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The next episode in Paul's autobiography presents a painful contrast to the heartwarming expression of unity in the Jerusalem conference. Having just heard about the "right hand of fellowship" extended in verse 9, we now read in verse 11 that Paul opposed Peter to his face in Antioch.
How could such a conflict occur between Paul and Peter after they had reached an agreement to support one another? Some early church leaders (Origen, Chrysostom and Jerome) could not believe that this conflict really occurred. They explained that Paul and Peter must have staged the conflict to illustrate the issues at stake. Augustine, however, interpreted the story as a genuine conflict in which Paul established the higher claim of the truth of the gospel over the rank and office of Peter.
Augustine was right. Paul was willing to endure the pain of conflict with Peter in order to defend the truth of the gospel. To understand the nature of the conflict and the issues involved, we will observe how the drama developed in four stages: (1) Peter's practice of eating with the Gentile Christians, (2) Peter's separation from Gentile Christians after the arrival of the delegation from James because of his fear of the circumcision group, (3) the separation of the other Jewish Christians from Gentile Christians because of Peter's influence, and (4) Paul's rebuke.