The public life of Paul, from the third year after his conversion to his martyrdom, a.d. 40-64, embraces a quarter of a century, three great missionary campaigns with minor expeditions, five visits to Jerusalem, and at least four years of captivity in Caesarea and Rome. Some extend it to a.d. 67 or 68. It may be divided into five or six periods, as follows:
1. a.d. 40-44. The period of preparatory labors in Syria and his native Cilicia, partly alone, partly in connection with Barnabas, his senior fellow-apostle among the Gentiles.
On his return from the Arabian retreat Paul began his public ministry in earnest at Damascus, preaching Christ on the very spot where he had been converted and called. His testimony enraged the Jews, who stirred up the deputy of the king of Arabia against him, but he was saved for future usefulness and let down by the brethren in a basket through a window in the wall of the city. Three years after his conversion he went up to Jerusalem to make the acquaintance of Peter and spent a fortnight with him. Besides him he saw James the brother of the Lord. Barnabas introduced him to the disciples, who at first were afraid of him, but when they heard of his marvellous conversion they “glorified God” that their persecutor was now preaching the faith he had once been laboring to destroy. (Gal_1:18-24; comp. Act_9:26, Act_9:27) He did not come to learn the gospel, having received it already by revelation, nor to be confirmed or ordained, having been called “not from men, or through man, but through Jesus Christ.” Yet his interview with Peter and James, though barely mentioned, must have been fraught with the deepest interest. Peter, kind-hearted and generous as he was, would naturally receive him with joy and thanksgiving. He had himself once denied the Lord - not malignantly but from weakness - as Paul had persecuted the disciples - ignorantly in unbelief. Both had been mercifully pardoned, both had seen the Lord, both were called to the highest dignity, both could say from the bottom of the heart: “Lord thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee.” No doubt they would exchange their experiences and confirm each other in their common faith.
It was probably on this visit that Paul received in a vision in the temple the express command of the Lord to go quickly unto the Gentiles. Had he stayed longer at the seat of the Sanhedrin, he would undoubtedly have met the fate of the martyr Stephen.
He visited Jerusalem a second time during the famine under Claudius, in the year 44, accompanied by Barnabas, on a benevolent mission, bearing a collection of the Christians at Antioch for the relief of the brethren in Judaea. (Act_11:28-30; Act_12:25) On that occasion he probably saw none of the apostles on account of the persecution in which James was beheaded, and Peter imprisoned.
The greater part of these four years was spent in missionary work at Tarsus and Antioch.
2. a.d. 45-50. First missionary journey. In the year 45 Paul entered upon the first great missionary journey, in company with Barnabas and Mark, by the direction of the Holy Spirit through the prophets of the congregation at Antioch. He traversed the island of Cyprus and several provinces of Asia Minor. The conversion of the Roman proconsul, Sergius Paulus, at Paphos; the rebuke and punishment of the Jewish sorcerer, Elymas; the marked success of the gospel in Pisidia, and the bitter opposition of the unbelieving Jews; the miraculous healing of a cripple at Lystra; the idolatrous worship there offered to Paul and Barnabas by the superstitious heathen, and its sudden change into hatred against them as enemies of the gods; the stoning of the missionaries, their escape from death, and their successful return to Antioch, are the leading incidents of this tour, which is fully described in Act_13:1-52 and Act_14:1-28.
This period closes with the important apostolic conference at Jerusalem, a.d. 50, which will require separate consideration in the next section.
3. From a.d. 51-54. Second missionary journey. After the council at Jerusalem and the temporary adjustment of the difference between the Jewish and Gentile branches of the church, Paul undertook, in the year 51, a second great journey, which decided the Christianization of Greece. He took Silas for his companion. Having first visited his old churches, he proceeded, with the help of Silas and the young convert, Timothy, to establish new ones through the provinces of Phrygia and Galatia, where, notwithstanding his bodily infirmity, he was received with open arms like an angel of God.
From Troas, a few miles south of the Homeric Troy and the entrance to the Hellespont, he crossed over to Greece in answer to the Macedonian cry: “Come over and help us!” He preached the gospel with great success, first in Philippi, where he converted the purple dealer, Lydia, and the jailor, and was imprisoned with Silas, but miraculously delivered and honorably released; then in Thessalonica, where he was persecuted by the Jews, but left a flourishing church; in Beraea, where the converts showed exemplary zeal in searching the Scriptures. In Athens, the metropolis of classical literature, he reasoned with Stoic and Epicurean philosophers, and unveiled to them on Mars’ Hill (Areopagus), with consummate tact and wisdom, though without much immediate success, the “unknown God,” to whom the Athenians, in their superstitious anxiety to do justice to all possible divinities, had unconsciously erected an altar, and Jesus Christ, through whom God will judge the world in righteousness. In Corinth, the commercial bridge between the East and the West, a flourishing center of wealth and culture, but also a sink of vice and corruption, the apostle spent eighteen months, and under almost insurmountable difficulties he built up a church, which exhibited all the virtues and all the faults of the Grecian character under the influence of the gospel, and which he honored with two of his most important Epistles.
In the spring of 54 he returned by way of Ephesus, Caesarea, and Jerusalem to Antioch.
During this period he composed the two Epistles to the Thessalonians, which are the earliest of his literary remains excepting his missionary addresses preserved in the Acts.
4. a.d. 54-58. Third missionary tour. Towards the close of the year 54 Paul went to Ephesus, and in this renowned capital of proconsular Asia and of the worship of Diana, he fixed for three years the center of his missionary work. He then revisited his churches in Macedonia and Achaia, and remained three months more in Corinth and the vicinity.
During this period he wrote the great doctrinal Epistles to the Galatians, Corinthians, and Romans, which mark the height of his activity and usefulness.
