November 6, 2009
volume 20, no. 310
St. Paul Rebukes St. Peter

Backgrounder on 2 Thessalonians 2: 6-7


Stephen Grieve

    Editor's Note: Stephen hails from across the pond in England and has agreed to provide interesting articles that should stir the sensibilities of those who continue to elude the inevitability that a true pope would never and could never do what the conciliar leaders in Rome have done for the past 50 years. Steve continues a multi-part series on proving the basis for a sede vacante stance based on holy Scripture itself. Thus the title of his columns, "Our Scriptural Roots", all based on the divine Word; the same Word Who was made flesh, suffered and died for us, all prophesied in the Old Testament. Steve continues his treatise on the meaning of St. Paul's words in 2 Thessalonians 2: 6-7, turning to more background on this by focusing on the whys and wherefores of Paul's deliberate calling Peter out on the matter of Jewish customs no longer having effect in reinforcing Our Lord's stance on this. Despite Peter's primacy, which is fully recognized and respected by Paul, he rebukes Cephas for that very reason and for the Church. This is reinforced by none other than the holy Doctor of the Church St. Jerome.

      11 But when Cephas was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. 12 For before that some came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them who were of the circumcision. 13 And to his dissimulation the rest of the Jews consented, so that Barnabas also was led by them into that dissimulation (Galatians 2: 11-13)

    It is noteworthy is the fact that St. Luke, who was St. Paul's disciple and friend, omits this incident recorded in Galatians 2: 11-13 altogether. Equally noteworthy is that he shows Paul himself practicing the very 'dissemblance' that Paul accuses St. Peter of. (See St. Jerome's comments, below.)

    The ancient Antiochan tradition says that, before going to Rome (circa AD 41-43) St. Peter ministered there for 7 years commencing as early as 34 AD. We are not to imagine Peter stationed in Antioch for all that time but that he was there on and off over the course of 7 years. We also know from Acts that Paul was in Antioch, with Peter, around 37 AD. The incident Paul related in Galatians may well date back to this time. In fact if we read the account carefully it has all the hallmarks of being a story that has matured over the course of some years in the author's mind. Don't get me wrong: the 'withstanding' is real enough; but is it likely that Paul would have preached to Peter in the manner we see him doing in 2:14b-21?

    I think the sermon, as such, is put in here primarily to justify why Paul had to withstand Peter. But Peter was as aware of the importance of the Gentile mission as Paul was ,and he had no need of a sermon as such. The 'rebuke' cannot have been after the Council of Jerusalem since shortly afterwards the edicts of that council had been published to the churches and had been received with joy, and Antioch is especially mentioned as one of them.

    Let's review this:

      11a But when Cephas was come to Antioch…

        Paul and Barnabas were in Antioch before Peter arrived. However, Peter was not just visiting since Paul later says that 'before certain men from James arrived' (visiting) Peter 'used to eat with the Gentiles' (the imperfect sunesthio, denoting continuing action in the past). Peter had been around for a while (and this accords with the Antiochan church tradition).

      11b I withstood him to the face

        Paul, as we said, was still pretty much a 'junior' at that time. In fact he was not yet even called Paul but was Saul. For him to 'withstand' Cephas Rock 'to the face' denotes a certain boldness. It is even more than if a recent convert, or one who had only recently become active in the Church, said 'And I withstood the Holy Father to his face!'. The immediate reaction would be 'Who do you think you are to do that!' Paul has deliberately chosen the rendition Cephas, and not Peter, here to underline Peter's superior rank and his, Saul's, own audacity.

      13 And to his dissimulation the rest of the Jews consented, so that Barnabas also was led by them into that dissimulation.

        Interesting. Despite the fact that Barnabas was St. Paul's disciple and shared with him the same largesse towards the Gentiles, the mere presence and action of St. Peter makes him behave differently. Paul is shocked: 'even Barnabas, the last one I would have thought!'

    I think St. Paul may well have been 'put out' by St. Peter's unquestioned authority, especially when he had had to - and was to - work so hard in establishing his own which had been given directly by Christ without the medium of Peter or 'any man'. And especially when Peter's actions appeared to undermine not only Paul's teaching but even his own (Peter's) teaching.


Extreme Interpretation (Protestant)

    The incident shows that Paul had little time for any pretended 'Petrine Primacy'. If Peter's example had carried the day, the very identity of the Church would have been put at risk. The text shows that neither Peter nor any of his pretended 'successors' can lay any claim to 'infallibility'.

