In the first part of this chapter Paul summarized how his gospel message was received by the apostles in Jerusalem. They had given Paul and Barnabas their approval. This becomes important as we begin the second part of chapter 2.
Galatians 2:11-13 (KJV)
But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.
For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision.
And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation.
This portion of Galatians covers an incident that occurred in Antioch (verse 11). Peter had come from Jerusalem and during the time that he spent in Antioch Paul ended up by confronting him because of a wrong action that Peter displayed. By explaining in the first part of chapter 2 that the apostles had approved of Paul's message, Paul had laid the groundwork for demonstrating that he was of equal stature with Peter and had the right to call Peter's action into question.
Certain men came to Antioch from James (verse 12). What is meant by "from" James is somewhat unclear. James may have sent them, but there seems to be a lack of understanding about Paul's stature in the Messianic community. So "from" James may simply mean that they came from the same group as James. In any case, the practice they espouse is very different from the practice in Antioch. I believe the difference lies in the fact that the community in Jerusalem had been in existence for a while and had been started before any Gentiles had come into the community. The practice, undoubtedly, was very much Jewish culture based. Even as the Gentiles began entering in, they were in small numbers compared to the Jewish group. Yet, prior God-fearers would have understood much of the Jewish culture as well. But in Antioch, where many more Gentiles were coming directly out of paganism and because they eventually outnumbered the Jewish group, the practice would have been less based on Jewish culture.
But what had Peter done? Verse 12 states that before these men came from James, Peter ate with the Gentiles. Afterwards he separated himself from the Gentiles and ate only with other Jews. This was because he feared the circumcision group. Notice how "circumcision" is used here. It is not identifying all the Jews as it had been used in verses 7-9, but it is further detailing that these men believed that the Gentiles needed to become Jews before they could enter into the community. Where did these men get this idea? I don't believe that these men were rogue believers, teaching their own brand of doctrine. I think they were mistaken in their beliefs because the practice in Jerusalem didn't really convict them into thinking differently.Why would Peter have been afraid? He was the apostle to the Jews! We don't exactly know why. Perhaps he felt outnumbered and that these men had a certain amount of stature themselves. What this does tell me is that while Peter understood that eating with Gentiles didn't violate any Torah law, he was not used to eating with Gentiles in Jerusalem. He fell back into previous ways of behavior. This is why I believe that Paul's gospel message was a refinement of what Peter and the other apostles learned after Peter's vision in Acts 10. The apostles did not come to any understanding that the laws of Torah were abrogated by Peter's vision. Instead, they simply came to understand that Gentiles could enter into a saving relationship with Yeshua. See here about Peter's Vision: It took Paul to flesh out the proper practice in a mixed Jewish and Gentile Messianic community.
When the other Jewish believers in Antioch saw Peter's withdrawal, they all got caught up in Peter's deception, even Barnabas (verse 13).
Next time, we'll discuss Paul's response to Peter's wrong behavior.