Bibliotheca Sacra 147 (July 1990) 329-350.

          Copyright © 1990 by Dallas Theological Seminary.  Cited with permission.



                Who Were Paul's Opponents

                                in Galatia?


                                                Walt Russell

                         Associate Professor of New Testament

                         Biota University, La Mirada, California


                 Why Is the Identity of Paul's Opponents an Issue?


            Paul's opponents in Galatia are central to the argument of Gala-

tians because the epistle is essentially a response to their threat to

the churches of Galatia. Therefore it is not surprising to see that the

opponents are mentioned in every chapter (1:6-9; 2:4-5; 3:1; 4:17; 5:10,

12; 6:12-13). Conservative scholars have historically assumed that

these foes were Judaizers and have interpreted the text in that

light. However, in the last 70 years a persistent critique now gaining

widespread acceptance says that the Judaizer identity is totally

inadequate in explaining crucial verses like Galatians 5:13, "For you

were called to freedom, brethren, only do not turn your freedom into

an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another."

            While Paul was apparently addressing some sort of Judaistic

aberration in Galatians 3-4, these critics argue, he was also overtly

attacking an antinomian aberration in Galatians 5-6, and the Judais-

tic identity cannot encompass this additional aberration. Therefore

an increasing number of New Testament scholars are advocating a

different identity for Paul's opponents in Galatia. Evangelicals

should not blithely continue to assume the correctness of the Judaizer

identity. They must see if their assumptions need revision and if

this will aid in understanding the latter part of Galatians.


              The Three Major Views of the Opponents' Identity


            Three major views of Paul's opponents in Galatia encompass nu-

merous minor views. The traditional view is that the opponents

were "Judaizers" pressuring Gentiles to live as if they were Jews.




330                 Bibliotheca Sacra / July—September 1990


The two-opponent view holds that both Judaizers and libertinistic

"pneumatics" plagued Paul in Galatia. The Gnostic/syncretistic Jew-

ish Christians view is that there was one group of opponents with

both Judaistic and libertinistic traits in some of the peripheral

groups within Judaism and Asia Minor.



            Since the second-century Marcionite Prologues to Galatians (pre-

served only in Latin translations), it has been inferred that Paul's

opponents were overzealous Jewish Christians from Jerusalem. They

advocated in Galatia the traditional Jewish proselyte model by re-

quiring Gentile Christians to attach themselves to ethnic Israel. This

identification was carefully confirmed by John Calvin1 and more ca-

sually assumed by Martin Luther.2  Since Calvin's and Luther's day

the majority of Protestant scholars have identified Paul's opponents

in some way with the Jewish Christians from Jerusalem.

            This identity was solidified in the 19th century by F. C. Baur of

the Tubingen School, who made these opponents a decisive interpre-

tive key to all Paul's writings. Baur's reconstruction of the history of

the early church does not so much pit Paul against the Jerusalem

apostles, as is popularly understood, but against the party of Jewish

Christians identified with James and the Jerusalem church.3 These

Judaizers had an Ebionite tendency and had not broken out of the

limits of Judaism in their understanding of Christianity and the suf-

ficiency of Christ's ministry.4 To Baur, the Epistle to the Galatians

was a microcosm of the massive struggle between Pauline and Jewish

Christianity. So while Baur never wrote a commentary on Gala-

tians, his central and emphatic identification of Paul's opponents in

Galatia became the almost unquestioned standard, even to those who

opposed major portions of Baur's reconstruction of early events.

Schmithals summarized the situation, saying,

                 There are few problems in the realm of New Testament introduc-

            tion in which the scholars of all eras are so unanimously and indis-

            putably of one mind as here.


1   John Calvin, The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians, Ephesians,

Philippians and Colossians, trans. T. H. L. Parker, Calvin's New Testament Commen-

aries 11, ed. David W. Torrance and Thomas F. Torrance (1556; reprint, Grand Rapids:

Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1965), pp. 4-7.

2   Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, trans. Erasmus Middleton, ed. John P.

Fallowes (London: Harrison Trust, 1850; reprint, Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications,

1979, p. 2.

3   Ferdinand C. Baur, Ausgenwahlte Werke in Einzelausgahen, ed. K. Scholder

(reprint, Stuttgart: Frommann, 1963), 1:49.

4   Ferdinand C. Baur, Paul, His Life and Works, trans. E. Zeller, 2 vols. (London:

Williams and Norgate, 1875), 1:113, 129-30.


                        Who Were Paul's Opponents in Galatia?                331


                 The heretics in Galatia are Judaizers, that is, Christians who de-

            mand the observance of the Jewish law on a greater or lesser scale, but

            in any case including circumcision: thus they are Christians in whose

            opinion membership in the eschatological community of the Messiah

            who has appeared in Jesus depends upon membership in the national

            cultic union, constituted through the rite of circumcision, of the ancient

            people of the covenant. This thesis is the presupposition of the exege-

            sis of the Galatian epistle in the commentaries, not its conclusion; and

            it can be such a presupposition because no one would deny it.5


            Schmithals himself denies the traditional identity of Paul's

opponents, holding, instead, that they were Gnostics. Before

Schmithals wrote in the 1970s and 80s, the status of the Judaizers

identity was generally unquestioned. Ironically some recent New

Testament introductions have assumed some form of his position.6

            Viewing Paul's Galatian opponents as Judaizers seems supported

by strong internal evidence. Those who "distort the gospel" in the

churches seem to have come from the outside (1:7) and they confused

the churches (1:7; 5:10, 12). They seem to have been Christians, since

they were offering "a different gospel" (1:6) and desired to avoid

persecution from the Jewish community (6:12). Paul's focus on

Jerusalem and Judea in Galatians 1–2 and 4:21-31 seems to point to

the opponents' origin from this area, though this is not held as

firmly as other aspects of their identity. Their Jewish roots seem

unassailable given their emphasis on circumcision (5:2; 6:12-13), ob-

servance of the Mosaic Law (3:2; 5:4) and certain festivals (4:10), and

apparent interest in being "sons of Abraham" (3:6-29; 4:21-31). With

its straightforward reading of Galatians and its correlation with

Acts 15, many scholars continue to espouse this traditional view in

standard New Testament introductions,7 technical monographs,8 re-

cent commentaries on Galatians,9 and recent journal articles.10


5   Walter Schmithals, Paul and the Gnostics, trans. John E. Steely (Nashville:

Abingdon Press, 1972), p. 1 3.

6   E.g., Helmut Koester Introduction to the New Testament, vol. 2: History and Lit-

erature of Early Christianity (New York: Walter de Gruyter, and Philadelphia:

Fortress Press, 1982), pp. 118-19.

7   E.g., Werner Georg Kummel, Introduction to the New Testament, rev. Eng. ed.,

trans. Howard Clark Kee (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1975), pp. 298-301.

8   E.g., George Howard, Paul: Crisis in Galatia, Society for New Testament Mono-

graph Series 35 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), pp. 1-19.

9   E.g., Ronald Y. Fung, The Epistle to the Galatians, The New International Com-

mentary on the New Testament, ed. F. F. Bruce (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub-

lishing Co., 1988), pp. 13-19.

