Bible read me 2The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Galatians 2:11-14

Paul Opposes Peter

11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party.[a] 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

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Last week’s post discussed the affirmation from those leading the church in Jerusalem — Peter (Cephas), James (our Lord’s brother) and John — of Paul’s apostleship.

As was the case with Paul’s other church plants, as soon as he left, false teachers — often Judaizers — infiltrated the congregations spreading a false gospel.

The same happened in the churches of the region of Galatia: Lystra, Iconium, Derbe and Antioch.

Therefore, Paul must condemn them in no uncertain terms. This he does by discussing the Jerusalem Council and, in today’s verses, the damaging effect the Judaizers had upon Peter in Antioch.

Paul is determined to reinforce the doctrine of justification by faith through grace rather than a false works-based salvation through circumcision.

John MacArthur says (emphases mine):

This is a polemical book. It is a fight. It is a defense of the true gospel against those who were purveyors of the false gospel.

Paul states bluntly that when Cephas came to Antioch, the church in Syria, he (Paul) opposed him to his face because he stood condemned (verse 11).

That’s a very strong statement and to those, like me, who admire Peter’s bold character even though he is flawed, it seems that Paul was being unnecessarily harsh.

Yet, as we find out — and Pauline apologists already know this — Peter had to be confronted in the most direct terms.

MacArthur explains why Paul calls Peter by the name of Cephas:

Peter is the Greek word; Cephas is the Aramaic

As to Paul’s stance towards Peter, Matthew Henry says that it was also for the benefit of the congregation in Antioch:

Notwithstanding Peter’s character, yet, when he observes him thus behaving himself to the great prejudice both of the truth of the gospel and the peace of the church, he is not afraid to reprove him for it. Paul adhered resolutely to his principles, when others faltered in theirs; he was as good a Jew as any of them (for he was a Hebrew of the Hebrews), but he would magnify his office as the apostle of the Gentiles, and therefore would not see them discouraged and trampled upon.

What was Peter’s role in Antioch?

Henry says that Peter was unlikely to have been the head of the church there, because, if he were, Paul would have treated him differently, which is not to say that he would have excused the Apostle’s sin:

Antioch was one of the chief churches of the Gentile Christians, as Jerusalem was of those Christians who turned from Judaism to the faith of Christ. There is no colour of reason for the supposition that Peter was bishop of Antioch. If he had, surely Paul would not have withstood him in his own church, as we here find he did; but, on the contrary, it is here spoken of as an occasional visit which he made thither. In their other meeting, there had been good harmony and agreement. Peter and the other apostles had both acknowledged Paul’s commission and approved his doctrine, and they parted very good friends. But in this Paul finds himself obliged to oppose Peter, for he was to be blamed, a plain evidence that he was not inferior to him

MacArthur says that Peter had been in Antioch for some time and was well known by the congregation. I would add that his strong personality contributed to the fact that he was viewed favourably there:

Peter had come to Antioch, Antioch of Syria where the first church was and where Paul and Barnabas were pastors, along with a group of other men mentioned in the twelfth chapter of Acts. Peter had come there, and he’d stayed a long time. Peter obviously must have been the center of attention. “Tell us about Jesus.” Can you imagine that? “Tell us about Him. Tell us, What was it like when you walked on water? Tell us all the things that we’ve heard.” Remember the gospels haven’t been written yet, and an eyewitness with Christ would have meant everything to these Gentile believers up in Antioch in a flourishing gospel church. Peter would have been some kind of icon, some kind of hero to them

Peter had done something that Paul saw as an attack on the gospel: the gospel of grace alone, faith alone, apart from works. And so he condemned him. This is an apostolic clash of massive proportions.

Paul says that before the Judaizers — ‘certain men came from James’ — Peter was happy eating with the Gentiles; however, after the Judaizers arrived, Peter drew back from the Gentiles because he feared the men from the ‘circumcision party’ (verse 12).

MacArthur explains that the men who ‘came from James’ were unlikely to have had his consent or commission to go to Antioch; it was a false claim:

I don’t think James sent these men. I think they said they were from James, and they had some connection to the Jerusalem church. At this time, that’s the mother church, that’s the church. So somehow they were associated with it. And prior to the arrival of these men who came from the Jerusalem church and said they had a connection with James, Peter used to eat with the Gentiles.

