<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=1906385056278061&ev=PageView&noscript=1" />
Skip to main content Accessibility feedback

Paul’s Rebuke and Peter’s Infallibility

Audio only:

The author of Meeting the Protestant Challenge asks how the Catholic Church can teach that Peter is infallible when Paul rebukes Peter for not eating with the Gentiles? Doesn’t this further show that Peter had no more authority than Paul?


CK:
Hello and welcome again to Catholic Answers Focus. I’m Cy Kellett your host, and I get the great pleasure of talking with Karlo Broussard again. Hi, Carlo.

KB:
Hey, Cy.

CK:
Karlo is a speaker author, and apologist here at Catholic Answers, the author of a couple of books, including Prepare The Way: Overcoming Obstacles To God, The Gospel And The Church and Meeting The Protestant Challenge: How To Answer 50 Biblical Objections To Catholic Beliefs.

I want to give you an objection to Catholic belief today.

KB:
All right. Fire away, brother.

CK:
Just as a reminder, when you’re talking about objections to Catholic belief-

KB:
Biblical objections.

CK:
… Biblical objections. This is something I always am interested in and I want to just remind the listener of, you’re talking about things that are perfectly legitimate objections in the eyes of Catholics and that require an answer from Catholics because we believe our beliefs have to be consistent with the Bible.

KB:
Amen.

CK:
So if you say to us, “You’re teaching something that’s contrary to the Bible.” We are obligated to take that seriously because we do recognize the Bible as a rule of faith.

KB:
That’s correct. That’s sort of the general challenge that we’re meeting. It takes the form of, “How can the Church teach this when the Bible says that?” Right?

CK:
Yeah.

KB:
So the charge is, “Your belief seems to be contradicting what the Bible says.” And that’s a challenge we must meet as Catholics, because as you mentioned Cy, we do hold that the Bible is the inspired word of God. So if we’re going to believe anything, it might not be found explicitly in the Bible, right?

CK:
Right. That is not an argument we have to… Right.

KB:
That’s right. Or even implicitly, right? It might not be there, and Catholics can quibble about that. But if we’re going to believe anything, at least it can’t contradict what the Bible says.

CK:
Right. Okay. So today, we take up the cause of Peter again, as we did in an earlier conversation that we had, and whether the Catholic assertion of Peter’s authority contradicts the Bible. That’s basically the challenge.

KB:
That’s correct.

CK:
So someone might say, “Well, you can’t say that about Peter, you Catholics, because the Bible says this.” And I want to give you one of those.

KB:
Okay.

CK:
Okay?

KB:
Fire away.

CK:
So, I’ll just read it to you. “How can the Catholic church teach that Peter is infallible when Paul rebukes Peter for not eating with the Gentiles? Doesn’t this further show that Peter has no more authority than Paul?”

KB:
Yes. This isn’t a challenge that’s based off of Galatians Chapter Two, Verse 11. And that’s the key verse, and then you have the surrounding context. And basically, what’s going on is that Peter is having table fellowship with Gentiles, these Gentile Christians, right? And he hears that some Jewish Christians, those who are of the circumcised, that group of Jewish Christians who were arguing that Gentiles needed to be circumcised and still hold fast to the mosaic law in order to be a legit Christian. Right?

CK:
Right.

KB:
And so Peter’s dining with the Gentile Christians in table fellowship, and when the Jewish Christians come from Antioch, Peter withdraws from table fellowship with the Gentiles and others present there follow him in that action. And Paul rebukes Peter for that and calls him to task in saying, “Hey, look, you’re not practicing what you’re preaching.” Right? Th the preaching being that Gentiles are now welcome to enter into the covenantal family with God, not by circumcision, but by the grace of God through faith. And so, Paul rebukes them for that. And it’s because of this rebuke or based on this rebuke, some of our Protestant friends out there will infer from this that either A it’s proven that Peter’s not infallible, right?

CK:
Yeah.

KB:
Okay? Because he’s messing up here and/or B, that this shows that Paul actually has more authority than Peter because he’s the one doing the rebuking.

