2:11-14–Paul’s Confrontation with Peter in Antioch


 (2: 11-14)

“But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.”

         “But when Peter came to Antioch”
         Literally:  “But when Peter came to Antioch”                            

     “Cephas” in the oldest manuscripts.  Paul's withstanding Peter is the strongest proof that he gives of the independence of his apostleship in relation to the other apostles.   This totally upsets the Romish doctrine of Peter's supremacy.
       The apostles were of themselves not always inspired; rather, the inspiration was in their writing of the Scriptures. It then stands to reason that the inspired men who wrote the Scriptures were not at all times infallible and may at times come to matters of disagreement regarding other matters. The situation of Antioch, Acts 11:19 is one such case in point.

        The purpose for which Paul introduces this statement here is evident. It is to show that he regarded himself as on a level with the chief apostles, and that he did not acknowledge his inferiority to any of them. Peter was the eldest, and probably the most honored of the apostles, yet Paul says that he did not hesitate to resist him in a case where Peter was obviously wrong, and thus by doing so, showed that he was an apostle of the same standing as the others.

        “What he said to Peter on that occasion was exactly pertinent to the strain of the argument which he was pursuing with the Galatians, and he therefore introduces it Galatians 2:14-21 to show that he had held the same doctrine all along, and that he had defended it in the presence of Peter, and in a case where Peter did not reply to it. The time of this journey of Peter to Antioch cannot be ascertained; nor the occasion on which it occurred. I think it is evident that it was after this visit of Paul to Jerusalem, and the occasion may have been to inspect the state of the church at Antioch, and to compose any differences of opinion which may have existed there. But everything in regard to this is mere conjecture; and it is of little importance to know when it occurred.”Barnes' Notes on the New Testament     

        ANTIOCH:  The church in Antioch was a mixture of  both Jews and Gentiles, with the Gentiles being in the majority.  Antioch was then the citadel of the Gentile Church: where first the Gospel was preached to idolatrous Gentiles, and where the name “Christians” was first given (Acts 11:20, 26).

         The question at Antioch was not whether the Gentiles were admissible to the Christian covenant without becoming circumcised, for that question had already been settled at the Jerusalem council just before.  The problem was whether the Gentile Christians were to be permitted to socially gather with the Jewish Christians without their needing to conform to the Jewish institutions.
         Soon after the Jerusalem Council had passed the resolutions recognizing the equal rights of the Gentile Christians, the Judaizers went on to Antioch, the scene of the gathering in of the Gentiles (Acts 11:20-26).  There they witnessed something that to Jews would look extraordinary, i.e., the receiving of men to communion of the Church without circumcision. Regarding the proceeding with their usual  prejudice, they explained away (at least to their own satisfaction) the force of the Jerusalem decision; and they probably also wanted to see if the Jewish Christians among the Gentiles violated the Law, which that decision did not verbally sanction them in doing, though it did give the Gentiles much latitude (Acts 15:19)
         Understand this: the early church had what they called a “love feast,” which was held in connection with the Lord’s Supper.   Paul had a great deal to say about this subject in I Corinthians.  When Gentiles were saved, a problem was raised. In the congregation were Jews who had never eaten anything which had been sacrificed to idols, while at the same time, the Gentiles had once been idolaters, so they were accustomed to eating meat that had first been offered to idols.  They also ate pork, and the meat of other animals designated as “unclean” in the Law of Moses. |
        What was to be done to keep from offending the Jewish Christians?  The answer was to have two tables:  one with kosher food for the Jewish Christians and another table for the Gentile Christians.  Paul ate at the Gentile table.  Although he was a Jew, he ate with the Gentiles because he taught that whether you eat meat or don’t eat meat makes no difference, for meat will not commend you to God.

