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Vivian Ryan wrote:
Hi, Eric —

I hope you can help me out. Below is a conversation I'm having with a Protestant, but he's throwing stuff at me that I'm unable to handle.

  • Can you tell me how you would respond to this?

Thank you in advance!

Vivian
  { Who has the prime authority in Acts 15: St. Peter or St. James? }

Commenting on Acts 15:17

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."

An apologist from St. Joseph's Communications commented:

"Here after much discussion and debate, Peter stands up and speaks. After he speaks, the council falls silent, indicating that his authority is recognized; Peter has spoken. The issue of the Gentiles regarding circumcision and the Mosaic law were settled by Peter. This first Church council held in Jerusalem was the occasion of the first Pope exercising his authority. Jesus left Peter in charge of the Church on earth."

Boodada replied:

Wow, that's some Catholic twist.

First of all, Peter speaks after much discussion from the elders and apostles.

The apostles and elders met to consider this question.
After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them.

Acts 15:6-7

Now, of course, the council became silent when he spoke. That's just common courtesy.

Notice it also happens when Paul and Barnabas speak.

The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them.

Acts 15:12

Now, who is the one who finishes this discussion?

Peter?

No.

James.

And notice the difference between Peter saying "We believe"
and James saying "I judge".

It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.
For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times
and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.

Acts 15:19-21

  • How is James able to do this if Peter is the pope?

Eric replied:

Hi Vivian,

Thanks for the note.

I have heard some Catholic apologists stretch this section a little further than I think it naturally goes. This is, after all, a council, and not merely an exercise of Peter's authority, although we can use this to our advantage as well, since it sets the pattern for the ecumenical council
(which Protestants don't believe in, either). Even in ecumenical councils, "there is much discussion" among the bishops; the pope, typically, only confirms the decision. We do have
to be careful in apologetics to not overplay our hand (lest we look foolish) and to pick our battles carefully, remembering that there is much to support what we believe and we needn't suck every verse we find dry.

That being said, with respect to the interplay between James and Peter, it can be pointed out that James is making a decision about how to put Peter's beliefs into practice, while Peter is laying down what 'we believe' (which is exactly what a Pope would do). Note that in
verse 14 he says:

"Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself. The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written ..."

Acts 15:14

So in a sense, he is accepting what Peter has taught. Then he says,

"it is my judgment, *therefore* ..."

In other words, James is not settling the theological argument, he is turning to how to enforce what Peter has declared.

Also notice that Paul and Barnabas, who speak following Peter, don't make arguments, but rather simply bear witness to what God is doing among the Gentiles, as if to confirm what Peter taught. While Peter is not the last to speak, the "discussion" ends after Peter speaks. Everyone who follows simply confirms what Peter has taught and proposes how to put it into practice.

  • So how is James able to do this if Peter is Pope?

Well, because the doctrine of Papal authority doesn't make it a one-man show. Again,
in defending the Pope's authority we mustn't exaggerate it. Peter is not the only leader,
nor is he a micro manager, just the chief leader whose primary role is settling disputes.

I hope this helps, Vivian! Let me know if you have any other questions.

Yours in Christ,

Eric

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