Institute of Ethiopian Studies, Addis Ababa

Peter and Paul. In this 15th-century icon from Ethiopia, Saint Peter, holding the keys to the kingdom of heaven, and Saint Paul, carrying a book, are shown in the midst of an earnest, though harmonious, discussion. But the relationship between the two was anything but as affectionate as shown here. Peter and others within the Jesus movement insisted that gentile followers of Jesus could only be redeemed by converting to Judaism. Those who agreed with Peter—“anti-Paulines,” as author John G. Gager calls them—followed Paul from town to town, challenging his view that gentiles could achieve salvation outside of God’s covenant with Israel.

Gager suggests that this dispute between apostles is responsible for the seemingly contradictory messages regarding Judaism in Paul’s letters. When writing to and about gentiles, Gager says, Paul stressed the possibility of their salvation, through Jesus Christ—a path independent of the people of Israel. When writing about fellow Jews, however, Paul stressed their need to uphold Judaic law. But interpreters of Paul’s writings going back to his own lifetime have missed the reasons behind Paul’s differing statements, Gager says, and in so doing have missed the meaning behind his letters.