10   E.g., J. Louis Martyn, "A Law-Observant Mission to Gentiles: The Background of

Galatians," Scottish Journal of Theology 38 (1985): 307-24, and John M. G. Barclay,

"Mirror-Reading a Polemical Letter: Galatians as a Test Case," Journal for the Study

of the New Testament 31 (1988): 73-93.

332                 Bibliotheca Sacra / July—September 1990


            Worthy of inclusion under this major view is the position argued

by Johannes Munck.11 While he was reacting against Baur's bifurca-

tion of the early church into competing Pauline and Jewish segments,

Munck nonetheless saw Paul's Galatian opponents as Judaizers. The

uniqueness of his view is that he saw these Judaizers as Gentile

Christians from within Galatia).12 They had only recently been cir-

cumcised, according to Galatians 6:13, in which Paul used the present

participle of oi[ peritemno<menoi to describe them.13 While Munck per-

ceived himself to be opposite Baur with this particular view, his

identifying of Paul's opponents does not lead to any substantial dif-

ference from Baur's in interpreting the epistle as a whole. The same

can be said of the similar position of A. E. Harvey,14 who identifies

Paul's opponents as "not Jews by birth, but Gentiles who have only

recently become Jewish proselytes, or who are still contemplating do-

ing so."15 The uniqueness of Harvey's view is that he argues that

these proselytes were pressuring fellow Christians to avoid persecu-

tion from the synagogue by adopting Jewish practices, not Jewish

theology. Harvey reasons that this is so because of the Jewish em-

phasis on strict adherence to Jewish practices, rather than to Jewish

orthodoxy.16  Paul's tactic was to show the theological consequences

of embracing Jewish practices (Gal. 6:12-13).



            In reaction to Baur's dominant reconstruction of the early church,

Lutgert17 opposed the one opponent/Judaizers view by arguing for the

additional resistance of a second group in Galatia. While conceding

the existence of the Judaizers, Lutgert was convinced that an even

more threatening group was the primary focus of Paul's attack in

Galatians. Like Luther before him,18 though seeing them more as an

organized party, Lutgert identified this second group of Christians

as the antinomians who "die Freiheit zum Antrieb fur das Fleisch


11   Johannes Munck, Paul and the Salvation of Mankind (Richmond, VA: John Knox

Press, 1959), pp. 87-134.

12   Ibid., p. 87.

13   Ibid., pp. 87-89.

14   A. E. Harvey, The Opposition to Paul," Studio Evangelica 4 (1968): 319-32.

15   Ibid., p. 324.

16   Ibid., pp. 327-29.

17   Wilhelm Lutgert, Gesetz and Geist: Pine Untersuchung zur Vorgeschichte des

Galaterbriefes. Beitrage zur Forderung christlicher Theologie, vol. 22, book 6

(Gi.itersloh: Bertelsmann, 1919).

18   Luther, Commentary on Galatians, pp. 325-29.


            Who Were Paul's Opponents in Galatia?                333


gebrauchen."19 The thread that holds Galatians together as Paul

addressed this two-front battle is the subject of the Law.20 Paul's ar-

guments with both the Judaizers and the antinomians involve the

Law and its relationship to the Christian life. Therefore, Lutgert

argued, Paul vacillated between addressing these two groups as he

wrote Galatians. For example while Galatians 3-4 is primarily con-

cerned with the Judaizers, Paul's focus on them ends at 5:6 and he be-

gan to address the antinomians' abuses of the Law in 5:7.21 The ma-

jority of Galatians 5–6 is no longer seen as Paul's defensive limitation

of the boundaries of freedom in light of possible Judaizers' criticism,

but rather as a much more aggressive and overt attack on the antino-

mians' real abuses.22

            Lutgert's views were not broadly disseminated until Ropes

championed them in a small monograph in 1929.23  Ropes made only

minor adjustments to Lutgert's thesis and sought to demonstrate it by

briefly but systematically going through Galatians chapter by chap-

ter. Interestingly enough, he perceived the break from the lengthy

Judaizers' discussion of Galatians 3–4 to be at 5:10, not 5:6 as Lutgert

had argued. Ropes suggests that Paul began the practical section

with 5:11. "The transition to the next topic is an important one,

sharper than any other transition in the epistle. Our theory requires

the break to be made after verse 10, not after verse 12."24 As Douglas

Fletcher has wryly noted, "For such a sharp division, it does not

seem that it would be necessary to rely upon one's presuppositions to

discern it."25 Weaknesses like this have hindered acceptance of Lilt-

gert's and Ropes's two-opponent view. Nevertheless their emphasis

on the presence of libertinistic "pneumatici" or "spiritual persons"26

helped shape the next reaction to the traditional view.



            Though the identification of Gnostics as Paul's opponents in Gal-

atia tends to be associated with Walter Schmithals, other scholars


19   Lutgert, Gesetz und Geist, p. 16.

20   Ibid., p. 9.

21   Ibid., pp. 27-28.

22   Ibid, pp. 14-19.

23   James H. Ropes, The Singular Problem of the Epistle to the Galatians, Harvard

Theological Studies 14 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1929).

24   Ibid., p. 38.

25   Douglas K. Fletcher, The Singular Argument of Paul's Letter to the Galatians

(PhD diss., Princeton Theological Seminary, 1982), p. 42.

26   Ropes, The Singular Problem of the Epistle to the Galatians, p. 10.


334                 Bibliotheca Sacra / July—September 1990


had previously written of a Gnostic presence in Galatia.27 However,

it is Schmithals who firmly ties Paul's ministry to the combating of

some form of first-century Gnosticism.28 Schmithals follows the Cor-

inthian/Galatian epistles' order of Lutgert's study and his identifi-

cation of Gnostics in both communities. Like Lutgert, Schmithals con-

siders that "the picture of the Galatians heresy is to be filled out in

details from the Corinthian epistles."29 While building on Lutgert's

and Ropes's identification of libertinistic pneumatics in Galatia,

Schmithals (and others after him) significantly deviates from that

theory by positing a single battlefront in Galatia. The questionable

audience theory of the two-opponent view is rightly criticized and

rejected as unsatisfactory.30 In its place is offered a single group of

opponents who manifest both sets of characteristics previously at-

tached to the Judaizers and antinomian pneumatics.

            Rather than refuting the traditional view of Judaizers in Gala-

tia, Schmithals's strategy is to develop a coherent picture of Gnos-

tics in Galatia and demonstrate how this best explains the details in

Galatians. To do this, however, involves some question-begging on

his part. For example in the traditional view Galatians 3-4 is seen

as the heart of the argumentation against the Judaizers. Rather

than contesting the particulars of the Judaizer interpretation of this

section, however, Schmithals virtually ignores it and alleges that

Paul did not really understand his Gnostic opponents or he would not

have argued in this manner.31 Others who adhere to this Gnostic

identification find that they too must assert that their knowledge of

the Galatian opponents exceeds Paul's because in Galatians 3-4 he

argued about the Law "in such a way as he might have done if his

opponents had been Pharisaic Judaists, which they obviously were

not."32  It is possible that a critic's knowledge can exceed an author's


27   As noted by Bernard H. Brinsmead, Galatians—Dialogical Response to Opponents,

Society of Biblical Literature Dissertation Series 65 (Missoula, MT: Scholars Press,

1982), p. 10.

