Friday, October 10, 2014

Peter's Message in Anatolia

This was first published on the Jesus Christ in History site.

1 Peter was written to Christians through Anatolia (modern Turkey, also called Asia Minor). We know the gospel reached southern Galatia, southern Phrygia and the province of Asia through the journeys of Paul, Barnabas and Silvanus, but Acts is silent on how the gospel reached the provinces of Cappadocia and Bithynia, the northern part of the province of Galatia and the client kingdom of Pontus. All we know from Acts is that Paul and his companions were held back from going into some of those regions.

The examination of the question of the evangelisation of these Anatolian regions must begin with the report in Acts 2:5-12, where it is reported that there were Jews from Cappadocia and Pontus settled in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost who heard Peter proclaim the Gospel. Yet is not said in Acts that churches came to be established in these regions as a result of the Pentecost event, or even from subsequent events. We can guess that Aquila and Priscilla, Jews originally from Pontus, who were later found in Rome, could have had some influence in establishing the gospel in their native land. Beyond this, all we can do is postulate that the scattering of the Christians after Stephen’s martyrdom could have resulted in some of them returning to their homelands.

It is possible that there were a number of Jews in the churches in regions addressed by 1 Peter, and Jewish Christians also among them. The extensive citations from the Old Testament found in Peter’s letter, which would have been more understandable for Jews than for non-Jews, could indicate the presence of a number of Jews in these brotherhoods of believers. Yet 1 Peter implies that non-Jews were in the majority in these congregations, saying to them that, even though they were previously not a people, now they were the people of God (1 Peter 2:10). So one can conclude that these new congregations consisted of more than just returning Jewish converts and their Jewish disciples.
Beachheads in at least Bithynia, but probably in all the north Anatolian political regions, were established through dedicated missionary efforts before Paul wrote Romans (written ca. 57). In Rom. 15:23, Paul said that there was no further place for him to work in “these regions.” He made this comment in the context of having just said that he did not want to preach the gospel in regions where others had established the foundations (Rom. 15:20).  Before this, he had been working in southern Galatia, the provinces of Asia, Macedonia and Achaia, and around to Illyricum. As far as we know, he had not worked in Bithynia, even though Acts 16:7 shows that he had thought about a missionary venture there. The Romans passage indicates that he had abandoned that ambition. While he had followed his earlier intention to proceed through and into the province of Asia, establishing a strong work based in Ephesus, there is no indication that he again tried to reach Bithynia. This gives us confidence to suggest that other missionaries had undertaken the task of evangelisation of the nations of northern Anatolia, and that this had happened before 57.

With such an early date for the evangelisation of this region, it is likely that we should attribute this to other missionaries reaching the region, who were probably working in northern Anatolia while Paul was engaged in Ephesus. Of course, known missionaries, specifically Silvanus, Paul’s companion, and Barnabas and Mark come to mind, while we cannot discount the possibility that others, now unknown, were responsible for taking the Gospel to the nations in these parts. The regrettable silence in Acts concerning any other activity beyond that initiated by Paul after the commencement of the second missionary journey means that we do not have any help from there. For example, Silvanus drops out of Acts when he, Paul and Timothy were in Corinth; Acts 18:5 is the last time he is mentioned. He is later found in company with Peter (1 Pet. 5:12), probably in Antioch according to this reconstruction. Did Silvanus carry out any missionary activities while making his way back to Syria? If he returned by land, it is possible that he did so. Against this, it is necessary to recognize that Peter recommended Silvanus to the readers of the letter, in 1 Pet. 5:12.

Certainly, from this reconstruction, we have no reason to doubt the testimony of 1 Peter that Apostle Peter had a primary involvement in the evangelisation of the parts of Anatolia that had not  been reached by Paul, and well as an abiding interest in those parts of Anatolia that had been evangelised by Paul.

Peter and Paul

This was first published on the Jesus Christ in History site.

After Paul was changed from an opponent of the gospel to its most vigorous advocate, he took it upon himself to go to Arabia (by which is meant the region now encompassed by the Kingdom of Jordan), and promoted the gospel there. After three years, he went to Jerusalem to meet with Peter, and stayed with him for fifteen days (ca. 37 AD); he also met James, the brother of the Lord on the same occasion. Paul took this opportunity to learn first hand from Peter (and James); it also gave him the opportunity to test his own ideas against theirs. After this, Paul was sent by the disciples back to his home town of Tarsus, in the province of Cilicia. It would appear that his vigour in debating the Grecian Jews provoked such a fierce reaction that they tried to kill him. Luke blandly reports that after Paul left, the Church had a time of peace in Judea, Samaria and Galilee!

Some time later Barnabas called upon Paul in Tarsus and invited him to join the flourish work in the city of Antioch in Syria – the third city in the Roman Empire – where they both taught large numbers of people about the saving message of Jesus.

In ca. 47, Barnabas and Saul were called upon to take the gospel to other places. At around this time, Paul again visited Jerusalem, in company with Barnabas, and this time he met with James, Peter and John. These men recognized that Barnabas and Paul had been called to a special work among nations. Paul said that he made this visit privately because of opposition they had encountered in Antioch to the message they were preaching, specifically that observance of the Jewish law was not needed for salvation. The fact that this opposition, which had only recently arisen, rattled Paul and Barnabas and caused them to doubt to substance of their own message. However, Peter and the others encouraged the two men, and assured them of their support. So Barnabas and Paul were mentally buttressed for the arduous task that lay ahead of them.