         “I withstood him to the face,”
        Literally:  “I opposed {him} to his face”

         I openly opposed him, and reproved him. Paul thus showed that he was equal with Peter in his apostolic authority and dignity. In Jerusalem Paul faced Peter as his equal in rank and sphere of work. In Antioch he looked him in the eye as his superior in character and courage.
         The instance before us is one of faithful public reproof; and every circumstance in it is worthy of special attention as it furnishes a most important illustration of the manner in which such reproof should be conducted.
1.     The first thing to be noted is, that it was done openly, and with candor.
2.     It  was reproof addressed to the offender himself.
        Paul did not go to others and whisper his suspicions.
        a.     He did not seek to undermine the influence and authority of another by slander;
        b.     He did not accuse Peter, and then attempt to justify himself on the ground that what he had said was no more than true:
        c.     He went to Peter at once, and,
        d.     He frankly stated his views, and reproved Peter in a case where he was openly and obviously wrong.

        This was a case so public and well known, that Paul made his remarks before the church, Galatians 2:14, because the church was interested in it, and because the conduct of Peter led the church into error.   Peter had been a believer for some time when he came to visit Paul in Antioch, but he was still following the Jewish dietary law.  When he came to the church, he found there a Gentile table and a kosher table.  Evidently he had decided to give it a try and sit at the Gentile table.  But when he saw some of the elders from Jerusalem arrive there, he changed places and went to the kosher  table and sat down with these  Jewish elders.
       To Peter’s credit the rebuke was received meekly and piously.  There is no record of Peter’s answer, but there is no record of contention between the two apostles.  Years later Peter speaks of Paul as, “our beloved brother” (II Peter 3:15).  The rebuke also proves that Paul was on an equal footing with Peter apostolically speaking. 

“because he was to be blamed.”
Literally:  “because he was to be blamed”

Rather, he was (self)-condemned;” his act at one time condemning his contrary acting at another time. wording used here may mean either because Peter had incurred blame, or because he deserved blame. The essential idea is, that he had done wrong, and that he was by his conduct doing injury to the cause of the Church.

“For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles:  but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision.”

         “For before that certain came from James”
        Literally:  “For before some came from James”

The problem seems to be that among these Jerusalem brethren (which would include James, the half-brother of the Lord Jesus, (after the flesh) were some emphatic legalists, especially in regard to the Jewish dietary laws. “Certain from James,” may mean merely that they came from the Church at Jerusalem under James' pastorate.  Still James' leanings were to legalism, and this gave him his influence with the Jewish party (Acts 21:18-26).

FROM JAMES:  Whether they were sent by James, or whether they came of their own accord, is unknown. It is evident only that they had been intimate with James at Jerusalem, and they doubtless pleaded his authority. James had nothing to do with the course which they pursued; but the sense of the whole passage is, that James was a leading man at Jerusalem, and that the rites of Moses were observed there.

         Perhaps James' view (in which he was not infallible, any more than Peter) was that the Jewish converts were still to observe Jewish ordinances, from which he had decided with the council the Gentiles should be free (Acts 15:19); however, it may be right in thinking these self-styled delegates from James were not really from him. Acts 15:24 favors this.
        When they came down to Antioch, they of course observed those rites, and insisted that others should do it also. It is very evident that at Jerusalem the peculiar rites of the Jews were observed for a long time by those who became Christian converts. They would not at once cease to observe them, and thus needlessly shock the prejudices of their countrymen.

         “he did eat with the Gentiles”
         Literally:  “he ate with the nations”

       Here was Peter's problem–
       He had been taught that in the remarkable vision which he saw, as recorded in Acts 10:1-48. He had learned that God designed to break down the wall of partition between the Jews and the Gentiles, and he familiarly associated with them, and even ate with them. This evidently means that he had disregarded the peculiar laws of the Jews about meats and drinks, and had eaten the common food which was in use among the Gentiles. Thus he showed his belief that all believers  were to be regarded as on the same level, and that the peculiar institutions of the Jews were not to be considered as binding, or to be imposed on others. Therefore, Peter had no scruples about eating with Gentile Christians, but many of the Jewish Christians, especially those of the Judaizers, did. Hence what he did before the messengers came from James and what he refused to do after they came, “separating himself” from the Gentile Christians at Antioch, is what angered Paul.  That is when Paul accused him of hypocrisy.
     It is beautiful to see how earthly misunderstandings of Christians are lost in Christ. For in II Peter 3:15 Peter praises the very Epistles of Paul which he knew contained his own condemnation. Though apart from one another and differing in characteristics, the two apostles were one in Christ.