    The Catholic may accept that Paul roundly rebuked Peter, i.e. a reading 'as is'. Peter may have set a bad example, and sinned in doing so. But since it did not involve actual teaching affecting the whole Church the incident does not detract from Peter's primacy or authority. It just shows that, on this particular occasion, he was weak. The arguments the Protestants bring against the Papacy, using this text, fall flat.

The Modified Interpretation (usual Catholic)

    The following is an excerpt from Carsten Theide's Rekindling the Word: In Search of Gospel Truth, 68 - 71, titled: "St. Peter, A New Approach to Biography." I believe Theide is actually Greek Orthodox.

        "The different situation required flexibility in the application of the Jerusalem decision. Peter at first sided with the gentile Christians… Yet he then gave in to those who 'came from James' (Gal 2:12) showing the diplomatic skills expected from a 'rock' and 'shepherd' by turning to the Jews - probably for the duration of the stay of James' people - who were his 'responsibility' anyway. In this way he managed to please both parties and avert the threat of a possible split. Barnabas, the old expert on Antioch (Acts 11:22-24) who had proved his diplomatic skills earlier (in favour of Paul, Acts 9:27) sides with Peter (Gal 2:13). Whilst this can be re-constructed in Peter's favour from Paul's sharp attack, Paul's behaviour can also be understood. In his view Peter's action was a betrayal of the Gentile Christians for who he himself had taken special responsibility. He even feared that Peter's example might force them now to join Jewish Christians with all the consequences (Gal 2:14). There is also the question in the background as to whether, when dealing with 'the truth of the Gospel', one has to walk an unalterable path (Paul), or whether one may show some flexibility in the context of the situation (Peter and Barnabas). It was thus that Peter's understanding of his office was tested in the most decisive manner. The people of Antioch obviously decided in favour of Peter. Soon thereafter Paul leaves the city and returns only once, on his way to Galatia (Acts 18:22). Peter stays, possibly for another seven years (Dockx). Paul suffered a defeat here (Dunn), which he realized later and in 1 Cor. 9:20-22 works into his teaching (Tertullian, Adv. Marc. 1.20). Thus this episode and its consequences would be a sign of the stature of both apostles in terms of their ability to learn and grow. Paul v. Peter in Antioch, Galatians 2."

    The modified interpretation, then, holds that that it was not a question of hypocrisy in the strict sense, but rather of risky indiscretion caused by diplomatic manoeuvring.

The Patristic Interpretation (as expounded by St. Jerome)

    This is the most ancient interpretation and one which Catholics should study more carefully than they usually have. It was expounded 500 years before the Schism with the East, and 1,000 years before the Protestant heresy so there is no partisan axe to grind. Quotes are taken from

    Saint Jerome quoting Galatians 1:18; 2:1-2 writes,

       "No one can doubt, therefore, that the Apostle Peter was himself the author of that rule with deviation from which he is charged. The cause of that deviation, moreover, is seen to be fear of the Jews. For the Scripture says, that 'at first he did eat with the Gentiles, but that when certain had come from James he withdrew, and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision.' Now he feared the Jews, to whom he had been appointed apostle, lest by occasion of the Gentiles they should go back from the faith in Christ; imitating the Good Shepherd in his concern lest he should lose the flock committed to him."

        Peter, like the Good Shepherd, was going to those who were weak in their faith out of fear that he might lose them. Peter knew that he could clarify things to the Gentiles later. It seems as though Paul, in anticipation of what he knew would be Peter's response, provided Peter with an opportunity to clarify his position to the Gentiles. Paul did this by "rebuking" him, in a figurative sense, because he was wrong, if his actions were to be understood that the ceremonial laws were still binding.

        If a person takes the words literally and says "Yes, Peter was wrong" he is faced with several examples in Paul's own ministry for which there would be no valid explanation.

        Saint Jerome writes, "As I have shown, therefore, that Peter was thoroughly aware of the abrogation of the law of Moses, but was compelled by fear to pretend to observe it, let us now see whether Paul, who accuses another, ever did anything of the same kind himself." He then quotes Acts 16:1-3 "He (Paul) reached (also) Derbe and Lystra where there was a disciple named Timothy… and Paul wanted him to come along with him. On account of the Jews of that region, Paul had him circumcised, for they all knew that his father was a Greek" adding:

      "O blessed Apostle Paul, who has rebuked Peter for dissimulation, because he withdrew himself from the Gentiles through fear of the Jews…James, why art thou, notwithstanding thine own doctrine, compelled to circumcise Timothy… a Gentile himself …? Thou wilt answer, 'Because of the Jews which are in these quarters?' If, then, thou forgiveth thyself the circumcision of a disciple coming from the Gentiles, forgive Peter also, who has precedence above thee, his doing some observances (Ed. though not circumcision!) through fear of the believing Jews."

