The handshake understanding with which Paul left Jerusalem begins to unravel. Paul has proclaimed to James, Cephas (Peter), and John his Holy Spirit revelation preaching and they approve it. They also affirm his mission to the Gentiles. There has been a mutual recognition of two communities: Paul to the Gentiles and Peter to the Jews. Yet Holy Spirit emphasizes Paul what the Lord is doing in the Early Church— Paul brings both Barnabas (formerly a Jew) and Titus (a Gentile convert) to the meeting in Jerusalem Church.
Paul evangelizes by Holy Spirit witness and offers Christ to all. As we see throughout the Book of Acts, Paul preaches Christ within and outside of synagogues. The Jew/Gentile emphasis on ethnicity is out of place; our Savior includes all having a deep personal relationship with Him. That first moment of relationship is justification. Justification is the event when we first come to Christ– Jesus cleanses us of sin and makes us righteous in Him. Salvation is the ongoing process of faith being perfected within us by the power of the Holy Spirit, ongoing through our lifetimes.
So Paul, Barnabas, and Titus return to Antioch Church and Cephas makes a pastoral visit to Antioch. At first Cephas participates with both Jews and Gentiles which includes sharing one cup at The Table of Holy Communion.. And yet, when a group of Jews, sent by James in Jerusalem Church, join him. Cephas draws back and favors the Jews. Paul calls him on this and we hear Paul’s reprimand of Cephas. Yet we do not know the outcome as to how the Antioch Church decides to resolve the dispute, nor do we hear Cephas’ response to Paul.
Antioch was the third largest city in the Roman Empire. Josephus, an early outside-of-Scripture reference source, mentioned that the large Jewish population mixed freely with the Gentiles there. In other words, the Gentiles were God-fearing too and went to temple. That is until they meet Christ and Antioch Church originates thru Paul. And the Jewish Christians spread the Gospel message, preaching freely to the Gentiles, and Antioch Church becomes the base of operations for the mission to the Gentiles (Acts 11:19-26; 13:1-3), a congregation of Jews and Gentiles.
The outward symbols of Jewish distinctiveness through the law are circumcision, dietary observances, and sabbath keeping (Saturday in lieu of the day of Resurrection Sunday). Christ Jesus’ death makes Christians law-free and institutes One Table where all believers are welcome to partake of His Body and Blood.
Thus at Antioch Church the Christians, recognizing the grace of God, ate meals together (Jews and Gentiles) v. 12, but Cephas chooses to favors the Jews to eat with secularly, after he had eaten in full community. Cephas now shuns community dining and Paul gets right in there (opposes him to his face, v. 11) and takes him to task. Cephas presents a wariness toward Gentiles, and hypocrisy v. 13.
Though Paul moves to set Cephas right it is actually the faithfulness of Jesus Christ which sets each of up right. Jesus Christ is loving, self-giving on the Cross, with Christ’s Presence within us by Holy Spirit. At the moment of our salvation (justification) we are crucified with Christ and our old identity dies. Through the Cross we enter into union with Christ and our new reality is New Birth into God’s Kingdom. We now serve and obey Christ Jesus and by His stripes are law-free v. 16.. Paul says it best, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” vs. 19b-20a.
11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; 12 for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. 13 And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the Gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews? 15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law. 17 But if, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 But if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; 20 and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing!” Galatians 2:11-21