KJV Gal 2:11  But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.  Gal 2:12  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.  Gal 2:13  And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation.

Peter appears quite fearless in his dealings with the unbelieving Jews despite the fact that they had thrown him in prison and had killed Jesus:

KJV Act 5:25  Then came one and told them, saying, Behold, the men whom ye put in prison are standing in the temple, and teaching the people.  Act 5:26  Then went the captain with the officers, and brought them without violence: for they feared the people, lest they should have been stoned.  Act 5:27  And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them,  Act 5:28  Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man's blood upon us.  Act 5:29  Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.  Act 5:30  The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree.  Act 5:31  Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.  Act 5:32  And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.  Act 5:33  When they heard that, they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay them.

But when some came in the name of James, the Lord's brother (though James had not really sent them) Peter became disobedient to the heavenly vision permitting him to eat with gentiles:

KJV Act 10:28  And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.  Act 10:29  Therefore came I unto you without gainsaying, as soon as I was sent for: I ask therefore for what intent ye have sent for me?

Paul says he was "fearing them which were of the circumcision". Apparently these were the Jerusalem Jews who believed in Jesus the messiah.

So why was he (and Barnabas?) so afraid of them?


I have received several excellent answers (thank you all!) and it appears to me that the answer to the question and the value of the posts depend on the interpretation of the word "fear". In order to facilitate resolving what Paul meant by "feared" I'm posting the BDAG entry in which I have highlighted the section that BDAG assigns to Galatians 2:12:

φοβέω (φέβομαι ‘flee in terror’; Hom. et al.; Wsd 17:9; Jos., Ant. 14, 456), in our lit. only pass. φοβέομαι (Hom.+; OGI 669, 59; SIG 1268 II, 17; pap, LXX, pseudepigr., Philo, Joseph., Just.; Mel., P. 98, 746 al.; Ath. 20, 2; R. 21 p. 75, 1) impf. ἐφοβούμην; 1 fut. φοβηθήσομαι; 1 aor. ἐφοβήθην (Plut., Brut. 1002 [40, 9]; M. Ant. 9, 1, 7; Jer 40:9; Jos., C. Ap. 2, 277; s. B-D-F §79).

① to be in an apprehensive state, be afraid, the aor. oft. in the sense become frightened

ⓐ intr., abs. (Iren. 1, 4, 2 [Harv. I 36, 4]) ἐφοβήθησαν σφόδρα they were terribly frightened (Ex 14:10; 1 Macc 12:52) Mt 17:6; 27:54. ἐπεστράφην φοβηθείς I turned around in terror Hv 4, 3, 7.—Mt 9:8; 14:30; 25:25; Mk 5:33; Ac 16:38. ἐφοβοῦντο γάρ for they were afraid Mk 16:8 (Mk 16:9–20 is now rarely considered a part of the original gospel of Mk, though many scholars doubt that the gosp. really ended w. the words ἐφ. γάρ. The original ending may have been lost; among the possible reasons given are the accidental loss of the last page of Mark’s own first copy [the same defect, at a very early stage, in the case of the 18th book of the Κεστοί of Jul. Africanus: WBauer, Orthodoxy etc. (Engl. tr. of 2d German ed. ’64) ’71, 159ff. S. also FKenyon, Papyrus Rolls and the Ending of St. Mk: JTS 40, ’39, 56f; CRoberts, The Ancient Book and the Ending of St. Mk: ibid. 253–57] or by purposeful suppression, perh. because it may have deviated fr. the other accounts of the resurrection [for the purposeful omission of the end of a document cp. Athen. 4, 61, 166d on the 10th book of Theopompus’ Philippica, ἀφʼ ἧς τινες τὸ τελευταῖον μέρος χωρίσαντες, ἐν ᾧ ἐστιν τὰ περὶ τῶν δημαγωγῶν. S. also Diog. L. 7, 34: a report of Isidorus of Pergamum on the systematic mutilation of books in the library there by Athenodorus the Stoic].—Those who conclude that nothing ever came after ἐφ. γάρ must either assume that the evangelist was prevented fr. finishing his work [Zahn et al.], or indeed intended to close the book w. these words [s. γάρ 1a]. For a short sentence, composed of a verb + γάρ s. also Epict. 3, 9, 19; 4, 8, 4; Artem. 4, 64; 1, 33 p. 35, 6; Plotinus, Ennead 5, 5, a treatise ending in γάρ [PvanderHorst, JTS 23, ’72, 121–24]; Musonius Rufus, Tr. XII; Oenomaus in Eus., PE 6, 7, 8; Libanius, Or. 53 p. 65, 20 F.; PMich 149 VI, 37 [II a.d.]. Among those favoring an ending w. γάρ: Wlh., Loisy, Lohmeyer ad loc.; ABauer, WienerStud 34, 1912, 306ff; LBrun, D. Auferst. Christi 1925, 10ff; OLinton, ThBl 8, 1929, 229–34; JCreed, JTS 31, 1930, 175–80; MGoguel, La foi à la résurr. de Jésus ’33, 176ff; HMosbech, Mkevangeliets Slutning: SEÅ 5, ’40, 56–73; WAllen, JTS 47, ’46, 46–49 [‘feel reverential awe’]; ibid. 48, ’47, 201–3. S. also EGoodspeed, Exp. 8th ser., 18, 1919, 155–60; reconstruction of the ‘lost’ ending, in Engl., by Goodsp. in his Introd. to the NT ’37, 156; HProbyn, Exp. 9th ser., 4, 1925, 120–25; RKevin, JBL 45, 1926, 81–103; MEnslin, ibid. 46, 1927, 62–68; HCadbury, ibid. 344f; MRist, ATR 14, ’32, 143–51; WKnox, HTR 35, ’42, 13ff; EHelzle, Der Schluss des Mk, ’59, diss. Tübingen; FDanker, CTM 38, ’67, 26f; JLuzarraga, Biblica 50, ’69, 497–510; KAland, MBlack Festschr., ’69, 157–80, NTEntwürfe, ’79, 246–83). φοβοῦμαι μᾶλλον I am all the more fearful IPhld 5:1. μὴ φοβηθῆτε do not be afraid Mt 10:31 v.l. (μή 1cεא). μὴ φοβοῦ, μὴ φοβεῖσθε you must no longer be afraid, stop being afraid (μή 1cγא) Mt 10:31; 14:27; 17:7; Mk 5:36; Lk 1:13, 30; 2:10; 5:10; 8:50; 12:7 al. LKöhler, D. Offenbarungsformel ‘Fürchte dich nicht!’: SchTZ 36, 1919, 33ff.—W. acc. of inner obj. (B-D-F §153; Rob. 468; Pla., Prot. 360b; Ael. Aristid. 30 p. 586 D.: φοβοῦμαι φόβον; Did., Gen. 230, 1; on LXX usage s. Johannessohn, Kasus 73) ὁ φόβος ὃν δεῖ σε φοβηθῆναι the fear which you must have Hm 7:1c. ἐφοβήθησαν φόβον μέγαν (Jon 1:10; 1 Macc 10:8; TestAbr. B 13 p. 117, 17f [Stone p. 82]; JosAs 6:1) they were very much afraid Mk 4:41; Lk 2:9. If the nouns are to be taken in the pass. sense, this is also the place for τὸν φόβον αὐτῶν (objective gen.) μὴ φοβηθῆτε 1 Pt 3:14 (cp. Is 8:12) and μὴ φοβούμεναι μηδεμίαν πτόησιν vs. 6 (πτόησις 2); s. 1bγ below.—A recognizable Hellenic expr. (cp. ὁ ἀπὸ τῶν πολεμίων φόβος=fear in the face of the enemy), though encouraged by OT usage (Lev 26:2; Dt 1:29; Jer 1:8, 17; Jdth 5:23; 1 Macc 2:62; 8:12; En 106:4; Helbing 29; B-D-F §149; Rob. 577) φοβ. ἀπό τινος be afraid of someone Mt 10:28a; Lk 12:4; 1 Cl 56:11 (Job 5:22).—Foll. by gen. absol. 56:10. Foll. by μή and the aor. subj. to denote that which one fears (Thu. 1, 36, 1; Aesop, Fab. 317 H.=356a P.; Alex. Aphr. 31, II/2 p. 203, 20 τὸν Ἀπόλλω φοβεῖσθαι μή τι παρελθῇ τούτων ἄπρακτον=Apollo is concerned [almost as much as ‘sees to it’] that nothing of this remains undone; Jos., Ant. 10, 8, Vi. 252) Ac 23:10; 27:17; ITr 5:1; Hs 9, 20, 2. Foll. by μήποτε (Phlegon: 257 Fgm. 36, 2, 4 Jac. p. 1172, 30 φοβοῦμαι περὶ ὑμῶν, μήποτε; JosAs 7:3; ApcMos 16 al.): Hm 12, 5, 3. φοβηθῶμεν μήποτε δοκῇ τις Hb 4:1; μήπου (v.l. μήπως; ParJer 5:5) Ac 27:29; 2 Cor 11:3; 12:20. A notable feature is the prolepsis of the obj. (cp. Soph., Oed. R. 767; Thu. 4, 8, 7) φοβοῦμαι ὑμᾶς μήπως εἰκῇ κεκοπίακα εἰς ὑμᾶς I am afraid my work with you may be wasted Gal 4:11 (B-D-F §476, 3; Rob. 423).—W. inf. foll. be afraid to do or shrink from doing someth. (B-D-F §392, 1b.—X., An. 1, 3, 17 al.; Gen 19:30; 26:7; ApcMos 10:18) Mt 1:20; 2:22; Mk 9:32; Lk 9:45; 2 Cl 5:1.—φοβεῖσθαι abs. in the sense take care (Just., D. 78, 4) πλέον φοβεῖσθαι be more careful than usually ITr 4:1.

