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Peter and Paul: Background

Interesting that the LORD chose Peter and Paul to be two main leaders of the early church in view of the fact that they had entirely different backgrounds and were unlikely candidates by today's standards for the ministries the LORD appointed them to.

One thing we learn from this is not to be too presumptuous of what kind of a person will convert to Christ, nor based on his background, what kind of Christian is appropriate for a given ministry. For God often choses the most unlikely candidate. And indeed many overlooked the Messiah, the very Son of God, because Jesus didn't meet their expectations. So who would you consider to be the most unlikely to become a Christian, and who among the Christian community would be the most unlikely that God would use?

But at the same time it is important not to make too much of individuals - even that of Peter and Paul - which can lead to denominational divisions. Paul writes in

1Cor 1:10-13 "I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, 'I follow Paul'; another, 'I follow Apollos'; another, 'I follow Cephas (Peter)'; still another, 'I follow Christ.' Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?"
And he says in
1Cor 3:3-7 "For when one says, 'I follow Paul,' and another, 'I follow Apollos,' are you not mere men? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe— as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow."
So let us not make too little of ministers of the gospel, nor too much. We're all equally in this together. Everyone is important.

Now in Jesus' time Israel was divided into Judea in the south and Galilee in the north separated by Samaria. Jerusalem was located in Judea, and there was a general sense of prejudice the Judeans had against the Galilean Jews. The Judeans would reckon themselves more pure Jews in comparison to the Galileans which had more interaction with the Greeks ("Gentiles"), for even in the scriptures it's referred to as "Galilee of the Gentiles".

Jesus along with many of his disciples, like Peter, was from Galilee. And while the religious elite said, "Search and look, for no prophet has arisen out of Galilee." John 7:52, they overlooked the scripture which said, "In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan— The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned." Isaiah 9:1,2 and in fact this verse continues on a few verses later to say, "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever." Isaiah 9:6,7 Thus the Messiah was to come from Galilee of the Gentiles, and in particular Nazareth was in Zebulun in accordance with the prophecy, and Capernaum, from which many of his disciples like Peter came, was in Naphtali. But in Judea among the religious elite there was so much prejudice against anything associated with "Gentiles" that they overlooked this messianic prophecy.

Thus not only was Jesus considered an unlikely Messiah because of where he was from, among other things, but also Peter likewise was considered an unlikely candidate for church leadership.

Peter was an uneducated man, a fisherman. Notice when he became a spokesman in Acts, it was to the amazement of the religious elite. "Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus." Acts 4:13

Peter's first reaction to Jesus encountering him with a miracle was that he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!" Luke 5:8 And as such it would even be to his own surprise that the Lord would later appoint him as an apostle. But his reaction is a good one in that he shows that he is well aware that the LORD is holy and doesn't like to be around sin. And he also recognizes himself as a sinner. These two concepts are essential prerequisites for salvation. The Lord says, "This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word." Isaiah 66:2

John the Baptist said, "Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth." Luke 3:5 Peter may be likened to a valley which was lifted up, and to a rough way made smooth. In contrast to him, Paul was like a hill made low, and a crooked road made straight.

Prior to his conversion Paul was called "Saul". We first learn of Saul in Acts 7 where he is involved in the murdered of Stephen - the first Christian martyr. "Saul was there, giving approval to his death." Acts 8:1 Then Saul went on to take the lead in persecuting the church. "Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison." Acts 8:3 Then in Acts 9:1,2 "Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem."

It was in the road to Damascus that he encountered the LORD Jesus as recorded in Acts 9 and also in Acts 22 where he gave his testimony of the events before a crowd of Jews in Jerusalem who were trying to kill him, and the also before King Agrippa in Acts 26. That encounter led to his conversion and soon thereafter the Lord commissioned him an apostle to the Gentiles.

Paul reflects on his calling saying, "I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners— of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life." 1Tim 1:15,16
As for more on his background Paul was a Pharisee. "I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee." Acts 23:6 And he says he was "circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless." Php 3:5,6

Yet it was these kind of religiously elite people that Jesus often criticized - as in his parable of the Pharisee and the Tax collector of Luke 18:9-14 and like parables, and as in Matt 23 where he explicitly points out their hypocrisy. And so John the Baptist, "when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: 'You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?'" Mat 3:7

Thus is seems the LORD chose the most unlikely candidate as an apostle whose letters dominate the New Testament. Yet Peter says of him, "Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction." 2Peter 3:15,16 Thus Peter viewed Paul's writings as Scripture, just as Paul himself said in many places, as in 1Thess 2:13, "when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe." and he says, "If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord‘s command." 1Cor 14:37

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