A Church built on hypocrisy

I engaged with a lecture the other day in what I realise was an appropriate setting. I listened to this lecture whilst waiting for my girls to come out of their drama class.

At the heart of the lecture there is an exploration of the hypocrisy upon which the church was built. Hypocrisy is etymologically derived from hypokrites a technical term for a stage actor. Listening to this lecture totally reconfigured the way I think about Galatians 2:11-14.

"Peter’s ‘Hypocrisy’ and Paul’s: Two ‘Hypocrites’ at the Foundation of Christianity?" Margaret Mitchell, University of Chicago's Centre for Middle Easter Studies.

She explores the letter to the Galatians (2:11-14) where Paul calls Peter a 'hypocrite.' She then explores an interpretation by John Chrysostom, hom. in Gal 2:11 (In faciem ei restiti), which might just cause you to consider again this debacle between Peter and Paul. 

“Don't let this passage upset you,” says Chrysostom to his students about Galatians. Eating with Gentiles and Jews – this problem needed to be sorted – a charge of hypocrisy was brought against Peter and an entire religious movement was affected by their disagreement.  
Cephas the accused. 
Paul the accuser. 

Isn't it rather that both could be branded hypocrites?

"I opposed him to his face," says Paul. 
And what about the reader?
Do we concur with Paul's rebuke?

John Chrysostom has a solution to the problem. Perhaps there are instead two hypocrites at the foundation of Christianity!

Paul condemned Peter saying many Jews were acting the hypocrite with him. And so a man who is an interpreter of the divine mouth is living in hypocrisy and is only pleasing people: this Peter who holds the keys to heaven: to loose and to bind. Really?

Paul's hypocrisy is surely evident too. 

Paul, who is free to enslave himself to all, who doesn't believe that the Christians should be circumcised but circumcises Timothy to please people. How do we make sense of this? How is it that each of them are actually not hypocrites? 

Paul claims Jewishness and then he claims Roman citizenship - which is he? Perhaps he is neither. He seems to play the hypocrite or is this an adapting yourself to make the truth known to many? To many, it might seem like deceit. Is he a Jew or an outlaw, a Roman or a Greek? He claims to teach the truth in Christ? But might we make a charge – this man who says that Peter is a hypocrite could also be described thus, surely?

This is in some ways embarrassing, this face-off between the two great giants of the Christian faith: Peter and Paul: the two great eyes that shine in the body of the church. They did not see eye to eye but stood instead face to face and opposed. There is a gravity to this problem of Galatians 2:11-14. There is a cultural cocktail of concerns within which a charge of hypocrisy is being made. 

The internal religious invective of the very scriptures themselves causes the reader to scrutinise such behaviour. In Matthew's gospel we become aware that thinking and doing one thing which seems so set against what one is publicly professing, causes cognitive dissonance. If the primordial figures of the movement are even hypocrites too does this not undermine the movement? Saying one thing and doing or meaning another – the good and bad schema – the cloaking of the truth in words which may be for duplicitous or pedagogical reasons is difficult to negotiate.  

Telling the truth completely was to Philo an intention belonging only to someone of great naivety. The hypocrite is the actor – the lie is the curtain over the truth – then one who is wise has much to gain by becoming like the actor so that some may be saved and we see here an echo of Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 in becoming all things to all people so that I may save some.

The fundamental hermeneutical principles to be grappled with are those that centre around the question: what is truth? Is truth consistent or inconsistent? Is it revealed or hidden?
Available or unavailable? Public or private? Is truth opposed to the theatrical arts or revealed by them?

Various consequences befell the church in reaction to Paul's charge against Peter. Some championed Paul over Peter like Marcion, some took sides, some split the pair, some tried to maintain them both and their authority. Various proposals were made to explain away this embarrassment for The Way: 

1. Solution – Cephas is someone else not Peter – one of the 72 disciples (Clement of Alexandria's 72) – he is significant but can't be Peter – this is perhaps only a nice try because it is highly unlikely.

2. Peter and Paul did disagree but this was not so huge a problem. It was only a minor point of behaviour and not about the heart of the gospel. Paul was variable too in his behaviour. They should be judged against the circumstances.

3. It was a famed quarrel. Famously Jerome, in a set of exchanges with Augustine, called it a useful deceit – accommodation – or condescension – to condescend to the level of the other for their own good. It is explained by that wisdom that is there in speaking at the level of the limitations of your audience. Peter pretended to side with the Jews so that Paul could critique their position and spell it out once and for all.

4. Peter was genuinely rebuked and accepted the rebuke from Paul. The problem was that Peter did not explain to the Jews that the observance of the law didn't have any salvific power.

Chrysostom wants to tackle how we read this as Paul's triumph over Peter.

There is more to it than this – and Chrysostom tries to help us to get to the reality of the passage.

Chrysostom, the erudite and persuasive rhetorician, asks that those attending to his homily stay with him to get the true meaning. It concerns the most important matters – therefore I ask your minds be awake and your souls vigilant – this is how Chrysostom appeals to his audience – we have a great story before us today: "When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face!" Should we be upset? We have Paul and Peter fighting, these two pillars fighting – a gulf and a gap between the two leaders. Unity is in danger: we have a problem with the apostolic succession.

