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Saint Peter: The Underestimated Apostle.

SAINT PETER: THE UNDERESTIMATED APOSTLE. By Martin Hengel. Translated from the German by Thomas H. Trapp. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2010. Pp. xiv +161. $18.

Perhaps only a German Protestant academic could imagine that the Prince of the Apostles has been "underestimated," as the subtitle of this volume puts it. Venerable Ttibingen Neutestamentler Martin Hengel (d. 2009), however, was thinking primarily of scholars "within both evangelical and Catholic exegetical circles" (ix, 36), who tend to rank Peter and Petrine tradition well below Paul. Two originally separate lectures are combined here. The first, presented in Rome in 2005, treats "Peter the Rock, Paul, and the Gospel Tradition" (1-102). The second, first published in 1997, examines "The Family of Peter and Other Apostolic Families" (103-34). A chronology (135-37) and indexes (139-61) conclude the volume, ably translated by T. H. Trapp. In both studies H. engages with mostly other German (Protestant) authors; important works in English find no mention. His criticism of Teutonic skepsis, however, is refreshingly blunt and on target.

In his first study, H., insisting on the general historical reliability of the Gospel traditions (also Papias, Tertullian, et al.) concerning Peter, surveys six aspects of the apostle's career (from initial call to martyr's death with Paul in Rome), summarized in ten points (100-102). He notes Simeon's identification by Jesus as "rock" or "man of rock" (KFph(l), subsequently understood as "foundation stone" (Petros), who was given the keys of proclaiming and teaching. This "apostolic foundational figure of the Church" (according to all four Gospels) played a decisive role in the mission to the Gentiles as well as to Israel. As "empowered guarantor of the traditions about Jesus," he was an early contributor to the "christologicalsoteriological bases of the Christian kerygma" and its ethos. Independent from and, at Antioch, in conflict with Paul, he nevertheless represents the "premier" teacher of the church alongside Paul. Curiously, and without an attempt at justification, H. dismisses 1 and 2 Peter (12, 35, and passim; but contrast 86) as reliable sources of Peter's thought, teaching, and theological legacy, even though H. repeatedly criticizes the historical skepticism of his German colleagues. The Gospel of Mark, however, and even its preMarkan tradition are important sources of Petrine tradition and in fact point to the personal connection between this Gospel (composed at Rome), its author, Mark, Peter's disciple, and Peter himself. However, on the possibility of an actual Petrine circle including Mark and Silvanus (1 Pt 5:12, 13), or, as he speaks of it, a "Petrine school," at Rome, H. remains agnostic (35-36). Elements of Peter's theology may well include baptism in the name of Jesus and for the forgiveness of sins (35-36), Jesus as servant of God (36), stress on good news (euangelion) (88), and a "wealth of traditions about Jesus" (88) that "provides the foundational material for the Christian ethos, as we encounter it in parenetic sections in Paul" (88). Fulfilling "a unique bridging function between the activity of Jesus and Paul's mission to the nations" (80), the apostle, finally, was a "competent organizer and 'mission strategist'" (89-99).

The second study is less about the "families" of the apostles than of their "married status." Noting that "the renunciation of getting married.., and the forbidding of marriage" first appears not in the New Testament but "among those who practice Platonizing dualistic gnosis and among the radical, ascetic Encratites of the second century" (115), H. underscores the married status of Peter (Mk 1:29-31), Paul (1 Cor 9:3-6), and other apostles (Philip, Andronicus, Junia, Phoebe, Aquila, and Priscilla), while also considering the families of Peter and Philip. Clement of Alexandria was "most positive toward marriage" (123) and, like Tertullian, was himself married (123 n. 88), though he insisted on believers' refraining from sex in marriage (124). Clement of Alexandria, the Acts of Peter, and various legends transmit tradition concerning Peter's martyr wife and children, thereby showing knowledge of, and respect for, the role of families and not just individuals in the formation of the early church.

This study by a veteran scholar not beating his own denominational drum but examining the evidence with an honest historical eye, provides a welcome, informative update and balanced assessment of extant information on the apostle Peter and his family in the early church and the ecclesiastical developments in which he had an influential role. Although limited in the secondary literature with which it engages, it is an important contribution to the interconfessional dialogue.


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Author:Elliott, John H.
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Nov 23, 2011
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