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Peter Conference: Edinburgh 2013

July 10, 2013

The conference on the Apostle Peter sponsored by our Centre for the Study of Christian Origins (Univ of Edinburgh) was held here 4-6 July, and I think we were all very pleased with it.  We had ca. 70 registered, 21 presentations, lots of informed and lively discussions, and a tasty conference banquet and an available bar-service (!).  My colleague, Dr. Helen Bond and I will now try to organize a selection of presentations for publication in due course.  From the quality of the presentations it will be difficult to omit any!

My own presentation kicked off the event with a brief discussion of three major treatments of Peter by Protestant New Testament scholars,  Oscar Cullmann, Martin Hengel and Markus Bockmuehl, spanning several decades. I tried to explore briefly the circumstances in which they wrote and their respective emphases.

Cullmann was deeply concerned with promoting Christian ecumenical efforts in the post-World War II period, and urged Peter as an emblem of Christian unity-in-diversity.  Hengel urged that Peter was a theological influence in earliest Christian preaching, and a much more important figure than scholars may have realized.  He also alleged a rival Petrine mission over against Paul’s, however, so it isn’t quite so easy to see how Hengel could also portray Peter as a symbol of Christian unity.  Bockmuehl’s two books on Peter are put forth as case-studies in Bockmuehl’s programme for NT studies, in which the “reception” of a figure or text is an important factor in how we should read/understand them today.

The other presentations were all very good, among which Peter Lampe’s and Margaret Williams’ I found particularly informative and stimulating.

Right after that conference I was involved also in the International Society of Biblical Literature conference in St. Andrews (8-11 July), at which I made two more presentations.  More on these in postings later.

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  1. Interesting! How do these scholars stand on the question of Peter’s being in Rome and his role there?

    • Most conclude that Peter likely got to Rome, was likely executed there, and that a site where he was venerated as martyr (located in the now-Vatican area) goes back to probably the 2nd century (and perhaps earlier). Lampe’s presentation was particularly valuable in the conference in reviewing the various data.
      But as for the Pope’s claim (back in the 60s) to have found the bones of Peter, most remain deeply skeptical.

      • Yes, that much is evident. I made a series of posts on the excavations under the Vatican, including the most recent scholarship on the bones — which I find compelling.

        The Tomb of St. Peter

        But whether or not those are actually his bones is less important than whether or not that was his grave, and there’s a very good case that it was.

        The even more important question, though, is whether there is any truth to the claims of the papacy. Was Peter bishop of Rome, such that his authority was expected to pass to his successors? Where do scholars stand on that?

      • As reflected in most scholarly studies on the subject, there is no evidence that Peter was ever “bishop” in/of Rome. All the earliest texts, e.g., 1 Clement (ca. 90 CE) mention Peter and Paul together as martyrs in Rome, but make no claim about Peter as first bishop or any indication that a succession-line was in operation. The earliest such claim is from mid-3rd century CE, and that claim was disputed at that time.

      • Well, I’m no great scholar, but I’ve often heard the claim — and it seems to be supported by Scripture — that “bishop” and “presbyter” were largely synonymous in the Apostolic Church (cf. Titus 1:5, 7). Peter names himself a “presbyter” in 1 Peter 5:1 — so, by that logic, it seems a reasonable assumption that he was at least “a” bishop in Rome.

        The first clear statement of a doctrine of apostolic succession (the seeds of which are hinted in Scripture: 2 Timothy 1:6–8, 2:2; Titus 1:9; 1 Timothy 4:11–16, 5:22, etc.) can be found in 1 Clement 42, 44. And Ignatius of Antioch asserts vociferously the adherence to a single, monarchical bishop, ca. 107 (To the Smyrnaeans 8, To the Philadelphians 4, To the Magnesians 7, etc.) — and this as something established and not novel. Irenaeus (ca. 180), asserts the necessity of apostolic succession to combat heresy, and the primacy of the Roman Church in matters of doctrine (Against Heresies 3.3.2–3, etc.), and a clear succession of bishops of Rome back to Peter (Against Heresies 3.3.3),

        These dots seem to connect to me. If there is a scholarly reason to reject them, I would be interested to hear it.

      • Joseph,
        You’re doing fine, but you need to read these texts carefully, noting what they say and don’t say. First, “episkopos” (translated “bishop” in English) in earliest references (such as the NT instances you cite, and also Philippians 1:1) typically seems to have referred to one of a “college” of overseers in any given congregation. Then, sometime in/across the 2nd century, we see the slow emergence of “monarchial” bishops (i.e., one figure presiding over a given congregation), as seems urged by Ignatius.
        As for Irenaeus (Heresies, 3.3.1-3) please note that he describes the Roman church as founded “by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul” (NB: Not by Peter alone), and does NOT here (or elsewhere) portray Peter as the first Roman bishop. Be sure you count the dots carefully before connecting them. Cheers!

