Clay Feet!


“When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he stood condemned, For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.

“When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, ‘You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?'” Galatians 2:11-14.

Even Peter! How strong are the traditions that enslave a person’s conscience!


Peter was far from Jerusalem. There were no scrupulously traditional Jewish believers in the vicinity of Antioch, so he freely mixed with Gentiles according to the dream which had led him to enter Cornelius’ the centurion’s house in Caesarea and eat with him (Acts 10). But when a group of Jewish believers came from James, the leader of the church in Jerusalem, he slipped back into his old Jewish attitude of exclusivism.

For Peter it was not a matter of conscience or conviction. He had long dealt with the right or wrong of eating with Gentiles – which was an expression of reconciliation; the Holy Spirit had seen to that. Here it was a matter of the fear of man and Paul was quick to rebuke him, even publicly, for going back on his conviction in order to appear loyal to his Jewish heritage. He wasn’t even honouring the word of God but rather Jewish customs which actually contradicted God’s intention.

In his defines of the gospel of grace he preached, Paul referred to this incident to convince his Galatian readers that he had actually stood up to the great Peter whom he had just described as one of the “esteemed” leaders of the church in Jerusalem.

By Peter’s behaviour he had inadvertently dishonoured the gospel of Christ which was the good news of salvation through Him alone. Peter was insinuating that Jesus had not really destroyed the barrier between Jew and Gentile through His death; that Jews were still superior to Gentiles, and showed it by their refusal to eat with fellow Gentile believers. In the end he was saying that he had to uphold the customs of his forefathers which took precedence over the truth of the gospel.

For Paul this was unthinkable. He had given up too much for the sake of the gospel and suffered too much at the hands of his fellow Jews because of their fanatical loyalty to useless traditions to sanction Peter’s hypocrisy by keeping quiet. To say nothing meant that he was allowing Peter to lead others, even his companion Barnabas, astray. If it meant publicly exposing Peter’s cock-eyed thinking, so be it.

Paul does not record Peter’s response. Did he defend himself? Did he make excuses? Did he graciously acknowledge his error? We do not know. All we know is that Paul clearly understood the message of the cross and he defended it fearlessly even to standing up to Peter himself. It was not his intention to belittle Peter or to show himself better than Peter. It was always and only his motive to hold Jesus up as an all-sufficient Saviour for both Jew and Gentile.

Paul had long since come to understand that, at the cross, everyone stands on level ground. There is no longer a difference between Jew and Gentile. All the differences that existed were artificial and man-made. The Jews, as God’s covenant people were chosen, not to make them exclusive, but to set them apart for a divine purpose – to show the world that their God was the only and true God by the way they lived.

They failed dismally, anyway, and all they did was to show how impossible it was to be like Him by following rules and rituals, most of which they made up, without having their hearts changed. It took the Son of God to show them how to love like the Father, and then to die in the place of sinners to reconcile them to the Father. Where, in all that, were they better than anyone else? They stood on level ground with every other human being in both their sin and their eligibility to receive God’s grace through the death of His Son.

Thanks to Paul’s understanding and clear presentation of the truth, Peter and his companions received correction and we have this letter which presents Jesus to us as the all-sufficient Saviour of sinners plus nothing.

How true it is that anyone, including Peter, can have “clay feet”!


Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.


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Luella Campbell

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