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According to our chronological plan, we have placed the end of St Paul's Roman imprisonment early in 61, or possibly in 62.
In the year 62 changes for the worse occurred in the political world. Nero, who was now twenty-five, took over the government of the empire. Burrhus, his praetorian prefect and Greek secretary, was replaced by Tigellinus, a man of bad character. Seneca had already retired into that melancholy seclusion in which he wrote his last philosophical works; and he committed suicide by Nero's orders in 65. Burrhus had died, not without suspicion of poison.
In the year 62 Nero divorced his wife Octavia, who was the daughter of the previous emperor, Claudius, and banished her to an island, where she was put to death. He lost no time in marrying Poppaea, the Jewish wife of M. Salvius Otho, a lady who is described by Josephus as devout. She is said to have used her influence in favour of her nation.
In Palestine King Agrippa II, who had the support of the procurator Festus, was not in harmony with his high priest, Ishmael ben Fabi, in whose pontificate Paul had appealed to Nero. A dispute had arisen about King Agrippa's palace, which overlooked the altar of the Temple. It was referred to Rome, and the high priest, accompanied by ten other Jews, came to Rome to plead their cause. They won their case through the good offices of Poppaea, Josephus says; but they were detained as hostages. Among the visitors in connexion with this case was Josephus the historian, who was shipwrecked on the way, as Paul had been three or four years before.
Agrippa in the meantime acquiesced in the appointment of a new high priest, Joseph ben Simon, who was called Cabi; but on the death of Festus, which happened soon after, he deposed Joseph and appointed Annas (or Ananus), the fifth son of the Annas in whose palace Jesus had been examined. This older Annas had been the father-in-law of Caiaphas, and five of his own sons had held the high priesthood. Annas II was the last of them.
Josephus had a high opinion of this prelate, but the character of the man may be gauged from a rather frank account of him which he gives after relating the story of his deposition.
The high priest Ananias [as the name now appears in the text] advanced every day in popularity, and won the favour and esteem of the citizens in a signal manner, and ingratiated himself with the (new) high priest and with Albinus [the new procurator] by making them gifts. But he had servants of bad character, who associated with overbearing men, and went to the threshing-floors, and took the tithes that were due to the priests by violence; and did not refrain from beating those who would not pay them. And the high priests behaved in the same way as their servants, since no one had the power to prevent it; and some of the [lesser] priests, who used to be supported from the tithes, died from lack of food.
(Josephus, Ant. xx, 9, 2.)
What led to his deposition was this. He was a bold and overbearing man, Josephus says, and very insolent. He was a member of the sect of the Sadducees, who were very severe in judging offenders. Festus was dead and Albinus, the new procurator, had not arrived from Rome; ' so he assembled a sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus who was called the Messiah, whose name was James, with some others'; and when he had framed an accusation against them as breakers of the Law, he caused them to be stoned.
But those who seemed the most reasonable, and the most accurate in regard to the Law (and Josephus meant by this the Pharisees), complained to the new procurator, who deposed him on the grounds that he had exceeded his authority. Joshua (or Jesus) the son of Damnaeus succeeded him; but he increased in power, and was doubtless the real ruler, as his father Annas I had been before him.
We notice here the same chaotic social conditions as appear in the
|189 Epistle of St James, and the same alignment of parties in the sanhedrin as appears in the pages of the Acts. Doubtless the real crime of James was his protest in favour of the poor and the oppressed, with which the more judicious Pharisees would sympathize. These sympathies appear in the Epistle which bears his name.
Josephus was now twenty-five years old and had attached himself to the Pharisees, so that he is narrating what came under his personal observation. There is no reason to question the authenticity of his report of the murder of St James; but unfortunately the passage in which he refers to Jesus himself has received some additions from the hand of a Christian scribe at a later date, so that it cannot be used with confidence for historical purposes. It is necessary, however, to quote it, since it appears possible to discern, at least partially, what Josephus wrote. It follows his account of Pontius Pilate. We eliminate three clauses which appear to be Christian additions, and print them below the remainder of the text.
