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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
Established November 2008 Published Weekly on Friday
This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men (and women) to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1Timothy 2:3-4)
Greetings and Welcome to HBS.
From this Bible teacher’s perspective, watching students enter the classroom to learn “something new” was a gratifying sight. Witnessing their spiritual growth in faith and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ was a heartening experience that’s difficult to express in words (Colossians 1:9-11).
My prayer for all the people who are following HBS is that they are discovering “something new” from scripture regularly and they are growing in faith and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. But there’s more to it than understanding what this book says and does not say. A person could know this book from cover to cover, but what good is that if they don’t apply its truths. Thus, it is also about ensuring God’s truths remain in us 24/7/365 and we utilize those truths, as we go about living our lives, in Christ Jesus, both as new creations and as the Lord’s ambassadors as we interrelate with people throughout the day (2 Corinthians 5:17, 20).
We also need to stay “connected” or in close fellowship with God so as not to be carried away by the false teaching that is so prevalent in the world around us (Romans 12:1-2). Just because you hear or read something that sounds plausible doesn’t mean it’s true! If the Galatians had been less fickle and applied this principle they may not have been so easily fooled by the teaching of men, i.e. the Judaizers (Matthew 15:9; Colossians 2:8).
How does one recognize counterfeit teaching? Federal Treasury agents are taught to recognize counterfeit bills by studying the real thing. They spend hours studying every detail of real currency so when they come across a counterfeit bill they recognize it immediately. Conscientious Believers study their Bibles, rightly divided, because they know God commands it (2 Timothy 2:15). But one other benefit is, after studying God’s Truths they can recognize false teaching when they hear it or read it. Jesus Christ set the bar for Truth in this sinful world (John 14:6-7).
Please open your Bible at Galatians 2:11-12.
Peter (Cephas) Opposed by Paul
*(Bible students do more than read their Bible. They ask questions as they’re reading, then they search for answers to those questions, making notes as they move along. This is how they obtain facts from their Bible and grow in faith and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.)
Why did Paul oppose Peter? We know after the Jerusalem Council ended the Jewish Christians parted company with Paul and his group in good spirits. They shook hands in support of his apostleship and his ministry, which also means they accepted the Gentile Believers as brothers and sisters in the faith. Let’s not lose sight of this fact as we move along in this lesson.
So, why does Paul have an issue with Peter, since the text says one exists? We’ll find the answer here in the passage. It doesn’t always work out that way.
11: But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face (not privately as before when they met at the Jerusalem Council), because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the (Jews or the) party of the circumcision.
I opposed him to his face – the Greek word for opposed is Anthistemi (Anth-is’-tay-mee), Verb, Strong’s Greek # 436, meaning: to establish one’s position, to stand against, to hold one’s ground. Paul means to say he stood eyeball to eyeball with Peter and rebuked him in front of everyone. When you consider Peter’s reputation among the twelve, this took a considerable amount of courage, don’t you think?
Peter wasn’t just any man. He was one of the first apostles personally called by Jesus, because of his strong faith he got out of the boat during a raging storm, and walked on the water to meet Jesus, he was the first person to enter the empty tomb of Jesus on the morning of His resurrection… and so much more. He was that guy! And yet, Paul had no problem confronting him overtly because he stood condemned – of what?
We’re going to answer that pertinent question, but first I mention often I use multiple study Bibles and here’s an example why that is. The NIV and New Living translation both say, “because he was clearly in the wrong.” These interpretations do not convey Paul’s meaning accurately. The KJV and the NKJV Bibles both say Peter was, “to be blamed.” These both miss the target as well. Does it make a difference? “Yes, it does.” The word in Koine Greek is Kataginosko (kat-ag-in-o’-sko), Verb, Strong’s Greek #2607, meaning: “condemned,” literally, i.e. to make a judicial pronouncement stating what punishment has been imposed on a person found guilty of a crime; so the NASB translation actually got this one right.
Now let’s look at the charge. Paul’s saying, just as a criminal has been found guilty of an offense in a court of law, Peter is guilty of a serious wrong which can be proved. Peter stood to be condemned because the thing he was doing ran contrary to God’s Word, which is an absolute (Psalm 86:11; John 14:6, 18:37). This proves Peter was human just like us, and I point this out to y’all as often as I can. Some folks have a tendency to put people like Peter up on a pedestal and idolize them. Don’t do that. This makes them appear to be something they were not; they were as human as you or I, which means they were prone to sin just as we are. Paul’s actually saying he denied the true gospel (2:14).
