Opposition to Paul from the Jerusalem ChurchAfter the incident at Antioch, the historical evidence shows that the Jerusalem Church, headed by the pillars (James, Peter and John) sent out missionaries of their own to combat the teachings of Paul. Thus the people who were most familiar with the teachings of the earthly Jesus-his brother (James) and the apostles (e.g. Peter and John)- openly opposed Paul's mission and his version of the gospel.
The thesis above was first presented in an article called Die Christuspartei in der korinthischen Gemeinde, der Gegensantz des petrinischen und paulinischen Christenthums in der ältesten Kirche, der Apostel Petrus in Rom (The Christ party in the Corinthian community, the opposition of Petrine and Pauline Christianity in the early church, the Apostle Peter in Rome) in the Tubingen Journal for Theology in 1831 by the reknowned nineteenth century theologian from Tübingen, F.C. Baur (1792-1860). While Baur did make some mistakes, his views were fundamentally sound. However his opponents found a convenient strawman in his alleged use of discredited Hegelian metaphysics and sucessfully attacked it. [a] As a result, Baur's findings fell into disfavor.
Yet the "Ghosts of Tübingen", as S.G.F. Brandon described Baur's idea, refused to be laid to rest. Brandon's own work The Fall of Jerusalem and the Christian Church  revived the theory. In recent years, this thesis has been supported by first-rate critical historical scholars (in their published works) such as:
We can tell from the above passage that whoever his opponents were, they were Christians; in the sense that they were preaching about Jesus. But according to Paul they were preaching another gospel that, according to him, "perverts" his own true "gospel of Christ". That Paul disapproved of this competing gospel is clear, for he openly cursed them.
Did these missionaries attack Paul directly in their preaching? While the Tarsiot did not explicitly say so in this epistle, there are two considerations that provide strong evidence that they did. Firstly Paul founded the Galatian churches, and if they (with their different gospel) wanted to make headway, they almost certainly had to make a critique of him and his teachings. Secondly the whole apologetic tone of the first two chapters of Galatians presupposes some kind of accusation. We see two passages there where Paul asserted his gospel came direct from God and not from men. Why would Paul suddenly say this? It is obvious that some people were making allusions to him having (perhaps defectively) learnt his gospel from other people: 
From Paul's defense above we can infer with some certainty that the opposing mission claimed that he received his gospel from some people. Who were these people? The only people Paul talked about in the first two chapters were the Jerusalem "pillars", James, Peter and John. We will see that his description of them (during the Jerusalem council) was, to put it mildly, less than flattering:
The root of the Greek words used above (translated into English as "of repute" or "reputed to be") is the same, dokeo, meaning "to seem", "to suppose". C.K. Barrett has argued that these words, in common Greek koine usage, very probably implies some kind of deception (whether consciously or otherwise).  Thus the thrust of Paul reference to the Jerusalem pillars here is that they "seem to think" or were "supposed to be" important. But, as he added in Galatians 2:6, it "makes no difference" to him.
Thus these passages were a conscious attempt by Paul to minimize the importance of the Jerusalem leadership of James, Peter and John. Furthermore the whole thrust of Galatians 1 & 2 was Paul's lack of contact with the Jerusalem leaders and his independence from them. He mentioned that he met Peter and James only three years after his conversion and then only stayed with them for fifteen days. (Galatians 1:18) Then he mentioned that during the Jerusalem council, the pillars "added nothing to me". (Galatians 2:6)
After his obvious attempts to minimize the importance of the Jerusalem leadership, he narrated the the incident at Antioch (Which was discussed earlier) which tells of how he confronted Peter, one of the "pillars" regarding the correctness of his (Paul's) law-free gospel:
Again note the protaganists that Paul have placed opposite himself; it was Peter (Aramaic = Cephas), after receiving instructions from James, who was compelling Gentiles to "live like Jews". Paul, of course, labelled such actions "hypocrisy". The important point to note here is that Paul is giving the Galatians an example of how he had stood up to the Judaising party. In that example his opponents were the "pillars" themselves: James and Peter!
