NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CONGREGATIONS OF BELIEVERS
CHAPTER TWO (Lesson XXVIII)
Catholic scholar Cornelius à Lapide points out that Paul uses the Greek verb orthopodeō, here in verse fourteen, which means to “walk in a straight line.” In other words, don’t turn to the right or to the left, stay on course. So, Paul is telling Peter that the road he is on is the straight and narrow way, so why is he violating his commitment by deviating from the path set out for him? The Gentiles are comfortable in partaking of different foods which shows that for him the Jewish kosher laws are dead. In fact, Lapide says, now that the Gospel is being preached those laws are not only dead but deadly. Didn’t Peter know that he was telling the Gentiles that they now must comply with Jewish laws and customs? Wasn’t this also a sly way of telling the Gentile believers that they were still heathens?
English Bible scholar Matthew Henry feels that Paul’s actions and attitudes in Antioch involving Peter and the Jewish contingent sent by James from Jerusalem were repeated here by Paul as a message to the Galatians. When reading between the lines of Paul’s account of what passed between him and the other Apostles at Jerusalem, the Galatians could easily discern both the falseness of what his enemies in Jerusalem tried to imply against him and the Galatians’ own folly and weakness in departing from that Gospel he preached to them. But to give the greater importance to what he already said, and more fully to fortify them against the implications of the Judaizing teachers, he adds this incident that occurred between him and the Apostle Peter at Antioch, and what they should learn from it all.
Lutheran Bible scholar Johann Bengel also notes Paul’s use of this Greek verb orthopodeō and says that it not only means to walk a straight line but also to walk with the body erect, which suggests certainty and purpose. This is opposed to walking crookedly as if lame, and Bengel says it could also discern that the person walking this way is straddling the line. In other words, you don’t know really what side they are on. In this case, did it mean that Peter sided with the Jews or with the Gentiles on the matter of what to eat and drink as a believer in the Anointed One? By straddling the line, it suggested that he was trying to be on both sides at the same time. So, Paul steps in and tells him that doesn’t work here. Either you are for the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth or you cannot be trusted.
Methodist Bible scholar Joseph Benson speculates that what we see recorded here probably took place at the conclusion of some of their public worship meetings. On such occasions it was usual, after the reading of the Law and the prophets, to give the assembly words of instruction. Were this offence of Peter a private nature, undoubtedly, as duty required, Paul would confer with him privately and not bring it out into the open, at least in the first instance before a large group of worshipers. Since it all happened out in the open, causing many people to become deeply concerned, the method Paul used to address the issue was certainly most proper. And by openly admonishing Peter, he not only acted honestly but generously, for it would involve finding fault with him behind his back, without giving him an opportunity to vindicate himself. Perhaps, says Macknight, Peter in this, and in a former instance, may be allowed to show remorse providing an effective means to discourage any arrogant claims by any potential successors to the apostleship of harboring feelings of supremacy and infallibility.
British Methodist Bible scholar Adam Clarke also feels strongly about Paul’s right to condemn Peter’s hypocrisy. For him, according to the true doctrine which states that the Anointed One is the fulfillment of the Law for justification to everyone that believes; and that they are under no obligation to observe circumcision and the other peculiar rites and ceremonies of the Law. This was a cutting statement, especially since it came from a former Pharisee who painstakingly did everything relative to the Law, and it required a miracle to convince him that the Gentiles were to be admitted into the Kingdom of God because they believed in the Anointed One only by faith. In addition to that, they became full members of the same congregation and fellow heirs of the same hope of timeless living. The consequence of Peter’s hypocrisy was that while he went in with the Gentiles and ate with them; namely. associated with them as he would with Jews, but now fearing what the visiting Jews would say, he withdrew from his fellowship with the Gentiles. So why was Peter compelling the non-Jews to take on Jewish ways? So, Paul says to Peter: “You once considered that they were not under such an obligation, and now thou act as if you did not consider the law in full force; but you are convinced that the contrary is the case, yet acted differently! This is hypocrisy.”
Clarke also points to another factor that allows comparison to an ancient inscription found on a large Greek marble slate concerning an Olympian who was not born a citizen of Greece, yet he was considered an Olympian by virtue of his qualifications for entering the races. He relates this to many of the Jewish believers in Antioch who called themselves Jews even though they were not born in Judea, yet because they were born to Jewish parents, they were by nature Jewish. So why then, could not the non-Jews in the congregation be considered an equal part of the Christian family because of their new birth through Jesus the Anointed One, the son of Abraham, the son of David?
Scottish independent Bible scholar James Haldane raises the question that if our Lord commanded that when a fellow believer makes a mistake, we should inform him privately so it is just between us and them. So why did Paul not stick to this precept? Why did he openly confront Peter so that now everyone knew about his hypocritical error? According to Haldane, it was because what Peter did was no secret, everybody saw what he did. Furthermore, the trespass was not against Paul, but against all the Gentiles believers present at the meal. Not only was Peter’s conduct improper and against what he practiced up until now, but it also put a stumbling-block in the path of the Gentile members of the congregation in Antioch. Why did he communicate to the Gentiles that even as a former Jew he accepted their freedom when it came to food and drink, and showed it by dining with them? But when the Jewish contingent from Jerusalem showed up, he took that freedom away. That’s what upset Paul more than anything.
