A Different Kind of Backsliding
Peter was called/sent to the first “real” Gentile converts, post-Resurrection. There is some fuzziness in this as we cannot assume that there were no other Gentile converts. The likelihood was that they, prior to Cornelius, were converts to Judaism first.
This is an important distinction, as there seemed to be no question of Cornelius’ devotion to God. However, the language and framing of the story draw the conclusion that Cornelius had not done a full conversion to Judaism.
In the earlier part of the story, Peter invited the servants of Cornelius (likely Gentiles themselves) inside for lodging, and one would presume food. Already, Peter seemed to have a clue about his earlier vision about clean versus unclean (Acts 10:1–29). He dared (against more rigid Jewish protocol) to provide shelter and food for Gentiles.
Later, as the church spreads, the conflicts between Jewish expectations and Gentile realities start to affect the unity of the church in doctrine, rule, and expectation. So, they had a meeting. Who knows how long the meeting really was. It does feel like it was abbreviated in the Scriptures.
Peter stood up and familiarized or reminded people of his story. While we (rightfully) call Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles, Peter was the first. As the “rock” of the church, Peter had a first among equal standing. His words carried weight. James, too, as one of the original Apostles also had significant weight.
With this as the groundwork, it would seem completely obvious that everything was resolved, and that the Law was finally set aside as a guide and a history, and not the road of salvation.
Except…apparently that was only for a time. The list of people Paul accuses of backsliding is interesting: Peter (the “first” Apostle to the Gentiles), James (the Apostle that gave a further argument in defense of Gentile requirements), Barnabas (partner in Gentile travels with Paul). There were also others that had backslid into the Law.
This is not a minor issue, hence Paul’s concern, and his willingness to put ink to paper to exclaim it. Reverting to the practices of the Law denied Jesus’ grace. It also separated Jew from Gentile, which was, it seems, Paul’s biggest issue.
The bloodline that separated Jew from Gentile was erased by the blood of Jesus. This division was unreasonable and opposed the Gospel. Paul did not just let it stand.
The truth is that it is easy for any of us to fall into old habits and thought patterns, especially those that were experienced during childhood or under the influence of personally significant people. It is not unexpected that Peter would revert to those tendencies, nor the others. Paul didn’t seem particularly surprised, just upset.
Apparently, this was resolved, yet this kind of thing is forever a shadow in the church.
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, constantly guide us in all Truth. Shape and form us to be better conformed to your will. Amen.
1) What is an old religious habit that you keep fighting? Is it a “rule” or a way of thinking?
2) What do you think the original intent of the “rule” or way of thinking was?
3) What does the cast of characters tell us about ourselves and the church? What does it show how we are to correct or admonish one another?