Some biblical scholars have felt
that there was a lasting conflict between
Paul and Peter
The 19th century German scholar, F. C. Baur of the University of Tubingen,
hypothesized a new “dialectic” method for interpreting
the New Testament. It became known as the Tubingen School of Theology.
Baur reasoned that there was a deep seated conflict between
Peter, the apostle to the Jews, and Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles.
He determined the authenticity of the New Testament books in accordance
with the criteria of this theory.
Any book which exhibited tension between Paul and Peter,
between law and grace, he considered to be authentic.
Furthermore, he interpreted each in light of the alleged
tension between Paul and Peter and their divergent doctrinal views.
Galatians 2:11-21 was cited by those in this school as the
origin of the conflict between Paul and Peter which intensified as time passed.
(I must tell you that few hold Baur’s view on this point today.)
However, the two apostles’ differences were few, and those were short-lived.
I understand that this incident took place before
Jerusalem Council, described in Acts 15.
Since Peter defended Paul at the Jerusalem Council,
it is clear that Peter quickly responded to Paul’s rebuke.
As a matter of fact,
Peter and James, who are both prominent in Galatians 2,
are prominent in Acts 15 as well.
The incident which Paul recounts is not
portrayed as a long-standing debate between himself and Peter;
instead, it is reported as
proof of Paul’s independence as an apostle.
In chapter 1
Paul defends his claim of apostleship;
it was not
of any human origin or commission,
by divine appointment (1:1).
Those who challenged that apostleship had circulated among
the Galatian churches
preaching a distorted gospel, and these false teachers were worthy of being accursed (1:6-9).
These Judaizers, who forced circumcision and law-keeping upon
(cf. Acts 15:1, 5; Gal. 2:3-4),
condemned Paul’s gospel as man-made and man-pleasing (1:10).
Paul counters this charge in the remainder of chapter 1 and in chapter 2.
He declared that his conversion was virtually
independent of men,
Christ revealed Himself to him and in him
Rather than looking to
apostles in Jerusalem
his message or for approval for his ministry,
Paul had little contact with them,
visiting Jerusalem and the church leaders only twice in 17 years
On these occasions he did not stay long, and he met with only
three of the apostles—Peter, James, and John (cf. 1:18-19; 2:2, 9).
Paul did not ask for their approval, but
seek to work in harmony with them.
In contrast to the Judaizers who insisted Titus be circumcised,
the apostles did not demand it;
on the contrary,
they fully accepted Paul and Barnabas as partners in the gospel,
giving them the
“right hand of fellowship” (2:1-10).
The incident recorded in 2:11-21 is Paul’s final documentation
in support of his independence as an apostle.
Not only did he not seek the approval of the apostles (1:18-2:10),
Paul actually dared to publicly rebuke them when they
were inconsistent with the gospel (2:11-21).
This is Paul’s last historical proof of his independence as an apostle.
In chapters 3 and 4, Paul uses theological proof to show that the Judaizers were seeking to use the Old Testament law in a way that it was never intended to be used. Finally, in chapters 5 and 6,
Paul shows how the gospel can produce lives which are godly,
something the law could not accomplish.
The Incident and Paul’s Indictment
(2:11-14)11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. 13 And the rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
Peter’s visit to the church at Antioch probably occurred before the Jerusalem Council. He had apparently been there for some time, long enough for it to be observed that his custom (at least while he was with these Gentile Christians) was to live like them, rather than to live as a Jew. Such customs were not new to Peter, for that was the way he had been instructed to associate with Cornelius and the other Gentiles who had gathered at his house (cf. Acts 10).
In time, a party of Jews from Jerusalem arrived. Paul referred to these men as having come “from James,” rather than “from Jerusalem.” Perhaps we should not make too much of Paul’s choice of words here. He may have only meant to refer to the fact that James was recognized as the dominant leader in Jerusalem and that to come from Jerusalem was, in effect, to come from James. On the other hand, James must at least have been informed of this visit and might even have been the initiator of it.
