Many evangelicals are under the false impression that Roman Catholicism teaches the genuine Gospel, albeit with lots of quirky traditions. However, Catholic apologists are quite upfront about the irreconcilable differences between Catholicism and Bible Christianity, including the unbridgeable differences regarding HOW a person is saved. Today, we (finally) kick off our series responding to “Meeting the Protestant Challenge: How to Answer 50 Biblical Objections to Catholic Beliefs” (2019), written by Catholic apologist, Karlo Broussard. We will be answering Broussard’s arguments in the order they are presented. His first six arguments involve the subject of “church hierarchy and authority” and today we will look at Broussard’s attempts to refute the Protestant assertion that “James Led the Council” of Jerusalem.
Broussard begins by noting that Gospel Christians cite Acts 15 to prove that the apostle James presided over the Council of Jerusalem rather than Peter, thus debunking the Catholic doctrines of Petrine primacy and the papacy. The papacy is a foundational pillar of Roman Catholicism. Without the pope as its guiding teaching authority, Roman Catholicism ceases to exist. However, the New Testament does not support Catholicism’s claims for Petrine apostolic primacy and the papal office, and quite often contradicts them. Acts 15 describes the apostolic Council of Jerusalem (circa 50 AD), which decreed that Gentile Christians did not have to observe the Mosaic Law of the Jews. A clear reading of the text indicates that the apostle, James, the half-brother of Jesus, presided over the council, but such an interpretation contradicts the Catholic claims for Petrine primacy; the notion that Peter was pope and preeminent in status over the other apostles.
How does Broussard respond? In the course of the council dialogue, Peter initially defends the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, apart from obedience to the Law, followed by Paul and Barnabas, with a concluding judgement by James. Broussard attacks the interpretation of James as rendering the concluding judgement by appealing to the original Greek text. Firstly, he argues that the imperative form of “listen” used by James in his opening statement in Acts 15:13, “Brothers, listen (akousate) to me,” doesn’t necessarily connote authority in all cases. But in the context of the passage, it certainly does. Broussard next turns to Acts 15:19, where James declares his final judgement: “Therefore my judgment (krínō) is…” Broussard asserts that the Greek root word, krínō, means “opinion,” but the word is largely used throughout the New Testament in the sense of a formal decision. The Greek word, dokeō, and derivatives are used elsewhere in the NT for “opinion.” Broussard’s attempts at textual slight-of-hand fall flat.
As with apologists of other pseudo-Christian sects, Broussard leap frogs over Bible passages that clearly refute his case. Subsequently, in Acts 21:17-18, Luke relates, “When we had come to Jerusalem, the brothers received us gladly. On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present.” Approximately eight years after the Council of Jerusalem, James is still the presiding elder (not pope!) of the Jerusalem church, but Broussard underhandedly omits this important passage.
Rome’s claims for the Petrine papacy rest largely on Catholicism’s interpretation of Matthew 16:18-19, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church,” but several early church fathers, including Augustine, interpreted this passage to mean Jesus would build his church upon Peter’s earlier declaration, that Jesus was the Messiah/Christ. If Jesus had granted Peter apostolic primacy in Matthew 16:18-19, then why did James and John, through their mother, request apostolic primacy later on in Matthew 20:20-28? If Peter was pope, why didn’t Paul mention this alleged fact in any of his epistles?
It’s quite ironic that Broussard focuses on Acts 15 in the opening chapter of his book, because it’s at the Council of Jerusalem that Peter, Paul, Barnabas, and James argue AGAINST the very type of anti-Gospel, religious legalism that would later become part and parcel of the Roman church. History reveals that the bishops of Rome gradually consolidated their power over the centuries, and in their ascendancy, emulated the imperial model of the secular Caesars.
It’s so important to be aware that Broussard and other contemporary conservative Catholic apologists at Catholic Answers and EWTN present their case for Petrine primacy and the papal office under extremely difficult and trying circumstances. In 1870, the Catholic church declared its popes to be infallible in matters vital to faith and morals. Catholic apologists of the past boasted that popes were incapable of leading the RC church into error. However, the current pope, Francis, has changed two cherished Catholic doctrines thought to be unchangeable by quietly lifting the ban on communion for remarried divorcees and by allowing communion to non-Catholic spouses at the discretion of local bishops. Many conservative Catholic leaders are advising their followers to ignore Francis’ changes and some are even calling him a heretic. Will Broussard have the courage and honesty to acknowledge the current crisis within Catholicism over Francis’ controversial papacy in the next five chapters dealing with authority? Methinks not.
Among other resources, including “The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary” and “The Strongest NIV Exhaustive Concordance,” I’m indebted to the sermon transcription below from John MacArthur and Grace to You regarding James and the Council of Jerusalem:
James: The Brother of Our Lord
Thanks for beginning this long series with me!
Next up: “No Other Foundation but Jesus”