28   Walter Schmithals, Paul and James, trans. Dorothea M. Barton, Studies in Bibli-

cal Theology, no. 46 (Naperville, IL: Alec R. Allenson, 1965), pp. 103-17; idem, Paul

and the Gnostics, pp. 13-64; and idem, "Judaisten in Galatien?" Zeitschrift fur die

Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 74 (1983): 27-58.

29   Schmithals, Paul and the Gnostics, p. 59, n. 134.

30   Ibid., p. 17.

31   Ibid., p. 18.

32   Willi Marxsen, Introduction to the New Testament, trans. G. Buswell

(Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1968), p. 53. In fairness to Marxsen, it should be noted

that he changed his view in the fourth edition of Einleitung in das Neue Testament

(Gutersloh: Gerd Mohn, 1978), pp. 56-71 to one similar to Hans Dieter Betz (to be dis-

cussed shortly).


          Who Were Paul's Opponents in Galatia?                335


knowledge of the subject matter, but this is not to be confused with

the critic's thinking that his knowledge of the author's meaning is

superior.33 Schmithals and some who have followed him seem to

lapse into this hermeneutical error at times.

            Before looking at support for this view of Paul's opponents, the

closely related identity of syncretistic Jewish Christians should be

discussed. This view came into particular prominence through the

writing of Frederic R. Crownfield.34 He identified Paul's Galatian

opponents as a group that combined Christianity with a mystical

understanding of following Torah and Jewish legal practices.35 The

"Judaizers" and "spirituals" were actually the same group. The

leaders of this group are theorized to have been early converts to

Christianity, and although not followers of the earthly Jesus, were

nonetheless connected with Jerusalem. Crownfield conjectured that

they were adherents of Jewish mystery cults seeking spiritual illu-

mination through legalism. As he built on Lutgert's thesis to de-

velop his view, Schmithals also built on Crownfield's work and

specified it to Gnostic groups. Both writers tended to correlate the

Colossian errorists with those of Galatia who combined some Jewish

rites with laxity in morals.36 A similar view is held by Heinrich

Schlier in his commentary on Galatians.37 He embraces an identity

for the opponents that explains their nomism coupled with their lib-

ertinistic tendencies as an early stage of Gnosticism demonstrating a

sort of Jewish apocalypticism similar to that found at Qumran.38

This is not far from the view of Brinsmead, who sees Paul's oppo-

nents as possessing an Essene theology and ethics that espoused a

"nomistic enthusiasm."39 Brinsmead's elaborate picture of the Gala-

tian intruders has been devastatingly criticized by several scholars.40


33   See Edwin D. Hirsch, Jr., Validity in Interpretation (New Haven, CT: Yale Uni--

( versity Press, 1967), pp. 19-23.

34   Frederic R. Crownfield, "The Singular Problem of the Dual Galatians," Journal of

Biblical Literature 64 (1945): 491-500.

35   Ibid., pp. 492-93.

36   Ibid., p. 493, and Schmithals, Paul and the Gnostics, pp. 44-46.

37   Heinrich Schlier, Der Brief an die Galater, 5th ed., Kritischexegetischer Kom -

mentar uber das Neue Testament 7 (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1971).

38   Ibid., pp. 21-24.

39   Brinsmead, Galatians—Dialogical Response to Opponents, pp. 164-78.

40   E.g., David E. Aune, "Review of Galatians    Dialogical Response to Opponents,"

Catholic Biblical Quarterly 46 (1984): 145-47; E. A. Russell, "Convincing or Merely

Curious? A Look at Some Recent Writing on Galatians," Irish Biblical Studies 6

(1984): 156-76; and Barclay, "Mirror-Reading a Polemical Letter: Galatians as a Test

Case," pp. 81-83.


336                 Bibliotheca Sacra / July–September 1990


            Following this trajectory is Dieter Georgi, who sees the troublers

of the Galatian churches as pneumatics using Christian elements as

the ultimate completion of a Jewish syncretism previously enriched

with Gentile motives.41 Against Schmithals, who sees Paul's oppo-

nents as Jews who were never baptized,42 Georgi views these false

brethren as a faction within the Jerusalem church pressing for the

circumcision of Gentile Christians. This faction viewed the Law as a

source of speculative wisdom, not simply for the Jews, but as the norm

for the universe. However, their goal was the attainment of pneu-

matic completion through individualistic and ascetic religious expe-

riences.43 Wegenast holds a view similar to that of Georgi and un-

derscores the importance of circumcision and the Law to these oppo-

nents.44 This represents a basic following of the general thesis of

Crownfield in this area against Schmithals, while still working

within the general Gnostic identity championed by the latter.

            Both the Gnostic and the syncretistic Jewish Christian identifi-

cations consider that Paul was primarily addressing the sarkic con-

duct of his opponents and that this libertine lifestyle, not the legal-

istic theology, was the basic threat facing the Galatians.45 Follow-

ing Lutgert, Schmithals focuses on passages like Galatians 4:9 and

5:1 that seem to point to this threat. However, of particular impor-

tance are these verses.

                 "And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that

            he is under obligation to keep the whole Law" (5:3).

                 "For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your

            freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one

            another" (5:13).

                  "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of

            the flesh" (5:16).

                 "For those who are circumcised do not even keep the Law them-

            selves, but they desire to have you circumcised, that they may boast in

            your flesh" (6:13).


            Following Schmithals's basic identification Betz asserts that

the fundamental problem facing the churches of Galatia was the

conflict of the Spirit and the flesh. He proposes that the churches

were wrestling with how being e]n pneu<mati conflicted with life's

daily realities: "How can the pneumatiko<j coexist with 'trespasses'


41   Dieter Georgi, Die Geschichte der Kollekte des Paulus fur Jerusalem, Theologische

Forschung, vol. 38 (Hamburg: Evangelischer Verlag, 1965), p. 35.

42   Schmithals, Paul and the Gnostics, p. 14.

43   Georgi, Die Geschichte der Kollekte des Paulus fur Jerusalem, p. 35.

44   Klaus Wegenast, Der Verstandnis der Tradition bei Paulus und in den

Deuteropaulinen, Wissenschaftliche Monographien zum Alten and Neuen Testament,

no. 8 (Neukirchen: Neukirchener Verlag, 1962), p. 39.

45   E.g., Schmithals, Paul and the Gnostics, pp. 51-55.

                        Who Were Paul's Opponents in Galatia?                337


in his daily life?"46  Paul's opponents were answering this question

with the security that Torah offered. By accepting Torah and cir-

cumcision, the Galatians would then become partakers of the safety

offered by the Sinai Covenant.47 One can see with this reconstruction

and emphasis that Galatians 5-6 becomes the specific recommenda-

tion that Paul made to the Galatians. The focal point of Galatians

in Galatians 3-4, associated with the traditional view of Judaizing

opponents, has shifted to a focal point in Galatians 5-6 in this third

major view. Methodologically the procedure is to seek to wrap the

remainder of Galatians around the primary core in chapters 5-6.

