Monday, January 15, 2018
The Jerusalem Council And Sola Scriptura
-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.
Peter does make a number of comments, 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. It is a quotation of Amos 9:11-12.
The theme of the council centers around the inclusion of the Gentiles into the gospel. It de-emphasizes 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.
It was James who had presided over the Jerusalem Council, not Peter. He said, "It is my judgement..." (Acts 15:19). It was he who had made authoritative statements on this matter, in accordance with Scripture. This decision was not based on the tradition of the fathers or resolved by an ex-cathedra statement uttered by the pope. This text says nothing concerning papal supremacy.
If anything at all, the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 is only supportive of the supremacy of scriptural authority. Moreover, 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." This is evidence that early Christian churches were governed by pluralities of elders, not a single human arbitrator headquartered in Rome.