In Galatians 2, the main issue is traditionally thought to be "table fellowship," but I am wondering if it was actually kosher food. Prior to this episode, in the congregation at Antioch, Jews and Gentiles shared meals together. But when "men from James" [head of the Jerusalem congregation] came, these emissaries insisted on eating separately. Peter joined them in this attitude, for which Paul publicly blamed him.

when Cephas came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he ate with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And with him the rest of the Jews acted insincerely, so that even Barnabas was carried away by their insincerity.

Recently I have wondered if the "men from James" were simply insisting on kosher food, which would have been difficult to obtain or too expensive for the general membership at Antioch. Underlying this may be the issue of "food sacrificed to idols," which is forbidden to Gentile believers in Acts 15 in on official letter to the Gentile churches. This dictum is nowhere mentioned in the writings of Paul. I know of no OT Law requiring Jews to eat separately from Gentiles.

Was the underlying issue in Gal. 2 a question of kosher food?


Acts 15: Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent [them] with the following letter: “... it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled[ and from unchastity. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”

1 Cor. 8: Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. Only take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if any one sees you, a man of knowledge, at table in an idol’s temple, might he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols?

  • The real issue was that Peter was "not acting in line with the Gospel." He was adding ceremonial laws to faith in Jesus. We are saved and continue to be saved by our faith in Jesus alone - so there is no place for Jewish Ceremonial laws in a Christian fellowship.
    – dezkev
    Commented Oct 25, 2022 at 5:43

4 Answers 4


There might not be a specific law against eating with Gentiles, but there was at that time a strong belief in whom one should not eat with. Peter himself makes reference to this in Acts 10:28: "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".

Consider how Jesus was criticised:

And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?
— Matthew 9:11

And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.
— Luke 15:2

This criticism was for eating only with non-pious Jews, so imagine how much worse eating with Gentiles would be considered.

The Gentiles that Peter ate with would have been Christian proselytes, not Pagans.

Paul's problem with Peter wasn't that he ate with them, but that when the Jewish delegates from Jerusalem came to visit, Peter would alter his behaviour, as if he were ashamed to be seen eating with Gentiles and feared that the Jewish representatives from Jerusalem would think less of him. As Paul points out in verse 13 (NKJV): "And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy."

Peter was setting a bad example, and as chief apostle to the Gentiles, Paul was offended by Peter's behaviour. Peter should have continued eating with these Gentiles. Even inviting the visitors to join them wouldn't have been inappropriate.

This was especially strange behaviour for Peter, as Peter was the first one to be told that salvation is now intended for all: "Then he said to them, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.".

In the very next chapter of Galatians, Paul says:

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

It is not a matter of doctrine (since both agreed that Gentiles should be welcomed as full Christians), but Peter's hypocritical behaviour that Paul objected to.

Remember, Peter had a personality that made him want to feel important and loved, not a failure or an embarrassment. Peter was the one that reacted impulsively to cut off someone's ear when Jesus was arrested. Jesus knew Peter's personality when he said that Peter would deny him; Peter responded with "Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee.", and then a few hours later he did deny Jesus, three times, all because he didn't want to thought less of by others.

The visitors from Jerusalem were representatives of the top leadership of the Church of God, and Peter simply wanted to appear perfect to them.

So no, the food being eaten wasn't the issue.

  • Yes, as you say the issue of eating with publicans and sinners was within Judaism. these were people who did not keep the Jewish law (sinners) and those who collaborated with Rome (publicans). Some of the stricter observant Jews would apparently only eat with others who kept the Law, including the dietary laws. This may give us further insight into the attitude of the "men from James." Commented Oct 24, 2022 at 19:34
  • When you say it was not a matter of doctrine, do you mean Pauline-Christian or Jewish-Christian doctrine? It seems to me that either way (about food or about eating with gentiles) it's a matter of doctrine. But for Paul, the doctrine of "in Christ there is no Jew or Gentile" trumped the Jerusalem church's doctrine that Jewish Christians should honor the OT law. Commented Oct 24, 2022 at 19:52
  • @DanFefferman, I've added a parenthetical clarification. If it needs more, let me know. Thanks. Commented Oct 24, 2022 at 19:56
  • The issue with eating together with gentiles, according to jewish law, is to prevent inter-marriage. Early sages prohibited consumption of the gentiles' bread, wine, oil, for that reason.
    – Kapandaria
    Commented Oct 29, 2022 at 20:16