A sequence of events was set in motion by the arrival of the party “from James” which culminated in Paul’s confrontation of Peter. Peter gradually began to withdraw from the Gentiles and to avoid them. This behavior was most evident at meal time. The subtlety of the change in Peter’s conduct is similar to the change in one’s behavior in response to learning that a loved one is terminally ill. Joseph Bayly describes some of the changes which occur in the behavior of the loved ones of those who are dying:
Nurses have mentioned a pattern of behavior to me: first a wife will kiss her husband on the mouth, then on the cheek, then the forehead, and finally she will blow him a kiss from the door. The change is not lost on him.
A similar change occurred at the dinner table at Antioch. Apparently the party “from James” ate at first by themselves, while the rest, both Jews and Gentiles, ate together. Then these Jewish guests were joined by Peter and eventually by all the other Jewish Christians (except Paul). Finally, there were two groups at meal time, the Jewish party and the Gentile party. If the church at Antioch observed communion with a common meal as we would expect (cf. 1 Cor. 11:17-34), the problem then was intensified for their worship had become divided.
When Paul recognized the seriousness of the situation he confronted Peter personally and publicly (vv. 11, 14). Peter was corrected before all because the Jews had been wrong to follow him, and the Gentiles had been injured by their actions. Peter was singled out because even in his wrong-doing he was a leader. To correct Peter’s conduct was to correct the problem.
The actions of Peter and those who followed him were clearly identified as sin. Peter was rebuked because he “stood condemned” (v. 11). Paul’s boldness in rebuking Peter and the other Jewish Christians at Antioch was due to the seriousness of this sin. There were several reasons why their relationship to the Gentiles in Antioch (or should I say their response to the Jews from Jerusalem) could not be taken lightly.
(1) The actions of Peter and the others were wrongly motivated. Peter, we are told, acted out of a fear for the “party of the circumcision” (v. 12). It is safe to say that the others were also motivated out of a desire not to offend, either the Judaizers or Peter. Peter, as well as those who followed him in his capitulation to the circumcisers, was guilty of acting as “men-pleasers.”
(2) The actions of Peter and the others caused some to stumble. Verse 13 informs us that Peter’s actions set an example which was followed by the “rest of the Jews,” and that their hypocrisy caused “even Barnabas” to follow. What Peter did, others did after him, following his lead.
Let me attempt to illustrate the inconsistency of Peter in a way that may be more relevant to us. It is my understanding that Ross Perot’s computer company in Dallas (EDS) has a dress code for its employees. The men who work there are required to have short hair and to dress in a dark suit and tie. Let’s suppose that Mr. Perot suddenly has a change of mind and that he liberalizes the rules so that employees are now permitted either to dress as formerly in shirt, suit, and tie, or, they may now come to work in jeans and T-shirts. It quickly becomes evident that there are two different categories of employee, both of which have the approval of Ross Perot. One is the “old guard” which likes things as they were. They continue to wear dark suits and ties, which is, of course, completely in compliance with the new policy. The other group consists of those wearing T-shirts, jeans, and sneakers.
Soon, problems begin to develop between the two groups. The old guard (like the Pharisees) continues to dress as formerly in suits and ties and begins to pressure the other employees to do likewise. One employee, whom we will call Peter, has belonged to the “old guard,” but when he meets a group of the “avant-guard” who hold a weekly Bible study and prayer time during their lunch break, he becomes a member of their Bible study. To make them feel more at ease, he keeps a change of clothes in his locker so each week he can change into jeans and sneakers before attending the study.
Some of Peter’s friends, members of the “old guard,” ask to attend the study with Peter, but they refuse to dress like the rest, and, offended by Peter’s dress, tell him so. In fact, they refuse to even sit near him when he is wearing a T-shirt and sneakers. In order to remain on good terms with his old friends, Peter not only reverts to the former dress code but slowly withdraws from the other Christians who still dress casually. As a result, the newer group is forced to follow the old dress code or suffer the loss of Peter’s fellowship. Peter is wrong and is worthy of rebuke because he has acted hypocritically. He not only has given up the freedom he once enjoyed in his manner of dress, but he also functionally has forced others to surrender as well.
