by Dr. Robert R. Seyda



One of Augustine’s and Chrysostom’s contemporary scholars, Gaius Marius Victorinus (300-379), noticed the same tactic. But he addresses a story going around in his day proposing that Peter and Paul put all this on as an act without prior consultation for the benefit of both Jewish and Gentile Christians at Antioch. He notes that the essential component of this theory is that no real conflict existed between Peter and Paul in the sense of discord on doctrines of the Gospel. So, it does appear that both apostles employed hypocrisies in their evangelism when the situations demanded it.[1]

We are given a fuller account of this idea when Augustine wrote a letter to Jerome. The two men earlier enjoyed friendly relations, and Alypius, Bishop of Thagaste (which is now Algeria), Augustine’s friend, stayed with Jerome at Bethlehem. But Augustine, then assistant to the Bishop of Hippo, in a letter to Jerome, found fault with some of his statements in his Commentary on Galatians about what happened between Peter and Paul in Antioch. It is believed that Bishop Alypius was the one who pointed to Jerome and agreed with his account of the scene in Antioch,[2] in which Paul rebukes Peter for inconsistent compliance with Judaism. That it was a pretend dispute, arranged between the two Apostles in order to make the truth clear to the members of the congregation. Augustine objects that this is practically imputing falsehood to the Apostles.[3] Even Chrysostom in a sermon made the statement that many, on a superficial reading of this part of Galatians supposed that Paul accused Peter of hypocrisy. But says Chrysostom, “… this is not so, indeed it is not, far from it; we shall discover great wisdom, both of Paul and Peter, concealed herein for the benefit of their hearers.”[4]

As we see, to think that all the early church leaders were best friends with each other is not a reality. In fact, it was discussed by many early church scholars such as Ambrosiaster (circa 366 AD), who wrote at this same time he wanted to express his thinking on this subject. He asks, who else in Antioch would  dared to oppose Peter, the chief of the Apostles, to whom the Lord gave the keys of the kingdom, except someone on Peter’s level who could rely on his calling by the Anointed One to affirm that he was not inferior and would continually rebuke Peter if he once again did something without thinking properly about it? So, this was no prearranged skit by Peter and Paul. The Gentile and Jewish believers in Antioch would spot such a prank right away. They knew it was real, and Paul’s break with Barnabas later was a genuine casualty of Peter’s hypocrisy.

This same scholar goes on to point out that we must remember that what was happening now in Galatia with these false apostles, is subsequent to Paul’s meeting with the congregation’s council in Jerusalem.  So that means these legalistic teachers were aware of that meeting and knew full well the decision made with regard to Paul’s ministry to the Jews and non-Jews. Ambrosiaster was convinced that all of these converted Jews who consented to the policy of Peter and Barnabas were men of good faith. It was the way in which those who came from James were outraged by Peter’s earlier actions related to Gentiles. In fact, they were so zealous for the law and venerated both the Anointed One and the Law on an equal footing – which goes against the teaching of the faith – that they did not eat with Gentiles when they were present because they were afraid of the reaction which would come from those who were zealous for the law.

So Ambrosiaster concludes that if that’s all there was to it, why look at it as being so unacceptable? But Paul shows in what follows what the real error was. He himself gave in to the hostility and pressure of the Jewish believers because he feared that otherwise, it might provoke a scandal too difficult to put to rest. Examples of this can be seen when he was forced to purify himself according to the law and when he unwillingly circumcised Timothy.[5]

However, Pope Gregory I (540-604) – also known as Gregory the Great, wrote to Giovanni II, Bishop of Ravenna (578-595), about leadership and used Paul as an example. At one point in his letter, Gregory points out that a leader should not set their heart on pleasing the public, and yet, should listen to what they have to say. He gives the following warning, “He is the Redeemer’s enemy who through the good works which he does covets being loved by the congregation instead of by Him; since a servant whom the bridegroom sent with gifts for the bride is guilty of treacherous thought if he desires to please the eyes of the bride instead of the groom who sent the gifts.

Gregory goes on to say that a church leader with such a selfish and egotistical attitude tends to go easy on the members of the flock who are sinning. He does not want to confront them for fear of losing their loyalty and affection for him. He quotes from the prophet Ezekiel, “The Lord God says: Woe to these women who are damning the souls of my people, of both young and old alike, by tying magic charms on their wrists, furnishing them with magic veils, and selling them indulgences. They refuse to even offer help unless they get a profit from it.[6] (A thousand years later that would become the very curse that caused Martin Luther to launch a Reformation against the Church in Rome.)

Gregory concludes by saying that such church leaders always shy away from what they should do to sin among the congregation, they only look for what needs to be done to keep them in the fold. They do not seem to care about Judgment Day for it is easy to find forgiveness through their repeated prayers. They hate to be contradicted in what they say. Even when they do something wrong, they do not want to receive any criticism or censure from their subordinates. The Apostle Paul was just the opposite. He desired the truth to be loved more fully than himself and did not want to be spared by no one against the truth. For hence Peter willingly accepted Paul’s rebuke. And just as David accepted the rebuke of the prophet Nathan,[7] so leaders of the congregation should be reminded of Paul’s rebuke here in verse eleven. [8]

A little later, 9th century Bible scholar Bruno the Carthusian (1030-1101), made the point that when Cephas came to Antioch, Paul opposed him, not in secret but to his face, that is, in plain view of the congregation. He opposed him because what he needed to be condemned, if not in his thinking then at least through his example. Paul opposed Peter to his face because Peter was not merely sinning himself, for which he deserved to be corrected privately, but his act of hypocrisy ended up corrupting the congregation. A person who sinned in public ought to be publicly rebuked. Indeed, it was essential that those who witnessed the offense should be the same ones to see exposed and corrected.[9]

[1] Marius Victorinus, Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[2] Galatians 2:11-16

[3] Prolegomena to the Principal Works of Jerome (394-404), Augustine to Jerome, on a passage in his Commentary on Galatians, 394-404, p. 40

[4] Chrysostom, John. The Complete Works of St. John Chrysostom (36 Books) (Kindle Locations 63893-63894). Kindle Edition.

[5] Ambrosiaster: Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit., p. 12

[6] Ezekiel 13:18 – Living Bible. (The Latin Vulgate from which Pope Gregory I quoted does not give sufficient clarity to the Hebrew in this verse.)

[7] 2 Samuel 12:7

[8] Gregory the Great: The Book of Pastoral Rule, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Philip Schaff, ed. Vol. 12, Part 2, Ch. 8, pp. 518-519

[9] Bruno the Carthusian, Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

About drbob76

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