Protestant rebellion from the Papacy. Paul the exemplar

First of all I should put my cards on the table and state that I am neither Protestant nor Catholic and would describe myself as an atheist. In my early days I liked to debate with fundamentalist Christians but in recent years as my health has declined I have found my self re-visiting Catholicism; the religion I was born in and where I spent four and a half of my teenage years in a junior seminary. I will not say why I left the church, this is not my purpose here other than to show were my biases lie.

For example I assume that the Bible is not the word of God either literally or metaphorically and I assume that the teaching of the church (bearing in mind that not all teaching is dogma) has bent, even changed over the centuries and this is what I would expect of a human organisation as it adapts to the needs of different times. Those are my a priori assumptions which I know a Catholic would challenge.

This short work will use examples from the Bible that will show whether wittingly or not that St Paul was an exemplar in being a bit of a rebel from authority. But first I will look at how authority in the church in New Testament times from my own perspective. I will look at the Gospels, the epistles and the Acts of the Apostles.

The Gospels are considered younger than the Pauline epistles, so no doubt ideas of authority are more developed there. In the Gospels, whilst Peter is not the most loved of the disciples, he features prominently as someone whom Jesus expects much of. This despite, Peter’s all too human failings, i.e. his temporary disloyalty after Jesus’ arrest. However, it is obvious that the Gospels show that Jesus wants to build his church on the rock (Peter) Matthew 16:18 and requested that he feed his “sheep” John 21:15-17

In the Acts of the Apostles, Peter features heavily up to chapter 12. However, it is a different Peter from the Gospel accounts. He is brave, bold and fearless. Yet he is also modest, “I am only a man myself.” Acts 10:26. He is held in high esteem because of miracles performed and it was believed that even his shadow passing over the sick would cure them Acts 5:15. He is , also a decision maker. It is him who initiates and decides that a replacement is needed for Judas. The apostles agree.

However, whilst he was in prison it seems that the leadership of the church passed to James. This would seem quite a practical thing to do. After Peter is miraculously released from prison by an angel he wants the brothers and sisters to tell James and the other apostles. After this the story turns to Paul and Peter is only mentioned in Acts, one more time in chapter 15. Here though, Peter is respected he does not have a primary decision making role. He gives a speech against putting a heavy yoke on the gentiles with regard to the dispute as to whether they should be circumcised and subject to the laws as Jewish Christians were. Paul and Barnabus then speak but it is James who makes the final decision. Based on this decision the apostles and elders at the Council of Jerusalem write a letter to the Gentiles and rather than just give the letter to Paul and Barnabas, they send two of their own men to go back with them with the letter. What is clear from Acts 15 is that James is seen to be the decision maker and not Peter. This would make an interesting discussion because it seems to indicate that someone who was not a Bishop of Rome held the highest position even whilst Peter was still alive and had not relinquished it even after Peter was freed. James, however, is not listed amongst the popes , so I am aware what I am suggesting here is highly contentious.

Paul’s attitude to Peter and the other apostles is revealing. Unlike the other apostles he was neither chosen by a flesh and blood Christ like the initial twelve, nor by a vote of the apostles as Matthew had been. Paul, therefore has the difficult task of convincing the Christians he had hitherto persecuted that his apostleship was genuine. In Galatians 1 Paul makes it clear that after his vision he felt no need to consult any human being. In fact it was three years before he went to Jerusalem and then only to be acquainted with Cephas. He also saw James but did not see the other apostles. He describes himself as “Paul, an apostle*—sent not from men nor by a man,but by Jesus Christand God the Father,*who raised him from the dead”. In other words he gets his authority directly from Jesus, he does not need the approval of the other apostles. Can you imagine the children of Fatima taking such a position that they had received a message from Our Lady and did not need the approval of the church or Peter’s successor.

