Why Did Paul Publicly Rebuke Peter? (Galatians 2)

Why Did Paul Publicly Rebuke Peter? (Galatians 2)

Jews often associated with Gentiles, especially in Antioch (Josephus, Jewish War 2.45, 463). Cephas, however, seems to have started to “live like a Gentile” (Gal. 2:14), probably in the sense that he had ceased to observe Jewish dietary restrictions. In response to a heavenly vision (Acts 10:9–16; 11:4–10), he had tossed out an important Jewish identity marker, which many Jews went to great trouble to keep (Jdt. 12:2) and for which they sometimes endured deprivation (Josephus, The Life 14) and even death (1 Macc. 1:63). The people from James were offended, perhaps thinking that nothing in the apostolic letter had implied that Christian Jews should start to live like Gentiles (Acts 15:23–29).

Read the Passage

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 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. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 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?”

An Apostolic Confrontation

In Galatians 2:11 Paul drops his usual sequencing term “then” (Gal. 1:18, 21; Gal. 2:1) and switches to “but when,” a change that may indicate the event he is about to relate happened in roughly the same timeframe as the Jerusalem conference of Galatians 2:1–10. It probably occurred during the period Luke describes after the Jerusalem conference when Paul and Barnabas continued “teaching and preaching” in Antioch (Acts 15:35). “Opposed” (Gk. anthistēmi) is a strong term that often appears in contexts of struggle against evil (Matt. 5:39; James 4:7; 1 Pet. 5:9). The perfect-tense participle “condemned” (kategnōsmenos) envisions a metaphorical trial in which the judge has found the accused guilty beyond doubt (cf. Deut. 25:1 LXX).

Then Paul explains why (“for”) he could make such dramatic statements. Cephas had been accustomed to eating with Gentiles in Antioch. The verb “was eating” is in the imperfect tense (Gk. sunēsthien), implying that Peter was not doing anything unusual in eating with Gentiles before the emissaries from James arrived. After they arrived, however, he began to retreat (hypestellen) and separate (aphōrizen) himself from them. Again the verbs are in the imperfect tense, but now implying gradual action. Paul seems to have thought that Peter slowly gave in to the pressure that fear of James’s emissaries placed on him, perhaps with a measure of self-doubt (cf. Rom. 15:22–23).

There is no need to think that James intended the people he sent to Antioch to put this sort of pressure on Peter. James may have simply sent them to report on how the church at Antioch was doing a few months after the letter of “the apostles and the elders” explaining the contents of the apostolic decree (Acts 15:22–33).

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