These emphatic declarations of independence from the Jerusalem Church, the purposeful minimization of the importance of the leadership and the example of the incident at Antioch all point us to the accusation being made against him by the opposing mission. They also tell us the identity of the accusers.
We can "mirror" what his opponents were saying by looking at Paul's defense:
So we can construct the opponents arguments as something like this: "All apostles must be approved by the Jerusalem Church. Paul himself acquired his mission from the Jerusalem Church, like we do, but he is preaching in an irresponsible manner [eschewing the importance of the Mosaic Laws even for Gentiles] which is not approved by James and the rest of the leadership." 
We can summarize our study of the opponents of Paul in Galatia. They were Jewish Christians who preached the continued validity of the Mosaic Laws, even for Gentiles. They questioned Paul's authority to preach and his apostleship. They claimed the support of the Jerusalem Church headed by James.
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Yet even here Paul was also facing problems with his mission. There are two passages in this epistle where Paul felt compelled to defend his apostleship. The first is:
In the above passage Paul was making a defense of his apostleship (I Cor 9:1-see above). It is obvious from the following verse that his status as an apostle was being questioned (9:2 "If to others I am not an apostle, surely I am to you."). The same verse also tells us his opponents were outsiders, for the others who did not consider him an apostle were differentiated from the Corinthian congregation ("surely I am to you"). His justification for calling himself an apostle was his experience of the resurrected Jesus and his founding of the Corinthian Church.(9:1,3).
From the passage above we know that his opponents were actively attacking Paul's claim of apostleship. Their line of attack was that Paul did not receive any payment or support from the Corinthian congregation (9:4-6)-unlike themselves (9:12 "If others share this rightful claim.."). His explanation for not taking any payment from the Corinthians was simply because he did not want to burden them. Since his opponents took payment and they attacked his status as an apostle because he did not do the same, we can be certain that they used the title "apostle" for themselves. 
Being criticized for not taking payment from the congregation may sound strange to modern ears. But this tradition is certainly present in the Jewish Christian sources relating to the life of Jesus. One passage, from Q, has Jesus saying this to his seventy disciples before sending them out on their missionary work:
This passage was taken from Q (being present in both Matthew and Luke but not Mark) and thus belonged to a tradition older than the two gospels. As Lüdemann maintained, the mission this tradition had Jesus sent the seventy out on was a Jewish Christian one, in the sense that there was no repudiation of the Mosaic Laws. That the opponents criticized Paul on this very topic strongly suggests that they were Jewish Christians. 
I Corinthian 15:1-11 also has similarities to I Corinthians 9:1-18. He reiterated the claim that he too has seen the risen Jesus as the proof of his apostleship (I Corinthians 15:7 ; 9:1). Similarly he pointed to his hard work in the mission field (I Corinthian 15:10; 9:16-18) as further proof of this. Since the defense is the same, we are sure the accusations (and the opponents who made them) are the same for both cases. 
Who were these unnamed opponents who attacked Paul's apostleship? We now look at the clues for this. Early on in the epistle we find out that at that time the Corinthian congregation had started to fissure into different groups:
Thus we see the Corinthian Church claiming allegiance to at least three missionaries: Paul, Apollos and Peter (Cephas is the Aramaic form of Peter). [c] Obviously the group that claimed some allegiance to Paul could not be the source of the attacks on Paul's apostleship. We look at the other two groups.