One of the main "problems" with the Levitical/ceremonial law and covenant as understood by the 1st century Jews was the people with whom they could associate. We see this a number of times such as:

  • We find that Jesus was willing to touch the unclean - unthinkable for a Torah-observant Jew, Luke 5:13, Mark 1:41, etc.
  • John 4 - the disciples are shocked to see Jesus talking with a Samaritan woman because Jews do not use the dishes of gentiles (V7-9)
  • In Acts 10:28 - Peter reminds the gentiles that it is "against the law" to associate with gentiles but Peter had been instructed by the Holy Spirit to do so.
  • Acts 11:3 - Jews are shocked that Peter would eat with gentiles
  • In Gal 2:12, 13 - the main "problem" was the people with whom Peter was associating - gentiles wile surrounded by gentiles, but when Jews appeared, Peter withdrew:

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, for fear of those in the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.

Thus, the central matter here is contamination by association for fear of a "clean" Jew becoming "unclean".

  • You first example isn't about gentiles but Jews with possibly contagious diseases. But you've given me some ideas for new questions here. Does John 4 refer to unclean utensils per se, or to the fact that Jews generally shunned Samaritans. (the Samaritans were actually Torah-observant for the most part btw). 2. is Acts 10.28 confirmed in any OT law? 3. Does Acts 11.3 imply that eating with gentiles in itself is wrong, or is the underlying concern (again) a question of dietary law. Same question for Gal 2... as in the OP Commented Oct 24, 2022 at 23:49

Kosher food here is meat from an animal that has been bled, its blood going into the ground and not used in any way as either food or drink. From the time of Noah leaving the ark, God had made this stipulation, "for the life is in the blood" (Genesis 9:3-6 so that murder is also forbidden here.) To murder, or to ingest blood as either food or drink is to violate that ancient law of God. That is why the Jerusalem elders decreed that Gentiles coming to faith in Christ should only be required by the Holy Spirit “...to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity." Acts 15:20 & 29)

Note that certain food is mentioned - that which has been sacrificed to idols, and meat from animals that had been strangled (in a non-kosher way) which would still have its blood in it. Thus the requirement clearly keeps Gentile Christians from stumbling Jews by appearing to be lax about idolatry, and by not being vigilant to avoid blood-guilt (either by murder or eating or drinking blood.) Acts 15:19-20 & 28-29 & 21:25. The reason given by the Jerusalem Council was, "For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times, and is read in the synagogues every sabbath." (Acts 15:21) This decree was spiritual oil poured on the troubled 'waters' of Christian Gentiles and Jewish Gentiles, and Jews, to enable fellowship and the acceptance of the gospel of grace.

The real issue is seen in the phrase, "fearing the circumcision party" - Galatians 2:12-16 - which was hypocrisy. Paul's letter to the Galatians showed how Christians believe that "a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ... we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no-one will be justified." (2:15-16 N.I.V. 1987 ed.)

An incredibly powerful statement is made by Paul in 2:21 - "I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing." To mingle legalism with grace distorts grace and makes a mockery of the cross. The argument goes on to show that Christians have been liberated from the condemnation of the law (as nobody can keep it perfectly);

"All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law. Clearly no-one is justified before God by the law because 'The righteous will live by faith'. The law is not based on faith: on the contrary, Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law" (Gal. 3:13-21 N.I.V. 1987 ed., including the Gentiles); "If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law" (Gal. 3:21 K.J.V.); "If led by the Spirit, you are not under law". (Gal. 5:18)

This was the massive problem caused by the ones Peter feared - those of the circumcision party. Paul elsewhere shows that it is only spiritual 'circumcision' (of the heart) that counts, not fleshly circumcision. But if they allowed themselves to be physically circumcised, they would bind themselves to trying to keep all of the Law, in which case, Christ died for nothing as far as such ones were concerned. They had been liberated by Christ! They must not allow men to entrap them!

