Return to Study Guide for Galatians -by Don Kugelberg, Long Beach, California USA
Galatians 2:11- 21
The new born church had a serious problem. Food functioned in some ways as a means of communication. Indeed, sharing a meal with someone was a sign of intimacy. No enemies would ever be present at the table since the breaking of bread with another was a sign that you didn’t at present nor could you ever conceive of a time in the future where you would consider this person an enemy.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
A Hebrew would see this as meal in the presence of enemies with extreme significance. It was a symbol that the Lord had brought about reconciliation between the two parties. Without the reconciliation, there could be no fellowship at the table.
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.
Read in the light of the understanding of table fellowship as practiced in Biblical times, this verse takes on a new significance. The Lord will sit down at table with us – the significance is mind-boggling. The Lord will no longer consider us estranged. The meal signifies the reconciliation of He and I.
Here then is the root of the problem for the newly converted Jews in the church. Their whole inclination, training, and very theology told them that no enemy could be present at their table.
Who was the enemy? It was anyone who stood outside or against the laws and will of Yahweh, Israel’s covenant God. It was the tax collectors, prostitutes, adulterers, and especially the Gentiles who stood outside the covenant. In their case, their lives could be more moral than the Israelites, but they were enemies because they were Samaritans or Gentiles.
In the New Testament, Jesus (who well understood the Scriptures and table fellowship) began to preach and teach these very people who are estranged; and He does more – he eats dinner with them! He put aside the concept of enemy and brought all people to the common table, where, of course, there can be no enemies. He doesn’t attempt to explain some new order or new understanding of the law. To dine with the Messiah says it all – in a much more eloquent fashion!
Given this context we are ready to ready to open today’s text with a new understanding.
Read Galatians 2:11-14
What are the issues here? Peter stands condemned because he ate with Gentiles until the James party from Jerusalem arrived. He gradually stopped eating with the Gentiles and began to eat exclusively with Jewish Christians. He also influenced others to follow his example (including Barnabas). Paul says their conduct is not in step with the truth of the Gospel and they are behaving as hypocrites.
Antioch became the first place where the early church had to deal with the issue of table fellowship. At their earlier meeting, the Apostles had already agreed that the Gentiles belonged in the church and that they did not have to keep the Old Testament law to be saved. This meeting did not deal with the appropriateness of the Jewish Christians maintaining their heritage by keeping the ceremonial law. An unofficial truce had been in force. Just as Gentiles could behave like Gentiles, so Jewish Christians could behave like their Jewish ancestors.
To Antioch was left the question as to how a Jew was supposed to relate to a Gentile when they both worshipped in the same church. How could Jewish Christians keep kosher if they ate with Gentiles? How was the Lord’s Supper to be celebrated? The theological question had already been settled, the practical question remained to be answered.
So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.
Here then we observe the cause of Paul’s righteous anger. Peter knows the truth of the gospel and knows that the Gentiles are no longer enemies! They have been reconciled by same cross!
Peter though, behaves hypocritically for fear of the Jewish Christians who have come down to Antioch. In doing so he obscures the message of the very gospel he is trying to proclaim.
The gospel message is simple. Before salvation, all men are equally separated from God. After salvation, all are equally reconciled to God because it is the cross apart from ourselves who does the reconciling.
for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
This is a concept that was very hard for Jewish believers to grasp, especially in practice. The Lord’s Supper is a place where we remember reconciliation first between God and man and then between each other.
So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
Peter stands condemned because he knows that his refusal to share table fellowship with the Gentile believers go against the clear revelation he himself received from God.
So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
Peter knows and is therefore held accountable by Paul who says his behavior is damaging to the gospel because it causes division but also because it sends the wrong message to the Gentile believers that they are somehow second class citizens in the kingdom of God.
It is ironic that certain men of James are identified as those who cause the trouble. It was James who wrote:
My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.
But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty.
The Jewish believers were actually adding to the conditions necessary for celebrating the Lord’s Supper. If we are to have fellowship with you at the table then you must keep yourself kosher even as we do. The ceremonial law calls us to keep clean. If you are defiled we cannot eat with you even though you are saved.
What God has made clean, do not call common.
The literal Greek here is “do not make profane” or unclean. The issue here is much larger than food! God declares Gentiles justified in Christ. Let no one – not even an apostle call them unclean again.
Paul reminds Peter that it was not the law that saved them (Paul and Peter) but the cross. Read Galatians 2:15-21.
Perhaps here is the argument that the James party used to turn Peter. “If Jewish Christians are eating with Gentile Christians because of their common faith in Christ, then Christ must promote sin because eating with Gentiles breaks Jewish purity laws.”
For this party it was not faith alone but faith coupled with the Law that truly made one right with God.
Paul takes this argument apart by destroying the premise of their argument. Paul rightly discerns that eating with Gentiles is not sinful because the Gospel demands it.
The law cannot be used as a basis for judging Christian practice. If the law is incorporated into the Gospel then the Christian becomes a lawbreaker since Christ Himself broke the ceremonial law. He ate with sinners and healed on the Sabbath.
Paul makes the point in verse 19 that he died to the law and now lives in Christ. He uses very graphic language to state that it is now Christ who governs his actions. He nails his point home in verse 21 when he says if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”
The cross destroyed all distinctions between Jews and Gentiles and all ceremonial laws that upheld these distinctions were abolished because both Jewish and Gentile Christians are declared “clean” in the death and resurrection of Christ.
This is the gospel that saves. Paul called Peter to stop acting hypocritically and therefore hindering the Gospel.
Again, the overarching context of this passage is the argument of Paul to the Galatians that the gospel he preached came from God himself, was endorsed by the Apostles, and now as a closing argument presented a case where Paul himself rebuked Peter for preaching something other than the gospel.
Peter and Paul were reconciled. Indeed. Peter writes later:
2 Peter 3:15-16
And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as 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.
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