Verses 15-17 move from Peter’s problem (actually just a symptom) to the very root of the problem, the pride which the Judaizers had in their Jewishness that caused them to feel smugly superior to the Gentile Christians. Verse 15 is virtually the slogan of the Judaizers, mirroring the arrogance which was at the root of the refusal of the men “from James” to eat with the Gentiles:
“We are Jews by nature, and not sinners from among the Gentiles.”
There is likewise a strong sense of superiority behind the words of verse 15. Paul cited these words to reveal
the attitude underlying the Jewish withdrawal from fellowship with the Gentile Christians.
The Judaizers felt they could not eat with the Gentiles because they
were sinners and would continue to be until they were converted to Judaism.
At the root of the Judaizers sense of superiority was a deep-seated racial prejudice. Jews felt that by nature, by birth, they were somehow endowed with a spiritual superiority. This mentality is evident in the Gospels as well (cf. John 4:9; 8:33). The carnal Jew concluded that by virtue of being Jewish he was pious, while the Gentile, by virtue of his birth, was sinful. The only way that such pride could be maintained within Christianity was for the Jewish Christians to insist that the Gentile converts adopt Judaism in addition to trusting in Christ.
Verse 16 corrects this fallacious reasoning, as indicated by the initial word “nevertheless.” Paul reminds Jewish Christians that they were not able to earn justification through law-keeping; rather, like the Gentile Christians, the Jewish believers, too, were justified by faith in Christ.
Spiritual superiority could not be claimed by the Jewish Christians if they were saved in exactly the same manner as the Gentiles. Thus the smug superiority of some of the Jewish Christians, which caused them to look down their spiritual noses at the Gentiles as sinners,
was founded on a misconception.
In verse 17a Paul drives the point of verse 16 home, which leads to a further question (v. 17b) and answer (v. 18). Those who seek to be saved (justified) by faith in Christ, whether Jew or Gentile, acknowledge their sinful state. Salvation by faith in Christ is only necessary for those who cannot be saved by self-effort, by the “works of the law.” The gospel is based on the fact that all men are equal before God, contrary to the smug statement of verse 15. Acceptance of the gospel is admission of sin and human inability for both Jews and Gentiles.
By nature, both Jews and Gentiles are sinners, so that neither group has any grounds for feeling superior to the other. This argument is also found in the epistle to the Ephesians:
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest (Eph. 2:1-3).
In this passage Paul refers to the Gentile believers as “you” and to the Jewish believers as “we.” His point is that both Jews and Gentiles are dead in their sins, servants of Satan, until they have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ.
The fact that the gospel views Jews, as well as Gentiles, as sinners, caused the Judaizers much grief. If this were true, they reasoned, then their standing before God was really better under the old covenant than under the new. It seemed to them that the gospel promoted sin, for in the previous dispensation, under the law, the Jews were righteous, and the Gentiles were sinners. However under the new covenant (the gospel), both Jews and Gentiles are each sinners. Doesn’t this mean that if the gospel increases the number of sinners, that Christ must be a minister of sin, promoting sin rather than causing it to cease?
Such a conclusion is in error. As Paul will demonstrate in Galatians 3 and 4, the law never did save, nor sanctify. The law set a standard which no man (except the Lord Jesus) has ever been able to attain to. Paul’s immediate answer is found in verse 18: “For if I rebuild what I have once destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor.”
In order to understand Paul’s answer to the ridiculous charge that Jesus Christ was responsible for increasing sin, we must first understand the mentality of the Judaizer. To the Judaizers, a gospel which repealed the law was responsible for promoting sin, since they believed that the law was able to overcome sin’s power. For the gospel to repeal the law for Gentile converts was to promote sin. When the Judaizer required law-keeping of Gentile converts, he felt he was reducing sin.
Paul’s answer in verse 18 showed that just the opposite was true. To return to a righteousness based upon law-keeping (in Paul’s words, “to rebuild what one had once destroyed”), was to reveal one’s own sinfulness. Instead of Paul’s gospel making Christ a minister of sin, accepting the “different gospel” of the Judaizers proved the one who turned back to be a transgressor. The repeal of the law freed one to live righteously, while a return to the law made sin inevitable.