About this time appeared Jesus, a wise man , a teacher of such men as received the truth with pleasure; and he influenced many of the Jews and of the Greek race . And when he was condemned to the cross by Pilate, on the information of the leading men among us, those who had loved him at first, did not cease to do so;  and even now the tribe of Christians, who are named after him, is not extinct.
The Christian additions,  If indeed it is right to call him a man, for he was a doer of marvellous works.  This man was the Christ.  For he appeared to them again on the third day, living, the divine prophets having stated these and many other marvellous things about him.
(Josephus, Ant. xviii, 3, 3.)
The clauses which have been separated from the text and printed below it are obviously unlikely to have been written by Josephus, though he may have made some allusion to the miracles and Resurrection of Jesus. They look much more like the comments of a Christian scribe, which were written first in the margin and then found their way into the text, as often happened in the production of ancient manuscripts. On the other hand, the remaining sentences are not written in the
|190 manner of a believing Christian, though their tone is not unsympathetic; and they probably represent what Josephus actually wrote. It is unfortunate, however, that no manuscript preserves the original text.
The Jewish-Christian church preserved its memories and traditions of these events, and some of them were collected early in the second century by the oriental teacher Hegesippus, and included in his Hupomnemata or 'Note-books'. Unfortunately this important book has not been preserved and we have to be content with the extracts and quotations which are given by church historians. We have already quoted his account of the sanctity of James the Just from the history of Eusebius, where it is followed by the story of his martyrdom. This story is also preserved by Epiphanius. We shall consider it more closely in a later chapter, since it sheds light on the development of tradition in the Jewish church.
Its form is legendary, but its substance is perfectly credible, and no doubt historical. After some debate and questioning with the leaders of the religious sects, James was thrown down from a high point in the Temple, and stoned to death; he was finished off by a blow from a wooden club. 'And immediately', Hegesippus adds, 'Vespasian besieged them.'
This is a homiletic addition; it is dramatic, but not strictly accurate. The evidence of Josephus shows that it was four or five years later before any Roman advance upon Jerusalem began. This homiletic touch has confused the chronology of Eusebius, or even Hegesippus, leaving no alternative but to place the appointment of a successor to James after the destruction of the city; and we should therefore disregard the italicized words in the following paragraph of Eusebius.
After the martyrdom of James, and the taking of Jerusalem, which took place immediately afterwards, it is recorded that those apostles and disciples of the Lord who still survived met together from all quarters and, together with the Lord's relatives according to the flesh (for the majority of these were still living), took counsel together as to whom they would judge worthy to be the successor of James; and furthermore they all nanimously approved Symeon the son of Clopas ... who was a cousin of the Lord.
(Eusebius, E.H. iii, 11.)
|191 The words 'it is recorded' show that Eusebius here comes back to the text of the document which he is following, that is to say the Notebooks of Hegesippus; but we would suppose that Symeon must have been appointed some years before the war broke out.
We have here a narrative of the martyrdom of James which is completely independent of that of Josephus and therefore confirms it; so that we are more fortunate than in the cases of Peter and Paul, for no narrative of their martyrdoms seems ever to have been drawn up. The composition of'Acts of Martyrs' for commemoration in church seems to have begun in Palestine; in Jerusalem even, since Stephen and James the Just are our oldest specimens. Like other old Christian traditions, it originated in the East and spread to the West in due course.
James had endeavoured to keep a steady balance between the Juda-istic zeal of his own extreme party-men, and the pro-Gentile enthusiasm of Paul and his following. According to the record in the Acts, the statesmanship and moderation of the brother of Jesus had materially helped to bring the church safe through some of its early internal dissensions. He continued to extend recognition to Paul in spite of growing hostility in Jerusalem and of personal danger; and there was a moderate Jewish-Christian tradition in Palestine after his death in which a tolerant attitude towards Paul was maintained. The more extreme parties, who came to be known as the Ebionites, remained implacably hostile.
