June 30: Acts 15:6-11; Gal 1:18; 2:1-11, etc

This is the second of three daily notes commemorating the feast of Peter and Paul (June 29). In the previous day’s note, I looked at several passages in the New Testament and early Christian writings which can be said to reflect opposition between Peter and Paul; today I will be examining passages which more properly represent Christian unity and harmony.

Peter and Paul as a symbol of Church Unity

To begin with, let me briefly summarize the New Testament passages which could reasonably be said to apply to the theme of unity and concord between Peter and Paul:

  • Acts 15:6-11—During the so-called Jerusalem “Council” (which Paul and Barnabas attended, cf. Gal 2:1-10), on the question of whether it was necessary for Gentiles to be circumcised and observe the Law of Moses in order to be part of the Christian Community, Peter affirms the ‘Pauline’ position in no uncertain terms. Note especially the statements in verse 9, that God did not distinguish at all between “us” and “them” (Jews and Gentiles), “cleansing their hearts by trust [i.e. faith]” (the same way); and also verse 11, emphasizing that it is through a gift (or grace) that “we trust to be saved” in the same manner that they (the Gentiles) do. In the earlier narratives in Acts (chapters 10-11), Peter had already been forced to grapple with the issue of the Gentiles coming to Christ (the Cornelius episode, cf. in the series “The Speeches of Acts”), a fact that he references to in vv. 7-8 here.
  • Galatians 1:18—Paul narrates that, several years following his conversion, he visited Jerusalem “to see” (i(storh=sai) Peter (Kefa, the original Aramaic translated by Pe/tro$/Peter, “Rock”). The verb i(store/w has the basic meaning “to gain knowledge/information” from someone; it can be used generally in the sense of “become acquainted with [i.e. get to know] someone”, but here we should probably understand that Paul visited Peter for the purpose of gaining information (such as Jesus traditions, i.e. sayings by the historical Jesus). We should probably infer this, in spite of Paul’s careful claim in v. 17 that he did not consult with anyone in Jerusalem prior to beginning his missionary work. Paul remained with Peter fifteen days, and the two men presumably would have formed some degree of mutual understanding and friendship as a result.
  • Galatians 2:1-10—Most scholars hold that Paul here is describing essentially the same Jerusalem meeting narrated in Acts 15 (above). Whether or not this is so, apparently the meeting ended with an agreement in place, recognizing that Paul was a legitimate missionary (apostle) to the Gentiles, just as Peter was for the Jews (v. 7-9). However, while the episode may have ended harmoniously, to some degree, there is considerable tension in the way Paul tells the story, especially the manner in which he repeatedly refers to the leaders of the Jerusalem Church (including James, Peter, and John) as “the ones thought/considered to be (something)” (cf. esp. verse 6)—on this, see the previous note.
  • Galatians 2:11-12—Even though Paul is describing opposition between himself and Peter in vv. 11-14ff, the context implies that previously they had been on good (or at least better) terms. Prior to the arrival of “men from James”, Peter, it would seem, had been spending time and working (harmoniously with Paul) among the Gentile believers in Antioch.
  • 2 Peter 3:15-16—The author of the epistle (indicated as Peter, 1:1) refers to Paul as “our beloved brother”, mentioning his “wisdom” and the letters (epistles) which he has written (apparently regarding these as authoritative Scripture). However, it should be noted that many commentators (including most critical scholars) believe that 2 Peter is pseudonymous, having been written some time later, after Peter’s death. Even if one were to accept the critical view, it would still be an indication of Peter and Paul being brought together in a positive, unifying manner, in early tradition.