5. a.d. 58-63. The period of his two imprisonments, with the intervening winter voyage from Caesarea to Rome. In the spring of 58 he journeyed, for the fifth and last time, to Jerusalem, by way of Philippi, Troas, Miletus (where he delivered his affecting valedictory to the Ephesian presbyter-bishops), Tyre, and Caesarea, to carry again to the poor brethren in Judaea a contribution from the Christians of Greece, and by this token of gratitude and love to cement the two branches of the apostolic church more firmly together.
But some fanatical Jews, who bitterly bated him as an apostate and a seducer of the people, raised an uproar against him at Pentecost; charged him with profaning the temple, because he had taken into it an uncircumcised Greek, Trophimus; dragged him out of the sanctuary, lest they should defile it with blood, and would undoubtedly have killed him had not Claudius Lysias, the Roman tribune, who lived near by, come promptly with his soldiers to the spot. This officer rescued Paul, out of respect for his Roman citizenship, from the fury of the mob, set him the next day before the Sanhedrin, and after a tumultuous and fruitless session of the council, and the discovery of a plot against his life, sent him, with a strong military guard and a certificate of innocence, to the procurator Felix in Caesarea.
Here the apostle was confined two whole years (58-60), awaiting his trial before the Sanhedrin, uncondemned, occasionally speaking before Felix, apparently treated with comparative mildness, visited by the Christians, and in some way not known to us promoting the kingdom of God.
After the accession of the new and better procurator, Festus, who is known to have succeeded Felix in the year 60, Paul, as a Roman citizen, appealed to the tribunal of Caesar and thus opened the way to the fulfilment of his long-cherished desire to preach the Saviour of the world in the metropolis of the world. Having once more testified his innocence, and spoken for Christ in a masterly defence before Festus, King Herod Agrippa II. (the last of the Herods), his sister Bernice, and the most distinguished men of Caesarea, he was sent in the autumn of the year 60 to the emperor. He had a stormy voyage and suffered shipwreck, which detained him over winter at Malta. The voyage is described with singular minuteness and nautical accuracy by Luke as an eye-witness. In the month of March of the year 61, the apostle, with a few faithful companions, reached Rome, a prisoner of Christ, and yet freer and mightier than the emperor on the throne. It was the seventh year of Nero’s reign, when he had already shown his infamous character by the murder of Agrippina, his mother, in the previous year, and other acts of cruelty.
In Rome Paul spent at least two years till the spring of 63, in easy confinement, awaiting the decision of his case, and surrounded by friends and fellow-laborers “in his own hired dwelling.” He preached the gospel to the soldiers of the imperial body-guard, who attended him; sent letters and messages to his distant churches in Asia Minor and Greece; watched over all their spiritual affairs, and completed in bonds his apostolic fidelity to the Lord and his church.
In the Roman prison he wrote the Epistles to the Colossians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Philemon.
6. a.d. 63 and 64. With the second year of Paul’s imprisonment in Rome the account of Luke breaks off, rather abruptly, yet appropriately and grandly. Paul’s arrival in Rome secured the triumph of Christianity. In this sense it was true, “Roma locuta est, causa finita est.” And he who spoke at Rome is not dead; he is still “preaching (everywhere) the kingdom of God and teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ, with all boldness, none forbidding him.”
But what became of him after the termination of those two years in the spring of 63? What was the result of the trial so long delayed? Was he condemned to death? or was he released by Nero’s tribunal, and thus permitted to labor for another season? This question is still unsettled among scholars. A vague tradition says that Paul was acquitted of the charge of the Sanhedrin, and after travelling again in the East, perhaps also into Spain, was a second time imprisoned in Rome and condemned to death. The assumption of a second Roman captivity relieves certain difficulties in the Pastoral Epistles; for they seem to require a short period of freedom between the first and a second Roman captivity, and a visit to the East, which is not recorded in the Acts, but which the apostle contemplated in case of his release. A visit to Spain, which he intended, is possible, though less probable. If he was set at liberty, it must have been before the terrible persecution in July, 64, which would not have spared the great leader of the Christian sect. It is a remarkable coincidence that just about the close of the second year of Paul’s confinement, the celebrated Jewish historian, Josephus, then in his 27th year, came to Rome (after a tempestuous voyage and shipwreck), and effected through the influence of Poppaea (the wife of Nero and a half proselyte of Judaism) the release of certain Jewish priests who had been sent to Rome by Felix as prisoners. It is not impossible that Paul may have reaped the benefit of a general release of Jewish prisoners.
The martyrdom of Paul under Nero is established by the unanimous testimony of antiquity. As a Roman citizen, he was not crucified, like Peter, but put to death by the sword. The scene of his martyrdom is laid by tradition about three miles from Rome, near the Ostian way, on a green spot, formerly called Aquae Salviae, afterwards Tre Fontane, from the three fountains which are said to have miraculously gushed forth from the blood of the apostolic martyr. His relics were ultimately removed to the basilica of San Paolo-fuori-le-Mura, built by Theodosius and Valentinian in 388, and recently reconstructed. He lies outside of Rome, Peter inside. His memory is celebrated, together with that of Peter, on the 29th and 30th of June. As to the year of his death, the views vary from a.d. 64 to 69. The difference of the place and manner of his martyrdom suggests that he was condemned by a regular judicial trial, either shortly before, or more probably a year or two after the horrible wholesale massacre of Christians on the Vatican hill, in which his Roman citizenship would not have been regarded. If he was released in the spring of 63, he had a year and a half for another visit to the East and to Spain before the outbreak of the Neronian persecution (after July, 64); but tradition favors a later date. Prudentius separates the martyrdom of Peter from that of Paul by one year. After that persecution the Christians were everywhere exposed to danger.
Assuming the release of Paul and another visit to the East, we must locate the First Epistle to Timothy and the Epistle to Titus between the first and second Roman captivity, and the Second Epistle to Timothy in the second captivity. The last was evidently written in the certain view of approaching martyrdom; it is the affectionate farewell of the aged apostle to his beloved Timothy, and his last will and testament to the militant church below in the bright prospect of the unfading crown in the church triumphant above.
