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As I wrote about the various “Words” and “Emotions” topics in this book, I found that the story of Paul confronting Peter from Galatians 2:11-14 kept popping up.
Just some background about that story. (For one thing, it wasn’t in the Bible story books when I was growing up. I had read several very detailed Bible story books many times over as a child and teenager. But I was an adult before I really knew that story. I’ve puzzled about that.)
Here’s the background:
In Galatians chapter 2, Paul “gossiped” (not) by telling the whole group of Galatian Christians—in a letter he was expecting to be passed around to other churches too—about a time he had rebuked Peter right in front of another large group of people.
He didn’t even follow the Matthew 18 process.
Paul found out that Peter, who used to eat and fellowship with the Gentile Christians, had stopped doing that when the intimidating and superior-seeming Jewish leaders came, and he even pulled other Jewish believers along with him to start snubbing their Gentile brothers and sisters. Paul didn’t hesitate to rebuke Peter immediately and soundly.
This is a crucial story in the life of the church, because, primarily, it drives home the point that Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians are equal before God; one is not more favored than the other, and Gentiles didn’t/don’t have to become Jews in order to become fully equal Christians (so important for establishing the early foundation of the Church!).
But there are several other important observations to make about it.
The first time I used this story in this third Untwisting Scriptures book was to talk about one type of scenario when someone might be accused of gossip but would not be gossiping. Here’s the excerpt (starting with the heading):
When they are teaching and explaining about right and wrong
When Paul wrote his letter to the people of the church of Galatia, he told an embarrassing story about Peter. Yes, that Peter. The apostle. And Peter wasn’t even there to defend himself when Paul was telling it.
But this story was vitally important and exactly pertinent to the truths Paul needed to emphasize to the Galatians: it wasn’t just that Peter had knuckled under to fear of man (he had) or that as a result he had acted hypocritically (he had), but in doing so, he was compromising the gospel of the free salvation of Jesus Christ by silently implying that anyone who wanted to come to Jesus first had to become a Jew.
This falsehood incensed Paul so much that not only did he rebuke Peter publicly, but he also wrote about it in a letter to those who were “not part of the problem or part of the solution” for Peter’s issues.
But the Galatians needed to understand gospel truths, and Paul was teaching and explaining important points about what the gospel really entails and how vital it is to live free of the bondage of the law. Paul was not gossiping.
Perhaps today’s pastors could do the same. Instead of ignoring the many stories about wrongdoing and even wickedness in the Christian world today, pastors could use these stories as examples for their congregations, to remind them that they cannot hide their sins from God, or to teach a larger truth about the nature of the gospel, as Paul did with his story about Peter.
I used the story again in the chapter about anger. Paul was an example of righteous anger when he became angry at Peter for refusing to interact with the Gentiles. He was “reacting” (because reaction is part of the definition of anger), but he reacted in a way that was controlled and beneficial, showing love to the people who were being scorned. This, as I elaborate in that chapter, is the definition of “righteous anger.”
And this same story gets referenced one more time in this book, in one of the chapters about fear. In my lengthy discussion of the Biblical term “fear of man,” which I call “relationship fear,” I used Peter as an example of someone who succumbed to fear of man. Here’s the excerpt (again, starting with the heading):
Fear of being rebuked (or even scorned) by those in a perceived higher position (especially in front of others)
This type of “fear of man” boils down to “fear of shame.” Shame is a very powerful motivator to force compliance in controlling cult situations. (If God’s people are willing to stand against fear of shame because our awe/reverence fear of Him is greater, then we can move forward for His Kingdom with far greater strength and vision. But that’s a whole lot easier to say when you’re not in the middle of it.) . . .
This is what Galatians 2:12 tells us about that fear that Peter himself experienced.
Until certain people came from James,
[Peter] had been eating with the Gentiles.
But when they arrived, he stopped doing this
and separated himself [from the non-Jews]
because he was afraid
of those who were pro-circumcision [the Judaizers].
