As I said last week, we have a tendency to want to clasp the theological truths of this precious book of Galtians to our hearts—that by the works of the law no man is saved, but only by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and His work alone—while despising the method the Holy Spirit used to clarify and solidify that truth within the Church.
NOTE: This is number 12 in a series on Galatians. If this is your first time reading sermon notes here, please take time to read a helpful explanation at the bottom of this post.
From the Pulpit of Church of the Good Shepherd/Clearnote Church, Bloomington
February 8, 2004; AM
Galatians Series No. 12
Fearing the Party of the Circumcision
Sermon Text: Galatians 2:11-14
This Lord’s Day, we turn to our twelfth in a series of sermons on the New Testament book of Galatians...
And this week we return to chapter two, beginning with verse 11.
* Galatians 2:11-14 This is the Word of God, eternally true.
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. 13 The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.
14 But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
Here we have what some consider to be an infamous text of Scripture although the word ‘infamous’ is not normally used to describe Bible passages. When we say something is “infamous,” we are not paying it a compliment. "Infamous" carries a negative connotation. Why then would anyone think of this text as “infamous?”
Because it’s hard for us even to imagine these two principal, these two chief or head, apostles, Peter and Paul, coming to such a conflict between themselves that one of them describes it, saying that he “resisted” or “opposed” the other “to his face.” Yet that’s what Paul claims happened between himself and Peter: he took Peter on, face to face, and stood him down.
Today church men—pastors and elders and Bible professors—will do almost anything to avoid conflict, particularly conflict that’s gloves off and public. Yet this face-down between Paul and Peter was not done in private. It was a very public conflict between the two most prominent leaders of the fledgling Christian church. If it were the church of America today, it might be the great evangelist Billy Graham and the great apologist of the Christian faith and prison worker, Chuck Colson, who had at it—and they would have gone at it during one of the banquets held at the annual Christian Booksellers Conventions, or some other large public function.
Now, after the conflict was over, it’s apparent the Apostle Paul considers the principle he was victorious in defending important enough that he reminded believers across the Roman Empire, and across history down to this very day, of this conflict, who it was he opposed, and who was victorious—namely, himself—by recording it here in his letter to the Galatians, the second chapter. Still today, in churches around the world, Christians reading the book of Galatians are told by Paul:
Verse 11: But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned
14 …I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
Before we go deeper into this conflict, though, let’s look at the setting.
In the time the Apostle Paul wrote, Antioch was the third largest city within the Roman Empire with about half a million inhabitants, 65,000 of whom were Jews—around one seventh of the total population. Sophisticated in every way, Antioch was probably best known for its architectural centerpiece, the two mile long main thoroughfare that was lined by 3,200 columns and paved with marble.
This “Main Street” was thirty-one feet wide (half the distance from the pitcher’s plate to home plate, or one foot deeper than the depth of the end zone in football) and it was lined the entire two miles (twenty city blocks) by porticoes—covered walkways with majestic columns supporting the roofs. Thus in the Ancient World, only here in Antioch could one stroll for two miles under such majestic coverings, rain or shine, past the homes of the rich and famous and the public buildings the porticoes led to. And under this covering were all kinds of merchants selling their wares.
Since Antioch had such a large number of Jews, it was important that its residents could distinguish between Jews and followers of Jesus the Messiah, the Christ. So we read in Acts 11:26:
Acts 11:26b …the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.
We are fond of speaking of “the birth of the modern missionary movement” in 1792, with many tying that birth to the publication of the great missionary pioneer, William Carey’s, book titled, An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians To Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens: In Which the Religious State of the Different Nations of the World, the Success of Former Undertakings, and the Practicability of Further Undertakings, Are Considered.
But if Carey’s book and work were the birth of the modern missionary movement, Antioch was the principal home, maybe even the birthplace (if we rule out Jerusalem) of the first missionary movement of the early church. It was here in Antioch that the Church received from the Holy Spirit her first large harvest of Gentile souls, and after Barnabas coraled the Apostle Paul into coming up with him to Antioch, there to work to strengthen the believers in this city, Antioch became the Apostle Paul’s home base, his sending church throughout his ministry.
In the years and centuries following the writing of the New Testament, Antioch continued to be one of the principal cities of the Ancient World. Then in 525 AD it was hit by a fire, followed by two devastating earthquakes (in 526 and 528) that killed well over half its inhabitants—about 360,000 souls.
A century later, in 637, Arabs conquered the city for Islam. Today it has become a small ramshackle town of only about 35,000, with no particular importance.
But back in the time of the early church when the Apostle Paul was traveling the Roman Empire preaching the Gospel, the battle for the soul of the church of Antioch recorded here, as well as in Acts 15, was no small matter. Nothing less than the true doctrine of salvation—that man may be saved only through the finished work of our Lord Jesus Christ—was at stake. Here was a cosmopolitan city with large groups of both Jews and Gentiles filling her church, and so there was no better place to watch the resolution between Old Testament Israel and New Testament Israel; or, if you will, Old Israel and New Israel. How would the Gentiles relate to the Jews and the Jews relate to the Gentiles now that Christ had broken down the dividing wall; now that “In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek?
Well, one thing clear from both the historical records written by Luke the physician (in Acts 14 and 15) and the Apostle Paul (here in Galatians) is that it was’t done peacefully. It required a fight—and a fight between he-men, between giants of the Church.