The deposition of the high priest for the persecution of Christians in Jerusalem must not be regarded as an intervention of the Roman power in favour of the church. It was done because he had arrogated to himself the right to act as the executive head of the state. The high priest was only a subordinate ruler and had no right to hold courts and to impose the penalty of death. On the other hand, his action was a more serious one for the Christians than a casual reading of Josephus might suggest; for James was not the only victim. He was put to death 'with others'.
This outbreak of persecution in Jerusalem was a symptom of the deterioration in the political situation. The Jews and the Romans were |192 working up to a desperate war, and the Christians occupied an ambiguous intermediate position. They claimed to be a kind of Jew, but the Jews repudiated them; or at any rate they repudiated the Gentile Christians, whose claim to be regarded as true Israelites was championed in Ephesians and I Peter. It was not at all unnatural that the Jewish authorities should disown them, but we have evidence that they went further. They influenced the Romans against them. They suggested that they were hostile to the empire, a point which appears clearly in the trials of Paul; and, according to Justin Martyr, who wrote some seventy years later, they sent out picked men from Jerusalem into all countries to inform them that the irreligious sect of Christians which had recently sprung up, worshipped no God and was guilty of secret crimes. He may be too definite in his statement of the case, but the factor of Jewish pressure cannot be ignored in considering the causes of Roman persecution.
In the eyes of the Roman governing class Christianity had appeared as an obscure movement among poor and depressed and foreign groups, with wild and extravagant talk about a new kingdom and a new king, who was somehow identified with a man who had been executed in the time of Pontius Pilate for raising an insurrection in Judaea. He would appear again to claim his kingdom.
The flare-up in Jerusalem was not long in communicating itself to Rome, and doubtless to many other places. Any favourable impression which may ever have been made by Nero on judicious men had now been effaced by his cruelty, extravagance, vanity and self-indulgence. Unnatural murder and unnatural sexual vice fill the brief chronicles of his life. No doubt he had inherited a streak of lunacy along with his touch of genius. Nevertheless, he remained the idol of the multitude.
On July 18 of the year 64, a fire broke out in Rome and burned for nine days. It completely destroyed three out of the fourteen civic districts, and partially destroyed another seven. The theory that Nero engineered it himself is most unlikely. He threw himself with great energy into the organization of relief and opened his splendid gardens on the Vatican Hill to the thousands of homeless citizens; and in order to find victims to placate the people, and amusements to occupy their attention, he laid the blame for the fire on the Christians.
The historian Tacitus, who was a child of eight or ten at the time, describes it in his Annals ; it is our first picture of Christianity as it appeared to an external observer.
They were called Christians. The Christus from whom the name was derived had been put to death in the reign of Tiberius by the procurator Pontius Pilate, and the pestilent superstition was checked for a while; but it began to break out again, not only in Judaea, the birthplace of the evil thing, but also in Rome, where everything that is horrible and shameless flows together and becomes fashionable.
In the first place, then, some were arrested and confessed. Then, on their testimony, a vast multitude was convicted, not so much of responsibility for the fire as for hatred of the human race. They were put to death with mockery and insult. They were dressed in the skins of wild animals to be torn to death by dogs; they were fixed to crosses or condemned to the flames; and when the daylight failed, they were burned to give light by night.
Nero had granted the use of his gardens for that display, and gave a circus performance, mixing with the common people in the dress of a charioteer or seated in his chariot; and so a feeling of compassion arose (though it was for guilty persons who deserved severe punishment), since they were being done to death, not for the public good, but to satisfy the cruelty of a single individual.
(Tacitus, Annals, xv, 44.)
This very important document deserves the most careful study. Let us grant that there may be some exaggeration about the 'immense multitude', the ingens multitudo, which was ready to die for Christ in Rome under the leadership of the apostles; even so we are impressed by the power and momentum of the spiritual forces which had been liberated in Jerusalem thirty-five years previously, when Jesus died on Calvary and of the people there were none with him. We are amazed at the progress which had been made in the interval. It is greater than we would have gathered from the apostolic writings.
