The two church leaders and longtime friends saw things differently. At the risk of their friendship, they openly opposed each other as they argued before the assembly.
One of them sensed that church unity was jeopardized, that the break from tradition that his friend proposed would splinter the church, that his friend’s radical views of justice and inclusivity were misguided. He was sure that his friend’s insistence upon full participation for those whose behavior insulted the norms of their religious tradition would offend and frighten the faithful core. It was not that his faction was unwelcoming–they merely asked that all obey the traditional understanding of God’s own law, affirmed by countless generations of God’s faithful. By refusing to conform, were not these radicals denying the very authority of God?
When his friend stubbornly insisted on full participation for those unwilling to follow the law, the fabric of the church was irreparably ripped apart. The hurtful words spoken by his once dear friend lingered long in the collective memory of his faction. Why, he dared to accuse them of hypocrisy and failing to act consistently with the truth of the gospel.
“How can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
His friend Paul spoke those words, but Peter and the faithful core persisted, remaining true to tradition and Torah. They would not break bread with unclean Gentiles. Peter was right about Paul’s inclusive agenda splintering the church. After this confrontation before the assembly–this incident in Antioch–the rift between the Torah-abiding traditionalists and the Torah-breaking, uncircumcised Gentiles became a gaping chasm.