ⓑ trans. fear someone or someth.

α. pers. τινά someone (X., An. 3, 2, 19 al.; PGM 4, 2171; Num 21:34; Dt 3:2; Jos., Ant. 13, 26; Just., D. 83, 1) μὴ φοβηθῆτε αὐτούς Mt 10:26. Ἡρῴδης ἐφοβεῖτο τὸν Ἰωάννην Mt 6:20. τοὺς Ἰουδαίους J 9:22.—Gal 2:12; 2:5b (saying of Jesus). God (Did., Gen. 64, 15; Theoph. Ant. 1, 14 [p. 92, 11]) Mt 10:28b; Lk 12:5abc; 23:40; 2:5c (saying of Jesus). The crowd Mt 14:5; 21:26, 46; Mk 11:32; 12:12; Lk 20:19; 22:2; Ac 5:26 (foll. by μή). τὴν ἐξουσίαν (ἐξουσία 5a) Ro 13:3. The angel of repentance Hm 12, 4, 1; Hs 6, 2, 5. The Christian is to have no fear of the devil Hm 7:2a; 12, 4, 6f; 12, 5, 2.

β. animals (in imagery) μὴ φοβείσθωσαν τὰ ἀρνία τοὺς λύκους 2:5a (saying of Jesus, fr. an unknown source).

γ. things τὶ someth. (X., Hell. 4, 4, 8 al.; En 103:4; ApcEsdr 7:2 τὸν θάνατον; Just., D. 1, 5 κόλασιν; Ath., R. 21 p. 75, 1 οὐδέν; Jos., C. Ap. 1, 90; 2, 232) τὸ διάταγμα τοῦ βασιλέως Hb 11:23. τὸν θυμὸν τοῦ βασιλέως vs. 27. τὴν κρίσιν 2 Cl 18:2. τὸν ὄντως θάνατον Dg 10:7. φοβοῦμαι τὴν ὑμῶν ἀγάπην, μὴ … IRo 1:2. τὰ ὅπλα (in imagery) Hm 12, 2, 4.—1 Pt 3:14 and 6 belong here if the nouns in them are to be taken in an act. sense; s. 1a above.—Fear, avoid, shun τὶ someth. (Ps.-Callisth. 1, 41, 9 Δαρεῖος τὸ ἅρμα φοβηθείς) τὴν πλάνην τῶν ἁμαρτωλῶν B 12:10. τὰ ἔργα τοῦ διαβόλου Hm 7:3ac.—AVStröm, Der Hirt des Hermas, Allegorie oder Wirklichkeit? Ntl. Sem. Uppsala 3, ’36.

