Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Did St. Paul withstand St. Peter to his Face?

There is ample evidence to suggest that he did not - that the person he rebuked in this Biblical incident was not Simon Peter, but another “Cephas.”


     It is an almost universal assumption in today's Catholic world that St. Paul did in fact rebuke the first Pope to his face. As is written in Galatians 2:11: “But when Cephas was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.” This assumption is used to justify the concept that it is acceptable in extreme circumstances to publicly confront a Pope with what one believes to be his errors, and it is also an argument used to justify “resisting” the ordinances of a Pope. 
    However, while reading a short but well-documented biography of St. Peter, which I came across in an 1892 collection of Catholic writings, the following paragraph immediately struck me: 
"That the Cephas who was reprehended by St. Paul for the inconsistency of his conduct with respect to the Mosaic rites, was not St. Peter, is the opinion of the best writers.  Eusebius quotes Clement Alexandrinus as maintaining that this Cephas was one of the seventy disciples.  This opinion is followed by the most learned writers of antiquity, by St. Jerome, by St. Gregory the Great, by St. Anselm, and by many others."
    This surprising statement has caused me to investigate this issue further. 
    James Likoudis wrote a two-part article in the late 1990's entitled “Were the Apostle Peter and Cephas of Antioch the same person?” He admits that some of the greatest Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and contemporary exegetes contend that the person confronted by Paul was Simon Peter. However, he then presents arguments published by Jesuit Fr. D. Pujol over a century ago “. . . effectively demonstrating that the Apostle Peter and the Cephas of Antioch and Corinth could not have been the same person.” Fr. Pujol asserted that “Whether the dispute at Antioch between Paul and Cephas occurred before or after the Council of Jerusalem, it was chronologically impossible that Peter could have been there at either time.”

    Likoudis also mentions a vision by the stigmatist Theresa Neuman (d. 1962) in which she revealed:
"Cephas of the Epistle to the Galatians, whom Paul withstood to his face was not Peter, the prince of the Apostles. That there is no mention of this important personage in antiquity is based on the fact that Cephas was drowned in the sea while on a mission tour and thereupon the opinion arose that he did nothing in his new field of endeavor or even fell away from the faith." 
    Likoudis summarizes the work of other scholars on this issue, and concludes “That Peter and the Cephas (of Antioch and Corinth) are two different personages needs to be seriously re-examined and not be testily dismissed as a 'cockeyed theory'." He further states: ”The upshot of all the above is that in Gal. 2:7-14 where Petros is mentioned and then followed by a shift to Cephas, two distinct personages are differentiated.” 

       A quite intriguing article by James M. Scott delves into a 1708 work in Latin by French Jesuit Fr. Jean Hardouin called Dissertatio: In Qua Cepham a Paulo Reprehensum Petrum Non Esse Ostenditur (An Examination in Which It Is Demonstrated that Cephas Rebuked by Paul Is not Peter).
  The following quotes are representative of the views of Fr. Hardouin: 
Hardouin opens in AD 49, the year of the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15. The general line of this argument is that the Cephas in Antioch in Gal 2 cannot be Peter, since for chronological and motivational reasons Peter could not have returned to Jerusalem for the Council. “
Hardouin maintains that it is all but impossible that Peter, who never had seen Antioch within the 14 year period from Paul’s conversion, would in the fifteenth year “have raced in unbelievable speed” (“incredibili celeritate advolasse”) from Jerusalem to Antioch, been rebuked there by Paul, and within a month have hastened back to Jerusalem to be consulted by Paul about the very controversy back in Antioch.” 
Hardouin says that Peter must be “clean from any blemish of heresy” (“immunem haereos labe…Petrum”) and that it is unthinkable that any “Summus Pontifex” would withdraw himself from baptized Christians solely because they were not circumcised. “

    For a thorough scriptural analysis of this controversy, I recommend this article by Bryan Davis. Although it is in the interest of Protestants to contend that Peter/Cephas are one and the same, since it implies fallibility, weakness and even sin to Peter, Mr. Davis, who is not Catholic, concludes with:

The evidence, both biblical and historical, is overwhelming that the man Paul confronted in Galatians is not the apostle Peter. That man was named Cephas, likely a Jew who sympathized with the Judaizers.

Because of Peter’s faithful defense of the Gentiles and their reception of the true gospel at every turn, it is important to make sure we do not denigrate Peter’s legacy with the false charge that he dissembled in Galatians chapter two. After the Holy Spirit indwelt him at Pentecost, he was sure and steadfast. Let us honor the truth about Peter and clear his name in the church, especially among those who have so greatly benefited from his faithful stand for our inclusion in the faith.

    Personally I am convinced that St. Paul did not rebuke St. Peter. Of course this blog post is certainly not going to resolve the problem, and scholars, pundits and bloggers will continue to debate the issue. However, it is clear that there is sufficient room to doubt the conventional scenario that St. Paul withstood St. Peter to his face. Catholics who take comfort in this incident in order to contemplate a public reproof of their pope or resist his teaching should take heed.

View all of my books.


  1. Excellent -- and fascinating -- sleuthing by all concerned.

  2. I had heard of this first from Dimond Brothers, and now I acknowledge your work in the two blog posts where I have acknowledged theirs already before yours.

    Here and here.

  3. How convenient, it was someone else not St Peter! How sad that you would put this ultramontanist rubbish on your blog. St Peter was not the fourth person of the Holy Trinity.
    The papacy as you conceive it did not exist in the time of Sts. Peter and Paul.