The latter years of the first century A.D. saw the emergence of a number of "bishops" who set about establishing their authority to rule over these rival communities and the task of bringing some order into conflicting beliefs. One of the first bishops to fire a warning shot across the bows of Christians was Clement, Bishop of Rome (c. A.D. 90-95), who was supposed to have been the fourth successor of Peter.
Clement argued that the leaders of the Church had been delegated by God as "rulers on earth" and that people should submit to the authority of bishops and priests, who were, so to speak, authorized to keep the keys of the kingdom, with the power of discipline and judgment over what he called "the laity."
In his first epistle to the Corinthians, he wrote: "The apostles received the gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ. . . they appointed their first-fruits . . . to be bishops and deacons unto them that should believe." The bishops, in turn, could appoint their successors: "Our apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife over the name of the bishop's office. For this cause therefore, having received complete foreknowledge, they appointed the aforesaid persons (the bishops), and afterwards they provided a continuance, that if these would fall asleep other approved men would succeed to their ministration" (I Clement: 44). (Here no apostle's name—neither Paul's nor Peter's—is given.) The Church in Rome was the first to be organized in this way, an example followed by other branches in the next century.
The "bishops" needed justification to establish their own authority. They were unable to turn to Paul because he stated clearly that his encounter with Christ was not physical but spiritual, and because he never established a priesthood in the churches he founded.
Paul's letters make it clear that he differed from the Jerusalem apostles not simply in preaching to the Gentiles as well as the Jews, but in his introduction of the concept of a Redeemer born into a wicked world: "our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this evil world" (Galatians 1:3-4). The belief that a divinely appointed Savior (The Suffering Servant) had already lived and been sacrificed had first been voiced, as we have seen, by the Israelite prophet Isaiah, writing in the sixth century B.C. However, Isaiah's interpretation of resurrection was confined to the Suffering Servant and neither the Essenes nor Simon (Peter) represented the resurrection of Jesus as an act of redemption for mankind. It is the Gnostic gospels and the letters of Paul that first speak of the resurrection of those who believe in Christ.
In addition, Paul had elaborated a "theology of the Cross." His Cross was not the Roman cross of punishment, but the ankh, the Egyptian cross, which is a symbol of life, not of death. Early Christian communities of the first three centuries used mainly the ankh or, as their symbol, a fish (Plate 33), which indicated resurrection in the tombs of Abydos in Upper Egypt from 4000 B.C. The ankh is also to be seen in relief on the temple walls and tombs of ancient Egypt from the time of Akhenaten (Moses) where the rays of the sun, symbolizing Aten (the Lord), are directed at the king and queen and end in hands distributing to them the ankh, the key of life. It was the positive significance of the ankh as the symbol of eternal life that persuaded early Christians to adopt it as the sign of Christ's victory over death.
Neither Simon (Peter) nor any of the Jerusalem apostles, James and the Twelve, is ever quoted as speaking of the Cross as a symbol of Christ or of their own community. It was not, in fact, until the fifth century a.d. that the Roman-Latin cross in which the upright beam projects above the shorter crossbeam became established—through the New Testament story—as the general symbol of the Christian faith, and not until the following century that the body of Christ on the Cross was represented.
The positive significance of the Egyptian ankh is reflected in the fact that Paul's theology of the Cross did not focus on the suffering and death of Jesus, but on his resurrection and the promise of eternal life. The ankh represents the living Jesus: "I am crucified"—in the broader sense of "have died"—
"with Christ: nevertheless I live: yet not I but Christ liveth in me . . ." (Galatians 2:20), which reinforces the Gnostic concept of "God within."
As an alternative to Paul, the "bishops" therefore turned to "Simon called Peter," whose Jerusalem Church had been organized on the authoritarian lines they themselves wished to foster, and, in order to establish their apostolic line of succession, created the myth that Peter, having made a miraculous escape from prison, had spent the latter years of his life in Rome, where he had been ultimately martyred, and that he had been a contemporary of Jesus, who had appointed him head of the Christian Church.
One of the earliest ecclesiastical references to Peter is said to have been made by Clement, Bishop of Rome. As early as A.D. 95 he wrote a letter to the Corinthians of which the text is given conventionally as: "By reason of jealousy and envy the greatest and most righteous pillars of the Church were persecuted and contended even unto death. Let us set before our eyes the good apostles. Peter, who, by reason of unrighteous jealousy, endured not one, not two, but many labours, and thus having borne his testimony went to his appointed place of glory. By the reason of jealousy and strife, Paul by his example pointed out the prize of patient endurance. After he had been seven times in bonds, he had been driven into exile, had been stoned, had preached in the east and in the west, he won the noble renown which was the whole of his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world and having reached the farthest bounds of the west..."