② to have a profound measure of respect for, (have) reverence, respect, w. special ref. to fear of offending

ⓐ God: fear (differently 1bα) in the sense reverence (Aeschyl., Suppl. 893 δαίμονας; Isocr. 1, 16 τοὺς μὲν θεοὺς φοβοῦ, τοὺς δὲ γονεῖς τίμα; Pla., Leg. 11, 927a; Lysias 9, 17; 32, 17; Plut., De Superstit. 2, 165b; LXX; PsSol 4:21; TestJob 43:9 [τὸν κύριον]; JosAs 2:5 [deities]; Philo, Migr. Abr. 21 [after Gen 42:18]. Cp. PTebt 59, 10 [II b.c.] φοβεῖσθαι καὶ σέβεσθαι τὸ ἱερόν) Lk 1:50 (anticipates the οἱ φοβούμενοι in Ac: H-JKlauck, NTS 43, ’97, 134–39); 18:2, 4 (was Ex 23:1–3 his motto: even God could not bribe him?); Ac 10:35; 1 Pt 2:17; Rv 14:7; 19:5; 1 Cl 21:7; 23:1; 28:1; 45:6; B 10:10f (τὸν κύριον); 19:2, 7; Hm 1:2; 7:1, 4f; Hs 5, 1, 5; 8, 11, 2; D 4:10. Also τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ θεοῦ (2 Esdr 11) Rv 11:18.—φοβούμενοι τὸν θεόν as a t.t.=σεβόμενοι τὸν θεόν (σέβω 1b; t.t. disputed by MWilcox, JSNT 13, ’81, 102–22; cp. TFinn, CBQ 47, ’85, 75–84; ILevinskaya, The Book of Acts in Its Diaspora Setting [BAFCS V] ’96, 51–126; BWander, Gottesfürchtige und Sympathisanten [WUNT 104] ’98, esp. 80–86; 180–203) Ac 13:16, 26 (Just., D. 10, 4 al.; sing. 10:2, 22).—τὸν κύριον (PsSol 2:33; 3:12 al.; JosAs 8:9) Christ: Col 3:22.—WAllen (s. 1a above) interprets Mk 16:8 to mean reverence for the divine.

ⓑ pers. who command respect (Plut., Galba 1054 [3, 4]; Herodian 3, 13, 2; Lev 19:3 φοβ. πατέρα καὶ μητέρα; Jos., Ant. 19, 345): of a wife ἵνα φοβῆται τὸν ἄνδρα Eph 5:33. τὸν ἐπίσκοπον IEph 6:1.—RAC VIII 661–99; TRE XI 756–59; Schmidt, Syn. III 507–36. DELG s.v. φέβομαι II. M-M. EDNT. TW. Sv.


I might as well include the LSJ lexicon entry as well:



Since posting this question and receiving an accepted I came across this excellent exposition of the situation in Galatia.

  • 1
    I don't want to actually put this as an answer but quite simply it's honestly very simple. They were human and people they respected that were part of their own community rejecting them was what they were afraid of. Put simply it was a peer pressure issue to conform. Apr 28, 2018 at 20:58
  • @MicahGafford So who was giving such heavy peer pressure? One or two people or all of the Jewish believers?
    – Ruminator
    Apr 28, 2018 at 23:02
  • It's non-specific, like why people who care about their appearance don't go to the supermarket with dirty pants and a tank top. It's not a specific person seeing you, it's your community possibly noticing that you didn't look good that day. The pressure around him was general conformity to the Jewish norms he was raised with. That is what Paul confronted him about. He was avoiding doing things that would get him shunned by general people within the Jewish community. Yes it was hypocritical and he had already shown his understanding of God's will. Sometimes we fall into just a trap of comfort. May 1, 2018 at 4:20
  • 1
    @MicahGafford Barnabas was Paul's right hand man. He traveled with Paul. They regularly ate with gentiles. They argued with Jews endlessly about such things. But Barnabas likewise played the hypocrite and did not eat with gentiles. Peter had a vision. Peter went to prison. And this simple peer pressure so cowed them both?
    – Ruminator
    May 1, 2018 at 15:33
  • 1
    Yes, that's what I'm saying. Standing up for for significant principles like preaching the gospel is actually easier for most humans. Standing up to peers over minor things is far harder. I'm surprised really you haven't experienced similar types of events in your own life. Like boldly proclaiming Christ among friends but later on still falling to peer pressure to drink too much with them, or participate in gossip, or the list could go on. Sometimes it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking the people in the bible are super human but they sin too, and for many of the same reasons we do today May 3, 2018 at 2:54

7 Answers 7


Bear with me because there is a lot of context to this question.

YLT Acts 10:1-20

And there was a certain man in Cesarea, by name Cornelius, a centurion from a band called Italian [not a Jew],

pious, and fearing God with all his house, doing also many kind acts to the people, and beseeching God always,

he saw in a vision manifestly, as it were the ninth hour of the day, a messenger of God coming in unto him, and saying to him, 'Cornelius;'

and he having looked earnestly on him, and becoming afraid, said, 'What is it, Lord?' And he said to him, 'Thy prayers and thy kind acts came up for a memorial before God,

and now send men to Joppa, and send for a certain one Simon, who is surnamed Peter,

this one doth lodge with a certain Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea; this one shall speak to thee what it behoveth thee to do.'

And when the messenger who is speaking to Cornelius went away, having called two of his domestics, and a pious soldier of those waiting on him continually [three people],

and having declared to them all things, he sent them to Joppa.

And on the morrow, as these are proceeding on the way, and are drawing nigh to the city, Peter went up upon the house-top to pray, about the sixth hour,

and he became very hungry, and wished to eat; and they making ready, there fell upon him a trance,

and he doth behold the heaven opened, and descending unto him a certain vessel, as a great sheet, bound at the four corners, and let down upon the earth,

in which were all the four-footed beasts of the earth, and the wild beasts, and the creeping things, and the fowls of the heaven,

and there came a voice unto him: 'Having risen, Peter, slay and eat.'

And Peter said, 'Not so, Lord; because at no time did I eat anything common or unclean;'

and there is a voice again a second time unto him: 'What God did cleanse, thou, declare not thou common;'

and this was done thrice, and again was the vessel received up to the heaven.

On the surface this looks like God told Peter that there was no longer a distiction between clean and unclean meats. But keep reading...

And as Peter was perplexed in himself what the vision that he saw might be, then, lo, the men who have been sent from Cornelius [again, three people], having made inquiry for the house of Simon, stood at the gate,

and having called, they were asking if Simon, who is surnamed Peter, doth lodge here?

And Peter thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, 'Lo, three men do seek thee; [here is what the whole vision was about]

but having risen, go down and go on with them, nothing doubting, because I have sent them;'

Peter went with them like he was told to do. Notice what he told Cornelius.

Acts 10:24-35


and on the morrow they did enter into Cesarea; and Cornelius was waiting for them, having called together his kindred and near friends,

and as it came that Peter entered in, Cornelius having met him, having fallen at his feet, did bow before him;

and Peter raised him, saying, 'Stand up; I also myself am a man;'

and talking with him he went in, and doth find many having come together.

And he said unto them, 'Ye know how it is unlawful for a man, a Jew, to keep company with, or to come unto, one of another race, but to me God did shew to call no man common or unclean [this had nothing to do with food];

therefore also without gainsaying I came, having been sent for; I ask, therefore, for what matter ye did send for me?'