CK:
Yeah. Yeah.

KB:
So, that’s basically the challenge.

CK:
Yeah. And in a certain sense, it seems fair. That doesn’t seem infallible to be doing the wrong thing.

KB:
That would be your Catholic response? Or you’re saying-

CK:
No. I’m kind of taking the Protestant side.

KB:
Okay. Right, right, right.

CK:
Yeah.

KB:
Because what you just said is actually the response that we would give: to be infallible doesn’t mean to do the wrong thing. But the Protestant would say, “Well if he’s infallible, then he wouldn’t be doing the wrong thing.”

CK:
Oh. But you’re saying being infallible is not about doing.

KB:
That is correct.

CK:
I got you. Okay.

KB:
See, the challenge simply manifests an erroneous understanding of the gift of infallibility. As the Catechism points out in Paragraph 891, “The gift of infallibility is this: when a supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful, that is the Pope, who confirms his brethren in the faith, that’s coming from Luke 22, 29 through 32. He, the Pope, proclaims by a definitive act, a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals. That’s the boundaries of the gift of infallibility: definitively proclaiming a doctrine of faith or morals.” Okay? So, anything outside those boundaries, such as not doing the right thing, the gift of infallibility does not cover. That doesn’t fall under the umbrella of the gift of infallibility.

So for our Protestant friends to come along and say, “You see, Paul’s rebuking Peter here for not living out the teaching of allowing the Gentiles into the fold, right?”

CK:
Yeah.

KB:
“Therefore, he can’t be infallible.” Well, wait a minute. You’re just misunderstanding infallibility because infallibility doesn’t apply to Peter’s behavior. It doesn’t guarantee that Peter’s going to act rightly all the time and never sin. Often, it’s said that there’s confusion here between infallibility and impeccability. Impeccability meaning the inability to sin.

CK:
Right.

KB:
That’s not what infallibility is. Infallibility is a protection of the Holy Spirit of the Pope when he puts forth a doctrine on faith or morals in a definitive way. That’s when the Holy Spirit’s going to protect him from error.

CK:
So, we’ve had Popes that have been really peccable.

KB:
Yes.

CK:
They sinned a lot.

KB:
Yeah. Yeah.

CK:
Okay.

KB:
And even the text itself gives clues that this is not a doctrinal issue, it’s a behavioral issue. Right? So for example, in Verse 13, Paul says that “The rest of the Jews alone with Barnabas acted insincerely with Peter.” Notice the emphasis is on the insincerity in their behavior. And Paul actually uses a Greek word, which literally means to act hypocritically alone with others, to pretend together, to join in hypocrisy. So, that’s Verse 13. Then in Verse 14, Paul emphasizes even further that it’s a failure in moral action because he says, “But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the Gospel.” And that phrase was not straightforward, that translates the Greek phrase, which basically means to live, not to live a life of moral correctness. Okay?

So, Paul emphasizes that the issue is not doctrinal. The issue is about acting insincerely, not acting in a straightforward way, that is not living a life of moral correctness. Okay? So, that’s what the issue is and that’s what Paul is rebuking Peter for. Therefore, this in no way touches the gift of infallibility or the gift of infallibility in no way touches this, right?

So, the challenge manifests an erroneous understanding of the gift of infallibility and that to which it applies. So, that would be one way of responding.

CK:
Okay. There are other ways of responding?

KB:
Yeah. We could go a little bit further. We could push further and say, “Well listen, now that we know that the issue is behavioral.” Right?

CK:
Yes.

KB:
“And that there’s immorality, Peter’s just falling short of the Christian calling here. That still doesn’t undermine his authority because immorality of somebody in a position of authority doesn’t necessarily take away from their legitimate authority. It might call scandal and take away from their authority in the perspective of people who may no longer view them as having authority because they’re immoral or something, but in reality, immorality, doesn’t take away from authority.”

And here are a few examples. Recall Jesus in Matthew 23, Verses two through three, he’s telling the crowds and the disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat. So practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do for they preach, but do not practice.”

CK:
Yeah.

