Tuesday, September 25, 2007

What was going on in Antioch?

This is the question that I have posed to the students in my NT and Christian Origins class. It is a complex issue that I don't think has been adequately resolved yet. Some observations:

1. Acts 6:5 mentions Nicolaus a proselyte of Antioch. The Greek appears to me to be ambiguous: that Nicolaus was either a man from Antioch and a proselyte of the Jerusalem church, or already a proselyte from Antioch. If the latter, then there is an Antiochean church before Stephen's martyrdom. Since Nicolaus was also a "Hellenist" then this would support the Antiochean church as a Greek-speaking satellite of the Jerusalem church.

2. Acts 8:1 and 11:19 mention the dispersion of the Hellenists into Judaea, Samaria, Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch. The mission work included, according to Luke, preaching to the Jews and the Gentiles (11:20).

3. Acts 9:29 says that the Hellenists are after Paul, seeking to kill him because of his preaching. How can this be reconciled with Acts 6?

4. Acts 11:22, 11:27-29, 13:1, 15:1, etc. There appears to be a strong network of missions established very early in the church with Jerusalem as the main center, while Antioch (and others) are satellites under the authority of Jerusalem. This is not the opinion of Luke alone since it is supported by what Paul tells us about his relationship with Jerusalem in his letters, a relationship that he struggles with.

5. What were the Antiochean Christians teaching? They had a Gentile mission. Were they circumcising? Were they following traditional Jewish diet? Did Jerusalem relax its attitude toward the Law as is implied by the story of the Jerusalem council and the letter that Luke says James sent to Antioch? What was going on in Antioch?


Phil Snider said...

Isn't Hellenist rather a general term, so could be used differently in different passages? That is, the Christians who are originally Gentile are called Hellenists because they are Hellenist Christians (i.e. ex-pagans). The Hellenists who persecute the Antiochene Christians represent the pagan population of the city (the more common usage of Hellenist in Christian literature). That would certain explain the discrepancy you point out in Acts 9,2.

As for the relationship of Antioch to Jerusalem, I suspect the Antiochene church itself was divided between the Pauline mission and the Jerusalem mission. Therefore, you answers to 5 depend on which group you are addressing.

Just some thoughts.


gdelassu said...

Acts 9:2 says that the Hellenists are after Paul

Do you perhaps mean 9:29?

Nick Kiger said...

Paul seems to distance himself from the church in Antioch. To me this is evidence that maybe they are in fact leaning more towards affiliation with the Jerusalem Church.

Michael F. Bird said...


1. Does this mean that Luke gives us 'reliable' history about the Jerusalem and Antioch churches? Just curious :-)

2. I think it is important to note that Luke interrupts the story of the Hellenistic mission (Acts 6.1-8.40) with an account of the conversion of Paul (Acts 9.1-31) and Peter's ministry to Cornelius (Acts 10.1-18). Luke returns to the Hellenists in Acts 11.19-21 where the "Gentile" break through originally took place. Luke's re-ordering of the material is done in order to give the Gentile mission apostolic precedent and to introduce the apostle to the Gentiles.

3. Gal. 2.11-14 suggests that the Jewish Christians in Antioch began accepting Gentiles into open meal fellowship without requiring them to be circumcized. That implies a laxation of the laws ordinarily thought to separate Jews from Gentiles (see Acts 11.3). I recommend Mark Nanos' article on Gal. 2.11-14 for a good read which informed my own discussion of the matter in a recent book.

Loren Rosson III said...

Mike wrote:

Gal. 2.11-14 suggests that the Jewish Christians in Antioch began accepting Gentiles into open meal fellowship without requiring them to be circumcized. That implies a laxation of the laws ordinarily thought to separate Jews from Gentiles (see Acts 11.3). I recommend Mark Nanos' article on Gal. 2.11-14 for a good read which informed my own discussion of the matter in a recent book.

Indeed, Mark Nanos (and Philip Esler) are required reading for the Antioch incident. I think they're right that Antioch was about circumcision rather than food laws. And that's why Paul brings it up: the Antioch controversy bears directly on the Galatian crisis.

Geoff Hudson said...

9.1,2 The high priest (Ananias or Caiaphus?) could not grant the authority to make arrests in Damascus.

The letters to the synagogues were letters of introduction requested by 'Saul' who I have to suspect was Ananus the high priest the eventual destroyer of James.

Thus the so-called conversion of 'Saul' was an editor's interpolated fabrication. Given the letters of introduction, 'he ('Saul') began to preach in the synagogues' of a foreign city (no doubt Rome where there were a number of synagogues). The big question is: what was this high priest Ananus preaching? the language of 9.20 suggests he was preaching 'that he was the Messiah of God', not that the editor's Pauline 'Jesus is the son of God'. We know that the writers of the DSS thought that there would be a priest Messiah and a king Messiah. This was a priestly messianic mission in competition with the prophetic mission of the Spirit. The playing field was the Jewish synagogues of Rome. Thus originally in 9.22, Ananus 'baffled the Jews living in Rome by proving that he was the Messiah' - sounds as though they believed him. You can bet that the Romans were not too happy about having such a character in their midst.

