About Jesus  -  Steve Sweetman

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Paul Opposes Peter (ch. 2:11 Ė 21)

This section concerns a situation in Antioch where the apostle Peter and the apostle Paul came into conflict.  Just when this took place, we don't know.  There is no other reference to this event in the New Testament.  We first see Antioch mentioned in Acts 11:19 and following.  Christian Jews who fled Jerusalem and the surrounding area left because of fear of persecution after the killing of Stephen.  Jewish Christians evangelized the Jews in Antioch while certain men from Cyprus and Cyrene evangelized the gentiles.  Paul lived in Antioch at the time.  So we do know that other men were preaching the gospel in these early days, but who they all were is uncertain.  I often wonder how much we just don't know about these early days of the church.     

In verse 11 Paul begins to recount the time when Peter came to Antioch to visit. Paul says that he had to "oppose Peter to his face, because he was in the wrong."  Paul was blunt and straight forward.  When it came to defacing the gospel that Peter did by his actions, Paul had no patience.  He would confront the situation boldly and get it resolved as soon as possible.  That should be the way we work things out today as well.  

Paul's dealing with Peter here makes it clear that leadership must submit to the truth of the gospel, if not, then we have the right to challenge the leader, even in a public format if it has to come to that.   

One thing I think I should note here concerning Peter is that he was in the wrong and acting hypocritically.  That beings said, this does not suggest that Peter's thinking on the issue of Gentiles and the gospel was wrong.  We have no hint in the book of Acts, or Peter's two letters, that he actually taught what he was living out in this particular incident. The gospel Peter preached as it is written in the Bible is in line with what Paul preached.    

There has been some controversy over the years if the Peter spoken of hear is the apostle Peter, one of the twelve Jesus chose to be the first apostles, or another Peter.  Many Catholic scholars have a hard time believing that the apostle Peter could ever be in the wrong because according to them, Peter was the first pope.  I believe this is the apostle Peter.  One reason why I believe this is because of his association with the apostle James, as noted in verse 12.  

In verses 12 and 13 Paul explains the situation.  Peter participated in the freedom that Paul preached while he was in Antioch. That meant that Peter ate with the Gentile Christians, something that Jewish people would never do, yet this was what the good news was all about, according to Paul. Jesus had "broken down the middle wall of partition" that separated Jews from Gentiles. (Ephesians 2:14)

What Jews feared concerning eating with Gentiles was that they might eat something that was not permitted by the Law of Moses.  Also, this might be seen as a form of union with pagan Gentiles that the Law of Moses did not permit. 

The problem arose when certain men from James in Jerusalem came to visit the Antioch church. When they came, Peter stopped his association with the Gentiles, "because he was afraid of the circumcision group", the men sent from James.

"The circumcision group" is in reference to those Jewish Christians, which were most Jewish Christians that believed one had to be circumcised to be a real Christian.   The term "circumcision group" is important here.  Paul could have easily used the term "Jewish Christians", but he didn't.  He is pointing out that circumcision is the key issue at hand, and, circumcision represents the whole Law of Moses in this instance. 

We should note here that 
it seems that the Jerusalem church, which was the leading church in early times, tended to send out people to various cities when something new was happening in order to make sure what was happening was right.  They did the same in Acts 8 when the Samaritans first received the gospel.  

Peterís actions spread to others as well, so that even Barnabas, one of Paulís best friends, "joined him in his hypocrisy".  Here we see Peter, one of the twelve, one of the great men of faith in a moment of frailty, in a situation of hypocrisy.  We also see him fearing what his brothers in Christ would think of him.  This is the great apostle Peter who openly proclaimed that he would not obey man or fear man.  He would obey and fear God.  Well, in this case, he feared his brothers in the Lord. 

When Paul says that "even' Barnabas got caught up in the hypocrisy we should note who Barnabas is again. He was one of the brothers that were originally sent out from the Jerusalem church to check out the new Gentile converts in Antioch to make sure they were following the truth of the gospel.  Barnabas was impressed with what was happing so much that he acknowledged the grace of God in the Antioch church and went to Tarsus to get Paul to help out in the ministry of that church.  Barnabas actually stayed on in Antioch , and later he and Paul went on a missionary trip.  So if Barnabas got caught up in this hypocrisy, you know there was strong pressure to conform to the legalism of Judaism in this case.     

Some people have a hard time associating the word "hypocrisy" with Peter.  For this reason, most Catholic theologians don't believe this Peter is actually the apostle Peter.  Some scholars don't use the word "hypocrisy" as the NIV does.  They use the word "inconsistent'.  They say Peter was inconsistent in his actions.  I guess what it boils down to is Peter's motivation.  Why did he do what he did?  Verse 12 clearly states that the motivating factor was fear.  Peter feared those of the circumcision group.   

