[Gal 2:11 NASB] (11) But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.

[Gal 2:11 MGNT] (11) ὅτε δὲ ἦλθεν Κηφᾶς εἰς Ἀντιόχειαν κατὰ πρόσωπον αὐτῷ ἀντέστην ὅτι κατεγνωσμένος ἦν

Is this a reference to a Jewish procedure of some kind ala habeus corpus?

Might this have been an indicator that he intended to "bring to the Gathering" the issue per Matthew 18?:

[Mat 18:15-20 NASB] (15) "If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. (16) "But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. (17) "If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (18) "Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. (19) "Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. (20) "For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst."

  • You could always oppose people behind their backs, if you want to; it's just not particularly nice.
    – Lucian
    Aug 13, 2019 at 23:21
  • 1
    "to his face" simply means he spoke directly to him - right at his face. Why would it mean anything else?
    – Dottard
    Aug 30, 2022 at 21:03
  • @Dottard Because everything always does!
    – Ruminator
    Aug 30, 2022 at 22:01
  • 1
    Perhaps it means a stare off :)
    – Robert
    Aug 30, 2022 at 22:31
  • Paul's side of the story suggests he was "hot under the collar"!
    – Ruminator
    Aug 30, 2022 at 23:34

3 Answers 3


First of all, I have to speculated that the question has an assumption that Paul opposed Cephas to his face, was violating Jesus teaching in Matthew 18:15-20. If my speculation was incorrected, then my answer is just my opinion on the matter, not specific to the question.

Matthew 18:15-20 was a teaching to tell the Church how to deal with a brother or sister "sin". In Galatians 2:11, Paul opposed Cephas for the reason of

For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. (Galatians 2:12 NIV)

Between Paul and Cephas, I would say the conflict was similar to Catholic and Protestant, though have the same core belief but act differently. Their dispute could not be deemed as "sin" and therefore Matthew 18:15-20 did not apply.

  • Paul saying that Peter stood "condemned" before they conferred with James, who seemed to speak for the Christian "circumcision" as to how the Jewish Christians (pre-70 AD/CE and the end of the Temple and the obviation of the Sinai covenant) could remain under the protection of the legal status of Judaism. It was not a justification issue, but an issue of "not bringing offence." Paul was amiable, but he does seem, like myself, to sometimes go off the reservation in zeal. Seems to be what we have here. Glad they worked it out! Thank you, Vincent, for your thoughtful, helpful and relevant answer.
    – Ruminator
    Aug 30, 2022 at 22:15
  • These days people use the word "condemn" as a synonym for "criticize," but I think what it meant in the scriptures is, "give a death sentence to." Paul was way to hot under the collar in this situation, due to his exceptionally strong ego.
    – Ruminator
    Aug 30, 2022 at 22:20
  • @Ruminator - thank you. Paul is an interesting character that we can see how his "old" ego and "new" humble mingled in his letter 2 Corinthians. We can also think "exceptionally strong ego" is a synonym for "exceptionally courage", what it meant to God is "even death whatever it takes". What it seems to the public an unadmirable character, sometimes has a good use to God. Aug 31, 2022 at 3:24

It seems to be the other way around.

What gets illustrated in Matthew is the first century ethical or societal norm approach to addressing conflict.

First try to solve this in private, if that fails, then go public.

What we have on display in the text of Galatians leaves out the first step. It escalates immediately to personal and public dispute.

That may be just incompleteness of the narrative or a factual thing. In case of the latter this is bold speech, or Parrhesia, and an affront against Peter and Barnabas

In the value system of first-century society Paul's behavior counts as an insult against Peter […].The common pattern would have been for Paul to approach Peter in private, and confront him with the problems he had with Peter's behavior. The fact that Paul did not do this, but spoke out in public must have caused quite a stir in Antioch.
–– Bert Jan Lietaert Peerbolte: "Introduction", in: Peter-Ben Smit, Eva van Urk (Eds.): "Parrhesia. Ancient and Modern Perspectives on Freedom of Speech", Studies in Theology and Religion, Volume: 25, Brill: leiden, Boston, 2018.

that very well may have contributed to the intensity of the conflict. But our account is one-sided and incomplete in any way.

