The Antioch Incident (Two Views)

There are many blogs that examine passages in Scripture that have what might be called a “folk theology” interpretation. These posts then try to set the record straight explaining what is a more probable interpretation. Some examples are Jeremiah 29:11, Matthew 18:20, 2 Tim 2:13, and the notion “all sins are equal in God’s eyes” or “one little lie will send you to Hell”.

A passage that is not considered very controversial today or likely to get a closer look is the description of the Antioch Incident. But for the early church the event was pondered over and hotly debated.

This event is recounted in the letter to the Galatians (2:11-14) and went something like this: Peter is visiting Antioch, perhaps to see first-hand how the gospel is spreading to the Gentiles (Acts 11:19-26). While he is there, Peter sits down to some bacon, lettuce, tomato sandwiches with some Gentile believers. While they are enjoying their meal some Jewish believers sent by James arrive in Antioch. Peter sees them, excuses himself from the table, and leaves the room. Returning with a kosher fish sandwich, he joins the new group of Jewish believers and enjoys catching up on the latest Jerusalem news. Soon the other Jewish believers are getting up from the Gentile table – even Barnabas – and sit down with Peter and the new arrivals. The Gentiles are wondering what is going on and whether they must follow the Mosaic Law too. Overhearing this Paul, who has been eating alone in the corner, stands up marches across the room and has some words with Peter. He calls him out for his hypocritical behavior, which is encouraging the Gentiles to observe the Law and distorts the gospel.

We may stop for a moment and wonder why Paul chose to include this event as part of his defense of the Gospel? Or why Peter was afraid of the “circumcision party”? We are prudent to walk away from the event humble and alert to how our actions can impact the gospel since ‘even Barnabas’ was compelled to follow actions that contradicted the truth of the gospel. But what was it that sparked debate in the early church? Continue reading