Commentary on Galatians, 2:11-14

Galatians 2:11-14

“11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I confronted him, because he stood condemned.”
12 For before certain men came from James, he ate with the Gentiles; but when they came, he drew back and separated himself, fearing them who were of the circumcision.
13 And the rest of the Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that even Barnabas was carried away with their dissimulation.
14 But when I saw that they did not walk uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, ‘If you, being a Jew, live as the Gentiles do, and not as the Jews, how can you compel the Gentiles to live as the Jews do?'”

“when Cephas came to Antioch”  (vs 11)

Antioch was where followers of Christ were first called Christians (Acts 11:26).

I think it’s likely that this visit occurred after the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15, and not before….for a couple reasons: One, this statement follows directly after Paul’s discussion about that occasion. Two, it’s reasonable that Peter would want to see for himself how things were going in Antioch after the Jerusalem leaders had settled the issue that the Judaizers had created there. In addition, perhaps Peter thought that a personal visit would have provided further support to Paul’s message and ministry. However, as we’re about to see, the most thought out plans don’t always go as expected.

“I confronted him, because he stood condemned”  (vs. 11)

There’s no doubt that Peter’s intentions of going to Antioch had been honorable. Peter’s heart was always in the right place, but he often managed to slip up somehow. When he got to the church of Antioch, he was enjoying the fellowship of the Gentile Christians, and even eating meals with them, the type of meals that devout Jews would not have participated in. They were much concerned about Jewish dietary laws, and would never even consider sitting at the same table with Gentiles. Therefore, many Jewish Christians still had a problem with this sort of thing.

However, when certain men came from the church of Jerusalem, Peter drew away from the Gentile Christians. Paul said that these men were “of the circumcision,” so it was probably the Judaizers that he was referring to, that same group that was causing all the problems in Antioch and Galatia. Also, in regard to the statement that they came “from James,” I don’t think that means James had sent them, but simply refers to the Jerusalem church, of which he was a primary leader.

Having received a vision from God about how He has broken down the barrier between Jews and Gentiles (Acts 10) through His Son, Jesus, Peter clearly understood that we are all one through our common faith. Furthermore, if this incident came after the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15), that meeting was still fresh in his mind. Thus he had no problem eating and fellowshipping with the his Gentile brothers and sisters in Christ. 

Unfortunately, when these Jews from the Jerusalem church arrived, Peter removed himself from the table of the Gentile Christians. He did so because he apparently feared what these Jews might think or say about him. This seems so very strange to me. Here was the Apostle Peter, perhaps the most respected of all the apostles, feared what others might think about him! Rather than remaining firm to the truth that was revealed to him by God, he instead became a “people-pleaser!” In Galatians 1:10, Paul indicated how important it is to seek the favor of God rather than men. He may have had this situation with Peter in mind as he was writing those words.

When we seek the favor of men, when we give in to the pressure of what others might think of us, we end up doing things that is contrary to the will of God. We hinder the work of God and the advancement of truth when we do that. That’s what Peter was doing in this situation. He “stood condemned” for creating this situation. He was suppose to be there to provide support for the ministry of Paul and Barnabas, and for the truth they proclaimed. But instead, his pulling back from the Gentile Christians most certainly put doubt in everyone’s mind about what they were teaching them. 

It should be noted that just because Peter behaved in this manner, it doesn’t mean that this is what he actually taught. Bible teachers are susceptible to the same weaknesses and failings as everyone else. They often do things that are not in harmony with what they teach. They too have their “moments of weaknesses,” and that is what we’re seeing in Peter at this point.

It should also be mentioned that Barnabas too was caught up in the same hypocrisy (“dissimulation”). Ordinarily, Barnabas was rock solid in his commitment to Christ and to the truth. But here we see that even he had his “moments of weaknesses.” Peter and Barnabas serve as a reminder that we’re not to focus too much on Christian leaders, for if we do, we may end up very disappointed and disillusioned. Our focus must always be on Jesus, who is always faithful, and will never let us down.

Furthermore, Paul says that “the rest of the Jews dissembled likewise.” So picture what’s going on here. We have all the Jews (Christian Jews and Judaizers) in one group, and all the Gentile believers in another group, separated from one another. This obviously would have had a very visual effect. Imagine how this made the Gentile Christians feel. 

This was a critical situation. Peter pulling away from the Gentile Christians, as a highly respected Apostle, was sending the wrong message to the Gentile believers, and to the Jewish believers, as well. This situation had to be dealt with immediately before the work of the Lord experienced a serious set-back. That’s when Paul called Peter on the carpet for what he was doing. It had to be done for the sake of the truth.

In mentioning this rebuke, Paul was confirming his apostolic authority in the eyes of the Galatian Christians. He was letting them know that he was on equal ground with the Apostle Peter. However, it must be made clear that Paul was in no way trying to “show him up.” He wasn’t trying to establish himself as the “top man.” That’s not who Paul was, and that is not what this is about. He acted strictly for the sake of the truth, and for the spiritual welfare of the Gentile believers. 

I doubt if Paul confronted him at that very moment when they all sat down to eat. In all likelihood, where the teaching of the Word of God is central, Paul waited till they were all gathered for that purpose. We can imagine that by this time everyone was talking and asking questions about what had happened. So I’m thinking everyone was probably wondering if Paul would address this situation. He did:

14 But when I saw that they did not walk uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, ‘If you, being a Jew, live as the Gentiles do, and not as the Jews, how can you compel the Gentiles to live as the Jews do?'”

“according to the truth of the gospel”

That’s what was at stake here. A proper understanding of the truth had to be settled.

Though Peter had his faults, I believe he was a humble man at heart. As Paul was rebuking him in front of everyone, he knew he “stood condemned.” Thus I believe he sat there and took it. While Paul doesn’t say so, if we put ourselves in this situation, one can easily see Peter standing up and acknowledging that what Paul was saying was the truth. He may stumble from time to time, but he always does his best to get things right.

So Paul begins by saying, “If you, being a Jew, live as the Gentiles do, and not as the Jews, how can you compel the Gentiles to live as the Jews do?” Peter knew the truth. He knew that we’re no longer under that bondage of the law. He knew that we’re now under the grace that is in Christ, who fulfilled the law. He thus normally lived in the grace that we have in Christ. Yet, by his actions, he was encouraging the Gentile Christians to live as the Jews do. He was sending the same message that the Judaizers were trying to convince everyone of, that they needed to combine faith with the law. By his actions, Peter was saying that there was a difference between how Jewish Christians live and how Gentile Christians live.

Therefore, Paul rebukes Peter in front of everyone. Some may think that Paul should have taken him aside and talked to him privately. Not so. This incident happened in front of everyone, and so it had to be dealt with publicly. No one is above the truth, and no one is above rebuke, not even an apostle. Furthermore, as I already mentioned, it also gave Peter a chance to confirm the truth of what Paul was saying, and I have no doubt that he did.