        Quoting Acts 18:18 where Paul cuts his hair in accordance to the Nazirite vow, Jerome comments:

      "Be it granted that he was compelled through fear of the Jews in the other case to do what he was unwilling to do; wherefore did he let his hair grow in accordance with a vow of his own making, and afterwards, when in Cenchrea, shave his head according to the law, as the Nazirite, who had given themselves by vow to God, were wont to do, according to the law of Moses?"

    He also quotes Acts 21: 18-26 where Paul gives instructions for four men to have their heads shaved, which was according to the Nazirite vow, and then purified himself with them and made an offering in the temple, all in accordance with the Old Covenant ceremonial laws. Acts 21:18-26:

      "And the day following, Paul went in with us unto James; and all the ancients were assembled. Whom when he had saluted, he related particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry. But they hearing it, glorified God, and said to him: Thou seest, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews that have believed: and they are all zealous for the law. Now they have heard of thee that thou teachest those Jews, who are among the Gentiles, to depart from Moses: saying, that they ought not to circumcise their children, nor walk according to the custom. What is it therefore? the multitude must needs come together: for they will hear that thou art come. Do therefore this that we say to thee. We have four men, who have a vow on them. Take these, and sanctify thyself with them: and bestow on them, that they may shave their heads: and all will know that the things which they have heard of thee, are false; but that thou thyself also walkest keeping the law. But as touching the Gentiles that believe, we have written, decreeing that they should only refrain themselves from that which has been offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangles, and from fornication. Then Paul took the men, and the next day being purified with them, entered into the temple, giving notice of the accomplishment of the days of purification, until an oblation should be offered for every one of them."

    Commenting on this passage Jerome says,

    "Paul, here again let me question thee: Why didst thou shave thy head, why didst thou walk barefoot according to I (the) Jewish ceremonial law, why didst thou offer sacrifices, why were victims slain for thee according to the law? Thou wilt answer, doubtless, 'To avoid giving offense to those of the Jews who had believed.' To gain the Jews, thou didst pretend to be a Jew; and James and all the other elders taught thee this dissimulation. But thou didst not succeed in escaping, after all. For when thou wast on the point of being killed in a tumult which had arisen, thou wast rescued by the chief captain of the band, and was sent by him to Caesarea, guarded by a careful escort of soldiers, lest the Jews should kill thee as a dissembler, and a destroyer of the law; and from Caesarea coming to Rome, thou didst, in thine own hired house, preach Christ to both Jews and Gentiles, and thy testimony was sealed under Nero's sword."

    The Doctor continues:

        "We have learned, therefore, that through fear of the Jews both Peter and Paul alike pretended that they observed the precepts of the law. How could Paul have the assurance and effrontery to reprove in another what he had done himself? I at least, or, I should rather say, others before me, have given such explanation of the matter as they deemed best, not defending the use of falsehood in the interest of religion, as you charge them with doing, but teaching the honourable exercise of a wise discretion; seeking both to show the wisdom of the apostles, and to restrain the shameless blasphemies of Porphyry, who says that Peter and Paul quarrelled with each other in childish rivalry, and affirms that Paul had been inflamed with envy on account of the excellences of Peter, and had written boastfully of things which he either had not done, or, if he did them, had done with inexcusable presumption, reproving in another that which he himself had done. They, in answering him, gave the best interpretation of the passage which they could find; what interpretation have you to propound ? Surely you must intend to say something better than they have said, since you have rejected the opinion of the ancient commentators."

    (Chapter 4, section 12) "You say in your letter: 'You do not require me to teach you in what sense the apostle says, "To the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews;" ' and other such things in the same passage, which are to be ascribed to the compassion of pitying love, not to the artifices of intentional deceit. For he that ministers to the sick becomes as if he were sick himself, not indeed falsely pretending to be under the fever, but considering with the mind of one truly sympathizing what he would wish done for himself if he were in the sick man's place. Paul was indeed a Jew; and when he had become a Christian, he had not abandoned those Jewish sacraments which that people had received in the right way, and for certain appointed time. Therefore, even when he was an apostle of Christ, he took part in observing these, but with this view, that he might show that they were in no wise hurtful to those who, even after they had believed in Christ, desired to retain the ceremonies which by the law they had learned from their fathers; provided only that they did not build on these their hope of salvation, since the salvation which was foreshadowed in these has now been brought in by the Lord Jesus."