And Cornelius said, 'Four days ago till this hour, I was fasting, and at the ninth hour praying in my house, and, lo, a man stood before me in bright clothing,

and he said, Cornelius, thy prayer was heard, and thy kind acts were remembered before God;

send, therefore, to Joppa, and call for Simon, who is surnamed Peter; this one doth lodge in the house of Simon a tanner, by the sea, who having come, shall speak to thee;

at once, therefore, I sent to thee; thou also didst do well, having come; now, therefore, are we all before God present to hear all things that have been commanded thee by God.'

And Peter having opened his mouth, said, 'Of a truth, I perceive that God is no respecter of persons,

but in every nation he who is fearing Him, and is working righteousness, is acceptable to Him;

Peter said himself God was no respector of persons, and yet Peter himself was becoming a respector of persons. Paul was just holding Peter to this. But why was Peter becoming a respector of persons?

Acts 11:1-4

And the apostles and the brethren who are in Judea heard that also the nations did receive the word of God,

and when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcision were contending with him,

saying -- 'Unto men uncircumcised thou didst go in, and didst eat with them!'

And Peter having begun, did expound to them in order saying,


...and then Peter recounts everything we just read and more in Acts 10. In verse 17 of Acts 11 he says:


if then the equal gift God did give to them as also to us, having believed upon the Lord Jesus Christ, I -- how was I able to withstand God?'


Peter was a Jew and had been a Jew for his whole life. Avoiding contact with Gentiles was ingrained in him, but he grew past that. He knew it was ingrained in the other Jews and dealt with it by just telling them what happened. How did they react?

Verse 18


And they, having heard these things, were silent, and were glorifying God, saying, 'Then, indeed, also to the nations did God give the reformation to life.'


And so the problem was solved. We are quoting all this is to show that it was a big deal.

Later, in Acts 15:1-6 we read this...

And certain having come down from Judea, were teaching the brethren -- 'If ye be not circumcised after the custom of Moses, ye are not able to be saved;'

there having been, therefore, not a little dissension and disputation to Paul and Barnabas with them, they arranged for Paul and Barnabas, and certain others of them, to go up unto the apostles and elders to Jerusalem about this question,

they indeed, then, having been sent forward by the assembly, were passing through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the nations, and they were causing great joy to all the brethren.

And having come to Jerusalem, they were received by the assembly, and the apostles, and the elders, they declared also as many things as God did with them;

and there rose up certain of those of the sect of the Pharisees who believed, saying -- 'It behoveth to circumcise them, to command them also to keep the law of Moses.'

And there were gathered together the apostles and the elders, to see about this matter,


So the Jew-Gentiles divide became an issue - again. Peter thought they had already dealt with it. And so Peter reminds the Jews - again - about the episode with Cornelius.

Acts 15:7-12


and there having been much disputing, Peter having risen up said unto them, 'Men, brethren, ye know that from former days, God among us did make choice, through my mouth, for the nations to hear the word of the good news, and to believe;

and the heart-knowing God did bare them testimony, having given to them the Holy Spirit, even as also to us,

and did put no difference also between us and them, by the faith having purified their hearts;

now, therefore, why do ye tempt God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?

but, through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, we believe to be saved, even as also they.'

And all the multitude did keep silence, and were hearkening to Barnabas and Paul, declaring as many signs and wonders as God did among the nations through them;


And notice who speaks next.

Acts 15:13-23


and after they are silent, James answered, saying, 'Men, brethren, hearken to me;

Simeon [Peter] did declare how at first God did look after to take out of the nations a people for His name,

and to this agree the words of the prophets, as it hath been written:

After these things I will turn back, and I will build again the tabernacle of David, that is fallen down, and its ruins I will build again, and will set it upright --

that the residue of men may seek after the Lord, and all the nations, upon whom My name hath been called, saith the Lord, who is doing all these things.

'Known from the ages to God are all His works;

wherefore I judge: not to trouble those who from the nations do turn back to God,

but to write to them to abstain from the pollutions of the idols, and the whoredom, and the strangled thing; and the blood;

for Moses from former generations in every city hath those preaching him -- in the synagogues every sabbath being read.'

Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole assembly, chosen men out of themselves to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas -- Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren --

having written through their hand thus...

And then they write a letter according to what they just said. Nobody within the organization had a problem with the Gentiles anymore. But then again, nobody had a problem right after the Cornelius episode either.

Galatians 2:8-9


for He who did work with Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, did work also in me in regard to the nations,

and having known the grace that was given to me, James, and Cephas [Peter], and John, [who were based in Jerusalem where this ordeal started] who were esteemed to be pillars, a right hand of fellowship they did give to me, and to Barnabas, that we to the nations, and they to the circumcision may go,


The Jews that came "from James" in Galatians 2:12 came from the area he was responsible for - from Jerusalem - the same place and the same people who said the Gentiles had to be circumcised and created the need for the Jerusalem conference in Acts 15. When Paul confronts Peter in Galatians 2:14, there is not an explicit indication any one Jew had a problem with the new status quo. In fact Paul puts the blame explicitly on Peter.

Galatians 2:11


And when Peter came to Antioch, to the face I stood up against him, because he was blameworthy,


This idea of separation had been so deeply ingrained in all of them, and since this issue had a tendency to flare up in the past, and since Peter had already dealt with this twice, and since it was his responsibility - Peter probably feared this might become an issue again. By giving the Jews just a little more preference he thought he could make sure this did not become a problem again. Peter probably did not even realize how hypocritical he was being.

Fortunately Paul was the apostle to the nations and it was his job to be a voice for them. Paul was just calling Peter out on it and keeping Peter honest. I have no references to support this, but I imagine Peter thanked him for it afterward.

Edit per conversation with Ruminator in the comments

The fear that Paul experienced and the fear that Peter experienced in Galatians 2 were not caused by the same thing.

Acts 14:1-2

And it came to pass in Iconium, that they did enter together into the synagogue of the Jews, and spake, so that there believed both of Jews and Greeks a great multitude;

and the unbelieving Jews did stir up and made evil the souls of the nations against the brethren;


Most of the opposition Paul dealt with coming from the Jews came from Jews who did not believe that Jesus Christ was the Messiah. Those Jews were usually aggressive and refused to listen to Paul (or Peter).

The Jews mentioned in Galatians 2 were part of this new "Christian organization" that was forming that believed that Jesus Christ was the Messiah. James was a leader within this organization. Those Jews more than once asked Peter how he could bring himself to eat with Gentiles (which we covered above), but in each case they listened to his response and agreed with him in the end.

Ruminator also mentions he was of the opinion "more Jews believed Jesus Christ was the Messiah than tolerated Paul's teaching that the beloved Torah was obviated by the gospel."