      • Thanks. 🙂 The Catholic Church affirms to this day that Peter and Paul are together “the pillars of the Roman Church,” and celebrates their feast day jointly. And of course, neither Peter nor Paul actually, literally founded the Church at Rome, since there were clearly Christians there before either of them arrived (hence Paul’s Epistle to the Romans), but both laid the foundations for what followed. Paul never suggests anywhere in his letters that he was a “presbyter” or “bishop,” but seems to have fulfilled a different role (and, at least according to tradition, and supported by Scripture, as an apostle he appointed presbyters and bishops in the churches he founded; Timothy is held to be the first bishop of Ephesus, cf. 1 Tim 1:3, and Titus the first bishop of Crete, Titus 1;5). Peace be with you, and thanks for the kind words.

      • Joseph,
        What the Catholic church teaches is fine . . . for Catholic theology, I suppose. What we’re concerned with here is historical matters. The point being what I stated earlier: There is no claim that Peter was the first bishop of Rome and that subsequent bishops inherited his authority before the third century CE.

      • I was ready to drop the matter, but that sounds pretty dismissive, and I think I will respond. 😉 I’m not a great scholar; I’m a pretty lousy one, in fact; but I am a historian by training, not ignorant of historical evidence or method. So I’m not just speaking of Catholic theology here. Even though Irenaeus does not speak of Peter as the first and sole bishop, he makes quite explicit that “the blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of [a sole line of succession to his own day] the office of the episcopate” (Against Heresies 3.3.3). Clement does not mention this, no; but succession in the Roman Church was not the subject of his letter, and silence is not a very strong argument against a position — especially when the whole context of Clement’s letter was to urge the Corinthian Church to observe the proper episcopal succession they had received from the apostles. Whether this meant one bishop or a group of bishops is not particularly relevant. Whether you accept the Pastoral Epistles as authentically Pauline or not, it is clear that the Christian Church had established authority in the hands of bishops and presbyters by the latter part of the first century, and that, as Clement attests, those bishops and presbyters appealed to the apostolic foundations of each Church as the root of their authority. So it seems pretty disingenuous to me for anyone to argue that just because there was no explicit statement of “Peter as first bishop” prior to the third century, claims that the episcopal authority of Rome descended from him must be without merit or invented at that late date. The fact is that testimony was already near universal by the end of the second century that Rome held a primacy if authority by virtue of its apostolic foundations in both Peter and Paul.

      • Joseph,
        It would be well to let your line drop, both because it doesn’t address the issue initially raised, which was the nature/date of historical evidence that Peter was the first bishop of Rome (it’s pretty late and not very sound), and also because your “fact” isn’t . . . a fact, but an assertion. Rome’s primacy was disputed for a loooong time, by other leading centres. But, as I said, let it drop. It’s another red-herring, not the issue initially raised.

      • Perhaps “fact” was the wrong word to have used in my last sentence (I told you I was a lousy scholar). I haven’t otherwise made any claims about “facts,” only presented evidence. You’re that primacy is not the issue at hand, and not really what I was concerned about. The evidence, which you have acknowledged, is clear that Peter and Paul both ministered and died in Rome. It was also pretty well acknowledged among the early Fathers (what my evidence really shows and what I meant to stake my claim on) that the Roman Church was built on the “pillars” of these apostles. The evidence also dictates that there were doctrines of apostolic succession and authority floating around — and coming from Rome — by the end of the first century.

        However long it took for the Churches to line up behind the authority of Rome is not really important to what I am arguing: they eventually did, on the grounds of Rome’s apostolic claims. That more than one early Father (Irenaeus and Tertullian, for two, neither of whom was Roman-born) attested to Rome’s primacy by the late second century indicates, again — and my only real point — that the claim wasn’t “invented” at the late date you suggest.

        That’s all I have to say. I’m sorry to have bothered you. Peace be with you.

      • Joseph,
        It’s no bother to try to clarify things. But I didn’t use the word “invent” or discuss the “primacy” of Rome: I stated the fact (!) that no one before the 3rd century claims that the Roman bishop is a successor of Peter and that Peter was the first Roman bishop.
        I hope that’s now clear.

  2. Reblogged this on Facing The Jabberwock and commented:
    My Greek prof, Dr. Will Rutherford, presented a paper at the recent Peter Conference in Edinburgh. His paper was titled ‘On the Trail of the Scribal Peter: Apostolic Authority and the Production of Jewish/Christian Difference in Peter’s Preaching’.

    If you’ve ever had the privilege of hearing him present (he presented a paper at last year’s SBL in the early Jewish-Christian relations section) you’ll know that not only is he a great scholar, he is an master craftsman when it comes to Power Point. His work and his presentations always exhibit excellence and serve as a great model to those he teaches. I’m extremely proud to have been one of his students!

    • Will’s presention did include a masterful use of power-point. And it was solid in content. He’s one of my former PhD students, and will find a college/university/seminary smart enough to hire him.

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