Peter’s withdrawal from associating with the Gentiles set a bad example for any Jewish converts, because all believers are one in Christ.

Henry says:

… when there came some Jewish Christians from Jerusalem, he grew more shy of the Gentiles, only to humour those of the circumcision and for fear of giving them offence, which doubtless was to the great grief and discouragement of the Gentile churches. Then he withdrew, and separated himself. His fault herein had a bad influence upon others, for the other Jews also dissembled with him; though before they might be better disposed, yet now, from his example, they took on them to scruple eating with the Gentiles, and pretended they could not in conscience do it, because they were not circumcised.

MacArthur says that, historically, Jews considered Gentiles to be unclean. He also tells us why it was so egregious for Peter to fall backwards into his old pattern of Jewish traditions:

Just as a normal rule of life, Jews didn’t eat with Gentiles. Forget Christianity, forget the gospel, forget the church; Jews didn’t do that. A Gentile was unclean; a Gentile home was unclean; a Gentile utensil was unclean. They couldn’t go near Gentiles. They couldn’t eat off the dish a Gentile offered them. And these were rabbinic standards that were iron-fisted laws. It was believed that all Gentile food was contaminated by being unclean, to say nothing of that which was not kosher, not according to the standards of the Mosaic dietary laws. So what you had was the Jews holding to their own dietary laws and a kind of developing racism toward Gentiles. We saw the racism even in the day of Jonah, where he didn’t want to see Gentiles repent. Jews resented, hated Gentiles; and they kept separate.

Peter was raised in that environment. He comes to Antioch; he’s in a Gentile church. And what does he do? He does what a Jew would never do. He used to eat with the Gentiles. What is that saying? That he knows that the lesson he learned in Acts 10, “Rise, Peter, kill and eat.” There’s nothing unclean anymore, nothing unclean anymore – the dietary laws are over. In Christ, the middle wall is broken down. Jew and Gentile are one, and Christ is neither Jew nor Greek. That’s all over with. That’s all over. He knows that.

He also knows that they are brothers and sisters in Christ. And when he eats with them, it’s not just a meal; it’s the love feast; it’s the Lord’s Table. He’s just living life with the Gentiles. He’s with them all the time. They’re being served the same food. He’s finding out what it is to eat all the stuff that Jews could never eat. He’s been liberated.

He is turning his back on the [???] halakhoth, the list of elder traditions that prescribed certain kinds of food. And the fact that you couldn’t eat certain kinds of meat. You couldn’t eat meat that was butchered by a Gentile, or that was, a part of it was offered to idols, or violated the laws of Moses, or had been in the hands of Gentiles, or served on Gentile plates, and all of that. And all of a sudden that’s not even an issue. Peter’s having a great time. He’s discovering all kinds of foods that he’d never eaten before, eating with Gentiles, his brothers and sisters in Christ, until certain men show up. And he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof. He pulled back.

They would have criticized him mercilessly for eating with those Gentiles. And they would have said this: “Not only are you not to eat with Gentiles, they’re not believers, because they haven’t been circumcised, and they don’t adhere to Mosaic rules. So you’re eating not only with Gentiles who are unclean, but you’re eating with nonbelievers.” And they obviously intimidated Peter.

“He began to withdraw and hold himself aloof” – and there’s no questioning the motive – “he was fearing the party of the circumcision.” That’s the Judaizers. “The party of the circumcision” they became known as. He was afraid of them. Good men, great men – for the sake of pride and self-protection, self-preservation, popularity – compromise. They compromise.

Paul says that the rest of the Jews in the church in Antioch copied Peter’s example, ‘hypocritically’; even worse, Barnabas, who had been present at the time the Jerusalem Council took place, went along with them (verse 13).

Henry warns us against spiritual weakness, when we are tempted to please men instead of God:

And (would you think it?) Barnabas himself, one of the apostles of the Gentiles, and one who had been instrumental in planting and watering the churches of the Gentiles, was carried away with their dissimulation. Here note, (1.) The weakness and inconstancy of the best of men, when left to themselves, and how apt they are to falter in their duty to God, out of an undue regard to the pleasing of men. And, (2.) The great force of bad examples, especially the examples of great men and good men, such as are in reputation for wisdom and honour.

