Peter in Acts

Acts, the second part of Luke/Acts, contains the story of the Christian Church from the Ascension of Jesus to the arrival of St. Paul in Rome. The two parts are respectively predominantly concerned with St. Peter (Acts 1-15) and Paul (Acts 16-28) but there is considerable overlap in the first half.

Peter, last seen by Luke denying Christ and being penitent (Acts 22:54-62), takes immediate leadership of the community in the upper room by overseeing the confirmation of, Matthias, a new 12th Apostle (Acts 1:15-26). He then proclaims the Resurrection message at Pentecost Acts 2:15-40) before his encounters with the authorities (Acts 4:1-22; 5:17-42; 12:1-17), two of which result in miraculous escapes from prison. Peter is also responsible for the creation of Deacons (Acts 6:1-7) one of whom, Stephen, is the first Martyr in a scene where Paul makes his first appearance (Acts 6:8-6:15; 7; 8:1). Peter then leaves Jerusalem and begins his mission to the Gentiles (Acts 10:1) which involves renouncing Jewish food laws (Acts 10:9-16; 11:1-10).

The turning point of Acts is the 'Council of Jerusalem" (Acts 15:1-29) which confirms Peter as the Apostle to the Jews and Paul as the Apostle to the Gentiles. The main business is to settle how far Gentiles are to observe Jewish law, a subject which has already caused controversy in Antioch (Acts 15:1-2) not least between Peter and Paul (Galatians 2:11-16). Peter's role seems to be as President of the Council whereas James the Brother of Jesus seems to be the Secretary. Gentiles need only follow Jewish law in the matter of: "... things polluted by idols ... fornication ... things strangled ... and blood: (NRSV 15.20b) or: "... what has been sacrificed to idols ... blood ... what is strangled and fornication" (NRSV 15.28). The translations are problematic and may refer exclusively to food laws but they might equally refer to murder.

Thereafter Peter disappears from the account. By tradition he is supposed to have followed Paul to Rome where he was crucified, head downward, by Nero in 64.

There are at least four important themes in the first part of Acts:

KC 03/07

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