While Betz essentially subscribes to this third view (though not

emphasizing the opponents' identity in his exposition), his master-

ful literary analysis of Galatians locates the body of the epistle in

chapters 3-4.48 This runs contrary to his belief that chapters 5-6

have real force for the Galatians' problems. The mere polemic

against accepting circumcision and Law in 2:15-5:12 "does not do jus-

tice to the Galatian trouble." 49 However, the force of Betz's identi-

fication of the problem in Galatia is offset by the weight of his lit-

erary analysis, as Fletcher has noted.50  A similar problem is shared

by Schlier. He accepts a conservative version of the Gnostic iden-

tity, but interprets Galatians as if Paul were addressing Judaizers.51


                                    Solving the Identity Crisis


            The goal in identifying Paul's opponents in Galatia is to account

for all the particulars of the epistle in the most comprehensive way.

In seeking to do this, Barclay has delineated three major problems in

this kind of "mirror-reading": (1) Paul did not directly address his

opponents but talked to the Galatians about the opponents. (2) Gala-

tians is a fierce polemic and the intense rhetoric may tend to distort

the opponents' actual positions. (3) Readers encounter the linguistic

distortion of hearing only one partner in the conversation.52


46   Hans Dieter Betz, Galatians: A Commentary on Paul's Letter to the Churches in

Galatia, Hermenia (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1979), p. 154.

47   First set forth in Hans Dieter Betz, "2 Cor. 6:14–7:1: An Anti-Pauline Fragment?"

Journal of Biblical Literature 92 (1973): 88-108, and in idem, "Spirit, Freedom, and

Law: Paul's Message to the Galatian Churches," Svensk exegetisk arsbok 39 (1974):


48   Betz, Galatians: A Commentary on Paul's Letter to the Churches in Galatia, pp.


49   Ibid., p. 273.

50   Fletcher, The Singular Argument of Paul's Letter to the Galatians, pp. 82-83.

51   Schlier, Der Brief an die Galater, pp. 20-24.

52   Barclay, "Mirror Reading a Polemical Letter: Galatians as a Test Case," pp. 74-79.


338                 Bibliotheca Sacra / July—September 1990


            Barclay goes on to describe four dangerous pitfalls in recent at-

tempts to mirror-read Galatians. (1) The danger of undue selectivity

(deciding which of Paul's statements are particularly revealing

about the opponents' message). (2) The danger of overinterpretation

(imagining that every statement of Paul rebuts an equally vigorous

opponents' counterstatement). (3) The danger of mishandling pol-

emics (making more out of Paul's attacks than is warranted with

polemical language). (4) The danger of latching onto particular

words and phrases (using these brief bits of data as the flimsy pegs

on which the whole thesis should hang).53

            Keeping in mind the seven methodological criteria that Barclay

suggests,54 this writer will attempt to weigh the particulars of Gala-

tians and to sift through the three major views.

            In agreement with the first and third views, it seems that the

problems raised by Paul's opponents are of a unitary nature. Gordon's

observation is on target when he states:

            An examination of the variety of connecting terms and particles reveals

            that Galatians is, essentially, a single argument. We do not find in this

            epistle indicators of a shift in topic such as we find in First Corinthians.

            One does not have to agree with every dimension of Betz' argument to

            recognize the validity of his claim of unified rhetoric. At least by liter-

            ary canons, Galatians is not a series of arguments about different mat-

            ters but a series of sub-arguments about essentially one matter (which

            itself may, of course, have many ramifications).55


            In lieu of in-depth analysis, two significant structural observa-

tions will suffice at this point. The first is the bracketing of the

epistle to the Galatians with the prescript (1:1-5) and the postscript

(6:11-18). Bullinger noticed the similarity between 1:1-5 and 6:17-18

and labeled it "complex correspondence of repeated alteration."56

Betz calls it "the epistolary framework" and notes that "it appears

almost as a kind of external bracket for the body of the letter."57

Betz observes the structural ramifications of this bracketing effect

when he comments on the nature of the prescript (1:1-5): "It is also

interesting that at several points there are interrelations between

the preface and the body of the letter. It is at these points that the

theological tendencies and the purpose of the letter can be ob-


53   Ibid., pp. 79-83.

54   Ibid., pp. 84-86.

55   David T. Gordon, The Problem at Galatia," Interpretation 41 (1987): 33-34.

56   E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible Explained and Illustrated

(London: Messrs. Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1898; reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker Book

House, 1968), p. 388.

57   Hans D. Betz, The Literary Composition and Function of Paul's Letter to the

Galatians," New Testament Studies 21 (1975): 355.


            Who Were Paul's Opponents in Galatia?                339


served."58 He notes that the postscript (6:11-18) serves a similar

purpose: "It contains the interpretive clues to the understanding of

Paul's major concerns in the letter as a whole and should be employed

as the hermeneutical key to the intentions of the Apostle."59

            Given the significance of these beginning and ending paragraphs

for determining the purpose of Galatians and Paul's intentions, not-

ing their three common topics should prove insightful.

            First, the issue of Paul's threatened apostolic authority occurs in

both passages. He used several Greek prepositions in describing his

apostleship in 1:1: Pau?loj a]po<stoloj, ou]k a]p ] a]nqrw<twn ou]de> di ]

a]nqrw<pou a]lla> dia>   ]Ihsou? Xristou? kai> qeou? patro<j. Such a

definitive description of his apostleship is unique among the saluta-

tions of the traditional 13-epistle Pauline corpus. Paul ended on an

even more picturesque note of his authoritative identity in 6:17, in

which he flatly stated that he bore in his body the sti<gmata tou

 ]Ihsou?. He began and ended Galatians with unique claims of associa-

tion with both the Person and ministry of Jesus.

            Second, the fatherhood of God is emphasized in both the pre-

script and postscript of Galatians. Again among the salutations of

the Pauline corpus this emphasis is unique in that qeou? patro>j

(h[mw?n) is mentioned three times. In the salutations of 11 of the epis-

tles God's fatherhood is mentioned only once, and 2 Thessalonians

has two occurrences (1:1-2). But Galatians is unusual with its three-

fold repetition within the opening verses (1:1, 3-4).

            Apparently the underscoring of God's fatherhood over the Gala-

tian a]delfoi< (v. 2) weighed heavily in Paul's thoughts as he began

this epistle. If the Galatians questioned Paul's apostolic status, and

therefore his gospel, then they probably questioned if Paul's gospel

really did bring them into the family of God. It seems that Paul be-

gan to provide reassurance of God's paternity from the very beginning

of this epistle. It is from qeou? patro>j h[mw?n kai> kuri<ou  ]Ihsou? Xris-

tou? that "grace and peace" come, in Paul's typical salutation (v. 3).

In 6:16 the conditional blessing of "peace and mercy" is on those who

walk by the rule (t&? kano<ni) that Paul just explained in 6:14-15. It is

also these who are appositively called to>n  ]Israh>l tou? qeou?. They

deserve this term denoting God's chosen people. He is their Father.

