Peter and the Twelve apostles/disciples — the good guys or the bad?

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by Neil Godfrey

A question arose on a discussion board about whether Peter really knew Jesus given Paul’s stance towards Peter. If somone knew X knew Jesus then how could someone really take issue with X? It’s a good question and I don’t think the thoughts it triggered in me really do it justice:

Paul is not alone the doubts he places on Peter’s credentials. The Gospel of Mark, generally acknowledged as the earliest, is interpreted by some scholars as an attack on Peter and the Twelve. Tolbert even argues in effect that Peter in this first gospel is a literary parabolic character there, whose name and behaviour illustrates the seed falling in stony ground. Later evangelists attempted to re-write the story to give Peter a more honourable role but without introducing a huge amount of new evidence, except for stories of encounters with the resurrected Jesus.

Interestingly the 1st Apocalypse of James later depicts James also rebuking “the Twelve” and the question arises for some scholars whether this is an indication that there were Christians who saw the Twelve as earthly types of the wicked archons in Jerusalem who were responsible for the demise of Jesus — not a huge step from what some read in the Gospel of Mark, where Jesus calls Peter “Satan”.

One might ask if the various apostles were eponymous figures representing rival branches of early Christianity. Those who represented opposing schools were described variously as failing to understand Jesus and knowing only “Jesus in the flesh”, of knowing only the “spirit” Jesus and never knowing him “in the flesh”, of relying on spurious visions, of knowing both the pre-and post-resurrected Jesus, and so on.


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Neil Godfrey

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