Peter was inconsistent.  I'm sure we can say that, but was his actions hypocritical?  The Greek word that is translated as "hypocrisy" in the NIV in Galatians 2:13 is translated from the Greek word where we actually derive our English word "hypocrisy" from.  So, I think it is a valid translation.

Peter's hypocrisy is in the fact his actions
portrayed the idea that he want
to obey the Law of Moses
to the men from Jerusalem, but that really was not the case.  He was simply afraid of these men.   Peter's actions therefore misled the Galatians and did not match his motives.  Thus his actions were hypocritical.  Peter himself was not a hypocrite, but in this instance, his actions were hypocritical.            

As I said earlier, one of the main problems that the Jews had with eating with Gentiles, and this would have carried over to the Christian Jews, is the probability of eating food that was not allowed to be eaten according to the Law of Moses.  We know that Paul had no problem with this.  If you read Romans 14, you will see that Paul could freely eat or drink anything because he was free from the restraints of the Law. 

A quick reading of the four gospels suggests to me that Peter seemed to be a real tough guy, at least on the surface.  I don't get the sense that he was afraid of anyone as I read the gospel accounts, but apparently he was.  Sometimes a person hides a weakness such as fear with a tough guy's image that he portrays to others.  This might well have been the case with Peter at times.  He might not have been as secure in himself as we might think.   

In verse 14 Paul says, "When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospelÖ" The idea that the Jewish Christians, especially Peter, disassociated themselves from the Gentile Christians does not fall in line with the good news of Christ. Why is this so? Because the gospel is supposed to bring unity, unity between God and us, and unity between fellow brothers in Christ, which includes unity between Jews and Gentiles.  Paul taught that the gospel broke down the wall that had previously existed between the Jew and the Gentile. (Ephesians 2:14)

Peter, by his actions was tearing apart this unity, thus he was not acting in line with the truth of the gospel. This to Paul was serious business. I often wonder what Paul would think about our present day church with all of its factions. I think that he would oppose us to our faces as well.  Every time there is a church split today, the split is an offense to the gospel.  

Paul viewed what Peter did was an offense to the gospel.  It was hypocrisy, but it was more than that.  It went against the central truth of Jesus' gospel.  We thus see that this was a primary issue to Paul.  Paul viewed the unity between Jews and Gentile Christians as a primary truth of Jesus.  It wasn't a secondary issue.  We can disagree on secondary issues, but we must agree on primary issues, and in Paul's mind this unity between Jews and Gentiles was primary because the issue at hand concerned why Jesus died on the cross.

In verse 14 we see that Paul confronts Peter in front of everyone present. You might wonder why Paul confronts Peter and not the rest of the Jewish Christians.  One reason is that the other Jewish Christians were following the leadership of Peter.  Leaders are the first to be judged when it comes to God judging His people.  Besides, as Peter was being judged, and as his hypocrisy was being pointed out, I'm sure the others realized that Paul was using Peter as an example of such sin that would speak to and about them as well.

Paulís major point was that Peter being a Jew lived like a Gentile. Paul had no problem with that. That was in line with the gospel. Where Paul had problems was when Peter wanted to force the Gentiles to live like a Jew. It was not fair. If Peter being a Jew could live like a Gentile, why couldnít the Gentiles live like Gentiles? It made no sense. Beyond the illogical nature of Peterís actions, we note that Peter was not acting in line with the truth of the gospel. Peterís actions were denying the truth, and so are ours when we divorce ourselves from our brothers in Christ.

If you read Jesus' prayer in John 17, you will see how important the unity of the brothers is to Jesus.  The very nature of God concerns unity.  Jesus prayed for unity among His followers, but we have done lots to hinder Jesus' prayer from being answered.  You can think about that.  We stop a prayer that Jesus prayed from being answered.  That being said, some day it will be answered. 

Paul continues in verse 15 and 16 to say that "we who are Jews from birth Ö know that a man is not justified by observing the Law, but by faith in Jesus Christ." If Jews are now saved by trusting Jesus alone, even more so should Gentiles be saved by trusting Jesus alone, since they were never given the Law of Moses to obey   in the first place. Further more in verse 18 he says that no man can be justified by obeying the Law, so why is Peter trying to live according to the Law in this situation. If no man can be justified by obeying the Law of Moses that God Himself instituted then it is clear that no man can be justified by obeying any religious man made law that we may try to institute.