We see that Paul spoke well of Apollos and indicates a kind of cooperation with him in his mission to Corinth:
These two passages point to a cordial and active partnership between Paul and Apollos. What about Peter? Firstly we note that nowhere in Corinthians 1-4, the chapters where he dealt with the fissure, did Paul mentioned explicitly of any agreement with Peter. Indeed there is strong evidence that he indirectly polemicized against Peter:
The passage above has been separated into two paragraphs to make Paul's meaning clearer. In verse 4 to 9, the metaphor used was that of a garden. He referred to himself "planting" the seed of the church in Corinth and to Apollos "watering it." All pointing towards a friendly cooperation between these two. Note also the metaphor of growing a garden implied that the garderners were external to the garden-i.e. that they were outsiders. This is confirmed by the fact that both Paul and Apollos were not from Corinth. [According to Acts, Paul was from Tarsus (Acts 22:3) while Apollos was from Alexandria (Acts 18:24)]
The second section (3:10-3:15) utilized a different metaphor: that of laying a foundation for a building. Again the metaphor implied an external agent. But here the tone is darker; no longer do we find the co-operative tone of planting the seed and watering it. Paul claimed that "another man" is building upon the foundation which he had laid and subtly cautioned the man to "take care" (3:10). He warned against using any other foundation apart from Jesus Christ (3:11). Then he alluded to a test with fire which could "burn up" the work leading to "loss" (3:15) Whoever this "other man" is, we can conclude from the tone of the whole paragraph that Paul is criticizing him, hinting the work done by this person was, at best, suspect and would be liable to be "burned up" if he does not "take care."
There are a few clues that lead us to the identity of this unnamed person. The use of the metaphor of a building and the term "foundation" immediately brings to mind the Jerusalem "pillars" (Galatians 2:9) which consisted of James, Peter and John. Here too the metaphor is that of a building.
Furthermore having mentioned that Jesus Christ was the foundation, he further emphasized that there could be no other foundation and gave as examples of people laying on the foundation with various materials, among other things stones; emphasizing that those who built wrongly will have his work "burned up". This brings to mind the Matthean verse which had Jesus saying to Peter (which, remember, means "rock") "You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church." (Matthew 16:18). Regardless of the historicity of this passage in Matthew, it points to a tradition which relates Peter (the "Rock") to the foundation of the church.
The above two considerations strongly points to Peter being the "other man" in Paul's criticism above. Moreover, recalling I Corinthians 1:12, there were three explicit groups mentioned there: Paul, Apollos and Peter. Having mentioned Apollos work in relation to his in I Corinthians 3:4-9, it is quite natural that the next verses would be talking about Peter.
In addition to the above considerations, we note that while Paul mentioned Apollos in a friendly tone, nowhere was this "privilege" given to Peter.
We can conclude that there is a very high probability, bordering on certainty, that Paul is here polemicizing either against Peter, or against the opponents who were in Corinth preaching in Peter's name.  [d]
We have established that Paul was polemicizing against the missionaries that were responsible for the Cephas party. Do we have any evidence that it was this group that made the accusation against Paul's apostleship we saw above in I Corinthians 9 and 15? There are series of hints that point to this direction.
In I Corinthians 9:5-6 Paul compares the right of "the other apostles, the brother of the Lord and Cephas", versus his and Barnabas's (!) right to receive payment for their missionary work. The inclusion of Barnabas is surprising at first for nowhere is he mentioned as being in Corinth. However the parallelism between Paul and Barnabas on one hand and Peter, the brothers of the Lord (which include James) and the "other apostles" is clear if we consider here that Paul is alluding to the Jerusalem agreement in Galatians 2:1-10. There we had Paul and Barnabas on one side and James, Peter and John on the other. Paul's rhetorical question on why only he and Barnabas had no right to be paid, seems to sarcastically point to the opponents as being allied with the "circumcision" group of Galatians 2.
Furthermore the specific mention of the name Cephas (I Corinthians 9:5), when it should already have been covered by the phrase "other apostles" earlier, means here Paul is singling out Peter for emphasis. It seems likely that he needed to do so because Peter's example was being used by Paul's opponents in their example of an "authentic apostle" contra Paul.
This leads us to conclude that the opponents that attacked Paul's apostleship were from the Cephas party in Corinth. 
