The Rejection of Pascal's Wager
Get the Book!

Opposition to Paul from the Jerusalem Church

After the incident at Antioch, the historical evidence shows that the Jerusalem Church, headed by the pillars (James, Peter and John) sent out missionaries of their own to combat the teachings of Paul. Thus the people who were most familiar with the teachings of the earthly Jesus-his brother (James) and the apostles (e.g. Peter and John)- openly opposed Paul's mission and his version of the gospel.

The thesis above was first presented in an article called Die Christuspartei in der korinthischen Gemeinde, der Gegensantz des petrinischen und paulinischen Christenthums in der ältesten Kirche, der Apostel Petrus in Rom (The Christ party in the Corinthian community, the opposition of Petrine and Pauline Christianity in the early church, the Apostle Peter in Rome) in the Tubingen Journal for Theology in 1831 by the reknowned nineteenth century theologian from Tübingen, F.C. Baur (1792-1860). While Baur did make some mistakes, his views were fundamentally sound. However his opponents found a convenient strawman in his alleged use of discredited Hegelian metaphysics and sucessfully attacked it. [a] As a result, Baur's findings fell into disfavor.

Yet the "Ghosts of Tübingen", as S.G.F. Brandon described Baur's idea, refused to be laid to rest. Brandon's own work The Fall of Jerusalem and the Christian Church [1957] revived the theory. In recent years, this thesis has been supported by first-rate critical historical scholars (in their published works) such as:

  • C.K. Barrett:
    • On Paul [2003], Essays on Paul [1982]
  • Gerd Lüdemann:
    • Paul: The Founder of Christianity [2002], Heretics [1996], Opposition to Paul in Jewish Christianity [1989]
  • Michael Goulder :
    • Paul and the Competing Mission in Corinth [2001], St. Paul Vs. St. Peter: A Tale of Two Missions [1994]
  • David Sim:
    • The Gospel of Matthew and Christian Judaism [1998]
  • Robert Eisenmann:
    • James, the Brother of Jesus [1996]
  • Hyam Maccoby:
    • The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity [1986], Revolution in Judea [1973]
  • Hugh Schonfield:
    • The Jesus Party [1974], Those Incredible Christians [1968], Saints Against Caesar [1948]
In this posting we provide the compelling evidence for the above thesis.

  • Acts (as expected) is completely silent on the opposition Paul faced in the various churches he founded in the northeast Mediterranean. Our evidence comes from the epistles of Paul. Four of the seven genuine epistles have explicit references, allusions and/or affirmations made against unnamed opponent or opponents. We review the evidence from these epistles:
  • Attempts have been made by some scholars to identify the opponents of Paul as groups other then the Jerusalem Church. We will see that all these attempts are unsatisfactory and have a much lower probability than the idea that the opponents were men from the Jerusalem Church.

  • In conclusion, the evidence that Paul's mission faced a concerted opposition from the Jerusalem church is compelling.

Opposition to Paul in Galatia

The Galatian letter, composed by Paul most probably around 53 or 54 CE, was a defense of the churches he founded there. Paul was facing some opposition to this gospel there; another group of missionaries had encroached on his "turf". [2] The first passage we will look at reveals quite a lot about his opponents:

Galatians 1:6-9
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel - 7 not that there is another gospel, but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again, If any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.

We can tell from the above passage that whoever his opponents were, they were Christians; in the sense that they were preaching about Jesus. But according to Paul they were preaching another gospel that, according to him, "perverts" his own true "gospel of Christ". That Paul disapproved of this competing gospel is clear, for he openly cursed them.

From other passages, we learn that they were Jewish Christians [b] because they advocated both circumcision and calendar observations: [3]

Galatians 6:12
It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that compel you to be circumcised...

Galatians 4:10
You observe days, months, and seasons and years!

Did these missionaries attack Paul directly in their preaching? While the Tarsiot did not explicitly say so in this epistle, there are two considerations that provide strong evidence that they did. Firstly Paul founded the Galatian churches, and if they (with their different gospel) wanted to make headway, they almost certainly had to make a critique of him and his teachings. Secondly the whole apologetic tone of the first two chapters of Galatians presupposes some kind of accusation. We see two passages there where Paul asserted his gospel came direct from God and not from men. Why would Paul suddenly say this? It is obvious that some people were making allusions to him having (perhaps defectively) learnt his gospel from other people: [4]

Galatians 1:1
Paul an apostle - not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father...

Galatians 1:11-12
For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not man's gospel. For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

From Paul's defense above we can infer with some certainty that the opposing mission claimed that he received his gospel from some people. Who were these people? The only people Paul talked about in the first two chapters were the Jerusalem "pillars", James, Peter and John. We will see that his description of them (during the Jerusalem council) was, to put it mildly, less than flattering:

Galatians 2:1-2
1 Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. 2 I went up by revelation; and I laid before them (but privately before those who were of repute [Greek-dokousin]) the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, lest somehow I should be running or had run in vain.

