What Does Gal 2:11 Really Say? Part 1

grace2.jpgWhile working on quite another topic, I stumbled across an alternative reading of Gal 2:11. In about half the translations, Peter said to be “condemned” for refusing to eat with Gentile Christians. I’d not noticed this before. I wonder whether Peter might have really been condemned for a time — or whether the translators have it wrong.

Here’s how he introduces the thought in several translations —

New American Standard Bible (©1995)
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.

King James Bible
But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.

American King James Version
But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.

American Standard Version
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I resisted him to the face, because he stood condemned.

Bible in Basic English
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I made a protest against him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.

Douay-Rheims Bible
But when Cephas was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.

Darby Bible Translation
But when Peter came to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be condemned:

English Revised Version
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I resisted him to the face, because he stood condemned.

Webster’s Bible Translation
But when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.

World English Bible
But when Peter came to Antioch, I resisted him to his face, because he stood condemned.

Young’s Literal Translation
And when Peter came to Antioch, to the face I stood up against him, because he was blameworthy,

New American Bible
And when Kephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he clearly was wrong. (footnote says: literally, “stood condemned“)

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he had clearly done wrong. (footnote says: Gk “because he stood condemned.”)

English Standard Version
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.

When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.

It’s my experience that when the NIV (“in the wrong”) disagrees with the ESV (“condemned”), the ESV is usually right. And when translators feel compelled to add a footnote for a more literal translation (Net.Bible and NAB), the footnote is usually right. But is it possible that Peter stood condemned for his actions?

The word that the translators struggle with is kataginosko, which Strong’s defines as “to note against, i.e. find fault, blame, condemn.” It is only used in the New Testament here and in 1 John, where it is translated “condemn” —

(1 John 3:19-21) This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence 20 whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God

It’s also found in the Septuagint, where it’s translated “condemn” —

And if there should be a dispute between men, and they should come forward to judgment, and the judges judge, and justify the righteous, and condemn [katagnosi] the wicked. . . ,” then the appropriate punishment then must be rendered (Deuteronomy 25:1).

The antithesis of the word is found in Titus 2:8, where it’s translated “not condemned” —

(Titus 2:7-8) In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness 8 and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned [akataginosko], so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.

On the other hand, outside the Bible, the word is sometimes translated as “blame” or “find fault with” or the like. But “condemned” is accepted by Dunn, Ridderbos, and Bruce (“condemned in the sight of God”) in their commentaries on Galatians. Morris and Stott dodge the question, which is not surprising for those with a Calvinistic slant.

The Greek is perfect participle passive. Hence, to get the verb tense right, you’d translate “was condemned” or “was blamed.” Several translations say “was to be blamed,” but this would make it a passive infinitive, and it’s a participle. For example, in Galatians, similar constructions are translated “are written” (3:10); “was confirmed” (3:17); “were in bondage” (4:3). Thus, we’ll stick with “was condemned” or “was blamed.” (In the Greek, there’s no literary present. We say “is written.” They said “was written.”)

If the meaning is “was blamed,” we’d have to come up with an answer for “by whom?” Paul is not speaking of himself. Here’s the verse in more of the context —

(Gal 2:11-14) When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. 12 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. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. 14 When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?

(“Clearly” in not in the Greek. That’s a translator’s gloss, attempting to intensify “in the wrong.”)

Now, in context no one is blaming Peter other than Paul. The Jews certainly weren’t. And there’s no indication that the Gentiles did either. Moreover, it wouldn’t be like Paul to oppose Peter solely because it upset someone else! After all, v.11 says Paul opposed Peter “because” he was kataginosko.

Understandably, however, translators are reluctant to accept “condemned,” as it could mean Peter fell from grace and was later restored — which is unthinkable to a Calvinist and, even to a good Arminian, difficult, as nothing says Peter rejected the faith or ceased to be penitent.

But in chapter 5, Paul plainly says that attempting to be justified by works rather than faith causes one to lose his justification —

(Gal 5:2-4) Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. 3 Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4 You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.

I will not repeat the arguments in which I explain my reading of this, as they may be found at these posts —

The Scary Lesson of Galatians, Part 1

The Scary Lesson of Galatians, Part 2

Or more comprehensively at Do We Teach Another Gospel?

