Religious Hypocricy

Question: Why did Paul say that the Jewish believers in Antioch were playing the hypocrite? I tend to think that Paul uses this word because the actions of the Jewish believers were not in accord with the person of Jesus, the One they were claiming to have trust in.

Paul has spent Galations 1.13-2.10 recounting the story of His conversion and mission work… a sort of defense of the message he is proclaiming. The entire story serves to reiterate Galations 1.9-12:

As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

In these verses, as well as the rest of the story, Paul asserts three things about the Gospel:

1- It is the same good news he has proclaimed from the beginning

2- The act of proclaiming this message is a God initiated, God oriented, God pleasing action.

3- The message is not a man made religious system or good news. Rather the message is the person and work of Jesus.

Let’s look at Paul’s story of conversion and mission a bit more deeply as we consider these “arguments.”

First off, what happened in Paul’s conversion? Paul says that his life was a life of Judaism and that he was “ahead of the grade” in zeal for his ancestral traditions (here read: religion). The single event that one-eightied his life was “… when He who had called me… was pleased to reveal His Son in me…” Did you catch that? God the Father decided to reveal God the Son (Jesus) in Paul’s life. Well, what does that mean? I hope Paul isn’t trying to tell us that He became an incarnation of Christ and therefore – blah, blah, blah – new-ageish nonsense. Let’s look at Luke’s record of Paul’s conversion to get a different perspective.

Acts 9.1-22: Note Paul’s reaction to the voice of the Almighty in vs 5, “Who are you Lord?” All of Paul’s rabbinical training, all of his zeal and excellence in Judaism amounted to nothing because he did not know the God he claimed to serve. But this encounter on the Damascus road changed all of that. Paul received an answer to His question – “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”

Now, some texts do not have the last part of verse 5 and the first part of verse 6, but I like them in this story: Jesus continues, “It’s hard for you to kick against the goads.” See, Paul had been trained in the Old Covenant and should have seen this Man, Jesus, was the promised Messiah. He had heard the fulfillment of all that the scriptures spoke of when Stephen had made his case before the Jewish counsel and was martyred for the Name of Jesus (Acts 6.8-7.60). But Paul had not listened! Instead he had begun persecuting all who identified with the Name of Jesus. But this revelation of Jesus (remember Galatians 1.12) brought Paul to a place of surrender saying, “Lord, what do you want me to do?”

After Paul is restored from his blindness, (side note: I really like the symbolism of Acts 9.17-18) his whole life is reoriented away from Jewish tradition (religion) and toward proclaiming the truth that had been revealed to him – namely that Jesus is the Christ (Compare Galatians 1.17 with Acts 9.20-22– note: Paul preached the Messiah to the Jews, and he spent his efforts proving that Jesus is the promised Christ).

Because of this radical reorientation, the believers in Judea glorifiy God. And this, I believe, is God’s reason for revealing Jesus in Paul; people who once feared him are now praising God because of the transformation in Paul’s life due to the truth of the person of Jesus. This is also the message that Paul preached from the beginning of his belief – that Jesus is the promise of God fulfilled, so come and follow the Christ.

And so we see that Paul’s mission is God initiated (after all, Paul sure didn’t flip the God switch on the Damascus road), and this message Paul carries was not taught to him by a counsel of elders. In fact, it was not some religious tradition to be zealously adhered to. The message itself is the person of Jesus, and Galatians 1.13-2.10 draws two huge points about the nature of Paul’s message: 1) It was approved as the true message by the other apostles, and 2) it never ever involved preaching Jewish traditions or religious practices.

So now we get to the confrontation of Peter. Based on what Paul’s story of conversion and mission has shown us about the nature of the gospel, I think it is safe to say that the Jewish believers were practicing hypocrisy because they were not being straightforward about the person of Jesus, and what His death and resurrection accomplished. They were attempting to find perfection through the law… or rather, they were trying to find the favor of men by separating themselves from those whom they had deemed inferior, even though those “gentile sinners” also carried the name of Jesus. If that’s not hypocrisy, I don’t know what is.

  • SaraBeth

    I think that the Jewish believers like Peter were being hypocritical because they were conveying a mistruth about the gospel. By compelling Gentile believers to keep the Jewish customs and law, these Jews were conveying that justification required adherence to rules, not simple belief in Messiah Jesus. Note what Paul says to Peter in the confrontation. "We ourselves are Jews by birth and not gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ…" (Galatians 2:15-16a). Then Paul adds, "so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified." "Peter," Paul says, "don't you remember why we believed in Messiah Jesus? The whole works program was ultimately useless…in terms of being reconciled to God. Peter, hello! What are you telling these poor Gentiles?!" The revolutionary thing about Jesus was that he brought righteousness apart from the law. Those Jews that were truly honest with themselves had already discovered that they could not attain perfection through the law. They could not justify themselves before their Holy God. The Promised Messiah was the solution to this seemingly unsolvable dilemma. His sacrifice brought the peace they had lost way back in the Garden.

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