by Dr. Robert R. Seyda


CHAPTER TWO (Lesson XXI) 08/12/19

In another writing Aquinas noted that according to Jerome, in Antioch Peter separated himself from the Gentiles by pretending that he was siding with the Jewish contingent that was sent down from Jerusalem by the Apostle James in order to avoid going back after his visit and facing ridicule for having sided with the Gentiles after being called by God to be an apostle to the Jews. That’s why there was no sin involved. On the other hand, Paul was doing the same thing by pretending to reprimand Peter and calling him a hypocrite in order to look good among the Gentiles to whom he was called to be an Apostle.

But Aquinas is not accepting this explanation because in the Scripture Paul himself said that we should not treat something true we know to be false. Paul said that Peter was at fault, and Paul told the truth, so how can he be accused of pretending. On the other hand, Peter was not wrong by observing a legal Jewish custom, something that he did before converting to Christianity. But he did do wrong by his excessive exactness in the observance of those legal rites. So, for Aquinas, he was not accepting any excuses for Peter’s hypocritical behavior.[1]

But apparently the questions kept coming, and one of them was whether or not someone who is thought to be perfect can actively participate in a scandal? Again, the confrontation between Peter and Paul in Antioch is the basis for Aquinas’ answer. After Peter received the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, he was elevated to a state of perfection. Then some years later, he was involved in a scandal in Antioch when he insulted the Gentile Christians by separating himself to eat with the Jewish Christians. This goes to show, says Aquinas, that even perfect saints make mistakes.[2] This may help us understand why the Pope is tolerated by congregation authorities when he makes an error.[3]

So, the big question at this point might be: Why is this confrontation between Paul and Peter in Antioch such a controversy, that so many scholars felt the need to offer their comments and views on the incident? The obvious answer is that by Paul’s time there was already festering beneath the surface the question of do we stand up for what’s right, what our Lord taught, or do we cave into opposition and thereby water down the Gospel? Paul saw how Stephen stood up for his Savior and the truth, even though it cost him his life.[4] It is clear that Paul wanted everyone to be like Stephen. Hold the flag of truth high even in the midst of a battle. Commit oneself to be loyal to the Gospel as it was delivered by Yeshua the Messiah. So, we can see why scholars down through the church age have had to take a stand on one side or the other. That’s why they needed to express their points of view so no one could accuse them of the same hypocrisy of Peter.

So, I’ve inserted these various comments on what occurred between Peter and Paul in Antioch, so you see how the theological perspective of early church scholars evolved between 300 to 1100 AD. What some are attempting to do is to suggest that Paul was exploiting an opportunity just to prove his equality with Peter by publicly embarrassing him with an accusation of discriminating against the Gentile Christians. In so doing, Paul demonstrates absolutely no respect for this elder Apostle. They contrast this occasion with Paul’s bragging to the Corinthians when he wrote them: “I don’t consider myself inferior in any way to the ‘super-apostles’… I may be unskilled as a speaker, but I’m not lacking in knowledge.”[5] Again, Adam blaming Eve for his sin, and Eve blaming the serpent seems to still be alive in some minds as an acceptable excuse for one’s mistake.

Early church scholar Chrysostom advises that many of those who read this passage superficially believe that Paul was rebuking Peter for being a hypocrite. But he disagrees. In fact, Chrysostom says it is not so, far from it! If we look closely, Chrysostom feels that we will find that there was a deep though hidden understanding between Paul and Peter for the good of those who listen. Paul does not now say this to condemn Peter, but in the same spirit as when he spoke of those who are “reputed to be special.” After all, the Apostles consented to circumcision in Jerusalem because it was not possible to tear them away from the law all at once. But when they came to Antioch, they did not continue to practice those traditions but lived harmoniously with the Gentile believers there. After Peter arrived, he did the same thing.

But when the delegation from James came from Judea and saw him practicing something he did not preach, Peter decided to return to his Jewish roots in order not to upset them. He developed a twofold purpose, to avoid scandalizing the Jews and to give Paul a plausible reason to confront him. For if Peter himself, having included circumcision in his preaching in Jerusalem, changed in Antioch, those of Jewish origin would surmise that he did this from fear of Paul, and his disciples would condemn his excessive complacency. And so, Paul rebukes Peter on his own. It is like the master who when informed of making an error keeps silent so that his disciples might more easily keep from making the same mistake.[6]

In spite of the fact that Church historian Eusebius tells us that Clement of Alexandria in the fifth book of his Hypotyposes,[7] claims that Cephas was one of the seventy disciples, a man who bore the same name as the Apostle Peter, and the one concerning whom Paul says, “When Cephas came to Antioch I withstood him to his face.”[8] And although Thomas Aquinas tries to lower Peter’s hypocrisy to that of a mere mistake because once the Apostles received the Holy Spirit they never sinned, and Jerome attributed it to ignorance on Peter’s part, Martin Luther feels it is wrong to elevate Peter above having any faults. Luther believes that a number of the Apostles erred in thinking of the kingdom of the Anointed One as having come down on earth as the Church. What matters down here is more important than what matters up above. Paul needed to confront Peter on this issue, otherwise, it required all the male Gentile believers to receive circumcision as part of their Christian faith.[9] Were that the case then salvation by grace stood a good chance of ending up on the trash heap of church history.

