Right in the first chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul responded to the troubling news that was sent to him from Chloe about how factions were developing among the Corinthian Christ believers. That is, in 1 Corinthians 1:12 we hear that different groups were claiming to be followers of either Paul, Apollos, or Cephas (i.e. Peter), with one group claiming to be morally superior to all the rest by professing their sole allegiance to Christ. Acts 18:24-19:1 describes Apollos as an Alexandrian Jew who was a learned exegete of Scripture and an enthusiastic preacher of Jesus, though apparently he only knew some preliminary details (e.g. “the baptism of John”) and had to be instructed more thoroughly by Paul’s co-workers Priscilla and Aquila, and that he ministered in Ephesus and Corinth. Was Apollos the real source of the division in Corinth? Perhaps Paul’s polemical remarks about mere human wisdom and rhetorically eloquent speech were partially directed at Apollos. In this case, Peter’s name could have been added to make the rhetorical point about the foolishness of aligning with one leader over another, when they were mere servants of the gospel (see 1 Cor 3:4-8, 22-23). On the other hand, perhaps Peter did make a trip to Corinth and a faction had formed there that claimed to be loyal to the mother church in Jerusalem. According to the bishop Dionysius of Corinth, Peter and Paul had planted the gospel in Corinth and Rome (Letter to Pope Soter, in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.25.8). If the latter is the case, that means that Peter was also a travelling missionary along with his wife (cf. 1 Cor 9:5) and strengthens the possibility that he moved from Corinth to Rome.
Eventually in this series, we will take a brief look at the later legends about the Apostle Peter and Simon Magus, and their epic battle in Rome. However, Wayne Coppins, the Associate Professor of Religion at the University of Georgia who has done so much to translate German biblical scholarship into English here, has a great post on the condemnation of Simon Magus in the Jewish Christian Pseudo-Clementine writings. Specifically, he looks at the famous nineteenth century approach of Ferdinand Christian Baur who viewed Simon Magus as a cipher for the Apostle Paul and saw this literature as a window into the earliest conflict between Jewish Christianity and Gentile (Pauline) Christianity. He also notes Markus Bockmuehl’s critique of Baur’s position. This reminds me of Jonathan Bernier’s post critiquing the points where Baur’s theory of Christian origins is not supported by the textual data.
It is likely that the voluntary Christ associations in Rome were indebted to Jewish missionaries who spread the gospel to them. We already hear about a dispute among the Jews over someone named Chrestus that lead the emperor Claudius to expel a number of Jews from Rome in 49 CE (Seutonius, Claudius 25), which is arguably a misspelling of Christos or “Christ” and had the Jewish Christ followers Priscilla and Aquila among the victims of the expulsion (Acts 18:2). It is probable that the creed that Paul cites in Romans 1:3-4 about how Jesus was a descendant of king David and that his powerful rule as the royal Son of God was exemplified by his resurrection from the dead was a well-known belief that Paul held in common with these other Jewish believers.
Paul admits in his letter to the Romans that he did not have firsthand acquaintance with the Christ associations in Rome and that he would prefer to not build on another person’s foundation (see Rom 1:8-13; 15:18-32). He wrote the letter to introduce himself and his theological ideas to the congregations in Rome, to encourage unity between Jewish and non-Jewish Christ followers in Rome, and to raise funds for a future venture to Spain. It is possible that Peter was one of the missionaries who laid the foundation for the gospel in Rome, but Paul does not explicitly specify this. Moreover, Paul does not ask his recipients to send greetings to Cephas or Peter, which would be odd if Peter was already there by 57 CE. Perhaps this is an argument from silence or just an indication that Peter had not yet arrived in the capital.
According to Galatians 2:1-10, the Apostle Paul returned to Jerusalem after 14 years of ministry to visit the so-called Jerusalem “Pillars” Cephas (i.e. Peter), John, and James. The reason for the visit was that his “gospel” to the “Gentiles” or the non-Jewish peoples of the world had become a source on controversy and he felt impelled to present it to the leaders of repute in Jerusalem. From Paul’s perspective, they worked out a division of labour where the Pillars would preach to the “circumcised” and Paul to the “uncircumcised”, euphemisms for Jews and Gentiles respectively. The question is whether this means that their respective mission fields extended to the Jews and non-Jews throughout the Roman Empire or that the Pillars would largely be restricted to Judea and the surrounding regions while Paul would spread the good news to the rest of the nations. If the latter meaning is correct, it may be hard to reconcile this with Peter going on a missionary journey to Rome. Of course, circumstances may have changed and Peter could have felt compelled to undertake a mission to Rome later in his life.
I have compiled a select bibliography of the scholarship on whether or not Peter went to Rome and was executed in the capital. Please email me if you would like to see other sources included in this bibliography:
- Bauckham, Richard. “The Martyrdom of Peter in Early Christian Literature.” In Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt, Part II, vol. 26/1. Edited by W. Haase. Berlin and New York: de Gruyter, 1992), 539-595.
- Baur, Ferdinand Christian. “Die Christuspartei in der korinthischen Gemeinde, der Gegensatz des paulinischen und petrinischen Christentums in der ältesten Kirche, der Apostel Petrus in Rom.” Tübinger Zeitschrift für Theologie 4 (1831): 61-206.
- Bockmuehl, Markus. The Remembered Peter: In Ancient Reception and Modern Debate. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 1.262. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010.
- Bockmuehl, Markus. Simon Peter in Scripture and Memory: The New Testament Apostle in the Early Church. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012.
