Apostle Paul rebuked Apostle Peter on a reason and that was surely a very stiff and open rebuke. It was not a private rebuke or admonition but a strong reproof of what Peter did. Did Peter deserve rebuke? According to the prevailing situation the rebuke was appropriate. Man is saved by grace through faith in Jesus and not by works or Mosaic Law. Paul surely taught the right doctrine about salvation. But did Peter and Paul preach different gospels? No. If Peter preached different Gospel he could be called accursed.
“But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8).
Did you hear any one giving more importance to Paul than to Peter? Beware of doctrines from such an one! Either he is misguiding out of innocence or deliberately diverting to another doctrine! All the disciples preached salvation by Grace through faith in Jesus. Peter’s audience was initially of Jews and he was obedient to the commission from Jesus. Peter and Paul had different assignments in the beginning, but not to cover their whole ministry. Peter was hypocritical when he sat to eat with Gentiles and then he withdrew from them on seeing when he saw James and others.
“For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision”. (Galatians 2:12)
That was the reason why Paul said …
“But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed”. (Galatians 2:11)
Paul spoke on Peter’s face so confidently and bluntly that Peter was wrong on his hypocritical behavior thus affirming that Paul was equal in status as of Peter and other disciples to be called as an Apostle of Jesus Christ. Paul’s confrontation with Peter was like an younger brother pointing a mistake of elder brother openly because of the offense elder brother had caused openly. Paul said that the Gospel of preaching to Jews was given to Peter and of Preaching to Gentiles was given to Paul.
(For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:) (Galatians 2:8)
We do not have sufficient evidence in the Scriptures about the time gap between Peter's preaching to Jewish audience and to Cornelius, an uncircumcised Gentle and then to other Gentiles. It is purely speculation that Peter did not preach to Gentiles. Peter surely knew the commission given in Acts 1:8. Peter did not retort at the rebuke of Paul; but rather he supported Paul at Jerusalem council in very gentlemanly way.
“And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe”. (Acts 15:7)
Peter approved Paul's message, which shows that Paul is not greater than Peter to say that God gave Paul an extra-ordinary authority over Peter and on doctrines. This a very strong point a group of believers contend saying Paul had the authority over the doctrines of salvation to Gentiles.
“And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you ” (2 Peter 3:15)
Before we go further on why Paul rebuked Peter it would be better to know What Jesus said about Peter. The word ‘Church’ appears in the New Testament first in Matthew 16:18 where Jesus said to Peter that He was the rock upon which Jesus would build His Church and that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. The Lord added to the Church daily such as should be saved (Acts 2:47). But if we closely ponder on the personal behavior and Character of Peter we see that Peter was always very quick to take some decision and then repent; he was rather impetuous, or impulsive. Peter said he would not deny Jesus but denied Jesus and later repented. When Jesus spoke of his forthcoming death, Peter said it should not happen and Jesus said to Peter “Get thee behind me, Satan” Matthew 16:22, 23). When Jesus was about to wash Peter’s feet he resisted and Jesus said to Peter that if He did not wash Peter’s feet he would not have part with Jesus. Then, Peter said to Jesus “… Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head. (John 13:9). After resurrection of Jesus Peter said “I go fishing” rather than showing interest in finding where Jesus was (John 21:3) and just after a while when Peter saw Jesus his reaction is seen in John 21:7
“Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher's coat unto him, (for he was naked,) and did cast himself into the sea”
But then it was Apostle Peter who proclaimed the Gospel of Salvation first. The first ever preaching of Jesus Christ’s death, burial and resurrection was done by Apostle Peter, who was the beloved disciple of Lord Jesus Christ. Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples, and gave few details (Acts 1:15) and then in Acts 2:24 declared that God raised Jesus from the death.
“Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it” (Acts 2:24)
When Saul was encountered by Lord Jesus Christ as narrated in Acts 9 Peter was already getting ready to preach to Cornelius, an un-circumcised Gentile.
And it came to pass, that he tarried many days in Joppa with one Simon a tanner. (Acts 9:43).