According to Christian tradition, Peter and Paul were both put to death in Rome as martyrs for the faith. Their martyrdom is hinted at, though nowhere specified, in the New Testament—for Peter cf. John 21:18-19; for Paul cf. Acts 20:22-38; 2 Tim 4:6-8. As for the association with Rome, at the end of the book of Acts, Paul is under house arrest in the imperial city, though there is some evidence (in Scripture and tradition) that he may have been released (only to be arrested later a second time). According to 1 Pet 5:13, Peter would seem to be in “Babylon”, often thought to be a code (or cipher) in the New Testament for Rome and the Roman Empire. There is some question among scholars as to whether Peter actually was in Rome, but there can be no doubt that, by the late-first and early-second century, there was a well-established tradition associating both apostles with the imperial city. This is specified in Clement’s epistle (from the Roman church) to the Corinthians (1 Clement 5)—where mention is also made of their martyrdom—and in Ignatius of Antioch’s letter to the church of Rome (Rom 4:3).

Eusebius, writing in the early 4th century, mentions Peter’s presence in Rome (Church History II.14-15) but gives us scant information about it; the tradition that he followed after Simon Magus is not especially reliable (see the Pseudo-Clementine Homilies for similar traditions, cf. the previous note). In II.25, Eusebius records that both Peter and Paul were put to death during the persecution of Christians under Nero—Paul having been beheaded, Peter crucified—though for earlier witnesses to this he cites only the presbyter Gaius (as to their memorials on the Ostian Way) and a letter from Dionysius bishop of Corinth (a general notice). In III.1, mention is made again of their martyrdom in Rome, along with the detail that Peter was crucified upside down at his own request. The Liberian catalog (list of Popes) from 354 A.D. records the deposition of the remains of Peter and Paul in the middle of the 3rd century.

Peter and Paul, joined together, proved to be a popular image of Christian unity and solidarity, especially within the Roman Catholic tradition. In Rome and its environs, a multitude of churches and monuments have been constructed over the centuries, most notably the great basilicas of St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s. Also in the visual arts of the Medieval and Renaissance period—in both Western and Eastern tradition—Petrine and Pauline images and themes often appear together. An especially noble and poignant motif is that of Peter and Paul standing together, or embracing, as below (and in the Note of the Day header above).


The Speeches of Acts, Part 14: Acts 10:34-43; 11:1-18 (continued)

The narrative setting and background (10:1-33) were discussed in part 13 of this series; here the two speeches themselves will be treated. For the first speech of Peter (10:34-43) the outline is as follows:

    • Narrative introduction (vv. 30-33)—the entirety of the narrative in Acts 10:1-33 (esp. vv. 23b-33) really should be considered here (see above), but I isolate verses 30-33 as the proper introduction to the speech itself.
    • Introductory Address (vv. 34-35)
    • [Citation from Scripture] (vv. 36-42)—instead of a Scripture citation (and exposition), we have a central kerygma (Gospel proclamation), the most complete and developed thus far in Acts.
    • Concluding Exhortation (v. 43)
    • Narrative Conclusion (vv. 44-48)

Narrative Introduction (vv. 30-33)—All of chapter 10 up to this point serves as an introduction to the speech, in particular the section narrating Peter’s visit to Cornelius (vv. 23b-33). Here I focus on verses 30-33, in which Cornelius recounts his visionary experience of vv. 1-8. Verse 33b sets the stage for the speech:

“Now therefore we are all along (here) in the sight of God to hear all the (thing)s set in order toward you under the Lord [i.e. appointed/arranged for you by the Lord]”

Introductory Address (vv. 34-35)—this consists of two theological statements:

    1. “God is not a ‘receiver of the face’ [proswpolh/pth$]” (v. 34)
    2. “In every nation, the one fearing Him and working justice/righteousness is accepted by Him” (v. 35)

