CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CONGREGATIONS OF BELIEVERS

CHAPTER TWO (Lesson XIX)

Paul wants the Galatians to know that this whole fiasco was caused by Peter. His conduct was to blame. It may have been that Paul did this because Peter admitted that he made a mistake. But it also might be that at first, Peter blamed his actions on being under pressure by the Jewish contingent visiting Antioch. After all, as the Apostle to the Jews, it might not be good for him if word got around that he sided with Paul and the Gentiles against the Jewish Christians. Furthermore, after Peter went back to Jerusalem and told about his visit with the Roman Centurion, Cornelius, he was immediately accosted by the Jewish contingent about his not only visiting Gentiles but eating with them.[1] This is not the first time that a leader of God’s people tried to blame someone else for their hypocrisy. When Moses confronted Aaron about his allowing the Israelites to create a golden calf to worship while he was up on the mountain getting the Ten Commandments, Aaron blamed it on being under pressure from the people. He blamed his sinful behavior on the people’s sinful behavior.[2]

Moses suffered the same shame when he allowed the children of Israel to persuade him to strike the rock instead of speaking to the rock as God instructed him. As a result, God told both Moses and Aaron that they would not be allowed to lead the children of Israel into the Promised Land.[3] And the prophet Jeremiah was also warned about caving in to public opinion instead of following God’s word.[4] Then we read the story of the prophet Jonah and his time in the belly of a giant sea creature because he let the pressure of speaking against the people of Nineveh get to him.[5]

Therefore, Paul is reminding the Galatians that before this incident with Peter took place, a delegation from Jerusalem, sent by the Apostle James just to see how things were going, arrived. At mealtime, Peter sided with the delegation and the Antioch Jewish members when it came time to eat because they knew if word got back to James that they joined with the Gentiles he would not be pleased. No wonder Paul warned the Ephesians to always keep in mind that the Gospel was sent for the Gentiles as well as the Jews. Said Paul, “They are able to have a life that lasts forever. They are to be a part of His congregation and family, together with the Jews. And together they are to receive all that God promised through the Anointed One.[6] And if Paul needed to point to someone who set this standard, all he needs to do was mention Jesus.[7]

Of all the shortcomings that Paul observed in his fellow believers and his most vocal critics, was hypocrisy. It made his blood boil.  I’m willing to guess that even for dedicated Christians today; Peter’s shortcoming in this instance makes them grit their teeth as well. However, contrary to some psychologist’s diagnosis, Paul was not directing his sharp rebuke at Peter as an original disciple or respected Apostle, but to a fellow believer’s willingness to depart from the very Gospel he preached. In other words, He saw Peter’s actions as saying; don’t do as I do, just do as I say.

But this story did not go down well with all early church scholars. Church historian Eusebius tells us the Clement of Alexandria (circa 150-216 AD) tried his best to defend Peter by claiming that this person named Cephas was not Peter of Galilee, but one of the seventy disciples of Jesus. However, Jerome does not buy that and maintains that it was Peter. For Jerome, it isn’t that Peter and Cephas signify two personalities, but what is called in Latin and in Greek petra (“stone”) both the Hebrew and Syriac versions, because of the affinity of their languages, call Peter, “Cephas,” here in Galatians.[8]

Early church leader Origen (184-253), sees a different aspect to what Paul is saying, especially in verse twelve. Origen agrees that Peter needed persuading that Gentiles were worthy of hearing the Gospel. That’s why he stood in need of a vision to lead him to communicate with Cornelius (who was not an Israelite by birth), and to those who were with him the Good News of Yeshua the Messiah.[9] Yet, it seems that Paul felt that Peter was still in fear of those orthodox Jews who became Christians, that they might oppose his Apostleship and ministry if he became too close to the Gentiles. As a result, when Peter visited the congregation in Antioch, he decided to join the group James sent from Jerusalem who was uneasy about eating with the Gentiles. Even Barnabas showed that he agreed with Peter rather than Paul.[10]

He poses a rhetorical question as to why he might mention that those Jews who came over from Jerusalem and who preached to Jews in Judea and Samaria, separated themselves from the Gentiles. Wasn’t this the same thing as what Paul did when he said that to the Jews he acted like a Jew so that he might gain some Jewish supporters?[11] And on another occasion, Paul even brought an offering to the Temple altar that he might convince the Jews that he was no traitor to the Law of Moses.[12] So why was he being so hard and callous toward Peter who was just trying to maintain peace between the Jewish believers in Jerusalem and the Gentile believers in Antioch?[13]

Next, we turn to church historian Eusebius (c. 260–340) to see how some following Peter’s example also turned away from the truth for a moment. This story is told by Jerome (c. 347–420), whom Eusebius called “especially distinguished in Rome.”[14] Jerome focuses on early Christian writer Tertullian’s (155-240) influence on Bishop Cyprian (c. 200–258) and Tertullian’s “lapse” into Montanism:[15] In fact, Jerome spoke about an incident when he visited the town of Concordia in Italy, he met an old man named Paul, who, as a very young man served as secretary to Cyprian (200-258), the Bishop of Carthage, who was already advanced in age. He said that he himself saw how Bishop Cyprian was accustomed to never letting a day pass without reading Tertullian’s writings and that he frequently said to young Paul, “Give me the master,” meaning give me what Tertullian wrote. Tertullian was presbyter of the congregation in Carthage (present-day Tunisia) until middle life. Afterward, he was driven away by the envy and abuse of the clergy of the Roman congregation and adhered to the doctrine of Montanus and mentions this new prophecy in many of his books.[16]

