Paul's Schism

Oh, what a tangled web we weave
when first we practice to deceive
-Walter Scott

If there was a real Jesus, then surely Peter was the most qualified to pass on his legacy. His name is prominent in the Gospels, Acts and in the Epistles, and the Catholic Church calls him their first pope. Conventional thinking has it that after Jesus passed away, there was a unified following that quickly blossomed into a new religion based on Jesus' teachings. The Book of Acts and Paul's epistles tell a different story. If the Jewish Peter could peer down from heaven and see how the Catholic Church used his name, he would have conniptions.

There were two schools of thought. For convenience, I'll call them the Jewish school and the Gentile school. Peter led the Jewish school and Paul the Gentile school. Acts and the Epistles show that neither school argued over anything Jesus said or did; they argued about the meaning of Jesus' resurrection and the relevance of Jewish law. It is inconceivable that a real Jesus would have been ignored by Peter and Paul.

Jewish Expectations

Ever since the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BCE, Jews were dominated by foreign powers. Though Christians make a big deal of how the OT prophets predicted the coming of a messiah who would rescue believers from sin, it was unimaginable for the prophets to think that their long awaited messiah would spearhead a new religion. What they expected was a messiah who would restore the kingdom of Israel.

7Thus says the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the servant of rulers: "Kings shall see and arise; princes, and they shall prostrate themselves; because of the LORD, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you." (Isa. 49:7)

At first they believed David himself would reappear to reestablish Israel to its glory.

9But they shall serve the LORD their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them. (Jer. 30:9)

23And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.
24And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the LORD, have spoken. (Ezek. 34:23-24)

After many decades of disappointment, their view changed to expect a descendant of David.

7"And the LORD will give victory to the tents of Judah first, that the glory of the house of David and the glory of the inhabitants of Jerusalem may not be exalted over that of Judah.
8On that day the LORD will put a shield about the inhabitants of Jerusalem so that the feeblest among them on that day shall be like David, and the house of David shall be like God, like the angel of the LORD, at their head.
9And on that day I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem. (Zech. 12:7-9)

Even in the first chapter of Acts, Jesus' apostles ask him when he will restore the kingdom of Israel.

6So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6)

It goes without saying that the Jewish school adhered to the laws of Moses, circumcision and kosher food. Paul's notion of the Eucharist, Adam's inherited sin, a divine Christ, a sacrificed Christ and his negation of the Torah went entirely against anything the Jewish school stood for.

There is a vital chronological detail. Though the Gospels were written a generation after Paul's Letters, they describe events that took place before Paul's Letters. Acts was written at least forty years after Paul's Letters. Since Paul's version of the evolving religion triumphed, it stands to reason that the Gospels and Acts were sympathetic to Paul.

Without shame, Acts tells us how strongly the original sect held to their Jewish beliefs.

The Jewish School

In Acts 2, Peter gave a speech which adhered to Jewish tradition.

14But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them, "Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. (Acts 2:14)

David knew God swore to him that one of his descendants would be restored to the throne. He would be resurrected, would not go to Hades and he was uncorrupted. (The Jewish view of Hades was a dark place where the souls of the dead went. It was not a place for punishment.)

29"Brethren, I may say to you confidently of the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.
30Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants upon his throne,
31he foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. (Acts 2:29-30)

Jews can be sure that God made David's descendant both Lord and Christ.

36Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified." (Acts 2:36)

Peter told them to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, so that they may receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

38And Peter said to them, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)

They worshipped in the temple and broke bread and they had the goodwill of other Jews.

46And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts,
47praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:46-47)

Other passages were equally clear that before Paul, a whole generation of the Jesus sect were pious Jews and proud of it.

Every day in the temple and at home they taught that Jesus was the Christ.

42And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. (Acts 5:42)

Peter would not eat food restricted by law. ("You shall not eat any flesh with the blood in it. -Lev. 19:26)

6Looking at it closely I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air.
7And I heard a voice saying to me, 'Rise, Peter; kill and eat.'
8But I said, 'No, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.' (Acts 11:6-7)

Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.

1But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brethren, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved." (Acts 15:1)

The group congratulated itself on being zealous for the law.

20And when they heard it, they glorified God. And they said to him, "You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed; they are all zealous for the law, (Acts 21:20)

Up to this point it is clear that Peter and his followers did not think of Jesus as God. They believed that Yahweh sent a descendant of David to restore the Kingdom of Israel. It was to be inhabited by pious Jews. To Jews, the Kingdom of Israel was synonymous with the Kingdom of God.

The evolution of Paul's splinter

Despite the Gospel's portrayal of Jesus giving Peter the keys to heaven, of the twenty eight chapters in Acts, Peter's name disappears after the fifteenth chapter. The rest are devoted to Paul.

18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.
19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (Matt. 16:18)

It was an understatement when Acts 15:2 reported that there was "no small dissension and debate" between Paul and Barnabas. Paul, Barnabas and others went to Jerusalem to meet with the apostles and the elders to settle the matter.