He used to eat with Gentiles – Paul and Barnabas were leading the church in Antioch, Syria, which was composed primarily of Gentiles with some Jews in the mix. Peter visited their church regularly and shared “meals” with them, which included the Lord’s Supper at times. If you’ll recall from our 1st Corinthian study, the Lord’s Supper in Paul’s day was a special meal-time event; not like it is today. Having Peter present at the table eating with them was almost certainly an uplifting experience, but it was more than that. It was also a stamp of approval to these Believers from the Church in Jerusalem. It meant these Gentiles had been accepted as brothers and sisters by their Jewish counterparts.
*Remember, Peter is associating with Gentiles and eating with them only because of his vision from God and his experience with Cornelius and his household (Acts 10:9-16). The Jerusalem Church leaders are aware of this because Peter explained the event in detail to them. They are also aware God is involved in “it” because all the Gentiles were saved and received the Holy Spirit (Acts 11:15-17). However, I pointed out last week the twelve and the Jerusalem Church members made no move to save Gentiles after Peter’s experience because they did not receive an order from God to do this. Their ministry remained with the Jew only (Acts 11:19; Galatians 2:9).
For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles (2:12a). As they say, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. We have Peter traveling to Antioch where he willingly ate whatever the Gentiles served at mealtime (they had zero dietary restrictions), when something happened to change his dining experience. All we have to go on is what the text provides. The gist of this passage indicates Peter’s eating activity in Antioch was customary and it occurred over an indefinite period of time.
Now, who were these certain men from James (the leader of the Jerusalem Church - Galatians 1:19) and in what way did they influence Peter to change his regular eating habits in Antioch? We don’t know. But we know from studying the outcome of the Jerusalem Council that James, Peter, John, the Pharisees, and the Jewish elders accepted Paul’s apostleship and his ministry to the Gentiles. The pillars gave Paul and his group the right hand of fellowship, i.e. they shook hands in agreement (2:9).
Therefore, these certain men may have been from James but they were not acting under his expressed authority (Acts 15:13-21). We know they were Jewish Christians, from Jerusalem, who still observed the Mosaic Law. Jewish converts didn’t abandon the Law after they came to believe in Jesus Christ (Acts 21:21-25).
In what way did they influence Peter to change his regular eating habits? Once again, we don’t know. But since these certain men obeyed the Law, they clearly did not to eat with Paul’s main group of converts in Antioch. I would think they found a room and ate their meals off by themselves, in keeping with the dietary restrictions and the purity laws imposed upon them by the Law.
We know something about Peter too re: the Lord’s vision in Acts 10 and it brings weight to our argument. He struggled to understand it, even after three episodes Peter didn’t comprehend its meaning. Cornelius and his whole household were saved and received the Holy Spirit as God intended, but did Peter really understand what God was doing? That would be no (2 Peter 3:15-16).
So considering what we do know, what do we have? Peter’s in Antioch eating with the Gentiles, and it’s no big deal, he does this regularly. These certain men from James arrive, and according to the text this means they were not orthodox Jews or non-believers. They were Jewish Christians who still obeyed the Mosaic Law. Straight up, isn’t Paul dealing with the issue of “faith + keeping the Law” in this letter to the Galatians? So, we know we’re on the right track. But it begs the question, “Why were these Law-abiding men in Antioch, about 130 miles from Jerusalem, in the first place? That’s about a two-hour drive today, but back then we’re talking, journey.
It’s possible they were there to ensure this church was, “abstaining from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood,” promises made at the closing of the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:20). This makes Paul’s remark they were from James rational. However it’s also quite possible these certain men over-stepped their authority, after arriving in Antioch, which makes me think they were Pharisees from Jerusalem. This also makes sense because they influenced Peter’s customary fellowshipping and his eating habits.
Now, how did they influence Peter to change his eating and fellowshipping habits? This too is an unknown detail, but isn’t the responsibility for Peter’s behavior his alone? Verse 12b says: But when they came, he (Peter) began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision.
All these folks in Antioch were enjoying the fellowship, the baked ham, the pork barbecue, the lobster bisque, and side dishes, whatever was placed on the table during mealtime, including our brother Peter. But because Peter feared the party of the circumcision he began to reduce his social contact with the Gentile Believers, the other Jewish Believers and Paul. Paul put it this way saying, “he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof.” The phrase, “began to withdraw” is a military term indicating Peter’s departure from the main group didn’t happen suddenly. It suggests a slow retreat, i.e. in stages. The word aloof in Koine Greek is Aphorizo (af-or-id’-zo), Verb, Strong’s Greek #873, meaning: to mark off from others by boundaries, to limit, to separate.
