St. Peter’s preaching’s and St. Paul’s’ promulgation are the warp and woof of The Acts of the Apostles. Indeed The Acts authorized by the beloved physician Luke and published around the second half of the first century A.D summarizes the saga or romantic tale of the edification of the Ecclesia by the two towering personalities, Simon turned Peter and Saul turned Paul. True, the services and sacrifices of others like Stephen the first Christian martyr, Barnabas the encourager, James the Apostle, in this Endeavour are also briefly brought out in this earliest extant treatise on the Church.
Main Thoughts in The Acts:
An Apology for the Church
Considering all these the biblical scholar T.V. Bartlet in the Book the ‘The Acts’, published by Baltantvne-Hanson and Co. Edinburgh England, opines that The Acts is no history of the Church but an apology for the Church. It may be noted that the term Church appears in the NT for the first time, in Acts 5:11. If the Acts are missing, Christians would have been groping in the fog of uncertainty about the origin of the Church.
Fortification of Faith
The immediate intention of the author is to make it a defence against Judaism and Roman Imperialism. But beneath this lies the real purport. The book is formulated fundamentally to fortify faith both in the Ecclesia and its founder, Lord Christ. Luke speaks from faith to faith for faith. For him, ascension was not the end of the acts of the historical Jesus. He declares that Christ is the living Lord, working in unison with the Holy Sprit, through the vehicle called the Church, and that Jesus is the long sought after Messiah and the sole source of salvation.
To read the Acts is to become aware of the all fulfilling function of the Paraclete. The power of the Paraclete is to be employed for the mission of the Church, and not for personal gratification, the Acts categorically warns. The answer to the question as to how does the Church fit into the Divine dispensation and the Lord’s salvific scheme is provided by the Acts. Little wonder that the Acts is hailed the Acts of the Holy Spirit. Acts undoubtedly is the prolific sources of well-developed pneumatology.
Universality of the Church
The Acts is a statement of transition and transformation. While it strikes the death knell of the parochialism or the narrow nationalism of Judaism, it heralds the universality of the Church. The rigor of the rabbinic law is replaced by the canon of charity of the Church, which is Catholic. Besides, it represents as nothing else does, the essential core of the Christian faith.
Peter’s Imprint in the Acts
In brief, the Acts combines in itself Trinitarian theology, Christology, Pneumatology, Ecclesiology, Ecclesial History and everything else required for faith and understanding for a pure and simple imitation of Christ. Study of the Acts will convince that in all these aspects, the personality of Peter and his leadership traits are imprinted sometimes implicitly and at other times explicitly.
St. Peter’s Mission:
Peter, the Leader
In the opening chapter of the Acts, Peter’s theology and Ecclesiology are outlined partially. Luke presents, at the outset, a perplexed Peter. The vexation is over the vacancy caused by the treachery of Judas. How callous that one who was selected by Jesus himself could betray him, Peter ponders. Should the vacancy be left like that? No! the number 12 has a theological significance. He remembers the promise of the Master that in the Kingdom of God, the 12 Apostles would judge the 12 tribes of Israel. So he resolves to fill up the vacancy. There was yet another rational for his resolve. A very valid one indeed! It is a must that the Apostolic College comprised of its originally commissioned strength of 12, least the faith of the New Israel, mainly of Jewish origin and of traditionalists in the Torah shall be shaken. Simon does not act on the spur of emotion, as he was wont to while the Master was alive. He knew fully well that his action must not lack the sanction both of God and God’s people. No hasty, hurly-burly explanation would suffice, especially because he was the acknowledge primus inter-pares among the apostles and the philosopher and guide of the newly formed Ecclesia. Apparently by a masterstroke, but really by humble submission to the imperceptible Paraclete, Peter performed this super-human task. He seeks succour from the Scriptures. Harken to the words of Peter! Brethren, the Scripture to be fulfilled (1:16). Peter points to Psalms 69 and 109. Summarily, the correspondence between the suffering of Israel as in these psalm and of Jesus on the one hand and that between those who betrayed Israel and Judas the traitor are emphasized. After establishing beyond the ken of doubt that it was providential that the twelfth apostle must be inducted, Peter works out the modus operandi.
