11 Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed;
12 for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision.
13 And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy.
14 But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, “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?
This incident probably occurred shortly after the meeting in Jerusalem mentioned in the previous verses.
withstood (v.11) — gives the sense that Peter was the aggressor and Paul maintained his position.
to his face (v.11) — openly, as an equal
blamed (v.22) — Peter’s conduct could be seen as wrong to himself and to other observers. The Antioch Gentile Christians would have thought so.
certain men (v.12) — Perhaps those of Acts 15:1. (Perhaps Barnabas was swayed by Peter but then changed his mind and went to Jerusalem with Paul, but it probably refers to another occasion.)
from James (v. 12) — James probably charged the men with the mission.
eat with the Gentiles (v.12) — Eating with Gentiles is not forbidden in the Mosaic law, only by the Pharisees. The food eaten might have been forbidden by the Mosaic law.
withdrew (v.12) — vacillated, inconsistent. A military word suggesting a strategic retreat to shelter, cautious and gradual.
separated (v.12) — indicating that he thought the Gentiles were inferior
circumcision (v.12) — Judaizers
rest of the Jews (v.13) — Probably the believing Jews who had been fellowshipping with the Gentiles in the Antioch church.
played the hypocrite (v.13) — Pretended to act from one motive while actually acting from another. Peter pretended to honor the law but was really afraid of the Judaizers. The word “hypocrisy” was originally used of the role of an actor in a play.
Barnabas (v.13) — this, perhaps, let to his separation from Paul, which would be further support for the position that this took place after the Jerusalem Council.
carried away (13) — influenced
not straightforward (v.14) — didn’t walk a straight path that could be followed by others.
truth of the gospel (v.14) — that salvation is by faith in Christ alone without works of any sort.
before them all (v.14) — perhaps before the entire church at Antioch
being a Jew (v.14) — born and bred
Peter’s decision not to eat with the Gentiles seems like a small issue, but Paul saw it for what it was — a rejection of the gospel of grace.
This incident also emphasizes Paul’s independence from the apostles in Jerusalem.
The issue here seems to be that, in the Jerusalem church, the believers were following a gospel that still included some adherence to the Mosaic law and separation from the Gentiles (Galatians 2:9), but in Antioch, the believers followed Paul’s gospel of grace and unity between Jew and Gentile.
This is the second time that Peter got into trouble over the Gentile question, and there is a significant connection between this incident at Antioch and the previous one at Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the headquarters of the Jewish church; Antioch was the headquarters of the Gentile church. When Peter returned to Jerusalem after ministering to Cornelius, they that were of the circumcision contended with him (Acts 11:2). At Jerusalem he was called to account for eating with the Gentiles (verse 3). At Antioch he was rebuked because he stopped eating with the Gentiles (Galatians 2:12).
At Jerusalem he had rightly defended his action; he had done right by eating with the Gentiles. At Antioch, he had no defense to offer for he was wrong; he should have continued to eat with, and have fellowship with the Gentiles. — Stam, page 119
It is clear that these men [verse 12] were sent by James, men of importance as is shown by the deference with which Peter treated them, and the obsequiousness with which he bowed to their requests. They were not from the ranks of the Judaizers, for James would not send men of that stamp, but Jewish Christians of Jerusalem who like James were still most scrupulous in their obedience to the Mosaic law. James, even after the decision of the council at Jerusalem regarding the relation of the law to Gentile converts to Christianity, still held to the view that the Jewish converts were under the law. James was the occasion of Paul’s lapse when the apostle at his request took upon himself a Jewish vow to show the Jews in Jerusalem that he was still a strict Jew (Acts 21:18-26). Here he was the occasion of Peter’s lapse when he sent this mission to Antioch with the purpose of enforcing the Mosaic law so far as the Jewish Christians were concerned. — Wuest, page 70.
It was bad enough for Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles and the champion of Gentile liberty from the law, to have Peter act as he did. But the hypocrisy of Barnabas was the cruel blow. With the single exception of Paul, Barnabas had been the most effective minister of the gospel in the conversion of the Gentiles. He had been deputed with Paul by the Antioch church to the council at Jerusalem as its representative. He had come back with the news that the position held by Paul and himself with regard to Gentile freedom from circumcision had been sustained by the Jerusalem apostles. Now, his withdrawal from social fellowship with the Gentiles, came with the force of a betrayal to Paul and the church at Antioch. The defection of Barnabas was of a far more serous nature with regard to Gentile freedom than the vacillation of Peter. Barnabas was Paul’s chief colleague in the evangelization of the Gentiles, and now to have him play the hypocrite and deserter, was a bitter blow to the great apostle. This may well have prepared the way for the dissension between them which shortly afterwards led to their separation (Acts 15:39). — Wuest, page 73.