Confirming Paul’s apostolate: infallible proof of the Church

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– and the biblical refutation # 185 of sola Scriptura –

Protestants tell us that there is no infallible Church, and that only Writing is the infallible source, norm and standard of Christian faith and doctrine. We can never trust the Church or tradition as a guide to determine the truth or falsity of propositions or the correctness or inaccuracy of actions, as their infallibility is not guaranteed. So say the Protestants, and it is their conception of sola Scriptura, which they arbitrarily and illogically made their rule of faith.

Show that the Bible is infallible, or inspired, or infallible, or that revelation proves nothing at all, as to the rule of faith or sola Scriptura. Nobody disagrees that it’s all of those things.

As always, the necessary Protestant task is to prove from Scripture that Scripture is the only standard, source and infallible norm for Christian doctrine and theology and that nothing other (tradition, Church, apostolic succession, bishops, councils) is never this. The latter is just as much a part of sola Scriptura like the old strict definition. It is a claim of exclusivity; it is therefore the task of sola Scriptura adherent to prove that nothing but scripture is ever the infallible standard, source and norm for Christian doctrine and theology.

Protestants cannot do this because it is impossible do, and I have never observed a Protestant – in thirty-one years of Catholic apologetics – never To do this. What Protestants almost always face with this simple challenge is hem and haw, major on minors, beat around the bush, indulge in obscurantism and obfuscation, change the subject: while ignoring the elephant in the room.

I don’t want to insist on this point, or harangue our estranged brethren (who have many fine qualities and whom I respect and admire), but as a mere intellectual duty and a matter of theology and apologetics, Protestants must be honest with themselves. and either prove sola Scriptura of Scripture once and for all, or admit that it is in fact not in the Bible and that it has been some sort of mass delusion for the past 500 years.

This current article will still be another one argument of the infallibility of the Church. Recently, I argued that the choice of Matthias as an apostle was an exercise in the infallibility of the Church: the very thing Protestants tell us is wrong. Maybe the better The argument for the infallibility of the Church is the Council of Jerusalem, about which I have written several times. The other “murderous argument” concerns the meaning of 1 Timothy 3:15, where the Church is described as the pillar and bulwark (or foundation) of truth. I have also explained this argument in at least three long articles.

So here are three strong biblical arguments establishing a notion (an infallible Church) that Protestants deny as an ongoing reality. they can’t prove sola Scriptura of Scripture, and they cannot refute these biblical arguments which are fatal to him. It’s a fairly logical and theological link. It is therefore not surprising that it is quite rare to see a Protestant actually responding seriously to Catholic criticisms of sola Scriptura, who advance biblical arguments.

Saint Paul, as any Bible student knows, was originally a fierce opponent of the new Christian Church and of Christians (Acts 7: 54-60; 8: 1-3; 9: 1-2, 13- 14, 21, 26; 22: 4-5, 18-20; Gal 1:13, 23), until he had a dramatic encounter with Jesus and converted to Christianity on the spot (Acts 9 : 3-31; 22: 6-16).

Acts 9: 26-29 (RSV) And when he [Paul] when he arrived in Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; and they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. [27] But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles, and told them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. [28] So he came and went among them in Jerusalem, [29] boldly preaching in the name of the Lord. . . .

Comment from Benson It does not appear that on this occasion anything was said, either by Barnabas or by Saul, concerning Christ making Saul an apostle at the time of his conversion, or concerning his sending to preach to the idolatrous Gentiles, such as reports the apostle himself, Acts 26: 16-18. These things were not mentioned in Jerusalem until Paul ascended to the council, fourteen years after his conversion, Galatians 2: 2; Galatians 2: 7-9.

Galatians 1: 15-19 But when the one who set me apart before I was born and called me by his grace, [16] was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with flesh and blood, [17] neither did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went to Arabia; and again I returned to Damascus. [18] Then, after three years, I went to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and I stayed with him for a fortnight. [19] But I did not see any of the other apostles except James, the brother of the Lord.

Galatians 2: 9 and when they saw the grace which was given to me, James, Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of communion, that we would go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised;

Comment from Benson [B]you give them the right hands of the fraternity, the three apostles recognized them as true ministers of the Gospel, each according to the nature of his particular mission. Paul, they recognized that they were an apostle of equal authority with themselves; and Barnabas, they recognized that they were a minister sent by the Holy Ghost to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. It is necessary to make this distinction, for it does not appear that Barnabas was an apostle, in the proper sense of the word.

Meyer’s NT Commentary [I]t is obvious that recognition. . . really amounts to a recognition of apostolic equality. . .

Bible Exhibition by John Gill [A]pledge of an alliance or an agreement between them; they took them, so to speak, into society with them, admitted them as apostles into their society, and gave their full consent. . .

This is the argument. It is very simple and elegant. After Paul’s conversion, he is accepted by Peter (Céphas), Jacques and Jean as a comrade apostle (Ga 2: 9). This is the infallible act of the Church and cannot not to be. If Saint Paul had not been recognized by the Church as an apostle, then he could have and never would have been the greatest evangelist of all time. He would not have been the author of about 24% of the New Testament, and its leading theologian and systematic thinker (as opposed to – most of the time – narration of the Gospels, Acts and Revelation).

Saint Paul had to be recognized as an apostle who had witnessed Jesus Christ in an encounter (albeit after his resurrection and ascension), for his testimony to be authentic. Protestants readily agree that Paul was an apostle, as he has repeatedly asserted. When Peter, James, and John recognized this by accepting Paul as an equal (Ga 2: 9), this was clearly an infallible statement or collective understanding, coming from the Church as it was. at that time, led by Pierre. If it is denied that this is infallible, then every time Paul appeals to his apostle status he is lying and deceiving.

Now Protestants can say that Paul was already an apostle and did not necessarily need human approval, even from Church leaders. Well, yes and no. This is not how New Testament Christianity works. It’s a united team. There are no loose cannons or “lone prowlers”. The need still exists for an authoritative statement, so that everyone is aware of the truth.

Likewise, as the fifth exercise of the infallibility of the Church, long after the writing of the New Testament (late 4th century), the Catholic Church proclaimed which books were part of the New Testament canon (which the Bible itself never does). Does it follow that the canon was not what it was before it was proclaimed, or that the Church created the inspired bible when he detailed the barrel? No (as I wrote). The cannon was already what it was: inspired revelation. The Catholic Church taught this at both Vatican I and Vatican II. But it was nice and very convenient to have the authoritative list, so that human beings could get along.

Likewise, Paul was already an apostle before the “right hand of fellowship” was extended to him as a fellow apostle in the Church. Yet it was good and necessary for the Church (led on a human level by human beings) to make this clear. The Church could not have been wrong in making this decision. It is therefore an example of the infallibility of the Church and a refutation of sola Scriptura, to be added to the long list as well.

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Photo credit: Jorge Elias (7-27-13). Peter and Paul (circa 1612), by Jusepe de Ribera (1591-1652) [Flickr / CC BY 2.0 license]

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Summary: When Peter, James and John agreed to confirm Paul’s apostolate (Ga 2: 9), this was obviously an infallible act and therefore also one of the many refutations of sola Scriptura.

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