Galatians 2:6
6 And from those who were reputed [Greek-dokouton] to be something (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)-those, I say, who were of repute [Greek-dokountes] added nothing to me;

Galatians 2:9
and when they perceived the grace that was given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed [Greek-dokountes] to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship

The root of the Greek words used above (translated into English as "of repute" or "reputed to be") is the same, dokeo, meaning "to seem", "to suppose". C.K. Barrett has argued that these words, in common Greek koine usage, very probably implies some kind of deception (whether consciously or otherwise). [5] Thus the thrust of Paul reference to the Jerusalem pillars here is that they "seem to think" or were "supposed to be" important. But, as he added in Galatians 2:6, it "makes no difference" to him.

Thus these passages were a conscious attempt by Paul to minimize the importance of the Jerusalem leadership of James, Peter and John. Furthermore the whole thrust of Galatians 1 & 2 was Paul's lack of contact with the Jerusalem leaders and his independence from them. He mentioned that he met Peter and James only three years after his conversion and then only stayed with them for fifteen days. (Galatians 1:18) Then he mentioned that during the Jerusalem council, the pillars "added nothing to me". (Galatians 2:6)

After his obvious attempts to minimize the importance of the Jerusalem leadership, he narrated the the incident at Antioch (Which was discussed earlier) which tells of how he confronted Peter, one of the "pillars" regarding the correctness of his (Paul's) law-free gospel:

Galatians 2:11-14
11 But when Cephas came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he ate with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, "If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?"

Again note the protaganists that Paul have placed opposite himself; it was Peter (Aramaic = Cephas), after receiving instructions from James, who was compelling Gentiles to "live like Jews". Paul, of course, labelled such actions "hypocrisy". The important point to note here is that Paul is giving the Galatians an example of how he had stood up to the Judaising party. In that example his opponents were the "pillars" themselves: James and Peter!

These emphatic declarations of independence from the Jerusalem Church, the purposeful minimization of the importance of the leadership and the example of the incident at Antioch all point us to the accusation being made against him by the opposing mission. They also tell us the identity of the accusers.

We can "mirror" what his opponents were saying by looking at Paul's defense:

  • His diminishing the importance of the Jerusalem "pillars" means that his opponents were making the opposite claim: that the leadership of James, Peter and John were of supreme importance.
  • By emphasizing his lack of contact with the Jerusalem leadership and their "not adding anything" to his gospel, we can surmise that his opponents emphasized the teaching of the Jerusalem church.
  • By claiming that he got his gospel direct from Jesus and not from men, shows us that his opponents were making the opposite claim: that Paul's (or anyone else's) teaching should rightly come from the Jerusalem Church.
  • By similarly saying that the appointment of his apostleship comes from Jesus, we can tell that the opponents had a different definition of this which was somehow related to the authority of the Jerusalem Church.
  • By relating the incident at Antioch, Paul was showing how he had in the past confronted such a problem against Peter and James. Since he did not qualify his example in any way, it provides strong evidence that his opponents had the support of James and the Jerusalam church.

So we can construct the opponents arguments as something like this: "All apostles must be approved by the Jerusalem Church. Paul himself acquired his mission from the Jerusalem Church, like we do, but he is preaching in an irresponsible manner [eschewing the importance of the Mosaic Laws even for Gentiles] which is not approved by James and the rest of the leadership." [6]

We can summarize our study of the opponents of Paul in Galatia. They were Jewish Christians who preached the continued validity of the Mosaic Laws, even for Gentiles. They questioned Paul's authority to preach and his apostleship. They claimed the support of the Jerusalem Church headed by James.

Back to the top

Opposition to Paul in Corinth: I Corinthians

First Corinthians was probably written around 55 CE. It was written mainly to deal with some practical problems that were besetting the Christian community in Corinth. There were problems of cases of sexual immorality (5:1-13), legal issues (6:1-11), issues relating to marriage and singlehood (7:1-40), acceptability of consuming meat offered to idols (8:1-13; 10:1-11:1), issues regarding prophecy and speaking in tongues (11:2-16) and how the rich were relating to the poor (11:18-22). [7]

Yet even here Paul was also facing problems with his mission. There are two passages in this epistle where Paul felt compelled to defend his apostleship. The first is:

I Corinthians 9:1-18
1 Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? 2 If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you; for you are the Seal of my apostleship in the Lord. 3 This is my defense to those who would examine me. 4 Do we not have the right to our food and drink? 5 Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a wife, as the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? 6 Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? ...12 If others share this rightful claim upon you, do not we still more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. ...17 For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. 18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in my preaching I may make the gospel free of charge, not making full use of my right in the gospel.

In the above passage Paul was making a defense of his apostleship (I Cor 9:1-see above). It is obvious from the following verse that his status as an apostle was being questioned (9:2 "If to others I am not an apostle, surely I am to you."). The same verse also tells us his opponents were outsiders, for the others who did not consider him an apostle were differentiated from the Corinthian congregation ("surely I am to you"). His justification for calling himself an apostle was his experience of the resurrected Jesus and his founding of the Corinthian Church.(9:1,3).

