What do we know about Bartholomew, Jude of James (and Thaddeus), James of Alpheus, Matthiew, Philip, Andrew, Thomas, Simon, Judas Iscariot, James, John and Peter. A simple answer would be to say: almost nothing. We can simply say, for example, that Philip and Andrew were from Bethsaida, and that Andrew was Peter's brother. Thomas had a twin brother whose name is unknown. James and John were the sons of Zebedee who managed a small family fishing business with employees, and therefore did not belong to a poor environment. Subsequently, James died a martyr at the hands of Herod Agrippa I. From Judas Iscariot, it can only be said that he handed over Jesus to the authorities, hastening his execution.
We have a little more information about Peter. His Palestinian name is Simon, a fisherman with wife and family, residing in Capernaum. Jesus would have given him the Aramaic nickname "Cephas" (rock or stone), which became Petros, Peter, in Greek. Even though Jesus will continue to call him Simon, it is his nickname Peter who will prevail in the early church milieu. When Jesus was arrested, while passers-by questioned him, he cracked and denied knowing Jesus. Finally, soon after the crucifixion of Jesus, Peter claims to have experienced the risen Jesus. Then, after having suffered various imprisonments in Jerusalem, he went to Antioch and perhaps to Corinth. We find allusions to his martyrdom in the New Testament and in the first patristic testimonies. In summary, the New Testament highlights a character who knows how to blow hot and cold, impetuous at times, fearful at others, but who demonstrates constant leadership both during the ministry of Jesus and in the early church.
Jesus In Relation To His Followers: The Individual Members Of The Twelve
- The Severe Limit of This Quest
Apart from assuming that each of the Twelve experienced the normal stages of childhood and adulthood, that the encounter with Jesus was decisive in their lives, that the experience of his crucifixion and resurrection left a indelible trace and that they played an important role in the beginnings of the church, one can say practically nothing more, except for certain figures like Peter and James. Some have refused these limits of our knowledge and have used the texts of the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles to imagine what we do not know: the result is a tale and a fabrication and gave us what is known as the apocryphal writings. This can serve popular piety, but not historical knowledge.
- Surveying the Individual Members of the Twelve
He appears in the list of the Twelve of the four evangelists, but nowhere else. His name in Aramaic would be Bar Tomai (son of Talmai, Josh 15: 14 or son of Tholomaeuss, Josephus Ant. 20, 1,1,5). That's all we know.
- Jude of James (and Thaddeus)
He is even more of an unknown than Bartholomew, since he appears only in the two lists of Luke (Lk 6: 16; Ac 1: 13). The expression "of James" probably means "son of". It is possible to identify this Jude with this Judas in John 14: 22: "Judas - not the Iscariot - said to Jesus". This Jude should not be identified with one of the brothers of Jesus, because the Gospels insist that his brothers did not believe in him. That's all we know.
Thaddeus should not be identified with Jude as popular piety has tended to do. As we have already said, it is possible that Thaddeus who appears in the list of Mark and Matthew has been replaced by this Jude who appears in the two lists of Luke for some reason: death or departure.
- James of Alphaeus
Apart from observing that his name always begins the third group in the four lists, we cannot say anything more. It should not be identified with James "the Less" (Mk 15: 40) and his father with the Alphaeus, father of Levi, mentioned in Mk 2: 14.
Mark and Luke clearly distinguish Matthew, one of the Twelve, and this Levi, tax collector, whom Jesus calls to become his disciple. It was the evangelist Matthew who made this identification at the end of the first century for editorial reasons that only he could specify.
In the synoptics and the Acts, this name is found nowhere else than in the list of the Twelve. John, on the other hand, regularly presents him alongside Andrew, and they would have been disciples of John the Baptist before joining Jesus (Jn 1: 35-40.43-44). We learn that he is from Bethsaida, the city of Philip and Andrew. Both play a role when Jesus feeds five thousand people (Jn 6: 6-9). As both have a Greek name, they become the ones to whom pilgrims in Jerusalem speak to question Jesus on the feast of the Jewish Passover (Jn 12: 20-22). Finally, at the last meal of Jesus, he asked Jesus to see the Father (Jn 14: 8). While recognizing that the role of Philip at strategic moments in the ministry of Jesus in John meets the theological intentions of the evangelist, the fact remains that he is from Bethsaida and that he was a disciple of John the Baptist, a rather embarrassing fact for the first Christians in conflict with the Baptist group, leads us to affirm that we are faced with historical data.