KB:
And I think this incident with Peter here in Galatians 2 should be read in light of Jesus’s teaching that there are some who are in authority who may not do what they preach, believe what they preach because they have the authority to do so, but don’t do what they’re doing if they’re falling short of what they’re preaching.

CK:
Yeah.

KB:
And this is exactly what’s going on with Peter. So even in Jesus’s mind, in reference to the authorities in the old covenant-

CK:
Right.

KB:
… Can have legitimate authority, but yet fail in their behavior.

CK:
Yeah.

KB:
But in no way take away from their teaching authority.

CK:
No. He says, “You still got follow them.”

KB:
That’s right.

CK:
Yeah.

KB:
And so, the same principle can be applied to Peter here. Now of course, we have other examples. We have the example of Caiaphas, the high priest in John 11, 49 through 52. As immoral as he was and setting out to kill Jesus, John tells us that he prophesied because he was high priest that year. And when he said, “You know nothing at all. You don’t understand that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people and that the whole nation should not perish.” And John says, “He didn’t say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for the nation.” Right?

CK:
Yeah.

KB:
So as immoral as Caiaphas was-

CK:
He still had the power of prophecy.

KB:
… He still had the authority, right?

CK:
Yeah.

KB:
As high priest to proclaim that prophecy. So, those are just a couple of examples that show that even though an authoritative figure is immoral, it doesn’t follow that they somehow are robbed of his authority.

CK:
But doesn’t just the fact that Paul rebukes Peter suggest that Peter is not a person of high authority? Do you see what I’m saying? Just the fact that Paul rebukes him, doesn’t that tell us something about Peter’s position, that his position isn’t that high?

KB:
Well, it tells us something.

CK:
Okay.

KB:
The question is what.

CK:
Okay.

KB:
So one possible option or answer would be, it tells us that his position is not of higher rank, that Paul somehow has more authority than Peter.

CK:
Right.

KB:
Or, it possibly could tell us something else, namely, that Peter actually does have a special place of preeminence among the 12 within the first century Church. And rather than the rebuke undermining Peter’s authority, many scholars see the rebuke as pointing to Peter’s authority.

CK:
Okay.

KB:
So, even Protestants affirm this. For example, Protestant scholars Albright and Mann in their commentary on Matthew in the Anchor Bible Commentary, they say this: “To deny the preeminent position of Peter among the disciples or in the early Christian community is a denial of the evidence. The interest in Peter’s failures and vacillations doesn’t detract from the preeminence. Rather, it emphasizes it. Had Peter been a lesser figure, his behavior would have been of far less consequence.”

So, the idea is this: why would Paul waste the precious space on the papyri that he’s writing on and the ink that he’s using in order to tell us about this rebuke of Peter, if Peter didn’t have all that much authority in the early Church, right?

CK:
Right.

KB:
What if he was just a common Joe among the other apostles? So, that Paul makes the effort to record this rebuke. It’s like, “Man, this is a big thing and you need to know about it?” Right?

CK:
And it does read like that too. It’s like, “I said, ‘Write to Peter.'” That’s kind of how it reads.

KB:
Yeah. The actual quote is this: in Verse 11, Paul says, “But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he stood condemned.” That’s very strong language.

CK:
Well, that’s Paul. That’s how he talks.

KB:
Right.

CK:
But “I opposed him to his face” makes it seem like that’s a big deal to talk to this guy to his face.

KB:
Yup. So rather than it undermining Peter’s authority, I would argue that it actually points to Peter’s authority. And here’s another interesting thing Cy, and I have this in this chapter in my book as an afterthought, think about this: if our Protestant friends want to blame Peter for unnecessary compliance to Jewish law, and somehow that undermines or takes away from his authority for the sake of facilitating relations in the church, right? Well then, we’re going to have to blame Paul.

CK:
I know. Poor Timothy. Is that where you’re going?

KB:
Yeah. That’s right. That’s right. Because Paul had Timothy circumcised for the sake of peace in Acts Chapter 16, Verse Three. So notice, the logic of the challenge seems to suggest because Peter is conceding to the pressures of the Jewish Christians there, he somehow doesn’t have that authority that Catholics say he has.

