Sunday, November 23, 2014

Peter Is Always Listed First

…except when he isn't.

"Paul…Apollos…Cephas…Christ" (1 Corinthians 1:12)

"the rest of the apostles…the brothers of the Lord…Cephas" (1 Corinthians 9:5)

"James…Cephas…John" (Galatians 2:9)

Catholics often argue for the papacy by citing Peter's position at the beginning of lists of the disciples in the gospels and Acts (Matthew 10:1-4, Mark 3:13-9, Luke 6:12-6, Acts 1:13). But why cite those lists and not others, like the ones I've quoted above? And why think that Peter's position in the lists represents his rank in the church? During the times being addressed by the four passages in the gospels and Acts, there was no system of church government as we have in churches today. And two of the most prominent apostles, James and Paul, weren't apostles yet (at the time of three of the lists for James and at the time of all four for Paul). James was an apostle at the time of Acts 1, but the passage in question is addressing the earlier disciples of Jesus, not all of the apostles, which, once again, underscores the limited significance of the list. Why should we think that Peter's position in lists about the pre-Pentecost era reflect the jurisdictional rank of Peter and his alleged successors throughout church history?

The four lists in the gospels and Acts consistently have Peter first and Judas last, except for the list in Acts, in which Judas is irrelevant, but the lists are inconsistent in the middle. Why is Judas consistently last? Because he had the lowest church office, with less jurisdiction than the other disciples? No, he's probably listed last because of his bad character and bad behavior. Similarly, there could be one or more non-papal reasons for listing Peter first.

If somebody asks you who you remember most from high school, you may think of your best friend at the time, your worst enemy, or a good teacher you had, for example. There are many potential reasons why somebody comes to mind.

In their disciple lists, Matthew and Luke pair Peter and Andrew, whereas Mark doesn't. Most likely, Matthew and Luke pair the two because the next two listed, James and John, were also brothers. One pair of brothers reminded them of another. Something that insignificant, which has nothing to do with the ranking of church offices, can affect how a list is composed. Likewise, given Peter's leadership qualities, such as his outspokenness, impulsiveness, and willingness to take risks, it's easy to see him standing out in people's minds without the involvement of any papal office.

There are some ways Catholics could attempt to get around the passages I quoted at the opening of this post. I'll address those potential counterarguments below. But even if we accepted those counterarguments, what I've outlined above demonstrates that Peter's alleged papal authority would remain unproven even if he consistently had the position in lists that Catholics claim he had.

What if 1 Corinthians 1:12 is listing individuals in ascending order, so that Peter had the highest rank below Christ? That's doubtful, given that Apollos would then be above Paul. In 1 Corinthians 3:4-6, Paul changes the order between Apollos and himself from one verse to another. And any appeal to alleged Pauline humility to explain Paul's position in the list of 1 Corinthians 1:12 wouldn't explain why Paul so often mentions himself first, such as in the passage I cited above from 1 Corinthians 3. It's doubtful that Apollos would be above Paul in an ascending list, and it's doubtful that humility led Paul to place himself below Apollos. Most likely, the list in 1 Corinthians 1:12 isn't placing the individuals in an order of authority.

Similarly, Peter's last position in 1 Corinthians 9:5 can't be explained by an appeal to ascending authority. It would be ridiculous to argue that the brothers of the Lord had more authority than the apostles.

What if Galatians 2:9 has Peter in the center (the second of three) because of his central authority? I doubt that Catholics would accept that reasoning when it comes to a passage like 1 Corinthians 9:5 or 1 Thessalonians 1:1.

If papal authority is supposed to be implied by coming first in a list, by coming last, and by being in the middle, doesn't that sort of argumentation prove anything and, thus, really prove nothing? If Peter had actually been a Pope, Catholics most likely wouldn't have to resort to the kind of argumentation they've been left with.

If you want some examples of Biblical passages that truly reflect the ranking of the apostles, go to 1 Corinthians 12:28, Ephesians 2:20, and Revelation 21:14. The apostles are equals who, together, possess the highest rank in the church.

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