“but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself.
Literally:  “but when they came, he drew back and separated himself”

         Peter withdrew from the Gentile eaters, and probably from the rest of the Gentile converts to Christianity. The reason why he did this is also stated. He feared those who were of the circumcision, or Jews. The reason for Peter’s withdrawal:  whether the Jewish visitors demanded this of him; or whether they encountered him in some debate; or whether he silently separated himself from the Gentiles without their having said anything to him, is unknown.  However, the fact that he feared the effect of their opposition; that he feared their reproaches; that he feared the report which would be made to those at Jerusalem.   Peter may have felt that some sort of uproar would be encited, and perhaps that even the Jews who lived there might start some sort of  persecution of the church there at Antioch.
        What Peter had done was to turn from the liberty he had in Christ back to Judaism again.  This was the self-same problem of the Galatian church. 

         “fearing them which were of the circumcision.”
         Literally:  “being afraid of those of the circumcision”

         This was the real reason for Peter's cowardice.   It was not that Peter had changed his views from the Jerusalem resolutions. It was pure fear of trouble to himself as in the denials at the trial of Christ.
         This is a sad illustration of Peter's characteristic trait of mind. We see in this act the same Peter who trembled when he began to sink in the waves; the same Peter who denied his Lord at the time of the crucifixion of Jesus.  Peter was a confused combination of many traits:  bold, ardent, zealous, and forward, while at the same time he could be timid and often irresolute; and he often had occasion for the deepest humility, and the most poignant regrets at the errors of his course. No one can read his history without loving his ardent and sincere attachment to his Master; and yet at the same time one can read it without a tear of regret that he was left thus to do injury to his cause. No man loved the Savior more sincerely than did Peter, yet his constitutional timidity and irresoluteness of character often led him to courses of life fitted deeply to wound his cause.

“And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation”

         “And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him”
         Literally:  “And also the rest of the Jews dissembled with him”

That is: those Jews who were converted to Christianity, and who had also been convinced that the obligation of the Jewish ritual had ceased, seeing Peter act this part, and also fearing them that were of the circumcision, they separated themselves from the converted Gentiles, and acted so as to convince the Jews that they still believed the law to be of moral obligation. It is probable that they were induced to do it by the example of Peter, as they would naturally regard him as a leader.

        DISSEMBLED: This is a rendering of a Greek word which literally means: “joined in hypocrisy.”

         The case was distinct from that in I Cor. 8:1-10:33 Rom. 14:1-23. It was not a question of liberty, and of bearing with others' infirmities, but one affecting the essence of the Gospel, whether the Gentiles are to be virtually “compelled to live as do the Jews,” in order to be justified (v. 14).  To change their course from this because of fear of these men from Jerusalem, was to dissemble; that is, join in their hypocrisy.  Even Barnabas, Paul's long-time companion in labor, was infected by this.
       They disguised their sentiments. They knew that the Jewish ceremonial was done away by the gospel, and had practically acknowledged it by eating with the Gentiles, but now they were afraid to publicly display their true convictions.  As a result they concealed their true sentiments; that is, they attempted to conceal from those who had come down from James the fact that they had been in the habit of associating with the Gentiles and of eating with them.

