Galatians 2:14: “When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, "You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?”
“When I saw” It’s interesting that Paul appears to not have noticed this right away – the implication is that he pieced together the evidence over time. Perhaps he thought the matter had been settled when he had been in Jerusalem in Galatians 2:1-10, especially when it came to what Peter believed. Also, if racist attitudes are what is at the root of the issue, its not something that the person who believes it openly espouses – its very subtle – so much so, that even Paul’s partner in ministry and good friend Barnabas is drawn in to this web of deception. (see v. 13). I have a sense that Peter was staying in Antioch, relating with Paul and fellowshipping with Jews and Gentiles alike, and it took awhile for Paul to discern exactly what Peter was doing, and what was going on. It is so easy for any of us to be drawn into this concept – either to buy into the heresy, to believe that we are defined in God’s sight by our culture OR to be fooled by those who buy into the sin, to not notice it is there. This second situation is perhaps as bad or worse, because the deception is tricky, and, like the “other Jews” of verse 13, we too can be subtlety led astray, sometimes without even realizing it!
“they were not acting” Once the blinders are removed, however, the evidence is clear. Jesus cautions us in Matthew 7:15 that we recognize “false prophets” by their fruit. Whether it was simply this issue (probably) or maybe Paul also noticed other issues where Peter’s behavior was not in keeping with God’s truth. Either way, he was discovering enough to put all the evidence together, and realize what the issue was.
Paul confronts Peter “in front of them all.” This shows how serious this really was. Traditional Jewish piety called for such reproof to be offered in private. Jesus echoed this in Matt 5:23-26, and especially in Matthew 18: 15-17, where Jesus instructs us to go to a brother who is sinning in private. But Jesus also says that if the brother does not respond, the matter is to be considered by the entire church, and then, if the brother will still not listen to the whole church, he is to be treated like a “pagan or a tax collector.” Here, Paul has already brought this issue to Peter and the church authorities previously, in private, and there were at least two public debates on the subject (Acts 2:27-30/Galatians 2, and Acts 15), so the matter had been submitted to the entire church. Paul was arguably justified for the public rebuke.
Paul was crafty and wise in the way he confronted Peter as well. He points out Peter’s hypocrisy. Peter was a Jew, but he did not necessarily live according to Jewish customs. The whole concept of accepting Gentile believers had started with Peter, back in Acts 10:9, where God showed Peter that following the Jewish dietary laws wasn’t necessary for salvation or acceptance into the broader Christian community. In Galatians 2:17, it says that Peter “ate with the Gentiles,” showing that Peter did not follow Jewish dietary tradition. Peter was living a double standard – demanding that Gentiles who didn’t know the law to follow it, when Peter, a Jew who had been brought up with the law, didn’t follow it anyway. And isn’t this the heart of ethnic judgments and prejudice? We look at those on the “other side,” be it race, ethnicity, culture, or denomination, and demand they conform to us, though that is almost always impossible, yet, we ourselves aren’t living up to God’s standards for our own lives. In particular, we would not want to be judged for who or what we are – yet, here we are, doing it. Hypocrisy is also at the roots of racism. Combine this with “justified” fear (safe neighborhood, good schools, housing values etc), and we allow ourselves to keep a facade of “righteousness” when in reality we are rejecting the core of the Gospel. This is indeed the most insidious of deceptions!