by Dr. Robert R. Seyda



Philip Schaff (1819-1893), the great church history expert gives us a look at this situation we are discussing from a historical perspective. He tells us that the scene here in verses eleven to thirteen are of great importance for the history of Apostolic Christianity, but often misunderstood and distorted both in the interest of orthodoxy and liberalism. It took place between the Apostolic conference in Jerusalem (50 AD) and the second great missionary journey of Paul (51 AD). So, it makes sense to assign the personal dispute between Paul and Barnabas on account of Mark,[1] to this same period.  Barnabas followed the bad example of Peter (see verse thirteen), and Mark would naturally sympathize with Barnabas, his cousin,[2] and with Peter, his spiritual father.[3]

George B. Stevens (1854-1906) notes that there were some extenuating circumstances this existed before this incident here in Antioch that put Peter in jeopardy of being accused of living two lives. He notes that after Peter’s vision at the tanner’s house,[4] he declared the principle that God is no respecter of persons,[5] but that in every nation those who reverence God are justified in the Anointed One to receive a right standing with God. To prove that, Peter visited and associated freely with the converted Gentiles in Cornelius’ household. The only criticism Peter took of the actions occurred when he got back to Jerusalem and told his story.[6] This was no doubt known by Paul and other Apostles as well.

Now here in Antioch, Peter is confronted with the same criticism by the entourage sent by the Apostle James, asking him the same question: Why are you freely associating and eating with the heathen Gentiles? But this time says Stevens, Peter wavered and then gave in to their objection. In fact, he went contrary to his vision at the leather worker’s house. But Jesus faced the same criticism and He was successful in beating it back by teaching that it is not the outer character but the inner character, thoughts, motives, and actions by which a person can be defiled.[7] The lesson Peter learned through his vision that the distinction of clean and unclean foods was abolished, as well as the same distinctions between Jews and Gentiles. So, Peter’s inconsistent action in line with his former conduct which he previously defended, is what Paul called into question.[8] Perhaps it was this double standard that Paul saw and decided to draw a line and defend the neutrality of God and His Grace between races, colors, genders, and ethnicities.[9]

There was, therefore, a double reason for the temporary alienation of Paul and Barnabas, says Schaff. It appears that soon after the council at Jerusalem finished, a misunderstanding arose as to the precise meaning of the decree of the council.[10] That decree was both emancipative and restrictive; it emancipated the Gentile converts from circumcision as a test of congregation membership – something the Pharisaical Judaizers vainly insisted upon, but it laid on them the restriction of  observing the precepts traditionally traced to  Noah,[11] requiring all Gentile proselytes to abstain from “meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication” (probably a warning to unlawful marriages outside the family of Israel.[12] So the Judaizers seemed to have turned a solid agreement into a weak compromise.[13] It would not seem hard then to surmise that James sent this entourage down from Jerusalem to Antioch to test whether or not the compromise was being kept.

Ernest DeWitt Burton (1856-1925) feels that the thing that really rubbed on Paul’s nerves was the fact that Peter and Barnabas were playing a game under a mask of pretending to be what they really were not. Both of them knew better. They were playing the visiting Jewish contingent sent by James for fools as much as hoping the Gentiles would know what they were really up to by withdrawing and eating kosher foods with the Jewish group. As Paul saw it, it was the worst kind of hypocrisy, because neither Peter nor Barnabas really changed their minds about their freedom to eat with the Gentiles. If Peter and Barnabas really did not experience a change of heart, Paul’s handling of the situation would be done differently. But as soon as the Jewish contingent left they would be back eating with the Gentiles. And if the Gentiles asked them why they did what they did, Peter could tell them, “Oh, we were just fooling around.” But worst of all, if Paul did not confront them in the middle of the playacting, then the Jewish converts in Antioch might take the Apostle Peter’s conduct as something to follow from now on.[14]

Current Jewish professor Magnus Zetterholm at Lund University in Sweden, who wrote extensively on the relationship between early Christianity and Judaism, says that making such a presupposition is far from being self-evident. We cannot say with certainty that Paul’s intention was that all Jews in the Jesus movement should stop observing the Torah. Furthermore, if the non-Jewish adherents of the Jesus movement were recruited from the group of non-Jews that already took part in the activities of the synagogue, it is likely that they previously adapted the Jewish lifestyle, especially with regard to food.[15] Anyone reading this incident shows clearly that only those who were of Jewish descent dissembled with Peter and other Jews in his entourage, there is no evidence that there were any God-fearing converts among them.[16]

