Paul makes a third argument to prove his very important point to the Galatians. He speaks of a dispute he had with Peter in Antioch.
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 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. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” ~Galatians 2:11-14
Antioch was where one of the chief churches of the Gentiles was located. Peter had been a Jew. He had been sent to minister primarily to the Gentiles. Some Jewish Christians had come to visit and Peter (Cephas) decided to throw off his true convictions to save his reputation with his old buddies. He became intimidated and afraid around these guys. Chances are, he didn’t want to look unspiritual…because…by golly he was as spiritual as they come. He was the Rock, remember? He didn’t want to be judged negatively by them. He was worried about how his old culture might perceive him if he went against their mistaken rules and practices. He cared a little…no a lot too much what these guys thought. He was putting on a show, and, in so doing, he was denying the very ones to whom he was sent the very gospel for which he was sent.
Paul confronts Peter on the basis of hypocrisy. Note, their previous interaction had been pleasant and ended on good terms. This was not a personal issue. It was a gospel issue. It was not about Peter or Paul. It was about the purity of the truth. Paul knows that this is a hill he has to die on.
Also note that Paul is not in any way intimidated by Peter – the Rock whom many hold to be most superior on the hierarchical scale of the early church. Peter wasn’t a pope. He was a man and sometimes men make mistakes. Only God is infallible. In light of that, we can deduce that, when sin is public, brothers and sisters are indeed called to exhort, admonish, and correct one another without fearing that the other pull out a supremacy card. God alone is supreme.
Not only was he guilty of blatant hypocrisy, being the influential leader that he was, he was influencing many others to act hypocritically as well – even the very best of men! (Galatians 2:13)
“The weakness and inconsistency of the best men, when left to themselves, and how apt they are to falter in their duty to God, out of an undue regard to the pleasing of men. And, the great force of bad examples, especially the examples of great men and good men, such as are in reputation for wisdom and honor.” ~Matthew Henry
Paul sees the clear and severe danger of Peter’s sin. This whole church could fall on the heels of his pride and cowardice. Paul’s solution is to answer Peter’s very injurious public sin with a very public earnest correction. The cure, it seems, for blatant hypocrisy stemming from pride and cowardice in good leaders is, at times, public confrontation.
Paul and Peter’s Jewish culture sought to exclude men from the gospel on the basis of improper food, drink, association, and religious rituals. They called things dirty which God had made clean. Our culture seeks to exclude men on the basis of a lack of tolerance, refusing universalism, and adherence to Biblical truth. They call things clean which God has deemed dirty. These are merely two sides of one coin. That coin is man’s fully made up, fully false, religious systems. Both stem from intense cultural pressure, heavy-handed false teachers, and fear of being found guilty in the eyes of men.
We cannot get to God by submission to man-made systems of belief. Let us hear Paul and oppose those who would have us to believe and practice otherwise.