CK:
Right.

KB:
Well, if we’re going to follow that logic, we’re going to have to undermine or take away Paul’s authority.

CK:
Right.

KB:
Because Paul concedes as well to keep peace within the Church and having Timothy circumcised. So, the sword here from the challenge, it’s a double edged sword. It can actually cut both ways.

CK:
Right.

KB:
We can actually turn the table on our Protestant friend. So yes, Peter rebukes Peter, but it doesn’t follow from that that Peter somehow is not infallible or that Peter somehow doesn’t have the authority that Catholics say he has. So, the challenge has no persuasive force whatsoever.

CK:
And we actually see that in the history of the papacy too. People stand up to the Pope.

KB:
Amen.

CK:
People tell the Pope, “You’re wrong.” I mean, one of our greatest saints, really one of the greatest saints in the history of the Church is Catherine of Siena who her whole mission was to go to the Pope and say, “You’re wrong.”

KB:
That’s right.

CK:
“Go back to Rome.”

KB:
Amen. “Get your heinie back to Rome, Jack.”

CK:
Yeah. Right. Right. So in other words, this rebuke of Peter, if anything, the telling of it suggests the importance of Peter.

KB:
Right.

CK:
If you go, “Oh, I went and rebuked Fred who nobody knows.” You wouldn’t write about that.

KB:
That’s right. Why even record that sort of rebuke?

CK:
Right.

KB:
But if you’re going to go and rebuke the President of the United States, you’re going to write about it in your memoirs or somebody else is going to write about it.

CK:
But it also tells us a lot about what Jesus conferring of authority means and doesn’t mean.

KB:
That’s correct.

CK:
Just because a person has authority-

KB:
Doesn’t mean he’s going to be all holy.

CK:
… A good person. That’s right. I mean, I’m not saying Peter’s not a good person because Peter’s clearly a saintly person, but this shows us that there’s no guarantee of that.

KB:
That is correct.

CK:
That we’ve had un-saintly Popes and Bishops.

KB:
The guarantee of infallibility applies to the teaching ministry of those in authority who constitute what we call the Magisterium, that Christ and the Holy Spirit will protect these legitimate teachers, successors to the apostles, the Bishops united to the Bishop of Rome, that the Holy Spirit will protect them in teaching the truth of God’s revelation in those things intrinsically related to it. When they put it forward in a definitive way, the Holy Spirit is going to protect it because this is a proclamation. This is the official teaching of Jesus Christ. This is the truth. Whenever the Church is going to say something, that it is true in an irreformable manner, we have the guarantee that the Holy Spirit’s going to protect the Church so that we can know that is the truth.

CK:
I want to give you a counter to this whole thing from two very famous Protestant scholars.

KB:
Okay.

CK:
Geisler and Mackenzie.

KB:
Yes.

CK:
Okay? And they say in their book, Roman Catholics and Evangelical Agreements and Differences.

KB:
Yeah.

CK:
Okay? “It’s difficult to exonerate Peter from the charge that he lead believers astray, something the infallible pastor of the Church would never do.”

KB:
Stop right there. That’s an assumption that we would challenge, right? Because infallibility doesn’t entail that the pastors are going to lead the flock astray, at least in their behavior. So already, we have some problems here.

CK:
Okay. And then they go on to say, “The Catholic response that Peter was only infallible in his ex-catheter words and not in his actions rings hollow when we remember that actions speak louder than words.”

KB:
All right. Yeah. So think about this, Cy. Notice the logic embedded in the objection. The response is Peter’s only infallible… So, okay. Peter’s only infallible when he’s teaching definitively on faith and morals, right?

CK:
Yeah.

KB:
Now, Geisler and Mackenzie are saying, “Well, that’s hollow, empty words because actions speak louder than words.” Okay. So, let’s apply that logic to something else. Let’s apply that logic to the Gospel writers. They are only inspired in as much as they were writing the Gospel text.

CK:
Yeah.

KB:
Does it follow from that that actions speak louder than words?