From the passage above we know that his opponents were actively attacking Paul's claim of apostleship. Their line of attack was that Paul did not receive any payment or support from the Corinthian congregation (9:4-6)-unlike themselves (9:12 "If others share this rightful claim.."). His explanation for not taking any payment from the Corinthians was simply because he did not want to burden them. Since his opponents took payment and they attacked his status as an apostle because he did not do the same, we can be certain that they used the title "apostle" for themselves. [8]

Being criticized for not taking payment from the congregation may sound strange to modern ears. But this tradition is certainly present in the Jewish Christian sources relating to the life of Jesus. One passage, from Q, has Jesus saying this to his seventy disciples before sending them out on their missionary work:

Luke 10:7 (also Matthew 10:10)
Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid...

This passage was taken from Q (being present in both Matthew and Luke but not Mark) and thus belonged to a tradition older than the two gospels. As L�demann maintained, the mission this tradition had Jesus sent the seventy out on was a Jewish Christian one, in the sense that there was no repudiation of the Mosaic Laws. That the opponents criticized Paul on this very topic strongly suggests that they were Jewish Christians. [9]

I Corinthian 15:1-11 also has similarities to I Corinthians 9:1-18. He reiterated the claim that he too has seen the risen Jesus as the proof of his apostleship (I Corinthians 15:7 ; 9:1). Similarly he pointed to his hard work in the mission field (I Corinthian 15:10; 9:16-18) as further proof of this. Since the defense is the same, we are sure the accusations (and the opponents who made them) are the same for both cases. [10]

Who were these unnamed opponents who attacked Paul's apostleship? We now look at the clues for this. Early on in the epistle we find out that at that time the Corinthian congregation had started to fissure into different groups:

I Corinthians 1:11-12
For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarrelling among you, my brethren. What I mean is that each one of you says, "I belong to Paul", or "I belong to Apollos", or "I belong to Cephas," or "I belong to Christ."

Thus we see the Corinthian Church claiming allegiance to at least three missionaries: Paul, Apollos and Peter (Cephas is the Aramaic form of Peter). [c] Obviously the group that claimed some allegiance to Paul could not be the source of the attacks on Paul's apostleship. We look at the other two groups.

We see that Paul spoke well of Apollos and indicates a kind of cooperation with him in his mission to Corinth:

I Corinthians 4:6
I have applied all this to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brethren, that you may learn by us to live according to the scriptures.

I Corinthians 16:12
As for our brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to visit you with the other brethren, but as it was not at all his will to come now. He will come when he has opportunity.

These two passages point to a cordial and active partnership between Paul and Apollos. What about Peter? Firstly we note that nowhere in Corinthians 1-4, the chapters where he dealt with the fissure, did Paul mentioned explicitly of any agreement with Peter. Indeed there is strong evidence that he indirectly polemicized against Peter:

I Corinthians 3:4-15
4. For when one of you says, "I belong to Paul", and another "I belong to Apollos," are you not merely men? 5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 He who plants and he who waters are equal, and each shall receive his wages according to his labor. 9 For we are fellow workers for God; you are God's field, God's building.

10 According to the commission of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and another man is building upon it. Let each man take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble... 13 each man's work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

The passage above has been separated into two paragraphs to make Paul's meaning clearer. In verse 4 to 9, the metaphor used was that of a garden. He referred to himself "planting" the seed of the church in Corinth and to Apollos "watering it." All pointing towards a friendly cooperation between these two. Note also the metaphor of growing a garden implied that the garderners were external to the garden-i.e. that they were outsiders. This is confirmed by the fact that both Paul and Apollos were not from Corinth. [According to Acts, Paul was from Tarsus (Acts 22:3) while Apollos was from Alexandria (Acts 18:24)]

The second section (3:10-3:15) utilized a different metaphor: that of laying a foundation for a building. Again the metaphor implied an external agent. But here the tone is darker; no longer do we find the co-operative tone of planting the seed and watering it. Paul claimed that "another man" is building upon the foundation which he had laid and subtly cautioned the man to "take care" (3:10). He warned against using any other foundation apart from Jesus Christ (3:11). Then he alluded to a test with fire which could "burn up" the work leading to "loss" (3:15) Whoever this "other man" is, we can conclude from the tone of the whole paragraph that Paul is criticizing him, hinting the work done by this person was, at best, suspect and would be liable to be "burned up" if he does not "take care."

There are a few clues that lead us to the identity of this unnamed person. The use of the metaphor of a building and the term "foundation" immediately brings to mind the Jerusalem "pillars" (Galatians 2:9) which consisted of James, Peter and John. Here too the metaphor is that of a building.

Furthermore having mentioned that Jesus Christ was the foundation, he further emphasized that there could be no other foundation and gave as examples of people laying on the foundation with various materials, among other things stones; emphasizing that those who built wrongly will have his work "burned up". This brings to mind the Matthean verse which had Jesus saying to Peter (which, remember, means "rock") "You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church." (Matthew 16:18). Regardless of the historicity of this passage in Matthew, it points to a tradition which relates Peter (the "Rock") to the foundation of the church.

The above two considerations strongly points to Peter being the "other man" in Paul's criticism above. Moreover, recalling I Corinthians 1:12, there were three explicit groups mentioned there: Paul, Apollos and Peter. Having mentioned Apollos work in relation to his in I Corinthians 3:4-9, it is quite natural that the next verses would be talking about Peter.