In verses 19 and 20 Paul establishes the argument of verses 17 and 18 by reviewing what takes place when a sinner turns to faith in Christ. Paul speaks of this in the first person (“I”), but it is evident that he speaks generally of what takes place when any sinner trusts in Christ by faith.
In Christ one dies to the law. The condemnation which the law has pronounced on the sinner is fully borne by the sinner, in Christ.
The result is that the sinner dies to the law, so that it can no longer condemn him. The process is carried out “through the law,” reminding us that the gospel is the fulfillment of the law. The law can take the sinner only to the point of condemnation and to the sentence of death. The redemption which the law promised, and of which the sacrificial system was a prototype, could only be accomplished by Christ, the Lamb of God. The result is that the sinner, powerless to live righteously under the law, is now free to live to God (v. 19).
Verse 20 is perhaps the best known passage in the entire book of Galatians, and yet few have come to appreciate it in light of the context of Paul’s rebuke of Peter, whose behavior was inconsistent with the gospel which it summarizes. The thrust of this verse is not so much the need for sanctification, but rather the futility of seeking to live righteously under the law to which the saint has died.
The reason why the gospel has repealed the law is that the law has done its job. It has shown man his sin and has promised him salvation through the shed blood of a coming Savior. The law was never intended to save, nor to sanctify. Verse 20 outlines, in brief, what the gospel has done to save and to sanctify. When a man is saved by faith in Christ, he has died in Christ to the law; Christ now lives within him, enabling him to live righteously. He is now able to live a new life by faith, not by works. This is vastly superior to the old way of life.
The conclusion of Paul’s argument is found in verse 21. There are only two choices in the final analysis, either of which is exclusive of the other: one can live by faith in Christ and experience God’s grace, or he can strive for righteousness under the law and forsake grace. The reason the Judaizers were wrong in insisting that faith should be buttressed by law is that when you choose one, you must forsake the other. Some things (like “love and marriage”) may go together (“You can’t,” as the song says, “have one, without the other”), but not so with law and grace. If the law is sufficient to save and to sanctify, the death of Christ becomes needless.
ConclusionSurely Paul has proven his point. Neither he nor his gospel was deserving of the label “man-pleasing.” After all, whom would Paul rather please than the leaders of the Jerusalem church? How could the rebuke of Peter (and, by inference, any who agreed with him) possibly be construed to be the result of a compulsion to please men? It was exactly the opposite. The Judaizers sought to please their colleagues, the Pharisees. They were unwilling to “take the heat” for accepting the Gentile Christians on an equal basis with Jewish believers. Conversely, Paul was willing to stand absolutely alone for the truth of the gospel without even Barnabas at his side.
Paul’s authority as an apostle is fundamental to the argument of the book of Galatians, but there are other lessons for us as well. Let us conclude our study by considering the implications of the gospel suggested by this passage.
First, we should learn from this text that much of evangelical error is inferential. Peter had no idea that he was denying the gospel, but he was. He did so, not by his affirmations, but by his actions. By his actions, Peter sided with the Judaizers, who insisted that Gentiles were sinners unless they converted to Judaism in addition to turning to Christ by faith. Christians need to become much more conscious of the implications of their actions, for we can deny in practice what we believe in propositional form. Let us seek to understand the gospel more fully and to live it more consistently.
Second, we should learn that we should expect to be tested on those very points which we believe most emphatically and which we may teach dogmatically. Who, more than Peter, had come to know that eating with the Gentiles was consistent with the will of God? In Acts 10 God instructed Peter to abandon the ceremonial food laws in order to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. Peter defended his actions before his Jewish brethren in Acts 11. In Antioch Peter lived according to the lesson he had learned in Acts 10. Later when some Jewish brethren arrived “from James,” he capitulated.