Reformer John Calvin challenges everyone to carefully examine all the circumstances involved in this incident. He believes they will agree with him in concluding that this happened before the Apostles decided that the Gentiles not be forced into accepting Jewish ceremonial observances.[10] With that being the case, Peter need not fear offending James or those sent by him. But that was part of Peter’s deception. When that happened, then Paul was driven to assert “the truth of the Gospel.” Paul already said that the certainty of his Gospel does not in any degree depend on Peter and the Apostles, so as to stand or fall by their judgment. In addition, he said, that it was approved by all without any exception or contradiction, and particularly by those who were looked up to as leaders of the congregation. Paul makes it clear that he blames Peter for giving in to the other side and attributes that to being the cause of the dispute. Furthermore, this proved the strength of Paul’s doctrine. Not only did he obtained the sincere approval of the Council, but firmly maintained it in his debate with Peter, and came off victorious. What reason could there now be for anyone hesitating to receive it as certain and genuine truth?

So, Calvin attributes this incident to the fact that the Council in Jerusalem did rule on what was permissible among the Gentiles. But there is no reason not to believe that what happened here between Paul and Peter did influence the outcome later on. Calvin goes on to use Paul’s authority, in this case, to put the Vatican on notice that they also should refrain from any pretensions that they act according to their own will in defiance to the whole church, and follow Peter’s example in submissively bowing to the chastisement given him by Paul.[11]

In the writings of Catholic scholar Cornelius à Lapide, we find a curious explanation of this confrontation between Peter and Paul in Antioch. He claims that Erasmus and others interpret this to mean in appearance, outwardly, pretending, and by previous arrangement. But Lapide believes that the literal meaning is better. That Paul was saying that he openly resisted Peter, in order that the public scandal caused by him might be removed by a public rebuke. Lapide notes that Augustine, Ambrose, Bede, Anselm, and nearly all other Catholic authorities agree with him. So, it appears that there were those who wanted to keep Peter’s reputation as first Pope at its highest level and others who were willing to accept that even Peter could make a mistake.

Lapide also goes on to tell us that for many years there was a sharp dispute on this point between Jerome and Augustine. He then tells us that Jerome, Chrysostom, Theophylact, and Baronius hold that the rebuke was only theatrical. They argue that Peter, who lawfully followed the Jewish customs at Jerusalem among Jews, lived as a Gentile among Gentiles at Antioch. When, however, the Jews arrived in Antioch from Jerusalem, sent by James, he withdrew from the Gentiles in favor of the Jews, lest he should offend those who early receive the faith, and also that he might at the same time give Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles, an opportunity of rebuking him, that by yielding he might teach the Jews that the time for Judaizing was past. On the other side, Augustine maintains that Peter was really blameworthy, and was blamed by Paul, as the record distinctly declares.[12]

Richard Baxter (1615-1691) never received a higher position than that of the parish pastor, still, he was the most prominent English churchman of the 1600s. He was a peacemaker who sought unity among Protestants in the Church of England and non-conformists. That’s because he was a highly independent thinker – and at the center of every major controversy in England during his lifetime. In the work that made him most famous and which is highly regarded today on being a Reformed pastor. He talks about what he went through in proceedings that dealt with errant ministers. He said it took quite an effort to make sure that they did not do more harm than good. He learned that much discretion must be applied when assigning anyone to a position and make sure they are qualified and suited for the ministry put under their care. Sometimes, what seems logical to human thinking, in the end, causes them to be nervous and unsure so much, they need to be replaced.

[1] Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologica, Vol, 2, Part (2a), Question (103), Article (4) Response/Objection (2), pp. 1229 & 1232

[2] See Ibid, Vol, 3. Part (2b)-Question (43)-Article (6)-Objection (2), p. 510

[3] See Ibid. Part (2b)-Question (93)-Article (1), p. 1060

[4] Acts of the Apostles 22:20

[5] 2 Corinthians 11:5-6

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

[7] Hypotyposes is an extinct Biblical interpretation by Clement of which only fragments still exist.

[8] Eusebius, History of the congregation, Bk. 1, Ch. 12

[9] Martin Luther: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 36

[10] See Acts 15:28

[11] John Calvin, Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[12] Cornelius à Lapide: 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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