Zetterholm goes on to point out that the problem in Antioch involved the depth of Christian fellowship rather than with the food they ate. It involved an already established custom of Christians having community meals. Such matters as the setting at the table and how wine and food were handled may be seen by some of the visiting Jews as something they did not share in Paul’ s ideology regarding the equal standing of the non-Jews before God that the Jewish identity of the community was threatened. Except for the Epistle of James, the only letter he wrote to the non-Jewish believers in Antioch, and in this James makes it very clear that they were accepted in the congregation as equals, simply asking that they forsake their heathen practices of eating food sacrificed to idols; eating meat from strangled animals with blood still in it; and sexual immorality, all of which were practices in heathen temples.[17]

As we read congregation history, we see that the Messianic Jews among the congregations outside of Israel seemed to slowly evaporate in number, and within Israel, there is no historical record of Christian Jews maintaining congregations of any great number or influence, especially in Jerusalem. Therefore, it is reasonable to consider that any person who comes to the cross for forgiveness and accepts Jesus the Anointed One as their Lord and Savior, whether they be from Jewish or non-Jewish ethnicities, the minute they are redeemed and born again they become Christians, and all of the guidance, teachings, and theology they need in order to be faithful to the One who rescued them is found in the Gospel of the Anointed One.

As we can see, church scholars and historians spent a considerable amount of time discussing and dissecting this feud between Peter and Paul. Some did so to force their fellow scholars to take sides: either Peter was right and Paul was wrong, or Paul was right and Peter was wrong. But the core of the matter goes deeper than that. It involves maintaining the pure Gospel of Jesus the Anointed One or allowing individuals to add what they liked and subtract what they didn’t like; to add addition rites and rituals which they felt increased the value of a believer’s salvation, even though there were no Scriptures to back them up; to interpret the Gospel as they see it, or remain loyal the interpretation given by the Apostle in the beginning. And that same contention has infected the congregation of believers from then to this day. Who are we going to believe? Who are we going to follow? Who are we going to be loyal to? Jesus and His Word, or man and his word?

2:14  When I saw what they were doing was not in harmony with what the Gospel teaches, without hesitation I asked Peter in front of all the others, “How can you as a Jew, who has been living like those who are not Jews and not like a Jew, now suddenly turn around and urge those who are not Jews to start living like Jews?”

Paul is now introducing the story of what happened in Antioch between him and senior Apostle Peter. Paul admits that what happened to the Galatians after the Judaizers descended on them proves that they were victims of outside forces. However, Paul is poking them with his words to make them aware that they not completely helpless in controlling the situation. He believes it is only fair to put the main blame on these interferes, but it still did not excuse them for being so compliant with people they didn’t know at the expense of losing the truth they received from a person they did know. They made a very inappropriate choice in making the switch from the pure Gospel to this modified gospel with no opportunity to thoroughly examine and study it. Their failure to stand fast with their sights on the promises of God that was theirs in the Anointed One: “Look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus the Anointed One, will be revealed.”[18] [19]

Being a dedicated Pharisee, Paul knew what it took to live by the high standards of purity and obedience to the laws as taught by Jewish Rabbis. King David may be quoting the requirements when he asked,” O Lord, who may come inside your Tabernacle? Who may live on Your holy hill?” And it wasn’t easy: “The person who lives without making mistakes and does what is right and good and speaks the truth in their heart. Who does not hurt others with gossip, or do wrong to their neighbor, or embarrass their friends? Who looks pities a sinful person, but honors those who reverence the Lord? Who keeps their promises even if it may hurt them? Who lends money without charging interest? And who does not take a bribe to punish those who are not guilty? Whoever who does these things will never be easily swayed.[20]

[1] Acts of the Apostles 15:30-40

[2] Colossians 4:10

[3] 1 Peter 5:13

[4] Acts of the Apostles 10:10ff

[5] Ibid. 10:34-35

[6] Ibid. 11:2-3

[7] Luke 15:2

[8] See Acts of the Apostles; 11:4ff

[9] George B. Stevens: Short Exposition on Galatians, op. cit., pp.73-74

[10] Ibid. 15:20, 29

[11] Cf. Genesis 9:4-5

[12] Leviticus 17:18.

[13] Philip Schaff: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 308

[14] Ernest DeWitt Burton: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 108-109

[15] Magnus Zetterholm, Approaches to Paul: A Student’s Guide to Recent Scholarship, Published by Fortress Press, 2009, p. 25

[16] Acts of the Apostles 10:12-15

[17] Cf. Ibid. 15:22-35

[18] Titus 2:13 – New Living Translation

[19] Mark A. Nanos: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 55

[20] Psalm 15:1-5

About drbob76

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