“For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy” (Galatians 2:12-13).
The New Testament book of Acts relates the account of a Roman army officer named Cornelius. Although Cornelius did not have a Jewish background, Acts chapter ten tells us that he was a generous, prayerful, God-honoring man. One day Cornelius experienced a vision in which he was instructed to call for the Apostle Peter. He responded by sending a delegation to escort Peter to his home and awaited their return.
But while that group was on their way, Peter had a visionary experience of his own…
“He saw heaven opened and an object that resembled a large sheet coming down, being lowered by its four corners to the earth. In it were all the four-footed animals and reptiles of the earth, and the birds of the sky. A voice said to him, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ ‘No, Lord!’ Peter said. ‘For I have never eaten anything impure and ritually unclean.’ Again, a second time, the voice said to him, ‘What God has made clean, do not call impure'” (Acts 10:11-15 CSB).
Peter later referred to the insight he gained from this experience during his subsequent meeting with Cornelius: “…’You know it’s forbidden for a Jewish man to associate with or visit a foreigner. But God has shown me that I must not call any person common or unclean'” (Acts 10:28 HCSB).
Following this, Peter was asked to explain his actions to those who objected to his decision to visit the home of a non-Jewish person. He then offered the following explanation in reply…
“…as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as he did on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, as he used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ Therefore if God gave them the same gift as he also gave us after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to hinder God?” When they heard this, they ceased their objections and praised God, saying, ‘So then, God has granted the repentance that leads to life even to the Gentiles'” (Acts 11:15-18).
Despite these experiences, Galatians 2:12-13 tells us that Peter responded in a very different manner towards the Gentile members of the church at Antioch. We’ll consider the factors that may have accounted for Peter’s decision to isolate the non-Jewish members of that congregation next.