Although the death of someone identified as Peter is mentioned, there is no indication that he ever visited Rome or that he was martyred there. Moreover, the name "Peter" is not mentioned clearly: it has been supplied by conjecture as the last two letters "ER" are missing from the text. In such circumstances, the meaning of the word is unclear. It was not until A.D. 160 that the story developed further. Dionysus, Bishop of Corinth, is quoted by Eusebius in his later history of the Church as saying that both "Peter and Paul taught in our Corinth and were our founders, and taught together in Italy in the same place and were martyred at the same time."
By the early years of the third century A.D. the tradition of Peter's sojourn in Rome and martyrdom was firmly established and remains so to this day, despite the lack of any supporting evidence. Some apparent consolation was provided by the first epistle of St. Peter, which Christian scholars date to having been written in Rome shortly before Peter's martyrdom. However, more recent study has indicated that the epistle was written by somebody else during the second century A.D. Doubts have also been cast on its authenticity by examination of certain words in the penultimate para graph: "The Church that is at Babylon . . . saluteth you . . ." (5:13). Here "Babylon" has been taken to be a codeword for Rome, but we know of no case in the New Testament or any other source of that period where the name Babylon—referring to cities in Mesopotamia and Egypt (ancient Cairo)—was substituted for Rome by the bisops of Rome. An early Jewish work adduced as evidence that Babylon was a codename for Rome is the Sibylline Oracles, a classical pagan prophecy dating from the last quarter of the second century A.D. Particular importance attaches to Book 8, which is full of fierce invective against Rome and foretells the punishment that will befall the city. Here again nothing in the text suggests that Babylon is being used as a synonym for Rome.
The campaign in the Church's early years to establish Jesus as a contemporary of Peter, who had appointed him head of the Christian Church, was accompanied by a campaign to diminish the importance of Paul. This second campaign was given literary form in the last quarter of the second century A.D. with the appearance of the Book of Acts. Authorship of the original version was, by a tradition dating from the second century A.D., assigned to Luke, the author of the third canonical gospel, and divided into two sections—the history of the early Church in Palestine, based on documents or oral information, and an account of Paul's later missionary voyages, on which it was said that Luke accompanied him.
The Book of Acts is mentioned for the first time, however, by Irenaeus (A.D. 130-202), Bishop of Lyon and one of the early Church Fathers, writing between A.D. 170 and 180. This gap of a century between the events and the book, plus the many contradictions between Paul's letters and the story presented in Acts, led scholars in the last century to the conclusion that, while Luke may have contributed some details of Paul's voyages, the book draws on other sources and was edited substantially in the second century to enhance the importance of "Simon called Peter" and his Judaeo-Christian Church. A. T. Hanson, Professor of Christian Theology at Nottingham university, made the point in his book The Acts in the Revised Version that "we cannot be absolutely certain that Acts was recognized and used widely by Christians before a.d. 170."
Comparison between the Alexandrian text, the earliest copy, of the Book of Acts and a later Greek text, known as the Western text, shows clearly the degree of editing that took place, designed particularly to place Paul in a position of lesser importance. The process is particularly striking in the two versions of Paul's conversion. The Book of Acts makes no mention of Paul's visit to "Arabia." Instead it presents his conversion in a form that links him with the Jerusalem Church as the source of his faith. It is here that we find details of his encounter with Jesus as he made his way from Jerusalem to Damascus with orders to arrest any Christians he found there and bring them back to Jerusalem for trial. After his vision he is said to have been baptized by Ananias (9:18), a Judaeo-Christian, and, after spending some days with other Judaeo-Christian disciples in Damascus "straightaway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God" (9:20)—that is, he is said to have preached what the Judaeo-Christian disciples had taught him.
Chapter 9 goes on to relate how, in the face of a Jewish plot to kill him, Paul made his way to Jerusalem where he was at first shunned by Christians until Barnabas introduced him to the apostles, who now received him into their society. He supported them actively in proclaiming the gospel until another Jewish threat to his life caused him to flee, not to Syria and Cilicia, as his own account states, but specifically to Tarsus, his birthplace.
The contradictions between the two accounts of Paul's conversion, and the motive that explains them, were analyzed by the German scholar Edward Zeller in his authoritative book The Acts of the Apostles:
The account is impossible to reconcile in parts with the apostle's own statements in the Epistle to the Galatians . . . On [his] journey to Arabia the Acts is not only completely silent, but leaves no space vacant for it. How could the apostle say he went to Arabia immediately after his call, without previous conference with others, if he had first sojourned for some time with Christians at Damascus and had there begun to preach the gospel . . . ?
In Jerusalem [according to the Acts] Paul was brought to the apostles, with whom he now associated for some time. In Galatians the Apostle himself asseverates with solemn protestations that he went to Jerusalem to see Cephas (Peter), but of the other apostles he saw none, save James, the Lord's brother . . . The account of the Epistle to the Galatians has the avowed purpose of proving Paul's independence of all human authority, and especially of all influence of the primitive (Jerusalem) apostles. But this is just what the author of the Acts does not want. His narrative is therefore reversely planned, so as to bring Paul right from the start into the closest connection with the Twelve, and with the Jewish people.
