After receiving the gospel message directly from Jesus, Paul travelled and preached faithfully for the next twenty years. In obedience to the call of Christ, Paul had taken the gospel message, evangelized, and planted churches throughout Asia and Europe. Now, after nearly two decades of declaring it, challengers had come into the churches of Galatia and were arguing that Paul and Peter were disagreeing. They claimed that while Paul argued that it was through faith alone that God extends his grace, Peter was teaching the church in Jerusalem that you must not only place your faith in Jesus, but that you must also follow the law in order to become a Christian.
Paul thoroughly disassembled their claims, but before he moved on to teach the deeper truths of justification by grace alone through faith alone, Paul leveled one last charge against the works-based Judaizers. This group of legalists idolized Peter and James and considered them to be “real Apostles,” while in their estimation, Paul was a fraud of an Apostle. Paul had answered this accusation at the very beginning of his letter, but continued to explain further how he had interacted with the so-called “real Apostles” in Jerusalem and how that he had even discussed his gospel message with them. At no point did they correct him, rather, they affirmed him and accepted him. If Paul was preaching a false gospel, then why would the other Apostles have affirmed it?
Paul continued his recounting of his interactions with the other Apostles. In the first century, the church in Antioch had become a center for Christian activity. For a while, when Paul and Barnabas were there, Peter came up from Jerusalem to visit them. This church in Antioch was the perfect picture of Christianity, ethnic walls and cultural distinction were melted away, and Jew and Gentile fellowshipped freely. The gospel was at work bringing together everyone in the church. That is, until other Jewish leaders arrived. Paul refers to these new arrivals as “certain that came from James.” These close followers of James were apparently disturbed by the intermingling of the races.
In their gospel-less racism they drew Peter away from the Gentiles there in Antioch and created a noticeable distinction between themselves and the Gentile converts. Paul explained that in their separation they even caused Barnabas to draw away from the Gentiles. This was an impressive thing since Barnabas would eventually be a missionary to Gentiles, and now he was acting racist against them. Seeing the sinfulness of the Jewish church leaders, Paul spoke up immediately. His accusations were leveled at Peter himself. The pillar of the Judaizers, Peter, was guilty of sinful separation. Separation for the sake of true godliness was one thing, but separation for fear of men, that was simply sinful. Paul rebuked Peter, and Peter was eventually restored to the Gentile believers.
Paul’s argument was clear. “I am an Apostle. I have been accepted by the other Apostles. One of the chief Apostles accepted open rebuke from my mouth about the very things on which I have been challenged.” The Judaizers were left with no more ground from which to argue their point. To press against Paul was to press against the entire band of Apostles. To argue against the power of the gospel that Paul preached was to argue against the obvious transformation that had occurred in his life. To challenge the message that Paul preached was to challenge the one who gave Paul the message, Jesus. After Paul answered the charges against him, now the Galatians could trust what he would teach them.
Food For Thought: How was Peter’s racist separation from the Gentiles inconsistent with the gospel?