CK:
Yeah. What if Mark was a jerk to somebody?

KB:
That’s right. That’s right. So, even Geisler and Mackenzie would agree that the Gospel writers were only inspired in writing the scriptural text. And outside of that, they were not, and they could goof up in immoral ways, right?

CK:
Sure. Yeah.

KB:
So, should we respond to that with their words and say, “Oh well, Peter was only infallible when writing scripture and not his actions. And therefore, that rings hollow when we remember that actions speak louder than words?”

CK:
Yeah.

KB:
Of course, no. They’re not going to agree with that, right?

CK:
Right.

KB:
So, the logic embedded in that counter or that objection actually cuts both ways. It brings down too much because it can be applied to Peter writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, right? And so, this just gets back once again to that difference between infallibility doesn’t entail perfect holiness, right?

CK:
Yeah.

KB:
The one who is infallible and protected by the Holy Spirit in this situation can still goof up behaviorally-speaking, just like Peter protected by the Holy Spirit being inspired and writing scripture can at the same time still goof up, behaviorally-speaking.

CK:
Right. And then, as you were saying that, you can actually see it in practice over 2000 years, that we have 2000 years of Popes who have gone from really saintly holy to just petty, vein creatures.

KB:
That’s right. And not only petty vein creatures, but immoral creatures, right?

CK:
Yeah. Yeah, sure. Right. But none of them have contradicted in their teaching the sacred deposit of the faith. Not a single one of them has ever declared as true-

KB:
There you go.

CK:
… Something that is false-

KB:
That’s right.

CK:
… As far as the central deposit of faith. So, the Holy Spirit has kept his promise, in other words.

KB:
Yeah. So, we could appeal to the history of the papacy-

CK:
Right.

KB:
… As an argument for the gift of infallibility that over the past 2000 years of all the Popes that we’ve had, including the immoral ones, no Pope has ever set forth a teaching in an infallible manner, like meeting all the conditions of infallibility, that contradicted a prior infallibly set forth teaching.

CK:
They never did it for 2000 years.

KB:
You don’t have one example. You might have examples of a Pope teaching something in a non-infallible way, right?

CK:
Right.

KB:
And then, the Church later coming and contradicting that and saying, “No, that was wrong.” And setting it forth then in an infallible manner and thus, we have an infallible teaching. Or you might have the common teaching of the Church that’s non infallible and then later, you might have a different teaching of the Church that’s non-infallible that may contradict each other. But notice in neither of these situations, do you have an infallible teaching being reformed or contradicted by another teaching set forth in an infallible way.

CK:
Yeah.

KB:
You won’t find it in the history of the Church.

CK:
Right. Right. And so, you see this organization today that stands for life in the midst of a culture of death, that stands for marriage in a world that’s forgotten the value of marriage, that stands for mercy in a merciless world and you go, “Yeah. The Lord kept his promise.”

KB:
Amen to that.

CK:
“The Holy Spirit kept”… I like it, Karlo. I like it very much.

KB:
Well, cool. I’m glad you like it because I’m glad you are Catholic.

CK:
I am too. I am too. Meeting The Protestant Challenge is Karlo’s latest book. How to Answer 50 Biblical Objections To Catholic Beliefs. You will find this one in there along with 49 other great challenges. And one of the things that I say to Karlo and I never tire of repeating it is, it always impresses me how respectful you are of the Protestant interlocutor, that you say, “That’s a serious objection. I’ve got to take that objection seriously. Here’s the Catholic response.”

CK:
So, I will recommend that to both Protestants and Catholics, Karlo’s book, Meeting The Protestant Challenge. You can get that at shop.catholic.com or wherever you get your books.

Thank you again, Karlo.

KB:
Thank you, Cy. It was a joy.

CK:
And thank you to our listeners. We love having you here at Catholic Answers Focus. We hope you’ll share it. Give us a five star review. Would you just give us the five stars? It really helps to grow this apostolate and this podcast. We’ll see you next time, God willing right here on Catholic Answers Focus.

Enjoying this content?  Please support our mission! Donate