In Galatians, Paul tells the story of how he came to Antioch and learned that Peter had stopped engaging in table fellowship with non-Jews. Paul mentions some unnamed visitors from Jerusalem as “those of the circumcision party” whom Peter feared (Gal 2:12). Other Jewish believers followed Peter’s example separating from Gentiles during meals. So Paul called Cephas (Peter) a hypocrite and said, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Gal 2:14 NASB). These words can create the impression that Paul and Peter were not on the same side, or that the two had completely parted ways when it came to their theologies. However, Paul’s confrontation with Peter reflects a standard Jewish practice of rebuke, which would not have marked an irreconcilable doctrinal split, but rather an ongoing in-house debate.

First, Jews can talk to each other harshly, exaggerate, argue, wave their hands in the air, and even call names, but still remain on generally good terms with each other after such arguments (Mat 5:22, 16:4, 23, Luke 3:7, 11:40). For instance, despite all of the arguments that Jesus had with the Pharisees, they were still willing to save Jesus from the Herodians: “At that very hour, some Pharisees came to [Jesus] and said to him, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you'” (Lk 13:31). Internal debate did not preclude continued alliance among Jews.

Second, when Paul confronts Peter he is performing a mitzvah — a good deed commanded in the Torah — called tochecha or “rebuke.” However, the Torah distinguishes between “rebuke” and “hate” — to rebuke a fellow Jew was not an act of hate, but of what we might call “tough love”: “You shall not hate (תשׂנאtisna) your fellow in your heart, [but] you must surely rebuke (תוכח תוכיח; tocheach tochiach) your neighbor” (Lev 19:17). Leviticus asserts that one can argue with or rebuke someone without hating them or discontinuing friendship. Thus, Paul could rebuke Peter and still remain on good terms with him.

Third, Paul’s rhetoric is sarcastic and he explains it in the next sentence, “We are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles” (Gal 2:15 NASB). Peter’s hypocrisy is not Jewish. When “sinners from among the Gentiles” behave like that, it is understandable. But Paul and Peter are “Jews by nature” (i.e., Jews by birth) who should know better than to be disingenuous. From Paul’s perspective, Cephas compromised the truth when it was to his advantage and that is what he called “living like a Gentile.”

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31 COMMENTS

    • You are right. I know his take. There is more than one way to read the rhetoric since the meaning of what was said is not explicit.

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    • Paul in Galatians, is dealing with heart of the gospel of grace issues, this is not a courtesy debate! In Chapter 1 he says even if an angel comes, and tells you different, let the curse of God come on him. Gal 2:20 he says, he died to the Judaism/law of his past and became a Christian, born with a new heart. Gal 3:1 he uses a technical term for spell or even witchcraft. He said the Cross with a bloody Messiah was like a billboard, there was a spiritual blindness to go back to the old shadows, after Christ!
    • To:Luis R Santos,
      Since Adam & Eve are the Father and Mother of everybody on Earth, i.e., our great great great and on back Grandparents, how can they, Adam & Eve beget BOTH Gentiles and Jews??

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  1. I know this is not related but did the apostles require the gentile Christians to observe the dietary laws and also to keep the Sabbath?
  2. As is normal, interpretation is the key to it, but unfortunately, we cannot all agree on these episodes/expressions as happen over the 2000 years ago and we are not always aware of the circumstances.
  3. Really enjoyed your explanation. Paul was right in rebuking Peter as once again, he allowed fear of man to influence him. It reminds us that we are all human and that we all fall short.
  4. Very well-made argument! I reason too much thin skin exists out here, Mat 11:28-30. We’re willing to trade convenience for self-exertion and effort on our part.
    Screenslaver: “You don't talk, you watch talk shows.”
    J.
  5. I am in agreement with John Holmes. I am persuaded that to think of this in confrontation terms among Jews, is to miss the core message.
    It is not about how Jews behave, but that the Gospel is threatened by one who is an apostle, a leader amongst the apostles, and who should know better.
    Hence Paul has to severely reprimand Peter.
  6. Emmanuel came to break down fences. He cleanse lepers so that they could come into the city of David. He healed the "unclean" woman. He broke the barriers between Jews and Gentiles. He tore apart the veil, effecting new relationships. One new man.

    In this incident, Peter came close to hindering God's work of redemption. This is about the Gospel. This is not about family squabbles. Peter's action is a grave sin. Remember in Galatians 1:8,9, Paul cursed the Judaizers - Jews who were his brothers.
    We must remember what is important.
    • I appreciate your zeal, Chong, but I will disagree with you, just a little... Cleansing leppers and unclean are functions of Torah and Messiah came to fulfill it, to live Torah to the fullest! No fences need to be broken. The only true barrier between Israel and the nations was the abominable pagan lifestyle the nations practiced. One new man is possible only when sinners choose to walk in righteousness and abandon sin. Which is also described in Torah and Prophets. So no fence breaking here either. People called "Judaizers" by theologians do not exist in the Greek of Pauls letters. :) Let's study together!

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  7. Pardon my ignorance regarding what you called "functions of Torah" regarding cleansing of lepers
    I looked at Lev 13 & 14, and saw that purification rites only apply AFTER the lepers were healed. Before that, lepers were kept out of walled cities like Jerusalem, and were as dead.
    So, I do not understand your statement.
    • Tazara'at, or what English terms as "leprosy" is a physical ailment with spiritual causes. The leppers were ostracised by society (excommunicated) to cause repentance, just Jesus teaches to treat unrepentant sinners in Mat 18. Once people repent and God accepts their repentance, they receive healing (Naaman, Miriam) and they are no longer ostracised. Torah teaches about repentance and how to return to God. Leviticus deals with temple matters for the most part, which is a separate matter.
  8. [email protected] according to a plain ethics(the classic of Aristotle). There is a hypocrisy: Jewish or non-Jewish. Rom 2:28: "The true Jew is...inwardly,the true circumcision is that of the heart "(The New Eng.Bible with Apocrypha,1970)+Lk16:31 should take into account other texts like Mk3:6 where Pharisees are join Herod in the opposition to Jesus. The hypocrite, St.Peter was rightly rebuked by a scholar,St.Paul!
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