Friday, April 15, 2016

Primacy of Peter?

We find that Peter is mentioned 155 times and the rest of the apostles combined are only mentioned 130 times in the New testament of our Bibles.  Peter is also always listed first except in 1 cor 3:22 and Gal 2:9 (which are obvious exceptions to the rule).  In light of this maybe we should have a look at the role that Peter received from Jesus in our Bible.

In today’s Gospel reading we find that Jesus is making Peter the shepherd of all, including the other apostles.  After Peter denied Jesus 3 times at the beginning of His Passion, Jesus asked the same basic question after His Resurrection when He appeared to the twelve.  He asked Peter if he loved Him: “Do you love more than these?” (referring to the twelve apostles who were present.)  Peter answers that yes, of course he loves Him.  Jesus then tells him to “tend my lambs, “tend my sheep,” “feed my sheep,” which refers to all His followers, including the other apostles themselves.  Jesus charges Peter “feed my lambs,” “tend my sheep,” “feed my sheep.”  Sheep means all people, even the apostles.

Another verse that I find clear that Jesus was gave Peter the Primacy of the twelves authority is when Jesus explained to Peter: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you,[a] that he might sift you[b] like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.” (Luke 22:31-32)

A couple of things to notice.  First, Simon was Peter’s name before Jesus changed it when He said “You are Peter and on this rock…”  Second, the ‘you’ marked with [a] is the singular ‘you’, the one marked with [b] is the plural ‘you’.  We’re losing a key distinction when translating the original Greek text into English.  The word ‘you’ in English is the same whether in singular form or plural form but this isn’t so in the Greek of the New Testament times.  An easier way of reading that won’t lose the differences could be this way: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you[,Simon],[a] that he might sift you [all][b] like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you [,Simon], that your faith may not fail; and when you[, Simon] have turned again, strengthen your brethren.”

We can plainly see that Jesus is showing Peter and the apostles that Peter is indeed the ‘leader’ of the twelve, the one with primacy of authority.  But let’s confirm this understanding by looking at some early Christian writings.
Clement of Alexandria
"[T]he blessed Peter, the chosen, the preeminent, the first among the disciples, for whom alone with himself the Savior paid the tribute [Matt. 17:27], quickly grasped and understood their meaning. And what does he say? ‘Behold, we have left all and have followed you’ [Matt. 19:27; Mark 10:28]" (Who Is the Rich Man That Is Saved? 21:3–5 [A.D. 200]).
The Letter of Clement to James "Be it known to you, my lord, that Simon [Peter], who, for the sake of the true faith, and the most sure foundation of his doctrine, was set apart to be the foundation of the Church, and for this end was by Jesus himself, with his truthful mouth, named Peter, the first fruits of our Lord, the first of the apostles; to whom first the Father revealed the Son; whom the Christ, with good reason, blessed; the called, and elect" (Letter of Clement to James 2 [A.D. 221]).
Origen "[I]f we were to attend carefully to the Gospels, we should also find, in relation to those things which seem to be common to Peter . . . a great difference and a preeminence in the things [Jesus] said to Peter, compared with the second class [of apostles]. For it is no small difference that Peter received the keys not of one heaven but of more, and in order that whatsoever things he binds on earth may be bound not in one heaven but in them all, as compared with the many who bind on earth and loose on earth, so that these things are bound and loosed not in [all] the heavens, as in the case of Peter, but in one only; for they do not reach so high a stage with power as Peter to bind and loose in all the heavens" (Commentary on Matthew 13:31 [A.D. 248]).

Cyprian of Carthage "The Lord says to Peter: ‘I say to you,’ he says, ‘that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.’ . . . On him [Peter] he builds the Church, and to him he gives the command to feed the sheep [John 21:17], and although he assigns a like power to all the apostles, yet he founded a single chair [cathedra], and he established by his own authority a source and an intrinsic reason for that unity. Indeed, the others were that also which Peter was [i.e., apostles], but a primacy is given to Peter, whereby it is made clear that there is but one Church and one chair. So too, all [the apostles] are shepherds, and the flock is shown to be one, fed by all the apostles in single-minded accord. If someone does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he [should] desert the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, can he still be confident that he is in the Church?" (The Unity of the Catholic Church 4; 1st edition [A.D. 251]).
"Who is ignorant that the first of the apostles is the most blessed Peter?" (Commentary on John 56:1 [A.D. 416]).

God Bless

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