Monday, January 15, 2018

The Jerusalem Council And Sola Scriptura

  • Discussion:
          -Roman Catholic apologists sometimes point to the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 as evidence against the doctrine of Sola Scriptura and to demonstrate that Peter acted in his official position as pope. This argument is articulated in the following manner by Scripture Catholic:

          "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...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)."

          Paul and Barnabas traveled to Jerusalem to meet with the apostles and elders. Peter is a part of the group, but nowhere given any special position or recognition (Acts 15:2). The apostles and elders assembled to resolve the dispute (Acts 15:6). Peter is nowhere said to be in a unique or isolated position. He does give a number of remarks, but his words were not treated as the final court of authority. James shows that the words of Peter are in harmony with the prophets. He also provides his own thoughts on the matter. If the Apostle Peter's word was decisive in this council, then there would have been no need for James to make his thoughts known.

          The Jerusalem Council (which addressed the issue of circumcision and claims of it being necessary for salvation) had subjugated itself to the supreme authority of Scripture. Notice how the text of Acts 15:15-18 begins, "The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written..." That statement is clearly an appeal to the Scriptures as the final source of authority in a theological dispute, and is a quotation of Amos 9:11-12.

          The theme of the council centers around the inclusion of the Gentiles into the Gospel. It is de-emphasizing Jewish ceremonial laws such as circumcision. The Scripture teaches circumcision of the heart (Leviticus 26:41; Deuteronomy 10:16; Jeremiah 9:25-26; Romans 2:28-29). Also, note the fact that God had reckoned the righteousness of faith to Abraham (Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:9-11) prior to his circumcision (Genesis 17:10). Circumcision was never necessary for salvation, even though it was a God-ordained act. So the Jerusalem Council had indeed based its rulings on Scripture.

          The doctrine of Sola Scriptura means that Scripture alone is the ultimate standard of authority in spiritual matters (not that Scripture is the only authority). The doctrine is not a denial of the role or importance of godly leaders in the church. We are simply saying that they are subject to the judgment of Scripture. Thus, a church council is not incompatible with a Sola Scriptura church model. If anything at all, the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 is only supportive of the supremacy of scriptural authority.

          It was James who had presided over the Jerusalem Council, not "Pope Peter." He said, "It is my judgement..." (Acts 15:19). It was he who had made the final declarations of the matter, in accordance with Scripture. This event was not based on the "Tradition of the Fathers," either. It was not governed by an ex-cathedra statement uttered by the pope. This text says nothing concerning papal supremacy. In fact, an epistle which was written and circulated to the churches as a result of the heresies promoted by the Judaizers made no mention of "Pope Peter" at all (Acts 15:23-29). Verse 22 says, "Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church." Verse 23 says, "The apostles and elders, your brothers." The primitive Christian congregations were governed by pluralities of elders, not by a single human arbitrator headquartered in Rome.

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