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 Peter and Barnabas may have withdrawn from fellowship to avoid a potentially violent reprisal from the “zealots” within Jewish Christianity.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?

19 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.

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  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.

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  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.

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    • 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.

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  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.

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    • In today’s world, we often end up creating boundaries and pushing people out of the church, and I think we do this much more often than we realize. This can happen to people who are in different social or economic classes, to people who are different races, and to different age groups. I really like what you said about how churches often push out those who are “too broken”. I think that another way that the church discriminates today is through different doctrinal ideas. There are so many church denominations today, from Baptist to Methodist, Reformed and even non-denominational. We may not relate this with discrimination, because it is not the typical thing that we would think of, such as race or gender. Sadly, however, many Christians do discriminate based off of denomination. I have met many people who claim that those who belong to other denominations aren’t Christians, because they don’t believe exactly the same things, or they think that other denominations are “lesser” than theirs. This is so sad! While there are certainly churches out there who have fallen off the path of Christianity, there are many who, at their core, are good Christian churches – they may just have different opinions on certain topics. As April said, there are certain boundaries that we are able to disagree on, simply because we are not given direct answers on them in the Bible. As long as we are not going directly against what the Bible tells us, there are certain grey areas that allow us to sort of come to our own conclusions – and I think that we need to be careful that we are not discriminating based off of those ideas.

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  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.

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  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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  7. The way Paul confronted Peter for his false tellings was great. And to do it in front on the whole assembly was even better. It really made Peter think if he was really doing the right thing in this situation. It was not right for Peter to be teaching his ways Gal. 2: 1-10 stated that you do it the right way. Paul metioned that and it really lit a fire under Peter in a sense of I may need to get off this board and move on else where. Paul mentioned that he had a sidekick in Barnabas who was originally supposed to be gone anyway. As Paul said, ” Peter, you are conducting what is not in line with the truth.” When you do such things you soon become known as a hypocrite. You teach and say one thing but you act out another. These types of people are not loved in life, God wants us all to be loved and to do the right thing while honoring him with all of our hearts. When you pick up these habits of a hypocrite you are showing a dis honor to God. If you are going to teach about what God wants then do it the correct way/

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  8. It’s a good thing that Paul called Peter out for being a hypocrite. It is standing firm in your faith and sticking up for what you believe in. Things are different back then than they are today, but I think there is a better way to go at an issue than publicly calling him out. Calling someone out publicly adds embarrassment and can make them stubborn and fight harder for their wrong side. I think confronting someone privately on an issue would’ve been the way to go and talking it out maturely. They should have agreed upon Peter giving an apology to the people publicly instead of outing him harshly. I think trying to reason and discussing things is the way to go. Contemporary churches create boundaries and push people out of fellowship. I personally don’t think that’s what God would want. 1 Peter 3:8 says “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.” Being compassionate and talking things out with passion and love for God is the way to be like minded and reach an agreement. Talking things out, but caring about the other person is the best way to solve an issue. Maybe you still don’t agree, but keep giving reasons for why you believe what you see and be understanding. That’s what I think is the best method of getting to people.

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  9. As an advocate for Christ it is important that we teach what we preach. For example, if someone chooses to preach about the Sabbath and yet has a busy schedule all seven days out of the week, then that would be hypocrisy. You can not be a do as I say and not as I do kind of Christian. That only makes whatever you are teaching wash down the drain and lose its meaning. I know that this is something hard to follow now and it must have been the same for Peter’s case as well. However, we have to be able to lead by example no matter the “burden” we feel like it can be. Especially, if we are trying to lead our fellow believers to the glory of God. This is just something that should not be negotiable or even tampered with. When we are found to be a hypocrite then that brings a bad name to Christians and to God. Something we should never do as an advocate is make God into a liar. So, as a body of Christ there needs to be some kind of unity and a point of agreement. This is usually why people are turn away from the church or avoid going to it altogether. As one body of Christ we sadly do not act like it, we can be hypocrites at times, and also we can be too judgmental. If we wish to end this long and ongoing disagreement then we have to try and find common ground. Which, is definitely easier said than done considering people are extremely stuck in their ways. For this to happen someday then it would take A LOT of prayer.