The word proswpolh/pth$ (“receiver of the face”, “one who takes/receives the face”) is taken from the Old Testament (LXX)—lamba/nein pro/swpon—and based on the Hebrew/Semitic idiom <ynp acn (“lift/raise faces”), cf. Deut 10:17; 2 Chron 19:7, etc. In the ancient Near Eastern world, a greeting of respect or honor (esp. to a superior) involved prostrating oneself and/or lowering one’s face toward the ground. Lifting or raising the face is a sign that the person so greeted recognizes and accepts the one greeting. However, in a judicial context especially, the expression could have the sense of favoring one person over another, showing partiality or preference, superficial flattery, and the like. From a social-ethical standpoint, judges were expected to render verdicts and decisions without regard to a person’s status or the extent to which one sought to influence the judgment (by offering a bribe or other incentive). The noun proswpolh/yia (“receiving the face”, i.e. showing favoritism/partiality) came to be part of Hellenistic Jewish vocabulary, and is used in the New Testament (Rom 2:11; Eph 6:9; Col 3:25; James 2:1). When applied to God, it means that he is a completely fair and just judge, who does not act with regard to a person’s status, outward appearance, and so forth. The expression ‘Godfearer’ (“one fearing God”, o( fobou/meno$ to\n qeo/n) has already been used of Cornelius in verses 2 and 22 (on which see part 13), as has the description di/kaio$ (“just/righteous” [in the traditional sense], v. 22). The idea here is that Gentiles like Cornelius who are (or would be) sympathetic to the Israelite/Jewish religion, devoted to prayer, charitable giving and other acts of mercy, are accepted (dekto/$) by God, just like Jews who faithfully uphold the Covenant and observe the Torah. Verses 34-35 do not entirely equate Jews and Gentiles before God, but they do lay the groundwork for that doctrine.

Citation of Kerygma (vv. 36-42)—In place of the citation from Scripture (in the sermon-speech pattern), here we have a central kerygma (Gospel proclamation). In earlier speeches, there were kerygmatic elements and statements in and around a central Scripture citation; here the kerygma is greatly expanded and developed, bringing together the various strands found in the prior sermon-speeches. We can almost see the formation of the core Gospel narrative taking shape before our eyes. The kerygma is introduced in verse 36 (note the emphatic chain-structure):

    • The word/account [lo/go$]
      • which He sent
        • to the sons/children of Israel
          • announcing [lit. bringing the good message of] peace
            • through Jesus the Anointed (One)
              • this One is Lord of all

The accusative object “the word/account” (to\n lo/gon), which effectively serves as subject of the clause in v. 36, picks up again in verse 37, but with an odd shift in vocabulary: “you know the word/utterance [r(h=ma] (which) came to be down (through) the whole of Judea…”. This may be a sign that a kergymatic (credal) formula has been incorporated (somewhat awkwardly) into the speech (note also the use of the ‘frozen’ participle a)rca/meno$ which follows); Acts 1:1b-5 may draw upon a similar formula. I will now note briefly the key kerygmatic elements and phrases in each verse, with details found in prior speeches indicated; new/additional details are italicized.

  • V. 37—”beginning from [a)rca/meno$ a)po\]… the dipping/dunking [i.e. baptism]…” (1:22); the baptism by John is specifically mentioned in 1:5 (cf. also 13:24-25). For the idea of “beginning from Galilee”, see 13:31.
  • V. 38—”God anointed him” (4:27; cf. 2:36; 3:18); on his being anointed by/with the Holy Spirit (and power), cf. Lk 3:22; 4:1, 14; 5:17. For the association of the (Holy) Spirit and power, cf. also 1:8; 8:19; Lk 1:35; 4:14. The idea in Acts 2:22—Jesus’ doing works of power, signs and wonders—is here specified as doing good works, healing those down under the power of the devil (depicting numerous times in the Synoptic tradition). We have also the additional detail that God was with him.
  • V. 39—The apostles (and other early believers) are witnesses to all that happened (1:8, 22; 2:32; 3:5; 5:32; 13:31; Lk 24:48) in Jerusalem and Judea (1:8; Lk 24:47), especially to the death (2:36; 3:15; 4:10) and resurrection (in v. 40) of Jesus. The verb a)naire/w is also used of Jesus’ death in 2:23; 13:28; his death as “hanging upon a tree” occurs in 5:30.
  • V. 40—The demonstrative pronoun “this (one)” (ou!to$, acc. tou=ton) is used frequently referring to Jesus (2:23, 32, 36; 4:10-11; 5:31; 9:20; 10:36; cf. also 3:16; 4:17; 5:28; 7:35-38 [Moses/Jesus parallel], and similar usage in 6:13-14). Of course God’s raising of Jesus is central to the kerygma (2:24, 32; 3:15; 4:10; 5:30, etc), with the formula on the third day (or “after three days”) familiar from Synoptic tradition. The post-resurrection appearances (v. 41) are described here in unusual terminology: (God) gave him [i.e. made him] to come to be in (a manner of) shining forth [i.e. to appear clearly].
  • V. 41—The apostles are witnesses of the resurrection appearances (1:3, 22; 2:32; 13:31 etc); the emphasis on eating and drinking with Jesus after the resurrection is attested in Gospel tradition, and may be suggested in Acts 1:4a. Here the apostles are uniquely described as those chosen [lit. by raising the hand] before(hand) under [i.e. by] God; on witness to the resurrection appearances as a requisite qualification for apostleship, cf. 1:21-22.
  • V. 42—The disciples are commanded by Jesus to proclaim what they have witnessed (Lk 24:47-48); and they are to witness thoroughly/throughout (Acts 2:40; 8:25). Verse 42 concludes with a final kerygmatic statement, again using the demonstrative pronoun “this one” (ou!to$); Jesus is described as:
    “the (one) marked out [i.e. appointed, w(risme/no$] under [i.e. by] God” (2:23; 17:31, cf. also Rom 1:4)
    “(to be) judge of (the) living and dead” (cf. 17:31)

