“…When Peter first came to Antioch, he ate and associated with the non-Jewish people. But when some Jewish men came from James, Peter separated himself from the non-Jews. He stopped eating with them, because he was afraid of the Jews who believe that all non-Jewish people must be circumcised. So Peter was a hypocrite. The other Jewish believers joined with him, so they were hypocrites too. Even Barnabas was influenced by what these Jewish believers did” (Galatians 2:12-13 ERV).
Those of us who live in the 21st century are far removed from the events described in the passage quoted above, Therefore, we might find easy to criticize the Apostle Peter for his decision to exclude those who did not adhere to these Jewish cultural laws. But that criticism (however justified) should be tempered by the understanding that we must also respond to the cultural, political, and social pressures we face today. The issues may change but the pressure to make such choices remains the same.
Galatians 2:12-13 uses the word “hypocrite” to characterize Peter and his response to this situation. A hypocrite is someone who pretends to be something that he or she is not. This word originally referred to “one who wears a mask” and was used in the ancient Greek theatre to describe actors who wore masks to portray different emotions. Over time, this word grew to be associated with anyone who wasn’t what he or she claimed to be. So a hypocrite can be described as a “mask-wearer” or someone who differs from what he or she seems to be.
One commentator examines the tactics that may have been used against Peter to pressure him to respond in this manner. These tactics are still employed as an effective means of motivating others to compromise their convictions today…
“We don’t know what it was about these certain men from James that made Peter afraid. Perhaps they were men of strong personality. Perhaps they were men of great prestige and influence. Perhaps they made threats of one kind or another. Whatever it was, the desire to cater to these legalistic Jewish Christians was so strong that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy. When these men from James came, even Barnabas treated the Gentile Christians as if they were not Christians at all.” (1)
Unfortunately, this kind of compromise does not occur in a vacuum. There are real-life consequences to such decisions and we’ll look at some of the ramifications of Peter’s choice next.
(2) David Guzik, Galatians 2 – Paul Defends The Gospel Of Grace © Copyright – Enduring Word https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/galatians-2/