Paul - Peter/James Dispute

I understand there was a dispute recorded in Acts, between Paul and Peter. Peter, despite mixing and appealing to Gentiles, decides not to eat with Gentile converts when entertaining travelling Jewish guests/converts. As I understand it - the dispute seems to stem from James, the ‘Brother’ of Jesus, who’s decision to declare an insistence that Gentiles are required to live by Mosaic Law caused intellectual tension in Antioch.

My question is simple: Why does the Holy Spirt allow a dispute to occur between Paul, Peter and presumably James; three of the most Holy and important figures in Church history, when it would have been easier (and more beneficial) to prohibit such an earthly dispute occurring in the first place?

Jesus never promised Church leaders would not dispute important teachings with one another. Indeed, that is what Church councils are for, such as in Acts 15–to resolve issues that both sides feel are important.

The Church is not just a divine institution, she’s also a human institution. In her divinity she is infallible in matters of faith and doctrine–that means the bishops of the Church in union with the pope. In other matters she is human and therefore must seek divine guidance from the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus promised would lead his Church into all truth. Jesus never said that process wouldn’t be messy or contentious. He knows us too well to deny our human tendency to want things our own way, but he did promise that when the decision would be made, it would be the right one.

This is the almost incredible thing about the Church–that her dual nature does not interfere with making the right decisions even if the decision making isn’t easy nor clear-cut. Christ’s promises have never been rescinded, the Church goes on, reeling on way then the other, as G. K. Chesterton put it, but always righting herself–like a ship on a stormy sea.

People aren’t robots. The Holy Spirit doesn’t circumvent free will or our normal human process of learning and deciding. The Holy Spirit works **through **our natural human processes.

People think, they learn, they have opinions. They disagree. They debate and discern. It’s the way people will always be. It is beneficial to struggle and discern, individually and collectively. It’s how we grow. The Holy Spirit guides the Church. It doesn’t take over the Church as a puppet master.

Thank you. 2 Very enlightening answers! :slight_smile:

Along with the other answers already given, it is worth noting that there wasn’t actually as dispute between Paul and Peter*. Church Fathers such as Chrysostom point out that the Greek word Paul uses in Galatians 2 when describing the Incident is “appeared outwardly” (in English “towards his face”) have a dispute. Paul taught that if your brother is doing something wrong, you point it out to him in private so that you don’t humiliate them. So Paul wasn’t trying to call out Peter publicly, which is why he used the Greek word “appeared outwardly to” dispute with Peter. Really, Peter wasn’t doing anything sinful, he was trying too hard to make the Jewish Christians feel comfortable around Gentiles, but as a result he made the Gentile Christians feel unwelcome. Chrysostom and others explain that Paul used this as an opportunity to talk loudly so that both the Jews/Gentiles could hear him, without Paul having to embarrass anyone specifically. It’s like when a teacher talks loudly to a student in class when really the teacher is talking to specific other students to get them to understand. This interpretation is confirmed by looking at Acts 16:3, immediately following the Council in Acts 15, where Paul has Timothy circumcised so as not to scandalize the Jewish Christians who didn’t yet fully grasp that living by Jewish Customs wasn’t necessary in the New Covenant.

*One Church Father says it wasn’t even Peter, but rather another disciple named Cephas, which is why Paul switches from talking about Peter to talking about Cephas in Galatians 2.

Thanks. These answers to my frequent questions are providing me with much clarity.

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