Friday, January 04, 2008

Brief History of Jewish Christianity, Part Two: Peter and the Twelve (

This post is the first of three dealing with the subject of The Jerusalem and Galilean churches and the Jewish mission to Jews (2.1.1) under the larger topic of A Brief History of Jewish Christianity in Palestine and the Diaspora (2.1). The subjects of the posts will be Peter and the Twelve (, James, the brother of Jesus ( and Jesus’ other brothers (

Luke’s account of the early history of the Jewish believing community in Jerusalem contains a significant amount of ambiguity with respect to the development of the leadership structures of the community. Clearly at first the Twelve function as the center of the Jerusalem leadership with Peter as the chairperson and spokesman so to say. Their leadership can be seen in a number of passages in the first 12 chapters of Acts. Among them are:

(1) The fact that they felt it necessary to appoint a replacement for Judas (1:12-26)
(2) Peter’s Pentecost sermon (2:14-41)
(3) Peter and John’s arrest and appearance before the Sanhedrin (4:1-21)
(4) Annias and Sapphira episode (5:1-11)
(5) Arrest and jailing of apostles (NB: for Luke the “apostles and the “Twelve” are synonyms)(5:17-42)
(6) The Twelve’s appointment of the seven spirit-filled men for ministry (6:2-6)
(7) The apostles sending of Peter and John to Samaria (8:14-15)
(8) Peter and Cornelius’ conversion (10)
(9) Peter and James, the brother of John’s arrest (12)

Still as the narrative progresses through these chapters there are hints that the leadership is in process. First, mention is made of a wider group of leaders. We see this first in the reference in Acts 11:1 to the “Apostles and the brothers”; the later group not however a reference to the actual brothers of Jesus. Again in 11:22 a wider group (the “church at Jerusalem”) is said to have sent Barnabas to Anitoch. Also in chapter 11 the financial gift brought by Barnabas and Saul was given to the “elders”. This process seems to have ended by Acts 15 where James clearly has taken the preeminent role of leadership in the Jerusalem church; see also Acts 21:18. Note that Peter specifically signals him out in Acts 12:17 after his miraculous release from prison.

Second, if Peter is any indication of the function of the wider group of Twelve, then after they are said to have remained in Jerusalem subsequent to the onslaught of persecution (8:1), they appear to be involved in a wider missionary endeavor and marginal in the leadership structure in Jerusalem, although clearly not absent. Peter for example said to be travelling about the country (9:32) and was residing in Joppa in Acts 10. This observation of the missional function of the Twelve seems to confirm my suspicion that the Twelve’s appointment by Jesus had significant functional importance which although Matthew most explicitly emphasizes is clearly not absent in the other Gospels. Matthew’s unique introduction of the Twelve in contrast to Mark and Luke, suggests I think his understanding of the Twelve as having an emissary role. In Matthew’s view, and perhaps now confirmed historically in Acts’ portrait, the Twelve are called the twelve apostles (Matt 10:2) because they were sent by the Davidic King on the official duty of announcing the arrival of the Messianic Kingdom and dispensing the eschatological blessings of that kingdom.[1] Bauckham apparently concurs with this at least in part when he writes,

It seems likely that many members of the Twelve were no longer permanently resident in Jerusalem, as was certainly the case with Peter, while at least one had died (Acts 12:2), James stepped into the leadership gap. Any remaining members of the Twelve would have become members of the college of the elders with whom James presided over the church (Acts 21:18).[2]

While it is possible that some of the Twelve remained in Jerusalem as Bauckham’s last sentence suggests, it seems equally or even more likely to me that they had eventually all scattered on mission in fulfillment of their vocation. Furthermore, if Paul’s reference to the “division of apostolic labor” in Galatians 2:7-9 is correct (and there is no necessary reason to doubt its historical credibility), then it is conceivable that Peter and the Twelve’s primary mission field was the circumcised.

[1] Willitts 2007:119.
[2] Bauckham 2006:67.

Works Cited
Bauckham, Richard. 2006. James and the Jerusalem Community. In A History of Jewish Believers in Jesus: The First Five Centuries, ed. Oskar Skarsaune and Reidar Hvalvik:55-95. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.

Willitts, Joel. 2007. Matthew's Messianic Shepherd-King: In Search of the Lost Sheep of the House of Israel. BNZW. Berlin; New York: Walter de Gruyter.

1 comment:

Richard Fellows said...


thanks for this latest piece. Very interesting.

I have been thinking about Paul's first visit to Jerusalem. Acts 9:27 says that Paul met the apostles, whereas Gal 1:19 says that he met no apostle except Peter and James. It could be that Luke has made a mistake here since there are other difficulties in Luke's account of this Jerusalem visit, but I wonder if there is another explanation. Could it be that Luke and Paul are using the term "apostle" in different senses? As you say the apostles, for Luke, are the 12. If "apostle", for Paul, is a travelling preacher, then the contradiction disappears. We need only suppose that Peter was the only one of the 12 who was in Jerusalem at the time AND qualified under Paul's definition of "apostle". Perhaps the other members of the 12 who were traveling missionaries were traveling at the time. Paul would then have met Peter and the members of the 12 who were permanently stationed in Jerusalem. Anyway, if Gal 1:19 and Acts 9;27 are to be reconciled in this way, then it seems to me that there must have been at least some of the 12 who did not qualify as apostles in the sense that Paul uses the term in Gal 1:19.

An inter-related issue here is what charge Paul is addressing in Gal 1. What were the Galatians saying about Paul? Were they saying something like, "Paul actually believes in circumcision: he preaches a circumcision-free gospel reluctantly and his motive for preaching it is to please the Judean church leaders who preach it."? It seems to me that Galatians makes sense as Paul's response to such a rumour. If so, then the term "apostle" in Gal 1:19 need only include those who were involved in missions to Gentiles.

What do you think?

Richard Fellows