“When (Peter) first arrived, he ate with the Gentile Christians, who were not circumcised. But afterward, when some friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore. He was afraid of criticism from these people who insisted on the necessity of circumcision. As a result, other Jewish Christians followed Peter’s hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy” (Galatians 2:12-13 NLT).
As we consider the interaction between Paul, Peter, and the congregation at Antioch, we are certain to find several important insights that we can apply in our relationships today.
First, the issue at Antioch involved the Apostle Peter’s decision to segregate himself from the non-Jewish members of the congregation. That decision was driven by the arrival of “…the faction who favored circumcising Gentile believers” (CJB). This group was apparently offended at the idea that non-Jewish Christians could find fellowship with Jewish Christians who followed the customs of the Law.
So Peter withdrew from eating with the Gentile believers to avoid criticism from those visitors. Two commentators examine the probable elements that factored into Peter’s decision, including some that are highly relevant today…
“This incident is not mentioned in Acts or anywhere else but here. Galatians 2:11-13 indicates that not only Peter but Barnabas also, and possibly James, had been so intimidated by the Judaizers who had come down from Jerusalem to Antioch (Paul called them ‘false brethren’ in Galatians 2:4), that they tried to compromise with them, ‘fearing them which were of the circumcision'” (Galatians 2:12).
These apostles all knew better (Acts 10, 11, 15) but, like many modern Christians, were temporarily tempted to compromise the true gospel for the sake of expediency and outward harmony. Paul, therefore, had to rebuke even these leaders, and they evidently accepted his rebuke and abandoned their compromising behavior (in particular, that of refusing to eat with the Gentile Christians)” (1)
“Both Peter and Barnabas (v. 13) succumbed to pressure from a group that believed that to be circumcised—that is, to become a full Jewish proselyte—was necessary in order to be saved and to be regarded as a Christian. Peter evidently had come under criticism for sharing meals with uncircumcised Gentiles after preaching the gospel to the Roman centurion Cornelius and his circle of relatives and friends (Acts 11:1–3)” (2)
Most Christians face similar pressures to compromise, each in their own way. But as Romans 12:2 reminds us, “Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God—what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect” (GNB).
(1) Institute for Creation Research, New Defender’s Study Bible Notes Galatians 2:11 https://www.icr.org/bible/Gal/2/11
(2) Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 2077). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.