Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Thoughts on Infallibility (Article IIe): Peter and James

The Series Thus Far


One of the most common arguments against the leadership of Peter is based around a passage in Galatians 2:

11 And when Kephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he clearly was wrong.

12 For, until some people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to draw back and separated himself, because he was afraid of the circumcised.

13 And the rest of the Jews (also) acted hypocritically along with him, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.

14 But when I saw that they were not on the right road in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Kephas in front of all, “If you, though a Jew, are living like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

The argument is that because Paul withstood Peter to his face and because people came from James that Peter withdrew from eating with the Gentiles, it means Peter could not have been the leader of the Apostles.  These verses are often used to interpret other passages (such as James role in Acts 15) to claim it was James, not Peter, who was head of the Church.

Other Christians who deny any Apostle had leadership of the Church still use this passage, while overlooking the claims to the primacy of James.

The Issue to Be Explored

In Article IIc and IId I pointed out things from the Gospels and Acts which demonstrated some of the Scriptural basis for Catholic belief in the primacy of Peter, showing Christ's promises and Peter's actions once Christ had ascended to Heaven.

It stands to reason that any person wishing to argue the Primacy of James within the Church is just as obligated as the Catholic to demonstrate his position from Scripture and the understanding of the early Christians.  The person who would argue that Catholics have to "stretch" the meaning of Scripture to justify their position must meet the same burden of proof that he or she puts on the Catholic.

So the question is: Does such evidence exist, or is it nothing more than the fallacy of the fictitious question arguing that a thing could have happened without demonstrating that it did happen?

Let us then look at the person of James, sometimes called James the Just or James, brother of the Lord.

Who was James?

This isn't a facetious question here.  Since there were at least two James in the Bible (some scholars claim three), we need to be clear on which James we are talking about.

We do know that it was not James, son of Zebedee (Matt 10:17) and brother of John (Mark 3:17), because he was killed by Herod in Acts 12:2, while the James in question was at the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15.

So the question is whether he was the Apostle James, son of Alphaeus (Acts 1:13), which some Biblical scholars believe or whether James the Just was another person.  Personally I find it interesting to note that Luther did not believe that James, author of the Epistle of James, was an Apostle, and seems to have used this belief to justify his dislike of the Epistle of James.

The reason some scholars are not certain on this, is St. James the Lesser is identified as "Son of Alphaeus" while James who wrote the Epistle of James identifies himself as "a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes in the dispersion" but not as an apostle as Paul and Peter both did.  I don't think it logically follows that his not identifying himself as an apostle proves he wasn't [That feels like an argument from silence to me].  I merely report this to show that the issue is not open and shut.  We aren't sure who this James was in relation to the Apostles.

And this is our first problem with the claim of James' primacy.  We're not even sure who he was.  We know who Peter was and who Paul was with no confusion, and have Scripture and Patristics speaking about them.  But James is mentioned so infrequently that one who wishes to argue James as the head of the Church needs to explain why nobody knows much about him.

What Did James Do?

Unlike Peter, who was the driving force of Acts 1-15, and Paul who was the driving force from Acts 16 on, James has a very small role in Acts, appearing in these situations:

  • In Acts 12:17, Peter tells the people gathered in the home of Mary, Mother of John Mark, to notify James of God's delivering him from captivity.
  • Acts 15:13ff has James propose a solution based on Peter's decree and Paul's testimony.
  • In Acts 21:18, Paul visits James in Jerusalem and tells him of what he experienced on his travels.

That's it.  The other mentions of James in Acts was of James son of Zebedee.

So the problem with trying to make James the head of the Church is that Acts says nothing which can support it.  Now silence neither proves a thing nor disproves a thing.  It merely means there is nothing said on the subject, and thus it cannot be invoked as evidence.

Now some people might argue that mentions of James in the Epistles indicate a greater role, but I believe this is an example of begging the question: assuming as true what needs to be proven, AND arguing in a circle.  James being seen as the leader of the Church on the basis of Galatians 2 is assuming Peter is not the head of the Church when reading these verses.  But that is what the person who is claiming the primacy of James has to prove.

The only thing that Galatians 2 tells us was that Peter, James and John met with Paul and gave him the mission to the gentiles, and that Peter, wishing to avoid controversy with people from James, ate apart from Gentiles.

The Unavoidable Contradiction

To those who argue that Peter was acting this way because James was head of the Church, a contradiction comes into play here.

In Acts 15, James proposes the solution to the gentile Christians.  Peter, before the arrival of James' disciples, was doing what the Apostles had decided on.  Therefore, if Peter withdrew from eating with gentiles because he feared the authority of James, it means James was enforcing something contrary to what he allegedly "decreed" (if you accept the interpretation of the authority of James over the Church).

