The Antioch Incident (Two Views) part 3

This is part 3 of a series of posts recreating the debate between Jerome and Augustine over the passage in Galatians 2:11-14. Think of it as the “cliff notes” to a series of letters written between them as a series of blog comments. You might want to start with part 1 and read Jerome’s blog post and the earlier comments.

Comment Section for the Antioch Incident


Augustine, I will attempt to explain my view more clearly so that you, and those you seek to impress, don’t assume that my opinion rests on the writings of other theologians but on my own careful study of the Scriptures.

Peter, not Paul, was the primary agent through which God taught us that the Law was no longer binding after the gospel of Christ. This can be clearly seen in the events recorded in Acts. It was Peter that had the vision regarding the ability to eat all foods, and it was he that first brought the gospel to the Gentiles when he visited Cornelius and his family (Acts 10:1-48). It was Peter that brought this news to the rest of the apostles and dealt with the criticism of the Jews who found this difficult to accept (Acts 11:1-18). Finally it was Peter that carried the argument during the Council of Jerusalem persuading those in attendance that the Law was obsolete and no longer binding (Acts 15:1-11). Therefore Peter, not Paul, was the author of the rule – that neither the Jews nor Gentiles should obey the Law (Galatians 2:14).

Since Peter knew this rule we can conclude that he only pretended to observe the Law because he was fearful that some Jewish believers would leave the faith (Galatians 2:12).

Paul, fearing the same thing as Peter, commonly pretended to observe the Law throughout his ministry. One example was having Timothy circumcised. Paul did this because he was fearful of what the other Jews might think (Acts 16:1-3). Furthermore when Paul went to Jerusalem, James reminded him that there were many Jewish believers who were zealous for the Law. They did not approve of Paul’s teaching that the Law was obsolete. To avoid offending these Jewish believers Paul was willing to create the appearance of keeping the Law as James suggested (Acts 21:17-26).

Furthermore, Paul doubted his gospel and needed to confirm its content and receive approval from Peter (Galatians 2:2). Therefore it is unlikely that Paul would rebuke the same person who validated his ministry.

These observations will make it clear that my opinion is well supported by the Scriptures. Now, I must point out to you, again, that you have ignored the difficult challenge of demonstrating how Paul was correct in condemning Peter for actions that he both condoned and practiced.

Augustine, Bishop of Hippo

Here is where we disagree. Where you see Peter and Paul pretending to observe the Law, I see them sincerely obeying the precepts in order to show love and compassion to those around them.

Paul observed the Law after becoming a believer in order to demonstrate to others that following the Law was not harmful as long as keeping the precepts was not where one was placing their hope of salvation. For that comes only from faith in Christ.

Peter and Paul both allowed the Law to be kept by believers that came from a Jewish background. Since Peter & Paul were from a Jewish background they too were free to observe the Law. However keeping the Law was something neither sought to impose on believers that came from a Gentile background.

Paul was not hypocritical in rebuking Peter for observing the Law in Antioch because he did not correct Peter for this action. Peter was well within his rights and had the freedom in Christ to keep the Law. Paul was right in correcting Peter for compelling the Gentiles to observe the Law because they were coming to the erroneous conclusion that keeping the Law was required in order to be saved.

Peter’s actions were wrong because the Scriptures say that he was wrong. Peter was truly corrected by Paul because the Scriptures say that was what occurred. I can accept no other opinion that disregards the plain reading of the Scriptures.


Augustine,I hope you can forgive an old man any offense I may cause in responding to you. But remember it is you who have pulled me from enjoying my retirement to engage in this debate and have forced me to defend myself from your outlandish charges that make me look like a fool.

If I understand your opinion, you assert that Peter and Paul encouraged Jewish believers to continue to observe the precepts of the Law. If this is true than you are committing heresy. It is wrong to mix the new with that which is old.

I challenge you to put your “money where you mouth is” and let the Jewish believers in your churches continue to follow the Law, for that is what you are advocating. I know you would not allow such a thing. Nor will you find anyone who would accept this practice.

But, even if you would allow this practice, let me boldly declare that this would be a huge mistake. For those that follow the Law are destined for Hell. Christ is the end of the Law! It is obsolete and there is not a single precept that should be kept. For if they do not contribute to our salvation – and they do not – then what is the point of observing them?

Have you considered how similar our views really are? I contend that Peter and Paul motivated by the fear of losing Jewish believers pretended to keep the Law. You call this action deceitful and reject it. However, you assert that Peter and Paul actually kept the Law  motivated by compassion and wanting to avoid offending Jewish believers. How is this not equally deceitful as pretending to keep the Law? In keeping the Law, Peter and Paul pretended to be Jewish when they are not. They are Christians.

Augustine, Bishop of Hippo

We are in agreement that the Law is obsolete now that Jesus has come and fulfilled them. I also agree fully with your statement that ‘those that follow the Law are destined for Hell’. However, I don’t think you go far enough! I boldly declare that those that follow the Law, whether sincerely or hypocritically, are destined for Hell.

When I said that Peter and Paul both allowed the Law to be kept by believers that came from a Jewish background I did not fully explain what I meant. This was only allowed during the transitional period when the church was grappling with the full implications of the gospel on both Jews and Gentiles. However, even then they only allowed it to be kept as long as it was not a means to salvation.

So I accept you correction on this point. My view is that the apostles only allowed Jewish believers to observe the Law after Christ came as a temporary injunction.

Further, you are right to challenge me about what I would allow in the churches I oversee. And I can tell you that today I would not permit believers who came from a Jewish background to continue to observe the Law. That time of transition has come and gone.

The Law was given to the Jews to describe those things which were to be fulfilled by the Christ. Now that Christ has come, we as Christians are to read the Old Testament to understand the Story of Israel that Christ came to complete. We are not to read them in order to practice them.

But allow me to also challenge you. When the apostles pretended to obey they Law to help those who did not understand that the Law was obsolete, you endorse this behavior. However, it is your opinion that would encourage the practice of hypocrisy (pretending to be what one is not) when one wants to avoid causing offense to weaker believers. I doubt that you would allow such hypocritical behavior in the church today.

Now here is how I would have answered Porphyry.  Paul and Peter (during a period of transition) both observed the Law at various times to help weaker believers. However in Antioch, Paul corrected Peter, not for observing the Law (as Porphyry claims), but for acting in such a way that the Gentiles misunderstand the gospel of grace. In the Antioch incident both apostles provide good examples of Christian living. Paul modeled giving loving correction while taking a stand for gospel truth. Peter modeled accepting correction with humility. Jerome, I hope that you notice that this answer maintains the veracity of the Scriptures and avoids tainting the actions of the apostles with the sin of hypocrisy.

How would you address Jerome’s challenge regarding Paul’s rebuking Peter when he often followed similar practices?

How would you address Augustine’s concerns regarding the interpretation of the Scriptures?

How are today’s theological debates similar to this one? How are they different?

What do you think?

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