Peter and Paul did not teach the Torah was obviated by the gospel. Jesus Christ said Himself in Matthew 5:17-18:


"'Do not suppose that I came to throw down the law or the prophets -- I did not come to throw down, but to fulfill;

for, verily I say to you, till that the heaven and the earth may pass away, one iota or one tittle may not pass away from the law, till that all may come to pass.


Peter and Paul agreed with that. James agreed with it too. To make the point, James quotes Amos 9 in Acts 15 (we read this above):


Simeon [Peter] did declare how at first God did look after to take out of the nations a people for His name,

and to this agree the words of the prophets, as it hath been written:

After these things I will turn back, and I will build again the tabernacle of David, that is fallen down, and its ruins I will build again, and will set it upright --

that the residue of men may seek after the Lord, and all the nations, upon whom My name hath been called, saith the Lord, who is doing all these things.


These men believed this was part of the plan from the beginning. Peter and Paul (and James) would not have classified any Jew who disagreed with this as a "believer".

It is hard to imagine Peter was fearful of James regarding this since James completely agreed with him in Acts 15.

  • Those Jews you mention in Acts 14 were Jews who did not believe Jesus was the Messiah. The Jews Paul mentions in Galatians 2 did believe Jesus was the Messiah, and believed Peter and Paul were working on his behalf. If Paul was talking to Jews who did not believe Jesus was the Messiah in Galatians 2, he would not have even bothered trying to explain to them there was no difference between Jew and Gentile since that was based on the idea Jesus was the Messiah. Paul would not have called Peter on the carpet in front of the unbelieving Jews either.
    – colboynik
    Sep 23, 2018 at 18:00
  • What Paul says is that Peter was happily eating with gentiles until certain came from James - believers (or at least Peter would have believed them to be from the Jerusalem assembly). Hence his fear seems to be of James and the Jerusalem leadership. He had no fear prior to that.
    – Ruminator
    Sep 23, 2018 at 19:58
  • "until certain came from James". This means he was bold before the unbelieving Jews but cowed before James. He was not ignorant or confused, just scared. That's what the text says. "Fear" in the form of "respect" would be for parents and God, not a fellow apostle - unless something was wrong. I think interpreting PHOBOS as "respect" is out of place.
    – Ruminator
    Sep 23, 2018 at 22:16
  • 1
    I agree - phobos as respect is out of place. Someone else here tried to make that point. It is not part of my answer.
    – colboynik
    Sep 24, 2018 at 1:38

The Jewish believers were not the primary objects of Peter’s fear. Although Peter was perceived as being afraid of those Jews, Marcion, the Gnostic, believed that what played out behind that scenario was simply a struggle between Judaism and Christianity. Paul accused Peter of inconsistency and called him condemned without taking the time to understand the circumstances surrounding Peter’s action.

According to Elliott’s Commentary for English Readers:

Paul with hostility to the faith, asserting that by calling Peter “condemned” he was really accusing “God who revealed Christ in him.” On the other hand, Marcion, the Gnostic, saw in the incident a proof of the antagonism between Judaism and Christianity (as he understood it), represented by their several champions.

Paul’s action could be traced to what he had rightly said about his personal character when he accepted the fact that he was rash with words (2 Corinthians 11:6). If he had taken the time to sound the waters before he rocked the boat, he would have realized that Peter was acting out of maturity. Paul would have realized why Pater acted in a way he misrepresented for fear of the Jewish believers. Paul thought that Peter feared the circumcision party not knowing that he was simply acting in defense of the faith -- to encourage the convert whom he ate with, while at the same time devising ways to avoid being misrepresented by the Jewish believers. How could it be said that Peter was afraid -- a man who had spoken boldly at Pentecost to a diverse audience (Acts 2:1-13), and chose to obey God rather than the treacherous Sanhedrin in Acts 4?

Peter had had to struggle with God over the family of Cornelius in Act 10:1-48. That experience coupled with the defense of his Gentile mission in Acts 11 collectively taught him to learn to balance attention with intention. That is exactly what he was acting out in our case in question.
Ordinarily speaking, he showed some forms of timidity at the arrival of the men from James. But the question is whether or not his reticence resulted from the presence of those Jews from James?

As Elliott’s Commentary for English Readers puts it, Peter could not possibly have been afraid of those men.

The expression used leaves it an open question whether the persons intended brought, or claimed to bring, any sort of official authorisation from St. James (comp. Acts 15:24), or whether they merely belonged to the Church of Jerusalem, in which, if St. James was not actually bishop, he at least exercised a sort of presidential jurisdiction.

Why then was he fidgeting at the arrival of those men which he was not even sure had come with any sort of official authorization from James or from the Judaizers. A good understanding of the root word “withdrawal” will help to clear this bone of contention.

From the Greek Bible, that Galatians Galatians 2:12 reads:

πρὸ τοῦ γὰρ ἐλθεῖν τινας ἀπὸ Ἰακώβου μετὰ τῶν ἐθνῶν συνήσθιεν• ὅτε δὲ ἦλθον, ὑπέστελλεν καὶ ἀφώριζεν ἑαυτόν, φοβούμενος τοὺς ἐκ περιτομῆς.

Further reading from Strong's Concordance shows that the word ὑποστέλλω has an imperfect ὑπεστελλον and aorist middle ὑπεστειλάμην:

  1. Active, to draw down, let down, lower: ἱστίον, Pindar Isthm. 2, 59; to withdraw (draw back): ἐμαυτόν, of a timid person, Galatians 2:12 ((cf. Lightfoot at the passage); often so in Polybius).
  2. Middle, to withdraw oneself, i. e. to be timid, to cower, shrink: of those who from timidity hesitate to avow what they believe, Hebrews 10:38 (from Habakkuk 2:4 (cf. Winers Grammar, 523 (487))); to be unwilling to utter from fear, to shrink from declaring, to conceal, dissemble: followed by τοῦ with the infinitive (Winers Grammar, 325 (305); Buttmann, 270 (232)), Acts 20:27; οὐδέν, ibid. 20 (often so in Demosthenes; cf. Reiske, Index graecit. Demosthenes, p. 774f; Josephus, Vita §54; b. j. 1, 20, 1).

It is obvious that most scholars have conventionally interpreted the word ὑποστέλλω only in the active. A careful word study of the word from its aorist middle shows that:

. . . to withdraw oneself, i. e. to shrink from declaring, to conceal, dissemble: followed by τοῦ with the infinitive (Winers Grammar, 325 (305); Buttmann, 270 (232)), Acts 20:27; οὐδέν, ibid. 20 (often so in Demosthenes; cf. Reiske, Index graecit. Demosthenes, p. 774f; Josephus, Vita §54; b. j. 1, 20, 1).