Could This Encounter Have Happened Before Acts 15?

Some might argue in response that perhaps this was before the Council of Jerusalem.  This is not entirely impossible.  After all, there are two cities called Antioch in the region, and one of them is in Galatia, but since Paul sailed to Antioch from Attalia in Acts 14:26,  it would have to be the Antioch in the province of Syria, since the one in Galatia is in the middle of Turkey, and one gets there from Attalia by going north by land

Indeed, when Paul travels from Antioch (where "they spent no little time with the disciples") to Jerusalem, he travels south through Phoenicia and Samaria, which indicates they are in Syria heading south, not in Galatia, where he would have to take a ship.

So geographically, it seems that when this issue arose over Gentiles needing to live as Jews, Paul was not in the Antioch of Galatia, but in the Antioch of Syria.  Therefore, prior to Acts 15, the incident in Galatians 2 could not have occurred.

There is another problem with arguing Galatians was written before Acts 15: if this be the case, and James had not yet "ruled" on the issue (which presupposes James led the Church), then Paul had no basis on which to withstand Peter to his face.

It is only if the issue of accepting Gentiles as Christians had already been settled, that Paul could have any basis for withstanding Peter to his face.

Galatians Assumes the Authority of Peter

However, once this is accepted we have to recognize that the one who settled the issue of admitting Gentiles as Christians was settled by Peter in Acts 10:48.  So the only reason Paul could object to Peter's actions would be if he was failing to practice what he himself had taught was acceptable.

Now, from a perspective of infallibility, if Peter was not infallible when commanding the gentiles be baptized, then he could have made an error then instead of in Galatians 2, which would make Paul in the wrong.  Only if one accepts the notion of God protecting Peter from error do we have the assurance that Peter did not make a mistake.

However, since infallibility does not mean sinlessness, Peter could indeed teach something infallibly and live in a way contrary to what he taught without contradicting the belief in infallibility.

Misunderstanding Authority, Infallibility and the Catholic Church

Now I have read some who challenge the Catholic position because "If Peter were Pope, Paul would not have opposed him."  Matthew Henry argues something similar in denying that Peter could have been head of the Church in Antioch based on Paul's reaction for example.  Such a view demonstrates a lack of knowledge of Catholic history and teaching.  Most notably, a lack of knowledge of St. Catherine of Sienna, who challenged the Pope strongly to leave Avignon and return to Rome (encouraging him to do what was right) in ways which are similar to Paul withstanding Peter to his face.

Believing the Pope has authority over the Church does not mean we believe he is sinless in his life, or is infallible in making decisions concerning civil government.  There can be and have been examples of sin in the lives of Popes, and saints have called on such Popes to live as they ought to live.

So this kind of argument does not disprove the Catholic claim.  It merely displays a lack of knowledge of what the Catholics claim.

Patristic Interpretations of Scripture and the Problems with Citing Eusebius

Since there is no Scriptural evidence to justify the primacy of James, some try to look for Patristic discussion of Scripture as evidence.  The problem is, there is no Patristic evidence for the claim either, though some try to make it work.  When one searches for Patristic writings to justify the primacy of James, usually they make reference to one statement from Eusebius which indicates James the Just was chosen bishop of Jerusalem by the Apostles.  This section reads as follows:

2 Then James, whom the ancients surnamed the Just on account of the excellence of his virtue, is recorded to have been the first to be made bishop of the church of Jerusalem. This James was called the brother of the Lord because he was known as a son of Joseph, and Joseph was supposed to be the father of Christ, because the Virgin, being betrothed to him, “was found with child by the Holy Ghost before they came together,” as the account of the holy Gospels shows.

3 But Clement in the sixth book of his Hypotyposes writes thus: “For they say that Peter and James and John after the ascension of our Saviour, as if also preferred by our Lord, strove not after honor, but chose James the Just bishop of Jerusalem.”

Schaff, P. (1997). The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Second Series Vol. I. Eusebius: Church History, Life of Constantine the Great, and Oration in Praise of Constantine. (104).

"Bishop of Jerusalem" is significant here.  Since this is distinguished from the Church itself, it seems to indicate a local leadership.  At any rate, it does not prove universal leadership over the Church.

Moreover, those who would cite this as rejection of Petrine authority have to deal with some other interesting claims of Eusebius, such as his denial that it was Peter who Paul rebuked in Galatians 2:

2 They say that Sosthenes also, who wrote to the Corinthians with Paul, was one of them. This is the account of Clement in the fifth book of his Hypotyposes, in which he also says that Cephas was one of the seventy disciples, a man who bore the same name as the apostle Peter, and the one concerning whom Paul says, “When Cephas came to Antioch I withstood him to his face.”  [Emphasis added]

Schaff, P. (1997). The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Second Series Vol. I. Eusebius: Church History, Life of Constantine the Great, and Oration in Praise of Constantine. (99).

