I wrote in the Bible Brief Article, “Why Do Good Men Disagree?”, concerning the serious and sad conflict between the Apostles Peter and Paul. I did so in an attempt to shed some light on the reasons why such a conflict would have taken place. In this regard, I also wrote another article, “Don’t Forget About the Transition”. In both cases, I have demonstrated that when the reality of the administrative and theological changes or transitions of the Acts Period are ignored or not understood, it results in conflict – a collision of opposing theological opinions. This is, in part, “Why” good men disagree!
The Background – A Little Leaven
There was a group of Legalists from Jerusalem who held to, what I would call, a “Messianic” form of Christianity…i.e., attempting to follow Christ mixed with Mosaic Law. These troublemakers were well known to the Apostle Paul because of their attempts to bring the Gentile believers into the bondage of the Law (Gal. 2:4, 12). Paul calls them “false brethren,” “grievous wolves” (Acts 20:29) and Satan’s “deceitful workers” (2 Cor. 11:13-15). Their presence and influence was a stumblingblock to Peter. As a result, Peter played the part of a coward and hypocrite because of the “fear of them…the circumcision.” He was intimidated by these Judaizers and, thus, compromised the truth. Peter had become a transgressor for having rebuilt, by his actions, “the things” which were destroyed by the finished work of Christ (Gal. 2:18). Peter believed the truth of the Gospel of Grace as evidenced by his own witness (Acts 15:8-11). He believed one thing but behaved in a contrary manner. He “walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel!” (Gal. 2:14).
The Conflict – resulting in division, confusion and compromise.
We know that there are certain laws of physics that cannot be violated. For example, we know that oil and water cannot be mixed and that any attempt to do so is doomed to fail; so, likewise with the principles of Law and Grace. What the Juidaizers were attempting to accomplish cannot be done successfully – conflict, confusion and division inevitably result. Our text is a powerful lesson that we cannot serve two masters (Gal. 1:10; Rom. 6:16-22; 8:5-8). We cannot ride the fence! That’s what Peter was trying to do. Any mixed ministry or message is a perversion of the truth!
The Cure – Back to the Basics
The whole of the Book of Galatians is devoted to solving the conflict. Here, in Galatians, Paul gives Peter and the Messianic Legalists a refresher course on the Doctrine of Justification. Paul could not allow the gospel to be falsified either in word or deed. He shows himself to be energetic and faithful to the truth that grace alone justifies the believing sinner. Thus, Paul steps in and takes control of the situation by …
… rebuking Peter in the presence of the whole assembly. When the Gospel or the principals of grace are tampered with by actions, behavior, words or writings, it must be rebuked. Yes, even when it involves a friend, associate or a “pillar” of the church. Public error needs to be exposed publicly.
Paul was not unloving or ungracious in his public rebuke. Peter caused the loss of unity. There is no unity at the expense of truth (Rom. 16:17… “mark them which cause division…”). “Open rebuke is better than secret love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful” (Prov. 27:5-6).
… reiterating the basic truth of the Grace Message. Paul reminds Peter, Barnabas and other believers of the true gospel from which they had departed by their actions. He uses the personal pronoun “we” to reaffirm the truth and show unity of the faith with the saved offenders. He says, “We Jews…knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the Law: for by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified” (Gal. 2:16).
… affirming his stand on the reality and efficaciousness of grace. He says boldly, “I…am dead to the Law…” (Gal. 2:19). “…I live by the faith of the Son of God…” (Gal. 2:20), and “I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness comes by the Law, then Christ is dead in vain (Gal. 2:21).
… defending his apostleship and authority. As an Apostle, Paul has the highest rank in Church authority, especially, as the divinely-appointed “Apostle to the Gentiles” (Gal. 1:1, 15-16; 2:8; 2 Tim. 1:11). Paul outranks Peter since his authority did not extend to the Gentiles (Gal 2:7-8). As such, Paul has every right to lead and demand conformity to the truth.
… defending his message. Paul’s detractors were alleging that neither his apostleship nor message were legitimate or at best were second-hand and inconsequential. Thus, he asserts, “I certify you, brethren that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:11-12).
This was Paul’s cure for conflict for both then and now! Thank God for the Apostle Paul! He feared no one except the Lord Jesus Christ who saved, called and ordained him! Even though his fellow Apostle, Barnabas, his closest companion and friend, walked away, Paul stood firm! Such conviction and courage is certainly needed in our current “go-along-to-get-along world.”