We may draw attention to two points. The first is that Tacitus was aware of a second ' outbreak' of Christianity in Judaea, which seems to have occurred not long before the fire in Rome; and this would mean an outbreak of which the authorities took notice. It looks as if the persecution in Jerusalem two years earlier, in which James was put to death, was a larger thing than Josephus had cared to reveal, and that it |194 started off a more general persecution which flared up before long in Rome. This is in line with the evidence of the Acts, which shows how a movement which could be more or less ignored at one time, as it was on the advice of men like Gamaliel and Gallic, could, not long afterwards, be regarded as a menace.
The second point is that he is uneasy about the situation. He is even on the defensive. If Christianity was the vicious and criminal movement which he says it is, why was there so much sympathy for it? He puts it down to the excessive cruelty of the punishments, in which Nero showed an obvious personal pleasure. There could be an alternative explanation, however; it could be due to the innocence of the Christians, and the impression made on some observers by their courage and sincerity; for during his own lifetime the sentiment in favour of the Christians had permeated all classes, even the highest. He admits that the Christians were innocent of the crime they were charged with, but their condemnation by the judges was justified by the fact that they were public enemies, a statement which he fails to support in any way. He admits, too, that the sentences were too severe and the scenes of violence inexcusable, but it was possible to blame Nero for this; and Nero was regarded as a monster of evil when Tacitus wrote. Under the new emperors Christians were sent to their deaths with the utmost decorum.
The explanations attempted by Tacitus were doubtless partially correct; but it is possible that the pro-Christian sentiment, the existence of which he admits, was greater than he would allow. We may mention a case of special interest which illustrates this point. There was a Roman of high rank, who was 'prefect of the city' at this time. His name was Flavius Sabinus. He died in 69, which was the year in which his brother Vespasian became emperor. His son Titus Flavius Clemens became a Christian, or was interested in Christianity. This is an instance of the kind of noble Roman family which was not impressed by the slanders which had been set going against the Christians. It would appear that the finest elements in Roman society, like the finest elements in Jewish society, were not always among the persecutors.
We have said that the martyrs met their deaths under the leadership of Peter and Paul, and we must justify this statement.
Only thirty years later Clement of Rome, writing to the Corinthians in the name of his church, refers in a rhetorical passage to the events of this time.
Let us finish with examples from ancient times [he writes] and come to the athletes of our own time. Let us take the glorious examples of our own generation. It was through jealousy and envy that the greatest and most righteous 'pillars' [of the church] were persecuted, and contended as athletes, even unto death. Let us set before our eyes the noble apostles. Peter, through unrighteous jealousy, endured not one or two, but many labours, and so he bore his witness and went his way to the place of glory which was his due. Through jealousy and strife, Paul pointed out the prize of endurance; seven times in chains, living the life of a fugitive and pelted with stones, he became a herald both in the east and in the west, and won a glorious fame for his faith; he taught righteousness to the whole world, coming even to the boundaries of the west; he witnessed before the rulers, and passed away from the world, and went his way to the holy place, having become the greatest pattern of endurance.
(Clement, 1 Corinthians, v.)
We would rather, from our point of view, have had a simple statement, with a few details, to the effect that Peter and Paul had suffered martyrdom under Nero; but such plain statements about things which everybody knew are seldom made in communications of this character. All we get is the occasional allusion or comment. But the evidence of Clement is strong enough, for he goes on to connect the witness of the two noble apostles with a 'great multitude' who are plainly to be identified with the 'great multitude' of Tacitus. The thing did not happen in this way twice.
Along with these great men of holy life and character, there was associated a great multitude of the elect, who endured many indignities and tortures because of jealousy, and became a splendid example in our midst. Because of jealousy, women were persecuted, Danaids and Dirces, who endured strange and impious outrages, and completed the strong course of faith, receiving the glorious prize, though weak in body.