Note the word "justify" here.  Being "justified" is the process by which God forgives our sins.  He pronounces us as being "just' even though we aren't.  This happens only because Jesus took the punishment for us on the cross.  We therefore do not have to be punished.  God, the judge, pronounces us not guilty.  We are just people in the sight of God.  

Concerning being justified by the Law of Moses; Evangelicals, at least in the past, have maintained that we are saved by grace alone, and not of works.  That being said, Evangelicals have often said that to stay saved, you must obey certain laws.  That makes no sense.  We are saved, and we stay saved, by trusting in God's grace.  When it comes to the Law of Moses, and that includes the tithing laws and other such laws we like to promote, we are no longer compelled to obey them. We obey Jesus instead.  Christ is the end of the Law, as Paul states in Romans 10:4.    

When it comes to being justified, we need to understand that this is not merely the removal of the record of our sin from God's books. We sin because we are sinners.  Justification is the removal of the designation of being a sinner in God's eyes.  This leads us to righteousness.  Because we have been justified, we are seen as being perfectly right in whom we are, not just what we do.  God views us as being perfectly right in who we are, just as He Himself is perfectly right in who He is.  This is absolutely amazing, because we all know that as we live this life, we still sin, and we are far from being perfectly right in what we do, let alone in who we are.      

In verse 15 you see the term "Gentile sinners".  Jews viewed the Gentile world as being sinners.  This was not really a fault on their part.  They weren't being prejudice.  They learnt this from God Himself.  If you read the Old Testament, you will soon find out that God Himself viewed all nations of the earth as being pagan and sinners.  This is why God told Israel over and over again not to associate themselves with the pagan Gentile world around them.  They would defile themselves and lose their godly identity if they did.  Well, Israel seldom obeyed the Lord's command on this point.    

I believe I need to point out that when verse 16 uses the word "law", the law being spoken of here is the Law of Moses.  Throughout the Old Testament Israelis were told over and over again that their very existence depended on them obeying the Law of Moses.  If they did not obey the Law of Moses they would be cursed as the Law stated. Any good Jew would have this thinking instilled into their very being.  This is why it was so hard for them to come around to the idea that one did not have to obey the Law of Moses in order to be saved, and especially the circumcision law. That being said, Paul clearly states here, in such a way that the Jewish Christians should have already known, that a man is only justified in the sight of God through faith in Jesus Christ.  Faith is simply trusting Jesus.  Faith is handing one's life over to Jesus and entrusting Him with your life.  When you do that, you are saved.  There is no salvation apart from faith in Jesus.

Verse 16 also says, "So we too have put our faith in JesusÖ"  I believe the word "we" refers to the Christian Jews.  The word "we" in verse 16 corresponds to the words "we Jews" in verse 15.  The point here is simple.  If Jewish Christians don't have to obey the Law of Moses, why should Gentile Christians have to obey it?  It's simple logic.    

Paul continues in verse 16 to say that no one will be justified by the Law of Moses.  This leads us to the purpose of the Law for New Testament believers.  If the Law doesn't save us, what good is it for us?  There are still a few reasons why the Law of Moses hasn't totally disappeared from sight.  One thing is that the Law of Moses is just as much prophetic as it is a list of rules.  For example, the feasts described in the Law have prophetic significance.  For another example, the curses of the Law must all be fulfilled before the blessing can be received by Israel . Israel forsook the law; therefore, all the curses must come to pass as stated in the law.  Paul says that the law was our schoolmaster in Galatians 3:25, meaning it teaches us elementary things, of which one important thing is our sin.  Then once knowing our sin, we should find our way to Jesus to have our sins forgiven.  The Law of Moses does have some relevance, but not for the purpose of salvation.

One last thing about the importance of the Law of Moses, for those who believe in a literal thousand year rule of Christ on earth, as I believe, they also feel that the Jews will at that time actually live under the Law of Moses as they were meant to live.  This is controversial, but if you study the subject seriously, especially in light of the last seven chapters of Ezekiel, you will at least see the possibility of this.  

If the Law of Moses saves no one, or even keeps no one saved, then no so-called Christian or Evangelical rule can save no one, or keep no one saved.  Evangelicals in the past have often stated that we aren't saved by works, but their teaching strongly suggests that we stay saved by works.  That's not true.  There is no logic in such thinking, and this is the basic point to Paul's argument in this letter.      

The last paragraph of chapter 2 at first glance may be hard to understand, but let me try to clarify what I think Paul is saying. Verse 17 says, "If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean Christ promotes sin?" Remember, Paul is still trying to defend his point concerning Peterís hypocrisy. He is not changing the subject here. This paragraph is to further explain Paulís thinking.  The word "we" refers to everyone in the room who Paul is addressing. 

