A Study of Galatians 2:11-16
But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. 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. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before [them] all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? We [who are] Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. [Gal 2:11-16]
Paul, having just wrote about receiving the right hands of fellowship from James, Cephas, and John, now speaks of a contrasting event. Peter (Cephas) visited Antioch. We are not told why or when, for the event is not mentioned anywhere else. To put this somewhere in the Acts narrative, it would probably be in the period mentioned in Acts 15:35 when Paul and Barnabas continued in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also. There is no mention of Peter in that verse, and interestingly enough, there is no further mention of Peter in the book of Acts. There is also no further mention of Barnabas after he and Paul parted ways over disagreement as to whether to take John Mark with to visit the brethren in every city.
Verse 12 states that Peter was pleased to have perfect fellowship with the gentile believers. He understood fully the Lord’s word to him:
What God hath cleansed, [that] call not thou common. [Act 10:15]
He stood up for the gentile believers in the meeting at Jerusalem:
And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare [the gentile believers] witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as [He did] unto us; And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. [Act 15:8-9]
But to save face he turned his back on what he knew to be true, and fearing those of the circumcision coming from James in Jerusalem, he again built up “the middle wall of partition”. Peter knew this truth:
For He is our peace, Who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition [between us]; Having abolished in His flesh the enmity, [even] the law of commandments [contained] in ordinances; for to make in Himself of twain one new man, [so] making peace; And that He might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. [Eph 2:14-18]
He was acting contrary to it. Paul publicly rebuked him for turning his back on the truth that he very well knew.
The fear of man bringeth a snare…[Pro 29:25]
It must have been embarrassing for Peter to be publicly rebuked. This is contrasted with verse 2 where Paul went privately to “them which were of reputation”. This was not teaching of a new revelation as in verse 2. This was rebuke for wrong behavior. The body of Christ is not a body of earthly distinctions. It is a new creation of union with the Lord Jesus Christ.
For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye [be] Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. [Gal 3:26-29]
And have put on the new [man], which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him: Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond [nor] free: but Christ [is] all, and in all. [Col 3:10-11]
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. [Gal 6:15]
As stated many times in this Galatians study, the gentiles were not now to take their place as Jews or in subjection to Jews, but now have a place in Christ. Peter and Paul were both Jews, and both know this truth:
We [who are] Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. [Gal 2:15-16]
The law would justify no one. For by the law is the knowledge of sin. [Rom 3:20] The place of the law is to show all, both Jew and Gentile, to be guilty before God. (Rom 3:19) All separation among those in Christ is sin that is contrary to the truth of our unity of the Spirit. (Eph 4:3)
Even the righteousness of God [which is] by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: [Rom 3:22-24]
Peter and Paul did not form separate parties as some unbelieving Bible students have supposed in their “scholarly” works. They were apostles and brothers in our Lord Jesus Christ. Peter did not hold a grudge against Paul for this, and there is no indication that they left each other’s company on bad terms. In Peter’s second letter, he refers to Paul as “our beloved brother Paul” and calls his epistles scripture. (2Pet 3:15) Colossians 4:10 indicates reconciliation between Paul and Barnabas, and Mark. Sometimes we need help in doing the right thing that we know to be right.
Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee: rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee. [Pro 9:8]
Faithful [are] the wounds of a friend … Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend. [Pro 27:6, 17]