Even though he is Simon Peter's brother, the two rarely appear together. Only Mark mentions it on a few rare occasions, when Jesus calls the fishermen to become fishermen of man (Mk 1: 16-18 || Mt 4: 18-20) and when he goes to the house of Peter to heal his stepdaughter mother (Mk 1: 29). Then Andrew disappears, only to return briefly to the start of the eschatological discourse (Mc 13: 3). Aside from his mention in the list of Twelve, Andrew does not exist in the Acts of the Apostles, an indication of an unimportant figure.
We observe in Thomas the same phenomenon as in Philip: absent from the New Testament apart from appearing in the list of Twelve, he plays a significant role in John. He appears late in the latter's Gospel, first during the resurrection of Lazarus, when it is necessary to decide to go to Bethany, to say: "Let us also go to die with him!". Then at Jesus' last meal to ask the question: "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How would we know the way?". And finally after the resurrection of Jesus, after having been absent from the first meeting and having doubted, so to say during the second meeting: "My Lord and my God!" After this great theological affirmation, he disappears from the scene, his name only being mentioned in the epilogue (Jn 21: 2).
When we look at the role of Thomas in the Gospel of John, we can clearly see that he serves as a vehicle for his theology, and that this role is purely his creation. Only his name can reveal anything: the Aramaic tĕômā means twin, which would indicate that Thomas was only his nickname, and that his real name is unknown to us, just like the name of his twin brother.
As in the case of Thomas, the only information we have about the character is his nickname, ie the Canaanite (Mk 3: 18 || Mt 10: 4) or the Zealot (Lk 6: 15 || Ac 1: 13). In both cases, it is the same person, because Zealot is the Greek translation of the Aramaic word qanānā, which means zealous. Why this nickname? The first reason would be to distinguish this Simon from the other Simon, i.e. Simon Peter. But that would also identify him with those Jews who religiously observe the Mosaic law and who insist that their compatriots do the same to distinguish themselves and separate from the Gentiles. This zeal could imply a certain violence as we see in Paul, filled with zeal (Acts 5: 17), who begins to persecute Christians. Note that these religious Zealots to which Simon belongs should not be identified with these political zealots who did not appear until the first Jewish war (67-68).
In such a context, one can imagine the conversion that Simon had to live during his following of Jesus, when the latter will mingle with tax collectors and sinners, trying to reach all of Israel, refusing any sectarianism narrow or any Puritan exclusiveness.
- Judas Iscariot
We have already mentioned Judas when discussing the historicity of the Twelve, but nevertheless let us summarize what we know about him: 1) Jesus chose him to be one of the Twelve; 2) he is the one who handed over Jesus to the authorities in Jerusalem, precipitating his execution.
The little information we have about him has not prevented the midrashic expansion of basic facts, more in the service of edification than of historicity. While Mark gives no reason for the betrayal of Judas, but only mentions that the religious authorities gave him money after his decision (Mk 14: 10-11), Matthew clarifies the reason by putting these words in Judas' mouth: "What do you want to give me, and I will deliver it to you?" For Matthew, Judas is a greedy being, ready to deliver his master for thirty pieces of silver.
For John, Judas is a thief. Let us remember the scene of the anointing of Bethany where Judas is indignant at seeing Mary spread her very dear perfume on Jesus when it could have been put on sale for the benefit of the poor (Jn 12: 1-8). The author adds: "But Judas said that not out of concern for the poor, but because he was a thief and, holding the purse, he stole what was put in it. This role of treasurer of the Twelve in Judas is taken up again at the end of the last meal (Jn 13: 28-30).
Luke, for his part, takes up Mark's version and Judas receives money only after his decision to hand over him. But the reason why he makes this gesture comes from the fact that he is under satanic influence: "Now Satan entered Judas" (Lk 22: 3-5). Luke perhaps uses his special source here, which John also knows, because the latter also uses this motif: "After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into Judas" (Jn 13:27).
