If I had a quarter for every time I’ve seen Paul’s rebuke of Peter (in Galatians 2) be used as an excuse to circumvent a careful conversation and get right to theological mudslinging, I’d be a very wealthy man. In case you’ve never witnessed this paradigmatic exchange, the conversation usually goes like this: 1. Someone with a name like Reginald makes a controversial statement. 2. Someone with a name like Buck says that Reginald is surely leading everyone to Hell. 3. Reginald (or one of his friends) politely suggests that perhaps Buck does not fully understand Reginald’s position, and urges caution and patience in order to develop his argument. 4. Buck (or one of his friends) down the Pauline gauntlet: “Was Paul careful and measured with Peter – checking to make sure that he knew all the nuances of Peter’s position, etc?”
Perhaps Buck (or one of his friends) will never read this, but just in case – three thoughts. 1. Paul confronted Peter about a matter directly related to the gospel. Most of the time when his example is made the object of appeal, the gospel is not at stake. 2. I am quite sure that Paul understood Peter. I am not quite sure that you understand Reginald. 3. Most importantly, this analogy only works if you actually do grasp what Reginald is claiming. But that is the very point of contention. Typically, the reason you are being politely chided is that Reginald (and his friends) are rather unpersuaded that you have actually understood his position. Once they are persuaded that you understand him, and if you still then decide to pull a Galatians 2, at least your only potential sin is being a jerk who is disproportionate in his judgments – rather than an ignorant jerk who is disproportionate in his judgments. Or, of course, it is always possible that Reginald is in fact leading everyone to Hell.