100 Answers in 100 Days

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Sharing answers to the various questions of faith I have faced, and which others have been challenged with also.

Friday, February 11, 2011

#42: Did Paul and Peter have different doctrines and different missions?

We briefly saw yesterday that some people make a distinction between various books of the Bible, saying that some books only apply to certain people at certain times. And we saw how some people make this distinction between the writings of Paul and the epistle of James, as well as the book of Revelation. But this division is not right; there are not two different messages in the Bible, there are not two different ways for a person to be saved, and there are not two different people of God requiring two different sets of books. Yet another division that people make is between Paul and Peter. Galatians says:

I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (Galatians 2:7)

Some people see this as two different gospels to two different groups of people – the uncircumcised, meaning Gentiles, and the circumcised, meaning Jews. However, we can say for certain that it is the same gospel being presented to these two groups of people. As we read Galatians, Paul's whole point in the first few chapters is that he received the message of the gospel directly from the risen Christ, having learned the gospel long before he ever met up with any of the other Apostles. When Paul finally met up with the other Apostles and told them what he was teaching, low and behold it was the very same gospel. Paul had said in chapter 1 that if anyone preached another gospel than what he was preaching, they should be accursed (Galatians 1:8-9). Later in chapter 2, Paul opposes Peter for his behaviour being “not in step with the truth of the gospel” (Galatians 2:14). In Peter's own epistles, Peter writes...

...just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him (2 Peter 3:15)

The same audience that Peter writes to, Paul also wrote to with the same message. Also in 1 Corinthians, one of Paul's epistles, we read this...

For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul”, or “I follow Apollos”, or “I follow Cephas” [another name for Peter], or “I follow Christ”. Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:11-13)

Paul is rebuking his readers for having such divisions; and one of the divisions happens to be between the teachings of Paul and the teachings of Peter! Paul is saying that no such division exists - “Is Christ divided?”

Now in Galatians 2:7 we saw that Paul seemed to have a mission to the Gentiles, while Peter had a mission to Jews. When sharing the gospel with others, we need to present it in a way they can understand. Being sensitive to Gentile or Jewish culture in one's presentation would be important, just as if a missionary who goes to preach to some native tribe in the jungle would need to understand their culture and present the gospel in a way that they could understand. Paul and Peter, both presenting the same message, simply divided their labours in this way. But that didn't mean that Paul didn't minister to the Jews in any way, or that Peter didn't minister to Gentiles in any way. We've already seen that Peter and Paul wrote to the same audience. It may simply be that Paul, who was a more educated man than Peter, was better suited to minister to Gentiles. In Acts 17, for example, we see Paul presenting the gospel to the Greek academics and philosophers of the day, and we see Paul putting his knowledge of Greek philosophy and culture to work in his presentation of the gospel.

As we noted briefly, in Galatians 2 Paul opposed Peter's behaviour on one occasion. What was this incident about? Let's read it...

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Galatians 2:11-14)

This demonstrates clearly that Peter ministered to Gentiles, and was rebuked by Paul when he apparently broke his associations with them.

Now in the King James version of the Bible, 2 Timothy 2:15 says “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” This phrase “rightly dividing” has suggested to many Christians that the Bible ought to be “divided” in the manner we've been speaking of. However, this is not the kind of division this passage speaks of. The ESV translates this as “rightly handling”, and it is in the context where Paul is telling Timothy to know the word of God in order to address disputes over doctrine in his congregation. The word “dividing” isn’t wrong; it is a valid alternative to the word “handling”. When handling something, there is a sense in which we “divide” it. In the next chapter, Paul describes the kind of “division” of the word that I think he's talking about in chapter 2...

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

The kind of “division” of the word, in this context, is that Timothy needs to know how to apply it to each individual in his congregation – some needing teaching, some needing reproof, etc. But all Scripture is profitable for these tasks.

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