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Who rebuked Cephas? A new interpretation of Gal 2:14-17

Hultin, J.F. (2013) Who rebuked Cephas? A new interpretation of Gal 2:14-17. In: Annual Meeting. Society of Biblical Literature, 23 - 26 November 2013, Baltimore, MD



Scholars of Galatians have long struggled to explain the present tense of the verb zes in Paul's rebuke to Cephas (Gal 2:14). The phrase "If you are living [zes] like a Gentile" sounds more like what the men from James would have said to Cephas, when they observed that he was eating with Gentiles, than what Paul would have said after Cephas had withdrawn from table fellowship in response to the arrival of the men from James. There are, in fact, several other expressions in Galatians 2:14-17 that seem more fitting for the men from James than for Paul himself, such as the contrast between "Jews by birth" and "sinners from the Gentiles" (2:15), and the charge that, should Jewish Christians be found to live like (Gentile) sinners, then Christ would be no better than a "minister of sin" (2:17). I argue that the reason the language in Galatians 2:14-17 seems so appropriate for the men from James is not simply because Paul is “echoing” some of their vocabulary (a common suggestion), but because he is quoting them. If the verbs eidon and eipon in Gal 2:14 are read as third person plurals ("when they saw…they said"), the subject of the verbs would be the "men from James" (Gal 2:12). Thus Paul is not reporting what he said to Cephas when he resisted him (Gal 2:11), but what the men from James said when they came (2:12) and "they saw" (eidon) that Cephas and other Jewish Christians were transgressing the Law and hence, from their perspective, were "not keeping their paths straight in accordance with the truth of the gospel" (2:14). At the end of 2:17 Paul concludes his quotation of them and offers his rebuttal in his own voice, as signaled by the change to the first-person singular (a change that has traditionally been difficult to explain: the first-person plural has been used for three verses).

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