When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs? “We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ (Galatians 2:11-15 NIV)
Before we begin I have a question: If Peter and Paul were pillars in the early church, and if they had a fight in Antioch over the Gentile issue, was is a “pillar fight?”
Sorry…just had to toss then in.
We don’t know for sure when this incident took place. If it happened after the Jerusalem council, it shows Peter and Paul still had some unresolved issues regarding the Jew/Gentile debate, regardless of the agreement they had to focus on their respective missions. If it happened before the council, then we might conclude the agreement Peter and Paul reached, along with their associates, was a resolution to the conflict described above.
It might be good to clarify the conflict. It seems Peter, who had learned to let go of Jewish ceremonial law in his personal life, fell in with some of James’ representatives when they came to Antioch to examine the involvement of Gentiles in the church. He succumbed to peer pressure and reverted to a legalistic stance on circumcision, inciting some Jews and even Barnabas to join in. We can only imagine how hard it was to resist this narrow-minded perspective, especially since no one in Antioch wanted to be perceived as heretics by the pillars of the faith in Jerusalem.
Can you picture what this was like for Paul? Some pillar representatives from James were in town putting a strangle-hold on the Gentiles he had introduced to the Gospel, and Peter was pretending to follow their party line. Then Barnabas, his right-hand man, fell in with them.
“What!!!!???? You too Barnabas?”
Human dynamics are a funny thing, and we are so quickly led away from our convictions by the need for acceptance. It is important that we take time to remind ourselves why we believe as we do. If we do, we will be less likely to throw others under the bus when we feel threatened.
I personally believe this incident with Peter occurred before the council meeting in Jerusalem, and before Peter, James and John had an opportunity to set some parameters for their ministry with Paul and Barnabas. I think it was all a part of the rising anxiety that eventually led to need to call a council. Every now and then you just need to get everyone in a room and talk.
Dear God, give me the courage to be true to myself. In Jesus’ name, Amen.