Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, A Reading from Homer (detail), 1885
The Early Epistles—
Peter gradually withdrew,
effects of hypocrisy,
a stunning rebuke—
ut when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face for his conduct condemned him.
Pressured by False Brethren
12For until certain persons came from James, he ate with Gentiles; but after they came, he withdrew and separated himself for fear of those of the circumcision. 13The rest of the Jews acted hypocritically and joined him so much so that even Barnabas was lead away by their hypocrisy.
A Public Rebuke
14But when I saw that they were not straight forward with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all — Since you are a Jew, but live as a Gentile (rather than as a Jew), how can you compel Gentiles to live as Jews?
(2:11) condemned] Perfect participle with emphasis on the resulting state of condition. Peter stood condemned and his past conduct continued to censure him. “The condemnation is not the verdict of the bystanders, but the verdict of the act itself’ (Lightfoot).
(2:12) withdrew] Inceptive imperfect with emphasis on the beginning of an act. Peter gradually drew back and separated himself form the Gentiles. The word is used of soldiers retreating to safety. This is what Peter was doing. Compare; “he began to withdraw” (NASB).
those of the circumcision] Not Jews in general, bu rather those Jewish Christians advocating circumcision. Compare: “the circumcision party” (RSV).
(2:13) acted hypocritically] Literally, “to join with someone in a hypocritical pretense.” Peter and the others had not really changed their convictions; they simply were acting as if they had. They were yielding to pressure.
so that even Barnabas] The grammar here is unmistakable: hoste (so that) followed by the indicative stresses the actual consequence of an act. The hypocrisy of Peter and the others had decisively influenced Barnabas. Peter shared in Barnabas’ guilt; he had led Barnabas astray.
was led away] To be swept away by the force of something. “Their dissimulation was as a flood which swept everything away with it” (Lightfoot).
(2:14) the truth of the gospel] The same phrase as in 2:5: “that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.”
as a Gentile] Adverb of manner: literally, living “Gentile-like rather than Jewishly.”
to live as Jews] Infinitive of purpose: literally, “to Judaize.” Compare: “to adopt Jewish customs” (Lightfoot).
(2:15) lawless Gentiles] Literally, “sinners of Gentiles.” Those without law — pagans, immoral and depraved.
Peter gradually withdrew
Hypocrisy and its effects
Peter came to Antioch and associated with Gentiles, even eating with them, but that was before those who favored circumcision came from Jerusalem. Then, Peter began to pull away from the Gentiles; the other Jews followed course until even Barnabas himself was influenced.
When Paul learned what had happened, he publicly rebuked Peter (something which could never have happened if Peter’s apostleship had been superior to that of Paul’s). It is to Peter’s credit that he seems to have accepted the responsibility for what he had allowed. (There is never any mention of pettiness or bitterness on Peter’s part.)
Compromise, hesitation, patience never stave off error; the only way to answer public wrong is to do as Paul did — meet it head on and openly. Right should never be compromised.
Questions for Further Study
- Why was Paul so stern with Peter? What had Peter done?
- Was Peter’s mistake doctrinal or behavioral?
- How did Peter’s conduct influence Barnabas and others?
- Imagine you are a Gentile at Antioch. Peter once treated you warmly and even ate with you. Now, though, he is aloof and even seems to be avoiding you. How do you feel/
- What if other Christians where we worship are of a different race, culture, or social standing — how should we treat them?
- Some people might say hat Paul should have gone to Peter privately. (However, we need to remember that Peter’s conduct here is condemned, but Paul’s is approved.) Paul publicly withstood Peter — can you explain why the matter was handled as it was?
- As an apostle, Peter, of course, was not over Paul. Peter was not superior to Paul in apostolic rank. The Judaizers, however, would have had to argue that Peter held a higher position than Paul. What might they have argued and how might they have offered as evidence?
- In some areas of life, Paul and Peter were very different, and perhaps, even unequal. Could you explain?