Rethinking the Apostle Peter’s Role in the Early Church | Interpreter

Noel B. Reynolds writes up this wonderful review via Rethinking the Apostle Peter’s Role in the Early Church | Interpreter. This review is based on the work of Martin Hengel’s work, Saint Peter: The Underestimated Apostle.  Latter-day Saints who have an interest in First Century Christianity ought to consider this review and the influential work of such scholars as Hengel.

Reynolds provides this observation:

Hengel relies on a comprehensive assemblage of all early references to Peter, and his own interpretations of what these do and do not say, to paint a stronger picture of this first leader among the apostles. In the process, he develops a richer and in many ways a more convincing account of the relationships of Peter to James and to Paul, the two early Christians most often seen as his competitors.

Concerning the relationship between Peter and Paul, especially in light of the encounter where Paul confronts Peter on turning from the Gentiles to go and eat with the Jewish Christians, Reynolds summarizes it this way:

The situation with Paul is more complex. Hengel believes Paul was deeply hurt when Peter, who had been living with Gentiles in Antioch, went over to eat with the Jerusalem delegation that continued to observe ritual purity laws. But in Peter’s defense, Hengel points out that the Jerusalem Christians were wisely continuing this adherence to traditional Judaism as a policy matter—to protect themselves from persecution from zealous Jewish parties that ruled in Jerusalem in those decades. By showing support for them, Peter was protecting Palestinian Christians from persecution, and not deserting the theological acceptance of Gentiles that he had already endorsed. Paul’s troubles with Petrine delegates in Corinth are seen by Hengel as disputes arising between their respective disciples that would not necessarily have occurred between the principals in person. Hengel further hypothesizes that Luke lets Peter drop out of his account after the 48/49 council in Jerusalem, even though he continues to be the principal figure in the church in those years—to avoid featuring the ongoing dispute between these two church leaders. Hengel further agrees with those interpreters who find some bits of evidence that Peter and Paul did eventually reconcile themselves, including that they were in Rome at the same time when they were martyred.

Reynolds continues:

These conflicts between the disciples are treated with great care and detail in Hengel’s analysis, but the nuances are far too complex for summary here. LDS readers will be forcibly reminded of the revelation received by Joseph Smith which confirmed that Jesus’s “disciples, in days of old, sought occasion against one another and forgave not one another in their hearts; and for this evil they were afflicted and sorely chastened” (Doctrine and Covenants 64:8).

From here, we gain a more insightful understanding of the dynamics within the Early Christian Church of the First Century, and its roots in First Century Jewish context and cultural identity. Having this understanding will help further the understanding and purpose behind the restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in these last days.

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