When we study one of Paul’s letters, it is like listening to one side of a telephone conversation. We know Paul’s point of view but can only guess what the other people are saying.
Peter and Paul had a serious disagreement over Jews eating with Gentiles. We know Paul’s side, but we don’t know what caused Peter to act the way he did.
This is Paul’s side of the story.
— Galatians 2.11-14 – But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he stood self-condemned, for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the gentiles.
But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction.
And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.
But when I saw that they were not acting consistently 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 compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
The Danger of Pollution
God gave Jewish people clear food laws that were quite different from the way Gentiles ate. Leviticus 11 outlines those laws in detail. Pigs, buzzards, certain kinds of fish, and all insects were deemed unclean.
Jewish people were committed to observing God’s food laws, even to the point of torture and martyrdom.
The religious authorities condemned Jesus for eating with tax collectors and sinners (Luke 5.30), because of the possibility of moral pollution.
The same thought applied to meals with Gentiles. Gentiles were idol worshipers and were classified as sinners in Jewish thought.
Gentile Christians in Antioch
Gentile Christians had been freed from idols. What Paul wrote about Jesus in Galatians 1 applied to Gentile followers in the whole world.
He described Jesus, as “who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Galatians 1.4).
To be free from the “present evil age” was a reference to being free from the power of idols.
Since Gentiles were free from idols, Jews could have a meal with them with good conscience.
The reason why Peter ate with them was his belief that they were part of the family of God and not Gentile sinners.
Paul was confused and angry when Peter changed his table fellowship practice with Gentiles. It happened when “certain people came from James” (verse 12).
We only know Paul’s side of the story. We can only guess at Peter’s motives.
We can guess that Peter changed his behavior (a) to maintain unity with the Jerusalem Christian leaders or (b) to keep Jewish-Christians out of trouble with the Temple authorities in Jerusalem.
Both choices are reasonable, as would be others that I can’t imagine. The problem is that they were wrong.
Paul said that even an encouraging person like Barnabas was “led astray by their hypocrisy” (verse 13).
Part of the hypocrisy was the fact that Jewish Christians were more than happy to receive gifts from Gentile believers to help feed them during the famine. They were acting as one family when one group supplied the needs of the others.
However, when it came to table fellowship, the Jewish Christians behaved as if their Gentile brothers and sisters will still sinners.
Their behavior denied the fact that Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection (along with the gift of the Holy Spirit) had set Gentiles free from idols.
The Jews had four boundary markers that defined who was part of the family of God.
(1) Circumcision – All males were circumcised as a sign of their covenant relationship with God.
(2) Food Laws – Food is essential to life and Jewish people eat in a certain way to confess that their relationship with God is life-giving.
(3) Sabbath Observance – Even when they were in captivity, Jewish dogged observance of the Sabbath honored God in the face of oppressive pagan masters.
(4) The Law or Torah – “Torah” is the Hebrew word for Law. It includes the Ten Commandments and further instructions that God gave his people.
In tomorrow’s YouTube Video, Rudy Ross is going to address these boundary markers in the light of what Jesus has accomplished for humans.
One thing that is clear from Paul’s letter is that he believed that the cross, resurrection, and gift of the Spirit changed these boundary markers. Faith in Jesus and the receipt of the Holy Spirit have changed how we relate to God and to each other.
The remainder of Galatians will back up Paul’s assertion that trust in Jesus brings us into a relationship with God and each other.
Rudy Ross and I discuss this passage. Rudy brings an important Jewish perspective to the discussion. The video is on the Bob Spradling channel.
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