Continuing Acts: Peter and Paul
Our Bible studies start up again this week, and we're continuing in Acts. But we reached a natural stopping point before Christmas, so now we're starting by recapping where we've been and where we're going. In particular, we're looking again at those two important characters, Peter and Paul. Part 1 (before Christmas) was mostly Peter. Part 2 will be mostly Paul, but can we really split them up? And if we can, why didn't Luke just write two books instead?
(11) Peter and Paul
Saints Peter and Paul are both important in the books of Acts, but which one (if either) is more important, and why do we care? Is it human or holy to always want to find the “best” of everything, instead of rejoicing in what we’re given?
Which one of Peter and Paul spends more time on center stage in Acts? Which one has a greater influence in the growth of the new church, or in the Christian church today? Would you describe a particular church or denomination as following one or the other, and do you think such a description would be helpful or divisive or both?
Christian churches celebrate a joint feast day of Peter and Paul. Is this a sort of conglomerate feast, like Presidents’ Day, or is there a good reason to celebrate these two saints together? Do you imagine they worked together? Did they teach and preach together? Did they die together? Write down your first thoughts, then follow through the study questions to see if you change your mind.
Tradition and Peter
1. Was Peter the first leader of the Christian church? If so, who ordained him? If not, who do we think was first? (Read Matthew 16:18, Acts 12:1-3, 1 Corinthians 15:3-7, Acts 2:14-16)
2. Did Peter lead the church in Jerusalem? (Read Acts 1:15-17, 4:3, 5:1-3, 9:32, 10:9-13, 12:7, 15:6-9)
3. Did he lead the church in Rome? (Tradition says Peter and Paul led the church in Rome together, but the church was there before either of them reached the city.) Why is human leadership so important?
4. Who wrote the gospel of Mark? (Tradition suggests Mark may have copied down the story as learned from Peter. Read Mark 1:29-31. Can you think of other places that suggest personal knowledge?) Why is personal knowledge so important? Did Paul have personal knowledge?
5. When did Peter first meet Paul? (Tradition suggests Paul was a major presence at the stoning of Steven, though he didn’t take part. Why else might Luke have mentioned Paul’s presence if he was just watching from the sidelines?)
6. How might Peter have responded to news of Paul’s conversion? Modern critics often suggest Peter and Paul were always enemies, as if Peter never quite believed Paul’s story. What do you think? (Read Acts 9:26-28, Galatians 1:18)
7. Did Peter teach the same faith as Paul? (Read Galatians 2:1-5,9, 2 Peter 3:15-16)
8. Did Peter preach in the same places as Paul? (Read Galatians 2:11-14)
9. Did Peter go to Rome? (Read 1 Peter 5:13. Some commentators take this as a veiled reference to Rome. Others point out that Mark might have been in Alexandria at the time. But non-Biblical traditions – the Acts of Peter and Paul, Tertullian, Origen, Clement – say Peter did become a leader of the Christian church in Rome, as did Paul.)
10. How did Peter die? (Tradition says he was martyred by being crucified upside down – not unlikely as Roman soldiers liked to try new ideas. Read John 21:18-19.)
Tradition and Paul
1. What is Paul’s background and education? How is he different from Peter? If we think of Peter and Paul as the two great fathers of the faith, how does it help to recognize how different they were from each other?
2. Why is Paul sometimes called Saul? Did he change his name at his conversion? (As a Roman citizen, he had to have a Roman name. Paul is the Romanized version of the Jewish name Saul. Read Acts 13:9 – this is the first time Luke calls him Paul.)
3. Why might Saul have preferred to use his Roman name? (Read 1 Corinthians 9:19-23) What can we learn from this?
4. How well, or badly, did Paul get on with Peter? (Read Galatians 2:6-9,11-14, Matthew 18:15-17)
5. Can you really “split” the ministries of Peter and Paul into Jewish and Gentile churches? (Read Acts 10:9-13) Can we/should we really split our modern church into denominations. (Read 1 Corinthians 1:12)
6. When did Paul first go to Rome? (The book of Acts does not mention the destruction of Jerusalem, so it was probably written before AD 70)
7. Did Paul bring Christianity to Rome? (Read Acts 28:14-15)
8. Did Paul die during his imprisonment in Rome? (Some traditions suggest he was released and wrote some of his epistles later, before being martyred by beheading during a later imprisonment in Rome.)
Peter and Paul
1. So why might we celebrate both saints with one feast day?
2. How can we convincingly argue that Peter and Paul preached the same Christ, with the same authority and purpose, if non-Christian neighbors argue that they didn't?
3. Some non-believers argue that Christianity is an artificial faith based on Paul’s desire to become famous. How would you try to convince them otherwise?
4. Is it true that some of Paul’s teachings “go further” or are more detailed than Christ’s teaching given in the gospels? Is it a problem if they do?
5. What is the difference between faith in Jesus, and faith placed in a book or certified set of doctrines? How does this help us explain the church’s evolving teaching on, say, the Trinity, abstinence from blood, slavery, the role of women, etc. (Actually, we’ll find Paul’s teaching is not so anti-women as it’s portrayed as we continue these studies, so perhaps the modern church has just evolved back toward its roots.)