Thus ended the earthly course of this great teacher of nations, this apostle of victorious faith, of evangelical freedom, of Christian progress. It was the heroic career of a spiritual conqueror of immortal souls for Christ, converting them from the service of sin and Satan to the service of the living God, from the bondage of the law to the freedom of the gospel, and leading them to the fountain of life eternal. He labored more abundantly than all the other apostles; and yet, in sincere humility, he considered himself “the least of the apostles,” and “not meet to be called an apostle,” because he persecuted the church of God; a few years later he confessed: “I am less than the least of all saints,” and shortly before his death: “I am the chief of sinners.” His humility grew as he experienced God’s mercy and ripened for heaven. Paul passed a stranger and pilgrim through this world, hardly observed by the mighty and the wise of his age. And yet how infinitely more noble, beneficial, and enduring was his life and work than the dazzling march of military conquerors, who, prompted by ambitions absorbed millions of treasure and myriads of lives, only to die at last in a drunken fit at Babylon, or of a broken heart on the rocks of St. Helena! Their empires have long since crumbled into dust, but St. Paul still remains one of the foremost benefactors of the human race, and the pulses of his mighty heart are beating with stronger force than ever throughout the Christian world.
Note on the Second Roman Captivity of Paul
The question of a second Roman captivity of Paul is a purely historical and critical problem, and has no doctrinal or ethical bearing, except that it facilitates the defence of the genuineness of the Pastoral Epistles. The best scholars are still divided on the subject. Neander, Gieseler, Bleek, Ewald, Lange, Sabatier, Godet, also Renan (Saint Paul, p. 560, and L’Antechrist, p. 106), and nearly all English biographers and commentators, as Alford, Wordsworth, Howson, Lewin, Farrar, Plumptre, Ellicott, Lightfoot, defend the second captivity, and thus prolong the labors of Paul for a few years. On the other hand not only radical and skeptical critics, as Baur, Zeller, Schenkel, Reuss, Holtzmann, and all who reject the Pastoral Epistles (except Renan), but also conservative exegetes and historians, as Niedner, Thiersch, Meyer, Wieseler, Ebrard, Otto, Beck, Pressens'e9, deny the second captivity. I have discussed the problem at length in my Hist. of the Apost. Church, 'a7 87, pp. 328-347, and spin in my annotations to Lange on Romans, pp. 10-12. I will restate the chief arguments in favor of a second captivity, partly in rectification of my former opinion.
1. The main argument are the Pastoral Epistles, if genuine, as I hold them to be, notwithstanding all the objections of the opponents from De Wette (1826) and Baur (1835) to Renan (1873) and Holtzmann (1880). It is, indeed, not impossible to assign them to any known period in Paul’s life before his captivity, as during his three years’ sojourn in Ephesus (54-57), or his eighteen months’ sojourn in Corinth (52-53), but it is very difficult to do so. The Epistles presuppose journeys of the apostle not mentioned in Acts, and belong apparently to an advanced period in his life, as well as in the history of truth and error in the apostolic church.
2. The release of Timothy from a captivity in Italy, probably in Rome, to which the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews Act_13:23 alludes, may have some connection with the release of Paul, who had probably a share in the inspiration, if not in the composition, of that remarkable production.
3. The oldest post-apostolic witness is Clement of Rome, who wrote about 95: “Paul ... having come to the limit of the West ('e5̓'f0'e9̀ 'f4'ef̀ 'f4'e5́'f1'ec'e1 'f4'e7͂'f2 'e4'f5́'f3'e5'f9'f2 'e5̓'eb'e8'f9́'ed) and borne witness before the magistrates ('ec'e1'f1'f4'f5'f1'e7́'f3'e1'f2 'e5'f0'e9̀ 'f4'f9͂'ed 'e7̔'e3'ef'f5'ec'e5́'ed'f9'ed, which others translate, “having suffered martyrdom under the rulers”), departed from the world and went to the holy place, having furnished the sublimest model of endurance” (Ad Corinth. c. 5). Considering that Clement wrote in Rome, the most natural interpretation of 'f4'e5́'f1'ec'e1 'f4'e7͂'f2 'e4'f5́'f3'e5'f9'f2, “the extreme west,” is Spain or Britain; and as Paul intended to carry the gospel to Spain, one would first think of that country, which was in constant commercial intercourse with Rome, and had produced distinguished statesmen and writers like Seneca and Lucan. Strabo (II. 1) calls the pillars of Hercules 'f0'e5́'f1'e1'f4'e1 'f4'e7͂'f2 'ef'e9̓'ea'ef'f5'ec'e5́'ed'e7'f2; and Velleius Paterc. calls Spain “extremus nostri orbis terminus.” See Lightfoot, St. Clement, p. 50. But the inference is weakened by the absence of any trace or tradition of Paul’s visit to Spain. Still less can he have suffered martyrdom there, as the logical order of the words would imply. And as Clement wrote to the Corinthians, he may, from their geographical standpoint, have called the Roman capital the end of the West. At all events the passage is rhetorical (it speaks of seven imprisonments, 'e5̔'f0'f4'e1́'ea'e9'f2 'e4'e5'f3'ec'e1̀ 'f6'ef'f1'e5́'f3'e1'f2), and proves nothing for further labors in the East.
4. An incomplete passage in the fragmentary Muratorian canon (about a.d. 170): “Sed profectionem Pauli ab urbe ad Spaniam proficiscentis ...” seems to imply a journey of Paul to Spain, which Luke has omitted; but this is merely a conjecture, as the verb has to be supplied. Comp., however, Westcott, The Canon of the N. Test., p. 189, and Append. C., p. 467, and Renan, L’Antechrist, p. 106 sq.
