Did Peter’s Weakness Negate His Inspiration?
“If the apostles of Christ were inspired of God, and therefore could not make mistakes, why did Paul ‘resist’ Peter to his face (Gal. 2:11)?”
No responsible Bible student contends that the apostles were divinely restrained from making personal mistakes.
Certainly Peter sinned when he denied the Lord. Moreover, the Galatian text, referenced above, indicates that Peter acted the part of a hypocrite, and, at that time, stood “condemned,” when he refrained from eating with Gentile brothers in the Lord. Additionally, even Barnabas, so well-known for his generous spirit (Acts 4:36-37), in a moment of weakness likewise was carried away by the apostle’s defection (cf. Gal. 2:13 ESV).
Consider the following factors.
- An inspired person’s teaching, as he spoke on behalf of God, was infallible. The Lord had promised his specially-appointed men:
When they deliver you over [to certain governors, kings, etc.] do not worry about how you are to speak or what you will say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour (Mt. 10:19).
When Paul penned a letter to the Corinthians, he informed those Christian brothers that the instruction which he gave them was not grounded in human wisdom, but that the “words” he spoke were by the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 2:13; cf. 14:37; 1 Thes. 2:13).
- On the other hand, there were times when the apostles spoke, just as ordinary men, not being guided by the Spirit. They engaged in common conversations just like everyone else. They even occasionally said things they ought not to have said.
Peter certainly was not inspired of God when he disputed with Jesus, telling the Lord that he would not be delivered up to the elders, chief priests, and scribes (Mt. 16:22). The apostle was not speaking for God when he denied knowing Christ (Mt. 26:69ff). Nor was he guided by the Spirit when he exclaimed, “Not so, Lord,” in response to Heaven’s command, “Arise, kill and eat” (Acts 10:13ff).
One must, therefore, distinguish between those occasions when a teacher was under the direct influence of the Holy Spirit, and when he was merely speaking “off the cuff” so to speak.
- While an apostle’s teaching was guided by the Spirit, so as to be without error (cf. Jn. 16:13), his personal conduct was still under the control of his own volition. What Peter taught, regarding God’s acceptance of the Gentiles into the kingdom of Christ, was absolutely correct (see Acts 11:4ff; 15:7ff). His problem in Antioch was that he, in a moment of anxiety, when certain brethren arrived from Jerusalem, drew back and refused association with Gentile Christians (Gal. 2:12).
It is very important, therefore, to distinguish between an apostle’s teaching as a representative of Christ, and his daily personal conduct, in which he might, in a time of weakness, “slip.” Such occasions are common to all — even the best of God’s people.
About the Author
Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.