The emphasis of the New Prophecy seemed to be on resisting persecution, fasting, and avoiding remarriage, together with hostility to any compromise with sin. Few of these points were controversial when judged against the asceticism of the next century. Many early church scholars, including Tertullian, never claimed that this new prophecy was inspired by the Holy Spirit since it only gave directions about matters of congregational discipline, which were coming to be the prerogative of Bishop Cyprian. It would seem that the Montanists were orthodox in all matters of Personal Theology. They differed only in matters of Practical Theology.[17]

However, Chrysostom (349-407) sees what happened here from a different angle. He says that many on a superficial reading of this part of the Epistle, suppose that Paul accused Peter of hypocrisy. But this is not so, indeed it is not, far from it. Paul does not use this against Peter, but with the same meaning in which he said, “for they who were reputed to be somewhat, whatsoever they were, it makes no difference to me.” Here we see a clear defense for Peter, who by this time in the Jerusalem congregation was accepted as the Vicar of the Anointed One, and head of the congregation. So, Peter’s reputation was important not only to the congregation but to those who would follow him in this capacity.[18]

Furthermore, we are told that there were several bishops who were not yet assigned to Syria. The people turned to Chrysostom and his friend Basil of Cæsarea (329-379 AD) as suitable candidates for the episcopal office, although they came up short of the required canonical age of thirty. Chrysostom shrunk from the responsibilities and avoided an election by apparently making an agreement with Basil that both should either accept or resist the burden of the episcopate. However, Chrysostom secretly nominated his friend Basil whom he deserved the honor more than himself. As news of the election came in, Basil was under the impression that Chrysostom’s consecration already took place. That’s why he reluctantly submitted to the election results.

When Basil found out his being fooled into thinking Chrysostom was chosen by trickery, he accused his friend of going back on their original agreement. But Chrysostom just laughed because he thought it was funny that his friendly plot worked so well. However, it caused no offense among the Christians of that age and was regarded as good management. On Chrysostom’s part, when asked how he could do such a thing, some of those on Chrysostom’s side such as Jerome and Origen explained that this was similar to the collision between the Apostles Paul and Peter at Antioch turning into a theatrical and hypocritical farce shrewdly arranged by the two Apostles for the purpose of convincing the Jewish Christians that circumcision was not necessary. However, Augustine protested at such thinking and Jerome changed his view on this particular passage here in Galatians. Here is a point where the modern standard of ethics is far superior to that of the early church Fathers, and more fully accords with the spirit of the New Testament, which instills strict truthfulness as a fundamental virtue for all Christians.[19] It’s hard to believe that these men of the early church sometimes acted like boys.

Consequently, when these guests from Jerusalem showed up at Antioch it put Peter in a delicate situation. And since Peter was going back to Jerusalem, he decided to agree to their wishes. Chrysostom is sure that Peter’s act of separating himself from the Gentiles would raise no suspicion if he first offered a reason for doing what he did. But Paul knew what was going on. That’s why he rebukes Peter, and Peter acknowledges the error. By pointing out who was to blame, those who went along with Peter realized their own fault in blindly following along. It was necessary for Paul to stand up against what Peter did. If he didn’t, anything he might say later would have little effect. However, Paul’s severe reproof of Peter impressed those who joined in his hypocrisy with a more realistic fear. Chrysostom believes that Peter accepted the rebuke so that Paul’s status as a teacher and missionary in Antioch would not be challenged.

[1] Acts of the Apostles 11:1-3

[2] Exodus 32:21-24

[3] Numbers 20:8-12

[4] Jeremiah 1:17

[5] Jonah 1:3; 4:3, 4, 9

[6] Ephesians 3:6

[7] See Luke 15:1-2

[8] Jerome: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., Edwards, M. J. (Ed.),. pp. 25–26

[9] Acts of the Apostles 10:1- 48

[10] Tertullian: Nicene Fathers, op. cit., p. 830

[11] 1 Corinthians 9:20-22

[12] Acts of the Apostles 21:26

[13] Origen: Ante-Nicene Fathers, op. cit., Bk. 2, Ch 1, p. 830

[14] Church History, 2.2; cf. 2.25, 3.20, 3.33, 5.5

[15] Montanism held similar views about the basic tenets of Christian doctrine to those of the wider Christian Church, but it was labeled a heresy for its belief in new prophetic revelations. The prophetic movement called for a reliance on the spontaneity of the Holy Spirit and a more conservative personal ethic.

[16] De Viris Illustribus: (The Lives of Illustrious Men), 53

[17] Pierre de Labriolle: Les sources pour l’histoire de Montanisme, 1913

[18] Chrysostom: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., Edwards, M. J. (Ed.), p. 26

[19] Chrysostom: Nicene Fathers, op. cit., Prolegomena, Ch. 4, p. 17

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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