It was not a hazard. For, Peter knew that more
often than not, the will of God works in the Ecclesia, through the will of the
believers. In other words he had no iota of doubt that Will and not Force
is the foundation of the Church. Verily the Church is of the all, by the all,
and for the all. Hierarchy is for service and not for subjection. With all these
consideration Peter asks for the Voice of the people as it was deemed to
be the voice of God. Peter however laid down a very important condition, which
bespeaks his leadership quality, of far sight and forethought. The Chosen
must have accompanied the Apostles during the entire ministry. The Ecclesia was
impressed that this decree could not be relaxed, as the condition of being a
witness to Resurrection would authorize the chosen for the true
function of apostleship. What Simon stipulated centuries ago, is still upheld by
the Church through her creedal formula regarding the witnessing to resurrection.
Conceded that what was then a direct condition has become a theological or
ecclesiological one due to the passage of time. Following the selective process
of Jesus the Master, Peter also would like the Ecclesia to make a primary
selection. The final selection would be the working of the divine. It is to be
made known through the drawing of the lots, the time-tested practice in Judaism.
As the Acts testify, the lot fell on Matthias. Peter’s whole action is like that
of a traditionalist. Yet he proved his mettle as an organizer and elder. More
than that he established beyond that the Ecclesia is of Divine and human
combine. Undeniably and undoubtedly Peter was an ecclesiologist.
Sermon at the Pentecost:- Peter the Theologian
Endowed with the “gift of the tongue”, Peter makes a long sermon of the day of Pentecost. The eleven stand with them. Two deductions can be drawn. It symbolizes that Peter speaks for them; the apostles acknowledge his leadership. Had not Jesus Himself commissioned Simon so? Who can then challenge Peter’s position?
Peter begins with what had drawn the crowd: the gift of the tongues. Not by Hellenistic philosophical jargons, but by Hebraic Scriptural passages did he explain the miracle. Quoting the prophet Joel, he assured that Speaking in tongues was not due to drunkenness, but the fulfillment of the prophecy. Peter’s points may astound those who depict him as a simple fisherman. It is true that he was not tutored in the school of Hillel or Shammai. But he had his training by a greater man, Jesus! Peter must have imbibed its true spirit which is what is evident in this sermon. He then reviews the Christ-events. Peter’s emphasis is on God’s action in all these, including the crucifixion. The theologian in Peter emerges. He gives theological dimension for all the riddle-ridden deeds and death of Jesus. The torturing and the trial of Christ, although cruel and criminal, are explained by Peter as triumphs of Christian love and charity. In other words, Peter projected that God has done something unique through these. He ten turns to Psalm 16 as it helped to establish eschatology. How? Because this psalm is a breakthrough in the Jewish theology, as the psalmist rises above the common belief in Sheol to an unfailing faith in life after death. Taking the cue from Psalm 110, besides of 16, he achieves two more theological scores. By logical deduction Peter promulgated that ‘this Jesus whom you crucified’ has been made the ‘Lord and Christ’ by God.
The sermon of Simon did not enrage the people. Rather the multitude of three thousand souls were encouraged to adopt the ‘way’. “Brethren”, they cried out to Peter, “What shall we do?” Peter issued three imperatives. Repent; be baptized; be a believer. The populace spontaneously devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostle, prayer and fellowship of the breaking of the bread. What this first theologian of the Church put forth on the Pentecost day is accepted and observed by the Ecclesia even unto this day as the dynamics of her kerygma and doctrines of her theology.
