When those of us who did not go Seminary, read the Bible, we tend to glaze over passages like the one we see here in Galatians 2:11. I think we do that because there are aspects of it that make little sense to us, and, it is difficult at times to find the events that explain why Paul is so angry with Peter, and when this all happened.
As a visual learner, I have become quite obsessive when it comes to studying the Word of God. I have to be able to visualize the event or chronology for things to make sense to me, and this passage is one that frustrates me. Thank God for perseverance and the freedom of time to keep digging, because I have been looking as intently as one might hunt for gold.
So allow me to point out some approximations. The letter written to those in the region of Galatia was written from Rome about 68 A.D., about the same time as the letter written to the Hebrews (Jews in general.) The book of Acts is the second part of a two-part set beginning with the publication of Luke’s gospel. It is understood that these two books were written about two years after Paul’s imprisonment in Rome, around 62 A.D. At this point and with this information you cannot make any assessment as to the timing of Peter’s actions that caused Paul to become so hostile toward Peter.
Other events that may give us clues about Peter’s infraction(s).
In Acts 9:10 we find Ananias baptizing Saul, and Saul, then stays for some days in Damascus with the disciples (Jewish followers of the way) there. Acts 9:31 demonstrates that with Saul now a changed man, the church began, once again, to have peace and be built up.
The interaction with Cornelius comes about in chapter 10 of the book of Acts.
In my Chronological Bible, the authors show us a “time capsule.” In this time capsule, they indicate that Peter’s meeting with Cornelius (Acts 10:25,) happened in 35 A.D. It was this same year that Saul begins preaching Christ as the risen Messiah in Damascus.
Herod, on the other hand, becomes prominent in our story in chapter 12 of the book of Acts.
Josephus places Herod in the time range of 37 A.D. – 44 A.D. During which time he has James killed, and Peter arrested, with the intent of killing him also.
The Bible Knowledge Commentary explains Acts 12:20 in this manner, “On the appointed day when Herod was delivering a speech, the people honored him as a god, and the Lord God judged him with death, in A.D. 44. This account parallels that given by Josephus in his Antiquities of the Jews (19. 8. 2).”
Why would this information be important to us? With Herod gone, those who want Peter killed are effectively gone. Peter then could return to Jerusalem, if he so chose to. That information alone still does not answer the question as to when Peter acted so hypocritical.
It was Paul who told us that he did not interact with others, with the exceptions of spending some time with the local disciples; three years in Damascus, and, after finally going to Jerusalem he spent 15 days with Cephas (Peter), and some brief interaction with James. All of this provided ample time for Peter to tell Paul of his indiscretion, and yet, that apparently did not happen.
Galatians chapter 2 opens with,
Galatians 2:1-2 NASB Then after an interval of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also. 2) It was because of a revelation that I went up; and I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but I did so in private to those who were of reputation, for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain.
If Paul is holding to a chronological timeline, then up to this point he does not indicate that Peter acted hypocritically. When I think about how information transferred from person to person, then I can’t exclude Barnabas as one of the messengers. Regardless of how Paul learned of what Peter did, he was not going to let it go, and hence we see Paul confronting Peter about something which Peter probably has to be reminded.
Galatians 2:11 NET. But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he had clearly done wrong.
This passage makes me uncomfortable on several levels.
First, there is Paul’s aggressive and point-blank approach with someone we assume should be given respect.
Peter might deserve respect only because he seems to be part of the Jerusalem council; if not for that reason, one might think he commands a bit of respect simply because he walked so closely with Jesus; apparently, this means very little to Paul.
The other aspect that makes this difficult is that I was not raised to be disrespectful to people in authority. Lying in bed, not sleeping, I was thinking about this scenario. The Holy Spirit reminded me to consider the Jewish culture; a culture that still pervades their communities today. They, love to debate. To me, this looks like people on the edge of a fist fight, but to them, it is just another day. I have to force myself to set aside assumption frequently, and one of those assumptions has to do with, how long has it been since Peter has done this wrong? With what I perceive as fury on Paul’s part, I assumed this event just happened yesterday. The reality is that it may have been 14+ years ago.
Because life takes you on unexpected paths, you can develop a gruff persona as a defense mechanism. Sadly, that persona impacts the way you react to people in your life. I have described my persona as being bear-like. Add to this rough imagery the peculiar gift of being a prophet (I say peculiar because after all these years I have no real definition of what a prophet does; I just know that I admired the Prophet Samuel and he hacked up king Agag.) The combination can be rather explosive at times, as I frequently find myself fighting the desire to call fire down from heaven on people. NO, that has never happened, it’s just how I feel, and it comes on especially strong when my pastor unjustly attacks me and then demonstrates how human he is through some false teaching. While you may not be able to relate to what I am saying here, I can see this type of behavior in Paul. Keep in mind that Paul told us that he had this continuing thorn in the flesh, a person or thing that continued to keep him humble. Do you think a man that went around zealously trying to kill those who chose to set aside the traditional ways of Judaism, could have anger issues and hence a thorn in his flesh? I think we can see this in his interaction with Peter.
Try to find any other allusions to Peter/Cephas coming to Antioch; you won’t.
There is only one reference, and it is Paul that gives it to us. In my pursuit of answers, I searched for significant words such as Peter; believer; Gentiles, and finally, Antioch. As a side note, the word Antioch, using the NET translation, located only 18 references to the name in the New Testament (This is where our focus is centered.) The first occurrence is in Acts 6:5.