5. Eusebius (d. 310) first clearly asserts that “there is a tradition ('eb'ef́'e3'ef'f2 'e5̓́'f7'e5'e9) that the apostle, after his defence, again set forth to the ministry of his preaching and having entered a second time the same city [Rome], was perfected by his martyrdom before him [Nero].” Hist. Eccl. II. 22 (comp. ch. 25). But the force of this testimony is weakened first by its late date; secondly, by the vague expression 'eb'ef́'e3'ef'f2 'e5̓́'f7'e5'e9, “it is said,” and the absence of any reference to older authorities (usually quoted by Eusebius); thirdly, by his misunderstanding of 2Ti_4:16, 2Ti_4:17, which he explains in the same connection of a deliverance from the first imprisonment (as if 'e1̓'f0'ef'eb'ef'e3'e9́'e1 were identical with 'e1'e9̓'f7'ec'e1'eb'f9'f3'e9́'e1); and lastly by his chronological mistake as to the time of the first imprisonment which, in his “Chronicle,” he misdates a.d. 58, that is, three years before the actual arrival of Paul in Rome. On the other hand he puts the conflagration of Rome two years too late, a.d. 66, instead of 64, and the Neronian persecution, and the martyrdom of Paul and Peter, in the year 70.
6. Jerome (d. 419): “Paul was dismissed by Nero that he might preach Christ’s gospel also in the regions of the West (in Occidentis quoque partibus).” De Vir. ill. sub Paulus. This echoes the 'f4'e5́'f1'ec'e1 'f4'e7͂'f2 'e4'f5́'f3'e5'f9'f2 of Clement. Chrysostom (d. 407), Theodoret, and other fathers assert that Paul went to Spain (Rom_15:28), but without adducing any proof.
These post-apostolic testimonies, taken together, make it very probable, but not historically certain, that Paul was released after the spring of 63, and enjoyed an Indian summer of missionary work before his Martyrdom. The only remaining monuments, as well as the best proof, of this concluding work are the Pastoral Epistles, if we admit them to be genuine. To my mind the historical difficulties of the Pastoral Epistles are an argument for rather than against their Pauline origin. For why should a forger invent difficulties when he might so easily have fitted his fictions in the frame of the situation known from the Acts and the other Pauline Epistles? The linguistic and other objections are by no means insurmountable, and are overborne by the evidence of the Pauline spirit which animates these last productions of his pen.
34. The Synod of Jerusalem, and the Compromise Between Jewish and Gentile Christianity
I. Act_15:1-41, and Gal_2:1-21, and the Commentaries thereon.
II. Besides the general literature already noticed (in 'a7 20 and 'a7 29), compare the following special discussions on the Conference of the Apostles, which tend to rectify the extreme view of Baur (Paulus, ch. V.) and Overbeck (in the fourth edition of De Wette’s Com. on Acts) on the conflict between Act_15:1-41 and Gal_2:1-21, or between Petrinism and Paulinism, and to establish the true historic view of their essential unity in diversity.
Bishop Lightfoot: St. Paul and the Three, in Com. on Galat., London, 1866 (second ed.), pp. 283-355. The ablest critical discussion of the problem in the English language.
R. A. Lipsius: Apostelconvent, in Schenkel’s Bibel-Lexikon, I. (1869), pp. 194-207. A clear and sharp statement of eight apparent contradictions between Act_15:1-41 and Gal_2:1-21. He admits, however, some elements of truth in the account of Acts, which he uses to supplement the account of Paul. Schenkel, in his Christusbild der Apostel, 1879, p. 38, goes further, and says, in opposition to Overbeck, who regards the account of Acts as a Tendenz-Roman, or partisan fiction: “The narrative of Paul is certainly trustworthy, but one-sided, which was unavoidable, considering his personal apologetic aim, and passes by in silence what is foreign to that aim. The narrative of Acts follows oral and written traditions which were already influenced by later views and prejudices, and it is for this reason unreliable in part, yet by no means a conscious fiction.”
Otto Pfleiderer: Der Paulinismus. Leipzig, 1873, pp. 278 sqq. and 500 sqq. He tones down the differences to innocent inaccuracies of the Acts, and rejects the idea of “intentional invention.”
C. Weizs'e4cker (successor of Dr. Baur in T'fcbingen, but partly dissenting from him): Das Apostelconcil in the “Jahrb'fccher f'fcr deutsche Theologie” for 1873, pp. 191-246. And his essay on Paulus und die Gemeinde in Korinth, ibid., 1876, pp. 603-653. In the last article he concludes (p. 652) that the real opponents of Paul, in Corinth as well as in Galatia, were not the primitive apostles (as asserted by Baur, Schwegler, etc.), but a set of fanatics who abused the authority of Peter and the name of Christ, and imitated the agitation of Jewish proselytizers, as described by Roman writers.
K. Schmidt: Der Apostel-Konvent, in Herzog and Plitt, R. E. I. (1877), 575-584. Conservative.
Theod. Keim: Aus dem Urchristenthum. Z'fcrich, 1879, Der Apostelkonvent, pp. 64-89. (Comp. Hilgenfeld’s review in the “Zeitschrift f'fcr wissenschaftl. Theologie,” 1879, pp. 100f sqq.) One of the last efforts of the author of the Leben Jesu von Nazara. Keim goes a step further than Weizs'e4cker, strongly maintains the public as well as the private character of the apostolic agreement, and admits the circumcision of Timothy as a fact. He also entirely rejects the view of Baur, Weizs'e4cker, and Overbeck that the author of Acts derived his information from the Ep. to the Galatians, and perverted it for his irenic purpose.
F. W. Farrar: The Life and Work of Paul (Lond., 1879), chs. XXII.-XXIII. (I. 398-454).
Wilibald Grimm: Der Apostelconvent, in the “Theol. Studien und Kritiken” (Gotha), for 1880, pp. 405-432. A critical discussion in the right direction. The exegetical essay of Wetzel on Gal_2:14, Gal_2:21, in the same periodical, pp. 433 sqq., bears in part on the same subject.