The passage is far from clear, but it leaves no doubt that a mass-persecution such as Tacitus describes was the occasion of the martyrdom |196 of the two apostles. The Danaids and Dirces have been much discussed. The daughters of Danaus were figures in an old Greek myth, who were punished in Hades by being obliged endlessly to fill with water barrels which were riddled with holes; Dirce was killed by being tied to the horns of a bull. It seems that the victims in the arena were sometimes forced to take part in the representation of myths of this sort and to undergo the actual torture or death; and perhaps something of the sort happened in this case. It fits in with the picture of a theatrical spectacle on a large scale which Tacitus describes. The word jealousy is not to be taken too seriously, as this is the general theme of which these martyrdoms are examples in the exhortation of Clement. Yet it may have played a part. We have evidence in other cases of anonymous and slanderous communications sent in to the magistrates; and, of course, of vindictive feeling on the part of neighbours; and the hostility of the Jewish authorities.
Despite the absence of detailed contemporary reporting, the martyrdoms of St Peter and St Paul in Rome must be accepted on the evidence as a fact of history. It was regarded as a fact of history in the second century, and their burial places were marked by monuments: St Peter's on the Vatican Hill, and St Paul's on the Ostian Way, both of them outside the city wall. The high altars of St Peter's on the Vatican Hill and St Paul's 'Outside the Walls' are erected over these second-century sites. The historicity of their martyrdoms is no longer seriously questioned by scholars.
It is another matter to go further in reconstructing the course of events.
It will be well to take first the movements of Paul, so far as they can be traced in the Pastoral Epistles, leaving over for a time the literary problems which they present. On any reasonable theory of their date and authorship, they contain information which belongs to this period.
The journey to Spain, if it is accepted as historical, cannot be taken into account. If it ever actually occurred, the apostle must have landed in Gaul, and there is a possible reference to Gaul in 2 Timothy. A member of Paul's staff named Crescens had left him for 'Galatia'. Some good manuscripts read ' Gallia', and a number of the fathers were |197 acquainted with this reading. The word Galatia could be used for Gallia, and it is perfectly possible that Crescens was sent to the south of France. It seems likely that evangelization had begun west of Rome. Clement's boast that Paul had taught the whole world is hardly justified if he had got no further than Rome.
There is no reference to persecution in 1 Timothy and Titus, and we may therefore place the events which they mention before the year 64, or no later than the first six months of it. Paul may have spent the winter in the island of Crete, where he had left Titus to establish elders and' supply what was lacking'. He arrived in Ephesus, it would appear, in the spring, and a painful scene took place. He found the ecclesia under the control of unworthy teachers of the pseudo-Jewish type, and could only regard them as adventurers preying upon the faithful. With his customary courage he excommunicated two of them, Hymenaeus and Alexander, and left Timothy with a strong charge to reduce the elders and teachers to some sort of order and to resist their doctrines, which consisted of old wives' tales and endless genealogies. Timothy was specially commissioned for this work with the laying on of hands, after prophecy and prayer.
Paul went on to Troas, and we learn from 2 Timothy that he stayed there with a man named Carpus, and left in his house a cloak, a number of scrolls, and some parchments. He was then intending to return that way, but subsequently changed his plans. It must have been further along the road westward, possibly in Philippi, that he changed his mind; for in his letter to Titus, he says that he intends to winter at Nicopolis on the Dalmatian coast; he would follow the Egnatian Road to its terminal point on the Adriatic Sea. We may place the writing of 1 Timothy and Titus at this point, or at any rate some of the epistolary material that was worked into them. It is the Epistle to Titus that helps us now. He was bidden to join Paul at Nicopolis. He was to welcome Zenas the lawyer and Apollos, whom we would judge to have been the men who carried the letter. Paul promises to send Artemas or Tychicus to Crete for the winter.
Such is the picture which may be put together from the references in 1 Timothy and Titus; but when we come to 2 Timothy, the picture has changed. Paul is now a prisoner in Rome, and is asking for his scrolls, his parchments, and the cloak which he left at Troas. Timothy is to bring them when he comes; and he is urged to come before the
|198 winter. Titus has left Crete in accordance with Paul's instructions, and is actually in Dalmatia, the Adriatic province in which Nicopolis was situated. The various references do seem to tell a story when we combine them together, though our reconstruction is admittedly hypothetical.
