Reading Galatians 2:11-14, you may wonder, “Why is Paul so harsh with Peter?” The simple answer is: everything was at stake. Peter stood condemned before God for hypocritically twisting the Gospel and allowing heresy to creep into the church. He should’ve known better. His influence was widespread and contagious. His error was public, the Gospel was clear and the potential damage was tremendous should the issue go unchecked.
Let’s elaborate on that a bit. Here’s a chart that may help visualize the level of confrontation needed when another believer errs with the truth:
The fight for the truth should be directly proportionate to the confidence we have in the Word’s clarity on that truth. In other words, Paul got up in Peter’s face because the Gospel was at stake. The foundation of Christianity was threatened. That’s a Grade A violation there.
I wouldn’t get up in someone’s face like this if the issue were over a minor doctrinal matter. Some people believe Galatians 2 is parallel with Acts 15 instead of Acts 11. I’m not going to be screaming over that one. (See below for a bit more on that issue)
Your aggression in fighting for the truth should also be directly proportionate to the person’s leadership position. Leaders are held more accountable. Paul doesn’t call out Joe-Bob of Galilee. He calls out Peter, the pillar and apostle of the Church.
Along that same line, your fight for the truth should be directly proportionate to the person’s level of influence. Peter was quickly infecting the whole church because of his adherence to tradition rather than truth. The potential for the error to spread was tremendous. Paul had to get confrontational.
It should also be directly proportionate to the public nature of the error. Did it happen openly or privately? Does everybody know or only a few people?
And your level of confrontation in fighting for the truth should also be directly proportionate to the person’s level of ignorance and knowledge. Are they erring because they’re wrong and they don’t realize they’re wrong? Or do they have no excuse?
Though Galatians 2 isn’t necessarily a text on “How to Handle Confrontation,” it can illustrate some helpful principles along those lines that may help us the next time we consider our reaction to certain situations. We should keep in mind that there are other relevant principles that could be added as well that aren’t necessarily as evident in Galatians 2, such as whether or not the person has been confronted about this particular issue before, and even whether or not the person is a believer, and how mature they are in their relationship with Christ.
Bonus Discussion: Does Galatians 2 = Acts 11 or Acts 15?
Last week’s Cutting Room Floor post dealt with the timeline and chronology of Galatians 1 and Acts 9. This week broadens that timeline to include Acts 10-15 and Galatians 2.
Many scholars believe that Galatians 2:1-10 parallels the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15. Though there are some good arguments in favor of that position, after comparing Acts and Galatians, I find that Galatians 2 fits better with Paul’s second visit to Jerusalem in Acts 11. Here are a few reasons why:
1) Paul uses a Greek phrase translated “then after” (ESV) in Gal 2:1 that seems to indicates chronology. Galatians 2:1 takes place after Paul’s trip to Tarsus. He also uses the word “again” referring to “going up to Jerusalem again” in the same verse, indicating that this is most likely the second trip there after his conversion. If Gal 2 = Acts 15, this second trip to Jerusalem in Acts 11 would have to be entirely omitted in the Galatian timeline.
2) Paul says he went up to Jerusalem again “because of a revelation” (Gal 2:2). This fits well with Agabus’s prophecy of the coming famine in Jerusalem, which is the reason Paul goes in Acts 11.
3) Paul mentions that his trip to Jerusalem resulted in a “private” meeting with the leaders (Gal 2:2). The Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 seems to be more of a public nature.
4) It would be strange if Paul did not mention the Jerusalem Council’s decision anywhere in Galatians if it had already happened. Why would this not be part of Paul’s argument against the Judaizers?
5) When Paul gets to the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, it’s clear that he and Barnabas stand together on the issue of circumcision (15:2). However, here in Galatians it appears that Barnabas has been led astray on this issue (Gal 2:13). The timeline seems to fit better if Paul corrected Peter in public, which righted Barnabas on the issue, and they went together united to the Council.
So to put this all together, including the timeline chart given in last week’s post, here is how I would reconstruct the events of Acts 9-15 and Galatians 1-2 (all Scripture is ESV):