Since I already pointed out, from the Chronological Bible, that there were established timelines, and how that in some cases they paralleled Saul/Paul’s life with Peter’s. And, I have given you that information above.
Lacking someone else to do a timeline for us, all we have is scripture.
Where is the scriptural proof of this happening? The only place in scripture where this possibility arises is in Acts chapter 10, where Peter goes to the house of the Roman Centurion Cornelius (A Gentile; but an oddity appears in the description of the man, for it calls him devout. Devout could imply he had quietly become a Jewish convert. Practicality says no, but then how would one be able to make an assessment of a man like this, a man said to be devout?)
Scriptural evidence, or proof, is the one thing we should always have when trying to present an informative, intelligent study or Apologetic (A defense.) And, we have a mandate that nothing should be judged without two or more witnesses. In our case, the witnesses are scripture. Well, the answers are out there (as Mulder and Scully used to say on the X-Files television show,) and I thought for a moment that I had found some evidence of Peter in Antioch, but alas, the majority of translations and commentators indicate that Acts 12:17 is speaking of Herod going to Caesarea, not Peter.
Acts 12:17 NASB But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had led him out of the prison. And he said, “Report these things to James and the brethren.” Then he left and went to another place.
Although many have commented on this verse, it still brings some confusion because of what Peter says in his instructions to those gathered at the house of Mary. Mary is John Mark’s mother, and, according to commentator John Gill, John Mark is the nephew of Barnabas (That makes sense as Barnabas is a significant promoter of John Mark to be on the missionary trips.) Peter tells those gathered at the home that night, that they were to report these things to James and the brethren. Why, because Peter was getting out of town quickly.
Acts 12:17, as I noted above, tells us that, “he left and went to another place.” The obvious question is, where did he go? We are not told that he shared this location with any of the others, quite probably because it could cost them their lives. I would think that in time it would become apparent that Peter had left town.
I thought for a moment that I had found Peter going North as I followed verses 18, 19. However, this is where grammar comes into play, as Herod, not Peter, is the focus of attention.
Acts 12:18-19 NASB Now when day came, there was no small disturbance among the soldiers as to what could have become of Peter. 19) When Herod had searched for him and had not found him, he examined the guards and ordered that they be led away to execution. Then he went down from Judea to Caesarea and was spending time there.
Note how it says, “When Herod had searched for him and had not found him, he examined the guards and ordered that they be led away to execution.” Those Roman soldiers had clues as to where Peter might be found, and I imagine they brutishly questioned and challenged all they spoke with. If Peter was still there, they would have found him. Not obtaining Peter would surely mean their deaths. So the guards had a strong motivation to do a thorough search, and yet, not a trace of Peter was found. What do I make of that? Peter was no longer in Jerusalem.
Still, presuming I have no timeline, then I have only circumstantial evidence. Since the book of Acts is somewhat chronological, then it makes sense to have Peter moving quickly North toward Damascus, where we are about to find a young man named Saul. But, if you were paying attention, you would have noticed that this Herod episode and Peter fleeing, happened in chapter 12, and here I am in Acts chapter 11, where Jewish followers are verbally accosting Peter for eating with Gentiles. This verbal attack has some similar properties to Paul’s criticism of Peter, which we see in Galatians 2.
Acts 11:1-3 CEV The apostles and the followers in Judea heard that Gentiles had accepted God’s message. 2) So when Peter came to Jerusalem, some of the Jewish followers started arguing with him. They wanted Gentile followers to be circumcised, and 3) they said, “You stayed in the homes of Gentiles, and you even ate with them!“
From the viewpoint of a former Gentile; now grafted into the vine. I desire to understand these relatively new Jewish roots of mine. Maybe that is why I find the conversation the Jewish followers are having with Peter so offensive.
Peter explained his actions and this attack against him in Acts 11:4-17.
Acts 11:4-17 CEV Then Peter told them exactly what had happened: 5) I was in the town of Joppa and was praying when I fell sound asleep and had a vision. I saw heaven open, and something like a huge sheet held by its four corners came down to me. 6) When I looked in it, I saw animals, wild beasts, snakes, and birds. 7) I heard a voice saying to me, “Peter, get up! Kill these and eat them.” 8) But I said, “Lord, I can’t do that! I’ve never taken a bite of anything that is unclean and not fit to eat.” 9) The voice from heaven spoke to me again, “When God says that something can be used for food, don’t say it isn’t fit to eat.” 10) This happened three times before it was all taken back into heaven. 11) Suddenly three men from Caesarea stood in front of the house where I was staying. 12) The Holy Spirit told me to go with them and not to worry. Then six of the Lord’s followers went with me to the home of a man 13) who told us that an angel had appeared to him. The angel had ordered him to send to Joppa for someone named Simon Peter. 14) Then Peter would tell him how he and everyone in his house could be saved. 15) After I started speaking, the Holy Spirit was given to them, just as the Spirit had been given to us at the beginning. 16) I remembered that the Lord had said, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” 17) God gave those Gentiles the same gift that he gave us when we put our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. So how could I have gone against God?
This vision was a green light to freedom in God’s grace, and Peter’s call to be a missionary to the Gentiles. Having had this rather enlightening experience Peter passed on the opportunity. Why? Because of peer pressure?
In summary, Peter’s hypocrisy may well have happened at the home of Cornelius where for several days Peter enjoyed the freedoms of grace. How and when Paul found out about it is unknown. But, even with the improbabilities of Paul maintaining an intense anger over Peter’s actions for as much as 18 years, it is clear that Paul still dealt with his thorn, which may well be anger.