Paul may have been arrested in Macedonia or Dalmatia; or of course he may have made his own way to Rome on hearing the news of the great persecution in July and August. In any case he is in prison. The tone of 2 Timothy is not at all what the Christian imagination would have fancied. No writer of pious fiction would have pictured him in this mood. He writes in deep dejection. There is no sign of the easy conditions of imprisonment which had been his lot before. There is no sign of optimism about the outcome. The time of his dissolution is at hand. He must hand on his charge to another.
He is very much alone. 'At my first hearing', he says,' nobody stood by me; may it not be laid to their account.' (He almost seems to quote from Stephen.) 'But the Lord stood by me,' he says, 'and gave me power, that by my mouth the gospel might be fully preached, and all the Gentiles hear it; and I was delivered out of the lion's mouth.' He has the Book of Daniel in his mind here, the martyr's handbook. (Stephen quoted words from Daniel, too.)
Perhaps he overstated the case a little, for he also says, 'Only Luke is with me.' Demas had abandoned him, having loved this present world; but Crescens and Titus were absent on missionary work, one in Galatia (or Gaul) and one in Dalmatia. Even now this extraordinary man is spiritually in touch with churches of his making, or of his inspiration, all over the world; for Spain and Gaul can quite possibly be added to Italy, Dalmatia, Achaia, Macedonia, Asia, Cyprus, Syria, Arabia, and Palestine, as the scenes of his conflicts and labours. Egypt, Cyrene, and Africa were the only major provinces, so far as we know, where he had made no effort to preach the gospel; and Britain, of course, which had only been part of the empire for ten years; Cappadocia, Pontus, and Bithynia also seem to have been outside his range.
One hero of the faith, by name Onesiphorus, had found his way to Rome to bring him comfort and support. A late and perhaps worthless tradition connects him with Little Antioch. 'He often refreshed |199 me, and was not ashamed of my chain', says Paul. He may have performed this service at the cost of his life; at any rate he had died before Paul wrote. 'The Lord grant mercy to the house of Onesiphorus', Paul prays; 'may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord in that day.'
Onesiphorus had brought him no good news. 'Everyone in Asia has turned from me,' Paul writes, 'including Phygelus and Hermogenes'; he mentions also Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have erred concerning the truth by saying that the resurrection is past, and have disturbed the faith of many. This total victory of the false teaching in Asia may indeed be an exaggeration; but we must remember the mixed origin of the Ephesian church and the apprehensions which Paul had entertained about the character of its elders. The church order which he had built up had not been altogether equal to the strain; but, as in the case of Corinth, he may have been too pessimistic.
His mind turns affectionately to Timothy, his 'dear child' or ' genuine son' in the work of the gospel. He has sent Tychicus, who was an Ephesian himself, to take over his charge, and summons him now to his side. He is the only one who really understands his mind and purpose. He is the man to take over his tradition and hand it on to others. Paul's mind goes back to the early days when he first met him; what persecutions he had endured, what sufferings he went through, at Little Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra. He thinks of Timothy as he then was and recalls the simple faith of his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice.
A further thought comes into his mind. He asks Timothy to get hold of Mark and bring him with him, because he is a useful man for the ministry. Amends have been made for any past disapprovals or misunderstandings. It would appear that Timothy did get hold of Mark; for Mark came. Or was Mark already with Peter, and on his way? Whether any of them reached Rome in time to see Paul, we do not know; our evidence is beginning to fail us, and the picture which it creates is fading out. We may end with the words of faith which are worthy of his unconquerable spirit,
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord will give me in that day, the righteous judge; and not to me only, but to all who love his appearing.
|200 Tradition must be right in saying that Paul was beheaded; for this was the form of execution which was legal in the case of a Roman citizen.
We find at the end of 2 Timothy the names of a family or group with which he was in close touch, friends of Aquila and Priscilla perhaps, who are back in Asia now, and receive salutations. 'Eubulus and Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brethren send thee greetings.' These are the only Roman Christians who are mentioned in the Epistle; and the name of Linus appears in the tradition of the Roman church as the name of their first bishop. Pudens appears in the late tradition as the name of a Roman senator who received Peter into his house; according to this tradition his mother's name was Priscilla.
