Dr IAN ELMER…
In our lead commentary today Dr Ian Elmer is looking at the nature of St Paul's legacy. In recent days, Benedict was seeking to play down the controversial side of Paul's leadership. That has prompted Dr Elmer to examine in closer detail the relationship between Paul and Peter and the issue of where Paul stood in relation to the authority or primacy of Peter.
Understanding the primacy of Peter through the eyes of Paul…
Over the last few weeks we have been exploring some of the ways in which Paul's understanding of Christianity differed from that of the Jerusalem Apostles. I would not want to give the impression that Paul did not recognise the authority of the Jerusalem church and, in particular, the primacy of Peter. Still, it may be salutary for us today to consider what deference Paul felt was due Peter and the apostolic circle; such a study may throw significant light upon the way we construe authority in the modern Church.
Paul's earliest association with forms of the Christian movement other than that of the Hellenists' Law-free variety was extremely limited. Even by his own admission it was not until three years after his call that he made his way to Jerusalem to consult with Peter, James and the others in Jerusalem, whom he designates as "those who were Apostles before me" (Gal 1:18).
The priority of Peter is confirmed by Paul's account of this meeting in Galatians (1:18), which suggests that at the time Peter was still recognised as the leading authority at Jerusalem. Paul stayed fifteen days with Peter, and met with none of the other Apostles "except" Jesus' brother James (1:18-19).
The later part of the statement appears ambiguous. Some scholars have suggested that Paul's reference to having not seen any of the other Apostles except James indicates that, even at this early stage, the circle of the Twelve had completely disappeared, leaving Peter as the sole leader of the church (Schmithals, 1965; 80-81). But this need not be the case.
Paul's concern was to stress that the meeting was a private affair between himself and Peter. Paul asserts that his first visit to Jerusalem was merely to get "acquainted" with Peter (1:18). He did not meet with the whole church, let alone the full college of Apostles.
Moreover, such was the fleeting nature of Paul's visit that he implies (Gal 1:21-22) that the majority of the Jerusalem church would not have even recognised his face if they had encountered him on the street. We cannot, therefore, draw any firm conclusions regarding the presence of the Twelve or the extent of their authority during this first visit to Jerusalem.
Paul does not tell us what transpired at his initial meeting with Peter and James. But it does not stretch the bounds of reason to assume that he would have received some form of instruction during his fifteen-day stay. Despite his protestations to the contrary, Paul is certainly beholden to the original tradents of the Christian message.
There are numerous places in his letters where Paul demonstrates an awareness of traditional material about Jesus' life and teachings, death, resurrection and post-resurrection appearances (e.g. 1 Thess 4:15; Gal 1:19; 4:4; 1 Cor 7:10; 9:14; 11:2, 23-25; 15:3-7; Rom 1:3). Even in Galatians, as H. D. Betz (1979) observes, Paul makes extensive use of early confessional and liturgical traditions (1:3-4; 2:16, 20; 3:13-14, 27-28; 4:4-5).
1 Corinthians 15:1-11…
Paul was willing to concede primacy to Peter and the Twelve as the first bearers and the guardians of the Jesus' traditions. In 1 Corinthians 15:11, Paul explicitly claims to preach the same message as that of the Jerusalem Apostles. Indeed, the whole passage in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 relates "traditions" about the resurrection that have been "passed on" to Paul from the first apostles.
What Paul will not concede, however, is that Peter has primacy over his mission. In 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, Paul describes his credentials as an apostle by a correlation with the Christophanies granted to Peter and the Twelve, James, and "all the Apostles" (15:5-7), appending his name to this traditional list of "Apostles" and witnesses to the resurrection.