One tried to extract some information from the word Iscariot. Five hypotheses circulate.
- Judas was said to have been a member of the group of sicarii, those Jewish terrorists who hid a dagger under their clothes to carry out political assassinations. This hypothesis must be rejected, first because it is doubtful that the word Iscariot comes from the Latin sicarius, but especially because the sicarii appeared in Palestine after the death of Jesus.
- Iscariot comes from the Semitic root sqr (to lie, the liar). Unfortunately, the New Testament never presents him as a liar.
- Iscariot would be derived from the Semitic root sqr (or sgr), the pi'el or hip'îl form of the verb meaning "he who hands over". One can question such a deduction, especially since Mark, who knows Aramaic well, uses the expression "Judas Iscariot, the one who handed over him" without alluding to the fact that the second part of the sentence is a transliteration of the first one.
- Iscariot is said to come from other Semitic roots associated with the color red or the harvesting of fruit. Even if that were true, we would learn nothing more.
- Iscariot would mean "the man of Kerioth". Unfortunately, we do not know if a city of this name really existed. On the other hand, on three occasions the evangelist John speaks of Judas, son of Simon Iscariot (Jn 6: 71; 13: 2.26). It undoubtedly benefits from a source that the synoptics ignore. And if the father and the son both have the name Iscariot, then it is likely that the word refers to the place where they originated. But that does little to reduce the conundrum over Judas.
- The circle of three : Peter, James and John
In the Gospel of Mark, these three people appear as a privileged subgroup with Jesus: they are the only ones that Jesus authorizes to accompany him in the house of Jairus (Mk 5: 37), or in the mountain of the transfiguration (Mk 9: 2), or in his prayer to Gethsemane. The problem with the existence of this privileged group is its complete absence from the other Gospels. In addition, there is also a subgroup of four (Pierre, Andrew, James and John) in Mark 1: 16-20 (the call), 1: 29 (the healing of Peter's stepmother), 13: 2 (eschatological discourse). We must therefore remain wary of the historical value of these subgroups, especially since the Gospel of Mark is marked by his theology of the messianic secret in which the mystery of the person of Jesus is gradually revealed.
Mark presents James and John as the son of Zebedee. Evangelist John confirms this information. Given this multiple attestation and the fact that being the son of Zebedee has no theological value that the early Christians could have exploited, there is no reason to doubt its historical value. Let us add that the New Testament never speaks of James without reference to his brother John, and that he is the only one of the Twelve whose martyrs it explicitly recounts (Acts 12: 1-2).
At the outset, let's distinguish five people who are traditionally associated with this name:
- John, son of Zebedee
- The anonymous figure of the "beloved disciple" in the fourth Gospel
- The anonymous author of the fourth Gospel
- The anonymous author of the three Epistles which bear the name of John
- The author of the Apocalypse who gives himself the name of John
Let us restrict our interest to the son of Zebedee. According to Mark, John and James were setting the net in their father's boat when Jesus called them. As Zebedee had employees in addition to his sons, one imagines a successful fishing business on the shores of Lake Galilee. Luke, for his part, seems to ignore Zebedee to present James and John in partnership with Peter in a fishing business. But there is an editorial activity here to bring this scene closer to the miraculous fishing after Easter (Jn 21: 1-14). Either way, the people Jesus calls here are not of the poor.
According to Mark (Mk 3: 17), Jesus would have given James and John the nickname of Boanērges (son of thunder). The historicity of this designation could be based on the fact that the whole of the New Testament has no interest in it, and therefore it is difficult to see why the early Christians would have created this story.
But what meaning to give to the expression: son of thunder? A certain number of narratives present James and John as impetuous and hot-tempered people. Unfortunately, we must eliminate Mk 9: 38 (John wants to prevent a non-disciple of Jesus from making exorcisms) and Lk 9: 52-56 (James and John want that the fire descends from heaven to consume the Samaritans who refuse to welcome them) as creations of the early church. On the other hand, Mk 10: 35-40 (James and John ask Jesus to sit on his right and on his left in his glory) contain clues of historicity.
