Flip-Flop In Antioch
Paul wrote Galatians sometime around A.D. 47, although there is room for debate. When he addressed his letter to "churches of Galatia", he likely meant those churches in the southernmost part of the vast region of Galatia where he had just visited a handful of significant cities and planted congregations. Again, there is some room for debate. What cannot be debated, however, is that the apostle Peter gets some bad press in this letter.
About midway through chapter two, Paul recounts an event in which Peter visited the church in Antioch and, well, you remember. Peter was happily enjoying his visit, sharing meals with Jewish and Gentile members of the church, and presumably valuing the embrace of Christianity in a pagan city so far from Jerusalem. After all, the ascension of Jesus had happened only a decade before, and here the "grace of God" (Acts 11.23) was growing the second center of Christianity in the burgeoning city of Antioch. Peter could witness this much with his own eyes and hear it with his own ears as he enjoyed fellowship with members of the church.
It's hard to tell if Peter's delight lasted a few weeks or just a few days. As soon as ministry colleagues from Jerusalem arrived, things changed. With their arrival, he immediately marked a distinction between the Jews and non-Jews in the church. He seemed oblivious to this distinction moments ago. Paul recounts it in his letter how Peter "drew back and separated himself' from the Gentiles (Galatians 2.12). It must have been pathetic to watch.
There you see the problem. In A.D. 47, Paul published this scene. He shared in clear detail and with picturesque language ("I opposed him to his face!") the great foible of Peter. By design, the letter got around. Hand-delivered to each of these churches of Galatia was a physical letter, signed by Paul and a host of believers in Antioch, that re-played the poor conduct of an original disciple of Jesus bold enough to show up and then publicly prove himself capable of walking out of step with the truth of the gospel (see Galatians 2.14). Jesus could be comfortable with a Samaritan, and a Roman, and a tax collector, but Peter couldn't stomach a few Gentiles in the church where Christians were first called, Christians (Acts 11.26).
This all amounts to some rather negative press. In the world of Facebook, this could be pretty hard to counteract and would require the kind of social media campaign that would need to be done by the pros. And it would cost you.
Now, of course, we know Peter. We trust that he really understands the gospel. We've read chapter ten of Luke's account of the early history of the church. We know about the vision. We know about the conversion of Cornelius and his family. We know that just a year or so after the ascension of Jesus, and years before visiting Antioch, Peter was taught by God Himself that following Jewish regulations do not elevate a man or woman in God's sight. We know that he shared this with the entire church of Jerusalem saying, "if then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God's way (Acts 11.17)?"
All of this was recorded by Luke, but not published until around A.D. 63. Peter's "Flipflop in Antioch" (every story needs a tagline) was recorded and distributed in A.D. 4 7 and hung out there before the eyes of Galatian Christians for some 15 years before Luke's book set things straight. Peter's own two letters, written to exactly the same churches of Galatia, weren't penned until five years after that.
When Peter was in Antioch, even though he loved the gospel, he separated himself from followers of Jesus who didn't have the decency to be born from the womb of a Jewish woman. With his actions, he said, "God may make His home with you, but I'll honor you with my presence only after you get circumcised." This is virtually impossible to imagine. Peter, a good man, a follower of Jesus, a man who understands the gospel inside and out, got publicly twisted up in Antioch. Applying what he believed proved challenging. Setting aside his personal expectations of others proved challenging. Walking day by day in the truth of the gospel proved challenging. The Holy Spirit recorded this in Scripture perhaps so that we might consider asking ourselves: Why should any of this be different for us?
~ Pastor Jones