We would give a good deal to possess a sequel to the Acts giving the story of the missionary journeys of Peter; but in the absence of such records, we must make the best of such traces and indications as remain. We will begin with the 'first Epistle'.
Our New Testament today contains two Epistles ascribed to St Peter. The second bears every mark of being a literary fiction composed in the second century; but the marks which prove it to be a work of the imagination are conspicuous by their absence in the case of the first. The 'first Epistle' is a first-century production which was used by Clement and Polycarp; and such arguments as have been advanced against its authenticity have certainly not been strengthened by recent study. There is a tendency now among the scholars who deny its authenticity to award it what might be called a deutero-historical character; it is suggested that it was issued under the name of Peter, not long after his death, to instruct and encourage Gentile converts; and of course it could not be effective, even as a work of pious affection and recollection, unless its references to the familiar historical background were correct. Since this conclusion appears to be inevitable, we may use this document for our purposes.
The Epistle is directed to the 'elect sojourners of the dispersion', which is a mystical description of the whole field of Gentile Christianity, recalling the opening words of the Epistle of St James. In Peter, however, the range of the address is limited to the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia; some manuscripts omitting |201 Asia and Bithynia. The Pauline provinces of Asia and Galatia, which have lost their apostolic leader (if our historical reconstruction is correct), are grouped with others lying north and east, so covering virtually the whole of Asia Minor. It will be remembered that Paul and Silas had attempted to move into the northern provinces, but had been prevented by the Spirit from doing so; evangelization had now taken place in these regions, perhaps under the auspices of Peter (working from Antioch?), or of Silas, who appears in this Epistle as a co-author, under his Latin name of Silvanus.
Actually Silvanus was the writer of the Epistle. 'Through Silvanus, a faithful brother as I account him, I have briefly written', we read in the postscript, among the salutations. In the same way the church of Smyrna wrote its story of Polycarp's martyrdom 'through Marcianus'; and the Roman church wrote its epistle to Corinth 'through Clement', according to Dionysius of Corinth. Silvanus, Clement, and Marcianus were men of literary ability who composed epistles on behalf of higher authorities. It does not surprise us. Mediate authorship, or co-operative authorship, was not uncommon in the ancient world, especially in the east; and it is not unknown even today. If the apostle of the circumcision wished to address the Gentile churches, the natural thing for him to do would be to get the literary labour done for him by a competent Hellenist. Silvanus had co-operated with Paul in writing to the Thessalonians; and it is interesting that the catechetical portions of 1 Peter and 1 Thessalonians both echo the holiness catechism of Leviticus. The apocalyptic passages of 1 Peter are much more restrained than those in Thessalonians.
It is conceivable, too, that the literary staff which had helped Paul in the production of Ephesians and other Epistles was available to help Peter in his address to the Gentiles. There are phrases in 1 Peter which seem to be echoes of phrases in Romans and Ephesians; and there would be nothing surprising if they had been imitated from these Epistles. It has been shown to be quite likely, however, that they can be explained by the use of a common catechetical tradition, probably of an oral character.The furthest we are entitled to go in framing a hypothesis of dependence of 1 Peter on the Pauline literature is to suppose that the idea of writing such an Epistle, and the general literary form which it took, were suggested to Peter by the fact that Paul had produced such |202 Epistles and distributed them. The lines of theological thought which are characteristic of Paul himself are not to be found in it.
The reference among the salutations to 'her that is co-elect with you in Babylon' is taken to indicate that the Epistle was written in Rome; but the word Babylon is something more than a code-word for the word Rome. The phrase means: this church, which like yours is a stranger and an exile in an alien and persecuting society; for the churches which are addressed are also 'in Babylon'.
