Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Galatians 2:11-14

V11-14 – 11When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. 12Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. 14When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, ‘You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs? [Some interpreters end Paul’s quote to Peter after v14; others, after v16, or even v21.]

Notably, Antioch was the place where followers of Jesus Christ were first called Christians. The church of Antioch was the first to send missionaries to the Gentiles, namely Paul and Barnabas – most likely because it was also the first place where, under Paul’s teaching, Jew and Gentile worshipped together. We don’t know when – this event may have happened before the agreement reached by the apostles in Jerusalem – or why Peter came to Antioch, but Paul tells us clearly the reason for their confrontation. Peter was guilty of hypocrisy – living one way when “certain men” weren’t looking on, and living a different way when they were watching. Peter’s behavior did not match his doctrinal profession; and what was worse, his behavior as a leader in the church, led others – even Barnabas – astray. It appeared from their behavior that circumcision was needed for a Gentile to become a genuine follower of Christ, though they had previously professed otherwise, and even lived like Gentiles themselves (v14) before “certain men” entered the scene.

Now Peter had dealt with this issue prior to this episode in Antioch. In Acts 10, he acknowledged that his meeting with Cornelius was against the Law (in letter) but commanded by God (in spirit). Peter said to them, “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean.” Peter was criticized for that right behavior by the Jewish believers (Acts 11:2-3), and that’s why Peter caved in (“he was afraid”) when those “certain men came from James” here. Nevertheless, he acted hypocritically, and Paul “opposed him to his face.” In Calvin’s words, “Peter was chastised and struck dumb.” We don’t know why Peter was afraid or what association these “certain men” had with James. James is named as one faithful to the gospel and in fellowship with Paul, so it appears that these “certain men” from “the circumcision group” were either in disagreement with James and Peter and Paul on this issue or acting hypocritically themselves, affirming the true gospel (orthodoxy) but, known to others, failing to live it out (orthopraxy).

It is worth mentioning here that evidence of sinful behavior does not require that we know the motive; outwardly wrong behavior is wrong no matter the motive. However, when outward behavior seems right and good, we need to know the motive in order to determine if that behavior truly is right and good.

Finally here, Paul confronts Peter publicly. Calvin declares, “This public offense must be publicly corrected.” Kim Riddlebarger says, “Paul’s very public rebuke of Peter becomes the basis for the public discipline in the church for public offenses, especially so in the case of elders (1 Timothy 5:20). Since this issue involved scandal which effected the preaching of the gospel, it could not be handled privately as in Matthew 18:15-20… The issue is content and the standard is fidelity to the gospel!” The mention of this episode wraps up Paul’s testimony that his message requires no authority from Jerusalem and opens the letter to deal with the Galatians’ legalism. Paul is right with his message, so much so that he confronts and is victorious with the most prominent apostle on the issue of hypocrisy; and Paul wants to make this the issue with the Galatians. The consequences of hypocrisy are dire, but not as dire as abandoning the true gospel, which the Galatians are, as Peter was, on the verge of doing. It is impossible to be dogmatic regarding where Paul’s statement to Peter ends and where his address to the Galatians specifically begins. But that doesn’t matter for us to understand the point.

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