The strong personalities of Peter and Paul

Published 9:19 am Friday, June 29, 2012

By the Rev. Mark Boorsma, Ascension Lutheran Church

Since at least the year 258, the universal Church has remembered two towering apostles together on June 29. The common date might have been a diplomatic move to bury the hatchet once and for all. You see, Peter and Paul were not friends.

Their passionate devotion to sharing the good news of Jesus Christ divided them more than it united them. Their strong advocacy for different populations brought them into personal conflict. Galatians 2:11-14 provides a window into their dispute, at least from Paul’s point of view.

Email newsletter signup

The focus of Peter’s missionary efforts seems to have been to Jews — people of the same religion and ethnicity as Jesus and his first disciples. But Paul reaches out to a more diverse range of foreigners. These two leaders came to embody very different strategies for making new Christians. Peter led a group that emphasized “being like us (Jews),” while Paul led a group that discarded long-cherished parts of their tradition in order to embrace people from all backgrounds as new Christians.

Scholars of the early Christian movement suggest this rift was deep and wide. Even the New Testament writings show attempts to mediate the dispute. While Galatians pulls no punches, the book of Acts carefully tones down the rancor and presents both apostles as much more respectful and respectable.

Maybe the choice to remember these two great apostles on the same date was the early Church’s way of healing a dispute that had almost split the fledgling movement in two. Not Peter only or Paul only, but Peter and Paul together — both equally instrumental in announcing and extending the realm of God.

You participate in families, communities, workplaces and organizations. There you will find personalities who rub you the wrong way. Perfect interpersonal harmony will never happen. But a colorful diversity of you still reach out to extend the realm of God. Like Peter and Paul, you are heroes of the faith.