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The "Prince" of the Apostles: Peter
The Strong Faith of the Prince of the Apostles
Scholars tend to agree that someone wrote what we now call the letters of Saint Peter within a few decades following the year 33 A.D. when historians estimate Jesus died, but there is disagreement among them whether any such person as Peter ever existed. We know that the present pope and his predecessors dating back over a thousand years definitely existed, but when we go back more than two thousand years, we are hard pressed to know much about the early beginnings of Christianity that can be proved with absolute certainty.
Similarly, we know that the Catholic and other Christian faiths have existed for centuries. But again, when we go back 2,000 years, it's hard to say who existed and who didn't, other than the leaders of some major nations and empires.
Taking the New Testament at its word, what were some of the thoughts written in the letters of Saint Peter, which have endured for thousands of years?
Saint Peter was the leader of the new Christian church movement following the death of Jesus. In religious tradition, Peter is known as the first Pope.
He wrote two letters from Jerusalem to the Christians living abroad, both Jewish and Gentile converts to Christianity.
Because Peter and just about all of the disciples and apostles who preached Christianity in the years directly following Jesus’ death were Jews, the letters of Saint Peter contain many passages making it clear that Peter’s religious background was Jewish.
For example, in his first letter Peter used the language of the Old Testament (sprinkling of blood, a lamb without blemish and without spot) to describe Jesus’ death. A big part of the ancient Jewish religious ceremony was to sacrifice an animal, such as a lamb, and sprinkle the blood near the altar in the tabernacle. God Himself had explained these rituals to Moses a thousand years before Jesus was born.
Like so many of the early evangelist Christians, Peter downplayed the endurance of the worldly lives we lead as humans. “All flesh is as grass and all the glory of man as the flower of the grass,” said Peter in this first of two letters, emphasizing that “The grass withers, and its flower falls away. But the word of the Lord endures forever.”
Using many references in the Jewish part of the Bible, which most of the world now call the Old Testament, Peter compared Jesus to a “cornerstone” that becomes a “stumbling” block to those disobedient to the word of God.
Peter reminded the Jewish converts living abroad that they were God’s “own special people” who now, as Christians, had obtained mercy. He told them to conduct themselves honorably “among the Gentiles,” and suffer any unjust punishment patiently, as did Jesus.
One major theme in Peter’s writing was that “It is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.”
Over two thousand years ago, women's lib was not in vogue. Peter advised wives to be submissive and chaste, and to make themselves beautiful not so much on the outside, but with a quiet, gentle spirit within. Husbands, he said, should be understanding and gentle toward their wives.
Saint Peter wanted the members of his Christian church abroad to earn the respect of their communities. Everyone was advised not to speak evil or deceit to anyone else. Peter cautioned that while Gentiles lusted and attended drinking parties, they would think Jews and Christians were strange for not joining in.
Christian Jews, said Peter, should love one another. If ever they should suffer because of their Christianity, they should be happy and glorify God.
Peter advised his readers to obey the law. It would be shameful to break the law and suffer for that, but not shameful to suffer merely for being Christians.
As for the elderly, Peter said they should set good examples. The young should be submissive and humble. “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble,” observed Saint Peter.
Peter ended his first of the two letters by writing this advice on humility: “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.”
In Saint Peter’s second letter, shorter than the first, he lists many desirable characteristics: faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. These, he said, were necessary to enter the “everlasting kingdom”
Peter reminded all Christians, Jews and Gentiles, of the kind of exemplary lives they should lead. He said he would continue to provide such reminders as long as he was still in his “tent” (meaning that his body was like a temporary tent that he occupied while he lived, a metaphor used also by Saint Paul).
Peter tells his readers to beware of false prophets and teachers who are full of lust, presumptuousness, and evil speech against dignitaries.
He tells us to wait patiently for the day of judgment. A thousand years is only one day to God, said Peter. The earth and heavens eventually will be dissolved in fire, he said. That day will come as a thief in the night.
Therefore Peter warned that we should be found blameless and in peace on that day. But we should have patience while we wait because the Lord is long-suffering and willing that everyone should come to repentance, said Peter.
The two letters of Saint Peter were written after those of Saint Paul, whose letters were acknowledged specifically by Peter at the end of his own letters.
