“But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned...” Galatians 2:11
In other words, Peter was being a hypocrite and Paul called him out on it. Not so says John Chrysostom:
Many, on a superficial reading of this part of the Epistle, suppose that Paul accused Peter of hypocrisy. But this is not so, indeed it is not, far from it; we shall discover great wisdom, both of Paul and Peter, concealed herein for the benefit of their hearers…But when some came from Jerusalem who had heard the doctrine he delivered there, he no longer did so fearing to perplex them, but he changed his course, with two objects secretly in view, both to avoid offending those Jews, and to give Paul a reasonable pretext for rebuking him.
Looks like it was just a secret plan concocted by Peter and Paul and not a true rebuke. What would motivate Chrysostom to engage in what seems like textual gymnastics to keep it from being the apostle Peter? His argument was that it couldn’t have been as it reads because Peter showed great boldness elsewhere:
He who when scourged and bound would not [shrink a bit] in his courage, and this at the beginning of his mission, and in the heart of the chief city where there was so much danger—how could he, long afterwards in Antioch, where no danger was at hand, and his character had received lustre from the testimony of his actions, feel any apprehension of the believing Jews?
It’s unthinkable to Chrysostom that Peter could have engaged in such hypocrisy. But isn’t that Paul’s point? Why the rush to defend Peter and come up with an intricate behind the scenes plan that is no where evident in the text?
Do We Do This Today?
I laughed at Chrysostom for a couple of minutes. Then I started to see myself in him. I find myself wanting to quickly come to the defense of some of the leaders that I greatly respect. Yes, even if they something stupid and wrong or do something hypocritical. When someone “opposes” one of the dudes that I look up to my first tendency is to come to their defense.
I actually think that is a good thing. It would be much better if our first response was to defend brothers and sisters in Christ. Yet this first instinct can quickly morph into something unhealthy. When Peter is wrong, he is wrong. No need to defend his hypocrisy or make up an imaginary scenario. To do so is verging on adopting a Corinthians mindset (“I follow Paul”, “I follow Cephas”). Peter’s identity—as is ours—is firmly wrapped up in Christ. He was being a hypocrite on this point. The gospel is big enough to cover that.
Let’s thank God that the blood of Jesus not only covers us but also the leaders that we revere. When they do something silly we don’t have to dismiss everything they have ever done or no longer respect them. We aren’t encouraged to tear 1 and 2 Peter out of our Bibles just because he was a hypocrite on this occasion. In the same way we hold our leaders in their proper place as dim reflectors of the splendor of Christ.
There is no need to spend our time trying to play cover up for sins that Christ has already covered. Let’s let the gospel rebuke our leaders. But let’s also be quick to remember that the gospel that rebukes is also the gospel that covers them.