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 Luckily for our current purposes we do not need to consider this complex question. Even in the multiple fragment theories, the time within which they are postulated to have been written all fall within the period of around a single year. So we can begin by assuming that the issues and opponents treated would be the same. Furthermore we can safely conclude that all of II Corinthians was written about one year after I Corinthians. 
II Corinthians is certainly more polemical than I Corinthians. Paul openly acknowledged that someone has been preaching "another Jesus" and a "different gospel": 
From that short passage above we learn that the opponents are Christians, but not Pauline Christians. We know they called themselves "apostles" [e], for Paul again repeated the sarcastic remark "superlative apostles" later:
We also know, from Paul's obvious defense of himself, that they criticized his lack of capability in public speaking and his generally unimpressive demeanor:
Like in I Corinthians, the accusation of his not taking payment from the church was also made here:
[The opponents in making this charge very probably accepted the support of the Corinthian community. This is further confirmed by Paul saying that the Corinthians willingly allow someone to "devour them" (II Corinthians 11:20)] However now the opponents added that Paul "took the Corinthians in by deceit" and that he "took advantage of them":
The use of the same Greek root above tells us that the two passages probably refer to the same charge by his opponents. What could the charge be about? Since Paul was still talking about not being a burden to the Corinthians obviously the issue was about money. The reference to Titus provides the vital clue. For we are told in II Corinthian 8:1-6 that Titus was one of the people Paul sent to Corinth to handle the collection. [The collection for the Jerusalem Church which was agreed upon during the Jerusalem council (Galatians 2:10)]. Thus the accusation must be tied to the collection. We can now see that Paul's opponents were accusing him of taking money from the Corinthians by deceit, what was supposedly for the Jerusalem Church was actually for Paul himself!
Similarly by accusing Paul of vacillating on this travel plans, they made allusions to his lack of trustworthiness:
So Paul's opponents were saying that Paul was unskilled in speaking, had an unimpressive presence, that he did not accept payment from the Corinthian congregation, that he actually defrauded them and that he changed his (travel) plans at whim. In general they said Paul did not have the proper qualifications to be an apostle. Paul, of course, gave as good as he got. He called his opponents "servants of Satan" (II Corinthians 11:5), "false apostles" and "deceitful workers" (II Corinthians 11:13). [f]
It sounds like this was a no holds barred contest! 
We have established that these "super apostles" make no bones about being opposed to Paul. The epistle gave us further clues as to their identity:
This means that his opponents were Jews. The term "Hebrews" was used to imply racial purity. The next two, "Israelites" and "descendents of Abraham" are of theological significance since they point to prominent themes in the Torah: the five books of Moses. The last, "servants of Christ", confirms what we have deduced from II Corinthians 11:4-5 above, that they were Christians.
Significantly they also carried with them letters of recommendation:
Both C.K. Barrett and Michael Goulder have argued that these letters of recommendation most probably originated from the Jerusalem church. If the letters had come from another Church they would not have been effective against Paul, who could claim (and did-see Galatians 2:1-10) that his mission had approval from the Jerusalem church. These letters may be the reason why Paul could claim no more than parity with (i.e. that he was not inferior to) the "superlative apostles". This is the first clue that the opponents are tied in some way to the Jerusalem Church. 
Paul later complained that the opponents have over-stepped their boundaries:
The Greek term kanon is here translated reasonably accurately as limit; implying some kind of boundary or sphere (whether geographical or otherwise). Now Paul is clearly claiming that he has not stepped outside this kanon. Since the whole passage starts with talking about "others" whom Paul (sarcastically) "dare not" compare himself with, the implied critique here is that his opponents have overstepped some kind of agreed-upon boundary.