Paul is saying that we, those he is addressing who are true Christians, those "who seek to be justified by Christ" alone; if we revert back to our old ways, we are sinning.  In this case the old ways for Peter and others was reverting back to the Law of Moses.  Peter was seeking to be justified by Jesus alone, yet now he is reverting back to Law by separating himself from the Gentile Christians.  Paul says that this is sin.

In verse 17 Paul asks if Christ promotes sin.  The sin Paul is speaking of here is the particular sin that these Jewish Christians were now committing, and that is, separating themselves from the Gentile believers. The answer to Paul's question is clearly "no".  Why does he ask this question in the first place?  Peter acknowledges that he gave his life to Jesus and it is Jesus alone that saves him and keeps him saved.  But now, Peter's separation from the Gentile believers is suggesting to those Gentiles that Jesus is promoting this sin.  This is understandable because the Gentile believers would have looked up to Pater and the others.  So, when Peter and the others made this separation, the Gentile believers might well have thought this was the way it should be.  This was the will of Jesus because Jesus' main men were promoting this separation.  Paul says it's not Jesus' will.  It's pure sin.         

In verse 18 Paul moves from the pronoun "we" to the pronoun "I".  He is now including himself in his argument, and for good reason.  What he is saying in verse 18, he himself has done, and that was, destroying the Law of Moses in his life.  He says, "If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a law breaker".  The word "destroyed" is both powerful and important to Paul's argument.  When it comes to Paul, and really, Peter too, they destroyed the Law of Moses in one real sense of the word.  The Law had absolutely no more authority over them.  In this sense, the Law had been destroyed. 

Peter destroyed the Law in his life when He accepted Jesusí way of salvation, which is through faith in God's grace.  In reality, it was not Peter who destroyed the Law.  It was Jesus who destroyed the Law when He died on the cross as Paul teaches in Colossians 2:13 to 19. Peter, by accepting Jesus alone for salvation participated in this destruction of the Law. Yet now he was trying to rebuild that which was destroyed by living according to the Lawís rules. By doing this, Paul says that he has "proven to be a law breaker".

We need to note that Paul in these verses is using himself as the example. He is not centering Peter out. He says, "if I rebuild, I prove to be a law breaker". He could have easily put Peterís name in these sentences instead of the personal pronoun "I", but he didnĎt. Although Peter is in the wrong, and Paul is upset, he still honours Peter for who he is. He is pointing these things out to Peter for his own benefit, and for the benefit of the church. He hopes that Peter can change his ways and continue on in faith alone.

In verse 19 Paul goes on to say that "through the Law I died to the Law".  In other words, "the Law killed him'.  The Law was constantly beating him down. Do this.  Do that.  Make sure you don't forget.  Obey this rule.  Obey that rule.  You're wrong.  You're a sinner.  Get right with God.  All this just beats men down to the ground until they finally die.  Spiritually speaking, Paul died, and the Law had no more power over him.  He was dead to the Law.  The relationship between Paul and the Law was over for good.  Jesus had taken the place of the Law in every aspect.  The Law is gone forever. It has been destroyed.  It's all Jesus now.

Verse 20 says, "I have been crucified with Christ." This means that all that took place on the cross is now become part of PaulĎs life.  Many things happened at the cross, which most of us don't understand. The Law was put to rest when Jesus died on the cross.  Our sins were forgiven. The cross paved the way for the Holy Spirit to come and live within us.  There's more to what happened on the cross of Christ, but that is a topic for another day.

When Paul says that he was crucified with Christ, he is not speaking symbolically.  Something really happened with him when Jesus died on the cross.  A transaction took place in the heavens that is very real.  Jesus took our place on the cross.  He stood in for us.  So, when God saw Jesus hanging on the cross, he also saw every human being hanging on the cross, which included Paul.  In this sense Paul died along with Jesus. 

Paul goes on to say that "the life I now live, I live by the faith of the Son of GodÖ"  Paul is living by faith in Jesus.  Remember the definition of faith in Jesus is "trusting Jesus". Paul is living his life by trusting Jesus alone, apart from the Law of Moses that was destroyed on the cross.  This trust is an ongoing trust.  It's not that he trusted Jesus at initial salvation and now trusts in things he does, as good as those things might be.  He continues to trust Jesus every moment of the day.

Concerning the "cross of Christ"; we do it much disservice when we only understand the cross as a means to forgive sins.  The cross was much more than that, and it is very important for us to understand this issue.  Most Christians fail to understand the full significance of the cross of Christ.  