From this aorist middle, it will be clear that Peter was not objectively afraid of those Jews but rather was acting out a subtle way to balance attention with intention.

  • At last someone sees it Apr 23, 2022 at 18:49

Peter and Barnabas both feared the believing Jews because they were both still struggling with the total acceptance of New Covenant doctrine. Peter was trying to associate with both the Judaizers (believing Jews who still clung to the Law of Moses) as well as the Gentiles. The Judaizers still held that Jews should not associate with the “sinners of the Gentiles” and that believers in Christ still needed to keep to the dietary laws. Peter, Barnabas (as well as the other new Jewish believers) had to “unlearn” this teaching.

In Acts Chapter 10, God gave Peter the vision of the animals ascending and descending from heaven to show Peter via metaphor, that the New Covenant had now removed the need for the dietary laws (for “what God has cleansed, call not thou common”). Peter, in recounting the vision to Cornelius, makes the connection that God has ALSO cleansed the Gentiles and the Jews were now free to associate with Gentiles.

Peter speaking in Acts 10:28-29.

28 And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean. 29 Therefore came I unto you (ie, Cornelius, a Gentile) without gainsaying, as soon as I was sent for…

Then in verses 34-35:

34 Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: 35 but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.

So Peter successfully received the NT truth that God has now provided salvation unto the Gentiles as well as the Jews and that God has now done away with the dietary laws. However, the day to day practice of acceptance (of both the dietary and the relational laws) is a lot harder than just understanding the New Testament truth.

In the Book of Galatians, Paul has to call Peter on the carpet for he is living between two worlds. He exercises his New Covenant liberty when he is around the Gentiles, free to eat whatever is put before him, however, when Jewish believers come to town, he separates himself and goes back to observing the OT dietary laws.

Paul validates this truth in verse 14 of Galatians 2:14:

14 But when I saw that they (Peter/Barnabas) walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?

Here’s Martin Luther’s comment on these verses in Galatians:

“To live as a Jew is nothing bad. To eat or not to eat pork, what difference does it make? But to play the Jew, and for conscience' sake to abstain from certain meats, is a denial of Christ. When Paul saw that Peter's attitude tended to this, he withstood Peter and said to him: ‘You know that the observance of the law is not needed unto righteousness. You know that we are justified by faith in Christ. You know that we may eat all kinds of meats. Yet by your example you obligate the Gentiles to forsake Christ, and to return to the Law. You give them reason to think that faith is not sufficient unto salvation.’”

So, we see that even though Peter understood the truth about associating with Gentiles and the freedom to eat all foods, his faith was weak and retreated back to the law (a al Hebrews 10) when the Jewish believers were around.

  • This is a nicely formed answer. However, are you saying that Peter was uncertain whether or not it was okay eat with gentiles? Wasn't that revealed to him in the vision? Also, why was Peter concerned with James' opinions? Didn't Peter, a chief apostle, outrank James, the Lord's brother?
    – Ruminator
    Apr 16, 2018 at 23:27
  • Also, the New Covenant is still apparently based on Torah, which is written on the hearts of Jews without the mediation of teachers (although see Hebrews 13:9). The New Covenant clearly obviates the temple and the sacrifices for sin though.
    – Ruminator
    Apr 16, 2018 at 23:36
  • In response to your first comment. Yes to your first two questions: Peter, Barnabas and many others were all struggling with the totality of the grace message. Just think about it. The disciples were Jews, they were taught the adherence to the Law of Moses all their life. Then, Jesus overturns all of that teaching. They all struggled with Paul’s revelation of the depths and the dimensions to the “gospel of the grace of God” (Paul’s quote in Acts 20:24). It’s one thing to get the revelation but it’s another to walk the walk. Also, not sure what you’re asking about James
    – alb
    Apr 16, 2018 at 23:42
  • That I understand. However, what baffles me is the element of "fear". It sounds as if Peter is afraid of consequences if he crosses the Jewish believers.
    – Ruminator
    Apr 16, 2018 at 23:52
  • 1
    If you look at the word “fearing” it’s the Greek PHOBEO, or to be in awe or have reverential fear. Remember, Peter and the disciples were blue collar guys and the Jerusalem Jews would have most likely been more learned men with regard to the OT scripture. So, Peter may not been too sure of himself when it came to defending the gospel from the OT scholars. That’s why it took the Pharisee of Pharisees (Paul) to shake him out of his lack of faith.
    – alb
    Apr 17, 2018 at 2:17

Do we even know from that passage that Peter was actually "fearing" anything?

Besides that it might also argued that "Peter" might actually not be the Peter we expect here (Cf. James M Scott: "A Question of Identity: Is Cephas the Same Person As Peter?" Journal of Biblical Studies 3/3 October 2003.) For this answer, we assume Cephas/Peter is the person we expect him to be.

And there is probably a slight misconception here from the start that needs to be cleared up:

Peter appears quite fearless in his dealings with the unbelieving Jews despite the fact that they had thrown him in prison and had killed Jesus:

What is the setup? Paul gets wind of activities in churches he thought he founded and controlled that are undermining his position or at least his teachings.

Gal 1:6–8 I am astonished that are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ to follow*n a different gospel […] if any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let him be condemned to hell!

What teachings? He said to be saved by (i.e. in modern terms: a Christian) faith alone is sufficient. Faith in Jesus, and believing that he lived and died and rose. That's it.

Gal 2: 15–16
15 We ourselves are Jews by birth, and not Gentile sinners, 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by the works of the law but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.

I emphasised modern as in that time Christians were in fact still a very Jewish sect. So those Galatians were essentially sold on the whole package of Judaism which previous proselytisers advertised much more strictly: observe the law; and that means also: cut your foreskin. This precondition deterred quite a few interested in Judaism to become full converts, opting instead to stay close to a synagogue as god-fearing people.

Now when after Paul left those happy new Christ-believing gentile 'Jews' alone and the so called "Judaisers" arrive they have the strict observance of the law on their agenda and tell all those newly converted Jews: "Yeah, welcome to the club, but you know what, Paul missed a bit to tell you (or in this case: missed a bit to cut off)." And of course do not forget to also observe diet and calendar.

Paul then goes on to argue that this is – according to his understanding of the situation and his aims – not the first time that conservative Jewish-Christians undermined his position and teachings, his mission and his gospel. Namely at Antioch where another aspect of the old law became the source of the conflict.

Gal 2: 11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly wrong.*n 12 For until some men came from James, he was in the habit of eating with the Gentiles, but after they came he drew back and would not associate himself with them, being afraid of the circumcision party. 13 The other Jews also joined him in this hypocrisy, to the extent that even Barnabas was caught up in their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I told Cephas in front of everyone, “Though you are a Jew, you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. So how can you insist that the Gentiles must live like Jews?”