Concluding Exhortation (v. 43)—In many ways, this verse continues the central kerygma; note the following:

The adjective pa=$ (acc. pa/nta), “all/every (one)” in context here means both Jews and Gentiles—cf. the use of pa=$ in Peter’s vision (v. 12, 14).

Narrative Conclusion (vv. 44-48)—The inclusion of Gentiles is thus emphasized in the first and last verses (vv. 34-35, 43) which bracket the speech. This theological (missionary) theme is played out dramatically in the narrative, as the Holy Spirit suddenly (“as Peter was yet speaking these words…”) falls upon all (e)pi\ pa/nta$) the ones hearing the word (v. 44). Clearly, this re-enacts the Pentecost manifestation of the Spirit (Acts 2:1-4ff), a fact which amazes the Jewish Christians who are with Peter (referred to as “the ones of circumcision [who also] trusted [in Jesus]”), v. 45-46. The central underlying conflict (see verse 28) is addressed forcefully by Peter, with a question that effectively serves as a command: “(Surely) no one is able to cut off water for these (people so as) not to be dipped/dunked [i.e. baptized], (these) who have received the holy Spirit as we also (have)(—are they?)” It is important to note that the “baptism by the Spirit” takes priority over any baptism with water, which expressly emphasizes the miraculous, divinely-ordained sign that the Gentiles are to be included and accepted as believers in Christ.

The Second Speech of Peter (11:1-18)

This section is unusual in that it largely repeats (in summary fashion) the narrative of chapter 10. The only other such example we find in Acts is the conversion of Paul (Saul) in Acts 9:1-19ff, which Paul re-states and describes (in considerable detail) on two other occasions in his (defense) speeches (Acts 22:4-16ff; 26:9-18). This demonstrates the central importance of the Cornelius episode for the author of Acts (and/or his underlying sources). Before briefly treating the second speech of Peter in ch. 11, it is worth re-iterating the theological and apologetic character of the narrative, which dramatically illustrates a key controversy in the early Church—that is, the acceptance and admission of Gentile believers (cf. Haenchen, p. 360):

When confronted with the miraculous and divine nature of the mission to the Gentiles, Jewish believers are forced to recognize its validity (cf. the conclusion at 11:17-18, echoing 10:47).

