February 22, 2010

Did Peter visit Corinth?

Ph.D student Phillip J. Long has a great post today about "the Historical Peter". One of the issues discussed there caused me to (finally) write this post here. Enjoy. (Update (2/23): Phillip and I have extended this discussion here.)

Concluding that Peter did visit Corinth is a lynchpin of my Pauline Chronology, because it pushes 1st Corinthians back at least one sailing season after Acts 18:18-22 (which, combined with Paul's plans changing after Claudius' death, nails 1st Cor. down to 54 AD). But is this certain? Did Peter travel and minister to Paul's church in Corinth? While it's not the tightest slam dunk in the history of History, here are FIVE REASONS why I believe Peter DID go to Corinth.

1) It makes more sense for the faction brandishing Peter's name to do so if Peter had actually visited them personally. One thing that is clear from the Gospels, Acts & Galatians is that Peter stood out and stirred things up. He was a dynamic figure, evoking reactions from people wherever he went, even by accident. The mere mention of Peter in Rome inspired the Catholic tradition that Peter was Pope number one. True or not, there's a reason that sold so well. If Peter DID visit Corinth, it would be nearly impossible to imagine him NOT starting a faction - if inadvertently so.

2) If the faction had merely been looking for a figurehead from the mother church, James was a much better choice. After the Council in Acts 15, it is clear that James (not Peter) was the head honcho in Jerusalem. Furthermore, James' letter had gone out by this time, to the entire diaspora. James was revered among Jews who were not even believers, and James' was the name brandished by Judaizing factions elsewhere (Galatia, Jerusalem, Antioch). If Peter did NOT visit, we should more likely expect to see James' name in 1st Corinthians (not Peter's).

3) Dating Galatians after Acts 15 means Paul didn't go out of his way to share Jerusalem's letter with churches other than Antioch. But the issues of Jerusalem's letter - especially meat sacrificed to idols, and fornication - are extremely prominent in much of Paul's letter. Although there are many ways those issues could have come up in Corinth, it seems as if they have all come up at once. Combined, this suggests Corinth had recently heard about Jerusalem's letter to Antioch - and the best way for that to have happened is if an elder or apostle present at that Council meeting had personally come to Corinth and shared about it.

4) Similarly to point 3 - the amount of ink Paul spills on the issue of tongues suggests that something (or someone) has recently stirred up the Corinthians regarding this issue. Yes, Paul spoke in tongues (14:18), but - assuming things in Paul's letters are generally things Paul had not gotten to say to a church during his time in their city - it seems Paul had previously left the Corinthians somewhat if not largely "ignorant" (12:1) about much of what he has to say on the topic. Again, there are many ways the issue could have gained prominence, but our best guess is that Peter came to town speaking in tongues (his particular giftedness in that area was world-famous, after all).

5) Also likewise to points 3 & 4 - The two mentions of healing in chapter 12 similarly demand that we ask: who was healing? In the NT, Paul is not reported to heal until Acts 19 & 20. We might imagine there were lots of believers performing miracles at that time, but we don't have evidence for that. So, once again, if we ask how the Corinthians could have met anyone with healing powers, a visit from Peter must be our chief hypothesis.

Now let's be clear. Only points 1 & 2 directly address the question at hand - Did Peter visit Corinth? In contrast, points 3-5 reverse the issue, raising three other questions and suggesting Peter's visit to Corinth as the most likely answer in each case. Full disclosure: these three issues are what first convinced me that Peter must have gone there. But for more on that question directly, start with Phillip's post again.

Want some fun? Here's a dare.

Try this. Assume Peter DID go to Corinth. If so, it was only his second apostolic foray into Gentile territory, as far as we know, and we do know his first foray set off a major crisis at Antioch. It makes sense that something similar could have happened again. For instance...

If Peter had innocently assumed all the gentile issues had really been fixed by Jerusalem's letter (an assumption easier to maintain from Jerusalem, but one which Paul's entire career proves is false) - then Peter probably went in unprepared; overconfident that all was well. The controversies were all taken care of. In that mindset, Peter casually mentions Jerusalem's letter. At that point, most likely, someone in Corinth says, "What letter?" (Open can. Eat worms. Commence barfing.)

Now, read 1st Corinthians again, add then judge for yourselves. Like too many things, the evidence isn't airtight, but of this much I'm certain:

If Peter did go to Corinth, it would really explain quite a lot.


Charles Savelle said...

I wonder if there are any ancient churches in Corinth dedicated to Peter. As you know, early Christians had the propensity to build churches in significant locations associated with an apostle. An ancient church dedicated to Peter might be some possible evidence in support of your theory.

Bill Heroman said...

That's a good question, Charles. Unfortunately, there's not one that I can find.

On the other hand, if my theory is right, then Peter was a major reason for what probably ended up as a church split! So, years later when there was a healthy church in Corinth again, we might guess they'd do better to avoid brining up his name there.

You have got me wondering, though, what the modern Corinthians" might think about this...

ADF said...

I think it's basically certain that Peter was at Corinth at one point. We know that Paul and Apollos were both there, and that different factions within the congregation had formed under their names. For there to be a Peter faction, it stands to reason that the congregation had been personally familiar with Peter, like we know they had been with Paul and Apollos.

Bill Heroman said...

Hi, Vaine. Sorry for the late reply. Although I don't often use the word 'certainty' about anything in the ancient past, you make an excellent point. I hadn't thought of that. Thanks for the comment!

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