MacArthur uses Peter as a common example of the path to sanctification:

Peter just can’t get out of his own shadow, can he? I mean it’s just a history of this guy doing this. He’s an illustration of how sanctification works. It’s not a straight line upward. It’s a few steps forward and a few steps back, and a few steps forward and a few steps back. And it’s where we all live, isn’t it?

How true!

Paul, by interrogating Peter on this sin, encapsulates the confusion and division that could damage the church in Antioch. In front of the congregation, Paul asks Peter how a Jew who can live like a Gentile can force a Gentile to live like a Jew (verse 14).

MacArthur says:

Peter became a hypocrite. He acted like he agreed with the Judaizers – devastating. And so did the rest of the Jews that were there, and so did Barnabas. And now what you have is a fracture in the whole church.

And what is this more than that? This is not about disunity; this is an assault on the gospel of faith, because now Peter is acting as if the Judaizers are right. “For that,” Paul says, “I opposed him to his face, because he was to be condemned.”

MacArthur has more on the composition of the congregation:

That’s a Gentile city and a Gentile church, of course. Some Jewish believers were there, but it was predominantly a Gentile church.

What Peter did was dangerous:

Without saying anything, he took sides with those who taught salvation by faith and works, without saying anything. He fractured the church. Overnight the church was in chaos because of his defection back to Judaism, as if the Judaizers were right, these enemies of the gospel whose message was cursed.

MacArthur explains why Paul had to condemn Peter publicly. Peter had turned his back on the Gentiles in public, therefore, a rebuke in front of the congregation was necessary:

Verse 14, let me read this to you. “When I was that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas” – and this is what he said to him when he opposed him to the face as it’s mentioned in verse 11; this is what he said – “I said to Cephas in the presence of all,” – in front of the entire church – ‘If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles – that’s what you’ve been doing, you’ve been living like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?’” Paul is profoundly exercised.

Verse 14 says, “I saw that they were not straightforward, ortho podeó, from which we get orthopedic. Ortho meaning straight, podeó is the verb from which the word “foot” comes. They weren’t walking straight. They were not walking straight about the truth of the gospel

Peter had believed that he could eat and fellowship with Gentiles; he had done it. He knew that since Acts 10 and his experience with Cornelius. He had no longer lived according to Jewish prescription. He had left that behind in the tenth chapter of Acts. Now he goes back to that in a hypocritical way and leads others to the same hypocrisy. He didn’t deal honestly with the truth of the gospel, he altered people’s perception of truth by his behavior. What an indictment.

Paul is furious about this, and so he opposes him to his face, but he does it – middle of verse 14 – in the presence of all. Consistent with what Paul wrote to Timothy in 1 Timothy 5: “An elder who sins, rebuke before all, that others may fear.” He confronts Peter in a public way.

Augustine said, “It is not advantageous to correct in secret an error which occurred publicly.” He’s right. You have to show public condemnation of a public sin; so he does that. It’s a lot better than pulling Peter aside and trying to fix him in private. He needed to be confronted in public, because that’s where his disaffection had occurred and led people into confusion.

They knew the gospel. This is a church. They’re saved by faith alone, they knew that. The Gentiles knew that; the Jewish believers knew that. That’s why Paul is so shocked. Back in chapter 1 he says, “I’m amazed that you’re so quickly deserting Him who called you for a different gospel. Why are you leaning that way?”

Peter is not overtly saying, “I don’t believe the true gospel.” He’s just acting like what the Judaizers are teaching is true. This is a very dangerous compromise. Anytime those who preach the true gospel affirm or embrace anyone who teaches a false gospel, confusion reigns. “Come out from among them and be separate. Light has no fellowship with darkness; Christ with Belial.”

“Peter, you can’t do this. Everyone in Antioch knows you’re in the habit of living like a Gentile since the tenth chapter of Acts; and you’ve done it here. And they all know that you preach the gospel of grace, and you affirm the gospel of grace and faith alone. And now you’re playing right into the hands of the Judaizers, and you’re acting as if they’re right by lining up with them.” This threatens the integrity of the gospel. This is always about the gospel. This is a serious breach. So, with that, we come to verse 15.

The rest of the chapter is in the Lectionary, but it is worth reading because it is about justification — or righteousness — by faith through grace:

Justified by Faith

15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified[b] by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness[c] were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

Paul has much more to say on this doctrine, and he rebukes the Galatians for falling away from it.

Next time — Galatians 3:1-6