NT, Part 11. Part 4 in our discussion of Galatians.

The relationship between Paul and Peter seems complicated, but it evolved over time. Within this letter, both Peter and Cephas are used as names referring to the Apostle Peter. Cephas was of Hebrew origin, meaning “rock.” This is what Jesus implied about Simon the apostle. Interestingly, Jesus’ brother James called Cephas by the names Simon Peter or Simeon.

Simeon, Simon, Simon Peter, Cephas, Peter, and the Apostle Peter are all the same person.

Three or four years after Paul’s transformation as a believer, in approximately A.D. 36/37, he journeyed to Jerusalem to visit Cephas. Paul remained with Cephas for fifteen days, but Paul didn’t see any of “the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother” (Galatians 1:18, 19). What rich conversation they must have had!

“Then [Paul writes] I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only were hearing it said, ‘He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.’ And they glorified God because of me” (Galatians 1:21-24 ESV).

It was a miracle that the former persecutor of the church was now the Apostle Paul.

Fourteen years after Paul’s conversion, Paul and Barnabas returned to Jerusalem, taking Titus with them. Paul writes that he “went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed to be influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain” (Galatians 2:2 ESV).

Those who seemed influential (Galatians 2:2), who “seemed to be pillars” (Galatians 2:9) were Cephas, John, and James the brother of Jesus, head elder of the Jerusalem church.

“Paul is not seriously imagining that he has actually been preaching a false gospel, but he would regard his work as in vain if it were to result in a divided church–a Gentile half and a Jewish half.” 1. Therefore, Paul and Barnabas met with the leaders in Jerusalem before their mission trip.

Papyrus from New Testament

At about this time, James was writing The Letter of James. Within its content, we see James’ words prohibiting favoritism of one over another, including addressing spiritual conflict between factions in the church. So clearly, Paul’s concern was also James’ concern.

“But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek” Paul wrote (Galatians 2:3 ESV). None of the apostles insisted on different requirements for Gentiles. Neither did they make any differentiation between how they treated Gentile believers and Jewish believers.

None of the apostles insisted on different requirements for Gentiles. Neither did they make any differentiation between how they treated Gentile believers and Jewish believers. #SalvationByFaith Click To Tweet

“Yet because of false brothers [the Judaizers] secretly brought in–who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery–to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you [Galatians]. And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)–those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me(Galatians 2:4-6 ESV).

Paul doesn’t regard any one person to be influential, or “somebody,” including himself. On the contrary…“just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcision (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles). James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me” (Galatians 2:7b-9a ESV).

The word “influential” means “emphatically meaning somebody, some person or thing of weight and importance, some great one…Simply “saying that he is somebody.” (Logos Strong’s).

“There is agreement; Titus — and so by implication all Gentiles — does not need to be circumcised. Or at least Paul, James, Peter, and John agree on this. There is, however, a group of false brothers who continue to disagree. Paul regards the imposition of circumcision on Gentile Christians as a slavery producing betrayal of the freedom Christ has given… The presence of these ‘false brothers’ within the church in Galatia shows that churches will sometimes have unbelievers in their midst who seek to harm the church….Paul’s response to the false brothers was of huge importance, because if he had yielded, Gentiles such as the Galatians would not have been brought the true gospel” 2.

Barnabas and Paul were given the right hand of fellowship, so that they might go to the Gentiles and Peter, along with others under his tutelage in Jerusalem, were to go to the circumcised. Only they asked that Paul and Barnabas remember the poor, “the very thing I was eager to do,” Paul writes.

These are the interactions recorded in Acts and in Galatians that give us a glimpse into the relationship between Paul and Peter from approximately A.D. 36 to 47.

However, in his letter to the Galatians, Paul divulges a breech between the two men that occurred in Antioch.

“But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from Jameshe was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?‘” (Galatians 2:11-14 ESV, written A.D. 48).

After treating Gentiles believers in Antioch as equals, when Jewish men sent by James came from Jerusalem, Peter crumbled, even separating himself from Gentile believers. Not only was Peter behaving like a hypocrite, but his actions as a leader led astray the rest of the Jewish Christians, including Barnabas! A shocking event, for Barnabas had led many Gentiles to Christ.

After treating Gentiles believers in Antioch as equals, when Jewish men sent by James came from Jerusalem, Peter crumbled, even separating himself from Gentile believers. Peter behaved like a hypocrite. #SalvationByFaith Click To Tweet

In order to make clear that these actions were wrong and to affirm his Gentile readers in all the churches in Galatia, Paul then openly addresses Peter within his letter to them. It isn’t clear when exactly Paul leaves off his address to Peter. Paul is not a people-pleaser, and his words bear that out. We also know from Peter’s history that he can cave to peer pressure, hence Peter’s actions aren’t surprising either.

Interestingly, to Peter: 15 “We ourselves are Jews by birth [Jewish sinners] and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified

Still to Peter? Uncertain, though applicable: 17“But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Galatians 2:15-21 ESV).

Paul’s purpose in including these words to Peter and the account of this entire event is for the purpose of building up the Gentile church, for they are currently under attack by legalistic Judaizers, who continue to attempt to influence them that they must be circumcised and must keep the Biblical Law.

Paul's purpose in including these words to Peter and the account of this entire event is for the purpose of building up the Gentile church, for they are currently under attack by legalistic Judaizers. #SalvationByFaith Click To Tweet

In Peter’s second letter, written almost twenty years after Paul’s letter to the Galatians, we get a glimpse into the progress in Paul and Peter’s relationship. Clearly, they have worked out their differences.

“Therefore, beloved,” [Peter writes], “since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given himas he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:14-16 ESV).

There is clearly respect between the two men at this point. If Peter himself finds Paul often hard to understand, we shouldn’t feel like we are insufficient students of the Bible if we also must dig deep to comprehend Paul.

What other words does Paul impart to the first-century Gentile believers that get this point across as strongly as his personal rebuke of the Apostle Peter?

Have you ever been a part of this type of conflict where two well-meaning, mature believers butt heads over theological issues? If so, how did they handle the matter?

How does the debate between early Christian leaders impress upon you their concern and care for correct doctrine and solid Biblical teaching?

  1. ESV Study Bible Note: Galatians 2:2. Crossway Bibles. Wheaton, Illinois. 2008.
  2. ESV Study Bible Note: Galatians 2:3-4, Galatians 2:5. Crossway Bibles. Wheaton, Illinois. 2008.