German Lutheran Bible scholar Heinrich Meyer comments on Paul’s charge that Peter was not walking uprightly. He also notes that this phrase is not used elsewhere in Scripture and accepts it as a figure of speech that applies to one’s walk according to ethical ideas. It applies to one’s moral – as a noun for a person’s standards of behavior or beliefs, not as moral – as adjective concerning the principles of right and wrong. Peter already understood the difference between right and wrong, but he seemed to be confused over what was right or wrong about his behavior toward the Gentiles.
German Presbyterian Bible scholar Johann Lange sees Paul correction of Peter as an attempt to show the contradiction involved in his actions. How could Peter, who is a Jew was living as though he were Gentile, turn around and tell the Gentiles that they should start living like Jews? How ironic that the lifestyle which Peter forsook he now encourages the Gentiles to embrace! It is true, that Peter did not verbally command the Gentiles to take such action, but his actions was a much of a nonverbal command as if he openly said to do so. There is also no evidence that the delegation from James voiced such an opinion. This then might have caused Paul to redirect his admonition toward James, not Peter. Furthermore, Peter received no instructions from James to make such a change in his behavior. In other words, it was all Peter’s idea and, therefore, Peter’s fault. That’s why Paul confronted Peter and no one else.
Scottish theologian John Eadie points out that the language Paul uses here to describe Peter’s sudden change of direction is that it didn’t start just yesterday, Peter walked this path for some time. The irony of all this is that being set free from the oppressive Jewish canon of numerous laws and multiple rites, rituals, and ceremonies are something God promised the Jews and something they longed for over the centuries. So why should Peter now carry not only that the unbearable yoke on himself but call the Gentiles to be yoked with him in following their rut to nowhere? Jesus called everyone who believed in Him to throw off the heavy yoke of rites, rituals, and ceremonies, and put on His lighter yoke of faith which was easy and light. In Paul’s mind, Peter was no better than the Judaizers who swarmed into Galatia to try and convert the Gentiles there to take the yoke of Judaism on their shoulders as a way of giving them a greater guarantee of the salvation they received as a gift without it.
Irish Bible scholar W. A. O’Conor notes that Paul observed this group of Jews who participated in the act of segregation as showing no interest or forethought in consciously promoting and maintaining the truth of the Gospel. The pure Gospel stands free from legal observances and distinctions. But it was Peter that Paul focused in on because being the senior member in this group, he certainly knew this, and showed it by living accordingly with the Gentiles. But when Jews came, he pretended to think otherwise, and thus endangered the truth of the Gospel with the Gentiles. He was acting like a hypocrite for his own popularity with the Jews, which harbored the potential of keeping the truth of the Gospel from the Gentiles. For this betrayal of the truth, Paul rebuked him openly. If this all happened in a private situation, Paul’s rebuke would be private.
American Baptist theology professor Alvah Hovey contends that Paul held back on saying any more about this occasion seeing that six, or possibly seven, years passed since it occurred. That’s why he now presents it in condensed form. He was telling this to the Galatians, not as a way of bragging or showing himself to be a tough guy, but out of thankfulness to God for the grace which enabled him to speak them. Moreover, we are given every right to believe that the Holy Spirit provided the inspiration Paul needed in recalling this event. Paul’s direct appeal to Peter for him to take note of the inconsistency of his conduct could only be met in one of two ways. Let him confess that he did wrong by living as a Gentile, or confess that what he just did was wrong by not remaining consistent. Was he to take the second option it would simply be a case of good intentions gone bad. But if he confessed that he really didn’t believe in the liberty given to the Gentiles through God’s Word, that would be his approval and sanction of the Judaizing party’s efforts to compel the Gentile believers to live as Jews, for the sake of unity and peace. When Paul saw this, he knew if he didn’t do or said something immediately, the future of the Antioch congregation and the sanctity of the Gospel stood in grave jeopardy.
 Cornelius à Lapide: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 248
 Matthew Henry: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.,
 Johann Bengel: On Galatians, op. cit., pp. 579-580
 Adam Clarke: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.
 Matthew 18:15
 James Haldane: On Galatians, op. cit., pp. 82-83
 Heinrich August Wilhelm Meyer, Epistle to the Galatians, Translated by G. H. Venables, Published by Funk and Wagnalls, New York, 1884, p. 80
 Lange, John Peter: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., Vol. 8, (Kindle Location 3280-3348).
 Matthew 11:29
 John Eadie: On Galatians, op. cit., pp. 155-161
 O’Conor, W. A: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 31
 Hovey, A: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 32