In addition to the above considerations, we note that while Paul mentioned Apollos in a friendly tone, nowhere was this "privilege" given to Peter.

We can conclude that there is a very high probability, bordering on certainty, that Paul is here polemicizing either against Peter, or against the opponents who were in Corinth preaching in Peter's name. [11] [d]

We have established that Paul was polemicizing against the missionaries that were responsible for the Cephas party. Do we have any evidence that it was this group that made the accusation against Paul's apostleship we saw above in I Corinthians 9 and 15? There are series of hints that point to this direction.

In I Corinthians 9:5-6 Paul compares the right of "the other apostles, the brother of the Lord and Cephas", versus his and Barnabas's (!) right to receive payment for their missionary work. The inclusion of Barnabas is surprising at first for nowhere is he mentioned as being in Corinth. However the parallelism between Paul and Barnabas on one hand and Peter, the brothers of the Lord (which include James) and the "other apostles" is clear if we consider here that Paul is alluding to the Jerusalem agreement in Galatians 2:1-10. There we had Paul and Barnabas on one side and James, Peter and John on the other. Paul's rhetorical question on why only he and Barnabas had no right to be paid, seems to sarcastically point to the opponents as being allied with the "circumcision" group of Galatians 2.

Furthermore the specific mention of the name Cephas (I Corinthians 9:5), when it should already have been covered by the phrase "other apostles" earlier, means here Paul is singling out Peter for emphasis. It seems likely that he needed to do so because Peter's example was being used by Paul's opponents in their example of an "authentic apostle" contra Paul.

This leads us to conclude that the opponents that attacked Paul's apostleship were from the Cephas party in Corinth. [14]

Back to the top

Opposition to Paul in Corinth: II Corinthians

While no scholar doubts the authenticity of the contents of II Corinthians, opinions differ as to whether it was originally a single letter or whether it is made up of fragments of various letters collected by Paul's followers at a later date (with up to fragments of five different letters being suggested). [15] Luckily for our current purposes we do not need to consider this complex question. Even in the multiple fragment theories, the time within which they are postulated to have been written all fall within the period of around a single year. So we can begin by assuming that the issues and opponents treated would be the same. Furthermore we can safely conclude that all of II Corinthians was written about one year after I Corinthians. [16]

II Corinthians is certainly more polemical than I Corinthians. Paul openly acknowledged that someone has been preaching "another Jesus" and a "different gospel": [17]

II Corinthians 11:4-5
For if someone comes and preaches another Jesus than the one we preached, or if you received a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you submit to it readily enough. I think I am not in the least inferior to these superlative apostles.

From that short passage above we learn that the opponents are Christians, but not Pauline Christians. We know they called themselves "apostles" [e], for Paul again repeated the sarcastic remark "superlative apostles" later:

II Corinthians 12:11-12
For I am not at all inferior to these superlative apostles, even though I am nothing. The signs of a true apostle were performed among you in all patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.

We also know, from Paul's obvious defense of himself, that they criticized his lack of capability in public speaking and his generally unimpressive demeanor:

II Corinthians 11:6
Even if I am unskilled in speaking, I am not in knowledge; in every way we have made this plain to you in all things.

II Corinthians 10:10
For they say "His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak and his speech is of no account."

Like in I Corinthians, the accusation of his not taking payment from the church was also made here:

II Corinthians 11:7-8
Did I commit a sin by abasing myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached God's gospel without cost to you. I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you.

[The opponents in making this charge very probably accepted the support of the Corinthian community. This is further confirmed by Paul saying that the Corinthians willingly allow someone to "devour them" (II Corinthians 11:20)] However now the opponents added that Paul "took the Corinthians in by deceit" and that he "took advantage of them":

II Corinthians 7:2
Open your hearts to us, we have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage [Greek-epleonektesamen] of no one.

II Corinthians 12:16-18
Let it be assumed that I did not burden you. Nevertheless (you say) since I was crafty, I took you in by deceit. Did I take advantage [epleonektesa] of you through any of those whom I sent to you? I urged Titus to go, and sent the brother with him. Titus did not take advantage [epleonektesen] of you did he?

The use of the same Greek root above tells us that the two passages probably refer to the same charge by his opponents. What could the charge be about? Since Paul was still talking about not being a burden to the Corinthians obviously the issue was about money. The reference to Titus provides the vital clue. For we are told in II Corinthian 8:1-6 that Titus was one of the people Paul sent to Corinth to handle the collection. [The collection for the Jerusalem Church which was agreed upon during the Jerusalem council (Galatians 2:10)]. Thus the accusation must be tied to the collection. We can now see that Paul's opponents were accusing him of taking money from the Corinthians by deceit, what was supposedly for the Jerusalem Church was actually for Paul himself!

Similarly by accusing Paul of vacillating on this travel plans, they made allusions to his lack of trustworthiness:

II Corinthians 1:15-18
Because I was sure of this, I wanted to come to you first; so that you might have a double pleasure? I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia, and to come back to you from Macedonia and have you send me on my way to Judea. Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans like a worldly man, ready to say Yes and No at once? As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No.