In Galatians 2 he is somewhat dismissive of those held in high esteem, “whatever they were makes no difference to me” and that “they added nothing to my message”. Most of Peter’s scorn is addressed to Cephas (Peter) who he claims he has castigated to his face for forcing Gentiles to live like Jews. He accuses Cephas (Peter) of hypocrisy because he stops eating with the Gentiles when some of James’s party turns up. Although Luke is a companion of Paul’s, yet in the Acts of the Apostles this story of Peter’s chastisement is not mentioned. In fact it is to Peter that God gives the vision upon which the idea the Gospel should be preached to the Gentiles. Rather than Peter avoiding the circumcision party he is criticised by it. Acts 11:2.

Paul, however, needed James and the Apostles to make an authoritative decision on the question of whether Gentiles should be circumcised and subject to the Law. James judges and the apostles and elders agree, "…For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.“Acts 15:28,29. However, his rebellion took more subtle forms. It is interesting to note that when referring to the Council of Jerusalem he states not James’ judgment as given in Acts but claims James’ and the apostles said. “They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I was also eager to do.” Galatians 2:10. Which rather leaves a lot out and adds in something new. Not quite the spirit of obedience that is expected from the church.

So I would argue that there is a lot in Paul’s behaviour that protestants can look to that would encourage rebellion from Rome. His claim that his revelation did not need to be vetted by the other apostles and his disrespectful attitude to Cephas (Peter). Protestants might baulk at the idea that Paul would bend the truth but his distortion of what the Council of Jerusalem required of the Gentiles in order to proclaim his own anti Law stance is glaringly obvious.

For me Peter comes out as a more attractive character than Paul. In Acts, Peter becomes bold after receiving the spirit, speak out against his detractors from the circumcision party and maintains his modesty. His leadership is more quiet and restrained. He is not a self publicist. Paul on the other hand sows the seeds of religious self determination, though he would no doubt be horrified at the division it has reaped in the churches.

I don’t get it…

How does one discuss the context and validity of a book when authorship of that book is not agreed upon?:shrug:

Not that I, myself, would ever be intelligent enough to engage in this conversation, just wondering what is the point of asking these questions or discussing the context…

Never the less, I will be lurking…

Impressed with your reading and self analysis as JESUS has told us, “seek and you will find, knock and it will be open, ask and you shall receive” - paraphrase, and I will pray that your journey to GOD continues.
As for your conclusion that Paul sows rebellion, that is dispelled in Pauls own words where he declares - and again I paraphrase - “to me to die is gain as I will be with JESUS or to live is gain as I will continue to teach JESUS” - very rough paraphrase, but it hits the point Paul was making - it is not about Paul, it is all about JESUS, so Paul cannot be the source of any rebellious tones or comments.

And once you accept that it is about JESUS, then Matthew 16 brings you to the appointment of Peter as the Rock and holder of the “Keys”. So, you cannot then edit or reverse or mold the plans of JESUS and still be a friend of Pauls, as that is not what Paul declares as his goals.

As mentioned above, how can you reject a books validity and then use that same text to put forward arguments of any kind. To refudiate the Bible means that it has no worth for you and as such to use it in any sort of position, belief or argument total undermines anything you are putting forward making your arguments lacking in any logic or appeal.

I liked reading the original post (though I did not quite get through the whole thing!). I think the author showed a lot of careful thought and research.

I come from a Protestant background, and I can attest to the fact that Paul was often emphasized over and against Peter and the other apostles.

I would agree that Paul could have a bit of a rebellious or independent streak. Although he was an apostle, he certainly was not a perfect man. But what may have been a fault with Paul, God used to accomplish and incredible feat: the mission to the Gentiles.

I cannot speak very well about the issue regarding Peter’s authority and the degree to which Paul submitted to it. At times it looks as though Paul is in conflict with Peter, but I don’t think this is any reason to say that Paul did not consider himself in fellowship with Peter and the other Apostles. Indeed, according to a book I recently started reading (by a Catholic apologist no less), traditional sources say that Peter and Paul established the Church at Rome together before being martyred.

