1.They were unconverted Jews from the Jerusalem area. Ambrosiaster identifies them as men who “were zealous for the law and venerated both Christ and the law on equal footing, which,” Ambrosiaster observes, “goes against the teaching of the faith” (12). Augustine accepts this view, but he distances them from James by interpreting “from James” as “from Judea, since James presided over the church of Jerusalem” (145; cf. 144, n. 48). Aquinas also takes these men to be unconverted Jews (47).
2. They were men who wrongly presented themselves as being from James. Alford notes this as the position of Winer and Ellicot (Alford, 3:18). Olshausen takes the position that the men were “from James’s church in Jerusalem” but that their claim to his authority was false, noting that if they were truly from James ὑπό or παρά would have been used rather than ἀπό (4:532). Also in support of this position, he notes that in Acts 15:1, “where the kindred words ‘certain—from us’ (τινὲς ἐξ ἡμῶν, xv. 24), are compared with this phrase, and it is shown that the apostles in their epistle yet disavow those very τινές” (Olshausen, 4:532; also George, NAC, 175-76; noted as a possibility in Moo, BECNT, 142, 147).
3. They were men associated with James in the Jerusalem church; their purpose in coming is unknown. “Perhaps all that we can surmise is that these men had stood in some way closer to James than did the generality of the Jerusalem Church. But what their connection with him was, and whether they had any kind of commission from him at all when they went to Antioch—these questions can probably never be answered” (Machen, 134-35). Ridderbos also takes this position, noting, “Presumably the ἀπό Ἰακώβου goes with the τινες and not with the ἐλθεῖν” (96, n. 7).
4. They were members of circumcision party the Jerusalem church sent by James. Calvin equates the men from James with the circumcision party, and he indicates that they were actually sent by James, noting that Peter had a “dread of offending James, or those sent by him” (61).To allow for this view, Calvin holds that this event happened prior to the decision made in Acts 15. Lightfoot also holds to this view, but he holds that the visit occurred after Acts 15. He equates the sentiments of James and the men he sent with those stated in Acts 21:20ff. He also specifies that the circumcision party are “not ‘Jews’ but ‘converts from Judaism,’ for this seems to be the force of the preposition [ἐκ]L Acts x. 45, xi. 2, Col. Iv. 11, Tit. i. 10: (Lightfoot, 112).
5. They were men sent by James to enforce the decision made in Acts 15. “And this mission may have been for the very of admonishing the Jewish converts of their obligations, from which the Gentiles were free…. And my view seems to me to be confirmed by his [that is James’s] own words, Acts xv. 19, where the emphatic τοῖς ἀπὸ τῶν ἐθνῶν ἐπιστρέφουσιν tacitly implies, that the Jews would be bound as before” (Alford, 3:18). Eadie notes similarly that Acts 15:19 refers to the fact that Jews were to observe “the customs,” which he understands to entail that they not “mix freely with the Gentiles.” What Peter was doing was “relaxing” the decree beyond that which was thought permissible (Eadie, 151). Burton: “eating with the Gentiles was not only not required by the Jerusalem agreement, but was in fact contrary to it, since it involved disregard for the law by Jewish Christians (ICC, 101, 104-7). Bruce notes that D. W. B. Robertson actually holds that τινας ἀπὸ Ἰακώβου should be understood as “certain things from James,” and refers to the decision of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 (NIGTC, 129).
6. The men sent from James asked Peter, in harmony with the Acts 15 decision regarding circumcision, to observe the food laws in the interest of advancing the gospel among the Jews. Martyn’s view is similar at points to view 5. Though he does not reference the decision made in Acts 15, he does indicate that what had been settled in Acts 15 related to circumcision and not to food laws; he sends a message regarding Jews and Gentiles eating together (however, in Martyn’s reading, Paul links the “the food-laws party” with “the circumcision party,” though the “food-laws party” saw themselves as distinct from the circumcision party) (AB, 233-34, 239). Martyn also hypothesizes that unrest in Jerusalem caused by zealots led the church in Jerusalem (see also Bruce, NIGTC, 130), led by James, to be more zealous in its observance of the Law. James’s message to Peter may have been that Peter’s table fellowship with Gentiles was hindering evangelistic work among the Jews in Jerusalem (AB, 241-42).