        Jerome sums up his commentary in section 17 with:

      "…for I say that both Peter and Paul, through fear of the believing Jews, practiced, or rather pretended to practice, the precepts of the Jewish law; whereas you maintain that they did this out of pity, 'not with the subtlety of a deceiver, but with the sympathy of a compassionate deliverer.' But by both this is equally admitted, that (whether from fear or from pity) they pretended to be what they were not. As to your argument against our view, that he ought to have become to the Gentiles a Gentile, if to the Jews he became a Jew, this favours' our opinion rather than yours: for as he did not actually become a Jew, so he did not actually become a heathen; and as he did not actually become a heathen, so he did not actually become a Jew. His conformity to the Gentiles consisted in this, that he received as Christians the uncircumcised who believed in Christ, and left them free to use without scruple meats which the Jewish law prohibited; but not, as you suppose, in taking part in their worship of idols. For 'in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but the keeping of the commandments of God.'"

        At this point we must give the challenge that Jerome makes in section 4 of his letter. "If anyone be dissatisfied with the interpretation here given, by which it is shown that neither did Peter sin, nor did Paul rebuke presumptuously a greater than himself, he is bound to show how Paul could consistently blame in another what he himself did."

        However fiery and indignant Paul may have been at the time he wrote Galatians, by the time he wrote 1 Corinthians 9:20-23 he had certainly mellowed:

      "And I became to the Jews, a Jew, that I might gain the Jews: To them that are under the law, as if I were under the law, (whereas myself was not under the law,) that I might gain them that were under the law. To them that were without the law, as if I were without the law, (whereas I was not without the law of God, but was in the law of Christ,) that I might gain them that were without the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might gain the weak. I became all things to all men, that I might save all. And I do all things for the gospel's sake: that I may be made partaker thereof."

The Question of 1 Corinthians 1:12-13

      12 Now this I say, that every one of you saith: I indeed am of Paul; and I am of Apollo; and I am of Cephas; and I of Christ. 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul then crucified for you? or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

    It is objected that this text does not permit any idea of Petrine Primacy. Not so. While there is a clear message against partisanship, Paul was addressing the divisions in Corinth at the time and not leadership in the Church as such. He said there was no Church of Peter, Paul or Apollos, but only the one Church of Christ.

    Firstly, who was Apollos? Why should his name crop up here?

    Apollos (a Jewish Christian from Alexandria), is mentioned several times in both Corinthians (1 Cor. 3:6, 4:6, 16:12) and Acts (18:24-28). He was an important member of the Corinthian congregation, especially known for his eloquence in presenting Christian doctrine. Paul thought highly of him.

    It is not at all surprising that we find his name here. We can quite easily see how there was a 'party' who perhaps preferred Apollos' preaching to Paul's, and who were perhaps jostling to ascribe him greater authority than he had.

    The real question is: How is it that Peter (or, rather, Cephas) is mentioned? Why should there be this mention of the Rock when Peter has no recorded connection with Corinth (unlike Antioch which proudly records his stay)? Peter may have visited Corinth but he did not evangelise it and any stay there was probably brief. Yet the text demonstrates that there was a group there especially devoted to him, at the expense of Paul, who they knew very well.

    Peter's reputation as Rock goes before him. The text in fact implies that Peter is the (delegated) head of the Church but that his leadership may not be invoked to cause dissension or disunity. The doctrine of Peter, Paul and Apollos is one and united in Christ, Who is the Supreme Head of the entire Mystical Body, in Heaven and on earth.


    In the part six, I shall hopefully demonstrate that, given the extreme importance attached to the primacy and person of St. Peter, the First Generation deliberately shrouded his movements (particularly when in Rome) from the authorities; and that we can detect this 'secret' in St. Luke, St. Paul, and St. Peter's writings. This will confirm why St. Paul had to withhold the identity of the Restrainer, Katechon, and why later generations lost the key to interpreting 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7 satisfactorily.

Stephen Grieve

Next: Part Six: The 'Secret' Common to St. Luke (Acts), St. Paul (2 Thessalonians/ Romans) and St. Peter (2 Peter) - Further Background on 2 Thessalonians 2: 6-7

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