- Christians could not invent a story where James and John are presented in a bad light when we know the martyrdom of James.
- Whereas before Jesus seemed to know the future and announced his death and resurrection, here the introductory dialogue shows that Jesus does not know what James and John want.
- How could Christians who are experiencing the persecution invent a story in which Jesus refuses to promise a reward (as for sitting on my right or my left, it is not for me to grant it)?
- We do not perceive a specifically Christian theological context in the pericope. Everything remains vague: when Jesus asks if they can drink the cup that he is going to drink and be baptized with the same baptism as him, he simply refers in a general way to the sufferings involved in his mission.
- In this pericope, there is no Christological title attributed to Jesus.
- Finally, there is the character of embarrassment: Jesus affirms that James and John will experience the same fate as him, but in reality only James will know the martyr; John seems to have remained in Jerusalem with the other members of the Twelve (Acts 3: 1.3-4; 11: 4, 13.19; 8: 14.17), participated in the Jerusalem Council (verse 49) and played with Peter a pillar role in the community.
What can we conclude from the expression "son of thunder"? Psychological interpretations must be eliminated. When we look at Jesus' attribution of the name "stone" or "rock" to Simon to designate his role in the mission, it is logical to see in the same way the nickname "sons of thunder": their resounding testimony in the proclamation of the reign of God. But all of this remains a hypothesis.
Our research is limited to the role of Peter during the ministry of Jesus. On this subject, here is how we can summarize what we know.
- He is a Palestinian Jew known by the Greek name Simon (Šim'ôn in Hebrew, Symeon in Greek transliteration), a fisherman with wife and family, and living in Capernaum. Around the year 28 or 29, when he goes about his daily work, Jesus calls him to follow him.
- Strictly speaking, Simon was not the first Jesus called to follow him. Either he is called with others at the same time, or it is Andrew and Philip who introduce him to Jesus, while everyone frequents the circle of the Baptist.
- The four Gospels present Peter as the spokesman for the disciples in general, and the Twelve in particular.
- The four Gospels affirm that this leader of the Twelve who bears the name of Simon received the nickname of Kēpā in Aramaic (Kēphas in Greek transliteration), then translated Petros in Greek, i.e. rock or stone. If we got used to Mark, John and maybe Matthew, it was Jesus who would have given him this nickname. And this nickname would quickly have replaced his real name. For Paul regularly uses the Aramaic name "Cephas" (1 Cor 1: 12; 3: 22; 9: 5; 15: 5; Gal 1: 18; 2: 9.11.14), rarely the Greek name "Petros", and never Simon. The Acts use only the name "Peter", except in the mouth of James, brother of Jesus, who speaks of "Symeon", undoubtedly to create an archaism. In the Gospel of John, Jesus gives the nickname of Cephas to Simon when they first meet, and he is the only evangelist to use this name or the compound Simon Peter.
- Peter is present at the last meal of Jesus, at his arrest in Gethsemane and at the places of the hearing with the high priest. As passersby interrogate him, he cracks down and denies knowing Jesus.
- Apart from this period of the ministry of Jesus, we can say that, very soon after the crucifixion of Jesus, Peter claims to have experienced the risen Jesus (1 Cor 15: 5; Lk 24: 34; cf Jn 21: 1 -14). After having undergone various imprisonments in Jerusalem, he went to Antioch (Gal 2: 11-14) and perhaps to Corinth (1 Cor 1: 12; 3: 22). We find allusions to his martyrdom in the New Testament (Jn 21: 18-19; 1 Pet 5: 13) and in the first patristic testimonies (1 Clement 5: 4). Ignatius of Antioch (Romans 4: 3) mentions Rome as the place of execution. Archaeological excavations seem to lend credence to the claim of Vatican Hill as the place of martyrdom, but there is not unanimity in the scientific community.
After presenting the points where there is some unanimity, we can briefly touch on the disputed points.
- When did Jesus give Peter the name of Peter during his ministry?