F. Godet: Com. on the Ep. to the Romans, vol. I. (1879), pp. 3742, English translation. Able and sound.
Karl Wieseler: Zur Gesch. der N. T.lichen Schrift und des Urchristenthums. Leipzig, 1880, pp. 1-53, on the Corinthian parties and their relation to the errorists in the Galatians and the Nicolaitans in the Apocalypse. Learned, acute, and conservative.
Comp. above 'a7 22; my Hist. of the Apost. Church, 'a7 'a7 67-70, pp. 245-260; and Excursus on the Controversy between Peter and Paul, in my Com. on the Gal_2:11-14.
Jewish and Gentile Christianity
The question of circumcision, or of the terms of admission of the Gentiles to the Christian church, was a burning question of the apostolic age. It involved the wider question of the binding authority of the Mosaic law, yea, the whole relation of Christianity to Judaism. For circumcision was in the synagogue what baptism is in the church, a divinely appointed sign and seal of the covenant of man with God, with all its privileges and responsibilities, and bound the circumcised person to obey the whole law on pain of forfeiting the blessing promised. Upon the decision of this question depended the peace of the church within, and the success of the gospel without. With circumcision, as a necessary condition of church membership, Christianity would forever have been confined to the Jewish race with a small minority of proselytes of the gate, or half-Christians while the abrogation of circumcision and the declaration of the supremacy and sufficiency of faith in Christ ensured the conversion of the heathen and the catholicity of Christianity. The progress of Paul’s mission among the Gentiles forced the question to a solution and resulted in a grand act of emancipation, yet not without great struggle and temporary reactions.
All the Christians of the first generation were converts from Judaism or heathenism. It could not be expected that they should suddenly lose the influence of opposite kinds of religious training and blend at once in unity. Hence the difference between Jewish and Gentile Christianity throughout the apostolic age, more or less visible in all departments of ecclesiastical life, in missions, doctrine, worship, and government. At the head of the one division stood Peter, the apostle of the circumcision; at the head of the other, Paul, to whom was intrusted the apostleship of the uncircumcision. In another form the same difference even yet appears between the different branches of Christendom. The Catholic church is Jewish-Christian or Petrine in its character; the Evangelical church is Gentile or Pauline. And the individual members of these bodies lean to one or the other of these leading types. Where-ever there is life and motion in a denomination or sect, there will be at least two tendencies of thought and action - whether they be called old and new school, or high church and low church, or by any other party name. In like manner there is no free government without parties. It is only stagnant waters that never run and overflow, and corpses that never move.
The relation between these two fundamental forms of apostolic Christianity is in general that of authority and freedom, law and gospel, the conservative and the progressive, the objective and the subjective. These antithetic elements are not of necessity mutually exclusive. They are mutually complemental, and for perfect life they must co-exist and co-operate. But in reality they often run to extremes, and then of course fall into irreconcilable contradiction. Exclusive Jewish Christianity sinks into Ebionism; exclusive Gentile Christianity into Gnosticism. And these heresies were by no means confined to the apostolic and post-apostolic ages; pseudo-Petrine and pseudo-Pauline errors, in ever-varying phases, run more or less throughout the whole history of the church.
The Jewish converts at first very naturally adhered as closely as possible to the sacred traditions of their fathers. They could not believe that the religion of the Old Testament, revealed by God himself, should pass away. They indeed regarded Jesus as the Saviour of Gentiles as well as Jews; but they thought Judaism the necessary introduction to Christianity, circumcision and the observance of the whole Mosaic law the sole condition of an interest in the Messianic salvation. And, offensive as Judaism was, rather than attractive, to the heathen, this principle would have utterly precluded the conversion of the mass of the Gentile world. The apostles themselves were at first trammelled by this Judaistic prejudice, till taught better by the special revelation to Peter before the conversion of Cornelius. (Act_10:1-48 and Act_11:1-30)
But even after the baptism of the uncircumcised centurion, and Peter’s defence of it before the church of Jerusalem, the old leaven still wrought in some Jewish Christians who had formerly belonged to the rigid and exclusive sect of the Pharisees. They came from Judaea to Antioch, and taught the converts of Paul and Barnabas: “Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.” They no doubt appealed to the Pentateuch, the universal Jewish tradition, the circumcision of Christ, and the practice of the Jewish apostles, and created a serious disturbance. These ex-Pharisees were the same whom Paul, in the heat of controversy, more severely calls “false brethren insidiously or stealthily foisted in,” who intruded themselves into the Christian brotherhood as spies and enemies of Christian liberty. He clearly distinguishes them not only from the apostles, but also from the great majority of the brethren in Judaea who sincerely rejoiced in his conversion and glorified God for it. (Gal_1:22-24) They were a small, but very active and zealous minority, and full of intrigue. They compassed sea and land to make one proselyte. They were baptized with water, but not with the Holy Spirit. They were Christians in name, but narrow-minded and narrow-hearted Jews in fact. They were scrupulous, pedantic, slavish formalists, ritualists, and traditionalists of the malignant type. Circumcision of the flesh was to them of more importance than circumcision of the heart, or at all events an indispensable condition of salvation. Such men could, of course, not understand and appreciate Paul, but hated and feared him as a dangerous radical and rebel. Envy and jealousy mixed with their religious prejudice. They got alarmed at the rapid progress of the gospel among the unclean Gentiles who threatened to soil the purity of the church. They could not close their eyes to the fact that the power was fast passing from Jerusalem to Antioch, and from the Jews to the Gentiles, but instead of yielding to the course of Providence, they determined to resist it in the name of order and orthodoxy, and to keep the regulation of missionary operations and the settlement of the terms of church membership in their own hands at Jerusalem, the holy center of Christendom and the expected residence of the Messiah on his return.
Whoever has studied the twenty-third chapter of Matthew and the pages of church history, and knows human nature, will understand perfectly this class of extra-pious and extra-orthodox fanatics, whose race is not dead yet and not likely to die out. They serve, however, the good purpose of involuntarily promoting the cause of evangelical liberty.
