“But when Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him in public, because he was clearly wrong” (Galatians 2:11).
The city of Antioch was a large, prosperous urban center in the days of the first century. As the capital city of the ancient Roman province of Syria, Antioch held a reputation as an important destination for those with commercial interests. Antioch was the place where Jesus’ followers were first identified as Christians and it featured a church with a multi-ethnic congregation of Jewish and non-Jewish believers.
Antioch also provided a good opportunity for evangelistic outreach due to it’s strategic position within the ancient Rome Empire, Therefore it should not surprise us to learn that some of the early church leaders eventually made their way there. It was during one such visit by the Apostle Peter that a difficulty arose. Paul the Apostle recorded that problem here in Galatians 2:11: “…when Peter came to Antioch I had to oppose him publicly, speaking strongly against what he was doing, for it was very wrong” (TLB).
So what did Peter do? The following verse provides us with some important background information…
“for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy” (Galatians 2:12-13).
In light of Peter’s influence and reputation among the members of the early church, it seems that Paul felt it necessary to address this situation in a public forum. This was especially important in a church like Antioch, a place where the cultural differences between the individual members of the congregation might easily lead to a division within the church.
One source identifies a different issue involved with Peter’s response…
“Peter probably thought that by staying away from the Gentiles, he was promoting harmony—he did not want to offend James and the Jewish Christians… By joining the Judaizers, Peter was supporting their claim that Christ was not sufficient for salvation. Compromise is an important element in getting along with others, but we should never compromise the truth of God’s Word. If we feel we have to change our Christian beliefs to match those of our companions, we are on dangerous ground.” (1)
Another unfortunate aspect of this incident is that Peter made this decision with the knowledge that God was working to establish a united church that was comprised of men and women from these diverse cultural backgrounds. We’ll see why next.
(1) Life Application Study Bible, Galatians 2:11 Copyright © 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers Inc., all rights reserved. Life Application® is a registered trademark of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.