Monday, August 14, 2006

Peter at the Jerusalem Council, and Other Points Related to His Authority

What follows is a post I made over at the Theology Web forum, after reviewing a thread that was attempting to discredit the authority of Peter:
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I skimmed over this thread and found four basic arguments:

1. Peter did not lead the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) thus he was not the leader of the Church.
2. In John 21:15-19 Jesus is merely giving Peter a chance to redeem himself.
3. The amount of times that Peter is mentioned doesn't prove anything once you compare it to the amount of times that Satan is mentioned.
4. Peter being the head of the apostles is a far cry from how we understand the papacy today.

I would like to address each of these 4 points.

Regarding the first point, it could just as easily be argued that Peter settled the matter and then James merely reiterated it. Let's look at Acts 15:

Acts 15:6-21 The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. 7 And after there had been much debate, Peter rose and said to them, "Brethren, you know that in the early days God made choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 And God who knows the heart bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us; 9 and he made no distinction between us and them, but cleansed their hearts by faith. 10 Now therefore why do you make trial of God by putting a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will." 12 And all the assembly kept silence; and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. 13 After they finished speaking, James replied, "Brethren, listen to me. 14 Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. 15 And with this the words of the prophets agree, as it is written, 16 'After this I will return, and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will set it up, 17 that the rest of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, 18 says the Lord, who has made these things known from of old.' 19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the pollutions of idols and from unchastity and from what is strangled and from blood. 21 For from early generations Moses has had in every city those who preach him, for he is read every sabbath in the synagogues."

First, notice that after there had been much debating, Peter gave his position (vs. 7) and all responded with silence (vs. 12). There was no more bickering about it after Peter spoke. Also, look at vs. 11: "But we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will." Who is Peter speaking on behalf of? I suggest he is speaking for the apostles and declaring the apostolic faith. Afterall, it was common for him to do such a thing (see here), and the faith of the other apostles represented at the council mirrors his message. That last point bears repeating: after Peter spoke, Barnabas, Paul, and James speak......but the content of their messages shows that they are merely reiterating and reaffirming what Peter said. This I think shows deference to him. James even starts his speech by referencing Peter, and James' arguments are based on Peter's previous words. Finally, when we compare the speeches of Peter and James, we also find that Peter's is doctrinal, while James' is pastoral. Peter tells the council what they should believe regarding the new convert's observance of Jewish laws, and James suggests how to implement this decision.

It would appear then, from this analysis, that Peter held the authoritative position at the council. But, even if we suppose that he didn't, this does not destroy our understanding of Peter or of the papacy. Afterall, with this new supposition we would actually see a custom that was often repeated throughout the conciliar history of the Church: the home bishop where the council takes place is the one who leads the council. In some of the early church councils, the pope was not even present at all. This is because it has never been deemed necessary for the pope to lead a council in order to maintain his authority over the Church, and leadership of a council by another bishop was never seen as usurpation of the role of the pope. Basically, no matter how you look at it, Catholic doctrine is preserved.

Regarding the second point, that Jesus was only providing "therapy" for Peter, lets look at the verses in question a little closer:

John 21:15-19 15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Feed my lambs." 16 A second time he said to him, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Tend my sheep." 17 He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep. 18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go." 19 (This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God.) And after this he said to him, "Follow me."

Note that in vs. 15, Jesus asks Peter, "do you love me more than these?" ("these" being the other apostles). He is interested in singling Peter out from among the group. This is because Jesus has a great task for Peter: to "feed" and "tend" His sheep. These are the actions of a shepherd, and He's asking Peter to play this role.

Now, when we look closer at this "feeding" and "tending" we find that there is actually much more at stake. First, the greek word for "feeding" is bovskw (or "bosko") and it denotes promoting the spiritual welfare of others (see here). Also, the greek word for "tending", poimaivnw (or "poimaino") actually has the alternate meaning of ruling a people (see here). This is seen in verses from Matthew's gospel and Revelations where the word is translated as "rule" or "govern." So, essentially, we have here Jesus setting Peter apart from the other apostles to be the shepherd, providing spiritual nourishment and rule for his fellow servants and for the whole Church. This discussion was much more than a therapy session.

Regarding the third point, it was said that mentioning the number of times Peter's name appears in the New Testament doesn't prove anything because it actually implies that Satan is more important, or has more authority, since he is even more prevalent. This, I think is apples and oranges. We are mentioning the number of times Peter appears as it relates to the appearances of the other apostles, not as it relates to the appearance of every other person in the bible. The purpose of the argument is to determine who from among the apostles holds the place of pre-eminence. When one gives an historical account of something, he usually places emphasis on the most important figures, and this is reflected in the number of times Peter is mentioned in comparison to the other apostles.

But, if the numbers don't impress you, notice also that in the lists of the apostles, Peter is always named first (Mark 3:14-19; Mat 10:2-4; Luke 6:13-16; Acts 1:13). Often times his is the only name given (Mark 1:36; 16:7; Luke 9:32). What is particularly interesting is this verse from Matthew's gospel [emphasis mine]:

Mat 10:2 The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zeb'edee, and John his brother

There may be more to this word "first" than meets the eye. Charles F. B. Allnat has this to say:
"Wherever the Apostles are enumerated in the Gospels, St. Peter is invariably named first. St. Matthew expressly calls him 'the first' (10:2), the same Greek word (protos) being rendered 'chief' in 20:27 and other passages. Mr. Allies remarks: 'Now, that second and third do not follow, shows that "first" is not a numeral here, but designates rank and pre-eminence. Thus in heathen authors this word "first" by itself indicates the mor excellent in its kind: thus in the Septuagint occur, "first friend of the king," "first of the singers," "the first priest," i.e., the chief priest (Nehem 12:46; 2 Chron 26:20). So our Lord: "Whichever among you will be first" (Mat 20:27); "Bring forth the first robe" (Luke 15:22); and St. Paul: "Sinners, of whom I am the first," i.e., chief (1 Tim 1:15). Thus "the first of the island" (Acts 28:7) means the chief magistrate; and "first" generally, in Latin phraseology, the superior or prince.' "
The prominence of Peter in the bible is definitely noteworthy, and I think the introduction of the prominence of Satan in comparison to the remaining apotles is irrelevant.

Finally, regarding the fourth point, let me be the first to admit that you will not see in Scripture the papacy as it is today. Catholic apologists only assert that the root of the pope's primacy and authority are seen in Scripture. The papacy has developed over time as the Church has come to understand more fully what it means for the pope to be the earthly steward of God's house. This is perfectly legitimate as long as you understand the distinction between development and change. So, to declare that the papacy is unbiblical because a mirror image is not seen in Scripture is to place an unrealistic and ahistorical expectation upon the Church. If you wish to discuss development of doctrine, please start a new thread.
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For more information on the authority of Peter, see this entry from the Catholic Defense Directory.

Pax Christi,

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