            Third, deliverance from the present evil age (ai]w?noj) is associ-

ated with the death of Jesus Christ and promised to His people in

both the prescript and postscript. In 1:4 Christ's giving of Himself

was for the purpose (o!pwj as a conjunction with the subjunctive) of

delivering people from the present aeon. In 6:14-15 Paul associated


58   Betz, Galatians: A Commentary on Paul's Letter to the Churches in Galatia, p. 39.

59   Ibid., p. 313.


340                 Bibliotheca Sacra / July—September 1990


deliverance from the ko<smoj with the cross of Christ and having a

new life (6:12-13). Apparently Paul's opponents offered an alterna-

tive means of deliverance from the tug of the aeon or cosmos. That

means was apparently connected to being identified with Israel by

means of circumcision. In contrast the deliverance Paul preached

identified the Galatians primarily with the death of Christ that

created a new creation. As both Martyn60 and Brinsmead61 have ob-

served, bracketing the epistle with this apocalyptic language gives

the epistle an apocalyptic tone. "Thus the subject of his letter to the

Galatians is precisely an apocalypse, the apocalypse of Jesus Christ,

and specifically the apocalypse of his cross."62

            The point of this sketchy picture of prescript and postscript par-

allelism is that Paul began and concluded his letter by expressing

concerns about his threatened apostolic authority, the fatherhood of

God, and the deliverance from this present age. If these are reflect-

ing Paul's major concerns in the letter as a whole, then the body of

the letter between these brackets must give primary attention to the

development of these three points. This in turn should reflect the

major questions of the Galatians and should thereby give some indi-

cation of the identity of the opponents who raised those questions.

            If the first structural clue comes from the bracketing effect of the

prescript and postscript that underscores the unity of the problem in

Galatia, then the second structural clue flows out of the first and also

helps establish the identity of Paul's opponents. This second struc-

tural insight is simply that Galatians 3-4 must be considered a sig-

nificant part of Paul's argument. These two chapters cannot be

brushed aside as Schmithals does when he says Paul did not really

understand his opponents' theology so that "it is indeed characteris-

tic that this middle section of the Galatian epistle [3:1-5:12], in con-

trast to all other sections, contains hardly any direct references to

the situation in Galatia."63

            Betz realized that this section was the core of Paul's argument.

Galatians 3-4 was the probatio that followed the propositio of 2:15-

21 and preceded the exhortatio of 5:1-6:10.64  Betz had no other al-

ternative in light of the structure of the epistle that emerged from


60   J. Louis Martyn, "Apocalyptic Antinomies in Paul's Letter to the Galatians," New

Testament Studies 31 (1985): 410-24.

61   Brinsmead, Galatians-Dialogical Response to Opponents, pp. 58-67.

62   Martyn, "Apocalyptic Antinomies in Paul's Letter to the Galatians," p. 421.

63   Schmithals, Paul and the Gnostics, p. 41.

64   Betz, Galatians: A Commentary on Paul's Letter to the Churches in Galatia, pp.



            Who Were Paul's Opponents in Galatia?                341


his rhetorical analysis. Therefore he was left to criticizing the per-

suasive value of rhetoric itself since "no kind of rational argument

can be adequate with regard to the defense Paul must make."65

Betz's solution is to see the epistle as a "magical letter," since Paul

began it with a curse and ended it with a conditional blessing.66

Since Paul allegedly "does not leave things to be decided by the rea-

sonableness of the Galatians,"67 then the value of Galatians 3-4 in

his argumentation is greatly diminished in Betz's analysis. How-

ever, at best, this seems to be a questionable view of chapters 3-4. Is

it legitimate to appeal to the genre of a magic letter that is suppos-

edly acting as some "supra-genre" at the real level of the persuasion

of the Galatians? Indeed, is this legitimate when Betz himself ad-

mits that "no satisfactory investigation of the genre [of magical let-

ter] exists"?68 Is this not similar to Schmithals's response that final

appeal rests with an extratextual entity to which there is no access?

            Would not a simpler and more credible conclusion be that Gala-

tians 3-4 is important in Paul's argumentation, since it is the struc-

tural middle of his epistle? Even more importantly it contains sig-

nificant discussions of two of the three bracketing themes: the fa-

therhood of God and deliverance from the present evil age. The fa-

therhood of God permeates chapters 3-4 as the metaphoric umbrella

of the section that covers the themes of sonship (3:15-29), heirship

(4:1-7), and line of blessing (4:21-31). While the deliverance theme

receives in-depth treatment in chapters 5-6, it is also a central part

of Paul's argument in chapters 3-4 as he discussed possible perfection

by the flesh (sarki> e]pitelei?sqe, 3:3). However, rather than deliv-

erance, such a flesh-strategy will lead to the bondage of slavery in

various forms (3:22-23; 4:1-11, 21-31). Without Galatians 3-4 Paul's

beginning and ending concerns with the themes of God's fatherhood

and deliverance from the present evil age would be dealt death

blows. These chapters must be considered as primary data in the

identification of Paul's opponents. If that is the case, then Jewett's

assertion (following H. J. Holtzmann's) is probably correct "that

their mottoes were spe<rma  ]Abraa<m [3:16] and  ]Ierousalh<m h!tij

e]stin mh<thr h[mw?n [4:26]."69 Both mottoes represent opposition to

Paul's viewpoint about the three bracketing themes of apostolic au-


65   Ibid., p. 25.

66   Ibid.

67   Ibid.

68   Ibid.

69   Robert Jewett, "Agitators and the Galatian Congregation," New Testament Stud-

ies 17 (1971): 200-201.


342                 Bibliotheca Sacra / July-September 1990


thority, God's fatherhood, and present deliverance. Both mottoes

are discussed by Paul in depth in chapters 3-4.

            Some who hold the Gnostic /syncretistic Jewish Christian iden-

tity of Paul's opponents may be able to embrace all that has been

proposed in reference to the three bracketing themes and the central-

ity of Galatians 3-4 in Paul's argumentation. However, this writer

must part company with those holding the Gnostic/syncretistic

view. First, the Gnostic identification is inadequate because it seems

highly unlikely and extremely ill-fitting to assume the presence of

Gnostics in Galatia.70 Second, the more generic reason for separating

from those who hold this third view is that this writer perceives

the theory of the presence of antinomian or libertinistic elements in

Paul's opponents to be fundamentally wrong. Therefore rooting the

identity of Paul's opponents and centering the primary issue of Gala-

tians around antinomianism and libertinisrn is fallacious. If this is

true, then both the two-opponent view of Lutgert and Ropes and the

third view that flowed out of it must be rejected.

            In view of some widespread recent acceptance of the third view,

how can it be so readily discarded? The answer is that the Gnos-

tic/syncretistic Jewish Christian view is built on several verses that

are all interpreted from the same faulty perspective. In particular,

fundamental to this third view is the premise that these opponents

of Paul did not want to keep all the Law, but only that part of it that

served their purposes—circumcision and sacred days. Hence Paul

reminded the Galatian believers of the unity of the Mosaic Law and

the obligation to the whole Law if one places himself in submission

to any part of it.

                 "For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it

            is written, 'Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written

            in the book of the Law, to perform them"' (3:10).

                  "And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that

            he is under obligation to keep the whole Law" (5:3).


            However, this is where the opponents apparently were caught

in a serious conflict, since they did not want to keep the Law because

of their basic antinomian and libertine desires.

                 "For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your

            freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one

            another" (5:13).


70   R. McL. Wilson, "Gnostics—in Galatia?" Studia Evangelica 4 (1968): 358-67, and

Jewett, "Agitators and the Galatian Congregation," pp. 199-200. They both point out

that the meager information about these late first-century and early second-century

syncretists represents a later stage of development in Gnosticism and should not be

read back into the mid-first century. Also the later Gnostic interest in circumcision as

a symbol of transcendence over the bodily sphere is not comparable to the Judaizers'

emphasis of it as an ethnic identifier essential for salvation.

