Paul opposes Peter. 2:11-14
In our passage for study, Paul records his clash with Peter in Antioch following the arrival of a letter from the Jerusalem church. The letter sought to regulate "table fellowship" between Jews and Gentiles - that the Gentile believers "abstain from" food sacrificed to idols, marital union within prohibited kindred and affinity, strangled meat and blood. In response to these regulations, Peter withdrew from the Gentile members of the Antioch church. Paul was incensed and sought to maintain the authority of his gospel of grace against Peter, whose actions interfered with "the freedom we have in Christ Jesus".
v11. Following the Jerusalem Council, Peter visits Antioch and his actions, during his stay at Antioch, bring him into conflict with Paul. Paul confronts Peter over his inconsistent behavior and in the strongest of terms tells him, face-to-face, that "he stood condemned before God."
v12. Peter, following the Cornelius incident, Act.10:1-11:18, shared in table fellowship (fellowship meals, and in particular, the Lord's Supper) with the Gentiles. By this action he demonstrated that both Jew and Gentile are equally approved before God, by grace through faith, apart from works of the law (Deuteronomic law forbids such contacts with "unclean" Gentiles). When a letter from the Jerusalem church arrives, outlining the decisions of the Jerusalem Council concerning the requirements for table-fellowship, Peter begins to draw back, quietly disassociating himself from the "unclean" Gentiles. Although most translations say "before the arrival of certain men from James", there is an important variant reading in the Greek which is neuter. So, "the certain things", most likely refer to the matters of table fellowship contained in the letter from the Jerusalem council. The problem with the council's letter is that it is easily misunderstood. Although the regulations only sought to encourage sensitivity on the part of the Gentiles toward the Jews, they could be taken as if supporting ritual cleanliness. Peter went on to apply the regulations, obviously trying to keep in with the circumcision party, a party made up of Jewish believers centered on the Jerusalem church who insisted on the strict observance of Mosaic law.
v13. Peter's actions were inevitably an affront to the gospel of God's free grace and sadly, his behavior led others astray; even Barnabas was swept along with it. Paul describes Peter's behavior as "hypocrisy", it was sinful, and Peter had now led others into this sin.
v14. Paul exposes Peter's hypocrisy by showing how his actions do not "square with gospel truth." Peter, although a Jew, is no different to a Gentile sinner. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God; none are righteous, no not one. Peter, as with his Gentile brothers and sisters, stands before God only by the grace of God, appropriated through faith in Christ. His standing rests on Christ's death and resurrection, not on obedience to Biblical law. "How then", says Paul, "can you, a person who believes that none are righteous no not one, pressure Gentiles into Jewish law-obedience?" Why must Gentiles adopt the law when purity before God has nothing to do with obedience? Paul's words are very harsh, and this because Peter's position in the church would serve as a powerful influence on others, and this is exactly what has happened.
Living in line with the gospel
As believers we possess great freedom, "the freedom we have in Christ Jesus." In Christ we find ourselves totally approved before God, no matter how weak our faith, or how compromised our behavior. Yet, freedom in Christ does not mean freedom to sin. Freedom from the law does not mean freedom for lawlessness. We are freed to appreciate, enjoy, to worship our God. Some would want to add, serve our God, but a line from the television series Big Battalions sums it up well, "kings can be served; God can only be worshiped."
None-the-less, we do need guidelines, principles, for the freedom we possess in Christ. His freedom is not freedom for anarchy. Our passage identifies one such principle, and it is for Paul the apostle, one of the most important guiding principles for Christian living. Our behavior should be "in line with gospel truth", Gal.2:14. When Peter separated from his Gentile brothers and sisters over Deuteronomic regulations, he was "not acting in line with gospel truth" and so Paul did not hesitate to expose his "hypocrisy."
Our actions must not undermine the truth that right-standing in the sight of God is a gift of grace appropriated through faith in Jesus Christ, and is not of good works. We must be careful not to give the impression that Christian piety, church association, or moral rectitude, somehow gains God's approval. Let us always be children of grace, not of law.
1. Why did Peter "separate himself from the Gentiles"?
2. Why did Paul denounce Peter's "hypocrisy"?
3. Consider circumstances where today, our behavior might undermine "gospel truth."
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