A guy said, “I once had a goldfish that could break-dance on a carpet. But only for like 20 seconds.” My apologies to goldfish and those who love them. This little article is about a Bible passage in Galatians 2:11-21 where the apostle Peter is doing a little dancing of his own. Not on a carpet, mind you, but around the truth of the Gospel. To use the words of the apostle Paul’s inspired indictment at verse 13, Peter “played the hypocrite”! Incredible thought — one apostle accusing another of being, for the moment, a hypocrite! And so Paul, as we say, “calls Peter on the carpet.”
Back to that passage in a few moments. According to website@ grammarist.com, to “call on the carpet” is an idiom meaning “to reprimand someone, to be criticized, scolded or blamed for some sort of mistake or infraction.” Early on the idiom was “walk the carpet” and came to describe a servant being called before his mistress or master in order to be scolded or blamed for a mistake. The idea is that the servant has been called out of the kitchen with a flagstone floor, or the servants’ quarters with wooden floors, into the quarters of the master of the house where the floors are carpeted. Today the phrase “call on the carpet” may be used to describe a reprimand to anyone, from anyone, but it is often a superior who calls a subordinate on the carpet.
The passage mentioned above in Galatians chapter 2 records an incident between two equals. Two apostles of Christ, that is. Peter was one of the original 12 apostles chosen by the Lord and Paul’s call by Christ came later in dramatic fashion (see
Acts 9, 22, and 26) “as one born out of due time” (1 Corinthians 15:8b). Both Paul and Peter had preached the same gospel — salvation and justification through faith in Christ, not by keeping the Law of Moses or circumcision, Paul preached mostly to Gentiles and Peter mostly to Jews (Galatians 2:6-8), and the two were in full fellowship (2:9). But alas, Galatians 2:11ff relates a sad day in Antioch (of Syria, some 300 miles north of Jerusalem) when Peter began to backtrack and “play the hypocrite.” Read carefully – when no other Jews were around, or at least when leading, influential ones were not, Peter did as the Gentiles did, having table fellowship with them (vs 12a). But when influential Jews (that is, Jewish Christians who still preached circumcision)
showed up, he gave in to peer-pressure and did as the Jews did. He “withdrew [from the Gentiles] and separated himself from them, fearing those who were of the circumcision” (vs 12). It was then that Paul “called Peter on the carpet” and charged him with hypocrisy (vs 13). Paul “withstood him to his face [note, not on Facebook!], because he was to be blamed.” He challenged Peter’s conduct “before them all” (vs 14), not behind Peter’s back or in a tweet.
Here’s the point — while the apostles’ message was inspired, their manner of life was not. To quote Edward C. Wharton in his commentary on GALATIANS, “The apostles were not super-human beings. They had to fight sin and self.” Peter lost one battle but not the war. No doubt Paul and Peter cared for each other as brothers and fellow soldiers in and for Christ. But Paul and Peter also knew their Hebrew Scriptures said in Psalm 141:5 – “Let the righteous strike me; It shall be a kindness. And let him rebuke me; It shall be as excellent oil; Let my head not refuse it.” Consider: do we fear people too much to “call them on the carpet” when the need arises? God help us always be sensitive and kind but have a stiff spine to stand for the truth.