This Sunday I am preaching from Galatians 2.11-14, the oft discussed collision between Paul and Peter in Antioch. It is a fascinating scene that understandably flows out of the previous sections even as it captures the magnitude of the theme of Galatians as a book (what it means to have an identity rooted in Jesus and his righteousness, adding nothing else that restricts our freedom).
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. 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?”
Here are a few thoughts that will likely not be a major part of my sermon, or mentioned at all.
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For your consideration:
The flow up to this text could be summarized like this…
In 1.11-24 – A GOSPEL NOT FROM MAN. Paul is adamant that his gospel did not come from man, but from God by revelation of Christ.
In 2.1-10 - A GOSPEL CONFIRMED BY MAN. Paul expands his declaration to include an acknowledgment that, while his gospel did not come from any man, he went up to Jerusalem after more than a decade of fruitful ministry (again by revelation) and received confirmation by man that indeed his gospel was from God! He was affirmed in that the apostles added nothing to his gospel, and he was privileged to preserve it in their midst (2.4-5).
Now, in 2.11-14 - A GOSPEL WORTHY OF CONFRONTATION WITH MAN. Paul recounts a story in which Paul confronted his fellow Christian man (Peter of all people!) in defense of the truth of the gospel and the necessity that one walk in it, adding nothing to it.
Two questions that are worthy of thought…
First, was Peter acting with good intentions in his breaking table fellowship with the Gentiles upon the arrival of the “certain men from James” (which I take to be a delegation of Jerusalem Christian leaders)?
Some cannot fathom that Peter could so boldly deny his revelation in Acts 10, that he is not to call unclean that which God has made clean. Thus, they propose that Peter was trying to do the right thing by way of the Jewish Christians of Jerusalem, who may have been dealing with factions of zealots who were opposed to the unrestricted table fellowship happening in places like Antioch, where the gospel of Jesus had taken root among Gentile and Jewish “Christians.” See Acts 11 for clarification on how Gentile/Jew followers of Jesus were first called Christians.
Richard Longenecker, in his brilliantly technical commentary, makes the case that: It was simply a misguided tactical maneuver made under pressure, he became confused under pressure, could not bring himself to express his true convictions, and so found himself retreating from what he knew to be right.
Maybe. To me, that sounds a bit minimizing. Paul does not mince words in Galatians 2.11 when he says that he opposed Peter to his face, because he stood condemned (assumedly before God, in Paul’s view). Even more, Paul describes Peter’s withdrawal from table fellowship as “separating” himself, a theological description of what happened (v.12). And again, twice in v.13 Paul labels the behavior of Peter, Barnabas and others as hypocrisy. This all was not in step with the truth of the gospel (v.14). There is hardly a minimization, dismissal, qualification by Paul for Peter’s actions! Rather he uses the strongest semantics possible (condemnation, separation, hypocrisy, non-gospel) to make his case for the gravity of Peter’s actions.
Thus, I will be preaching and applying this from the vantage point that – IN THE MOMENT – something else ruled Peter’s heart/actions other than the magnificent gospel of Jesus that had also been revealed to him. In the moment, Peter caved to an alternative passion. This is not unlike our testimony of passionate Peter in other stages of his journey (consider Matthew 16 and his standing toe-to-toe to obstruct Jesus on the way to the cross; also Matthew 26 in his denial of Jesus at the cross). I am all too like Peter. In spite of what I believe to be true, confess to be true, long to be true … at unguarded moments I live my life guided by sabotaging “ruling passions” that are not in step with the truth of the gospel. I need the body of Christ in relationship to show me my blindness. My guess is that my congregation is no different. We need to weigh this text vis-a-vis our ruling passions as well. God give us relationships under the umbrella of the truth of the gospel to uncover our deception and blindness for Jesus sake!
Second, why did Paul wait so long to call Peter out in front of other Antiochan Gentile/Jew Christians? How long did Paul let this un-gospel separation continue before he spoke up?
On one level, we simply do not know how long Paul observed Peter’s “separation” before he publicly spoke up. We do know, however, that sufficient time elapsed such that Barnabas and “the rest of the Jews” could fall in line with the hypocrisy. Perhaps Paul waited to watch matters unfold to discern whether he should go to Peter privately (Matthew 18.15-18) or to pursue things publicly due to the communal defection at play. We do not know. I simply point out to you that on first read, it appears this whole incident occurs in one lunchroom encounter. Having examined the text and extant reading, I am now convinced that this situation went on for some while such that it had time to permeate Barnabas and others before Paul was compelled to speak up on behalf of the gospel.
May God work through his Word studied and preached and heard in his local church, such that we will walk in step with the gospel and not bow IN THE MOMENT to our own ruling passions that sabotage what we know to be true in Jesus!