Peter the Hypocrite – Galatians 2:11-14

Paul says that Peter’s actions are nothing less that hypocrisy. Peter has changed his attitude and behavior toward Gentile Christians after the visit from the “men from James.” The first verb (ὑποστέλλω) is a military term and has the sense of retreating to an “inconspicuous position” (Witherington, Galatians, 154). In Acts 20:27 Paul uses the verb to describe what he did not do – he did not “shrink back” from preaching the gospel in Ephesus in the face of persecution. The second verb (ἀφορίζω) has the separating into groups (the sheep and the goats in Matt 25:32, for example). Witherington takes this to mean that the word has a sense of ritual purity, and I might add it has an eschatological sense. At the end of the age, the Lord will separate those who will enter the kingdom from those who will not. If we are right that the political and religious situation in Judea was becoming increasingly apocalyptic, it is possible that these “men from James” were encouraging a separation of the Jews and the Gentiles in anticipation of a coming judgment.

The reason for Peter’s withdrawal from table fellowship is fear from the circumcision party, those Jews who insisted on circumcising Gentiles. There is at least the possibility (based on Galatians 6:12) that some Jews, such as the Zealots, were willing to use force to ensure Jewish traditions were being observed. If this is the case, then perhaps Peter’s fear is a real fear of persecution by the more zealous wing of the Jerusalem church.  This is not a case of “the pastor is coming over, quick hide the beer bottles”! Peter and Barnabas may have withdrawn from fellowship to avoid a potentially violent reprisal from the “zealots” within Jewish Christianity.

Peter’s actions therefore are out of character and not in line with his beliefs nor the agreement which he reached with Paul in Galatians 2:1-10. Paul thinks Peter and Barnabas have “shrunk back” out of fear and are in need of correction. While Peter is a hypocrite, Paul describes Barnabas as “led astray.” The verb συναπάγω has the sense of “carried away,’ he was fooled by the rhetoric of the “men from James.”

Witherington suggests that Barnabas found himself in a bad place because he was originally sent to Antioch by Jerusalem, he could not go against the “orders” of the church who sent him to Antioch in the first place (Galatians, 157). His loyalty was to Jerusalem, the group with which he was associated from the earliest days (Acts 4), rather than to Paul and the Gentile mission. The Gentile mission is not Barnabas’ commission, it is Paul’s. All of the Jews in the Antioch church join with Peter and Barnabas in withdrawing from fellowship with the Gentile believers. This indicates that there is a church-wide split caused by the “men from James.”

Paul publically confronted Peter because his “conduct was not in line with the truth.” This confrontation was “before them all,” which may mean that Paul waited until the church assembled. Parallel to the private meeting in Jerusalem, Paul chose to bring this issue to the whole assembly. The accusation against Peter that he is not living in accordance to what he knows is the truth, the agreement of Gal 2:1-10, for example. The agitators in the Galatian church, on the other hand, were described with military terms. They are spies and agitators who are outside of the truth of the gospel to begin with. Peter knows the truth and is not acting in accordance with it, the agitators do not even know the gospel.

Paul’s point is that if Peter and the Jewish Christians withdraw from the Gentile Christians, then there is no unity in the body of Christ. As Paul will point out later in the later, there is no Jew or Greek in the Body of Christ, we are all members together “in Christ.” To separate into two bodies, a Jewish and a Gentile one, totally misses the point of a “joint-body” as Paul describes in Ephesians 2.

What is at stake here is the nature of the Gospel. If Paul loses this argument, then Gentiles will continue to be “second class believers” in the eyes of some conservative Jewish believers.

Although the issues are different, how does contemporary churches create boundaries which push some types of Christians out of fellowship, or consider them as second-class Christians? Perhaps some of the boundaries are important (the men from James thought circumcision was critical to being a follower of Jesus), but others may not be. How can we disagree on the boundaries without compromising the unity of the Body of Christ?

9 thoughts on “Peter the Hypocrite – Galatians 2:11-14

  1. Phillip, you are sadly using the wrong Greek text of Gal 2:12b. As Stephen Carlson and David Yoon have shown, most of the best manuscripts (including the oldest one) have “he came”, not “they came”. “He came” is also the harder reading, so should be preferred. With the correct text we get the following sequence.
    1. Peter ate with gentiles.
    2. Men from James visited Antioch. They were the men from Judea of Acts 15:1.
    3. Jerusalem conference. Paul agrees to focus on evangelising Gentiles, so that Peter can focus on Jews. The leaders write the Jerusalem decree and point out that they had not endorsed the views of the men from James (Acts 15:24).
    4. Peter came to Antioch and ate only with Jews. Paul called him on it.

    Peter’s eating with Gentiles was before the conference because it explains why Paul must (with either text) skip back in time in 2:12.
    So, it was not the arrival of the men from James that triggered Peter’s withdrawal. It was the new division of labour between Peter and Paul. Peter had to be a “Jew to the Jews” to win the Jews.

    There was no split between Paul and the Jerusalem church leaders. They had the same friends and supporters during their lives and in subsequent generations. And Acts, which mentions a lot of conflict among Christians, is against any such split.

