Posted by: chuckbumgardner | March 18, 2012

Peter and the Apostolic Tradition

I did a good bit of research on the notion of “tradition” (paradosis) in the NT as part of my thesis a few years ago — fascinating topic.  (I’ve provided the pertinent appendix of my thesis as a pdf below.)  I concluded that when “tradition” is used in a positive sense in the epistles, it refers to the content of instruction that has been handed down authoritatively.  Specifically, the content of this new “tradition” (as opposed to the oral law of Judaism) seems to have consisted of certain interrelated categories of material, centered in the gospel: (1) a summary of the gospel message (cf. 1 Cor 15:1-8); (2) sayings and accounts of Jesus (cf. Luke 1:1-4); (3) teachings of Christian doctrine (cf. 2 Thess 2:15); (4) moral and ethical guidelines for believers (cf. Acts 16:4); (5) very probably, Jesus’ divine interpretation of OT Scripture, recorded in Luke-Acts as having been explained to his followers (cf. Luke 24:27, 44-48; Acts 1:3).

I’m currently reading through Paul Barnett’s The Birth of Christianity: The First Twenty Years (Eerdmans, 2005), and he makes a case for the apostolic tradition going very specifically back to Peter.  The point of this exercise is to establish that the christology of the very first believers was not primitive but quite “advanced” from the very beginning, as demonstrated by christological formulations in NT literature having roots in the very early church. As I understand them, here are at least some of the points of his argument, taken from his chapter “Earliest ‘Teaching’: The Influence of Peter” (86-94).

1) The NT literature clearly presents Peter as prominent and especially significant among the apostles. “According to Acts Peter is the first-named apostle and the only public spokesman in Jerusalem, and he later travels extensively as leader within the land of Israel (Acts 9:31-32). We have the same clear impression from Paul, who notes that Peter is the first witness of the resurrection (1 Cor 15:5) and the leader of the Jerusalem church (Gal 1:18), having his apostolate to the circumcised from God (Gal 2:7-8). This role of Peter post-Easter is consistent with his relationship with Jesus pre-Easter, where as confessor he is named as the ‘rock’ (Matt 16:18) on which the church is to be built, the one who is to feed Christ’s lambs (John 21:15-17).” (94)

2) Three “statements of Christ from the earliest period” of Christianity display striking similarities to Peter’s preaching in Acts (86-93). The three passages Barnett adduces are Acts 8:4-40 (Philip preaching to the Samaritans and the Ethiopian); 1 Cor 15:1-7 (a pre-Pauline tradition quoted by Paul); and Romans 1:1-4 (what appears to be another preformed teaching that Paul had “received” at a previous time. Barnett demonstrates parallels between Philip’s preaching and Paul’s traditional material, on the one hand, and Peter’s preaching in Acts on the other, leading him to conclude that “Peter must have been the prime formulator of the didactic outlines that were taken and applied by others, whether by Ananias, who instructed Paul, or by Philip, who instructed the Samaritans and the Ethiopian.” (94)

Appendix two, The Apostolic Tradition

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