If Paul were merely another minister of Peter’s gospel of circumcision, then why was there so much controversy between the circumcision and Paul’s churches?
“When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.” – Acts 15:2
It seems we can’t read a single epistle of Paul without a mention of Jesus-followers teaching contrary to him. He spends multiple chapters in Romans explaining information about Israel; the Corinthians were taught about those “under law”; Galatians were warned not to follow the gospel of circumcision. The great contention in the early church was not with unbelievers, it was amidst those who claimed to follow Jesus.
The explanation, of course, is that Paul was teaching a separate message of Jesus Christ, the mystery of Christ. He received this special message from the Lord Jesus himself (Gal 1:1, 11-12).
Only after we separate the apostleship of Paul from the ministry of the twelve can we understand the strong contentions that arose in the beginning between these two ministries.
A Necessary Separation
When God saw Jerusalem reject his Holy Ghost filled apostles, he gave a new dispensation to Paul and began to separate Jerusalem and Israel from his salvation (1 Cor 9:17, Rom 11:25).
God first separates a unique apostle to do his work and tells him to go to the Gentiles. Paul and his ministry are separated geographically from Jerusalem. As Paul ministers to the Jews in Gentile lands he tells them that salvation has been taken from them and given to Gentiles:
“It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.” – Acts 13:46
Later, the authoritative apostles in Jerusalem agree that Paul would not teach his gospel of grace among the circumcision, because of Paul’s authority given by the Lord (Gal 2:7-9). Instead Paul would go to the whole world of uncircumcised to teach his gospel. Not only was this giving credence to the gospel of grace superseding the gospel of the Matthew commission, but it was also separating his gospel from the people who had believed the kingdom gospel.
Paul’s ministry and the ministry of the twelve apostles over twelve tribes were doctrinally separated. Israel would not be given the special privilege of the gospel during this dispensation.
The Separation in Action
There are many times when Paul recognizes this separation in his ministry. One of the most mentioned is Romans 15:20:
“Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man’s foundation:”
However, he also perpetuates the doctrinal separation when Peter comes to Galatia and carries out the law teaching among Paul’s crowd (Gal 2:11-13). Such an admixture of doctrines could only cause confusion and subvert Paul’s message. Paul then rightly rebukes Peter.
Likewise, when Paul was traveling among Peter’s group, he rightly keeps his gospel separate from the law keepers under James’ ministry according to their agreement (Acts 21:26-27). The gospel of the grace of God was never taught in Jerusalem.
God separated the gospel of grace from the circumcision. Peter’s remnant ministry to the circumcision ended and now all men everywhere are told to hear the one gospel which is the mystery of Christ (Rom 16:25). God has moved on, so should the church.