Paul and Barnabas took the gospel message to Cyprus, and from there to southern Galatia, where they establishes churches in several towns, eventually returning to Antioch in Syria. Peter was there around the same time, and they all share fellowship together, also sharing meals with the non-Jewish Christians without any difficulty or apparent qualms of conscience. However, when some men came from the churches in Judea a sharp dispute arose, since these visitors argued that it was not right for Jewish Christians to share meals with non-Jews. The issue was critical, with the possibility arising of Jewish and non-Jewish branches of the Church having to be established everywhere both groups were to be found, with shared meals being the point of division between them. As an act of peace towards the Judean Christians, Peter and Barnabas stopped sharing meals with non-Jews. Yet this was not a resolution, but left the problem in an entirely unsatisfactory situation. And so the matter remained, with Paul furious that Peter, and even Barnabas, had acted in a way that he considered to be spineless.

While the Council of Jerusalem was ostensibly called to resolve the question of the circumcision of non-Jews, and while there were a number of Jewish Christians agitating for a policy that would have added this requirement, the acknowledged leaders of the Church were not in dispute over this question. Paul makes this clear in his Galatian letter. At the council, after much debate, Peter silenced those who were opposed to his policy of not circumcising non-Jews, repeating the arguments he made when he explained why he had not required Cornelius to be circumcised before baptizing him. This closed that matter, as it had done before: nothing new was decided at this council on circumcision. After this, the council listened to Paul and Barnabas give an account of the nations turning to God. James then spoke up and ruled briefly on circumcision. In an abrupt turn, without any apparent discussion, he then gave a ruling on what was the substantive matter to be considered at the council, namely rules that were intended to set a minimum standard for Christian behaviour in the future.
“It is my decision … to instruct them to abstain from the pollutions of idols, from sexual immorality, things strangled, and from blood (Acts 15:19-20).”
These were not really minimum rules for Christian living, as even a cursory reading of James’ letter would reveal: like Paul, James expected Christians to submit themselves entirely to God (Jam. 4:7), and not just follow this kind of minimum standard.

The decision of the Council of Jerusalem resolved the problem over food rules that had flared up in Antioch. This decision appears to have been decided beforehand by the leadership in Jerusalem, and had already been accepted by Paul before the council. So it is not surprising that Paul with him took a copy of the letter from the council’s leadership when he came to revisit the churches in southern Galatia.

Peter and Paul were again back on the same path, and the Church was the stronger for having faced and dealt with it first major crisis among its leadership team.

Peter’s Messages

This was first published on the Jesus Christ in History site.

Peter declared in the first sermon preached in the new Church, delivered on the Day of Pentecost – 50 days after Jesus died, that although Jesus was rejected by leaders of Israel, God raised him to life.
Peter said, “Men of Israel, listen to this, Jesus of Nazareth was a man accedited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.”
[Adapted from Acts 2:22-24 NIV]
Peter repeated this message in the letter he sent to the new Christians in the various Roman provinces and a single client-kingdom in Anatolia [modern Turkey], declaring that Jesus’ death and glorification was the revelation of God’s great mystery, disclosed in part through the Israelite prophets of times gone before.
Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit send from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.
[1 Peter 1:10-12 NIV]
The nature of a Christian life is not “magic,” or mysterious: it is simple. The gift of new life in Christ is free, entirely by God’s grace. Living the new life is a gift of God, given by his grace, but we also have a part to play in this process. This is also made clear by Peter, in his follow-up letter.
The divine power of our God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is near-sighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.
Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fail, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
[Adapted from 2 Peter 1:3-18 NIV]
For Peter, salvation (by which he meant eternal life with God) was just the beginning of the story for the new Christian. It also meant the start of a new life, lived in accordance with Jesus’ teachings.
Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believed in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in him.
Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.
[1 Peter 1:17-23 NIV]
Peter taught that the path of salvation through repentance and baptism into Jesus Christ was open to all, saying, “This promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call” [Acts 2:29 NIV].
Not everyone is called, for not everyone has heard the gospel preached to them. Also many of those called by God do not respond to his call. In addition, Jesus’ parable of the sower [Mark 4] shows that some of those who respond will not remain true to their call. It is only those who respond and remain faithful who become the chosen of God.

Jesus’ radical message

This was first published on the Jesus Christ in History Society web site.

The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the central element of Christianity.

Jesus was born in ca. 4 BC in Bethlehem. His parents, Joseph and Mary, took him down to Egypt soon after he was born, in order to escape the murderous rage of King Herod the Great. After Herod died, the family returned to Israel from Egypt, and while they contemplated living in Bethlehem, Joseph considered this to be too dangerous, so they returned to Mary’s former home city of Nazareth. From Nazareth, they all visited the Jerusalem temple when Jesus was twelve years old. He was trained as a carpenter; he worked with his hands, as did all Jewish young men.

Jesus began his teaching ministry when he was about 30 years old. Some who knew him were surprised by his wisdom and eloquence, and had difficulty accepting his message.
Jesus teaching was truly counter-cultural, and indeed it still is, despite the fact that Jesus’ teachings have transformed the world’s way of living in ways that no one would have expected 2000 years ago.

Yet Jesus expected that his teaching would transform the world if his followers remained true to his message.
Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?”
Jesus also said, “You are the light of the world. … Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
[Adapted from Matthew 5:13-16 NIV]
Rather than money and acquisition of property being the foundations for a successful life, Jesus taught that there were other values that were more important.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.”
[Matthew 5:6-9 NIV]
Indeed, Jesus taught that following him was not the easy way of life, but one that offered challenges to all his followers.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs in the kingdom of heaven.”
[Matthew 5:10 NIV]
While his teachings were discomforting for the leaders of the Jewish people, and for many others as well, it was his claim to be the Jewish Messiah (the Christ) that cause the most consternation. It was on account of this claim that he was given up by the Jewish leaders to be crucified by the Romans.
Yet it was his resurrection from the dead that Christians believe vindicates his claim to be the promised one, who comes from God, and it is this message that has been a central part of Christian beliefs since the very earliest times.