St. Peter was the first head of the Church and St. Paul was a great missionary.
Over the years I have had people say to me; (erroneously) that Paul was obviously the leader of the early Christian Church; not Peter. Some of the reasons:
1. Paul was holier.
2. Paul started all the churches.
3. Paul corrected Peter.
4. Paul was successful in convincing Peter, James, and the other Apostles that Gentile Christians need not be circumcised and have Jewish Law forced on them.
Now when I respond I don't want to overreact. I heard Kimberly Hahn, (Prof. Scott Hahn's wife); say that the Protestants not honoring Mary is sometimes caused by the Catholics constantly honoring her. In other words they feel that we show Mary so much honor that they do not have to show her any. (They overreact!) What I am getting at, is that by proving St. Peter as the head of the Church I don't want to put down St. Paul, but I think that I need to show their humanity in order to get a true picture of what happened between them.
The Council of Jerusalem took place in 49 A.D., after St. Paul's first missionary journey. In 50 A.D. St. Paul wrote his first and second letter to the Thessalonians. He wrote his letter to the Galatians between 53-54 A.D. If in his letter to the Galatians, St. Paul is relating the same story as Acts 15, "the Council of Jerusalem", then he has a very different view than St. Luke. Luke describes the role of Paul at the "council" as being a part of the council and yet not the person in the forefront, whereas Peter is!
Let us for a moment compare the two stories: READ Acts 15:1-21, Acts 15:2, we see here that Paul and Barnabas, rather than making their own decisions on doctrine are sent out by the Church at Antioch to find out what the Apostles have to say on the important issue of circumcision. Paul & Barnabas were appointed by the Church at Antioch. According to the Scripture they weren't self appointed. On the other hand, in Galatians, Paul decided on his own to go to Jerusalem because of a revelation he had. Then in v. 2 Paul says that he spoke to "those who were of repute" who he refers to more explicitly in v. 9, even naming them, (James, Cephas [Peter also, "Cephas" is "rock" in Aramaic - so St. Paul is acknowledging Peter as "rock"], John). Paul says that he spoke to them in private (something perhaps Luke was not made aware of), checking with the Apostles to see if he was teaching correctly. v. 2 "...I laid before them [...] the Gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, lest somehow I should be running or had run in vain."
Paul had direct revelation from Jesus Gal 1:11-12, but even he checked with the "reputed pillars of the Church" to make sure his private revelation did not go against the teaching of the Church. First after his 3 years in Arabia Gal 1:18, and then 14 years later at the Council of Jerusalem, Gal 2:2.
In Gal v. 5, speaking of the "false bretheren", those who preached salvation by circumcision, Paul says: "....to them we did not yield submission even for a moment,...". We will be coming back to this verse. Keep this verse in mind! Then Paul in v. 6 seems to be saying that after going over what he was teaching; with those of "repute" (and he says this in what seems to be a condescending way), "what they were makes no difference to me", his teaching did not need to be changed in any way. v. 6, "...those, I say, who were of repute added nothing to me;..." Yet Luke describes the scene differently: Acts 15:30, "So when they were sent off, they went down to Antioch;..." The subordinate is sent ...St. Paul was the one sent in each case. In Acts we see Paul and Barnabas were allowed to speak at the council, v. 12, "...and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles." But the decision to free the Gentiles from the Law of circumcision had already been made, not only at the council, but remember in Acts 10:47-48; 11:17; St. Peter had already made a public declaration to baptize Gentiles without circumcision! So the letter at the council was the first written declaration of a papal decision, but the decision had already been made verbally before the council had ever convened! It would seem in Paul's account in Galatians that he was telling every one what to do. cf. Galatians 2:1, "I went up to Jerusalem ..."; v. 2, "I presented to them..."; v. 5 "...to them we did not submit even for a moment..."; v. 7, "...I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised,...". v. 9, "...and when they recognized the grace bestowed upon me,...". Luke describes the same events, but with a much different tone; as though Paul was held in high regard, but clearly he was not in charge and he was not one of the decision makers. (Remember, St. Luke is St. Paul's friend and traveling companion, Col 4:14; 2 Tim 4:11.) After much debate, Peter apparently gives the discourse that settles the issue, [ACTS 15:6-12]. Then James as the Head of the Church in Jerusalem and to show his support, re-stated, what Peter had just said, in verses 13-21. We can see that when Peter spoke everyone not only listened but accepted his word!
SOME PEOPLE WOULD POINT OUT HERE THAT JAMES HAD THE LAST WORD! They would be correct!
Now let us take a closer look at what happened at the first council of the new Church! What did James actually do? He repeated what Peter had already said. He then added some instructions about not eating meat sacrificed to idols, and not consuming blood.
What happened to Peter's decision? IT BECAME THE LAW OF THE CHURCH!