So Paul's opponents were saying that Paul was unskilled in speaking, had an unimpressive presence, that he did not accept payment from the Corinthian congregation, that he actually defrauded them and that he changed his (travel) plans at whim. In general they said Paul did not have the proper qualifications to be an apostle. Paul, of course, gave as good as he got. He called his opponents "servants of Satan" (II Corinthians 11:5), "false apostles" and "deceitful workers" (II Corinthians 11:13). [f]

It sounds like this was a no holds barred contest! [18]

We have established that these "super apostles" make no bones about being opposed to Paul. The epistle gave us further clues as to their identity:

II Corinthians 11:22-23
Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendents of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one...

This means that his opponents were Jews. The term "Hebrews" was used to imply racial purity. The next two, "Israelites" and "descendents of Abraham" are of theological significance since they point to prominent themes in the Torah: the five books of Moses. The last, "servants of Christ", confirms what we have deduced from II Corinthians 11:4-5 above, that they were Christians.[19]

Significantly they also carried with them letters of recommendation:

II Corinthians 3:1
Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Surely we do not need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you...

Both C.K. Barrett and Michael Goulder have argued that these letters of recommendation most probably originated from the Jerusalem church. If the letters had come from another Church they would not have been effective against Paul, who could claim (and did-see Galatians 2:1-10) that his mission had approval from the Jerusalem church. These letters may be the reason why Paul could claim no more than parity with (i.e. that he was not inferior to) the "superlative apostles". This is the first clue that the opponents are tied in some way to the Jerusalem Church. [20]

Paul later complained that the opponents have over-stepped their boundaries:

II Corinthians 10:12-15
12 We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves...13 We however will not boast beyond limits, but will keep within the field that God has assigned to us, to reach out even as far as you. 14 For we were not overstepping our limits when we reached you...15 We do not boast beyond limits, that is, in the labor of others...

The Greek term kanon is here translated reasonably accurately as limit; implying some kind of boundary or sphere (whether geographical or otherwise). Now Paul is clearly claiming that he has not stepped outside this kanon. Since the whole passage starts with talking about "others" whom Paul (sarcastically) "dare not" compare himself with, the implied critique here is that his opponents have overstepped some kind of agreed-upon boundary.

This brings to mind the Jerusalem agreement (Galatians 2:1-10) where Paul supposedly was given the Gentile world as his sphere of activity. Thus Paul uses the result of the Jerusalem agreement to defend his apostolic authority. Recall that in I Corinthians 9 (see above) Paul also argued in the same way, he made a reference to the Jerusalem agreement (putting him and Barnabas on one side) to certify his right as an apostle to receive payment from the Corinthian. Thus it becomes "practically necessary" (L�demann) to see Paul's criticism in II Corinthians 10:15 a reference to this agreement. Thus, according to Paul's criticism, it was his opponents who stepped outside the agreed upon boundaries. The only other missionary sphere was that of the Jewish mission led by Peter. (Galatians 2:8). Thus, here again, we have another piece of evidence that Paul's opponents originated from Jerusalem. [21]

Another clue to the origins of the opponents lies in the accusation of Paul defrauding the Corinthians through the guise of the collection (II Corinthians 7:2, 12:16-18), which have been discussed above. So far we have seen that accusations of Paul's opponents had been things that could be verified by the Corinthians: his lack of public speaking skills, his unimpressive demeanor, his not taking any financial support from the congregation and the changing of travel plans. Now it would be strange if the accusation of defrauding the Corinthians through the collection was made without there being any basis whatsoever. Since they could point to some kind of evidence for their other accusations, what could the basis be for this particular accusation? The only one is this: Paul's opponents were from Jerusalem. So they may have said something like this: "Collection, what collection? We are from Jerusalem and have not received anything from him! He must be using the money for himself." Thus the fact that the accusation about Paul using the collection to defraud the Corinthians could be made at all points to a Jerusalem origin of his opponents. [22]

The final piece of evidence that these opponents were sent by the Jerusalem Church is in this passage:

II Corinthians 5:16
From now own, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view [Greek-kata sarka-literally "according to the flesh"], even though we once knew Jesus from a human point of view [kata sarka], we know him no longer in that way.

The "we" in the second half of the passage refers, not to Paul, but to the people who knew the earthly Jesus ("according to the flesh"). Yet in this passage Paul repudiates this knowledge as unimportant. This passage is tied to his opponents, since a few verses before this Paul mentioned that he was "not commending" himself to the Corinthians again (5:12), a clear reference to the opponents' self-commendation (II Cor 3:1, 10:12-15) The obvious implication here is that Paul was purposely downplaying the importance of knowledge regarding the earthly Jesus because his opponents were making the opposite claim: that their acquaintance with the earthly Jesus and his teachings were of utmost significance. The only group who could have claimed this were the Jerusalem pillars themselves [James, Peter and John] and their emissaries! [23]

That these opponents where preaching a Jewish Christian doctrine, we can be quite certain. In a passage that starts with Paul talking about those with "letters of recommendation", he makes this point of contrast between the Mosaic Law ("the ministry of death") and his own theology ("the ministry of the spirit"):

II Corinthians 3:7-8
Now if the ministry of death, chiselled in letters on stone tablets, came in glory so that the people of Israel could not gaze at Moses face because of the glory of his face, a glory now set aside, how much more will the ministry of spirit come in glory?