What seems clear from this passage, and others in 1 Corinthians (1 Cor 1:10-17; 3:1-4:21; 9:2, 8-27; 15) and elsewhere in the Pauline corpus (Gal 1:18-2:14; 2 Cor 6:3-13; 11:23-33), is that Paul adheres to a collegial model of apostleship that views all apostles as having an equal status. Moreover, he challenges the Jerusalem Apostles and their agents to demonstrate genuine leadership (1 Cor 15:10). Paul is obviously on the defensive here.
Taking up the jibes of his adversaries…
The peculiar tone of his self-designation as "one untimely born" and "the least of the Apostles" (15:8-9) implies that he is taking up the jibes of his adversaries, who probably dismissed Paul's apostolic call as illegitimate and his claim to apostolic status as a usurpation of a title that belonged only to the original witnesses to Jesus' life, death and resurrection (Barrett, 1973: 344).
Against such claims Paul admits his lowly status, but augments this by protesting that by the grace of God he has worked harder than any of the official apostolic authorities so named in the foregoing list (15:9-10). This line of argument echoes his earlier statement in chapter 9 where he reminds the Corinthians that even if these "others" do not consider him an apostle, the Corinthian community itself is the "seal" of his apostleship (9:2).
For Paul, authority structures in the Church must be based on the principle of subsidiarity. Even within his own communities, local leaders were raised up and granted wide-ranging authority. And one's apostolic authority was limited to those communities for which one was directly responsible.
Paul revisits this argument again in 2 Corinthians (6:3-13; 11:23-33) where he catalogues the trials and tribulations he had experienced for the sake of his "children" (6:13). While he may not have called on the Corinthians to give him his due reward (2 Cor 2:17-18) by offering the gospel free of charge, he remains an apostle to them by virtue of his work amongst them.
Paul charges his opponents as "false apostles" (2 Cor 11:13) who have invaded his missionary territory (2 Cor 10:13-17) and who are merely, in his opinion, "peddling the word of God for profit" (2 Cor 2:17; cf. 11:7-12, 20). In effect, Paul is saying that the only usurper of the title apostle here is not he who planted this community but these others, because they have come attempting to share in the harvest (1 Cor 9:11-12).
Of course, the "false apostles" in Corinth are not to be confused with Peter and the Jerusalem community; but they were clearly claiming an authority that derives from Peter (1 Cor 1:12-13; 3:5-6). Paul's opponents may even have cited the story of Jesus naming Simon the "rock" upon which the Church was built (cf. Matt 16:18).
Collegiality and subsidiarity were the guiding principles for ecclesial polity…
In 1 Corinthians 3:1-23, Paul seems to have had Peter (Cephas), the "rock", in mind when he speaks of the impossibility of laying any "foundation" other than Jesus Christ (3:11) (Lüdemann 1989: 77-78). He clearly wants to draw a comparison between himself and his co-worker, Apollos, as the architect and builder, respectively, of the Corinthian community (3:3-10) on the one hand, and, on the other, "this man" who would destroy the community, analogically referred to as "God's Temple" (3:12-17).
Paul obviously has a specific person in mind, and he concludes his attack on this person by expressly grouping Cephas together with himself and Apollos as the men about whom the factional contenders were boasting (3:21-22). Similar disputes between Paul and the supporters of Peter are explicitly in view earlier in Galatians; and may also be implicit in later problems at Philippi and Rome. But, from our point of view in this series of reflections on the Year of St Paul, all of this would be in Paul's future.
Following his initial meeting with Cephas, Paul went to Syria and Cilicia (Gal 1:21), and it was probably at this time that he joined the community in Antioch. He did not return to Jerusalem until fourteen years later (Gal 2:1). And, one must imagine, that neither Peter nor the apostolic community in Jerusalem figured prominently in his ministry.
For Paul and the Antiochene community, collegiality and subsidiarity were the guiding principles for ecclesial polity. By following these principles it was possible to both recognise the primacy of Jesus' first disciples as the guardians of Tradition, while permitting variety in liturgical worship and missionary outreach.
Bibliography and Further Reading:
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©2008 Ian Elmer