            Who Were Paul's Opponents in Galatia?                343


                 "For those who are circumcised do not even keep the Law them-

            selves, but they desire to have you circumcised, that they may boast in

            your flesh" (6:13).


            The evidence seems plain. These opponents mixed nomistic the-

ology with antinomistic lifestyles. But is this what Paul was really

saying? This writer thinks not. Paul never said his opponents

lacked a desire for obedience to all the Law. In fact he said just the

opposite. Paul's opponents apparently held forth the ideal of a

whole life under the protection of the Law, in that the Galatians

could be described as wanting to be under Law (4:21). They were con-

sidering taking up the yoke (zugo<j) of the Law, which Paul deri-

sively described as a "yoke of slavery" (5:1). To take up a yoke is a

New Testament phrase for a life of submission. In Matthew 11:28-30

it refers to identification with and submission to Jesus. In Acts 15:10

Peter referred to identification with and submission to the Law as "a

yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear." The

term zugo<j itself is neutral and was used throughout rabbinical liter-

ature as a symbol of obedience, not of oppression.71 The yoke of the

Law was referred to as a gracious blessing compared to other possible

yokes. The following statement about the yoke of the Torah from

Pirqe Avot 3:5 is attributed to Rabbi Nehunia ben Haqqaneh, who

supposedly was a disciple of Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai (A.D. 1-80):

            Whosoever accepts the yoke of the Law from him shall be removed the

            yoke of the kingdom and the yoke of mundane care, but he that casts

            off from him the yoke of the Law upon him shall be laid the yoke of the

            kingdom and the yoke of worldly care.72


            While the final form of this saying was probably completed

about A.D. 250,73 scholars have no difficulty accepting that the basic

thrust of the original saying is at least as old as the first century

A.D.74 Therefore Paul's reminder that the whole Law is binding was

probably not a negative statement within first-century Judaism, and

it certainly would not be a surprise to his opponents. But was it not


71   See R. Travers Herford, ed., The Ethics of the Talmud: Sayings of the Fathers, 3d

ed. (Cincinnati: Jewish Institute of Religion, 1945; reprint, New York: Schocken

Books, 1962), p. 70, and I. Abrahams, Studies in Pharisaism and the Gospels. First and

Second Series (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1917, 1924; reprint, New

York: KTAV Publishing House, 1967), pp. 4-14.

72   Translation from Philip Blackman, ed. and trans., Mishnayoth, 7 vols., 2d ed.

(New York: Judaica Press, 1977), 4:508.

73   Jacob Neusner, ed. and trans., Scriptures of the Oral Torah (San Francisco: Harper

& Row, 1987), p. 71.

74   E.g., Abrahams, Studies in Pharisaism and the Gospels, p. 7, and M. B. Lerner,

"The Tractate Avot," in Literature of the Sages, Part One, ed. Shmuel Safrai, Com-

pendia Rerum Iudaicarum ad Novum Testamentum, vol. 2.3a (Philadelphia: Fortress

Press, 1987), pp. 265-66.

344                 Bibliotheca Sacra / July—September 1990


necessary if these opponents did not keep the Law (6:13)? Yes, it was

necessary to make his point, but for reasons different from those as-

sumed by the advocates of the third view.

            They assume that reminders about the whole Law's binding

nature were because of the opponents' desire to disobey much of the

Law (e.g., 5:3 and 6:13). However, Paul explained why the oppo-

nents did not obey the Law. It was not from lack of desire to obey, but

rather from an inherent inability to obey. Their failure was due to

identifying with a community that was not aided by God's Spirit

(3:1-5). Therefore they were unable to meet the demands of the Law.

In 3:19–4:11 Paul attributed this inability to an earlier, preparatory,

more immature period in God's redemptive program in which en-

slavement to sin and failure were the norm (3:23; 4:3, 8-11).

            The opponents of Paul in Galatia wanted to revert in an ana-

chronistic fashion to this period by their intense nomistic emphasis.

With their commitment to Torah-observance came the accompanying

failure of the Law era—its shutting up under sin (3:22), its keeping in

custody (3:23), its childish, slavelike state (4:1-3), and its enslave-

ment to the elemental things of the world (4:8-10; cf. 4:3). Those who

preferred this kind of childish failure, evidenced by receiving cir-

cumcision (5:2), needed to realize they were subjecting themselves

again to a yoke of slavery (5:1), were putting themselves under the

obligation of the whole Law (5:3), and were severing themselves

from Christ, the only One who could set them free from the Law and

failure (2:15-21; cf. Rom. 8:1-4).

            Therefore the "opportunity for the flesh" in Galatians 5:13 is

not turning the freedom in Christ into license or libertinism, but it is

the continued fleshly failure that characterized the Law era. Paul

explained further in 6:13 that his opponents could not keep the Law

themselves, but they still wanted the Galatians to join them in this

fleshly failure for the purpose (i!na) of "boasting in your sarki<." The

Law era and h[ sa<rc go together as an inseparable twosome. This

was expressed repeatedly by Paul in Galatians (e.g. 5:13-14; 5:17-18;

5:19-21, 23; 6:12-13). The failure to tie no<moj and sa<rc together has

needlessly bred this third view of Paul's opponents and has almost

hopelessly muddied the waters about their identity. This failure

has also greatly hindered a correct understanding of the

sa<rc/pneu?ma duality. An accurate, contextual understanding of the

opponents should go a long way toward unraveling the second issue.75


75   Several writers accurately see the continuity in Paul's argument from Galatians 1–

4 to 5–6 in addressing the fleshliness of the Judaizers. These include Howard, Paul:

Crisis in Galatia, pp. 11-17; Brinsmead, Galatians—Dialogical Response to Oppo-

nents, pp. 164-92; and D. J. Lull, The Spirit in Galatia: Paul's Interpretation of

PNEUMA as Divine Power, Society of Biblical Literature Dissertation Series 49


           Who Were Paul's Opponents in Galatia?                345


                        The Identity of the Galatian Opponents


            The traditional view seems correct: Paul's opponents were Jew-

ish Christians who sought to "Judaize" the Gentile Christians of

Galatia. In over 70 years of scholarly attacks, this identification of

Paul's opponents has not been effectively overturned. The Judaizers'

identity best satisfies the "mirror-reading" criteria and limitations,

Barclay concludes that the troublers were probably Jewish Chris-

tians who also questioned the adequacy of both Paul's apostolic cre-

dentials and the gospel he preached.76 They apparently made cir-

cumcision the central issue among the Gentile Christians of Galatia

because it was the classic symbol for one who was choosing to live

like a Jew ( ]Ioudaikw?j z^?j and  ]Ioudai~zein, Gal. 2:14). "In fact Paul's

concern about 'works of the law' (3:1-10) and his extended arguments

to prove the temporary validity of the law (3:6-4:11), taken to-

gether with remarks like 4:21, make it highly probable that the op-

ponents wanted the Galatians to observe the law as circumcised

proselytes."77 Barclay concludes, "Taking the argument of the letter

as a whole, there is sufficient evidence that the Galatians were in-

formed of (and responded warmly to) the requirements of Torah-ob-

servance as the hallmark of the people of God."78

            Such a conclusion and the lack of viable support for a Gnostic or

libertine identity make assuming the presence of such opponents in

Galatia or the presence of a dual nomistic/libertinistic threat79 to-

tally unwarranted and unnecessary. The struggles over ethics and

law in Galatians 5-6 can be explained more naturally and holisti-

cally within the context of Galatians with a unified Judaizers'

threat in the background. As students of Galatians are tying Gala-

tians 5-6 more closely and logically to Galatians 3-4, the underscor-

ing of this traditional identification gets even stronger. Increasingly

it is becoming apparent that rather than stepping back and defen-

sively clarifying and limiting the boundaries of Christian freedom

in Galatians 5-6, Paul was actually continuing his attack on the Ju-

daizers in an overt and aggressive manner, but (in chaps. 5-6) in the

area of ethics and behavior. This heightened sense of continuity


(Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1980), pp. 113-30.