–– Nicholas Hugh Taylor: "Paul, Antioch, and Jerusalem: a study in relationships and authority in earliest Christianity", Dissertation, Durham University, 1990. (online) (esp p120–127)

–– John T. Fitzgerald (Ed): "Friendship, Flattery, and Frankness of Speech. Studies in the New Testament World", Brill: Leiden, Boston, 1996.

–– David Konstan, Diskin Clay, Clarence E. Glad, Johan C. Thorn, and James Ware: "Philodemus On Frank Criticism", Society of Biblical Literature Texts and Translations, Scholars Press Atlanta, Georgia, 1998.

  • @Ruminator For one Matthew is one such evidence for 'proper behaviour' ('how to escalate'?). Many Greek sources, like Plutarch come to mind. The links should also help you out. (And I for one think this is really timeless advice?) Aug 13, 2019 at 12:45

There is indeed a Jewish law that requires two witnesses be present in order for a court to convict someone accused of a crime.

A single witness shall not prevail against a man for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed; only on the evidence of two witnesses, or of three witnesses, shall a charge be sustained. (Deut. 19:15)

This is quite consistent to the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 19, and it also fits with Talmudic procedure. According to Britannica:

Jewish law was extremely strict regarding evidence acceptable in court. In cases entailing physical punishment, no circumstantial evidence, confession, or self-incrimination was recognized. The testimony of two eyewitnesses who confronted the defendant was required.

However, I do not think this requirement applies here. There are two reasons:

  • the facts were not disputed so there was no need of witnesses. We cannot envision Peter defending himself on grounds that he did not formerly eat with Gentiles and only withdrew from them once the men from James arrived.
  • this was not a matter of law, at least not for Paul. No court [either Roman, Jewish or Christian] was involved and Peter was not accused of an actual crime. Paul believed Peter had acted hypocritically, but it is highly doubtful that we would bring formal charges against him. He must have meant that Peter "stood condemned" in a moral sense not a formal one.

It is possible that Paul felt it was only fair to confront Peter "face to face," but it is hard to imagine him doing so based on a requirement of the OT Law, since he did not consider himself bound by it. Mt. 19 might apply but was this even known to Paul? We simply don't know since he rarely quotes Jesus (not to mention the critical view that Mt. 19 comes from a later time). The reason for the confrontation was that the church had become divided. Peter sided with the men from James; Paul sided with the Antiochan converts who felt excluded and offended. The matter had to be aired, or it would fester even after the "men from James" departed. Moreover Paul mentions himself alone as representing one side of the controversy, while Peter, Barnabas and the men from James represent his opposition.

Also, Paul's rhetoric here should also be understood in the context of his need to establish his own authority to stand on an equal footing with the church elders as an apostle in his own right. Indeed this is the very reason he relates the story of the confrontation with Peter in the first place:

When they [the leaders of the Jerusalem church] saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised... and when they perceived the grace that was given to me, [then] James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised... But when Cephas came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned (Gal. 2:7-11)

In that context, Paul's confrontation with Peter is a powerful demonstration of his spiritual courage as an apostle equal in authority even to Peter. He seems to be telling us that proper procedure, whatever it might be here, is trumped by godly indignation. This is Paul speaking truth to power, not Paul being careful to follow the rules.

Conclusion: Dt. 19 indeed forms the basis of Mt. 19 regarding witnesses and these teachings could possibly provide a reason why Paul felt that he should openly confront Peter at Antioch. However, I think it is more accurate to interpret the phrase "stood condemned" only in its moral sense, not as a legal matter requiring witnesses. Thus the phrase "opposed him to his face" means just that. Paul here affirmed his authority as an apostle with just as much authority as any other. He was not referring to Jewish legal procedure or church tradition.

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