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Peter in Rome: A Prophecy of Peter’s Death in 2 Peter 1:14-15

Returning again to my notes on the Petrine Epistles here, one can review the arguments regarding the authorship and dating on 2 Peter. Richard Bauckham’s exceptional Word Biblical Commentary on Jude, 2 Peter compared 2 Peter to the Jewish testamentary genre that we may see in the example of The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs. In this literary genre, the hero is approaching death and utters a farewell discourse that pronounces blessings or curses and makes predictions about what is to come in the future. This hypothesis about the genre of 2 Peter has been challenged by Mark D. Mathews in the Bulletin of Biblical Research.

This background research is relevant to the exegesis of 2 Peter 1:13-15. “Peter,” facing his imminent “departure” (a euphemism for his death) and aware that he is about to leave his earthly body behind like a tent, is concerned to remind his audience about what he taught them. Particularly, “Peter” was worried about the powerful coming of Jesus since he foresees the emergence of scoffers who were going to place this doctrine into disrepute (see 2 Pet 1:16-21; 3:3-4). Furthermore, unless the author is talking about some other lost writing, 2 Peter 3:1 seems to presuppose 1 Peter, which would then locate Peter in “Babylon” and envision the same audience as Christ followers in Asia Minor. Thus, we have another New Testament tradition about Peter’s death, but there is still much scholarly debate over where to date this piece of evidence in the latter half of the first century or the first half of the second century CE.


Peter in Rome: Peter sends greetings from “Babylon” in 1 Peter 5:13

If you are interested in the questions surrounding the authorship, dating, and audience of the Petrine Epistles, I have compiled my own lecture notes here and most major commentaries will have full discussions on these matters. The question is what is meant by the greetings sent from “Babylon” in 1 Peter 5:13? Virtually no modern commentators see this as a literal reference to Babylon in Iraq, though the late Thomas Oden made the case that it was the Babylon of Egypt here. The vast majority of commentators argue that this was a cipher for Rome; like the Babylonian Empire of old, the Roman Empire was a world power, oppressed the people of God, and destroyed the Jerusalem temple in 70 CE as Nebuchadnezzar II had in 587 BCE (see also Revelation 17-18). Perhaps if this was an authentic letter from Peter, Peter was already using “Babylon” as a code name for Rome back in the 60s before he was executed under the order of emperor Nero. If the letter was “pseudonymous” or written by a Christian seeking to preserve Peter’s legacy after the apostle’s death, there may be a couple of ways to take this reference. Some scholars take this as indicating that the letter was sent from Christians upholding the apostolic faith, or even from a Petrine circle or school in Rome, while others argue that this is part of the fictitious setting of the letter presupposing the memory that Peter ended his life in Rome. The last option that has been entertained by Otto Zwierlein is that “Babylon” is not a reference to Rome at all, but to the metaphorical status of Christians as exiles and aliens, separated from their true homeland in heaven here. Depending on how one interprets this verse, 1 Peter 5:13 might possibly be the oldest textual reference to the social memory of Peter’s ministry in Rome.


Peter in Rome: Peter went to “another place” in Acts 12:17

Peter is the hero in the first twelve chapters of Acts. We see that the one who formerly denied that he knew Jesus now fearlessly proclaim that the crucified one has been exalted by God as Messiah and Lord. Peter also performs miracles in Jesus’s name. There are multiple instances where Peter suffers trials for his testimony: he is arrested after healing a lame person in the temple courts in Acts 4:1-23, he is re-arrested at the order of the high priests before his prison doors are miraculously opened in Acts 5:17-20, he is arrested a third time when he is discovered in the temple courts rather than in his prison cell and flogged after a trial before the Sanhedrin in Acts 5:21-40, and he is thrown into prison at the order of Herod Agrippa I (ca. 11 BCE – 44 CE) in Acts 12:3-6. After an angel leads Peter out of prison this last time, he returns to a congregation of Christ followers gathered at the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark (Acts 12:7-17). Verse 17 ends with this enigmatic note about Peter: “departing he went to another place” (exelthōn eporeuthē eis heteron topon). Is this a cryptic hint that Peter moved on to Rome in the early 40s CE shortly after he escaped the clutches of Herod Agrippa I? Or was this just a literary way to shuffle Peter off the stage and shift the spotlight over to Paul as the main protagonist of the second half of the book? Peter briefly resurfaces at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15:7-11 to defend the freedom of non-Jewish Christ followers from having to become proselytes to Torah-observance (Acts 15:1-22; cf. Gal 2:1-10), but Acts is also silent on the incident between Peter and Paul over mixed table fellowship at Antioch in Galatians 2:11-15 (but see the dispute between Paul and Barnabas in Acts 15:35-41) and we do not hear anymore about Peter’s story in the rest of the narrative of Acts.

Wayne Coppins on the Pseudo-Clementines

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.

Peter in Rome: The Greetings in Romans 16

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.

Peter in Rome: Galatians 2:1-10

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.

Peter in Rome: A Bibliography

I am going to start a new series on whether or not Peter went to Rome and was executed in the capital. To begin, I have compiled a select bibliography of the scholarship on this question. 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 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.
  • Zwierlein, 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.
  • Zwierlein, 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:

My Review of “Peter in Early Christianity”

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.

Richard Bauckham on a Canonical Reading of John and the Synoptics Together

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.

The Similarities and Differences between John and the Synoptic Gospels

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.