- Bond, Helen K. and Hurtado, Larry W. Editors. Peter in Early Christianity. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015.
- Cullmann, Oscar. Peter: Disciple, Apostle, Martyr. Translated from the German by Floyd V. Filson. Philadelphia: The Westminster. Press, 1953.
- Eastman, David L. The Ancient Martyrdom Accounts of Peter and Paul. Atlanta: SBL, 2015.
- Ehrman, Bart D. Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene: The Followers of Jesus in History and Legend. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.
- Goulder, Michael W. “Did Peter Ever Go to Rome?” Scottish Journal of Theology 57.4 (2004) 377–96.
- Heid, Stefan. Editor. Petrus und Paulus in Rom: Eine interdisziplinäre Debatte. Freiburg: Herder, 2011.
- Hengel, Martin. Saint Peter: The Underestimated Apostle. Translated by Thomas H. Trapp. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010.
- Lampe, Peter. From Paul to Valentinus: Christians at Rome in the First Two Centuries. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003.
- Lietzmann, Hans. Petrus und Paulus in Rom: Liturgische und Archäologische Studien. Bonn: Verlag, 1915.
- McDowell, Sean. The Fate of the Apostles: Examining the Martyrdom Accounts of the Closest Followers of Jesus. Surrey and Burlington: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2015.
- O’ Connor, Daniel William. Peter in Rome: The Literary, Liturgical, and Archeological Evidence. New York: Columbia University Press, 1969.
- Perkin, Pheme. Peter: Apostle for the Whole Church. Second Edition. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000.
- Wenham, John. “Did Peter Go to Rome in AD 42?” Tyndale Bulletin 23 (1972): 94-102.
- Zweirlein, Otto. Petrus in Rom: die literarischen Zeugnisse. Mit einer kritischen Edition der Martyrien des Petrus und Paulus auf neuer handschriftlicher Grundlage. Untersuchungen zur antiken Literatur und Geschichte, Bd. 96. Berlin and New York: De Gruyter, 2009.
- Zweirlein, Otto. Petrus und Paulus in Jerusalem und Rom. Vom Neuen Testament zu den apokryphen Apostelakten. UaLG 109. Berlin and Boston: de Gruyter, 2013.
Here are all the passages that I will be dealing with over the course of this series:
- Galatians 2:1-10
- Romans 16
- 1 Corinthians 1:12; 3:22 (cf. Dionysius of Corinth, in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.25.8)
- Acts 12:17
- 1 Peter 5:13
- 2 Peter 1:13-15
- John 21:18-19
- 1 Clement 5:4
- Ignatius, Romans 4.3
- Justin Martyr, First Apology 26; 56 (cf. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.23.1-4; Hippolytus, Refutation of all Heresies 6.15; Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.14.1-6; 2.17.1; Jerome, Illustrious Men 1)
- Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.1.1; 3.3.2
- Clement of Alexandra, in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.15.1-2; 6.14.5-7 and Adumbrationes on 1 Peter 5:13
- Tertullian, Prescription against Heretics 36; Scorpion’s Sting 15
- Gaius, in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.25.6-7
- The Acts of Peter
In light of the book review that I just posted, I thought it could be interesting to explore with blog readers the evidence for Peter’s ministry and death in the capital of the Roman Empire. I am also adding a picture from when I visited St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome back in 2012 and touched the foot of the famous statue of St. Peter.
The latest edition of Relegere: Studies in Religion and Reception is out. You can find my review of Helen K. Bond’s and Larry W. Hurtado’s edited volume Peter in Early Christianity. I attended the conference which lead to the book and the book does a great job of assembling a number of specialists in a variety of areas to cover different aspects of Peter’s life and legacy, while I offer some grateful and critical comments about a few points regarding the portrayal of Peter in the New Testament documents, the tradition that the evangelist Mark was Peter’s interpreter, and the textual evidence for Peter’s mission in Rome. Enjoy.
Over at the website “New Testament @ the University of Oxford,” I was pleased to see my book included in the reading lists for the following questions: “Did Mark’s Gospel Fail or Succeed in its Literary and Theological Purpose” and “Dating the Four Gospels – And the Others.” The reading list will be helpful to students of the New Testament who are beginning to explore these questions.
How should Christians deal with the differences between the Gospel of John and the other three “Synoptic” Gospels when all four Gospels are included in the New Testament scriptures? I found Richard Bauckham’s lecture online entitled “The Johannine Jesus and the Synoptic Problem” to be a very interesting reflection on this manner. He highlights how John’s narrative presupposes details in the Synoptic narrative, elaborates on specific themes that are present in the Synoptics in distinctively Johannine ways, and reevaluates the suffering of Jesus’s Passion as a revelation of divine glory. Bauckham’s piece may suggest John’s knowledge of the Synoptic Gospels or at least of Mark’s text, though other scholars may still see this as a sign of John’s independent familiarity with the traditions that were incorporated into the Synoptic Gospels. In either case, one function of putting these four Gospels together is that we can see how they complement each other and how each contributes to a fuller picture of the person and work of Jesus.
At the website https://bible.org, W. Hall Harris III and James M. Arlandson have helpful posts on the differences and similarities between John and the Synoptic Gospels. Felix Just lists many of the passages that are only listed in either John or the Synoptics or the common material that is retold in very different ways. James D. Dvorak has an article for the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society freely available online that reviews the scholarship on this question up until 1998. Sarah E. Rollens has a review for Marginalia on James Barker’s contribution about the relationship between the Gospels of John and Matthew.