So, to accept Eusebius (who cites Clement in both instances) as a source to reject the Primacy of Peter means to reject the main verse of Scripture which is used to deny the primacy of Peter: After all, if Cephas was a person distinct from Peter, then this verse cannot prove Peter was subject to James, and the argument collapses.

Likewise, if one wants to invoke Eusebius here, one must also accept Eusebius when (in speaking about the canon of Scripture) he says:

8 And Peter, on whom the Church of Christ is built, ‘against which the gates of hell shall not prevail,’ has left one acknowledged epistle; perhaps also a second, but this is doubtful.  [Emphasis added]

Schaff, P. (1997). The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Second Series Vol. I. Eusebius: Church History, Life of Constantine the Great, and Oration in Praise of Constantine. (273).

Since Eusebius merely says that James was made bishop of Jerusalem (the reader is reminded that Paul appointed bishops and presbyters as well wherever they went), and acknowledges Peter as the rock Jesus will build His Church on, one who cites Eusebius against the Catholic claims are trapped into accepting that the rock in Matthew 16:18 was Peter as well, and thus is left with the obligation to explain how Peter could be the rock on which the Church was built but James led the Church.

(An aside for those who will ask.  At the time of Eusebius' writing, the canon of Scripture was not yet formalized and some doubted the canonicity of 2 Peter).  It was not until the Church defined the canon of Scripture in AD 381 that the issue was settled which books of the Bible were recognized officially.  While an important point in the issue of Bible and Church concerning authority, this is outside the scope of this article).

Quite simply, this selection of Eusebius does not justify a claim that James was the leader of the Church, and a reading which claims otherwise is based on the assumption that it could not be Peter.

On the other hand, the Catholic claim is not threatened by Eusebius, as we believe James was head of the local Church in Jerusalem, but not of the universal Church.

There is No Case for James

The problem with the case for James is it simply does not exist.  If we do not know whether James was an Apostle or not, If we do not know what he did outside of these verses, if the witness of the Early Christians do not attest to any actions of James in the history of the Church, then one cannot claim it is proven that James led the entire Church and Peter was subordinate to him.  There simply is no evidence for James being head of the Church, and any claim to do so is based on an attempt to reject the Catholic claim to Peter.

On the other hand, the Catholic claims for the primacy of Peter is backed by Scripture and patristic writings, so as it stands, the Catholic case remains standing against the challenges that it is unbiblical and the challenges that it was James who led the Church.

People may disagree with the Catholic teaching, and I understand this.  However, the counter theories also require evidence in their favor if they are to be considered credible.

These counter-theories however do not provide evidence.  They merely depend on a personal interpretation of the Bible that presupposes Peter could not be head of the Church.

Conclusion: The Dilemma Summed Up

Here is the dilemma which faces one who seeks to use this argument to deny the Catholic belief must face: Do you believe James was head of the Church or do you not?

If one believes that James was head of the Church, then it stands to reason that his teachings must be heeded.  Yet, the idea of faith alone goes directly against what James taught, when he said, "See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone," in James 2:24. 

Now I am not here to debate beliefs like Sola fide in this article.  Rather, I wish to show there is an inconsistency among some who claim James was head of the Church while asserting something which James specifically rejected. 

So if James was head of the Church, why do those who claim he and not Peter had leadership of the Church (and remember, that by accepting the premise that James decreed the decision in Acts 15, one accepts he had authority to do so) fail to keep his teaching against faith alone?

Yet if he did not have authority to lead the Church and impose this decision, then the case for James entirely collapses.  Either he had the authority to make the decision in Acts 15 or he did not.  If he did, it follows he had authority to bind in other areas.  If he did not, he had no authority to compel Peter or Paul in Galatians.

Beliefs have consequences.  If I believe Jesus gave Peter the authority to tend His sheep then it follows that I need to give heed to his successors.  If I do not believe this, any counterclaim I have may be judged based on how I act.  Do I act as if I believe it or not?

To invoke the idea of James being head of the Church requires us to look at the beliefs of the one who claims it.  From what I have found, the arguments used to make this claim compared to the beliefs of the individuals making it indicates that the one who uses the claim to James does not really believe it, but merely seeks to deny the Catholic claim about Peter.

For the Next Time

I think I've covered Peter enough for now.  I can now move on to Article III and look at the claims the Catholic Church makes about the authority and infallibility of the Pope.  I think it is important to look at this because the claims of the Church are so often misunderstood or misrepresented.

No comments:

Post a Comment