The persuasive advice expressed by Saint Peter in his two letters are the words of a leader, hoping to shape the foreign congregations of Christians into respectable organizations of devoutly religious people who would conduct themselves honorably at all times.
Today the Christian faith is spread over most of the world with even the faith of Islam having the divinity of Jesus as part of its teachings. While most Hindus and Buddhists do not specifically deny the divinity of Jesus, it’s not part of their core beliefs. Some minority religions, however, make it a point to refute the notion of Jesus’ divinity.
As Americans we should respect all opinions on religion equally. But history shows that bigotry can turn to violence such as in the Crusades of the Middle Ages and the Nazi movement during the Second World War.
The Christian faith movement of the first disciples and apostles such as Saint Peter, whose leadership earned him the title Prince of the Apostles, has spread the fame of Jesus around the world. But when we look for absolute proof of miracles and Jesus’ divinity, we come to rest always on the words of the gospels and letters of the apostles.
If the atheists are correct and there is no God at all, then we have prayed in vain. If the anti-Christians are correct and the promises of Jesus are fictional, then our faith in everlasting life is hopeless.
One thing is absolutely guaranteed. In a free society each of us can decide in the privacy of our own minds whether to put faith in one thing or another. For that alone, thank goodness.
Beginnings of Christianity
Early Beginnings of Christianity
Christianity undoubtedly was begun by people raised in the Jewish faith. It did not necessarily contradict Judaism, as most early Christian writers sought to blend the two religions. It was an offshoot from Judaism.
Because very little is preserved in writing, except through centuries of translations, it's assumed that the beginnings of Christianity were events, people, and spoken words, all of which have disappeared into the invisible past.
It seems only logical to believe that the first Christians were inhabitants of Jerusalem during the Roman occupation of that city in the first half of the First Century, when Jesus lived. Without the spreading outward away from Jerusalem, however, Christianity might have become a lost page of history. Saint Paul is credited with a lot of the spreading of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. But Saint Peter was considered the rock on which the religion was built, like the chairman of the board sitting in the "home office" back in Jerusalem.
History shows that the beginnings of Christianity were true to the modern beliefs in most ways, but there were diversions from mainstream Christian thinking. Some people who called themselves Christians held to certain beliefs that the Church later condemned. During the first few centuries, there was brutal discouragement of what were considered heretics who diverged from accepted Christian thought and beliefs. This hardly was in keeping with what now, and no doubt then also, is the respected principle of freedom of religion, which all progressive nations embrace.
Although the apostles of Jesus claimed to be eyewitnesses of His miracles, this has been shown to lack scientific or historical proof. Christian faith at the time of Jesus, and up to the present day, therefore, is only faith in the unseen and unproven. But Jesus is reputed to have said that faith the size of only a tiny mustard seed can move mountains.
Persecution of Christians in Rome is documented. This brings to mind the question of whether people would allow themselves to be tortured, if the thing they believed in were just fictional.
After a couple centuries, Rome embraced Christianity as the official religion of the empire. This accounts for its eventual spread throughout the world as the world's primary religion, adopted also later by Islam. But Rome did not like the Jewish religion to be associated with its "official" religion. Therefore, persecutions of Jews and discouragement of their religion was part of the brutality that characterized the early beginnings of Christianity under Roman law.
Like Judaism, Christianity had its traditional ceremonies, such as baptism. Like Judaism, to which Jesus objected due to its hierarchy and ceremonial emphasis, Christianity developed in exactly the same way to the extent that today's Vatican is the embodiment of hierarchy on earth.
Unfortunately, the relegation of women to the level of second-class citizens was just as prevalent in Christianity as in Judaism. To this day, women cannot be priests in the Catholic church, the founding organization of Christianity.
The enduring dogma of Christianity that set it apart from Judaism in the First Century and still does today is the divinity of Christ. This also is accepted by Islam, resulting in about 60% of all people on earth believing in it. Jews today accept the teachings of Jesus generally but believe He was an ordinary Jew who was a preacher. This belief has accounted for countless persecutions of Jewish people over the last 2000 years.
For more reading on the early beginnings, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Early_Christianity.