Peter’s fear of being shamed by the powerful Judaizers led him to shame the non-Jewish Christians for their non-Jewishness. But because Peter was a leader, and because the equality of all believers in Jesus Christ was so crucial, Paul rebuked him directly and publicly for allowing this fear to lead him to these hypocritical actions, rather than being driven by fear of God, love of God, and love of others.
Yes, there’s a lot there.
I didn’t delve into the “problem” of Paul not following the so-called church discipline process of Matthew 18 with Peter, because, well, that’s not what this book was about. But don’t be surprised if it shows up in a future book in the Untwisting Scriptures series. That Galatians 2 story has a lot to teach us.
If you’d like to comment below on this story and the shocking—shocking, I tell you—dereliction of duty Paul showed in not following Matthew 18 with Peter, I’d love to read it.
In the meantime, don’t forget to get your free e-book of Untwisting Scriptures that were used to tie you up, gag you, and tangle your mind: Book 3 Your Words, Your Emotions. available only until November 9, 2021.
And let others know that they can download it too! I want to give away a lot of copies of it in the next few days!
Go here to download your free Guide, How to Enjoy the Bible Again (when you’re ready) After Spiritual Abuse (without feeling guilty or getting triggered out of your mind). You’ll receive access to both print and audio versions of the Guide (audio read by me). I’m praying it will be helpful.
I have an aversion to Paul. Primarily because he seems to me to be blindly, almost animalistically authoritarian, when Saul, and later as Paul; same character in different roles. If we accept that Jesus chose Peter as the foundation for the Church, perhaps we should wonder at this choice across the ‘flaws’ in Peter cited in the Biblical record. To lack fear, would today be associated very often with concerning personality types; to be susceptible to reasonable fear, would seem to be a crucial aspect of survival intelligence.
I would expect that Paul would tend to impose his perceptions and judgement on others: and that his authoritarian manner would see the subjected other averse to rejecting Paul’s characterisation of them; so averse because fearful of an individual keen to sort out the righteous from the unrighteous, where the designated-latter face being cast out.
So did Peter act as Galatians 2 has it? If he did, was it because of the circumstance there described? Did Peter act out of fear? Is Peter invited to defend himself against Paul’s characterisation of him?
Much has gone wrong historically in the Christian Church, and continues to so go wrong. Is an authoritarian tendency in Christian thinking, somewhat to blame for this. Across this tendency the “victim” is effectively disappeared. Can that tendency be associated with Paul?
None of this is about “gossip” and non-gossip. It is simply about egocentric certitude, which dresses itself in garments of Biblical reasoning, to justify violence done.
Paul was actually defending the ones without a voice–the “second class” Gentile Christians who were being scorned by Peter.
In this book I talk about 6 types of fear in the Bible, some of them helpful and some of them harmful. One that needed a lot of discussion was what the Bible calls “fear of man” and what I called “relationship fear.” This is what Peter was suffering from in Paul’s story.
When Peter himself later talked about Paul, it was with great respect. Second Peter 3:16 says, “[Paul’s] letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.”
That phrasing in Send Peter 3:16, is unfortunate. Again we have voices which are reductively denigrated and dismissed. No empathy across difference of view. No discussion across difference of view. If you disagree with Paul, you are simply ignorant, unstable, distorting of Scriptures, doomed only to spiritual destruction (this precisely the doctrinal tactic which JR journalism appears to be associating with institutional shortcomings in dealing with abuse survivors).
Transpose that same dismissal of voices to current Christian Churches, and we rightly have demand that such Churches be reformed, demand that they move away from practices which are authoritarian and silencing of voices.
Where in the Bible does Peter confirm that Paul’s narrative about him, was in this instance accurate.
I don’t believe he does. I had simply assumed it was accurate because it was the Bible.
Paul was making a point about the importance of the meaning of salvation and what the church really was.
Where are voices being reductively denigrated and dismissed and discussion being refused?
