Thursday, December 29, 2016

Peter & Paul: Conflicting Gospels?

Peter and Paul
(4th century carving)
(A Quora question I answered yesterday.)

Q: Did Peter and Paul preach conflicting gospels or messages?

A: Not really. Both Peter and Paul preached the same gospel of the Kingdom of God that Jesus preached: That God’s universal kingdom had been inaugurated at the cross with Jesus as its king, that everyone was invited to give him their allegiance and join (at which point their sins would be wiped away).

The disagreement came about when some Jewish members asked, “But… don’t you have to become a Jew first?” The answer, hammered out at the Jerusalem Conference (c. AD 49), was, “No.”

It’s hard to understand just what an earthquake this was to the Jewish believers. They were the chosen people. The Messiah had come from them. Paul gives an entire list of “advantages” that the Jews had in the Letter to the Romans. That pagan gentiles could just waltz into the family of God on exactly the same terms as the Jewish people was extremely difficult for some to wrap their minds around. Some (often called “Judaizers” by scholars) never did, and roamed the Mediterranean world trying to convince members of the Christian movement that they needed to become Jews (via being circumcised, observing the Sabbath, and adopting other rituals) for their conversions to be valid.

Paul stood up to judaizing teachers wherever he encountered them because they were putting unnecessary obstacles in the way of followers of Jesus.


Peter, to his credit, got this. In fact, the Book of Acts portrays him as being among the first to get it. Paul attests to this himself in his Letter to the Galatians, where he describes how Peter was happy to eat with Gentiles in the city of Antioch, and even,“live[d] like a Gentile and not like a Jew.” “Table fellowship” was much more than just eating food in the ancient near east; it meant you accepted and respected the people you were with.

But, rather in line with his character as the Gospels describe him, Peter got spooked by men from “the circumcision party” who arrived from and withdrew his table fellowship with the gentile members. Paul roundly chewed him out for that.

But there is no evidence of any significant difference in the gospel Paul and Peter proclaimed, other that what is mentioned right before the Antioch incident in Galatians: “I (Paul) had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles).

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