When Peter Stood Condemned
“Would you comment on the meaning of the word ‘condemned’ in Galatians 2:11?”
The larger context in which the controversial term is found reads as follows:
“But when Cephas [Peter] came to Antioch, I resisted him to the face, because he stood condemned. For before certain ones came from James, he ate with the Gentiles; but when they came, he drew back and separated himself, fearing them that were of the circumcision [the Jews]. And the rest of the Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that even Barnabas was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Cephas before them all, If you, being a Jew, live as do the Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why do you compel the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?” (Galatians 2:11-14).
First, we must direct our attention to the word in question, “condemned.”
“Condemned” renders the Greek term kataginosko, from kata, “down,” and ginosko, “to know.” The etymology alone provides little insight, nor does the general New Testament usage, inasmuch as the term is found only three times in the NT record (Galatians 2:11; 1 John 3:20-21), although a negative form of the word occurs as an adjective in Titus 2:8, where the apostle refers to “sound words that cannot be condemned” (akataginosko).
In secular Greek, the term could mean to “find fault with” or “to blame.” It could signify “to accuse” or “to condemn.” It might suggest the idea of “condemning” in the sense of “placing in the wrong.”
Throughout the range of Greek literature the word expresses a variety of senses, depending upon the context in which it is found.
The term can convey the idea of being self-condemned, i.e., one’s very acts of inconsistency have thrown the weight of conscience-condemnation upon him. Some see that as the meaning in the passage at hand (Rendall, 162). This certainly seems to be the significance of the word in 1 John 3:20.
“If our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things.”
If one reaches a level of guilt in which he recognizes his own fault, surely his culpability is greater than even he imagines, as such viewed by the perfect God.
Kataginosko can also be used in a judicial sense, a condemnation handed down from a higher source. A text from the Greek version of the Old Testament (LXX) reads:
“And if there should be a dispute between men, and they should come forward to judgment, and the judges judge, and justify the righteous, and condemn [katagnosi] the wicked …” then the appropriate punishment then must be rendered (Deuteronomy 25:1).
Feelings of others
Some suggest that the “condemnation” of the Galatians text has to do with the judgment of the faithful Christians in Antioch, as directed at Peter on account of his dissimulation. After some technical discussion of the grammar, Ellicott comes to that conclusion (52-53).
Such feelings, however, could hardly have surfaced if the brothers’ conviction had been that the apostle was in their disfavor, but that he stood uncondemned before God!
Inherently condemned behavior
Lightfoot had a different slant than Ellicott. He contended that: “The condemnation is not the verdict of the bystanders, but the verdict of the act itself.” He compared this with the apostle’s warning to the Romans, that if a man knowingly violates his conscience, he is condemned (14:23). The “conduct carried its own condemnation with it” (111).
One of the key questions regarding the word “condemned” in this passage must be this. Was Peter’s “condemnation” of such a nature that, had he continued his course of action, and died in that state, he would have been lost?
Calvinists answer in the negative, of course, because with them, from the very nature of the case, no child of God can ever be lost — no matter what he does or how he lives. And all biblical passages that appear to contradict this presupposition must be distorted to fit the Calvinist mold. Small wonder that there is scant discussion of this issue in their writings on the Galatian text.
There is nothing in this context that would lead to the conclusion that the “condemnation” of Peter was only temporal, and could not have had eternal consequences; in fact, there is considerable argument against that view .
Paul, writing by inspiration, describes the conduct of Peter and certain other Jews (including Barnabas) as that of being “dissembled,” or characterized by “dissimulation” (2:13). The Greek noun, rendered “dissimulation,” is hypokrisis, from which derives our English term, “hypocrite.”
If one wishes to see something of the gravity of hypocrisy, and the consequences associated therewith, he need only consult the Lord’s assessment of this sin in Matthew 23:13ff.
The apostle says these men “walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel” (v. 14). In chapter 1 of this epistle, Paul had warned that to “pervert the gospel of Christ” was to bring oneself under a divine “anathema” (v. 8). This word suggested the idea of that which is worthy of accursedness (Danker, 63); that which merits everlasting separation from God.
To follow Peter’s course of action constituted regression, hence, “transgression” (cf. v. 18). Had Peter continued his abstention from Gentile association, he could have undermined the entirety of the great work he had accomplished in being the instrument used by God in introducing the Gentiles to the gospel of Christ.
What a tragedy this could have been! Long-lasting damage to the cause of Jesus might have been inflicted. To contend that this would not have had eternal consequences is the epitome of theological irresponsibility.
There is, however, a happy ending to this sad historical situation. Professor Jervis has noted that the "Greek participial construction [rendered “stood condemned” in the ASV] expresses Paul’s perception that Peter had been ‘in the wrong’ over a period of time but that when Paul opposed him Peter discontinued his actions" (61).
We thank God for his patience, and his pardon, on behalf of each of us as we work on overcoming our own sins.
- Danker, F. W., et al. 2000. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. University of Chicago: Chicago, IL.
- Ellicott, C. J. 1978 ed. Commentary on Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians. James Family: Minneapolis, MN.
- Jervis, L. A. 1999. New International Bible Commentary — Galatians. Hendrickson: Peabody, MA.
- Lightfoot, J. B. 1957 ed. The Epistle of Paul to the Galatians. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI.
- Rendall, Frederic. 1956. “Galatians,” The Expositor’s Greek Testament. Vol. 3. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids.