Peter's Hypocrisy: Part 2 of 2 (series: Lessons on Galatians)
by John Lowe
12 For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision.
13 And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation.
Now, this is probably what happened. When the time came to eat, Simon Peter went over to the kosher table, while Paul went over to the gentile table. Peter noticed that there was pork roast on the gentile table. After dinner Peter joined Paul and they went outside for a little walk. Peter said, “I noticed that you ate at the gentile table.” “Yes,” Paul said, “And I noticed that you ate pork tonight. Is it good? I never have tasted it.” “Yes,” Paul said, “it’s delicious.” Then Peter asked, “Do you think it would be alright if I ate over there?” And Paul said, “Well, it is my understanding that we are going to have some nice pork chops in the morning for breakfast. Why don’t you try it?” So, in the morning when he came to breakfast, he went over to the gentile table, sat down gingerly, and rather reluctantly took a pork chop. After he tasted it, he said to Paul, “It’s delicious, isn’t it!” Paul said, “Yes. After all, under grace, you can eat it or not eat it. It makes no difference. Meat won’t commend you to God.” So, Simon Peter said, “I’ll be here tonight and I understand you are having ham tonight. I want to try that.” So, at dinner time he starts rushing for the gentile table when he looks over and sees some of the elders from the Jerusalem Church who had come to visit also. So Simon Peter went all around the gentile table, went over to the kosher table, and sat down like a little whipped puppy. Some of the Jewish Christians there, including Barnabas had followed Paul’s and Peter’s example and were planning on having ham for dinner too, but when they observed Peter circumvent the gentile table and go to the kosher table instead, they were confused, but decided to eat with him at the kosher table.
It was alright for Peter to eat from either table, Kosher or gentile, but after he had been eating at the gentile table, but then, out of fear of the brethren from Jerusalem, he goes back to the kosher table, he is saying by his actions that the gentile table is wrong, and that the kosher table is right.
To “eat with the Gentiles” meant to accept them, to put Jews and Gentiles on the same level, like one family in Christ. Raised as an orthodox Jew, Peter had a difficult time learning this lesson. Jesus had taught it while with Peter before the Crucifixion (See Matthew 15). The Holy Spirit had reemphasized it, when He sent Peter to the home of Cornelius, the Roman Centurion (Acts 10). Furthermore, the truth had been accepted and approved by the conference of leaders at Jerusalem (Acts 15). Peter had been one of the key witnesses at that time.
Peter’s freedom is threatened by Peter’s fear. The elders from the Jerusalem Church who had come to visit, were associates of James (James was a strict Jew, even though he was a Christian believer.) Paul does not suggest that James sent these men to investigate Peter, or even that they were leaders or officials of the Jerusalem Church. No doubt they belonged to the “circumcision party” (Acts 15.1, 5) and wanted to lead the Antioch Christians into religious legalism.
After his experience with Cornelius, Peter had been “called upon the carpet” and had ably defended himself (Acts 11). But now he became afraid. Peter had not been afraid to obey the Spirit when He sent him to Cornelius, nor was he afraid to give his witness at the Jerusalem Conference. But now with the arrival of some members of “the opposition,” Peter lost his confidence. “The fear of man bringeth a snare” (Proverbs 29.25).
How do we account for this fear? For one thing, we know Peter was an impulsive man. He could show amazing faith and courage one minute and fail completely the next. He walked on water to go to Jesus, but then became frightened and began to sink. He boasted in the Upper Room that he would be willing to die with Jesus, and then denied his Lord three times. Peter in the Book of Acts is certainly more consistent than in the four Gospels, but was not perfect—nor are we! Peter’s fear led to Peter’s fall. He ceased to enjoy the “love fest” with the Gentile believers and separated himself from them.
There are two tragedies to Peter’s fall. First, it made him a hypocrite (which is the meaning of the word dissembled). Peter pretended his actions were motivated by faithfulness, but they were really motivated by fear. How easy it is to use “Bible doctrine” to cover up our disobedience.
The other tragedy is that Peter led others astray with him. Even Barnabas was involved. Barnabas had been one of the spiritual leaders of the church in Antioch (Acts 11.19-26), so his disobedience would have a tremendous influence on the others in the fellowship.
Suppose Peter and Barnabas had won the day and led the church into legalism. What might the results have been? Would Antioch have continued to be the great missionary church that sent out Paul and Barnabas? (Acts 13) Would they, instead, have sent out the “missionaries” of the circumcision party and either captured or divided the churches Paul had already founded? You can see that the problem was not a matter of personality or party; it was a question of the “truth of the Gospel.” And Paul was ready to fight for it.
This very interesting story continues in the next chapters; verses 14, and 15-21.