What happened to James' additions? Scripture mentions them again, but except for the teaching on "unchastity", they never became a permanent part of Church teaching! Also, James, as head of the Church in Jerusalem might have been expected to wrap up the proceedings.
[(Ut Unum Sint, Pope John Paul II) p. 104, "The first part of the Acts of the Apostles presents Peter as the one who speaks in the name of the apostolic group and who serves the unity of the community - all the while respecting the authority of James, the head of the Church in Jerusalem." Gal 2:7, "...when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised." Paul makes a statement here that is opposite the one Luke makes. Acts 15:7; "...Peter rose and said to them, "Bretheren, you know that in the early days God made choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe." Maybe they were not aware of each others mission at the time of the Council, but after, when St. Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians he should have known! Now, we could easily say people remember things differently, and I would agree. There seems to be 4-5 years between the Council and St. Paul's letter to the Galatians. In Gal 2:11-14, Paul rips apart Peter, over a social issue; because when Peter's buddies came from James (in Jerusalem), he refused to sit with the Gentiles (because they were uncircumcised) fearing what the "circumcision party" would say; something that happened after the council of Jerusalem. Paul conveniently forgets that he "circumcised" his "Spiritual son"; "Timothy"; during the same period of time! In Acts 16:3, "...he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews that were in those places." Remember Gal 2:5, speaking of the "false bretheren", those who preached salvation by circumcision, Paul says: "...to them we did not yield submission even for a moment,..." It would seem that Paul submitted more than mere words here! In Fr. Bill's words; "Ouch!"
In Gal 2, we can see what St. Paul thought of St. Peter. What did St. Peter have to say about St. Paul? 2 Peter 3:15, "So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him,..." The only line that we have from St. Peter about St. Paul is one of respect and honor! In Acts 15:22, "Then the Apostles and Presbyters, in agreement with the whole church, decided to choose representatives and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas." Paul is sent out again! This is an honor! But he is hardly in charge!
Then the Bible goes on to clearly state that the decision of the Council, is a decision of the Holy Spirit, verse 28! So anyone who doesn't follow the mandate of the Council isn't following the Holy Spirit!
THE SAME HOLDS TRUE TODAY, ANYONE WHO REFUSES TO FOLLOW THE DOCTRINE or TEACHINGS OF THE HOLY CATHOLIC CHURCH REFUSES TO FOLLOW THE HOLY SPIRIT!
Another point: St. Paul did start many of the Christian churches, but St. Peter is credited with most of the growth of the early Church; cf. (Acts 2:41), 3,000 souls & (4:4), 5,000 men!
One more point: (Acts 26:24) "...your great learning is turning you mad." St. Paul is known for his "great learning" while St. Peter & St. John are known as being "uneducated" & "common men" (cf. Acts 4:13). This might be why St. Paul wrote so many "Letters" and St. Peter & St. John wrote so few!
Please forgive me if I have given you the impression that St. Paul was anything less than a man to be admired, I don't mean this. St. Paul and St. Peter were both great men of God, who laid down their lives moment by moment for the Gospel of Jesus Christ!They both paid the ultimate price of love, they paid with their lives! May we all love the Lord as much! St. Peter was the first head of the Church, and St. Paul was an outstanding missionary! I want everyone to clearly see that St. Peter was not the bad guy in all this, both St. Peter and St. Paul made mistakes concerning this decision. These passages show their humanity. The point is they both could have done better, and they both did more than most Christians would!
Some of Paul's followers would try to say that Paul was the one in charge, because of [GALATIANS 2:11-14]. But, here in Galatians, Paul was pointing out a social mistake of Peter's! Peter already declared the ruling on this matter!
1. Paul was holier. Was St. Paul holier? I leave that one up to God.
2. Did Paul start all the churches? He did start many of the Churches, but Antioch, the Church at Rome, Damascus and many others were already started.
3. Did Paul correct Peter? Paul did correct Peter over a social issue, not a doctrinal point!
4. Was Paul successful in convincing Peter, James, and the other Apostles that Gentile Christians need not be circumcised and have Jewish Law forced on them?
Paul had nothing to do with the decision of the council! Acts 15 says St. Paul did not speak until after the Council's decision had been made and St. Paul's account in his letter to the Galatians doesn't make it clear whether he spoke at the Council. Peter had already made the decision, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit in Acts 10 & 11.
When Paul circumcised Timothy he might have done this for the spread of the Gospel, but we really do not know this. Although in another place it says "I have become all things... for the sake of the Gospel" (cf. 1 Cor 9:22). Either way; Paul is giving in to the Judaizers, the only question is whether it is for a better or worse reason! St. Paul mentions in Galatians 2:3; "But even Titus, [...], was not forced to be circumcised..." Here St. Paul is pointing out that the Church in Jerusalem did not think it necessary to circumcise Titus, Paul's traveling companion, yet in the next Chapter we see Paul circumcising Timothy!