The agitation of these Judaizing partisans and zealots brought the Christian church, twenty years after its founding, to the brink of a split which would have seriously impeded its progress and endangered its final success.
The Conferences in Jerusalem
To avert this calamity and to settle this irrepressible conflict, the churches of Jerusalem and Antioch resolved to hold a private and a public conference at Jerusalem. Antioch sent Paul and Barnabas as commissioners to represent the Gentile converts. Paul, fully aware of the gravity of the crisis, obeyed at the same time an inner and higher impulse. He also took with him Titus, a native Greek, as a living specimen of what the Spirit of God could accomplish without circumcision. The conference was held a.d. 50 or 51 (fourteen years after Paul’s conversion). It was the first and in some respects the most important council or synod held in the history of Christendom, though differing widely from the councils of later times. It is placed in the middle of the book of Acts as the connecting link between the two sections of the apostolic church and the two epochs of its missionary history.
The object of the Jerusalem consultation was twofold: first, to settle the personal relation between the Jewish and Gentile apostles, and to divide their field of labor; secondly, to decide the question of circumcision, and to define the relation between the Jewish and Gentile Christians. On the first point (as we learn from Paul) it effected a complete and final, on the second point (as we learn from Luke) a partial and temporary settlement. In the nature of the case the public conference in which the whole church took part, was preceded and accompanied by private consultations of the apostles.
1. Apostolic Recognition. The pillars of the Jewish Church, James, Peter, and John - whatever their views may have been before - were fully convinced by the logic of events in which they recognized the hand of Providence that Paul as well as Barnabas by the extraordinary success of his labors had proven himself to be divinely called to the apostolate of the Gentiles. They took no exception and made no addition to his gospel. On the contrary, when they saw that God who gave grace and strength to Peter for the apostleship of the circumcision, gave grace and strength to Paul also for the conversion of the uncircumcision, they extended to him and to Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, with the understanding that they would divide as far as practicable the large field of labor, and that Paul should manifest his brotherly love and cement the union by aiding in the support of the poor, often persecuted and famine-stricken brethren of Judaea. This service of charity he had cheerfully done before, and as cheerfully and faithfully did afterward by raising collections among his Greek congregations and carrying the money in person to Jerusalem. (Gal_2:7-10; comp. Act_11:30; Act_24:17; 1Co_16:1-3; 2Co_8:1-24 and 2Co_9:1-15; Rom_15:25-27) Such is the unequivocal testimony of the fraternal understanding among the apostles from the mouth of Paul himself. And the letter of the council officially recognizes this by mentioning “beloved” Barnabas and Paul, as “men who have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This double testimony of the unity of the apostolic church is quite conclusive against the modern invention of an irreconcilable antagonism between Paul and Peter.
2. As regards the question of circumcision and the status of the Gentile Christians, there was a sharp conflict of opinions in open debate, under the very shadow of the inspired apostles. There was strong conviction and feeling on both sides, plausible arguments were urged, charges and countercharges made, invidious inferences drawn, fatal consequences threatened. But the Holy Spirit was also present, as he is with every meeting of disciples who come together in the name of Christ, and overruled the infirmities of human nature which will crop out in every ecclesiastical assembly.
The circumcision of Titus, as a test case, was of course strongly demanded by the Pharisaical legalists, but as strongly resisted by Paul, and not enforced. To yield here even for a moment would have been fatal to the cause of Christian liberty, and would have implied a wholesale circumcision of the Gentile converts, which was impossible.
But how could Paul consistently afterwards circumcise Timothy? The answer is that he circumcised Timothy as a Jew, not as a Gentile, and that he did it as a voluntary act of expediency, for the purpose of making Timothy more useful among the Jews, who had a claim on him as the son of a Jewish mother, and would not have allowed him to teach in a synagogue without this token of membership; while in the case of Titus, a pure Greek, circumcision was demanded as a principle and as a condition of justification and salvation. Paul was inflexible in resisting the demands of false brethren, but always willing to accommodate himself to weak brethren, and to become as a Jew to the Jews and as a Gentile to the Gentiles in order to save them both. (Comp. Rom_14:1-23 and Rom_15:1-33; 1Co_9:19-23; Act_21:23, Act_21:26) In genuine Christian freedom he cared nothing for circumcision or uncircumcision as a mere rite or external condition, and as compared with the keeping of the commandments of God and the new creature in Christ.
In the debate Peter, of course, as the ecumenical chief of the Jewish apostles, although at that time no more a resident of Jerusalem, took a leading part, and made a noble speech which accords entirely with his previous experience and practice in the house of Cornelius, and with his subsequent endorsement of Paul’s doctrine. He was no logician, no rabbinical scholar, but he had admirable good sense and practical tact, and quickly perceived the true line of progress and duty. He spoke in a tone of personal and moral authority, but not of official primacy. He protested against imposing upon the neck of the Gentile disciples the unbearable yoke of the ceremonial law, and laid down, as clearly as Paul, the fundamental principle that “Jews as well as Gentiles are saved only by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
After this bold speech, which created a profound silence in the assembly, Barnabas and Paul reported, as the best practical argument, the signal miracles which God had wrought among the Gentiles through their instrumentality.
The last and weightiest speaker was James, the brother of the Lord, the local head of the Jewish Christian church and bishop of Jerusalem, who as such seems to have presided over the council. He represented as it were the extreme right wing of the Jewish church bordering close on the Judaizing faction. It was through his influence chiefly no doubt that the Pharisees were converted who created this disturbance. In a very characteristic speech he endorsed the sentiments of Symeon - he preferred to call Peter by his Jewish name - concerning the conversion of the Gentiles as being in accordance with ancient prophecy and divine fore-ordination; but he proposed a compromise to the effect that while the Gentile disciples should not be troubled with circumcision, they should yet be exhorted to abstain from certain practices which were particularly offensive to pious Jews, namely, from eating meat offered to idols, from tasting blood, or food of strangled animals, and from every form of carnal uncleanness. As to the Jewish Christians, they knew their duty from the law, and would be expected to continue in their time-honored habits.