Under testing Peter abandoned what he believed. The same may be true of James. In the first half of the second chapter of his epistle, James addresses the evil of showing partiality within the church. Did not he himself support this? It is at least possible, since Paul records that the men who came to Antioch were from James. If nothing else, James learned a valuable lesson from Paul which he later conveyed to others in his epistle.
Although these men may have acted inconsistently with the truth, let me be quick to commend them for the change which is evident following Paul’s rebuke of Peter. I believe that the Jerusalem Council followed shortly after this rebuke; yet it was there that Peter and James were the two strongest supporters of the gospel as preached by Paul. They spoke out clearly in defense of Paul’s gospel, and they denied the teaching of the Judaizers (Acts 15:24). The practical prohibitions placed on the Gentiles were intended, I believe, to prevent any further recurrences of division and strife. These men, James and Peter, were great men, for they were willing to respond in a godly way to rebuke.
Third, this passage provides us with a footnote for the matter of private rebuke. We are all aware of the teaching of our Lord in Matthew 18, which instructs us to confront an erring brother privately. Our text in the second chapter of Galatians should inform us that some correction must be done publicly. Public correction is necessary where public error has corrupted others.
The underlying principle of private rebuke, I believe, is that sin should always be dealt with on the smallest possible scale. If we can deal with sin privately, so much the better. According to Matthew 18, it is only when private rebuke fails that public rebuke should follow. Matthew 18 concerns an offense committed by one brother against another. In Galatians 2, Paul publicly rebuked Peter on a different basis. Peter had publicly sinned, not actually against Paul, but against the gospel and against the Gentile Christians. Because Peter’s actions were public and he was a leader, many followed him in his sin. Thus, Paul rebuked him publicly, in order to correct a corporate problem.
A few years ago, after Bill Gothard’s ministry had become public and popular, Joe Bayly publicly challenged Bill to answer some specific questions, which would clarify his teaching. Initially Bill refused, claiming Matthew 18 in his defense and appealing to Joe to speak privately with him. Joe’s response was that Bill had in no way sinned against him personally, but that Bill’s teaching ministry had been public, and some of his students had taken his teaching to ridiculous extremes. Because his teaching and its impact were far reaching, private rebuke would not correct the wrong which had resulted. Fortunately, Bill eventually agreed to clarify his teaching, which Joe published. Joe was right, I believe, and he took a stand when Bill was second only to Moses in the minds of many. Those who err in public may require correction in public.
Let me give you a practical application of this. Every Sunday our church observes the Lord’s Table and provides the men with an opportunity to speak publicly. I am well aware of the sensitivity of some men about public correction. Believe me, there is not one elder who is eager to correct anyone publicly after he has spoken in the church meeting. However, when a man exercises his responsibility to speak, he must also assume responsibility for what he says. If the error is minor, correction may not be needed; however, when the error is serious and far-reaching in its implications, it must be corrected. Those who assume leadership, must be dealt with like leaders—publicly. I say this with great hesitation, realizing fully that this applies to me more than most of you. We are all accountable for what we say and do, but leaders are more so. No one knew this better than James (cf. James. 3:1).
Fourth, we are reminded of the fallibility of the giants of the faith. I sometimes hear preachers speak of Peter’s fallibility as though it somehow terminated in Acts 2, when Peter along with others, was filled with the Holy Spirit. There were great changes in his life, of course, but the gift of the Spirit did not make Peter infallible. Let us be reminded that no matter how spiritual a man may be, he is always capable of sin.
Fifth, we should learn that serious problems can have very beneficial ends. I believe that this incident served to shape the decision of the Jerusalem Council as much or more than any other. It did not, as Baur said, create a rift between Peter and Paul which would only intensify in time. The Jerusalem Council suggests the opposite. The conflict here, as that incident between my father and I many years ago, lasted only a short time, but it led to an ever deepening love and respect for each other. God is always able to take unpleasant incidents and turn them into life-changing lessons.
