World English Bible translation
2:11But when Peter came to Antioch, I resisted him to the face, because he stood condemned. 2:12 For before some people came from James, he ate with the Gentiles. But when they came, he drew back and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. 2:13 And the rest of the Jews joined him in his hypocrisy; so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy. 2:14 But when I saw that they didn't walk uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, "If you, being a Jew, live as the Gentiles do, and not as the Jews do, why do you compel the Gentiles to live as the Jews do?
What we have here is a unique glimpse into the life of the early church. No other portion of scripture records the unique incident that Paul describes in this passage and in no other place are we given such a view of the inner workings of the leadership of the church. In the last lesson, Paul described a visit in which he went to Jerusalem almost as a supplicant. In this lesson, he tells of another incident in which he stood up to the most respected person in the church and rebuked him before the congregation. The tension between these two stories tells us much about the dynamics of the first-century church.
Antioch was the fastest growing congregation in the world. It was in Antioch that the people of the church were first called "Christians." It was in Antioch that the blending of Gentile and Jewish elements was first experienced. Antioch was the congregation that sent out Paul and Barnabas on their missionary journey. Whether the incident that is described in this passage was before or after that first missionary journey we are not told. It is most likely that this incident happened even before Paul and Barnabas were sent out, but that is only speculation.
What we do know is that there existed in the Jewish contingent of the early church two minds. There were those Jews who accepted the Gentiles as full partners in the work of Christ and afforded them fellowship in the life of the congregation. There was another element within the church that still followed the traditions of Judaism that held that Gentiles and Jews should live separate, distinct lives. This latter group believed that Jews and Gentiles should not eat together and that for a Jew to have close contact with a Gentile, even a Christian Gentile, would make the Jew ritually unclean. This group still maintained the cleansing rituals and dietary laws that enforced the separation of these two groups of human beings.
Paul was firmly in the first camp. Peter, on the other hand, had apparently not made up his mind on the matter or lacked firm conviction. When he was in Antioch with Gentiles present he ate with them and afforded them complete fellowship. But, when people came to the Antioch church that were of the other opinion, a group that came from Jerusalem and believed that Jews should be separate, Peter began to withdraw himself from these Gentile brothers and would no longer fellowship with them fully. Peter's actions resulted in all the other Jews in that community beginning to withdraw themselves from the Gentiles. All of them, apparently, except one.
Paul considered their actions to be hypocritical. Peter had extended his fellowship to the Gentile believers. Now, when these separatist came from Jerusalem, he began to withdraw it for no other reason than that he feared what they may say or think. Paul was willing to stand before them all and call Peter to account for the hypocrisy that he saw.
We know nothing else of this incident other than this one report. We are not told Peter's reaction to what Paul writes here nor what followed afterward. What we do know is that the history of the church, and quite obviously the authority and the power of God, were on Paul's side of the dispute. The church began to live more and more as Gentiles do. The death of Jesus Christ on the cross had obliterated the need for men to live separated from one another. On the cross, Jesus made the two, Gentile and Jew, one. Everything of the old Law that created a gulf between the two was completed. In their place was created one mankind, in need of a Savior and one Savior who had died for all mankind.
Who is the Peter of your life that needs to be confronted for his hypocrisy? Can you, with God's help, be the Paul?
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