I consider this one of the minor climatic parts of the book of Galatians because the interaction between Paul and Peter, who he calls ‘Cephas’ when he is apparently upset, is Paul’s blunt and honest assessment of Peter’s actions. F. F. Bruce writes, “Indeed, the purpose of the decree was in large measure to solve the social problem which arose during Cephas’s visit to Antioch” (Bruce 128). Bruce continues in his commentary stating that Peter enjoyed the freedom to have fellowship with the Gentile believers as he did when he was given a vision by God to eat non-kosher food on Simon’s roof-top in Acts 10. Peter enjoyed this fellowship until (συνησθιεν) brothers from James came to meet with Peter. Peter would then ‘run out the back door.’ Bruce writes in his commentary, “What was their message? It may have been something like this: ‘news is reaching us in Jerusalem that you are habitually practicing table-fellowship with Gentiles. This is causing grave scandal to our more conservative brethren here. Not only so: it is becoming common knowledge outside of the church so that our attempts to evangelize our fellow-Jews are being seriously hampered’” (Bruce 130). A final comment from Bruce’s commentary concerning this passage states, “…‘he drew back and separated himself’: the double imperfect suggests that he did not make an abrupt break with his former practice, but proceeded to change it gradually” (Bruce 130-31). It is this fear of accepting the freedom of the Spirit, as the sign of salvation not just for Gentile believers but for Jewish believer as well, that causes Peter to draw away from the Gentiles when his Jewish friends show up for a visit.
I have seen this in my own life as well regarding how I act among non-Christians and Christian brothers and sisters alike. I never realized how much of a hypocritically I had been acting until I was confronted by a brother in Christ in whom I respect. His words were words of love through a stern voice and a piercing stare. He shared with me these verses in Galatians a few years back and brought me to a state of repentance. How can I be a follower of Christ among friends who are Christians and yet not live in the same manner around those who were not? I have taken these words of personally to keep myself in check with others. When we live as someone we are not, our ‘conduct is not in step with the truth of the Gospel.’ Being confronted by anyone is not the most enjoyable experience but it is life changing and convicting. Without a ‘Paul’ in my personal life, I am not sure how long I would have continued to live two separate lives without knowing the freedom I have in Christ to be who I was created to be in Jesus. It gives me great joy to live as a believer in Jesus. I should not and am no longer afraid of being recognized as someone who loves the Bible and who desires to desperately grasp all that Jesus has for me as His son; His new creation. This is what true freedom is all about.
Fung, concerning this matter of Paul’s confrontation with Peter writes, “The serious public consequences of Peter’s conduct-which “would make a divided Church inevitable or a united Church impossible” – called forth the public rebuke by Paul, who explains in vv. 15-21 the deeper issues involved in this apparently mundane matter of having meals together” (Fung 111). This was not just an issue of not having fellowship with Gentile believers. It goes so much further than a simple meal. This has everything to do with the message of the Gospel that is given both to the Jewish believers and to the Gentiles alike. We are not directly told what Peter’s response was to Paul’s stifling words of rebuke. However, we have been given a platform to discuss in our own communities of faith the issue of hypocrisy and the situations and implications that has for the body of Christ respectively. In the boldness we have in Christ, we have the ability to do likewise with all humility, realizing that we are no better and no worse than others.