Here Paul is making the point that the Mosaic Laws have been replaced by the glory of the gospel: clearly contrasting himself to his opponents. [24]

We can thus conclude, for II Corinthians, that Paul's opponents were Jewish Christian [g] emissaries sent by the Jerusalem Church. They openly attacked his claim of apostleship and were preaching a different theology about Jesus from Paul's.

Back to the top

The Opponents in I & II Corinthians

We know that the opponents in II Corinthians were Jewish Christians from Jerusalem. We have also seen that the opponents in I Corinthians were those identified with the Cephas Party. Were these two groups identical or were they two distinct groups? We find many similarities between the opponents in the two epistles: [26]

  • Both groups challenged Paul's apostleship.
  • Both groups criticized Paul for not accepting any support from the Corinthian congregation.
  • Both groups exercised the right of support from the congregation.
  • Both groups called themselves "apostles".
These similarities show that it is very likely that the opponents of Paul in I & II Corinthians are one and the same. They are Jewish Christians from Jerusalem sent under the authority of Peter.

Back to the top

Opposition to Paul in Philippi

Philippians is a captivity letter, written by Paul from prison (Philippians 1:1, 3:1a). Paul was imprisoned many times. Most scholars consider that the two most likely place this letter could have been written from was either Ephesus (II Corinthians 1:8-10 may allude to this) or Rome (Acts 28). If it was written from Ephesus this letter is to be dated to around 56 CE. If Rome was the place, then it would be around 62 CE. [27]

The main passage of interest in the Philippian epistle is in chapter 3:

Philippian 3:2-6
2 Look out for the dogs, look out for the evil-workers, look out for those who mutilate [katatomen; katatome = mutilation] the flesh. 3 For we are the true circumcision [peritome], who worship God in spirit, and glory in Christ Jesus, and put no confidence in the flesh. 4 Though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If any other man thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law a Pharisee, 6 as to zeal a persecutor of the church, as to righteousness under the law blameless.

Note that Paul called his opponents dogs, a general Jewish term of abuse. Paul's play with words is lost in the English translation but the katatome-peritome comparison is clear. Those who "mutilate the flesh" were circumcised Jews. Paul's assertion of his own Jewish roots (Philippians 3:24-6) parallels the similar assertion in II Corinthians 11:22-23 above.

That Paul asked his congregation to be on the look out for them suggests that these are Jewish-Christian missionaries. It is unlikely that the opponents simply bragged about being circumcised. For Paul to bring it up in this manner suggests that they were compelling circumcision. The passage below suggests that these opponents also enforced food taboos:

Philippian 3:18
Their end is destruction, their god is the belly and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.

Paul is here alluding to the food laws (their god is the belly) and circumcision (they glory in their shame). Our short excursus here have yielded the following facts: the opponents in Philippi are Jewish Christians who demanded adherence to the Mosaic Laws.

We do not have any direct information from the epistle as to their origins. However, when we compare this epistle to Galatians and I/II Corinthians, we can make two deductions that allow us to reach a conclusion.

First, Paul defended himself in the same way in all three epistles. He asserted his former blameless observance of the law and his persecution of the church (Philippians 3:4-6, Galatians 1:13, I Corinthians 15:8). He emphasized his own Jewish roots (Philippians 3:5, II Corinthians 11:22-23) He contrasted his Christian existence to his former life as a Pharisee (Philippians 3:8, Galatians 1:15). That he defended himself in the same way is a powerful indication that he knew he was facing the same opponents.

Second, we find that Philippi was within the vicinity of Corinth. The fact that there were two Jewish Christian anti-Pauline groups so close to one another geographically and within the same time period suggest identity.

These strongly suggest that the opponents in Philippi are the same as those in Galatia and Corinth and that they originate from Jerusalem. [28]

Back to the top

Alternate Attempts at Identifying Paul's Opponents

There are, of course, alternate identification by scholars for the opponents of Paul in the various epistles. We will take a brief survey of these below:


Walter Schmithals is the originator of this thesis. In his book Gnosticism in Corinth [1971] and Paul and the Gnostics [1972] he claimed that the opponents of Paul in all his epistles can be identified as Gnostics.

There is a serious flaw in Schmithals argument: there is simply no evidence for the fully developed Gnosticism in his postulate before the second century CE. [29]

As Jerry Sumney pointed out, Schmithals analytical procedures have serious methodological flaws. He used second century sources to inform him of the Gnosticism Paul faces. And for his theory to work, he had to assume Paul misunderstood his opponents. It is certainly more likely that a professor 2000 years later misunderstands the situation than to assume that Paul, who was there in the thick of the fight, failed to comprehend his opponents. [30]

Divine Men

Dieter Georgi suggested in his book The Opponents of Paul in Second Corinthians [1986] that Paul's opponents in II Corinthians were Hellenistic-Jewish divine men (theios aner and theoi andres). These are Hellenistic-Jews of the Diaspora who traveled from city to city and from synagogue to synagogue. They were preachers, religious propagandist who exhibited pneumatic (i.e. spiritual) gifts including interpretation of scripture and ecstatic experiences. According to Georgi the early Christian mission took this as a "model" for religious propaganda and that these were the opponents of Paul in II Corinthians. [31]