All in all, as a fellow seeker, I would encourage the original poster in the quest for truth.


I liked the original post. I thought it showed careful reading and reflection on the biblical texts. Obviously the author is interested in Catholicism (he says so in the post); he is simply trying to work through some issues. Let me encourage him in that.

Regarding Paul’s letters, remember that they are written by two authors: a divine author (the Holy Spirit) and a human author (Paul). Therefore, we would expect to see some of Paul’s all-too-human idiosyncrasies, prejudices, struggles coming through in the text. He was not perfect: nor was his behavior always perfect. It is up to the Church, therefore, to read Paul according to what the Holy Spirit wants to tell us from His letters, which have become part of the Sacred Scripture of the Church.


Most, if not all, of the New Testament was written by the end of the First Century AD. John did not die until the late 90’s AD. As far as the difference in Peter in the Gospels and in Acts, he growup.:):thumbsup:

What you have done, Nimeniton, is what Luther and the other dissenters from the Church did–you have decided that you are capable and have the charism of biblical interpretation. Simply put, you don’t–and neither do I and I have a B. A. in Bible (not all that impressive, I’ll grant, but it’s more than the average layperson has).

When Christ founded the Church upon Peter and the Apostles he gave them certain charisms and promises that no one can negate for they were divinely imparted. If Peter and the other Apostles thought that Paul was rebellious or a heretic, they’d have renounced him and his teaching. They didn’t. Peter tells us that some were misinterpreting Paul (people like you, dear friend), but that what Paul wrote is scripture and to be trusted ( I broardly paraphrase).

The Church has never claimed impeccablility in either Peter or Paul. Indeed, the Church has openly acknowledged their shortcomings for they show that the Church is not of human origin but divine for it would have fallen into gross error and perhaps have collapsed altogether over the rough centuries in which it has seen every form of government and ideology come and go. People rebel against the Church because they want it to conform to their ideas. It hasn’t, it won’t, and it can’t. No no can stand against it and come away the victor because they are not rebelling against flesh and blood but against God who founded the Church and sustains it.

I am merely showing my cards because if I didn’t somebody would read my profile, see that I am an atheist and accuse me of having a hidden agenda. This has happened before but as you see, I can’t win:shrug: As I am arguing that Paul’s example could be taken by protestants to reject papal authority it is neither here nor ther whether I except Christian’s claim to the Bible’s divine source. Both protestants and Catholics do accept its validity on that basis. And it is with regard to protestants that I am makig my case

The Bible can have worth on a number of levels, as works of literature, as historical, as examples of the evolution of beliefs and morals etc.

Oh I would agree with regard to Acts and the Gospels… But there is a big difference in how Peter is described in Acts and Galatians. It is even contradictory. Acts shows a brave Peter who stands up to the Circumcision party and Paul in Galatians describes a hypocritical coward afraid of the same. Both incidences happen after the descent of the Holy Spirit.

Well, of course. Not that I claim infallibilty on that score but see nothing wrong in attempting to interpret it. I am well aware that Catholics have a different take on it. As one Catholic said to me, when it comes to the interpretaion of church versus mine , he will trust the church anytime. That is his privilege.

However, I am arguing how protestants could read into Paul’s behaviour that rejection of Petrine authority is acceptable. If you know of any church documents that address this issue, I would be keen to read them…

Well, there are some Biblical verses that suggest otherwise. “This you know, that all those in Asia have turned away from me.” 2Timothy 1:15 and then possible approval “I know your works, your labor, and your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars.” Rev. 2:2 with regard to the church of Ephesus in Asia . This is suggestive and not evidence per se but not unreasonable to assume that the verses may be linked. Not that any protestant would reject Paul’s apostleship but some of the new and presumably old Jewish Christians do and did.

Sorry, I don’t follow your logic. Protestants also would have no trouble repeating what Paul said. Does that mean that Luther and Calvin were not sowing seeds of rebellion?

Actually, the “authentic” letters of Paul were written prior to the gospels.