Hence the silence respecting the journey to Arabia; hence the curtailment of the three years which elapsed between the apostle's conversion and his first visit to Jerusalem; hence the prolongation of his sojourn in this city; hence the extension of the two apostles whom Paul really saw into the apostles; hence the fabulous intercourse with the apostles, which is unknown to the Epistle to the Galatians; hence the preaching of the gospel in Jerusalem, which is improbable in itself.
When all the undeniably unhistorical features in which a later account deviates are so simply explained by one and the same motive, it is certainly in the highest degree probable that the cause of these deviations is to be sought in the very motive.
It is possible to cite other examples of the same process. For instance, although Barnabas was a leader of a rival branch of the Church, the Book of Acts claims (11:25-26) that it was the Jerusalem apostles who sent him to Antioch to establish the Church there. In its account of the Council of Jerusalem it also suggests that it was the Jerusalem apostles who gave Paul authority to preach to the Gentiles, although his own account makes it quite clear that they were not granting the authority, merely recognizing that he already had it from another source, a message we find repeated in another of his letters: "I have written more boldly unto you . .. because of the grace that is given to me of God, That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God . . ." (Romans 15:15-16).
Edward Zeller also made the point that, apart from conflicting with Paul's own account, the Book of Acts' account of his conversion contained such a large number of internal inconsistencies as to expose itself to "mistrust":
Of Paul's companions [at the time of his supposed conversion on the road to Damascus] it is said that they all fell to the ground (26:14); in 9:7, on the contrary, that they all remained standing in amazement while Paul fell down in terror. The two cannot be harmonized . . .
Of the same persons it is said (9:7) that they indeed heard the voice that spoke to Paul, but saw no one; (in 22:9), on the contrary, that they saw the light which appeared to him, but did not hear the voice . . . still more important is it that some of the words attributed to Jesus appearing in the vision (26:16-18) are quoted (9:15) as a speech of Jesus to Ananias, in 22:15, 21, partly as a speech of Ananias, partly as a speech of Jesus in a second appearance to Paul.
The sensible approach to contradictions between Paul's own account of events and the Book of Acts version was summarized, as we saw earlier, by Martin Debelius, Professor of Theology at Heidelberg, in his book Paul.* After the account in Chapter 12 of Simon's (Peter's) arrest and imprisonment, which has been construed as an account of his actual death c. A.D. 44, we find James—who had supposedly been executed before the arrest and imprisonment of Simon (Peter)—presented as the leader of the Jerusalem apostles at the subsequent Council of Jerusalem. This would be a reasonable course of events if Simon (Peter) was dead. However, a few verses before James makes his appearance as the person in charge of proceedings, we are told that Simon (Peter) as still alive—with words put into his mouth that serve only to make a liar of him. He is quoted as saying to the apostles and elders: "Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe" (15:7). This could not be true about Simon (Peter). He taught that the New Covenant—"Be baptized, keep my commandments"— was applicable only to circumcised Jews who kept the law of Moses. All the evidence points to "Simon called Peter's" name having been inserted at this point as part of the myth that he was still alive.
After the Jerusalem meeting, the name of Simon (Peter) disappears entirely from the narrative, while Paul embarked on his second and third missionary journeys. The Book of Acts describes how, on his final return, he made his way again to Jerusalem where he was accused of polluting the Temple and was about to be killed by a riotous mob when Roman soldiers arrested him. He was remanded to the custody of Felix, the Roman procurator at Caesarea. When Paul insisted on his right as a Roman citizen to be tried before an imperial court, it was decided that he should be sent to Rome, a journey that lasted several months because the ship taking him foundered on the way.
The last verses of the book describe how, instead of actually facing trial in Rome, Paul "dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him." Yet, despite the later tradition that Peter resided in Rome and was eventually martyred there, we find no evidence in the New
* "The information about Paul as it is presented in The Acts Of The Apostles is not reliable since it is not autobiographical; and if it contradicts plain statements in the letters [or Paul] it has to take second place."
Testament to support this belief. The Book of Acts narrative of Paul's years in Rome never suggests that "Simon called Peter" was there, or had ever been there, and Paul's letter to the Roman Church gives no hint that this Church had any connection with "Simon called Peter." Nor do we have any precise details of Paul's eventual death, but a second-century tradition existed that it took place at the hands of Nero, the colorful and vicious imperial persecutor of Christians, in A.D. 64 or A.D. 67, shortly after completion of the various letters from Paul to scattered branches of the Church that are the first written evidence we have of events in the first century of the Christian era.
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