Paul Confronts Peter
In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he narrated how he opposed Peter to his face because he was clearly wrong (Gal. 2:11). Paul said that Peter was not acting according to the truth of the gospel (Gal. 2:14). Those are strong words of rebuke! What was it that Peter did that was clearly wrong? What did Peter do that was not according to the truth of the gospel? Let’s find out.
The church at Antioch, north of Jerusalem, was where believers in Christ were first called “Christians” (Acts 11:28). Paul and Barnabas were also there as leaders in the church at this point in time. It is now located somewhere in modern Turkey. According to Google, it is 678.3 kilometers from Jerusalem. That is quite some distance and takes a long time to travel during those days. Peter, whom we can safely assume to be a church leader coming from Jerusalem, visited Antioch to see the brethren who were a mixture of both Jewish and Gentile Christians (Gal. 2:11).
Peter “Used to Eat with the Gentiles”
On this occasion, Paul said something significant. He said that Peter “used to eat with the Gentiles” (Gal. 2:12). This clearly shows that Peter did it regularly — that is, eating with Gentile Christians on a regular basis. We don’t know how long his visit lasted but most likely, it was a long visit considering the distance involved.
But what’s wrong with Peter eating with Gentile Christians on a regular basis? Well, there must have been something wrong because Paul said so! And Paul told Peter about it!
In the Bible — as well as in modern use — the word, Gentile simply means that a person is not a Jew as is commonly understood. Most of us will be in that category — Gentiles. According to Jewish custom and law, the Jews were to separate themselves and should have nothing to do nor should they associate with Gentiles. During those times, there were 3 Jewish laws that stood out which identified Jews from Gentiles namely: 1) circumcision, 2) dietary laws and, 3) Sabbath keeping.
Whether Peter ate unclean food or not is another topic for another blog but in this particular incident, Peter was clearly “eating with Gentiles” as Paul said.
But of course Peter understood that it was now alright to “eat with Gentiles” because he already understood from the Lord through a vision that he should “call no man common or unclean” (Acts 10). It was OK to mingle and eat with Gentiles contrary to Jewish customs and tradition. He understood that it was now alright to associate with Gentiles and especially so because these were his brethren in the Lord — the Gentile Christians at Antioch.
Double Standard Life
What then was the problem? Well, according to Paul it was Peter’s hypocrisy that was the problem. He was not acting in accordance with and in line with the truth of the gospel (Gal. 2:13-14). Certain men from James who were of the “circumcision group” (meaning, Jewish Christians) came to the Antioch church which caused Peter to separate himself from his Gentile brethren—although he “used to eat” with them. That was not good according to Paul.
But why was Peter afraid? Well, because these “certain men” were Jews —Jewish Christians from Jerusalem, “from James.” And Jews normally separated themselves from Gentiles. That was the problem. Peter was not acting consistent with what he knew was the truth. The other Jewish Christians including Barnabas were wrongly influenced too by Peter’s hypocritical attitude. That was not good for the church and for the gospel.
Before these Jewish Christians visited Antioch, Peter “used to eat” with the Gentile Christians. He knew it was alright as God had shown to him in a vision to “call no man common or unclean” (Acts 10). He was “living like a Gentile.” He was not “living like a Jew” although he was a Jew. He knew it was alright. But then because of his fear of what his fellow Jews might think about him, he separated himself from his Gentile brethren when the Jewish Christians from Jerusalem arrived. That was a clear case of hypocrisy. He should have been consistent with his attitude and not become a respecter of persons.
Law of Moses Not for Christians
Most likely, these visiting Jewish Christians must have been imposing their customs too as can be seen in the epistle to the Galatians itself and in Acts 15. Paul then clarified that Jewish Christians should not force or impose their “Jewish customs” on Gentile Christians. The clear message is that it is alright to “live like a Gentile“ and not “live like a Jew” if one is a Gentile Christian (Gal. 2:14).
This particular incident between Paul and Peter and the whole epistle of Galatians show that the Law of Moses is not binding on Gentiles. That’s the clear message of the whole epistle to the Galatians. Christians have freedom in Christ and follow the Law of Christ.
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1).
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