31 October 2017 = 500th anniversary of Luther’s theses
This is why the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were included, as well as
the Acts of the Apostles by Luke, John’s Revelation and the letter collections of individual churches.
The authentic letter of Paul to Philemon and the inauthentic 3rd letter of John were included and are included in the canon because they emphasise the unity of the whole church from the social point of view (Philemon) and in questions of faith (3 John).
The four Apostolic church’s contributions to the canon:
church Gosp. Acts Letters Revelation
James Matthew James, Judas –
John John 1-3 John John
Peter Mark 1-2 Peter –
Paul Luke, Acts Paul’s letters, – Hebrews
The Bible can be so exciting, if we approach it with an enquiring mind instead of accepting the papal interpretation. As Martin Luther wrote in 1520 (in his open letter To the Christian Nobility…): Bible interpretation should not be the sole privilege of the (Pope’s) church with its priests and professors; on the contrary, all Christians, even lay people, should interpret the Bible.
I withdraw nothing, as Martin Luther stated on 18 April 1520 at the Diet at Worms, unless the Holy Scripture or rational argument prove me wrong.
The dominant master narrative about the origins of the New Testament canon states that in the first half of the 2nd century AD,
there were so many Gospels and Apostolic letters circulating among the communities that the churches had to separate the wheat from the chaff.
The only texts they adopted into the canon of significant texts for the Christian religion were those that they considered were written by one of the twelve Apostles or the Apostle Paul, or that were authorised by one of the Apostles; e.g. Luke’s Gospel, written by Paul’s companion Luke (Col. 4:14; 2 Tim 4:11; Philemon 24), was authorised by Paul.
The new theses about the origin of the New Testament canon:
The New Testament canon was formed from writings from the three Palestinian Apostolic churches of James, John and Peter and the Gentile Christian church of Paul.
The criterion for the acceptance into the canon was the balance between the origins in the individual churches and the extent to which the writings supported the church’s unity.
Mark’s Gospel is the founding document of the united Christian church; it was classified as canonical
from the very start. In addition, the leaders of the three individual churches, James, John and Peter, are presented jointly in Mark’s Gospel as witnesses to the core statements of faith of all three single churches.
The writer of Mark’s Gospel adopted stories about Jesus handed down in the Jesus Groups
led by James, John and Peter. Cf. in detail Johannes Neumann, War Markus ein Dichter? in: Neumann.: War Jesus Statthalter von Galiläa?, p. 43-92, here p. 51-62.
The evangelist adopted stories about Jesus from Galilee that originated as oral traditions handed down in the individual churches. The Jesus stories from Jerusalem are based on interpretations of Jesus’ death by the individual churches and their cultic application.
The deaths of James and Simon, continued (3): Did Peter survive? Did Luke have a motive for allowing Peter to survive
in his literary account? Yes: he needed Peter’s presence at the Apostolic Council in Jerusalem: Acts 15:1ff.
It is possible that the legend that Peter went to Rome and was martyred there may already have existed in Luke’s time.
The tradition that Luke found probably reported Peter’s death. After all, Luke only has very weak witnesses for his version that Peter was saved.
The doubt: Peter himself doubts; he believes he is seeing a vision rather than that he would actually be saved. The church community he approaches also doubts and initially refuses to open the door, because they think Peter is a ghost (his angel).
Luke’s only witness is Rhoda the slave. But women and slaves were bad witnesses in classical times, because it was assumed that they would always speak in favour of their husbands or masters. The fact that Luke quotes this witness shows how desperately weak his position is in this case.
According to the principle of Occam’s razor, Josephus’ version is the right one: Peter died with James and in the same way. This argument is also supported by the fact that Luke does not provide any more narratives about Peter after this event: the Peter tradition ends here.
And according to Paul in Gal. 2:9, it wasn’t Peter, but Cephas, Peter’s successor as leader of Peter’s church, who was present at the Apostolic Council.
Conclusion: Peter was crucified by the governor Tiberius Alexander in 46 AD alongside James.
The deaths of James and Simon, continued (2): the manner of execution. In my opinion, Josephus
had no reason to alter facts that were not particularly important to him.
Why does he call James and Simon sons of Judas? As already mentioned, Josephus considered the Christians to be part of the Jewish insurgent movement that began with Judas the Galilean and was to end in the Great Revolt against the Romans in 66 – 70 AD. Sons simply means followers, not biological sons.
