Paul's Reproof of Peter, and the Lessons Drawn There from.
Peter's strange behavior at Antioch:
v. 11. But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.
v. 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.
v. 13. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him, insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation.
v. 14. 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?
Paul here relates this incident (for such it was, being without influence on the work of the Church), not in order to impair the reputation and authority of Peter, but to bring out the fact that his own position was independent, and that he was the equal of Peter. It was the principle of the matter with which Paul was concerned and which he brings out in his narrative. It seems that, sometime after the meeting in Jerusalem, Peter came to Antioch for a visit, the object of which is not indicated. And it was at this time that Paul found it necessary to take a stand against him, since his conduct had been found reprehensible, blameworthy. The Christians at Antioch had reasons to pass an unfavorable judgment upon Peter, and Paul felt obliged to take their part for the sake of the evangelical truth. For when Peter had first comedown from Jerusalem, he had observed the compact as made in Jerusalem, Act_15:1-41; he had freely associated with the Gentile Christians, just as he had done before, Act_10:11. But when certain people came from James, persons that belonged to the stricter class of Jewish Christians, who still observed all the outward customs of the Jewish religion, Peter withdrew from association with the Gentiles, in order to give the impression that he was avoiding the Levitical defilement which attended eating with Gentiles. But aside from the fact that Peter had himself defended his associating with Gentiles under similar conditions, Act_11:1-30, the articles of agreement which had been drawn up in Jerusalem were binding upon him as well as upon the Gentile Christians; they were the conditions of intercourse between the Jewish and Gentile Christians, and therefore Peter's withdrawal from the common meal violated the spirit of that solemn treaty. Peter's offense thus, in separating himself from the Gentiles, was an act of dissimulation, of hypocrisy, because he lacked the moral courage to face the stricter Jews.
Peter was a person of importance and influence, and his tentative and irresolute efforts gradually to withdraw from intercourse with the Gentile Christians had its effects upon others: And with him acted as hypocrites also the other Jews, so that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. This conduct was characteristic of that Peter whom the gospels describe: "First to confess Christ, first to deny Him; first to recognize and defend the rights of the Gentiles, first to disown them practically; his strength and weakness, boldness and timidity are the two opposite manifestations of the same warm, impulsive, and impressible temper. " Evil results followed at once; for the Jewish Christians of Antioch, who had previously associated with their brethren from among the Gentiles without a thought of evil, now affected religious scruples which they did not feel, their insincerity being a true form of hypocrisy. But what capped the climax was that even Barnabas permitted himself to be carried away by this reactionary behavior. Naturally, the Gentile Christians were both offended and perplexed, since by the change of conduct in Peter and the other Jews they were driven to the thought that, after all, the Mosaic Law must be binding, even in matters pertaining to outward ceremonies.
The situation was such as to cause the most serious apprehension on the part of Paul and to call for immediate drastic measures: But when I saw that they did not walk squarely according to the truth of the Gospel, I said to Peter before all, If you, being a Jew, lire like a Gentile and not like a Jew, why are you compelling the Gentiles to live as Jews? The behavior of Peter was a public offense and scandal and may have been particularly noticeable at the common meals associated with the celebration of the Holy Communion. Paul, therefore, with the Eighth Commandment in mind, did his duty without flinching: he spoke to Peter face to face, in the presence of those against whom he was sinning. Paul was concerned about the truth of the Gospel; for the conduct of Peter and the rest was casting reflections upon those whom God had pronounced clean in Christ. Not to confess outright, to walk circuitous paths, to evade straightforward honesty with the specious plea of charity, all these are things which do not harmonize with the Christian love which the Gospel presupposes in a life of sanctification. Paul's rebuke, therefore, was short and to the point. Peter was a Jew, and thus it would have been natural for him to live as a Jew, to observe the customs and forms which had been laid upon the Jews of old. But now he had deliberately left this accustomed practice and lived after the manner of the Gentiles, had associated with them on terms of absolute equality, which was perfectly right and proper for him to do, since he knew that no contamination would result. Now, however, that he had withdrawn in such an ostentatious manner from this association, he was really exerting a severe pressure on Gentile converts to adopt the Jewish mode of life, for they could not but conclude that, after all, the Jewish manner of living must be holier and better. Paul's point was well taken, as Peter's silence also admitted. "The hypocrisy of Peter, I say, Paul did not suffer. For he approves Peter's having lived after the heathen manner and again after the Jewish manner, but he condemns him for withdrawing and separating himself, when the Jews came, from the foods of the Gentiles. By this withdrawal he induced both Gentiles and Jews to believe that the heathen manner was not permitted while the Jewish was necessary, although he knew that both were free and permitted. " Note: Whenever the freedom and the truth of the Gospel are endangered by any acts of moral timidity and cowardice, the one approved course is to rectify the mistake at once and thus save the honor of Jesus.