Q: #302. Why did Paul rebuke Peter in (Gal 2:11-21)?
A: The city of Antioch (where people were first called Christians: Acts 11:26) was where this occurred. It was a city that had a large population of Gentile Christians. Peter ate meals with these Christians on a regular basis. A Jew sharing meals with a Gentile was something that had previously been unacceptable according to Jewish tradition (Acts 10:28). However, God nullified this tradition when He told Peter in a vision that Gentiles should not be considered unclean (Acts 10:1-11:18). This acceptance of Gentile Christians was later reaffirmed during the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:1-29).
However, when some Jews arrived in Antioch from Jerusalem, Peter gradually began to withdraw from eating with the Gentile Christians, and instead ate with the Jewish Christians. (Gal 2:12) says he did this because he feared these Jews. He likely “feared” them because he wanted to be liked and popular, plus he probably did not want word to get back to Jerusalem that he was eating with the Gentiles. (This reminds me of a friend I used to have in high school who would hang out with me until the “popular” group arrived, then he would act like he didn’t know me.)
In making this decision, Peter was guilty of several sins, and Paul called him out on them in front of everyone. As the text says, his primary sin (as well as the other Jews who followed his lead) was that he “walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel” (Gal 2:14). In other words, he was teaching a false gospel. He believed in salvation by grace, but by withdrawing from the Gentile Christians, he was showing with his actions that he believed Jewish traditions were superior. In (Gal 2:14), Paul says Peter was trying to “compel the Gentiles to live like Jews.” In doing this, Peter was creating a divide between Jewish and Gentile Christians, thus breaking the unity of the church. He was “nullifying the grace of God” (Gal 2:21).
Because of this action, Paul called Peter a hypocrite. He believed one thing, but did something else. As a leader in the church, he was to set a good example for others, but instead, his hypocritical actions led others astray (other Jews followed his lead including “even Barnabas”)(Gal 2:13) and certainly upset the Gentile Christians. He also acted in complete opposition to the vision God had given him earlier that the Gentiles were to be considered equal to the Jews.
Paul rightly confronted and condemned Peter’s sinful actions.