Why did Paul oppose Peter at one occasion?

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The account of the confrontation between Paul and Peter is recorded in Galatians 2:11-19. In this passage,  Paul rebuked Peter for submitting to the prejudice of the Jews who said that people from all ethnic backgrounds had to fulfill the Jewish ritual law before they could become proper Christians.

Peter was eating and fellow-shipping with the uncircumcised non-Jews, in Antioch, until some Jewish church members came up from Jerusalem and saw him mingling with the gentiles. At that point, Peter hoping not to offend them “withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision” (V. 12). Paul noticed this reaction and he rebuked Peter saying, “If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews?” (v. 14). Paul’s concern on this occasion was for the members of the church (1 Cor. 10:29–33), and the church at Antioch was composed largely of Gentiles (Acts 11:19–21).

Paul’s words were not new or strange to Peter. It only served as a reminder of his own experience with gentile believer Cornelius (Acts 10:19 – 11:18) and how the Lord opened the door of salvation to the gentiles and poured His Holy Spirit on them freely. Paul’s admonition also called Peter’s attention to the Jerusalem Council’s decision (Acts 15:7, 22, 29) which released the Gentile believers from the requirements of the Jewish ritual law. Peter should have been more ready to stand firmly in the position he originally took, of entering into full fellowship with the Gentile believers.

There was no real controversy between Peter and Paul. They were in agreement on the general principles and the decision of the council with respect to the status of Gentiles within the Christian church. And for this reason, Peter remained silent and didn’t give a defense to his actions. He was wrong in judgment. And his submission revealed his good intentions and willingness to be corrected. This very spirit of humility united both the Jews and the gentiles in their mission to spread the truth to all the world.

In His service,

BibleAsk Team

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