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Summary: When Paul visited Jerusalem, Peter (and others) gave him the “right hand of fellowship”; but when Peter visited Antioch, Paul “opposed him to his face.” Peter’s conduct in Antioch produced a tense face-to-face confrontation between two Christian leaders.

September 21, 2013

The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians

Tom Lowe

Chapter II.B.4.a: Peter’s Hypocrisy (2.11-13)

Galatians 2.11-13 (KJV)

11 But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.

12 For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision.

13 And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation.

Commentary

11 But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.

But when Peter was come to Antioch,

When Paul visited Jerusalem, Peter (and others) gave him the “right hand of fellowship”; but when Peter visited Antioch, Paul “opposed him to his face.” Peter’s conduct in Antioch produced a tense face-to-face confrontation between two Christian leaders. Paul felt compelled to rebuke and condemn Peter for his actions, thus defending the Gospel and demonstrating again his own independence and equality as an apostle.

The situation that existed in Antioch is described in Acts 11.19, 20: “Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only. And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus.” From this point the historical record, which is the Acts of the Apostles, takes a new direction. Up till now, the history recorded chiefly the preaching of the gospel to the Jews. From this point the history records the efforts made to convert the Gentiles. It begins with the work done in the important city of Antioch by the apostle Paul: “Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul: And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch” (Acts 11.25, 26). There were two cities with this name, one situated in Pisidia in Asia Minor (see Acts 13:14); the other, referred to here, was situated on the Orontes River, and was the capital of Syria for many years. It was built by Seleucus Nicanor, and was called Antioch in honor of his father Antiochus. It was founded in 301 B.C., and for a long time it was the most powerful city in the East, and was inferior only to Seleucia and Alexandria. It was famous for the fact that the right of citizenship was conferred by Seleucus on the Jews as well as the Greeks and Macedonians, so that here they had the privilege of worshipping in their own way without persecution. The Christians there would probably be regarded merely as a sect of Jews, and would be allowed to celebrate their worship without any outside interference. The early Christians may have regarded this city as particularly important, because here they could find refuge from persecution, and worship God without being mistreated. This city was honored as a Roman colony, a metropolis, and an asylum. It was large; was adorned with fine fountains; and was a city of great lavishness. Through the first two centuries of the Christian era it was what Constantinople became afterward, 'the Gate of the East.' "If any city in the first century was worthy to be called the Pagan Queen and Metropolis of the East, that city was Antioch. The gospel was preached there, but only to the Jews. But when Paul arrived that changed, because he preached the gospel to the Gentiles of that city, and the Lord blessed his ministry with many souls coming to Christ.

The reason for which Paul makes this statement—“But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed”—is evident. It is to show that he regarded himself on the same level with the chief apostles, and that he did not think he was inferior to any of them. Peter was the oldest, and probably the most respected apostle. Yet Paul says that he did not hesitate to oppose him in a case where Peter was obviously wrong, and in this way showed that he was an apostle of the same standing as the others. Besides, what he said to Peter on that occasion was exactly relevant to the point of the argument which he was having with the Galatians, and he therefore introduces it in Galatians 2:14-21 to show that he had held the same doctrine all along, and that he had defended it in the presence of Peter, and in a case where Peter did not have a reply. The time of this journey of Peter to Antioch cannot be established; nor the occasion on which it occurred. I think it is evident that it was after this visit by Paul to Jerusalem, and the occasion may have been to inspect the condition of the church at Antioch, and to resolve any differences of opinion which may have existed there. But everything in regard to this is mere conjecture; and it is of little importance to know when it occurred.

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