The most fundamental element of mid Acts Pauline right division is that Peter (who represents Jesus’ earthly ministry and the twelve apostles) taught a different message than Paul, to whom was given the further revelation of the mystery of Christ.
It has not escaped the minds of astute Bible readers everywhere that it was Paul who said:
“If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” – Gal 1:9
So then, was Peter to be accursed because of what Paul taught? This is where the boogie man jumps out, screams “aHa!,” and convinces me to teach evangelical ecumenicism, right? Not exactly.
The answer is that Peter’s little flock with Israel’s covenant promises needed to be separated from Paul’s gospel of the grace of God which was offered without a covenant. This is the nature of the agreement Peter and Paul made with each other in Galatians 2:7-9. If anyone attempted to subvert or replace the gospel of the grace of God with another gospel (even the gospel of the kingdom), then that man should be separated from and accursed.
The Curse of the Law
It should be understood that the Law of Moses was a privilege to Israel that could have engendered blessing and righteousness if they had kept its statutes (Deut 6:25). Yet, if they failed to obey, then Israel would be cursed by God himself (Deut 11:27-28).
“Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them. And all the people shall say, Amen.” – Deuteronomy 27:26
“…thus saith the LORD God of Israel; Cursed be the man that obeyeth not the words of this covenant,” – Jer 11:3
Paul reminds the Galatians of the law curse in Gal 3:10. He continued to show that the revelation of God’s grace explains how Christ, having been made a curse for us, redeemed us from the curse of the law (Gal 3:13). We are not under the law, nor its curse! Glory to God!
If Peter taught the law of Moses, then he most definitely would line up with what Moses and Paul says should be accursed, but Peter was not teaching the law of Moses from tablets of stone. He was teaching the new covenant law written in their hearts (Heb 7:12, 8:10).
Peter’s New Covenant
The new covenant contained a law. The new covenant contained a sacrifice. The new covenant also contained a blessing and a curse. Yet, these were all different from the old and much better (Heb 7:22).
Jesus was the sacrifice. The law was written in their hearts. The blessing included the kingdom and the Holy Ghost empowerment. However, if they sinned willfully there still remained a condemning curse:
“For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.” – Heb 10:26-27
This condemnation upon those who broke the conditions of the new covenant is a reflection of the conditional aspect of a covenant. Though the covenant offered blessing and grace beyond what Israel deserved, there was still the curse of judgment upon those who broke it (Heb 10:29).
It was necessary that Peter and his covenant doctrine be separate from the grace doctrine taught to the Galatians by Paul. When Peter tried to revert to his old law mentality in front of the Galatians, Paul withstood him to his face (Gal 2:11).
Peter was blessed by the new covenant, but if he had tried to place the Galatians under a law covenant with God after they had received the Spirit of God by faith, then he should have been treated as accursed. He didn’t; he remained doctrinally separate from them.
The accursed in Galatians 1 are those “false brethren” that Paul mentions in Gal 2:4 and that may have been present in Acts 15:1-5. Paul was not placing Peter under a curse. He was separating the gospel of grace from the gospel of works. The accursed today belongs to those who would place us back under a law or covenant system whereby subverting our standing in the grace of God (Gal 5:1).