Georgi's idea fails on a few counts. It is by no means certain that his reconstruction of the Hellenistic-Jewish divine men is historically accurate. Furthermore the divine men were, according to Georgi, supposed to pride themselves on self-sufficiency. However if that was the case what were they doing with letters of recommendation (II Corinthians 3:1)? [32]


Ernst Kasemann have suggested that the opponents in II Corinthians were pneumatics. The word here refers to spiritually powerful men. Men who had great powers, speak with conviction and have ecstatic experiences. Yet this suggestion is unwarranted by the evidence. For Paul's answering to criticism for his lack of spiritual powers in II Corinthians were more in answer to the congregation there than to his opponents. We know from I Corinthians (I Corinthians 4:6ff, 5:2, Ch. 8, Ch. 12-14) when there was not yet "full blown" opposition to Paul, that the congregation there had an interest in spiritual powers which Paul actually tried to dissuade them from. Thus it was not that the intruders were pneumatics but that the Corinthians themselves looked for pneumatic powers in any one claiming to be an apostle. [33]

Back to the top

Conclusion on The Opponents of Paul

The above considerations show that the evidence that Paul's opponents in Galatia, Corinth and Philippi were apostles sent by the Jerusalem Church is extremely strong. There are a couple more details that help clinch the case.

It is consistent with what we know happened at Antioch and later in Jerusalem. We saw that Paul had a falling out with the apostles from Jerusalem after Antioch and was never reconciled with them during his final visit to Jerusalem. Recall that the four epistles were all written after the incident at Antioch and before his final visit to Jerusalem. Finding that the Jerusalem church hounded his mission is consistent with these two facts that we have established.

Paul's was concerned that his collection may be rejected by the "saints in Jerusalem" (Romans 15:31). If one accepts Acts' picture of the cordial relationship between Paul and the Jerusalem church, this apprehension simply does not make sense. It makes perfect sense given what we have found above. If James, Peter and John had sent out emissaries to combat Paul, he would obviously be worried about how they would accept him in Jerusalem. The collection was his "peace offering", his last attempt to reconcile himself with the Jerusalem Church.

We can safely conclude that the evidence is compelling that the opponents Paul faced in Galatia, Corinth and Philippi were Jewish Christian emissaries sent by the Jerusalem Church headed by James, Peter and John.

Back to the top


a.Georg W.F. Hegel (1770-1831) was a German philosopher reknowned for his idea of the "dialectic". The dialectic is a metaphysical system which supposedly explains historical change. Something comes up in history which can be called a "thesis". An opposition to the idea or system then appears to the original thesis. This is called the "anti-thesis". Eventually the two will clash resulting in a new thesis called the "synthesis"-which includes within it elements of the previous thesis and anti-thesis. Hegelian metaphysics is, of course, nonsense. (Karl Marx presented a modified version of it called "dialectic materialism" in his theory of communism.)

The critics of Baur's work claimed that he was so influenced by the Hegelian dialectic that it clouded his historical analysis. In other words Baur was keen to fit his history into the Hegelian scheme; the Jewish Christian church was the "thesis" which was opposed by the law free Gentile church of Paul, the "anti-thesis". The opposition between these two were eventually resolved in Catholic Christianity (the "synthesis") which can be seen in the work of Luke (the gospel and Acts) towards the end of the first century. Thus Baur's work was "tainted" by preconceived metaphysical notions. The critique was simple, complete and repeated blindly from generation to generation of scholars.

However as Michael Goulder have shown, Baur's original article was written in 1831, but he was known to have effectively read Hegel, at the earliest only in 1833, two years after his seminal article. This conclusively shows that the criticism of Baur has been unfair and too simplistic. It looks like scholars who want to "slay" the ghost of Baur will have to roll up their sleeves again![1]

