Galatians – Paul Rebukes Peter in Antioch

August 9, 2008

The start of the second chapter of Galatians accounts Paul’s journey to Jerusalem "after fourteen years," when he seeks Apostolic verification of the authenticity of his gospel and ministry. The Apostles clearly affirm his message and works, for "even Titus was not compelled to be circumcised, though he was a Greek" (v 3).

His words become passionate when he describes the attempts of certain Judaizers to sabotage his ministry, but states "to them we did not yield submission even for a moment, that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you" (v 5). Paul shrewdly puts himself on a par with Peter, whom he refers to as Cephas, citing his mission to the uncircumcised and that of Cephas to the circumcised (v 8).

He writes, "But when Cephas came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned," for he had abandoned eating with Gentiles after the arrival of the "circumcision party" (v 11-12). Peter’s insincere actions influence the rest of the Jews and even Barnabas, going against the Antiochian Church’s former custom of open fellowship between Jews and Greeks. Reacting to this, Paul says to Peter before the assembly, "If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?" (v 14). A former rabbinical student, Paul properly follows the law but knows that "if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose" (v 21). In this he emphasizes the singular merit of Christ’s sacrificial death and upholds the notion of Biblical Catholicity, where both Jew and Greek have access to life through His saving death.

Paul’s intolerance to and efforts against legalism, divisions, and mere "cultural Christianity" should motivate the modern Christian who may feel surrounded by ungodly influences in an overly-polite Church; if he seems shrill, it is because modern Christians are so dull.

Additionally, it is pivotal that Christians accept the life-giving sacrifice of Christ and proclaim with Paul that "I have been crucified with Christ; it is not I who live but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (v 20). Only then will one discover that the Christian life is truly about "putting on divinity," and entering into the uncreated life of the triune God.

Music: Beethoven’s "Symphony No. 4 in B Flat Major, Op. 60" performed by the Skidmore College Orchestra. www.musopen.com

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