The Peter Principle–Part Fifteen

The Peter Principle–Part Fifteen January 19, 2020

Green’s treatment of the Petrine material in Acts is insightful in various ways. As Green points out, we do not find material about Jesus as the Son of Man or directly about the Kingdom of God, and even in regard to the ‘restoration of the kingdom to Israel’ there is no definite timeline given. Rather the focus in the Petrine speeches focuses on the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the responsibility of Jews for the death of Jesus, though it is stressed they did it in ignorance and so with repentance and embracing of the Gospel all is forgiven. There is also in the speech material occasional reference to the ministry of Jesus ‘doing good’ and healing people, and we see Peter following in Jesus’ footsteps doing the same, for instance in the Tabitha story. Green once more tries to connect this material with a New Exodus theme, but again: 1) the real trajectory in Acts is about the going out of the Word from Jerusalem to Rome, 2) the restoration of Israel is tabled until some future unknown time; 3) there is no return of Diaspora Jews permanently to the land, rather at Pentecost they visit, and then return to their homes in various lands, some of them to share the Good News about Jesus. In this regard, the story of the Ethiopian eunuch is typical. Once he recognizes Jesus as the Messiah, he does not return to Jerusalem, but rather goes back to Ethiopia. The preaching of Peter is to Jews and proselytes, and his surprise when the Holy Spirit falls on Cornelius and his family shows a man not starting a Gentile mission but surprised by joy at the exceptional circumstances. It is Paul who will have a Gentile mission and preach to them. We have to bear in mind that Peter is MIA after Acts 12, except for his important appearance in Acts 15 supporting the Gentile mission, and indeed the heart of the Gospel, which was not just Pauline, but apostolic in general. People are saved by grace through faith in Jesus— whoever they are and whatever their ethnic extraction.

One of the more interesting comparisons in Green’s study of Acts is the suggestion that Luke has cast his story like the classic epics, say the Odyssey of Homer. One can see this in the sea journey story about Paul and his shipwreck, and so there is something to this suggestion. Green is right of course that Acts is not in the form of Greek poetry unlike earlier epics or even Virgil’s Aeneid. Again he connects with with the theme of the New Exodus, but is the filling up of the Twelve really the beginning of the restoration of Israel? The Twelve as an entity disappear after that first chapter, and nothing is said about the 12 being the basis of Israel, or the judges of Israel thereafter. The Twelve are not Israel, they are missionaries to Israel, with Peter leading the way, hoping to bring Jews into this new covenant situation. In that sense, yes, the restoration of Israel comes not through a new exodus, or a restoration of the Land, but through the embracing of the death and resurrection of Jesus and through repentance.

We do not find the notion of the pre-existence of Christ in the speeches in Acts, though that does show up in 1 Peter. As Green says, the Petrine Christology is primitive in Acts— Jesus is a fully human messiah empowered by God, and appointed Lord by God who resurrected him from the dead and made him such. The Peter who objected strongly to the death of Jesus at the hands of violent men, in Acts embraces that that was part of God’s plan all along, he just didn’t understand it until after it happened. Green is right that statements like “God has made him both Lord and Christ” are not ontological comments, but rather statements about the new roles Jesus assumed at and after the resurrection.

One of the most convincing parts of Green’s detailed study is the discussion of the suffer servant material in Mark, in the speeches in Acts (3.13ff.) and in 1 Peter. Peter is the first to make these connections, and indeed, 1 Peter is the largest repository of discussion of this subject in the NT. Here we can indeed talk about an important theological contribution Peter made to early Christology. Likewise with the stone material in Acts 4.11 cf. 4.5-7 and in 1 Peter, Peter makes a contribution, and this one more clearly grounded in Jesus’ own remarks about that metaphor (Mk. 12.10-11). It seems somehow appropriate that someone nicknamed ‘the rock’ would talk about Christ as keystone or cornerstone, and about believers (in 1 Peter) being stones joined together with the STONE (see pp. 275-76).

One the most interesting emphases in this study is that while Jesus calls people to follow him, the apostles do not seek followers of themselves, rather they seek converts who repent and embrace Christ as his disciples. The call to ‘follow’ does not occur in Acts. Green takes a sacramental view of water baptism (‘it saves’) as if initiation was the same thing or included conversion, but it should be clear from both Acts and texts like 1 Cor. 1 that water baptism is not the change agent. Sometimes conversion happens at about the same time as water baptism, but the work of the Spirit can come before, during, after or without water baptism. Furthermore, when we finally get a theology of water baptism in Rom. 6, it is said to be about the death and burial of the old self, not the renewal that comes from the Spirit’s work. Even 1 Peter 3 says that baptism saves not by the water rite but only by the appeal for or pledge of a good conscience towards God. Baptism is something someone else does for or to you. It is a passive rite— the appeal for or pledge of a good conscience is an active response to the work of God, and in 1 Pet. 3 in any case Peter is talking about adult converts on the mission field, not ruling in or out the baptism of whole households as in the case of Cornelius. The discussion of the Spirit is more helpful, although I would demur from Green’s suggestion that Peter’s quoting of Joel 2 means that every last convert of Christianity has the gift of prophecy. No, Joel only says that all kinds of different persons from elite to servants could or would receive the gift. I would also note that Acts 2 is not about ‘speaking in angelic tongues’ or glossolalia. It is about a miraculous gift of speaking in foreign languages, such as Greek, a gift my doctoral students pray for regularly!! Green rightly emphasizes as well that Peter stresses theological ethics and eschatology in helpful ways in his speeches in Acts.

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