Scott: came across this website today and had a couple questions. A Protestant friend of mine, despite all the Scriptural evidence, is having a difficult time with two items regarding the primacy of Peter. First, he says it is James, not Peter, who opens the council at Jerusalem in Acts. Second, Paul, and I can’t recall exactly where in the Epistles, speaks of how Peter was leading some away from the true doctrine. How can these Scriptural passages be reconciled with the Church’s understanding of the special role of Peter in the early Church?
Thanks for your attention to these questions.
J. Salza: Scott, your friend has it all wrong. If we go to Acts 15, we read that there was a lot of debate in the Church about whether Gentile converts needed to be circumcised. After the debate, Peter “rose” and declared that circumcision was not necessary. James was not even in the picture at this point. Peter made an authoritative decision about the doctrinal question, and no one questioned him. In fact, after Peter spoke it says “all kept silent.” When you read the Greek phrase, it is in the aorist tense, which means the silence was the effect of Peter’s definitive teaching.
After Peter settles the issue, Paul and Barnabas speak in favor of Peter’s teaching. Only then does James come in. A few things about James’ discourse. First, James was the bishop of Jerusalem during the council, and it is common for a bishop to speak in favor of the pope’s teaching at a regional or ecumenical council. This is what James does. He agrees with Peter’s definitive teaching. Second, James begins speaking, not about the doctrinal issue, but about whether the Gentiles should obey the Noachide laws. At the end of James’ speech, he says “it is my judgment.” The Greek here (ego krino) means that James was giving a personal opinion about a pastoral issue, and recommends that the Gentiles obey the laws of Noah so as to more easily fraternize with the Jews.
So we see that Peter is the one who rules definitively on the question of doctrine, and all kept silent. His bishops then spoke in favor of his teaching, acknowledging that Peter was indeed the authority in the Church. No one questions Peter’s judgment. Then we have James who speaks in favor of Peter’s teaching by giving an opinion on a pastoral issue. Hardly a challenge to the authority of Peter. You should also point out to your friend that Acts 15 disproves the doctrine of sola Scriptura. If Peter would have relied upon the Scriptures, he would have concluded that Gentiles had to be circumcised, since all the Patriarchs and prophets were, the apostles were, and even Jesus was. But Peter, by virtue of his authority, decides the issue as the chief shepherd of the Church (and the decision was not based on the Scriptures).
Regarding any epistle where Peter was leading people away from the true faith, there is no such epistle. If your friend disagrees, have him produce chapter and verse.