         “Barnabas also was also carried away with their dissemimulation”
        Literally:  “so as even Barnabas was led away with their dissembling”

         Even Barnabas, Paul's long-time companion in labor, was infected by their “double dealing.”  So powerful was this “switch-hitting” (to use today’s vernacular) that the gentle, loving-hearted Barnabas was carried away;  the one least likely to be led into such an error, being with Paul in first preaching to the idolatrous Gentiles.  This shows the power of bad example and numbers. In Antioch, the capital of Gentile Christianity and the central point of Christian missions, the controversy first arose, and in the same spot it now broke out afresh; and here Paul had first to encounter the party that afterwards persecuted him in every scene of his labors (Acts 15:30-35).
        Barnabas was the close friend of Paul.  He had been associated with Paul in his most important labors; therefore, the fact that this conduct of Peter was exacting so unhappy an influence as to even lead so worthy and good a man as he was into hypocrisy and error, made it the more proper that Paul should publicly notice and reprove the conduct of Peter. It could not have been anything but a painful duty for Paul, but the welfare of the church and the cause of church demanded it, and so Paul did not shrink from what was obviously his duty.

“But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the Gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, ‘If thou, being a Jew livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews.’”

         “when I saw that they walked not uprightly”
        Literally:  “And when I saw that they did not walk uprightly”

In the Scriptures, to walk is usually expressive of conduct or deportment; and the idea here is, that their conduct in this case was not honest. They did not walk with a straight step-they did not maintain a firm footing.

        WHEN I SAW:  Paul did see and saw it in time to speak out against it. 

It was time for decisive action. Antioch was the great center of the gentile church. It was important that no wrong influences go out from that center; therefore, Paul knew he must administer the stern rebuke to Peter which follows.

Literally, “straight. 

The rebuke was fully justified.  It served to prevent the Zealots from being hardened and confirmed in their error.  They were not walking with straightforward steps.  (Compare 6:16). They did not walk with a straight step; they did not maintain a firm footing. The Judaists would be allowed to receive no encouragement from Peter’s action and the Galatians would receive a lesson as to the relation of the gospel to the Law.  They would be made to see what it was, “to walk uprightly according to the truth of the gospel.”

         “according to the truth of the gospel”
         Literally:  “with the truth of the gospel”-

According to that true doctrine, which states that Christ is the end of the Law for justification to everyone that believes; and that such are under no obligation to observe circumcision and the other peculiar rites and ceremonies of the law.

TRUTH OF THE GOSPEL:   Which teaches that justification by legal works and observances is inconsistent with redemption by Christ.

         Paul alone here maintained the truth against Judaism, as afterwards against heathenism (II Tim. 4:16-17). According to the true spirit and design of the gospel, that requires perfect honesty and integrity; and as that was the rule by which Paul regulated his life, and by which he felt that all ought to regulate their conduct.   He felt himself called on openly to reprove the principal person who had been in fault. The spirit of this world is crafty, cunning, and crooked. The gospel would correct all that wily policy, and would lead man in a path of entire honesty and truth.
      The nature of Paul’s rebuke shows the inconsistency of Law keeping and legalism.  If it was right for Simon Peter to live as the gentile believers lived, why should he desire for Gentiles to live as the Jews?  That is really what he was saying when he left the gentile table for the kosher table.  If Simon Peter was free to live outside the Law, was it not lawful for the Gentiles to do the same?

         “I said unto Peter before them all”
         Literally:  “I said to Peter before all”

That is before all the church, or certainly before all who had offended with him in the case.