With this account of this conflict, the Apostle Paul brings the historical section of the book (beginning with 1:13) to a close. And this historical section can be outlined by pointing to the four ocurrences Paul highlighted in it, the first three of which begin with the word “then,” and the fourth—the one we here just read—begins with “when.”
Let me use the summary of Paul’s case till now written by the Bible scholar, Timothy George:
After God called me to be an apostle, I did not even go to Jerusalem for several years. When I finally did get there… (and so on, p. 168)
Now we cannot be sure of the exact timetable of everything we know happened in Antioch, but it’s the guess of many that the conflict we just read about here in verses 11-14 of Galatians 2 fits into the rest of what we know as follows: a church was first planted in Antioch as a result of the persecution of the Church in Jerusalem recorded at the beginning of the book of Acts surrounding the martyrdom of Stephen; later, Barnabas (the son of encouragement) became a shepherd of that church and brought in the Apostle Paul to help with the work; the church was solid enough, both spiritually and financially, that it sent a gift of money to Jerusalem to assist the home church there; both Paul and Barnabas were sent out from (and by) Antioch on their first missionary journey (during which the churches of Galatia were planted); Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch, their home base, and reported on what God had done through them and stayed there “a long time;” during which the issue of table fellowship reared its ugly head and began to divide the church there, resulting in the conflict between the Apostles, Peter and Paul, here recorded; and finally, the conflict continued to fester until the church there at Antioch appealed to the home church in Jerusalem for a decision on the matter of the proper relationship between the Jewish and Gentile believers, specifically concerning the matter of obedience to the Old Covenant Law, and particularly the bondage or freedom of Gentile believers from the requirement of circumcision that was at the heart of that Law and community.
It’s interesting to note that Paul and Barnabas were sent by the church of Antioch to inquire of the home church in Jerusalem for a ruling on this matter. We have a record here in Galatians 2 of the fact that the Apostle Paul and Barnabas were at odds with one another over this matter earlier when the behemoths, Peter and Paul, clashed over the issue:
13 The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.
Now from Acts 15 and the record there of the Council of Jerusalem—the first meeting of a presbytery or general assembly, if you will—we know the home church and its apostles ruled in favor of freedom from the Jewish Law of the Old Covenant (or Old Testament); and particularly, that it was not necessary for Gentiles to be circumcised in order for them to be fully welcomed into the Christian Church. But the process of coming to this ruling (the way or process by which the matter came to a head) is a critical part of the story.
As I said last week, we have a tendency to want to clasp the theological truths of this precious book of Galtians to our hearts—that by the works of the law no man is saved, but only by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and His work alone; we want to clasp that truth to our hearts while despising the method the Holy Spirit used to clarify and solidify that truth within the Church.
Similarly, we want to have the joy of the Promised Land without the pain of the plagues and the endless wandering and discipline of the forty years in the desert; we want Solomon’s empire without David’s blood; we want Hosea’s allegorical understanding of Christ’s love for the Church, His Bride, without having to blush our way through Hosea’s account of the whoredom of his wife, Gomer; we want John the Baptist to go straight from his faithful proclamation of Jesus the Messiah to his place of honor in heaven, without the ignominious decapitation he suffered at the behest of a young dancing girl in the middle of what was certainly a drinking party; we want the victorious Resurrection without the bloody crown of thorns on our Lord’s head, without the mocking and spitting and jeering, without the turning away from our Lord by His Father, just at the moment when His life was ebbing out of His naked body hanging between crosses bearing common criminals; we want redemption without death, peace without purity, truth without controversy; we want gain without pain.
But this is not the way of our God; He is infinitely wise and holy, and it pleases Him to reveal to us that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins;” and without conflict, truth and unity die. Is this not the meaning behind the statement:
1 Corinthians 11:19 For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you.
Factionalism and schism and the conflict at the center of both are not to be commended since their occasion is always the sin of man; yet, God is pleased to allow them and, through them to show the truth and the champions of that truth. In other words, it is through conflicts such as that recorded here in Galatians 2:11-14 that truth and its champions, those who are not false, but true shepherds, are revealed to the flock of sheep.
* Calvin Negatively Cites Chrysostom’s Explanation:
Chrysostom makes the meaning to be, that others had previously indulged in complaint and accusation; but this is really trifling. It was customary with the Greeks to give to their participles the signification of nouns, which, every person must see, is applicable to this passage. This will enable us to perceive the absurdity of the interpretation given by Jerome and Chrysostom, who represent the whole transaction as a feigned debate, which the apostles had previously arranged to take place in presence of the people. They are not even supported by the phrase, "I withstood him to the face, kata proswpon, which means that "to the face," or "being present," Peter was chastised…. The observation of Chrysostom, that, for the sake of avoiding scandal, they would have talked in private if they had any difference, is frivolous. The less important must be disregarded in comparison of the most dangerous of all scandals, that the Church would be rent, that Christian liberty was in danger, that the doctrine of the grace of Christ was overthrown; and therefore this public offence must be publicly corrected.
* Japan Times’ Motto and “Fear”:
Whereas the New York Times has this motto on its front page, “All the news that’s fit to print, the English language daily, Japan Times, has this motto, “All the news, without fear or favor.”
1 Timothy 5:20 Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning.”
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