The address of James differs considerably from that of Peter, and meant restriction as well as freedom, but after all it conceded the main point at issue - salvation without circumcision. The address entirely accords in spirit and language with his own epistle, which represents the gospel as law, though “the perfect law of freedom,” with his later conduct toward Paul in advising him to assume the vow of the Nazarites and thus to contradict the prejudices of the myriads of converted Jews, and with the Jewish Christian tradition which represents him as the model of an ascetic saint equally revered by devout Jews and Christians, as the “Rampart of the People” (Obliam), and the intercessor of Israel who prayed in the temple without ceasing for its conversion and for the aversion of the impending doom. He had more the spirit of an ancient prophet or of John the Baptist than the spirit of Jesus (in whom he did not believe till after the resurrection), but for this very reason he had most authority over the Jewish Christians, and could reconcile the majority of them to the progressive spirit of Paul.
The compromise of James was adopted and embodied in the following brief and fraternal pastoral letter to the Gentile churches. It is the oldest literary document of the apostolic age and bears the marks of the style of James:
“The apostles and the elder brethren unto the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia, greeting: Forasmuch as we have heard, that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, to whom we gave no commandment, it seemed good unto us, having come to be of one accord, to choose out men and send them unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who themselves also shall tell you the same things by word of mouth. For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that ye abstain from meats sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication; from which if ye keep yourselves, it shall be well with you. Farewell.” (Act_15:23-29)
The decree was delivered by four special messengers, two representing the church at Antioch, Barnabas and Paul, and two from Jerusalem, Judas Barsabbas and Silas (or Silvanus), and read to the Syrian and Cilician churches which were agitated by the controversy. (Act_16:4) The restrictions remained in full force at least eight years, since James reminded Paul of them on his last visit to Jerusalem in 58. The Jewish Christians observed them no doubt with few exceptions till the downfall of idolatry, and the Oriental church even to this day abstains from blood and things strangled; but the Western church never held itself bound to this part of the decree, or soon abandoned some of its restrictions.
Thus by moderation and mutual concession in the spirit of peace and brotherly love a burning controversy was settled, and a split happily avoided.
Analysis of the Decree
The decree of the council was a compromise and had two aspects: it was emancipatory, and restrictive.
(1.) It was a decree of emancipation of the Gentile disciples from circumcision and the bondage of the ceremonial law. This was the chief point in dispute, and so far the decree was liberal and progressive. It settled the question of principle once and forever. Paul had triumphed. Hereafter the Judaizing doctrine of the necessity of circumcision for salvation was a heresy, a false gospel, or a perversion of the true gospel, and is denounced as such by Paul in the Galatians.
(2.) The decree was restrictive and conservative on questions of expediency and comparative indifference to the Gentile Christians. Under this aspect it was a wise and necessary measure for the apostolic age, especially in the East, where the Jewish element prevailed, but not intended for universal and permanent use. In Western churches, as already remarked, it was gradually abandoned, as we learn from Augustine. It imposed upon the Gentile Christians abstinence from meat offered to idols, from blood, and from things strangled (as fowls and other animals caught in snares). The last two points amounted to the same thing. These three restrictions had a good foundation in the Jewish abhorrence of idolatry, and every thing connected with it, and in the Levitical prohibition. Without them the churches in Judaea would not have agreed to the compact. But it was almost impossible to carry them out in mixed or in purely Gentile congregations; for it would have compelled the Gentile Christians to give up social intercourse with their unconverted kindred and friends, and to keep separate slaughter-houses, like the Jews, who from fear of contamination with idolatrous associations never bought meat at the public markets. Paul takes a more liberal view of this matter - herein no doubt dissenting somewhat from James - namely, that the eating of meat sacrificed to idols was in itself indifferent, in view of the vanity of idols; nevertheless he likewise commands the Corinthians to abstain from such meat out of regard for tender and weak consciences, and lays down the golden rule: “All things are lawful, but all things are not expedient; all things are lawful, but all things edify not. Let no man seek his own, but his neighbor’s good.” (1Co_8:7-13; 1Co_10:23-33; Rom_14:2, Rom_14:21; 1Ti_4:4)
It seems strange to a modern reader that with these ceremonial prohibitions should be connected the strictly moral prohibition of fornication. But it must be remembered that the heathen conscience as to sexual intercourse was exceedingly lax, and looked upon it as a matter of indifference, like eating and drinking, and as sinful only in case of adultery where the rights of a husband are invaded. No heathen moralist, not even Socrates, or Plato, or Cicero, condemned fornication absolutely. It was sanctioned by the worship of Aphrodite at Corinth and Paphos, and practised to her honor by a host of harlot-priestesses! Idolatry or spiritual whoredom is almost inseparable from bodily pollution. In the case of Solomon polytheism and polygamy went hand in hand. Hence the author of the Apocalypse also closely connects the eating of meat offered to idols with fornication, and denounces them together. (Rev_2:14, Rev_2:20) Paul had to struggle against this laxity in the Corinthian congregation, and condemns all carnal uncleanness as a violation and profanation of the temple of God. In this absolute prohibition of sexual impurity we have a striking evidence of the regenerating and sanctifying influence of Christianity. Even the ascetic excesses of the post-apostolic writers who denounced the second marriage as “decent adultery” ('e5'f5̓'f0'f1'e5'f0'e7̀'f2 'ec'ef'e9'f7'e5'e9́'e1), and glorified celibacy as a higher and better state than honorable wedlock, command our respect, as a wholesome and necessary reaction against the opposite excesses of heathen licentiousness.
So far then as the Gentile Christians were concerned the question was settled.