I think that the idea that Paul and James were opponents with Peter somewhere in the middle is ludicrous. If James, and the majority of the Apostles, really were as aligned with the circumcision party as some assume, then the Council of Jerusalem would have had a very different outcome. In Galatians, Paul criticizes Peter, not for teaching a false doctrine, but failing to live out the doctrine that God himself revealed to him.

Something your account might draw attention to is the complexities regarding the relationship between the Apostles, and by extension the relationship between Rome and Jerusalem. Before it was destroyed, Jerusalem was the uncontested leader of the Christian churches. Thus James, as leader (probably b/c Peter had other responsibilities not b/c he was in prison), had a large sphere of influence. Any person part of the Church in Jerusalem, including Judaizers before it was condemned, would have been said to be “from James.” But when Judaizers became a problem, Paul, who is associated with Rome as well as Peter, opposed this position, and the Apostles decided against the Judaizers. I am a bit confused why you would say that Paul “rebelled” against James and Peter?

Furthermore, even if Paul did indeed oppose James and Peter, Paul’s position won through a council. So he was never rebelling against the Church. Luther on the other hand never won a council, so when he rebelled, he rebelled against the Church.

As a former Protestant, and an anti-Catholic one at that, I know all about their rejection of the Church’s claims based on Paul’s writings. I heard it all from every angle they could come up with. I can tell you they don’t have a leg to stand on, but that has never stopped anyone determined to reject the truth, in my experience. Maybe your experience has been different, but I doubt it.

And there is no need for the Church to have a document to refute every false idea ever leveled at the Church. That’s not the mission that Christ gave to his Church. The Church teaches the truth it doesn’t go around looking for objections to answer. It only bothers with heresies when it becomes necessary. There are many good apologists who have no doubt written about this topic. A quick search of Catholic Answers articles ought to useful or even a Google search. Indeed, there is a thread currenly running that addresses this very issue:

That’s correct

I very much doubt that Peter was somewhere in between the two positions of Paul and James. He is definitely on Paul’s side judging from Acts and Galatians. The only difference I can see from these two accounts is the way Peter is presented as behaving, the former bold and the latter fearful. It is possible , of course, that the James’’ of the circumcision party is a different James from the James at the Jerusalem council.

I would say that a compromise position was arrived at the Council of Jerusalem. *You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.*Acts 15:29. The second and third of these are no longer required of Catholics and it would appear that Paul saw no need for them either. Galatians 2:9 claims that after visiting Jerusalem on the same issue. Paul came away with the impression that all that was required of the Gentiles re the law was that they remembered the poor. Yes Paul wins the day in the end but not at the Council of Jerusalem.

I doubt Paul was strong enough to oppose them directly but the message he gives in the Galatians is different to the message given by the Council of Jerusalem. Possible there were two councils and a different decision was given but we may never know. However, if it was the same council then Paul is deliberately omitting 4 criteria approved by the apostles and elders and that in my book indicates a more politically subtle rebellion

I would certainly agree that the protestant position is untenable. About 30 years ago I read protestants proposing that Jesus was the rock in Matthew 16:16-18. Why Jesus would only tell Peter and not also the other apostles is absurd. I accept the Catholic church’s reading of this verse that Peter was being appointed the head of the church. The protestant position is also rendered ridiculous in that they accept the Bible as the word of God but not the authority of those who claimed to know which documents were scripture and which were not. Far easier to reject both the authority of the church elders and the scriptures. But that is not a position the protestants could take

A position open to non Christians to take is that Peter was indeed appointed head of the church but there was no idea of a Petrine succession hinted at in the Bible. The reason for this was that there was a belief that Jesus would come again soon within that generation.This is why in 2 Peter 3 the one thousand years for one day explanation is given to silence the scoffers why the second coming had not happened. This is not a position that protestant can take for obvious reasons

I did not mean to give the impression that I was demanding you provide me with church documents, I was asking out of interest. Thanks for the link

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