Thereafter, we read in Acts 10 Peter’s preaching to Cornelius and about conversion of Cornelius.
Paul was chosen to bear the name of Jesus before ‘GENTILES’, and ‘KINGS’, and the ‘CHILDREN OF ISRAEL.
“But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15)
Lord Jesus gave to his disciples commission that was applicable to Apostle Paul as well and that was to preach first to the Jews and then to Gentiles. Paul obeyed this commission and preached first to Jews and then to Gentiles.
“But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth”. (Acts 1:8)
Paul was a Jew and a Pharisee and, therefore, he had much concern for his own people just as Jesus, who is born in Jewish family, had much concern for his own people first and then to the Gentiles. Paul says in Philippians 3:4-8 that he was circumcised on the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews. He had much zeal for keeping Mosaic Law and, therefore, persecuted the church before his conversion. But after conversion he counted every gain in this world as loss for the sake of Christ. He acknowledged that Jesus was his Lord and considered every gain that had as ‘dung’ that he may win Christ. Paul also said in Romans 11:1 that he was an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.
Paul’s Roman citizenship by birth was an added qualification for him because many bought Roman Citizenship with a price paid for it but he was by birth a Roman Citizen. He was born in city of Tarsus, the capitol of Cilicia in Asia Minor (Ref. Nave's Topics), a city of southern Turkey, which was ruled by Roman Government (Acts 9:11, Acts 16:37, Acts 22:25-28)
“I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin”. (Romans 11:1)
The purpose of his laying emphasis on the fact that he was an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin was to say that in spite of his elite position in the Jewish lineage he had chosen to give out Gospel message to Gentiles. The doctrines that he preached were never preached earlier. Even Peter’s early preaching differed from what Paul taught. Paul was inspired by Jesus Christ to preach the Gospel of Grace to the world. This preaching was in contradiction to the preaching of Judaism, and, therefore, he had to suffer much persecution. Once he was following Judaism, but then he turned against Judaism and preached Gospel of Grace. Paul preached that man is not saved by Law and works but by Grace alone. Paul said in Romans 1:16 that he was not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ because it is the power of God unto salvation to all those who believe, first to Jews and then to Gentiles. (Romans 1:16)
Apostle Paul’s preaching which differed from what Judaism preached resulted in commotion, rebellion and refutations from among Jews. This was the first time Jews were listening to what Paul was saying that circumcision was not necessary to be saved; man is saved by Grace by faith in Jesus and not by works etc. Jews then rose and persecuted him.
Peter preached to Jewish audience who believed in signs that repentance was necessary for salvation followed by baptism, although he did not insist that baptism is mandatory for salvation.
“Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost”. (Acts 2:38)
On the contrary Apostle Paul did not preach that Baptism is necessary for salvation. His main emphasis was on believing on Lord Jesus Christ and confessing with your mouth that God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Then, there is a question. Was Paul baptized and did he baptize? Acts 9:18 says that he was baptized. 1 Corinthians 1:13-17 show that Paul baptized and yet he says he was sent to preach the Gospel and not to baptize. Was he contradicting himself? No, what he meant was that while preaching the Gospel was his main focus baptism was secondary; that is to say baptism was not necessary for salvation. Baptism is an external evidence of internal repentance and accepting Jesus as personal savior, who died for our sin, buried and was rose from the dead on the third day.
“That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” (Romans 10:9-10)
Paul also preached that no man should judge another in respect of eating meat or in drink or in respect of holidays, or the new moon, or of the Sabbath days.
“Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days” (Colossians 2:16)
Unfortunately, some Christians show Paul superior to Peter and cause divisions among Christians. Notice IF the Church did not start until transition period of early Christianity was completed at Acts Chapter 28, THEN Paul was not in the “Body of Christ” for nearly thirty years. But that was not true. Peter and Paul had different duties to perform as per the commission. Peter, Paul and we are all one Body through Lord Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:14, Romans 12:4, 5). The “Body of Christ” which is the “Church” did not start in Apostle Paul but it started in Lord Jesus Christ.
And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. (Colossians 1:18)