This brings to mind the Jerusalem agreement (Galatians 2:1-10) where Paul supposedly was given the Gentile world as his sphere of activity. Thus Paul uses the result of the Jerusalem agreement to defend his apostolic authority. Recall that in I Corinthians 9 (see above) Paul also argued in the same way, he made a reference to the Jerusalem agreement (putting him and Barnabas on one side) to certify his right as an apostle to receive payment from the Corinthian. Thus it becomes "practically necessary" (Lüdemann) to see Paul's criticism in II Corinthians 10:15 a reference to this agreement. Thus, according to Paul's criticism, it was his opponents who stepped outside the agreed upon boundaries. The only other missionary sphere was that of the Jewish mission led by Peter. (Galatians 2:8). Thus, here again, we have another piece of evidence that Paul's opponents originated from Jerusalem. 
Another clue to the origins of the opponents lies in the accusation of Paul defrauding the Corinthians through the guise of the collection (II Corinthians 7:2, 12:16-18), which have been discussed above. So far we have seen that accusations of Paul's opponents had been things that could be verified by the Corinthians: his lack of public speaking skills, his unimpressive demeanor, his not taking any financial support from the congregation and the changing of travel plans. Now it would be strange if the accusation of defrauding the Corinthians through the collection was made without there being any basis whatsoever. Since they could point to some kind of evidence for their other accusations, what could the basis be for this particular accusation? The only one is this: Paul's opponents were from Jerusalem. So they may have said something like this: "Collection, what collection? We are from Jerusalem and have not received anything from him! He must be using the money for himself." Thus the fact that the accusation about Paul using the collection to defraud the Corinthians could be made at all points to a Jerusalem origin of his opponents. 
The final piece of evidence that these opponents were sent by the Jerusalem Church is in this passage:
The "we" in the second half of the passage refers, not to Paul, but to the people who knew the earthly Jesus ("according to the flesh"). Yet in this passage Paul repudiates this knowledge as unimportant. This passage is tied to his opponents, since a few verses before this Paul mentioned that he was "not commending" himself to the Corinthians again (5:12), a clear reference to the opponents' self-commendation (II Cor 3:1, 10:12-15) The obvious implication here is that Paul was purposely downplaying the importance of knowledge regarding the earthly Jesus because his opponents were making the opposite claim: that their acquaintance with the earthly Jesus and his teachings were of utmost significance. The only group who could have claimed this were the Jerusalem pillars themselves [James, Peter and John] and their emissaries! 
That these opponents where preaching a Jewish Christian doctrine, we can be quite certain. In a passage that starts with Paul talking about those with "letters of recommendation", he makes this point of contrast between the Mosaic Law ("the ministry of death") and his own theology ("the ministry of the spirit"):
Here Paul is making the point that the Mosaic Laws have been replaced by the glory of the gospel: clearly contrasting himself to his opponents. 
We can thus conclude, for II Corinthians, that Paul's opponents were Jewish Christian [g] emissaries sent by the Jerusalem Church. They openly attacked his claim of apostleship and were preaching a different theology about Jesus from Paul's.
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The main passage of interest in the Philippian epistle is in chapter 3:
Note that Paul called his opponents dogs, a general Jewish term of abuse. Paul's play with words is lost in the English translation but the katatome-peritome comparison is clear. Those who "mutilate the flesh" were circumcised Jews. Paul's assertion of his own Jewish roots (Philippians 3:24-6) parallels the similar assertion in II Corinthians 11:22-23 above.
That Paul asked his congregation to be on the look out for them suggests that these are Jewish-Christian missionaries. It is unlikely that the opponents simply bragged about being circumcised. For Paul to bring it up in this manner suggests that they were compelling circumcision. The passage below suggests that these opponents also enforced food taboos:
Paul is here alluding to the food laws (their god is the belly) and circumcision (they glory in their shame). Our short excursus here have yielded the following facts: the opponents in Philippi are Jewish Christians who demanded adherence to the Mosaic Laws.
We do not have any direct information from the epistle as to their origins. However, when we compare this epistle to Galatians and I/II Corinthians, we can make two deductions that allow us to reach a conclusion.
