NEW TESTAMENT TIMES
This question faced the apostle Peter on a visit which he made to Antioch after the Apostolic Council. At first he answered the question in the interests of Gentile freedom; he allowed the unity of the Church to take precedence over the devotion of Jewish Christians to the ceremonial law. He held table companionship, therefore, with the Gentile Christians, and he did so out of true conviction with regard to the new Christian freedom. But when certain men came to Antioch from James, Peter was afraid to be seen transgressing the ceremonial law, and so began to withdraw himself from table companionship with his Gentile brethren.
Peter's action, because of its inconsistency, endangered the very life of the Church. Peter had given up the keeping of the ceremonial law in order to hold table companionship with the Gentile Christians. Then he had undertaken the keeping of the ceremonial law again. Might not the Gentile Christians be tempted to do the same thing, in order to preserve their fellowship with the greatest of the original apostles? But if the Gentile Christians should begin to keep the ceremonial law, they could not fail to think that the keeping of the ceremonial law was somehow necessary to salvation. And so the fundamental principle of Christianity—the principle of salvation by Christ alone apart from human merit—would be given up. The danger was imminent.
But God had raised up a man to fight the battle of the Church. Absolutely regardless of personal considerations, devoted solely to the truth, the Apostle Paul withstood Peter before the whole Church. It is exceedingly important to observe that Paul did not differ from Peter in principle; he differed from him only in practice. He said to Peter in effect, "You and I are quite agreed about the principle of justification by faith alone; why, therefore, do you belie your principles by your conduct?" In the very act of condemning the practice of Peter, therefore, Paul commends his principles; about the principles of the gospel the two chief apostles were fully agreed. Undoubtedly Peter was convinced by what Paul said; there was no permanent disagreement, even about matters of practice, between Peter and Paul. Thus did the Spirit of God guide and protect the Church.
Acts 15:36 to 18:22
Soon afterward Paul went forth from Antioch on his "second missionary journey." Acts 15:36 to 18:22. Journeying with Silas