Geoff Hudson said...

Jerusalem was NOT the main centre of the Christian mission. The prophets there could be suppressed too easily. The main centre was Rome where there was greater freedom of speech and some empathy for prophets, particularly among Roman aristocrats.

Hellenists and their dispersion are myths - dissimulations of later Pauline editors, as is Antioch, to give the impression that there was a very early mission to Gentiles. Antioch (11.26,27) was Rome. Hence there was nothing of any relevance going on in Antioch.

Nick Meyer said...


This is a great discussion! Regarding point 1. I'm not sure if I follow the reasoning that if Nicolaus became a prosylete in Antioch than there must have been an Antiochean satellite church prior to Stephen's marytrdom. Why would there have to have been a church? He could have become a proselyte in Antioch and then a Christ-believer in Jerusalem.

Regarding point three, the best explanation would seem to me to be that the term "Hellenist" referred to socio-cultural distinction, Greek speaking Jews, probably from the Diaspora (so Hengel). Thus, there can be Hellenists in the early church and Hellenists outside of it. Stephen's prosecutors were then probably also Hellenists (cf. Acts 6.9), although the text does not specify it explicity. On this reading there would be no conflict between Acts 6 and 9.29.

Phil Snider said...

I'm sorry, Geoff, but do you mind substantiating your claim about the mission in Antioch being a fabrication? Perhaps I missed the rationale for that position.


Geoff Hudson said...

For example Phil, consider Gal.2.11: 'When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.' This doesn't sound much like a meeting between friendly Christians, but rather a meeting between enemies. In the next breath (2.12), note that the editor of Galations is implicitly anxious for his reader to understand that James is in Jerusalem - thus his phrase: 'Before certain men came from James'. In Galations 2, the editor created an artificial Gentile/Jew cultural dispute between the fictitious, Gentile-friendly, Pauline Paul and a pro-Jewish fictitious Peter.

I would suggest that the writer of the original Epistle to the Galations was James himself, and that he wrote the Epistle to Jews, and Jews only, while he was in Rome. James was far from being stuck in Jerusalem. I further suggest that Acts was originally an ‘I’, ‘we’ and ‘us’ autobiography written by James, the principal travelling prophet, and that his document was subsequently garbled by Pauline editors - I have written elsewhere that Acts is a book of reversals -see https://www2.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=5759844&postID=2380932794544210245 .

The clash between Peter and Paul referred to in Gal.2.11, supposedly when Peter came to Antioch, was, in reality between the high priest Ananus (son of Ananias) when he came to Rome (Damascus in Acts), and the prophet he hated most, namely James.

The original dispute had nothing to do with the editor’s argument over Gentiles being forced to follow Jewish customs (although such customs may have presented problems later). The dispute was entirely in a Jewish context between a priest and a prophet over fundamental theology regarding cleansing before God. Thus the prophet James would have written in Gal.2.15 and 16: ‘We know that a man is not cleansed by observing the law, but by obedience IN (note) the Spirit.’ Justification by faith was a later Pauline invention.

The so-called stoning of ‘Stephen’ was really a beating James received with the approval of Ananus, outside a Jewish synagogue in Rome. Ananus’ angry judgemental personal profile or character according to the writings attributed to Josephus, see Ant.20.9.1 matched that of ‘Saul’.

So if we look at Acts 8, we possibly get a glimpse of what James may have said to Ananus’ face in the words spoken by the supposed Peter (James?) to the supposed Simon the sorcerer (Ananus?): ‘You have no part or share in THE SPIRIT (not ‘this ministry’), because your heart is not PURE (not ‘right’) before God.’ (8.21) ‘Pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will CLEANSE (not ‘forgive’) you for having such impurity (not ‘a thought’) in your heart’ (8.22) – the heart doesn’t think. ‘For I see that your heart (not ‘you are’) is full of the spirit of deceit (not ‘bitterness and captive to sin’) (8.23) – the spirit of deceit was one of the two spirits possessed by all according to the DSS (see Martinez).

Then we have text that was obviously once a threat (Ananus’ answer to James): “Pray to the Lord for [ME] {i.e. yourself} that nothing [you] {i.e.I} have said may happen to [ME] {i.e.you}. (8.24) A prediction was made by a supposed Agabus of a supposed severe famine (11.28). I suggest the prediction was in reality a threat made by Ananus of a severe persecution that would spread over the entire city of Rome, not over the entire Roman world.

Phil Snider said...


The thing is that none of this is obvious to me and some of it just seems to be coming out of the air. Yes, the Galatian's passage read in isolation from Acts sounds like more serious arguement that Acts suggests, but there is no evidence from Galatians that there was a permanent rift, and, indeed, there is an abscence of the kind of abuse that passed for polemics in this period. Rather, Paul claims equality with Peter since the same person sent them to the uncircumsized and circumsized alike (Gal. 2,7). That suggests Paul and Peter had a difference opinion, but nothing in Galatians suggests a rift of the kind that you are suggesting.

