QUESTION: In Galatians 2, Paul rebuked Peter for his double standard when he sided with the Jews that came from James by separating himself from the Gentiles. In Acts 16, Paul circumcised Timothy which is not necessary in the New Testament dispensation. Was his act not driven by the same fear of which he accused Peter?

Answered by Eugene P. Vedder, Jr.

ANSWER: We do well to remind ourselves that God alone knows our hearts and motivations (Acts 1:24; Heb. 4:12-13 NKJV). The conclusions we often draw as we watch one another not only may be wrong, but it is not even our business to attempt to discern the motivations of others (1 Cor. 4:5). We are to abstain from every form of evil (1 Th. 5:22). Therefore, we are right in judging whether something is good or evil, but God has reserved to Himself the matter of judging motives.

Peter, in the account mentioned in Galatians 2, had freely eaten with Gentile believers at Antioch. But when certain men came from Jerusalem, from James, he separated himself from these Gentile Christians. This appears to have happened after the events detailed in Acts 15 when the Holy Spirit made plain to the apostles and elders at Jerusalem that it was not necessary for Gentile believers to be circumcised. Circumcision would add nothing to their salvation. Moreover, Jewish believers did not have to eat separately from Gentiles. In fact, Ephesians 2:14 says plainly that God has broken down the middle wall of separation and united Jewish and Gentile believers into one body.

Peter confesses in Acts 10:28 that God had shown him not to call any man common or unclean. Therefore he had come to the home of the Roman centurion Cornelius, which was contrary to Jewish law. What he and other Jewish believers, including Barnabas, were doing in Galatians 2 was hypocritical and done out of fear of man. “The fear of man brings a snare,” we read in Proverbs 29:25. It was into this snare that Peter had fallen. Being a leader and having been entrusted by the Lord with shepherding His sheep, he merited the public rebuke Paul gave him, for by his conduct he was leading other believers astray.

Paul’s act of circumcising Timothy was quite a different matter. Timothy was the product of a mixed marriage. His mother was a godly Jewess (2 Tim 1:5) and his father is simply called a Greek, with the additional notation that all in the region in which Timothy lived knew of this abnormal situation (Acts 16:1-3). According to Jewish law a person is a Jew if his mother is a Jew. (This definition was even affirmed by the Israeli Supreme Court a few years ago.) What kind of Jew was a Jew who had never been circumcised? Such a situation was radically out of place!

Thus to take this godly young brother with him when he would enter into Jewish synagogues to present Christ would be highly offensive to the unsaved Jews Paul was trying to reach. Paul tells us his principle in seeking to reach out to the unsaved in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23: “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law … I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.”

Timothy learned early in life and in his service for the Lord to “endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Tim. 2:3). What Paul did and what Timothy submitted to was to give them entrance to Jewish synagogues to bring the gospel to these people whom Paul was so anxious to reach for his Lord. It was quite different from what Peter did at Antioch among his fellow believers, being hypocritical and endangering other believers spiritually. May the Lord give us discernment to do His will as we seek to win others to Him and help us not to lead others astray by setting before them a bad example!

Author: Sebastien

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