This means that doctrine is fully bound up in this matter of how to live in faith without stumbling others, and without allowing others to lure them away from freedom in Christ. Kosher food was one of the issues at that time which Paul was able to explain so as to strike the right balance here.

The method of slaughtering the animals was not the point of what Paul's doctrine was based upon. Wherever there was a synagogue, it would be likely that the men there would ensure the biblical stipulations would be met with butchery.

  • in this case (at Antioch) I'm thinking of meat slaughtered by a kosher butcher not merely "meat from an animal that has been bled." The Men from James were apparently sticklers for the letter of the Law, meaning Oral Torah as well as the OT per se. I don't know if kosher butchery was required by back then as it is today by Orthodox Jews, but it's something to think about. I'll ask a Q on Mi Yodeya and see if anyone knows. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shechita Commented Oct 29, 2022 at 18:06

The issue couldn't have been kosher food because it is not difficult and expensive at all, it is merely avoiding of certain animals, especially pigs. The Jews could eat vegetables like the group of Daniel in Daniel 1, to keep a Kosher diet. I sense your real question is whether the Jewish Christians had abandoned Kosher diet and started eating pigs/ pork, after the revelation of Acts 10? I think the answer to that is in negative. Only a few believers like Paul could have eaten non-kosher meat while living with the Gentiles, but the vast majority of Jews maintained circumcision and the Kosher diet. This is understood from the division on the topic of maintaining the Jewish customs where they pressurized Paul to prove that he has not abandoned the customs of Torah (Acts 21).

These examples suggest that the Jews as whole never started eating non-kosher, or circumcision. The Jewish customs were not banned for Jews, as the councils of the Church only instructed the Gentiles to refrain from idols and meat sacrificed to idols and blood. There was never such instruction for Jews to start eating pigs, although given the new revelation of Acts 10, we can assume eating non-kosher will not be a sin for the Jews. They maintained the Jewish Torah customs only for the sake of tradition & identity. The vision of Acts 10, thus is seen only as symbolic revelation to include the Gentiles in the religion without imposing Torah customs on them.

The Jewish Church had consisted of people who were still legalists who relied more on their customs and abandoned spiritual unity. Paul mentioned the culprits of the controversy were the circumcision party, who thought themselves as superior, and Peter succumbed to their pressure. Peter's error was the sin of discriminating the Gentiles believers and favouring the Jews. Compare the passage of James 2 which shows how the churches often favour the rich by circling around them. This partiality is seen in most churches today as the whole management of a Church is given to the rich and powerful due to his influence, not his merit.

James 2:1-7 ESV My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?

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    @DanFefferman, kosher meat might be more expensive relatively, but in absolute terms not so much. Most normal meals wouldn't have included meat, and for those that did, fish would have been much more common than red meat. So overall, eating kosher wouldn't have been significantly more expensive. ¶ And remember that many of the Gentile proselytes were vegetarians, so eating with them would hardly have presented a problem in terms of food. food offence in Romans Commented Oct 25, 2022 at 14:28
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    Ray, I don't believe that Gentile converts were vegetarians, that's almost impossible. Also, I think the idea is unlikely that these Jewish christians demanding that the cooks must be Jews too. If they were so extreme in their racism then they wouldn't have come to such a gathering.
    – Michael16
    Commented Oct 25, 2022 at 14:56
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    @Michael16, Romans 14 is all about vegetarian proselytes and how Christians shouldn't offend them by forcing meat on them: "<sup>2</sup> For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. <sup>15</sup> Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. … <sup>21</sup> It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak." Commented Oct 25, 2022 at 18:27
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    @Michael16, — Read my answer to Regarding doubt, how do we apply Romans 14 in difficult situations? - Christianity.SE. Colossians talks about similar problems with vegetarian and ascetic proselytes being forced too quickly to accept that God says that physical enjoyment is good: exegesis - Keeping the Sabbath and Colossians 2:16 - Christianity.SE. Commented Oct 25, 2022 at 18:32
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    Vegetarians are just mentioned as an example, bec there maybe very few such weak people. The broader context is dietary practice of kosher food, Jewish customs and holy days observations.
    – Michael16
    Commented Oct 26, 2022 at 6:43

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