7. The men sent from James asked Peter to observe the food laws in the interest of advancing the gospel among the Jews. Bruce similarly thinks that knowledge of what Peter is doing is troubling conservative Jewish believers and is hindering evangelism among the Jews, though, unlike Martyn, he places these events before Acts 15 (NIGTC, 130; cf. Fung, NICNT, 108; Longenecker, WBC, 73, 78-79; Schreiner, ZECNT, 140; Moo, BECNT, 148-49). In further support of this position, Longenecker argues, based on usage earlier in the chapter, that τοὺς ἐκ περιτομῆς in v. 12 refers, not to Judaizing Christians or to “Jewish Christians in a nonpartisan sense” but to “non-Christian Jews” (WBC, 75-76; cf. Moo, BECNT, 148; Schreiner, ZECNT, 143-44, who surveys several possible options without firmly attaching to one). Schreiner notes that James may not have told Peter to stop eating with the Gentiles; he may have simply had then men relay the effects of his eating on the church in Jerusalem (ZECNT, 140).
1. They were unconverted Jews from the Jerusalem area. James need not be named if the location is what is being referred to (Eadie, 150). It seems unlikely to say that the men came from James if what is really meant is that they came from Jerusalem. As unconverted Jews, they would have had no real connection with James.
4. They were members of the circumcision party in the Jerusalem church sent by James. “It would be unwise to identify the ‘certain people’ who came down from James with the ‘certain people’ (τινες) of Acts 15:1 who came down to Antioch from Judaea and insisted that circumcision was necessary for salvation. These men are disowned by the authors of the apostolic letter (Acts 15:24)” (Bruce, NIGTC, 130). In other words, the circumcision party was unorthodox, and it is wise not to infer that James was of that party, even prior to Acts 15.
5. They were men sent by James to enforce the decision made in Acts 15. Against this, Bruce notes that Peter helped formulate that decision and that the decision “appears to have been promulgated in order to facilitate social fellowship between Jewish and Gentile Christians” (NIGTC, 129). Further, I hold Galatians to have been written prior to Acts 15.
6. The men sent from James asked Peter, in harmony with the Acts 15 decision regarding circumcision, to observe the food laws in the interest of advancing the gospel among the Jews. This view is similar to view 7, except it ties the view to the Acts 15 decision. Since I think that Acts 15 happened subsequent to the writing of Galatians, I don’t think view 6 is feasible.
2. They were men who wrongly presented themselves as being from James. This is an intriguing possibility, given the correspondence between “certain men from James” and the statement of the apostles and elders in Acts 15:24 that “certain persons have gone out from us and troubled you”—even though they had received no instructions from the apostles or elders. Against this view, however, there is no indication in Galatians that then men wrongly presented themselves as being from James. Further, how likely is it that Peter himself would have been deceived by such imposters?
3. They were men associated with James in the Jerusalem church; their purpose in coming is unknown. This position has the virtue of being true and modest. But it also doesn’t say much.
7. The men sent from James asked Peter to observe the food laws in the interest of advancing the gospel among the Jews. This view has the disadvantage of being speculative. However, it accounts for the following. (1) The men were indeed from James. (2) Peter did not change his belief that it was permissible for him to eat with Gentiles and to not conform to the food laws (Paul indicates that Peter’s actions differed from his actual beliefs). (3) It provides a plausible reason for why Peter would act contrary to the liberty that he believed he and the other Jews had.
Bibliography: Alford, The Greek Testament, (Lee and Shepard, 1877); Ambrosiaster, Commentaries on Galatians-Philemon, ACT; Aquinas, Commentary on Galatians, trans. Larcher (Magi, 1966); Bruce, Commentary on Galatians, NIGTC (Eerdmans, 1982); Burton, Epistle to the Galatians, ICC (T.&T. Clark, 1921); Calvin, Commentaries on Galatians and Ephesians, trans. Pringle (Calvin Translation Society, 1854); Eadie, Galatians (1869; repr., Baker, 1979); Fung, Epistle to the Galatians, NICNT (Eerdmans, 1988); George, Galatians, NAC (B&H, 1994); Longenecker, Galatians, WBC (Nelson, 1990); Machen, Notes on Galatians (1972; repr., Solid Ground, 2006); Martyn, AYB (Yale, 1974); McWilliams, Galatians (Mentor, 2009), Moo, Galatians, BECNT (Baker, 2013); Olshausen, Biblical Commentary on the New Testament (Sheldon, 1861); Plumer, Augustine’s Commentary on Galatians (OUP, 2003); Ridderbos, Epistle to the Galatians, NLC/NICNT (Marshall, Morgan, Scott/Eerdmans, 1961); Schreiner, Galatians, ZECNT (Zondervan, 2010).