‘Peter’s friends.’ An invitation to join St. Peter’s reading group.

I like 1 and 2 Peter, I also like much of St. Paul.

Peter’s general epistles are a a rip roaring read. Paul’s pastoral / contextual epistles, written to specific new Christian communities, all of who were seeking a ‘fresh expression’ of how to do Christian community either delight or agitate me. I love the ‘Spirit bits’ and, at times (1 Corinthians 13,for instance) Paul’s explanation of true virtue ethics takes human understanding to a new high.

1 Corinthians 13, to a Corinthian reader, must have been truly shocking. Paul, an outsider, a Jew, is basically saying to the Greeks, the self-proclaimed masters of philosophy: ‘Aristotle et al are okay as far as they go; but, the trouble is they never quite get to the heart of the matter, for the cardinal virtues cannot really be enacted without being animated by the the theological virtues, which are the work of the Spirit.’ For an ancient Greek this would be highly scandalous. Equally so for a modern day secular humanist. 

Much of Paul’s writing can be taken and extrapolated into our context. Paul does give us timeless truths. But, and these are the problems, some of Paul’s writings are entirely context specific, his literary genre is after all the pastoral or contextual epistle, whilst some of his thoughts perhaps reveal the zest of a convert who experienced a dramatic conversion. 

Peter’s conversion by contrast is more stop-start. He affirms, then rejects his Messiah. He requires reinstatement by his lord and savior. The stop-start, affirmation-rejection-reintegration pattern experienced by Peter give him a different perspective than Paul. Scripture shows that Peter and Paul had a difficult relationship (and it is interesting to notice that suspicion continues to exist between parties who experience different conversion narratives.) The good news is that Peter and Paul eventually found a way to work together. 

However, and here is the significant warning, Peter knew full well that Paul’s writings would be taken out of context, even by his original readers. How do we know this? Have a read of 2 Peter 3, 16:

”So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given to him. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do other Scriptures.”

Now if Peter thought that Paul’s wisdom could be twisted by his contemporaries how much more damage could be done through misinterpretation after a couple of thousand years? How can we avoid such twisting? Peter provides the answer. Find a ‘stable’ way of reading Scripture, whilst allowing  the Spirit to breathe new life into the Scriptures (progressive revelation).

My stability is grounded in a highly Orthodox reading and acceptance of Christianity’s guiding principles: the ten commandments, Jesus’ summation of the law, the Lord’s Prayer (all Scriptural) and the Nicene and Apostles Creed (all given through the tradition).I also have a highly orthodox, and therefore conservative, sacramental theology. I am happy to accept the Apostolic tradition, seeing no reason to integrate the biblical categories of apostle and disciple. ‘God is love’ and the imageo deo are also guiding theologies, theologies through which I interpret Scripture. So although I am happy to consider myself highly orthodox, even conservative, in certain respects (probably more conservative than self-styled conservatives!) Yet, I take a so-called liberal view in other respects believing that, whilst much of Paul’s teaching is universally applicable, (his doctrine of the Holy Spirit and his work as a virtue ethicist, for example) his pastoral letters are also context specific.

Progressive revelation guided by the Spirit allows us to complete Paul’s list of ‘in Christ there are no……..’ Paul shocked his readers by placing male and female, slave and free on an equal ontological footing. Fidelity to the Apostolic tradition requires that we allow the Spirit to be alive and active, the only other choice is literal acceptance, the rejection of the concept of (divinely inspired) biblical genres and regressive rather than progressive revelation.

My guide: St. Peter, the rock on whom the church was built.

 

 

 

 

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