Finally, we should learn from this passage that our authority comes from biblical principles, more than it does from our position. Stop and think about Paul’s confrontation of Peter. Why do you think Paul was able to stand toe to toe, eyeball to eyeball, with Peter? Was it because Paul was an apostle? I think not. This incident certainly established Paul’s independence as an apostle, but it was not the basis for his apostleship. Nor was his apostleship the basis for Paul’s confrontation of Peter. The authority for what Paul did was the gospel. He tells the Galatians that he rebuked Peter when he saw that he and the other Jewish believers were not acting in a straightforward way with the truth of the gospel (Gal. 2:14). Paul’s actions were therefore based upon principle, not upon position.
Over and over I hear people coming to the elders of our church, asking what the elders are going to do about a certain problem in someone’s life. We try to point out that the Bible never lays the responsibility for correction on the elders, per se, but on the individual who is aware of the sin. It is this brother or sister who is to go to the sinning saint and rebuke him and only then take it to the church if they refuse to repent. Underlying the passing of the buck of correction to the leaders of the church is the assumption that correction is not “their place.” The issue involved in correction is not your position, but God’s principles. In this instance in Galatians, the principles of the gospel warranted rebuke, even when those in error were those who held the position of authority. Let each of us seek to be men and women of principle and seek to protect the truth of the gospel, regardless of our position, and regardless of the position of those whom we must rebuke. Let me remind you, however, that rebuke is to be based upon principle, not on personal convictions, or on personal preferences, or perspectives.
It is my opinion that the Christians of this generation lack courage, the kind of courage manifested by Paul. One reason for this is that we are not people of principle, and we understand inadequately the principles of the Word of God. Let us strive to be men and women like Paul, people of principle and of courage, willing to stand on and to stand by the Word of God, regardless of who we must oppose.
May God enable you to submit to the truth of the gospel by personally trusting in Christ for salvation. Then may He enable each of us, as Christians, to seek to practice and to preserve the truth of the gospel, even when this requires rebuke.
44 The tense of the Greek verb, translated “used to eat” by the NASB, is imperfect, which implies that some time had passed and that this was the habit of Peter—to eat with the Gentiles, like a Gentile.
45 It is difficult to determine what part, if any, James may have had in the arrival of this party. On the one hand, it is possible that James knew nothing whatever of the mission of these men, but this seems unlikely in light of the fact that Paul chose the expression “from James,” rather than “from Jerusalem.” These men may have claimed to have come “from James” in order to enhance their influence and to further their Judaistic views. On the other hand, it could be that James actually sent these men to Antioch. Acts 21:17-26 is informative concerning this matter. On Paul’s returned to Jerusalem here, he was met by James and all the elders (v. 18). They expressed the concern of some of the believing Jews, who were zealous for the law (v. 20), that Paul was teaching the Jews who lived amongst the Gentiles that they should cease to live as Jews (v. 21). This was very close to the conduct of Peter while in Antioch, and word of this may have reached Jerusalem so that a delegation was sent by James to investigate the matter. This delegation was likely more zealous for the law than James, similar to the group described in Acts 21:20-21. The party “from James” may have taken it upon themselves to straighten out Peter and Paul. We are not told the reason for the arrival of this party, and thus it was not vital to the point which Paul was making.
46 Both verbs are in the imperfect tense, which suggests a gradual change in Peter’s conduct, rather than a glaring, instantaneous, change. Also, Paul informs us in verse 14 that he publicly rebuked Peter when he “saw” what had happened, suggesting that the change in Peter’s actions, as well as the other Jewish believers, was gradual and only finally recognized (“seen”) by Paul.
47 Joseph Bayly, The Last Thing We Talk About (Elgin, Illinois: David C. Cook Publishing Co., 1973), p. 36.
48 Some have suggested that Paul may have been gone at the time Peter arrived and the problem originated. Thus, he would have dealt decisively with Peter and the others when he returned. I think it is more likely that the problem gradually developed and that Paul finally saw the matter for what it was. Thus, the apostle tells us he “saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel” (v. 14). The implications of this incident took some time to come into focus, at which time Paul acted decisively.