The deaths of James and Simon, continued (1): the facts. Acts 11:28 and 12:1ff, as well as Ant. 20.5.2 describe a famine
followed by the executions of a James and a Simon, both identified as sons of Judas by Josephus, while in Acts 12:1ff Simon is given the Christian name Peter.
The difference: Josephus describes the crucifixion by the governor Tiberius Alexander in 46 AD while Luke reports the beheading by the Jewish king Agrippa I in 44 AD.
I consider that both accounts refer to the same event, with some differences. Aspects in favour of this view: the names of the executed /imprisoned men are identical; the situation is identical, with the preceding famine – we should envisage food riots and the execution of the leaders; the time is almost identical.
Simon Peter was crucified in 46 AD alongside James by governor Tiberius Alexander.
Acts 12:1ff reports that only James was executed and Peter survived. This contrasts with Josephus’ report in Ant. 20.5.2, according to which both James and Simon were executed:
… the sons of Judas of Galilee were now slain… The names of those sons were James and Simon, whom Alexander commanded to be crucified.
This raises several questions. 1) Do these texts refer to the same event? 2) When and by whom was the sentence of death pronounced? 3) Did Peter survive? I assume that the simplest explanation is the correct one. The answers follow in the next theses.
The dominant master narrative about the disciples states that the disciples were Jesus’ personal followers,
whom he had sought out and appointed. Many of them were fishermen on the Sea of Galilee; after their encounters with Jesus they left their work and families to join Jesus, the itinerant preacher. Peter was the leader of the disciples; he and the brothers James and John were the most important disciples.
And these are my theses about the disciples: Jesus’ disciples were not fishermen. They were preachers of the astrological Age of Pisces (the star sign), the new spring constellation that they interpreted as a heavenly sign of God’s kingdom that they were expecting.
Jesus’ disciples were not his personal followers.
The disciples were independent political and religious leaders in early Christianity; the great disciples James, John and Peter aspired to succeed Jesus as Messiah after his death.
An ecumenical movement: between 62 and 64 AD the Apostolic Council took place in Jerusalem, where Paul and Barnabas,
the Apostles to the Gentiles, met the heads of the Palestinian Jesus Groups of Peter, James and John.
Reports about the Apostolic Council show that the Jesus Groups in Palestine still existed as separate organisations but that they worked together, and that Paul and Barnabas were recognised as representing the Gentile Christian church, but their work was also viewed with distrust.
The encounter: the Jesus Groups from the different movements
met each other during their missionary activities. They recognised that they had a lot in common and worked together, but retained their separate structures and links with their original movements.
The most important event of the mission in Palestine was that the Jesus Groups founded communities in Jerusalem, though these remained strictly separate along confessional lines until the end of the Jewish Revolt. The Israelite group of James was transformed during this process from a Samaritan to a Jewish-Christian Jesus Group.
The Jesus Groups did not restrict themselves to peaceful missions; they also played a robust role in social conflicts. One example for this is the execution of James and Peter in 46 AD, probably after food riots in which they took a leading part.
The deaths of the two leading Apostles was a significant turning point in the history of early Christianity.
Original movements and Jesus Groups: the Samaritans, the baptism sect and the Gnostics around Simon Magus
had few solid structures and little in the way of binding dogmas. They were groups with many different views, and Messianic ideas were widespread at the time, so Jesus’ followers within these movements could form groups without leaving the movement.
What we seen in the Gospels are a range of interpretations of Jesus that can be attributed to the movements named and to which we can allocate disciples’ names. These names are James (Israelites), John (Baptists) and Simon Peter (Gnostics).
These men clearly led Jesus Groups that remained within their movements. We can see the conflicts among the Christian Jews that they were confronted with. The disputes always focused on the issue of how far a Jesus Group could or should distinguish itself within the parent movement.
The interpretation of Jesus’ death as a betrayal: Judas. Josephus calls the Christians sons of Judas the Galilean,
because he brackets all Christians together as supporters of the insurrection. The opposite is true in the Christian sources: the relationship between Christians and Judas is not denied, but Jesus is the patron and the rebels are only pupils, and unworthy ones at that, since they gave Jesus’ enemies and excuse to kill him.
Nor do the Gospels hide the rebels’ opinion: in the scene of Peter’s denial (Mark 14:66ff par.) Peter is identified as a participant in Judas the Galilean’s rebellion due to his Galilean dialect: he is accused of betraying Jesus’ cause, which is identified with the rebels’ cause.
The crucifixions of James and Peter show that the Palestinian Jesus movements were by no means always non-violent and that they did not refuse all collaboration with the rebels. That only changed after the end of the Jewish Revolt in 70 AD.