In recent years, city workers in Chengdu, China were filmed spraying the yellow grass along the roadsides a fluorescent green. They used a dye called Top Green Turf Greening Agent, which, according to its maker, is nontoxic and especially popular with cities in northwestern China.
In today’s reading, Peter acted in a way as fake as this “green grass.” He had visited Antioch and shared a meal with Gentile believers (v. 12). In other words, he hadn’t kept kosher or followed the Law’s dietary restrictions. But when Jewish believers from the “circumcision group” arrived, he changed his practices, fearful of potential criticism, and led others astray as well (v. 13). He wrongly chose legalism or fear above his freedom in Christ.
Paul boldly and publicly confronted Peter about this hypocrisy and unfaithfulness to the gospel (v. 11).
The word hypocrite literally meant “play-actor.” Peter had been living “like a Gentile,” that is, as a person not under the Law. Why, then, was he now pretending or play-acting and “forc[ing] Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?” (v. 14). Peter accepted this correction and did not hold a grudge, as shown in his later support for Paul and against the Judaizers at the Jerusalem Council. As he said there: “We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that we [Jews] are saved, just as they [Gentiles] are” (Acts 15:7–11).
In the epistle to the Galatians, this incident is a kind of narrative climax and proof of Paul’s status as a genuine apostle and a minister of the genuine gospel. If Paul could correct Peter, then he must be equal to him as a fellow apostle. If Peter accepted the correction as deserved, then the gospel Paul preached must be the same as the one Peter believed.