49 It is with particular dismay that Paul is forced to inform us that “even Barnabas” was guilty of falling in line with the Judaizers. From verse 13 we know that Barnabas was influenced by the hypocrisy of the whole group, while the other Jews merely followed Peter (compare “their hypocrisy” in verse 13b with “the Jews joined him in hypocrisy” in 13a). Barnabas may thus have been the last to fall into this error. The shocking thing about his capitulation is that he had been so enthusiastic about God’s work among the Gentile converts (cf. Acts 11:22-23). Remember, however, that it was the apostles from Jerusalem who had first sent Barnabas to Antioch (Acts 11:21). Barnabas may have felt some obligation to the party which had come “from James,” and after everyone fell into line with the circumcision party, he may finally have felt compelled to join them as well. We learn from this incident that Paul, alone, stood against the other Jews on behalf of the gospel. While he and Barnabas had stood together in refusing to have Titus circumcised (Gal. 2:3-5), Paul stood alone against Peter. This adds weight to Paul’s claim to have been independent of the other apostles and to his defense that he was not a man-pleaser.
50 I believe that the change in pronouns in these verses is a significant clue to the development of Paul’s argument. In verse 14, the argument is directed toward Peter, and thus the pronoun is “you.” In verses 15-17 the principle pronoun is “we,” indicating that Paul is now speaking to the Jews. In verses 18-21 the pronoun changes to “I,” where the principles of the gospel become much more personal. Paul thus argues from the general (“you” and “we”) to the specific (“I”).
51 The “we” of verse 16 refers to the Jewish Christians.
52 There is a great deal of difference between “privilege” and “superiority.” In Romans 3:1, 2 and 9:4-5 Paul lists some of the privileges which were bestowed upon the Jews, but this did not suggest superiority, for “to whom much is given, much is required” (Luke 12:48).
53 There are numerous attempts to explain the question of verse 17, but this seems best to me. Whenever Paul uses the expression,”May it never be!” (cf. Rom. 6:2, 15; Gal. 3:21), it is response to a question which has been asked, which is a wrong conclusion, based upon a correct premise. The gospel did prove the Jews to be sinners, like the Gentiles, but this did not mean that Christ could be accused of promoting sin.
(3) The actions of Peter and the others were hypocritical. In verse 13 Paul wrote that the rest of the Jews, including Barnabas,49 “joined him [Peter] in hypocrisy.” The hypocrisy of their actions was based on the fact that what they still believed, they had ceased to practice. They had not deliberately departed from right doctrine: they had simply deviated from it in practice.
(4) The actions of Peter and the rest were a practical denial of the gospel. Paul acted decisively when it became apparent to him that “they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel” (v. 14). What Peter did compelled the Gentiles to live like Jews (v. 14), which was, in Paul’s words, “another gospel” (cf. 1:6-7). The major argument of this section is concerned with this deviation.
The Issue Defined and Defended
(2:14-21)14 But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews? 15 We are Jews by nature, and not sinners from among the Gentiles; 16 nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified. 17 But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be! 18 For if I rebuild what I have once destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through the Law I died to the Law, that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”
As previously stated there were several reasons why Peter’s actions (and those who followed him) were wrong. The principle reason, however, is that the truth of the gospel had been forsaken. The gospel in practice had violated the gospel in principle. Verses 14-21 contain three arguments50 which show that such actions deserved rebuke.
The first argument (verse 14) is directed against Peter. Paul stands toe to toe, eyeball to eyeball with Peter, charging him with acting hypocritically. Though Peter was a Jew, he lived as a Gentile, at least during his stay in Antioch. The lesson Peter had learned by means of a divine vision had enabled him to associate with the Gentile Cornelius and the other Gentiles who were gathered in Cornelius’ home (Acts 10). When Peter arrived in Antioch, he lived there according to the customs of the Gentile, and not as a Jew. After the arrival of those who came “from James,” all of this changed. Peter began to live as a Jew, compelling the Gentile believers to live like him (as a Jew) in order to have fellowship with him and the other Jewish believers. What inconsistency! What hypocrisy! If Peter, a Jew, did not need to live like a Jew, why did he demand by his actions that Gentile Christians live like the Jews?