Hence, the question arises, was Peter guilty of seeking to be justified by works? Paul accuses him of “not acting in line with the truth of the gospel,” meaning it was a sin against very fundamental principles. Moreover, Peter “separated himself” from the Gentiles. The word translated “separate” means “to divide by a boundary.” He drew a line between himself and the Gentiles. Zodhiates translates, “to separate from or cast out of society as wicked and abominable, to excommunicate (Luke 6:22).” He notes that “Pharisee” comes from the same root, resulting in a likely word play in Rom 1:1.

The word “withdraw” or “draw back” (NIV) means to shun, as in —

(Heb 10:38) “But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.”

Peter’s withdrawal was much more than a social slight. He was treating them as unworthy of his presence. After all, refusing to eat with someone was a mark of excommunication or disfellowship —

(1 Cor 5:11) But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.

(Mat 18:17) If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

It’s likely that in Matthew 18 Jesus was referring to the Jews’ practice of refusing to eat with pagans and tax collectors. And this is also likely part of what drove Peter’s behavior — he was treating the uncircumcised Gentiles as pagans by refusing to eat with them.

And this makes sense. The reason the men “from James” refused to eat with the uncircumcised Gentiles is they considered them lost — not yet justified, as justification required circumcision. Peter condoned their teaching by adopting their behavior.

Indeed, Peter did more than condone their teaching — he participated in it. Paul charges him, “How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?” Why would Paul ask such a question unless Peter was, by one means or another, insisting that the Gentiles follow Jewish customs? Peter was by some means or others participating in the false teaching — and so stood condemned until he repented.

Now, if this reading is right, it’s good news (of a sort). I say this because I believe many in the Churches of Christ are guilty of the Galatian heresy — seeking justification by works. And Paul says they risk falling from grace for this. Paul particularly points out the risk those who teach this heresy take —

(Gal 5:10b) The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty, whoever he may be.

And yet all the Galatians were at risk. And this means many of my brothers and sisters in the Churches of Christ are in jeopardy — their leaders especially. And so while I tremble at this thought, I take comfort — some comfort — that this is a sin that will be forgiven upon repentance and that repentance is possible.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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0 Responses to What Does Gal 2:11 Really Say? Part 1

  1. Alan says:

    In Galatians as well as in 1 John 3:20 the word seems to connote being worthy of blame or being accused. In Galatians, Paul seems to be saying that he had been justified in confronting Peter to his face. I don't think we should read more into it than that.

    We don't move from being saved to being condemned every time we sin, remaining condemned until we repent. That's not how grace works. We are continually cleansed from sin (1 John 1:9ff). Peter needed to be confronted, because sin is deceitful, and hardens our hearts, which can cause us to eventually fall away (Heb 3:12-13)

  2. Mike says:

    Another verse came to mind on this…and may well relate to your questions "was Peter condemned for a period of time"?
    Matthew 12:37 "For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned."

  3. Guy says:

    Thats an interesting point Alan,iand please correct me if im wrong Jay but your paper on Grace teaches exactly what Alan has commented on and that a child of God only really falls from Grace(Falls away)ie condemned state in a eternal sense (and truly the most imporant sense) when they arebeyond repentance.
    I know you used the various diagrams in your paper/study/lesson on Grace and the Hebrews passages
    regarding this state of in an out of salvation that disciples have been confused about?

    Based on this are you thinking that Peter was in the place between sin and repentance, and that zone /area /condition was in fact a place of being condemned?Was he then during that period in a "fallen away "state.If fallling away means not being brought to repentance , surely he has not fallen away? Because at some point he repented.Therefore if being "a fall away" is a state of eternal condemantion beyond repentance, how are we to understand this language in Galatians.
    Perhaps a better term in relation to Peter being comdemned would be he "wandered from the truth" James 5:19-20?
    Just some ideas , again as per Alan's comments i dont want to read into more to much.
    But again which death would the sinner be saved from in this passage ?

  4. Jay Guin says:


    I respond to some of your questions in the next post. /2008/06/06/what-does-gal-2….

    James 5:19-20 is an interesting passage. The "truth" is the gospel, as is typically the case in the NT. Hence, James is speaking of those who leave the gospel. Of course, there are various ways to leave (I count 3). If you leave by being impenitent to the point of falling away, I think you'll never repent so as to return, as I explain in the next post.

    But if you leave the gospel by getting caught up in legalism, Gal 2:11 seems to say, what my experience confirms, that you can repent and return.

    Now, what I don't know is whether those who truly lose their faith can return, but in the absence of a scripture to the contrary, my thinking is that, yes, you can.

    As always, it's never, ever a question of whether God will take you back. It's a question of whether, having drifted so far from God that you fall away, you will ever repent.