    Please adopt Carlson’s insight, or show that he is wrong.


  2. It is challenging to look at this issue and compare it to the Christian church today because of the major differences between the law and Judaism. In chapter one of Thinking Through Paul, Longenecker discusses that Christianity back then was more of an adaptation to Judaism in that it was a completely new way of looking at Jesus for the Jews and the law isn’t necessary. However, this is quite different for the gentile believers. They can become part of God’s family without being a Jew first. This is the main core of the Galatians letter; that the law is not necessary for salvation, because it never was. Salvation is possible only by faith and Christ; the law is not a factor in that. Therefore, gentiles can be saved. Paul touches on this in Galatians 3 with the example of Abraham and his salvation through faith. Paul calls Peter out heavily on this matter because it was causing division in the Galatian church and body of Christ. I think looking at the church today, there are many divisions based on very trivial things. Some of these things include music, personality, tattoos, piercings, not accepting someone’s past, dress, different type of lifestyle (but not ungodly), politics, etc. It is easy to put up barriers against others and reject them based on difference, yet this is hypocritical of the church who claims they want diversity, yet cannot accept other people’s differences. If it not motivated by sin, why should a difference between people be an issue? Paul again touches on this division based on the unessentials in the church in Romans 14. We have to continually come back to the reason in which united us in the first place.


  3. Each church has its own culture, but the type of culture may depend on where its located and the people who attend. For example, if you’re someone who doesn’t speak Spanish and you attend a Spanish speaking church, you may be unknowingly be pushed out. Another example would be if you’re more of a spontaneous worshiper, but go to a United Methodist church that is held to their traditions, you may get some weird looks. We can disagree on different boundaries without comprising the body of Christ, by remembering that we each have our own place in the Kingdom of God. Each person has their own specific purpose and remembering that helps you to look past your differences with a brother or sister in Christ.


    • I like that you use the word culture here. I think that its okay to have different “cultures, different atmospheres to worship in as long as we adhere to the word of God. As individuals we will have our individual place in the Kingdom of God, I like that you included that. Just because boundaries aer made and we each are in Christ, doesn’t desolate from the fact that we are the Body of Christ as a whole.


  4. At one church I attended, there was a sophomore girl in high school who got pregnant, the inner city girl who is homeless and the one boy in the back with dirty clothes on. I remember looking them and seeing myself. I saw them once and that was it, and after that Left as well. This is what I compare James thinking circumcision was “key” to being a follower of Jesus. No one said it but you could tell what the words they were thinking were about those three individuals. It’s a quiet “we don’t want you here). I think that nowadays many Contemporary churches create boundaries by pushing out the “too broken” of people. There are many contemporary churches who push the hard issues away and remain surface level with their congregation. A lot of contemporary churches would place these three “kind of people in that second-class Christian category. (Most of the churches I have attended). I think certain boundaries like not cussing, not being disturbing during worship, and even the kind of population might be the kind of boundaries Churches set for themselves are okay. I think we can disagree on the boundaries without compromising the Body of Christ by remembering 1 Timothy 3:16, and that all the scripture (no matter what church we attend or place we are) is “God breathed”. As long as we take the God breathed scripture and remain strong in that word, boundaries don’t have to compromise the Body of Christ as a whole.


  5. Sadly, I believe our world is very much become something like what Peter and Paul have shown us. Like April said, there is a silent law that we, as Christians, have given each other to be a certain way or act a certain way. We are all going to fall short whether now or later. We all have our own sins and own mistakes. We can either takes those mistakes and keep adding to them or use them to witness to other around us. We all have our own morals and values. What a certain person may see as harmful, such as tattoos or piercings, could be used for someone else to witness to someone who may have those. It is a way that people can relate to each out to others. I believe that we should not shove our morals or values onto others, but spread the love of Jesus to those people. Condemning people will not bring those people to Christ. “1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:1-5). Our job is not to tell nonbeliever what they are doing wrong, but let them know who died on the cross to save them from those sins.


  6. How believers live sets an example for those who observe them. How we live is can be leading or misleading. Now, Peter was aware already of the Truth of the Gospel, but he feared those of the “circumcision party” for whatever reason. It is a case of fear of man vs fear of God. Peter feared the Jews more so than He feared God. This is Peter, who in his own letter said, “-he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin” (1 Peter 4:1). Earlier in the letter, Peter also says, “Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong.” (1 Peter 3:17). So it is ironic that Peter had such a situation occur to him.

    If we are honest, almost every believer does this. The biggest thing facing Christians today is a lack of the Fear of the Lord in their lives. It is much easier to fear man than it is God. This too can be a reason as to why the church in the west is so distorted. It has turned unbelievers away from God and as a result, we are not even demonstrating the full Gospel truth. Instead, we have followed Peters example. We need more Pauls to confront other believers in their deception. For one part of the body has an effect on the rest of the Body. We cling to other believers that we are most comfortable with. No regular challenge. Just familiarity. But, if we lived like true believers we would seek comfort from the Comforter regardless of how uncomfortable or fearful we become. He is there to help (also called the Helper)


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