Paul says that Jesus "loved me and gave Himself for me". The Law could not love Paul, nor could it give itself for Paul.  Jesus, the Son of God, could both love us and has indeed given Himself for us. I think that these words are probably reaching the heart of Peter.  When Paul says that Jesus loves him and gave Himself for him, Peter would have understood those words.  Those words would have begun to penetrate Peter's heart because he saw it all.  He saw the horror of the arrest, conviction, and killing of Jesus.  Those memories would have flooded back into the heart and mind of Peter.  Then, the memory of his denial would also have flooded his heart and mind.  The sorrow Peter felt when the cock crowed, might well have been flowing through his being once again when Paul said these specific words.

In verse 21 Paul says, "I do not set aside the grace of God". What Peter was really doing in reverting back to the Law was setting aside the grace of God.  He was replacing Godís grace with Law. This is a major sin. This is the worst sin that Christians can commit in my thinking, yet we as Evangelicals are guilty of the same sin. We have added rules. We say that in order to remain a Christian, we have to do certain things, and not do certain other things. There can be no rules added to Godís grace. There can be no stipulations attached to the cross of Christ. He did it all. If we add anything to what Jesus has done with our own rules, we are setting aside Godís grace. We are telling Jesus that what He did on the cross is not good enough, and that we need to help Him out a little by adding our own ideas concerning how to be saved. I cannot think of a worse sin.

"For if righteousness could be gained through the Law, and then Christ died for nothing." Paul makes my point clear here. If we add anything to what Jesus has already done on the cross, if we try to be justified by anything else, then to us, Christ died for nothing. If we add rules to Christís salvation, we tell Him that what He did on the cross was not good enough.  We also tell Him that He died for nothing, and in fact in this situation he did die for nothing.  His death, his act of love is meaningless to us. Once again, I cannot think of a greater sin than this. If you in fact lay aside Godís grace, then I feel that you are in danger of loosing your salvation. This is the only way to loose your salvation.  It is unbelief that causes one to lose his salvation, not any individual sin. Paul will have more to say about this point later.

Imagine if you were Peter being confronted to your face openly in front of the whole church. How would you feel? You might feel pretty uncomfortable.  I think Peter may have been an impulsive man. At times he did things that he later regretted. This probably was one of those times. When Paul said the words, "if righteousness could be gained through the Law then Christ died for nothing", I imagine those words cut right to Peterís heart.  Remember, Peter was in the garden when Jesus was arrested. He was at the cross. He saw the sword being thrusted into the side of Jesus. He saw it all. I imagine that in Peterís mind and heart he relived that whole experience again and suddenly realized, "no, Jesus did not die in vain". Peter would have repented of his actions, most likely with much sorrow. No way would Peter want to destroy the work Jesus did on the cross. He would trust in Jesus alone, even though that would be hard to understand.  The sorrow Peter felt after hearing the cock crowing might well have been the same sorrow that he felt when Paul pointed out his sin here.

We've talked about the Old Testament Law of Moses in this chapter.  For the purposes of being justified in the sight of God, for the purposes of salvation, the Law has no more significance.  That doesn't mean the Law of Moses is now useless.  We learn lots about how God thinks and feels in the Law.  You learn how God views about many things, including, murder, treatment of widows and aliens, treatment of slaves, the importance of restitution, and many other things.  A good study of the Law of Moses will in fact give you a better understanding of God Himself.   The books of the Law are often overlooked by the modern Christian, as is much of the Old Testament.  This is one major fault of modern Christianity.  It leads to much Biblical illiteracy and a faulty knowledge of the God Christians claim to serve.  

I maintain that the better you understand the Old Testament, the better you will understand the New Testament.  I simply don't think one can fully grasp New Testament teaching without understanding the Old Testament.  One way this shows up concerns Israel 's present day, and prophetic significance.  Many don't believe Israel has any more significance in the eyes of God. Another way this failure shows up in our lives is our attempt to obey certain Old Testament laws and not obey other certain Old Testament laws. We are a bit double-minded in that respect.

The situations that Paul has described here in Galatians 2 gets us right into the heart of his letter, and that is, salvation is by faith in God's grace alone, without obeying any part or the whole of the Law of Moses. Such thinking would have been unheard of to the Jews, as it was to Paul himself before he met Jesus.  Meeting Jesus face to face changed everything for Paul.  I dare say the gospel that Paul taught, which is the gospel of the Bible, if preached as Paul preached it, is still a problem with many today, and that includes Christians, not just Jews.  We tend to see the real gospel as a license to sin, but as Paul states in his letter to the Romans, it isn't that.  

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