Although we can say with a high degree of probability that this happened during the ministry of Jesus, we do not know exactly when: Mark first uses the name Simon, but after the creation of the group of Twelve, he almost always uses Peter; Luke follows the same pattern, and never uses the name Simon after the formation of the Twelve (Lk 6: 12-16); Matthew insisted on the name Peter from the start, but Jesus conferred it on Simon only in the midst of his ministry. But surprisingly, the intention of Jesus seems to have been that the name Cephas is used to designate Simon's relationship with others, not with himself, if we rely on multiple attestations. Because Jesus continues to use the name Simon when he addresses him directly: Mk 14:37 (Simon, are you sleeping?), Mt 16: 17 (You are happy, Simon son of Jonah), Mt 17: 25 ( What do you think, Simon?), Jn 21: 15-17 ("Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?).
- Matthew 16: 13-19 presents a scene where Peter professes his faith in Jesus and the latter replies that he is the rock on which he will build his Church and that he will give him the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. What is the historical value of all this? Let us separate this question in two: the historical value of Peter's profession of faith, then that of the promise of Jesus.
- It is likely that Peter made a profession of faith in Jesus during his ministry, without being able to say much more. We have multiple attestations of this gesture, even if the testimonies vary in their detail: the place of the scene varies (Ceasarea of Philippi: Mc 8, 27-29, Capharnaum: Jn 6: 67-69), and the content of this profession of faith also varies: "You are the Messiah" (Mk 8: 29), "You are the Messiah of God" (Lk 9: 20), "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God" (Mt 16: 16), "You are the Saint of God" (Jn 6: 69). Thus, from an historical nucleus, the evangelists have shaped different stories according to their theological concerns.
- Let us now consider the promise of Jesus which reads as follows in Mt 16: 17-19
And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."
Arguments could be made that Jesus may have said these things during his ministry.
- First of all, the Greek word ekklēsia (Church, from the Hebrew root qhl) was known by the Jews to designate the people of Israel (for example, Deut 4: 10; the word is found 96 times in the LXX (the Old Testament translation in Greek). And let us remember that Jesus saw his mission as that of gathering the people of God.
- The idea of building the community at the end of time is found in Qumran, and that of giving keys is found in Isaiah (22: 20-25) where God gives to Elyakim the keys of David to be the butler of the palace of King Hezekiah, so that if he opens, no one will close, if he closes, no one will open. Thus, the authority of Peter would be exercised during his teaching to Israel at the end of time, explaining what is permissible or impermissible according to the God's law.
Unfortunately, a number of much more imposing arguments demonstrate that this story was born in a post-Pascal context, in the midst of the early Christians, and Matthew or his tradition would have projected it retrospectively in the public ministry of Jesus. Here are these arguments.
- By comparing to Mark again, the text of Matthew modifies Peter's brief profession to give it a theological connotation: "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God". This gives an indication of Matthew's editorial work.
- The word ekklēsia (Church) is found 114 times in the New Testament, and if we except the three mentions in Matthew, it always designates the Christian Church. And it never appears in other Gospels. Yet Luke knows the word well, since he uses it in the Acts of the Apostles. But he never uses it in his Gospel.
- Apart from his chapter 16, Matthew uses the word ekklēsia twice more in his chapter 18 (18: 15-20) where the discipline of the early church is brought together in certain cases, including that of a recalcitrant sinful brother. Here we have the beginning of a canon law. The context is clearly that of the first Christians in a Judeo-Christian environment. They speak of "my Church". One cannot read ch. 16 ignoring ch. 18. If ch. 18 belongs to the world of the first Christians, we must see ch. 16 in the same perspective.
- There is a parallel to draw between Matthew and John
|Matthew 16: 19
||John 20: 23
|Whatever you bind on earth,
shall be bound in heaven.
And whatever you loose on earth,
shall be loosened in heaven
|Whose sins you shall forgive,
they are forgiven them.
Whose [sins] you shall hold fast,
they shall held fast
The difference between Matthew and John is that the first begins with the negative aspect (to bind = what is not allowed, therefore is sin) before ending with the positive aspect (forgiveness), while the second begins with the positive aspect (it's forgiven), to finish with the negative aspect. However, the text of John is located after the resurrection of Jesus, and therefore the parallel shows that we are after Easter. This fact is accentuated by another parallel in John, the miraculous fishing (Jn 21: 15-17 "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" "Feed my sheep"). Here, Jesus confers on Simon-Peter the role of shepherd of his flock, a role which will imply that he will have to die a martyr, in other words, the role of the good shepherd who lay down his life for his sheep with whom John associated Jesus in chap. 10. Jn 21 must be seen in parallel with Mt 16 when Jesus confers on Simon Peter (same name) a special role in the community. Now Jn 21 is clearly after Easter.