2And when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. (Acts 15:2)

At the meeting Peter said he would accept Gentiles if they believed their (Jewish) gospel.

7And after there had been much debate, Peter rose and said to them, "Brethren, you know that in the early days God made choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. (Acts 15:7)

The group agreed with James when he said that faithful Gentiles must at least they must stop worshipping idols, avoid unsanctioned food, remain chaste, and attend synagogues on the Sabbath.

19Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God,
20but should write to them to abstain from the pollutions of idols and from unchastity and from what is strangled and from blood.
21For from early generations Moses has had in every city those who preach him, for he is read every sabbath in the synagogues." (Acts 15:19-21)

There is no doubt that if the Jewish Christians insisted on circumcision, it would have severely restricted entry by Gentiles. It is a painful and dangerous operation for adult men. The Jerusalem Council was willing to make that one concession for the sake of spreading the movement.

Believing that all had reached a common consensus, the Council agreed to send Judas and Silas to accompany Paul and Barnabas to preach to gentiles in Antioch.

22Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren, (Acts 15:22)

Again, believing that Paul accepted the one accord, they sent Judas and Silas with Paul and Barnabas with their blessings.

25it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, (Acts 15:25)

After Judas and Silas had some measure of success, they left Antioch.

32And Judas and Silas, who were themselves prophets, exhorted the brethren with many words and strengthened them.
33And after they had spent some time, they were sent off in peace by the brethren to those who had sent them. (Acts 15:32-33)

Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch.

35But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also. (Acts 15:35)

After some days, Paul wanted to go to other cities. When Barnabas wanted to take Mark with them, Paul disagreed.

36And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, "Come, let us return and visit the brethren in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are."
37And Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark.
38But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. (Acts 15:36-38)

After a sharp contention, Barnabas and Mark sailed away to Cyprus. Paul went with Silas to Syria and Cilicia (Turkey).

39And there arose a sharp contention, so that they separated from each other; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus,
40but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of the Lord.
41And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches. (Acts 15:39-41)

Along the way Paul heard good words about Timothy who had a Jewish mother and a Greek father. So he wanted Timothy to accompany them. Knowing they were going to preach to Jews, Paul had Timothy circumscribed. That Timothy was not previously circumcised tells us that Timothy was not reared as a traditional Jew.

1And he came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer; but his father was a Greek.
2He was well spoken of by the brethren at Lystra and Iconium.
3Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews that were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. (Acts 16:1-3)

The final split took place in Corinth when Silas and Timothy "opposed and reviled" Paul. From then on Paul vowed to take his message to Gentiles by himself.

1After this he left Athens and went to Corinth.
5When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with preaching, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus.
6And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, "Your blood be upon your heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles." (Acts 18:1, 5-6)

The cause for the split can be seen in this next passage. The Jews had Paul arrested and brought before the Roman tribunal for "persuading men to worship God contrary to the law." The proconsul Gallio refused to punish him because he was not violating any Roman law.

12But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack upon Paul and brought him before the tribunal,
13saying, "This man is persuading men to worship God contrary to the law."
14But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, "If it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious crime, I should have reason to bear with you, O Jews;
15but since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves; I refuse to be a judge of these things." (Acts 18:12-15)

From then on Paul went by himself. We don't know how much of Acts it true history, but at minimum it shows how Paul deceived the Jerusalem Council by appearing to be in accordance with the group. Over the course of travel with his companions, as his confidence grew, he preached contrary to Jewish law. From then on, his split with them was irreconcilable.

Paul's Version

Paul doesn't mention his underhanded dealings with the Jerusalem Council. The way his letters tell it, it was a face to face confrontation.

When Paul met Peter (Cephas) in Antioch, he says he opposed Peter to his face. Peter didn't want to eat with the Gentiles because he didn't trust that the food was kosher. Paul condemned him for expecting Gentiles to live like Jews. More importantly, Paul made up his mind that salvation comes by faith in Christ and not by adherence to Jewish law.

11But when Cephas came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.
12For 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.
13And with him the rest of the Jews acted insincerely, so that even Barnabas was carried away by their insincerity.
14But when I saw that they were not straightforward about 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?"
15We ourselves, who are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners,
16yet who know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by works of the law shall no one be justified. (Gal. 2:11-17)

Indeed, Paul was claiming his own authority given to him by revelation and grace. He would go to the Gentiles and James, Peter (Cephas) and John would preach to the Jews.

2I went up by revelation; and I laid before them (but privately before those who were of repute) the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, lest somehow I should be running or had run in vain.
9and when they perceived the grace that was given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised; (Gal. 2:2, 9)

Final thought

As history bears out, Paul won the argument. Christianity was to be freed of restrictions by Jewish law. I think it is fair to say that Christian hostility towards Jews arose, not out of their opposition to Christ, but out of opposition to Paul.