Thursday, 3 March 2016
Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; Galatians 2:11
In verse 1:18, Paul introduced Peter into the epistle. He brought him in again in 2:7, 2:8, and 2:9 (calling him Cephas in verse 9). The naming of Peter and the words used to describe him were not without specific intent. Instead, that intent now begins to be realized. Paul will show that his gospel message is correct by showing how Peter, one of the great pillars of the church, actually departed from it. Thus, the correction was to be made in him, not in Paul.
There is a dispute between some texts as to whether the name “Peter” or “Cephas” was originally used in verse 11. Both refer to the same individual, and so it doesn’t change the overall intent, but Paul probably used “Cephas” here. This would be to tie him back to his Jewish name and identity, which then is a connection to the entire intent of the passage.
Either way though, he begins with, “Now when Peter had come to Antioch.” This was probably shortly after Paul’s visit to Jerusalem and the council’s decision which was rendered in Acts 15. Antioch was in a Gentile area and counted many Gentiles among the roles of the church. While there at Antioch, Peter’s actions (which will be explained) necessitated Paul to withstand “him to his face.” In other words, there would be a dispute which required an open admonishment because of a failure to adhere to the gospel. As Paul says, “…because he was to be blamed.”
The word for “blamed” here is kataginóskó, and it is more appropriately translated as “condemned.” The actions of Peter brought about their own condemnation. The explanation of the thought is actually clearly given by Paul in Galatians 5 –
“Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. 3 And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. 4 You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.” Galatians 5:2-4
Like being circumcised in order to obtain God’s favor, what Peter will be described as doing in this account is actually the setting aside the grace of Christ. It is a self-condemning act. Paul will have to correct him on this.
As a side note, there have been numerous bizarre attempts by scholars to change the severity of what occurs in this account into one of a less serious nature. This is certainly because of the status of Peter. Some say that it is not the same Peter, but rather a lesser disciple. The fact that Paul repeatedly brought Peter into the account, giving both names at one time or another, shows this to be ludicrous.
Some have tried to assign Paul as the wrongdoer by showing open hostility to Peter and asserting that he was to be “condemned” for his actions. In essence, he was actually pointing the finger at God who selected Peter as an apostle and who revealed Christ through him. Others have tried to turn this account into a metaphorical battle between Judaism and Christianity. And others have blamed both apostles by saying that one was in error by his actions and the other was in error for his open rebuke of those actions.
All of these (and any other such nutty commentary) are entirely unfounded. The account of what occurs is clear, it is precise, and it is to be taken at face value. Paul was in the right, he will correct Peter because of his failures, and the account is being relayed to the Galatians to show them that their actions are just as worthy of condemnation as the great pillar Peter.
Life application: Keep away from nutty commentaries and nutty teachers who attempt to justify the great sin of setting aside the grace of Christ. Instead, hold fast to it as it is your very life and your connection to God through Him.
Heavenly Father, help us to stand on the grace of Jesus Christ alone. What more could we add to what He has done? Let us not be so perverse that we would ever assume that Your favor could rest in any type of thing that is more precious to You than the life and death of Jesus Christ our Lord and Your Son. Amen.