First, Paul defended himself in the same way in all three epistles. He asserted his former blameless observance of the law and his persecution of the church (Philippians 3:4-6, Galatians 1:13, I Corinthians 15:8). He emphasized his own Jewish roots (Philippians 3:5, II Corinthians 11:22-23) He contrasted his Christian existence to his former life as a Pharisee (Philippians 3:8, Galatians 1:15). That he defended himself in the same way is a powerful indication that he knew he was facing the same opponents.
Second, we find that Philippi was within the vicinity of Corinth. The fact that there were two Jewish Christian anti-Pauline groups so close to one another geographically and within the same time period suggest identity.
These strongly suggest that the opponents in Philippi are the same as those in Galatia and Corinth and that they originate from Jerusalem. 
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GnosticsWalter Schmithals is the originator of this thesis. In his book Gnosticism in Corinth  and Paul and the Gnostics  he claimed that the opponents of Paul in all his epistles can be identified as Gnostics.
There is a serious flaw in Schmithals argument: there is simply no evidence for the fully developed Gnosticism in his postulate before the second century CE. 
As Jerry Sumney pointed out, Schmithals analytical procedures have serious methodological flaws. He used second century sources to inform him of the Gnosticism Paul faces. And for his theory to work, he had to assume Paul misunderstood his opponents. It is certainly more likely that a professor 2000 years later misunderstands the situation than to assume that Paul, who was there in the thick of the fight, failed to comprehend his opponents. 
Divine MenDieter Georgi suggested in his book The Opponents of Paul in Second Corinthians  that Paul's opponents in II Corinthians were Hellenistic-Jewish divine men (theios aner and theoi andres). These are Hellenistic-Jews of the Diaspora who traveled from city to city and from synagogue to synagogue. They were preachers, religious propagandist who exhibited pneumatic (i.e. spiritual) gifts including interpretation of scripture and ecstatic experiences. According to Georgi the early Christian mission took this as a "model" for religious propaganda and that these were the opponents of Paul in II Corinthians. 
Georgi's idea fails on a few counts. It is by no means certain that his reconstruction of the Hellenistic-Jewish divine men is historically accurate. Furthermore the divine men were, according to Georgi, supposed to pride themselves on self-sufficiency. However if that was the case what were they doing with letters of recommendation (II Corinthians 3:1)? 
PneumaticsErnst Kasemann have suggested that the opponents in II Corinthians were pneumatics. The word here refers to spiritually powerful men. Men who had great powers, speak with conviction and have ecstatic experiences. Yet this suggestion is unwarranted by the evidence. For Paul's answering to criticism for his lack of spiritual powers in II Corinthians were more in answer to the congregation there than to his opponents. We know from I Corinthians (I Corinthians 4:6ff, 5:2, Ch. 8, Ch. 12-14) when there was not yet "full blown" opposition to Paul, that the congregation there had an interest in spiritual powers which Paul actually tried to dissuade them from. Thus it was not that the intruders were pneumatics but that the Corinthians themselves looked for pneumatic powers in any one claiming to be an apostle. 
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It is consistent with what we know happened at Antioch and later in Jerusalem. We saw that Paul had a falling out with the apostles from Jerusalem after Antioch and was never reconciled with them during his final visit to Jerusalem. Recall that the four epistles were all written after the incident at Antioch and before his final visit to Jerusalem. Finding that the Jerusalem church hounded his mission is consistent with these two facts that we have established.
Paul's was concerned that his collection may be rejected by the "saints in Jerusalem" (Romans 15:31). If one accepts Acts' picture of the cordial relationship between Paul and the Jerusalem church, this apprehension simply does not make sense. It makes perfect sense given what we have found above. If James, Peter and John had sent out emissaries to combat Paul, he would obviously be worried about how they would accept him in Jerusalem. The collection was his "peace offering", his last attempt to reconcile himself with the Jerusalem Church.
We can safely conclude that the evidence is compelling that the opponents Paul faced in Galatia, Corinth and Philippi were Jewish Christian emissaries sent by the Jerusalem Church headed by James, Peter and John.
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