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Gal 2:11-16.  The conflict came to a head when Peter ventured onto Paul's turf.  There is a question about timing:  did Peter's visit to Antioch precede or follow that of Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem?  If Peter was designated the chief apostle for the Jews, what was he doing in Antioch, a largely Gentile city?  Making a tour of inspection?  Checking up on Diaspora Jewish converts?  We are not told.   According to the Expositor's Bible Commentary (Vol 10 pp 445-446), he found a mixed race community eating at a common table.  This arrangement went beyond the understanding reached at the Jerusalem Council, where Jews continued to observe Mosaic dietary laws.  But Peter was true to the vision he received at the house of Simon the tanner (Acts 10), and ate at the common table....until other men arrived from Jerusalem.  They were shocked by Peter's conduct, because his example encouraged other Jews to disregard the Law.


There were two problems here: one, the food itself, which could have been unclean for any number of reasons: offered to idols, or a proscribed type of meat, or prepared in a manner that violated Jewish food rules.  And two, eating with people who were ritually unclean (uncircumcised, unwashed hands).  The Judaiziers realized that If Peter tolerated a common table, then the entire authority of the Law would collapse.  That would cause chaos in Jerusalem -- inside the Christian community, and between Jewish believers and the Temple.


According to Paul, Peter then drew back from the Gentiles and ate only with Jews, because "he was afraid" of the circumcision party associated with James.  This is very curious indeed.  It is hard to imagine Peter after Pentecost afraid of anybody at all, least of all other disciples.  After all, was he not the "top dog" of all Jewish Christians, excepting Jesus' brother James?  This was the man who told the Sanhedrin, "We must obey God rather than men!" (Acts 5:29), and was flogged for it. So it wasn't personal fear, it was that he was convinced by the Jerusalem visitors that the authority of the Law must be maintained among Jewish believers.  This was a critical moment in the life of the Church and the message of the Gospel.


We do not, unfortunately, have Peter's account of his time in Antioch or the meeting with Paul.  But this incident shows three things: 1. the power of the legalist faction in Jerusalem, 2. the penetration of this movement into the top leadership of the church, and 3. the doublemindedness of Peter, not because he was duplicitous, but because he was confused in his own mind about what was righteous conduct.  Paul had no such confusion or hesitation!


This “drawing back” of Peter from fellowship with others of like spirit but different heritage set a very bad precedent:  consider the generations of white Christians who excluded minorities from home and church – not necessarily slave owners or "bad people."  No, the real damage was done by the "good people" who believed in God and mercy and winning the lost, but divided God’s people by color and so denied their Lord and His Gospel.  There are likewise generations of minority Christians – black, Hispanic, Indian – who have in retaliation shunned and despised the white majority, and have committed the sin of self-segregation in such groups as college race-based social groups or single-race churches, and who could not look at a white person without seeing "oppressor" written on his forehead.  It is the same sin, whoever commits it and for whatever "good" reason.  And Paul nails it:  it is "hypocrisy," for which Peter “stood condemned (RSV).


It had been many years since Peter had seen the Lord walking on the Sea of Galilee in the storm and had gone to him over the tossing waves.  At that time, the distress of circumstances caused him to lose his focus and begin to sink under the water.  This episode was re-enacted in Antioch.  There, motivated by genuine love for new Gentile believers, who were eager but ignorant, he met with them, ate with them, told them personal reminiscences of Jesus’ life.  But then the party of segregation and moral purity arrived.  Their motive was not love for the lost, but preservation of priority: maintaining the pre-eminence of the Jews in the plan of God.  And they asked Peter, "What will they say in Jerusalem when they hear you sat at table with pig-eaters?"  And Peter took his eyes off the Lord and started to sink….  Some of the greatest battles of the Christian faith have been fought, not over doctrines, but over the dinner table.    

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