Galatians 2 Devotional
by Pastor Mark Hudson
For chapter two of Galatians, I would like to focus on verses 11-15, where Paul publicly rebukes Peter for Peter’s decision to no longer eat with the Gentiles when the Jewish brethren from Jerusalem visited Antioch.
11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. Antioch is north of Jerusalem, so the church was mainly Gentile, the sending church in the missionary’s journeys of Paul, and seemingly the perfect cradle for this new faith. Paul begins, not with the events but his rebuke. The word is ἀντέστην which looks like set against is defined as “set oneself against, oppose, resist, withstand”. One Greek dictionary uses the following definition: set oneself against, oppose, resist, withstand. This is a rather strong word. Paul follows that word with “because he stood condemned”
Paul did not question the validity of his censure. This is another strong word meaning “to judge something to be bad – to condemn.” So, we have Paul reprimanding Peter publicly and “to his face”. And why did Paul do this: because of where he chose to eat and with whom? Yes and no.
Peter ate with the Gentiles which meant not following kosher. Peter realized (well, maybe not completely) that now Christians can eat any foods (Acts 10). Peter understood that one did not need to believe in Christ AND follow the Jewish law to be a Christian. This is why Paul objected so strenuously to Peter’s actions.
“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.” Peter, as mentioned, would eat with Gentiles . . . until a group from Jerusalem paid a visit. Then Peter would no longer eat with his Gentile brothers. Peter was leading others astray by his behavior. Barnabas’s deception was especially painful. Remember, at this time, the church was trying to figure out what remains true from Judaism and what can be laid aside. This was no easy process to figure out.
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?” Paul saw the significance of Peter’ decision. At this time, the disciples were trying to clarify what one had to believe and had to do to be a Christian. What Peter was teaching, according to Paul, is that you had to believe in Christ and be Jewish. This “was not in step with the truth of the gospel”. Peter’s behavior was confusing to the Gentiles. They may ask, “Do I need to be circumcised? And do I also need to follow Jewish dietary laws? I thought just believing in Christ was sufficient.”
To Paul and Peter’s credit they do not put up walls between them. Paul probably spoke in a loving, concerned way appealing to Peter’s leadership, experience, and wisdom. Peter was big enough to be corrected. It seems that Peter may have understood Paul’s point and conceded that what he did was wrong. Had the Judaizers from Jerusalem carried the day, Christianity would have been in peril.
Consider the following. At times, we may have to go against our friends or leaders. Friendship should not silence us when we need to speak up. If done in the spirit of love and for truth, public confrontation can be a good, a very good thing to do. If you are the one confronted, are you able to listen and receive correction?
Finally, please don’t think conflict or confrontation is bad. It can be bad or less productive when done in anger, or done out of frustration, or done to hurt someone. But when we have conflict for the right reason, the good can be powerful as well as pleasing to God. Truth has always and will always engender conflict.