As for the James argument, you are re-reading Acts in a radically different way, but haven't established why authorship by Luke has to be dismissed in favour of reading James into the action of Acts. Without that justification, you can find parallels all you like, but I'm not convinced. Really, this is a question of source criticism and, frankly, you haven't made your case.


Geoff Hudson said...

Phil, Galations is replete with language that implies a complete rift between the prophetic writer who believed in cleansing of a person's spirit by the Spirit and the writer's priestly enemies who held on to the temple cult - the keeping of the law to be right with God. It is only recently that I have come to realise that most the original documents of the NT were created in and for a Jewish milieu. Then, the Pauline 'Luke' was nowhere in sight.

Phil Snider said...

There is no doubt that the NT is written in a Jewish background, but I'm not sure why I see that we have to substantially re-write the existing writings to get there. Clearly, there was a presumption of the Jewish background, but, equally, clearly, there was an effort to re-interpret them in the light of what these early Christians saw in the light of the life of Jesus of Nazareth and in a way that would help explain the connection of Israel to the Gentiles. That is, I think, what the texts themselves are saying.

What I'm hearing from you, however, is that there is another level of composition which were explicitly Jewish and which were re-written with the 'myth' of a Pauline mission overlain. I find this level of re-writing a little dubious because I can't really see why the re-writers just didn't write up what they were trying to say entirely fresh, ascribe it to whoever they want to ascribe it to and have done with it. I can't think of a classical or biblical parallel of the level of re-writing that you are proposing, so I find myself doubtful about the whole theory.


Geoff Hudson said...

Well Phil, while I was on holiday in Jersey recently, I read through most of Seutonius Vespasian, a commentary written by Brian W Jones, Reader in the Department of Classics and Ancient History, University of Queensland, Australia, and published by Bristol Classical Press.

I highlighted a comment on page 35 where the author wrote something which reflects on classical authors at exactly the time the Pauline editors were doing their worst. Once again, the Flavian historians on whom Suetonius relied strained the truth to and beyond its limits in disguising the slavish adulation lavished by Vespasian on the emperor of the day and exaggerated (or invented) any loss of influence the family suffered. Note the author's 'once again' - he considers that the Flavian historians were tantamount to habitual liars who 'strained the truth beyond its limits' and even 'invented' their own stuff, no doubt with some reality thrown in here and there. And if you want a classical text where the truth has indeed been stretched beyond its limits by editors, then look no further than the writings attributed to Josephus.

One thing I am considering for example, is that Nero never went on a tour of Greece between 66 and 68 CE, but was leading armies in Judea. His trip to Greece was later Flavian propaganda. Mostly where you read Titus in Josephus, you should be reading Nero. After taking all the fortresses including Masada, Jerusalem was occupied by Nero's forces let in by the prophets. It was only after Nero's death that Titus was able to ransack Jerusalem and the sanctuary for their wealth. Vespasian's and Titus' triumph was completely misclaimed.

Phil Snider said...


As my own academic field was Roman historians, I am well aware that ancient historians can play a bit fast and loose with the historical record. However, much of that is about character assasination and looking at a particular person's life in the worst possible light. There is nothing new about that and, clearly, your commentary on Suetonius is right to highlight the problem in Suetonius. Similarly, Josephus is even more problematic, given how beholden he was to Vespasian.

Yet, that said, it is not common that an ancient historian will outright lie about something which can be checked later. This is why I sincerely doubt your suggestion about Nero. The only thing that binds a trip to Greece and a campaign in the EAst is the direction. Unless you have an ancient source I haven't seen, I'm inclined to doubt your suggestion.

As for leveraging this bias into wholesale rewriting of books, I have to reiterate that bias is one thing, but outright rewriting strikes me as improbable. An ancient author will make someone look really bad, if they take a dislike to them, but it is rare that they try to completely re-write history. So, I'm less than convinced.

Geoff Hudson said...

The young aristocrat Josephus was being raised in the Court of Claudius and was living in the palace, as was James the prophet and leader of the Christians. It was Josephus (Acts 4.36) who sold some land in Rome on the understanding that it would be used as a Jewish cemetery. The purchaser was the high priest Ananias, using sacred money from the temple treasury. With the knowledge of his wife Sapphira he kept the land for his own use, to build a house to live in during his visits to Rome. Everyone in Rome heard about this scandal (Acts 1.18,19).

Ananias was called into the palace. James accused Ananias of lying to the Spirit in keeping the land. He said , “Didn’t it belong to God? And after you bought it, wasn’t the land at your disposal? When Ananias saw that he was accused of lying to God, he was seized with remorse and returned the land to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned”, he said “for I have lied to God”. (Mat.27.3,4) The palace guards bound him and led him away, and handed him over to Burrus the Captain of the Praetorian Guard. (Mat.27.2).