The day Christianity hit the wall

One fateful day decided the future of Christianity, not long after Jesus died too. If it hadn’t happened we would have a very different Christianity today – if it could be called “Christianity” at all.

It happened in Galatians 2. Things had been going rather well to begin with; the apostles at Jerusalem had been visited by Paul, heard what he’d been up to, and in Paul’s words, verse 7, “they saw that I had been given the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been given the the task of preaching the gospel to the Jews.”

The apostles accepted that God was just as much at work in Paul’s ministry as he was in Peter’s ministry (verse 8), and in verse 9 they gave both Paul and Barnabas “the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews.”

So far so good; everyone was in agreement, so back Paul went to Antioch to continue his ministry to the Gentiles.

Peter then came to visit Paul in Antioch, and he happily sat with Gentiles at meal times (verse 12). Peter had no trouble accepting that Jews and Gentiles were equals as Christians, and most important of all, that Christianity did not require Jews or Gentiles to follow any Jewish customs to be Christians. Again, so far so good.

But then one fateful day during Peter’s visit, a group of Jews from Jerusalem arrived, and that’s when Christianity hit the wall, because Peter immediately separated himself from the Gentile Christians, possibly right there at meal time, and left the table where he was sitting with Gentiles to sit with the visiting Jews instead.

It was a highly symbolic act, especially when the reason for Peter’s action was his fear of “those who belonged to the circumcision group,” verse 12. These were Jews stuck in Judaism, who believed Gentiles could only be Christians if they were circumcised in the custom of the Jews. And Peter by his action clearly agreed, that Gentiles must be Jews first before they could become Christians, and all Jewish and Gentile Christians must observe Jewish customs. And everyone present, including Barnabas, agreed with Peter, so Christianity would have continued on that road if Paul hadn’t stepped in.

Paul made it clear, right to Peter’s face in front of everyone, that Christianity was purely about faith in Christ, and never about observing Jewish custom or belief, verse 16. And that was the moment the future of Christianity was decided, that it would not be an offshoot of Judaism. Christianity stood on its own for the first time.

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