        “Had this been a private affair, Paul would doubtless have sought a private interview with Peter, and would have remonstrated with him in private on the subject. But it was public. It was a case where many were involved, and where the interests of the church were at stake. It was a case where it was very important to establish some fixed and just principles, and he therefore took occasion to remonstrate with him in public on the subject.
       “This might have been at the close of public worship; or it may have been that the subject came up for debate in some of their public meetings, whether the rites of the Jews were to be imposed on the Gentile converts. This was a question which agitated all the churches where the Jewish and Gentile converts were intermingled; and it would not be strange that it should be the subject of public debate at Antioch. The fact that Paul reproved Peter before “them all,” proves:
1.    That he regarded himself, and was so regarded by the church, as on an equality with Peter, and as having equal authority   with him. 
2.    That public reproof is right when an offence has been public, and when the church at large is interested, or is in danger of being led into error. Comp. I Tim.5:20, “Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.”
3.    That it is a duty to reprove those who err. It is a painful duty, and one much neglected; still it is a duty often enjoined in the Scriptures, and one that is of the deepest importance to the church. He does a favor to another man who, in a kind spirit, admonishes him of his error, and reclaims him from a course of sin. He does another the deepest injury, who suffers sin unrebuked to lie upon him, and who sees him injuring himself and others, and who is at no pains to admonish him for his faults. 
4.    If it is the duty of one Christian to admonish another who is an offender, and to do it in a kind spirit, it is the duty of him who has offended to receive the admonition in a kind spirit and with thankfulness. Excitable as Peter was by. nature, yet there is no evidence that he became angry here, or that he did not receive the admonition of his brother Paul with perfect good temper, and with an acknowledgment that Paul was right and that he was wrong. Indeed, the case was so plain–as it usually is, if men would be honest–that he seems to have felt that it was right, and to have received the rebuke as became a Christian.”–Barnes Notes

 “If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of the Gentiles.”
Literally:  “If you being a Jew, live {as} a non-Jew”

Without observing the Jewish ceremonies.  This was what Peter had been in the habit of doing. He had, right there in Antioch, lived with the Gentile Christians according to their customs (v. 12).

BEING A JEW:  That is, being a Jew by birth.

       This was really a cutting reproof.  Peter was a Jew, and had been circumstantially scrupulous in everything relative to the Law, and it needed a miracle to convince him that the Gentiles were admitted, on their believing in Christ, to become members of the same Church, and fellow heirs of the hope of eternal life (see Acts 9:9-16; 34-48); and in consequence of this, he went in with the Gentiles and ate with them; i.e. associated with them as he would with Jews. But now, fearing them of the circumcision, he withdrew from this fellowship.
       What Paul is saying to Peter is, “Although being a Jew (and therefore one who might seem to be more bound to the law than the Gentiles), lives (habitually, without scruple and from conviction, Acts 15:10,11) as a Gentile, freely eating of every food, and living in other respects also as if legal ordinances in no way justify, (v. 12), and not as a Jew, how (so the oldest manuscripts read, for “why”) is it that you are compelling (virtually, by your example) the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?" (literally, “to Judaize,” that is, to keep the ceremonial customs of the Jews: What had been formerly obedience to the law, is now mere Judaism). The high authority of Peter would constrain the Gentile Christians to regard Judaizing as necessary to all, since Jewish Christians could not consort with Gentile converts in communion without it.

Literally: “like the nations; heathen like.” 

In eating, etc., as he had done before Judaizing teachers came from Jerusalem, (v. 12). Paul says,“You did once consider that they were not under such an obligation, and now you act as if you did consider the law in full force; but you are convinced that the contrary is the case, yet act differently! This is hypocrisy!”

“and not as do the Jews”
Literally:  “and not {as the} Jews”

Without observing the Jewish ceremonies, customs and distinctions of meats and drinks. This was what Peter had been in the habit of doing.

         “why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews.”
         Literally:  “why do you compel {the} nations to Judaize”

As he would do, if he insisted that they should be circumcised, and observe the peculiar Jewish rites. The charge against him was gross inconsistency in doing this. “Is it not at least as lawful for them to neglect the Jewish observances, as it was for thee to do it but a few days ago?” The word here rendered

COMPELLEST:  Here  it means moral compulsion or persuasion.

The idea is, that the conduct of Peter was such as to lead the Gentiles to the belief that it was necessary for them to be circumcised in order to be saved. For a similar use of the word, (see Matt. 14:22; Luke 14:23; Acts 28:19).


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