- Finally, we can draw a parallel with the language of Paul. In his epistle to the Galatians (1: 15-17), he speaks of his meeting with the risen Jesus: "When it pleased him (God) who ... who set me apart... to reveal his Son to me ... I did not confer with flesh and the blood". However, it is this same Christian language that is found in chap. 16 of Matthew: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God ... You are blessed! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven".
- What is the historical value of the following text in Mark 8: 30-33?
And he sternly ordered (epitimaō) them not to tell anyone about him. Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke (epitimaō) him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked (epitimaō) Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things."
There is a consensus among biblical scholars that this passage is a composition of Mark, and is not the echo of a historical event. The reasons given are as follows:
- The repetition of the word epitimaō (to enjoin, to admonish) is a typical stylistic trait of Mark
- The insistence on the messianic secret (saying nothing to anyone) is part of Mark's theology
- Even if it is conceivable that Jesus could have foreseen the sufferings that would entail his mission, putting together suffering, death and resurrection is probably the work of the early church.
On the other hand, a sentence of Jesus could come from the historical Jesus: "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things". Even if we do not have multiple attestations, we can evoke here the embarrassment criterion: knowing the prominent role of Peter in the primitive church, it is difficult to see how it could have created an affirmation which discredited him. Furthermore, if behind the word "Satan" is the Aramaic satana, then we are not before the name given to the devil, but before a more general reality: adversary. And knowing Peter's difficult relations with Paul, James, the high priests and Agrippa I, we can easily imagine his difficult relations with Jesus, which allows us to evoke the criterion of coherence. But having said all that, we are unable to reconstruct under what circumstances Jesus could have said this to Peter.
- What is the historical value of the following text in Luke 22: 31-32?
31 "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has sought you (plural, hymas, i.e., all the apostles) to sift you (plural) like wheat.
32 But I have prayed for you (singular, i.e., for Simon alone) that your (singular) faith may not fail complety (eklipē : come to an end, give out, die).
And you (singular), once you have turned back (i.e., once you have repented or been converted), strengthen your brothers."
It is likely that this text is a creation of Luke for the following reasons:
- Luke abruptly inserts this pericope which has no equivalent in the other Gospels to make him play the role of bridge between the mini-discourse on leadership (vv. 24-30) and the announcement of the denial of Peter (vv. 33-34).
- As Luke often does, this text serves to soften the harshness of Peter's denial by immediately mentioning that his faith will not fail, that he will quickly rehabilitate himself and play a leading role with his brothers in strengthening their faith, thanks to the prayer of Jesus, always effective in Luke.
- As for the denial of Peter, Luke avoids the crescendo that is found in Mark and Matthew while Peter curses and swears during his 3rd denial: according to him, Peter simply repeats that he does not know Jesus.
- Peter barely has time to deny him for the third time that Jesus turns to Peter, and immediately the latter goes outside, repenting.
- Probably referring to this rehabilitation, Luke mentions that at the death of Jesus, not only women stood there at a distance, but also all the men who knew him, therefore perhaps Peter.
- This rehabilitation continues on Easter day because he is the only one to go to the tomb after the announcement of the women.
- When the disciples of Emmaus returned to Jerusalem to announce that they had seen the risen Jesus, the Eleven said to them: "It is very true! the Lord rose from the dead and appeared to Simon!" So, right away the focus is on the primary role of Peter and the fact that he strengthens his brothers.
- This role will continue in the Acts of the Apostles where Peter appears as the leader of the community.
- In short, our pericope fits so well into Luke's theology that it is difficult not to see it as a personal creation. Some Bible scholars favor Luke's reuse of an older tradition. In any case, we do not have enough data to support that this text goes back to the historical Jesus.
