Monday, March 1, 2010

Paul's and Peter's Epistles: Similar or Different?

Were the Apostles Paul and Peter at odds with one another in the first century? Perhaps they were rivals or nemesis? Were there such differences in their epistles that warranted some liberal schools of theology to say that the great Apostles were at such opposite ends of the pole theologically so as to interpret the New Testament epistles in light of this conflict. I would suggest otherwise.

Similarities and differences abound in any body of writing when two entirely different individuals are doing the writing. Differences can be one of style, different objectives, personality, and in the case of holy writ, differences of revelation God Himself chose to give to the writers of Scripture. In each men’s writing course the same Messiah, the same death burial, and resurrection, and the same plan of salvation. There is no conflict of revelation only differences of degree of revelation and emphasis.

One example is that in the Pauline writings, the church and its Biblical organization is stressed. The time period between the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension to His glorious return is more fully developed through the Apostle’s writings through the epistles to Ephesians 3,4, Timothy , Titus, and the church at Thessalonica. What the church was to look like and function as on a practical basis was revealed to Paul and expressed in his writing. Peter would have known of the church from Matthew 16 as he was in close proximity with the Lord Jesus, however, the details would come in Paul’s writings.

Whereas Paul’s audience was mostly gentiles, Peter had Judeo-Christian readers. His emphasis in writing to this Jewish believing audience, making the transition from a life time of observing the Law of Moses to a life of being saved by Grace through the instrumentality of faith, was the emphasis of making your calling and election sure in an age in which the sheep and the goats mingle together in the church as revealed in the Gospels. (Matt. 25:31-46. Also See “Parable of the Weeds”: Matt.13:24-30)

“Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth6 you now have.” (2 Peter 1:10-12. NIV)

In such theological harmony with Paul was Peter that the Apostle wrote of Paul’s writing and its content:

Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.” (2 Peter 3:15,16. NIV)

Writing of the goats among the sheep or the tares growing with the wheat, Peter warns his believing audience of the false believer’s scripture twisting ways but advises that Paul is to be trusted. Peter trusted Paul. I contend there was no conflict of theology and its practice between the two Apostles. Peter calls Paul’s writing Scripture.

So what, if any, was the conflict between Paul and Peter that has caused liberals to point and proclaim contradiction in Scripture? Some point to an issue at Antioch when Paul opposed Peter:

“When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, "You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?”” (Galatians 2:11-14. NIV)

Peter lapsed in applying an aspect of the truth of the Gospel of which he was aware, “That by the death of Christ the partition wall between Jew and Gentile was taken down, and the observance of the law of Moses was no longer in force; as Peter's offence was public, he publicly reproved him. There is a very great difference between the prudence of St. Paul, who bore with, and used for a time, the ceremonies of the law as not sinful, and the timid conduct of St. Peter, who, by withdrawing from the Gentiles, led others to think that these ceremonies were necessary.” (Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible, Galatians 2:11-14.)

A brother reproving another is hardly basis for saying that there was a conflict in doctrine.

The Antioch affair demonstrates the need for a plurality in the church leadership. No man is infallible and needs others within the church’s leadership to rebuke when necessary. It is this plurality in the leadership of the church that holds each leader, elders and deacons, accountable to one another and ultimately to the individual members of the body. The case between Peter and Paul was not a theological dispute of the foundations of the Gospel. It was one brother helping another who had temporarily lost his way get back on track.

Both Paul and Peter wrote of the fundamentals of the Gospel of Jesus Christ with slightly difference distinctions and emphases directed to specific audiences. Perhaps this is why they earned the distinctions of the Apostle to the Gentiles (Paul) and the Apostle to the Circumcision (Peter).