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  10. Talk about calling a brother out! Paul does not give Peter much grace on this issue. Paul knew the importance of keeping the unity of the body and did not want Peter to lead others astray from the truth. In lecture, you have talked about how even though we are given us commandments, everyone has a different level of conviction. You were mentioning that you felt a sense of “guilt” and “hurt” for eating dog when in China, however, Chinese believers have no problem with that. Common examples might be differences in a conviction on things such as speeding, cheating on a test, or stealing food from the cafeteria. Today, I feel as though sometimes these non -essential differences are what separate the church into different congregations. There are churches were the Pastor’s drink, and some churches that think drinking any alcohol is a sin.
    Despite these differences, the way that we call people out should always be in love and gentleness (Gal 6:1-5), and as we see in Mathew 18:15-17 we should talk to them in private, and if they do not listen, bring one or two more people along with you so they can be your witnesses. If this does not work, bring the issue before the church, and if this fails basically don’t associate with them. Paul did not exactly confront Peter in this way, at all as the text says “I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong” (2:11). And although he maybe did not do confront him in the most appropriate way, He got his point across, and Peter changed his mind. I do believe that we need close people in our lives who will call us out, and embarrass us when we are blatantly wrong.

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  11. People would be hypocrites in the body of Christ if their life never change in Christ and they were to tell others to change their live and grow. Yes, no one is perfect, but it easy to tell when you and others are not putting in the effort. It is like what James says to be doers and not only hearers of the word. So, it is good to keep others accountable, but at the same time to be living a life of Christ that reflects to others. There are many consumers in the Church today, who show up and hear the word, but they never put into practice and that may influence many members in that body to behave the same way, which they would too become hypocrites. In Galatians 2:13-14 Paul mentions the Jews joined in the hypocrisy and even led Barnabas into it as well. I think this shows that it can be easy to lead others into hypocrisy without even fully recognizing that you are doing it just by your choice of lifestyle.

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  12. Contemporary churches create boundaries by not only carrying different beliefs, but also by practicing different rituals, and slightly varying doctrine. While the core of the Christian church is universally the gospel, there are many different denominations who all interpret the Bible slightly differently; thus, division is created. Division can also occur within a single church when ideas, beliefs, and practices differ. For example, something as simple as choice of music, (something beautiful, designed to bring people together in praise) can cause huge disagreements within the congregation along with worship style and intensity. Just as disagreement and controversy occurs in our churches today, Dr. Long discussed how it happened within some of the first churches. Longenecker gives two examples in Galatians chapter 2 where the church faces controversy. In the first example, Paul is speaking out against the belief that new believers should be required to be circumcised in order to receive salvation (Gal. 2:1-10). He addresses this issue not only for those who believed that they must be circumcised, but also to foster unity within the church. In the second example, Paul “calls out” Peter in front of the church when he sits separately from the Gentiles (Gal. 2:11-14). Paul believed that this action could not only cause disunity among believers but could also cause false beliefs to spread in addition to making Gentile believers feel as though they were second class citizens (Long). While the issues that the church faces today may be different than those in Biblical times, we can learn a lot from the importance that Paul placed on unity among believers.

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  13. P. Long’s post upon the betrayal or hypnotical actions of Peter when a visit from “men of James” came long provoked a realization. As describe in the original post, these men are described as zealots who were willing to use force to ensure the Jewish law was being followed. Uniquely, I draw upon the fact that because Paul describes himself in Acts 22 the past for being zealous for the law, that these Jewish zealots and Paul perhaps would have gotten along quite well in the past. Peter shrinks away from gentile fellowship, which was against Jewish law, understandingly if these Jewish zealots were as zealous for the law as Paul once was. Upon the topic of P. Long’s questions on what people does the contemporary church views as second class Christian may be Christians that go through various struggles such as homosexuality, drug addiction, divorce, and possibly those who seek professional counseling. These groups are often viewed, unbiblically, as second rate because the church has placed a value system upon sins that suggests some sins are greater than others. Another, unbiblical, possible reason of being viewed second rate is because these Christians have not yet gained freedom from their sin in the practical sense. We all struggle with sins but for whatever reason, these are the struggles that when we learn of them react in judgement and break community with them instead of coming alongside them to help lift their yoke and point them to Christ.

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  14. Unity within the church and our brothers in sisters in Christ is so important in our walk
    with the Lord. When there is unity, the church can be more effective in its outreach and purpose.
    Disagreements can cause tension and can compromise the unity of the church. I believe that
    boundaries are necessary and should be based on Biblical truths. There are some boundaries that
    churches have placed on their congregation that have pushed people away. It is important for
    local churches to be cautious when deciding on their boundaries. In Galatians, Paul warns the
    people to not be so concerned with the law. When the boundaries of a church are not carefully
    decided, the unity of the church may be compromised. Looking at church’s today, I often see
    division within a congregation that is based on judgements of other people. This is so sad to me
    because Jesus told us one of the most important commandments was to “love your neighbor as
    yourself”. I have seen division in the church based on the type of music that is played or how
    people think others should dress. I do not think that Jesus is concerned with matters like this. I
    think that He is much more concerned with where a person’s heart is at. Boundaries in a church
    should not be the decision of just a single person, but rather should be a collaborative effort. It is
    possible for the boundaries to create unity if they are based on Scripture.

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