But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” – Galatians 2:11-14 (ESV)
As we read today’s passage, we should remember that while these events took place in Antioch Paul was using these events to further his argument in Galatians that circumcision and keeping the ceremonial law is not required for Gentiles to be first class citizens in the Kingdom of God. In chapter 1 Paul had argued that he had received the Gospel and his Apostolic authority directly from the risen Christ. So, the Galatians had to receive it. To embrace the Gospel Paul preached was to embrace Christ and the reject Paul’s Gospel was to reject Christ. In chapter 2 Paul showed how he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Peter and James teaching the very same gospel. How does today’s passage advance this argument?
- First, notice that Peter initially fully embraced the uncircumcised Christians in Antioch. Verse 12: “For before certain men came from James, Peter was eating with the Gentiles; …” This shows that Peter agreed with Paul that neither circumcision nor the kosher food laws were necessary for Gentile believers to be fully accepted as first class members of the Kingdom of God.
- Second, notice that there was never any difference in theology between Peter and Paul. Paul doesn’t accuse Peter of bad theology or of apostasy, Paul accuses Peter of hypocrisy. This reinforces the fact that there was no divide between the gospel Paul taught and the gospel taught by the other Apostles.
- Third, Peter’s repentance reinforced the point that the message of the gospel is more important than the messenger.
- Finally, remember that Paul wasn’t writing to the Galatians to prove that he was right. Paul was writing to the Galatians to encourage them to turn back – that is to repent – and to walk “in step with the truth of the gospel.” What better way to do this than to show that the Apostle Peter had repented and done the same thing?
It is wise for us to regularly ask the LORD to give us the grace to repent quickly when we realize that we are in the wrong.
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 50
Q. 50. What is required in the second commandment?
A. The second commandment requireth the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God hath appointed in his word.