Crucially, Paul argues that all of this is unjust – even if the James with that apparent surname would be involved – as it all should have been a settled matter and therefore a foregone conclusion if the debate should ever rise again.

In Antioch the source of conflict was of course whether to keep the dietary laws. And as Paul sees it, this was a matter already discussed when he presented his vision and ideas in Jerusalem to the council, where James and Peter agreed to all of it, as Paul recounts. Then Peter is reported to share this accordance in acting: by sharing the meals with Paul and his new converts.

Paul weakens therefore any criticism directed at him in painting Peter as a weak person, giving in to social pressure, instead of recounting that Peter may have also changed his mind regarding dietary laws –– or that he simply went to another club with his old friends at one time.

The whole point of this argument is to reinforce his direct connection to Jesus through his vision and special connection in being on a mission from God. Paul reinforced that his mission was presented and agreed upon by the highest authorities in these matters on earth, the Jerusalem council, but then subverted by overzealous, nameless underlings. And that is the misconception I wrote about in th beginning: Peter is accused of "fearing" probably Christ-believing Jews, we only know of their tendency to obsrve the law and their attempts to convince others to do likewise. Peter is accused of giving in to social pressure when it comes to stand fast in the belief in Jesus, that is in this case standing fast to the prior agreement reached when it came to who shall tell what to the gentiles. That agreement is just before the passage in question in Gal 2:9–10:

So when James, Cephas, and John (who were reputed to be leaders) recognized the grace that had been given me, they gave Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 The only thing they asked us to do was to remember the destitute, the very thing I was eager to do.

We just have one side of the story. Paul's side. Here, Paul is writing long after the fact and just accusing Peter of being weak and fearful, despite Peter (so to be inferred) knowing better. This is in parts arepeated and interwoven appeal to authority, but: That should take all the wind out of potential sails should anyone in Galatia try to argue against what Paul wrote, and trying that with an appeal to authority as well.

To be clear: this is a story about a conflict. I am saying that the 'scenario' is probably an excellent depiction of what happened, as long as we keep our analysis to the 'facts of the acts': who did what. Although, even for that we have only Paul's words, not Peter's. Two witness testimonials can diverge quite a bit on "indisputable facts" and both might just recount the absolute truth legitimately, as far as they remember it. So do not misread that as me concluding that Paul would be lying here. But "fear" is a diagnosis of motivation that Paul applies to Peter's acting. Without some sort of proof, like at least "that's what he told me when I confronted him about it", such an interpretation should be taken with a grain of salt. Or in other words: that the interpretation of it should be done with caution as we only have one side of the story.

Finally, there is one other thing to consider. Purely on a technical level, and even somehat in contrast to the above: This letter is a masterpiece in ancient rhetoric. It is full of classic figures like hyperbole (5:12) and displays a wide variety in these styles. It is a well-founded assumption that those most easily converted to the new Jewish-Christian sect were first proper Jews, then god-fearing gentiles and then more distant gentiles. The key to consider here is that the Greek φοβούμενος is used and might therefore not mean what we understand for fear in the first place. This can just as well be a quite positive thing like "impressed, in reverence, awe" in addition to the angst we read primarily into that word.
Secondly this is a nice alluding contrast to the accusation that this Peter in Antioch is practically fearing men –with all those connotations/meanings just elucidated possible – and their laws more than he is fearing god and the gospel. We have to keep in mind that this line is technically accusing Peter but addressing the Galatians. Those would have and apparently did draw their conclusions accordingly.

Quotes from New English Translation (NETfree)

  • @Ruminator NO, not at all. I am saying that the 'scenario' is probably an excellent depiction of what happened, and that the interpretation of it should be done with caution as we only have one side of the story. Sep 22, 2018 at 17:59
  • What do you think would have happened if Peter had not stopped eating with gentiles?
    – Ruminator
    Sep 22, 2018 at 19:31
  • 1
    @Ruminator Very speculative. But first, Paul would be pleased (and strengthened in his position). Then all would have depended on "certain people [who] came from James". Would they make trouble, ignore it, join in as well? We know too little of them. –– One small step on a butterfly for the man Peter, one giant leap… [I'd love to have a history simulator as well] Sep 22, 2018 at 19:50
  • Or a time machine! My thesis is that something bad would have happened, much worse than a raised eyebrow. In fact, probably worse than spending the night in jail. Stoning perhaps. Otherwise I don't see how Peter AND BARNABAS! could have been so compromised.
    – Ruminator
    Sep 23, 2018 at 14:03
  • @Ruminator Well, perhaps Jews & Christians would have never parted their ways… While your reasoning is certainly not impossible I maintain as equally possible that the incident at Antioch could have been seemed an insignificant non-event at the time –– only to be used then in this letter to greatest effect to make a point. Sep 23, 2018 at 15:28

It is difficult to ascribe motivation without proper background, or especially lacking all details of the circumstances, which the Holy Spirit did not always provide. The entire reason for the letter to the Galatians was that those of the circumcision, the converted Jews from Jerusalem were going about teaching the gentile believers that they had to still be circumcised.

Gal. 2:3-4,

"3 But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised: 4 And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage:" (KJV)

Adam Clarke's commentary offers:

"The Occasion of the Epistle. (1) Judaizing teachers had gone among the Galatians, claiming that the Jewish law was binding upon Christians, admitting that Jesus was the Messiah, but claiming that salvation must, nevertheless, be obtained by the works of the law. They especially urged that all Gentiles be circumcised. (2) In order to gain their point and turn the Galatians from their belief, they were trying to weaken their confidence in Paul, their spiritual teacher. They said he was not one of the twelve, and therefore, not one of the apostles, and his teachings were not of binding authority. They suggested that he had learned his doctrine from others, especially from the apostles who were pillars of the church." Source: here

There is one very telling comment Paul makes in Gal. 5:

"12 I would they were even cut off which trouble you." (KJV)

At first glance, a reader of the English translation with the Western mindset might think this is only speaking of separating those of different opinions or beliefs away from others in the assembly. But, Paul meant something more startling. The same verse in Young's Literal Translation reads:

"12 O that even they would cut themselves off who are unsettling you!"

And, in the ASV it reads, "...would even go beyond circumcision." And, the NET, "...would go so far as to castrate themselves!"

Paul was so emphatic about the point he was making that he told them those who were teaching they still had to be circumcised should not stop at just cutting off the fore-flesh, but the entire organ.

The issue of the believers in Jerusalem was that they were still ingrained with all of the teaching and ceremonial laws they grew up with, especially that of the circumcision which "proved" they were of the line of Abraham.

