Trouble in Galatia and Ephesus
Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, OP
When Paul founded the churches in Galatia, Philippi, Thessalonica and Corinth, he had been acting as the agent of Antioch. They were her daughter churches. Thus when Antioch changed orientation and became much more Jewish, it felt that the churches dependent on her should also be changed. Paul’s Law-free mission was no longer acceptable.
Paul would have boasted long and loudly of his successes. Antioch knew exactly where he had gone, and in all probability the names of those who had emerged as leaders in those churches.
Thus when Paul was well out of the way, Antioch sent a delegation to follow his tracks to the west with a view to reconverting what they believed to be their foundations. Since their goal was to make Paul’s churches more Jewish, we shall call this delegation the Judaizers.
Their first stop was Galatia. Here the stubbornness that had dismayed Paul worked in his favour. The Galatians were not prepared to accept easily a different version of the faith that they had had so much difficulty in assimilating. Above all they wanted the opportunity to consult Paul. This could not be done, however, until the winter snows had melted and the spring floods subsided. In the meantime they absorbed the message of the Judaizers.
When travel was finally possible, a group of Galatians made the three-week journey to Ephesus to talk to Paul. The sacrifice was considerable. They could not earn for two months. They accurately reported to Paul the way the Judaizers had attacked him personally, and outlined the new version of the gospel that they proposed.
Paul did not find it feasible to return to Galatia. He had to stay in Ephesus to be available to all his churches. He sent the delegation back with a letter to the Galatians, in which he systematically counters all the arguments of the Judaizers.
Galatians was a very tricky letter to write. Ostensibly addressed to the Galatians, it was in fact directed to the Judaizers, the only ones capable of understanding the arguments drawn from the Jewish Scriptures. Only a writer of immense skill could have carried it off. Regretfully, we do not know what effect it had. Eventually the Judaizers moved on. Paul, however, had anticipated that their next stop would be Philippi, and wrote a note to the church there warning them of the danger.
Probably in July AD 53 Paul was arrested. He was the victim of his own success. The new Proconsul of Asia took office on 1 July. A local tried to curry favour by informing him of a movement that was gathering adherents. Perhaps its intentions were subversive. The prudent official kept Paul in prison while he checked him out.
We know that Paul was held in the Praetorium, the magnificent building, whose ruins still rise above the great theatre at Ephesus. The conditions of incarceration depended on the whim of the magistrate. In this case they were not too severe, because Paul could receive visitors and write letters. He may, however, have been chained to a wall or to a guard.
Those in the community at Ephesus who had resented Paul’s casual assumption of authority, when Prisca and Aquila had done all the hard work, now had the opportunity to show Paul that he was in no way necessary to the life and mission of the church of Ephesus. It had grown without him in the past, and could expand without him in the future.
The incident revealed an unpleasant side of Paul’s character. Instead of turning the other cheek, he met such small-mindedness with an equally childish display of pique. He had a very thin skin, and could not bear to be thwarted or contradicted.
Paul soon had much more serious problems to worry about. A problem developed in the church of Colossae that Erastus, the founder, could not deal with. He was not even sure that he understood the issue. Thus he brought with him to Ephesus a delegation of six to lay the matter before Paul.
This put the cat among the pigeons as far as the Romans were concerned. They were shocked to find that the Jesus movement was not restricted to Ephesus. Its tentacles reached far into the interior of the province. This made the matter much more serious. A province-wide movement was a definite threat, and a delegation of this size would seem to imply that its adherents were numerous. Thus the group from the Lycus valley also ended up in prison.