- What is the historical value of Peter's denial of Jesus (Mt 26: 69-75| | Mk 14: 66-72 || Lc 22: 56-62 || Jn 18: 17.25-27)?
To maintain that this is a historic event, we will use the criteria of embarrassment and multiple attestations.
After Judas, Peter's denial represents the most embarrassing incident for a disciple. Knowing his role as leader in the early church and the extraordinary effort of the missionaries to convince the Jews that this man who was condemned and crucified, is now resurrected, based on the testimony of Peter himself, it would be completely incomprehensible for Christians to have invented the story of Peter's denial to discredit him: it would be to cut the branch on which one is seated. We also have multiple attestations with Mark, whom Luke and Matthew copy, and with John, who represents an independent tradition. And Mark and John say that Peter denied Jesus.
Thus, we can say that this event occurred after the arrest of Jesus, around the Passover of the year 30. What we know stops there. The fact that there were three denials or that a rooster crowed or the type of character who questioned him could be primarily a storyteller's art.
Note that our study of Peter highlights a character who knows how to blow hot and cold, impetuous at times, fearful at others, but who demonstrates constant leadership both during the ministry of Jesus and in the early church.
- Conclusion: Jesus in Relation to His Followers
Let us summarize the result of our research. In the people who followed Jesus, we spotted three concentric circles, without these circles being rigid: the borders could be porous, some joining the group while others moved away from it.
- The outermost circle is made up of the crowd. Based on the criteria of multiple attestations and of Jesus' final fate, we can say that Jesus drew large crowds, at least large enough to convince certain authorities like Pilate and Caiaphas to intervene. How many or what type of people were these crowds? We cannot say anything except that they were poor in one way or another, with a few exceptions.
- The middle circle included the disciples for whom we have several testimonies. We have noted that the term disciple is very new in Palestinian Judaism of the time of Jesus, and that Flavius Josephus is the first important author to use it sometimes, probably under the influence of Greco-Roman culture. The meaning that Jesus gives to the word disciple is so new that first-century Christians will not use it to define themselves.
We have also seen that being a disciple requires three things:
- A peremptory call from Jesus
- The requirement to follow him physically on the road, and therefore to leave his environment
- Acceptance of hostility and suffering implied by the mission
Despite the radical nature of the call, Jesus and his disciples did not hesitate to cross religious and social boundaries to mingle with outcasts and sinners. Women, regardless of having a husband as chaperone, also accompanied him on the road in addition to supporting him with their property.
- Finally, there is the circle of close friends, the Twelve. The existence of this group stems from Jesus' vision that the reign of God is at the gates, and even that it has begun to be realized: it represents the Israel of the twelve tribes now reconstituted as God promised for the end of time. We have established that the group of the Twelve is a creation of the historical Jesus and is not a retrospective projection of the first Christians, since this group quickly disappeared after Easter.
This group of the Twelve plays several roles:
- It embodies what it means to be a disciple
- It is the prophetic symbol of the reconstruction of the twelve tribes of Israel already started
- This reconstitution is also announced by their mission to all of Israel.
The Twelve are known as a group, not as individuals, so little is known about each individual. Only Judas and Peter stand out a little, one for his role in the death of Jesus, the other for his role in the early church.
Even though Jesus bears the features of a charismatic being, he nevertheless imprints certain structures on his ministry and on the practices of his group. His mission is centered on the Jews, without regard to their social or religious status. A number of the practices asked of the disciples are well defined:
- Rejection of divorce
- Prayer to God the Father
- The requirements to follow him in his itinerant ministry
- The presence of the inner circle of the Twelve to symbolize the reconstituted Israel
- The mission of the Twelve and other disciples to Israel
Let us end with a question: Did Jesus want to found a Church? In terms of continuity, we can say that certain characters and certain practices of the ministry of Jesus continued in the beginnings of the Church. In terms of discontinuity, we note that this Church which will find itself largely made up of Gentiles was not part of what Jesus envisioned. So we can say that the ministry of Jesus in itself did not create the early church. The Church was born from the Easter faith and the experience of the Holy Spirit, and in this it escapes the scientific setting that we have imposed on ourselves.
Next chapter: Were the Pharisees so terrible?
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