I find his overall reading to be skewed by the supposed "narrative substructure" rather than the plain meaning on the surface of the text. The thin cows have swallowed up the fat ones. I think N.T. Wright often falls into the same pit, though I thoroughly enjoy reading most of what he writes.

Actually, the reason your comment caught my eye is because I am pursuing a possible dissertation along these lines. I believe that the "new perspective" on Paul that has emerged in the wake of E.P. Sanders's work is helpful in many ways but is ultimately based on a misunderstanding of the Reformers' reading of Paul in the first place. So instead of actually listening to Luther and Calvin, scholars have been more prone to say things like "Luther butchered Paul" without really understanding the historical and theological issues surrounding Luther. My plan for a dissertation is to give the Reformers a fair hearing in this debate and hopefully expose caricatures about them that have been thrown around but never substantiated.

Aaron said...

Oh, and I forgot to mention that I actually opt for neither the subjective nor the objective genitive for translating "Christou." Mark Seifrid has persuaded me (based on good New Testament parallels as well as others from early Christian literature) that "pistis Christou" most likely refers to "the faith of Christ," as in "the faith that comes from Christ and is directed to Christ." This is close to the objective genitive reading, but it is not so much a reference to human faith in Christ as it is the objective body of truth that has been revealed in the Christ event. "The Christian faith" comes close to the mark, but is not quite there. I just prefer to say "the faith of Christ," as the AV says. So for Paul, "faith" can refer to the human response to Christ, but it can also refer to something external to humanity that has entered history in the coming of Christ (see Galatians 3:23, 25).

In any case, the overall framework in which one reads Paul does not hang on the interpretation of "pistis Christou."