What is Paul’s issue with Peter?
Mark clearly summarizes Paul’s issue with Peter:
The issue in Antioch—from Paul’s point of view—concerned the eating of Peter and the rest of the Jews with Gentiles, and then their withdrawal and separation—because of the fear of the ones advocating circumcision of these Gentiles (2002:300, emphasis his).
What then was the issue the “circumcision party” had with Peter and the rest of the Jews that influenced him to withdraw? After evaluating the prevailing views of the issues at stake at the mixed meals from which Peter withdrew wherein Mark exposes the weaknesses of both the traditional view (of the likes of Burton and Betz) and more recent trends (the likes of Sanders, Dunn, Esler) that largely focus on Jewish dietary regulations and on the question of what was eaten, he offers his own novel interpretation of Paul’s beef with Peter in which he claims that the issue was not what, but in what manner or how Peter and the other Jews ate with Gentiles.
Based on the Jewish sources of the time he asserts the normalcy of mixed meals between Jews and Gentiles in the Diaspora—especially in Antioch. Furthermore, Mark claims that there is no reason to suppose otherwise then the food eaten at these mixed meals was in conformity with prevailing Jewish norms for eating with non-Jewish guests. With respect to the Jewish norms, while there no doubt were expectations, Mark agrees with Sanders that these mixed meals would be conducted most often in Jewish social space where the conditions could be completely controlled by the hosts. He writes, “In Jewish social space, the meals would be conducted according to prevailing norms, and the Gentiles would be expected to behave like guests, respectful of the conventions of the host’s meal” (2002:296).
Mark describes his approach to the issue in Antioch with the statement:
I propose to account for what was considered compromised while I maintain that the food conformed to the Jewish dietary norms of these advocates [i.e. the circumcision party] and that their objection was not to the inclusion of Gentiles at the meals per se (2002:300).
In his view the issue centers on the way the Jewish Christ believers ate with the Gentiles; that is as “full and equal members of this Jewish subgroup” and not as either non-Jewish guests or proselyte candidates (2002:300-01). Mark sees the problem to be that according to the circumcision advocates, the Jewish Christ believing subgroup did not follow the prevailing norms for mixed meals by treating the Gentiles like full and equal members. What they objected to then is not what was being eaten but that the Christ-believing Jews were not treating the Gentiles as guests or as those on the way to becoming proselytes. To put it another way, the issue that caused the rub was not one of behavior per se, but what the behavior meant for the identity and status of the Gentiles with whom they ate. Peter and the rest of the Jews in the way they ate with the Gentiles were granting them a status inappropriate for the present age. Those advocating circumcision by definition, according Mark, believed that only Gentiles who were proselytes (i.e. circumcised) should have the status of full and equal members. So in fear of these Peter and the rest of the Jews withdrew from table fellowship to avoid persecution.
According to Mark then Paul’s problem with Peter was that while continuing to maintain the view, with Paul, that Gentiles have equal status with Jews as members of God’s inaugurated eschatological community in light of the work of Christ on behalf of both, he nevertheless masked this view and acted in contradiction to his conviction. Peter’s conduct in Paul’s view was the result of his fear of the prevailing Jewish opinion on the question of identity formation and the role of proselyte circumcision in that formation. Peter and the rest of the Jews who followed him by their withdrawal undermined the identity of the Gentiles in Christ in the present age and their behavior was in effect a silent but loud assertion that Gentiles need to be proselytes.
Nanos, Mark D. 2002. What was at Stake in Peter's "Eating with Gentiles" at Antioch. In The Galatians Debate: Contemporary Issues in Rhetorical and Historical Interpretation, ed. Mark D. Nanos:282-318. Peabody: Hendrickson
Sanders, E. P. 1990. Jewish Associations with Gentiles and Galatians 2:11-14. In The Conversation Continues: Studies in Paul & John in Honor of J. Louis Martyn, ed. Robert Tomson Fortna and Beverly Roberts Gaventa:170-88. Nashville: Abingdon Press.