b.The term "Jewish-Christian" is open to misinterpretation and its uses and definitions vary tremendously among various authors. So it is important for me to note how I use this term. This term is reserved strictly for Christians (or perhaps more accurately, "followers of Jesus"-since the name "Christian" itself is an anachronism if used unreservedly for the pre-70CE church) who uphold the continued validity of the Mosaic laws. These refers to the rules and regulations found in the five books of Moses or Torah. The rules and regulations include circumcision, food taboos and calendar observances (Sabbath, holy days etc). Jewish-Christians are those who either insist on full or partial observance of the Mosaic laws by Non-Jewish converts to Christianity. By this definition, James and Peter were Jewish Christians and Paul was not.
c.There are differing opinions as to whether the "Christ party" actually existed. L�demann ("Opposition" p261) thinks they do not exist. Barrett ("Essays" p3-6) think there is some evidence for their existence. Goulder ("Paul" p20), like L�demann, thinks that it does not indicate a fourth group but simply hints of a Jewish Christian Christology. There is also some evidence that the term could have been added by a later copyist since the Clement (fl. c 96 CE) in I Clement 47:3 quoted I Corinthians 1:12 but mentioned only Paul, Apollos and Cephas.
d.Was Peter actually in Corinth? C.K. Barrett thinks there is some evidence for this. We know that Cephas certainly traveled outside Judea. For Galatians 2:11-14 had him at Antioch. Later Christian tradition had him at Rome and the pseudo-Petrine epistle I Peter 1:1 had him writing to churches in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia. [12] However this can show no more than the possibility that Peter could have been in Corinth. I agree with Michael Goulder and consider it more likely that the opposition was a missionary group, external to Corinth, who claimed allegiance to Peter. [13]
e.That the designation of Paul's opponents as "apostles" is extremely significant. The emissaries to Antioch from Jerusalem were referred to as "false brothers" (Galatians 2:4) or "certain men from James" (Galatians 2:12), not apostles. Thus this designation presupposes emissaries that wield considerable authority in the Church. Indeed some scholars (e.g. C.K. Barrett, Ernst Kasemann) have even suggested that the "super apostles" mentioned here (II Corinthians 11:5, 12:11) refers to the Jerusalem leadership of James, Peter and John. However I am in agreement with Gerd L�demann and Michael Goulder that the immediate contexts of 2 Corinthian 11:1-7 and 12:11-13 suggest that this term was meant by Paul to refer to his opponents who were present in Corinth. [34]
f.Anticipating an objection to our conclusion below - that Paul could never have used such strong words to refer to either the Jerusalem apostles or their emissaries- it is important to remind the reader that Paul had no qualms calling Peter a hypocrite (Galatians 2:13) when the latter disagreed with Paul's interpretation of the gospel to the Gentiles.
g.Despite the preponderance of evidence given, a common objection against this assessment of Paul's opponents as "Judaizers" (i.e. Mosaic Law abiding Christians) is the absence of any discussion or polemic about circumcision in the Corinthian correspondence. Yet this objection is spurious. Firstly there is no evidence that all Jerusalem Jewish Christians demanded circumcision from all would be proselytes. We have seen, however they had understood the Jerusalem agreement, both James and Peter agreed that there could be a mission to the Gentiles that does not require circumcision. Furthermore the Apostolic Decree (which is very probably historical but, contrary to the claim in Acts, not written at the Jerusalem Council) also shows that Gentiles can be accepted into the group without requiring circumcision initially but, as we have shown elsewhere demands that they respect it and adhere to its minimum requirements.

Indeed the whole issue of requirements of circumcision has an obvious analogy in (non-Christian) Judaism. The Judaism of that time drew a distinction between "God-fearers" and full proselytes. The latter became fully Jews and were circumcised. The "God-fearers" were of a lesser class of membership and could move on to become full proselytes in the future. To become full proselytes, of course, they have to be circumcised. There is absolutely no reason to think that James and the rest of the leadership did not share a similar view (since they still consider themselves Jews!). [25]

Back to the top


1.Goulder, Paul and the Competing Mission in Corinth: p10-11
2.Meeks, Writings of St. Paul: p11
3.L�demann, Opposition to Paul in Jewish Christianity: p97
4.ibid.: p97
5.Barrett, Essays on Paul: p95
6.Brandon, The Fall of Jerusalem and the Christian Church: p136-138
Bernheim, James Brother of Jesus: p183-184
L�demann, op. cit.: p97-101
7.Barrett, Paul: An Introduction to his Thought: p15
8.L�demann, op. cit.: p65-68
11.Barrett, Essays: p32-33
Goulder, op. cit.: p21-23
L�demann, op. cit.: p75-78
12.Barrett, Essays: p32
13.Goulder, op. cit.: p20
14.Goulder, op. cit.: p29-30
L�demann, op. cit.: p68-71
15.Brown, Introduction to the New Testament: p548
16.L�demann, op. cit.: p80-81
17.Barrett, Essays: p60
18.Barrett, Essays: p127
L�demann, op. cit.: p82-86
19.Goulder, op. cit.: p39
L�demann, op. cit.: p86
20.Barrett, Paul: p36
Goulder, op. cit.: p33-34
21.Barrett, Essays: p17-20
L�demann, op. cit.: p92-94
22.ibid.: p66
23. Goulder, op. cit.: p38
24.Barrett, Essays: p79
Brandon, op. cit.: p142
25.Barrett, Essays: p21
Barrett, Paul: p38
L�demann, op. cit.: p95-96
26.L�demann, op. cit.: p97
27.Meeks, op. cit.: p94-95
28.Barrett, Paul: p40-41
Bernheim, op. cit.: p186
L�demann, op. cit.: p105-109
29.Roetzel, Paul The Man and the Myth: p198
30.Sumney, Identifying Paul's Opponents: p43-48, 79, 84
31.ibid.: p50-51
32.Barrett, Essays: p62
Goulder, op. cit.: p34
Sumney, op. cit.: p55
33.Barrett, Essays: p69-73
L�demann, op. cit.: p83-84
Sumney, op. cit.: p63-67
34.Barrett, Essays: p74
Goulder, op. cit.: p41-42
L�demann, op. cit.: p87-89

Back to the top

[Home] [The Central Thesis] [Christianity] [The Bible] [Jesus] [Paul] [God] [History] [Pascal's Wager] [Bibliography] [Links]
© Paul N. Tobin 2000

For comments and queries, e-mail Paul Tobin
Hosted by