Accusations were coming from outsiders: how can faith be credible when there is such disunity at the heart of it? The two pillars holding the roof are crumbling – what are we going to do?

Stay awake for our homily concerns our fathers and we might need to give an account to outsiders – you hearers are a part of the problem – did you praise Paul for his boldness – if this is praise for Paul – what about all of us – and did some of you side with Peter?

I am going to amplify the accusation – so stay awake – and you will attend to it better – don't think I present my own opinion, I am only trying to deepen your understanding as we excavate the text.

Chrysostom then presents his theory: this is only a show-battle so that Peter and Paul could both teach people with their 'show' what was really important about the gospel.

He amplifies the accusation so he can later reverse it:
Paul – did you rebuke Peter? Good enough – but why to his face? Should the rebuke take place without witnesses? Why make it a matter of public record? Why would you want to do this? Matthew 18:5! Has this not been violated? You rebuke your brother first in private. You issued a public rebuke and what's more, you wrote in down in a letter: you sent it out on a tweet for the whole of Christian history - a tweet in 4th century Antioch; you engraved the battle as though on a pillar in letters. You made the memory of it eternal – for the whole world – everyone gets to learn what happens through the epistle. This is a public rebuke unlike the private meeting of Acts 15. They spoke in private and so you have been inconsistent and it looks like an act of enmity – and what do you think you are doing – what about the fruit of the spirit? You were covered in a mask of accommodation – Paul, you even engaged in the temple in ways they would understand to win them and yet you say Peter is a coward and a hypocrite – have some respect for the master's designation – he is the rock! says Chysostom in his homily.

Peter proclaimed the resurrection in Jerusalem. He is brave and dedicated. He was a man of bold speech in the early chapters of Acts, he opened the door even for you Paul – Mt 16:13 etc how could this brave man have feared those from the circumcision? He is not a coward 17 years later in Antioch. He was brave in Jerusalem with people opposed to the gospel – he can't be afraid in highly Christian Antioch? 

Chrysostom argues that from the calibre of the persons involved, it can't be what we think it is – it must be a stage-play created between them, which gives opportunity for significant teaching.

15 whole days Paul went up to Jerusalem to be with Peter. They were in a quest together for the salvation of the world. After Christ went up to Heaven he left humanity a single gospel in which everyone could be united. Peter went to the Jews and Paul to the Gentiles. A little form of the flesh only divides the Jews and the Gentiles – there is to be a unity in mission. Christ didn't sent Paul to the Jews even though he was schooled – would it have been better for Peter to go to the Gentiles as an unschooled fisherman – but this was not so.

Peter and Paul both actually taught the same thing to the people: the Jews and the Gentiles – in effect those things we profess in the Nicene Creed. Peter endured their judaizing and like a farmer led them to grow carefully - they both condescended to their audiences – Paul in Acts 21 and 22 to the Jews and also Peter to the Jews.

We have arrived to the very depths of the solution to the problem. Pauline speech and Petrine silence gives cause for a solution to an internal problem – can the Christian scriptures stand up to such scrutiny? 

The surface of the text looks like it causes offence but in Antioch Peter condescended to those with James to win them – he didn't follow the Jews food laws at first in Antioch because those there knew the law wasn't binding, but Peter had a deeper intention – he accepts the rebuke from Paul when he does condescend to these new Jews because by being castigated by Paul, he is then able to castigate the Jews in his presence – it's a pofessis – a pretence or a pretext – an occasion for a teaching that one wants to put forward – it is a way to put forward a platform – they wouldn't take it directly from Paul but might take it if deflected through Peter. 

A collusion happens between Pater and Paul – Paul by means of a pretext and in tuning it to Peter can have centuries of Christians benefit from the teaching – his teaching was revealed by his apostle friend Paul and then the teaching comes into the public eye. Paul is not the accuser of Peter – he is the interpreter of Peter – the interpreter of Peter's internal aim. The true aim of Peter is interpreted in the silence that Paul unfurls – Paul attests to Peter's life – Peter has lived like a Gentile – Paul becomes the interpreter of this life of Peter's and its purpose. A law-free gospel is being exposed and taught - brought out for the others to inspect and be shaped by. 

Paul is our Petrine interpreter. 

There is no ground for accusation against either. Great benefit extends out so that everyone can learn – there was a reason for doing this in the public realm  – all are taught from this pretext and interpretation.

It was neither conflict nor deceptive trick. When rightly unfolded it is a counter movement against hypocrisy – (against a perceived variance) (the variance is not really there). 

It is solved by Pauline speech and Petrine silence. 

There isn't actually a variance between the pillars. They teach the insiders and the outsiders through this. Truth is here being arrived at. The Antiochan incident exposes the deeper intent of the concordia apostolorum that, of course, must be there. The apostles are in accord and are using the incident to bring great benefits to others. Each is freed from accusation – we are to emulate this kind of exposure of truths.

...and so Margaret Mitchell unlocked a deeper meaning for me in that most famous of passages, took me back to my English student days, to the study of the rhetorician, his purposes and aims, to the art of persuasion, the literary device and it all seems rather obvious now that there was harmony after all, that God will grow his church through what on the surface seems like disunity, that sometimes this is the way that God advances his gospel. It will forever affect my reading of scripture and I am so glad I engaged with hypokrites as my children did the same. Thank you, Margaret Mitchell. 

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