The second speech of Peter has a different character and purpose from the first—it is not a sermon-speech, but an (apologetic) address to fellow believers. The outline is relatively simple:

    • Narrative Introduction (vv. 1-3)
    • Citation from (recent) History (vv. 4-17)
    • Narrative Conclusion (v. 18)

Narrative Introduction (vv. 1-3)—This sets the basic conflict:

    • Other Christians (“the apostles and brothers down [through] Judea”) hear that the Gentiles (“the nations”) also have “received the word of God” (v. 1).
    • When Peter arrives in Jerusalem, certain believers are said to have “judged thoroughly [diekri/nonto] toward him”, that is, they marked/separated Peter out and disputed/contended with him about the matter (v. 2). These believers are described as “the ones of/from circumcision” (cf. 10:45), which has a two-fold significance here: (a) it means, of course, that they are Jewish Christians, but also (b) it is a foreshadowing of those Jewish Christians who would require that Gentile converts be circumcised and observe the Torah (cf. 15:1, 5).
    • They are critical of Peter, saying “you went in toward men having a foreskin [i.e. uncircumcised men] and you ate with them” (v. 3). On the essential conflict involved, see 10:28 and the significance of Peter’s vision in 10:9-16 (related to the Jewish dietary regulations).

Narration of Recent Events (vv. 4-17)—Here Peter narrates the recent events of the episode with Cornelius (chapter 10); in the speech-pattern it effectively takes the place of the Gospel kerygma and citation(s) from Scripture. It also serves much the same role as the narratio in classical (deliberative) rhetoric (cf. Galatians 1:11-2:14). This recapitulation can be divided into three sections:

The Vision (vv. 5-10; cf. 10:9-16)—there is very little difference from the account in Acts 10, but note the way that the three appearances of the vision and the arrival of three messengers in vv. 10-11 are related even more directly (cp. 10:16-18).
The Message (vv. 11-14; cf. 10:17-22)—this corresponds with the visit of the men from Cornelius to Peter and the message which they bring from Cornelius.
Verse 12 is especially notable (cf. 10:20): “and the Spirit said to me to go with them, not judging one thing thoroughly”. There is a bit of wordplay involving the verb diakri/nw (also used in 11:2; 15:9)—it is an intensive compound form of kri/nw, usually rendered “judge”, but with the fundamental sense of separate. In English it corresponds with the idea of making a distinction, i.e., distinguishing, discerning, judging. It can have the secondary meanings of “giving (considerable) thought” to something, even “to question (or doubt)”; also the idea of distinguishing or separating one person from another may carry the nuance of “oppose, contend (with), dispute”. In the simple narrative context of 10:20 and 11:12, the Spirit may be telling Peter not to hesitate or doubt, but the real underlying message (via the wordplay) is not to make any distinction between people; similarly, in 11:2, the Jewish Christians are judging Peter and contending with him, but again the underlying emphasis is on judging/distinguishing between people (i.e., Jews and Gentiles, cf. 15:9).
In verse 12, then, there are two themes embedded: (a) the role of the Spirit in the mission to the Gentiles, and (b) the divine command not to make any distinction between Jew and Gentile.
The Manifestation of the Spirit (vv. 15-17; cf. 10:44-47)—this is narrated in abbreviated form, with one additional detail, the kerygmatic mention of John’s baptism in verse 16 (see 1:5, also 1:22; 13:24); thus we have both aspects of baptism re-iterated: by water and the Spirit.
The possible objection to accepting Gentile believers (10:47) is also presented here, by way of conclusion to the speech, in verse 17, with one particular difference: to cut off [kwlu=sai, i.e. prevent/hinder] water (for baptism) from the Gentiles is the same as (attempting) to cut off [kwlu=sai, prevent/hinder] God!

Narrative Conclusion (v. 18)—Upon hearing these things, those who questioned or contended with Peter were silent (see the same reaction to Peter’s speech in 15:12)—indicating that the dispute came to and end, the conflict being resolved through hearing the word/account of God—and they honored/esteemed (i.e. gave glory to) God in response. This, of course, parallels and foreshadows the events of the “Jerusalem Council” in chapter 15, as does the ultimate declaration, with tacit or basic acceptance of the Gentile converts, in verse 18b:

“Then also God has given to the nations change-of-mind [i.e. repentance] unto/into life!” (cf. 2:38; 5:31)