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Galatians 2:12

ESV For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party.
NIV 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.
NASB For prior to the coming of some men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and separate himself, fearing those from the circumcision.
CSB For he regularly ate with the Gentiles before certain men came from James. However, when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, because he feared those from the circumcision party.
NLT When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile believers, who were not circumcised. But afterward, when some friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore. He was afraid of criticism from these people who insisted on the necessity of circumcision.
KJV For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision.
NKJV for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision.

What does Galatians 2:12 mean?

Paul is explaining to the Galatian Christians why his authority is legitimate. This is meant to blunt the criticisms of a particular sect, the Judaizers, who claim that following the law of Moses is necessary for salvation. This is a false teaching that Paul wants the Galatians to avoid. As part of this, Paul relates how he came to be approved by the other apostles. Then, he transitions into a story about how he corrected one of those very apostles on a related issue.

According to Paul, Peter had come to Antioch in Syria to visit the church there. Why did Paul oppose Peter to his face, right in front of a group of people gathered for a meal together?

For the Jewish people, who you ate with had always been a big deal. While living under the law of Moses, they never ate with Gentiles. That was forbidden. They even avoided eating with other Jewish people who were thought to be leading sinful lifestyles. That's why Jesus generated so much controversy when He ate with "tax collectors and sinners."

Paul, Peter, and the other apostles had come to an agreement that Gentiles did not need to live as Jews in order to be saved. They didn't need to be circumcised or follow the law of Moses. All were saved by grace. Many Jewish Christians, however, continued to follow the Law and Jewish practices they had grown up under.

So though the Jewish Christian leaders agreed that Gentiles could be saved, was it okay to sit at the same table and eat with them now? Because of God's grace, it was absolutely okay. They were brothers and sisters in Christ, after all. Still, it just felt wrong to many Jewish traditionalists.

Paul was Jewish and sat and ate with non-Jewish Christians all of the time. He was likely very glad to see Peter doing the same thing when he came to Antioch. But then a group of Jewish men connected to Jesus' brother James showed up. Paul calls them "the circumcision party." They absolutely did not approve of eating with Christian Gentiles. Peter knew this and left the table with the Gentiles in order to look good to this group of men. His choice would lead others to do the same.

For this, Paul will call Peter out as a hypocrite.
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