The status of the Jewish Christians was no subject of controversy, and hence the decree is silent about them. They were expected to continue in their ancestral traditions and customs as far as they were at all consistent with loyalty to Christ. They needed no instruction as to their duty, “for,” said James, in his address to the Council, “Moses from generations of old has in every city those who preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.” (Act_15:21; comp. Act_13:15; 2Co_3:14, 2Co_3:15) And eight years afterwards he and his elders intimated to Paul that even he, as a Jew, was expected to observe the ceremonial law, and that the exemption was only meant for the Gentiles.
But just here was a point where the decree was deficient. It went far enough for the temporary emergency, and as far as the Jewish church was willing to go, but not far enough for the cause of Christian union and Christian liberty in its legitimate development.
1. The Apostolic Conference at Jerusalem. - This has been one of the chief battle-fields of modern historical criticism. The controversy of circumcision has been fought over again in German, French, Dutch, and English books and essays, and the result is a clearer insight both into the difference and into the harmony of the apostolic church.
We have two accounts of the Conference, one from Paul in the second chapter of the Galatians, and one from his faithful companion, Luke, in Act_15:1-41. For it is now almost universally admitted that they refer to the same event. They must be combined to make up a full history. The Epistle to the Galatians is the true key to the position, the Archimedian 'f0'ef'f5͂ 'f3'f4'f9͂.
The accounts agree as to the contending parties - Jerusalem and Antioch - the leaders on both sides, the topic of controversy, the sharp conflict, and the peaceful result.
But in other respects they differ considerably and supplement each other. Paul, in a polemic vindication of his independent apostolic authority against his Judaizing antagonists in Galatia, a few years after the Council (about 56), dwells chiefly on his personal understanding with the other apostles and their recognition of his authority, but he expressly hints also at public conferences, which could not be avoided; for it was a controversy between the churches, and an agreement concluded by the leading apostles on both sides was of general authority, even if it was disregarded by a heretical party. Luke, on the other hand, writing after the lapse of at least thirteen years (about 63) a calm and objective history of the primitive church, gives (probably from Jerusalem and Antioch documents, but certainly not from Paul’s Epistles) the official action of the public assembly, with an abridgment of the preceding debates, without excluding private conferences; on the contrary he rather includes them; for he reports in Act_15:5, that Paul and Barnabas “were received by the church and the apostles and elders and declared all things that God had done with them,” before he gives an account of the public consultation, Act_15:6. In all assemblies, ecclesiastical and political, the more important business is prepared and matured by Committees in private conference for public discussion and action; and there is no reason why the council in Jerusalem should have made an exception. The difference of aim then explains, in part at least, the omissions and minor variations of the two accounts, which we have endeavored to adjust in this section.
The ultra- and pseudo-Pauline hypercriticism of the T'fcbingen school in several discussions (by Baur, Schwegler, Zeller, Hilgenfeld, Volkmar, Holsten, Overbeck, Lipsius, Hausrath, and Wittichen) has greatly exaggerated these differences, and used Paul’s terse polemic allusions as a lever for the overthrow of the credibility of the Acts. But a more conservative critical reaction has recently taken place, partly in the same school (as indicated in the literature above), which tends to harmonize the two accounts and to vindicate the essential consensus of Petrinism and Paulinism.
2. The Circumcision of Titus. - We hold with most commentators that Titus was not circumcised. This is the natural sense of the difficult and much disputed passage, Gal_2:3-5, no matter whether we take 'e4'e5́ in Gal_2:4 in the explanatory sense (nempe, and that), or in the usual adversative sense (autem, sed, but). In the former case the sentence is regular, in the latter it is broken, or designedly incomplete, and implies perhaps a slight censure of the other apostles, who may have first recommended the circumcision of Titus as a measure of prudence and conciliation out of regard to conservative scruples, but desisted from it on the strong remonstrance of Paul. If we press the 'e7̓'ed'e1'e3'ea'e1́'f3'e8'e7 compelled, in Gal_2:3, such an inference might easily be drawn, but there was in Paul’s mind a conflict between the duty of frankness and the duty of courtesy to his older colleagues. So Dr. Lightfoot accounts for the broken grammar of the sentence, “which was wrecked on the hidden rock of the counsels of the apostles of the circumcision.”
Quite another view was taken by Tertullian (Adv. Marc., V. 3), and recently by Renan (ch. III. p. 89) and Farrar (I. 415), namely, that Titus voluntarily submitted to circumcision for the sake of peace, either in spite of the remonstrance of Paul, or rather with his reluctant consent. Paul seems to say that Titus was not circumcised, but implies that he was. This view is based on the omission of 'ef'e9̓͂'f2 'ef'f5̓'e4'e5́ in Gal_2:5. The passage then would have to be supplemented in this way: “But not even Titus was compelled to be circumcised, but [he submitted to circumcision voluntarily] on account of the stealthily introduced false brethren, to whom we yielded by way of submission for an hour [i.e., temporarily].” Renan thus explains the meaning: “If Titus was circumcised, it is not because he was forced, but on account of the false brethren, to whom we might yield for a moment without submitting ourselves in principle.” He thinks that 'f0'f1'ef'f2 'f9̔́'f1'e1'ed is opposed to the following 'e4'e9'e1'ec'e5'e9́'ed'e7́. In other words, Paul stooped to conquer. He yielded for a moment by a stretch of charity or a stroke of policy, in order to save Titus from violence, or to bring his case properly before the Council and to achieve a permanent victory of principle. But this view is entirely inconsistent not only with the frankness and firmness of Paul on a question of principle, with the gravity of the crisis, with the uncompromising tone of the Epistle to the Galatians, but also with the addresses of Peter and James, and with the decree of the council. If Titus was really circumcised, Paul would have said so, and explained his relation to the fact. Moreover, the testimony of Irenaeus and Tertullian against 'ef'e9̓͂'f2 'ef'f5̓'e4'e5́ must give way to the authority of the best uncials ('e0 B A C, etc.) and versions in favor of these words. The omission can be better explained from carelessness or dogmatic prejudice than the insertion.