The fear that Peter had was an issue of respecting persons. The word in Gal. 2:13 is Strongs Gr 5399, "φοβέομαι", or "phobeó" and the third definition under Thayer's Lexicon is to treat with deference.

Peter did not fear physical harm, but that he might cause some "of the circumcision" to be agitated. He was trying, in my estimation, to keep the peace by straddling the fence.

In saying that he withstood Peter to his face, Paul made it very clear that this point was not a simple matter, but very key to the doctrine of the gospel of Christ, in so much that teaching the circumcision annulled the very reason for their faith in Christ.

Gal. 2:17-18,

"17 But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid. 18 For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor." (KJV)

Gal 3:10,

"10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them." (KJV)

Gal. 4:9,

"O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? 2 This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?" (KJV)

The very idea that the Judaizers would force upon the gentile believers a law that was not even in effect when the promise was made to Abraham was not only illogical, but was scornful of Christ's sacrifice. If any of the law made anyone righteous before God, then what need would there have been for Christ to die on that cross?

Gal. 3:1-2,

"O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? 2 This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?" (KJV)

So, Peter had not fully torn down that wall of partition between the circumcised and the uncircumcised. He was still wary of offending the Jerusalem believers of The Way. He was fearful of losing their good opinion, and possibly of becoming a cause of dissension.

By withstanding Peter face to face - not through an exchange of written correspondence, but in person - Paul brought it out in the open for all to know and witness. This then was not some unknown "Cephas", but the apostle sent to the circumcised of the lost sheep of the house of Israel, those lost sheep who lost their way entangled in the very law they were laying upon the believing gentiles.

Gal. 3:8-9,

"O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? 2 This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?" (KJV)

How do we go back under the ceremonial rules of the Mosaic laws which Abraham's faith did not even know?

Paul's anger was righteous anger on behalf of Christ's sacrifice. Peter's fear was ungodly respect of persons; ungodly because it placed Christ beneath the Jerusalem natural born Jews. And, the foolish Galatians were falling away, and becoming just as lost as those lost sheep of the house of Israel who were still immersed in legalistic ceremonies.


Robert Jewett proposed that both the Antioch incident and the controversy in Galatia should be understood against the historical background of a rising Zealot movement in Palestine that advocated radical separation from Gentiles; in such an atmosphere, Gentile sympathizers among the Jewish people might have been targeted for reprisals. As to Peter's fear mentioned above, this could be possible but doesn't seem logical. With all that Peter had already experienced, why would he fear such a movement? Richard Hays points out that Paul never finishes the story of the Antioch controversy; we do not find out how Peter responded to Paul's challenge, and we do not hear how the Antiochene Church decided to resolve the dispute. As stated above, we only have one side of the story. What I find interesting is that Peter is never again mentioned in Acts after ch. 15. Some would argue that Luke simply turns to embrace the Gentile movement. Maybe. Why doesn't Luke provide word on what happened at Antioch? Given the book of Acts - probably because he wanted to present of picture of early church unity. That unity was at its peak at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. But the controversy in Antioch afterwards seems to show an unraveling of that unity between the mission to Jews and the mission to Gentiles. I also find it interesting that the last pericope of Acts 15 deals with the separation of Paul and Barnabas. Luke says that it was over Barnabas wanting to take John Mark and Paul disagreeing with that decision. So we're left to fill in the blanks. This was an event that may have caused a split in the church, but we don't know. I do agree with the statement above that preaching and believing one thing, as Peter did in Acts 11, and adhering to it in practice are two different things. I wonder if the split of Paul and Barnabas didn't have more to do with what happened at Antioch than about who was invited to join in the mission. It can be safely said that the early church had its share of problems like churches today. We see them rear their head in various passages in Acts. Like a marriage, however, sometimes controversy helps define what is and what is not a part of the relationship. Any way, just some thoughts on the passage. Thanks!

  • 1
    @ Chris J. Bennett - Thanks for your input. However it would be much easier to follow your train of thought if you used paragraphs in your answer. Also, it is best to stick to the issue raised with a clear answer, and not introduce a bunch of opinions with it. Keep studying the Bible; it's great for the soul!
    – ray grant
    Jan 31 at 21:02
  • Welcome to the group, Chris. This is a good first effort. As to why Peter would fear the "men from James," the answer must be that James was the clear leader of the Jerusalem church, which was the central church. The Jerusalem Council left something important unsettled for Jewish believers. It accepted Gentiles as Christians who didn't need to follow Jewish customs, but strict Jews believed they should not eat with Gentiles. Since James ruled at the Jerusalem Council, Peter apparently thought word of the "men from James" was more authoritative than Paul's. Jan 31 at 21:27

Paul feared the "men from James" (Galatians 2:12). This does not mean he feared Jewish believers in general. After all, Peter himself was a Jewish believer and so were Paul and Barnabas. The reason he "feared" these particular men is became they were "from James" who was the leader of Jerusalem church. In other words, he considered their word on the issue of table fellowship with Gentiles to have greater authority than Paul's.

Looking at the issue 2,000 years after the fact, it's easy to see why Paul was right and Peter was wrong on this matter. But at the time it was not so clear-cut. The Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) had recently clarified that Gentile Christians did not need to follow Jewish customs, but it did not clarify whether Jewish Christians should stop following the Jewish law. Strict Jews did not eat with Gentiles and there were many such Jews (but few if any Gentiles) in the Jerusalem church.

Indeed, as late as Acts 21 the Jerusalem church was still comprised of thousands of Jewish believers who were "zealous for the law."

Acts 15

“Brother, you see how many thousands of believers there are from among the Jews, and they are all zealous observers of the law... 23 So do what we tell you. We have four men who have taken a vow. 24 Take these men and purify yourself with them, and pay their expenses that they may have their heads shaved. In this way everyone will know that there is nothing to the reports they have been given about you but that you yourself live in observance of the law... 26 So Paul took the men, and on the next day after purifying himself together with them entered the temple to give notice of the day when the purification would be completed and the offering made for each of them.

This shows that Paul himself obeyed the instruction of the Jerusalem leaders to demonstrate that he still observed the Law. We may leave aside the question of whether Acts is historically reliable here. The point is that the Jerusalem was the central church, and James was its leader. The "men from James" had convinced Peter that on the issue of Jews eating with Gentiles, the Jewish custom should be followed, just as the leaders of the Jerusalem church later convinced Paul participate in a temple rite to show that he himself lived as a Jew.

Conclusion: Peter "feared" the delegates sent from James because they represented the authority of the Jerusalem church. Since James was their leader (and also the "brother of the Lord"), Peter thought his word carried more weight than Paul's on the question of whether Jews were allowed to eat with Gentiles.

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