76   Barclay, "Mirror-Reading a Polemical Letter: Galatians as a Test Case," pp. 86-

90, and idem, Obeying the Truth: A Study of Paul's Ethics in Galatians, Studies of the

New Testament and Its World, ed. John Riches (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1988), pp.


77   Barclay, "Mirror-Reading a Polemical Letter: Galatians as a Test Case," p. 86.

78   Ibid., p. 87.

79   E. Jewett, "Agitators and the Galatian Congregation," pp. 209-12.


346                 Bibliotheca Sacra / July–September 1990


greatly aids the Judaizer identity. Such continuity also serves to un-

dercut the predominant understanding of the sa<rc/pneu?ma internal

duality which arose in part due to a failure in understanding the

proper linkage of chapters 3-4 with chapters 5-6 in Paul's argument.

            These conclusions do not mean that all questions about the Ju-

daizers' origin and motivation have been satisfied. Because of the

emphasis in Galatians 1-2 and 4 on Jerusalem and Judea, it is possible

to suspect some link to the Jerusalem church. Jewett asserts that Jew-

ish Christians in Judea, stimulated by Zealot pressure in the forties

and fifties, responded to this threat of persecution (Gal. 6:12) and

launched a nomistic campaign among Gentile Christians in areas

that included Galatia.80 As Barclay points out, the weakness of this

thesis is the slender thread of Galatians 6:12 from which it hangs.81

Fung more pointedly refutes it, based on the sharply antithetical re-

lationship between the Zealots and the church at the outbreak of

the Jewish War and based on the Zealots' lack of interest in bringing

Gentile Christians to the "perfection" mentioned in 3:3.82

            Perhaps a more viable origin and motivation is that the Judaiz-

ing threat came from a Law-observant mission among the Gentiles by

Jewish Christian "Teachers" (not "opponents"):


            In the main it is not they who are reacting to Paul's theology, but rather

            he who is reacting to theirs. To be sure, the Galatians heard Paul's

            gospel first and only later that of the Teachers. But the finely formed

            theology of the Teachers is best understood on the hypothesis that the

            order of events in Galatia is for them atypical. Elsewhere they will have

            worked in virgin fields, impelled not by a desire to correct Paul, but by a

            passion to share with the entire world the only gift they believed to have

            the power to liberate humankind from the grip of evil, the Law of God's

            Messiah. In the full sense of the expression, therefore, they represent a

            law-observant mission to Gentiles, a mission inaugurated not many

            years after the death of Jesus.83


            While this attractive thesis lessens the malevolence of the Ju-

daizers' motives, it does not lessen their theological error. Nor can

the thesis be validated based on first-century data, because it is

reading from second-century Jewish Christian documents back into

the first.84 Therefore it must remain in the category of an attractive

possibility. It does, however, highlight the fact that, whatever


80   Ibid., pp. 204-8.

81   Barclay, "Mirror-Reading a Polemical Letter: Galatians as a Test Case," p. 88.

82   Fung, The Epistle to the Galatians, pp. 6-7.

83   Marten, "A Law-Observant Mission to Gentiles: The Background of Galatians," p.


84   Ibid., pp. 310-12.


            Who Were Paul's Opponents in Galatia?                347


the specific motivation of these Jewish Christian opponents, they

obviously viewed their cause as righteous and biblical. Their ap-

parent use of the Abraham and Sarah-Hagar narratives seems to

point to such a perspective, as numerous writers have observed.85

            Given that the Judaizers considered it imperative that Gentiles

be saved in continuity with Israel and in accord with the Law and

customs of Moses by becoming Jewish proselytes, the issue of their

geographical origin is worthy of some focus. There is no overwhelm-

ing consensus about their origin. Lake identified them as local Jews

who were proselytizing the Gentile Christians.86 Tyson correctly

identifies the opponents as Jewish Christians, but follows Lake's

lead in arguing that they were native to Galatia.87 Munck's view of

Judaizing Gentile Christians also places the opponents' origin

within Galatia from within Paul's own ministry.88 The difficulty

with the Galatian origin, as many have observed,89 is that it seems

Paul referred to the agitators as coming into the churches of Galatia

from outside (e.g., 3:1-5; 4:8-16; 5:7-8) and that he underscored their

"outsider" identity by referring to them in third person pronouns,

while he referred to the Galatians in the second person (e.g., 4:17).

            Based on the sketchy external and internal evidence, the best

choice of the origin of these mistaken Jewish Christians is Jerusalem

or possibly Judea. Externally, two passages in Acts point to the pres-

ence of these strong Law-observant attitudes in the Jewish Chris-

tians in Jerusalem and Judea. Paul arrived in Jerusalem on his collec-

tion visit after his third missionary journey (Acts 21:17-26). The next

day James and the Jerusalem leaders told Paul of the local Jewish

Christians' animosity toward him because of his perceived threat to

traditional Jewish Christianity: "You see, brother, how many thou-

sands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and

they are all zealous for the Law; and they have been told about you,

that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to for-

sake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk


85   E.g., C. K. Barrett, "The Allegory of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar in the Argument

of Galatians," in Essays on Paul (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1982), pp. 154-70,

and Daniel H. King, "Paul and the Tannaim: A Study in Galatians," Westminster

Theological Journal 45 (1983): 361-69.

86   Kirsopp Lake, "Paul's Controversies," in The Beginnings of Christianity, ed. F. J.

Foakes Jackson and Kirsopp Lake, 5 vols. (London: Macmillan & Co., 1920—1933;

reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979), 5:215.

87   Joseph B. Tyson, "Paul's Opponents in Galatia," Novum Testamentum 10 (1968):


88   Munck, Paul and the Salvation of Mankind, pp. 87-100, 130-34.

89   E.g., Martyn, "A Law-Observant Mission to Gentiles: The Background of Gala-

tians," p. 313.


348                 Bibliotheca Sacra / July—September 1990


according to the customs. What, then, is to be done? They will cer-

tainly hear that you have come (Acts 21:20-22, italics added).

            In light of the chronological work of Knox,90 Jewett,91 Luede-

mann,92 and Hoehner,93 Paul's final visit to Jerusalem is dated be-

tween A.D. 54 and 57. This visit could have been as much as eight

years after the Jerusalem Conference of Acts 15. It demonstrates the

continuation of a powerful, Law-observant wing in the Jerusalem

church. Apparently these same Jewish Christians, who were

"zealous for the Law," had caused trouble in Antioch a few years

earlier. "And some men came down from Judea and began teaching

the brethren, 'Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of

Moses, you cannot be saved’” (Acts 15:1).94

            After Paul and Barnabas disputed with these teachers (Acts

15:2), the Jerusalem Conference was convened to settle the issue. The

discussion continued at the conference. "But certain ones of the sect of

the Pharisees who had believed, stood up, saying, 'It is necessary to

circumcise them, and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses’” (v.

