Gal-what? Galatians? Who are they? In 278 B.C., a massive army (around 20,000) from Gaul settled there and established it as home base. For a time they were the terror of the world – raiding other nations at every turn and chance. Through a storied history of wars and defeats they were shaped into the people to whom Paul writes. This area of Asia Minor was a protectorate of Rome beginning around 64 B.C. The Catholic Advent Encyclopedia records, “Amyntas, their last king was set up by Mark Antony, 39 B.C. His kingdom finally included not only Galatia Proper but also the great plains to the south, together with parts of Lyesonia, Pamphylia, Pisidia, and Phrygia, i.e. the country containing the towns Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe. Amyntas went to Actium, 31 B.C., to support Mark Antony; but like many others he went over, at the critical moment, to the side of Octavianus, afterwards called Caesar Augustus. Augustus confirmed him in his kingdom, which [Amnytas] retained until he was slain in ambush, 25 B.C. After the death of Amyntas, Augustus made this kingdom into the Roman province of Galatia, so that this province had been in existence more than 75 years when St. Paul wrote to the Galatians.”
Sometimes the text of the Bible seems dull. There are extended lists of unpronounceable names, measurements that are no longer used and places that have been long since renamed. Then we come upon accounts like Galatians 2, when Paul writes, “When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.” (Cephas is the Aramaic name for Peter.) These words do not speak to another ‘boring’ list. They are ripe for the headlines.
Remember who Peter is. He is the fisherman who was called by Jesus along with his brother, Andrew, and friends, James and John. Peter is bold, speaking first and thinking later. (I like to say that Peter is notorious for “Fire-Ready-Aim!”) He is the one who professed Jesus as the Anointed One of God and received accolades from Jesus (Matthew 16:13). He is also the one who in the next breath denied Jesus his plans to suffer and die and was rebuked by Jesus (Matthew 16:22-23). He was the very picture of “working out his salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). From the time of his reinstatement at the end of the gospel of John, to his first public sermon on Pentecost in Acts 2, the early story of the followers of Jesus seems to hinge on Peter.
Remember who Paul is. He is the persecutor of the church, the “Pharisee of Pharisees,” whom Jesus struck blind on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-9). Jesus had plans for Paul. Paul used his passion and intellect, all of the gifts with which he was born, to further the kingdom of God – the very thing that he had formerly opposed. Paul was bold, forthright and seemingly not intimidated by anything. From the Council in Acts 15 onward, the story of the followers of Jesus seems to follow Paul.
Now put these two men in the ring. It is time for a battle. This must have been one for the ages. Neither man is apt to simply give in, neither will likely just take what the other is giving. All drama aside, the confrontation had to happen. Paul had to confront Peter because Peter was polluting the Gospel of Jesus. By the way he lived in Antioch, he was sending a confusing message to the new churches. At first, he ate with them, worshiped with them, shared life with them. Now, when some of his old friends – with their insistence on following the laws of Moses – came around, he changed the way he was living. He turned his back on the new believers in order to maintain appearances. Paul called him on it. Even Peter needed to be corrected. Paul is very clear that he did this only because Peter was not living up to the gospel that Peter himself preached. In recounting this conflict, Paul strongly urges the Galatians to turn back from the destructive path of following the Judaizers. (Remember: they are those who insist that faith in Jesus is only saving if it is accompanied by human works.)
This part of the Bible certainly gets our attention and not just because of a “battle royal.” It reminds us that we are to be continually in the Word, continually reading the Bible, so that we are not led astray by false teachings. If Peter could be led astray, surely anyone could! God has caused the Bible to be written so that he might be in a continual conversation with us. Paul writes this to Timothy, “16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3). God has given you this Bible – even the boring parts – so that no one can mislead you and that you would know him and his great love for you! It all ultimately points to the simple gospel – Jesus died and rose again to save sinners such as me.