Based on this information Peter determined to leave Paul’s group over a period of time, eventually ending up eating only with these men from Jerusalem. These men were dining on “kosher food” only and they were doing it by themselves. Don’t forget, this is after God revealed to Peter, “what God has cleansed you must not call common,” meaning there was now no difference between Jew and Gentile (Acts 10:9-15, 34-48). In a larger sense God’s telling Peter the barrier between Jews and Gentiles, although it had existed for 2000 years, no longer exists: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23, 10:12).
The negative consequence of this was now there were two separate groups at mealtime, the Jewish party and the Gentile party. We know Peter’s irrational behavior and this artificial barrier displeased Paul, because he confronted Peter publicly.
The next obvious question is, “Why did Peter fear the party of the circumcision?” We don’t know. However, over the years I’ve read and been told after Pentecost Peter and the twelve feared nothing. The twelve were “bold as brass,” as they went about serving the Lord. On occasion, yes, but 24/7; I don’t think so. I’m not seeing it with Peter particularly. In fact, this book has recorded Peter’s “human frailty,” i.e. his ability to “act or speak” without thinking things through for us on several occasions.
I mentioned Peter had enough faith to get him up and out of the boat during the raging storm, and he approached Jesus while walking on the water, but that storm took Peter’s attention away from the Lord. Peter was overcome by fear and he began to sink causing him to cry out for the Lord’s help (Matthew 14:22-33)! In other words, he took his eyes off of Jesus… and this was a mistake. This pattern is repeated in scripture.
During the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ (Luke 9:27-36), the Apostle Peter speaks too quickly (thinks too little), in fact, the Apostle Luke said Peter did not know what he was saying, which provoked a divine response from God Himself. His words were spoken to James and John, who were present, but most certainly directed at fearful Peter who spoke to the Lord in an apprehensive state.
On another occasion, Peter was afraid when God spoke from heaven and said how “pleased He was with His Son Jesus…” (Matthew 17:6). There’s another incident many people are familiar with. On the night Jesus was arrested Peter, acting in fear and panic, cut off the ear of Malchus the servant of the high priest who was trying to arrest Jesus. Jesus rebuked him for this action (Matthew 26:51-54; John18:10-11). Later on that night he denied Jesus 3 times even though he told Him this would never happen. This was ultimately due to his weakness and fear (Luke 22:54-62). After the other apostles had fled, Peter remained in the shadows, following after Jesus. He didn’t want to be seen or identified as one of His followers because he was fearful (Mark 14-50, 54).
Long after these events the Apostle John, one of Jerusalem Church’s pillars, wrote this: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:18-19). I’m not picking on Peter for it’s a given he was far from perfect. No one will reach perfection or be faultless on this side of glory. However, scripture shows us a consistent pattern of fear and weakness combined with illogical behavior during his life, even after Pentecost, it’s certainly on display in Antioch.
Paul said Peter feared the party of the circumcision, meaning Peter allowed his fear to override sound reasoning. This drove him to compromise his beliefs, even though he knew it was wrong (a sin). Paul discussed the true gospel and the mysteries that had been revealed to him re: Church Doctrine with him and the Jerusalem Church (Acts 15). God had shown him there is no difference between Jew and Gentile (Acts 10), but fear weakened his faith, his (trust) in God, causing him to act unwisely. Adding insult to injury, his bad example caused the other Jewish Believers to follow him; this included Barnabas (2:13). Paul decided a public rebuke was in order (Proverbs 29:25).
The rest of the Jews joined him in (this) hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.
Paul watched Peter, Barnabas, and the other Jews from his group be carried away by their hypocrisy. They all got up and joined these men from Jerusalem, leaving him with the Gentiles eating by themselves. Barnabas (a Jew) was Paul’s trusted friend and coworker.
I don’t believe the Antioch Believer’s behavior had anything to do with fear because there isn’t anything in this passage that would indicate it. Remember, Peter was “that guy;” one of the pillars of the Jerusalem Church. He had spent 3 years with the Messiah. He was highly regarded, in Jewish circles, as a leader of men. Knowing this, it’s quite likely the Jewish Believers were influenced by his conduct and not by fear.