5). After the conference decided against such a notion, the church

leaders recorded their decision and addressed it to the Gentiles in

the churches of Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia (v. 23), purposely dis-

tancing themselves from the troublers. "We have heard that some of

our number to whom we gave no instruction have disturbed you with

their words, unsettling your souls" (v. 24). While admitting to being

home to these Pharisaic Jewish Christians, the Jerusalem church

disavowed any authorization of them or their teaching. Considering

that this external data sounds much like the problems in Galatia, it

is reasonable to conclude that the Acts 15 and 21 troublers and the

Galatian troublers shared a common origin and that "they represent

a wider group of ritually strict Jewish Christians."95


90   John Knox, Chapters in a Life of Paul, rev. ed., ed. Douglas R. A. Hare (Macon, GA:

Mercer University Press, 1987), p. 68.

91   Robert Jewett, A Chronology of Paul's Life (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1979),

foldout page.

92   Gerd Luedemann, Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles: Studies in Chronology, trans. E.

Stanley Jones (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), pp. 262-63.

93   Harold W. Hoehner, "A Chronological Table of the Apostolic Age," 2d rev. ed.

(1989), from "Chronology of the Apostolic Age" (ThD diss., Dallas Theological Semi-

nary„ 1965), pp. 1-4.

94   The Western text of Acts 15:1-5 makes the Pharisaic identity even stronger with

several extensive additions. See Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the

Greek New Testament (New York: United Bible Societies, 1971), pp. 426-28.

95   E. Earle Ellis, "'Those of the Circumcision and the Early Christian Mission," Stu-

dio Evangelica 4 (1968): 391. See also F. F. Bruce, "The Church of Jerusalem in the

Acts of the Apostles," Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester


             Who Were Paul's Opponents in Galatia?                349


            Internally, the Epistle to the Galatians strongly supports such a

correlation. Given Paul's recurring emphasis on Jerusalem and Judea

in Galatians 1-2 and 4, it is not difficult to conclude that the Phari-

saic troublemakers from Jerusalem and Judea kept going past Anti-

och, Syria, and Cilicia into Galatia. So Paul persistently struck at

their home base and at those Jerusalem pillars (stu<loi, 2:9) to whom

they fallaciously appealed for support of their position (cf. Acts

15:24). This may also explain why Paul recounted the confrontation

in Antioch that was so embarrassing to Peter and Barnabas (Gal.

2:11-21). His point is that the Judaizers' view had already been re-

jected at one of their prior stops, the most prominent Gentile church,

Antioch of Syria. That rejection was public in scope (e@mprosqen pa<n-

twn, 2:14), apostolic in authority (involving both Peter and Paul),

and apparently accepted as legitimate (otherwise Paul would not

have appealed to it as authoritative for the Galatian situation).

            Another point to be made about these Jerusalem/Judea-based

opponents involves the motive for their apparent claims against

Paul. As King observed in his fine analysis of the situation,96 these

Pharisaic Judaizers made three main claims against Paul:

            1. Paul was on their side but trimmed the demands of the gospel to

                please his hearers (1:10)... .

            2. He received his gospel from the same Jerusalem authorities who

                supported their mission (1:18–2:9; and 1:11)... .

            3. In Paul's work as a representative of the "pillars" (1:12, 15-19) he

                began a work which they had come to complete (3:3)....97


            As King notes, these Jewish Christians from the sect of the

Pharisees expressed a concept of revelation typical of Second Temple

Judaism.98 According to this view, revelation flowed from the seat of

authority (Jerusalem), where Rabbi Jesus had left His disciples (the

Jerusalem apostles) to carry on the line of tradition. Paul was a

tanna, a rabbi, who had broken the chain of Jewish traditions by not

faithfully or accurately passing on the tradition. Assuming that

Paul was a pupil of the Jerusalem apostles, the Judaizers apparently

accused him of failing in his duty to transmit the exact words of Je-

sus' tradition as it had been mediated to Paul by the apostles. Such.

"iterative incompetence" was viewed as one of the gravest offenses

according to ancient rabbinical rules (e.g., m.'Ed. 1.3; b. Sabb. 15a;

'Avot 3:8 and 6:6). The Judaizers had to correct and complete Paul's

breech of the Jesus tradition among the Galatians. It is to this at-


67 (1985): 641-61.

96   King, "Paul and the Tannaim: A Study in Galatians," pp. 349-61.

97   Ibid., p. 351.

98   Ibid., pp. 352-54.


350                 Bibliotheca Sacra / July—September 1990


tempt to correct and complete his gospel that Paul responded in

Galatians. In light of these charges against him, Paul's purpose in

Galatians 1–2 is now quite understandable:

            Contra the insinuations of the agitators, he maintained that his gospel

            was not of human origin; Christ had communicated it to him in person.

            He was also careful to assure his readership the pillars of the church in

            Jerusalem had recognized its truth and his right to preach it in its pres-

            ent form. He denied the charge of tanna-oriented dependency, but

            also maintained consistency with Jerusalem on all important matters.99


            Paul's reasoning in Galatians 1:11-2:14 also reveals that in the

14 to 17 years following his conversion he spent time in Arabia and

Damascus (1:17) and Syria and Cilicia (v. 21). He had three contacts

with some of the Jerusalem apostles' in Jerusalem (1:18-20; 2:1-10) and

Antioch (2:11-14). These contacts were too infrequent and too brief

for the tannaitic process of tedious repetition and memorization to

occur. This obvious fact coupled with Jesus Christ's direct teaching of

Paul (1:11-12) and the Jerusalem acceptance of Paul's gospel (1:22-24;

2:7-10) powerfully refutes the Judaizers' claims against him. All the

particulars of Galatians 1–2 can most simply and coherently be ex-

plained in light of this reconstruction.l00



            The identity of Paul's opponents in Galatia is a crucial issue in

interpreting Galatians. While the last 70 years of scholarly study

about the identity of these opponents have given rise to a more bal-

anced view of their identity, it has not effectively overturned the

traditional Judaizer identification. Bible students can rest secure

that this identification is, in fact, the correct one.


99   Ibid., p. 354.

100   The epistemological and hermeneutical maxim of "simplicity" is worth noting at

this point. It is that the "simplest" hypothesis fitting the facts is the best hypothe-

sis. This goes back to William of Ockham (1285-1349), author of "Ockham's Razor,"

which is widely paraphrased as "entities are not to be multiplied beyond necessity"

(W. F. Bynum, E. J. Browne, and Roy Porter, eds., Dictionary of the History of Science

[Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981], pp. 386-87). While fully recognizing the

complexities of persons and communities, the principle of simplicity can still be ap-

plied in a nonreductionist manner. In hypothesizing about the identity of Paul's oppo-

nents in Galatia, the traditional Judaizer identity is the simplest hypothesis and yet

allows for the human complexities associated with the clash of cultures and tradi-

tions. There is no need to multiply other entities or identities.


This material is cited with gracious permission from:

Dallas Theological Seminary

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            Dallas, TX   75204 

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