The same paragraph contains a greeting from 'my son Mark', an expression which recalls Paul's reference to his' true son Timothy', and implies the idea of the recognized pupil and successor in the tradition of teaching. This reference supplies the only point of contact with the picture of the Roman background material which appears in II Timothy. In that Epistle Paul had sent for Mark to come to him. He was not at that time with Peter; or if he was, Paul did not know it. By now Mark had come to Rome and was working with Peter.
Considerable discussion has taken place about the legal grounds of the persecution to which I Peter is related, which seems to have extended to Asia Minor as well as to Rome. It has been argued that the terminology implies definite legislation or legal procedure which made the profession of the Christian name a capital offence. The words of the Epistle do not warrant this inference. Christians are reproached on account of the name of the Christus; and they suffer as Christians, which is exactly what Tacitus says they did. Peter simply advises his readers to accept the popular nickname and glory in it.
We may turn to the Epistle itself, and see what it says as the persecution becomes more intense.
Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is come to test and prove you. ...
If you are reproached for the name of the Christ, blessed are ye; for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you....
But let none of you suffer as a murderer or as a thief or as an evil-doer or as a meddler in affairs that do not concern him; but if any one of you suffers as a Christian, do not let him be ashamed; let him glorify God in this name: for the time is come for judgement to begin at the house of God.
|203 The name Christian, which was first given to the disciples in Antioch and was then used rather scornfully by King Agrippa II, appears here for the third and last time, so far as the New Testament goes. It was the name by which the new sect of Jews was generally known, as appears too in Josephus and Tacitus. It had been invented by an unsympathetic world; it was being made the basis of unfair accusations and cruel punishments; but the apostle advises the church to accept it and glory in it.
The legends of the end of the second century cannot be taken into account in considering the martyrdom of Peter. All we are certain of is the actual fact, which is vouched for by St Clement and St John and the general tradition of the church. At the end of St John's Gospel, Jesus says to Peter: 'When you were young, you girt yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you shall stretch out your hands and another man will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go'; and these enigmatic words are explained as indicating the death by which he would glorify God. Peter had died as a martyr, therefore, before this Gospel was written; and it may be possible to see in the wording of the text a reference to the crucifixion which was the mode of his death according to the legends; but on this point complete certainty seems to elude us.
The oldest surviving reference to the martyrdom of Peter may be that which is preserved in the Ascension of Isaiah. The third and fourth chapters of this imaginative writing contain a brief Christian apocalypse which seems to have been written in the first century. The Son of God, or Beloved, descends from the highest heavens without being recognized by the angels who guard their portals; he gathers twelve apostles; he dies, descends into hell, and rises again; he sends his apostles out into the world and then returns to the Father. Beliar, the spirit of evil and ruler of the world, then descends from his firmament, and takes the form of a king of lawlessness who was the murderer of his mother. He persecutes the 'planting' of the twelve apostles, and one of them is delivered into his hands. The reference to Nero and to Peter is perfectly clear.
It goes on to describe the divine pretensions of Nero and the |204 apostasy of many Christians;but after thirteen hundred and thirty-five days (a figure taken from Daniel), the Beloved will descend from heaven a second time and will cast Beliar and his armies into hell. Those Christians who have remained faithful will ascend into the highest heaven with the Beloved, their garments or bodies of flesh being exchanged for new. Some of those who had seen him when he was on earth the first time will still be living when he comes the second time; and this is what proves the early date of the apocalypse.
Here are some of the leading ideas of the Thessalonian apocalypses and of the Ephesian mysticism; or at any rate we have the same set of images; but the religious insight is on a much lower level. They are woven into a connected myth on the lines of the old oriental myths such as the descent of the goddess Ishtar into the underworld to deliver Tammuz from the powers of death and hell. The idea of the incarnation of the evil spirit in a Roman emperor is no longer concealed; it is made perfectly clear by factual references. The idea of Nero as the embodiment of evil was widely accepted in the first century and appears in the Revelation of St John.
The curious description of the church as the 'planting of the apostles' appears again in the Epistle of Dionysius of Corinth, about 160, in the passage in which he refers to the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul in Rome at the same time. ('I planted', Paul had said in writing to the Corinthians.)
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