Because of their poor decision Paul identified them as hypocrites. In Koine Greek the word means, “One who wears a mask, “referring to an actor in a Greek play. Paul’s saying these folks were saying one thing but doing another. They were not who they pretended to be.
Even Barnabas was carried away – this short phrase doesn’t begin to express Paul’s thoughts, I’m thinking. Barnabas was Paul’s close companion and not just his coworker in the ministry. We already learned Barnabas was an effective leader of the church in Antioch. He led the first missionary journey from there with the inexperienced Paul at his side. They were called apostles (Acts 14:4) who had “risked their lives for the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 15:26). What probably isn’t known about this man is he took Saul of Tarsus, who was completely disconnected with the twelve, and persuaded all of them to recognize him. Later on, he found Saul in Tarsus and personally recruited him to work for the Lord in Antioch, where he could develop his teaching and preaching skills. Therefore, I imagine it broke Paul’s heart when he saw him get up and leave him to join the group from Jerusalem, in effect, using body language only, he denied the gospel along with the rest of them.
How do we know this is where Paul’s thoughts were? Read verse 14.
14: But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to like Jews?
The Koine Greek word for straightforward is Orthopodeo (or-thop-od-eh’-o), Verb, Strong’s Greek #3716, meaning: to walk in a straight course, metaphor: to act uprightly. This is only place in the N.T. where this word is used; however, our English word Orthopedic is derived from it. Our Apostle Paul understood Peter’s hypocrisy was a denial of the true gospel. Withdrawing from the main group of Gentile Believers under these circumstances was to deny the truth that all Believers are one in Christ Jesus. His behavior established two groups in the church but it was far worse than that, actually. It implied the Jewish Believers from Jerusalem were superior to the Gentile Believers. This could not stand! Peter was not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, so Paul took drastic action. He rebuked Peter publicly.
The gospel, from God, proclaimed that salvation for both Jews and Gentiles was by faith (alone) in the shed blood of Jesus Christ for one’s sins (His death, burial, and resurrection – 1 Corinthians 15:1-4; Matthew 26:28; Ephesians 1:7, 2:13; Hebrews 9:15-22, 10:19; 1 Peter 5:7). I find people telling me it was Jesus dying on the cross that saved them and this isn’t true; the cross was only the means for His death.
We already know Peter struggled with understanding this truth at this time and for the remainder of his life (2 Peter 3:15-16). When Peter withdrew from fellowshipping and eating with his brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus in Antioch, it implied that salvation required strict obedience to the dietary laws given to the nation of Israel at Mount Sinai (Leviticus 11; Deuteronomy 14). This was the body of Jewish law dealing with what foods can and cannot be eaten and how these foods must be prepared.
Peter was sending a non-verbal communication to the group he had just abandoned which was, “If you desire to enjoy fellowship with me, Barnabas, and the mother church in Jerusalem, you’ll have to become Jews.” Paul picked up on this straight away. We know this because he means to stir Peter’s conscience with his next remark: “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?
Peter had demonstrated his liberty in Christ Jesus, being a Jew, to live like the Gentiles. This meant he enjoyed the Gentile’s company and their food while in Antioch. And not like the Jews means he didn’t have to follow their strict dietary laws any longer. But now his separation from table fellowship with Gentile Believers forced them to follow Jewish laws and customs if they wanted to be a part of their group. In effect, they had to surrender their liberty in Christ Jesus and accept the burden of the Law in order to be accepted as part of the Jerusalem Church.
Because of Peter’s fearful, hypocritical behavior it jeopardized the liberty of every Gentile Believer in the Body of Christ and the future of God’s Church. If Paul hadn’t taken a stand for the gospel, it could have been the beginning of the end of Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles. I say this because Peter was guilty of adding works to the gospel, i.e. keeping the law + faith as a requirement for salvation. And we know, when you add anything to the gospel, you obliterate it.
Do you think Paul was wrong to confront Peter publicly; not according to scripture: Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or more witnesses. Those who continue to sin (we’re talking about Peter here), rebuke in the presence of (now watch this) all, so that the rest also may be fearful of sinning (1 Timothy 5:19-20).
How did Peter and these certain men respond to Paul’s rebuke? Positively, for this book says the Gospel of Jesus Christ continued to be preached, as is (Romans 10:8; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4; 2 Corinthians 2:12; Colossians 1:23; 1 Thessalonians 2:8).
(To be continued)
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