Peter’s Self Effacement
Peter’s healing of the lame man is an epitome of his unflinching faithfulness to the master. The power to perform miracles did not make him puffed up. He did not make any claim for himself. He points to his Master Jesus. Hence his command to the lame “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazereth, Walk”. He contends himself to be His Master’s Voice. Here is an example for all Christians and especially for those in spiritual authority. No wonder the world has acknowledged this man as a saint. Verily self effacement is the insignia of saintliness. If Peter’s precepts were practiced, religion in its true and simple form, in its pristine glory, would have reigned. There would not have been the chance for the chicanery of the chimerical ‘charismats’ and ‘god men’.
The sermon that Simon made at Solomon's porch is an appeal to the Jewish nation for a national repentance. Metanoia is the only remedy for the maladies of Israel. But ours is the misfortune and tragedy that his profound preaching did not fall through. After arresting Peter and his brother apostle, John, the Sanhedrin put them to trial. Filled with the Sprit Peter confesses his Lord and accuses the authorities on their face. He cites the emboldening verse of Psalm 11:8, “ With the Lord on my side, I do not fear what can man do to me”. He concludes with Jesus soteriological mission that the Ecclesia has upheld ever since. His second sermon to the authorities, as recorded in Acts 5:27-32 testify how apt and prophetic, the title Kepa the Lord Jesus bestowed on him. Once again Peter’s adamantine attitude is revealed. He daringly declares that it is man’s duty to obey God rather than human authority when the two conflict. Undoubtedly, it is this counsel of the first incumbent of the Holy Sees of Rome and Antioch that has stood as a sheet anchor and strengthened the respective successors to brave the plots and ploys of scheming secular powers and lead the Church through vicissitudes.
Peter Opens the portals of the Ecclesia to the Gentiles
The vision of the sail containing animals and the voice directing Peter to eat them were acid tests on his obedience to the Divine Will. Peter was quick to realize their import. He did not rationalize. He decided that the instruction of the Master, rather than the injunction of Moses should be honored. Peter had not forgotten the Master’s ringing words: “Thy will be done”. In deference to the directive, the Kepa readily relinquished his long cherished view that Israel alone should have the boon of salvation through the gospel. Precisely Peter proclaimed the gospel of ‘unbound Christ’ or the accessible Christ. Surely the Peterine sprit is the guiding force for the Mother Church to reckon the signs of the times and move forward in Her efforts of evangelization. The eloquent sermon that Simon made at the house of Cornaelius is said to be the most important of all the apostolic preaching of the Acts. It is even suggested by certain biblical savants like A.C. Winn, (in his Book ‘Acts of the Apostles’, S.C.M Press, London 1960), that Mark’s gospel, which is the oldest, “may well be described as an expression of Peter’s sermon”. Straightforwardly Peter proclaimed that God shows no partiality. The universal appeal is discernible in the oft-repeated usage all. In the subsequent speech, he silenced the ‘circumcision’ party by posting ‘who was I that I could withstand God’. This episode would speak volumes that the ‘way’ of Jesus was based not on narrow legal or literal reading but on liberal interpretation of the Scriptures.
Peter Paves the Way
In conclusion it may be commented that Peter paved the path for St. Paul to tread along. The theology, which St. Paul promulgated, is the amplification of the preaching’s of Peter. The pure and simple Hebraic interpretation of the ‘Word’ by Peter was the substratum on which Paul grafted his Hellenistic perspectives and made the Ecclesia the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.
* The author, a member of the Syriac Orthodox Church, is the retired head of the department of Politics, Mahatma Gandhi University (Baselious College, Kottayam, Kerala). He was the Nominee of the Govt. of India on the Board of Governors of the Deemed University and Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages (CIFEL) in Hyderabad, State of Andhra Pradesh, India. Presently he is a student of Theology in the ‘Mar Thoma Vidya Nikethan'. This paper is in response to an assignment by Rev. Sr. Dr. Sophy Rose C.M.C. who taught him “The Acts” in the above reputed institute for laity.