I believe that, just as we must exercise critical thinking regards current Christianity and Church, we must do the same when interpreting what the Bible has to say (never forgetting that the Bible in no sense was written by God, but was rather written by men – not women and men – who took themselves to be transcribing the word of God; and then there’s the complexity of multiple transcriptions and translations and editings, all done time after time to produce what we now have as the Bible). There is no Bible beyond us finding meaning in it through interpretation. The wisdom of the Bible is not to be found in some unchallengeable script, but is rather to be sifted from the harvest of what reading it makes us as human beings.
The point is good. The project of Jesus would seem to be universality, or at least that’s what Christianity made of Jesus as it founded itself and grew. Delivery of the point across violent authoritarianism, is not good; is always likely to be threatening of what is involved in congregation in the spirit (found in Jesus, by many). It’s not only wealth that cannot be taken through the needle’s eye of getting it right and doing it right.
All the voices being flagged as “ignorant” and “unstable” and “distorting of scriptures” and doomed to spiritual “destruction”, are being reductively negated and dismissed, with no discussion on offer. Just transpose the tactic to a rape survivor bringing testimony of that to the leaders of an institution of responsibility: and they suggest that she is being “ignorant” and “unstable” and “distorting of scriptures”, and thereby doomed to a degree of spiritual destruction because sinning across these cited faults. Would we say, that’s fine: protecting the grand mission of the institution is all that needs to be taken account of; good point made. Does the victim so treated feel silenced; is the victim effectively silenced by the behaviour of the institution.
It’s not a matter of advocating for Peter vis a vis Paul, although there may be a bit of deep Catholic/Protestant history involved in some interpretation. Its a matter of saying that, no matter what the Bible’s script can be “twisted” to say, we must continue to call out particular human behaviour for what it is. Violence is a problem in human occurrence: Paul has a track record of violence; and I don’t think we should lightly air-brush out that fact and truth.
Rebecca. On reading on your website, and allowing empathetic process to be the judge of things, I was much mediated for the better. My sense of what you are and are striving, was commending in a deep way. I found no fault in you.
Relationship fear could then silence me, as you seem good and authentic beyond anything I can muster.
Nonetheless, my empathetic sifting through life experience, which is my portal to any sense of and understanding of the Biblically spoken to G_d/God, has me thinking my own thoughts. Thoughts that may offer challenge to others whose faith differs in detail from my own.
I think, and cannot but so think, that what you do in finding alternate interpretations in the script of the Bible, is an immense task that you fulfill incredibly well, amazingly well. But my thinking then has it that it is ironic that you seek resource to challenge excesses of patriarchy and misogyny in a Bible script that has been authored by men, and is transfigured by man-associated metaphor.
The current challenge in human occurrence and congregation, certainly under Biblical aegis, it seems to me, is to never end an agent of violence, where the primary violence under that aegis is to argue that the other, rather than speaking to a facet of God, has forsaken God and/or God’s mission for us (that latter idea carrying its own risks).
Are you fearful of entertaining thinking that takes you (momentarily) beyond the Bible (in whatever sense that can be understood).
I believe that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh and has come to bring us salvation from sin and death. He is the Savior, Rescuer, Redeemer, the only one who can bring true goodness into a life. I have experienced His salvation, not just of my eternal destination, but of my day-to-day life. I found Him and got to know Him through several means, but primarily through the Scriptures. You can see the fullness of what I believe on my “Beliefs Behind the Blog” page here: https://heresthejoy.com/the-beliefs-behind-the-blog/
Matthew 18 says, …if you brother sins against you, go to him, first in private… so this is different from the situation between Paul and Peter that you reference…. just goes to show that we need to be very careful not to make the Scripture a rigid book of rules in regards to things like rebuking and exactly how to do it or not do it…(many variables come into play). This does NOT mean that things like adultery – for example – are situational!
Just my thoughts… Jane
Yes–that was the first thing I noticed! I agree–we need to see that the guidelines in Matthew 18 don’t apply in every situation. Discernment is critical.
He had no right because Peter was an elder
Who had no right to do what?